Planning My Life

I sat in front of the gym, wondering whether I should get out of Scarlet.  My body was off … dull and weak.  But it was time for me to ride the elliptical.  I had it all planned out.  Do what you say you’ll do and all that.

On Friday, before we all headed out for March Break, I told the kids that on Monday I’d be going for five hours on the elliptical.  I asked them to spare a thought for me as morning turned to afternoon.  A Monday marathon means a Sunday off.  And a Saturday on, maybe two hours.  I wanted to sense the Monday cheering from afar.

But there I sat late Saturday afternoon, with my body politely saying “No”.  The angst ran through me and I made no move for my backpack.  I just stared at the building.  Thoughts came:

You’re a bad person if you don’t go in

Uncommitted, mentally weak, abysmal

No chance to ride across Canada if you let a little weakness stop you

You can’t have those kids cheering on the wrong day

If you don’t exercise today, you’ll gain a lot of weight [!]

And so floats my mind.  Sort of laughable, in a tender way.  I said no to the elliptical.  I said yes to sitting in Scarlet and watching a spiritual web seminar on my phone.  It was fun.

So today I’m feeling much better and two hours on the beast are in my afternoon future.  Tomorrow I’ll hang loose while some children are wondering how tired I am.  And Tuesday I’m aiming for the five hours.

Then there’s the rest of my life.  Goals are fine.  There’s a time to stretch towards them, and a time not to.  Schedules are cool.  There’s a time to follow them, and a time not to.  May I be wise enough to know when it’s a yes and when it’s a no.


On Tuesday, I was sitting in my living room, ready to head off to the gym for an hour on the elliptical.  Since I hadn’t eaten for awhile, I plucked a power bar from the cupboard.  “Better have something to wash it down with, Bruce.”  I picked a Diet Coke.  The beginning of oops.

Firmly positioned on my steed at Wellington Fitness, I flung my arms and legs into space.  Hmm.  I didn’t feel as strong as I usually did.  In fact, I was exhausted after the hour.  Then it was 20 minutes of yoga … but something was amiss.  Why was I so tired?

On the drive home, the nausea hit.  Mild but irritating.  And it stayed with me for the rest of the day.  That evening, I went to a meditation group in London.  At one point, the leader talked about a possible benefit of meditation: a decrease in reactivity.  Since I’ve learned that others often find it helpful for me to talk about what’s happening in the present moment, I spoke up.  “I’m feeling exhausted and nauseous, probably because I drank a Diet Coke just before exercising.  My recent retreat was helpful in dealing with stuff like this.  Although I had a burst of telling myself I was stupid, that self-condemnation passed quickly.  I felt into my body and into my feelings (sadness) and after awhile I was left with just the physical pain, not endless thoughts about what it meant.”  It was a contribution, and I was pleased.

The pain got worse overnight.  Hardly any sleep till 3:00 am, when I started consuming Tums and Gas-X.  Not to mention a laxative.  I also placed a barf bucket close to my bed.  Proliferating thoughts returned.  “It’s the flu.  I’ll be out of commission for the next two weeks.  Tomorrow’s my birthday and I need to cancel all the cool things I’ve planned.  What a horrible way to spend my special day!”  I phoned my hairstylist’s answering machine right then and cancelled my 10:00 am appointment.  “And I’d better cancel my volunteer time this afternoon with the Grade 6’s.  And my dinner with my friend (I’ll call her Mary).”

And then I fell asleep.  I was awake at 6:30 and feeling some better.  I looked at those earlier thoughts, and within a minute of two, decided that they no longer applied.  I phoned my hairstylist and left another message that I was coming.

The vague nausea continued throughout the day.  “Surely a reaction to Diet Coke wouldn’t last this long!  I must have the flu.”  Blah, blah, blah.  Despite what my body felt like and what my mind was churning out, I saw the opportunity.  “It’s easy, Bruce, to be happy when your life is rolling along smoothly.  How cool would it be to enjoy your birthday while this pain does its thing?”

Here’s what happened:

1. My hairsylist (I’ll call her Jessica) counted down with me to 10:00 am (my time of birth, according to mom).  At the dot of 10, I rose from the chair as Jessica squealed “Happy Birthday!”  We hugged, and all was right with the world.

