How Wide Is Our We?

I fear that some of us are only experiencing “me” right now.  The mind is so full that the “we” is having a hard time finding its way in.  “I want a tan.”  And so Vancouver beaches are full of folks enjoying the unusual sunny weather.

I get that most of us, however, are living and breathing beyond the boundary of our skin.  We think of our parents and grandparents, of our dearest friends.  We’d go through hell for these folks.  We have so many memories of their goodness reaching out over the years.  They must be protected by our physical absence.

But is there more?

At my local coffee shop, now shuttered, there is a fellow who doesn’t like me.  “So … you didn’t know that, school teacher?”  I’ve actually enjoyed my conversations with him.  I’ve felt twinges of antagonism towards him but mostly it’s just curiosity.  Can I include him in my we?  For the sake of all beings, I must.  Personality conflicts represent one layer of reality.  We need to ascend far beyond such boundaries.

Then there are that infinite number of human beings that I don’t know.  On my daily (and solitary) walks, I often meet them.  They show up on my TV screen and on Facebook.  They too are part of my family.  I must include them as well.

I don’t have to like everyone.  For sure, I don’t.  But I do need to love everyone … not the possessive “You’re mine” type of love, but a far wider embrace.  We’re together on this planet.  Your life – apparently unknown to me – is also deeply known.  In whatever language, in whatever environment, you pass through the same joys and sorrows as I do.  You are my brother and my sister.

And so I stay away from your body … but not your soul.

 

The Span of Life

There was a time when Coco was a young girl. Her father sang her songs and played guitar. She was happy.

Then there was a rift between mom and dad. He left, and the music ended. For succeeding generations, singing and playing was always forbidden.

If Coco missed the joyous songs, she never said. The family made shoes for a living, and that became her purpose, along with caring for her children.

So says the film Coco.

Now Coco is very old. She doesn’t make shoes anymore. She almost forgets what was the singing was like … until her great-grandson Miguel came along. He didn’t like making shoes. He wanted to be a musician. So he sang to great-grandma. And a smile appeared.

***

There is a book called Love You Forever, by Robert Munsch. A young woman gives birth to her son. She rocks him and sings these words:

I’ll love you forever
I’ll like you for always
As long as I’m living
My baby you’ll be

She keeps singing to him throughout the years … to a kid, a teen, a young adult, and an older one. It is her joy to do so.

In the sweep of time, mom becomes very old and very sick. She needs her son, and he needs his mom. So he holds her, rocks her, and sings:

I’ll love you forever
I’ll like you for always
As long as I’m living
My mommy you’ll be

Moments Shared and Passed On

I went to a lovely concert last night at the Cuckoo’s Nest Folk Club in London. Singing and playing were Liv and Braden, better known as Tragedy Ann.

I had met this marvelous couple two years ago, as they graced the stage of the London Music Club. That evening I felt our conversation in my heart, and I’ve carried them with me ever since.

Yesterday I saw Braden and Liv in the hallway before the music started. There were hugs and many light words.

I sat in the front row, way to the side of the massed instruments and the two singers. Early on, Liv was introducing a song inspired by The Velveteen Rabbit, and by “a book we were given”. I smiled back two years. Within the walls of the London Music Club, I had given them a copy of Jodiette: My Lovely Wife, the book I had written about my dear wife Jody. She died of lung cancer in 2014. “Is she talking about Jody’s book? Nah … must be some other one.”

Except it wasn’t.

From the song Velveteen:

There’s a tree
Not too far from home
Waving leaves like it knows me

I know such a tree. I wrote about it, and about hearing Jody’s voice there, hours after she died. The bare branches trembled.

I’m waving to you, Bruce. I shelter you. I protect you. I’m here, husband. I will always be with you, cheering you on.

And from Tragedy Ann’s Facebook page just now:

We had been tweaking Velveteen for a long time before starting to perform it live. Inspired by a story read to us as children and a book given to us as adults, we wanted to touch on the nature of lifelong love, loss, and doubt.

Thank you, my friends. We move each other throughout our days and years … you and you and you and you and me.

Lifeguard

Christie Blatchford was a miracle, an outspoken columnist for all four Toronto newspapers over her career.  She died yesterday from lung cancer.

I remember reading her in the Toronto Sun.  Right now, this quote fits her perfectly:

I can’t remember what you said
I can’t remember what you did
But I will always remember
How I felt when I was around you

Christie opened my eyes.  She showed me a powerful woman, a powerful human being, a straight shooter.  She touched thousands of lives.

