Experience Squared and Cubed

I wonder if my mathematics is off. I’d say that’s likely. But whatever numbers I choose, I’ll have them point to a hierarchy: okay … good … great.

I’m looking at the moments we have during our days. Most of them seem quite ordinary, hardly noticed in the bustle of life. Then there are the special ones – they get my heart beating faster. But beyond that are moments that defy description, ones that take me to the centre of life, far above the hum and the drum.

I could rank life’s experiences on a “1, 2, 3” scale but that doesn’t seem grand enough. How about “1, 5, 10”? Getting there. No, I propose “10, 10², 10³”, or more simply “10, 100, 1000”.

10 can be life’s ordinary moments: talking to someone about sports, politics or local gossip; doing your income tax; navigating traffic. Ho hum.

100 represents the awesome play in sports, such as a great pass, a long putt or an impossible catch. Transcendent. Or the most exquisite performance of a lovely song. John Lennon’s “Imagine” comes to mind. These are moments that transport me to bliss, thanks to what another human being has brought into the world.

1000 is a different kettle of fish. I see it when I look deep into another person’s eyes and them into mine. True contact, connection, communion … so rare. I’m taking a live course on the Internet about relationships – deepening my moments with any human being willing to “be with” me. Today I gazed into my laptop screen and saw a woman from Oslo, Norway and later another one in Sacramento, California. We told each other what we were experiencing. Words like “comfy” and “cozy” came out of me. And the times of silence were sublime. At one point “Lynne” from Sacramento and I were skydiving – arms and legs all horizontal, floating free together … no fear. Then we were deep in the ocean, dancing. So sweet.

***

There’s no doubt in my mind: the numbers are real
There really are levels here
May I bring myself into a cubed world, again and again

Astonishment

I participated in an online course about relationships on Saturday.  About twenty-five of us spent two hours together.  Most of it was a presentation about “mutual awakening”.  We reflected on what’s possible between two human beings.

And then it was time for dessert.  I had propped up my Samsung phone on a book.  The moderator’s face disappeared, replaced by a sign inviting me to “Join breakout session 9”.  I said yes and suddenly there was a woman looking at me from her living room in Alberta.  I’ll call her Megan.  Time stopped as I looked into her eyes and said hi.  And she was just as happy to see me.

The moderator had coached us about the process.  We’d start by having Megan ask me “What are you experiencing right now?”  I’d take ten minutes to reply and then we’d switch roles.  No censoring of the words spilling forth.  Not trying to make them sound reasonable.  The listener doesn’t say anything, and doesn’t evaluate the speaker’s words.  She simply stays “with” the other person.

During the final ten minutes, we’d answer the question “What are we experiencing right now?”  For that last bit, we wouldn’t be sharing “What I think we’re experiencing”.  Instead, we’d ideally move our consciousness into the other person and sense our unity.  Oh.  That sounded like a tall order.

Having been assured that there was no right or wrong way to do this, I let go.  I was in wonder, facing this person so far away geographically and somehow so close in my heart.  “How can this be?” I asked myself.  I just met Megan minutes ago.  It was clear that we had willingly entered a sacred space together, where anything that came out of our mouths was perfectly fine.

“I’m astonished.”

“I feel happy … new … wonder … chuckly … at home.”  Megan smiled and I was at peace.  I was receiving wonderful permission to be totally me in the moment.

When Megan spoke, I went inside her, or so it felt.  The first thing she was experiencing was “bubbles”.  How sweet.  And her smile spoke volumes.  I could tell she trusted me, this stranger from Ontario.

The whole group came back at the end, for comments and questions.  I put up my hand.  “I’m so astonished.  I’ve never experienced anything like this in my life.  I’ve read Patricia’s book and I’ve gone on lots of retreats … ”  And then I was silent, shaking my head in wonder for all the folks to see.  As much as I love words, sometimes there are none.

The journey continues for the next three Saturdays.  I feel so open to what these mutual awakeners will bring me and ready to let go of thought in my communication with them.

Majestic Moments

My life, like yours, is made up of a long string of moments.  Most of them seem to escape my notice.  Too often, I’m thinking about something else or dreaming about somewhere else.  And that’s a great loss.

