A Tale of Two Teams

I spent the afternoon at a high school in St. Thomas, watching a basketball tournament full of Grade 5’s and 6’s.  I knew I’d love cheering on the girls and boys from the school where I volunteer.

There was a stark difference in results.  The girls lost their four games and didn’t make the playoffs.  The boys won everything … champions!  Both teams had struggled in the regular season so the boys’ explosion of offence and smothering defence were unexpected.

You might think that the contrasting results would produce different behaviour during the games.  Think again.

They’re all great kids and it shows up on the court.  Male or female, they cheer their teammates’ sweet plays and give them a pat when things go bad.  And they’re so intense! Blasting down the court with the ball, going wide around a defender.  Coming back furiously to cut off an opponent dreaming of an easy layup.  Rolling on the floor clutching at a loose ball.  Finding an open teammate with a cool bounce pass.  All marvelous.

The best for me was that I couldn’t see any drooping heads when the score was climbing against them.  Just keep pressing and enjoy the conversation when you’re on the bench.

When I was growing up I wasn’t on sports teams (except for Grade 9 football, when I never got into a game).  These kids have an opportunity that I didn’t give myself.  Good for them.  They’re learning about jump shots, hand-in-your-face defence … and life.

Give ‘er!

Can’t Help But Wonder Where I’m Bound

Okay, so what do I want to do with the rest of my life?  There are many things that draw me – meditation, sacred relationships, cycling, spending time with kids.  And then there was the package that arrived in the mail today.  It consisted of two books, each offering the lyrics and guitar chords for 1200 songs.

Thirty years ago, I wrote out the titles to 100 songs I wanted to learn – singing and playing guitar.  My results so far?  Zero.  But here I sit, wanting to sing for people, wanting to touch them with stories that open the heart.  The dissenting voice inside says there’s only so much time left in my life.  A guy can have too many projects, can’t he?  And anyway, where am I going to find folks to sing to?

Well, a couple of weeks ago, I went to a house in London where Christine and John host folk music concerts every Wednesday evening.  I had a great time.  Maybe they’ll let me sing one of these months.

Do I really want to invest the time to learn old songs?  Well … I could start with one, such as this pensive tale from Tom Paxton:

I’ve been wanderin’ through this land just doin’ the best I can
Tryin’ to find what I was meant to do
And the people that I see look as worried as can be
And it looks like they are wonderin’ too

And I can’t help but wonder
Where I’m bound, where I’m bound
Can’t help but wonder where I’m bound

Wouldn’t listeners find it easy to ask themselves the very same question?  Yes, I think they would.

But what about my guitar skills?  They’re pretty rudimentary and it’s been so long since I’ve played.  So?  I guess it depends on how badly you want to do this, Mr. Kerr.  You decide.

Okay.  I will pick up my guitar tomorrow and see what happens.  That’s a promise.

Time for bed.

Strong Enough?

Last week I Skyped with Bud and Margot, the organizers of the Tour du Canada.  On June 18, I’ll be setting off from Victoria, BC, and riding my bicycle ta-pocketa across the country, arriving in St. John’s, Newfoundland on August 31.  An average of 130 kilometres a day.

I started training for the ride after I got back from my meditation retreat in December.  I’ve been on the elliptical in the gym.  I know that typically I can cover 20-22 k’s in an hour of riding, burning between 600 and 700 calories.  I was worried that this speed wouldn’t be fast enough but Bud and Margot said it would be fine.

My hour-long elliptical sessions also burn calories to the tune of 600-700.  So I’ve declared that each session is the equivalent of 20 k’s.  Seems fair.  By that reckoning, I’ve ridden 665 kilometres since December 15, well on my way to the standard of 2000 km that each rider needs to accumulate by mid-June.  So all of this is good.

My longest equivalent distance covered over the last month-and-a-half is 45 k.  Nowhere near 130.  So I’m nervous.  The oldest person ever to have completed this ride was 73, and I’m 69.  The mind shouts out “too old”, “too weak” and “too far”.  But that’s just the mind.  I smile, listen respectfully and let the restrictive thoughts go.

Tomorrow I’ve promised myself that I’ll do 60 kilometres, or fall off the elliptical … exhausted.  “But Bruce, that’s three hours on the beast!”  >  “I’ll take half hour breaks”  >  “You’ll never make it”  >  “Oh yes I will.”

And so proceeds the banter back and forth.  It’s a good conversation.

I’ll tell you tomorrow how it went.  And I’ll try to keep way back in my head the fact that 130 k equals six-and-a-half hours on the elliptical.  Am I crazy or just majorly committed to realizing a long held dream?  I’ll take the latter, thank you.

***

P.S.  This is my 600th post on “Bruce’s Blog”.  Yay!

Running for the Ferry

I went to a lovely concert on Toronto Island yesterday. Sunlight streamed through one of the church’s stained glass windows onto the faces of the musicians – violinist, cellist and pianist.  Sweet sounds.

The concert finished with a heartfelt standing ovation around 4:00 pm.  I started chatting with some Islanders, knowing that the next ferry to downtown was at 4:30.  The one after that would be at 5:30.

At 4:10 I decided to bolt for the ferry.  There was no reason in the world why I couldn’t have opted for 5:30 instead.  I could have meandered through the trees and enjoyed the boardwalk back to the ferry dock.  But no … things to do and people to meet.

Two minutes of brisk walking and glances at my pink fitness tracker told me that I wasn’t going to make the ferry.  “Let go, Bruce.  5:30 is a lovely time of day.” However … the  next thing I know, some hidden orchestrator is propelling my feet into the air, otherwise known as running.

“Bruce – stop this!  You’re 69.”

“So?”

“Well, you might wreck yourself.  And then what would happen to your bike trip?”

“Oh, give it a rest.  I’m running and that’s that.  Get out of my way.”

“But you’re wearing a heavy winter coat.  And you’ll be using muscles that haven’t been stretched this way for years.  Plus you may be psychiatrically compromised.”

“What?!  ‘Psychiatrically compromised’?  You’re nuts.  Watch me fly.”

So I flew (sort of).  Graceful like a duck.  Fast as a dozey turtle.  Proud as a peacock.  Run some.  Walk some.  A trotting young couple passed me.  She hollered encouragement.  I saw them fade into my future.  A glance down at my Polar watch.  Four minutes to the whistle blast. More “running”.  No breath.  Ferry in sight.  Whistle. Twenty-five metres.  Crew member with neon vest starting to close the gate.  He sees me.  He stops.  No air and through the gate.  My woman friend is smiling and applauding.  The gold medal is mine.

Ain’t life grand?

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.