Oops

On Tuesday, I was sitting in my living room, ready to head off to the gym for an hour on the elliptical.  Since I hadn’t eaten for awhile, I plucked a power bar from the cupboard.  “Better have something to wash it down with, Bruce.”  I picked a Diet Coke.  The beginning of oops.

Firmly positioned on my steed at Wellington Fitness, I flung my arms and legs into space.  Hmm.  I didn’t feel as strong as I usually did.  In fact, I was exhausted after the hour.  Then it was 20 minutes of yoga … but something was amiss.  Why was I so tired?

On the drive home, the nausea hit.  Mild but irritating.  And it stayed with me for the rest of the day.  That evening, I went to a meditation group in London.  At one point, the leader talked about a possible benefit of meditation: a decrease in reactivity.  Since I’ve learned that others often find it helpful for me to talk about what’s happening in the present moment, I spoke up.  “I’m feeling exhausted and nauseous, probably because I drank a Diet Coke just before exercising.  My recent retreat was helpful in dealing with stuff like this.  Although I had a burst of telling myself I was stupid, that self-condemnation passed quickly.  I felt into my body and into my feelings (sadness) and after awhile I was left with just the physical pain, not endless thoughts about what it meant.”  It was a contribution, and I was pleased.

The pain got worse overnight.  Hardly any sleep till 3:00 am, when I started consuming Tums and Gas-X.  Not to mention a laxative.  I also placed a barf bucket close to my bed.  Proliferating thoughts returned.  “It’s the flu.  I’ll be out of commission for the next two weeks.  Tomorrow’s my birthday and I need to cancel all the cool things I’ve planned.  What a horrible way to spend my special day!”  I phoned my hairstylist’s answering machine right then and cancelled my 10:00 am appointment.  “And I’d better cancel my volunteer time this afternoon with the Grade 6’s.  And my dinner with my friend (I’ll call her Mary).”

And then I fell asleep.  I was awake at 6:30 and feeling some better.  I looked at those earlier thoughts, and within a minute of two, decided that they no longer applied.  I phoned my hairstylist and left another message that I was coming.

The vague nausea continued throughout the day.  “Surely a reaction to Diet Coke wouldn’t last this long!  I must have the flu.”  Blah, blah, blah.  Despite what my body felt like and what my mind was churning out, I saw the opportunity.  “It’s easy, Bruce, to be happy when your life is rolling along smoothly.  How cool would it be to enjoy your birthday while this pain does its thing?”

Here’s what happened:

1. My hairsylist (I’ll call her Jessica) counted down with me to 10:00 am (my time of birth, according to mom).  At the dot of 10, I rose from the chair as Jessica squealed “Happy Birthday!”  We hugged, and all was right with the world.

2. At about 1:15, the Grade 6 kids sang “Happy Birthday” to me.  I tried to convince them that I was 45 but those young ones are just too smart.  For the rest of the afternoon, I had some fun conversations with 11-year-olds.  Yay for volunteering!

3. Mary and I had a fine time at Boston Pizza.  My meal was ginger ale, chicken noodle soup and a garden salad with a non-creamy dressing.  Just what I needed.  And so was our talk.  Mary has been having a tough time lately and I think she heard me when I suggested she feel her pain deeply but not to linger on it, then to stand tall and continue moving her life towards happiness.

***

I’m happy.  This morning I woke up to energy and a calm stomach.  No flu.  I went back on the elliptical (without a Diet Coke appetizer).  I lived my birthday.  And I’m committed to doing good in the world no matter what my body is telling me.

Pride

It’s supposed to be a bad thing but I felt it big time yesterday and I’m happy about that.

It’s been a grind getting off sleeping pills.  My weaning is now into Week Seven and I’m proud to announce that I haven’t had any for the past seven nights.  But, oh, the fuzziness!  One night recently, I must have woken up ten times … but magically tottered back to sleep soon after each one.  Overall, a lot of recent dullness in my life.

So yesterday morning I raised myself up and floated through the morning in a light stupor.  I also think I was suffering from food poisoning.  But I was scheduled to volunteer at South Dorchester School in the afternoon and I love those kids.  Mid-morning, I was leaning towards the comfort of my bed but later roused my cells enough to get in the car and head to school.

