Day Sixteen Some More: Fear and Love

Lydia met an old friend of hers in the market yesterday. Nabou is married to Ja Ja and they own a restaurant in Toubacouta. We were invited there for an early afternoon drink of bissap, a pure sweetness made from the flowers we picked a few days ago. It went down just fine in the shade.

Lydia wanted us to experience another village in the afternoon, where people don’t speak French and kids don’t go to school. Unless things change, the children will not leave the walls of their compound to live. How sad. Lydia often says that she can only do so much, can only help so many people. It’s time for other people to step up … such as me.

I was on the back of Yusefa’s moto as we rolled over the dirt roads. We stopped at a grocery store to pick up some suckers for the kids we’d meet along the way. Lydia packed them in a plastic jar and we were off again.

Soon we were off-road on a sandy track across the dry land. The sand became deep in places, at least to my eyes. Yusefa clearly was confident on the moto, so much so that he was tailgating Mamadou ahead. I froze. All that basic trust went out the window as I imagined falling off the bike and recovering in a Senegalese hospital for a year or so.

At a rest stop, I asked Lydia how much farther. “What’s wrong?” she replied. And then … I lied. “I’m tired.” Lydia looked at me like she knew I was telling tales. So now the truth: “I’m scared.” Ahh, the truth works. We talked about how everyone is afraid of something. For her, it’s flying. For me, right now in general, it’s riding my bicycle. Right now in specific, it’s little mounds of sand, and Yusefa often putting his feet down to keep us upright. Yikes!

After we walked for a bit, I felt better. On the moto again, I was able once more to look around, to drink in the parched land and its goats and cows.

At the edge of one village out in the middle of nowhere, we stopped. Kids came running. Lydia pulled out the jar and was quickly surrounded. Such happy faces and full mouths.

We came to an extended family’s homes, surrounded by a fence of long vertical sticks. Cement houses and, according to Lydia, a bleak future. Many eyes met mine, and many smiles. The queen of them all was a tiny girl, all dressed up in orange and red. What a sweetie, and we spent a few moments with each other’s eyes.

Farther on, we came to the highway. Our convoy stopped for awhile, and I never did find out why. I looked across the street and saw a little girl in a pink dress gazing at me from her yard. I raised both arms high above my head … and so did she. I swept my hands to the right and she mirrored me. To the left. Arm circles. Hanging from a tree. Twisting and shouting. All repeated by the girl and soon five or six of her friends. I couldn’t read their faces from our distance but I bet everyone was smiling.

And now, next. I crossed the road and walked up to the barbed wire fence. The kids stayed back some but they were curious. And I just loved the beaming smile of my young pink friend. One of the kids threw an empty jar at me and I tossed it right back, to a flurry of giggles. Then it was an old rubber strap. I wore it around me like a necklace. More giggles. Hands came closer and fingertips touched. Two women in the background smiled.

Then it was time to go. Motos revved up. The young ones smiled at me and I returned the favour. I bowed in my best Buddhist manner and they bowed back. We waved goodbye and the asphalt took me away.

It was of the most remarkable times of my life. I was in love. Sadly, I forgot to take their picture. Lydia said we’ll go back into the area again and I hope to see the kids, this time with my phone at the ready.

Goodnight, dear ones.

Day Sixteen: A Market Like No Other

Lydia promised us something special yesterday morning. We would go by bus or moto to an authentic Senegalese market, in a village that rarely sees white people. Bring it on … give me the real deal.

We gathered at Lydia’s house. I sat across from Aziz in the open air, both of us in living room chairs with wooden arms. He did a bit of drumming and I repeated his rhythm. Then I started a new one, and the young fellow followed my lead. Soon we set up a frantic pace. I leaned across the coffee table to him, reaching with my arms. Our hands touched and then released. And on we went – Aziz forward and me back, Aziz back and me forward … a dance.

We were off. Some of us in a little bus and six of us on motos. I was on the back of Curd’s bike. We rolled through the streets of Toubacouta and then onto the highway. Way ahead a monkey scampered across the road, but I wanted more. I scanned left and right for the big red fellows. And I thought back almost fifty years, when I worked at a hotel in the Canadian Rockies. Deer were everywhere in the townsite and we employees loved laughing at the tourists who got all giddy when they saw one. Now I was the tourist and I wondered what my new Senegalese friends thought about the Canadian who went ga-ga over monkeys. Ha! What a good lesson.

