Michelle Revered and Detested

Coco Gauff is a 15-year-old tennis player who reached the fourth round of Wimbledon before bowing out to Simona Halep, formerly the world number one. I watched her press conference after the match. I marvelled at how well she spoke. Her words flowed and there was a quietness inside that reached out to the audience.

Michelle Obama tweeted congratulations and Coco was clearly touched by her gesture. “I’ve looked up to her for a long time. She’s such a role model.” Yes, for me too. A girl and a woman share grace, sweetness and also tenacity. Companions of the spirit, decades apart. Both so out there in the world, visible to the scrutiny of the assembled masses.

Just now, I looked up Michelle’s book Becoming in the Kindle Store.  I read some reviews.  What an education.  Here are some samples:

***

I believe I always loved Michelle Obama.  Her grace and dignity always seemed to come as a gift from above.  Her spirit is so incredibly deep and strong.

Slow and boring and self-boasting

***

It’s a wonderful, heartfelt, true story of HOPE in a world gone far too cynical.

Full of misleading statements and untruths

***

She’s open, honest and forthcoming.  Fantastic read.

If you are an insomniac, this book will definitely help that.  A real snoozer.

***

I truly believe many young girls will read the book and know
they can live with honor like you.

A shallow-minded patting on the back

***

I applaud her and the book.  It brought tears to my eyes
and deep appreciation for the Obamas.

Poorly written, silly comments in bad taste.
This is not a good book for a lady to read.

***

Mrs. Obama opens up and gives us a real look into her heart and mind and experiences in a way that is authentic and original.

Worst piece of crap ever

***

Amazing read.  Mrs. Obama is a treasure and her honest, thoughtful words and a dignified grace make me realize just how special a person she is.

What a joke.

***

Michelle Obama, thanks for being such a great role model while you were in the White House … championing exercise and good food for children and speaking your mind with grace and courage.

The lies, the misleading statements and poppycock drama to get you feel bad or believe something that is not true

+++

The message for me is to keep speaking my truth,
knowing that some people will like it and some won’t.
The source of my well-being does not lie within them.

Standing Out or Blending In?

I’ve been reading an article on leadership, specifically on leaders being attacked emotionally.  Woh … I cringe at the thought of being the target of abuse.  Too scary.  Surely I’d run away, hide in my house, play it safe.  But that leaves such a bitter taste in my mouth.  I know I’m up for more than that in life.

I tell myself that I want to contribute to people in a big way.  For that to happen, surely I need to be visible, not just an anonymous giver.  To be naked in the world, the beauty and warts right there for all to see.  Going towards rather than away from.

The authors are Harvey Jackins and his son Tim.  Here are some of their very pointed thoughts:

It is almost part of your job as leader to make mistakes.  Part of your job as leader is to keep trying new, difficult things, to keep stretching yourself enough that there is a chance of error.  (Who, me?  Yes, me.)

An attack is not an attempt to correct mistakes … The effect of attacks is always to destruct, to restimulate [trigger egoic patterns] … and to generally disrupt the functioning [of the community].  (It sounds like an attack is a deliberate attempt to injure rather than an assertive way to deal with an issue.)

Almost always, being attacked is an indication that you are doing something rather well.  (So, am I committed to pursuing a dream that will benefit humanity … or not?  Is my stand worth the flak that likely will come my way?)

Almost always it has fallen to the person who is the object of the attack to handle the attack.  That is a mistake.  (You mean I have to be brave, to be “out there”, even if I’m not the one being attacked?  Answer: You don’t have to.  You can choose to.)

Anyone you have seen working hard for years to benefit many people deserves for you to hold off that bit of restimulation, and take a stand for them, for yourself, for the community and our work.  (So, I’ll be strong enough to resist being triggered by the attack on another and therefore me reliving past fears.  I’ll be strong enough to stand tall for my set-upon colleague.  Answer: Yes.)

We do not allow anyone the option of attacking someone.  You have the option of giving up that behavior or you have the option of not being part of this community.  (Straight shooting.  Not peaceful co-existence.  Not live and let be.)

