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.

Am I Going To Die Right Here Right Now?

Okay, I realize this is a sensational headline, but I did have that thought yesterday.  Maybe there’s a future for me in the tabloid press.

I went walking in the Humber River valley in Toronto, to the tune of six miles or so.  The trail was snow-covered, with little ridges of ice, water on top at times, and wet feet.  In short … perfect!  I didn’t mind going slow.  The white world was there for me to discover.

Much of the river was open, and really roaring along.  At one point I stood on a pedestrian bridge and watched the ice floes.  Way upstream was a little postage stamp of ice, moving ever so gently towards me.  As it neared the bridge, however, it morphed into an eight-foot long berg, and roared beneath my eyes like a runaway train.  Was I ever wrong about the current placidity of nature (a thought that was proven so true an hour later).

I was testing out my new wool socks.  “They’ll keep your feet warm and dry even in a rainstorm.”  Well, sort of.  There wasn’t any rain but lots of gooshy snow.  The socks were wet but my feet were still pleasantly cool.

I sat on a few benches and contemplated life, plus how many steps I’d taken so far.  By day’s end, it turned out to be 28,000.  What an athlete!  Above the flatlands by the river were steep slopes, leading up to fancy homes, which were showing their huge windows through the bare trees.  So I’m in the middle of Toronto, not exactly a wilderness experience, but still fun to be surrounded by so much unimpeded whiteness.

I was advancing calmly along the shore, with the Humber on my right, when I came to a spot where the river had overflowed its banks.  Parks personnel had posted “Do Not Enter” signs, plus a chain across the trail.  I looked way to my left, and with my deep outdoorsman knowledge, saw an area of white snow that skirted the grey waterlogged surface.  No sweat.  I don’t need a direct path from A to B.  I’m out to explore the wilds of Toronto.

My new route took me into a grove of bushes and small trees.  “Just follow the white snow, Bruce.”  Oh, this was fun.  Soon, I was going where no man had gone before, judging by the absence of footprints.  The crust of snow was hard and happily supported my weight.  No more wetness or ridges of ice.  Piece of cake.

Thirty steps farther, something new.  My right foot went down to the snow and the mass vibrated.  Like a tiny trampoline.  Energy went outwards in all directions as I moved each foot.  Then my right one broke through, about a foot down, and the crust collapsed around it.  Same with my left one.  Oh well.  Just a slower passage to my glass of wine at the Old Mill Restaurant.

As I worked my way around bushes, holding on to branches, I saw that the greyness had invaded my path.  I turned further from the river to keep from getting soaked and a route became clear.  I even saw a picnic shelter in the distance.  “No problem, Bruce.  You’re in Toronto.”

And then, a step too far.  My right foot broke through and I sunk down to my knee.  Water flooded into my running shoe and those water-wicking wool socks had no chance.  For a few seconds, I thought I was stuck.  I pulled my leg up but nothing happened.  Then I rolled onto my side and yanked the foot from its watery abode.  Soon I was vertical again and ready to move forward.  Down went my left foot to the knee, and then my right one joined in again.

And that was when this post’s title hit home.  Up to my knees.  Both feet soaked and numbing.  Bushes to the left and right.  No one around.  So scared.  Is this where I call it a day?  It’s been a good life.  Bye.

And then I snapped out of it.  “It will continue to be a good life.  There’s a glass of wine waiting for you less than a mile away.  You have your cell phone.  If you can’t extricate yourself, the Toronto Fire Department will.” > “But hypothermia will get me first.” > “Shut up and move!”

Somehow onto my side again.  And somehow the crust didn’t break where my body rolled.  Onto my feet, and looking around.  I’d been avoiding the grey areas but could they be worse than my white breakthroughs?  I grabbed a branch and stepped onto a grey patch.  It held!  And then the next.  It held too.  From bush to bush, I followed the grey.  The grassy parkland was just ahead, under its white blanket.  The meadow was raised up a bit.  My feet were numb but my brain wasn’t.  “Slowly, Bruce.  Just reach for the next branch.”  The crust held, time and time again, and finally the firm meadow was under my feet.

Fancy lounge
Dark wood
Old guy staring at me from a painting
Glass of Gewurztraminer
Squishy shoes
Unfeelable feet
Most thankful soul

Ain’t life grand?

Kindness Times Three

I was listening to CBC Radio while driving to Toronto this afternoon.  I was hoping for a good human interest story … and I found one.  A woman was being interviewed about a remarkable kindergarten moment.  As she talked, I could hear tears in her voice.

One little girl had shown up in the morning wearing her top backwards.  Some kid laughed at her.  The teacher was right on it and gently reproved the laugher.  The target human being, however, was very sad.  At this point, I guess the teacher had decided to carry on and leave the messiness behind.  But one child had another idea.  I can’t remember if it was a he or a she but the child removed their top and put it on backwards.  And then lots of other kids followed suit.  “I didn’t want her to be sad.”

My eyes moistened.  The interviewer was just about overcome.  And I imagined thousands of listeners reaching for their Kleenex.  Oh, what power a five-year-old can have.

