The Vigil

Last night 20,000 of us gathered at Mel Lastman Square in Toronto to honour the victims of last week’s van attack, where a driver mowed down pedestrians on the sidewalk of Yonge Street.

I went to Olive Square Park two hours before the ceremony.  It was the site of a massive memorial: flowers, messages, photos and candles.  Soon thousands of us began walking the 1.5 kilometres to the square.  We were quiet and we walked slowly.

I thought of the ten folks who died, ages 22 to 94.  And of their families and friends.  I saw sorrow in the faces of those near me.  I felt like crying but I didn’t.  Many did.  On we walked.

About 50 feet away, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau comtemplated life, surrounded by TV cameras.  I watched him for a bit and then turned back towards the flow of humanity.  This was not the time to be gawking at celebrities.  Perhaps there’s never such a time.  We were here for all of us.

Young and old, black and white, Caucasian and Asian … we were together.  A voice within said “Look inside” and I realized right away that it was not urging me to self-reflect but rather to look into the souls of my companions.  “Look inside each one.”  And I did just that for many, seeing the beauty of human beings.

At the Square, I found a spot where I could see the stage.  Although it was far away, I was right there.  Looking out over the crowd, I felt our union.  Of course, we each have our life issues, but for that hour I sensed they were essentially laid down.  We stood with our grief and compassion and love.  How marvelous, I thought.  May we harness this sweetness even when there’s no crisis to bring us together.  May we love … just ’cause.

Speakers spoke, spectators shared and many of their words touched home:

In Toronto, in Ontario, in Canada, we don’t run away – we run to help others.

It’s amazing how on this one stretch of street, so many people are connected and affected by it.

Each of those who died are remembered as wonderful human beings who brought light into our world through a combined 539 years of their own acts of lovingkindness.

This is my town and my heart is just rocked by this, and I just want to be strong for my friends and my family and everybody in this city.  Everybody needs love.

Amen

 

Win-Win

We live and breathe within a win-lose context.  On one level, that’s completely obvious.  Stanley Cup champions are face-to-face with hockey also rans.  Elected Prime Ministers and parties are up against colleagues who garner 2% of the popular vote.  And then in Toronto there are the mansions of Rosedale down a few roads from the public housing of Jane and Finch.

How deep does this cultural attitude stretch?  Maybe it’s completely insidious and virtually unnoticed in most interactions we humans have with each other.  If I’m talking to you, is there an unspoken current below to the tune of “I’m better than you, smarter, more handsome, kinder … blah, blah, blah?”  I hope not, but I worry that it’s so.  And perhaps you’re having the same thoughts about me.  Two isolations.  And it doesn’t have to be this way.

The Buddha talked about empathetic joy, in which I can be supremely happy when you have success.  It’s not that there’s only so much happiness to go around and I get antsy if you score too much of the pie.  No.  Have yourself a piece or two and there’ll be plenty left for me, and for everyone else.

What if I knew that my well-being revolved around being good to other people?  What if I wanted you to have everything, to be so deliciously happy and peaceful?  And that became far more uplifting to me than any worldly accolades that come my way?  Is that so very far out in left field?  Can we create a world like that?  I wonder.

What if I knew that in the expanse of life’s goodies there is actually nothing but love?  I’ll cheer when my team scores the winning goal and revel in my promotion and enjoy beach time in the Caribbean while sensing that only we are the world.  Or as Walt Whitman said, “We were together.  I don’t remember the rest.”

I want you to have joy in your heart
Maybe you’ll want me to have the same
Wouldn’t that be the sweetest dessert?

Loveliness

I’ve witnessed moments of grace over the last few days.  Here are three of them:

1.  I went to a folk music concert at a couple’s home.  My chair was four feet from the piano player and I was immersed in the sweetness of the tunes.  And then the unexpected: A 40-ish fellow got up and approached a woman sitting on the couch.  I’d guess she was in her 70’s.  He extended his hand.  She smiled and offered hers.  She stood.  And they danced to the music – a soft twirling motion accompanied by more smiles.  It was lovely.  The whole was truly greater than the sum of the parts.  We the audience were quiet … and so very present to the sublimity, I believe.

2.  I met a jolly gentleman, really a gentle giant.  He asked me to look at his book.  It was a little thing, with each page headed by a date of the year.  It sounds like a diary, and I guess that was its original purpose, but my friend had turned it into a birthday book.  He asked me to sign it, and give my phone number, on the appropriate page.  I quite naturally chose January 9.  Maybe twenty other human beings were listed there.  Good for us.

