Fierce

My prep for this summer’s Tour du Canada is coming, and so is my fitness. But are they coming fast enough? I’m so excited to be joining 20 other human beings on the road for 72 days but fear sometimes intrudes like a jagged knife. Take yesterday for example.

I have a 38 kilometre circuit on the country roads around Belmont and it was time to do two laps. Should I have done rides longer than 76 k by this point? Sure, but this is what I have. So off I went.

Facing me for much of the journey was a mounting headwind. First lap not so bad but turning into it the second time was a jolt. Smash! And my speed plummeted.

“76 k is nothing! Some days on the tour you’ll do 160. What’s wrong with you?”

Well … actually nothing is wrong with me. I’ve simply stepped on the path of a long journey. There’ll be considerable pain and joy on the way to Newfoundland.

As the wind stiffened in my face, I started yelling and swearing: “You’re _____ _____ doing this! You are crossing your country!” Thankfully empty fields and woodlots were my only companions as I blasted out the words. My teeth gnashed, my eyes narrowed and my soul erupted.

I looked at my stats on the bike computer and gave them the finger. “Who cares? Just crank those pedals.” I started growling and kept it up until I turned away from the wind.

Yes, I really was growling! Your basic predatory animal … or someone like that.

“Take it ____ home!” And I did.

I will not be stopped
I will not give up
I will not let go of my dream

Caffeine

Last year I got off sleeping pills.  It was a long and arduous weaning after maybe ten years of needing them to cope with the stresses of teaching.  After all was done, I remember thinking that I was never going to get addicted again.

Since getting back from last fall’s meditation retreat, I’ve drunk three cups of coffee a day.  How I missed that wondrous flavour!  I was settling into a rhythm … the joy of coffee with my bacon and eggs.  And then there was Sunday.  I was at a restaurant and ordered decaf.  All was fine until early afternoon, when my brain started going fuzzy.  And I was weak.  Plus a headache starting.  Oh my.  I don’t want this.

I figured it was my lack of caffeine.  And it hit me: “I’m addicted again!”  A deep “No!” swept through me.  “I won’t have my well-being be dependent on consuming a particular substance.”  So there.

I remembered the pain of sleeping pill withdrawal and dreaded the road ahead.  But I knew that I’d walk the path of “no more” again.  So I began.  Monday was essentially yucky and I asked myself how many days this would take.  “It doesn’t matter.  Do it.”

So I’m doing it.  This is day five of decaffeinated life.  And lo and behold … my energy is coming back.  The eyes aren’t closing mid-morning.  The wool is mostly gone from my mind.  Gosh, there’s a faint light at the end of the tunnel.  I’ve been strong, and it’s happening.  Once again I’m proud of myself.

Yesterday’s breakfast accompanied by herbal tea seemed like a foreign land.  “Where’s the coffee that I know and love?”  But strangely, this morning it was “Here’s the peppermint tea that I’m getting to know and love.”  How can this switch be happening so soon?  Where is the prolonged angst and weeping?  Not to be found.

And now I ask:
“What other areas of my life are waiting to be transformed?”
Perhaps the bacon and eggs

Sweat Bands

I like watching myself.  And today I’m watching my tomorrow: I’m going to be on the elliptical in the gym for six hours, the equivalent of 120 kilometres of riding.  My bike is still in the shop, waiting for a part that will help me climb mountain roads like a whiz.  So the gym machine will have to do.

I’m watching my fear.  I haven’t been strong lately and yet my task is huge tomorrow.  I’m also in the middle of getting off caffeine, and the head is a bit fuzzy.  With all of this, I’m strangely calm and excited about the morrow’s adventure.  I don’t understand how this can be.

I sweat a lot on the elliptical and a few days ago I lost my Captain America sweat band.  The only one left is an ode to Batman.  If I go to the gym with just one, my eyes will be flooded with stinging liquid, and finishing the job will be a very large challenge.  So after buying a tent at Mountain Equipment Co-Op this afternoon (for the ride across Canada!), I went searching for reinforcements.