And then …

I was walking along Lawrence Avenue, a main street in Toronto.  A taxi came out of a side street and pulled right up to the intersection so the driver could see the traffic on Lawrence before turning right.  I jogged a bit left and walked behind the car.  As I headed back to the sidewalk, the fellow behind the wheel called out to me:

“Sorry for blocking your path!”  He wore a big smile.

“That’s all right.  You couldn’t see.”

So much for the stereotype of Toronto drivers being discourteous.  I was stunned and so thankful for his friendliness.  It was a privilege to be in his presence.

Now I’m looking for kindness number three.  I’m not going to force it.  If no wave of goodness comes my way before I lay me down to sleep, so be it.  I won’t twist my reality to line up with the title of this piece.  Think I’ll head to Tim Hortons for coffee and see what beckons.

Okay, now I’m on the subway, gently seeking kind behaviour.  But seeking isn’t it.  By grace will it come my way … or not.  I’ll just wait.

Minutes ago, I looked to my right on the train.  A fat guy is two seats away, leaning over.  His eyes are closed … and he’s yelling.  Pointing his finger at something.  I can’t make out what he’s saying.  I’m too scared to say anything in the realm of “Are you all right?”  I shut my eyes.

I think of the classic Buddhist phrases of care:

May you be free from danger
May you be happy
May you be healthy
May you live with ease

And I sent them his way.  Soon it was just one: “May you be happy.”  The gentleman keeps yelling, still with eyes closed.  Here’s my stop.  “Goodbye, dear one.”

Mission accomplished.

Strong Enough?

Last week I Skyped with Bud and Margot, the organizers of the Tour du Canada.  On June 18, I’ll be setting off from Victoria, BC, and riding my bicycle ta-pocketa across the country, arriving in St. John’s, Newfoundland on August 31.  An average of 130 kilometres a day.

I started training for the ride after I got back from my meditation retreat in December.  I’ve been on the elliptical in the gym.  I know that typically I can cover 20-22 k’s in an hour of riding, burning between 600 and 700 calories.  I was worried that this speed wouldn’t be fast enough but Bud and Margot said it would be fine.

My hour-long elliptical sessions also burn calories to the tune of 600-700.  So I’ve declared that each session is the equivalent of 20 k’s.  Seems fair.  By that reckoning, I’ve ridden 665 kilometres since December 15, well on my way to the standard of 2000 km that each rider needs to accumulate by mid-June.  So all of this is good.

My longest equivalent distance covered over the last month-and-a-half is 45 k.  Nowhere near 130.  So I’m nervous.  The oldest person ever to have completed this ride was 73, and I’m 69.  The mind shouts out “too old”, “too weak” and “too far”.  But that’s just the mind.  I smile, listen respectfully and let the restrictive thoughts go.

Tomorrow I’ve promised myself that I’ll do 60 kilometres, or fall off the elliptical … exhausted.  “But Bruce, that’s three hours on the beast!”  >  “I’ll take half hour breaks”  >  “You’ll never make it”  >  “Oh yes I will.”

And so proceeds the banter back and forth.  It’s a good conversation.

I’ll tell you tomorrow how it went.  And I’ll try to keep way back in my head the fact that 130 k equals six-and-a-half hours on the elliptical.  Am I crazy or just majorly committed to realizing a long held dream?  I’ll take the latter, thank you.

***

P.S.  This is my 600th post on “Bruce’s Blog”.  Yay!

Clothes Make The Man

Last week it was super cold in Toronto.  And I walked outside a lot.  In my pocket, and soon rolled up on my head, was my red balaclava – a knitted hat.  When the mercury really plunged, I did something that I hadn’t done in 25 years: I aligned the eye holes and the mouth hole with the appropriate body parts, placed my glasses into the contraption, zipped up my coat and headed out into the frozen world.  And I did the same thing today.

Walking down main street Belmont to the Diner, I noticed faces sitting behind passing windshields, faces that were tilting my way without saying hi.  As I entered our convenience store, the owner looked at me, I thought fearfully.  Someone asked if I was going to rob the place, the same comment I got twice in Toronto.

My entrance into the Diner was met with a group silence until I disrobed and revealed my inner Bruceness.  I wondered why folks didn’t seem to understand that it was darned cold, and that I wanted to keep my nose from freezing.  Instead, everyone was on high alert, wary of the intruder.  As a society, are we really that afraid of each other?  I hope not.

Farther along in my day, it was time for the gym.  The elliptical beckoned.  I had pulled a t-shirt from my dresser drawer, the one on top of the pile.  It was black with a white script: “Lovely Is Your Heart”.  It’s one of my favourites.  I don’t think I’ve worn it to the gym before.

Well … did I get some stares from the muscled gentlemen working out on machines!  No vomiting, but the disapproval of some was clear.  I’d often worn the same shirt during last fall’s meditation retreat, and at the end, when we could talk, two yogis mentioned how much they appreciated the message.  But the gym?  Another animal.

