Questions

I was volunteering in the Grade 5/6 class this afternoon.  A community police officer spent some time talking to the kids about “peer relationships”.  How marvelous that these young people got to see a representative of the police force as approachable, engaging and funny.  A real human being, not just a uniform and a gun belt.

Adam asked the students some questions.  And I reflected on my life.

1.  Have I ever punched, shoved or hit another person?

Gosh no.  It’s so far away from who I am, and who I’ve been.  My mouth drops open when I even imagine myself being violent with someone.

2.  Have I ever threatened to hurt someone?

No.  If I have differences with a person, or criticism about something they did or said, I want to talk it out, without antagonism.

3.  Do I ever make fun of others, tease them or call them mean names?

No, except for playful teasing when I know that the other person sees I’m on their side.  But never mocking them for being different than me, whether that’s personality, sexual orientation, age, race or ethnicity.  To call a black person a “nigger” is completely foreign to me.

4.  Do I often make fun of others because they’re different from my friends and me?

No.  I love exploring the differences among us, in learning about folks whose lives are such a contrast to mine.

5.  Do I gossip about other people?  Do I spread rumours about them?

Heavens no.  That’s an act of violence, both towards the other person and towards me.  I can’t be happy if I’m aversive to someone else.  I do talk about people who are not right there listening, but it’s in the spirit of fascination and interest, not criticism.

***

Having said all this, I’m no saint.  Sometimes I don’t give folks enough space in their life, pressing forward in relationship when I need to back off some.  Sometimes I speak without thinking, without really gauging the potential impact of my words.  And sometimes I forget important things that people tell me.  But through it all, through those unskillful moments, I know that my intentions are good.

There’s so much pain in the world and my commitment is to add very little to the total, while adding a lot to the sum of well-being.

Day Three

It’s the “What Now?” conference in Denver, Colorado and I’m following the action on my laptop.  It’s astounding to be in the presence of so many openhearted, inclusive souls.  I long for more “symmetrical” conversations about spiritual life.  Although I have a few of them in Belmont and environs, it’s more typical that I bring up some aspect of Spirit and the other person doesn’t know what to do with me, doesn’t know how to respond … asymmetrical.  I remain hopeful, however, that if I keep bringing forward the best in me, the best in you will respond in kind.

Here are my favourite messages from Sunday’s sessions:

(Amir Nasr, a young Muslim fellow who became discouraged with how his religion was showing up in the world, and wrote a book about that, called “My Islam”, a book that was banned in several countries)

“I just wanted to fit in and be safe.  Going against the system got me so screwed, so beaten up.  I’m a radical humanist, divested of all identities that had been poured into me.  We need an identity based on citizenship, rooted in values – human values, shared values.  Too many of us have been drinking from the poisoned well of separation.”

To what extent do I stick my neck out in life, saying what’s in my heart, even if that’s being critical of the damage often done to other human beings?  If I get scared, do I shut up?

(Chris Grosso, sitting in a counsellor’s office at school, with photos and statues of various spiritual leaders adorning the walls and shelves)

“What’s going on with your walls?  I thought you were supposed to pick one and go with it.”

Reminds me of a story about a Buddhist teacher.  I think it was Munindra.  A student of his had listened to a talk from another spiritual master, probably not Buddhist, and had been enthralled.  Apparently, he then went to Munindra and apologized for straying from his teachings.  Munindra’s response?  Something like “If you find this other person’s words more valuable than mine, then go with him.”  How refreshing.

“Every man, wherever he goes, is encompassed by a cloud of comforting convictions, which move with him like flies on a summer day.”  (Bertrand Russell)

What if my cherished opinions are confronted by “disconfirming data”?  Am I a big enough (or empty enough) person to let go of what needs to be let go of, or does the furrowed brow of being right rule the day?

“I’ve been mourning my departure from an extractive life in which I was a master of the universe.  I had to let go of that world and help co-create the generative world.”

Extractive, as in taking
Generative, as in creating goodness

“Discovering the great Ground of Being and your Real Self, that is your own deepest and truest being, is the only truly effective antidote to the epidemic torment that now drenches the planet.”

