Slimming Down

No, I’m not talking about my weight or the size of my belly.  I’m looking at what’s “extra” in my life, what I can quite happily do without.  I’m finally getting that the extras don’t bring abiding happiness.

I’m 70.  Maybe I have 20 years left on this planet.  What do I want them to be about?  The answer comes clearly – I want to make a huge contribution to the consciousness of the world … without ego, without “look at me”.  If I’m stuck in my “stuff”, putting lots of energy into fixing my problems, that energy is not available to flow outwards as love.

So, what do I need to let go of?

1.  The question “How am I doing?”  It’s been walking beside me for decades.  This morning, I wanted to shower, stretch into yoga poses and do my physio exercises before driving a friend to breakfast at the Belmont Diner.  I know approximately how long each of these activities takes.  After showering and shaving, I could feel the pull of the alarm clock.  But I didn’t look.  I’ve lost the essence of so many minutes by not flowing with the present moment.  Not today, thank you.  I’ve used the question to analyze my weight, my spiritual development, my “progress” through the day.  Enough.

2.  External standards of appropriate behaviour.  “I should write a blog post every day.”  My goodness, who made that one up?  Sometimes I’ve gone to bed without writing anything, with the plan to create a post the next morning, and then a second one in the evening to “catch up”.  Catch up to what, may I ask?  And in association with that, I’ve declared that I need to keep frequent track of how many views my writings have scored on WordPress.  How many likes on Facebook.  Well, that’s just dumb, although I would have answered differently a few days ago.  What a colossal waste of energy.

3.  I love sports but I need to figure out why.  I say that I love the Toronto Maple Leafs but is that just an echo from the 1960’s when the Leafs won four Stanley Cups and I went to all the parades?  Does the belonging I feel as a Leafs fan hold a candle to the belonging possible when a group of people are actively spreading love across the planet?  No.  Why am I reading endless articles analyzing the successes and failures of players and teams?  Seems stupid.

What’s true is that I love the transcendent moments in sport, when one player does something amazing.  Those great plays remind me of how “above and beyond” each of us can be in our daily lives.  If that’s what drives me, I can watch the half-hour highlight shows on TV, where athlete after athlete breaks beyond the norm.

4.  Being afraid of strong female leaders.  It’s all part of the historical Bruce: “I’m less than.  I’m not good enough.”  Powerful people surround themselves with powerful people.  I want to be a powerful person so bring on all the “out there” movers and shakers I can find.

5.  Beer.  It just makes me tired and woozy.  I then don’t have the clarity to “be with” the other person in a deep way.  I feel good for awhile but the beauty fades so easily.  I’m looking for something far more durable in life.

6.  Small talk.  Critical talk.  Participating in them just makes me shrink.  Maybe I’ll say a thing or two about politics or local issues but a drawn-out discussion verging on argument just takes me away from what’s important.  If the group is hot and heavy into the topic, I can stay quiet and love them silently from a short distance.  It can be a one-way flow, not always a mutual sharing of spirit (but I love it when that happens).

7.  Too much energy in … not enough energy out.  Being happy is not about accumulating experiences, such as Oscar-winning movies, gourmet meals and lush landscapes.  They’re fine.  And so are cool things that people say to me.  But the real joy is in what I put out there to the world.  Am I big enough often enough to spread love, peace and freedom far and wide?  I think so.

***

Getting down to the essential Bruce
Shaving down the hard edges
Finding that well full of sweet water … and sharing it

TV Commercials … Do I Buy It?

To what extent am I hypnotized by the messages of mass media?  Or do I see beyond the compulsion to add more stuff to my life?  Usually I don’t even notice commercials, but without my alertness am I simply allowing their underlying tone of “more, better and different” to seep into my being?

The commercials I do notice are ones that depict the tenderness of  human relationships, moment of kindness, soft eye contact.  But then there are the others.  Perhaps I should pay attention.

1.  Say it with diamonds

There’s nothing wrong with a lovely ring or a dinner out at a fancy restaurant but even better is saying it with your mouth.  And within the speaking, let’s include the words that are so often withheld … “I love you.”

2.  There’s no better time to get …

Apparently it has to happen now, or at least it should to foster maximum happiness.  Maybe I’ll be missing out, squandering some once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, if I hesitate.  Can I be just as happy without making that big purchase tomorrow morning?  Yes.

