I was watching a tennis match from the French open today. Martina Trevisan from Italy was battling Kiki Bertens from the Netherlands. At one point, just after Martina won an important point, she clenched her fist, bugged out her eyes and yelled “Forza!”

My mouth dropped. I stared at her. The power of the moment was immense. It surged through me via the TV screen. I tried to remember what the word meant. Maybe I should have just focused on the exclamation point in her voice. Google soon enough let me know the emotional English translation: “Come on! You can do it.” Force, strength, power.

I’ve spent years meditating, where the words (when I’m not in silence) are soft. The fingers are open, rather than balled into a fist. I’ve said to myself “That’s the energy I want to project – serene, compassionate, loving.” There is great beauty in that energy but today I also saw beauty in Martina’s passion.

We are so big, we human beings. As Walt Whitman said, “I am inconsistent. I contain multitudes.” What if I’m willing to give the world all of me, covering the world at times in a torrent of water, at others in simply a trickle. Today showed me that they both have their place.


Peace be with you


It’s an evening concert at Koerner Hall in Toronto, a few hours after sleeping was the order of the day. In a preview of coming attractions, a string quartet of young adults has just performed six feet in front of me. I’m in seat A12 … dead centre.

The cellist was an Oriental woman. Her fingers flew and her face glowed. I wafted back to the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. I loved the faces there, in sculpture or paint, and I know one of my photos from that visit will be the woman who just sat before me. Give me a minute and I’ll find her.

No, the woman on the canvas is not Oriental, but the shining is the same. The cellist was a goddess. Her fingers flowed and her bow pressed hard on the bending strings. Her male fellows blended and surged as violinists and violist. I was smashed in the face by the music flooding towards me. And I returned the favour, bursting upon the musicians with my awe and with my love.

Her name is Zuri Wells and her instrument is the marimba, which I thought was something like a guitar. Wrong! It’s a huge wooden xylophone, with about fifty wooden bars … varnished 1×2’s. Sometimes she held two mallets, sometimes four or six. The instrument loomed over me. All that was humanly visible was Zuri’s face. Her eyes widened and then closed as the melody and harmonies broke from her hands. The passages were alternately sweet and raucous. Her face twisted in response to the accompanying orchestra. Often there was a tiny grin on her lips as she fell into the music. And right near the end, she exploded in a smile from ear to ear.

We stood. We applauded for three minutes. Zuri bowed and beamed.

Then it was time for everybody. The Royal Conservatory Orchestra played Beethoven’s 7th Symphony for we the audience. Flurries of bow. Soaring notes of all types, coming from all sides of the stage. Vibrating bodies, sometimes swaying and sometime pouncing.

The Concertmistress (the lead first violin) often made eye contact with her counterpart in the second violins, the two women nodding ever so slightly as they timed their entries into the fray. The first player often smiled as the music took flight. So did many others. Sitting in the front row, it felt like orgasm after orgasm flying off the stage. Whew. It was immense.

Quite the contrast to lying in bed, reflecting on my eyes slowly closing. I’d say both are needed in the round of life.

Day Twenty-Eight: Football in Passy

Training on Saturday, the day before the big game

Soucouta supporters letting loose

The match before Mamadou’s Soucouta team took the field


In this part of the world, “football” means soccer. It’s a universal game, with many decades of heroic exploits. Yesterday, I got to experience the passion that Senegalese folks have for their team.

Youssoupha and Mariama invited me to go with them to Passy, a town thirty kilometres away, to see our friend Mamadou play for the Soucouta team. We’d travel by bus. I’d likely be the only white person at the game. Of course I said yes. A new adventure.

The teens promised to take me only if I “behaved”. No going off on my own. Passy was a town where my safety wasn’t guaranteed. I agreed to be good, to follow their instructions.

As we walked to the bus, Mariama asked for my phone, and promptly put it into her fanny pack. I figured it was a test … guess I passed.

The bus was absolutely crammed with human beings, drums and cool hats. Soucouta would rule!

Each row had two seats on the left and two on the right. After the back filled up, a middle seat was flipped down for a fifth person, blocking the aisle. As we rolled from Soucouta to Passy, the din filled the air. So many loud conversations coming from everywhere. It was the noisiest trip I’ve ever had.

At the stadium, Mariama lined up for tickets. I took in all the words flying around, very few of which I understood. The world was hot and dry.

We climbed the steps of the bleachers with Mariama and Youssoupha pressing close. Eyes turned as we took our seats. Another game was in progress and the fans were rip roarin’ into it. The skills on the field were amazing … subtle touches, long passes, dust rising with every dribble of the ball. I was in awe, and I was so close to prime football.

Our drummers started their frantic beat as soon as the first game was done. Our cheerers cheered. Some danced. The frenzy was building. The drumming hardly ever slowed. The girl in front of me, wearing a red shawl, rocked and rolled.

