Elena of Avalor

I love watching shows where kids discover their own power.  For the last four years, I’ve volunteered in a Grade 6 classroom, and my mission has been to hold a mirror up to the children’s faces, so they can see their own goodness.

Subscribing to Disney Plus has been a marvel for me.  I find stories where the 10-year-old or the 16-year-old impacts life.  They step forward, rather than fall back into the shadows. They speak rather than waiting to be spoken to.  They stand tall.

A few weeks ago, I discovered Elena of Avalor – fifty-one episodes that show how the orphaned teenager moves towards being a future queen.  I’ve seen nine of them so far, and I’ve enjoyed Elena’s leadership, courage and kindness.

Last night I couldn’t remember some of Elena’s backstory so I decided to watch the first episode again.  Halfway through, something strange was happening to me. “This is very special, Bruce.  Pay attention.”  So I did.  I realized that while it’s a good story, and while Elena is pretty and smart, something deeper was roaming around my soul.

This photo speaks.  What does it say to you?  I see Elena looking at someone.  There is contact here … a deep joining that’s beyond big eyes and a smile.

This is timeless.  And I believe this is what the world needs.  Now and forever more.

Communion
Being With
Love

A Singing Bowl

It’s a quiet thing from Tibet.  When I meditate, it sits there peacefully, the mallet resting in the bowl.  At the end of my meditation time, I tap the side … three times.

There’s something magical about lingering between taps, till the sound is no more.  It reminds me of giving a speech.  When my words are done, I pause at the podium until I know it’s time to walk away.  There’s a gap within which there is completion.  Same with the singing bowl.

The singing comes when you sweep the mallet around and around the lip.  Sweet … but it’s not my sweet.  I tap instead.

Should I release the idea of “quality” in my tapping?  Any old strike will do?  Well, I could do that, but it doesn’t feel right.  There’s a communion when the tone hangs long in the air.  I intend to reach that state of relating, to experience the freedom that comes with precision.

Tapping near the lip creates an extra tinny sound at the beginning.  It fades quickly to a slow vibration but it’s not what I want.  It is indeed extra … beyond the essence of things.

Hitting hard halfway down the bowl produces a jolt, rather than a caress.  The tone lasts a long time, but I still find myself shaking my head “No.”

Hitting soft halfway down begins the flow almost immediately.  It allows me to hear the nuances of quieting music.  A quiet that fades to empty space.  I nod approval.  It feels “appropriate” without that word being offered by anything other than the Divine.

At the last, when the third tone has faded away to nothing, I lean close to my friend.  The song continues.  And I smile.

Eros and Agapé

I like reading about love because love is the most important part of my life.  In a book written by Ilia Delio, she and Teilhard de Chardin had immense things to say on the subject.  I wrote stuff down and now I can’t remember who said what.  Oh well … it was one of them.

When people hear the word “eros”, they tend to think of sex, as in “erotic”.  I see sexuality as an immense gift, meant to be thoroughly enjoyed.  But love as eros – is that what we’re talking about here?

The energy of eros is to accumulate for ourselves what we find valuable.

Eros is that ineffable longing that stretches beyond oneself for the sake of oneself.

I don’t know about you, but “me first” doesn’t sound like love to me.  It sounds like possessing someone, keeping them in a box, staying around as long as they meet your needs.

Love is the fire that breathes life into matter and unifies elements center to center.

Love is the fragrance that makes them hasten together and leads them, freely and passionately, along their road of unity.

That sounds much better.  You and me, creating something remarkable together.  That’s the world I want to live in.  It’s called agapé.

Agapé is love unconditioned, spontaneous, unmotivated.  It’s love indifferent to any type of reward or reciprocity.

A person spending himself freely and carelessly for the other person

The unconditional willing of the good

So … I have countless opportunities to pour love into you.  To want you to have a delightful life.  And in my better moments, it doesn’t matter what you do in return.

