Skunks

It’s after sunset now and I just went outside to bring the Baltimore oriole and hummingbird feeders in.  If I don’t do that, chances are good that raccoons will climb the poles and go for the goodies, breaking some plastic stuff in the process.

It’s really dark at the side of my home and I was thinking about something as I rounded the corner to the backyard.  And … Zap!  Munching sunflower seeds below my other feeders were three skunks.  My heart pounding skyrocketed and I was rooted to the spot.  And then my mind took over:

They’re going to spray you.  Get out of there!

I consider myself somewhat evolved but there I was, back in cave man days.  Fight or flight.  It’s all about survival.  I could feel my body shaking and I was universes away from appreciating the grace of the animals.  The person I thought Bruce was had disappeared … in a flash.  I had no control over my consciousness, and I scurried back around the corner.

Back in the living room, I turned on the outside lights.  Two of my black and white friends were still chowing down.  The white stripe on their backs formed a Y shape and their tails were pointing to the sky.  And I realized that they are indeed very beautiful animals.  It was like they were models wearing tuxedos.

Skunks aren’t the only creatures that I react to with knee jerk responses.  Certain groups of humans bring automatic negative thoughts out of me.  I’m sad that this is the case.  My job is not to act on such explosions of judgment.  And when I turn on the light of living, I see that these beings are lovely to behold.  They need not reduce me to fear but instead can unfold me into brotherhood and sisterhood.

 

Visible

To be seen or not to be seen? Especially when I have no smile in me and my thoughts seem like bouncing balls in the basement of my mind. Or maybe I’m within the crush of life and the world is pressing down hard. Aren’t those the times when pulling the covers over my head would be prudent?

Speaking of which, who ever came up with that word “prudent”? The dictionary calls it “showing care and thought for the future”. Okay then … I disagree with myself. Being prudent sounds like a fine thing to do.

Hmm. Maybe this moment is a good illustration. Shouldn’t I just delete my righteous pronouncement about the word “prudent” in the interest of maintaining my dignity?

Speaking of which, who ever came up with that word “dignity”? (No, no Bruce. Don’t go there again.)

Now, where was I? Getting rid of the prudent and dignity discussion … so I look better. Naw. There’s no value in that. Picking out the good parts and hiding the naughty bits is a strange way to be visible. There’s contraction all around if I venture down that road.

What if I allowed the cool and uncool elements of Bruce to be plastered on some neon sign (such as this blog) and truly got that I’m the same as you – chock full of virtues and foibles, insights and nonsense, transcendence and stumbles? Well … perhaps that would be deeply okay.

Maybe I’m on this dear planet Earth to express myself, and then do it some more. So – write, speak, sing, smile, frown, bliss out and get pissed off. Nothing wrong with that. Maybe some other folks would see me as a worthwhile example of letting it all hang loose.

I’m participating in a global community of consciousness explorers. It’s called the Evolutionary Collective, and members of the group can meet live online as many as five times a week. Last night, Patricia Albere, the founder of the EC, asked for a volunteer to do the “mutual awakening practice” with her. The practice is a 1-1 half hour where the partners answer the question “What are you experiencing right now?”

I froze.

I’d shared in the group many times but this would be hugely different. I’d be groping my way into whatever I was experiencing, with an audience of forty people or so. And I was terrified. It felt just as horrifying as riding my bicycle beside those semitrailers three weeks ago.

I didn’t volunteer and fell into an agonizing pit of self-loathing. I love myself regularly, but not then.

I was not willing to be seen, in all my potential beauty and warts. (Sigh) As the clouds darkened and brooded, I sank lower. Thoughts jumbled. Fear screamed. And then – wonder of wonders – a tiny shaft of sun poked through. Somehow, somewhere, I was all right. The past moment of hiding away didn’t have to create a future of seclusion.

Next Tuesday evening, Patricia will be in the online session again. She expects to ask for more volunteers to do the practice with her. I’ll answer the call. Of course she may pick someone else but my triumph will be clicking the “Raise Hand” button.