I don’t want to be Christie Blatchford.  I want to be more fully Bruce Kerr.  Still, there was so much to admire … and so many people who revered her:

Blatchford passionately championed crime victims, Canada’s soldiers, Canada’s athletes – particularly Olympians – and publicly obsessed over law and order issues.  In court, sitting in the front row, she would be relentlessly grabbing at tissues, weeping as she chronicled evidence of child abuse and neglect.  And then she made readers weep when reading her account of the injustice.

In 1977, a copy editor at the Globe made changes and cuts to her sports column without consulting her, and the next day she called the rival Toronto Star.  She started writing for the Star soon after.

[In Afghanistan] she demonstrated to all of us that there was no place too remote or austere for her to live with us in, no situation too dangerous, no Canadian soldier too rough or crude for her not to win over with her unique directness, toughness and impeccable common sense.

[Christie] It was scary, so raw and important at the time, that nothing else will really match that experience.  I loved being with the soldiers.  I loved the fear.  I loved the excitement, the whole thing.

Blatchford connected with people in her stories in unconventional ways.  In some cases, she would hug them and befriend them beyond the confines of journalism.  At one extended trial, a witness became so attached to her that he reached out to clasp her hand for support as he nervously walked up the aisle to testify.

She would frequently help young reporters, all the while exhibiting her renowned profanity.

She was a model for knowing how to put your faith in your truths and not worry about the backlash, not worry about how people respond.  She was unafraid and unapologetic about her views.  It was inspiring for me.

She sparked visceral response.  Nobody was on the fence about Christie.  They either loved her or hated her.  She was never about the middle ground.  She had the most consistent moral compass of anyone I’ve ever encountered.

She took flying lessons.  She was a lifeguard, played basketball, ran marathons.  She was tenacious in everything she did.

I once signed a book for Christie Blatchford. and on the inside page I called her my hero.  She read the scribbled words, turned to me and rather succinctly told me to piss off.  Only she didn’t use the word “piss”.  Then she hugged me.

***

Thank you, Blatch.  You done good

Rumi

Was it yesterday? Was it three days ago? I don’t know. I was driving home and listening to the CBC – Canada’s public radio network. I love the interviews, and here came one with familiar names. Rumi was a Sufi poet of the 13th century. Coleman Barks is a poet and translator of Rumi’s works. Andrew Harvey is a poet and a mystic. They all talked. I listened.

And I’m still listening. No words of mine would add to what you’re about to read.

***

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.

“The poet laureate of the planet Earth”

“The literary gifts of Shakespeare, the soul force of Christ or Buddha, the intellect of Plato”

“The supreme poet of love”

Your body’s height – six feet or so – but your soul rises through nine levels of sky.

“It makes me want to bow.”

God says I will lead you beyond this heaven and this earth to a purer heaven and earth you cannot imagine, whose nature is to expand the soul in joy.

“Why can’t people just learn how to grow silent and wait on the mystery?”

A palpable longing … all longings are one longing.

[Rumi and his teacher Shams] “Not a friendship but a storm front moving in”

“The two of them danced in the street.”

You will leave this Earth to enter, while you are still in the body, a vast expanse.

“What kinds of thinking could lead to opening onto these fields of quiet and majesty?”

Love is the soul’s light, the taste of morning … no me, no we.

“Absolute reverence for all beings”

“A caressing love”

These thousands of words that rise from nowhere … How does your face contain them?

“Rumi helps us realize that there is a love possible for us which is outrageously larger than any of the loves we think we know.”

What I had thought of before as God today I met in a human being [Shams].

“The rapture of the soul at seeing someone who is so holy that they are totally beautiful”

When two great lovers of God meet, they love the beauty of that love in the other.

“Anybody too happy and ecstatic will always freak people out … They saw two people absolutely alive in divine love for each other.”

:::

“He saw this wild and beautiful old man coming towards him. He knew instinctively that it must be Rumi. He prostrated himself in the dust before Rumi. When he stood up, he saw that Rumi had prostrated in the dust before him. And this went on for thirty-two times.

‘What are you doing? You’re the holiest man in the world.’

Rumi said ‘Why should I not bow before a servant of God? And how would I be useful if I did not show you my nothingness?'”

:::

“Human beings are lonesome for passion, and here’s a being whose every breath is sacred passion.”

It may be that God is the impulse to laugh, and that we are all the different kinds of laughter.

“They’d teach by going out into the square and laughing.”

I have lived on the lip of insanity, wanting to know reasons.

“It’s painful when we hide from intimacy. It’s fraudulent.”

We’re already inside of what we’re surrendering to.

“Reading Rumi’s poems, I went into this region that felt like home.”

