Moving On

Last year I volunteered in a Grade 6 class. I loved those 27 kids, and I still do. They’ve gone to another school and I rarely see any of them.

Today was a regional track meet for elementary schools in the area. I watched our Grade 5’s and 6’s in the morning and stayed to see some of my old conversation partners in the afternoon. They’re 13 and “on the road to find out”. Adults are okay but they need to be with their friends.

At various times, eight or nine kids came up to say hi. Last June they approached with hugs as we said goodbye for the summer. This time no hugs but still big smiles. Mostly these new teenagers didn’t have much to say. That’s okay. When I asked what they were most enjoying these days, shrugged shoulders were the norm. And that’s okay too. I was so pleased to see them. Soon they were off with their best buds, getting ready for their events or just hanging out. I smiled as they walked away. I know I’ve touched their lives but I’m of the past and the present has so many wonders to behold. May they have eyes to see.

Some of these kids may reappear in my life … or perhaps not. I’m fine with both. Go see what’s out there, dear ones, and who’s out there.

Mid-afternoon, one of the Grade 7 girls came over to talk. We yapped about this and that for fifteen minutes or so. It was lovely. And then she was bouncing away.

Remembering the past is pretty cool. Imagining the future widens my eyes. But any gifts I offer to the world are only in this very moment, repeated over and over till I die. Just like the kids, I’ll move on to the beings who choose to grace my doorstep.

Garbage

It was last year at school.  I was talking to some Grade 5 students, kids I didn’t really know because I worked with the Grade 6’s.  I told them that I often walk down the main street in my village of Belmont to have breakfast at the Diner.  And there’s just so much garbage on the lawns, sidewalks and gutters.  I felt like taking a plastic bag with me and picking up the litter.

Two boys – “Trevor” and “Jeremy” – challenged me to do it.  I said I would, and I followed through – twice.  Then I convinced myself to forget all about it.  I’d occasionally remember over the next several months, but I never again pulled a bag out of the closet.

That was last year.  This spring I’ve been consistently unconscious about the whole thing, until last weekend, when I was sorting through reams of paper that had accumulated.  I came upon a grocery receipt.  On the back, in my handwriting, were three words: garbage, Trevor, Jeremy.

I gulped.  I had forgotten that they were the two kids who challenged me.  On Tuesday, I approached them and fessed up to my lack of commitment.  They nodded.  I said that I’d be walking down Main Street to the Diner on Thursday morning and promised that, unlike my history, I would do what I said I would do.

Thursday morning was this morning.  Two plastic bags found their way into my coat pocket and I set off.  I was scared, which made no sense.  I figured out that I was worried about what people would think, seeing me stooped over on their lawn.  I said that I’d have mitts on because of the cold, and it would be too awkward to pick things up.  Then I agreed to do it, but set a limit – max of 50 items each way.  And what was that about?

I shook my head at the foibles that were issuing forth and walked down Robin Ridge Drive towards Main Street.  Paper, plastic bottles, plastic wrap, plastic ties, cardboard and shingles all found their way to the bottom of the bag.  I got emotionally stronger as each item descended, and by the time I was approaching the restaurant I didn’t give a hoot about what anybody thought.  Hey, for all I know, there were folks applauding from their cars.

A garbage can stood serenely outside of the Diner.  Forty-two pieces of society, and one torn plastic bag, were deposited by a Belmont resident.  I smiled.

On the way home, the other side of the street beckoned.  I picked up fifty-nine examples of flotsam and jetsam by the time I reached my porch.

How silly to be so worried.  How happy to be so contributing.  And tomorrow morning I’ll hold up a sign to Jeremy and Trevor which will simply say … 101.  Good for me.

Emerging

A few weeks ago, I was leaving the Aeolian Hall in London after a concert when a young woman said hi. I knew Noelle fifteen years ago when she was a Grade 6 kid at the school where I worked with a blind student. I also remember her sister Renee and their friend Hillary. Noelle told me that the three of them have formed a music group called The Pairs, featuring homemade songs and strong vocals. She told me they were part of a concert on March 23 and invited me to come.

My brain went into compute mode. March 23 was smack dab in the middle of a five-day trip to Toronto although nothing was on my schedule for that evening. The commute time was about two hours.

I said yes.

I would drive to London, take in the show, and then drive back to Toronto, no doubt getting in at midnight or later. Some people would see such behaviour as weird but not me. Seize the day, as Robin Williams told us in Dead Poets Society.

I stood at the front, listening to the girls sing. Except they’re 28 now. Young women. Great harmonies, great songs and a lovely caring among them. I smiled and clapped a lot. The Pairs are finding their way in the world and who knows where their musical path will take them.