Hey, this should be no sweat.  I’ll go to SportChek.  In I walked and a lovely employee directed me to the band display.  No Captain America, no Superman … just the Nike swoosh and the NBA logo.  I’m not particularly attached to either.

One spiritual perception is that no one thing or moment is better than any other.  So Nike should be just fine.  Except it wasn’t.  I could feel myself pulled towards an expression of me, and there wasn’t any on the stand.  I walked out.

Again, Buddhism would say that there is no me to be expressed.  However Bruceness was clearly alive today and I decided to retrace my steps to MEC.  My tent discussion apparently left no room for sweat band contemplation.  In I walked, and a smiling woman revealed to me that sweat was not an issue for the foreheads of their customers.  No bands.

“Go back to SportChek.” > “No, I don’t want to be branded.  Search on.”  End of discussion.

I know!  A running store.  Makes sense.  So all the way into downtown London to enter the hallowed hall of The Running Room.  A friendly and yet incredulous saleswoman told me they had bands to hold back hair but nothing to mop up perspiration.  Oh.  I wondered how true runners keep their eyes clear.  She suggested I try National Sport.

Runner’s Choice is the other major running store in London, and it’s also downtown.  Due to clogged traffic, it would have been easier to head directly to National Sport but I seemed to be a driven man.  And a huge smile was adorning my face.  It was wonderfully silly to keep travelling between stores just to make sure I survived tomorrow.  So … Runner’s Choice.

Nobody home as I opened the door but eventually an unsmiling clerk came from the back.  No, they didn’t stock sweat bands anymore, except for one patterned pink one.  It didn’t even look like a sweat band to me, and although I love pink, I said no.

National Sport it is.  Another sweat band rack and this time I saw red, white and blue types festooned with some unidentifiable logo.  Sold!  Here’s to Wednesday’s dry eyes.

I marvel at my mind and take joy in watching it at work, with no judgment of the process.  It’s a marvelous instrument, just like yours.  And sometimes it has a mind of its own.

 

 

Go For The Waking Up

It’s likely that for much of my day I’m asleep, pulled by society’s values into a good/bad, right/wrong world.  And then there are moments when my mind floats free, when the peace descends and I see my neighbours with fresh and loving eyes.

On Wednesday evening I sat by my computer, waiting for a webinar called “Evolution Revolution: The Reality of Shared Unity”.  The talk by Patricia Albere was beamed out to nearly 200 people.  She invited us to join a community of souls across the world who would spend a year, each of us in our own homes, reaching out to each other, making a deep connection.  Patricia talks about “mutual awakening”, in which one person enters the consciousness of the other and the two experience being seen, in their essence, perhaps for the first time in their lives.

Through “Zoom” technology, we would see each other on our screens and do exercises which could lead to a deep sense of contact.  I could be looking into the eyes of a fellow from Afghanistan or a woman from New Zealand.  Can you imagine the possibilities?  Wow.

Another part of the program is presentations by spiritual teachers and Q&A sessions where we can all see each other.  Works for me.

As I watched the webinar on Wednesday, I felt a surge of “This is it” as in what I’ve been waiting for all my life.  I yearn for a deep connection with many other human beings – local as well as across the world.

I decided to sign up, and there was a financial incentive if I did it that evening.  But I thought about my cross-Canada bike ride this summer.  How could this transformational web program mesh with being on the road for seven hours each day?  What to do? Somewhere in the messages I’d received from the Evolutionary Collective (the organization Patricia created) was a phone number.  Minutes later I found it and dialled, not expecting that anyone would answer well into the evening.

Patricia answered!  How is that possible?  Well, I guess it’s very possible, since it happened.  She was excited about my bike ride and essentially said “Come on down.”  So I’m coming.

For the next year, I will be seeing human beings on my phone screen two or more times a week, and I really mean “seeing” them, as they in turn experience my essence.

And will I be able to transfer this sense of connection to nineteen other riders this summer?  I think so.

I’m 69. I don’t know how many more years I have on the planet.  All that time is really a huge bunch of moments.  I can’t think of a better way to have those moments break through into something totally new.