“We will be guided by the Divine.”

Love cannot be said.

“He was possessed by the divine word. He never wrote anything down.”

Fall in love in such a way that it frees you from any connecting … You become love and you don’t ever miss love because love is in you.

“If the translator can get out of the way, the Presence is often clearly transmitted, from the 13th century.”

I see my beauty in you. I become a mirror that cannot close its eyes to your longing.

“To be one with the source from where the religions all come”

“I know the experience of love in myself. That’s enough. That is God.”

Everything is glowing with consciousness.

“Something in us recognizes beauty. That is what I’m calling God.”

My eyes wet with yours in the early light, my mind every moment giving birth, always conceiving, always in the ninth month

“I feel in me a source of love.”

Walk around, and love, and meet someone’s eyes.

“The Sufis say that when you meet the glance of another human being, you’re somehow blending your lineage with theirs. All the people that you have loved and have loved you – that’s your lineage … Just a glance, and some exchange happens there that metabolizes the soul growth of the planet.”

Nothing can teach you if you don’t unlearn everything. How learned I was before revelation made me dumb.

“I don’t know anything for sure except I’m here and I love.”

Glorious is the moment we sit in the palace – you and I
Two forms, two faces, but a single soul – you and I
The flowers will blaze and bird cries shower us with immortality
The moment we enter the garden – you and I
And all the stars of heaven will run out to gaze at us
As we burn like the full moon itself – you and I
The firewinged birds of heaven will rage with envy in that place
Where we laugh ecstatically – you and I
What a miracle, entwined in the same nest – you and I
What a miracle – you and I
One love, one lover, one fire … in this world and the next
In an ecstasy without end

Meditating

I’ve meditated for ten years, including two three-month silent retreats at the Insight Meditation Society in Massachusetts. I would say we were silent 98% of the time.

When people hear about my quiet adventures, they literally don’t know what to say. And I haven’t been able to communicate my experiences very well.

This afternoon, I sat in my cozy mediation chair in my bedroom. I told myself to tell you afterwards what it was like. So here I am … feeling naked and unknowing. As much as I love writing, I don’t know what to say.

Trust. That’s become a large word for me. I trust myself. I trust my thumbs tapping on the phone screen. I trust that something good will proceed from right now and that this goodness will reach you.

***

Thoughts come. That’s the way it is. Deeper into the meditation there usually are larger spaces around the thoughts. That’s nice, but it’s not a goal to be sought. By grace comes the space.

Sometimes the body is tired. The large openness falls easily into a nodding off. This happened again and again today. The response is a smile, for the rhythms of life are to be respected.

As I settle into the silence, there may come a flow of energy across my face. There may be a “shimmering down”, a vibration that touches my head and seeks my toes. Beyond that may be an awareness of love, simply wafting outwards with no sense of destination. The love, when it’s given to me, brings a tiny smile to my lips and takes me by the hand to a realm without thought, without image, and yet infinitely full.

During the moments of immense sweetness, and yet with a matter-of-fact quality, I am fully alert to the physical world. There have been times when someone has spoken to me while the peace covers all. Happily, there was an acceptance here, with no sense of intrusion whatsoever.

Sometimes there’s music in my head … celestial melodies often accompanied by words:

Nowhere to go
Nothing to do
Nothing to know
And no one to be

Mostly though, the music floats away and there is silence. It’s as if a word such as “love” begins to separate in the air, and the letters are swirled away to the four corners of the universe.

Even though my hands are nestling each other on my lap as I meditate, there’s a sense of reaching out to the beings of this world … loving them, blessing them, wanting them to be happy. Somehow these wishes don’t form as conscious thoughts but I know they’re here.

My eyes know when my meditation is done, for they choose to open. My right hand reaches for the wooden mallet, and the singing bowl rings. Three times it is touched. For each, the sound fades to the merest vibration before the next tone appears.

And I wish … “Please may the shimmer stay with me throughout my day.” Often it does.

Lagrime di San Pietro (The Tears of St. Peter)

Where do I start? This was one of the most astonishing musical experiences of my life. The venue was Koerner Hall in Toronto and the twenty-one singers compose the Los Angeles Master Chorale. I bought this (front row!) ticket a few months ago, and yesterday my memory was that I was going to see some Spanish singer who was backed up by a choir. Wrong! First of all it’s Italian, and the words are the name of a piece composed by Orlando di Lasso in the 1500’s, based on the poetry of Luigi Tansillo.

