The Residue of Bias

Over the last few days, I’ve watched a documentary on Netflix: Secrets of the Saqqara Tomb.  It shows a dedicated team of archaeologists, historians, workers and even a medical doctor.  They dig, uncover relics, decipher hieroglyphics on interior walls, study skulls and bones … and add to the story of Egyptian history.  I was fascinated.

One thing I love about me is my welcoming of everyone, regardless of age, gender, culture, sexual orientation and personality.  Watching this show, however, has shone light on my dark side, on my old assumptions about people.

Take the title of the documentary, for instance.  “Why doesn’t ‘Saqqara’ have a ‘u’ after the second ‘q’?  Surely to do so is normal.  We all know how to spell ‘quiet’.”  Western civilization goes with “qu”, but so what?  Who is this “we all” that spells this way?  Growing up, I absorbed the values of my parents and friends, as well as those of Canadian culture.  My view of the world was narrow.  I was swimming in the waters of ethnocentrism: “evaluating other cultures according to preconceptions originating in the standards and customs of one’s own culture”.  Today I say “No thanks” to such distorted vision.  But I didn’t have the eyes to see when I was twenty.

Temperatures at the dig were usually over 30º Celsius (86º Fahrenheit).  People working there either wore long-sleeved shirts and jeans or traditional dress that covered the arms and legs.  “Boy, they must be hot!  Why don’t they wear t-shirts and shorts?”  How my bias leaks out … unconsciously.

Another unexamined thought of mine apparently is that women wearing traditional African dress, including the Muslim headscarf called a hajib, would not be doing professional work.  Once the team found the entrance to Wahtye’s tomb, and began excavating, the paintings on the wall were interpreted expertly by a woman wearing a hajib!  My pause as I listened to her speak about the family relationships on those walls showed me that my spiritual development is incomplete.

Next to open my eyes was a medical doctor who was an expert on human bones and the stresses she saw there.  She theorized that the reason children’s skeletons were buried with their parents was that this part of Eqypt was rocked with a malaria outbreak around 600 B.C.  She analyzed the way people walked from how their leg bones fit together.  “This bone should be more externally rotated if Wahtye was healthy.”  Once again, while my current spirituality praises the insights of the doctor, somewhere lurking inside me are vestiges of a kid who learned that women don’t do important work.  (Sigh)

Towards the end of the film, various folks working on the dig talked about Wahtye and his family.  Their sensitivity to these ancient ones, their clear feeling of relationship with them, shone through:

The only place I sensed true sadness was in his burial chamber.  There were no signs of luxury or indulgence.  The coffin was just regular wood, and he wasn’t even mummified that well.  Maybe the shock of his children’s death brought him to this.

***

We still need to find out how he died but it’s something very beautiful, which fills your heart with joy, to reveal the face of Wahtye.

***

I think this skull is Wahtye.  At last I meet him!  Something was happening in this bone.  I’m trying to feel his pain and suffering.

***

On the walls, we see the dreams of Wahtye, what he hoped his afterlife would be.  In his bones, we see the real story – one that is just like ours.

***

I am humbled, by human beings of the past and present
I still have much to learn

Full Speed Ahead

I just wrote an entire post … and it disappeared! (Sigh) I’ll go for recreating it, but I’m sad

***

A few nights ago, I watched the film Enola Holmes on Netflix. The description sounded good: the younger sister of the master detective Sherlock Holmes has some sleuthing smarts of her own, and she outfoxes her bro as they both chase a case. Then I noticed that Millie Bobby Brown was Enola. I’ve enjoyed her acting in the TV series Stranger Things.

As the plot began unfolding, I started staring at Millie, with my mouth gaped open. She’s a pretty 16-year-old girl, but that wasn’t it. There are lots of pretty girls and women. This was far beyond physical appearance, age or most anything else you can think of. Millie’s face was bursting! Vibrating. Some faces stay put. Some recede. And some blast out into anyone who’s passing by. Such is Millie … and Michelle Obama … and South Africa’s Desmond Tutu. Each of these folks connect with us … effortlessly.

As one reviewer said:

The real attraction here is Brown’s turn as Enola. The character’s insistent lightheartedness might seem easy to pull off, but it’s not: With her constant addresses to the camera – from an underwater wink while a baddie tries to drown her, to a cheekily grandiloquent reveal of her identity to us while she attempts to go undercover as a widow – Enola could get real annoying real quick … But Brown is wonderful, selling the film’s girl-power ethos with just the right amount of playfulness, while retaining something sweet and sincere at the character’s heart. She conveys the energy of a kid discovering the wide world; her Enola moves with seeming confidence but has the darting eyes of a child.

