Bigger Than This

To me, “this” refers to the present moment, as opposed to “that”.  It might be joyous or sad, inspiring or frustrating, or everything in between.  It has adventures and it has movement from one thing to the next.

A couple of days ago, I experienced stillness, no movement, just being here now.  It was so sweet, and then it faded.  I figured it was by grace that such sufficiency showed up and I vowed to simply wait until this light shone on me again.  Trying to make it happen, such as by feeling into the current event and trying to make it stop, was a useless endeavour.  Effort doesn’t lead to the timeless.

Then there was this morning.  What if I found a mantra and simply repeated it throughout the day, hoping that it would trigger the downward flow of energy that I was experiencing recently?  Sounds like a strategy but not really effort.  That might work.  But having things “work” seems contrary to the letting go that came upon me before.  Still, I decided to do it.

How about “Not this”?  I tried that for awhile but no sweetness came my way.  Then I realized that negating the present moment wasn’t it.  I needed to honour present happenings while opening to something beyond them.  Maybe “Bigger than this”.  Worth a shot.

I was driving into London, going with the flow of the traffic, when I let “Bigger than this” seep into me.  Immediately the quiet flow of energy fell softly from my throat to my stomach.  And I was there, fully aware of the cars, but absolutely quiet inside.  I started congratulating myself and right away lost the immense space.  “Just watch the fullness (or emptiness), Bruce.  No analysis or conclusions.”

I got to my bike shop, to pick up ta-pocketa.  Unmindfully, I had broken my pedal last week.  “Come in.  We’re open” said the sign.  A smaller, handwritten one said they had to close unexpectedly for a few hours.  After a minute of grousing, I remembered my mantra … and the world opened once more.  The frustration of driving to Lambeth but not getting to take my bike home was still there but it was … small.  I smiled.

My afternoon was at South Dorchester School, volunteering with wonderful Grade 6 kids.  Right away, I had a conversation with two girls about drawing, and my mantra disappeared.  It stayed disappeared until I remembered it while talking to two women at the end of the day.  In between, I had many glorious moments, such as staring at a computer screen, surrounded by 12-year-olds, trying to guess who’s who from 27 baby pictures.  I got one right!

You could say that I was present for all these interactions with the kids, and I was, but how deeper could the moments have been if “Bigger than this” had augmented the already beautiful?  I don’t know, but I’m thrilled with the possibility that I can access the infinite often within daily life.

Tomorrow there’s more daily life on the schedule.  The Grade 6’s have a class trip to Western University in London.  We’ll be playing 4 or 5 different sports and “new” games.  And I have a challenge:

Stay present
Stay open
Stay fully alive

I can do this
Effortlessly

New

I sat with “Trevor” for a few minutes yesterday.  He’s a Grade 6 student at South Dorchester School.  I looked at him and wondered if he could create something new in the world.  Then I asked him.  “I have a challenge for you.  Think up some way that people could be happier.”

Trevor didn’t look at me like I was crazy.  He just looked at me … thoughtfully.  Then he said, “I’ll work on it.”  And I know he will.

What if each of us considered what we could add to this place, rather than merely wanting all our desires to be met?  What if we could focus on the level of consciousness we present to others, rather than just checking off items on our bucket list?  What if we committed to living in accord with our highest values?  It’s possible.

Long ago, in my travels as an itinerant vision teacher, I came upon a classroom teacher named Patty.  Every morning, she’d write a “Thought for the Day” on the board.  I liked a lot of them, but then one day …

You were born an original
Don’t die a copy

Whoa!

That one hit me hard and it’s stayed with me over the years.  “Original.”  Something new on our planet.  Yes.  I can do that, and so can each of us.  I doubt very much if I’ll ever invent something that makes our lives easier, but would I really want to do that anyway?  “Easier” is nowhere near the top of the mountain.

Perhaps my uniqueness can revolve around the present moment, and all the ones to follow.  Right now, what can I bring to the table?  Well, this particular Right Now finds me tapping the keys of my laptop in a Tim Hortons coffee shop.  I’m not talking to anyone, other than the fellow I gave my order to.  What can advance the world’s happiness as I sit here?  Well … I can simply wish people well.

You are loved
May you have peace
May you touch others
May you feel the sorrows of those around you and let your heart quiver in response

As I complete this blog post, and ready myself to leave the restaurant, maybe there’s a kind word that will escape my lips and land in someone’s heart.  We’ll see.