3.  Beat the blues  [Buy what we sell]

The thought is that happiness is basically an outside job.  If I accumulate more precious things, depression has no chance.  Whether it’s gourmet food, designer jeans or a car that goes from 0 to 60 in the flash of an eye, I’ve got this.  Or does it have me?

4.  Get the exceptional handling of intelligent all-wheel drive

And who doesn’t want to be exceptional and intelligent?   Maybe the glory of my car will somehow rub off on me.  No, I don’t think it works that way.

5.  Twenty winners every Thursday

Well, I better get in on that or I might just end up being a loser.  Could it be, though, that the zero sum game of win-lose doesn’t point to happiness, that helping someone else brings me more than I give?

6.  Broadway’s best musical

I would certainly like to be associated with the best.  Actually, I’d like to be considered the best in some area of life.  Then I could feel good about myself.  I don’t know … that doesn’t seem to leave much space for contentment.  Perhaps I can be happy without being an exceptional athlete, singer or teacher.  Just a human being who cares.

Oh … and another thing – who is saying this musical is the best?

7.  This is as good as it gets

Unspoken and insidious > There’s a ceiling to your life.  And this is pretty much it.  It may not simply be downhill from here but nor will you be breaking through the stratosphere to touch the stars.  Says who?!  The future beckons, and I don’t know what beauty will reveal itself for me, for my loved ones, and for humanity.

8.  Insane deal!

Naturally, I don’t want to be considered insane for missing this golden opportunity.  I want to be respected.  I want to be normal.  I better buy this thing.  I think not.  Another type of insanity comes to mind.

9.  When I’m holding your wheel
All I hear is your gear
When I’m cruisin’ in overdrive
Don’t have to listen to no run of the mill talk jive
I’m in love with my car

(Queen)

Oh please.  Give me the sweetness of the soul and the softness of the skin before the shine of the metal.

***

No hypnotism
Eye-to-eye
Real

Cozy

6:30 pm

AccuWeather is calling for ten hours of snow overnight.  Right now it’s freezing drizzle.  I’m sitting in my den at the front of the house, watching for snow signs in the streetlight.  I’m eager for the storm and so very thankful that I’m safe inside.

I think back to forty years ago, in the mountains of Manning Park east of Vancouver, British Columbia.  A group of us had rented a chalet for a few days and the snow was coming down hard.  A fire kept us warm and the windows looked like a Christmas card.  After dark, we ventured out to the neighbouring chalets, singing carols to the occupants.  We smiled and they smiled.  What a great memory.

Tonight, though, I don’t want to be out and about.  I’m curled up on my love seat with a marvelous book – Wonder.  It’s the story of a 10-year-old who has a deformed face.  His spirit, however, is just fine.  And he’s starting to draw people in.

I’ll keep watching the streetlight and will tell you when there’s some action up there.

8:15 pm

It’s starting!  Essentially horizontal snow.  Oh, bring it on!  So far, the street is still black but I have great faith that white is on its way.

11:30 pm

Snowflakes still dipping and diving in the light … but very little on the ground.  (Sigh)  I want inches blanketing the road.  Blizzard, wherefor art thou?  It’s time to lay my head on the pillow and dream of a white world on the awakening.  Goodnight.

8:00 am

Boo.  Just a skiff of snow, with patches of grass showing through on the lawn.  The street remains black.  What happened to my blessed blizzard?

Once I sat with these thoughts for a few minutes, I realized that I don’t need the outside world to do what I want it to do.  I can bring forth “sanctuary”, “nestling down”, “coziness” whenever I choose.  Now, as I look over my backyard, I see a delicate painting … a covering of white sprinkled with strands of green.  It’s beautiful.  It’s home.

An Inside Job

I was riding the UP Express train to downtown Toronto just now. Houses and streets flashed by. For two seconds, I saw something special: attached to a tiny house was a sunroom. Inside, there sat a cutesy round table and two chairs.

I imagined a couple holding hands and having a glass of wine. Lovely. And then another thought: the train roars by every fifteen minutes from 5:00 am till 1:00 am. Wouldn’t that put a damper on romance? Well … not necessarily. What if their love shone like the sun? What if each of them was looking deep into the eyes of the beloved? What if time stood still in the other’s presence? Hurtling missiles outside the glass would matter not.

