Joining the Past

I’m sitting in Coffee Culture in downtown London, amiably with the present moment. And then I glance upwards. There sits a brown metal ceiling, etched with curlicues and squares, shining amid the pot lights.

And I am gone … to the time of a little boy, and to the wonder of grandpa’s farm, worlds away from my bounded home in Toronto. For the farmhouse living room had such a ceiling.

I am returned to chairs spread around the huge dining room, occupied mostly by adults who loved to tell stories. I see the sweep of fields falling to the railway tracks miles away, and the steam locomotive that each day entered my world on the right and disappeared on the left.

I remember lying awake in my upstairs bedroom, listening for the kitchen clock loyally sharing the wee hours with me. I feel grandma’s narrow pantry, and the steaming oatmeal cookies set upon a plate. The secret rush for sweetness was a grand adventure. Only decades later did I realize that grandma had purposely created a scene perfectly suited for a hungry 10-year-old.

There was golf across the stubble of a shallow field. Maybe my drives were 100 yards long and I joyously retrieved each ball … again and again. And we built a hay rack one summer, dad and my uncles straining with the hammer blows. Can’t remember what the young man did to help.

Down the fields toward Emily Creek with Uncle Orville and Uncle Laverne. They taught me to avoid the thistles and made sure that our route passed by Uncle Bruce’s maple sugar shack. Bruce died in a car crash in 1937. Mom made sure that his name was not lost.

Walt Whitman said “We were together. I don’t remember the rest.” So true. I was embraced within family on that long ago farm. I belonged. I contributed.

Looking back, there’s a tiny smile as I sip my cappuccino under the metal sheen of time.

Smart Guy

His name was Chögyam Trungpa.  Here’s what he had to say:

If you have awareness in whatever you do, you always have a sense of basic decency.  You do not cheat.  You do not do things just because they are traditional, and you don’t just do something this year simply because you did it last year.  You always try to practice your discipline as genuinely and honestly as possible – to the point where the honesty and genuineness begin to hurt.

The source of action is a very large me, rather than other people and the past

***

We do not have to be ashamed of what we are.  As sentient beings we have wonderful backgrounds.  These backgrounds may not be particularly enlightened or peaceful or intelligent.  Nevertheless, we have soil good enough to cultivate.  We can plant anything in it.

We are “good enough” kind and awakened to do great things in the world

***

The bad news is you’re falling through the air, nothing to hang on to, no parachute.  The good news is there’s no ground.

There is nothing in life that can damage the essence of who we are

***

There are times to cultivate and create, when you nurture your world and give birth to new ideas and ventures.

There are times of flourishing and abundance, when life feels in full bloom, energized and expanding.

And there are times of fruition, when things come to an end.  They have reached their climax and must be harvested before they begin to fade.

And finally of course, there are times that are cold, and cutting and empty, times when the spring of new beginnings seems like a distant dream.

Those rhythms in life are natural events.  They weave into one another as day follows night, bringing not messages of hope and fear, but messages of how things are.

And so I welcome the staleness, the not knowing, the falling short of goals

***

In the garden of gentle sanity, may you be bombarded by coconuts of wakefulness.

Eyes open, dear man – to the jolts, the disorientations, the nonsensical

***

Compassion is not having any hesitation to reflect your light on things.

There is no thought of “Who deserves this?”  We all do

***

The idea of a warrior is based on a sense of fundamental fearlessness.  There is no reason why you should be a coward.  It’s as simple as that.  You are not being a warrior because a state of war exists in your country.  We are not trying to win against the egohood people.  We are not trying to fight with them.

You are being a warrior because you are a warrior.  If someone asks you, “Are you twenty-one years old?” you say, “Yes, I am.”  They don’t ask you why you are twenty-one years old or how you have done this.  You would have no answer for that.  You are just twenty-one.  Warriorship is a basic sense of unshakeability.  It’s a sense of immovability and self-existing dignity rather than that you are trying to fight with something else.

am this.  I bring a fierceness to life that doesn’t require an opponent

***

We can change the world, definitely.  The problem is that we don’t smile when chaos occurs to us.  When chaos occurs, even within that chaos, we can smile, which cures confusion and resentment.

Welcome everything

***

You are sitting on the earth and you realize that this earth deserves you and you deserve this earth.  You are there – fully, personally, genuinely.

I, and you, have a place here.  We matter

***

We must be willing to be completely ordinary people, which means accepting ourselves as we are without trying to become greater, purer, more spiritual, more insightful.  If we can accept our imperfections as they are, quite ordinarily, then we can use them as part of the path.  But if we try to get rid of our imperfections, then they will be enemies, obstacles on the road to our “self-improvement”.