I arrived at lunch recess and walked towards the Grade 6 portable.  Tiffany, the teacher, was nowhere to be seen so I plunked myself down in her rocking chair and sat in the darkness.  Almost immediately came the message from within:  “Go home.  Rest.  The kids will do fine without you.”  Which is, of course, true.  Kids can have fun wherever they are.

I could feel my hands pressing down on the arms of the chair, preparing for an exit.  But the rest of my being wanted to stay.  “But what good will you do?  Maybe you’re not dizzy but you’re somewhere in the ballpark.”

“Oh, be quiet.  I’ll give what I have to give.”  And so I did.

Good things happened in the afternoon:

1.  I talked to the girls’ basketball team and told them that my ecstatic happiness after their win must be because I love them, and want them to be happy.

2.  Several times, I accompanied various kids to the art supply room, where they found colourful construction paper and plasticene for their projects.  Many thanks came my way.

3.  While I was waiting for one group of kids to find their stuff, a teacher came up to me and asked “How are you?”  I thought for a millisecond and replied with the truth:  “I’m happy.”  One young lady chimed in with “Mr. Kerr, you’re always happy.”  I smiled.

4.  I scoured the school for empty cardboard boxes, bugging this staff member and that, ending up with two big ones and one small one – perfect for the creation of dramatic sets.

5.  One girl, after some running frustrations in PE, declared “I am nothing.”  I let her know, forcefully, that she was something, and a very special something indeed.

6.  Four boys were hunched down inside a playground hut, practicing their recorder pieces during an outdoor Music class.  I applauded at the end, and one fellow reached his ball cap towards me, for a tip no doubt.  I reached into my wallet and found four coins – two dimes and two nickels.  Into the hats the money went.  Their first professional performance!

7.  I watched the kids pass the baton during relay practice.  I did very well as a corner post, managing to stay vertical the whole time.  What a thrill it was to have sprinting 12-year-olds blowing by me at full speed.

8.  I watched from a distance as a boy and girl sat together way out there on the playground grass, playing their recorder duets.  Sweet.

9.  I read to the kids from a diary written by an aboriginal residential school student.  Such hard words to read, and for the kids to hear.  Children identified only as numbers.  Having to say white man’s prayers while any expression of their own religion was punished.  Not being able to talk at meals.

10.  During the end-of-the-day “Shout Outs”, I applauded a girl who was on yesterday’s victorious basketball team, but couldn’t play because of a concussion.  She was a great cheerleader, and dealt with the feelings of loss that no doubt came up.

***

Ten reasons to get out of bed
Because the world needs me (and you) even if we’re not 100%

Pride before a fall?  Maybe.
But what’s a bruise or two in the course of a lifetime?

Day Six: Saying Yes To It All

I slept for ten hours last night.  The body is not behaving nicely.  I look at yesterday with wonder, at all the ailments (real and imagined?) that came my way:

1.  Exhausted

2.  Dizzy in the heat, head achy

3.  Nose stuffed up here and there

4.  Coughing up yellow phlegm

5.  Constipated

6.  Sand flea bites on my feet and lower legs, itchy on and off

7.  Certain unmentionable body parts are now four times their original size

The lack of wind meant that flies were my frequent visitors.  I was open to a rarified air of consciousness but I guess it wasn’t open to me.  So I retreated to my air conditioning and my book.

I read about Birdie, a Canadian aboriginal woman who was sexually abused by her uncle but hadn’t lost her spirituality.  Her love for the women in her life was immense.  There was so much anguish in the book but Bernice poked her head above it all, time and again.  As I read about the violence and her depression, my body was doing its thing.  Her pain mixed with mine.

Her home wastwisted with heat”.  Physical and emotional, like me right now.

One night, Bernice slept in a dumpster, holding thrown away flowers to her breast.  I too cling to the symbols of hope, such as this blog, knowing that as for my current malaise, this too must pass.

As Bernice’s aunt said, “The Kid looks like she’s melting.  Dimming.  Half gone … But.  She also looks lovely.  Like her body fits her spirit.”  Yes, it feels like I’ve dimmed on this vacation but the essence of Bruce is here.  Untarnished.  Still shining.

[Interlude:  My waiter friend has just brought me a coffee.  Milk is foaming above the rim of the cup.  I realize that I need to stir very slowly to prevent it from slopping over.  And so I do.  I’m pretty slow right now.  It’s what’s needed.]