So what can I do about this?  Right now I’m in Mai’s Café at a tiny table for two near the front door.  I’ve written about this spot before – it’s just so cozy and cute.  I’m looking out on the shops of Wortley Road and watching folks roam by on their feet and in their cars.  Across the street, a young couple sit at a window table, looking at their menus.  So those people are momentary in my life.  Moments like this, when I’m alone, allow me to feel my environment, including the inner one.  (My tummy is delightfully full of pad thai and banana fritter!)  I can animate these solitary moments by shining a light on them, having them glow.

Even better are my times with other people.  The same environmental noticing is available but there’s something extra.  Last night I joined Louise and Jeff for supper at Chaucer’s Pub.  It’s warm and dark and quiet.  No big screen TVs showing me the wide world of sports (although I often enjoy such settings).  My back was to the fireplace and the warmth toasted me all over.

We talked of life, of music, of adventures, of community.  We talked of real people in our lives.  We talked of them with appreciation and tenderness.  Through all of this, we created a special time.  But I knew there could be more.  I’ve been studying the insights of Patricia Albere, about what’s possible when two or more people are together.  With Patricia in mind, I looked at my new friends.

Jeff and Louise are good people.  I could feel that.  As I listened to them speak, I threw my consciousness inside each one, trying to feel them from within.  And for a second or two, now and then … I did.  It wasn’t me being with them.  It was me being them.  Oh.  Completely different from other mealtime conversations I’ve had.  “Goodness.  Where does Bruce end and Louise begin?”  I didn’t know.  “Who is Jeff?”  Somehow I was part of the answer.

Our shared words continued … but there was a shift.  I was inside.  What if I could create this majesty at will?  What if another human being chose to join me in this experience of touching and being touched, of living inside each other?  The words “Heaven on Earth” come to mind.

It appears that I’m not here and not now for a fair slice of my day.  Nothing to get all grumpy about but I dream of what could be. 

Time for a grand experiment, perhaps?

Angel of the Piano

Yesterday afternoon, I sat down in Toronto’s Koerner Hall, anticipating the keystrokes of a virtuoso pianist – Sir Andras Schiff.  Beside me sat a young Asian woman and we got talking.  She’s a student at the Glenn Gould School of classical music performance.  We chatted about the beauty of Koerner Hall, especially the violin-like wooden sculpture that adorned the ceiling.  It reminded me of waves of energy, and I wondered if the love and peace I felt coming off me was anything like that.

I told Linda about my meditation retreat and I do believe she was enthralled.  “I’ve wanted to do something like that.”  She was one of very few people in such conversations that didn’t say “Oh, I could never do that.”  I mentioned the Buddha’s instruction “What you contemplate, you become.”  She seemed to see the wisdom of it right away.  Before Andras took the stage, we discussed more of life’s ups and downs.  It was a lovely time.

Sir Andras lived up to his billing, with exquisite runs, explosive passages and tender melodies.  I closed my eyes and a quiet crept over me.  Soon I was deep in meditation as his fingers created the magic.  I opened my eyes a few times, occasionally to see Linda leaning way forward, head down.  I wondered if I had something to do with that.

At the break, neither of us wanted to go anywhere.  We talked of love and peace.  Linda told me she was a pianist and was presenting a recital in the evening, in another hall at the Royal Conservatory.  I said I would come.  She smiled.  “But it won’t be as good as this.”  “Let’s try that again.”  I said I would come.  “Thank you.”

And so the evening.  Mazzoleni Hall was an intimate yellow brick and wood enclave.  Linda strolled onstage wearing a gorgeous cream-coloured gown.  Sadly, the audience was nine.

Linda launched into Haydn with a sometimes flurry and an often caress.  Her face was with the music … a passionate “Oh!” and then a sweet “Ahh.”  I was entranced.  She may be decades younger that Mr. Schiff but the heart was just as open.  Chopin, Bach, Brahms, Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky were cheering her brilliance for the rest of the evening.

I gave Linda a standing O, accompanied by a “Bravo!”  So richly deserved.

At the entrance to the hall, I said, “Thank you, Linda.”  We hugged.  We bowed.  “It was lovely.”  “Thank you so much for coming.”

And I was gone into the night.