***

Now I’m on Toronto Island, walking towards St. Andrew-by-the-Lake Church. It’s been six months since I’ve attended a brunch and a concert here. I think of all the Island residents I’ve met … and many of their names are lost to me right now. I feel the contraction, the “should” of remembering their names, and then, magically, the deficit disappears. A little smile crosses my face and stays for a visit.

***

Two hours later, it’s music time. A saxophone quartet is here to entertain. Their loud and fast pieces bang against my ears. But I listen more carefully and the deep notes of the bass saxophone vibrate my heart. I watch how the musicians blend, how they take turns in the spotlight. I see their smiles and give them one in return.

***

Next, on the ferry back to the mainland. A fellow I met at the concert sees that a young boy is wearing the kit of the Chelsea football (soccer) team. Both of them are fans and their conversation flows along. I wrinkle, wanting to be the man talking to the boy. And then … I open my eyes wider and see the beauty of the moment. I bask in their joy together. And that is enough.

***

Moments in a day, each containing the same lesson
And all is well

Day Ten: The Pull of Home

I said goodbye to Kayla yesterday morning. She too is on a spiritual path, one quite different from mine. When we go out to dinner, it’s obvious that we have some contrasting perspectives but there’s a celebration in the space. “I’m so glad that you and I have a spiritual life. It brings our words alive.”

As soon as I moved behind the wheel of Scarlet, I could feel the tug – Canada, Belmont, home. There was no sense at all of getting rid of the United States. My last ten days have been full to the brim with precious moments, all of them centered on the presence of one or two other human beings. Those were shining times and now I want to bask in the light of folks who sit at the counter of the Belmont Diner.

I felt immense peace as I followed Scarlet up Highway 23 from Columbus, then 15, 68 and the I-75. I guess I passed a car or two but mostly it was a flood of humanity zooming by on my left. I wished them well, with the possible exception of the truck driver who just about ripped off my front bumper as he pulled back into the curb lane. Oh heck, I’ll wish him well, too!

The freeway through Detroit was surprisingly light with traffic and soon I was on the approach to the Ambassador Bridge to Canada. As Scarlet climbed, I glanced at the water below. No boundary down there or up here on the bridge. Just folks on both sides. You could describe them as American or Canadian but identity goes infinitely deeper than that.

A leisurely two hours to Belmont. Tonight there was a community fish fry at the arena and both my stomach and heart wanted to go. I climbed the steps to the big meeting room with anticipation. The place was packed but as I looked around I realized that I only knew about twenty people. I’ve lived in Belmont for two years now and I want to know far more locals than that. “It’s okay, Bruce. It’ll come.”

My favourite conversation of the evening was with a girl I’ll call Terri. Two years ago, I volunteered in her Grade 6 classroom. Now she goes to another school in another town. I hardly ever see her. We talked about this and that, including her eagerness to take Drama and Art when she goes to high school next year.

As I looked at her, I knew that I loved her. She’s so spontaneous … so very much herself. While we continued talking, I realized that I wanted nothing back from her. Not her time, not her compliments – nothing. And that’s a very sweet kind of love.

I’m home
I’m happy
I’m me

Mitch … or Me?

Last night was the first National Hockey League game of the season for my beloved Toronto Maple Leafs.  I was ready to be glued to the TV set.  This could be the year that the Leafs hoist the Stanley Cup for the first time since 1967.  I was a teenager back then, a Torontonian who watched four cup parades in that decade … a fanatic fan.

I watched the game last night, waiting for my body and soul to explode as the Leafs peppered the Montreal net with brilliant shots, and as our goalie Frederick made one stunning save after another.  And then, of course, we’d win.  As it turned out, we did win, but I didn’t explode.  Actually I was pretty flat during the whole affair.

Why?

I went to sleep clueless about my waned devotion.  I woke up with one word on my lips … “Mitch”.  A few years ago, Mitch Marner played for my local junior team – the London Knights.  I loved watching him zoom up the ice, make impossible passes and blast the puck into the top corner of the net.  An 18-year-old was my hero.  And then the Leafs drafted him.  Thus rekindled was passion for my team.

Mitch didn’t do much last night.  His passes went awry.  His shots missed the net.  And I wasn’t engaged in the game.  The truth seems clear: I create heroes.  I imagine myself as them.  If they don’t perform well, I’m bummed.  Somehow it’s an attack on my self-esteem.  I want heroic moments so I can bask in the glory of their excellence.