Such aliveness resides not only on the silver screen, or within the halls of political power, or spoken from the pulpit. This exuberance shows up here – in all the “here’s” where we live. It shows up in that kid on the playground, that old codger at the coffee shop, that dancer on the sidewalk. Quite likely, it also shows up in …

YOU


Large

I’ve been sending out e-mails about the Evolutionary Collective to many people I know. The EC has made a huge contribution to my life. I invite folks to check out our Facebook page to see if the words there resonate. I’m not pressing anybody to do anything.

I feel naked. “Here I am, world!” You’re welcome to take me or leave me but lurking in the shadows isn’t much fun. In the light of day, I show myself. Some of you won’t like that. Some may turn away. Perhaps for the first time in my life, I’m okay with that. There’s something to stand for … even if no one else comes closer.

I feel my old tendency to shrink, to fade away into the wallpaper, to lower my head. I honour that version of Bruce. I did what my self-esteem asked of me. Now something else is being asked. I’m being nudged towards the large. Say what’s true. Smile a lot. Actually, laugh a lot. See if there are other people in my realm who want to deepen their connection with others. I know there are. I’m on a journey to find them.

As I lift my head to your gaze, a quote from Marianne Williamson comes calling. Marianne knows how to stand tall:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves “Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?” Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us. It’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

(Smile)

A Block Away

My neighbour has died from Covid.  He was a fine fellow in his 40’s, father to three great kids.

So now it’s very real to me.  Although a friend in Belgium has now recovered from the virus, right now is when it really hits home.  We are connected … locally and across this big wide world.  We live in different buildings, or different units in the same apartment building, but we are not separate.  In a physical, emotional and spiritual realm, the space between human beings is alive.  May we be awake to the flows of energy that unite us.

As we’re relatively apart from each other’s bodies in this time of the Coronavirus, we yearn for contact.  We phone, we e-mail, and we Zoom across the miles.  We see each other’s faces in little onscreen rectangles and our souls touch.

We need to keep influencing each other, letting folks know that they’re important, that their existence has contributed to our own.  Because in a flash they could be gone.

What can be created when A and B come together?  Far more than the sum of the parts.  What bonds could magically appear that have the power to make us all smile?  We don’t know … but our embracing the future together may show us.

We are not silos.  The pain in the home down the street is shared by all.  Not the thrusting knife of a father and husband taken from the Earth but still an immense sadness.

I heard a story about a meeting the Dalai Lama was hosting for spiritual teachers from around the world.  A friend of a friend went to that meeting, excited about the prospect of awake people gathering.  “What will be created?” he wondered.  The answer?  Not much.  The flow of spiritual wisdom and experiences from each speaker was immense.  Often the audience could feel the transmission of spirit.  But essentially there was no communion between the speakers.  (Sigh)

We are all connected.  And we need to live that way

From this day forward
For better, for worse
For richer, for poorer
In sickness and in health
To love and to cherish
Till death do us part

TV That Does Good

The Mandalorian is a TV series, now in its second season, that’s available on the Disney Plus streaming service.  It carries on the legacy of the Star Wars universe, offering new characters and tantalizing connections with old ones.  The hero is from Mandalore.  He’s a bounty hunter who comes across “The Child” (an infant) and decides to protect him as he hunts down the bad guys.  The Mandalorian lives in a Wild West land, except that land covers the vastness of space.

There are a lot of action adventures on offer in living rooms and movie theatres.  They present an escape from dreariness and fear, well represented these days by Covid.  But is there more?  Can media give us healing and transcendence and love?  Surely our personal relationships are where these values reside.  But only there?

I love going on the What’s New on Disney Plus website to see what folks are writing about this or that show.  A few days ago, a fellow posted this:

“I’ve been trying to get my mom into The Mandalorian because she loves Star Wars.  For some reason, she couldn’t get into it.  When I asked why, she said it’s because she’s a woman.  Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe there are a lot of women that love this show, and not just for Baby Yoda.”

I started reading the replies.  Here’s a sample from the six hundred.  Please enjoy them.

***

Strong, mysterious man with a soft spot for babies and kids
What’s not to love?

