Two Girls … Two Games

I told the Grade 6 kids yesterday that I was spending the weekend in Toronto. “Jess” approached me to say that she was in the provincial hockey tournament in nearby Mississauga at the same time. Would I like to watch her play? I didn’t even think about it. “Yes” burbled out of me. Seize the day, Bruce. “I play Friday at 4:00, and ‘Steph’ (a classmate, on another team) is on the ice in Toronto at 10:30 am. You could see her too.” Yes to both because I love them both. They’re great kids – kind, smart and strong.

I asked Jess to keep it a surprise for Steph that I’d be at her game. I love surprises.

I found the morning’s arena easily, thanks to my friend Google Maps. Even though I was a bit early, the game had already started. I was pretty sure that Steph didn’t see me at the glass, but I sure saw her. How can anybody skate that fast, and keep it up for the whole shift? I could only imagine how fast her heart was thumping along. Steph threw herself into the corners to battle for the puck, often with opponents who were a foot taller than her. If they took it away from her, she’d go right back in there, bodies crunching (even though officially no body checks are allowed). Tenacious.

Steph was also a pest around the opponents’ goal. Once she checked a player behind the net, grabbed the puck, and whirled around to the front, trying for a wraparound goal. Her shot rocketed past the post, just inches wide. Gosh, this was more fun than watching the pros.

I congratulated my young friend after she’d changed. She was surprised to see me two hours from home. And she was happy to see me.

I also found the afternoon’s arena easily. It was a lot farther from my B&B, but who cares? This time the game hadn’t started yet and the kids were doing skating and shooting drills. Jess saw me standing by the glass, wearing my traditional red toque in the chilly arena. She smiled.

Jess is a smooth-skating defenseman. I really enjoyed watching her move the puck up along the boards. Once she burst past her opponent and got a shot on net. Pad save. A few minutes later, she slid a pass across to her defense partner, who skated towards the goal and let fly. She shoots, she scores!

I think the best thing Jess did (and she did this twice) was to skate over to her goalie after the other team scored. Even from a distance, I could tell that Jess was encouraging her. To me, that’s worth infinitely more than personal stats and big wins. It’s a green flag for adult life.

I had planned to go on a long walk by the Humber River today. Saying yes to the girls was far more valuable. I love trees but give me human beings every time.

B-ball

Today I went to the lunch hour practice of the recently named girls’ basketball team at school – a whole bunch of 10-, 11- and 12-year-olds. They’re such nice kids, each very much her own person. Some of them are shy and some are a force of nature. Both are perfect. They’ll all be fine adults.

Most of my life is medium intensity – no incredible spurts and no lolling around. Today was different in the presence of these girls. Take defense for example: arms full out, fingers inches from the opponent’s face, eyes wild. Unlike an NBA arena, I got to be intensely close to the action. And it was exciting. It mattered not a whit that these players were 4’10” rather than 5’10”. The fire burned … and there was no way the opponent was going up for an uncontested basket.

On offense, there’d be stutter steps and surges to the left or right of the defender – blasting into another gear. The ball would go high off the backboard and either clunk off metal or swish in the middle of things. It was all speed … and at such close range for this guy sitting on the stage.

Isn’t it supposed to be true that when I get “older” I settle into being mellow for the rest of my life? Perhaps not. Maybe there’s lots of room for explosions, sprints and orgasms of the spirit.

Bring ’em on.

Tined and Mind

I did laundry this morning, which felt like a perfectly normal activity.  And, oh yes, the dishwasher – I should empty it.  Not being at my alertest, I tumbled my hands down towards the cutlery baskets.  I’ve always been a “forks standing right side up” type of guy.  Today I paid the price.  Tines impaled me beneath my right thumbnail and the blood flowed.  Turned out to be not much of that stuff but pain at the 4 to 5 level on a scale of ten.  And I’m still there.

I like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  Abe contended that if our basic physical needs (such as freedom from pain!) aren’t met, we won’t be open to transcendent needs, such as loving and being loved.  Well, I’ve had a day to explore that theory.

At 2:00 pm today, I planned to be on a video call with members of the Evolutionary Collective Global Community.  It’s fair to say we explore the consciousness that’s possible between two or more people.  At 1:30, I was lying in bed, feeling sorry for myself and my grievous injury.  I wanted to hunker down and lick my wounds.  No human contact today, please.  “With pain like this, I won’t be able to give to the people on the call, so why even try?”  Such a whimpering and potentially persuasive voice.

At 1:55, I lifted myself up off the bed and onto the couch, laptop in hand.  And something happened when I saw the 17 of us on my computer screen.  I got that my presence was important.  I was one of 17 presences, each with the ability to contribute to the group, to “be with” other human beings.  It’s not about saying something wise or having my empathy reach another member.  It was simply the fact that I was there, damaged thumb and all.

For part of the hour, we are paired with another person for a mutual awakening practice.  Today I wavered between listening into what my partner was experiencing and falling down the hole of physical pain.  Back and forth I went, knowing that I wasn’t “doing as well as I usually do”.  But that didn’t matter … we were together.

Tonight I went out to a movie with a friend and the pain was still a 5.  Truly – so what?  She needed my contact, our conversation and our exploring of what matters.  And once again I saw that I could deal with the thumb and be present in the relationship.  We had a sweet time.

Bad stuff will no doubt continue to happen to me but the world needs me to deal with it and move on, experience the pain but not wallow in it, fall down and get back up, and return to my real job … loving people.

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.