The Long Ride

I don’t know if you were reading my WordPress posts two years ago. If you were with me in June, 2018, you saw a man collapsing. I had just started riding my bicycle across Canada with seventeen other Tour du Canada cyclists. Aerobically I was in pretty good shape but my bike skills were woeful. I had ignored the advice from the Tour’s organizer: take a cycling skills course.

Within the first three days of the ride, I crashed three times and was continually terrified of the semitrailers passing within three metres of me. I couldn’t make the slow motion moves that were needed in downtown Vancouver traffic. Near Abbotsford, B.C., I misjudged the speed of a hillside left-turning car and just about had it all end.

I quit.

I spent two nights in a hotel with my bicycle propped against the wall. My hands shook, and they kept shaking for two weeks. “I’ll never ride again.”

Now it’s two years later. I still have remnants of the PTSD but they’re mild. A friend recommended I look at a video of a Bob Newhart TV sketch. A woman comes in for counselling since she’s terrified of being buried alive in a box. Bob says he’ll give her two words and then the therapy session will be over. She pulls out a notepad. Bob leans forward over his desk … and yells “Stop it!”

Woh. What? No months of therapy to deal with my now deepseated agony about being on the bicycle? No reliving my fear of impending death? No “processing” my life?

Okay. I went to my bike shop a couple of weeks ago. I had bought a more stable bicycle than the one I rode in 2018. Wide knobby tires instead of narrow smooth ones. Inside me was a fluttering but also a strange calm. Step number one: show up at the shop and tell my friends (manager and employee) the true story of June, 2018. They listened. They didn’t turn their backs.

Step number two was four days ago: I put on my cycling jersey and shorts. (Scary) I had my friends put the new bike on a stand, and I got on. I gulped … but there I was on the saddle. I pedaled. I changed gears. My heart was fast. I agonized about how to get the bike going and how to stop it. (Which foot goes where?) I couldn’t remember. I blasted myself for not being able to remember. And then I calmed down. I made an appointment to come back yesterday and ride in the big parking lot behind the shop, with coaching from my friend. I went home.

“Just stop it, Bruce!”

Yesterday came. I hadn’t slept much. The two of us moseyed out back with my bicycle, “Betty” by name. I tried squeezing out love for her but nothing came. My friend showed me how she gets on and off a bicycle. I got the “on” part but was still jangled by the “off”.

And then it was time for me. “I’m actually doing this” inside. Left foot on the ground, Right leg swung over the bike. Right foot on pedal, up high so I could push down mightily. “A ten-year-old kid knows how to do this!” > “Stop it!”

Push. I was up. I was going. “I didn’t catch my shorts on the saddle!” (Something I’ve done so many times in the past) Feeling Betty. Feeling the sensitivity of the brakes. A swooping left turn. The mouth opening in wonder.

And then the dark: “Which foot do I put down?” I just couldn’t remember. I decided the right one. Wrong choice. Brakes touched. Bike slowing … then lurching to the right as my right foot sought the pavement. I hopped. I stayed up. And I had my answer: left foot down.

Another few loops of the lot. “I can do this.” Brakes squeezed. Left foot down before I was going slow enough to do that. Another hop, but a good one this time. Going again, my friend watching with a little smile. Braking … slower … body lean to the left … foot falling through space … a gentle press on the pavement. Sweet.

There is much more skill needed. And I have time to do that. Betty and I have become friends. We will go places together.

My mind is being freed. My eyes face outward, seeing the unknown bends in the road rather than gazing at my belly button.

“Well done, Bruce.”

Assassination

It’s a horrible word.  No leader should have their life snuffed out at the end of a gun.  Agree with their politics or disagree, “an eye for an eye” is inhumane.

I know the word.  I know November 22, 1963.  U.S. President John Kennedy travelled to Dallas, Texas to make a speech.  Mid-morning in Toronto, I was a Grade 10 student heading to String Music class.  Our teacher was a fiery one, passionate about music and about us giving our all in class.  She was late.  We were tuned up and ready to go.  Ten minutes we sat.  “She’s never late.”

And then the door burst open.  Our teacher smashed into the room, crying.  “Kennedy’s been shot!”  I was fourteen, plenty old enough to have the shock blast through me.  Disbelief, sorrow, anger – all were swirling among us.  “This can’t be.”

I went home for lunch and sat glued to our black-and-white TV.  Kennedy was fighting for his life in Parkland Hospital.  My face was ash, my mind swirling.  Then it was my job to go back to school, so I did.