Act responsibly in the world … yes
Let go and let go into Spirit … yes and yes and yes

 (Ken Wilber, on how the ecstasy of sexual love can awaken us)

“Transfer your feelings of loving your partner to loving the entire world.  All of it.  No exceptions.  Go from making love to your partner to making love to the entire universe.

Not a single thing is left out of Big Love:

I love that terrorist attack
I love global warming
I love white supremacists
I love the Taliban
I love my friend’s bleeding ulcer
I love that metastatic cancer
I love that recent stroke
I love economic collapse
I love inner city riots
I love the HIV virus

Nirvana is very real.  When the source of consciousness is traced to its very foundation, the entire world stops arising in awareness, and that pure cessation, that pure content-free awareness, is nirvana, where the individual is radically free from everything … This freedom is extremely real, not something we’re making up.”

Oh my.  Can I really be this inclusive?  And can I really let go of the world while living fully in it?  I don’t know.

Day Two

So many human beings with things to say in Colorado.  And such a blessing to me.  I love hearing people speak from the heart, and more and more I’m doing that too, even sometimes at the Belmont Diner, around the horseshoe-shaped lunch counter.  It takes courage to speak out, not full of opinions about the events of the day, but rather about what’s supremely important in my life: love.  May we all sense the stirrings of the heart and bring that energy to our lips.  May “sometimes” turn to “often”.

Here are some sweet thoughts from the presenters on Day Two:

“What we value, what we think about, what we identify with, is transformed.”

It seems like a natural process happening within me, “on the road to find out”.  No effort.  As the Buddha said, what I think about … I become.

“In the last 20 years, global poverty has been cut in half, and will likely be wiped out in our lifetime.  In 1950, less than 10% of the world’s population was considered middle class.  Today it’s almost 50%.  A century ago, just a few countries were democratic, and some of those only partially so.  Today nearly 2/3 of countries are democracies.  Two hundred years ago, only 12% of the world’s population could read.  Today 86%.”

I had no idea of the advancements mankind has made.  My focus has been almost exclusively on the problems.  While naturally we need to address these problems, we also need to celebrate our emerging goodness.

“How shall we respond to challenges?  We have choices:

1. Do nothing
2. Blame, cope, give our opinions
3. Transact – Do something!  Anything.  (a recipe for burnout)
4. Transform – Do something that gives life”

Whatever I do, may my heart dance with my mind.

“Think about what’s true for you.  If it doesn’t motivate action, if it doesn’t guide intuition, if it doesn’t settle emotion, if it doesn’t build resilience, if it doesn’t guide what you do now, it’s not deep enough.  It won’t save you.”

I need to sit quietly with myself and let my deepest truths bubble to the surface.

“Focus on the other person feeling understood and respected.  Look for what’s best in what they’re offering to influence you.”

Let go of rehearsing my next speech.  What beauty is held by the person sitting across from me?

“He acts whenever action is required.   He cares for whatever needs his care.  He destroys what needs to be destroyed.”

Not a suggestion for violence but a commitment to stand up for what enhances human life and to resist what doesn’t

“Spondic love is the experience of a deep sense of ‘I am’.  And may you be.  You want to give life force to the other person.  You want them to have everything.  And you can feel it, from your belly and heart.  You want them to be blessed, exploded with life.  It’s a kind of communion.”

Oh my.  Relationship so beyond any self-help book.  A deepness of “we” that can transform the world.  Reverence.  Connection.  Love.

Day One

I’ve watched the first session of the “What Now?” conference.  My laptop beams me to the ballroom of the Omni Interlocken Resort in Denver, Colorado.  Some of the world’s most expansive thinkers are tackling the issue of unprecedented change and how to create a more inclusive world.  Issues on the table include spirituality, consciousness, business, technology, culture, race, sexuality and politics.