***

I walked behind two men this morning on the way to breakfast.  They were strolling.  I was strolling a bit slower.  They both had grey hair, blue shirts and grey shorts.  (We’re all the same.)  One fellow had brown legs, the other perfectly white.  (We’re all so different.)  I made no judgments … exterior or interior.  We share the path.

***

I’m alone here.  I’ve been friendly to folks I’ve met, those from Cuba and elsewhere.  Our conversations are brief and then they’re off to visit with their friends.  I wish there was a special someone to share experiences, thoughts and emotions with me.  It wasn’t to be this time.

Writing to you is essential, even if “you” only represents ten people.  I get a fair number of likes but hardly any comments.  That’s okay.  I know I’m reaching a few folks.  Another type of contact for me is to post on “Toronto Golf Nuts”, a website about the best sport in the world.  I love what Brooke Henderson from Canada is doing on the LPGA Tour, and here’s what I said on Wednesday:

“What I most enjoyed about Brooke at the ANA was her willingness to do an interview after her opening round 73.  She kept answering reporters’ questions, despite no doubt feeling down.  She didn’t make much eye contact with them but hung in there and gave honest answers.  It says so much about her as a person.  I respect her humanity as much as I respect her golf, more actually.”

Yesterday, some kind person responded with “Well said.”  I cried.  Just those two tiny words of appreciation and I was gone.  Good for me.  Good for us.

Day Two:  Not Me … Or Me?

My head is fuzzy and stuffed up.  I’m weak.  And I don’t want to get out there and do things, such as dancing and chatting.  So I sit in the lobby bar with a morning coffee and reflect upon Bruceness.  Gosh, I guess it can mean a lot of different things.  Skilled and not skilled.  Vibrant and almost comatose.  Making meaning with other people and staying away from them.  It’s all me.

How can I not want to dance?  Go to tonight’s evening show?  Pump iron at the gym?  Well, actually it’s easy.  I just want to write blog posts, read Golf In The Kingdom and lie on the beach towards sunset, when it’s cooler.  All perfectly fine.

At breakfast, I watched a couple and their two young boys.  Mom and dad took turns getting food.  Dad made funny faces at the tiny kid in the high chair.  Mom cut up his papaya and swished away the flies when they came too close.  It was lovely to behold.

Last night, I watched a performance of Grease in the theatre.  Sixteen months ago, I was enthralled in the same room, with probably the same songs and singers.  This time I was pretty flat about it all, despite an inspiring performance from the two leads.  A strange conversation entered my head:  “Bruce, you seem to be devolving, not evolving.  What’s happened to your spirit?”  The answer is simple – I’m sick.  I need to allow myself to be so.  Sleep most of the day if that seems right.  Stick to fruit and other non-greasy things at mealtime.  Let go of creamy alcoholic drinks for a bit.

To be present in the moment rather than leaning forward to a “better” future – quite the trick, I’d say.  This headache, for instance.  “Hello.”  Eyes that want to close.  “How ya doin’?”  Nothing to say to anyone.  “Works for me.”

A light brown cat just walked through the bar.  Someone made a purring sound.  Ahh … maybe that’s it.  As slow as I am, I can just watch life passing in front of me, look into some tourist and Cuban faces as they walk by, and watch the palm fronds wave in the breeze.

See you tomorrow.

 

 

Sending Love Out Into The Universe

Sharon Salzberg is a Buddhist teacher, and also a co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts.

“Whenever I teach lovingkindness retreats in an urban setting,” Sharon explains, “I ask students to do their walking meditation out on the streets. I suggest they choose individuals they see and, with care and awareness, wish them well by silently repeating the traditional phrases of the lovingkindness practice, ‘May you be happy.  May you be peaceful.’  I tell them that even if they don’t feel loving, the power of their intention to offer love is not diminished.  On this day our retreat took place a few blocks from downtown Oakland.  Since we were directly across the street from the Amtrak station, several people chose to do their practice on the train platform.”