We the students got to watch TV some.  The CBS anchor, Walter Cronkite, filled the screen after a commercial:

From Dallas, Texas, the flash apparently official, President Kennedy died at 1:00 pm Central Standard Time, 2 o’clock Eastern Standard Time, some 38 minutes ago.

The rest is a blur.

Some 50 years later, I walked into the String Music room at Lawrence Park Collegiate to find a choir settling in at the beginning of a period.  I introduced myself to the teacher, told him I was a graduate of the school, and said that something stunning happened in this room a long time ago.  “May I tell the students?”

And I did.  Many 17-year-old faces softened and saddened.

***

May young people and old people never have to live such moments
in the current day

Stuck

Twenty years ago, Jody and I bought a Bowflex – a strength training machine that’s very cool.  We used it for awhile and then discovered the social pleasures of a gym.  So it came to be that we had a dust-gathering sculpture in the basement.  Four years ago, I moved to Belmont and brought the beast with me.  It had long ago ceased to be alive in my soul.

I love working out at GoodLife Fitness – both my trainer Tony and the elliptical are good friends.  But that shut down weeks ago and I started sneaking glances at Mr. Bowflex.

Today I was down there, getting reacquainted and relearning all sorts of exercises.  There was a healthy glow, inside and out.  And then …

Meow!

Hmm.  Did I hear that right?  I turned toward the sound and there sitting in the window well was a cat.  A lovely speckled brown soul with eyes that were entering mine.  Our contact lingered, with a touch of sadness in both directions.

Through the glass was another being, one who no doubt couldn’t climb the smooth sides to safety.  And the leap would have been three feet.  Memories flashed to Jody’s and my home in Union and how I’d rescued a raccoon from a similar window well by propping a board down there.  Eventually the masked one had climbed out.

Now I live in a detached condo with no outside maintenance responsibilities.  And hence no boards.  I searched the garage for a solution and found a big square of stiff cardboard that would fit in the hole.  I went outside, shared a few moments with the captive and plunked the square down there, at a good climbing angle.

Ten minutes later, the kitty hadn’t stirred and I realized that the cardboard didn’t provide much grip for escaping.  So back to the garage, where a fabric hammock was my next solution.  Far better gripping there, and it was longer.  I wedged one end in a corner, while the other poked above the lip of the well.  Yes … that’ll work.  Any self-respecting cat should have no problem scurrying out of the hole.

Ten minutes later, my friend was curled up under the rolled hammock, with nary the twitch of a muscle.  (Sigh)

Bruce, you have to go down there and pull him out.  Sadly, my next thought was not of kindness and heroism, but of getting bitten by a dog in Cincinnati, Ohio.  Okay, but you still have to do it.  You couldn’t live with yourself if you let another being die in a hole.  So true.  Be just a wee bit heroic, dear one.

I obsessed about being bitten and how to protect myself from that.  I put on heavy clothes and a heavy coat and thought of my hands.  In the spirit of supreme protection, I pulled on a pair of gardening gloves that had some rubber coating on the palms, supposedly to prevent the ravages of thorns.  Good, but I want more.  So I put on my winter mittens over that.  Surely no feline teeth could puncture me through such sturdy layers.  (I made a note not to tell anyone about those fashion choices but clearly I’ve forgotten that advice.)

Girding my loins, I removed the mass of hammock and contemplated replacing it with … me!  Kitty was making that soft eye contact again.  My heart melted and my skin contracted.  One swift movement, Bruce – down, grab, throw!

And so I did.  Kitty tried to escape my clutch but I was supremely fast.  I grabbed her around the midsection with the offending teeth going in the opposite direction.  I swung around and launched her over the grass.  She landed on her feet and raced around the corner of the building.  The deed was done.

I am kind
I am scared
Both mostly … I am kind

Fare thee well, little one

What Was That?

Who knows what time it was … maybe 4:00 am this morning.  I was jolted awake by a dream.  As I hunkered down in the safety of my pillow, the details remained vivid.  A little red dot, swollen, appeared above my right knee.  I wasn’t concerned, but some filmy being was.  He or she squeezed it, and the tip of a silver filament appeared.  They grabbed on and pulled.  It was so tiny in diameter, and shiny.  There was no pain, just the sense of movement inside.  The being kept pulling and the string kept coming.  This seemed to go on for minutes.  A pile of silver grew at my feet, coil upon coil.  Finally the other end left my body and settled gently to the floor.

Woh.