And here comes Mamadou and his friends, decked out in powder blue. They dance in formation to warm up, as did their opponents at the other end of the field. We had our end of the bleachers and supporters of the other team had theirs.

In the game, we roared with great Soucouta passes and defensive gems. The energy on the field and in the stands was sky high. Back and forth, lifting our spirits and then crushing them, moment by moment. The whistle sounded and the first half ended 0-0.

Youssoupha and I went down onto the field at halftime. We greeted Mamadou and kicked around a ball with him and some of his teammates. My skills didn’t really show up, but who cares?

The second half blasted into more fevered play. The other team was controlling most of the action. They had a penalty shot deep in our zone, and their players rushed the net. There was a save and a rebound and … an opponent lofted the ball into the net. Goal!

Suddenly the sidelines broke through onto the field. A hundred fans rushed the prancing goal scorer. The other end of the bleachers was full of bouncing humans. Powder blue players lowered their heads.

The sides played on. At one point, I saw someone on the other team start fighting with a teammate. Huh? Fans invaded the field once more. Everyone was running every which way. What was happening?

I looked around and saw spectators clambering down the steps of the bleachers. Mariama was reaching for my hand. On the field, Soucouta supporters faced off with those of the other team. They were throwing rocks at each other! My God, I was watching a riot.

People were running for the exit. Mariama was moving me briskly to the safety of the bus. We scurried inside, with seemingly half the population of Soucouta piling in on top of us.

Soon we were zooming down the twilight highway back home. The referees had called the game because of fighting. It will have to be replayed to determine the semifinalists for the national championship.

This was all new to me. It was so alive, so passionate, so eye-opening. Life is certainly bigger than my history has imagined.


Well … here I am. After three hours stuck in 401 traffic on the way to Toronto, I’m sitting dead centre in the front row of Koerner Hall, waiting for the appearance of the Royal Conservatory Orchestra. The musicians are all enrolled in the Glenn Gould School at the Royal Conservatory. They’re on their way to professional careers.

Oops. Here they come, all decked out in black dresses and suits.


And now it’s intermission. The cello soloist plunked himself down about ten feet from me. He proceeded to throw his music into the hall, with a flourish of intense bow strokes, incredibly fast runs, and then the softest of tones misting down on us. I watched his fingernails shine as the notes climbed the fingerboard. His face contracted and released. His eyes rose to the heavens, dropped to his instrument and then closed. Sweat poured on his brow. His body swayed left and right.

We the audience were entranced. We stood at the end.

I remembered a young Bruce, the one who played the cello from Grade 6 till Grade 13. In my better moments, I had the same passion as tonight’s artist, but with far less skill. I loved being in the high school orchestra. It was the only “team” I ever played for, and we loved streaming through some classic symphonies together.

My body also swayed. My eyes also closed. At that age, I didn’t know much about making love, but that’s what I was doing with my cello. We soared.

I let go of being a cellist after high school. I was good enough to continue into university but I didn’t know that. Now it’s 52 years later. A wee bit of me dreams of playing again but really I don’t want to. I’ve passed through other chapters and today is a fresh adventure. Still I was with the young man tonight as he both caressed and attacked the strings. Well done, both of us.

Love in the Front Row

Tonight I get to experience the Royal Conservatory Orchestra from the middle of the front row. I’m jumping inside. What’s possible?

Will there be the joy of creation shared between the players? Will the word “orchestra” explode into a heart-stopping epiphany of union – all these parts blossoming into an unfathomable whole?

I’m feeling a fierceness inside that flies so beyond any worries about how you’ll respond to the language of those two questions. It truly doesn’t matter. I am open to an outrageous evening … part of which is what I’ll bring to the front row seat and the musicians nearby. For we the audience flow out to the violinists, cellists, trumpeters and flutists. They aren’t inert lumps of virtuoso mud. Our energy touches them. So how about ecstasy for all tonight?


I just walked into the foyer of Koerner Hall, seeking a spot where I could take off my walking boots and put on my dress shoes. Ah ha. There’s a bench with lots of people and a space for me! I sit down and smile at the woman to my right. I’m not sure what her face did in reply. After a minute of me fiddling with laces, she says “Are you here for a rush seat?” > “No, I have my ticket.” > “You’re awfully early for the concert.” > “Well, a few music students are doing a pre-concert at 6:45” …

And then it hit me. I’d plunked myself down in a lineup for rush seats. I laughed and laughed. The woman smiled (a really genuine one).


