Forza!

I was watching a tennis match from the French open today. Martina Trevisan from Italy was battling Kiki Bertens from the Netherlands. At one point, just after Martina won an important point, she clenched her fist, bugged out her eyes and yelled “Forza!”

My mouth dropped. I stared at her. The power of the moment was immense. It surged through me via the TV screen. I tried to remember what the word meant. Maybe I should have just focused on the exclamation point in her voice. Google soon enough let me know the emotional English translation: “Come on! You can do it.” Force, strength, power.

I’ve spent years meditating, where the words (when I’m not in silence) are soft. The fingers are open, rather than balled into a fist. I’ve said to myself “That’s the energy I want to project – serene, compassionate, loving.” There is great beauty in that energy but today I also saw beauty in Martina’s passion.

We are so big, we human beings. As Walt Whitman said, “I am inconsistent. I contain multitudes.” What if I’m willing to give the world all of me, covering the world at times in a torrent of water, at others in simply a trickle. Today showed me that they both have their place.

Forza!

Peace be with you

Blast

I just watched a video of planes flying really fast, really low. It was exciting. It brought back memories of many air shows. Throngs of people with lawn chairs and picnic baskets, trying to avoid sunburn for hours on end. You could feel the crowd’s energy as all sorts of pilots spun in the sky.

The pioneer planes were fun, as were the huge transports that carried a load of jeeps and tanks in their bellies. But the stars of the show were the fighter jets … blasting by us at the speed of wonder, assaulting our eardrums. So cool. I especially enjoyed it when they’d sneak up on us from behind. The sudden noise and the immense pull over our heads.

I’ve spent many hours in the stillness and silence of meditation. The quiet nourishes me. At one point, I convinced myself that this was the bubble I’d enclose myself in for the rest of my life. But the yin really needs her yang. The sweet moments of communion with another human being are balanced by the thrust to have an outrageous life, with bursts of the supersonic, wild dancing and singing unknown songs at midnight.

The trickle and the flood … I welcome them both. Soaring and zooming low to the ground, I fly.

Day Thirty-Seven: Tiburon and Soucouta

I took the ferry from San Francisco to Tiburon yesterday. It’s fair to call the scenery spectacular. Broad vistas across the water, the greenest of islands, the Golden Gate Bridge twinkling on the horizon, the sun lighting our way. A seagull journeyed with us, hovering above the ship in search of yummies. And the breeze filling my soul.

In Tiburon harbour, I gazed up at monumental homes clinging to the hills. Just now, I asked Google about the average house price in town … $2,300,000 US.

As I wandered down the main boulevard towards the public library, it felt like ultra chic suburbia, adorned with wondrous trees and plants. It seemed like one long strip mall, with modern façades of warm colour. There were many consulting firms and financial services companies. People walking by averted their eyes, except for one engaging woman out walking her dog. She waxed poetic about the Italian restaurant whose menu I was perusing.

I strolled up a hilly street past lovely homes in rich tones, homes that blended in so well with the cliffs and open views back towards San Francisco.

Everything seemed dramatic, splendiferous … and actually surreal. It felt like being inside of the old TV series Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.

It didn’t feel like a home, even though there are no doubt countless residents who feel Tiburon is the best place on Earth to live. Good for them. As I felt into this supposedly idyllic world, what came through was the feeling of money and not relationship. Quite soon I wanted to leave and eventually the ferry obliged.

***

On the way back, I thought of Soucouta and Toubacouta in Senegal. Most Westerners wouldn’t call the environs beautiful. There’s nary a patch of green and buildings are composed of cement blocks. There’s lots of garbage on the ground and lots of noise in the air: roosters, donkeys, goats, screaming birds, evening drums and spiritual leaders calling the faithful to prayer.

Soucouta is plain, brown, smoky and oceanless. But the people smile and say hi. (“Cà va?”) Folks gather together and tell stories. Like residents of Tiburon, they probably spend too much time on their cell phones but in Senegal I feel the flow of family, and everyone is invited. “Veuillez vous joindre à nous pour le déjeuner.” (Please join us for lunch.)

I respect the town of Tiburon
I love the village of Soucouta

Loving Profoundly

During the Last Supper, Jesus used the analogy of food to show his disciples what he wanted to give them: himself.

While they were eating, Jesus took a piece of bread, gave a prayer of thanks, broke it, and gave it to his disciples.  “Take and eat it,” he said; “this is my body.”  Then he took a cup, gave thanks to God, and gave it to them. “Drink it, all of you,” he said.

(Good News version of the Bible)

What does it mean to give all of myself to the other?  It is the deepest love, where I want you to be supremely happy.  I want to pour myself into you, and draw forth your best.  I want all of you – all of your sweetness and all of your power and all of your frailty – because every part is sacred.

