Meditating

I sat down at 5:55 pm. Just now, at 7:08, it was over. A few minutes before, some unknown part of me knew that was true, and my eyes opened. I took the wooden mallet in my hand and tapped the side of the singing bowl. A pure ring started as a solid tone and then slipped into a wave … and slowly faded into silence. There’s a moment when I know the tiny vibration is no more. I tapped the bowl three times.

“Should I write about this?” a small voice calls out in the night. “Nobody’s going to understand. Some folks will see your words as ‘hogwash’, as mom loved to say.” It was a funner word than “ridiculous”. Oh, what the heck, I’ll start writing and you the reader can react as you will. I see now that I don’t need agreement about my meditation experiences. If you don’t like it, I’m sure you’ll find something else to read. What’s clear is that I want to share what my last hour was about.

I’ve meditated for fifteen years or so. Sitting for an hour has become ordinary, certainly not an achievement. For the last month, another version of ordinary has been consistently showing up. Within minutes, or perhaps even seconds, I can’t speak. I think of my favourite phrase – “I love you” – but I can’t say the words in my head. I get to the “I” and there’s an extended “ah” that shows up. If I open my mouth to say the words aloud, they don’t come. Today it took maybe ten seconds for me to slip into this realm. It appears to be a signpost that love indeed has embraced me.

If you can slip in, you can slip out. And that happened today. Without any thoughts showing up, I saw “I love you” in my head and they were said, easily. I smiled. And that smile made me happy. Holding on to some cool state is not the way life works. Tonight I said “Bye bye” to the sublimity, trusting that it would return in its own good time. Sometime later in the hour, it did.

I haven’t had many thoughts during meditation recently, but when they come, sometimes in spurts, I like welcoming these old friends. Grunting and groaning, trying not to have thoughts, is a fool’s errand. I’ve been that fool many times. But not lately.

Even when it’s impossible to speak, there are nuances. For part of the time, I felt a wave flowing behind my eyes. I was being carried on that wave, feeling the pulse. Then there was a spell of “shimmering down”, the sense of something bright falling from the top of my head down my face. Later, as if by magic, both of those disappeared and what was left was stillness. No movement at all, no thoughts, and yet keenly feeling the presence of my bedroom. It’s tempting to see cessation as the goal, the shining peak of the whole climb. In my experience, though, there is no goal – no better or worse. There’s simply choosing to sit, and being open to whatever comes by.

At one point tonight, it felt like I was waking up from a deep sleep. My head had fallen way off to the left. As I brought myself back to vertical, I felt a sharp pain in my side. I didn’t remember falling. In some other sessions, I’ve had the sensation of jerking myself out of sleep, the whole body jolted. And now I’m smiling again. Meditation is such a delightful mystery.

So that’s how I spent a recent 73 minutes. I’m grateful to the psychologist who introduced me to meditation way back when. I’m grateful to the Insight Meditation Society in Massachusetts, the site of several silent retreats. And I’m grateful to … what? I don’t know. But whatever it is, it’s here. Time to smile once more.

Happy

Those of us who have been on the planet for a fair long spell have probably been asked the question “How are you?” thousands of times.  I bet I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I’ve responded with “Fine” when I wasn’t feeling so.  And quite often, fine or not, I’d go into rambling detail about my current state of affairs, while the questioner wondered why I couldn’t stick to social norms.

For the last few years, I’ve paused after the question was asked, checked the state of the kingdom, and usually replied “I’m happy.”  Most times the other human seemed flummoxed.  “Such a weird answer,” they might be thinking.

Occasionally, I’ve been asked why I’m happy, as if there needed to be a good list of positive events to justify the response.  More often than not, I returned with “I don’t know.  I’m just happy.”  And that’s where I’ve been for weeks.  I suppose you could say that negative stuff is happening, but I remain quietly happy.

I’m not seeing many people in the flesh, and I love talking face-to-face
I’m happy

I miss the kids at school – haven’t seen them since March
I’m happy

The world is grappling with Covid, racial inequality and mean people
I’m happy

My endurance on the cross-country ski machine is declining, as measured by duration and energy output
I’m happy

The arthritis in my right thumb slows down the buttoning process and relegates lid-removing to the left hand
I’m happy

I’m having trouble remembering people’s names, and that used to be a point of pride for me
I’m happy

I don’t know why a blanket of happiness has nestled itself against me, and I don’t care that I don’t know.  It’s very odd to be breathing this air.  It’s tempting to look to my near daily Zoom calls with the Evolutionary Collective as the cause of my little smile, but it’s bigger than that.  I’m not doing anything to bring forth happiness.  It’s just here.

Come on in, my friend.  Would you like a coffee?