The story centres on the apostle Peter, who just before the crucifixion told the Roman authorities three times that he didn’t know Jesus. Peter’s remorse was deep and stayed with him for the remaining thirty years of his life. What especially haunted him was the look of sadness and love coming from Jesus when Peter cast him aside. “It was a simple and sacred turn of the head.”

Before the performance, the director and conductor sat before us. Di Lasso was dying as he composed this work and was angry with God for extending his life month by month. His body was breaking down, as we often saw in the twisted agony of the singers. The Renaissance was ending along with di Lasso, and the world was transforming into something new, including opera and Shakespeare.

Peter Sellars, the director, told us that Lagrime di San Pietro was essentially “umperformable”, as in it being extremely difficult music. The members of the Chorale have memorized all of the seven parts for all of the 75 minutes of singing … pretty much impossible. The piece was also umperformable from the perspective of the Catholic Church – blasphemous, and likely to result in di Lasso’s imprisonment if he hadn’t died first.

Listen to Tansillo’s poetry and see if you can remember a time of deep remorse in your life:

The anguish and the shame but greater grew
In Peter’s heart as morning slowly came
No one was there to see him, well he knew
Yet he himself was to himself a shame
Exposed to all men’s gaze, or screened from view
A noble heart will feel the pang the same
A prey to shame the sinning soul will be
Though none but heaven and earth its shame can see

The twenty-one faces were so often contorted. The arms reached high … and low. Astounding harmonies came from all quarters of the stage. We the audience, I do believe, were stunned.

Imagine the performers all lying on their backs, still singing. Then they raise their arms to the heavens, hands hanging in the air. Imagine couples embracing, caressing, singing to each other with mouths only inches away, finishing with a tender kiss. Imagine two rows of human beings facing each other, moving so slowly closer, reaching out and finally touching. There is much to imagine.

At the beginning of the evening, the master of ceremonies told us that there were just a few tickets left for tomorrow afternoon’s performance. After a standing ovation which must have lasted five minutes, I sat down in my seat, whipped out this phone, and got myself a repeat place amid all this beauty. And in the front row again!

How did I ever write all these words about tonight? Immensity like this brings me to silence of the mouth and, I thought, the fingers. These digits apparently have a mind of their own.

What are you doing at 2:00 pm Eastern tomorrow afternoon? I’m in seat AA16. As of a few seconds ago, AA17 is empty. Go for it.

A Natural Woman

Weeks ago, in Senegal, I think I wrote about Aretha Franklin. And now I feel like doing it again. My little voice says “Don’t repeat yourself” but it’s being drowned out by the call of the Motown Queen, and someone else. Good. Little voices should be ignored.

My friend Jo and I had lots of conversations in Africa. One was about the magnificence of Aretha. He pulled up a YouTube video that brought tears to both of our eyes. It was 2015 and Carole King was being feted at the Kennedy Center Honors in Washington, D.C. Carole was in the front row of the balcony, sitting beside Michelle and Barack Obama. It seemed to be a surprise for everyone when the MC announced “Aretha Franklin!” and the curtains parted. The lady of the moment moved right over to the piano and started in on You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman.

As brilliant as the songstress was, the true joy for me was watching Carole in the balcony. She co-wrote the song. As the first chords came through, Carole’s face exploded in joy. Later she clasped her hands to her head in astonishment. As Aretha hit the wailing high notes, Carole stretched out her hands to her as the Obamas fought back tears.

I watched the video four times today. Carole was so pure in her joy and love, so wide-eyed in embracing this astonishing moment in the world’s musical life. I couldn’t take my eyes off her. It is so dearly what the world needs.

I’m so glad I was there … and can go back whenever I want for a renewal of life.

Day Thirty-Six: Rinzin

I was on a mission. Three girls in Belmont, Canada asked me months ago if I’d bring them back something from San Francisco. They all wanted the same thing: a Tree of Life necklace. I said yes, in the spirit of rewarding people who speak up, who politely ask me to do something.

About two weeks ago in Senegal, I sat with a couple who mostly live in Berkeley, California – where I am. They told me where I’d find street vendors who’d sell these necklaces. So cool to get directions from so far away.

The Evolutionary Collective conference ended on Sunday, and yesterday I set off to find three gifts.

This is the third time I’ve been to Berkeley. I like staying at the YMCA. Each morning, on the way to my favourite breakfast spot, I pass a lovely shop offering Tibetan treasures. It was always too early for them to be open but yesterday my timing was perfect. And who knows, maybe a Buddhist tree of life would be hanging somewhere.