Beatrice Bruteau reflected on Jesus’ commitment:

He means to put himself literally inside the other persons and … wishes to nourish them.  This is his way of expressing his love for his friends.  That love is offered to the very heart of their beings as persons.  It is not an approval based on their performance, nor an affection elicited by their agreeable qualities.  It is unmerited and unconditional, free and creative.

The effect of accepting this love is a whole new image of oneself, other persons, and the way the world is structured.  To be loved so profoundly and so securely, beyond all the circumstances of one’s conditions and qualities, satisfies the deepest longings of the human heart and therefore releases the energy that had been committed to the tasks of defending and augmenting oneself.  The loved person has an experience of being the interior and central person who is loved in this unconditional way, instead of being identified with the social positions and roles of circumstantial life.

Realizing oneself this way, one is able to perceive other persons as their interior and central selves instead of their social circumstances or temperamental qualities, and one is able to relate to them on that basis.  There is now energy to do this, because one no longer needs to protect oneself against the other person.  In fact, there is a surplus of personal energy that can be offered to other persons for their benefit.

If I love so immaculately, if my attention is “over there” in you, rather than focused on self-analysis, what’s possible for me, you and the world?  My eyes lift away from my belly button to meet yours.  I look into you and also pass through you to the entire human family.  All is relationship.  All is service.  All is love.

Day Eight: Roaming the Ordinary Streets

I told myself I didn’t want anything special today – no Fisherman’s Wharf, Pier 39 or Alcatraz.  Just the people’s city, please.  I was looking for those people, plain folks who might want to talk for a few minutes.

I started off at Bette’s Oceanview Diner on Fourth Street in Berkeley, except I couldn’t find any ocean.  What was there were nine red stools at the counter, each with good access to tiny juke boxes.  A quarter for two songs.  Cool.  I tried “Whiter Shade of Pale” on for size, as well as an Edith Piaf melody in French.  I joked with Jenna, my server, and she even plunked down two quarters for my listening pleasure.  I asked a waiter to sing a song but he said he only does Prince songs.  I found one on the machine … but he demurred.  (Sigh)

Manfred was this rollicking happy German fellow behind the counter.  He wants people to have a good time, especially since he owns the place.

On my left was a woman who started crying as she talked to me: the old gentleman on her left had just walked out, after paying for her meal.  The guy on my right was, like me, an explorer of consciousness.  He was so interested in the mind, particularly the link between intention and action.  He also was curious about the Evolutionary Collective when I piped up about my passion.

So … a thoroughly alive place.  Manfred called Bette’s “real”.  I agree.  This is the Bay Area I want.

I emerged from the subway (called BART) in San Francisco an hour later.  Unlike New York City, there was no crowd of yellow cabs.  There was, however, a seemingly endless line of cyclists powering past in the bike lane.  The energy of the flow was immense, like a river.  The sidewalks were crowded with folks walking fast.  It felt like I was the slowest.  Maybe I was.  I don’t care.  I saw lots of buildings that weren’t purely rectangular.  Bow windows especially were très magnifique.  And the colours were often bright pastels.  My favourite was a three-storey jobbie all decked out in yellow with red trim.

Shortly after I emerged from the bowels of the subway, I came upon a giant mural on the side of a grey house.  Huge letters pronounced “I have a dream.”  And faces greeted me: Gandhi, César Chavez (a civil rights activist), Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King.  I loved their eyes as they loomed above me.  Thank you, dear home owner, for mixing paint and spirit.

A few minutes ago, I felt moved to find a quote from each of these spiritual giants, so here goes:

Gandhi:  An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.

César Chavez:  If you really want to make a friend, go to someone’s house and eat with him … the people who give you their food give you their heart.

Mother Teresa:  Spread love wherever you go.  Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.

Martin Luther King:  Free at last.  Free at last.  Thank God almighty we are free at last.

As I sauntered down the streets of common people, I felt the need for sweet.  Almost immediately a bakery appeared, hosted by a jolly woman who waxed poetic about a nearby street – Valencia.  We smiled a lot and I smiled some more as I bit into shortbread cookies filled with caramel.  I know for a fact that such yummies have a proud spot in Canada’s Food Guide!

Further down the road, the image of a smoothie came calling, and once again providence provided.  An ice cream shop opened its arms to me and placed a banana, pineapple, mango, coconut milk and vanilla gelato smoothie within reach of my mouth.  Who was I to refuse?  I sat outside at a tiny table, savouring a taste fit for all of us.  Beside me was an old man who was praying with his eyes closed.  I could almost hear his words.  He stayed within an aura of reverence for the whole time I sat there.  It was a privilege to share the space with him.