Curd and I turned off the highway onto a sand road, which often narrowed to a strip of beach between two tracks. Lydia had told me that I needed to stay very still on the back because balance was essential. We could fall if the front tire dug deep into the sand.

I let go. I trusted the universe to care for me. I trusted Curd to be the best moto driver. It was one big exhale as we streamed through villages and across dry flats. I told myself not to look ahead, to just focus on the back of Curd’s ball cap, but I’ve never been good at following my own advice. So I watched the ruts ahead, the sidehill dips, the imaginary sand castles looming high. And the universe said “Thank you.”

In the little villages, kids would come rocketing out from behind walls made of branches or concrete blocks. They all seemed to be waving and screaming “Bonjour!” Occasionally I heard the word that sounds like “hallal”, which means money, but mostly the kids seemed to be waving just for the fun of it.

The market was completely, radically, new to me. Imagine a very narrow dirt street packed with human beings, with the women wearing outrageously colourful dresses. Donkey masters sat on top of loaded carts urging their beasts on with whips, and motioning wildly to get us out of the way. Live chickens, vegetables, jewelry, brightly coloured fabric, Islamic books, clothing – all were on offer.

I took three photos, two of a family and one of the street scene. Then Lydia came over and told me not to take pictures. The people don’t like it. So I put my phone away.

Everyone was black except us. Some responded to my “Bonjour”s with a smile and a “Ça va?” (How’s it going?) Others stared. People were jostling into me. Suddenly Yo stopped and Iced Tea was beside him in a flash. Someone had picked Jo’s pocket and his wallet was gone. Red alert zapped through our group and I moved my backpack over my chest, with cell phone and wallet inside. Iced Tea confronted the thief. The fellow dropped the wallet and ran. Nothing was missing except a few hundred heartbeats.

We slowed again as life for us in the street turned gentle once more. I went into a stall with Lydia and a few others to purchase some fabric for a tablecloth. I found an explosion of red and green circles on a blue background that shouted “Senegal!” to me. Eva coached me on being vigilant at every moment as I dipped inside the backpack for some francs CFAs. Bill out of wallet while wallet is inside backpack. Wallet stuffed back in. Bill out of backpack in a closed hand. Other hand zips up the pack. Piece of cake.

Now we were in a long line through tiny passages, ducking under hanging clothes and passing close by hanging carcasses. I hardly noticed for awhile but our friends Yusefa and Mamadou were always bringing up the rear, watching for thieves and making sure none of us got separated from the group. I told Louisa that I loved being in massive crowds. She smiled and said she felt the same.

The energy of the market was intense. All those voices crying out in languages I didn’t understand. Local folks moving fast when there was space – on foot or on donkey carts. The squeal of chickens who were tight together in large mesh bags. The tooting of moto horns. The braying of donkeys. The dust blowing over our faces. The sun doing its job. Wow! A world beyond my life, and yet I was a vital part of it all.

I rode home in the bus so that others could experience the wind on the bikes. I sat beside Yusefa. “Merci pour me protéger dans le marché.” (Thank you for protecting me in the market) He smiled. It was a fine moment of communion.

More to come …

Praise

There were about twenty of us tonight on an internet call of the Evolutionary Collective Global Community. I enjoyed practicing 1-1 with one of those folks, assigned randomly by some computer. And then the group had about ten minutes at the end for sharing.

“Tessa”, a woman that I had met in Asheville a couple of weekends ago, started speaking. I never know what people will say, but usually their words come from deep down in their experiencing. What a treat to be on the receiving end of such realness.

Well … “receiving end” indeed. Tessa began talking about me (!) She mentioned the deep love that I show in these internet gatherings. (Gulp) She told the group about my love for my dear wife Jody, and the book I had written for her. (Gulp again)

I wanted to avert my eyes away from the cast of rectangles that lay before me. I wanted to hide. But I decided not to. “Just look, Bruce, and listen.” Tessa had moved on to talk about someone else but I was still writhing and sighing, writhing and sighing, within her words.