Friend and friend
Sister and brother
Parent and child
Grandparent and grandchild
Lover and lover

All different … but deeply the same

Just love
It is enough

Day Seventeen: Réunion

A few days ago, a great spirit died. Thousands of us, if not millions, have been touched by the wisdom of Ram Dass. He was an American (Richard Alpert) until he came upon a Hindu spiritual master and became his devotée.

Ram Dass spoke many words in his life. Here are my favourites:

When you go out into the woods, and you look at trees, you see all these different trees. And some of them are bent, and some of them are straight, and some of them are evergreens, and some of them are whatever. And you look at the tree and you allow it. You see why it is the way it is. You sort of understand that it didn’t get enough light, and so it turned that way. And you don’t get all emotional about it. You just allow it. You appreciate the tree.

The minute you get near humans, you lose all that. And you are constantly saying ‘You are too this, or I’m too this.’ That judgment mind comes in. And so I practice turning people into trees. Which means appreciating them just the way they are.

Jo and I have been in Senegal for eleven days. It’s the longest he’s ever been away from his dear wife Lydia and he’s missed her so much. Yesterday Lydia, Lore, Baziel and Marie-paule (Lydia’s mom) awoke at 5:00 am so they could catch their late morning flight from Brussels, Belgium to Dakar, Senegal. The loved ones would be reunited by 11:00 pm. So many different trees would come together in the darkness of the Toubacouta night.

At 10:10 we heard a honk. Jo jumped up. So did Moustapha. I was a bit slower but we all were drawn towards the arrivals pulling up in the van. The headlights blocked all else but a moment later there was Lydia’s smile in the front passenger seat. Tired faces spilled out of the vehicle, still full of the sweetness of connection. There were many soft hugs.

After we had unloaded the van of luggage and food, we all sat together, some on padded seats and some on the arms of chairs. Here we were: Jo, Ousmane, Baziel, Fatou, Ansou, Marie-paule, Lydia, Lore, Ali, Moustapha and me. Plus the little one Nima asleep in her bed. We were young and old, male and female, black and white, shy and outgoing. From three countries, speaking French, Flemish, Warlof and English. I looked around at all the trees – the curves of their trunks, the fluttering of their leaves, the colours of their bark. Our forest contained it all.

Each of us had their place
Each of us brought a uniqueness into the world
Each of us mattered

Soul Singers

What type of person would watch the video of a song performance ten times in an evening?  Well … a me type of person.

I loved the movie A Star Is Born, starring Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper.  It’s the story of a wearing-out singer befriending and loving a young up-and-comer.  With her voice and songwriting, she comes to displace him in the affections of the musical public.

Lady Gaga’s character wrote a stunning song called Shallow, and performed it brilliantly in the film to a rapturous audience of thousands.  The song was nominated for an Academy Award and during the ceremony Bradley and Lady Gaga, both dressed to the nines, rose from their seats in the audience, took each other’s hand, and walked onstage to the grand piano.

Words paint pictures but you need to watch the YouTube video.  It’s the one that begins with a red curtain rising and several men in tuxedos moving the piano into position.  What was present on that stage was love, eyes locked to each other’s, voices climbing together.  As in the film, there’s a moment when Lady Gaga blasts out the words as she pounds the piano keys and  gives her eyes to Bradley:

I’m off the deep end, watch as I dive in
I’ll never meet the ground
Crash through the surface, where they can’t hurt us
We’re far from the shallow now

I cried each time as she soared.  The voice was resonant, incredibly powerful.  A glowing bridge of spirit flowed between the two.  Its what love is meant to be … all encompassing.

What if I lived my life this way?  Full speed ahead towards the human beings of this planet.  High decibel joy.  Unfettered.  Undone.

I want the whole world to see this video, especially the ending, where their heads lean together and their eyes meet.  Please go find it.  You will be changed.