Just this is just fine

***

Thank you, Chögyam

The Folder

It was a simple mistake.  I was at the gym yesterday, schussing along on the elliptical.  My trainer Derek has given me all sorts of sheets – some with info about nutrition and fitness and some that tracked my progress.  He gave me a folder entitled “Me to We” to put the stuff in.

I woke up this morning, looked at my gym bag and discovered … no folder.  I remembered putting it on the shelf of my locker before exercising but no memory of taking it home after.

First, there was a contraction, in the spirit of “Bruce, how could you?”  But that faded quickly, to be replaced by the urge to go on a mini-road trip.  I showered, dressed and headed off to London to rescue my prize.  I figured that either some kind soul had handed it in at the front desk or it was still sitting there in locker number … well, I couldn’t remember the number, but I’d find it.

As Highway 74 swallowed my tires, I was happy.  I was doing something about my problem right away and I was creating an adventure for myself.  The lightness inside was such a revelation.  The woe of guilt was nowhere to be found.  Instead, there was a simple “I forgot.”  No big deal.

In South London, I decided to make use of the drive-thru at a Tim Hortons coffee shop.  I was happy to be about tenth in line.  Truly no hurry.  The parade of cars winds itself around the building and there are big windows at the corner.  Many a time I’d sat at a table with a good view of the creeping cars, enjoying my sneak peaks at faces passing by.  Now, rather than it being “inside out”, it was “outside in”.  I looked in to see my usual table, currently empty.  How strange to feel the viewing from the other side.  I could almost see Bruce sitting there beyond the glass.

Gosh, this was so much fun.  I even had the thought that it wouldn’t be the end of the world if I didn’t find the folder.  Whatever happened to angst and badness?  On vacation, I guess.

Finally, the gym.  “Michael” at the front desk checked the lost and found drawer but no folder peaked out.  Oh well.  So off to the locker room.  I knew that I always chose a tall locker on the left side so I started opening them: empty, empty, empty, lock in place, empty, empty, empty, empty and empty.  A little sigh, but really not much of one.  Papers can be replaced.

I thought of the occupant of locker number 57, but how would I find him out on the floor?  Could it be that my dear folder was hidden within?  Then I glanced at the shelf by the hair drier.  A light-coloured rectangular object was in repose there.  Sort of folder sized.  And it indeed was my info-laden friend.  All was right with the world.

How remarkable: no pity party … a chance to hit the road before breakfast … and the lost became found.  I had the feeling that even if I hadn’t located the folder, I still would have sailed through my day.  Strange and lovely.

Day Six: Lost and Found

I spent much of Saturday in a compression, feeling the world crushing me.  I was small, almost invisible, and the dangers of life were towering over me.  Traumas of the past came rushing in and the future was invisible.  All was lost.

I woke up early Sunday morning and just lay there for an hour.  In my mind, I saw a little boy sitting on the floor, arms pressing upwards to ward off the terrors.  I lay there and loved him.  I didn’t furrow my brow and force him to lower his hands.  He was doing what he needed to do.  It was such a new experience, not trying to fix things, to turn my world into roses and champagne.  Just being with what was true in the moment.

And lo and behold, there was peace.  There was breathing again.  Within the slowing, the little kid remained, still pressing hard.  I smiled, the first for many hours.

When the seminar started a few hours later, I spoke to the group about little Bruce.  I told the folks that I was scared of them.  “Scared” says it so much better than “afraid”.  And my friends in the chairs were with me.  One person said “Your voice if different.”  Over the day, I received several “Welcome Back”s.  I was alive again, powerful again, connected again.

I need to address the drowning eight-year-old boy, to look him straight in the eye.  One of the leaders of the Evolutionary Collective is a psychologist and I will meet her on video conference for as many sessions as needed to make friends with my moments of terror.  I’ll do this not to be a better person but to ensure that far more of me is available for other human beings.

On I go.

Just Be There

I was cruising The Toronto Star newspaper tonight when I came upon an article about a dad and his adult daughter. They had agreed to make a cake together for her young godson. Dad was pooped and wanted to order from a bakery. She persisted and he got to learn a little more about life:

My baby girl has grown into a generous, tolerant, openminded young woman. I swallow my pride and head to the kitchen to make the cake but little do I know that the lesson is not over. “Dad, I don’t want you to make the cake. I just want you to be there.” Who is the parent now?

It’s so tough sometimes to BE THERE. It’s so easy to forget that sometimes just sitting down at the end of the kitchen island is what they need and want.

I like to think that I often have cool things to say, in voice or in print. Many a time my generosity flows out. And the moments of eye contact that I share can touch people.

