On and On and On

I sat down to meditate this afternoon.  In my meditation chair in my bedroom.  And opened my eyes again two hours and fifty minutes later.  I’d never experienced anything like it.

Within a few minutes (I guess), everything stopped.  My head dropped.  I was fully aware but there was this huge space inside my head.  Thoughts would occasionally come but they had no power.  All was quiet.

Sometimes I had the thought “I should stop.”  But why?  I was in my comfy chair.  No back pain.  Slumping into a deep silence.  Keep going.  Keep letting it unfold.

Two hours later, I had to pee, and the feeling built.  Eventually I gave in and opened my eyes.  Almost three hours.

How long could I have gone on?  I don’t know.  With pre-urination, I suppose it could have been hours more.

Everything was so quiet.  I heard the snowplow outside, dealing with the winter dump of snow.  The furnace came on.  Nothing was important.  Time stretched on effortlessly.

Sometimes there were words.  “Love.”  And that brought a little smile to my face.  “I am free.”  And the head bowed again.  The sweetest times were when I was in love with people.  Less so when I felt into my ease.  But all of it was fine.

This is a very long time.  No tension.  Just floating.  “Please don’t have this end” sat beside “It’s perfectly fine when this ends.”  They were friends.

It’s by grace that all this came upon me.  Will it ever come back again, to the tune of 2:50?  Maybe not.  But what a blessing for a Friday afternoon.  Thank you, o mysterious powers of the universe.

Returning to Words

Well, well, well.  I just discovered that my last post on WordPress was nearly six months ago.  And here I am, finally interested in talking to you again.

I have no idea if anyone is still out there in Cyberland.  Maybe I’ll just be talking to myself.  Oh well, I do that regularly anyway!

I came home ten days ago from a three-month silent meditation retreat in Massachusetts.  A fellow participant (we’re called yogis) wrote me a long e-mail a few days ago.  I responded to the first part of her message and asked her permission to share it with you folks.  She just said yes.  Tomorrow, I’ll reflect on more of her message, how her words fit with my experience of the retreat.  So here we go.  Back on the horse.

“__________ – what a brilliant letter.  It must have taken you an hour to compose.  I too feel honoured – that you would talk to me so deeply and extensively.  Thank you.

What am I feeling now?  Fear … that I won’t be able to respond to your written journey in a complete way.  Oh well, Bruce.  Let that go.  “Complete” isn’t it.  Just open your heart and write.

I don’t know how to deal with people calling me “amazing”.  How about with simple grace and thanks?  That will do nicely.  I struggle with the idea of being special.  It feels like a big flaring ego when I go that way.  I prefer “ordinary”, in the sense that all of us have inside the love and peace that often leak out of me.  And then there’s the possibility of letting the comparing mind take a vacation, that “special” and “ordinary” just aren’t relevant anymore.  Maybe I’ll try that one on for size.

Thank you for calling me your teacher.  That’s very gracious of you.  I am a teacher, but perhaps not at the front of the room.  I know that my loving and peaceful energy reaches some people.  To think that I contributed to the lives of many of you on retreat gives me great happiness.  And then there were the times during sittings when there was no sweet energy at all.

I just have to close my eyes.  Energy is either flowing all over my face or there is nothing.  During those flat times, I for awhile gave up on making any difference in the hall.  Late in the retreat, however, the quiet voice who has been with me for many years said “Bruce, all is well.  It appears that you can’t reach the expansive state that reaches out to people right now, but there is one thing you can do.  Open your eyes and wish all these folks well.”  And so I did.  I simply looked around and sent my favourite phrases outwards, hoping at some level they were received.

You are loved

Dearly beloved

Dear ones

Loved ones

Darlings

Loves

Dears

Getting to the sweet space of peace is such an experience of letting go.  Trying for it is useless.  Strive away, world.  I won’t be joining you.  Also, I’ve discovered that my life has to be impeccable in the moment for me to reach this state.  If I’m angry or fearful, there’s no way.  If I’m lusting after someone or something, the same.  And ditto if my body is exhausted.  Wow.  There’s a personal development program for you.  Bliss through purification!”

Hmm.  It feels good to be back.

What’s Happening?

Here I sit, in the main branch of the London Public Library, in a golden state of openness.  I was there many times during my month of silence in February and also in some meditation sessions at home since then.  But today is different.  I’ve been out and about at Wimpy’s Diner, Wellington Fitness, Farm Boy and now the library.  A quietness has followed me everywhere, taking a break when I’m talking to someone, giving ‘er on the elliptical or negotiating downtown traffic, but otherwise … it’s here.  As in right now.

It’s one thing to go deep in the meditation hall but out in the “real” world?  Never before like this.  And just so you know, it’s not scary.  It’s actually lovely.  But what does it mean?  I know that my life experiences are transient – easy come and easy go.  And this spaciousness will eventually morph into something that I’ll define as “less”.  Still, it’s hanging in with me on a Monday.

I’m not crazy but I worry that some of you reading this might think so.  Do I keep going or just nip all this talk in the bud?  Well, I’ve already set the table.  Maybe I should just dive into my meal, hoping that you’ll stay near.  Yes, I’ll do that.