The concert was a fundraiser for the Canadian Mental Health Association. Noelle talked to the crowd about how important it is that we be good to each other. She spoke of “relentless kindness”, a sweet turn of the phrase I thought. It was clear to me that these three women were becoming full human beings, contributing to the world. And it became even clearer when I heard them sing “Woman”:

Oh I’m woman, hear me roar
Oh I may not fit where I’m supposed to be
But I do what I need to make my heart soar
Oh I’m woman, hear me roar
And I won’t let you make a man outta me

I talked to Hillary, Renee and Noelle after the music. They were all pleased I had come. Me too.

Reconnecting with folks who were once young students is rare for me. Last night was a privilege. Many kids who were in my life have now stretched their wings in ways I’ll never know about. Good for them. I like to think I’ve made a contribution to many 12-year-olds. Actually, I don’t have to think it. I have.

What’s True

Here are more thoughts in response to my friend’s long e-mail, after we both attended a three-month silent meditation retreat recently.

“Dear _________,

Your words are sure getting me thinking.

“You have what we all need, unconditional love.”

My knee jerk response is to say, “Oh no, I’m not that good.”  But I need to look more carefully.  What’s true is that I have been reflecting on love for something like twenty years.  The Buddha essentially said that what we think about, we become.  And I see it in my life.  How about that, I do have unconditional love bubbling to the surface for big parts of my day.  And it’s not that I’m the greatest thing since sliced bread.  It feels like there’s very little ego in the territory.  I’m just naturally gravitating to love.

I appear to be quite strange.  Sometimes in traffic, when I’m facing left turning cars that have an advanced green, I find my eyes getting wet if all of those vehicles make it through before I get to go.  I’m just so happy that no one was left out.  Wow.  Writing this makes me sound like a very weird duck … but so what?  It’s true!  And what should be my response to wholesome states?  As my teacher James Baraz says,  “Don’t miss them!”  Don’t poo poo them, saying “It’s nothing.”  Don’t block them by suddenly getting interested in watching Toronto Maple Leafs hockey games or hiding within the pages of the latest Stephen King novel.  They’re here … embrace them.

“I for one would come to all your talks.  You could record talks as well and share them via YouTube maybe.”

Not that good, I say.  But what voice is speaking?  Is it expansive and calm or a whiny contraction?  No, it’s the small voice – anxious and fearful of really making an impact in this world.

There’s a sangha near me in London, Ontario.  I went to a few of their evenings a couple of years ago but the periods of silent meditation were short and I told myself that there was too much talking.  What if back then I didn’t have eyes to see the beauty, wisdom and love in front of me?  Okay, that’s it: I’m going back to their weekly meetings.  I can be a gift to them and they most certainly can be a gift to me.  Over time, I can start giving talks, if the folks are willing.  It’s true that I have things to say that may be valuable for some people to hear.

About a week ago, I’m walking down the street, and my quiet, trustworthy voice says “In the very near future, Bruce, you will sing Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” a capella (just voice, no instrument) to a roomful of people.”  I love that song.  I printed off the lyrics and in the last few days I’ve sung it to two people, individually.

This Friday, I’m back volunteering in a Grade 5/6 class.  Sing it to them, Bruce, leaving out the verse with a sexual theme.  Ask the teacher if she will give me permission to do that.  If she says no, look for another environment.

“But they’re too young to hear “Hallelujah”.

“No they’re not.”

“Yes they are.”

“No.  They’re not.”

Oh my.  What journey beckons?  What’s happening to me?  What is my gift?  What is my contribution?

‘I’m on the road to find out.’  (Cat Stevens)”

Returning to Words

Well, well, well.  I just discovered that my last post on WordPress was nearly six months ago.  And here I am, finally interested in talking to you again.

I have no idea if anyone is still out there in Cyberland.  Maybe I’ll just be talking to myself.  Oh well, I do that regularly anyway!

I came home ten days ago from a three-month silent meditation retreat in Massachusetts.  A fellow participant (we’re called yogis) wrote me a long e-mail a few days ago.  I responded to the first part of her message and asked her permission to share it with you folks.  She just said yes.  Tomorrow, I’ll reflect on more of her message, how her words fit with my experience of the retreat.  So here we go.  Back on the horse.

“__________ – what a brilliant letter.  It must have taken you an hour to compose.  I too feel honoured – that you would talk to me so deeply and extensively.  Thank you.

What am I feeling now?  Fear … that I won’t be able to respond to your written journey in a complete way.  Oh well, Bruce.  Let that go.  “Complete” isn’t it.  Just open your heart and write.

I don’t know how to deal with people calling me “amazing”.  How about with simple grace and thanks?  That will do nicely.  I struggle with the idea of being special.  It feels like a big flaring ego when I go that way.  I prefer “ordinary”, in the sense that all of us have inside the love and peace that often leak out of me.  And then there’s the possibility of letting the comparing mind take a vacation, that “special” and “ordinary” just aren’t relevant anymore.  Maybe I’ll try that one on for size.

