Napoli

Lydia and me in Napoli

***

I had heard lots of negative stuff about Naples: it was dirty, smelly, and so congested with traffic that you couldn’t drive into the city. So why go? Lydia was interested in seeing the catacombs – underground burial sites from as long ago as 200 AD. She and Curd figured out that we could drive to Caserta, take the train to downtown, and then the subway to the resting place of the ancients. Okay, let’s do it. I’ll hold my nose when the time comes.

We climbed the steps out of the Metro station, and just like my first view of New York in January, I was blasted with life – tall buildings with their laundry flapping off balconies, surges of smiling faces, cobbled streets. “Oh my God … where am I?” I just stood.

We headed up an incredibly narrow street, with five levels of balconies looming above, and cars squeezing by as we hugged the walls. Sadly, we were in destination mode, and I wasn’t fully being with my world. Soon we were at the gate of the catacombs and descending many stairs to the dark entrance. Stone walls said “Come on in” and we walked where the flesh and bones of thousands of people had come to rest. There were large holes in the walls for adults, small ones for kids. It was quiet and we were quiet. Only the tones of our tour guide broke the spell.

What did I want down here? It wasn’t holes in walls. There were many frescoes painted in recesses, showing wealthy folks. I wanted their eyes. And so I wandered around, seeking communion. Eye contact with those who have been dead for centuries … it was magical. There were messages coming towards me but they were just beyond my conscious mind.

We meandered through Napoli for hours. Little cafés welcomed us in. Servers smiled. Lovers kissed. Folks walked through the squares hand in hand. The descending sun shone golden on old stone. Life rippled around us and through us. Alleys hosted tiny bars with a couple of tables. I looked and looked and was everywhere mesmerized by the beauties.

I’m coming back, dear Napoli, hopefully with a new life partner. Together we will join the smiles, the pizza, the light on the harbour towards sunset. Such a home for celebrating love. All of us human beings deserve to be here.

Mesmerica

There are IMAX movie theatres, where the show is projected onto a huge dome ahead and above. Then there’s Mesmerica, which I experienced today. The six of us sat in our tilted chairs as computerized patterns of light blended with fanciful music. The creator, James Hood, wanted us to experience an altered state of consciousness … and happiness.

There were moments of transcendence. Peacock feathers vibrated above me. Giant discs of light slowly descended, morphing as they fell. It felt like God was embracing me.

On one arm of the journey, a beam of bluish light wound its way through a forest of deciduous trees, over this branch and under that one. I joined in the search, for what I don’t know. The seeking was soft and sweet.

The explosions of colour throughout the hour felt so new. Mr. Hood let his mind open, and fresh air clearly rushed through. What appeared before us just didn’t exist a year ago. What majesty to bring something unknown into being.

Beyond the openmouthedness of it all was the swirl of disorientation. The constant flow of the images brought me to a swoon. I bet I closed my eyes fifty times during the hour. I needed those respites for centering. A wee bit of me felt guilty for missing some of the display but I was happier when I was taking care of myself. The heavens were being revealed above but there was also a heaven inside to be embraced. And the patterns of light found their way through the eyelids and into my heart. All was well.

Reunion

I just got home.  Two hours and twenty minutes of my evening were spent walking the fairways of Tarandowah.  Lucky me.

The air was cool and the wind was brisk.  With a down jacket under a water resistant shell, and the hood tied tight, I headed down the first fairway.  I was happy.  It felt like the grass was caressing my feet and they were returning the favour.  This was a time to be alone with my friend.  I saw a few golfers off in the distance but basically the course was mine to explore.  And I know all the nooks and crannies.  (Speaking of which, have you ever seen a cranny?)

I wondered at the rolling fairways … so sensuous.  The fescue grass was just starting its growing thing in the rough, green instead of mid-season wispy brown.  But the blades blew strong anyway, rippling like the ocean.  Tarandowah also has long fescue growing on the far edges of the bunkers, so mini-oceans graced my path.

Birds said hello.  Swallows dipped and dived close to the grass.  Five little birdies were fanatic as they chased a big bird away from their nests.  The pursuit must have extended for two hundred metres.  And then there were the little pecking fellows in the rough.  Apparently there’s lots to eat in there.

Crossing the bridge in front of the seventh tee, I saw a swimmer exiting stage left.  It was a muskrat.  She swished that long tail to get away.  Once I was at a safe distance, she pulled onto a tiny sand bar and washed her face.  Very cool.

I thought that the sunset would do its job before I completed my eighteen hole journey, and I was right.  The declining sun turned the bunker sand golden and gave the fairways an animated sheen.  Long shadows danced through the hollows and brought the mounds alive.  And the wind died.

