The Real Self

For those of you who read my most recent post, here’s some math:

100 + 104 = 204

***

We will begin to marvel that we let ourselves build our lives around the belief that we, the real self, were identified with these various descriptions [age, gender, personality, relationships, job, income, house, car, vacations …] which descriptions required so much protection, justification, grief, anger, pride and so on. So much vital energy. We exhaust ourselves in the support of our descriptions.

Beatrice Bruteau

“All those descriptions add up to me.” That’s what I’ve often said. Beatrice points to the possibility that I’ve been wrong. And now I sense a “bigness” that’s far beyond. It doesn’t matter if wise things come out of my mouth. That proposed V-shaped body is irrelevant. Crying when faced with heartrending stuff isn’t the be-all-and-end-all.

Perhaps what I really am is a huge space in which I’m free to move, to express. As much as I feel pulled toward an unknown future, there is a stillness unaffected by the ups and downs of life.

What if Beatrice is right, and I’m wasting precious energy in protecting all that I’ve said I am? Can I be brave enough to put up my hand without knowing what I’ll say? Can I trust that the space is large enough to contain all that I have to give, without me hunkering down to fend off supposed threats?

There may be no need for armour, for umbrellas, for closing my eyes to ward off the world. Maybe I can keep my eyes open to all that comes my way. And truly what energies can be released if I feel no forces pressing down on me, if I really get that “I am free”? Well, the answer to that is beyond my current mind.

I walk slowly, porous in my body and soul. There is no danger. There is nothing outside of me and so I cannot be hurt. All blends in love. We go forward together.

And then fear shows itself again. I grab my shield and ready myself for the impending attack.

In time, the shield falls to the ground.

I am free once more.

(Repeat)

Ordinary Freedom

I showed up at school yesterday morning, not realizing that it was Crazy Hair Day.  And I was wearing my usual short grey persona.  Hmm … this won’t do.  Who am I to miss out on a celebration?  Kids were getting off the buses with all sorts of designs atop their noggins.

To the secretary I went, with thoughts of alligator paper clips in mind.  She had lots of the black ones, and I started arranging them on my tresses.  Okay, this is better.  I’m fitting in now.

Off to the Grade 5/6 class for more clips.  Jayne had a good supply of my preferred accessories.  “Why don’t you have some kids help you?” she suggested.  Immediately there were five girls ready to lend a hand.  I was clipped here and also there.  One girl grabbed an elastic and proceeded to tie the world’s smallest ponytail in my upper greyness.  Felt like it was a half inch tall.  And here comes a small sponge inserted into a forest of metal at the back.  Jayne too was busy.  She had cut a swath of 2″ wide red ribbon and finished me off with a tidy bow.  Gosh, I looked good!

Now the freedom part:

1.  I pranced from classroom to classroom, from principal’s office to gym, showing off my new look and admiring the creations of the short people.  Lots of laughs pinging off the walls.

And then I thought about my afternoon, to be spent out in the world doing cool things.  Should I retain my adornments for the community or ditch the whole thing in the spirit of normality?  Some kids said “Take that stuff off.”  Others smiled and offered “Go for it!”

I’ve never been really big on normality, so let’s continue the list:

2.  Went to my bike shop.  Ta-pocketa was ready to support me in life, having been tweaked for the mountains of the summer.  My bicycle guy and gal had lots to tell me and grinned considerably between explanations.  Sadly there were no other customers in the store.  I wanted to flaunt my newfound beauty.

3.  To the gym.  One last day on the elliptical before testing the roads of life.  Lots of v-shaped men sporting maximum muscles.  I wondered if my red bow would fit in.  I was nervous.  I quelled the pain by initiating conversations with guys who were starting to stare.  I’d laugh and I guess they felt obligated to join in.  Later I figured out that my proactive words were a way to protect myself so I stopped doing that.  I walked around silently from then on, watching a few frowns appear, and quite a few smiles.  I survived nicely.

4.  How about supper?  I jaunted over to one of my fave restaurants – Mai’s Café.  Lots of folks inside.  I gulped a bit and opened the door, marching up to my favourite server and asking her if it was okay to come in looking like this.  She laughed and said “No problem.”  And there was chuckling from most of the tables too.  See?  I’m still alive.