Thank you for calling me your teacher.  That’s very gracious of you.  I am a teacher, but perhaps not at the front of the room.  I know that my loving and peaceful energy reaches some people.  To think that I contributed to the lives of many of you on retreat gives me great happiness.  And then there were the times during sittings when there was no sweet energy at all.

I just have to close my eyes.  Energy is either flowing all over my face or there is nothing.  During those flat times, I for awhile gave up on making any difference in the hall.  Late in the retreat, however, the quiet voice who has been with me for many years said “Bruce, all is well.  It appears that you can’t reach the expansive state that reaches out to people right now, but there is one thing you can do.  Open your eyes and wish all these folks well.”  And so I did.  I simply looked around and sent my favourite phrases outwards, hoping at some level they were received.

You are loved

Dearly beloved

Dear ones

Loved ones

Darlings

Loves

Dears

Getting to the sweet space of peace is such an experience of letting go.  Trying for it is useless.  Strive away, world.  I won’t be joining you.  Also, I’ve discovered that my life has to be impeccable in the moment for me to reach this state.  If I’m angry or fearful, there’s no way.  If I’m lusting after someone or something, the same.  And ditto if my body is exhausted.  Wow.  There’s a personal development program for you.  Bliss through purification!”

Hmm.  It feels good to be back.

New

I sat with “Trevor” for a few minutes yesterday.  He’s a Grade 6 student at South Dorchester School.  I looked at him and wondered if he could create something new in the world.  Then I asked him.  “I have a challenge for you.  Think up some way that people could be happier.”

Trevor didn’t look at me like I was crazy.  He just looked at me … thoughtfully.  Then he said, “I’ll work on it.”  And I know he will.

What if each of us considered what we could add to this place, rather than merely wanting all our desires to be met?  What if we could focus on the level of consciousness we present to others, rather than just checking off items on our bucket list?  What if we committed to living in accord with our highest values?  It’s possible.

Long ago, in my travels as an itinerant vision teacher, I came upon a classroom teacher named Patty.  Every morning, she’d write a “Thought for the Day” on the board.  I liked a lot of them, but then one day …

You were born an original
Don’t die a copy

Whoa!

That one hit me hard and it’s stayed with me over the years.  “Original.”  Something new on our planet.  Yes.  I can do that, and so can each of us.  I doubt very much if I’ll ever invent something that makes our lives easier, but would I really want to do that anyway?  “Easier” is nowhere near the top of the mountain.

Perhaps my uniqueness can revolve around the present moment, and all the ones to follow.  Right now, what can I bring to the table?  Well, this particular Right Now finds me tapping the keys of my laptop in a Tim Hortons coffee shop.  I’m not talking to anyone, other than the fellow I gave my order to.  What can advance the world’s happiness as I sit here?  Well … I can simply wish people well.

You are loved
May you have peace
May you touch others
May you feel the sorrows of those around you and let your heart quiver in response

As I complete this blog post, and ready myself to leave the restaurant, maybe there’s a kind word that will escape my lips and land in someone’s heart.  We’ll see.

Part of my uniqueness shows up in the meditation hall on retreats.  After a few days of settling in, I can feel my heart opening, offering love and peace to those nearby.  I don’t think I fill the room … but perhaps someday.  “Come on, Bruce, other people do this too.”  Of course, but it is a gift I’ve been given.

My newness may mostly show up in group meditation but my environment is full of more traditional venues – classrooms, diners, libraries, my home, other people’s homes, on the trail, in the public washroom, sitting on a bench.  Folks come by.  What can I offer?  Quite a bit, I think.

And as for you, Trevor, I welcome your words.  See you on Tuesday.

Books

The boy, too, had his book, and he had tried to read it during the first few days of the journey.  But he found it much more interesting to observe the caravan and listen to the wind.  As soon as he had learned to know his camel better, and to establish a relationship with him, he threw the book away.

from The Alchemist (a book!) by Paulo Coelho

I own hundreds of them, accumulated over the last forty years.  So many about spiritual matters, lately focused on Buddhism.  So many novels, lately focused on Stephen King.  I do believe I have every book he’s published.

I’ve been more of a collector than a reader.  It’s somehow comforting to see them sitting on the shelves of my bookcases.  But sometimes I reflect on the fact that I’m 66 and that I’ll never read them all before I die.

I’ve taken thousands of quotations from the ones I have read, trying to hang on to the essence of what the author was telling me.  I’ve created “Categories” of topics and have started arranging all the words into them, to create a power not possible from just a few isolated quotes.  Trouble is, I virtually never wrote down who said what, so my ambition to publish all of this wisdom in several volumes seems thwarted by the illegality of it all.  Guess I would be sued left, right and centre.

