London Junior Hockey

I’m sitting in the last row of Budweiser Gardens, the 9000-seat arena that’s the home of the London Knights. These young men, ages 16-20, dream of a career in professional hockey, perhaps as a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs, or maybe the Detroit Red Wings.

This is my first Knights game of the year. I only know of three players – Alex Formenton and Evan Bouchard played a few games in the National Hockey League and were then returned to junior hockey. Liam Foudy is merely a name I’ve heard of. So I haven’t been engaged in a deep feeling of “team”, a group that I’d be passionate to cheer on. My connection is simply that I live close to London. Unlike the Leafs, players on the Knights have a short shelf life before they’re on to something else in their hockey career.

The game has just started. It’s dark up here but brilliantly white on the ice, which is shiny with the lights. My first thought? It’s so pretty! Human jewels, some in black with gold, and some in white with gold, are flitting over the surface. It feels like a white Christmas tree. Perhaps this isn’t the analysis you were expecting from a hockey fan but it works for me.

The Knights have just scored the opening goal on a “2 on 1” (two players rushing towards the opposing goal while one defenseman tries to fend them off). The goalie leans toward the puck carrier who then slips the disc over to his friend > goalie out of position > empty net > goal! So sweet. Such grace in motion. I stand and applaud although my heart doesn’t really soar with the Knights. It’s just fun to cheer.

The computer on the big screen is exhorting us to “Make Some Noise!” I’m always suspicious of such forced enthusiasm. I figure that the brilliance of the play is what should get me out of my seat. I stay on my bum.

Okay, now it’s time for the great Harvey’s hamburger giveaway. Everybody in one section of the stands (out of perhaps 30) gets their hunger appeased. I’m in 315. There’s a counter on the big screen, going pretty fast. And now it’s slowing down … 311 … 312 … 313 … 314 … (pause) … 315! Oh, Harvey, I love you. Folks around me are standing and cheering.

After a few more goals, it’s the moment we’ve all been waiting for: the McDonald’s Big Mac Attack Challenge. It’s 6:48 left in the second period. If the Knights score by 4:48, everyone in the building gets a burger. Oh my. And then … a close-in play in front of Erie’s net, a flick of the stick, and in! 5:34 to go. A two-burger night!

Now I’m in Harvey’s, having consumed my free Original Burger and my not-free fries. I’m happy. The game ended in a very short overtime period, which is played with just three skaters on each side. It’s très exciting since the skilled players have so much room to wheel and deal. Alex Formenton roared down the ice for the Knights, with ending the game on his mind. But he was checked neatly by an Erie defenseman and the play surged the other way. In five seconds, the puck was in the London net, and the game was indeed over. I was okay … the final flourish was spectacular.

My only sadness concerned the woman I had been laughing with most of the game. She gathered her family, turned away from me, and left. No goodbye. I felt the loss.

It was a night out with spiraling energies, happy moments and sad moments, sublime skill and silly mistakes. A lot like life.

Other People’s Words

Sometimes, such as right now, I can’t think of anything to say.  That’s all right.  There are 7.7 billion of us with things to say.  I should listen.

I still get to participate in this post.  I’ve chosen quotes that move me.  If words don’t “sing” to me, I don’t pay much attention.  Let the music begin:

***

I will not let anyone walk through my mind with their dirty feet.

Mahatma Gandhi

Yes, I don’t have time to deal with toxic people.  There is much to be done.

***

There is almost a sensual longing for communion with others who have a large vision.  The immense fulfillment of the friendship between those engaged in furthering the evolution of consciousness has a quality impossible to describe.

Teilhard de Chardin

I am pulled towards the beauty of open hearts.  “Resistance is futile.”

***

Make peace with silence, and remind yourself that it is in this space that you’ll come to remember your spirit.  When you’re able to transcend an aversion to silence, you’ll also transcend many other miseries.  And it is in this silence that the remembrance of God will be activated.

Wayne Dyer

Listen … the heavens are singing.

***

Who can say if the thoughts you have in your mind as you read these words are the same thoughts I had in my mind as I typed them?  We are different, you and I, and the qualia of our consciousnesses are as divergent as two stars at the ends of the universe.