As I listen to the speakers, it feels like coming home.  Consistently, their attitude mirrors mine:  Love, kindness, compassion and respectful assertiveness must win.  Here are some quotes:

“Your mind will be stimulated
Your heart will be opened
Your views will be challenged
Your time will be well spent”

“To lead from a place of love, presence and fearlessness”

“To move beyond our mental and emotional powers and into a realization of who we really are”

“What a wonderful thing to be together with likeminded souls”

“If the world that’s unfolding is not the one we want, what is our generative response?”

“How can I be a generative force that moves the ball forward?”

And in response to social ills:

“We get to fight
We get to be fierce
We get to say no
We get in the game
It’s not just about being an observer
This is not okay”

So today, Sunday and Monday, I immerse myself in fostering the good, the true and the beautiful in the midst of chaos.  I welcome the journey.  I’ll tell you more tomorrow.

 

Team

On Sunday evening, I stood in Maple Leaf Square with thousands of other Toronto fans.  Inside the Air Canada Centre, the Leafs were battling the Washington Capitals in a National Hockey League playoff game.

When Auston Matthews scored for the home team, we went nuts, waving our white flags and jumping up and down.  I was so happy.

But that joy pales in comparison to yesterday afternoon.  I was watching the Grade 6 girls from South Dorchester School play in the finals of a basketball tournament.  The score was 9-8 with about two minutes left.  “Monica” was well outside the foul line when she launched a ball skyward.  A sweet touch on the backboard and then nothing but net.  Ecstasy coursed through my arteries and veins.  I stood and cheered.  After a few close calls at the other end, the whistle blew and there was a mass of hugging 12-year-olds.

The difference was love.  I know those youngsters as human beings and I care deeply about them.  Oh, I say I love the Leafs but we all know that’s a junior version of a very fine thing to feel.

The image staying with me is all the jump balls that were called.  Two girls would have their hands on the basketball and wouldn’t let go.  Sometimes they’d be rolling around on the floor, still hanging on.  Go South Dorchester!  You girls are fierce.  I loved seeing your energy – pushing the ball up the floor, falling down and getting up, missing a shot and keeping your head high.  Wow.

My wish is that twenty years from now, when you think of yesterday, the first thing you’ll remember is your teammates – how you hung in there together, patted each other on the shoulder when things were bad, high fived each other when things were good.  You gave it all for your friends.

So this is what walking on air feels like.

Paths Of The Soul

Tricycle is a spiritual magazine and website, offering the lens of Buddhism to our daily lives.  Included in the yearly membership of $40 US is their Film Club.  The November offering – Paths Of The Soul – was my companion a few nights ago.

My way is one way.  But there are so many others.  Start with an elderly Tibetan fellow who’s never travelled, instead serving family throughout his life.  Imagining death, he decides to go on a pilgrimage to Lhasa, the holy city.  It’s 1200 miles away.  Members of his family volunteer to accompany him, including an 8-year-old girl.  And others join in too.

They walk.  An animal skin covers their chest and legs.  They wear wooden paddles on their hands.  They clap the paddles above their heads, then twice at chest level.  And then they throw themselves forward onto the ground – a sliding prostration, a bow.  This happens every ten steps or so.

Oh my.  They’re really doing this.  All without griping.  Supporting each other through the pain.  Smiling.  It’s a spiritual journey far more than a spiritual destination.

I was transfixed by the young girl.  At one point, her hands hurt.  Adults encouraged her to stop bowing.  She didn’t … until they reached Lhasa.  She encouraged others.  She led.

One person drove a small tractor, which pulled a trailer full of tents and provisions.  Towards the end of the journey, a car sideswiped the tractor, breaking its axle.  No repair shops on the road to the holy city.  So the men pushed and pulled the trailer while the women continued to bow.  Once the men had completed a section of road, they left the trailer and went back to the beginning of that stretch.  They prostrated themselves while returning to the trailer.  And not a “poor me” to be heard.

Transport trucks roared by within feet of the travellers during the day, and kept them awake for much of the night.  So?  We carry on.

The group came to a flooded section of the road, with water about a foot deep.  They looked for a minute and then proceeded.  Paddle high, paddle middle, slide.