On I go in my life. Participate or hide out. Express or fall silent. Live with huge sweeping strokes or tiny jagged lines. I get to choose.

Day Nine: The End

I left the Tour du Canada this morning. I’m exhausted and have been terrified. I’m so sad to be disappointing you folks who have been cheering me on. I’ve failed as a cyclist, at least as far as what it takes to ride across the country. I know, though, that I haven’t failed as a person.

I went to bed last night extremely tired. Before I dropped myself into the tent, I managed to leave my mess kit’s cutlery somewhere and my next day’s clothes piled in some unknown location. In the morning, I was just as exhausted and couldn’t conceive of riding 90 k today. I’d tossed and turned since the wee hours and went to breakfast depressed. My body was making the decision for me: I’m simply not strong enough to do this right now.

I’m so afraid of the fast traffic that’s been whizzing by me a couple of metres away. And when there’s a drop off to the right, I worry about falling down the slope. So I’ve been riding too close to the white line. The bottom line – I’ve been riding too close to the cars. I’m not a safe cyclist.

I don’t know how to control my bicycle at low speeds on angled slopes. Yesterday I missed one of these downward ramps, lowered my head and started crying. “I don’t know how to do this,” I told my companions. And then I blasted myself: “Bruce, you should be far stronger mentally.”

I should be this, I should be that. I’m quite a mess right now. I want to find a hole and crawl into it. I don’t want to be with people, which is so unlike me. But strangely … I’m writing you.

It was so hard to say goodbye to everyone this morning. So many people to thank for helping me. I started crying again … and I’m doing it again right now. I tell myself that with my Buddhist training I should be better than this, but it’s not working out.

So now … the rest of my life. I know I can’t wallow in this. There is much I need to contribute to this world. But right here and right now, at the Travelodge in Abbotsford, B.C., I’m deeply down.

After the cyclists left this morning, I knocked on the door of the campground manager, looking for advice about how to get my bike and me home. Judy and Bernie were so kind as they helped this rattled tourist find solutions. They listened without judgment. They gave me coffee. And throughout the hour I sat in the living room, their dog C.C. licked my legs. Judy said she’d never seen him do that before so that’s a very welcome plus.

I suppose this post sounds too dreary. Oh well. It’s what I have right now. I arrive home late Monday night. It’s up to me to push myself out into the world on Tuesday. I will do that.

Day Seven: Orientation

I’m overwhelmed. I’ve usually thought of myself as mentally strong but right now I’m mentally weak. I don’t want to sing the refrain of “Woe is me” because that doesn’t serve anyone. So how do I pull myself up?

Yesterday I received many messages from home, encouraging me, loving me. Several Tour du Canada riders have been especially kind. So now what? Pull yourself up, Bruce.

The bike shop at UBC fixed my bicycle yesterday. Apparently something called the headset was a mess. Also the derailleur settings were off. Alex at the Bike Kitchen made me his “afternoon project”. He also put flat pedals on ta-pocketa, since the ones I’ve had, which attach to metal cleats on the bottom of my cycling shoes, weren’t working for me.

When I tried the new pedals out in the evening, I kept catching my shorts on the saddle when I tried to get going. Maybe six of my fellow cyclists watched me stumble, again and again. They made suggestions and also adjustments to my equipment. I died a thousand deaths of embarrassment. Here I am, surrounded by nineteen strong and skilled cyclists, and I can’t even mount my steed. Oh, the sadness.

Okay, all of that is said and done. Time to keep going. I’m not giving up. With a little help from my friends, I’ll roll into the campground at Mission, B.C. this afternoon.

Thanks for listening.

Day Three: Self-Esteem

It started at breakfast this morning. Four of us sat outside at a café. My personal choice was pesto pasta. The others talked about their cycling lives … and I was overwhelmed by fear. “What am I doing here? Bruce, you’re so out of your league.” Depression came to visit but I tried to put on a neutral face. I didn’t want my fellow cyclists to have to deal with my angst.