I stood on the thirteenth green, at the end of the world, with bare fields on two sides.  I was alone in the universe, and yet immersed in a communion of spirit.  I stood on the high point of land behind the sixth tee, and gazed over 360º of beauty.  Faraway pins standing on faraway greens.  The odd car making its way along a distant country road.  I stood on the mounds behind the eighth green and was entranced by all the curves.  An artist named Martin Hawtree (Tarandowah’s architect) had used broad brush strokes here.  And then there was the broad sweep of the fourteenth, looking suspiciously like the mural on my bedroom wall.

On the eighteenth fairway, darkness was settling in.  If I had been golfing, I wouldn’t have been able to follow the flight of the ball.  I looked to the tiny clubhouse as I finished the journey … all dark.  Golfers and staff members had gone home.  I was already there.

Have I Left Tarandowah Behind?

1.  I moved to Belmont three years ago because I wanted to be closer to the Tarandowah Golfers Club.

2.  I haven’t played a round of golf in two years.

Put those two statements together and the answer to the question would appear to be yes.

Tarandowah is a links-style course that was created from Ontario farmland.  The British Isles are home to many courses carved from “links” land – tracts of wild grasses and sand dunes that separate farmland from the sea.  No ocean resides anywhere near Tarandowah but there are magnificent mounds of fescue grass gracing the rough, along with rolling fairways and over a hundred pot bunkers.  You see very few trees, similar to famous courses such as St. Andrews in Scotland.

I’ve long considered Tarandowah to be a home for me.  A place to walk and feel the land far more than a place to hit a little white ball, obsess over the details of my swing, and judge my self-worth by the number on the scorecard.

I’ve talked to members of the beauty I see, and very few folks seem interested.  “Aren’t the mounds behind the eighth green amazing?”  And then there’s the sublime island of fescue in the the middle of the sixth fairway.  Plus the long dogleg sweep of the par five dogleg left fourteenth.

I keep the fourteenth close to my heart.  An entire wall of my bedroom hosts a mural of the hole, viewed from behind the green.  From that spot, I can see the approach to the sixth, the faraway thirteenth at the very end of the world, and the cavalcade of mounds reaching from the fourteenth tee.  On my better days, I wake up with “Good morning, Tarandowah” on my lips.

Back problems stopped my golfing but those ills are now in the past.  Still I don’t feel pulled to play.  I don’t hit the ball very far off the tee (180 yards) and I’ve never broken 100 at my friend who disguises herself as a golf course.  But I can feel the love affair.  Walking the quiet fairways near sunset is a caress on the soles of my feet.  I love the sweep of the greens – so many dips and dives of a gentle kind.  The curves suggest a woman’s body to me.  I am often in awe.

There’s usually a breeze and it feels good as it permeates my body.  The stroll is slow as the sun declines.  The birds have things to say.  And very occasionally … there is the red fox.  Standing on the thirteenth green, I am alone in the world, far from the clubhouse.  On the mound behind the sixth tee, I turn to see ten holes spread before me.  To be on the high point of land seems right.  It’s home.

Tomorrow is a holiday in Canada – Victoria Day.  She was the Queen of England way back when.  Thank you, Victoria.  I will use your gift to walk the fairways of Tarandowah again, as the day begins its farewell.  Lovers should be together.

***

So the answer is … no.

Hands

Today I took the ferry to Toronto Island for a brunch and concert at St. Andrew-by-the-Lake Church. The pews were facing each other as we started in on our frittata and greens. The woman beside me was probably in her 80s and had the most beautiful white hair. I told her so. Then I looked down at her left hand.

The skin was pale, the wrist tiny. The veins were scarcely visible. I was reminded of the word “alabaster” without really knowing what that means. Her forearm had me recalling fine china. It was a work of art. There was no thought about how wonderfully functional hands are, just the beauty of the shape. I turned quiet.

I sat in the front row to hear thirteen woodwind and brass musicians. I was only three feet from a young clarinetist. I asked her if I was too close. She smiled and said “No”. My new friend often had solos. During her fast runs, I gazed at her fingers flying over the keys. When she played a trill, one finger bounced up and down. I watched her digits spread and then come together. I watched the long bones of her hand appear and disappear. I stared.

Towards the back of the ensemble stood a woman playing the double bass (a really big violin, sort of). Her fingers held the bow so gracefully, and her hand twisted subtly as the bow caressed different strings. The fingers of her left hand almost smashed down on the strings to create the notes, and then would rotate as her vibrato gave us a rich, wavering sound.

Hands in motion, hands at rest. Thank you, God, for creating such wonders.

And now there are mine, tapping away on the phone to make meaning with you. Think I’ll set this device down for a minute and take a look.

Hmm. I know these hands. They’ve been with me for quite a while. I know the veins. I know the scar on my right wrist and smile at its origin. I see where Jody’s wedding ring used to be. Four years ago there was an empty groove in my skin … all gone now. And I do love the long bones.

