Hello Traveller

I’m sitting in my comfy meditation chair after a long period of quiet.  Right in front of me is my big bed, with its bedspread of splashy colours.  Beyond is a large window looking out on the backyard, with its recently planted deciduous tree – about 12 feet tall.  Then the land slopes down to a farmer’s field.  Maybe 400 metres away is a creek with a series of trees standing guard, their branches bare.  After that is a field which climbs toward the horizon, with Harrietsville Drive flowing left to right way back there near the end of the world.

And I reflect.

Before I started meditating, I took off my clothes and put on my red housecoat.  Those clothes are piled on the bed, helter skelter.  I look at the pile and realize that they’re my clothes, a symbol of Bruce now divorced from the body.  But I see me there.  I think of all the garments I’ve worn in my life, and I smile.  It’s nice to have remembrances of me.  They help me love myself in the moment.  Sometimes I need reminders that I’m a good person.

Outside of the window but unseen from my current angle are two bird feeders.  A flash of wing often crosses my field of vision and some birdies take turns clinging to the branches of the tree.  Then again, the tree is often birdless … such as right now.  I want my friends to show up, so I can enjoy them.  I sense that a few of them are at the feeders, just beyond my sight, but somehow that’s not good enough.  I want them to be with me.

Way out there on Harrietsville Drive, a car is roaming left to right.  “Hello, traveller.  I hope you’re happy.  Thanks for coming by.”  Too soon, the car disappears behind my bedroom wall.  I long for another to take its place.  A right-to-lefter would be just as fine.

Right now, there’s no vehicle on the horizon.  I feel an odd pain about that.  But I look at the trees by the creek and see that their branches are waving at me.  “Hello, dear trees.”  Unlike the birds and the cars, they’re not going anywhere.  Come the spring, however, their leaves will disguise the waving.

So at times there is no waving, no birdies and no humans in their cozy cars.  And that’s okay.  Part of the rhythm of things.  And I know they’ll be back.

Nothing … Something … Nothing

And how exactly do you write about nothing?  Maybe I’m done right now, but I don’t think so.

I meditated for two hours yesterday morning.  That’s a long time but it’s not new for me.  Usually in a meditation sitting, I have periods of “quiet mind” and others of “monkey mind”.  You get the idea.  Quiet means relatively few thoughts, and those float away quickly.  Monkey means a constant spewing of negativity, and thoughts that pile on top of each other.  Yesterday was neither.

After a few minutes of settling, I went into a lengthy period that was brand new: no movement at all, either physical or mental.  Virtually no thoughts.  No words came to mind, even when I tried to create one, such as “love”.  Probably for the first hour and three-quarters, all was still.  My body slumped to the left and sometimes I brought it back to vertical, but there was no thinking.  Just this big space inside me.  And a supreme sense that whatever was happening was perfectly fine.

One random thought showed up: I should curl my lips upwards in a tiny smile, to beam loving energy to human beings.  But no smile came and instead there was some global sense that the love was right here right now with no intentional thinking or movement.  This awareness was all-encompassing, unspoken and undeniable.  It didn’t seem to be a discrete thought.

Okay, I feel myself moving into censoring mode.  “You’re not making any sense.  People will think you’re crazy.”  But whatever is going on right now as I type, it doesn’t feel “rational”.  Something else is here.  And I don’t care what it is.  I’m just glad to be along for the ride.

One thing I’ve never done is write about a recent meditation experience, then begin another period of meditating, and then write about that too.  So … off I go to my bedroom and my meditation chair.  Will I be thirty minutes or three hours?  I don’t know.  Either way, I’ll talk to you soon.

***

Ha!  I lasted 26 minutes.  I fell asleep three times and a brightening consciousness kept saving me from toppling to the floor.  Not exactly an experience of “nothing”!  I started analyzing why today’s meditation was so different and came up with zero other than my recent overzealous caffeine consumption and the fact that I haven’t had any coffee today.

I decided to go to bed.  “Too tired for meditation.”  An hour later, after lots of coziness but no sleeping, I’m up again.  And how strange – I’m very happy.  The word “symphony” is flooding me, that my life is made up of so many different experiences and they blend to create a perfectly fine whole.  Did I want to repeat yesterday’s nothingness?  Yesiree.  Am I devastated that this didn’t happen?  Nosiree.

