Thoughts for a Sunday Afternoon

Here are some musings from Patricia Albere, and a person whose name I can’t remember … and me:

“The yonder shore that is calling us”

When I was a teenager, I loved hearing Tennessee Ernie Ford sing gospel music. My favourite song of his was “Drifting Too Far From The Shore”. Mostly I was in love with his deep bass voice but part of me needed Jesus to keep me safe.

Why meet a terrible fate?
Mercies abundantly wait
Turn back before it’s too late
You’re drifting too far from shore

Nowadays it feels like I’ve set out across the waters of spiritual life. The way is often foggy but I trust that there’s a new shore awaitin’ – some unknown land that is beckoning me. Not “heaven” per se but something in the moment that’s beyond time and space. Something full of life.

“A wholehearted expression of fully being “met” in all dimensions of love – from simple, sweet human tenderness to sacred union”

The thought keeps returning: people don’t see me. They don’t know who I am, at a deep level. I yearn for contact, connection, a meeting of the eyes. Maybe no words would be spoken, or there might be a torrent of the soul’s work. Either way, the moment is complete. No opinions, no lecturing, no posturing … just you and me.

I want one of these oh so open relationships to include sexuality – the union of our bodies as well as our spirits. But that may not come to pass. I sense that one thing is not negotiable: the merging of consciousness so that the space between us is sacred. A wholeness that transcends and includes our individuality.

“The space between us became vivid and enlivened. As I continued exploring, leaning into it more and more, it became this vortex of consciousness, which had a momentum of its own. It was very compelling and had almost a “sucking in” momentum that was changing the experience of self, my sense of self, from someone limited in my body (kind of a consciousness inhabiting a body) to, in this case, two bodies being consumed by a vortex of consciousness. Being two was secondary to the incredible oneness of consciousness that consumed us.”

What if this vortex, this cycling of energy, was my common state of being? I’d be swept up in one long “oooohhhh” experience and I’d be sharing that with another human being. Astonishing.

“A stance of receptive surrender”

Such a tricky word. It’s not a giving up. It’s a letting go. Beyond the mind and beyond my feelings. But letting go into what? Perhaps that’s the idea. I let go into an unknown. Despite having “studied” spirituality for decades, I know not. Something brand new may be resting behind my eyes. I need to wait and see what approaches me, and to have it be okay that the depth of another person will come calling. May the energies reaching out to me be a revelation.

“What we see on the surface, and much of what we have been told is true, is a very shallow view of what exists.”

Oh my. Many folks have lent me their opinions about what is true. And most of my day features surface interactions. Still, what’s possible? Right now, I’m sitting beside a fellow in a concert hall, waiting for the music. His response to my hello was lukewarm at best. So again, what’s possible? Think I’ll say hi again.

***

Well, well, well. I drew him in. We talked about how we both love sitting in the front row, in the middle. And as for the guy on the other side, I offered to sing him “a little number”. He said yes. So I sang “Three”, which as we all know is a little number. Contact times two.

“Once they taste the mystical realm, their hearts are blown open and the flow of divine love overtakes them, and they cannot return to anything less.”

I’ve glimpsed divine realms, momentarily. I know they exist. And indeed I can’t settle for a longterm flow of anything less, even though I regularly encounter folks who want to stay on the surface of things. To be blown open, to be undone, unravelled, is a terrifying and sublime blessing.

“The first quality of mystical experiences is that they defy ordinary description or explanation. Those of us who have them find ourselves at a loss to effectively share them with others.”

But still I write, even though I fear I will be perceived as deficient and weird. I remember once I had no words for a woman so all we did was hug, for at least two minutes. It wasn’t sexual. It was communal. Afterwards all we could say to each other was “That was nice.”

“In Mutual Awakening practice, we do not speak about our experience; we give our experience a voice. We are not looking at our experience and describing it. We are allowing that experience to take us over and speak through us so that even we are amazed at what comes out of our mouths.”

Ha! Am I wide enough to just open my mouth and allow what comes out? I think so … when I’m talking to a beloved. And maybe, just maybe, there are a lot of beloveds out there waiting for me to sing them a little number.

Bring It To Mind

What if I could just think about something and have it show up in my life?  I wonder.