“When a train pulled in, one woman from the class noticed a man disembark and decided to make him the recipient of her lovingkindness meditation. Silently she began reciting the phrases for him.  Almost immediately she began judging herself: I must not be doing it right because I feel so distant.  I don’t feel a great wash of warm feeling coming over me.  Nonetheless, reaffirming her intention to look on all beings with kindness instead of estrangement, she continued thinking, ‘May you be happy.  May you be peaceful.’  Taking another look at the man, who was dressed in a suit and tie and seemed nervous, she began judging him: He looks so rigid and uptight.  Judging herself, she thought, Here I am trying to send lovingkindness to someone and instead I’m disparaging him.  Still, she continued repeating the phrases, aligning her energy with her deep intention: to be a force of love in the world.  At that moment the man walked over to her and said, ‘I’ve never done anything like this before in my life, but I’d like to ask you to pray for me.  I am about to face a very difficult situation in my life.  Somehow, you seem to have a really loving heart, and I’d just like to know that you’re praying for me.’”

***

For the last week, I haven’t felt loving.  My whole focus has been on me being sick.  Sometimes, when I’m composing a post, the old Bruce makes himself known.  But it feels like I’m a far cry from the human being who wished others well throughout my three-month meditation retreat.  Perhaps I’m wrong.  Maybe you can’t go back to a less inclusive form of consciousness.  It could be that the physical symptoms are merely masking the essence of Bruce.

Tonight I choose to meditate.  I don’t imagine that tomorrow a guy in a suit is going to say “I’ve never done anything like this before.” and that’s fine.  In Massachusetts, I was clear that my love was reaching people.  I’m somewhat less clear right now … but actually it still touches others, whether I’m feeling euphoric, sublime or flat.

So … I will do what I’m meant to do, through the good times and bad.

Sick

It hit me last night – probably a cold, hopefully not the flu.  Today I’m very weak, sort of stuffed up, headache, coughing.  Just like every human being on the planet has experienced.  No big deal.

Why write about this?  It’s so ordinary.  And shouldn’t I take a break from tapping on the keys?  I’ve decided no.  Some of my favourite writing has been when I’m right in the middle of some experience.  It’s so much cooler than “This happened to me yesterday.”

During the meditation retreat, I learned how to watch my mind, without judgment.  To be curious about where it goes.  This morning, it’s gone off in many directions.

At 2:00 pm today, I’ve scheduled a Skype call with the organizers of the Tour du Canada.  They want to know more about me and I have lots of questions about the summer bicycle ride.  “But I have no energy.  I won’t sound like a potential crosser of my country.”  Too bad, Bruce.  Give them what you have in the moment.  It’s enough.

“What if this turns into seven weeks of bronchitis, like it did after Jody died?  How will I possibly get fit enough for the ride?”  Now there’s a little smile on my face.  I’m not quite laughing but I’m getting there.  Silly man.

“Will I have to cancel my trip to Cuba?  And the BC tall ship trip in early June?”  No, Bruce.  You won’t have to.  It’s just a cold, my friend.

“Is this the end of my newfound strength training?”  Oh, my.  That’s quite the mind you have there.  “Well, right now it’s an ill mind, having trouble putting thoughts together.  And struggling to maintain my self-esteem.”

“And I got turned down a couple of weeks ago for further life insurance – ‘a current abnormal ECG and blood profile results.'”  Don’t sweat it, Bruce.  Julie, your doctor, is looking into this stuff.  She’s always thought you were a very healthy specimen.

***

The Buddha had a word for the proliferation of negative thoughts … papancha.  “Well, hello papancha.  Nice to hang out with you.”

No judgment.  Just a human being being human.  I sort of like the guy.

 

All Of Life’s Hues

Life is timing, I’d say.  Months ago, after Jody died, I decided to buy a ticket to see Celtic Woman on March 25, 2015.  Jody and I loved to watch their DVDs.  Some truly enchanting songs.

Nearly four weeks ago, I started coughing.  Bronchitis, the doctor said.  It subsided for awhile but came back with a vengeance maybe four days ago – deep coughs, lots of mucus, stuffed nose, and intermittent nausea.

So, what to do?  Well, go to the concert.  I sat down next to my unsuspecting neighbours and tried my darndest not to cough.  The first song (three sublime female voices and a brilliant violinist) wasn’t bad, but halfway through the second one I was rocked with eruptions.  Totally unfair to the audience members.  I told the woman to my left that I’d be leaving at the end of the song, and to be ready.  She was feeling for me.