In general, my self-esteem is high, but this was not general. This was piercingly specific. My Buddhist training has taught me to be curious about my thoughts and there was no shortage of material to work with today:

You’ll never finish this tour

These folks are so fast and confident

You’ll be so slow and so alone all the way across Canada

Your balance is abysmal
You can’t even get the water bottle out of its cage

I’ve learned in life to abide by the truth. Today’s truth was dominated by fear and at some points I chose to express that to my new friends. “Don’t do that, Bruce. Don’t bother them.” I chose to ignore that advice, risking that they’d reject me for being so wimpy. Somehow, it seemed that this personal nakedness was an act of courage.

Tonight eight of us went out to dinner. The flood of “not okay” swept over me again as several folks recounted past bike tours or bike club adventures.

Now was the moment: either wallow in despair or pull myself up into sweeter air. And rise I did, thrusting myself into a few conversations when all I wanted to do was curl into a ball and sink beneath the tablecloth.

Time and again the battle raged, most likely unnoticed by my companions. There was no clear winner.

But still … I’m left with a freshness of spirit. The seven human beings I’ve met so far will be worthy recipients of my gifts and I’m a worthy recipient of theirs. Together we will create something new, despite my terrors and the woes they hold inside.

We are bigger than this

Thumbs Up

I did a long bicycle ride on Wednesday.  With about 20 kilometres to go, my right thumb stopped working.  I use it to press a button which moves me to a harder gear.  I pressed … and nothing happened.  The thumb just collapsed.  A very big “Oh, oh!”  And a very big panic welled up.  No thumb, no gear changes, no Tour du Canada.

I let the fear take over for a minute or two.  There was a compression in my body and a sadness in my soul.  Then an inspiration: I moved my right hand to a place where I could brace the heel on the handlebar, and pushed the button with my index finger.  It worked!  Gosh, I’m so smart – until that finger buckled.  I then moved to my middle finger (you know, the one that’s so good at saluting) and finished the ride that way.

I woke up on Thursday morning with an aching thumb and wrist.  I deduced that I wouldn’t be able to see a physio until after my plane to Vancouver takes off (next Friday) so instead I went to Shoppers Home Health Care for a brace.  The woman helping me was brilliant and found a sturdy one that addressed arthritis and the particular joint that was sore.  It definitely helped but I still had trouble turning the key in Scarlet’s ignition.  I figured the digit needed rest for a day or two.

And then this morning I awoke to the word “physio”.  In the shower, I couldn’t squeeze the shampoo tube.  And the fear rose.

Off to St. Thomas and the physiotherapy clinic I’ve patronized over the years.  It didn’t matter that an appointment was unlikely … some force was propelling me there.  The receptionist was polite, but informed me that the earliest available session was on June 14, the day before I fly.  (Sigh)  I was about to walk out the door in search of another clinic when a voice behind me said “Maybe I can help you.  I don’t want you to have to leave.”   And there stood my guardian angel.

“Emma” smiled and told me acupuncture could help.  “Oh, please yes!”  In the loveliest of serendipities, a client had cancelled for right then.  Emma took my wrist in her hands and there was a crunch – all those bones rearranging themselves.  Then she sat me down and inserted five needles from my hand to my elbow.  What an odd, slightly stinging sensation.  I felt some relief when Emma took the needles out.  Plus she’s making room for me on Tuesday.

Off to the health food store to stock up on herbs for my big trip.  The woman behind the counter gave me a dab of Kalaya Pain Rub, full of wondrous natural ingredients.  Soon after I took off the brace to receive the ointment, my hand started shaking.  I watched, fascinated, as my friend explained about electrical activity.  It was very cool to watch.

Next was a message from the ether – “Go to your bike shop.”  I figured it was just to get some emotional support, as I struggled with the possibility of not riding across Canada.  Once in the door, I approached Sygnan and heard myself saying “Is there anything you can do for me?”  I really didn’t think there was.  Going over to a display bike, I tried pressing on the same type of button as I had on ta-pocketa, and I couldn’t budge it.  (More sighing)  But Sygnan, my hero, found a rotary gear shifter in a catalogue, one where I’d use my whole hand to change gears rather than putting pressure on my thumb.  And he also located a brake lever that was far easier to move than what I had.