Do I have the cojones to say to someone attacking myself or another “That’s it!  No more.  We will talk later.  Back off!  You don’t get to behave that way, no matter what happened in the past.  Maybe there is a problem.  Maybe there isn’t.  We will figure it out.  But you don’t get to treat anybody that way.  I wouldn’t let anyone treat you that way.  You have to stop, now.”?  (Okay, here’s where the rubber hits the road.  Do I speak up in the face of myself or others being demeaned, disparaged, insulted, stepped upon … or remain suppressedly silent?  Hmm.)

Most organizations have attacks going on frequently, and it’s always disruptive of the organization.  It always limits their effectiveness because much of the time people are too upset by the attacks to actually do the work they’re in the organization for.  (Hmm again.  What a waste of time.  What a waste of the precious human energies that are eager to do good.  Let’s change this.)

Stand up
Speak up
Grow up

Seeking Gifts

Just before I went to California in April, a boy in the Grade 6 class asked me if I’d bring him back a snow globe. I thought for a second and then said yes. In Monterey, I had so much fun tracking down just what he wanted – a version that featured a sea otter.

On Tuesday, I was in class before my afternoon flight to Alberta. A boy had already asked me to find a wooden sculpture for him. I bet everyone knew that I’d said yes. As time wound down towards my departure, two girls came by separately and each shyly said how much they’d like to have a necklace from Alberta. I asked for details of what they’d prefer and they were happy to oblige. I overheard another young lady telling her friends that she’d love to have a souvenir from the west.

So, Mr. Kerr, do you give these kids what they’re asking for? Immediately the answer came back “Yes”. I choose to reward the kids who speak up, who are brave enough to ask.

On the plane to Calgary, I decided to give the last girl the gift she wanted – some depiction of a horse. It’s true that she didn’t ask me directly but at least she tossed her intention out there.

Today was my first full day with Nona, Lance, Jaxon, Jagger and Jace. Nona knew of a few gift shops in nearby Black Diamond and I promised to be no more than half an hour. I figured I had six more days to score any unfound treasures.

First the recommended drug store with its gift section. A small rearing horse caught my attention on the top shelf. Cool. But so did the $89.99 price tag. My eyes roamed and soon came to rest on a pile of small plates. The top one had a sublime painting of a mom horse and her foal. I stared. “Yes” rang through me. Just like that, one of the four was complete. I could see the future smile on the 11-year-old’s face.

The accompanying shelves weren’t yielding further secrets so I readied myself to leave. I asked the saleslady where in town I was likely to find necklaces. She smiled and gestured over to where I had been. Little boxes, each with a pendant, graced the glass. I hadn’t noticed their silver chains. Before me were jewelry designs in abalone shells – shimmering greens and blues.

The first one to my eyes showed the shining feathers of a dreamcatcher, and the face of one of the askers appeared. Less than a minute later, I saw a “Tree of Life” pendant, and the other young face was smiling at me. How can this be? Three out of four in ten minutes!

I meandered down the street, peeking into this shop and that. The warmth of one place beckoned me inward. My request for “a little wooden sculpture” drew a smile from a clerk and an offer to shift my attention to tiny stone animals. I looked at the small ones in their rectangular compartments and knew that the answer was no. But I was being nudged onward, past several displays of artistry. There, sitting on a vibrant scarf, were four small wooden boxes. One was rounded at the top and a tree stretched over. Mango wood from India. Four.

In ten days, my young friends, gifts will be given.

We Can Change the World

Pie in the sky?
The musing of a fool?
Irrational and irrelevant?

Perhaps not

***

Everyone must leave something behind when he dies . . . Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die . . . It doesn’t matter what you do, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away.

***

It’s the outsiders who change the world.

***

A socially accepted or cultured person can never change society. By change it means something that society has never imagined before.

***

One smile has the power to …

Calm fears
Soften stone walls
Warm a cold heart
Invite a new friend
Mimic a loving hug
Beautify the bearer
Lighten heavy loads
Promote good deeds
Brighten a gloomy day
Comfort a grieving spirit
Offer hope to the forlorn
Send a message of caring
Lift the downtrodden soul
Patch up invisible wounds
Weaken the hold of misery
Act as medicine for suffering
Attract the companionship of angels
Fulfill the human need for recognition

Who knew changing the world would prove so simple?