Pompeiian Friends

In 79 AD, Mount Vesuvius erupted, sending a pyroclastic flow of 250 degree Celsius gas and ash flooding down the slopes at 200 kilometres an hour. The force coming from the top of the mountain has been compared to 250,000 elephants being spewed out every second. About 2000 residents of Pompeii died, the theory being that their blood boiled before they could perish of suffocation. How horrible.

We went to visit Pompeii and Vesuvius. Much of the ancient city has been unearthed from its 25 metre covering of ash. We walked the cobblestoned streets and I felt into the lives of people who had similar joys and sorrows to me 1940 years ago.

I could have bought the audio contraption that would tell me about all the buildings but I knew that wasn’t the right choice for me. I needed to be with the spirits of people who have come before. Someone built these walls, these ovens, these theatres. Their lives were likely shorter than mine but no doubt just as rich. I wanted to walk the narrow streets with old friends.

Through a window hole, I glimpsed a tiny semicircular theatre. “Please, may there be a way that I can get in there!” And there was. A passage opened up to the simple grandeur of the stage and stone seats. There were maybe twenty of us standing and sitting in the space. I heard an English-speaking tour guide say that if you stood in the very centre of the stage and spoke, the sound would come back to you. And yes, it was true. A rich vibration returned.

I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to sing Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah to the Pompeiians. Folks came and went from the theatre and I despaired that I would never be alone there. I didn’t want to intrude into the well-being of the ones who were already present.

Maybe half an hour later, a family of four walked away from me. “Ciao.” No new people entered. It was time.

I pulled out my phone, found the lyrics and lifted my head to the gallery of ghosts. I sang … the whole thing. I felt the sweetness inside of throwing myself into their world. My peripheral vision told me that I had visitors, but I kept going. I felt the contraction and I let it go.

As the last “Hallelujah” hung in the air, I turned to see smiling faces and brief applause. Thank you, dear audience. It wasn’t a performance, however. It was a communion.

Karaoke

I learned weeks ago that we would have karaoke one evening at the Evolutionary Collective seminar in Asilomar, California. And I knew that I would sing. Apart from the briefest karaoke moments, and one time when I gave voice to the Grade 6s, I hadn’t sung to a room of human beings for forty years.

I knew that I would choose The Wings That Fly Us Home by John Denver and Joe Henry. Denver’s words and voice have soared for me for many decades. John was killed while flying his ultralight plane off the coast of Pacific Grove, California. Today I visited his memorial:

So welcome the wind and the wisdom she offers
Follow her summons when she calls again
In your heart and your spirit, let the breezes surround you
Lift up your voice then and sing with the wind

It was time to follow and so I set out to learn the lyrics. On the day before the performance, a sign up sheet appeared on our meeting room wall. I picked up the marker and made it official. And a surge ran through me. John, Joe and I would touch hearts that were already open.

Half an hour before the singing, I walked the paths of Asilomar, letting “many ways of knowing” tumble from my lips. A strange calm came down, not at all what I expected. In the room, a hat held slips of paper. The hand of a four-year-old girl chose who would sing when. I was asked to join a few others in a silly song. I put on a gauzy green scarf and gave ‘er with my friends. Can’t even remember the title!

“Next … Bruce,” said our lovely MC Genevieve. (Gulp) I tightened. I took the offer of the microphone. Genevieve whispered “We’ve got you.” As I looked out over the audience of 70, I saw that she was right. I was being held.

And then … I sang! I fell into the recently memorized words. I took in the loved ones to the left and right. They were with me. They were pulling out my best. And I gave them that.

Thoughts of my voice cracking, of not reaching the low or high notes, of disappearing lyrics – faded away. I simply shared what John and Joe and Bruce had to say:

I know that love is seeing all the infinite in one
In the brotherhood of creatures, who the father who the son?
The vision of your goodness will sustain me through the cold
Take my hand now to remember when you find yourself alone
You’re never alone …

My head was up. My soul was up. My voice was Bruce.

Some stood at the end. It felt like they all loved me.