I roamed and rambled, chatting with a few folks in shops and subways.  No one refused my words of greeting.  I like this place.  The only sadness I had was on the packed BART car on the way home to Berkeley.  On a seat made for two, a woman placed her purse dead centre in the open space.  There were lots of people standing.  I wondered what that was about.  Fear?  The need to stay distant from other human beings?  Or just plain unconsciousness?

In the nighttime, I walked along Allston Way from downtown Berkeley to my room at the Knights Inn.  Gorgeous trees, bushes and flowers were near.  And the scent of the blossoms followed me home.  Goodbye, Berkeley.  I’m glad we’re friends.

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.

Fresh

Take one aspect of your life where it’s been “same old, same old” for a long time.  It’s comfortable but there’s something missing.  You’re going through the motions.  Little frustrations nip at you but you don’t seem to have the energy to make a change.  That pretty much sums up my experience at the fitness club.

Jody and I started going to this gym about ten years ago.  It was fine – a reasonable variety of machines, super low cost, friendly staff.  After my dear wife died, I simply carried on, sometimes sporadically, usually without much enthusiasm.

Yesterday, a voice inside said “You’ve been sleepwalking.  Wake up.”  So … I got my gym clothes together and set off for a workout.  I considered it an experiment in paying attention.

A staff member whom I really enjoy was at the front desk.  She was all excited about a job she’d just got at a high end pub in London.  She wasn’t sure if she’d also continue working at the club.  “Really, I feel done here.”  Could that be my voice speaking?

I thought of the many staff members I know.  They’re fine people.  A few of them have been especially kind to me.  Is that enough of a reason to stay?

This visit I really looked around.  The main room was sort of … dark.  A few machines had “I’m sick” signs attached to them.  Was I creating a reality here or was the environment just plain blah?  And so what if it was?  The most important thing is what I create, rather than what the surroundings offer back to me.

I went into the locker room to change.  The soap dispenser took several seconds to deliver a dollop to my palm.  Assuming I’m a fairly mature person, that shouldn’t be a problem.  Maybe this is all mental.  Nevertheless, I kept looking.  The paper towels wouldn’t rip properly from their machine.  Cubicle doors banged hard when they closed.  Months ago, I asked the manager to buy some little fuzzy pads for the doorjambs but she never did.

After stretching, I reached my favourite elliptical machine.  I knew it was my favourite because none of the others worked perfectly well.  That’s okay.  At least I had my own personal steed.  After pressing the start button, I realized that the intensity was too high.  My first few minutes are usually a stroll in the park, but immediately it was a grind.  Soon I got into the flow pretty well, but on the cool-down, I had to struggle rather than relaxing into the end.  Hmm.  Are inanimate objects in the habit of sending coded messages to human beings?  Perhaps.

The last couple of months, I’ve been going to a sports medicine clinic for my knee.  I’m not really worried about the joint because after all I have a spare on the other side!  This clinic is located in a downtown fitness club.  Guess I’ve been sleepwalking on that journey too but today I decided to go there and ask for a tour.  I opened my eyes upon arrival.  This is a “clean, well-lighted place”.  (A quote from Ernest Hemingway).

A smiling receptionist (who earlier in the day I had sung with as I left my physio appointment) ushered me to a little table.  Right away, another smiler approached me with her hand out in greeting.  “Jessica” made gentle eye contact and clearly had no interest in some canned sales talk.  Actually she did more listening than talking.  And there was absolutely no sense of hurry about her.  I realized that she was “seeing” me, something I deeply value.  As members walked by us, my new friend greeted many of them, and clearly each was happy to see the other.  Hmm again.

As we talked, I counted many smiling conversations happening near me.  And there were a lot of folks here to exercise.  I listened to the energy in the building and it was happy.  Jessica was happy.  Gosh, I was getting happy.

At one point, I said “Okay, sign me up.”  Jessica looked over and said something like “Really?”  There was an amused and quizzical look on her face.  I had sensed into the truth of this place.  This could be home.  I didn’t need the grand tour or pricing options or a long list of benefits.  I knew.

I had my tour.  I signed on the dotted line.  I clutched my free gym bag and water bottle to my chest.  All of that was fine.  But Jessica’s care and the glowing passersby did the deed for me.

I had walked in the door at 6:55 pm.  I walked out at 9:00.  Towards the end of the evening, something that Jessica said made me wonder, and I had to ask the question “Was your shift over at 7:00?”  >  (Pause)  “Yes.”

I intend to pass all this goodness on to the people I meet here.  Naturally I want to get fitter but more than anything I want to create a new community for myself, to contribute to the members and staff every time I walk in the door.  It’s a fun thing to do.

Singing Like There’s No Tomorrow

I ask myself what can launch me into an altered state of consciousness. But it’s more than that. The deepest beauty is being launched into a state of communion with another human being, or with a group of them. What can propel me into the power of selfless love?