I think I was sweating but I don’t really know.  Eyes eventually closed, the mind sort of settled, and I was asleep again.

Some time later, another jolt: I was holding a very long duffel bag, cylindrical in shape.  It was empty, except for something moving way down at the closed end.  I lifted the bag vertical and there was a fall of objects towards the drawstring opening.  Out plopped a “bug”, about three inches long, with fluttering mauve and yellow wings.  Next was a gooey snake, the colour of wallpaper paste.  It was divided up into small sections by a series of bright red rings that constricted the body.  As soon as it hit the floor, it curled into itself.  Other beings came out of the bag.  I don’t remember what they looked like, but everyone was scurrying around, seemingly in pain.  Were they hiding from the light?

Woh, chapter two.  Both dreams were shot in Ultra HD, and in silence.

When I finally roused myself to verticality, I sought the refuge of the shower.  Thank God.  Then I pulled out my phone and checked to see what CNN was saying about our coronavirus world.  Scrolling down the latest articles of sadness, I came upon one titled “The Meaning of Your Coronavirus Dreams”.  Okay.  That seems relevant to my life.

The author talked about some Twitter posters being “amazed at the peculiarity of their dreams or distressed by plots that center on death, fear and strange new worlds”.  Yup.  One woman shared that “In my dream, I called an Uber, but a hearse showed up instead.”  Alrighty then, time for a sleeping pill.

“According to experts, these cryptic responses are normal.  Our brains’ way of understanding the stressful information we take in during the day can manifest in nightmares.”

So I’m not outrageously abnormal (or am I?)  Our entire beings are being electrified by something that’s new in the world (unless you were alive in 1918).  Let’s all just breathe, and hopefully sleep.

Prostate

I told the kids at school that I was going to “a meeting” this afternoon. That was true … a meeting with a urologist in the Prostate Clinic at St. Joseph’s Health Care. My doctor did a rectal exam late last year and found an irregularity as she touched my prostate gland – some unexpected bump. She wasn’t very concerned but wanted to be thorough. Fair enough.

So there I was today, sitting in the waiting room for half an hour, wondering if I should breathe easy or jangle a bit. When I looked inside, I saw calm. So I decided to kibitz with the woman to my left and the man to my right. That was fun.

Finally it was time for me, and Dr. Urologist extended his hand. A jolly fellow. He took all the data he had – blood work, rectal exam, my survey answers – and plugged the info into his computer program. I saw the word “abnormal” next to the “physical exam” category. This led to a small gulp. Doctor told me that today he’d do a look-around with his finger. If he didn’t find anything strange, he’d change “abnormal” to “normal”.

I glanced at the screen again. Right now it said “Probability of cancer: 44%”. Woh. Doctor told me that this general cancer lingo included ones that aren’t a problem. Okay, but that wasn’t particularly reassuring. There was another category, which I think read “Probability of high intensity cancer: 24%”. Not a happy camper over here.

As they say, my life was flashing before my eyes. I felt naked, fully vulnerable, swimming in the question “Am I well or am I sick?” Everything seemed to stop.

And then there was Doctor again, smiling and ushering me over to the examination table. His finger was poised for action, and I was poised for the worst, the best, and everything in between.

Seconds later, the exam was full speed ahead. “Ahh … I see what your doctor means. But it’s not a nodule. It’s the vas deferens [a tube inside me that goes somewhere]. You’re FINE.”

I’m fine. You heard that, didn’t you? No sweat. No worries. No reason not to have a long and happy life.

So … on I go.

Lost!

I was up at 6:00 this morning, if “up” means rising on my elbows in bed, swirling between conscious life and sleep. I wanted to go for breakie at the Belmont Diner, and then on to school to say silly things to kids.

I reached over to the nightstand for my glasses … and they weren’t there. Odd. Somewhere in the night, I remembered sweeping the comforter over my snoozing body, and there was a faint recollection of nudging something.

No problemo. I dropped to the floor and scanned the usual spots where glasses have been known to descend. Nothing.

“Look harder” said the Bruce voice. I expanded my search, including the narrow space behind the nightstand, and unlikely distances under the bed. Nope.

You’ll be happy to know that these gyrations were all accomplished in the nude. My bedroom window was right there, and my body was well lit, but surely there wasn’t anyone out in the field walking their dog in the dark.

My heart rate climbed. A sheen of perspiration appeared on my forehead. I got up and roamed around, purposefully.