The patriarch died before reaching Lhasa.  The family mourned most tenderly, and finished the journey for him.

Another way.  A good way.  And I was privileged to see it all.

Dive Deep

I met a woman today, plus her daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter.  I won’t give you details except that she had dancing eyes and a lovely smile.

Afterwards I watched myself create future worlds, centred on the dubious possibility of happily-ever-after.  I’m such a funny duck (not sure if it’s funny ha-ha or funny ooo).  But really I don’t mind my own company.  My mind seems to have a mind of its own and I’ve decided to give it free rein.

I want to be with a woman who’s spontaneous and giddy with life, and if I can’t find such a one then I’ll go with a man like that …me!  With those standards, am I willing to be alone if no one of such ilk comes my way?  Yes.

I can’t control how other folks respond to me but I can choose what I put out into the known universe.  So …

Bye bye shy
Bye bye grumpy
Bye bye woe

There.  That feels better

Boogie through my days
Welcome the yays and nays
See who stays

Sick

This was to be the evening when I told you about my acting possibilities down the road.  I had lots of say but I’m too weak.  I woke up this morning with a deep cough, wracking myself in a high-pitched squeal as I tried to get the mucus up.  Once, I was having trouble breathing.  I was scared.  In the summer of 2013, Jody had continual pneumonia symptoms.  It turned out that it wasn’t an infection.  It was cancer.

In Emergency today, the doctor told me I don’t have pneumonia … just bronchitis.  No sign of cancer.  Thank God.

Tonight it’s all about coughing spasms, chills and fever.  I feel like poop.  But I want to see if I can write anything of value.  It’s fine to say good stuff when I’m well.  This, right now, is the test.

How do I treat people when I’m suffering?  I got some clue about that today at the hospital.  The triage nurse asked me what colour the mucus was, after I had told him.  So let it go, Bruce.  Not important.  I answered him with no editorial comment.

After triage was the registration desk, and then finding a seat in the waiting room.  I had my mask on.  I chose to sit right next to a fellow, rather than two seats down.  Was that being irresponsible?  I don’t think so.  In life, I simply want to move towards people rather than away from them.  Could my presence right next door be a benefit to him?  I say yes.  In any event, my decision came from a good intention – to contribute rather than infect.

Earlier, in the triage seats,  I talked to a woman who had been admitted to the hospital for a few days and then was sent home.  Back again.  We had a good time.  Eventually I was sent to a smaller waiting room, hopefully to see a doctor soon.  And there was the same woman, with two empty seats to her right.  I saw her nudge her coat over, to allow me full space next to her.  Inexplicably to me, I sat down two seats away.  Immediately, I felt the contraction.  Distance is not what I’m up to in life, so I moved over beside her.  That felt good, and right, and what the planet needs.  We talked some more.  And I knew that I had already forgiven myself completely.

A half hour later, I was alone in that room, when a fellow ambled in.  I wanted to make contact, so I said:  “You just missed the hors d’oeuvres.  A woman came by a few minutes ago.”  He smiled.

A few minutes after that, two women dropped their paperwork at the window and took a seat.  “It seems that they’re serving us in alphabetical order.”  Two smiles.  Missions accomplished.

I’m happy, and sick.  Nothing special.  Just me.

 

 

 

Categories – Part 2

Given gibberish in old WordStar files, to the rescue came Martin, my computer guy.  He recovered the contents, converting the files to Word and placing them on my laptop hard drive.  Yay!  As well as the phrases and sentences, the files are full of random symbols.  I’ll have some major editing to do.  That’s okay.

So … all those full categories were from the 1980’s.  Thirty years later, in addition, I have five inches of piled white 3 x 5″ index cards, crammed with quotes, plus 464 pages of thoughts I’ve inputted into Word.  All of this random.

“What do you want to do, Bruce?”  And the answer comes swiftly:  “Before I die, I want to put all these quotations into categories, adding and subtracting subjects as a reflection of me as a 70-, 80- or 90-year-old, rather than the WordStar youngster of 35 that I was in the era of big blue binders.  I want to publish the results through Blurb and somehow get the books into the hands and hearts of people who will appreciate them.”

