Lightening Up

Ajahn Chah, a Buddhist teacher, was walking one day near the monastery with some monks.  There was this great big stone.  He said:

“See that boulder there.  Is it heavy?”

 And the monks said “Yes!”

And he said “Not if you don’t pick it up.”

***

A stone is one thing … a word is another.  Here are some words that, when put together, are very heavy indeed:

1. I can’t remember names
2. It’s going to be another one of those days
3. It’s just no use
4. I just know it won’t work
5. Nothing ever goes right for me
6. That’s just my luck
7. I’m so clumsy
8. I don’t have the talent
9. I’m just not creative
10. Everything I eat goes right to my waist
11. I can’t seem to get organized
12. Today just isn’t my day
13. I can never afford the things I want
14. I already know I won’t like it
15. No matter what I do I can’t seem to lose weight
16. I never have enough time
17. I just don’t have the patience for that
18. That really makes me mad
19. Another blue Monday
20. When will I ever learn?

***

Don’t you get tired when you read this stuff?

There’s another way … leave the stupid rock on the ground!

 

Sand Castles

Some children were playing beside a river.  They made castles of sand.  Each child defended their castle and said “This one is mine.”  They kept them separate and wouldn’t let any mistakes about whose was whose.  And when they were finished, sometimes they visited but sometimes they fought.  The owner of one castle got angry and pulled the other child’s hair.  “You spoiled my castle!”  They all kind of ganged up on one child and then he found other friends.  We know how human beings are.

But then evening came.  It was getting dark and they all thought it was time to go home.  Their mothers were calling them.  And no one cared what became of their castle.  One child stomped on his.  The waves washed over another.  And they turned away and they all went back home.

Paraphrase of an Early Buddhist text

***

They feel so solid, these opinions of mine.  They belong to me.  My identity is forged in the fire of what I know and what I want.  My muscles are tight, ready to reject any incursion into my territory.

I wrote this in the present tense, but that’s not true.  They speak of a younger Bruce.  I wonder where he went.  I could defend my castle with the best of them.  After all, I created it.  And isn’t that supremely important – what I create?  Somebody wrote a book called Create Your Own Reality.  I bought that idea for a long time.

Today my identity feels far more fluid, like the tide rolling over the sand castle.  It feels like something immense is carrying me.  I still make an impact on the world … or is it more accurate to say that an impact is made in my presence?

“I want this.  I want that.”  Where have those thoughts gone?  “This aspect of my life will stay the same until I die.”  That one’s disappeared too.  I wonder who’s in control.  And I smile when I realize that it’s not me.

I suppose this sounds passive to many of you, an abdication of my power to effect change.  But from inside this body, it doesn’t feel that way.  There’s a wave that washes over.  If there’s an hanging around, it’s not solid at all.

Creating things – building monuments that speak of my impact on the world – doesn’t feel true anymore.  What makes me smile is knowing that it’s time for surfing.

Injury

At times I have a rigid view of who Bruce is.  It’s healthy for me to have that jolted once in awhile.

I can’t go to the gym anymore so a few weeks ago my thought was to walk.  I live on the edge of a village and there are plenty of roads for my inspection.  I tell people I see that I’m going for a walk “around the block”, chuckling inside that the navigation I’m talking about is nine kilometres (six miles).

So … Bruce is now a walker, a long walker – two-and-a-half hours.  And Bruce does this every day because he wants to retain some fitness and simply be out in the open air, greeting folks from six feet away.  Bruce does not take a break from his routine.

Most recently, twelve days in a row I ventured forth and ventured back.  Slow and steady.  Halfway through the twelth time, however, my left knee started complaining:  “What are you doing, old man?  It’s not like you’re 25 anymore.  I’m getting tired of all this, and it’s time to let you know!”

So I hobbled through the last hour.  I was out in the country.  A few cars came by.  I realized that no one was going to drive me home.  There wouldn’t be enough physical distancing.  So I grunted and hobbled.

That was Sunday.  Yesterday the knee was puffed up and it was hard to move around the house.  It’s some better today.  Both times I haven’t set a foot outside the door.  I can feel the twinge of “should”, focused on outdoor travel.  But if I let that word into my consciousness, it needs to be about “rest”.  And so I do.