It’s like I’m being soothed by the surf, a gentle rocking inside my head.  There are small waves of energy roaming around.  But I’m fully aware of my surroundings.  My trusty laptop is on my trusty lap and over there are folks reading newspapers, checking their cell phones and making marks on white sheets of paper.  All normal stuff.  But what if this head space is becoming my new normal?  That would be okay.  I’d still function well in the world.

I look at my fellow library patrons and see my brothers and sisters, a mom and two daughters and an old friend from home.  We’re all in this together, and that’s just fine.

The waves are getting bigger, and again it’s not scary.  I wonder if someday soon I’ll get to experience this in the middle of a conversation.  Wo.  Some sort of energy is shimmering down from my head to my toes.  I’ve felt this before but I think only when I was meditating.

“Shut it down, Bruce.  You’re getting too weird.  Keep going like this and you’ll be alone in the world.”  No, I disagree.  I don’t expect to be alone in this world anytime soon.

“Don’t you dare post this!  White-coated humans will be knocking on your door forthwith.”  Sorry, friend, but a-posting I will go.  See those chips falling where they may?

“You need to keep busy.  Keep doing things so all this silliness won’t have any room in your head.”  I don’t want to be knee-jerk busy, and it seems like there’s lots of room in my head.

I wonder if anybody here on the third floor feels me.  I doubt it.  But I know I reached some people on the retreat.  I want to reach people … with love and peace.

“Shut it down, I say.  There’s no audience for this stuff.”  Oh?

***

I’m done writing for today.  But my head will go on.  See you tomorrow.

Gone … No … Here

Writers are supposed to speak to their audience, use words that they’ll relate to, be comfy to them so that meaning flows easily from me to you.  Well, perhaps not this time.

I’ve just come out of one-and-a-half hours of meditation, and the world is big.  There are spaces between my cells.  It’s not quite like a pause button, and it’s not really slow-mo, but those words are in the territory.  And “coming out of” is not true either.  That suggests some trance state of blissful nothingness.  What I’ve just experienced is sweet nowness, fully aware of the traffic on Belmont Road and the wind ripping at my condo.

It took maybe twenty seconds for me to go deep.  How can that be?  During my recent retreat, I often couldn’t reach peace during an entire sitting.  The mind was just too chatty.  “Couldn’t reach” suggests effort and I know now that there’s no loving cheese down that tunnel.  By grace do I flow.

Today, I mostly felt complete stillness, and such an alertness.  Many times before, my stillness was punctuated by ripples of energy running under the skin of my face, including some sort of movement under my eyeballs.  Don’t know what that looks like since I’m inside the show.

Wo.  (I really don’t know how to spell that.)  Half an hour later, in the midst of tap-tapping on the keys, all is quiet.  Somewhere way back in my head is a tiny voice.  “You’re not making any sense.  They won’t understand.  They’ll think you’re weird.”  But that voice is so small, just about not there.  What is here is love, and peace, and okayness.  Hmm.  It’s very nice.

Bathing in this land of sufficiency is warm and comforting … but now what?  Do I head to the nearest cave and pray for world peace?  Do I stay downtown and see if this space can show up in daily conversation?  Do I chuck it all out the window and just obsess about the Toronto Maple Leafs?  Think I’ll pick Door Number Two.

Ain’t life grand?

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

The Last Post (For Awhile)

Around 3:00 pm today, I enter into a month of silence at the Forest Refuge near Barre, Massachusetts.  Hey, maybe I should start right now, which would make this a very short post.  Naw.  I still have a few hours of yapping in me.  Barre is three hours away and no doubt there’ll be human beings on the way to whom I can say silly things.

These fingers really enjoy tapping on keys.  Well actually, just my two index fingers – the rest are just along for the ride.  And this brain enjoys looking at the world, finding a stimulus (Is that the right word?) and then going with it into a potpourri of tangents.

Okay, how about a stimulus?  A good-sized snowfall last night in Williamstown, Massachusetts.  Do I hope for dry roads today or the beauty of a winter wonderland?  Am I willing to embrace the losses and pains of life right alongside the gains and pleasures?  Oh, I could go on, but why bother?  All this writing stuff is about to come to an end.  The thinking stuff?  Not so much.

Over the next month, I expect to be sitting in meditation for perhaps eight hours a day.  Then there’ll be periods of walking meditation, work meditation (maybe potwashing!) and eating meditation.  Imagine thirty folks having lunch together in silence, with nary a clattering of silverware to be heard.  Sweet (although we’ll only get desserts twice a week).

I’m going on retreat to love people.  That’s it.  And that’s enough.

See you on the far side, with all due respect to Gary Larson.

With love,

Bruce

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?

Waiting

In an hour, I’ll walk into a restaurant for my second date with a lovely woman.  We had great fun the first time and no doubt tonight’s conversation will be well punctuated with laughs and smiles.  That’s certainly what I want in life.