So there.

How many pages am I talking about here?  The one binder that I still have is 248 pages.  So double that to include the resurrected contents of the missing binder … 496.  Add the 464 pages in Word, and then whatever five inches of index cards would amount to – 200 pages?  So … drum roll please … that comes to 1160.  The maximum number of pages that Blurb allows for their trade books is 480.  Therefore to do all this would take three volumes of “Transformational Subjects”, averaging say 400 pages.  Whew!

A few questions seem to be poking out through the vines of my mind:

1.  Who would I give these books to?  How would I find folks who’d like to read about one bloke’s take on life?

2.  For close on forty years, I’ve plucked quotations from books and articles without writing down who the author is.  So if I self-publish this potpourri of wise thoughts, am I going to have hundreds of people suing me for using their words without permission?  (Wow, that sure sounds paranoid.  Or maybe true.)

3.  Do I really want to spend a large portion of the next five years pulling all this material together, arranging it to my liking, designing the books and publishing them?

4.  If I don’t share these perspectives on life with whomever wants to hear them, why exactly have I been poring over index cards for four decades?  Have I done all this just so I can get a little more evolved?  I don’t like that.  I see my job as being a contribution to people near and far.  How can I keep all this stuff hidden?

Time to sit quietly, Bruce, and think.

I want to publish these ideas
I’m willing to be sued
I want to leave something behind when I die

Do it, Bruce

Categories – Part 1

It all started back in 1973.  I had just moved to Vancouver and was hanging around used book stores.  I found myself gravitating to the “Religion” section, with an emphasis on “Eastern”.  I bought a book called The Importance of Living, written in 1937 by Lin Yutang, and was enthralled.  Many more purchases followed.

At some point, I began to write down quotations that resonated with me.  And I’ve never stopped.  By the mid-1980s, it was time to computerize all these little pieces of paper.  Jody and I had bought a desktop computer (no laptops then) plus the WordStar word processing program.  I started typing.  Many months later, all the insights I’d collected were on my hard drive.  I backed them up on 3.5″ diskettes.

Next, I needed to organize these thousands of ideas.  So I created my categories, an effort to make the world’s wisdom (or my view of it) accessible.  Here were my A’s:

5     Abiding, Standing, Resting, Stillness / Motion
10   The Absolute
15   Accepting, Letting, Allowing / Resisting, Rejecting, Analyzing, Judging
20   Action, Doing, Expression
30   Always Already, Prior To
37   Anger, Upset
38   Animation, Life, Aliveness
39   Annihilation / Survival
43   Appropriate, “Right”
55   Attention
75   Awakening, Being Awake / Being Asleep, Dreaming
77   Awareness, Sensitivity, Being Conscious, Listening, Hearing
78   Awe, Wonder

Perhaps some explanation would be appropriate.  “Always Already” refers to a state of being spiritually awake, one that we don’t need to reach for.  It’s within us at all times, waiting to be uncovered.  “Annihilation” points to a letting go of a sense of “me” or “mine”, while still acknowledging that I need to navigate through the challenges that society presents.

The task then before me was to plug each quote into a category, or maybe more than one.  I called them “Transformational Subjects”.  I don’t know how long that took, probably more than a year.  What I was left with was two huge blue binders full of thoughts, each page cradled within a clear, yellow-bordered page protector.  I remember asking Jody if she would buy me page protectors for my birthday.  She did.

Sometime in my past, one of the binders disappeared.  So sad.  Just now, I looked through the one I have left … 248 pages of double-spaced vibrating words.  When Jody and I eventually bought Microsoft Word, I used to wonder how I’d convert the old WordStar files.

Last fall, I found all the diskettes, but when I inserted them into the disc drive of our desktop computer, all I saw on the screen was gibberish.  WordStar was long gone.  What intense sadness.  Why, oh why, had I done all this decades ago?

The story continues tomorrow.