I made my stumble along the row, apologizing mightily.  Then down the tunnel to the concourse, where I just about fell onto a bench.  Down went my head and up came the mucus.  Later, I wondered how my noises echoed in the empty space, empty except for several employees getting ready to serve drinks and snacks.  One woman brought me over a paper cup for water.  Thank you.  A supervisor said she’d search for an empty area in the arena where I could enjoy the show and not disturb other patrons.  Thank you.  A third woman suggested I stand beside her in the tunnel and catch a glimpse of things that way.  Thank you.

But I wasn’t ready for any of that.  My ample supply of Kleenexes was dwindling and the mucus wasn’t.  And I was dizzy.  Somewhere far, far away I could hear the sweet strains of “Danny Boy”, one of Jody’s and my favourites.  Beauty and spasms with their arms around each other.

Later, I felt strong enough to stand in the tunnel, leaning on the handrail.  Such a unique view of the music.  Then, from behind a blackout curtain, came the supervisor.  She had found a spot for me.  Up the escalator we went, and then past a balcony filled with folks enjoying their meals at tables.  Through a secret door, and then another secret door.  And there I was – in a private box, which normally would seat twenty, but tonight was dark.  Thank you again.

Coughing continued, but at least people were far away.  And down below me, I listened to the magic of melody and harmony: “Amazing Grace”, “Caledonia”, “You Raise Me Up” and “The Parting Glass”.  Jody and I held hands and sang along.  I cried when she raised me up.  She thanked me for bringing her.  “The pleasure was all mine, my dear.”

Just your basic date night.

Struggling

I bet it’s been five days since I’ve written a post, by far a record for me, unless I was away somewhere.  Illness is so humbling.  A few posts back, I was feeling poorly but I still wrote my daily thoughts.  Later, things changed.

I’ve had bronchitis for 13 days now, and the coughing has worn me out, plus my ribs have been getting awfully sore.  Whenever I ate, coughing would start.  And the worst has been the vague nausea I’ve felt after eating.  Didn’t even seem to matter what type of food.

Gosh, I don’t want to sink into “poor me”.  But it’s been quite the experience.  I’ve been worlds away from putting fingertips to keys.  So dull in the head.  Sometimes I’ve felt guilty for not writing, but I’ve usually been able to let that go.  Thank God.  I see my need for rest.

In the back of my agitated head has been the fear that this is not really bronchitis.  It’s lung cancer … exactly what took my lovely wife away from me.  Today, my doctor Julie had me get a chest X-ray, to rule out the really bad stuff.  If I don’t hear back from her by Tuesday, I’m fine.  And she thinks I’m fine.  I thought my meditation practice would prevent terror from seeping through, but good luck with that thought.  Fear has overwhelmed me at times over the past few days.

It’s so amazing not to be me, not to kibitz with folks I meet each day, not to move my body and sweat, not to love deeply.  Just blahness, fear and an overcoat of nausea.

I had bought a ticket for a concert that was held in London last night – a marvelous folk duo from Newfoundland called “The Fortunate Ones”.  Turns out that Catherine and Andrew were recently engaged.  They were so happy on stage.

I sat in the front row, trying not to cough.  A lot of little wheezes.  A couple of times, they asked the audience to sing along … and I couldn’t.  Again such a strangeness for me.  I love belting out the melodies, and sometimes the harmonies.  It’s okay, Bruce.  Your body doesn’t have it right now.

My aliveness returned in the moments when Catherine and Andrew sang to each other, and when each rocked forward towards the loved one, her caressing the accordion and him picking out the melody on his guitar.  It was like they were making love as they leaned in.  So beautiful to see.  And Catherine’s voice especially touched the heavens.

The coughing continued, and the nausea, but the world was a lighter place.  Thank you.

There.  I’ve actually written a post.  Hallelujah.  Hopefully, I’ll talk to you again tomorrow.

Sick

This was to be the evening when I told you about my acting possibilities down the road.  I had lots of say but I’m too weak.  I woke up this morning with a deep cough, wracking myself in a high-pitched squeal as I tried to get the mucus up.  Once, I was having trouble breathing.  I was scared.  In the summer of 2013, Jody had continual pneumonia symptoms.  It turned out that it wasn’t an infection.  It was cancer.

In Emergency today, the doctor told me I don’t have pneumonia … just bronchitis.  No sign of cancer.  Thank God.