My small brain had its typical response: “You’re not that great, Bruce. Actually, you’re quite ordinary. You’re a nice guy, but nothing off the charts.” Plus “Don’t let your ego run roughshod here, my friend. You’re not exactly the next incarnation of Jesus. Get a grip!” Or “Tell them about the times you’ve been mean to people. They need to hear that stuff too, you know.”

Thanks for the feedback, small brain. But what’s true here?

1. I’ve very rarely been purposely mean to anybody. In fact, I can’t think of the last time I did that.

2. I’m extremely unusual. I’m likely more spontaneous than 99% of the population. I love the word “silly”, and “weird” is a pretty good concept too.

3. My love for my fellow man is immense. I am deeply compassionate towards those of us who are suffering. I want each one of you – family, friend or “stranger” – to be supremely happy.

I don’t often get praised so directly. I don’t have much practice in dealing with it. Perhaps I should simply accept it with grace and return to loving the next person who comes my way.

Yes, that would be a fine thing to do.

Light Without … Light Within

I’m so much enjoying being online with members of the Evolutionary Collective Global Community.  We often reach a consciousness together that includes all and loves all.  Really, it’s addictive to be with other human beings in this expansive way, where I look through my laptop screen and see my brother or sister.

So … I was going to a concert last night at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts in downtown Toronto.  It was a fundraising event for the Wounded Warriors, an organization committed to supporting veterans of combat, and first responders, who are walking the rough road of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.

The concert started at 8:00 pm.  Our EC call was scheduled from 7 to 8.  Google Maps showed me that there was a small park across the street from the hall.  “I’ll go there, be with my friends for fifty minutes or so, and then rush to my seat.”  How strange, part of my brain said.  Sounds like an addiction to me.  And I guess it is – an addiction to loving.

I found a bench in a well-lighted area of the park.  The Selfie view on my camera showed me that there was a lot of light falling on my face.  In fact, there was a lot of light everywhere.  The buildings were aglow, especially one which had a huge mural on its side, suggesting gift wrapping paper being pulled away to reveal the treasure within.  Yes, the image was surreal.  I thought of rearranging myself to offer a more neutral background but some deep part of me said no.

Just as the call was starting, with folks from all over showing up on my screen, a fellow came up to me:

“Can you spare some change?”

I said no.

“How about $20.00?”

“No, I don’t want to do that.”

“You need to give me money.”  (A louder and closer voice)

“No thank you.”

His face contorted and he moved still closer.

I walked away … briskly.

I was carrying my phone as I escaped and no doubt the online folks experienced flashes of pavement and grass.  A minute later, I was back to my spot and my aggressive companion was nowhere to be seen.

I guess my sudden departure scared people.  Sorry, folks.  “Nicole”, our hostess for the call, asked me if I was okay, if I was safe.  I said yes, with a big sigh bubbling up.

***

Soon it was time for the 1-1 portion of the call.  As I talked to “Ben”,  my fear began to fade.  We both marvelled at all the folks who were strolling by my bench.  I worried that me holding up the phone would look like I was videoing them, but then that contraction also floated away.

Somehow, and magically, both Ben and I experienced Toronto strangers as a flow of brothers and sisters.  They were with us, not against us.  And the lights of all these buildings in downtown Toronto seeped into our collective hearts.  I was the source of my well-being.  The gentleman wanting money didn’t carry the day.  I did.  And there was goodness all around me.

Pollyanna?
Naïve?
I say no
An inclusive future beckons us

Day Nine Some More: Naked

Oh, I had clothes on last night, but three strangers got to see what I’m all about.

During the Mutual Awakening internet calls, the heart so often spills out. In response to “What are you experiencing right now?” adjectives such as “soft” and “flowing” describe, emotions such as “love” and “peace” bubble up, and images such as “a cobblestone path” and “the beating heart” sparkle before the eyes. We talk these experiences to our randomly chosen partner. It is so often intimate.

Once more, I was on the campus of Ohio State University, this time enjoying the library. I talked to a staff member about the possibility of reserving a small room from 7 to 8 so that I could be on the Evolutionary Collective Global call. She said that because I wasn’t an OSU student, I couldn’t reserve. “Just walk into an empty one, with no one booked for the hour you want. Probably no one will join you.” Cool.

