A Pal of the World

All included
Nothing excluded
Within and without

Give me the rough and smooth
Give me the sweet light
And the pressing down of the ceiling
Give me the fierce and the mellow
Would you please give me it all?

***

Wilderness

There is a wolf in me . . . fangs pointed for tearing gashes . . . a red tongue for raw meat . . . and the hot lapping of blood — I keep this wolf because the wilderness gave it to me and the wilderness will not let it go

There is a fox in me . . . a silver-gray fox . . . I sniff and guess . . . I pick things out of the wind and air . . . I nose in the dark night and take sleepers and eat them and hide the feathers . . . I circle and loop and double-cross

There is a hog in me . . . a snout and a belly . . . a machinery for eating and grunting . . . a machinery for sleeping satisfied in the sun — I got this too from the wilderness and the wilderness will not let it go

There is a fish in me . . . I know I came from salt-blue water-gates . . . I scurried with shoals of herring . . . I blew waterspouts with porpoises . . . before land was . . . before the water went down . . . before Noah . . . before the first chapter of Genesis

There is a baboon in me . . . clambering-clawed . . . dog-faced . . . yawping a galoot’s hunger . . . hairy under the armpits . . . here are the hawk-eyed hankering men . . . here are the blonde and blue-eyed women . . . here they hide curled asleep waiting . . . ready to snarl and kill . . . ready to sing and give milk . . waiting — I keep the baboon because the wilderness says so

There is an eagle in me and a mockingbird . . . and the eagle flies among the Rocky Mountains of my dreams and fights among the Sierra crags of what I want . . . and the mockingbird warbles in the early forenoon before the dew is gone, warbles in the underbrush of my Chattanoogas of hope, gushes over the blue Ozark foothills of my wishes — And I got the eagle and the mockingbird from the wilderness

O, I got a zoo, I got a menagerie, inside my ribs, under my bony head, under my red-valve heart — and I got something else: it is a man-child heart, a woman-child heart: it is a father and mother and lover: it came from God-Knows-Where: it is going to God-Knows-Where — For I am the keeper of the zoo: I say yes and no: I sing and kill and work: I am a pal of the world: I came from the wilderness

Carl Sandburg

The Blessing

It’s a song written by Cody Carnes, Elevation Worship, and Kari Jobe.  In this video, it’s covered by Lara Landon.  “The Blessing” is presented in a Christian context and has no doubt tugged at the hearts of many followers of Jesus.  In contrast, I’m a Buddhist, and Lara’s rendition flows into me as well.

Look into Lara’s eyes.  I say the Divine is bursting out through them … to you and me.  Your eyes, too, can embrace those around you.  We gaze into … and linger there.  For you.

The Lord bless you
And keep you
Make His face shine upon you
Be gracious to you
The Lord turn His
Face toward you
And give you peace

Amen, amen, amen

The Lord bless you
And keep you
Make His face shine upon you
Be gracious to you
The Lord turn His
Face toward you
And give you peace

Amen, amen, amen
Amen, amen, amen

May His favor be upon you
And a thousand generations
And your family and your children
And their children and their children
May His favor be upon you
And a thousand generations
And your family and your children
And their children and their children

May His presence go before you
And behind you and beside you
All around you and within you
He is with you, He is with you

In the morning, in the evening
In your coming and your going
In your weeping and rejoicing
He is for you, He is for you
He is for you, He is for you
He is for you, He is for you

He’s always on your side
You’re always on His mind
He is for you
He never will forsake
He never makes mistakes
He is for you
He is for you

Amen, amen, amen


Revealing

The painting by Alex Grey hangs in my family room downstairs. I bow to the two people nearly every day. It feels right to do that.

Is it two lovers? A parent and child? Best friends? I don’t know. The image goes beyond the particular to the universal. We, all of us, are meant to hold each other in such reverence.

But …

Are the noses too close, ignoring the standards of personal space?

Does Alex showing the arteries and veins so intimately reveal bad taste? Surely things need to be well-covered, preferably with skin and clothing.

If the two people really enjoyed each other, shouldn’t they be smiling widely? All we see are gently upturned lips.

Is that the Earth and moon? What they doing there, distracting us?

If they have to hug, why don’t they do it in a normal way? No hand on top of the other’s head.

Finally, the eyes. It’s pretty uncomfortable holding the gaze like that. Right? Not so direct, please. And what’s with the line of light between? Artistic license, I guess.

***

What do you say, friends and neighbours?

Too much?
or
Just about right

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.