And yet, whatever has been lost in translation in the long journey of my thoughts through the maze of civilization to your mind, I think you do understand me, and you think you do understand me.  Our minds managed to touch, if but briefly and imperfectly.

Does that thought not make the universe seem just a bit kinder, a bit brighter, a bit warmer and more human?

Ken Liu

Oh yes … we know each other, even if I’ve never seen your face.  It is a bright world, full of sisters and brothers.

***

Hell, in my opinion, is never finding your true self and never living your own life or knowing who you are.

John Bradshaw

I feel such sadness when encountering the flat ones – where money, power and ego rule.

***

I’ve come to think that flourishing consists of putting yourself in situations in which you lose self-consciousness and become fused with other people, experiences, or tasks.  It happens sometimes when you are lost in a hard challenge, or when an artist or a craftsman becomes one with the brush or the tool.  It happens sometimes while you’re playing sports, or listening to music or lost in a story, or to some people when they feel enveloped by God’s love.  And it happens most when we connect with other people.  I’ve come to think that happiness isn’t really produced by conscious accomplishments.  Happiness is a measure of how thickly the unconscious parts of our minds are intertwined with other people and with activities.  Happiness is determined by how much information and affection flows through us covertly every day and year.

David Brooks

Oh, the bliss of entwining with the countless beloveds!

***

You are here to evolve and make your consciousness high.  You are here to dance, sing and celebrate life.  You are here to help others to make their life happy.  We are here not to compete, but to learn, evolve and excel.  We are not here to make divisions in the name of prophets and religions.  We are here to encompass the world with love and light.

Amit Ray

May we fall into knowing every one of us – beyond space and time.  For the people of Senegal and Belgium, and the people of long ago, are with me now.

***

In each of us there is another whom we do not know.

Carl Jung

And perhaps I’ll never know this other Bruce, but he guides me nonetheless.

***

The fundamental delusion of humanity is to suppose that I am here and you are out there.

Yasutani Roshi

Actually I am over there in you and you are over here in me.  We merge in peace.

***

When faced with a radical crisis, when the old way of being in the world, of interacting with each other and with the realm of nature doesn’t work anymore, when survival is threatened by seemingly insurmountable problems, an individual life form — or a species — will either die or become extinct or rise above the limitations of its condition through an evolutionary leap.

Eckhart Tolle

We are not 1 … 2 … 3 …  We are 1 … 7 … 229 …

***

Creativity is the state of consciousness in which you enter into the treasury of your innermost being and bring the beauty into manifestation.

Torkom Saraydarian

What can I draw forth from me during my remaining time on Earth?

***

Attempts to wake before our time are often punished, especially by those who love us most.  Because they, bless them, are asleep.  They think anyone who wakes up, or who, still asleep, realizes that what is taken to be real is a “dream” is going crazy.

R.D. Laing

I’ve been seen as weird, strange and airy fairy.  I’ve also been seen as transparent, loving and sweet.

***

The language of light can only be decoded by the heart.

Suzy Kassem

Be still, my rampaging brain, my keen intellect.  There is much to learn.

***

Don’t seek love externally, it’s fleeting.  Go beyond the ego and awaken the love that already exists within; it will encompass everyone and everything in your life; it will permeate your very being.

Danielle Pierre

Love them all, Bruce.  Light the world.

***

The tree was so old, and stood there so alone, that his childish heart had been filled with compassion; if no one else on the farm gave it a thought, he would at least do his best to, even though he suspected that his child’s words and child’s deeds didn’t make much difference.  It had stood there before he was born, and would be standing there after he was dead, but perhaps, even so, it was pleased that he stroked its bark every time he passed, and sometimes, when he was sure he wasn’t observed, even pressed his cheek against it.

Karl Ove Knausgård

Companions linger to the left and to the right, above and below.  And we are the richer for them.

***

Lots of words
I like them
And they like me

Together

It was towards the end of French class this morning.  Many kids had completed the assignment and free time beckoned.  A girl came up to me and suggested that I start up Duolingo, the French app on my phone which is helping me prepare for Senegal, where I’ll be with children who only speak French.  Duolingo is très cool, announcing my successes with a little trumpet blast.