One of the things my wife and I share is our love of Star Wars

Gender is meaningless.  The Mandalorian is awesome

Has she heard Pedro’s voice? [the actor playing The Mandalorian]
That alone should be good reason enough

My mom really enjoys watching The Mandalorian.  She gets excited every Friday.  Even my grandma got into it

Love it!  I think the strong characters and the non-wussy women
are fantastic

I love the sense of humor

Honestly, I think that if it wasn’t for the way Mando protects the child
I wouldn’t be waiting impatiently for the next episode

I love the “space western” feel it has

Far too many men try to gatekeep us out of geeky things
We mustn’t do it to ourselves

It illustrates that a manly man can be a father

Love watching it with my 13-year-old grandson every week

Tell your mom in the Mandalorian way of life, women are equal warriors
and some of the most fierce and famous Mandalorians are female

It doesn’t make you less of a woman to like something

I count the minutes until the next episode

My mom loves anything and everything Star Wars.  And she’s 89-years-old!

I look forward to Friday nights when my husband and I get to watch
The Mandalorian

***

Sweetly said, everyone

Faces

I enjoy sitting in my den, looking over to my bookcase. You’ll be happy to know that I’ve arranged things. If I sit on the left cushion of the loveseat, many eyes are aimed right at me. I hope you can enlarge the photo to see what I mean. There’s a marble sculpture of a man and woman who aren’t really looking my way, but apart from that …

In no particular order, you’re likely to find two Buddhas, two lizards, two native American women, a snowy owl, a cyclist, a Senegalese goddess of fertility, a laughing wooden face, a downcast stone face, Jody and me on our wedding day, Jody at a tiny restaurant in Quebec City, two little kids under an umbrella, an owl with wings spread wide, me at a community dinner in Belmont, my nephew Jaxon’s grad picture, a jovial black kid, the haunting image of a sad peasant girl in 1885, and the Sun.

All meeting my eyes. All saying “Hello”. There is magic on this cushion. I feel radiation coming my way. I am being included in so many lives. Across time and space, we are together.

Fiery Words

And how do I do that … set the world on fire? Somehow the essence of me needs to escape my body and fly out across the land. There’s a presence I can show my neighbours – quiet eyes embracing the eyes of others. A hand reaching out to comfort and be kin. An action here and there that shows I am with you.

Another vestige of communion are the words that travel from me to you. Some soft words, some surging words … all vibrant words. Here is a long list – each one with an edge, vibrating like a fine tuning fork, zooming between beings at supersonic speed. See if you recognize yourself in what follows. See if you can feel the fire.

heavenly triumph unbelievable legendary epic mesmerizing sublime stunning alluring overcome relentless master delightful deep gripping intense ultimate emerging untapped glamorous decadent shocking release strange blast light captivate riveting honest surefire obsessed ravenous magic revolutionary reveal unique delirious launch uncovered free now unleashed barrage forever huge create awesome heartwarming authentic miracle new transform bona fide swooning essential unlimited tenacious stop rowdy tantalizing exposed promise wild unseen priceless weird belonging crazy tricks irresistible naked fierce bold unforgettable alive ironclad ridiculous sacred dangerous fantasy profound inspiring definitive remarkable explosive spellbinding rare suddenly hidden unadulterated ignite exquisite uncontrollable catapult brilliant defying beautiful massive forbidden hilarious secret startling unconventional incredible genuine thrilling undeniable extraordinary sensational intriguing gigantic breathtaking astonishing fascinating gorgeous effortless amazing adorable dazzling unstoppable astounding

Soaring

It’s an evening concert at Koerner Hall in Toronto, a few hours after sleeping was the order of the day. In a preview of coming attractions, a string quartet of young adults has just performed six feet in front of me. I’m in seat A12 … dead centre.

The cellist was an Oriental woman. Her fingers flew and her face glowed. I wafted back to the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. I loved the faces there, in sculpture or paint, and I know one of my photos from that visit will be the woman who just sat before me. Give me a minute and I’ll find her.

No, the woman on the canvas is not Oriental, but the shining is the same. The cellist was a goddess. Her fingers flowed and her bow pressed hard on the bending strings. Her male fellows blended and surged as violinists and violist. I was smashed in the face by the music flooding towards me. And I returned the favour, bursting upon the musicians with my awe and with my love.

Her name is Zuri Wells and her instrument is the marimba, which I thought was something like a guitar. Wrong! It’s a huge wooden xylophone, with about fifty wooden bars … varnished 1×2’s. Sometimes she held two mallets, sometimes four or six. The instrument loomed over me. All that was humanly visible was Zuri’s face. Her eyes widened and then closed as the melody and harmonies broke from her hands. The passages were alternately sweet and raucous. Her face twisted in response to the accompanying orchestra. Often there was a tiny grin on her lips as she fell into the music. And right near the end, she exploded in a smile from ear to ear.