***

Quite the art gallery – my hands, yours, everyone’s. I think they deserve applause.

Day Three: And So We Begin

I walked out of my door this morning to the scent of wood. There’s a pool at the motel and workers are erecting a fence around it. It’s redwood, and the smell was sweet. I just stood and breathed it in, and life entered as well. There is great beauty available on the inhale.

The fence is composed of long horizontal boards, with a few inches of air separating each piece. From the window table of the breakfast room, I gazed at the design. The walls create the feeling of sanctuary but the openness allows contact with the world beyond. And we humans need both: a sense of home, of safety, as well as the need to reach out to others. I love symbols.

Kaitlyn and Ryan were back for breakfast and I was looking forward to talking to them again. Although they were friendly, they said no to my request to join them. As I watched them head to their room, I was sad. I felt the intentional distance. And I wished them well, knowing I’ll probably never see them again.

This afternoon, we members of the Evolutionary Collective begin our adventure. We’re at the Asilomar Conference Grounds, a collection of old stone and wood buildings created by Julia Morgan, one of the first women to break through the glass ceiling of architecture. And breakthroughs in our lives are possible for all of us over the next five days. Perhaps one hundred people will share the consciousness that is both personal and global, timeless and evolutionary, raucous and sublime. What will come to be? I don’t know.

***

I walked my suitcase to Asilomar this morning, and greeted kindred souls in the lobby. I knew there would be an online mutual awakening practice at noon, where we see each other in little rectangles on our screens. I decided to bolt for the beach with my smartphone. One boardwalk looked like it would go there, and I sallied forth. Sand dunes full of tiny exotic plants came my way. As I walked at some distance from the resort, I finally figured out that the boardwalk was climbing. 11:48. Push on or admit defeat? I stood for a bit, and soon was retracing my steps.

Another boardwalk seemed to be seeking water. 11:54. I trotted across 17 Mile Drive and there was the expanse of sand. Rocks to the right at the water’s edge. I plunked down on a fairly flat one and checked out what the worldwide folks would see, using selfie view. Yes! Waves rolling ashore and bubbling up on rocks. At 12:00, my friends from here, there and everywhere got to see the Pacific.

I could only hold up my phone for so long and then I dropped my arms, leaving people seeing me and the sky. After a little rest, here came the seascape again. And the pattern repeats. I was determined to give my best, to have the world see the beauty. Along the way, young families strolled by. I loved the wee little kids. And surfers in wet suits. And a school class eager to dig for tiny crabs. All of us together.

***

Now it’s late. There were 86 of us in the room, including 13 newbies to this depth of the work, including me. We did a practice where groups of five EC Core members would beam love to us new guys. All told, I got to stand and sit in front of thirteen groups of fine souls. At the end of it all, I knew I belonged, in a way that also thoroughly respected my uniqueness.

***

I am very tired. Time for bed, my friends. See you on the morrow.

To Give a Gift

The Evolutionary Collective meets in California for five days starting next Thursday. And I’m going! We’ve received e-mails to prep us for the proceedings and one sentence grabbed me and wouldn’t let go:

Bring an item that holds special significance for you that you are also willing to give to another Core member.

The Core folks have been immersed in this consciousness for years and are no doubt eager to welcome us newbies to the fold. The context of it all is love.

Something that’s significant to me. Perhaps you’re guessing that I entered into a cost-benefit analysis of my homebound objects, furrowing my brow to see what I’m just willing to let go of. And you’d be wrong.

I’m sitting in a pub, gazing at a small wooden statue of an adult and child, their eyes locked. As I read the e-mail, these two presented themselves to me immediately. I knew I loved this piece of sacred art and I knew that it would be in someone else’s living room in two weeks. I smiled. How strange. How new. Not wrapping my fingers around the wood in a death grip. Instead an open palm. Something is moving in me.

In December, I was so struck by the humanity of the Senegalese people. Their smiles were genuine. Their joie de vivre was real. I wanted to take them home with me. Instead I sought a symbol of the connection I saw. There were lots of artisans in Toubacouta but for days nothing “sang” to me. Many creations were exquisite but I needed more than that … I needed the depiction of relationship. And then I came upon the parent and child. The statue said it all. I could have it in my home. But there was a problem. I had lots of Euros but the local artists needed to be paid in CFAs, the Senegalese currency. And the money changer wouldn’t be by for a day or two. So I waited, and watched my lovelies in the shop, wondering if they’d be scooped from me by some other tourist. I could feel the wanting, the pull to make the statue “mine”. Many hours later, it really was.

Now there’s the letting go of beauty, of communion. Another object of the heart will come into my life. “All is calm. All is bright.” All is wonder in the mystery of what’s flowing.