I drove over to a shop in London to pick up the shifter, and the brake levers should be in on Tuesday.  So I can have them installed by Wednesday, have Sygnan partially dismantle ta-pocketa and pack her in a bike box, and head to Toronto airport on Friday morning, on the road to my summer adventure.  My dear right thumb won’t be needed.  It can take its time to mend.

So … there are forces in the universe holding me tenderly, supporting me in my vision of crossing Canada and being good to all the folks I meet.  I am surrounded by love and am being pulled towards the future.  There’s mystery and grace and sweetness in the world.

 

 

 

Fear of the Famous

I’m taking a live online course on relationships.  Eighteen of us from around the world have met for the past four Saturdays.  Our work is based on the ideas of Patricia Albere.  She sees the possibility that humankind can experience “mutual awakening” – the freedom of enlightenment experienced by two or more people together.

Part of our time together is spent listening to the teacher (Keren) speak.  And then there are times when each of us is paired with another participant for half an hour, doing an exercise meant to deepen the sense of connection.

During yesterday’s course, I pressed “Yes” to join my first 1-1 session and up popped … Patricia.  Fear coursed through me and words started racing: “The founder … famous person … smart person”.

Patricia went first and I watched myself flip back and forth between wallowing in my “stuff” and having my consciousness be inside her.  Again and again I brought myself back from terror and fell into the sweetness of relationship, only to see it slip away again.

When it was my turn, I told Patricia of my fear.  She got me.  And bit by bit another perception came through: That was a human being over there, admittedly one with great gifts, but in another sense quite ordinary, with the joys and sorrows that we all know.

We laughed a lot.  We enjoyed each other’s company.  I got to glimpse that I’m no more and no less than anyone else.  And maybe, just maybe, comparing is plain silly.

I started thinking of the Grade 5 and 6 kids I volunteer with.  I wonder if some of them are nervous around me, thinking that I’m a smart adult and they’re “just a kid”.  Hmm.  It feels like my job to talk to them from a “level” place, not like a pronouncement from on high.

Eleven-year-olds, Patricia and me.  All with something precious to give.

Diarrhea

I went to bed on Monday evening worried about my heart.  I woke up at 3:00 am worried about my nether regions.  You know the story: a drowsy awareness of something unusual becomes an ever building pressure down below, and then the race to the toilet.  I’m so happy I have one!

Not much sleep thereafter but five more visits to my very green bathroom.  Four doses of Imodium didn’t seem to do anything and I started wondering if I should cancel my 7:15 am echo cardiogram in London.  I sure didn’t want to be going with the flow on the highway.

I’m not a careful person.  I’m usually spontaneous and don’t think much about the consequences of blurting out whatever comes into my brain.  But yesterday morning was different.  As I pulled on my coat, I decided to accessorize.  Imodium in the right pocket … and underwear in the left.

I was biting my lip on the way in and I do believe tensing my glutes a mite.  No problems.  I walked into the clinic and told the receptionist about my condition, strategically avoiding the topic of pocket briefs.  She smiled empathetically.  Minutes later, however, out came a nurse to say that my diarrhea could mark the onset of flu and she didn’t want me to infect other patients.  So we needed to reschedule.

Yes, I was disappointed but far bigger than that was a peace about it all.  How strange and lovely.  I smiled, said “Okay” and headed off for breakfast.  Could it be that the setbacks of my day don’t touch me much anymore?  Unless they’re absolutely huge, I guess.  That would be marvelous.

And now back to my heart.  After the tests are completed, I fully expect to be given a clean bill of health and a wish that I enjoy the Tour du Canada.  It seems so logical now that my exhaustion on the elliptical was about loose stools rather than a lousy organ.  I smile again.

On we go.