In good time, I discovered that all of these yielded a “No”:

-on top of the nightstand
-in the drawer of the nightstand
-on top of my dresser
-on the raucously coloured comforter
-under said comforter
-under the sheet below
-on the kitchen counter
-on the living room couch
-on the patterned living room rug (crawling and brushing with my hand)
-across all available surfaces in the bathroom
-inside the bathroom cupboard
-on the washer and drier
-in the den (hadn’t been in there for a day or two)

Such was the descent of my mind. And the wanderings of my naked body. (Lights were bright in the den, which faces the street. I didn’t care.) Visions of days with only sunglasses came to my fuzzy eyes. Having a neighbour come in with 20/20 to scout the premises. Etcetera.

I was speeding up and revisiting unlikely locations. Breathing fast and shallow. Scurrying.

And then I stopped. “Bruce, go have a shower. Maybe that’ll help you think more clearly, and erase from your mind the probability of aliens having landed.”

Oh … the deepest sigh. Before hitting the spray, I decided to make my bedroom more presentable. I carefully pulled the sheet tight over the pillows, and then did the same with the comforter.

Then I shook my head. “What’s to become of me …?”

Interviewed

Yes, that’s what happened to me yesterday … for the second time in my life.

Back in the 80’s, I worked with a psychologist in Lethbridge, Alberta. We led personal development seminars and Joel was a great coach. I was a newbie, a 30-something guy armed with some knowledge of communication skills but definitely lacking in life experience.

Our local TV station got wind of the work we were doing and wanted their viewers to hear about it too. My memory is that Joel had done many of these interviews and suggested that I give it a go. Tremblingly, I agreed.

On the day of public reveal, I put on my ill-fitting brown suit and headed downtown. The chairs in the studio were comfy, unlike me. The woman asking the questions did her best to settle me down but sadly I fumbled my way along the path of vague answers and big gaps of silence. Here I was, a seminar leader with prolonged descending self-esteem.

I watched the complimentary copy of the video once, cringing at regular intervals. I felt like a teenager with a face full of acne.

***

Okay, that was a long ago then. Yesterday was a totally different now. Carolyne, the Program Director of the Evolutionary Collective, was interviewing me online. Our work is an exploration of consciousness, and a leaning into the future to glimpse where evolution may be carrying us. More than anything, we intend to bring more love into the world.

I’ve been doing the 1-1 mutual awakening practice with many people over the past one-and-a-half years. Usually there’s a vivid meeting of the eyes as we melt into each other.

It was 1:45, fifteen minutes before interview time. I’m sitting in my room at a Toronto bed and breakfast … with a big smile on my face. Instead of a brown suit, I’m wearing a bright red shirt and jeans. Instead of swallowing every thirty seconds, I’m flying free.

Carolyne asked me a whole bunch of questions about the impact the EC has had on me. I didn’t care what she asked. I was too busy laughing about I don’t remember what. There was no planning to my answers, no strategy. Things just seemed to bubble up. Plus I was in no hurry to say anything. I felt great trust that the words coming out of my mouth would be true and helpful to future viewers.

Carolyne and I giggled a lot as our time together flew by. If I knew any communication skills, I couldn’t remember them. She and I were together … that was the only important thing. Our eyes met.

***

So how can this be?
Well, 35 years must have something to do with it
I’ve learned a lot and forgotten what I’ve needed to forget
I’m more of Bruce than I used to be
Thank you, life

Day Thirty-One: Going to the Home Continent

Goodbye Senegal, for now. I love you.

I thought yesterday’s bus trip from Toubacouta to Dakar Airport would be five hours long, but doorstep to doorstep it was only 3:25.

We were dropping young Ansou off at his new hometown of Passy. His brother Ali and I have become close during two visits and I wondered if he’d be on the side of the road as we slowed into town. Actually, I knew he’d be there.

He was. I saw a boy in the distance. From my perch in the front passenger seat, I started waving, just as he too began the greeting. I hugged Ali twice in those few minutes. I wear his bracelet on my left wrist. He’s my friend.

This was one more goodbye in yesterday’s lingering departures. So many African friends, not stopped by language in the pursuit of love. I have families both here and there.

The road to Dakar was sprinkled with villages – fruit stands, parked semi-trailers, rows of motorcycles with young men astride. People flowed everywhere and the din of voices blasted through the open windows. There’s just such an incredible energy in this country.