Norman, The Kids And Me

I journeyed south from Williamstown to Stockbridge, Massachusetts this morning.  My destination was the Norman Rockwell Museum.  For decades, I’ve enjoyed his paintings of relationships and everyday life.  Norman saw the beauty in us all.

I wanted the Grade 6 kids near Belmont, Ontario to see some paintings, and perhaps to see themselves in them.  I texted some pics.

First up was “The Runaway”, featuring a little boy on a stool at the local diner, sitting beside a burly police officer.  A middle-aged cook leans forward on the counter, cigarette dangling from his lips.  I ran away once, from a summer camp on the shore of Lake Simcoe in Ontario.  I was scared and lonely.  One night, I walked to the shore, turned left and headed home to Toronto.  And there I was in a Rockwell painting.

Then there was a little girl, also sitting on a stool, gazing at herself in a large mirror.  A magazine was on her lap, flipped open to the image of a Hollywood starlet.  At her feet were a jar of makeup, lipstick and a hair brush.  Maybe those girls in Southern Ontario could relate.

A large painting was filled with people and apparel from across the world – young and old, male and female.  They all seemed to be gazing at the lower centre of the picture, where these words hovered:

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you

Indeed.

Finally, a moving van has pulled up to a suburban home.  A black girl carries a white cat, and is accompanied by her brother.  Three white kids face the newcomers, with a black dog amidst them.  Baseball gloves reside on both sides of the painting.  The Canadian children’s response?  Here’s Tiffany, their teacher: “They think that regardless of the black and white contrast, their pets and sports will bring them together.”  Well said.

Google Maps tells me that the Grade 6 kids and I are 738 kilometres apart
(459 miles)

Not really

Day Fifteen … Loved Ones

So it was off to the ferry for me, with Georgia Strait and Victoria beckoning.  When I arrived at the terminal, I saw that I wouldn’t make the next voyage.  It would be an hour-and-a-half wait, which was fine.  That would give me a chance to write a blog post.

I thought that Starbucks would get the creative juices flowing, so I joined the line.  There was hardly anywhere to move since half of Vancouver was surely wanting to go to Victoria.  I turned to the two women behind me and said, “Is the terminal always this busy?”  And so began a journey to fast friendship.  During our conversation, I mentioned Jody and soon Kitty and Kathy were saying yes to sharing a copy of our book.  I got one out of Scarlet and told them that I’d see them on the ferry.

Retiring to a pocket of shade, I discovered that I didn’t have any Internet.  No matter.  I’d compose in Word and send it off to whoever’s out there in the evening.  So I tapped and slurped and yapped to a young couple at the same table.

Done.  (Actually, it doesn’t happen quite that fast!)  I decided to find my new friends.  As I approached their car, I saw that Kitty was reading Jody’s book, and she was crying.  Oh my.  It was time to load so I got back in Scarlet.  As our lane was given the go ahead, I looked in the rear view mirror to see a car on my ass, revving his motor.  Good heavens … tailgated on a ferry ramp.

Kathy, Kitty, her husband Craig and I sat together outside on the deck at the back of the ship.  I looked around at the Pacific Ocean and the layers of islands that stretched away forever.  “Do you think that some local people don’t see this beauty anymore?”  “Yes.”  So sad.

We talked about this, that and the other thing.  I mentioned that I had arrived with a bag of Costco’s Almond Clusters so that I could feed the hovering seagulls off the stern of the ferry.  Except that there were no seagulls.  (Sigh)  I have great decades-old memories of throwing food in the air and having the gulls swoop down to catch it in their beaks.  But not today.  At one point, I leaned over the railing and tossed a symbolic cluster up high.  Nobody came by.  The ocean swallowed it.  Thuwup.  (My best guess about cluster-sucking water)

And here comes a pretty young woman to talk to all of us.  She’s a naturalist and has lots of things to say about marine flora and fauna.  She knew her stuff, even that glass sponges (an animal) exist.  But worlds beyond that, she glowed with joy.  Her face was a symphony of expressions and her body extended, twisted and danced as she spoke.  I was blown away.  It’s nice that she was pretty, but that physical beauty was animated by her soul.  I went up to her afterwards and said, “You have such joie de vivre.  And you are a teacher, far beyond your subject matter.  A role model for us all.  Please don’t lose that.  When you’re 40, may you still show such spirit.”   She cried a wee bit and said thank you.