So here was a small room, with space for twelve humans to sit around a square table. My 7:00 pm aloneness danced with the togetherness of fifteen internet friends from here, there and everywhere. All was well.

Then there was 7:10. Two young men and one young woman walked in and sat down, with their texts and laptops in tow. (Gulp)

The fear went deep. Was I doing something bad? Of course not. Was I speaking words that could easily be misinterpreted by someone unfamiliar with the practice? Yes, indeed.

The image came of the three of them rushing at me with a grey blanket, covering me up … shutting me up. I whipped off my earbuds and talked to them for a few seconds. “Some of this may sound weird. It’s about consciousness.” All three smiled and someone said it was okay. I breathed deep and returned to the call.

It was time for the 1-1 part of the hour to start. When “Karl” appeared on my screen, it was me talking first. “What are you experiencing, Bruce?” > “Terror.” I told him what was happening. Karl stayed with me, feeling into what I was experiencing, “being with” me. Thank you, Karl.

The students could only hear my end of the conversation, but there was plenty to absorb, such as a virtual blanket being shoved into my mouth, then a release, and then the sense of my hands reaching out to the students. I expressed love for Karl, all the while having the contraction of fear alternate with the ease of a lingering exhale.

Near the end of our pairing time, peace flooded me. The five of us showed up in my mind as a circle of humanity, our arms around each other.

There were a few minutes for sharing in the whole group. I told the story and flipped my phone around so everyone could see the young studious ones. And they were far more than that. Smiles all around. I thanked my new friends as I left the room.

I can do this. I can embrace life and speak my truth with folks who don’t know these practices. And I will emerge from such moments whole and complete, perhaps having planted a seed or two.

Skunked

On Thursday evening, I was doing a Mutual Awakening practice online with a woman in Vancouver.  All was mellow.  And then … a God-awful banging started downstairs.  Peace evaporated.  My heart revved up.  Home invasion?  Beam collapse?  Or an animal?

I returned to my friend, with visions of a raccoon roaming through my family room.  After we said goodbye, I headed down, resisting the urge to grab a blunt object.  And there, rapping on a basement window, was an all-in-motion white and black furry thing.  A skunk, trapped in the window well.  He or she was ripping apart the screen but I didn’t care about that.

Two parallel thoughts came my way:

1. They’re going to die in there. Claws won’t do much good on four feet of vertical metal.

2. They’re really going to stink up the house.

I felt momentarily guilty about my smell worry but then I reasoned that human beings sometimes obsess about dreaded futures.  I’m a human being so it all works out fine.

As I laid myself down to sleep, the imagined scenario switched to Bruce trying to get furry one out of the window well and getting sprayed in the process.  Halfway through the night, there was still the banging and scratching.

On Friday morning, I girded my loins, grabbed a stepladder and tippy-toed towards the window well.  Such a hero!  I peeked over the edge … and the only thing down there was a plastic bag.  Impossible!  Was I dealing with Super Skunk?  Looking more closely, that bag seemed to be full of something.  I went back into the garage and emerged with a long-handled cultivating tool.  I nudged the bag – and it moved!  A slight rip showed something black-and-white beneath.  I wedged the ladder against the well and headed off to embrace the day.

Late yesterday afternoon, I drove into the driveway.  Another timid peek showed the same full bag.  And then I remembered – skunks are nocturnal.  Reason soon faded away, however, as I imagined my friend dying alone.  I fretted through the evening until engaging joyfully with a friend on the telephone.  Then to bed.  A half hour later, the banging and scratching resumed.  I confess an impatience with the gorgeous-looking animal.  “Haven’t you seen a ladder before?  It’s your way out, your road to freedom, your release from the prison of life.”

I slept fitfully, partially because of an early morning wakeup for a church breakfast, and also due to the furry one.

6:55 am.  No sounds.  Clothes on.  Outside.  Peeking number three.

Mr. Skunk was gone

I’m so happy that my companion didn’t die.  He’s no doubt out there in the woods with his friends and family.  And I’m more than a little pleased that I didn’t have to zoom off to the grocery store for a year’s supply of tomato juice.

On to the next ridiculous adventure …

 

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.