Will I “trip the light fantastic” tomorrow?  Perhaps.  Perhaps not.  Right now, there’s a blessed looseness about me, certainly not in the physical realm, but in the spiritual.  Who I am is a pathway, not a destination.  And there are many twists and turns along the way – for my body and for my mind.

Wobbled

The Grade 5 and 6’s often play volleyball in gym class and I get to participate.  I crouch when preparing to return serve.  My eyes bore into the opponent on the far side of the net.  My arms are extended, ready to bump or volley.  Every fibre of Bruceness is alert.

The contrast to athletic focus seems to have started during my long meditation retreats.  Sitting in the hall for as long as an hour several times a day, I sometimes felt a “shimmering down”, the falling of energy on my face.  It settled me.  Long sighs came from some place way deep inside.  Sitting here right now, the descending flow is with me.

More recently, in my work online with the Evolutionary Collective, I get to practice with someone for half an hour.  We ask each other the question “What are you experiencing right now?” and then see what emerges. In the year-and-a-half that I’ve been doing this practice with many different people, there have been transitions.  Away from “How am I doing?” and towards the essence of the person who faces me through the laptop screen.  Away from an urgent seeking for something to say and towards an allowing of the mouth to open, and a pause to see what wants to come out.  Away from doing it right and towards loving my partner.

If the volleyballer in me is seen as a perfectly vertical line, the gazer into eyes that I also am is a tilting, a wobbling.  Sometimes it’s even a gentle fall to the side, while knowing that my landing will be soft.  Often there is a sense of being cradled, of some sweet being crouching low to bring me softly to the ground.

Both while practicing with the EC and also just sitting around home, questions can wash over me:  “What’s happening?”  (No worry, no urgency, just curiosity)  “Where am I?” (Being lost and not needing to be found, okay with having no familiar landmarks)

It feels like some entity is behind the Wizard of Oz’s curtain … wobbling me.  And I’m very willing to be moved, to be touched, to be influenced as I amble along.

***

Sometimes I write about things that happened in the past – events, people, experiences, feelings.  That’s good.  Even better, though, is being in the middle of what I’m talking about right now.  And so it is in this moment.  I’m disoriented, buffeted by some grand breeze, slumping here and swooning there.

All is well

Tensing Up … Letting Go

For all my driving life, some unknown entity has tightened my stomach at a certain moment. I’m approaching traffic lights, which are green my way. The orange hand is flashing and there’s no countdown to yellow. There it is, some deep physical worry that I’ll have to stop for a red.

I consider myself a fairly mature person but this gut response has long fascinated me. After all, it’s a hopefully long life. What difference will it make in the span of time if on this day I arrive at my destination a minute later than hoped for? The answer to my unaddled brain is clear: none. But so often the cranium addles itself.

Tonight I was driving on Veterans Memorial Parkway in London. Traffic on this particular road zooms along at 90 kilometres an hour or so. Way ahead of the intersections are lights which come on in a flashing way to show cars that they need to slow down for an impending yellow. Oh, my history of seeing the light start flashing when I’m almost upon it, and then blasting down the gas pedal to “make it”.

Not tonight.

For some elusively mature reason, I let up on the gas in that moment. Some force did it … there was no intention. And then the yellow came on and I stopped, without a heart smashing my chest. Hmm. Perhaps this is wiser. Maybe it’s better to feel into the flow of driving rather than jerking around with the gas and brake.

And then there’s life. I wonder if “making it” happens when I smell the roses. They’re awfully sweet, you know.

A Tale of Two Doggies

Melly is a tiny white bundle of energy, maybe two years old. Ember is a black Cocker Spaniel who’s a lot slower, no doubt due to her nine years on the planet. They’re quite a pair. It looks like Melly rules the roost, what with her yappy barking, but Ember has a quiet dignity that isn’t shaken by the young pup.

Years ago, Ember and I had an extended conversation under a Montana tree while the rest of the family were hiking up to Hidden Lake. Doggie and I wanted it slow and easy. We had lots of time to talk about life.