2. At about 1:15, the Grade 6 kids sang “Happy Birthday” to me.  I tried to convince them that I was 45 but those young ones are just too smart.  For the rest of the afternoon, I had some fun conversations with 11-year-olds.  Yay for volunteering!

3. Mary and I had a fine time at Boston Pizza.  My meal was ginger ale, chicken noodle soup and a garden salad with a non-creamy dressing.  Just what I needed.  And so was our talk.  Mary has been having a tough time lately and I think she heard me when I suggested she feel her pain deeply but not to linger on it, then to stand tall and continue moving her life towards happiness.


I’m happy.  This morning I woke up to energy and a calm stomach.  No flu.  I went back on the elliptical (without a Diet Coke appetizer).  I lived my birthday.  And I’m committed to doing good in the world no matter what my body is telling me.


I was lounging on a Cuban beach two years ago, talking to a couple I had met the day before.  The fellow looked at my chest and said “So, you’re really glad to see me.”  Huh?  Then I looked down at my nipples and saw that they were sticking out some.  But they’ve always looked that way.  And then I forgot the whole thing.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago when the weather got warmer and I started wearing t-shirts again.  I looked in the mirror and there were my nipples, showing some under the T.  And in this version of Bruce, it wasn’t okay.  Here’s this nice little Buddhist guy, very familiar with letting things be as they are, starting to obsess about natural bumps on his chest.  Whatever happened to nipple peace?

This skewedness continued on its merry way until yesterday.  “Go down, you stupid little things.”  And that was pretty irrational, since my nips always seem to look the same.  Conveniently ignoring that relevant fact, I went to my laptop and Googled “normal male nipple”.  I then discovered that there isn’t any such thing.  We guys come in all sorts of configurations!

Undeterred by such variance in the male chest, I sallied forth into several Internet articles.  One plastic surgeon described “the perfect male nipple”, with the areola being such-and-such a diameter, and a nipple height of 3-4 mm.  Being alone in the house, I whipped off my shirt, went to a kitchen drawer, pulled out a ruler and proceeded to do the measurement.  6 mm.  “See?  I’m abnormal!”

Oh, Bruce.  Get a grip.  Just accept that you’re an absolutely perfect male specimen, except for nipple height.  Actually, aren’t we all perfectly ourselves, even as we regress from the mean of human features?  I think we are.

There’s the Six Million Dollar Man, and now we have the Six Millimeter Man.  Both absolutely fine examples of the male species.

I woke up this morning, put on my “Shine A Light Upon My Day” t-shirt, laughed at my nippled self, and sauntered over to the Belmont Town Restaurant for brunch.  Nobody stared.  They pretty much didn’t notice me.

Get my point?


The Body Speaks

I was back to Hugh’s Room last night, this time to hear Sean McCann, formerly of Great Big Sea, a very cool Canadian music group.

One great thing about Hugh’s Room is that you can have a drink and a meal in the cozy venue.  My choices were a McCauslan draft beer and squid, more tenderly known as calamari.  It was delicious … for awhile.

As Sean rolled through his first set, and I was moving and grooving with him, I became aware of gooey teeth.  It’s one thing to have a healthy piece of spinach caught in there but squid was another matter.  I rolled my tongue over the offending spots but no go for the supreme release.  Discreetly, or perhaps not, I shoved my right hand inside and grinded away.  Nyet.  At the break, I talked to my server Lina about the angst of octopus teeth and she kindly brought me a shot glass full of toothpicks.  Over the next half hour, I used about ten of them.  The epitome of reserve, I retreated to a stall in the men’s washroom and commenced my day surgery.  Goo remained.

Not to be defeated by a sea creature, and feeling a bit queasy, I decided to get some air.  I walked outside to Dundas Street West, turned right, and ducked behind a brick wall, hidden from Hugh’s but open to inspection by the folks walking in the other direction.  A slender piece of wood emerged from my pocket and began its plunging work.  I was a shadowy figure in the shadows, clearly a druggie, or so I imagined people thinking.

Finally … success!  The coast was clear.  Thank God.