There are also the other times, when I’m so tired in the body, so distracted in the mind, so wounded in the soul. It feels like I have nothing to give … but that’s not accurate. I can offer my physical proximity to human beings, especially the hurting ones. Here are some places where I can plunk myself down:

1. The Grade 6 class of twenty-six kids and one adult. I volunteer there.

2. The Belmont Diner – at the horseshoe-shaped lunch counter or at the table for six to the left of the front door. I often eat breakfast there.

3. The home that is the home of Acoustic Spotlight house concerts every Wednesday evening. I listen to folk music there.

4. The group internet calls of the Evolutionary Collective. I’m there about five times a week.

5. Times when I sit with one other person, in my home or out for lunch. My presence is a gift to them as theirs is to me.

Lots to give
Apparently little to give
They’re neighbours, you know

Integrity

I’m in a worldwide group called The Evolutionary Collective.  Mostly we meet online to explore consciousness together.  For the next three-and-a-half months, I’m taking an EC program called Base Camp.  Our current theme is integrity.

On one level, the word is pretty simple – being “whole and complete” – being appropriate to life, having nothing hidden, telling the truth.  Another way to look at integrity is keeping your word, and if you break it, go to the person involved and clean up your mess.  Even though you didn’t do what you said you’d do, you can still be in integrity.

I can be out-of-integrity if I know what to do and don’t do it.  And when I fall short, it’s not about beating myself up about it – just recognize the problem and fix it.  Before Monday night’s online session, I thought I was “squeaky clean” but alas that was not the case.

I’ve asked myself “Do I need to address every moment of not being in alignment with truth, even those itsy bitsy things?”  The answer coming back was “Yes.”  Doing so releases great power to do good in the world, unencumbered by regrets.

Moment Number One

Last June, I quit the Tour du Canada after three days.  It was the cross-country bicycle ride I was on.  I was exhausted and terrified of the semi-trailers bombing by a few metres away.  I came home to Belmont traumatized.  As school opened again in the fall, I was still deeply afraid to get back on my bicycle.  One Grade 6 girl has been very curious about me, and observant, since we met a year before.  She’s wanted to know if I was going to Toronto on the weekend, and noticed when I bought new shoes.

In September, “Molly” asked me if I’d gotten back on my bicycle.  I admitted that the answer was no.  I told her that ta-pocketa, my skinny-tired bike, was for sale and that I had bought another one – with stable knobby tires.  I said it wasn’t in yet.  Molly kept asking me if the hybrid bicycle had arrived in London.  Later, when I told her that my bike guy was setting Betty up for me, I got lots of “Is it ready yet?”  >  “No.”

I didn’t want to let Molly know that I was still plenty scared to ride again.  I hid … in lies.  “The bike isn’t in yet.”  After a bit, that wasn’t true.  “The bike isn’t ready yet.”  After more bits, that was another lie.  What was true was that I was praying for the first snow, so Molly would stop bugging me about riding.

I look back now and see the psychic energy I’ve wasted.  Every time I saw Molly, Betty was right before my eyes.  After Monday night’s integrity session online, I saw the prison bars.  As far as I know, lying to Molly was my only diminishment of integrity, but it was huge.  “Clean up your mess, Bruce.”

So I did.

I went to Molly this week and told her I had lied about my new bicycle.  I told her that I was still terrified and gave her permission to challenge me again when the roads are dry and the temperature warmer.  I apologized … “I’m sorry, Molly, for lying to you.”  She didn’t know what to say but her nod was all I needed.

Just like that, I’m free.

Until this morning.

Moment Number Two

I went to breakfast at the Belmont Diner and noticed the fellow who was replacing the floor mats with new ones, taking the old ones away for cleaning.  I was backing Scarlet up in the parking lot and didn’t see how close the gentleman’s truck was.  My back bumper hit its front one – not a real smash but at least a nudge.  What did I do, given my newfound integrity?  I drove home.  (Sigh)

As I pulled onto Robin Ridge Drive, my home road, I started feeling sick, and faint.  “C’mon, Bruce.  A little bump and you’re falling apart?”  Well, actually … yes.  What has become of me when one “little” misstep is unacceptable?  It’s not unacceptable that I hit the truck, but taking off was.  I came to the roundabout on Robin Ridge and went all the way around, back from where I came.

On Main Street, I was praying that the floor mat company’s truck was still there.  It was.  I heard some noise inside.  I knocked on the door.  An assistant came out to say hi.  And then here was the boss, walking across the parking lot, heavy laden.  He too smiled as I told my story.  We checked his bumper.  Nothing was detectable.  “No problem, man.”  >  “Thanks.”