During last fall’s retreat, I often was able to reach a deep meditative state when sitting in the hall with other yogis.  I could feel energy behind my eyes and a “shimmering down” of something sweet falling to my neck and beyond.  It was a space of much love and peace.  Everything stopped as I was held in some mysterious embrace.  And then the whole thing would go away.  I learned to trust that it would come back.

Over the last month, this same feeling has occasionally flooded me during the plainest moments – driving down the road, walking downtown, sitting on the toilet.  How can this be happening in “real life”, apart from the seclusion of the retreat centre and the serenity of the meditation hall?  I don’t know, but it is happening … And it’s happening right now.

I’m sitting in a warming shed at the Wards Island ferry dock on Toronto Island.  I’m alone, and yet it feels like the universe is all around.  I’m tapping away to you in a space of “all rightness”.  It doesn’t matter what I say.  Whatever comes out of my thumbs will be just fine.

Last night I went to a concert with my friend Jane.  Afterwards we were sitting in a restaurant enjoying an appetizer.  We talked about lots of things.  At one point, I remembered the marvel of those peaceful moments I’ve just described.  I told Jane about it.  And just like that … I was there: the shimmering, the space enveloping me, the peace.  My eyes widened.  “Jane, what I just said – I’m there.”  How can this be?  It’s just like during sitting meditation.  All I did was speak the experience … and “Voilà!”

It’s three hours later now.  I’ve listened to a marvelous string quartet at the island church.  Most of the time, while listening or chatting, you could say I went unconscious, not at all in touch with the sublimity.  And that’s okay.   Once in awhile, the thought came up “I wonder if I can do this when I’m talking to someone, like with Jane.”  But that’s not it. There’s no doing.  The sweetness just showed up with Jane.  No prompting other than starting to talk about the experience.  No intention to unfold.  I actually tried to reach the space when eating brunch with five other folks … but no go.  Maybe a glimpse for a few seconds, but that was all.  It’s all right.  I don’t mind.

I just had a thought – perhaps saying a single word could foster the opening of Spirit.  How about “This”, in the sense of right here and right now?  As opposed to “That”, with the here and/or the now missing.  No, “this” doesn’t ring true.

During a particular flurry of bows and strings this afternoon, another word  showed up … “Listen”.  That feels better.  It could be a trigger to spaciousness when I’m in the middle of a conversation.  We’ll see.  But isn’t that just more doing?

Now I’m on the ferry back to downtown Toronto.  The peace is back, unbeckoned.  Such a mystery.  In the next few days, when I’m talking to someone, I’ll see if the forces of the universe open me, with or without a word on my lips.

It’s a grand adventure
No control
No pressing for a result
No me

Birdies Come Here

Nature keeps teaching me stuff.  I hope I’m listening.

I live in a condo in Belmont, Ontario.  It’s a separate building that backs onto a farmer’s field.  I love being here.  Last fall, our builder planted deciduous trees at the back, one for each home.  Mine is about 12 feet tall.

Just outside my bedroom window, I have two bird feeders – one with nyjer seed for finches and the other with sunflower seeds for everybody else.  I love hearing the birds in the early morning and seeing them crowd around the feeders.  There is even a crew of mourning doves that rummage on the ground for stray seeds.  They’re all family to me.

The last three days, however, it feels like my family has gone on vacation.  I haven’t seen a single bird at the feeders.  Some folks hang out on the bare branches but they keep their distance.  And I get to watch my mind.

1. “There are more birdies on the neighbours’ tree than on mine.”

2. “Something is wrong with the seed.  Maybe it got wet in all that rain.”

3. “The birds like the neighbours’ seed better than mine.  I probably made a poor selection.”

4. “They’ll never come back.  My family is broken apart.”

5. “It just goes to show you that things don’t work out in life.”

Oh, Bruce.  Such a Negative Nester you are.  Didn’t you just spend three months at a meditation retreat, sharpening up your mind?  Well … yes I did.  But sometimes my thoughts still carry me away.

Much of the retreat was about letting go of things and people that I thought I needed to glom onto.  A birdless feeder is simply another teacher.