Beauty

A bluebell woodland in England

Terraced rice fields in China

The hills of Tuscany in Italy

***

I ask myself “What is beauty?” There are many possibilities. Before your eyes are some of the world’s wonders. Drink in the mauves, the spring leaves, the shining waters, the touches of yellow, the feminine curves of the land. Our souls delight in the display.

Of all the images, though, my soul flies to the white horse. She is gazing at all of us, seeking out the end point of her affection. The Earth gladdens the eyes but the breathing being reaches the heart.

My personal favourites are human. They need not be splashed with colour, have cascading hair or smoothness of skin. They might be young, they might not. But there is an entrance to mystery that brings me to silence. And so I abide at the windowsill …

Where Did It Go?

The subject is tanning.  I’ve had a lot of history about the topic.  A lot of angstful energy has accompanied my emerging life.

I knew the truth early: girls like guys with a tan, and I didn’t have one.  In high school, a last minute invite to a friend’s cottage called for desperate measures.  My friend had a gorgeous older sister (age 17) and my body was white.  That just wouldn’t do.  My teenaged mind knew how to fix things though, a day or two before the big weekend: buy a tube of some permatan goop and apply it liberally to all the places that should be brown.  I woke up the morning after application to find that my fine motor skills weren’t optimal.  My chest had gross orange streaks, as did my back.  And my toes?  Perfect ridges of artificial darkness framed by lily white skin.  (Sigh)  It was a forgettable weekend chock full of self-esteem spasms.

The need was still strong as I became a newbie adult.  The backyard, hemmed in by lots of bushes and trees, would provide me the solitude necessary for unselfconscious tanning.  But there was that one neighbourly window staring down in likely disapproval.  During all my darking sessions, I never saw any face looking at me but I bet there were lots of them behind the glass – laughing and immediately posting photos on Instagram.  (Wait a minute … there wasn’t any Instagram.  Whew.)

I remember being called “Whitefoot” for years.  The tan line went down from my shorts to the top of my socks.  Forearms also looked good.  But the rest of me?  Yuck.  And when inattention led to sunburn, I had the distinction of being tri-coloured.  More “woe is me” doldrums.

In prep for Caribbean vacations, I’ve hung around in standing tanning booths.  With lengthy periods of commitment, I emerged looking … good.  Naturally brown.  No doubt a man’s man.  A likely recipient of womanly attention, but on the beach it didn’t seem like any lovely lasses even noticed.  (Sigh again)

At the beginning of this summer, I stretched a robin’s egg blue sheet over a foam pad and toasted my bod on the back patio.  “It’s only June.  Imagine what I’ll look like in August!”

***

Well, it’s August, and a miracle has happened:

I’m still white
I don’t care
I’ve just lost interest … for the first time in my life

I didn’t grit my teeth.  I didn’t spew out endless and tanless affirmations.  didn’t do anything.  But the need for brown is gone.  How incomprehensible.

The divine force within you is mightier than any mountain

Lailah Gifty Akita

Two Questions

I like questions.  The really good ones are far more interesting than quick answers.  Watching the science of coronavirus unfold, I’m fascinated as I see intelligent public health officials leaning towards “I don’t know” on the knowing/not knowing spectrum.  Some things are mysterious.

I like the question “Who am I?”  I’ve felt into it for decades, knowing that cool answers are far beyond the realms of occupation, gender, age, physical appearance and even personality.  How about that?  A question whose answer remains elusive after all these years.

And sometimes I’m even more deeply lost in a question.  Two of them have enthralled me ever since I was in diapers (okay … not quite).  The first one seems very strange.  The second one infinite.

How did I get in here?

The “here” I’m talking about is this particular human body.  I seem to be inside this basket of flesh and associated structures.  I turn my head to look at something and I swear that I’m behind those eyes, searching for the next new thing.  But why?  How come I’m not inside my neighbour or the host I see on the evening news?  Did someone flick a magic switch and insert me into this body?

Could it be that I’m not really inside this fleshed-out skeleton?  I see a tree out the window.  Why am I not embedded within those branches instead of in this shape that’s sitting on the couch?  Maybe all this interior viewpointing is a mirage.  Perhaps I’m inside you when I gaze into “your” eyes.

Hmm.  I’m getting confused again.  I feel so localized inside this head and chest, but could it be that I’m … everywhere?

However, if I’m willing to accept the consensual wisdom that I’m in this body, may I ask a simple question?  Who put me in here?

***

Okay.  Enough of that.  Time for question number two:

Does the universe end?

I look around at things.  Take that tree for instance.  I’m staring at it now.  No leaves yet so the branches are in sharp relief.  The wooden parts are “tree”.  The spaces around the wooden parts – grass and sky – are “not tree”.  Same with me when I look in the mirror.  I see Bruce and the shower curtain behind.  That curtain is clearly “not Bruce”.  There’s a point where I end.