***

Love people who hate you. Pray for people who have wronged you. It won’t just change their life … it’ll change yours.

***

The world is changed not by the self-regarding, but by men and women prepared to make fools of themselves.

***

I’m just tired of feeling like the way things are is the only way they can ever be.

***

Burn so bright that the world comes to life.

***

No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world.

***

I’m not a Starbucks guy. I’m a Dunkin Donuts guy, but I like to pay for the coffee of the other folks behind me in line. It typically costs me less than $10, and makes the other people feel good, but more importantly, it makes me feel so good, and random acts of kindness change the world, one person at a time.

***

When you are told “You cannot change the world”, it is because you are already doing it.

***

Help young people. Help small guys. Because small guys will be big. Young people will have the seeds you bury in their minds, and when they grow up, they will change the world.

***

I believe it’s time that women truly owned their superpowers and used their beauty and strength to change the world around them.

***

We have to raise the consciousness. The only way poets can change the world is to raise the consciousness of the general populace.

***

Kids really have a lot more power than they think they have. They have the power to change the world. And they should know it.

***

You have a mind. And you have other people. Start with those, and change the world.

***

It’s hard to tell the truth
When no one wants to listen
When no one really cares
What’s going on
And it’s hard to stand alone
When you need someone beside you
Your spirit and your faith must be strong

What one man can do is dream
What one man can do is love
What one man can do is change the world
And make it young again
Here you see what one man can do

***

Age, gender, sexual orientation, appearance, personality, money
Do not matter
Do something you love

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.

Join Me

When I started volunteering with a new Grade 6 class in September, I knew a few things.  I would challenge these kids to think independently, to express their opinions and to be no one but themselves.

As a symbol of self-expression, I knew I’d sing “O Canada” whenever I was in the class in the morning.  And it is expression, not performance.  It’s processing oxygen as you throw yourself into the world.  No divas, no Eltons, no concerts … just human beings giving ‘er.  Or so I hoped.  I didn’t know how many kids would join me in song.

As it turned out, nobody did.  Occasionally I thought I heard another voice come through, but usually it was just solo me.  I wondered what the other twenty-seven people in the room were thinking as I bellowed out “God keep our land glorious and free”.  Along with my disappointment was hope, that the seeds I was planting would nestle into fertile ground.

Yesterday was an a.m. volunteer gig.  As the mid-morning announcements described the events of the day, I knew what was next.  And the oomph inside decided to speak up:

“I challenge somebody to come stand beside me and sing ‘O Canada’.”

The opening chords wafted from the PA.  I stood alone … and then I didn’t.  Kids tumbled over to me – some shuffling along, some striding with head held high.  About ten of them stood and sang with me.  Oh my.  I was indescribably happy.  “Thanks, kids.”  It was the best moment of my day.

This morning I was back at it, helping a few students with Math, marking a few quizzes, seeing who could find the typo on the worksheet projected on the Smart Board.  And then announcements.  This time I would say nothing.  Would it be “if you build it, they will come”?  Or simply solo Bruceness as before?

Alone during the opening chords.  And then a boy appeared in my right peripheral vision, soon to be joined by other kids.  We sang, again probably ten of them and me.  Kids started things.  I didn’t have to.  Happy, happy, happy.

Will any of them remember these two singings a year from now?  I bet a few of them will.  And when they’re 32, rather than 12, may they stand tall and say what they need to say.  Because their voices are needed.

To Sing a Song

Next week, The Evolutionary Collective is meeting for five days on the Monterey Peninsula south of San Francisco.  There probably will be a hundred of us there as we explore consciousness together.  Usually EC meetings are just during the day, but this time there’ll be some evening activities, such as … karaoke!

Woh.  I love karaoke.  It doesn’t matter if the voice is elite or if the songs are transcendent.  It’s about self-expression, from the heart rather than the mind.  The e-mail I received actually talked about that – choosing a song that speaks of love, of togetherness, of spirit.

So … what shall I do?  I suppose nothing is a choice but that feels pretty pale.  “Just go ahead and sing, Bruce.  You’ll reach people.”  Thank you, dear inside voice.  That’s what I’ll do.