Can I be happy even if the birds don’t come back? > Yes
Did I do something bad that caused the birds to go away? > No
How about if I put new nyjer seed in the feeder and see what happens? > Yes
Do I really want to tie myself in knots whenever something goes wrong? > No
Can I control what other beings do? > No
Can I let go of all this angst? > Yes

Good.  Now go to bed and sleep like a baby.

Kindness Times Three

I was listening to CBC Radio while driving to Toronto this afternoon.  I was hoping for a good human interest story … and I found one.  A woman was being interviewed about a remarkable kindergarten moment.  As she talked, I could hear tears in her voice.

One little girl had shown up in the morning wearing her top backwards.  Some kid laughed at her.  The teacher was right on it and gently reproved the laugher.  The target human being, however, was very sad.  At this point, I guess the teacher had decided to carry on and leave the messiness behind.  But one child had another idea.  I can’t remember if it was a he or a she but the child removed their top and put it on backwards.  And then lots of other kids followed suit.  “I didn’t want her to be sad.”

My eyes moistened.  The interviewer was just about overcome.  And I imagined thousands of listeners reaching for their Kleenex.  Oh, what power a five-year-old can have.

And then …

I was walking along Lawrence Avenue, a main street in Toronto.  A taxi came out of a side street and pulled right up to the intersection so the driver could see the traffic on Lawrence before turning right.  I jogged a bit left and walked behind the car.  As I headed back to the sidewalk, the fellow behind the wheel called out to me:

“Sorry for blocking your path!”  He wore a big smile.

“That’s all right.  You couldn’t see.”

So much for the stereotype of Toronto drivers being discourteous.  I was stunned and so thankful for his friendliness.  It was a privilege to be in his presence.

Now I’m looking for kindness number three.  I’m not going to force it.  If no wave of goodness comes my way before I lay me down to sleep, so be it.  I won’t twist my reality to line up with the title of this piece.  Think I’ll head to Tim Hortons for coffee and see what beckons.

Okay, now I’m on the subway, gently seeking kind behaviour.  But seeking isn’t it.  By grace will it come my way … or not.  I’ll just wait.

Minutes ago, I looked to my right on the train.  A fat guy is two seats away, leaning over.  His eyes are closed … and he’s yelling.  Pointing his finger at something.  I can’t make out what he’s saying.  I’m too scared to say anything in the realm of “Are you all right?”  I shut my eyes.

I think of the classic Buddhist phrases of care:

May you be free from danger
May you be happy
May you be healthy
May you live with ease

And I sent them his way.  Soon it was just one: “May you be happy.”  The gentleman keeps yelling, still with eyes closed.  Here’s my stop.  “Goodbye, dear one.”

Mission accomplished.

Rosie

My B&B hosts Anne and Ihor have had a sleepy cat for 14 years.  On my visits, Rosie would curl up behind a certain chair in the living room … and doze.  She knew me, and would occasionally favour me with her eyes, but she never came close.

On Friday, my friends had their kitty put down.  Lung cancer had invaded Rosie’s body and spread to her brain, just like my dear wife Jody.  A pall of sadness covers the house, despite some good-natured conversations around the dining room table.

Anne told me about Ron, a former long-term guest in their home.  Ron was a cat lover, and Rosie knew it.  The two became friends.  Late in the day, Rosie would sit on the window sill that gave a good view of the driveway, and wait for Ron’s car to appear.  Then she would trot over to the front door to greet him.  Ron always sat in the same spot for breakfast and Rosie would nestle close to his feet.  When he was in his room with the door open, Rosie would lie at the threshold.  Anne says “She was too much of a lady to go in.”

Eventually, Ron’s time in Toronto was done and he said goodbye, especially to his beloved feline companion.  In the days after, or maybe weeks after, Rosie would climb up on his chair and pine.  It was the only time she would be on a chair.  Anne didn’t want her cat to do that but she saw grief and let Rosie be.

I too am a cat lover.  I had many kitties before meeting Jody but none thereafter since my lovely wife was allergic to them.  Looking back on my times at Anne and Ihor’s B&B, I wonder why Rosie didn’t come calling.  I would have loved her attention.  And I sit here now and say “It’s okay.  Ron was her soulmate.”