Part of my uniqueness shows up in the meditation hall on retreats.  After a few days of settling in, I can feel my heart opening, offering love and peace to those nearby.  I don’t think I fill the room … but perhaps someday.  “Come on, Bruce, other people do this too.”  Of course, but it is a gift I’ve been given.

My newness may mostly show up in group meditation but my environment is full of more traditional venues – classrooms, diners, libraries, my home, other people’s homes, on the trail, in the public washroom, sitting on a bench.  Folks come by.  What can I offer?  Quite a bit, I think.

And as for you, Trevor, I welcome your words.  See you on Tuesday.

Shrek and Allie

I saw a musical tonight, performed by the Grade 8 students of St. Mary Choir School.  Twice I taught a blind student there, each time for three years.  But now I don’t know any of the kids and they don’t know me.  What an eerie feeling that is, so familiar with the school, it being part of my history, but now I’m a stranger.

The kids were magnificent in their acting, singing and dancing.  The ogre Shrek seems to be rejected by nearly everybody.  Just a big green “ugly” fellow.  The beautiful princess has eyes only for the lord of the land, someone who hopefully will sweep her off her feet.  Alas, she harbours a terrible secret – a spell turns her into a disfigured green maiden every night at sunset.  How could the prince love a girl like that?

Only a kiss from her true love will transform the princess into eternal beauty.  And finally she sees that Shrek is that love.  His kiss, however, doesn’t return her to Hollywood loveliness.  She remains green but is changed within.  True beauty.

It was such a sweet story.  Let’s all be ourselves and celebrate each person’s uniqueness.

***

There’s a Part Two to my evening.  Before the show, as I was seeking my seat, I saw a girl who four years ago was a classmate of the blind child I worked with.  I’ll call her Allie.  As our eyes met, she smiled and said “Mr. Kerr”.  We hugged.  And I couldn’t remember her name.  I remembered how alive she was back then, so spontaneous, but no name came to me.  I decided to admit to her that I’d forgotten.  Maybe I shouldn’t have done that.  As resilient as I guessed she was now, it’s hard to be forgotten.  She said it was okay, I found out how high school life was for her, and we wished each other well.

As I watched the play, I was sad.  “Do no harm, Bruce.”  And I never intend to.  I’ve prided myself for a long time in remembering people’s names but lately it’s been a struggle.  As with you, Allie.

At the end, I wanted to find her, to apologize, to tell her how she had made me smile so often back then.  After talking to an old friend for a few minutes, I went in search.  Allie wasn’t in the theatre.  She wasn’t in the lobby.  On a whim, I returned to the theatre.  Nope.  Oh well, I hope you got that I meant no harm.

Time to go.  Back through the lobby … and there she was standing with her friends.  We saw each other.  We smiled again.

“I’m so sorry that I forgot your name.  I remember your zest for life, and I’m sure you still have it.”  My eyes were watering.

“It’s not important.  There were a lot of us.”

“It is important.  It’s your name.”

Two final smiles and then the latest intersection of our lives was gone.  Fare thee well, young woman.

Dancing Eyes

My friend Eleanor told me about a local “Dancing With The Stars” competition three weeks ago.  It was to be held in a historic railway station in St. Thomas, Ontario, built in the 1870’s to the tune of 354 feet long and 36 feet wide.  It was fascinating to hear that the seven couples had no ballroom experience but were getting two months of instruction from a skilled teacher.

And then I forgot about the whole thing.

A week ago, I saw Eleanor again and discovered that the show was sold out.  “Strike while the iron is hot” – so said someone from my deep dark past.  No striking from this guy.

For the past few days, I’ve had three folks trying to score me a ticket for last night’s performance.  I phoned the first two and they weren’t successful in their quest.  “Oh well, I don’t need any particular life experience to be happy,” chirped my little Buddhist soul.  But I sure wanted to go!

Thursday evening, just before the big hockey game on TV, here comes a phone call.  Eleanor’s sister-in-law was to go with a friend, but that person’s husband was ill, so she had to cancel.  “Do you know anyone who needs a ticket, Eleanor?”  “Well, I do know this guy named Bruce.”

And so I got to go, plus I got to sit in the second row, perfect for checking out flying feet.  Thank you, universe, for aligning the CASO Station and me.