I drove home with my own smile.  I was whole and complete again.  This integrity feels like the floor on which I can dance.  So cue the music, maestro!

Kenosis

In Christian theology, kenosis is the self- emptying of Jesus’ own will and becoming entirely receptive to God’s divine will.

Google

Over and over, Jesus lays this path before us.  There is nothing to be renounced or resisted.  Everything can be embraced, but the catch is to cling to nothing.  You let it go.  You go through life like a knife goes through a done cake, picking up nothing, clinging to nothing, sticking to nothing.  And grounded in that fundamental chastity of your being, you can then throw yourself out, being able to give it all back, even giving back life itself.  That’s the kenotic path in a nutshell.  Very, very simple.  It only costs everything.

Cynthia Bourgeault

***

Alrighty then … I’ll just fall into a life of contribution with no thought for the reward, no need to achieve anything or to be adored.  “Just give, Bruce, moment after moment, until your breathing stops.  Have your life be a symphony, with all those marvelous folks flowing beside you, playing with you, creating magic together.”  And no need to have them live in your house, to be enclosed by the constraints of your mind.  Enjoy them, and let them go.  Over and over.

***

What am I willing to let float away?

Being in Senegal
Being loved by Ali and Mariama
Being loved by my Belgian friend Lydia
Being healthy
Being in the Evolutionary Collective
Living a long time
Listening to concerts from the front row
Eating pesto pasta
Volunteering with 11-year-olds
Watching Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again for the umpteenth time
Picking up garbage on my way to the Belmont Diner
Sitting at the counter or at “the women’s table” at the Diner
Travelling … anywhere
Making people laugh
Writing these blog posts
Having another life partner
Living past tomorrow

***

Quite the list of things to let go of
Quite the opportunity to give without restraint or expectation
Quite the smile on my face

Poof!

I was sitting in the Bloor-Gladstone Library in Toronto yesterday afternoon, wanting to write about Thursday evening’s concert with Robert Pilon.  I whipped out my Android phone, went to WordPress and started inputting.  Sadly though, a sentence such as “I don’t know what to say about all this” showed up on the screen as “I don’t know whawhat to say abouabout all thithis.”  Wha?

Not deterred by the mysteries of technology, I went to my e-mail program and began to tell the story.  An hour later, I walked over to Hugh’s Room, where I’d later be enjoying a concert celebrating the music of Leonard Cohen.  Before the songs started up, I finished my blog post.

Perfect.  Now all I had to do was copy and paste the groovy words from Internet Explorer to WordPress.  I highlighted the whole enchilada … and watched in horror as the whole thing disappeared.  Oh my God!  That’s about 500 words of the best I had.

I furrowed my brow and began the rescue attempt:

Work, work, work
Grump, grump, grump
Work, grump, work

Nothing worked.

The despair arose in me, along with the anger, sadness, impotence and any other yucky word you can think of.  Spiritual Bruce was stuck in a poop hole.  “Maybe tomorrow morning when I fire up my laptop, I’ll find that the post has been archived somewhere.”  (‘Fraid not.  It’s now tomorrow morning and Robert is nowhere to be seen.)

As I sat there watching the musicians walk onstage, there was a shift.  There was peace.  There was a quiet voice: “This doesn’t matter, Bruce.  I get that you want your words to touch people, but don’t worry – you do that with or without words.  Tomorrow you’ll do your best to resurrect your thoughts.  It won’t be as good but it will be good.  And today’s vanishing will not diminish the whole of your life.”  Thank you, dear voice.

Well … shall we get to it?

***

Last night’s concert was a fundraiser for the Wounded Warriors organization.  It honoured Canadian veterans of combat, and first responders, who are in the throes of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  It was a privilege to be there.

Our host and entertainer was Robert Pilon.  He was the Phantom in Phantom of the Opera.  He sang in Les Miserables.  And in 2017 he loved the vets in song at the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge in France.

I got to sit front row centre and look into the eyes of human beings first, performers second.  Robert strolled onto the stage, and from the first second I knew I was in the presence of greatness.  He had a power about him – not of force or intrusion – but of grace and love.  I couldn’t take my eyes off his face.  The eyes shone.  The smile radiated to us all.  And his spoken words were a melody.  He hadn’t yet sung a note.

Robert melted us with Danny Boy, and in an inspired duet of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah with the woman who directs the Laura Secord Secondary School Concert Choir.  Oh … how their voices blended!  Again and again, Robert let his voice soften as hers soared.  He was the star of the show, but not in his mind.