The best part is that this fellow phones each of us and sings “Happy Birthday”.  Thousands of folks are serenaded on their special day.  Such a big wow.  Such a gift.

3.  I’ve been in Toronto the last couple of days.  I usually park at the train station before heading downtown.  This time there was a gate blocking the area of the lot where I park Scarlet.  But there were still some public spaces on the far side.  I went up to the train attendant to find out what was happening.  The woman was behind her panel of glass but she also moved right into my heart.  Her gaze into my eyes was constant and soft.  She explained all the ins and outs of the changes and clarified when I got confused.  But she could have been reciting names in the phone book for all I cared.  I was bathed in her kindness.  I was transfixed by her presence.  I was thankful for her existence.

***

May I continue to attract such moments
May people continue to express their beauty
May I have eyes to see and ears to hear

Legendary Love

I went to a concert last night at the Port Stanley Festival Theatre. “Legends of Memphis” was the story of Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash. One day way back when, they were in the same recording studio together. Yesterday they were together again, enjoying each other’s smiles and music. Jerry favoured us with “Great Balls of Fire” while Johnny told us about the travails of some fellow called Sue. Elvis contorted his hips throughout “Jailhouse Rock” and I don’t remember what songs Carl sang. He could sure play guitar, though.

Many of us were moving and grooving, clapping our hands, singing along. It was so much fun but the best was yet to come.

Near the end of the concert, Elvis walked to the front of the stage and announced that he’d like to sing the next song to a lovely lady. He stepped down and stood in front of a woman sitting in a wheelchair in the front row. She wore a smart green dress for St. Patrick’s Day, and a tiny emerald hat was perched on the side of her head.

Elvis reached towards “Jennifer” and held her hand as he started singing “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” She wore a huge smile and her body shook throughout the song. Elvis wore a pretty big smile himself.

Does your memory stray
To a bright sunny day
When I kissed you and called you sweetheart?

As the last chord faded, Elvis kissed Jennifer’s cheek and she returned the favour. Time stood still … and then we burst into applause.

Old sweet songs. Inspired musicians. Great voices. But none of that held a candle to Jennifer and Elvis.

Mutual Awakening

I want to write in my blog today.  Whatever I communicate, I want it to be real, natural and not forced.  I want life force to flow through me as I tap the keys and have it reach you the reader.

I’ve been enjoying a book by Patricia Albere called Evolutionary Relationships.  It feels natural to write about it.  I’ve selected passages and recorded them on white index cards.  The only trouble is that I’m at the London Public Library and the cards are in Belmont.  I do have the book with me, however, since I intended to read it in the library.

So I did what any normal human being would:  I skimmed the book up to page 137 and picked 14 paragraphs to comment on.

What else is happening in my mind?

1.  I’m so determined to write, even if the writing turns out to be not so great.

2.  My mind and body are still tired from yesterday’s elliptical work.  “Too tired for writing, Bruce.”  Should I believe that mind of mine?

3.  Okay, I have 14 page references in front of me.  Surely I’ll have trouble merging them smoothly into this post, so that you folks get what Patricia is talking about.

These are all reasonable thoughts, but who cares?  Just write.

Okay.

What are the depths of relationship possible between two human beings?  And not restricted to a sexual connection with a life partner but available with any person seeking spiritual union.  A relationship that fosters not only an opening between two people but also the evolution of humanity.

Well, Patricia has a few ideas:

“Then out of nowhere it came.  I felt the most intense longing arise within me.  It was like a tornado unexpectedly appearing in the midst of a clear day, tearing through the countryside and rearranging the landscape.  My heart and then my whole body started to burn with intensity.  It seemed to force its way into my awareness, cracking through the surface of my contented life, leaving me aching with an inexplicable, inconvenient, overwhelming desire for love.  I wanted to love and be loved – passionately, deeply and completely – but in a way I had never considered.”

What in your life is calling you
When all the noise is silenced …
The meetings adjourned, the lists laid aside
And the Wild Iris blooms by itself
In the dark forest …
What still pulls on your soul?

In the silence between your heartbeats
Hides a summons
Do you hear it?
Name it, if you must
Or leave it nameless
But why pretend it is not there?

(Terma Collective)

Oh my.  This is so true for me.  I don’t know about you.

“Young people grow up online with hundreds of virtual friends, but as a recent New York Times story put it, technology allows them to ‘end up hiding from one another, even as they are constantly connected to one another.'”