What were the athletes thinking?  That I’m gay?  (I’m not)  That I’m hopelessly sentimental?  (I am)  That I’m weird for having “Love” plastered on my chest?  (I suppose I am, but who cares?  Certainly not me)

I walk through life, choosing to be visible.  I know no other way.  It feels healthy not to be slinking around, out of the public view.  I talk a lot and no doubt many folks take issue with that.  I say silly things and perhaps some see me as the height of immaturity.  But one thing I know – I am pretty thoroughly myself.  And that makes me happy.

What a shame that it’s too cold for me to wear my Speedo!

 

What’s True

Here are more thoughts in response to my friend’s long e-mail, after we both attended a three-month silent meditation retreat recently.

“Dear _________,

Your words are sure getting me thinking.

“You have what we all need, unconditional love.”

My knee jerk response is to say, “Oh no, I’m not that good.”  But I need to look more carefully.  What’s true is that I have been reflecting on love for something like twenty years.  The Buddha essentially said that what we think about, we become.  And I see it in my life.  How about that, I do have unconditional love bubbling to the surface for big parts of my day.  And it’s not that I’m the greatest thing since sliced bread.  It feels like there’s very little ego in the territory.  I’m just naturally gravitating to love.

I appear to be quite strange.  Sometimes in traffic, when I’m facing left turning cars that have an advanced green, I find my eyes getting wet if all of those vehicles make it through before I get to go.  I’m just so happy that no one was left out.  Wow.  Writing this makes me sound like a very weird duck … but so what?  It’s true!  And what should be my response to wholesome states?  As my teacher James Baraz says,  “Don’t miss them!”  Don’t poo poo them, saying “It’s nothing.”  Don’t block them by suddenly getting interested in watching Toronto Maple Leafs hockey games or hiding within the pages of the latest Stephen King novel.  They’re here … embrace them.

“I for one would come to all your talks.  You could record talks as well and share them via YouTube maybe.”

Not that good, I say.  But what voice is speaking?  Is it expansive and calm or a whiny contraction?  No, it’s the small voice – anxious and fearful of really making an impact in this world.

There’s a sangha near me in London, Ontario.  I went to a few of their evenings a couple of years ago but the periods of silent meditation were short and I told myself that there was too much talking.  What if back then I didn’t have eyes to see the beauty, wisdom and love in front of me?  Okay, that’s it: I’m going back to their weekly meetings.  I can be a gift to them and they most certainly can be a gift to me.  Over time, I can start giving talks, if the folks are willing.  It’s true that I have things to say that may be valuable for some people to hear.

About a week ago, I’m walking down the street, and my quiet, trustworthy voice says “In the very near future, Bruce, you will sing Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” a capella (just voice, no instrument) to a roomful of people.”  I love that song.  I printed off the lyrics and in the last few days I’ve sung it to two people, individually.

This Friday, I’m back volunteering in a Grade 5/6 class.  Sing it to them, Bruce, leaving out the verse with a sexual theme.  Ask the teacher if she will give me permission to do that.  If she says no, look for another environment.

“But they’re too young to hear “Hallelujah”.

“No they’re not.”

“Yes they are.”

“No.  They’re not.”

Oh my.  What journey beckons?  What’s happening to me?  What is my gift?  What is my contribution?

‘I’m on the road to find out.’  (Cat Stevens)”

Self-Disclosure

To what extent in this life do you share with others the truth about yourself, the good things and the bad?  Well, it depends on the you.  I think letting people know about my feet of clay, as well as my triumphal moments, frees up my body and soul … to flow.  And if the energy is moving largely unimpeded, I can touch other human beings.

Which brings me to Roberto Osuna.  He’s a relief pitcher with the Toronto Blue Jays, a young guy.  Imagine the pressure of coming on in the late innings with the bases loaded and the game on the line.  A few days ago, he did something remarkable: he told the world that he had anxiety issues and right then he was feeling “lost”.  So much for the male ego ruling the day.  Instead, the human heart had its say.  Well done, Roberto.  Some folks will be highly critical when you tell the truth.  Some will be clapping their hands.  But sooner or later you will have a tiny smile on your face.  No more charade.  No more looking over your shoulder to see who’s there.  No more being strategically careful.

I remember being in a meeting about the computer needs of a visually impaired student.  I’m okay with computer stuff but no whiz.  It seemed like everyone else in the room knew far more, and I too became lost.  What to do?  Fake understanding?  Cover up my terror with a big smile?  Press hard to control the shakes?  I chose elsewhere.  I told the assembly that I didn’t understand what people were saying, that I was feeling overwhelmed, and I needed to leave the meeting.  Which I did.  There was no tiny smile on my lips, just a red face.  The smile came later.

In Sunday’s sports section of The Toronto Sun, Steve Simmons had his say about Roberto:

“I can’t begin to tell you I know what Roberto Osuna is feeling.

I do know how troubling it can be when you lose a portion of yourself and you don’t necessarily know why.

But I can tell you with absolute certainty, from my own experiences, from the daily challenges, that the challenges of anxiety and mental illness aren’t easily explained or understood and they can be all-consuming.

Hopefully Osuna gets the kind of help he needs and finds the kind of peace all of us deserve.”

Well said, Steve
Well said, Roberto
Well said, me