Seems clear enough.  But what about the universe?  Does it end somewhere?  If so, what’s outside of the universe?!  The question stops my mind.  It throws me into a spasm of “Where am I?  Where are we?”  Doesn’t everything have to end somewhere?  (I don’t know.)

***

Woh.  Too much thinking.  Too many explosions inside wherever I am.  Maybe I should just hunker down with a Captain America movie … and a hot chocolate.  Much simpler.

 

Sitting … Now

The sun is long gone as I open my eyes. From my meditation chair, I see a bit of grey in the sky and the sweep of snow across the field. Soon all will be black, except for two dots of light out past Harrietsville Drive – farms to the north.

I don’t know these folks but I usually greet them at night from my bed or chair:

Hello neighbours.

At this moment the world consists of the candle on my keyboard and the shining twins near the horizon. But I know that sooner or later they’ll have company. (I’ll stop tapping until the mystery guests appear.)

(I’m still waiting.)

Ahh … another light. This one enters from the right and passes through my life so briefly, leaving me at the left edge of the window.

Hello traveller.

And now from left to right flow two lights tied together, one red and one white.

Hello traveller.

I used to call out “travellers” but I soon realized that I couldn’t see who was in those cars. Perhaps it was just a single soul. I find myself hoping that there’ll also be a passenger in the front seat … so the driver isn’t alone.

Who are the human beings who live on those farms?
Who are the human beings who float over the land on the road?
And who exactly is the fellow sitting in this chair?
We don’t know

Unbidden

Words and images float into my brain these days and I don’t know where they come from. It’s not like I’m furrowing my brow and forcing things out from the inside. They just emerge … erupt … bubble up. I don’t even know if this stuff means anything, and I don’t care about that. I’m fascinated with the flow.

Should I be more focused, more intentional? Some small voice within says so. But yes, it is small. There’s a far larger span of being that welcomes the uncertainty, the non-sense, the misty whiteout that often comes close. (I look at the last sentence and wonder at the potential “craziness” there. And I know it’s just fine.)

Lying in bed as the sun rose this morning, I was flooded with the vibrancy of an emerald green field festooned with red flowers. I could smell their breathing. And the dew sat on the shoots poking out of the soil. It was wondrous, and seemed to come not from within me but around me.

Later in the morning, over coffee and a bagel, there came a starry, starry night of village homes, each twinkling on the earth. “This makes no sense,” volunteers the itsy bitsy self that cruises the surface of this Bruceness. (Wow! That doesn’t make sense either. Should I stifle the flow of pictures and colours and words, in an ode to normality? No, I shouldn’t.)

And then there are the words. In their own time, they come by to say hi. Such as “dearly” and “goodly”. I wonder why the “ly”, attached to words that don’t need them. Is there some recess in my mind that provides lots of room for the strange to fall in?

“There are many ways,” offers some far off and yet intimately close being. Or “living in the world at ease”. Or …

The underworld speaks

Love them all … light the world

Stand still in the ocean

Ask them … they know

Follow the drinking gourd [That’s a song, but why here and why now?]

Underwear king

Absent without leave [from some movie]

Sliding away from the vertical

Beckoning you nearer … Please come here

Space walks together, tethered to some immensity

Quiet in the space between your words

Lying on the softness, calling for home

There is no plan, no strategy, no structure. There is simply a broad opening of the mouth, happy with whatever comes forth. And a trust that what emerges will be good, be kind, be of service to … someone.

Communion in the Air

I had breakfast with my friend Imogen on Tuesday.  She’s a hairdresser, and her face shone as she talked about her clients.  I’m clear that Imogen has found one very deep niche in her life.  Hairstyles and perms are just a convenient excuse for her to be with people and shower them with love.

A lot of seniors come Imogen’s way.  Some of them are alone and simply want a caring human being to talk to.  And the dear hairdresser just might be the only person who touches them anymore.

My friend told me about Grace, an elderly woman who’s sliding down the slope of dementia … ever so slowly.  Imogen has chocolate at the ready, a favourite treat.  Plus there’s plenty of time to linger and enjoy a cuppa tea together.  Imogen could hurry Grace out the door and cram another client into the time, but her bottom line is far from the world of dollars.

One day Imogen set off for a pretty little town nearby, and a workshop that she was looking forward to taking.  The teacher asked her what she did for a living.  Hairstyling led to a mention of Imogen’s shop – Shine Salon – and the lovely clientele that she was privileged to be with.  The teacher knew the shop and when Imogen mentioned her favourite customer (Grace), the teacher knew her too.  Actually, the teacher’s mom Florence was Grace’s best friend.  Even better, Florence lived upstairs in the old home where the workshop was happening.  And she was home right now!