Kathy, Kitty and Craig laughed at my stories and shared some of their own.  It was fun.  I hugged the two women upon farewell.  And that’s it, really … “Fare thee well.”

And now – Ta Da! – my girlfriend.  I fell in love with her maybe 40 years ago and I haven’t seen her since.  We’ve never written.  I don’t even know her name.  And she’s not even human.  My love is a statue in Butchart Gardens north of Victoria.  The truth is that the main reason I came to Vancouver Island was to see her.  (I know I kid around a lot but this is not that.)  Decades ago, I read a book called Narcissus and Goldmund by Hermann Hesse.  I was enthralled to hear of Goldmund’s love of sculpting … the chance to catch the glory of life in stone or wood.  Ever since, I’ve kept my sculpting mind hidden from everyone I know.  But it’s still there … the need to create an image that captures the soul.  When , oh when, Bruce, will you start that journey?

It took a while, but I found my girlfriend in the sunken garden.  I sat near her for nearly an hour.  She appears to be a teenager.  She crosses her hands over her chest as she looks skyward.  I thinks she’s missed me.  I know I’ve missed her.  There wasn’t much to say.  We just sat together.  Afterwards, I looked up to the towering arbutus trees in the evening sun.  Their reddish bark glowed.  Me too.  Then I went to the bandshell and watched about fifteen couples dance the waltz and fox trot to a live band.  I could smell flowers.  Most of the folks were in their 50’s, 60’s or 70’s and they all moved so gracefully.  I smiled.

Quite the day.  Here’s to many more of them.  Salut.

Day Eleven … On The Road And With The Poem

Uh oh.  I’m falling way behind.  It’s the morning [now afternoon] of Day Thirteen and I’m trying to remember Day Eleven.  I’ll do my best.

I left the home of Isabelle and Bruce and headed west towards Banff National Park, then north on the Banff-Jasper Highway, west from Jasper into BC, and north to my home-away-from-home: McBride.  Gosh, that was a lot of driving.

I was stuck in a traffic jam on the freeway approaching Banff.  How can this be?  I’m surrounded by picturesque foothills and towering cliffs.  Out in the middle of nowhere breathing in exhaust.  Once we got going again, several sights beckoned me.  First was this multi-coloured van with a black and white peace sign on the hood.  The back end and the left side were festooned with words and paintings that were extremely … sexual.  Since this is a family show, I won’t give you the details but it was astonishing to see.  Whoever the driver was, I’m sure that his or her mom won’t be riding in that van anytime soon.

Then there were the wire fences – six feet tall.  The divided highway was a corridor through all those trees, with the fences blocking animals from crossing.  All this to serve human beings?  It was eerie to drive through.  Every ten kilometres or so, I’d approach twin tunnels over the road.  The route above them dipped down in the middle and was covered with trees.  It wasn’t an intersecting road for cars.  This was for deer and moose and bears to get where they were going.  Okay.  Far better than not accessing the other half of their world.

I passed beside glaciers shining in the sun, wide river flats boasting the most exquisite aquamarine waters, and an infinite number of Jody’s trees, mostly coniferous folks reaching for the sky.  But it felt strange.  I stopped when there was a cool view to take pictures.  But I felt like an ordinary tourist, driving forever, stopping for a photo and then driving forever again.  No context.  No real relationship to what I was seeing, no walking in the trees … sort of empty.  Oh well.

Before leaving Isabelle and Bruce, we sat down for breakfast.  As we were sipping our coffee, Isabelle pulled out a book.  “I have a poem for you, because you’re a traveller.”  I’d like to share it with you.  It speaks to me as I wander from human being to human being.  Thank you, Isabelle.