And the kids!  Choir members often spread throughout the theatre as they backed up the other musicians.  There were young women four feet away, facing me and the audience.  I beamed love at them and said words of thanks after each number.  My neighbour and I briskly applauded the teens as they filed back onto the stage.  Some of them smiled.

Jully Black loomed above me later in the program.  She’s a soulful black singer who had us embrace all citizens of the Earth.  Her eyes also spoke joy.  Then there was Dr. Draw, a young man who has embraced electronic violin music.  His melodies shook us down deep.  Sometimes he knelt close to the floor, eyes closed, lost in his world.  Stunning.

Near the end of the evening, Robert told us that he has a certain signature song.  I had an inkling … “Go, Phantom, go!”  He said that he hadn’t donned the mask since retiring from the role, but tonight was special.  Robert turned away from us and then whirled back, half of his face covered in silver.  He stood above me as a God.  When he opened his mouth, The Music of the Night spilled forth.  Robert snarled at us.  Robert loved us.  Oh my.

The songs were lovely
The voices were transcendent
And that’s fine

But the best?
The hearts were way wide open

***

How about that?  I remembered.  Thanks for listening

Birds Near Me

Out back I have two feeders – one for sunflower seeds and the other for nyjer seed. I love seeing the sparrows, finches and mourning doves when they come to call.

But three days ago, they stopped calling. The levels of seed haven’t diminished. There’s no “chirp, chirp, chirp” greeting me as I open my eyes. (Sigh)

Love them and let them go. So true … for human beings, lovely places and birds. Not knowing whether I’ll ever again see a dear soul from my long meditation retreat feels bitter … and somehow sweet. The same with Playa del Carmen, Mexico, where Jody and I spent two sublime vacations.

I know the birds will come back but I’m sitting here imagining my world without them. I am the lesser when marvelous beings depart. I know they’re out there somewhere and I’m happy when I think they’re flying high. On my back patio, there’s a space where birds belong. I can feel their presence within their absence.

Now I look out over the cornfield. No one flying. A dog barking way to the north. A few cars on Belmont Road. I lean towards the birds I don’t see, wanting them to return, and yet peaceful within what is.

And now a flock of twenty black ones enter my field of vision from the left. They swoop over the field and fall into a big old tree at the end. I watch them now, chattering together on a few dead branches.

“Come back!”

But the birdies will do as they will. I’m not in control. The river of life carries me along.

The Space

I used to be in a personal development program where we were asked to “hold the space” – of commitment for instance.  So I would be committed to achieving some result, and my example of commitment would hopefully inspire others to do the same.

The space is an atmosphere of goodness, sufficiency, expansion, sweetness …  It’s like when you enter a room and you can immediately sense the spiritual environment – hopefully one of welcoming and peace, not one of contraction and anger.

I meditated for eighty minutes this afternoon.  The length of time is mostly irrelevant – the space that I reached was not.  It was pretty much indescribable but I’ll give it a go.  It felt like my breathing stopped.  Everything stopped.  Even thoughts only showed up occasionally.  My face softened and the muscles fell.  Some energy shimmered over my forehead.  Within the stillness came a little smile and an instant later all was love.  Truly all was love.  There was nothing outside of love.

Then there was a flurry of thoughts and the stillness left.  There was a pulsing instead.  I decided to just watch it.  Actually I was hoping the pulse would go away and the no-movement would return, but I was fine with that not happening.  Minutes later, all was still and love again and I sat there in that space for what felt like a long time.

Everything was fine, completely sufficient, sacred, floating, resting, in communion with life.  And then my eyes opened.  I caressed my singing bowl three times with the mallet and my meditation sitting was over.

The space lingered as I got out of my meditation chair, found my wallet, and got into Scarlet for the drive to the Barking Cat, my local pub.  Nachos beckoned.  I was still deeply within the space as I opened the door.  The place was packed and I had to search for a seat.  The PGA Tour Championship was on TV and Tiger Woods was leading, for the first time in many years.  And then what?

The space went poof as I salivated over the possibility of Tiger being my hero again.  I brought my nose towards the television to follow every shot.  Swept up and overwhelmed by an old version of me.  How easily I let the space of transcendence slip away, unconsciously.  Only after the nachos were tiny bits did I wake up to what had happened.

***

So … will I commit to the current version of Bruce showing up a lot more frequently?  Yes, I will.  I can’t afford not to, for there isn’t much cheese down the tunnel of birdie putts and monster drives.  The cheese is elsewhere.

The space that came upon me today, by grace, is available as I walk into a living room, a school, and yes, even a pub.  What can I create with kids and adults coming from such an aura of love?  Something beautiful, I think, even if that’s largely unknown right now.

May I let the space linger, even within the flurry of daily life.