Day Ten: Toubacouta Tour

I slept till noon and it could have been far more. The kids were lounging by the pool and there were no adults in sight. I had the thought that they were still sleeping but I found out they’d all gone over to Jo and Lydia’s house. After breakfast, they had decided to let me sleep. I got about five hours of shuteye – their total must have been two or three. And how exactly did they manage that?

I put my Speedo on (!) and sat by the pool a bit. My slow brain finally figured out that the kids needed to be with their friends – no adults please. By this time Jan, the father of another clan, had dropped by. He offered to walk me over to the house because I didn’t know where it was.

Outside of the B&B, I saw the real Toubacouta. Small cement homes, lots of folks walking, the occasional goat or chicken, dirt streets, a few stalls for selling things. Not at all what I experience on the other side of the world.

As Jan and I walked into the house, Lydia was there to greet us, dressed in a flowing African robe of many colours. We all had slept well. She had asked Iced Tea to drive me around the village on his motorbike. The smiling man was clearly happy to do so.

We visited some neighbours of his, often folks who were standing outside of a business. Everyone seemed to be happy. On one stop, we met his mother and a young woman peeling some vegetable. Instant smiles came my way. Mom-in-law especially glowed. After we set off again, me holding Iced Tea’s waist from the rear, he told me “I like you. I will do anything to have you be happy here.” And he absolutely meant it.

Iced Tea took me to see his house under construction. It was basically just a foundation. He stood in each room, proudly pointing to bedroom, bathroom, kitchen and living room. He held up a concrete brick as I snapped his picture, so proud of his future.

I told Iced Tea that the boy I tutor wanted to contribute to the village, and that I had decided to put the money into his home. His eyes widened and he surrounded me in a hug. Thank you never felt so good.

Later on the ride, Iced Tea stopped at a neighbour’s, and a 3-year-old girl bounced toward him. She settled in front of her dad with tiny hands on the handlebars. We were three for awhile. So sweet.

Iced Tea took me to the local hotel where several of our group were sitting at the bar, enjoying a drink. A few cheek kisses later, we were laughing. I paid for Iced Tea’s Coca -Cola when he wasn’t looking.

***

It’s now many hours later, almost midnight, and I’m writing this in bed. Out in the distance there’s the sound of drums. A soloist sings a line and then a chorus responds. It’s a goodnight that I’ve never experienced. May it come my way again, both on this trip and many times in the future.

Day Nine Some More: To Dakar and Toubacouta

We’re in the air to Dakar. I’m in the window seat beside two black fellows who don’t speak English. The guy next door is massive. He appears to have muscles on his muscles, and he’s totally wedged into his seat. I’d give him mine so he could stretch out but then I’d be wedged – into the overhead bin.

My goodness … what awaits me in Africa? I’ve seen photos of smiling kids and adults. There are a few haunting ones of small children with huge eyes peering into the camera.

I’m looking forward to meeting a fellow aftectionately called Iced Tea. He’s been a leader in the village in making sure the kids get an education. Jo and Lydia are thanking him by raising money in Belgium to build a house for him and his family. It’s under construction.

I’ve been tutoring a kid in Belmont. I asked the family to donate my fees to a charity that he thinks is important. The young man decided to split the money between a local mission that feeds people who are down-and-out, and something for the kids in Senegal. I’ve decided to contribute his funds to the building of Iced Tea’s house. I’ll have a few photos of me on the site so the student can see the impact of his generosity.

We’re here. Actually it’s hours later now but I was too exhausted to write then. At the Dakar Airport (about 1:00 am), two friends of Lydia and Jo were loading our luggage into two vans. In the space of five minutes, four Senegalese men approached me for money. I’ve often used the word “no” in my life and it got a good workout last night. Jo coached me that these folks are trying to survive, trying to take care of their families, and some of them will push to get what they want. So different from what I’m used to. And that’s fine.

My head kept dropping in the van on our four hour ride to Toubacouta but I was conscious enough to see a world so beyond my life.

The land was spotted with the silhouettes of trees that I’d seen in photos. Deciduous ones that sit wide and close to the ground. My blurry eyes joined with shadows of moonlight and I was lost in something so astonishingly new.

We passed many villages and they were full of what appeared to be mud buildings. What I couldn’t get my head around was that people were sitting together in front of their homes, or gas stations at 2:00 am, 3:00, 4:00 and even 5:00. Jo said that many of them sleep during the hottest hours of the day.

The trip was surreal. Towards 6:00 am, we reached Toubacouta. We reached our bed and breakfast. My bed. My closing eyes.

Day Five: Friends From Away

Lydia, Jo, Lore and Baziel are officially my Belgian family. They care about me, want me to thoroughly enjoy their country, and laugh with me. Having lived alone for four years, I feel blessed that they want to spend time with me.