“In this type of relationship, we are inspired, touched, moved, excited and creatively ignited by each other.”

The agony and the ecstasy.

“Regrettably, some relationships do have a limited or specific ceiling while others have skylights that open to cosmic realms you may never have dreamed existed.”

“You also feel the other person from inside their experience.  It may sound strange, but the separation disappears.  Somehow you are inside each other and feel connected to something that is bigger than both of you, as though your connection with each other is a portal to all of existence.”

“If you have the courage to explore mutual awakening, you will be amazed at the degree of intimacy, vulnerability, beauty and connection that is possible with another person.”

Bring it on!

“The first time I engaged in the mutual awakening process, I sat across from someone I did not know, except for her first name.  As we leaned into each other, I had the profound and profoundly simple experience of falling into love, of being pulled into the field of love that existed between us.”

(Vibeke)

“Imagine two dancers who are not really engaged.  They shuffle halfheartedly around the floor, out of time with each other and the music.  Now imagine those same dancers fully engaged with each other and the dance.  Their every step bursts with vitality and is perfectly synchronized with the rhythm of the music.”

“Often we are shy about showing how much beauty, goodness or power we possess because we’ve gotten used to sharing the more superficial layers of ourselves.”

“Out of fear of upsetting others, provoking anger or disapproval, or disrupting the status quo, we tone ourselves down, hold back our fullness, dampen our beauty, mute our magnificence.”

Silly humans.

“When we try to separate, announce to our partner we are leaving, or pretend we’re no longer related to those with whom we’ve created strong bonds, the only way to manage the pain is to shut down and disconnect from ourselves and our sensitivity to reality and love.”

Sad.

Even if you fall, you will be held
If you let go, things will be okay
If you let yourself not know
You will be guided
If you do not manipulate
You will be taken care of
In a way that is appropriate for you 

(A.H. Almaas)

Thank you, Patricia and friends.  May we have ears to hear.


Two Movies on a Sunday Afternoon

Off to the Hyland Cinema in London for stories about life.

***

First up was Phantom Thread, about a famous dressmaker who becomes entranced by a young waitress.  And she too is mesmerized.  She comes to work for him and waits for Reynolds to fall in love.  But it’s a hard go.  He’s obsessed with his work and she places a distant second.  It was sad to see the distance between, a buffer so obvious in many couples.

Alma isn’t allowed to be herself.  Breakfast for Reynolds needs to be a quiet time, and Alma’s noisy buttering of toast and dripping of orange juice into glass just won’t do.  The household of family and employees jump to his every whim, and Alma needs to follow suit.

Reynolds is “obsessed with perfection” and Alma finally has had enough.  She poisons him with a toxic mushroom – not enough to kill him but plenty to make him sweat and shake.  It feels like Alma wounds him so she can nurse him back to health, on her own, without a roomful of design associates in the scene.  Through all his insensitivities, she loves the man.

This is messy love … two human beings with flaws and spites.  Not a saint to be seen, but a tenderness hiding under the gowns and dress shirts.  Hey, there’s hope for all of us imperfect ones, hope for connection with the beloved.

***

After a suitable interlude, which I spent reflecting on life and the bliss of popcorn, along came Darkest Hour.  This is the story of Winston Churchill at the height of Hitler’s power, when it looked like Great Britain was about to be invaded.  Three hundred thousand British soldiers were near Dunkirk in France, with the massive German army closing in.  Churchill asked his cabinet what the plan was for rescuing these men.  The response?  “There is no plan.”  So Churchill came up with one – recruiting the pleasure boats of countless British citizens to pluck the soldiers from Dunkirk’s beaches.  And it worked.

I watched the agony of the man as he struggled with how to serve his people.  His colleagues pushed for peace talks with Hitler, and threatened a vote of non-confidence if he refused.  But Churchill knew in his heart that the end result would be the swastika flying over Buckingham Palace.

To see the courage of the man was inspiring.  He seemed alone in his resolve to fight, save for his wife and secretary.  He was called “delusional” and seen to be sacrificing the lives of 4,000 soldiers at Calais.  How to be yourself, and true to your beliefs, when the world was collapsing around him.  Oh to have such steadfastness.  When his commitment started to flag, Churchill fled his home on Downing Street, snuck into the underground, asked a passenger for directions to the station nearest to Parliament, and got onto the subway.