When Florence was beckoned downstairs, her daughter said “Mom, this woman takes care of Grace.”  Florence started crying and rushed over to hug Imogen.  “Thank you … so very much.”

Oh, to have been in that room at the moment of embrace.

It’s a good world, isn’t it?
I wonder what forces are at work
so that Florence and Imogen could share their love of Grace
It’s a mystery, isn’t it?

Problems in Doing … Lightness of Being

For most of my life, I’ve done the tasks of life well. Sure, I had to study this and put some effort into that, but I usually basked in the aura of accomplishment. I’m a good teacher. I’m a good writer.

There’s a casualness in doing well. It’s predictable. And I easily fall into a peaceful rhythm. But what if something happened to disturb that rhythm, to knock me off my comfy chair? Would that be a problem? I guess. But maybe not. Perhaps that would open me into the fresh air of brand newness.

For a long time, I’ve thought that it’s easy to be happy when the world is honouring your words and actions. Far more of a challenge is to continue going towards people when I lack skill, when I fall short, or when the environment seems to be conspiring against me.

Ahh … how life teaches its lessons. Such as today.

I enjoy my work with the Evolutionary Collective. There are opportunities to meet online many times a week with folks from here, there and everywhere. A couple of months ago, I decided to start the training for being the support person in these calls, the one who organizes everything – managing the technology, putting people into breakout groups, unmuting and muting them when they share in the large group, and handling special requests. Today my job was to do the whole thing, while being coached by an experienced tech person.

I started well in the welcoming but then I piled mistake upon mistake. I forgot important parts of the sequence of tasks. I went into overwhelm when faced with the job of moving twenty-two folks into pairs in a way that followed certain guidelines. I panicked more than once, and was grateful when my friend rescued me. I had studied all the details but performed poorly in the heat of the action.

After all the participants left, we two did a debriefing session. Lots of feedback, communicated with kindness. A recognition that I’m nowhere near independent in this role. As my coach and I ended the call, there was laughter … and then quiet smiles. We were together, on a journey.

I left home soon after on my way to the gym. Behind the steering wheel was a man fascinated with the lightness that surrounded him. There was peace. My goodness, how can this be? Why am I not beating myself up, a skill which I had honed to perfection over many decades? Why was my head high, looking straight out at the world? Why was I happy?

It doesn’t seem to be about me – positive thinking, determination, a commitment to do better. There’s no doing here. Something seems to be washing over me in the face of apparently distressing conditions.

And I smile.

Upside Down

I’m a fairly intelligent person and I know how the world works.  You start with A and get yourself to B, whether that’s an easy task or something that requires great effort and creativity.  After that, it’s on to C.  Etcetera.

Or … maybe I’m wrong.  Life just might present us with stuff that doesn’t make any sense, that’s bereft of logic, often just plain weird.  Could it be that these moments are immense windows into another way of being?

I’m looking back at jolts, discontinuities, strangeness.  One happened a couple of days ago, when I was doing a Mutual Awakening practice with someone online.  I can’t even remember who that someone was, which is a bit of a jolt in itself.  In these practices, images often bubble up.  I’ve let go of figuring out where they come from.  This time, I saw a man looking at me with his eyes closed.  I could tell they were about to open.  Instead of the eyelids rising to reveal the eyes, they came down from the top.  When the eyes were fully visible, the lids didn’t stop at the bottom.  They continued down his cheeks, gradually showing an iridescent turquoise interior.  It was shining and it was huge.  Seeing into the man’s eyes, I realized that he was me.

My lips tightened.  My head tilted.  And I was transported to another place.  I knew almost immediately that I would talk to you about this mystery that takes the breath away.  Here it is Sunday and I’m talking.  It doesn’t matter how you react to this.  It’s clear to me that this break in normal reality needs to be communicated.

***

I’m thinking back to a vacation that Jody and I had in the Dominican Republic.  The dining room was close by a lovely pond bordered with tropical colours.  Long-legged pinkish birds walked in the shallows, seeking a fish buffet.  After a minute of watching the birds tense into their pouncing, I noticed their legs.  My mouth opened and I stared.  Their legs bent the other way … folding backwards.  What ever happened to A, B, C and D?

***

Last night, I went to a BeeGees tribute concert in London.  Towards the end, many of us were moving and grooving on the dance floor that was the narrow space between Row A and the stage.  One young man danced like … I don’t know what.  His fingers were jabbing in time to his neck moving back and forth, sort of like a chicken but not really.  More staring from me.

***

When the breaks in reality flood me, I get disoriented, wavery, hanging not so loose in some in-between space.  The questions explode in my head:  “Where am I?  What is this place?  How come I don’t recognize any landmarks?”

This is all okay
Just embrace the fog
Walk inside
It’s safe