5.  Walked back to my car past evening strollers.  There were a few averted faces but also some nodding and mini-cheering.  Cool.

6.  Why not go to a movie?  Sure.  The story was forgettable but I loved being stared at – before, after and probably during.

After walking in the door at home, I disassembled.  Here were the contents of my head:

20 black alligator clips
1 red alligator clip
1 maroon alligator clip
1 green alligator clip
1 elastic band
1 small sponge
1 lovely red ribbon

What a pretty boy

As I headed to bed, I got thinking.  Despite some initial qualms, the whole “Look at me!” adventure was no big deal.  Yes, I felt free, but it seemed so … ordinary.  Who cares if some folks frown?  Who cares that sometimes I was the centre of attention?  As you no doubt can tell, I like that.  And who cares if I journeyed outside the box of expected public presentation?

There are infinitely larger challenges to address in life
Will I be brave enough to do so?

You Are Free

It feels like I wrote about this same topic a few weeks ago.  My yappy voice says that therefore I shouldn’t repeat myself.  But I don’t care.  I was walking home from breakfast at the Belmont Diner today when this thought once more exploded in my brain:

It doesn’t matter what comes back to you in life
All that matters is what you put out there

It feels like a cozy new age message but no, it’s a world beyond that.  As I sauntered down the snowy sidewalk, joy wrapped itself around.  “It doesn’t matter.”  The pains will continue when they do.  The sadness, the fear, the loneliness will still come calling.  And none of that directs me.  Waves of energy roamed behind my eyes on Main Street and fell down my face.  “You are free,” spoke the quietness inside.

“No, I’m not free.  That’s ridiculous”

You are free”

“No.  I’m bound by self-esteem issues”

“You are free”

“No.  I’m bound by what other people say and do”

You are free”

“No.  I’m bound by what my body chooses to do”

You are free”

“No”

“Yes”

***

I’m sitting on my couch, thinking about going to yoga class tonight.  The mouth tightens.

“I’m so inflexible … can’t get my knees anywhere near the floor”

You are free”

“You’re not strong enough to do most of these poses”

You are free”

“You can’t even balance on one leg”

You are free”

“Your fellow yogists see your flaws, and are critical”

You are free”

***

“And about that bike ride of yours this summer … you suck”

You are free”

“You don’t even have the balance to get your water bottle out of its cage”

You are free”

“Too old, too weak, too far”

You are free”

***

“You’re alone in life”

You are free”

“You’ll never be in a committed relationship again”

You are free”

“You’ll never have sex again”

You are free”

***

Quite a persistent voice, wouldn’t you say?
Perhaps I should listen

Pills

I taught visually impaired kids for many years and most Sunday nights I had trouble sleeping.  Sometimes I didn’t sleep at all.  I was scared … of parents, of not knowing enough, of making big mistakes.

Years ago, my doctor prescribed Lorazepam to help me sleep.  And when things got really bad, she added Trazodone.  During the worst times, I was eating three pills a night.  Thought I was a mature person but I crumbled under the stress.

After I retired and was caring for my wife Jody as she fell towards death, both her meds and mine mushroomed.  Through it all, I felt worlds away from being free.  After Jody died, I tried to get off Lorazepam.  It took so long, full of three-hour nights and daily dullness.  But I did it!  One of the biggest achievements of my life, I’d say.

And now I’m left with the Trazodone.  My meditation retreat is over.  No big events coming up.  It’s time.  Albert, my pharmacist, suggests that I take half a pill one night and a whole one the next, and keep that up for two weeks.  Then Stage Two.  Okay, Albert, I’ll do it, starting tonight.

I think about bedtime, after another rousing Toronto Maple Leafs game, and the fear returns.  The Buddha would say welcome it but I’m not there right now.  That’s all right.  Will I sleep two hours or six?  You know my vote.

The gossamer wings of meditation and the clay feet of addiction.  Sounds like a human being to me.

Withdrawal

I’ve been telling myself for the last two days that I won’t write another post until I’m feeling better … but here I am anyway.  I’m weaning myself off the sleeping pill Lorazepam and it’s a tough go.  But having been on the medication for years, why would I expect any different?

I’m faded … dull … not Bruce.  And yet of course this experience is an aspect of me.  My meditation practice has taught me to sit gently with whatever life offers, even when my brain is refusing to work.  Wait a minute – how exactly have I been able to write these two paragraphs?  Perhaps it doesn’t seem like much to you, but to me it’s verging on a miracle.