The Desiderata

As a young adult, I had the poster on my wall for many years.  Within the delicate emergence of something beyond my self-centered concerns, it spoke truth.  The words vibrated inside me.  The poem rightfully took its place next to empty bottles of Chianti Ruffino wine, which I transformed into candles.

I would often look long at the whole spectrum of love that Max Ehrmann created.   I don’t remember analyzing the thoughts.  Instead I simply let them waft over me.  Somehow I knew that was enough.

There must have been one too many moves in my nomadic youth, because The Desiderata left me one day.  I don’t even remember missing it.  My walls filled instead with paintings – visual heart-tuggings rather than the majesty of the phrase.  I didn’t think of Max’s masterpiece for decades.

But the man has returned.  He smiles at me once more.  And it’s all so gentle.  Not all of the sentences still shimmer, and that’s okay.  The whole has guided me over the years, and I didn’t even know it.  A magical absorption was at work.  And I am the better for the words having roamed around within me for so long.

Here is The Desiderata.  I hope you enjoy it.

***

Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.  As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons.

Speak your truth quietly and clearly, and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexatious to the spirit.  If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.  Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery.  But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself.  Especially do not feign affection.  Neither be cynical about love, for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment, it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.

Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.  But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.  Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.  You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.

And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.  Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be.  And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul.  With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.  Be cheerful.  Strive to be happy.

Wonders of the World

I saw two inspiring sights today: one was a huge orange moon. The other was a human face.

As I drove home from London a couple of hours ago, the moon hung low over the highway. All was black around, and it shone like a beacon in the sky. My breath slowed and the beauty came home.

Other beauties of the world have come my way, and I have been blessed to be in their presence. A few weeks ago, there were the thousand-year-old buildings of Ghent, Belgium, glowing with Christmas lights. Many years past, I climbed a sandy ridge on the west coast of Vancouver Island to see at the summit miles of Long Beach, the waves from Japan crashing onto the sand below.

I have stood atop Mount Lineham in Alberta’s Waterton Lakes National Park, a sea of peaks spread before me. I have seen the golden harbour of Toubacouta, Senegal at sunset, with fishing boats lying at rest. I have sat within a hollowed-out cave on the Bruce Peninsula in Ontario, gazing at the sky above.

All these reminders of transcendence, and more, have graced my life. The land, the sea and the structures of man have made me happy.

But the best and brightest of wonders reside in the human face:

My eight-year-old friend Ali in Senegal, smiling into my eyes
as he shook my hand “Bonjour”

My dear wife Jodiette gazing deep into me
as we shared a window table
in Chez Temporel
a sweet restaurant on Quebec City’s Rue Couillard

My friend Sharyn being with me
in a mutual awakening practice this afternoon
the space between us glowing with love

***

No need to travel to the far corners of the world for beauty
although you will also find it there
Just look, really look, at the person beside you

Spacious

About six months ago, “Geoff” and “Barbara” moved into our condo community to be close to their daughter and her family. I’d say they’re both in their 70’s. Geoff can’t drive any more and is starving for male companionship. That’s where I come in. Every two or three weeks, I drive him to the Belmont Diner for breakfast. Geoff is very appreciative.

We sat around the horseshoe-shaped counter today with five local guys. One asked how Geoff could stand me. He replied with something like “Oh, it’s a challenge.” And the banter flows. Geoff’s a natural. He makes wry comments about the political situation and is already taking a playful jab or two at the assembled locals. All in good fun.

Geoff doesn’t see well and he doesn’t move well but his spirit is strong. He doesn’t let his current physicality determine his congeniality. And he laughs at himself. The guys already like him.

In the summer, I sat on Geoff’s deck, which like my patio backs onto a field, this year planted with corn. I remember him talking about the beauty of the green stalks, their tips waving in the breeze. Geoff sees. Geoff feels, and is willing to talk about it. Rare.

We went for a drive this morning after breakie, and my friend was so thankful for the journey. He waxed poetic about the feeling of space, the long views across the fields. Once again I marvelled. Here is a kindred spirit … drinking in the majesty of the world. His previous home near St. Catharines, Ontario was overrun with dull gloms of sameness – expensive homes that somehow all looked like each other. The extended tongue of urban life. Now, already after a few months, Geoff was home.

I wanted to show him the golf course I love – Tarandowah – now blanketed in white. I told him about the flow of the fairways, the long fescue grass in the rough, the Canada geese flying overhead, the silence. He got it. He was there with me as I wondered at it all. I thought about the club members I know. Not a one has ever cast their eyes to the horizon and talked of the loneliness of the links, the sensuous undulations of the seventh green, the vista from the fourth tee. Thank you, Geoff, for entering my world.

On the way home, we talked of trees. Geoff told me of the “Serengeti tree” he sees framed in his living room window, and how the sunset through the branches is glorious.

Just like my neighbour, I too am home.