Speaking of the pre-concert, it just ended. My chosen spot is dwarfed by the Steinway grand looming above. I get to be under a piano! A young oriental woman walks onstage and bows. Once she’s settled on the piano chair, all I see is her lower body. Fingers to keys … and the notes vibrate in a way that’s absolutely new. The tender passages seem to waft out from the underside of the instrument and make their way into my pores. My heart is nearby. And when she plays frantically, her right foot smashes onto the pedal, her thighs bounce and her bum elevates at regular intervals. Once in awhile, the pianist arches back and I catch a glimpse of her black hair shining, but never her face. And that was just fine.

Next up is a young violinist wearing a shimmering shirt. Swaths of green and red shone like a Christmas tree. I watched his body flow and erupt, but again there was no face. It was hidden behind his music stand. I felt in the presence of Everyman.

Mr. Unknown was accompanied by a young woman who wore a long black skirt and high heels. Between were her bare feet. As she worked the pedals, I was fascinated by the pulsing bones of her right foot. So, sitting in the Underworld, I beheld sights and sounds unknown to folks occupying the 30th row.


Now another pianist, leading the orchestra through a piece by Tchaikovsky. She wore a gorgeous green dress and took turns caressing and then slapping the keys. During the fast stretches, I saw the muscles of her upper right arm vibrate, and her right earring flew into view. Then there was the end of the movement, with her hand held high, the fingers curling.

Linda Ruan stood, all smiles, receiving our applause. Then she turned to the musicians, and they all joyed together, the orchestra stomping its collective feet. On her way off the stage, she touched the shoulder of the very last violinist.


For the final number before intermission, no piano was needed. So my world widened to include actual faces – some vibrant, some meditative. The principal violist smiled a lot at her stand mate. A first violinist was the tallest blond fellow and he twisted his body every which way in his passion for the melody.

There were moments when the full orchestra swelled and the timpani player sounded the depths of his drum. The energy flooded me, and I felt mine arc back to the players, willing them on to excellence. They gave. We gave. We all received.


Now it’s intermission. I’m happy, ready once more to live inside the music. The time is coming for passion to reappear, and we are all the better for it. Thank you, dear players of instruments large and small; high and low; string, brass and woodwind.

Hometown Hockey

I grew up in Toronto, where hockey is king.  In the 1960’s, I went to four Stanley Cup parades, all ending on the steps of City Hall, where my heroes gave speeches and held the cup high.  The huge crowd cheered.

The official Hockey Hall of Fame is downtown on Front Street.  Each year, many thousands of fans walk by the memorabilia of the National Hockey League.  But hidden in a back alley in the Weston neighbourhood of the city is a more informal shrine, featuring all things Toronto Maple Leafs.  To find this gem, walk along Weston Road to John Street.  Turn east and watch for the sign pointing to Peter’s Barber Shop.  Pantelis Kalamaris started cutting hair just around the corner in 1961.  As an immigrant from Greece, he decided to change in name to Peter and to embrace the sport of his new country.

On Saturday morning, I reached for the sliding glass door and walked into history.  Hardly a square inch of wall space was available … the rest trumpeted the Leafs in posters, pennants, newspaper articles, pucks and hockey sticks.  I stood there transfixed.  Seeing my wonder, Peter the Younger barber smiled.  He was busy putting the finishing touches on the do of an older gentleman.  The two of them were fully engaged in the merits of the Leafs’ current star – Auston Matthews.

I sat down amid a row of blue folding seats … originals from Maple Leaf Gardens, the team’s home until 1999.  As a kid, I too had occasionally sat on such seats, although we couldn’t afford the blues.

To go from waiting area to barber’s chair, you had to pass through a Gardens turnstile, again just like I had done decades ago.  The floor was covered with various hues of hair.  I asked Peter if any of that was from the Leafs’ stars of the 1960’s.  “No, but I do have some in plastic bags.”  Cool.

Here was one of Johnny Bower’s goalie sticks.  Here was a poster showing the Leafs’ 100 best players of all time, photoshopped into a team photo.  Here was a board hockey game that Peter sometimes plays with his customers.  Of course the barber always plays as the Leafs.

And here was a framed letter from Roger Neilson, a beloved coach of the Leafs and other NHL teams.  Peter the Older had invited him to come to Weston and sign the wall, alongside such luminaries as Gordie Howe, Jean Beliveau and Red Kelly.  In the letter, Roger said that his doctor wasn’t letting him travel long distances but sometime he’d get to Toronto and sign his John Henry.  But Roger died before that could happen.

It felt that my time was up at Peter’s Barber Shop.  The host and his customers were all friendly (as long as I assured them I wasn’t a fan of the hated Ottawa Senators!)  Like Roger, I vowed to return.  Hopefully unlike Roger, I will.


From Pantelis Kalamaris Lane, it was only a ten-minute walk to the Weston Lions Arena.  It was constructed in 1949 (just like me!) and hosted the Toronto Maple Leafs for many practices in the 50’s and 60’s.  Many of the players strolled over to the barber shop for a cut afterwards.