So Tired, So Happy

I told the Grade 5/6 kids at school yesterday that I planned on riding the elliptical for three hours today – 11:00 – 12:00, 12:30 – 1:30 and 2:00 – 3:00. I said I’d text “Jayne”, their teacher, to report on my progress.  Nice to have an audience.

Fifteen minutes before showtime, I was at the gym’s water fountain, ready to mix up my electrolyte drink.  I bent down to get the bag of powder from my backpack.  When I started to stand up, I schmucked my head on the corner of the fountain.  Woo.  Dizzy.  I was staggering a bit and a woman asked me if I was all right.  “Sort of.”

A few minutes later, adequately recovered, I began to laugh.  My great athletic day … off to an inauspicious start.

Once I had gathered my essential life forces, I put on t-shirt and shorts and texted Jayne.  In response, she shared how the kids laughed at my predicament.  I’d told them that I was fine.

The first hour, I went slow, in the spirit of a marathon rather than a sprint.  I told the crew afterwards that I was “pleasantly” tired, not an adverb I usually associate with fatigue.  The response from Cyberland?  “Go, Mr. Kerr, go!  You can do it.”  That felt good.  And I was proud of myself, schussing along at a moderate pace, keeping my heart rate under control.

Hour number two was far more of a grunt, and the breathing was heavy. Plus pain behind my right knee.  I waited to see if it would mellow, and five minutes later it did.  When the second 60 minutes were up, I felt “unpleasantly” tired, but happily still vertical.  Once the bod had returned to some version of normal, I texted Jayne and the kids, in advance of my 2:00 pm relaunch.  “What will happen if I’m completely pooped at 2:30?  I’ll do what comes naturally – I’ll think of you!”

And the response: “You can do it!!  They’re all cheering!”  I wasn’t so sure I could do it but you gotta go with what those young people say.

The third hour was a slog, but strangely and wonderfully, I didn’t once think of quitting.  Twenty-five young humans, and one older one, were cheering me on.  Around 2:45, I really needed the support.  Everything was slowing, except my heartbeat.  The breath was a gasp.  But lo and behold, 59 minutes turned into 60, and I’d done it!  The equivalent of 60 kilometres, 15 more than I had done before.  Yay!

It’s three hours later now and I’m sitting in a London library.  I feel slow and weak.  “Well, Bruce, what exactly did you expect?  You’re not a machine, you know.”  True.  And whatever I am, having a lot of kids pulling for me got me over the top.  Thank you.

Bad Stuff … Good Stuff

On Sunday, I received an e-mail with a negative tone.  On Monday, I received another one, from a different person.  Both sent me into a spin.  Both had great impact on me.  I asked myself what I was feeling in response, and the answers came quickly … fear, sadness and then grief.

There followed the classic question “Now what?”  How do I hold all this?  What would the Buddha do?

I sat with me and let myself feel those feelings.  To really let them in.  And they were most willing to come in.  Soon I was crying.  A day later, not so much, but the underlying current is still woe.

The Buddha was a pretty smart guy.  He talked about the Eight Vicissitudes: pleasure and pain, gain and loss, praise and blame, and fame and disrepute.  He essentially said that we can be the most happy and kind creatures on Earth, and still we’ll experience the negative halves of those pairs.  So the loss is vivid and the pain intense.  What’s to be done except let it be there?  “Go away” is useless.  Covering it over with alcohol, food or TV goes nowhere.  Wearing a fake smile is transparent to the rest of the world.

So, “Hello, loss.  Thanks for coming by.  Stay as long as you like.  I realize you’ll go when you’re ready to.  After all, you’re just a visitor here.  This is not your true home.”

After yesterday’s e-mail, I was walking along Bloor St. in Toronto, quite lost.  My head had dipped down.  Happily, I noticed this.  Again and again, as the crowds surged around me, I said “Lift your chin up.”  Each time it felt good to do that, to let go of “I’m bad” and realize that there’s a lot of living to be done.  A lot of people to contribute to.  And a depressed human being doesn’t do much of that.