My recent strength training has focused on being “fierce” and I’m doing my best to bring that quality to my withdrawal from the drug.  Yesterday, the woman who greeted me at a local natural health store told me it might take months for the effects of leaving Lorazepam to subside.  Months!  Fierceness blew up in my face as depression took over.

Today I’m not depressed, just mightily sleep-deprived.  I’m having trouble keeping a conversation going with anyone.  The thoughts seem stuck along with the words that exit my mouth.  And I’m crying a lot.  Without a logical reason, it seems.  And yet what’s logical about sadness?  I’ve cried for a beautiful tree, for Jody, for a new pro basketball player in London who sounds like a nice guy, for a golfer who hit a beautiful shot on TV, for the waitress who called all of her patrons “my dear” this morning.

My body’s not working right in a number of ways.  I’ll spare you the details.  A physio appointment this afternoon, a doctor one on Friday.  Heck, why don’t I toss a psychiatrist into the mix, just for fun?  No, don’t worry, I’ll not be needing a shrink.  I’m rolling through a time of “less than”, and in the big picture it doesn’t matter that I don’t like it.  What does matter is that freedom from sleeping aids is in my future.  Jody, in our daily talks (It’s okay if that’s outside of your reality), says “I’m proud of you, husband.  You can do this.”  And I will.

I guess there are many people who live perpetually in the fog I feel.  How sad.  We’re meant to be vibrant beings who touch each other in many ways.  I fully intend to be back there soon.  For the time being, however, I’m being as gentle with myself as I can muster.  That makes me dully happy.

Drugfree Overnight

Another fine concert yesterday evening and another late night, what with the subway ride home to my hotel.  I dabbled on the Internet for thirty minutes or so but then it was time for sleeps.  I thought I did my usual pre-bed routine but I missed one crucial thing: taking my sleeping pills.

I’ve been on Trazodone and Lorazepam for many years.  I didn’t handle the stress of teaching very well.  It was common for me to get no sleep at all on Sunday evenings, so scared was I about the tasks of the week.  So my doctor first prescribed one pill and later she added a second.  They’ve helped a lot.

The stresses after retirement just changed their tune.  I was caring for my dear wife Jody as she declined towards death.  The pills remained.  Now I’m officially a retired human being with greatly diminished worries.

So … last night.  I just forgot.  The few times this has happened before, I’d be awake again within the hour and trudging to the medicine cabinet for relief.  This time I slept for about four-and-a-half hours.  How is this possible?  A cold turkey event and still my brain slowed into slumber.

Here I am post-shower and pre-breakfast.  I feel a bit rough but the shower helped.  Now what do I do?  Wisdom suggests that what I experienced overnight was the worst of it all as I contemplate weaning myself off those little round things.  I could try skipping the Lorazepam tonight to see what Trazodone by itself can accomplish.  Later I could cut those pills in half, and then … nothing.  No pills.  Me.  Bruce Kerr.  Sleeping medications have been part of me for so long.

I want this.  I want to be free.  I don’t want to be dependent on anything or anyone.  I want a loving relationship in my life, but the word I see there is “interdependent”.  Can I let the pills go?  “Yes” is the quiet answer that rises to the surface of my mind.  Most likely with considerable discomfort but really I don’t know if that’s true.

I want to be healthy
I want to live a long time
This is one piece of the puzzle
Here we go

 

Suffragette

How strange that I usually don’t pay any attention to the pivotal moments of history, moments which typically include someone speaking out, thrusting new values into the lap of society, giving all they have to make life better.

I knew that the suffragettes worked hard in the early part of the twentieth century to secure the vote for women, and that they were successful.  How pale a view that is, lacking the spirit of the doers.  I saw the movie Suffragette this afternoon and I have been changed.

I virtually never think “I am a man” and consider the privileges that come with the label.  Men haven’t had to earn less than their female colleagues.  Women have.  By and large, men haven’t been sexually harassed in the workplace.  Women have.  Men have always been able to stroll into a polling station and vote.  Before 1920 or so, women were denied that opportunity.  It was deemed by many males that husbands, fathers and brothers could explain the realities of politics to women, who clearly didn’t have the smarts to figure it out themselves.  Oh my.