Here are my personal highlights:

1.  I sat next to Lora and we laughed all night, ending up with a marriage ceremony planned for next Tuesday at 2:00.

2.  I talked to Bonnie, an old friend from the Port Stanley Community Choir.  I got to renew my zest for sopranos, altos, tenors and basses.  Maybe I’ll have a future back there.

3.  I watched one of the couples swirl across the dance floor with great love in their eyes.  Their bodies moved beautifully but it was the eyes that held me.  Afterwards, I told them how vividly their love shone.

4.  With another couple, the woman’s face was so darn alive.  I didn’t think skin could do all that.  I told her later about the joy I saw.

5.  Another pair were the driving force behind the St. Thomas Performing Arts Series – many years of concerts in a sublime circular sanctuary.  At the end, I thanked him for bringing the Barra MacNeils and many other artists to a small city.

6.  The last dancers included a woman I know well.  She was Jody’s nurse practitioner as my dear wife fell towards death.  I hadn’t seen her since Jodiette went to the hospital for the last few days of her life.  On a break, I walked up to Laura.  We smiled, we hugged, and I thanked her for taking such good care of Jody.

***

Eleanor was the coach for one of the dancing pairs and they won the People’s Choice Award.  She bounced up and down and presented us all with a huge smile.  In the audience, I was smiling pretty widely too.  Lots to be happy about.

Ordinary and Imperfect

I saw the movie Fences tonight.  Apparently Viola Davis won the Best Supporting Actress award at the Oscars but I was oblivious to the world at the time.  At the end of the film, the credits rolled, the red curtain closed, and still I sat in my seat, stunned.

It was a marvelous depiction of human beings, with all their glows and warts showing.  If ever I had the thought that there are great human beings, so-so ones, and then the yucky types … all of that faded tonight.

The dad had been a star in the Negro League of baseball but never made it into the Major Leagues.  He has seen the ravages of prison and now works hard for his family from the back of a garbage truck.  His son wants to play football but dad creates massive roadblocks so the boy won’t go through the pain he did.  The younger question “Do you like me?” is met with the older response “I put a roof over your head and fed you.”

The wife has put her dreams away for eighteen years to love her man and her son.  Her husband finally admits to an ongoing affair and insists on continuing to see the woman.  The wife’s fury and agony pour out of her eyes and nose but later, when the mistress dies giving birth, she holds the child to her breast as her own.

Dad’s brother was injured in the war and is mentally long gone, but he is loved.  His disability payments are the main reason that the family has a home.

No fairy tale lives here.  Nobody’s blonde and cute, or ruggedly handsome.  Just folks … loving and hating and loving some more.

Thank you, Denzel Washington, for directing and acting in such a reminder of our fragile stay on this planet.

 

Slime

It was Thursday afternoon, just before the kids headed home.  I heard “Let’s show Mr. Kerr” and here came two girls to reveal the contents of a margarine tub.  I’ll call them Jessica and Claire.  In the hollow of the container was a mass of green goop.

I know me.  I know what I’d do in such a situation.  I reached in and scooped out the greenness.  It rolled over my fingers and started a descent between them.  So cool.  I just stared at the flow while the girls watched my every move.  Some of the concoction plummeted back into the tub but much of it stuck to my fingers.  I believe Jessica and Claire were looking at my face more than my digits.  Joy bubbled from within.

I found out that Jessica was the author of this masterpiece.  Apparently it’s Borax, glue and God knows what.  I asked her politely, “Would you be willing to make me some overnight?”  She smiled and said yes.  Excellent.  I’d have my own special supply in time for the week of March Break (no school).

Claire and Jessica giggled their way out of the portable and I was left with “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”.  I was sure I’d see them tomorrow.

Last day of school.  I showed up for the afternoon fun day.  As soon as I opened the portable’s door and hung up my coat, Claire and Jessica traipsed over, margarine tub in hand.  I took off the lid … and there was first class slime of a delicate turquoise hue.  Into my hands it went, and it also journeyed to my heart.  Soon we were off to the various adventures which resided in some classroom or another.  My goop sat contented on the shelf.  Two hours later, we returned to the Grade 6 class.  I picked up the slime, lifted it into the air with two hands, and let it sink so gracefully into the well-positioned tub three feet below.  It was a move deserving of an Olympic gold medal.

Claire came over and I casually mentioned how delicious the goop tasted, especially on toast.  Her face collapsed and her eyes grew exponentially.  I assured her immediately that I did no such thing … face back to normal.