I sat quietly for about four seconds and then a song burst through.  It’s resided in my heart for decades.  John Denver and Joe Henry collaborated on the creation:

The Wings That Fly Us Home

There are many ways of being in this circle we call life
A wise man seeks an answer, burns his candle through the night
Is a jewel just a pebble that found a way to shine?
Is a hero’s blood more righteous than a hobo’s sip of wine?

Did I speak to you one morning on a distant world away?
Did you save me from an arrow?  Did you lay me in a grave?
Were we brothers on a journey?  Did you teach me how to run?
Were we broken by the waters?  Did I lay you in the sun?

I dreamed you were a prophet in a meadow
I dreamed I was a mountain in the wind
I dreamed I knelt and touched you with a flower
I awoke with this: a flower in my hand

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

And the spirit fills the darkness of the heavens
It fills the endless yearning of the soul
It lives within a star too far to dream of
It lives within each part and is the whole
It’s the fire and the wings that fly us home
Fly us home
Fly us home

How astonishing lovely.  And I’ll be singing it to the beloveds on May 3 or so.

I have about ten days to memorize the words.  Some of them have already worked their way into my heart.  I know that the rest will follow suit in their own good time.  They’ll be part of me when I open my mouth one evening in Asilomar.

And then there’s the singing.  I sat down at the piano last night and discovered what note I needed to start on.  I chose a low F.   The song has a range just beyond mine.  If I start too low, the bottom notes will be lost in a growl.  Too high and I’ll squeak out the soaring ones at the end.  I went to bed with the problem, sweetly confident that an answer would come.  This morning it did.  I can lower the notes of the second last “Fly us home” and make it work.  I’ll now start on the E and take in a lot of air before “There are many ways”.

It’ll be a performance, I guess.  But far more than that, it’ll be a love letter.

Stargirl

The school’s resource teacher, “Stephanie”, came up to me a few days ago and said she’d been reading a book to her young son.  As they got deeper into the story, she realized that the high school heroine reminded her of … me.  She not only suggested I read the book.  She went to the school library and scored me a copy.

Susan transforms into Stargirl and plunks herself down in her new high school.  She wears floor-length dresses, carries a rat around in her backpack, and sings “Happy Birthday” to kids in the lunchroom, accompanying herself on the ukulele.  Now, wait a minute … that doesn’t sound like me.  Stephanie urged me to be patient.  “You’ll see yourself.”

Stargirl dresses weirdly every day … me just occasionally.  I do remember one time two years ago when kindergarten kids had done my hair – about twenty closepins hung from me.  I decided to go to a community dinner that evening at the arena without removing the halo of wood.  Many, many stares greeted me, just like for Stargirl.  But mine is just an occasional burst of strangeness.

Stephanie mentioned that I don’t care what people think of me, just like Stargirl.  That’s partially true but I seek approval from a few people.  Mostly she’s right.  I say lots of spontaneous things, have been known to sing our national anthem loudly, and have done a little jig now and then.  But Stargirl is way more over the top.

“You’re kind, like Stargirl.”  Okay, I’ll go with that.  One time, when she was a cheerleader for football games, Stargirl went over to comfort an injured opposition quarterback.  She held him in her lap.  She would cheer for the other team when they were losing.  “Us versus them” was nowhere near as important as “all of us”.  Wow.  What if we just cheered for everyone in life?  I see myself as doing that.

The community of students rejected Stargirl when she had compassion for the opponent.  Only one girl showed up on her side.  The narrator of the story, who was in love with Stargirl (and she with him), wasn’t brave enough to stand beside her.  I don’t know how I’d fare in the face of massive shunning.

Stargirl was love.  No one was left out.  May I live up to her astonishing standard of care.

Truth Telling

I’ve meditated for many years.  Twice I went on three-month silent retreats (silent 98% of the time).  I walked into class yesterday afternoon to see a young kid on the screen, sitting with her legs crossed, eyes closed … meditating.  And the Grade 6’s were quietly at their desks, mostly with eyes closed.  It was a revelation.