What sort of man would I have been during these troubling times?  I think one who didn’t see anyone as superior to anyone else, despite our different strengths.  Would I have been strong enough to resist the power of male culture?  I sure hope so.

The film had many incredible moments.  Here are four:

  1. The main character Maud is barred from her house (and her son) once her husband sees her identified as a suffragette in the newspaper.  Neighbour women just stare at her as she walks away.
  2. Sonny, Maud’s husband, gives up their son for adoption.  Maud has no rights as a parent.  As the adoptive couple are leaving the home with George, Maud looks him in the eye and basically says ” Your mother’s name is Maud Watts.  Find me when you’re older.”
  3. Maud goes on a hunger strike in prison.  We see her being held down, a tube inserted into her nose, and a milky fluid poured into a funnel.
  4. The suffragette played by Helena Bonham Carter has developed heart problems after years of protesting.  As the women organize to disrupt a horse race attended by the king of England, her husband locks her in a room, fearing that she will die during the event.

I need to see the courage of people who lived long ago
I need to see the courage of people who live today
I need to act courageously

Doesn’t Matter What You Do

Feel the air around you.  Notice that the air places no pressure or force on you.  It wants nothing from you and allows you total freedom here and now.  It simply surrounds, envelops, and holds you timelessly within itself.  Now substitute awareness for the air and allow the feeling of being unconditionally held to replace the sensation of air.  This very roughly approximates unconditional love.

Can I be that type of person, asking nothing from my fellows?

***

You don’t have to smile at me

You don’t have to say kind things

You don’t have to laugh at my silliness

You don’t have to like my e-mails

You don’t have to read my e-mails

You didn’t have to come to Jody’s Celebration of Life

You don’t have to spend any time with me

You don’t have to think that Buddhism is okay

You don’t have to like folk music

You don’t have to have coffee with me

You don’t have to walk beside me down the road

You don’t have to think that The Razor’s Edge is a cool movie

You don’t have to ask me for a copy of the book I’m writing about Jodiette

You don’t have to think I look good in a Speedo

You don’t have to let me into your lane

You don’t have to help me when I fall

You don’t have to come over when I’m in great physical pain

You don’t have to give me a senior discount

You don’t have to stay alive on this planet

You don’t have to hold my hand

You don’t have to visit me

You don’t have to like getting high on mountains

You don’t have to say another thing to me for the rest of your life

You don’t have to love me

You don’t even have to like me

***

I’ll love you anyway

The Bodhisattva

Bodhisattva: a being (sattva) committed to liberation (bodhi)

So simple.  And yet not at all simple to do

***

The Bodhisattva Vows

Suffering beings are numberless.  I vow to liberate them all
Attachment is inexhaustible.  I vow to release it all
The gates to truth are numberless.  I vow to master them all
The way of awakening is supreme.  I vow to realize it fully

How illogical to think that you could free every single human being from suffering.  And yet … ?   Then how about being attached to nothing and no one, letting them all come into your life and later leave?  Plus staying open to all the sources of wisdom that are embraced across the world, rather than accepting only one

***

Each bodhisattva has delayed her or his departure from the world of samsara until beings everywhere are free of suffering

Samsara means a circular, repetitive existence on this planet, being reborn lifetime after lifetime, making mistakes and suffering each time, learning oh so slowly what we need to.  Am I willing to come back again and again to assist others, rather than accepting a freedom that is well earned?

***

In simple acts of kindness and gestures of cheerfulness, bodhisattvas are functioning everywhere, not as special saintly beings, but in helpful ways we may barely recognize

That woman smiling at you
That man letting you take the parking space
That child doing their best to bake you a cake

***

Bodhisattvas usually are unknown and anonymous rather than celebrities, and function humbly and invisibly all around us, expressing kindness and generosity in simple, quiet gestures

If they’re all around us, I wonder how many of them I see every day

***

Bodhisattvas are extraordinary wondrous beings, bestowing blessings on all wretched, confused, petty creatures.  Bodhisattvas are living in your neighborhood, waiting to say “Good morning” to you

I’m going to see every person who says “Good morning” to me as a bodhisattva.  Perhaps they are.  Perhaps they aren’t.  It doesn’t matter

***