Tonight it’s all about coughing spasms, chills and fever.  I feel like poop.  But I want to see if I can write anything of value.  It’s fine to say good stuff when I’m well.  This, right now, is the test.

How do I treat people when I’m suffering?  I got some clue about that today at the hospital.  The triage nurse asked me what colour the mucus was, after I had told him.  So let it go, Bruce.  Not important.  I answered him with no editorial comment.

After triage was the registration desk, and then finding a seat in the waiting room.  I had my mask on.  I chose to sit right next to a fellow, rather than two seats down.  Was that being irresponsible?  I don’t think so.  In life, I simply want to move towards people rather than away from them.  Could my presence right next door be a benefit to him?  I say yes.  In any event, my decision came from a good intention – to contribute rather than infect.

Earlier, in the triage seats,  I talked to a woman who had been admitted to the hospital for a few days and then was sent home.  Back again.  We had a good time.  Eventually I was sent to a smaller waiting room, hopefully to see a doctor soon.  And there was the same woman, with two empty seats to her right.  I saw her nudge her coat over, to allow me full space next to her.  Inexplicably to me, I sat down two seats away.  Immediately, I felt the contraction.  Distance is not what I’m up to in life, so I moved over beside her.  That felt good, and right, and what the planet needs.  We talked some more.  And I knew that I had already forgiven myself completely.

A half hour later, I was alone in that room, when a fellow ambled in.  I wanted to make contact, so I said:  “You just missed the hors d’oeuvres.  A woman came by a few minutes ago.”  He smiled.

A few minutes after that, two women dropped their paperwork at the window and took a seat.  “It seems that they’re serving us in alphabetical order.”  Two smiles.  Missions accomplished.

I’m happy, and sick.  Nothing special.  Just me.

 

 

 

Toronto – Part 3: Scarf and Applesauce

It’s so easy to be happy and openhearted when my body feels good.  In Toronto, my body mostly felt bad.

When I was a kid, mom and Aunt Norah wrote back and forth a lot.  I got to read Norah’s letters, which were usually full of reports about her various ailments.  I vowed that I would never turn into my aunt, that I would never let what’s wrong dominate my conversations.  But I feel the need to address the pain I felt last week, as a way to open to all of life.

I had already been cold for ten days or so, and Toronto’s deep freeze sent me over the edge.  I was terrified of being cold, colder, coldest.  “Will it hurt?  How long will it hurt?”  I don’t know what happened to the mountain man in me.  He was gone.  Instead, there was a guy who developed this dressing ritual every time a door was about to open onto the outside world.  The neck of my coat totally zipped up.  Toque pulled way down.  Scarf so tight around my nose and mouth that it brought up thoughts of asphyxiation.  Mitts struggling to fit way inside the sleeves of my jacket.  Neal waiting patiently.

Sometimes our forehead-burning street travels brought us to more subway time.  I loosened the scarf so it wrapped around my neck but the rest of the arrangements stayed put.  Mitts and toque fully engaged on the train.  As we jostled our way from station to station, all I could think of was diving under the covers of my hotel room bed.  No expansive mind.  No lovingkindness aimed at my fellow passengers (well, very little of that).  Just me, me, me.  How very unBuddhist of me.

And then there was my stomach.  For most of our trip, the nausea came and went and came again.  My diet was basic – microwavable rice, bananas, dry bagels, applesauce and herbal tea.  Neal had omelets and seafood fettuccini and beer.  I was drooping with a lack of calories and flavour.  Dizzy and roiling and flat.  Oh vacation, wherefore art thou?

At the Allan Gardens plant conservatory, I sat.  At the Royal Ontario Museum, I sat.  Neal boogied around, taking lots of cool photos.  I sat.  I tried to be present with what life was offering me, to see the pain as being no worse than pleasure.  But I couldn’t.  I rarely could talk to Jody.  I missed the beauty of the flowers, of the vendors offering their food at the St. Lawrence Market, even of the Buddhist statues at the museum.  I pretty much missed it all.  Sad some more.

On Sunday afternoon, we were leaving on the train for London.  My nausea had disappeared and the temperature had warmed to 0 degrees Celsius (32 degrees Fahrenheit).  How strange.

I wonder what life wants me to learn from all this.  Right now, I don’t know.  I’m open to an epiphany.  Come on down.