I sat on the edge of a table with a girl on each side.  They often chimed in with the correct answer to a question, and sometimes pressed the screen to make my word choices for me.  A little bit of me thought “Wait a minute.  It’s my app. I’m the one who has to learn this stuff.”  But that melted away like the first snowfall of the season.

The three of us were together.  It didn’t really matter what the topic was – studying French would do nicely.  Beyond the task, we were simply having fun, and enjoying each other’s presence.  Other than a few comments about the French terms, not a word was spoken.  Words weren’t needed.

The girls were eleven.  I’m sixty-nine.  No problem.  Just human beings wanting to share a few moments with other human beings.

 

Majestic Moments

My life, like yours, is made up of a long string of moments.  Most of them seem to escape my notice.  Too often, I’m thinking about something else or dreaming about somewhere else.  And that’s a great loss.

So what can I do about this?  Right now I’m in Mai’s Café at a tiny table for two near the front door.  I’ve written about this spot before – it’s just so cozy and cute.  I’m looking out on the shops of Wortley Road and watching folks roam by on their feet and in their cars.  Across the street, a young couple sit at a window table, looking at their menus.  So those people are momentary in my life.  Moments like this, when I’m alone, allow me to feel my environment, including the inner one.  (My tummy is delightfully full of pad thai and banana fritter!)  I can animate these solitary moments by shining a light on them, having them glow.

Even better are my times with other people.  The same environmental noticing is available but there’s something extra.  Last night I joined Louise and Jeff for supper at Chaucer’s Pub.  It’s warm and dark and quiet.  No big screen TVs showing me the wide world of sports (although I often enjoy such settings).  My back was to the fireplace and the warmth toasted me all over.

We talked of life, of music, of adventures, of community.  We talked of real people in our lives.  We talked of them with appreciation and tenderness.  Through all of this, we created a special time.  But I knew there could be more.  I’ve been studying the insights of Patricia Albere, about what’s possible when two or more people are together.  With Patricia in mind, I looked at my new friends.

Jeff and Louise are good people.  I could feel that.  As I listened to them speak, I threw my consciousness inside each one, trying to feel them from within.  And for a second or two, now and then … I did.  It wasn’t me being with them.  It was me being them.  Oh.  Completely different from other mealtime conversations I’ve had.  “Goodness.  Where does Bruce end and Louise begin?”  I didn’t know.  “Who is Jeff?”  Somehow I was part of the answer.

Our shared words continued … but there was a shift.  I was inside.  What if I could create this majesty at will?  What if another human being chose to join me in this experience of touching and being touched, of living inside each other?  The words “Heaven on Earth” come to mind.

It appears that I’m not here and not now for a fair slice of my day.  Nothing to get all grumpy about but I dream of what could be. 

Time for a grand experiment, perhaps?

Unmoved

I love music.  All types of music?  Apparently not.

I went to a concert last night to hear Nicolas Altstaedt, a world-renowned cellist, and Fazil Say, a similarly honoured pianist.  Being an optimistic person, I expected to be enthralled.  I wasn’t.

On the surface of things, I should have been transported to heavenly realms.  Nicolas was outrageously handsome, in his 30’s, with longish hair that fell over his eyes as he played.  His fingers flew on the strings and his tone was of a virtuoso.  In his passion, he would lean every which way as the music took him.  Sometimes he would lift his eyes and stare long into the recesses of the hall.  Then those eyes would close as he bowed a tender passage.  He wore a black turtleneck and often pulled on the sleeves to let his hands flow free.

It was supposed to work.  Isn’t a young, handsome, brilliant male what society says the world is all about?  Well … not for me.  The bare truth was that I didn’t like the music.  I saw myself yearning for sweeping melodies, and they were not to be found.  Shouldn’t I be gushing over the brilliance of the musician?  No.  “Should” doesn’t fit in this conversation.  Either my heart opens or it doesn’t.  Either I’m swept away or I sit inert.

