Life As Tennis

I love tennis.  I love the back-and-forth strokes – powerful blasts to the corners of the court, or slices that twist away from the opponent, or soft drop shots that just fall over the net.

It’s mano à mano or womano à womano.  No team to fall back on.  And if you lose, you’re out of the tournament – no second chance.

It’s so stark.  It’s easy to lose more matches than you win.  And you have to win every match to win the tournament.

In life, as in tennis, we lose a lot.  This goes wrong, that goes bad, you can’t remember how to do something, moments loom above you like a dark cloud, you give your all and then everything falls apart.

So in the face of such loss, what do you do?  It would be good to follow the example of Aryna Sabalenka – the woman on the right in the photo.

It was yesterday.  Elena Rybakina from Kazakhstan had just defeated Sabalenka from Belarus in the finals of a big tennis tournament in the United States.  It’s hard to tell who won and who lost.  Rybakina was the better player on the day but the revelation is Sabalenka.  She’s light and laughing, a tremendous competitor who knows that in any match full of respect and caring, tennis wins.  Kindness wins.

Gracious in defeat.  Whether it’s unrequited love, being passed over for a promotion or collapsing a hundred metres from the finish line, a sweetness may bubble up within the not knowing, the not doing, the failing.

May I hold my head high in future moments of despair

May I smile when someone is far better at something than I am

May I allow life in all its ups and downs to caress me


My friend Marian and I went for a walk in the woods yesterday. The sun lit up the patches of snow and we shuffled our way through the icy spots.

Lots of folks were doing the same, and it was with great joy that we greeted them on the trail. It felt like long lost friends united within the beauty of the world.

Marian had been on this journey before, and early on our trek she stopped in a quiet, sheltered place. She listened, and so did I. There was the voice of a cardinal. I remembered it from way back in my past. But Marian was listening for something else: the call of the chickadee. It wasn’t there. So we walked on.

Sunlight flowed through the bare branches as we approached a crossing of the paths. A young family came by with sunflower seeds in their hands. Marian was similarly prepared. Three young arms extended but no birdies plopped down.

Soon it was just Marian and me at the crossroads. Palms up, we waited.


A touch. A landing. I moved my eyes down and to the left and there stood a tiny fluffball of feathers, weighing virtually nothing … but so very alive. He or she bit down on a seed, and then poof! Off to the dining room.

I was in awe. This bird had graced me with their presence and then left. This puny human had no power to control the proceedings. There were moments of here and some of not here. Both are lovely.

Marian and I welcomed many visitors over the next half hour – some tiny winged ones and some heavier ones, clothed in their parkas. Among them was a teenaged girl, accompanied by her grandma. Marian offered the gift of seed. “Can I?” she asked. Grandma nodded. The girl’s arm went horizontal and she waited. I could feel her heart beating fast.

Soon there was a call from further up the trail. “Hurry up!” The girl jerked to leave and both Marian and I silently willed her to stay. She lingered a few seconds more …

A heavenly visitor descended to her palm. The girl’s mouth opened wide and all of us shared in her wonder. It was the moment of the day.

The girl walked up the trail, turning her head to wave goodbye, and to show us a radiant smile. All it took to create such a sweet space was a handful of sunflower seeds and a few kind words.

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.




Jumping So High

I watched some Grade 5 and 6 kids in the gym today. They were practicing for the high jump. And they soared. Not one knocked the bar off its perch. I was enthralled by the beauty of flowing bodies.

Some were clearly athletes. They threw their backs over and legs followed suit easily … way over the bar. One girl was a little overweight and didn’t have the grace of some others as she approached the pit. But she got over – every time. And the gym exploded with applause at each of her triumphs. It was community.

There’s something about the high jump that transfixes me. Human beings leaving the fetters of their grounded life to be one with the creatures of the air … ever so briefly. May these children rise above in their lives, living moments where the hum and the drum fade into the background, replaced by the bliss of unselfish love, a blinding insight or an act of pure kindness. For we are beings of the stratosphere, citizens of the inner sweetness, followers of an unknown song.

May we never fall back to earth.

The Machinery Of The Universe

I was afraid.  I felt, I still feel, as if on that island there’s a hatch that comes ajar.  On this side is what we’re pleased to call “the real world”.  On the other is all the machinery of the universe, running at top speed.  Only a fool would stick his hand into such machinery in an attempt to stop it.

Stephen King

Wow.  I don’t know what to say but I want to say something.  How about that?  Is it the nature of the machinery that my rational mind can’t comprehend it?  Do I just need to get out of the way to allow unknown forces to flow through?

In the conventional world, I’m sick – dizzy and weak.  I’m afraid of not getting fit enough in time for my crossing of Canada this summer.  I worry about whether person A loves me anymore and wonder why person B hasn’t contacted me in awhile.  Except I’m often the one who lapses in the contacting department.

My long meditation retreat allowed me to see some of that machinery beyond the day-to-day.  A sense of being present as everything keeps changing.  Feeling peace flow over me.  Glimpsing that one moment is no better than any other one.  When I’m feeling well, these often show up unbidden.

What will happen if I let it all go and just let the wheels turn? I don’t know.  I still have to function in the “real” world.  My bathtub has backed up –lots of standing water.  I tried using the submersible punk to drain the water.  But I plugged the pump into the outlet beside the sink – designed for shavers and such – and now there are no lights in the bathroom.  The bulbs are fine.  The breaker downstairs wasn’t tripped.  So I need an electrician.  That’s fine.  I’ll call one tomorrow.