To Bless The Space Between Us

Every time you leave home
Another road takes you
Into a world you were never in

New strangers on other paths await
New places that have never seen you
Will startle a little at your entry
Old places that know you well
Will pretend nothing
Changed since your last visit

When you travel, you find yourself
Alone in a different way
More attentive now
To the self you bring along
Your more subtle eye watching
You abroad; and how what meets you
Touches that part of the heart
That lies low at home

How you unexpectedly attune
To the timbre in some voice
Opening a conversation
You want to take in
To where your longing
Has pressed hard enough
Inward, on some unsaid dark
To create a crystal of insight
You could not have known
You needed
To illuminate
Your way

When you travel
A new silence
Goes with you
And if you listen
You will hear
What your heart would
Love to say

A journey can become a sacred thing
Make sure, before you go
To take the time
To bless your going forth
To free your heart of ballast
So that the compass of your soul
Might direct you toward
The territories of spirit
Where you will discover
More of your hidden life
And the urgencies
That deserve to claim you

May you travel in an awakened way
Gathered wisely into your inner ground
That you may not waste the invitations
Which wait along the way to transform you

May your travel safely, arrive refreshed
And live your time away to its fullest
Return home more enriched, and free
To balance the gift of days which call you

Spirit in the Afternoon … Spirit in the Evening

I’m in Toronto this weekend to draw closer to God, Spirit, Essence, Love … whichever word you choose.

After lunch yesterday, I headed to the Tibetan Canadian Cultural Centre on Titan Road.  How did I know it was there?  Well, the hotel I was staying at displayed The Toronto Star at the front desk, and the Weekend Life section’s front page had an article entitled “Hometown Tourist: Tibet”.  We readers were directed towards the best of Tibetan culture, religion, restaurants and shopping.  And I found myself directed to Titan Road for the 80th birthday celebration of the Dalai Lama.  Someone is taking care of me.  And I bet her name is Jody.

As I walked towards the centre, I saw families gathered under the trees, many of them dressed in Tibetan dresses and robes.  Happy faces in the shade.  Colourful prayer flags were strung between the branches, and were lifted by the breeze.  At the entrance stood two eight-foot prayer wheels, which folks were turning clockwise.  The adults tended to rotate the wheels slowly but when it was the kids’ turn, the symbols on the cylinders blurred in the spin.  Both were perfect expressions of God animating our world.

Inside, after a few minutes of looking around, I came to the conclusion that I was the only non-Oriental person present.  And it was a good feeling.  Not once did I feel excluded.  I sat down with hundreds of others to hear Tibetan music and listen to speakers, all in a language I didn’t understand.  It still felt like home.  A woman had graciously offered me a chair near her family.  Later in the afternoon, there was a buffet spread out on a few long tables, and people started lining up, including several monks in their red robes.  A woman approached me and in English invited me to join the line.  She had such a big smile.  I couldn’t help return it.  One male server kindly warned me about the sauce I was about to glob onto my noodles.  “Very hot.”  So I took just a bit, still enough to attack my innards for a few hours.  Oh well.  When in Rome …

I wandered around the room, looking at the homemade posters on the walls honouring the Dalai Lama.  Many of them were done by kids.  Here’s a quote from His Holiness:

The planet does not need more “successful people”.  The planet desperately needs more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers and lovers of all kinds.”

Amen.

***

Last night, I sat on the steps of the Metropolitan United Church in downtown Toronto, becoming friends with Andrea and David.  Hundreds of us were waiting for the doors to open.  Krishna Das had come to lead us in two-and-a-half hours of Sanskrit chanting.  We sang the names of God in a huge sanctuary framed by tall stained glass windows.  Krishna would sing a line such as “Om Namo Bhagavaate Vaasudevaaya” and we would send it right back to him.  Just as earlier in the day, I didn’t know what the words meant, but the speaking of them touched the core of me.  As we chanted, I was often lost in love.  Sometimes the music sent my arms and legs into spirals and rhythms.  At other times, I was perfectly quiet, head bowed, just listening to the choir.

Where did those hours go?  I don’t know.  Strangely, I didn’t feel the urge to pee, or to shift my bottom on those hard wooden pews.  Lost in a lovely space.  And Jody was right there with me.  Thank you, Jodiette.

At the end, many people, including David, walked up to the front to say a word to Krishna.  I saw David wait patiently as Krishna talked to other people first.  And the man of the hour was so gracious … smiling, hugging and posing for photos with his new friends.  The Spirit is alive in him.

“The man of the hour”?  Well, that’s really not right.  In the afternoon and in the evening, each of us – male or female, young or old – was the person, not of the hour, but of the moment.  Such a huge family.