Back in the club, Sean was blasting out some anthems to the delight of the packed house.  The woman at the next table was gushing with her remembrance of the lyrics.  She would throw her arms in the air and then clasp her hands to her heart.  Two tables farther, next to the stage, a young woman in red also knew the words.  My angle to her was different – all I could see was the line of her cheek, and the curve was high, suggesting a big, big smile.  And lots of moving parts as the words poured out of her.

Before the break, I was thigh slapping and singing.  Afterwards, something was wrong.  Nausea grew.  I tried letting it be there, like a nice little Buddhist guy would.  Quite something when occasionally I would be all right with the pain.  Even okay with it continuing for as long as it was happy being there.  But then there were all those other times.  “This is bad.  This must end.”

My oomph was gone.  Neighbours rose to their headtops in bliss.  I rolled into a ball.  “Don’t vomit on this nice tablecloth, Bruce.”  Thankfully, I didn’t.  But “this isn’t me.  I’m zestful and vibrant and over the top.”  Except when I’m not.  “Okay.  This is also me.”

The pain eventually led me to drastic action.  Trusting that no one was watching, I pulled up my sweater, undid my belt, let down the fly a bit and replaced my wooly garment.  Ahh.  Or at least a lessening of the pressure.

At the end, folks rose in a standing ovation.  I slumped.  “But you’re always one of the first to stand, Bruce!”  Goodness gracious.  Will you please be quiet?  I’m having a different drummer day.

I feel some better today, just a little sickly.  No more beer for awhile.  And in the spirit of scientific investigation, down with squid and up with salad.  How about that, Bruce body?




A Balmy Morning

I was motoring along a Kitchener, Ontario freeway on Saturday morning.  Ahead of me waited Lydia Ko and the LPGA golf tournament.  All was well, except for my lips.  Four days of sun had dried them to a crisp, and they were starting to hurt.

Blistex.  The wonderful ointment that soothes and softens.  And the tube was back in my B&B bedroom, forgotten on the dresser.  Oh, silly man.

No worries.  There must be a drug store around here somewhere.  I remembered that the freeway frittered out at one point, with traffic slowing down through a littering of big box stores.  There’ll be Blistex somewhere amid the rectangles.

First though, I spotted a furniture store ahead – The Brick.  At their store in London I had recently bought an off-white bedroom suite for my condo.  Forsaking the urgency of peeling skin, and completely forgetting the marvelous person who is Lydia Ko, I pulled into the parking lot, hoping to visit another incarnation of my suite.  And there it was, in the double bed model.  I touched the wood.  I opened the drawers.  I drooled.

On my way out of the store, I asked two fellows if there was a drug store handy.  “Costco has one.  It’s just down the road.”  Thank you, my esteemed sales associates.

A few twists and turns later, I walked into consumer paradise.  I had my doubts about the Blistex since everything seems to come in Grade A Large at Costco.  I approached a druggie (I mean a drug department employee) to find that the tiny tube I sought hadn’t made it into inventory.  My lips groaned.  I asked her if she knew of another drug store nearby.  She smiled and drew me a map, featuring a return to the freeway, a long looping road, and a few traffic lights.

My lips pursed as I followed the lovely young woman’s directions.  I kept looking for Shoppers Drug Mart on the left but there was nothing.  Then a “Pharmacy” sign on the right.  I veered in.  Smacking my lips in anticipation, I approached the counter.  “No, we don’t stock that product.  Sorry.”  (Sigh)

Back on the road again, I squinted for a Shoppers.  And finally it appeared.  There was even a “Lip Balm” aisle.  I walked down it, glancing left and right.  Nothing again.  Finally, I noticed a rotating display.  I twirled … and there it was: my sacred tube of Blistex.

Out in the car, I applied liberal amount of the goo, coming perilously close to the underside  of my nose and my chin.  All was right with the world.  Except for my cell phone sitting awkwardly in the left pocket of my shorts.  I reached in to adjust things.  My fingers touched something soft.  It was a tube.

Although my intention had been to follow the sweet Lydia Ko for all eighteen of her holes, I managed to see just four.