I did the same thing with Mike Weir, Canada’s champion golfer who won the Masters in 2003.  I lived and died on every tournament result.  If I was watching on TV, it was on every shot.  What sense does it make to allow my happiness to be blowing in the wind of Mitch and Mike’s performance?  None!

I’m a different person than I was in 2003.  There’s a richness to life, to the possibilities of consciousness, that wasn’t as fully developed then.  Could it be that my ho-humness is less about Mitch’s lack of results and more about competitive sports no longer floating my boat?  I wonder.  I still love the transcendent moments in hockey, golf and tennis but something has changed.  What animates my life these days is a conversation with one other person where we touch each other’s souls.  The flow of a hockey game can’t hold a candle to communion.

Lucan

I’m sipping coffee in Ilderton, a stone’s throw or two from Lucan, Ontario, where tonight there’s a hockey game. The Toronto Maple Leafs and the Ottawa Senators face off in the community centre, in front of perhaps 1300 souls.

The tickets were divvied up through a lottery and I’m excited to reveal that I …

Don’t have one

So why have I headed up here, you ask. I just want to be a part of the vibe on Main Street. Maybe I’ll hug the outside walls of the arena. Or sit down with 1000 other fans in front of a giant TV screen to watch the game.

I love seeing Mitch Marner skate, pass and score. Perhaps he’ll see me in the parking lot and invite me inside … the building, the dressing room, his heart. Oh, Bruce, you are so strange.

Main Street Lucan. I parked blocks from the arena to get a feel for downtown Hockeyville. Store after store was festooned in blue and red ribbons for the two teams. Canada Post is naturally decked out in the appropriate colours but they added wraps of crepe paper to their wheelchair ramp. So cool. Hockey sweaters and sticks filled store windows. And somewhere in town, apparently there’s a church with this message on its lawn: “Love thy neighbour even if they are not Leafs fans.”

The sidewalks were full with families walking to the game, sporting Leafs and Senators jerseys, mostly Leafs. There was joy in their strolls towards town history.

At the community centre, there were TV trucks, huge buses, lots of police cars and the general milling around of folks who had little paper rectangles in their hands. Those people went inside.

I was directed to a long line behind the arena, winding its way to a huge white tent glowing in the distance. Everyone seemed to have a ticket for the giant TV showing of the game. Somebody said there were 100 tickets left an hour ago. As I joked with the locals near me, I kept an eye on a woman in the distance. She was behind a table at the gate, and kept opening and closing a small metal box. I took this to be an excellent sign that there were tickets left. When I finally reached her table, I heard these golden words: “There are twenty left, sir.” I’m in!

I never thought of bringing a lawn chair, unlike 700 other souls. Oh well. Knowing that my feet couldn’t handle three hours of standing, I went to the front left edge of the crowd and plunked myself down behind a couple in their chairs. Between them, from the vantage point of the ground, there was a perfect viewing angle. My butt hurt a lot over the next three hours but so what? I was in Lucan, two hundred metres from my team and my hero. I was roaring approval at John Tavares’ first goal as a Leaf, surrounded by the cheers of my neighbours. Otherworldly!

Smiles everywhere
Town pride everywhere
What a privilege to be immersed in such life

Excess

(I sent out an incomplete version of this post this morning. Oops! If you received it, you may have wondered what follows “A 40”. Read on.)

I’m sitting in the living room of my B&B in Toronto, staring at the cover of a local magazine. There sits a gigantic hamburger in high definition, piled with two patties, two onion rings, bacon, carmelized onions, lettuce, tomato and cheese … cheese … cheese. The burger looks to be four inches in diameter and six inches high.

My knee jerk response is lust, but then I settle down. My eyes narrow and desire fades to revulsion. How would you get such a thing in your mouth? Do we really need five vivid flavours competing for space in our consciousness? Well … no.

I wonder what other examples of animal magnetism I’ll find in these pages:

1. A 40-storey condo tower will be prime real estate – at Bloor and Yonge. If you have a few million dollars lying around, you’ll be able to call “a shimmering sculpture of light and gold” home.

2. How about a fitness experience? If you join this club, you’ll feel “a great energy and flow to the space”, not to mention the change room and “its accoutrements: the towels, the shower products, the padlock-less lockers, the vanity, and even that earthy rug/mat”. Perhaps especially the vanity.