Here I sit, tapping away.  My chin is up.  My fingers are down.  And I have no clue who will come my way tomorrow.  What I do know is that I’ll be ready for them.

 

 

Oops

On Tuesday, I was sitting in my living room, ready to head off to the gym for an hour on the elliptical.  Since I hadn’t eaten for awhile, I plucked a power bar from the cupboard.  “Better have something to wash it down with, Bruce.”  I picked a Diet Coke.  The beginning of oops.

Firmly positioned on my steed at Wellington Fitness, I flung my arms and legs into space.  Hmm.  I didn’t feel as strong as I usually did.  In fact, I was exhausted after the hour.  Then it was 20 minutes of yoga … but something was amiss.  Why was I so tired?

On the drive home, the nausea hit.  Mild but irritating.  And it stayed with me for the rest of the day.  That evening, I went to a meditation group in London.  At one point, the leader talked about a possible benefit of meditation: a decrease in reactivity.  Since I’ve learned that others often find it helpful for me to talk about what’s happening in the present moment, I spoke up.  “I’m feeling exhausted and nauseous, probably because I drank a Diet Coke just before exercising.  My recent retreat was helpful in dealing with stuff like this.  Although I had a burst of telling myself I was stupid, that self-condemnation passed quickly.  I felt into my body and into my feelings (sadness) and after awhile I was left with just the physical pain, not endless thoughts about what it meant.”  It was a contribution, and I was pleased.

The pain got worse overnight.  Hardly any sleep till 3:00 am, when I started consuming Tums and Gas-X.  Not to mention a laxative.  I also placed a barf bucket close to my bed.  Proliferating thoughts returned.  “It’s the flu.  I’ll be out of commission for the next two weeks.  Tomorrow’s my birthday and I need to cancel all the cool things I’ve planned.  What a horrible way to spend my special day!”  I phoned my hairstylist’s answering machine right then and cancelled my 10:00 am appointment.  “And I’d better cancel my volunteer time this afternoon with the Grade 6’s.  And my dinner with my friend (I’ll call her Mary).”

And then I fell asleep.  I was awake at 6:30 and feeling some better.  I looked at those earlier thoughts, and within a minute of two, decided that they no longer applied.  I phoned my hairstylist and left another message that I was coming.

The vague nausea continued throughout the day.  “Surely a reaction to Diet Coke wouldn’t last this long!  I must have the flu.”  Blah, blah, blah.  Despite what my body felt like and what my mind was churning out, I saw the opportunity.  “It’s easy, Bruce, to be happy when your life is rolling along smoothly.  How cool would it be to enjoy your birthday while this pain does its thing?”

Here’s what happened:

1. My hairsylist (I’ll call her Jessica) counted down with me to 10:00 am (my time of birth, according to mom).  At the dot of 10, I rose from the chair as Jessica squealed “Happy Birthday!”  We hugged, and all was right with the world.

2. At about 1:15, the Grade 6 kids sang “Happy Birthday” to me.  I tried to convince them that I was 45 but those young ones are just too smart.  For the rest of the afternoon, I had some fun conversations with 11-year-olds.  Yay for volunteering!

3. Mary and I had a fine time at Boston Pizza.  My meal was ginger ale, chicken noodle soup and a garden salad with a non-creamy dressing.  Just what I needed.  And so was our talk.  Mary has been having a tough time lately and I think she heard me when I suggested she feel her pain deeply but not to linger on it, then to stand tall and continue moving her life towards happiness.

***

I’m happy.  This morning I woke up to energy and a calm stomach.  No flu.  I went back on the elliptical (without a Diet Coke appetizer).  I lived my birthday.  And I’m committed to doing good in the world no matter what my body is telling me.

Geekly Walking

There was Bruce in 1966 and then there’s Bruce in 2016.  For as long as I can remember, I’ve enjoyed attending golf tournaments.  I love standing behind the tee and watching the top pros hit the ball high and far.  Sometimes it feels like it will never come down.  Then, as the golfers head down the fairway, I motor down the rough, either pausing where their balls stopped or stepping up the pace towards the green to watch the approach shots.