“Trevor”, the teacher, has introduced mindfulness to the children.  After witnessing a similar five-minute session today, I asked him if I could lead a discussion about the quiet mind.

I knew that I didn’t want to give them a lecture about the benefits of meditation.  I didn’t even want to tell them about how my life has been changed by immersing myself in the practice.  No, I simply wanted to ask them a question:

Having tried meditation a few times now, what do you think about it?

Before the kids replied, I wanted to set the stage some more:

My request is that if you volunteer an answer, you tell the truth.  Don’t look over at me, try to figure out how I’d like you to respond, and then say that.  There’s great power in the truth, whether you like something or you don’t.

I expected a few hands.  What I got was at least fifteen.

The first girl said that it was boring.  I thanked her for the honesty, and asked the other kids if they thought it took courage for her to say something negative.  There wasn’t much response to that, which was fine.  I sure thought it took courage, and I said so.

Another word spoken was “unnecessary”.  I didn’t argue with the student.  I thanked him or her.  Then another girl talked about how the meditating has helped her during basketball games.  Did saying that take courage?  Yes, indeed.  To speak publicly about how you enjoy something when the prevailing mood in the class seems to be negative about it, is a big thing!  I love the willingness to stand out, to not allow the group mentality to overcome what you honestly see as true.

One boy said something like “It would be boring.”  I encouraged him to be more direct, so that his opinion would be strong and clear.  He changed his words to “It’s boring.”  That made me happy.

It seemed to be an even split, pro and con.  “It helps me out on the yard at recess” versus “Let’s get back to doing something important.”  Both perfectly valid reactions to an activity that’s new to probably everyone.

I was so proud of those kids.  Their heads were high as they spoke – no sense whatsoever of apologizing for their opinion.  And no bombastic declarations.  Just quiet and firm statements of personal truth.

Plus this Bruce guy didn’t have to wax poetic about the virtues of meditating.  Maybe some kid who panned the practice will get curious about what a positive child said and give meditation another try.  Or maybe not.  Either way, what I experienced this afternoon was the freedom of the truth – no fudging, no not quite saying what you mean.  Instead, simply being real.

Speaking to Kids

This afternoon, the school welcomed a motivational speaker.  Sara was dressed all in black and was thoroughly alive.  She walked with power and yet was delightfully vulnerable.  She kept saying “Put your hand up if you’ve ever …”  Her hand went straight up in the air every time, in response to life’s tough moments: you say something dumb, you do something mean, you fall far short of excellence.  Yes, there was a real human being in front of us.

The children on the gym floor ranged from Kindergarten to Grade 6.  Some hands, usually the young ones, went flying up when Sara asked if they had experienced something.  Some hands were at half mast.  And many of them never seemed to leave the owner’s lap.  We vary in our willingness to be “out there”, and that’s just fine.

Two of Sara’s main messages were “I matter” and “I am enough.”  She often shared these in a call-and-response fashion, and many children belted out the words.  I hope it sank in.  I hope they remember tomorrow, next week and in ten years that each person belongs.  Each person has a contribution to make.  Each one of us, 8 or 82, can do great good in the world.

Another idea of Sara’s is “asking”.  And she had a story to tell.  She loves singing and ever since she was young had wanted to sing “O Canada” at a Toronto Blue Jays baseball game.  Time to ask.  She phoned the Blue Jays office and said something like “I’m a singer and I want to sing ‘O Canada’ for our Toronto Blue Jays.”  The answer was no.  Awhile later, she asked again.  The answer was still no.  A third time, and Sara added more: “What about next season?  What do I need to do to be considered?”  And the answer?  “Make a recording of you singing ‘O Canada’.  Send it to us along with a photo and a list of all the times you’ve sung in public.”  So Sara did just that.  And she waited …

Finally, Sarah phoned again, and reached the person responsible for the game ceremonies.  And she heard this: “When can you come?”  She ended up singing the national anthem six times for the Blue Jays, in front of many thousands of fans at the Rogers Centre.  May this story also reach the kids.

Sara throws herself into life, and I’m sure the children noticed.  Will the young ones be brave enough to do the same?  I pray that they will … because our planet needs them.