What now?  I think I’ll read my book.  And maybe return to my meditation chair a bit later.

To be continued.

***

I’ve just come out of another period of meditation – 70 minutes this time.  And the nothingness returned … unbidden, unforced.  I just watched.  After awhile, partial images came.  At the end, I looked back at the hour and the picture of a blob showed up.  The blob was nothingness and occasionally a something would poke its head up, covered in blob goo, and then recede.  The appearances had no staying power.  They would partially form and then dissipate, gently fall apart.

First there was a fragment of a moment.  It was at night.  I was stepping off the sidewalk to cross the street.  A car with headlights on was heading towards me from the right.  Then … Poof!  Gone.  Next was a series of faces, barely formed and unrecognizable.  Each in turn faded away, to be replaced by another silhouette which also dropped from sight almost immediately.  Just the blob again.  Then a thought would start, but couldn’t resist the gravity of the blob and would sink down again.  Also a word or two, I think.

For the last few minutes, it was just the nothingness again.  And then, without thought, it seemed to be time to go.  I opened my eyes.

***

Well, isn’t this a wonder?  I’m soft and quiet and open to whatever’s next.  I hope nothing comes back.  It may or may not.  I’m all right with either.

 

Bring It To Mind

What if I could just think about something and have it show up in my life?  I wonder.

During last fall’s retreat, I often was able to reach a deep meditative state when sitting in the hall with other yogis.  I could feel energy behind my eyes and a “shimmering down” of something sweet falling to my neck and beyond.  It was a space of much love and peace.  Everything stopped as I was held in some mysterious embrace.  And then the whole thing would go away.  I learned to trust that it would come back.

Over the last month, this same feeling has occasionally flooded me during the plainest moments – driving down the road, walking downtown, sitting on the toilet.  How can this be happening in “real life”, apart from the seclusion of the retreat centre and the serenity of the meditation hall?  I don’t know, but it is happening … And it’s happening right now.

I’m sitting in a warming shed at the Wards Island ferry dock on Toronto Island.  I’m alone, and yet it feels like the universe is all around.  I’m tapping away to you in a space of “all rightness”.  It doesn’t matter what I say.  Whatever comes out of my thumbs will be just fine.

Last night I went to a concert with my friend Jane.  Afterwards we were sitting in a restaurant enjoying an appetizer.  We talked about lots of things.  At one point, I remembered the marvel of those peaceful moments I’ve just described.  I told Jane about it.  And just like that … I was there: the shimmering, the space enveloping me, the peace.  My eyes widened.  “Jane, what I just said – I’m there.”  How can this be?  It’s just like during sitting meditation.  All I did was speak the experience … and “Voilà!”

It’s three hours later now.  I’ve listened to a marvelous string quartet at the island church.  Most of the time, while listening or chatting, you could say I went unconscious, not at all in touch with the sublimity.  And that’s okay.   Once in awhile, the thought came up “I wonder if I can do this when I’m talking to someone, like with Jane.”  But that’s not it. There’s no doing.  The sweetness just showed up with Jane.  No prompting other than starting to talk about the experience.  No intention to unfold.  I actually tried to reach the space when eating brunch with five other folks … but no go.  Maybe a glimpse for a few seconds, but that was all.  It’s all right.  I don’t mind.

I just had a thought – perhaps saying a single word could foster the opening of Spirit.  How about “This”, in the sense of right here and right now?  As opposed to “That”, with the here and/or the now missing.  No, “this” doesn’t ring true.

During a particular flurry of bows and strings this afternoon, another word  showed up … “Listen”.  That feels better.  It could be a trigger to spaciousness when I’m in the middle of a conversation.  We’ll see.  But isn’t that just more doing?

Now I’m on the ferry back to downtown Toronto.  The peace is back, unbeckoned.  Such a mystery.  In the next few days, when I’m talking to someone, I’ll see if the forces of the universe open me, with or without a word on my lips.

It’s a grand adventure
No control
No pressing for a result
No me

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?