But what’s beyond all those strategies to have light, a clear drain, and the end of illness? What exactly is down that hatch?  Maybe saying “I don’t know” and keeping my hands away is the ultimate path to the unknown.  Something is calling me.  Even through my coughing.  There is a wellness past illness, a grace beyond thought, a being beyond doing.

I await


Out Of The Blue

I was just at Wendy’s in St. Thomas, having their yummy Asian cashew chicken salad.  It’s freezing rain right now … our first taste of winter.  On the way there, I concentrated like crazy.  Slow, Bruce, slow.  And gentle turns.

Emerging from the restaurant fully satisfied, I poked my way home.  Sometime during the trip, my caution evaporated … and I sobbed for Jody while winter passed me by.  Huge, gasping cries.  How I miss my dear wife.

But where did this fresh grief come from?  I don’t see any trigger.  The last few weeks, I haven’t been crying for Jodiette every day – maybe every second one.  But this, just half an hour ago, was a flood.

Last week I had lunch with my friend Lyrinda.  We had two hours of great talk.  Maybe halfway through, there was another flood.  I was overwhelmed with an immense peace, such that I just sat there with mouth open.  Lyrinda smiled.  And the sublimity continued to percolate through me.  [Oh, my.  I just wrote this stuff and the peace and the tears are both here with me.  Oh … how can they be visiting at the same time?  But they are.  I think I’ll just sit with them for a few minutes.]

Did my written words call forth the peace and the sorrow?  If so, perhaps I can bring into being anything I want, just by saying or writing it.  And yet a big slice of me doesn’t want to perform acts of will.  It wants to let go.  Aren’t the moments of serendipity allowed entrance by open hands, rather than clutching ones?  Well … maybe both can create the sun bursting through the clouds; or 1, 2, 3, 17, 121 … ; or joy.

Eighty-Four Days … Part Two

As the weeks of silence rolled on, music came into my head … and stayed.  I was awake 18 hours a day and I’d guess that towards the end of the retreat the songs were alive and well for 16 of those hours.  First it was recognizable tunes, such as “All Through The Night” and “Pachelbel Canon”.   But then the words and known melodies faded away, in favour of unknown music.  I went for a three mile walk every day and one particular melody stayed with me for the whole time.  It was vibrant and danceable, and my body often responded with a jig and a jag.  That one song went on for an hour or more.

During periods of sitting meditation, the melodies were usually slow and sweet but occasionally the orchestra inside my head would swell to ecstatic highs – great runs of fast notes.  My head and the rest of my body rose up.  I was still sitting but my spine was erect.  It felt like I was reaching for heaven.  I worried that my fellow yogis could hear my silent singing.  One of my teachers commented, “Bruce, have you ever heard music that’s inside people?  No?  Neither have I.  They can’t hear you!”

For the first few days back at home, the melodies kept coming.  Now, two weeks from the end of the retreat, I don’t hear the songs anymore.  And I miss them.  Sometimes in the meditation hall, I tried to stop them.  I scrunched my forehead.  I lowered my head between my legs.  And still the music flowed.  I eventually let go and let it all wash over me.  Now I want it to come back.  And I can’t control that either.  Ten days ago, I sat at the piano and felt the music in my fingers.  I want to do that again.

I haven’t meditated much since I got home.  Tomorrow, I’m going to sit for an hour or so and see what emerges.  Not an act of will.  A letting be.  But I feel my attachment to the music.  Like I did with Ginette, I need to let that go.  By grace do we receive.

I might even go for a walk.





So Much Happiness

It is difficult to know what to do with so much happiness
With sadness there is something to rub against
A wound to tend with lotion and cloth
When the world falls in around you, you have pieces to pick up
Something to hold in your hands, like ticket stubs or change
But happiness floats
It doesn’t need you to hold it down
It doesn’t need anything
Happiness lands on the roof of the next house, singing
And disappears when it wants to
You are happy either way
Even the fact that you once lived in a peaceful tree house
And now live over a quarry of noise and dust
Cannot make you unhappy
Everything has a life of its own
It too could wake up filled with possibilities
Of coffee cake and ripe peaches
And love even the floor which needs to be swept
The soiled linens and scratched records
Since there is no place large enough
To contain so much happiness
You shrug, you raise your hands, and it flows out of you
Into everything you touch.  You are not responsible
You take no credit, as the night sky takes no credit
For the moon, but continue to hold it, and to share it
And in that way, be known

One more time, I don’t know who wrote this.  Thank you whoever and wherever and whenever you are.  You could be a monk living in 200 BC or you could be a commuter on yesterday’s subway in Toronto.  No matter.  All that’s important is whether I’ll learn from you.

I agree with the author that when you’re truly happy there’s nothing to rub against, no cause staring back at you in our day-to-day world.  Of course good things happen to us (“I got a _____”,  “_____ loves me”, “I accomplished _____”) but those don’t touch the essence of happiness.   Somehow, it comes from within (or from … somewhere), uncaused.  It is by grace that it touches us.  And so we float.

At this depth of knowing, my neighbour’s happiness, my co-worker’s, my “enemy’s”, is mine as well.  Their smile has no power to diminish mine.  And when I have troubles at work, or my back hurts, or the dog ate my homework, those are only ripples on the surface.  Far beneath is the cool unmoving benediction of peace.

It is true, I believe, that the body is too small a container for this happiness.  It has to leak out – from the mouth, from the eyes, from the hands.  And those dribbles turn into rivulets … creeks … streams … rivers … reaching everyone within eyesight and earshot.  Reaching them on some level anyway, maybe not consciously.

And the source of this boundless happiness is unknown.  We don’t earn it.  We aren’t any type of chosen one.  It falls as gentle rain onto upturned hands.