So I applauded politely for the efforts of the two human beings in front of me but the hands fell back into my lap quite soon.  And then the final piece.  At its conclusion, the performers bowed and my hands came together as my butt remained fixed to the seat.  Around me, folks gradually stood.  I felt the cheers begin to soar and soon I was virtually the only person near me who wasn’t standing.  I smiled.  When I’m moved, I usually stand immediately – the complete opposite of the current moment.  Nicolas and Fazil left the stage and returned three times as the hearty applause continued.  Mine had long since stopped.

There’s no right and wrong about all this.  I’m happy that I was true to myself.  Sweet melodies often lift my soul to the heights.  No harm, no foul if my heart isn’t moved to open.  It’s just the rhythms of life saying hi once again.  As one wise one said:

When you’re hot, you’re hot
When you’re not, you’re not

Ants Below

Construction started on Toronto’s CN Tower in 1973.  Until 2010, it was the tallest freestanding structure in the world.  I’d never been up it … till yesterday.

What does it mean that millions of people across the world have gazed out from the sky high observation deck, but not me?  How about “absolutely nothing”?  It’s becoming clearer to me that life is not about accumulating experiences but rather about living in accord with my highest values.  And those are love, compassion, kindness and peace.

But I still wanted to take an elevator to the heights.

My eyes widened as I approached the glass.  The world was so far down.  The sun was shining on Lake Ontario and the ice was breaking up, creating a jumble of geometric patterns.  Two channels of smaller floes showed the way to Ward’s Island and Hanlan’s Point on Toronto Island.  A ferry found its way through.

Directly below was another spot of ice – a skating rink bordered by tall condos.  But “tall” didn’t seem to fit from up here.  The penthouses were hundreds of feet below.  On the ice, little dots of colour circled.  And I got it … each speck was a human being.  Someone with joys and sorrows, health and illness, high and low self-esteem, leading lives so much like mine.  I just stared.

Then there was the Royal York Hotel, a classic Toronto landmark since 1929.  Way, way below me.  I thought of my dear wife Jody, and the time that we stayed there.  I smiled.  And I imagined all the human beings inside the building right then … showering, sitting in the lobby, enjoying a drink in the lounge.  All like me, those folks.  Some differences, sure, but just minor variations on the theme homo sapiens.

The Gardiner Expressway flowed beneath me, although that’s not the right word.  It was late afternoon rush hour in the big city, and the cars crawled.  The backup stretched way to my left and way to my right.  There’d be one or two people in each tin can, maybe tired after a day of stress, longing for home, longing for a “beam me up” machine that would transport them to their couch.  All with hopes and dreams, successes and failures, pleasure and pain.  I tried to place my soul in each car but immediately felt overwhelmed.  “They’ll find their way, Bruce.”

From on high, life didn’t seem so darned serious.  Just a whole bunch of people walking or riding from here to there, each on their path.  It’s okay.  There’ll be a few dead ends, a few traffic jams, but also moments of flowing free.  On we go, fellow travellers.

Wandering Up and Down

I walked twelve kilometres yesterday, through the parkland by Toronto’s Humber River.  All was green.  I meandered past tennis courts and fire circles, wooded slopes and wide lawns, with benches a-plenty for sittin’.  And I went slow.

All sorts of folks came my way.  Unless they looked supremely grumpy, I said hi.  Only three people gave me a sincere hello back.  I wonder if I look dangerous.  Or maybe it’s just the big city mentality, perhaps “Someone who says hello wants something.”  Oh well.  I wasn’t going to let the prevailing responses besmirch my day.

Near the end of the journey, I parked my bod in the lounge of the Old Mill Inn.  Lots of nice stonework and comfy chairs.  I found myself facing the portrait of a severe young man.  I asked myself whether he ever smiled in his earlier life.  I sure hope so.  I sipped my glass of white wine and read sports articles on my phone.  Sort of a mixed metaphor but I don’t mind.

Off again, this time to the mysteries of Bloor Street.  The sidewalks were full of all and sundry, enjoying the spring sunshine.  But I was fading.  Was it the wine, or the long walk, or my continued movement away from sleeping pills?  My head beat out a nasty rhythm and my legs were declining towards the asphalt.  “It’s okay, Bruce.  You’re off these pills and there’s no going back.”