My latest plan is to complete the sorting into topics before I die, have the books published through Blurb, find 500 organizations that might find my work valuable, put the books in bubble wrappers, each addressed to one of those places, pay for all that postage … and put them in the basement.  When I die, my executor would mail them all away, adding extra postage as needed.

I need to consult with a lawyer to see if my estate could be sued after the books are received.  Oh my.  I appear to be a very strange duck.  But I don’t want decades of quotations that resonate with my Spirit to crumble into dust.

Still .. wait a minute.  Wouldn’t it be a pretty major letting go if I dumped all my recipe cards of quotes and just trusted that the wisdom therein would reach humanity via another route?  In the movie The Razor’s Edge, the character played by Bill Murray ends up at a Buddhist monastery in the Himalayas.  The lama instructs him to walk up to a little hut amid the snows and to meditate there for some time.  Our American friend takes a few of his treasured books, a couple of blankets and not much else.  After a day or two, he’s getting pretty cold, and the scarce wood is all gone.  In a moment of realization, he takes out one of the books and rips off page after page, dropping them into his little fire.  Oh my again.

Now what, Bruce?  I don’t know.  There may be delivered books, a world of insights, and a world of lawsuits.  Or perhaps all will be silence.

 

 

What Does It Mean To Shine?

That’s the title of a glossy brochure that I received last week from my alma mater – the University of Lethbridge in Alberta.  I was shocked that the word was showing up in mainstream society.

During my meditation retreat, I met several people who were shining.  Their hearts were open and our world was richer for it.  I sat near the back of the meditation hall and I could feel these folks, whether they were teachers or yogis, sitting near or far.  So spacious, so present in the moment, so loving.

On the arm of my man chair sit the words from U of L.  Here are some samples:

It’s a glowing passion, for work and for play.  It’s the spark of creativity and discovery … U of L alumni like you are illuminating the world.

Sometimes I imagine human beings as lamps.  Some folks seem to have the light mostly turned off.  Some operate with a dimmer switch.  Others radiate, nothing held back.

And from individual graduates:

My parents were lifelong proponents of combining skills plus opportunities with hard work for the benefit of other people.  I think people who do that shine.

That’s the key, I believe.  It’s all for others.  It’s all love.

When you’re confident and doing what you love, you shine.  I’m shining when I’m teaching aboriginal studies to my students.  They inspire me to be my best.

To surround yourself with marvelous people.  Then it’s easy to shine.

When someone shines, they have a certain confidence to them – they are happy in what they are doing and with their life – and it’s contagious.

Other folks notice, even from a distance.  And are moved.  And begin to cast light themselves.

For me, to shine means … to leave this world better than when you entered it.

Yes.  Let’s all do this.  In large and small ways.  We matter when we look outwards with love.

For me, to shine means to be fully present – not just in music, but in life.

Moment upon moment … whenever I’m with another human being.  Whether they feel me or not.  May they feel something sweet hovering nearby.

 

 

 

Blurb Burps

I’ve seen books created through the Blurb self-publishing website, and they’ve been magnificent – quality paper and binding, vibrant colours and the blackest of blacks.  I’m so looking forward to Jody’s book getting into people’s hands, so that it may contribute to many lives.

But like any exciting project, there are some hiccups along the way.  I’m including 66 e-mails and 27 blog posts about Jody in her book, plus some new stuff.  I’d say about 95% of the content has been written, but how oh how to get it into Blurb’s BookWright program!  Well, I can get it in there, but the spacing between the lines in one paragraph is different from the spacing in the next one.

Am I too picky?  No.  Jody deserves the best.  I learned long ago that if my work has typos, grammatical mistakes, poor punctuation, or if it looks deficient visually, my message is less likely to hit home.  And I want the love that Jody and I share to reach people unimpeded.  Handle the details, Bruce.

The Blurb rep I’ve been in contact with has been great.  He’s been so willing to consult folks with more technical expertise than him.  I know my problem will be solved, and that Jody will be smiling when she sees the result.  But for now … patience please.

And then there have been the dreams.  A recurring one is that someone else has written a submission that absolutely must be included in the book.  In fact, it should be inserted several times.  I don’t know who the author is, but I often wake up fretting about the unknown content.  Jodiette, is it you, wanting to share your current thinking?  If so, let me know what you’d like, my dear.

I woke up this morning with another dilemma.  A group of kids were working with me on how to describe the book to folks who might like a copy.  We were going to give a presentation to interested booklovers, and ideas were flashing across the room as we prepped for it.  But no one would write down the insights!  Not this kid, not that kid, not the one over there.  C’mon, guys and gals, a volunteer please.  Nope.

That’s okay.  No need to put the cart before the horse.  I can handle any dream that comes my way, but first I’ll continue the editing, write up the new material, and wait for my friends at Blurb to solve my spacing situation.

All for a good cause … Jody reaching the world.