Lydia, Marie-paule and I were flying overnight to Belgium. I was scared about my ability to stay well all the way to San Francisco. Lydia gave me half of a sleep-promoting tablet to see me on my way. It didn’t work. I got less than an hour of shuteye. I experimented with different sleeping positions. At home, I flop from side to side, but on the plane this left one foot edged onto the floor. That hurt after awhile and sleep didn’t come. I finally figured out that a symmetrical stance worked best, head straight back on a pillow and feet flat on the floor. But that didn’t produce the result either.

We landed about 5:30 am, and Jo was soon there to whisk the women home. I had more than five hours before getting on a plane to London. A flight attendant on the Dakar-Brussels flight told me about a lounge that had actual beds! Oh … give me sleep.

It turned out that this lounge was only for customers of Brussels Airlines, but I found another one … the Diamond Lounge. They had a little bed available, and a shower! I got wet, washed my hair, shaved and brushed my teeth thanks to the supplies provided. My toiletry kit was in my checked luggage. There was even a spread of food and drink. Yay. After, I set my alarm for two hours thirty hence and fell to the sheets … … Nothing. No sleep. (Sigh)

Here I sit in another departure lounge, this one in London Heathrow Airport. The direct flight to San Francisco will be twelve hours, not the fourteen I thought it was. Small mercies.

I’m now at the thirty hour point of little sleep. Another twelve hours on the plane plus maybe two hours to get to the Downtown Berkeley YMCA, and I’ll stand at forty-four. If I can’t sleep on this flight, I bet I’ll be delirious. No thanks. I have a full version of one of Lydia’s sleeping pills at the ready. Pray for me.

Compassion

It’s an astonishing painting, by Alex Grey. It hangs in my hallway just inside the front door. I could go on and on about the beauty of it all but I’m sure the message is clear to you. There is giving and there is receiving, with the giver knowing deeply that he or she is being given to as well.

We had an art class this afternoon. The lesson was on perspective, how a line of trees can appear to be stretching to the horizon. The teacher and I roamed around, offering feedback and encouragement. One young man (I’ll call him “Brett”) had his head down and I asked if I could help. He was shaky. When I looked at his pencil drawing, I saw the mistake he was making and I coached him about how to fix it. Then I moved on to other kids. It was fun to offer a hint here and some praise there.

Ten minutes later, I glanced back at Brett. His arms were propping up his head and he was crying. I walked over. “What’s wrong, Brett?” He turned to me and away from the students beside him. “This isn’t any good and my dad will be so mad.”

My eyes welled with his. I flashed to my father and to the unconditional positive regard he sent me, even when improvements needed to be made. Clearly home was sometimes not like this for Brett. I wanted to assist him and I wanted us to have privacy. We found a table off in a corner and sat there with each other, both of us making some marks on the paper. We worked towards the OKness of any tree that emerged from Brett’s fingers and shared the creation of perspective – two tall trees on the left and right edges of the paper, two shorter ones next door and two itsy bitsy versions in the middle of the paper. By the time the first bell rang for home, Brett was calm.

Such a key moment, that one with the tears. Each of us needs to be ready with a helping hand. The Bretts and Lucys of the world deserve our care.

Unapologetic Greatness

In the Evolutionary Collective, people from near and far meet on the Internet to explore consciousness together, to further the growth of deep love in the world. There is a practice we do, usually 1-1, in which a profound connection often emerges. We glimpse the possibility of a unblemished unity flowing between members of the human family.

Sometimes on our calls, a teacher will ask for a volunteer to practice with her or him in front of the whole group. We see everyone onscreen by way of Zoom, a technology similar to Skype. The intention is for all of us to learn as the volunteer leaps in, sometimes missing the mark, sometimes hitting the bullseye. The teacher gives feedback. Ideally, the volunteer accepts it with grace.

I’ve been terrified of such encounters and have never volunteered.

Until last night.

Without thought, I found my finger tapping the “Raise Hand” button … and there I was, naked in the digital world. I opened to the moment and let the emerging words flow out. My expression was outside of the realms of “good” or “bad”. It was simply real.

Once we had moved on from the coaching, I felt warm inside. Glowing. At peace.

For many months, I’d labelled my timidity as fear of failure. But I wonder. Could it be instead that the image of me having outrageous power to do good in the world was just too terrifying? What would my life become if I was consistently “out there” in a huge way? Could I cope with the fierce bolts of electricity? Would I end up alone?

***

Afterwards, I remembered a woman who spoke piercingly about the fear of being great. I didn’t remember her name. I didn’t remember her words. So I just sat quietly, hoping that a phrase would come back to me. And it did:

“Playing small does not serve the world”

Mr. Google did the rest.

***

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, “Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?” Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

Marianne Williamson