At the every end of the day, Tiffany, the Grade 6 teacher, has the kids do “Shout Outs”, praise for cool stuff that a kid saw another student do.  I shouted out Jessica: “Thank you for the slime.”

***

And on to today.  I love walking the twenty minutes to the Belmont Diner for breakfast.  A sneaky little voice told me to put the slime tub in a plastic bag and carry it along.  So I did.  There I am sitting at the horseshoe-shaped lunch counter demonstrating my goop abilities to the variety of human beings sitting around.  I think at least one person was impressed.  The rest?  Well, most of them kept their thoughts to themselves.

Now I glance over at the end table to see my turquoise friend cozy inside its Celeb margarine tub.  Just two buddies hanging out.  Who knows what horizons we’ll explore tomorrow.

Learnings

Well, look at this.  My fingers are caressing the keys again.  It’s been over a month, most of which I’ve spent in silence.

A little smile just broke upon the shore of my mouth, and with it a realization: I don’t give a hoot about how good this piece of writing is.  Ha, ha ,ha!  This is delightful.  The words will come, and along with them sentences and paragraphs.  Some people will like it … some won’t.  All is well.

Ah, hah.  An intruding thought.  “But Bruce, if you’re not all tied up about the quality of your work, then that work should be better.  And that’s good.”  Well, dear person that I am, that may be true but the depth of it all is “Who cares?”

I discovered some things during my meditation retreat.  And I don’t mean a cognitive understanding, but rather a full body, down-deep-in-the-heart variety.  Something that rattles my bones and leaves me both spent like a dishrag and bountiful as a mountaintop.

1. “What you contemplate, you become.”  My first memory of contemplating love was one evening in 1974, sitting under a big tree in Vancouver’s Queen Elizabeth Park.  I had just seen a performance of Jesus Christ Superstar in a stone church downtown.  Perhaps for two hours, I sat there and rocked back and forth in a … trance?  Something magical was percolating through me.

Since then, I have largely contemplated love and peace in my life and I believe that I’ve become that type of person.  It doesn’t mean that I’m never critical of others but I return to the Buddha’s urging to “Begin again.”  The peace returns.  The thoughts once again flow to the goodness in the world, and my part in that.

2.  “There are two types of suffering: the type that you can’t do anything about and the type that you can.”  Partway through the retreat, we had green beans at lunch.  They were long so I cut them in half.  They were also a little hard.  I have arthritis in my right thumb.  I prepared my hand for its bean-stabbing motion and sallied forth, except that I wasn’t strong enough to pierce the veggies.  I pressed harder and had some success, managing to get a few beans airborne, but it hurt.  I stared in wonder.  And then I started laughing.  Somewhere along the line, I’ve begun accepting the pains of life, and have decided not to add stuff.  Such as:

What’s wrong with you?

You’re getting old.  Maybe you’ll die soon

This isn’t fair!  You’re a good person … this shouldn’t be happening

3.  Mr. Buddha told us that life consists of four pairs: Gain and Loss, Pleasure and Pain, Praise and Blame, Fame and Disrepute.  During the retreat, I got to experience all eight.  I’ve started to see, way down deep, that I can be the nicest guy, with the best intentions in the world and a rigorous fitness program, and life’s plate will still offer me helpings of loss, pain, disrepute and blame.  So be it.

***

On we go in life.  It’s really a fine adventure

Dear Me

I woke up this morning with those two words on my lips.  I stretched and said it again.  Nothing odd about that.  But then I listened … to a voice:

“You are dear, Bruce.”

“Uh … yes.  But so is everyone else.”

“That’s true.  There are many flavours of dearness.  Yours is verging on unique.”

“No, no, no.  There are lots of people like me in the world.”

“Oh?”

“What do you mean, ‘oh’?  I’m not special.”

“Okay, I’ll give you that.  But you’re unusual, in a nice way.”

“I suppose that’s true.  But I’m not better than other people.”

“I agree.  You’re different, though.  You see connections that some folks don’t.  You’re silly.  You’re loving.  All in all, not a bad human.”

“Why thank you.  Can we stop talking about this stuff now?”

“As you wish.”

***

And yes, all of this went on in my head.  Perhaps I’m going loony tunes.  I sure hope not.  There’s a lot of living left to do.