As the evening closed, very few people congratulated me. I felt a twinge of sadness about that, but then it faded away. We were within the many songs that were sung. The theme that tied the music together was love. We were that.

There is a world beyond praise and it lives in the shared moment. Such is worth infinitely more than better and worse.

Time stops. All the world sings. It is as it’s meant to be.

Come From Away

I’m so taken with the story of 9000 Gander, Newfoundland residents welcoming nearly 7000 “plane people” on 911 when the USA closed its airspace. The musical “Come From Away” has been playing the Elgin Theatre in Toronto for many months. Originally I told myself the tickets were too expensive but a few weeks ago the magnet of the story drew me in. And tonight was my time – 8:00 pm to be precise.

I showed up at Anne and Ihor’s bed and breakfast around 6:00 pm today, in plenty of time to take the UP Express train downtown. Or so I thought. A few hundred metres from Union Station, we came to a halt. A fellow came on the PA to say “There’s been a partial power failure at Union. We don’t have any signals. Sorry for the inconvenience.” Major oops. And so the sweat flowed. I knew the musical had no intermission, and most likely “latecomers will be seated at an appropriate opportunity” wouldn’t apply. So is that it, my expensive evening up in smoke?

Ten or fifteen minutes later, we were moving again and soon I was standing on Front Street, twenty minutes to curtain time. I started running the seven blocks but my knee immediately shouted its protest. So power walking it was.

I took my seat at 7:55. Thank you, dear gods of the theatre.

There was so much to revel in over the next 100 minutes:

1. A young stranded American guy, so worried about a Newfie stealing his wallet. He gazed in wonder at homes with unlocked doors, and voices inside that said “It’s open … come on in.”

2. A Muslim fellow enduring insults from a few of his fellow travellers. “You’re not an American!” “I don’t want to get back on the plane with him.” Turns out that he was a chef at home, and offered his cooking skills to the locals. They were hesitant at first but finally said yes, much to the pleasure of countless taste buds.

3. A local resident asked the question “Are there any animals aboard these planes?” She was originally told no but suspected that wasn’t true. Her digging revealed nineteen creatures and she cared for them like a saint, despite official warnings to keep off the planes.

4. An American woman was desperate to learn the fate of her son, a New York firefighter. She was befriended by a lovely grey-haired Ganderian, who held her to her bosom. They remain friends long after the planes have left Newfoundland and together they face the reality of the son’s death.

5. Then there was the gorgeous choral singing of “Make Me a Channel of Your Peace”:

Make me a channel of your peace
Where there’s despair in life let me bring hope
Where there is darkness, only light
And where there’s sadness ever joy

Present were Christians with bowed heads, two Jewish men in communion, two Hindu women with eyes to the sky, and our Muslim friend. The hearts soared.

6. Imagine a kitchen. Travellers looked on in awe as locals danced to the music of the fiddle, squeeze box, penny whistle and guitar. Joy abounded, all through the room. And the American folks got to taste a Newfie rum called screech (yum) and kiss a cod (yuck).

7. Love far afield: a British gentleman and a woman from Dallas, Texas were on the same plane, and in the same community for five days. Their accents and their hearts blended. Finally, he flew back to Europe and she to the USA. But it wasn’t finally. He came to visit. They continued the falling in love. And they married, with a honeymoon in Newfoundland.

8. After thousands of visitors had left the rock, life slowed gradually to normal. Tasks briefly left undone were accomplished. Someone opened the suggestion box at Gander City Hall and found $60,000 in cash inside. Tricky tourists. The Newfies didn’t want money, only thanks.

***

September 11-15, 2001 … April 4, 2019
Twin celebrations of life
And we stood to applaud humanity

Day One: Up, Up and Away

Oh yes … another roaming of the world. Who will I meet? What moments will I cherish? Will I let myself be undone on the other end of the continent?

Since my flight zooms away at 6:30 pm, I had time to go to school. It was March Break last week so I hadn’t been surrounded by 12-year-olds for ten days.