We stood. We applauded for three minutes. Zuri bowed and beamed.

Then it was time for everybody. The Royal Conservatory Orchestra played Beethoven’s 7th Symphony for we the audience. Flurries of bow. Soaring notes of all types, coming from all sides of the stage. Vibrating bodies, sometimes swaying and sometime pouncing.

The Concertmistress (the lead first violin) often made eye contact with her counterpart in the second violins, the two women nodding ever so slightly as they timed their entries into the fray. The first player often smiled as the music took flight. So did many others. Sitting in the front row, it felt like orgasm after orgasm flying off the stage. Whew. It was immense.

Quite the contrast to lying in bed, reflecting on my eyes slowly closing. I’d say both are needed in the round of life.

Day Fifteen: The Space Around

There is you over there and me in here … or is that so? Perhaps your skin isn’t the end of you. We might be far broader than that, stretching and stretching till we touch the stars.

Maybe there’s a huge space around everything – a sense of outflow, of joining me to whatever’s beside. And time expands too … into a softness, a lingering. It could be that even the difficult moments blend into the air and extend themselves back into the past and forward into the future. Maybe there’s nothing distinct and limited at all, no edges marking “this” from “not this”.

There is space around the beings and moments of the world – softening them and enriching them. I just need the eyes to see.

Just now, it was easy. Ali, Nima and I sat together. I showed them a video on my phone, of Aretha Franklin singing You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman to an audience that included Barack Obama and Carole King, the co-writer of the song. The three of us cuddled and the singer touched not only a Canadian heart, but also Senegalese ones too, despite the language difference. I feel in my being that this is true.

I could feel us extending together … being with Carole, Aretha, Michelle and Barack in that faraway where of Washington, D.C. and that faraway when of 2015. It wasn’t my brain that knew we were all together, but it was nonetheless so. People of the ages 4, 11, 70, 77, 55, 58 and “dead” were united across such permeable boundaries. The space around us kept reaching outward, animating whatever it touched.

Last night, not so easy. Wrestling is one of the big sports in Senegal and there’s a competition in a nearby village happening now. The singing and drumming starts each night around 9:00 pm and lasts till 1:00 am. This will be going on for the rest of 2019.

The voice easily crosses the few kilometres between Soucouta and Toubacouta. I couldn’t sleep. I felt into the space around but there were jangles in the way. The staccato sound, the fatigue, the unfamiliarity of it all. In my better moments, I sank into the sweetness of the tones, feeling the rhythm of the song. And then the walls closed in. Contract … expand … contract … expand …

Still I knew … all moved outwards, dissipating as the night said hello. I was home, within all that the word can mean.

Day Seven: Nima

What can give you a true sense of Senegal? I have many moments to choose from yesterday but my time with Nima was the best.

She’s a four-year-old girl, the daughter of my friends Ice Tea (Moustafa) and Fatou. As I arrived around midnight a day ago, she was sleepily there to greet Jo and me. At the gate, Jo picked her up and said “She’s grown so much!” I looked over to see two eyes shining in the darkness. Soon she was asleep, and we adults joined in conversation. But those eyes remained in me.

Yesterday morning, it was Nima again, finding me from across the room. She wore a pink t-shirt and her hair fell in countless braids. What was going on that I had trouble maintaining normal conversation with the tall people? There was a power here, in a tiny package, that reached over to me. How we can affect each other.

Later she sat in the next chair and her smile shone. There was Beatles music in the background and I began drumming on the wooden arm of my seat. Nima did the same, and soon we had a beat going that would have made Ringo proud … a Senegalese kid and a Canadian forty-year-old giving ‘er in the percussion section of the orchestra.

As Nima drummed, she stuck out her tongue. And I realized that I’d never really noticed tongues before. Hers was so pink against the black of her skin.

The beat went on and so did we. I plopped my hand on hers briefly. She returned the favour, and soon we were trying to escape each other’s touches from above. And still we drummed, now to the songs of Neil Young. We laughed.

I don’t believe that Nima knows any English, and my French is slowly moving from marginal to moderate. No matter. We were rejoicing in the melodies of life.

Later in the day, we had visitors. Two young boys crammed a chair with Nima. It was her fourth birthday. Conversations in French bounced across the room. And the song with “anniversaire” in the lyrics burst out. Happy Birthday, dear little one. The song morphed to something else and the kids started dancing. Somewhere along the way, I picked up my phone and started videoing. I wonder if I can send it to you. Let’s try:

Une grande célébration! Parfait pour tous les gens.

Perfect for us all