Churchill then asked his travelling companions what the country should do.  “Fight!”  What about entering into peace negotiations with Hitler?  “Never!”  The Prime Minister then got off at the appropriate station, marched into the government building, and hours later addressed Parliament:

“Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous states have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail.  We shall go on to the end.  We shall fight in France.  We shall fight on the seas and oceans.  We shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air.  We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be.  We shall fight on the beaches.  We shall fight on the landing grounds.  We shall fight in the fields and in the streets.  We shall fight in the hills.  We shall never surrender.”

Oh my.  I was stunned silent to hear his words.  And to think what hung in the balance if Churchill chose to flag or fail.

***

Cinema as an eye opener
Twice in one day

How shall I lead my life?
Will love and courage lead my way?
They must

Oh Joy!

Last year I loved volunteering with a Grade 6 class in a school near Belmont.  And I loved those kids.  This year they’re at a new school – in Aylmer.  I met with the three Grade 7 teachers before I went on my meditation retreat last fall and again when I got back in December.  I’ve been waiting to see if they’re willing to have me volunteer.  I e-mailed them when school started up in January and said I’d show up this morning to hear their decision.

I pulled into the school parking lot with a little smile on my face.  How very much I want to spend more time with those children.  And yet being allowed in the classroom is out of my control.  How amazing life is.  The Buddha taught that craving leads to suffering and here I was craving big time.  But the smile said more.  I feel a deep connection with most of those kids and I know that connection will remain, even if I’m not in their new school.

If the Grade 7 teachers say no, I’ll approach the Grade 5, 6 and 8 teachers.  And if they all say no, it will be unpleasant, and I’ll be very sad, but that would also point to the unknownness of life.  Getting what I want just doesn’t always happen.  And happiness can be there beside me even then.  Thus the smile.

I showed up at 8:00 and found one of the Grade 7 teachers.  Kindly and politely, she said no.

Twenty minutes later, as I sat on a bench in the hallway, here comes number two.  He smiled when he saw me.  In the classroom, I asked him what he’d decided about me volunteering.  He said that he’d like me to work with small groups of kids about once a week.  His words didn’t register.  We were talking about days and times when I finally got it.  I’m in!  My mind continued to process while my heart exploded and my eyes filled.

Minutes later, the third teacher also said yes.

I cried on the drive home.  I get to be with people I love.  I get to contribute to another school.  I get to live fully, in precious moments of contact with young minds and souls.

Thank you, dear forces of the universe, for holding me in your arms.

Tame Me

A friend of mine recently reintroduced me to the book The Little Prince.  The narrator had crashlanded his plane in the desert and was approached by a young boy.  He told the narrator about meeting a fox, who had a lot to say:

“You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.

“What does that mean – ‘tame’?”

“It means to establish ties.”

If you tame me, then we shall need each other.  To me, you will be unique in all the world.  To you, I shall be unique in all the world.”

As I love in this life, it’s clear to me that a few people have tamed me, and I them.  Although I tell myself that I don’t need these precious folks to do or say any particular thing, I am tied to them with ribbons of grace.  One I know is at a great physical distance from me, but she is as close as my heart.  Even if we hardly ever talk, maybe never see each other again, the contact is there.  I can feel it.

“If you tame me, it will be as if the sun came to shine on my life.  I shall know the sound of a step that will be different from all the others.  Other steps send me hurrying back underneath the ground.  Yours will call me, like music, out of my burrow.”

When I enter a room and see one who has tamed and is tamed, a hush falls down my body.  It may be a romantic impulse or perhaps not.  There is a surge of inbreath, an excitement and yet a stillness.  He or she is unique in my world.  I feel pulled towards the source of such peace.

“You have hair that is the color of gold.  Thank how wonderful that will be when you have tamed me!  The grain, which is also golden, will bring me back the thought of you.  And I shall love to listen to the wind in the wheat.”

Jody and I tamed each other.  There are two trees in Belmont that I’ve christened “Jody’s tree”.  And when I’m in their presence I’m also in the presence of my beloved wife.  Although many tears have dripped down my face in the last three years, our taming often produces a little smile of remembrance.  For the good times.  For the laughing and the dancing and the cuddling.  Our trees remind me.

“One runs the risk of weeping a little, if one lets himself be tamed.”

And weeping I do.  For what more is there in this life than relationship, in loving another as oneself?  Weeping in sadness at the distance between us, measured either in miles or in lifetimes.  Weeping in joy for the privilege of being tied to great souls.  And smiling too.

 

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.

Meeting Royalty

I still have two hours of the “What Now?” conference to watch on my laptop so my “Day Four B” will have to wait.