Seeing a person perform an act of kindness is one trigger. Or even reading about it. Looking way deep into another’s eyes is also transforming. And then there’s singing. Eighteen months ago, I stood alone on the outdoor stage at Tanglewood in Massachusetts … and I sang. It was Someday Soon by Ian Tyson. My audience was two.

I gave it all I had – loud, head up, joy on my face:

So blow you old blue northern
Blow my love to me
He’s driving in tonight from California
He loves his damned old rodeo
As much as he lives me
Someday soon, going with him someday soon

Singing so lustily opened something in me. There was a freedom beyond thought. I sang to my friends at the back of the hall, and I believe they “heard” … to the depths of their being.

Cynthia Bourgeault has something to say here:

We know in a very personal way that singing will often bring into play a heightened range of emotion not accessible through speaking alone. The lyrics of a song – say, “Silent Night” – can look bland and harmless on a page, but when you actually sing them (particularly with others), a magical transformation occurs.

On Saturday evening, I saw two films. I’ve written about the first one – Stan and Ollie. The second was A Star Is Born. Lady Gaga plays Ally, an aspiring singer who catches the eye and heart of a famous rocker (Bradley Cooper as Jackson). She’s written a song. He’s created an arrangement for it. And during a concert, he challenges her to come onstage and sing it with him. The lyrics open with the man singing and soon it’s time for the woman’s response. As the moment approaches, Ally is trembling offstage. Suddenly her face tightens and seconds later she walks towards the microphone. On cue, her voice and soul explode to the audience. Face shining, mouth wide open. Nothing held back.

We in the theatre and they in the stadium are transported. There’s thunderous applause in the company of a woman who’s flooding the world.

I’m off the deep end, watch as I dive in
I’ll never meet the ground
Crash through the surface, where they can’t hurt us
We’re far from the shallow now

Infinitely far from the shallow. “Up where we belong”. My head rises. My heart beats in unison with Ally’s. There’s work to be done in this world and I’m here to do my version of it. Thank you, Lady Gaga.

New York City

I’m back from nine days there and the feeling is so strong: I love the place. I think about it right now and start smiling. Woh. This is strange. I’ve been to other amazing cities over the years, such as San Francisco and Toronto, but none of them have forced my eyes open wide. Not even Vancouver, where the mountains meet the sea. I lived there for two years but it didn’t leave me shaking my head. But New York does.

So many people rushing down the street, ignoring red lights and “Don’t Walk” signals. Homemade signs next to giant neon. Impatient drivers honking at trespassers every minute or two. The wail of sirens flying to the next emergency. Subway trains available 24/7, and absolutely packed at rush hour. Musicians moving and grooving in the tunnels as five million people a day stream past. Impossibly tall buildings smushed up against each other, some built a hundred years ago. Canyons of wind. Seemingly a pub on every corner. The best bagels I’ve ever tasted. Endlessly helpful people for the Canadian who’s trying to find his bearings. Times Square! Broadway!

I’m a meditator. I like quiet. So what’s going on? How can this hustle and bustle feel like home? How come I slept through the noises of the night? Where, oh where, is this head of mine?

The rational mind can’t figure this out. And that’s fine. I’ll just let the Alice in Wonderland statue in Central Park beckon me back to the city … sometime soon. Next time I’ll come with a companion and we’ll trip the light fantastic. New York deserves all of our joie de vivre. I’m up for it.

Power

I was walking to the library yesterday afternoon when I came upon a schoolyard, of the cement persuasion. Through the chain link fence, I saw about a hundred pigeons – most of them grey, some white and a few golden brown. There didn’t seem to be any food to eat. They were simply hanging out. I smiled. They were just like us. We come in all shapes and colours and we too like being close. Really doesn’t matter what we’re doing as long as we’re together.

I was feeling all warm and fuzzy. Then, on a hunch, I glanced upwards. The fence was twelve feet high, and along the top rail sat maybe eighty more brothers and sisters. Peace evaporated as my brain sent me straight to Alfred Hitchcock’s movie The Birds, where flocks of crows terrorized a small town.

Ahh … the mind. An instant association and I’m transported from heaven to hell. It feels like I’m triggered many times a day. The past leaps up and grabs my throat. Doesn’t seem to be a very wise way to live.

I say the question is how long do I linger within the horror of Hitchcock . How quickly do I return to the beauty of pigeon heads nestling down in their feathers to ward off the cold? Let’s have it be speedy fast.

I ask myself where “source” is in my life. Is it me or is it all the events of my day? Where does my experience of living begin? What if I really get that the power is right here in this body and heart of mine? What surges of energy would be made available if I stopped feeding a good/bad analysis of my moments with people, places and things?

Woh. Bring it on.