And a particular flavour of that living starts tomorrow.  At 5:00 am, I head east on the road of life, otherwise known as Highway 3.  Many hours later, I’ll curl up under the covers in Utica, New York.  On Monday, it’s through the Berkshire Mountains to Williamstown, Massachusetts, where I’ll hunker down for two days.  I hope to visit art galleries, meditate in churches, and find the local coffee shop for good conversation.  On Wednesday afternoon, I show up at the Forest Refuge near Barre, Massachusetts where I’ll essentially be silent for a month.  Many quiet dear ones will sit near me but I’ll never meet them.  We won’t say hi.  We won’t make eye contact.  But I will love them anyway.  Hmm … I suppose that’s fairly unusual.

I’ll blog Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and then it’ll be silencio until February 28.  Come see me then, if you wish.  I may have groovy things to say or perhaps my fingers will begin a vow of silence.  Who knows?  The mystery beckons.

Love Is …

Well, I’m off.  At least that’s what some people think.  Actually, I don’t start driving until Sunday morning.  I’m heading to a one month silent meditation retreat in Massachusetts.

For the last few weeks, I’ve told folks where I’m going.  Over the years the responses I’ve received have pretty much been the same:  “Oh, I couldn’t do that!”  Only two or three human beings thought they could.

Many people look at me funny when I say I’m going to be silent for a month (three months back in 2015).  When I mention that I’m a Buddhist, some of them really get weirded out.  “You’re not a Christian?”  “No.”

All of this pales before what I’ve decided to tell them in front of this trip.  I’ve only said this to a few because they’ve thought it’s so strange.  I’m tempted to shut up, such as right now.  But that’s no fun … so here goes.

“I’m going to this retreat to love people, to explore what the depths of love can be.”  It will be unlike any I’ve been on.  Usually, I’d have a few hours at the beginning to talk to other yogis, and a few hours at the end to discuss how it went.  On February 1, I immerse myself in an environment where I’ll never talk to the other participants.  I won’t make eye contact with them.  Is it possible to love people whom I won’t meet?  They’ll be near me in the meditation hall and the dining room.  I’ll look at their faces and bodies, from the side.  I’ll see the joy and pain.  There won’t be any contact but I say there’ll be a connection.

Sometimes love is more of an exchange than a communion.  “I’ll keep loving you as long as you keep doing X.”  Happily, relationship can be a world beyond that.

And then, who do you love?  For some, it’s just themselves.  Or just my life partner.  Or my family.  Or the members of my faith or culture.  How about everyone, even the grumpy folks?  How about all beings, from my dear one to a mosquito?  Is it possible?

So off I go, curious about how widely love can spread its wings.

I’ll never meet them
Probably I’ll never see them again
I want nothing from them
Ain’t life grand?

Beyond Reason

Yesterday was my birthday.  I officially turned 48.  Of course I’m also a chronic liar, so my true age will appear inconspicuously somewhere in this post.  68!

When I was a kid, mom told me that I was born at 10:00 am.  So at 9:30 I walked out of my dear condo and headed down Main Street to the Belmont Diner.  I sat at the lunch counter and announced “When I was a kid, mom told me that I was born at 10:00 am.”  Chrystal (the owner, and a very sharp cookie), chimed in with “So it’s your birthday.”  She then proceeded to waltz over to the white menu board and add “Happy birthday, Bruce -72 years.”  Well, not quite.

I took out my phone and saw that it was 9:55.  One more countdown.  I’ve done this every year since I was knee high to somebody’s knee.  As 9:56 appeared in my universe, I started a slow chant: “67, 67, 67, …”.  My companions smiled.

The radio was playing a wee dittie.  I recognized one of my favourites:  Superman’s Song.

I’ve always related to the words.  I’m no Superman, but like him I’ve wanted to do good.  I could be a “hangin’-out-in-the-cave” Buddhist, but that’s not me.  Tarzan had his jungle but I’ve yearned to be like Supe:

Sometimes when Supe was stopping crimes
I’ll bet that he was tempted to just quit and turn his back on man
Join Tarzan in the forest
But he stayed in the city
And kept on changing clothes in dirty old phonebooths
Till his work was through
And nothing to do but go on home

Coffee to my lips, 9:59 became 10:00 and I was 68.  Superman sang on.  What are the chances that words I love would intersect with my birthday moment?

Time for the next song, another Brucio smiler:

I want to know what love is
I want you to show me
I want to feel what love is
I know you can show me

Well, I was 2 for 2.  Unknown forces were flowing around me.  Peace was there.  Wonder too.

Oh, what we tiny humans don’t know