3. “I splurged on a $350 sweater for my boyfriend [Aimé Leon Dore microfleece]. We’re both obsessed with this designer.”

4. A weeklong event to “bring the city’s celebrated bars, bartenders, brands and cocktail lovers together. Come for the amazing parties and bar crawls, the one-of-a-kind seminars and tastings, and even a boozy film screening or two.”

Hey, there’s nothing wrong with any of this. If you have the money it’s one choice you can make. But subtle messages shine through:

Bigger is better
Look at me
Happiness is an outside job

I don’t think so

Friends of Fiddler’s Green

This is a folk music group which was founded in 1971.  Last night at the Cuckoo’s Nest in London, Ontario, five fellows treated us to accordion, guitars, keyboard and a tiny squeeze box, as well as impassioned singing.  The musicians used to play at the old Fiddler’s Green folk club in Toronto.  They played songs and tunes from wide in the world, some raucous and some tender.

I got the last chair in the place, back and to the left of the keyboard player.  I was immersed in sound.  Closing my eyes and tapping out the rhythms on my thighs came naturally.  And so did watching Jeff’s fingers fly over the keys.  Propped up in front of him was a little notebook, with only a few hen scratches shown for each song … and yet he played such beautiful runs!

Usually there was a chorus where we the audience could sing along.  What joy to reach a harmony or two amid the sweet melodies.  I love the blending of voices – it both sends me away and drops me inside.

Our choir throbbed inside an old Tom Paxton folk song – “The Last Thing On My Mind”:

As I lie in my bed in the morning
Without you, without you
Each song in my breast dies a-borning
Without you, without you

Are you going away with no word of farewell
Will there be not a trace left behind?
I could have loved you better, didn’t mean to be unkind
You know that was the last thing on my mind

Oh my God … we were so fine.  We knew the humanity within the words.  And the instruments soared with us.

Alistair Brown is a very funny guy.  Between his singing and playing, he peppered us with jokes:

(A man and his young son)

Daddy, why is the sky blue?

I don’t know, son.

Daddy, how do birds fly?

I’m really not sure, son.

Daddy, do people live out there in space?

I really don’t know, son.

Daddy, do you mind me asking you all these questions?

No, son.  If you don’t ask questions, how are you ever going to learn things?

It was a delightful evening.  From my angle, I got to look at a lot of glowing faces in the audience.  We stood at the end.

 

Home County

Tonight is the beginning of this weekend’s Home County Folk Festival in London, Ontario. I just showed up at the bandshell in Victoria Park. Maybe thirty folks were scattered among the sea of folding chairs and I did what any self-respecting folk purist would do. I gave a speech.

“Welcome to Home County. This is my 80th time here [the festival is celebrating its 45th anniversary!] I’m happy to announce the results of our draw. One of you lovely couples has won an all-expenses-paid trip to Mexico!” I then pulled a nickel from my wallet and flipped it. Looking at a middle-aged couple in row six, I approached them with handshakes. They smiled a lot and didn’t believe me for a second … but it was fun.

And then the music started – a duo of women with lovely voices and sweet lyrics. But all around me people were talking, and they kept doing so song after song. Yuck! What about respect for the performers? I wasn’t brave enough to tell the folks to be quiet and just watched the situation, fascinated with what I was tempted to call a lower state of consciousness. But really, yapping during the singing is just another way of being. I decided to let it go.

And the skies started dribbling. A drop here and a drop there, and suddenly the umbrellas were up in full force. I wanted to feel superior to people who are so protective of their comfort, but I realized there was no cheese down that tunnel. So more letting go. The drops doubled and so did the umbrellas. I was enjoying the refreshing spatters on my arms and shirt and reflecting on the differences among us.

Halfway through the performances, I thought it would be cool to throw my consciousness inside all these festival goers. I tried, which is never a good sign, and nothing happened. Oh well. You’re such an idealist, Bruce.

An hour later, Donovan Woods was wrapping a song, and I looked out over the crowd. Zap! I was there, inside them all. And within the band members too. Bruce was beyond the edges of Bruce’s body. Bruce had spread himself wide. He was inside all those heads.

Then the rains really came and guess whose umbrella was up like a shot? And … the expansion into other folks’ souls had gone poof.

Ain’t life a mystery?