Here I sit, bathing in uncertainty.  That little smile comes back to my lips again.  Perhaps we’ll become a couple, perhaps not.  Both are fine.  It’s possible that she’ll come to Cuba with me in three weeks – possible but unlikely.  But hope springs eternal.  I’ll have a wonderful time down south whether I’m alone or walking beside a companion.

This feeling in the moment is sublime, actually quite sweet.  I’m just sitting with the unknown, open to whatever the universe will provide.  There’s big space inside me.  My taps on the keys are slow and gentle, sort of a caress.  I’m in the library, sitting across from a young couple who are speaking in a language I don’t know.  They’re tender with each other, in tone of voice and facial expression.  It fits well with my reverie.

How come I’m not nervous?  I don’t know but it works for me.  Whatever happens tonight, I’m back in the game of relationship.  I’m moving towards a future of being with, doing stuff together, holding hands.  It’s time.

Jody is right here, cheering for me.  Thank you, Jodiette.  Life truly goes on.

Eighty-Four Days … Part Three

There are a lot of good ideas in life, and I’ve subscribed to many of them.  I found myself opening during the retreat, and ideas moved to truth.  The head became my heart.  Such as …

Love them all

Not just my family and friends.  Not just nice people.  Everyone.  Even those who sometimes grate on me.  We all hurt.  In my finer moments, I feel huge compassion for the people I meet.  Great love.  All of us face loss, blame, pain and disrepute (the Buddha’s words).  Short or tall; male or female; young, medium or old; angry or serene; pretty or handsome in the eyes of the world or not so.  I will sit with them all.

Do no harm

No hurtful speech.  No gossip.  No wishing that things don’t go all that well for them.  No comparing.  No making them “less than”.  No pushing past someone to get what I want.  And when I do harm, I will feel remorse and apologize.  We all deserve this.

Everything changes

I can try to keep my youth, my vibrancy, my financial well-being.  I can try to keep the people I love close to me.  But sometimes my good fortune floats away and the world is black.  And eventually I will be separated from all those I love.  Jody is no longer with me in body.  I’m no longer teaching kids.  My childhood friends are hopefully still on the planet, somewhere out there in the world.  And raging against the night is just not it.

***

During the last few weeks of the retreat, my periods of sitting meditation became ever more peaceful.  And I couldn’t keep my head up.  A few minutes in, it would just flop.  I made great efforts to “correct” the situation, all to no avail.  I stood up, but very soon my legs wouldn’t hold me, and I sat down again.  I tried bowing my head in perfect alignment with my body.  Slowly I teetered to the left and the speed increased so that I had to snap out of the peace to stay erect.  I leaned my whole body somewhat to the right, seeking a balance point but still I rolled left.  Eventually, I found balance by leaning way to the right, maybe at a 45 degree angle.  I worried about my head smashing into my neighbour’s chair arm.  For some moments I was deep into my heart.  In others fear ruled.  Always I was fully alert to my environment.  Finally I let go and let it happen.

I meditated this morning, again my head way off to the right.  Oh well.  Guess I won’t make the centrefold of Meditators’ Monthly. 

***

That’s all I feel like writing today.  I wonder if there’ll be a Part Four.  I wouldn’t be surprised.

My Meditation Retreat … Part 3

Another aspect of my day on retreat is walking meditation.  The typical plan is to take a 20-foot span of lawn or floor and walk back and forth.  I suppose that sounds pretty boring.  The yogi is not looking around and saying, “Wow, that’s a great tree!”  Instead they’re staying present with the rhythm of the footsteps and noticing the thoughts and feelings that come up.

There’s a walking room in one of the buildings.  At the far end is a large statue of the Buddha.  Many times, I’ve walked towards the Buddha, stopped in front of him, turned around and continued in the opposite direction.  I see in this a rhythm of my life: moving closer to the man’s wisdom and then turning my back on it, over and over.  This walking path is one of many examples in my life of taking something in the physical world and having it be a symbol of something larger.

Another favourite route of mine isn’t a straight line.  Rather it’s a loop … the circular driveway in front of the center over to the edge of the front lawn near the road.  My meditation is to walk down the very middle of the driveway, symbolizing the value of moderation.  I glance up occasionally to see if anyone is coming.  If they are, I move towards the side of the drive and let them continue on their path.  Your needs first, without sacrificing mine.  I need to be on the driveway, “on the path”.  I don’t need to always be in the middle.

And then there’s my rock.  It sits on the lawn, conveniently along my way.  It’s rounded, about two feet high, and partially covered with lichens.  Or is it moss?  Guess I’ll find out on Saturday.  I stop, lay my right hand on my solid friend, and pray for someone I love:

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

***

I don’t know what I’ll be like after three months of silence.  I know I’ll be a good person.  I already am.  But some other version of a good person, hopefully with a heart ever opening, a touch for those who need it, a smile on my face.

Time appears to be marching on.  And it’s time to stop writing … for 87 days.  I love writing, and I’ll miss my blog and you readers.  I hope my words have sometimes helped you in your life.  I hope you’ve laughed.  I hope you’ve cried.  I have.

I’ll be home on December 7.  I’ll write a blog post on December 8.  I hope you remember me.  Thank you for tuning in to my meanderings.  It’s been a privilege to talk to you.