***

Johnny Bower died last week at age 93.  He was my boyhood hero, the ageless goalie for the Toronto Maple Leafs.  Tributes for this hockey player and humanitarian have been pouring in, and I got to thinking about another human being.  I wonder if they ever sat down for a coffee.

Johnny Bower

“Everyone had a story about the way the Hall-of-Famer treated every Leafs fan who asked for an autograph, who asked for time.  He smiled.  He laughed.  He cared.  He was kind.”

“Bower’s grandson … told stories that involved his grandpa laughing: laughing when he fell off the three-legged wooden ladder he had built; laughing when he spilled a can of paint on the carpet when trying to paint the living room when his wife was away; laughing when he would take out his dentures, put on his wife’s swimsuit and hat, and walk around the cottage trying to make other people laugh too … Grandpa could laugh at anything, especially himself.”

“Johnny considered it a privilege, and not a right, to be a Toronto Maple Leaf.  Gratitude drove him to be the best he could be.”

“Every Canadian team is a public trust, a repository of hope and obsession and love, and Johnny Bower never wanted to let anyone down.  So he spent a lifetime making the people he met feel like they mattered, because he thought they did.”

“Overwhelmed by how genuinely nice he was and just a beautiful human being.  He seemed so sincere when he talked to you, and always had such a great smile on his face.”

“I got a good 10 to 15 minutes to talk to him … and he spoke to me as if there was no one else in the room.”

“An honorary member of the Union of Ontario Indians with the name ‘Johnny With A Heart As Big As An Eagle’s Wingspan Bower'”

“Generous, soft-spoken, warm and welcoming.  I’m sure Johnny had an ego but he didn’t show it.  There was no entitlement in Johnny Bower.”

“He took time for every person, for every kid, every fan.  He made sure they got what they were looking for.”

“Not only had Johnny played Santa Claus for many years at the Toronto Maple Leafs family Christmas parties, every day felt like Christmas when you had a chance to chat with Johnny Bower.”

“I read an article a few years ago.  A park in Mississauga, Ontario had been renamed after Bower.  Then the story related how Bower took it upon himself to be the person who would go out on a daily basis and clean up the litter in the park that bore his name.  That was his credo.  Get the job done right.”

“He never had a bad day and he made a point of never having anything but a positive interaction with anyone.”

The Dalai Lama

“We spoke of universal consciousness … We spoke of current military actions and politics.  We laughed.  We mostly laughed in amazement at his bellowing belly laughs … I felt a complete sense of clean, sincere, awesomeness.  In my most humble estimation, this guy registered as The Real Thing.”

“In the West, you have education, and this is good.  And you have technology, and this is good.  But you do not educate your people in values.  Values of the heart.  Compassion.  This you must do.”

“And then the Dalai Lama did the most incredible thing.  When I thought he was about to exit left and hightail it out of there, he moved toward the doorway entrance and waited patiently for each of us to file out.  And then he hugged each one of us goodbye.  Slowly.  Firmly.  Like your favorite grandparent hugs you – with thankfulness and deep care, like they have all the time in the world.  And when he pulled back from our Most Holy Bear Hug, he looked me in the eyes, as he did with each of us, and he smiled wide and nodded.  And let me tell you, without an ounce of romanticism, being in his gaze was like having the Milky Way grinning down at me.  I have only rarely in this lifetime felt so clearly seen, and so clearly loved.  The simultaneity of recognition and acceptance was intoxicating.”

“I tried to contain my excitement but it exploded when we saw him arrive.  Everyone stood up and rushed to the walkway and security held us back.  He is already 81-years-old and had to be supported by people as he walked.  Still, he looked at us with a cheeky smile.  He didn’t just walk past.  He stopped to watch the crowd carefully and made sure he greeted all of us.”

“His infectious smile and laugh came suddenly and exuberantly, and rippled through the whole gathering each time.  He regularly made jokes, looking around to see if we were all paying attention.”

“I felt like I was meeting a small kid who cheers you up with a merry smile.”

“There is a real joy surrounding him.  When he looks at you, he looks into you.”

“Having met HHDL numerous times, I would say it’s like meeting yourself.”

“During the talk, the subject of Tibet came up.  You could tell this was a very painful subject for Tibetans because the Tibetans around us were either weeping or holding back tears, but he talked with such serenity, without a single trace of anger in his voice, and he repeatedly emphasized non-violence, mutual understanding and his appreciation for the Chinese people.”

“What a sweet soul he is.”

***

Well, ladies and gentlemen, it’s not just about two famous guys
It’s about you and me