Although I met Melody when I was in Alberta two years ago, she treated me like a stranger when I showed up for Jaxon’s high school grad a month ago. Just to be clear, strangers are to be yelled at and bitten. It took four days for Melly to calm down and start treating me like a decent human being.

This morning, I had spread out my yoga mat in the living room and was spreading out my body in various contortions. As I leaned forward in an attempt to kiss my knee, a tongue brushed the back of my ear. I was pretty sure it wasn’t Lance. Instead it was my newfound friend Melly, seeking contact. Twenty minutes later, a larger being, this time black, took up residence at the back end of the mat. Ember rubbed up against me. Doggie affection times two.

My canine companions sometimes loll around on the living room floor. Occasionally they come over for a pet. Mostly though, they wander over to Lance or Nona for loves. Such an ultimate letting go for me. Come close when you want to. Stay away when that feels right. I’ll be fine either way.

Goodnight, my dear four-legged ones.

To Give a Gift

The Evolutionary Collective meets in California for five days starting next Thursday. And I’m going! We’ve received e-mails to prep us for the proceedings and one sentence grabbed me and wouldn’t let go:

Bring an item that holds special significance for you that you are also willing to give to another Core member.

The Core folks have been immersed in this consciousness for years and are no doubt eager to welcome us newbies to the fold. The context of it all is love.

Something that’s significant to me. Perhaps you’re guessing that I entered into a cost-benefit analysis of my homebound objects, furrowing my brow to see what I’m just willing to let go of. And you’d be wrong.

I’m sitting in a pub, gazing at a small wooden statue of an adult and child, their eyes locked. As I read the e-mail, these two presented themselves to me immediately. I knew I loved this piece of sacred art and I knew that it would be in someone else’s living room in two weeks. I smiled. How strange. How new. Not wrapping my fingers around the wood in a death grip. Instead an open palm. Something is moving in me.

In December, I was so struck by the humanity of the Senegalese people. Their smiles were genuine. Their joie de vivre was real. I wanted to take them home with me. Instead I sought a symbol of the connection I saw. There were lots of artisans in Toubacouta but for days nothing “sang” to me. Many creations were exquisite but I needed more than that … I needed the depiction of relationship. And then I came upon the parent and child. The statue said it all. I could have it in my home. But there was a problem. I had lots of Euros but the local artists needed to be paid in CFAs, the Senegalese currency. And the money changer wouldn’t be by for a day or two. So I waited, and watched my lovelies in the shop, wondering if they’d be scooped from me by some other tourist. I could feel the wanting, the pull to make the statue “mine”. Many hours later, it really was.

Now there’s the letting go of beauty, of communion. Another object of the heart will come into my life. “All is calm. All is bright.” All is wonder in the mystery of what’s flowing.

Kenosis

In Christian theology, kenosis is the self- emptying of Jesus’ own will and becoming entirely receptive to God’s divine will.

Google

Over and over, Jesus lays this path before us.  There is nothing to be renounced or resisted.  Everything can be embraced, but the catch is to cling to nothing.  You let it go.  You go through life like a knife goes through a done cake, picking up nothing, clinging to nothing, sticking to nothing.  And grounded in that fundamental chastity of your being, you can then throw yourself out, being able to give it all back, even giving back life itself.  That’s the kenotic path in a nutshell.  Very, very simple.  It only costs everything.

Cynthia Bourgeault

***

Alrighty then … I’ll just fall into a life of contribution with no thought for the reward, no need to achieve anything or to be adored.  “Just give, Bruce, moment after moment, until your breathing stops.  Have your life be a symphony, with all those marvelous folks flowing beside you, playing with you, creating magic together.”  And no need to have them live in your house, to be enclosed by the constraints of your mind.  Enjoy them, and let them go.  Over and over.

***

What am I willing to let float away?