Sometimes in my life, I have cared deeply for a human being who loves someone else more than she loves me.  Although sadness comes with those memories, there’s a sweetness as well.  To love purely without attachment to being Number One is sublime.  The ego lets go.  The heart continues to open.  And it doesn’t matter what comes back to me.  All is well.

Feeding Me

One of my favourite memories of Jody’s and my home in Union, Ontario is our bird feeders.  What joy to sit on the deck and watch the hummers hum and the finches frolic.  Since moving to Belmont, I’ve missed that.  But I brought two feeders with me – a big cylinder holding sunflower seeds and other yummies (sparrow, finches, red-winged blackbirds, mourning doves and associated friends) and a small cylinder holding nyjer seed (red finches and goldfinches).  Two weeks ago, I set up a black shepherd’s hook stand outside my living room window and hung the feeders.

Within a day or two, I had multiple winged visitors.  What ecstasy!  Especially the mourning doves.  They were too heavy for the big feeder but they loved rooting around in the grass for the spilled nutrition.  As many as five of them at a time.  Every day, I love sitting on my couch near the window and welcoming the little people.  It’s like an extended family.

But then there was yesterday, and today.  I was having guests for dinner last night so I took out the hose and washed off the patio, getting as much bird poop off the stones and furniture as I could.  Then I refilled the sunflower feeder.  During the evening, I would occasionally glance out the window at the feeders.  They were empty of birdies.

This morning the same.  I sat down to blog half an hour ago and nobody was home.  I was sad.  Missing friends.  Will they ever come back?  What did I do wrong?  And I got thinking about the rest of my life.

What is supremely important to me is loving.  Being loved is very wonderful but I have no control over what comes back to me from other human beings.  Thursday was the last day of school.  Five minutes before home time, all the Grade 6’s were standing on the playground with Mrs. Fournier and me.  I so much wanted to hug each of them but of course it’s not my place to initiate physical contact.  Kids need the room to make their own choices and at 3:25 pm, that choice could have been a little wave goodbye, or no goodbye at all.  I stood.

My eyes are wet as I remember the next.  At least twelve young human beings lined up to hug me.  Life doesn’t get any better than that.  Oh, how I wish they were my children!  And in a sense they are.

I’m still sitting by the window.  A few minutes ago, a lone goldfinch perched outside for a bit, and then left.  And one mourning dove is meandering through the grass shoots.  So someone has come back.  It’s not the flurry of wings that came my way days ago, and that’s fine.

Who knows what tomorrow will bring?

Delayed Gratification

I’m not really good at this.  Take my current medication saga, for instance.  I’ve been on Trazodone, a sleeping pill, for years.  My pharmacist wants me to wean very slowly – two weeks of half a pill one day, a whole one the next.  Although Albert hasn’t said, I expect it’ll be an eight week process before zero is reached.  Eight weeks!  My need to get rid of the stuff is so strong that my brain says it can do the deed in two.  After all, I did sleep six hours last night on half a tab.

Slow down, Bruce.  Your pharmacist knows things.  If he says speed leads to panic attacks, wouldn’t it be wise to heed his advice?  Well … yes.  I guess.  In my better moments, I sink sweetly into contemplating free sleep in less than two months.

Exhibit Two:  I have three more car payments and then, for the first time in my adult life, I’ll be debt free.  How wondrous!  And I want it right now, not on June 7.  I want the bliss, I want the dancing, I want the foaming at the mouth.  Okay, Bruce, now breathe a little more easily please.  June 7 is just a hop, skip and jump away.

Exhibit Three:  I have a dear friend.  I’ll call her Abby.  I so much want to tell her all about my recent meditation retreat.  She would understand what I’ve been going through.  But Abby’s had some challenges and she doesn’t want to go out to dinner until the stress is down and she’s feeling better.  Fair enough.  I told her that I’ll wait to hear from her.  And I’ll keep my word on that.  But it’s hard.  I want to blab and emote and explore my head.

So there you have it.  Time will reveal all.  And in the meantime I get to meditate on not getting what I want … yet.  I’ll take it.

You and Another

I sat in the lounge of the Sheraton Four Points Hotel yesterday, eating my curds and whey.  (I think that’s from some fairy tale)  The waitress and I had a few good mini-talks while she came and went.  I wanted those talks to be longer but duty called.