Perfect

But on the surface, it didn’t look that way.  On June 16, there was an article in The London Free Press about local authors.  It contained a photo of Jody on the front cover of our book, and a short description of our story.  I had hoped that many people would e-mail me to ask for a copy.

The response so far: 0

Yesterday was my book signing at Chapters.  I brought boxes of boxes and targeted 200 purchasers.

The response: 11, 3 of whom were Chapters employees

Oh, “the best laid plans of mice and men”.  The truth is that I put my energy out into the world with no promise of what will return.  Sometimes the goodness that returns to me is clear as a bell.  And sometimes it’s so subtle that I don’t even feel it.

What impact is our book making?  I think a lot.  I heard from a friend who read about Jodiette and me, and now her mom is starting it, with her daughter waiting in the wings.  And who knows the lives that will be touched through the few books I gave away last night?  I know that there’s more love in the world because of Jodiette: My Lovely Wife.  How much?  Impossible to know.

I’d say that 95% of the people who walked by my table in Chapters didn’t make eye contact.  Some of those faces were etched with pain and exhaustion.  I didn’t intrude in their lives.

I had sent an e-mail to over 300 folks a few weeks ago, mentioning that I’d be signing books on June 26 from 4:00 till 7:00.  By 6:45, none of those people had come to say hi.  I was sad.  But at 6:50, my friend Theresa strolled in to do exactly that.

Let go of numbers, Bruce.  Be in the moment with the human beings that show up in your life.  And that’s what I did last night.  A teenaged girl suffering through the death of a beloved teacher.  A woman in her 60’s whose family has been wracked with cancer.  A young woman struggling emotionally with a series of cruel events in her life.  Just be there, Bruce.  Be with them.

To Be With You

To be with you this evening
Rarest of the evenings all
And listen to the whispering leaves
And to the night bird’s call
The silvery moonlight on your face
To be with you in some still place

To be with you somewhere within
This evening’s mystic shade
To hear your plans and hopes
And tell you mine, all unafraid
That you’d forget to hold them dear
When I’m away and you’re not here

To be somewhere alone with you
And watch the myriad stars
Far golden worlds beyond the noisy
Earth’s unkindly jars
As quietly they sail night’s sea
Above the world and you and me

Max Ehrmann

Two Women

In the early 70’s, London had a coffee house downtown called Smale’s Pace.  Last night was the fifth Smale’s Pace Reunion, with nine folk musicians appearing in front of us at Aeolian Hall.  Such talent and passion for songs that tell a story.

Seven of the performers were men.  I was transfixed by the other two, especially when they were listening to other folks sing and play.  Laura Smith swayed to the music and joined in the choruses.  Then it was her turn:

I built a boat
I built her for one
I didn’t find any flaws
Until long after I was done
Everything was fine
Until I lost sight of shore
Then I knew
I didn’t want to be
In a boat for one anymore
You should see me working
I’m tearing her apart
Working night and day
Rebuilding with my heart
It’s there in all the pieces
I see it in every curve
The flawed design
I built a boat with fear
And shattered nerve
I’m building a boat
I’m building her for two
The hardest part was starting
I don’t know when I’ll be through
You should see me working
I’m tearing her apart
Working night and day
Rebuilding with my heart
I’m taking all the time I want to
All the time I need
I’m building her for comfort
I’m not interested in speed
I’m building a boat
I’m building her for two
She’s going to catch the wind
The way that lovers do

I’m so glad we built a boat for two, Jodiette.

My gate’s wide open and the world is coming in

 ***
My gate’s wide open and my dreams are getting out

What a lovely life to lead

***

And then there was Sue Lothrop.  She smiled and smiled as others played.  Actually, at first I couldn’t guarantee she was smiling.  A neighbour’s music stand covered the bottom half of her face.  But you can tell from the top half, can’t you?  All the muscles were up and the eyes were shining.

As one fellow played virtuoso ukulele, Sue’s whole being widened in astonishment.  Her hands were curled together on her lap, the left over the right.  Then she opened her left hand, fingertips stretching upwards, only to move in applause at the end of the piece.

I was there.  Oh, what a lucky boy am I.