Lore’s name is so difficult for me to pronounce. I won’t even try to explain it to you. But I’m determined. It’s been three days and I’m getting a little better. I know at home I feel the same way – people, such as “Johanna” (Yo-haw’-na), deserve to have their name pronounced correctly. It’s a huge part of who they are.

Lore invited me to go walking with her and her horse Jackson this morning. She’s 16 and a most kind human being. We set off on the main road and then narrow country lanes and then muddy paths through fields. All three of us were having a grand time. Lore absolutely loves horses and Jackson is the prime example. She can see herself owning a riding stable someday, and both massaging and shoeing her four-legged friends. I just know she’ll do it.

We came upon a fellow named Didier on a country road and stopped to chat. What a great smiling guy, and he knew English so I could fully participate. He and Lore talked some in Flemish and I was happy to stand back and listen to the cadence of the language.

Further on, we stopped at the home of one of Lore’s friends. The girl was still sleeping but no worries – her mom came bouncing out of the house to say hello. She only spoke Flemish but I thanked her with my English for the yummy cookies she had made for me and the rest of the crew. What she understood was my eyes.

Our third stop was at Lore’s old elementary school. Young kids were out for recess and crowded the fence to get close to Jackson. All those bright eyes. The Canadian couldn’t compete with the horse, and that was fine.

Lore, Jackson and I talked so easily together. It didn’t matter at all that our ages were 16, 3 and 69. We were simpatico.

***

This afternoon, Lydia, Lore and I took the train to Ghent, to be joined later by Jo and Baziel for dinner. The trip was a flow of green fields and red slate grooves, but then there was our arrival! Ancient murals adorned the walls of the train station, and as we exited the building a panorama of classic European architecture sank into me. I stopped and stared, again and again. Canals and bridges welcomed us here and there … and everywhere.

Happy people rode by on their bikes (with nary a helmet to be seen!) Couples strolled arm in arm. Little kids zoomed between the tall folks. Trams flowed along. Sirens occasionally wailed, and had me realize that I’d never heard this authentic European sound except in movies.

There’s an energy in Ghent that’s palpable, fueled in part, I believe, by the large university population … it seems to be simple happiness. And I fell into it almost immediately.

I sang O Canada twice today – once to the two hostesses in a jewelry shop and once to Baziel as our family (!) meandered through the curvy streets after dark. The lights of Christmas animated the old buildings, casting shadows over the brick. “C’est magique!”

I am loved in Belmont. I do believe I am loved in Belgium. And I give it right back in both places. Salut, mes amis!

Over There

I’m part of a global online community based on the “mutual awakening” work of Patricia Albere. One of the relationship principles that Patricia talks about is being “in and for” the other person, to move my consciousness inside you, to feel the sacred space between us. There’s a practice we do in pairs that has the power to bring forth great contact, great love.

A couple of weeks ago, Patricia told us about a grandmother who was familiar with mutual awakening. She was babysitting her infant grandson and the kid was upset about something. Grandma moved her consciousness inside the young man’s head – no force of energy, just being there. And immediately he stilled. Hmm. Is this really doable? What if I took a day and gently placed my consciousness into everyone I met? Today, for example.

So I’m giving it a go. And I’ve had my moments, such as during the classical music concert I just attended. Young adults took their turns on stage – singers, pianists, violinists, violists and cellists. I went inside them, sporadically, and just rested there. I wasn’t beaming love at them. It didn’t feel like I was beaming anything. I simply hung out.

Back and forth I flipped, resting over there and stumbling over here. So brand new. I thought about my favourite colour – red, absolutely! It felt like I was now saying yellow was the best and was awkwardly trying that on for size. But the pull of red was enormous.

Now I’m in a Tim Hortons, sitting beside a young couple enmeshed in a political discussion. I feel myself moving away from their content, and being thoroughly inside me. Abiding in them seems worlds away. My distaste for politics is clouding the migration of my soul. Fair enough. My red tendencies continue to have a powerful magnetism.

When I walked in, I was hungry and my left foot was sore. Any possibility of yellow was gone. In fact I wasn’t even aware of the colour. But really, what else would I expect? What does it take to bring something new into my world? A lot, I’d say.

I’m going to three short concerts today. Just left the second one. During it I almost fell asleep, and again yellow was nowhere to be seen. “That’s okay, Bruce. Who do you think you are – Superman?” Well … no chance there.

What to do? Just begin again, over and over. This isn’t like the mutual awakening practice, where both of us are committed to going inside each other. I’m sitting in a pub and it’s time to try again. The other person will have no idea of what I’m doing, and that’s fine. So here goes …

The bartender and I were talking about the Greek salad that’s just arrived. I put myself inside her. No fireworks in me or her, no reaction at all coming my way. Not like the kid who went quiet. Maybe I’ll just keep throwing myself outwards with no expectation of anything coming back. Yes, let’s do that.