Strange, this person
Strange, this life

Holding Your Head

During the year that Jody was ill and dying, her head started tilting more and more to one side as she lay in bed.  How strange that I can’t remember which side it was.  But I know I did my darndest to straighten her head some, so she could eat and drink.  We had a tiny pillow to support her jaw.  I would stand behind my dear one, place a hand on either side of her head, and lift … as gently as I could.  Often this hurt Jodiette, and I withered in response.  Sometimes, though, all went well.  I paused as I felt the weight of my wife’s head in my hands.  Those moments were magical.  Such a precious object to be holding.  A timeless moment.  And such a responsibility.

When I think of expressing love towards someone’s head, I think of kissing first of all … surely one of the great pleasures in life.  Kissing on the lips is such an expression of romantic love.  But kissing on the cheek is sweet as well, whether or not there’s romance in the air.  Such a pure thing.

Once in awhile, I’ve been moved to brush a fellow human’s cheek with the outside of my first two fingers.  Oh my.  Especially to do this in silence, with eye contact.  “You are beloved to me,” so says my hand.  Words couldn’t add to the intimacy.

And then, of course, there’s looking deep into the eyes of another.  Not in the general vicinity of their eyes, but way down into the pupils.  Unimaginable treasures reside in there, especially if we’re willing to hold that gaze with our companion.  Awe emerges.

I’m glad we all have heads.  They’re lovely receivers of delight.


First Yoga Class

On my meditation retreat last fall, we had weekly yoga sessions.  All new to me.  And I did some basic stretches nearly every day.  They sure helped me deal with the back realities of my yogi job – potwashing.

Now back in the world of Southern Ontario, I decided to take an introductory yoga class.  It started last night.

There were about fifteen of us – mostly women, mostly folks in their 20’s and 30’s.  Old memories of not liking my body and being un-fit dropped in to say hi throughout the evening.  I decided to say hi back and let them be.

I’ve sure made some silly conclusions in my life:

I can’t squat
I have bad knees
If I do certain stretches, I’ll end up incapacitated for life

One of the first moves we did was simply standing on the mat, feet touching at the front and the back, pressing down with the balls and the heels, spreading the toes and then lifting them.  How can that be hard?  But it was.  And here came my train of negative thoughts.  “Hello again.”

Then there was standing with my left side to the wall, hand touching, grabbing my right ankle and bringing it up high on my left thigh, and then pressing everything inwards to keep the foot in position.  Right hand eventually on my right thigh.  “O wondrous imperfect one that you are, Bruce!”  Thank goodness I could laugh at myself.

Late in our session, there I was – left foot against the baseboard, right foot flat on the mat at an “impossibly” long distance from the other.  Hips pointing straight ahead, but moving my right toes outward at a 45 degree angle, then moving my heel in so that the foot was perpendicular to the left one, foot and knee pointing down the length of the mat.  One of the assistants came by to help me with the alignment.

I looked at my twisted body in wonder.  After all, “I have bad knees.”  Or do I?

During the next eight weeks, I’ll be exploring what this body of mine is really about.  Hmm … an adventure.  I’m all for having lots of those.

An Inside Job

I wonder what we look like on the inside.  I’ve turned the pages of anatomy textbooks and seen the jumble of muscle, blood vessels, organs and bone, but that’s not what I’m talking about.

If Spirit fills us all, it’s often not visible to the outside world. With many people, however, it does leak out into the atmosphere some.  But you have to be an alert observer to see it walking by you on the street.

Let’s say most of Spirit hangs out inside us somewhere.  Would it be in the brain, in the heart, tucked under my kneecap, or just spread liberally throughout the bod?  I wonder if an autopsy has ever come across patches of essence.

For the pathologist to catch sight of Spirit, it had better be some colour. How about red?  (That’s my favourite.)  Might get confusing, however, with all the blood that’s usually in the immediate vicinity.  Isn’t purple a common New Age colour? Perhaps that’s it.  Or … maybe you could reach under the spleen and find a pocket of rainbow – the full spectrum blended together, from Red to Orange to Yellow to Green to Blue to Indigo to Violet.  Maybe that’s how Spirit abides. And another thought: Is it possible that it can only be found in one human being on Earth – a certain Roy G. Biv?  No, that’s silly. Spirit is in all of us.

I also wonder whether the light of Spirit vibrates inside of me, or flashes, or if it’s a steady beam.  Relying on my knowledge of Christmas lights, I vote for steady.  The flashing types bother my brain, while a string of solid white lights looks so pretty in the falling snow.