Scared

Last week my doctor phoned to tell me that my recent ECG had some “irregularities”.  Gulp.  She prescribed an echo cardiogram (happening tomorrow) and a stress test – on a treadmill, I suppose.

For the last few months I’ve been training hard, in preparation for this summer’s bicycle ride across Canada.  The medical news sent fear coursing through me.  I asked myself what’s true.  Well, all this work on the elliptical has certainly increased my endurance.  My performance on the beast has gone up at least 10% since I started working out in earnest in December.  So how could my heart be weak?  No way.

Have I gone at it too hard, sometimes to the tune of several hours a day?  Maybe.  The organizers of the Tour du Canada told us riders that we need to accumulate 2000 kilometres on the bike from January 1 till mid-June.  I’ve figured out an elliptical equivalent for cycling, based on calories burned.  As of today, I have 1980 kilometres in the bag.

So I worried a bit and watched my mind a lot.  My meditation has sure helped me on that score.  How easy it is to create a doomsday scenario, I laughed (Friday).  You’re fine, Bruce.

Yesterday morning I was on the elliptical for two hours, and I felt more tired than I’d expected to be.  No big deal.  This morning, however, I scheduled one hour, and the result was all-consuming.  I was exhausted after 45 minutes and dragged myself to the finish line.  Then I sat down in the locker room, surrounded by “What’s happening?”

Could I really have a problem?

Is it just that I haven’t had enough rest days?

How would I cope emotionally if Julie told me I shouldn’t go on the ride?  Would I abide by her doctorial request?

And so I sit, bathing in uncertainty.  Stewing in fear.  Letting it all fall out of me.

Just now … a small smile.  I’m bigger than this issue, more expansive than the events of my day, not tethered to the earth.  I will cross the bridges that come my way.

Garbage

It was last year at school.  I was talking to some Grade 5 students, kids I didn’t really know because I worked with the Grade 6’s.  I told them that I often walk down the main street in my village of Belmont to have breakfast at the Diner.  And there’s just so much garbage on the lawns, sidewalks and gutters.  I felt like taking a plastic bag with me and picking up the litter.

Two boys – “Trevor” and “Jeremy” – challenged me to do it.  I said I would, and I followed through – twice.  Then I convinced myself to forget all about it.  I’d occasionally remember over the next several months, but I never again pulled a bag out of the closet.

That was last year.  This spring I’ve been consistently unconscious about the whole thing, until last weekend, when I was sorting through reams of paper that had accumulated.  I came upon a grocery receipt.  On the back, in my handwriting, were three words: garbage, Trevor, Jeremy.

I gulped.  I had forgotten that they were the two kids who challenged me.  On Tuesday, I approached them and fessed up to my lack of commitment.  They nodded.  I said that I’d be walking down Main Street to the Diner on Thursday morning and promised that, unlike my history, I would do what I said I would do.

Thursday morning was this morning.  Two plastic bags found their way into my coat pocket and I set off.  I was scared, which made no sense.  I figured out that I was worried about what people would think, seeing me stooped over on their lawn.  I said that I’d have mitts on because of the cold, and it would be too awkward to pick things up.  Then I agreed to do it, but set a limit – max of 50 items each way.  And what was that about?

I shook my head at the foibles that were issuing forth and walked down Robin Ridge Drive towards Main Street.  Paper, plastic bottles, plastic wrap, plastic ties, cardboard and shingles all found their way to the bottom of the bag.  I got emotionally stronger as each item descended, and by the time I was approaching the restaurant I didn’t give a hoot about what anybody thought.  Hey, for all I know, there were folks applauding from their cars.

A garbage can stood serenely outside of the Diner.  Forty-two pieces of society, and one torn plastic bag, were deposited by a Belmont resident.  I smiled.

On the way home, the other side of the street beckoned.  I picked up fifty-nine examples of flotsam and jetsam by the time I reached my porch.

How silly to be so worried.  How happy to be so contributing.  And tomorrow morning I’ll hold up a sign to Jeremy and Trevor which will simply say … 101.  Good for me.