On the road through farmland, I spied a V way high in the sky. I slowed and wondered as at least 80 tundra swans flew over Scarlet. These huge white birds come through Southern Ontario every spring on their way to the Arctic. They flowed out both ways from the leader, their wings appearing to be in unison with their friends. The power … the grace … the sense of a group direction. Wow.

And now in the classroom. As I opened the door, I heard a few cries of welcome, even with the Math lesson in full swing. I decided to sit back and see if any hands went up for help. There was only one, and I helped the guy, at least a bit. I wanted to have conversations, to hear about the kids’ vacation adventures, but the task at hand was long division. Inside, I felt a loosening, a relaxing into the possibility that today won’t be about 1-1 moments. I smiled, sat off to the side and waited for the approach of any kid who wanted to talk.

As the morning twirled away, a few young ones came over, curious about San Francisco. One girl told me about Los Angeles, and all the cool tourist stuff to do there. Another one talked about her sister waking up screaming one night, in great pain. She’s fine now. It was clear to me that it doesn’t matter what kids and I talk about. The moments of being together are all that I need, even if there are few of them.

Now I’m deep in the concourse of the Toronto Airport, enjoying an arugula and feta cheese salad. I’m so pleased with myself for not choosing some high-fat alternative.

I’m thinking about “Jeff”, the fellow I lined up with in front of US Customs. We were in long looping lines with probably 200 other folks. And we got talking. It doesn’t matter who went first … I’m pretty sure that both of us were open to conversation. Jeff lives in New York City and we’re both in love with the place. I got to revisit my favourite moments from two months ago, much to his delight. Central Park! The MET! The 911 Museum! The noise and hurry! How astonishing to launch right into life’s joys with a so-called stranger. Jeff even knew the San Francisco area and recommended a ferry ride to the cutesy village of Tiburon. After visiting the customs guy, we bid each other farewell with “Have a good life.”

Now I’m beside my friend “Philippe” on a big Boeing plane, 298 of us zipping along at 900 kilometres an hour. We’re heading to the Evolutionary Collective meeting on the weekend, sharing plane seats and a hotel room. We’ve talked for two hours about falling in love, living freely and uniting with the people around us. We’ve shared joys and foibles. We’ve leaned into the future and found mystery there.

Tomorrow morning, we go in search of a healthy restaurant and emerging miracles. What will San Francisco and Berkeley share with us? If we listen very, very carefully, all will be revealed.

Inside You

Jesus offers himself to his companions under the guise of food and urges them to eat and to be filled with his life and energy … He shows that he means to put himself literally inside the other persons, and that he wishes to nourish them.

The basic spiritual practice we do in the Evolutionary Collective offers us the possibility of throwing our consciousness out into space, having it arc upwards and then fall through the eyes of the beloved sitting across from us.  There can be an urging to go “over there” and to know it as home.

Until recently, I’ve thought of home as being inside me.  Over there was a you, with your own home.  We were separate.  We may have loved each other, and joyed in each other’s company, but there was a membrane between.

What if that’s not true?  What if we’re joined into one at the heart, while I still get to be Bruce and you get to be you?  What if, in our entering in, we feed each other the most nourishing of foods?  Salmon, kale, garlic, mussels, potatoes and blueberries pass from your fork to my mouth and from mine to yours.  The nutrients flow out to our fingertips and the flavours bring joy to our soul.

Our bodies lean towards each other.  As our foreheads touch, it’s as though there aren’t any bones.  We simply merge.  And we wonder … are there two beings here, or just one?  I can feel me, I can feel you, but most deeply I can feel us.

Inside you, there is a wonderland.  We sit together on the couch, in a room of dark wood, brightened by the glow of the fire.  We are full together, wanting for nothing, knowing we can bring the world alive.  I am inside you and there’s nowhere else to go.  No need to move our bodies apart, or to get up from the couch, or to burst out into spasms of opinion.  We simply rest in the touching, gazing in wonder at the shimmering coals.