My walking plans fell apart and I stumbled towards a subway station.  Fifteen minutes later I was slurping coffee in a Tim Horton’s, watching outside folks scatter under a sudden thunderstorm.  I was happy to be dry and sad to be vacant.  Coffee completed, I continued to stare out at smashing raindrops.  How would I stay awake at the concert?  So … another twelve ounces of Dark Roast.

Koerner Hall was only a three-minute walk from Tim’s and the rain had faded when I poked my pounding head out the door.  Inside the gorgeous concert hall, I awaited the presence of Rosanne Cash.  Slowly my brain cleared and I was ready for tunes.

Rosanne’s voice filled the space with sweetness, accompanied by the guitar runs of her husband.  One song especially hit home:

We’re falling like the velvet petals
We’re bleeding and we’re torn
But God is in the roses
And the thorns

I left The Royal Conservatory of Music with “500 Miles” on my lips and a skip in my step.  All deficits were in the rear view mirror.  Until, that is, I got to my home bed-and-breakfast.  Head banging again and a troubled caffeine-laden sleep.

So it seems to me this morning that life is both A and B
Despite my efforts to call it A
I guess I can live with that

Energies

Well, here I am, experimenting with energies.  I used to think that I wanted to hang out in the peaceful energy of meditation till the cows come home, but I’m no longer in that spot.  I want to see what edgy feels like, what intense doing feels like, what big crowds feel like, what bantering back and forth with another human being feels like.

So then there was yesterday.  I got up early and drove to Toronto.  After taking the UP Express train downtown, I meandered over to the ferry terminal.  I spent a minute or two holding the arm of Jack Layton (or that of a statue honouring him).  I thanked Jack for all he contributed to Toronto and Canada.  It was the quiet energy of relationship.

I got off the ferry on Ward’s Island at 11:00 am.  The brunch and concert at St. Andrew-by-the-Lake Church would start at 12:30 so I had lots of time to wander.

It was clean-up day on the shoreline and many island residents were picking up garbage, hoisting branches that had washed ashore, and sorting recyclables from not.  They often moved quickly from one task to the next.  I told several of them “The earth thanks you.”  Everyone smiled in response.  Overall, it was the exuberant energy of doing good.

I walked the tiny streets of Ward’s, surrounded by quaint cottages.  Green was everywhere.  Plants poking their heads above the earth.  Wide stretches of grass.  And yellow … masses of daffodils and large forsythia bushes.  Vines hung from many homes.  Only a few residents were up and about and I said hi when they were close.  It was the slow rhythmic energy of nature.

Next I put feet to wood on the shoreline boardwalk.  I waved to the few cyclists and walkers out for a stroll.  Often V’s of black birds soared over my head.  Squirrels did their digging and bouncing along things.  It was the pulsating energy of life.

And now for brunch.  A jampacked frittata, asparagus-infused greens, a gooey Italian cake and two glasses of red wine.  Such a nourishing energy.

I had some good moments with the people I was sitting with.  Smiles about life.  When the talk turned toward local news that I knew nothing about, I just listened.  It was a happy and sad energy … happy to be with human beings and sad that I wasn’t part of their group.

And now for music.  I listened to a jazz quartet – vocalist, saxophone player, pianist and upright bassist.  The tunes ebbed and flowed as they read off each other and gave each person the chance to shine in a solo.  Making it up as they went?  Sometimes it felt like that.  It was a spontaneous and creative energy, tender and then boisterous, and then back to sweet again.

The dessert of my day was back on the mainland.  I stood with a thousand other folks in Maple Leaf Square, where we gazed up at a huge screen and waved white towels.  Inside the Air Canada Centre, the Toronto Maple Leafs were battling the Washington Capitals in a National Hockey League playoff game.  We cheered wildly for the big hits delivered by the Leafs, for the saves made by Frederik Andersen (“Freddie!  Freddie!”) and for the one Toronto goal.  We agonized as the Capitals came back to tie and then ended our season with an overtime marker.  It was the energy of winning and losing, of gain and loss, of them versus us.