Then there’s Marvin on the next stool. We talk about the World Cup … and I’m inside. I decide to tell him what I’m doing. He smiles. “I knew something was happening.” Thanks, Marvin. Connection.

I’m in concert number three. There’s no pressure to do anything but I’ve floated inside the musicians again. The feeling is soft and yielding. Think I’ll stay for a bit.

Where is all this going? I don’t know. But here I am in Oz. I don’t feel like the Cowardly Lion, the Scarecrow or the Tin Man but I’m definitely here to find what I need. Might Kansas fade away in the rearview mirror? We’ll see.

Without Distinction

“We are aware of a desire to value all persons equally, responding to their integral concrete being as unique selves, rather than ranking them according to certain abstract qualities by which they can be classified.”

Beatrice Bruteau

I like some folks far more than others.  I find some women sexually attractive and some not.  I don’t want to spend time around mean or distant people.  I love the spontaneity of kids and don’t enjoy being around humans who never use the word “fun”.

Okay.  That sounds like a normal human being.  I include some, I push away others.  Overwhelmingly though, I include.  But what if I could broaden my range of vision to embrace everyone?  What if the quality of consciousness beaming back to me didn’t matter?  What if the only thing that counted was what I put out there in life?

As I read what I’ve written, it sounds simplistic, pollyannaish.

“I know it sounds that way.  But don’t you see, Bruce, that we naturally rank those around us, in order to discover who we want to spend time with?” 

“Well … yes, I get that.”

“Could it be, though, that while one level of your being operates that way, there are more inclusive realms that you can touch?”

“Well … maybe.  But I have favourites, you know.”

“Oh yes, I know that.”

“So stop trying to make me into a Superman.  I’m no perfect person.”

“Yes … I certainly agree with that!”

“Just leave me alone, will you?”

“Okay.  But may I plant a seed?”

(Sigh)  “Sure.  Plant away.”

“What if, once in awhile, you looked out at the world with different eyes?  Most of the time, continue with your comparing mind, but save a little space for something brand new.  As in human beings just don’t go there.  Would you enjoy doing something that you’ve never done before?”

“I don’t think “enjoy” is the right word.  And what you’re suggesting just sounds so weird.”

“Perhaps new stuff is always perceived as weird by people who don’t want to participate.”

“Probably.”

“So give me a chance here.  What do Adolf Hitler, Donald Trump and Karla Homolka have in common?”

“They’re extremely mean people.”

“Many of us would agree with you.  At the same time, they all need love.  They all want to be included in the human race.  They were all kids once.”

“Oh …puleese!”

“The possibility exists of being good to people simply because they’re on the planet, knowing they face the same sorrows and illnesses and fears that we do.”

(Silence)

“It’s easy to love the lovable folks.  They probably receive lots of that.  As for Adolf and Donald and Karla, love is probably in short supply.  Perhaps we should send them some.  No one left out.  No one alone.  No one thrown out of the human heart.”

“You’re ridiculous.”

“Maybe …”

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.

 

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.

First Date

In thirty years.  At 2:35 yesterday, I sat down in a London coffee shop, waiting for 3:00 to roll around.  I was going to talk to a woman whom I’d met on Zoosk, a dating website.  I’ll call her Erin.  Strangely, I wasn’t nervous.  But I sure was excited.  A new human being, potentially a new love.

As I sipped my tea, a little smile adorned my face.  I was happy.  It’s been 15 months since Jody died, and it’s time for companionship.  From my window table, I watched people cross the street, including several women, none of whom matched the photo on the website.  I realized that 3:00 pm could be a huge moment in my life, or maybe not.  The smile remained.

I needed a napkin for my pumpkin tart so I headed to the counter.  A woman was making a purchase, her back to me.  “Is that her?” I gushed on the inside.  No.  Her hair was curly and Erin’s was straight.  But my heart did a few flippy-flips before I figured that out.

Back to the sanctuary of my table.  More human beings outside, slow slogging through the snow.  The neighbourhood was an older one – classic brick buildings with most of them turned into restaurants or shops.

There!  That’s Erin.  Oh my goodness, she’s probably coming into the coffee shop.  She’s probably going to order.  She’s probably going to come looking for me.  Now the smile has turned into a laugh … aimed at moi.  And sure enough, a woman named Erin is soon walking down the aisle towards me.  I wave.  We smile.  And so it begins.

Erin is a lovely person, full of energy and with a smile that shows up easily.  We both enjoy meditating and yoga.  When she used the words “opening the heart”, I jerked.  Oh my.  Another person who says stuff like that in everyday conversation.

We talked for an hour-and-a-half.  It was easy.  It was fun.  We agreed to meet again sometime soon.

The mystery will continue to unfold.  I will continue to smile.  Whatever happens, I’m so glad to be walking this path.