In I walked, to be greeted by a jolly Tibetan soul – Rinzin. In the span of multiple lifetimes, I think he’s been around the block a few times. Rinzin welcomed me with his entire heart and soul. At the top left of the photo I took of him, you may be able to make out the Dalai Lama. My new friend is the person one to the left.

I could feel it: there’s something for me to buy in here. There was a sweetness hanging in the air.

I asked about a tree of life. He wasn’t sure, but went searching. I was absolutely fine with him finding nothing. But lo and behold, he came back with an object of exquisite beauty. I felt a “yes” … such a deep yes that this pendant would be around a girl’s neck in a week or so. I stood there staring, stunned at the silver trunk and leaves of tiny white stones.

Rinzin watched my eyes widen and was ecstatic that he had contributed.

We talked about the exile of Tibetans from their homeland, and his great sadness about that. Then we both wandered off down separate aisles. I looked down and there was a shining stainless steel tree pendant. Yes again. A minute later, Rinzin pranced up with a third. All were different and all were sublime. No street vendors on Telegraph Avenue would be needed. Someone was watching out for the girls and me.

As I readied my wallet, the feeling returned: there’s something else calling me in this shop. My eyes wandered, already softened. And I came upon the banner, hanging high above the cash register. “We must try to do something good.” Yes once more. The kids need to see this. They need to feel the value of contributing. Hopefully the teacher will let me hang the banner in the classroom.

My credit card emerged but again I hesitated. Some other object was beckoning. It didn’t take long for me to discover the oval piece of coral, stained red. Its energy flew out in arrows to the curved edge of the piece. Yes, it needed to come with me as well. The smooth ruby oval was so Bruce.

And then the voice inside boomed out into the world: “You’ll be giving this away too.” > What? No way. It’s for me > “No it isn’t. It’s for life.”

Three girls will receive their necklaces next week. As for the glowing red oval … I don’t know the destination. I just know that it will reside in someone else’s home.

Ahh … the mystery
I’m not here to figure things out
I’m here to act in love
Thank you, Rinzin

Day Thirty: Communion en français

I was hanging out with Fatou and Fatou at Le Bar Jean-Jacques yesterday afternoon. The aunt creates yummy meals for the family (occasionally including a random Canadian). The niece runs the bar, serving drinks with aplomb.

I was curious about who was who within the Jean-Jacques family, and Aunt Fatou did her best across the span of two languages to fill me in. So many grandparents, daughters, sons and little ones. I wanted to learn but soon I was lost. That’s okay.

The older woman left at one point to work on dinner for the clan. Niece Fatou and I sat together under the mango tree, the only folks there. We got talking, me with my stuttering French. Fatou is a young woman … and a gentle soul. There were gaps in our speaking because we were comfy with each other (plus holes in my knowledge of words).

Fatou wanted to know about the meeting I was going to in San Francisco. I told her that I’m a member of a group that intends to bring more love into the world. She smiled and replied in words I didn’t understand. I spoke of “les yeux”, about how our work revolved around a gentle meeting of the eyes. Fatou was so with me. She got it, and there was a merging of our hearts. We sat together for much time. Often there were no words. And all doing paused.

***

This morning I awoke in the dark and reached over to turn on my watch’s light. The digital screen wavered back and forth … I couldn’t read the time. I switched on the little lamp beside me. The ceiling was roaming around. Someone really should slow it down.

Oh my. This afternoon, I will start a travel adventure that will join four countries. After probably a five-hour drive to Dakar, it’ll be a six-hour flight to Brussels. Then an hour or two to London, England. The pièce de résistance will carry me over an ocean and a continent to San Francisco … a tidy fourteen hours. I tried to imagine how my spinning head would handle all that.

I got up and had a last breakfast at Mariama Counda. The omelet in front of me looked inedible. I had a coffee and contemplated my dubious future. Some song was playing in the dining area. A French chanteuse soared in her language, and the melody came from the past. What was it?

It was The Rose! I smiled. The lyrics would come to me later … but I knew I was home – at breakfast, on the road, in the air, even in San Francisco.

All is well

Some say love, it is a river
That drowns the tender reed
Some say love, it is a razor
That leaves your soul to bleed
Some say love, it is a hunger
An endless aching need
I say love, it is a flower
And you, its only seed

It’s the heart, afraid of breaking
That never learns to dance
It’s the dream, afraid of waking
That never takes the chance
It’s the one who won’t be taken
Who cannot seem to give
And the soul, afraid of dying
That never learns to live

When the night has been too lonely
And the road has been too long
And you think that love is only
For the lucky and the strong
Just remember in the winter
Far beneath the bitter snows
Lies a seed that with the sun’s love
In the spring becomes the rose