***

So, I was awash in energies
And no one was better that any other
Just a human being embracing his world

The Voice

I sat in Chaucer’s Pub in London last night, listening to the folk music beauty of The Friends of Fiddler’s Green.  This group of balding gents has been at it for 45 years, and five of the six fellows only a few feet away from me were original members.  Fiddle, guitar, button accordions, bagpipes and piano blended with full-throated voices.

A song or two into the first set, we heard Stephen Foster’s Hard Times.  And when it was time for the chorus, we eighty audience members let loose:

‘Tis the song, the sign of the weary
Hard times, hard times, come again no more
Many days you have lingered all around my cabin door
Oh hard times, come again no more.

After the last notes had melted away, the woman in front of me turned around and said “You have a lovely voice.”  I smiled and said thank you.  I was pleased.  At the same time, my head swirled with past deficiencies.

***

I was singing The Rose at a karaoke party in St. Lucia decades ago and thought I was doing well.  Jody, however, couldn’t take my off-key effort and retired to our room.  I wonder if I really was that bad.

I sang in a choir for years and never was offered a solo part.  I wanted one, and I should have asked for one, but I didn’t.  Maybe my voice just wasn’t good enough.

I was working with a visually impaired student and her Grade 8 graduation was coming up.  She and I decided to audition for the grads’ talent show.  We worked hard on The Prayer but the supervising teacher turned us down.  Was it me?

***

At the end of the folk concert, the woman in front of me extended her hand and said “I’m so glad I sat in front of you and could hear you sing all night.”

Life is a mystery

A Balmy Morning

I was motoring along a Kitchener, Ontario freeway on Saturday morning.  Ahead of me waited Lydia Ko and the LPGA golf tournament.  All was well, except for my lips.  Four days of sun had dried them to a crisp, and they were starting to hurt.

Blistex.  The wonderful ointment that soothes and softens.  And the tube was back in my B&B bedroom, forgotten on the dresser.  Oh, silly man.

No worries.  There must be a drug store around here somewhere.  I remembered that the freeway frittered out at one point, with traffic slowing down through a littering of big box stores.  There’ll be Blistex somewhere amid the rectangles.

First though, I spotted a furniture store ahead – The Brick.  At their store in London I had recently bought an off-white bedroom suite for my condo.  Forsaking the urgency of peeling skin, and completely forgetting the marvelous person who is Lydia Ko, I pulled into the parking lot, hoping to visit another incarnation of my suite.  And there it was, in the double bed model.  I touched the wood.  I opened the drawers.  I drooled.

On my way out of the store, I asked two fellows if there was a drug store handy.  “Costco has one.  It’s just down the road.”  Thank you, my esteemed sales associates.

A few twists and turns later, I walked into consumer paradise.  I had my doubts about the Blistex since everything seems to come in Grade A Large at Costco.  I approached a druggie (I mean a drug department employee) to find that the tiny tube I sought hadn’t made it into inventory.  My lips groaned.  I asked her if she knew of another drug store nearby.  She smiled and drew me a map, featuring a return to the freeway, a long looping road, and a few traffic lights.

My lips pursed as I followed the lovely young woman’s directions.  I kept looking for Shoppers Drug Mart on the left but there was nothing.  Then a “Pharmacy” sign on the right.  I veered in.  Smacking my lips in anticipation, I approached the counter.  “No, we don’t stock that product.  Sorry.”  (Sigh)

Back on the road again, I squinted for a Shoppers.  And finally it appeared.  There was even a “Lip Balm” aisle.  I walked down it, glancing left and right.  Nothing again.  Finally, I noticed a rotating display.  I twirled … and there it was: my sacred tube of Blistex.

Out in the car, I applied liberal amount of the goo, coming perilously close to the underside  of my nose and my chin.  All was right with the world.  Except for my cell phone sitting awkwardly in the left pocket of my shorts.  I reached in to adjust things.  My fingers touched something soft.  It was a tube.

Although my intention had been to follow the sweet Lydia Ko for all eighteen of her holes, I managed to see just four.

Strange, this person
Strange, this life