What I had read a few weeks ago was that the arena had the world’s best fries, and who was I to turn down an opportunity like that?  I approached a door that had a back door feel to it but it turned out to be the main entrance.  Then I was in front of the snack bar, with the ice surface beyond, full of boys skating hard and fans shouting encouragement.  I was tempted by the “Not so famous hot dogs” sign but settled for the world-renowned treat.  Pouring on the malt vinegar, I took my French fries and Diet Coke into the stands.

Spectators sat on five rows of wooden benches, some sections red and some blue.  The walls of the arena were two tone blue – robin’s egg contrasted with royal.  It was a lovely assault on the eyes.

  • The kids, maybe 12, were giving ‘er on the ice.  Some flew over the blue line.  Some fell unaided on their tushes.  Goalies stretched for the save.  Forwards dipsydoodled by defensemen, with few passes to be seen.  Coached yelled.  Fans screamed.  I ate.  Gosh, those fries are yummy!

The roof was a curve of bare beams, spotted with metal plates and inch thick cables.  The same as in 1949.  I imagined my Leafs heroes doing their drills on the ice.  Maybe some of these boys in front of me knew the history and were inspired by Dave Keon and Frank Mahovlich.  More likely, the names of current Leafs heroes will adorn their backs … Matthews and Marner jerseys.

So hockey has been played here on cold Saturdays for 69 years.  Oh, how a sport can seep into our souls.  Whether the seat is a barber chair or a hard bench,  we live the game.

My Golf … The History

Why fight it?  I’m passionate about golf and have been ever since I was a teenager.  In terms of my current spiritual life, the tendency of Buddhists like me is to think in terms of “ascent” – opening to ever more rarified forms of consciousness.  But “descent” is another possibility – seeing the transcendent in worldly activities, in experiences of the body.  Both approaches contribute to my well-being.  So here I am once more descending into golf.

My passion for the game has been under wraps for a few years but I can feel it re-emerging.  For the past few days, I’ve been reminiscing about my past golfing life, and how I’ve seen the sport as symbolic of life’s journey.

As a kid, I spent a couple of weeks every summer on grandpa’s farm near Dunsford, Ontario.  I remember teeing it up near the lane and trying to reach a fence maybe 120 yards away with my drives.  I don’t think I ever succeeded but I sure had fun, even though I lost a lot of balls in the grain.

A few hundred yards down the road was a nine-hole course – the Dunsford Golf Club.  I spent so many hours walking those fairways alone, hitting the occasional shot that felt so pure, so effortless.  I was becoming a human being.

Back home in Toronto, I discovered the Don Valley Golf Course.  Juniors could play early in the morning.  Even earlier, as the sun rose, I usually was scouring the banks of the Don River in search of golf balls.  Once, I walked onto the 18th tee, a par four, having consumed 84 strokes in my round.  A bogey five and I would break 90 for the first time in my life.  The river crossed in front of the green.  After my drive landed fine in the fairway, I stood over the ball.  I was nervous.  Put the ball into the drink and there’d go the milestone achievement.  Instead I swung smoothly and watched the ball soar onto the green.  Two putts later, I had an 88.  Never since have I broken 90 … but the future beckons.

Even way back then, I loved watching the professionals play.  I’ve stood behind Jack Nicklaus on the tee in Toronto and Calgary, watching the ball continue to climb.  One time I stepped on Gary Player’s ball, happily in a practice round.  I’ve seen the majesty of St. George’s Golf and Country Club in Toronto.  More recently, I’ve followed women pros as they navigated the rolling fairways of my hometown London Hunt and Country Club.  Usually in a blissed-out frame of mind.

Golf is in my genes, I guess.  A resonating part of my life for so many years.  Yes, it’s been underground for awhile but you can’t keep a good sport down.  On I go into a journey of rediscovery.

Passion for the Music

I leaned on the front of the stage at SunFest last night.  Eight feet away from me was a cellist, a member of the Ukrainian quartet Dakha Brakha.  Here’s what the program had to say about them:

Three striking women in white wedding dresses and tall black Astrakhan hats … harmonizing in mighty steel-tearing Ukrainian white voice, two band members pounding drums and the third digging into a folk-pattern-painted cello with massive abrasive energy, plus a male singer wielding accordion and trombone


To be so close to a woman who closed her eyes, threw her head back and sang unknown words was a marvel.  She held her cello between her knees at an angle rather than straight on.  She played some incredibly high notes and would slide her finger down for the next one, creating a mournful wail.  Again with her eyes often closed.

To see those women in their embroidered dresses, wearing many loops of large grey beads around their necks, and to feel the power of the drums … Wow.  Some kind entity allowed me to experience the driving beat and the tender ballads from a few feet away.  I’ve had so many intense moments over the last month, usually with music, and I feel my heart continuing to open and stay open.  Something is happening to me.