These could be deep thoughts, or maybe shallow.  Whichever the case, please don’t go cutting into yourself to find the colours. Makes a mess and it hurts. Far better to let your pores shine out your goodness to the waiting world.


I’ve often thought about how people hold their heads.  I don’t mean with their hands.  I mean the angle … as in centred, slightly left or slightly right. Also, looking down, looking up and looking with the head level.

I enjoy being centred in life, squared up.  Same thing with my gaze.  There’s power, I believe, in looking right at the person I’m with, the line of my shoulders forming a right angle with the direction my head is pointing.  A little one way or the other seems to lessen the contact.  And I want each moment I’m with another human being to hold the possibility of contributing to them.  Naturally my intention, my attitude, my words and my tone of voice are important, but I also sense that my alignment makes a difference.

And then there’s down, up and level.  As I was driving today, I passed a young woman walking with purpose, head down in mid-text.  She seemed so tight and contorted.  There was no flow.  But sometimes head down can be a blessing.  On meditation retreats, we walk with our heads down as a way to centre ourselves.  We’re asked not to make eye contact with other yogis. This is not to be distant, but to allow each person their space.  Even without eye contact, or touching, there’s lots of caring transmitted from retreatant to retreatant.

As for eyes up, that can show devotion or wonder.  “I lift mine eyes unto the hills”, lift them not only to the beauty of nature but also to the best in us, to whatever we experience God to be.  I remember as a kid sitting on the crumbling cement porch of my grandpa’s farmhouse, listening to him tell stories from his favourite chair.  He’d talk and smoke his cigar, and the people would come alive in me.  Devotion.

My favourite is to look at someone on the level.  Person to person, neither one better or worse, two people making meaning together.  As a teacher of many young kids, I’d usually kneel down as we talked, so that we could be eye-to-eye.  That felt good.  Whether with a child or with someone older than me, the meeting of the eyes, especially if we linger, is lovely. Communion.

To everything – turn, turn, turn
There is a season – turn, turn, turn
And a time for every purpose under heaven



I’ve noticed that if there’s a group of people standing around, without drinks in their hands, arms and hands do a lot of different things.  Legs and feet too.  Hands may be thrust into pockets.  Arms folded across the chest.  Hands clasped in front.  Hands clasped in back.  Hands on the hips.  One hand on a hip.  One foot wrapped around the other, in a precarious-looking fashion.  One hand on some supporting object.  Hands balled into fists.  Fingers tightly interlocked.

Rarely do I see anyone standing with their arms dangling loosely at their sides, their hands open.  Or a person standing with their weight balanced evenly on both feet, toes pointing slightly outward in a symmetrical way.

Why are we often so contorted, so skewed, so tight?  Here are a few of the stances I’ve seen that somehow make me sad:

1.  One of the lead singers, a 16-year-old girl, on a “Celtic Woman” DVD.  As she sings, using a mike that reaches around to her mouth, leaving her hands free, her arms are bent at nearly a 90 degree angle.  The voice is lovely, the face serene, but the arms are rigid.

2.  A woman I met at a meditation retreat sometimes walked around the grounds with her arms bent behind her back, with each hand cupping the elbow of her other arm.  A backwards straight jacket, I thought.

3.  An actress selling perfume clasps her forearms over her head, exposing her armpits to the audience, or interlaces her fingers behind her head.  Another presses one hand to the back of her head.  One more crosses her right arm over her stomach and touches the inner elbow of her left arm.  Does anyone ever stand in these ways in real life?

4.  A woman at a party sits with her legs crossed, right over left.  She hooks her right foot behind her left ankle.  Talk about muscle definition!

I love fast dancing, and the freedom of swirling my arms in unknown patterns over my head.  A group I used to be in called it “breakthrough dancing”.

I love allowing my arms to dangle as I stand in line for something.  When I’m really open, it’s as if my fingertips are about to brush the floor.

I love feeling like a mountain, with my feet spread just enough for a sturdy base.

I love looking straight into the camera, with no twist or tilt of the head.

I love spreading my arms wide, allowing the palms of my hands to see the sun.

I love bowing to another person, palms held gently together.

I love symmetry, inward and outward.  Or, better said …

Open to God