Back in 1966, I’d walk 36 holes every day, following one group in the morning and another in the afternoon.  Feeling my oats.  In 2016, however, my feet are saying no to such heroics.  I saw 27 holes on Thursday, about 23 on Friday, and 18 yesterday.  But so what?  I was out there seeing Brooke Henderson hit the ball.  My feet were really sore at the end of the day.  But my soul was singing.

I love the journey of golf.  I’m not the type to plunk myself down by a green and watch 50 golfers parade through.  There are the agonies and ecstasies of 18 holes, and I want to see them.  A well placed cushioning pad on my left foot diminished the pain and allowed me to be there to see Brooke fall and rise.

I developed blood clots a few years ago in my left leg.  They’re now dissolved, thanks to the medication I’ll be taking for the rest of my life.  But the leg really swells up on long car trips or lengthy ambles over the green grass … if left unattended.  Attention means wearing compression stockings – long black fellows that come almost to the knee.  In winter, I don’t give a hoot, but warm weather produces a t-shirt and shorts on my bod, so my stockings are in full view.  There have been times in the last two years when I’ve been too embarrassed to wear them, and I’ve paid the price.  This week, my black legs are on display.  People stare a bit.  Maybe it doesn’t make sense to them to see an “old” fellow boogieing down the rough in search of golf shots.  Oh well.  It makes great sense to me.

There will come a time when I won’t be able to walk near Brooke for a full round.  I’ll be sitting beside that green holding a cold one.  But that time is not now.  In two hours, I’ll be standing near the first tee as she hits her initial shot of the day.  I’ll be all decked out in designer black, ready to ramble.  It makes me happy.

 

Beyond

Since getting home in December from my long retreat, I’ve started lifting weights.  I want to be strong.  My hours of meditation in Massachusetts were often sublime, often other-worldly peaceful.  But doing the chest press at World Gym is bringing something else out of me.

Marcin, my personal trainer, tells me that I need to “explode” on the push and then go slow on the release.  I tried exploding but it was more like a little sparkler catching fire.  Until a few days ago.  Something inside me ramped up.  My lips set tight.  I almost growled.  “I’m doing this!”  And today I did it some more, with a fierceness that I didn’t recognize.  Talk about the yin and the yang … meditation and determination, both lighting up the present moment.

Way back in my brain cells, I remembered a woman staggering to the finish in an Olympic marathon.  The awe from long ago seeped into today.  So I Googled, and here’s what I found:

Gabriela Andersen-Schiess is a former Swiss long-distance runner who participated in the first women’s Olympic marathon at the 1984 Summer Olympics.  Though living in Idaho and working as a ski instructor at the time, Andersen-Schiess represented Switzerland in the 1984 Los Angeles Games.

Fourteen minutes into the 1984 Olympic marathon, Joan Benoit began to pull away from the rest of the pack.  She went on to win in a time of 2 hours, 24 minutes, and 52 seconds.  Twenty minutes after Benoit finished, then 39-year-old Andersen-Schiess entered the stadium.

The crowd gasped in horror as she staggered onto the track, her torso twisted, her left arm limp, her right leg mostly seized.  She waved away medical personnel who rushed to help her, knowing that, if they touched her, she would be disqualified.  The L.A. Coliseum crowd applauded and cheered as she limped around the track in the race’s final 400 meters, occasionally stopping and holding her head.

While the effects of her heat exhaustion were plainly evident, trackside medics saw that she was perspiring, which meant that her body still had some disposable fluids, and let her continue her march to the finish line.  At the completion of this final lap—which took Andersen-Schiess five minutes and 44 seconds—she fell across the finish line.  She finished 37th, ahead of seven other runners.

Oh my.  You can see Gabriela on several YouTube videos.  Infinitely beyond the chest press but really they both have the same incredible intensity.  I think we humans need to express some of that.  And we need to be moved to tears sometimes when others stretch themselves, as thousands of folks were in that California stadium 32 years ago.