I drank my white wine and devoured my honey garlic wings and read Toronto Maple Leafs articles on my phone.  All in a cozy chair.  So nice.  Glancing over to the bar, I saw my serving friend chatting with a grey-haired fellow (just like me!).  And their conversation extended, much to the delight of both.

After I got over the “Why not me?” reaction, I smiled.  How marvelous that they’re connecting, making meaning, enjoying each other’s company.  I should always be so happy in such circumstances.  “It doesn’t have to be about you, Bruce!”

The Buddha had a lot of good ideas.  My favourite is the thought of empathetic joy … being happy about the good fortune of another.  It’s such a sweet thing to do.  More of that, please.

Here I am on January 8, 2017, reflecting on my future joys.  As much as I want the goodies of life, including a love, I marvel at the happiness I feel when a friend glows about her boyfriend.  Clearly, I’m not the most important person in her life.  I don’t make the biggest impact.  I’m not the one she thinks of first.  And the smile again.

As far as I know, all the you’s in my life have a primary other who isn’t me.  Even though I hope a lovely woman will walk into my life and see me as her most significant other, that’s not happening right now.  I bask in the redirected glow  of dear companions gazing into the eyes of a third person.  And I take pleasure in their union.

 

 

 

Letting Go Of Place

Jody and I bought our home near Union, Ontario in 1994.  For twenty years, it was our sanctuary, our place of intimacy and repose.  But gradually since Jody died in November, 2014, home became house.  For most of the last six weeks, I’ve looked at many of our shared objects, asking myself whether they still sing.  Most of them don’t and so have found their way to an auction company, a donation centre or the dump.

Jody’s spirit is everywhere within 6265 Bostwick Road, especially the kitchen, where she was the master of gourmet meals.  And so it’s time for me to move on.  And my sweet wife is coming along for the ride.

Last Friday, I put our home on the market.  How surreal to see the “For Sale” sign out by the road.  Twenty-two years ago, Jodiette and I posed for a photo near that spot, just after signing the deal.  In two months, we’d be resident on “the road that goes to Union”.  I remember our first night, eating pizza on our furniture-less living room floor.  The seller, Jim Johnston, told our realtor that he picked us because he wanted to give his home to “that nice young couple”.

Last night, another nice young couple made an offer which I accepted.  I hope they have kids someday and that their family experiences great happiness on Bostwick.  In the offer, they asked for the beautiful reddish wood sleigh bed that Jody and I shared.  My first reaction was “No way!” but half an hour later there was another letting go.  Our bed was the centre of our intimate life – sex yes, but also thousands of nighttime cuddles.  May thousands more take place in its embrace.  I’ll choose a new bedframe and wait for the next love of my life to appear.  She’ll be here next week, next year or next lifetime.  I’m a patient soul.

Goodbye Bostwick (on August 24).  Hello Robin Ridge Drive.  Home again.

Hiatus Ending

It’s been so long, WordPressers … twenty days actually.  Some of my absence was out of my hands – there’s no Internet within the wilds of Haida Gwaii.  Still I’ve been home for almost a week and no digit has touched a key.  I’ve had so much to say and so little willingness to say it.  Strange.

Certainly, there are the seasons of a life.  In 2015, I was X.  In 2016, it’s more like X – Y + Z.  And that’s okay.

I went to B.C. with my tiny Nikon camera, knowing that I would chronicle my adventures.  On Day 2, I took a cool skyward shot of the ivy that covers the Sylvia Hotel in Vancouver.  And that was it.  Both before and during my tall ship trip, I kept seeing awesome photo ops but always the answer was “No”.  “Let go of the recording, Bruce.  Just be in this moment.  A year from now, you may forget most of the Haida Gwaii happenings, and that’s all right.  The conversations, the whales, the eagles may slip away from conscious thought, but they will have seeped inside in some mysterious manner.  And they will always be with you.”

I listened to that voice.  Over the next few days, I’ll share marvels with you.  I guess that having them show up in my blog means that in 2031 I can look back on my journey, but still there is a great big letting go.

See you tomorrow.