Being in Senegal
Being loved by Ali and Mariama
Being loved by my Belgian friend Lydia
Being healthy
Being in the Evolutionary Collective
Living a long time
Listening to concerts from the front row
Eating pesto pasta
Volunteering with 11-year-olds
Watching Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again for the umpteenth time
Picking up garbage on my way to the Belmont Diner
Sitting at the counter or at “the women’s table” at the Diner
Travelling … anywhere
Making people laugh
Writing these blog posts
Having another life partner
Living past tomorrow

***

Quite the list of things to let go of
Quite the opportunity to give without restraint or expectation
Quite the smile on my face

Ten Dollars

I’ve written before about my hobby: picking up garbage on the sidewalks and gutters of Belmont.  It makes me happy.  Today I left home for the Diner on Main Street a half hour early since I knew there’d be an aftermath from Sunday’s Santa Claus Parade.

I was right.  I picked up about 130 cigarette butts on my trip south, plus assorted candy wrappers … and one complete chocolate bar!  My goal used to be to find lots of butts, sort of like a sports event.  Now I’m older and wiser.  The goal is zero.  However, today it wasn’t meant to be.

On the return journey, I found that the northerly citizens of Belmont were just as prolific as the southerly ones.  I was in mid-stoop when I caught a glimpse of a mauve rectangle ahead, nestled against some wet leaves in the gutter.  My eyes widened.  It was a ten dollar bill.  On previous trips, I’d stumbled upon a quarter here, a dime there, but this was verging on the miraculous.

The thought came … find the owner.  Okay, now how exactly am I supposed to do that?  Knock on a few doors, have folks check in their wallets and purses, and figure out if they’re short a ten spot?  Ah … no.

Nearby, two fellows were talking on the sidewalk.  I held up the bill, looked at one of them and said “Would you like this?”  And from what deep recess of my mind did that thought come?  I know I’m altruistic, but still.  The gentleman laughed and replied “No way.  You deserve it.  You’re the one picking up litter.”  Okay, point taken.  I returned the smile and placed Sir John A. Macdonald in my back pocket.

As I finished my walk home, that little piece of plastic money weighed me down.  “You don’t deserve it, Bruce.  It’s stealing.  Give it to charity.”  And other mumbo jumbo.  Finally I just accepted its presence in my life.  It’s a gift from the ether.  Some unknown force wants me to have ten dollars.  I need to accept it with grace.  By the time I put key into lock, the money was truly mine.

I think of other gifts, especially people’s kind words and deeds.  “Put them in your back pocket too, Bruce.  And say thank you.”  Hmm.  Good advice.

 

Not About Me

Here I was, fresh off my trip to Newfoundland, full of memoried moments about the people I’d met. It was time to visit Julia, my hairstylist, to get my locks shorn. Our history together is that she loves hearing me tell my stories but usually doesn’t have much to say when I ask about her life. Well … history doesn’t need to be repeated.

Sometimes I don’t have many words either but there’s nothing like a vacation to replenish my supply of tales. As Julia was shampooing my hair, I wondered what picture I should paint first.

And then I looked at my friend. “C’mon, Bruce, what’s coming up in Julia’s life?” I gulped as the answer hit home: her son Kyle is getting married on Saturday, September 15. She deserves the stage. She deserves to be the painter of motherly love, far more than I deserve to describe the sight of 18 cyclists climbing Signal Hill.

So I asked about her family’s special day … and I listened.

Julia is so proud of her son. Kyle and his soon-to-be wife are foster parents for dogs, helping them recover from illness or injury before passing them on to adopting humans.

Julia is thinking and thinking about what she wants to say at the reception. The plan is to go up there with her hubby Kevin and build off each other’s words of love. Sounds good.

The rehearsal dinner is the first thing and Julia is grappling with the details. Just lasagna and Caesar salad or should she add some chicken? Frozen or fresh? The details need to be handled but my friend is revelling in the prep of it all, for it’s all for love.

Julia is guessing that the blessed couple will be starting a family soon, and she’ll be a grandmother! “I’ll be a good one.” Yes, you certainly will.

I stayed with Julia through her wedding twists and turns. She’s worried about being nervous. I tell her that my wish is that she savours the beauty of the moments, from the rehearsal to the wedding to the reception and to the couple opening gifts on Sunday morning. She smiled.

I’m so happy for you, Julia
Thank you for sharing your joy
And thank you, Bruce, for stepping back
And letting your friend speak her love