Astonishment

I participated in an online course about relationships on Saturday.  About twenty-five of us spent two hours together.  Most of it was a presentation about “mutual awakening”.  We reflected on what’s possible between two human beings.

And then it was time for dessert.  I had propped up my Samsung phone on a book.  The moderator’s face disappeared, replaced by a sign inviting me to “Join breakout session 9”.  I said yes and suddenly there was a woman looking at me from her living room in Alberta.  I’ll call her Megan.  Time stopped as I looked into her eyes and said hi.  And she was just as happy to see me.

The moderator had coached us about the process.  We’d start by having Megan ask me “What are you experiencing right now?”  I’d take ten minutes to reply and then we’d switch roles.  No censoring of the words spilling forth.  Not trying to make them sound reasonable.  The listener doesn’t say anything, and doesn’t evaluate the speaker’s words.  She simply stays “with” the other person.

During the final ten minutes, we’d answer the question “What are we experiencing right now?”  For that last bit, we wouldn’t be sharing “What I think we’re experiencing”.  Instead, we’d ideally move our consciousness into the other person and sense our unity.  Oh.  That sounded like a tall order.

Having been assured that there was no right or wrong way to do this, I let go.  I was in wonder, facing this person so far away geographically and somehow so close in my heart.  “How can this be?” I asked myself.  I just met Megan minutes ago.  It was clear that we had willingly entered a sacred space together, where anything that came out of our mouths was perfectly fine.

“I’m astonished.”

“I feel happy … new … wonder … chuckly … at home.”  Megan smiled and I was at peace.  I was receiving wonderful permission to be totally me in the moment.

When Megan spoke, I went inside her, or so it felt.  The first thing she was experiencing was “bubbles”.  How sweet.  And her smile spoke volumes.  I could tell she trusted me, this stranger from Ontario.

The whole group came back at the end, for comments and questions.  I put up my hand.  “I’m so astonished.  I’ve never experienced anything like this in my life.  I’ve read Patricia’s book and I’ve gone on lots of retreats … ”  And then I was silent, shaking my head in wonder for all the folks to see.  As much as I love words, sometimes there are none.

The journey continues for the next three Saturdays.  I feel so open to what these mutual awakeners will bring me and ready to let go of thought in my communication with them.

Bring It To Mind

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alone

Jody’s been dead for three years now, and I miss her so.  I would love to have a dear woman as my life partner but that hasn’t happened.  I’ve gone on dates but all four of those women said no to a relationship.  That makes me sad.

Sometimes I’ve fallen in love with a younger woman, someone in her 20’s or 30’s. I’ve fantasized about making love, and about communion.  But what’s life-serving is for that young woman to find a love far closer to her age than me, so they can grow old together.

Beneath the woe of loneliness is a peace, a slow current of life that keeps seeping into me.  Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve found myself in an altered state of consciousness while driving, walking down the street or just sitting in my man chair.  It feels like the depth I sometimes reached in meditation at last fall’s retreat.  How strange and marvelous.  And I want to sit with my lover and talk about it.  Oh well.

It may be that I will never again be in a committed relationship.  I may never again make love.  It’s amazing to open myself to this possibility … and to get that it’s okay.  I feel a happiness that’s deeper than all these thoughts.  And I get it: All that matters is the energy I put out in life.  It doesn’t matter what comes back.

And yet I still long for relationship.  How can the peace and longing happen at the same time?  I don’t know.  I see myself spooning with the beloved in bed, cuddling on the couch as we watch a popcorn-infused movie.  And I smile.  Shouldn’t I be sad that this isn’t happening in my current life?  Well, I guess, and sometimes I am.  But like I said, something way bigger is happening to me.  I feel it right now – a quiet energy roaming through my face, a falling of my flesh, a softening of my eyes.

I want to be of sevice, and I often am.  Actually, I’m often in communion with the person I’m talking to.  Maybe I don’t need the cuddling, just the deep sharing of the eyes.  Whether a loved one comes my way or not, there are always the eyes of the next human being to come calling.

Sadness
Peace
Love
Loneliness
Communion

The whole lifetime enchilada

Self-Disclosure

To what extent in this life do you share with others the truth about yourself, the good things and the bad?  Well, it depends on the you.  I think letting people know about my feet of clay, as well as my triumphal moments, frees up my body and soul … to flow.  And if the energy is moving largely unimpeded, I can touch other human beings.

Which brings me to Roberto Osuna.  He’s a relief pitcher with the Toronto Blue Jays, a young guy.  Imagine the pressure of coming on in the late innings with the bases loaded and the game on the line.  A few days ago, he did something remarkable: he told the world that he had anxiety issues and right then he was feeling “lost”.  So much for the male ego ruling the day.  Instead, the human heart had its say.  Well done, Roberto.  Some folks will be highly critical when you tell the truth.  Some will be clapping their hands.  But sooner or later you will have a tiny smile on your face.  No more charade.  No more looking over your shoulder to see who’s there.  No more being strategically careful.

I remember being in a meeting about the computer needs of a visually impaired student.  I’m okay with computer stuff but no whiz.  It seemed like everyone else in the room knew far more, and I too became lost.  What to do?  Fake understanding?  Cover up my terror with a big smile?  Press hard to control the shakes?  I chose elsewhere.  I told the assembly that I didn’t understand what people were saying, that I was feeling overwhelmed, and I needed to leave the meeting.  Which I did.  There was no tiny smile on my lips, just a red face.  The smile came later.

In Sunday’s sports section of The Toronto Sun, Steve Simmons had his say about Roberto:

“I can’t begin to tell you I know what Roberto Osuna is feeling.

I do know how troubling it can be when you lose a portion of yourself and you don’t necessarily know why.

But I can tell you with absolute certainty, from my own experiences, from the daily challenges, that the challenges of anxiety and mental illness aren’t easily explained or understood and they can be all-consuming.

Hopefully Osuna gets the kind of help he needs and finds the kind of peace all of us deserve.”

Well said, Steve
Well said, Roberto
Well said, me

Just a Glimmer

Well, I woke up this morning [Sunday] and that feeling of immense space was still with me.  How about that?  I felt some energy moving down my body, towards my stomach.  A very quiet energy.  The moments were there and there was nothing to add to them.

The morning cold was bearable but my body really turned it on in the p.m.  No nose breathing that I could discover.  And I was zooming along the 401 at 110 kph.  Those two facts would normally have completely dominated my consciousness.  But not today.  There was a subtle current of ok-ness below.  Scarlet was going so fast but I was very slow inside.

The space would often close in just as my nose did, sometimes as a car changed lanes right in front of me.  But the stillness kept edging back into my drive.  Sweet.

Now I’m watching the Nashville Predators battle the Pittsburg Penguins in the Stanley Cup Final.  In the spirit of doing something about my problems, I’m shoving gobs of mentholatum up my nose.  But still precious little breathing.  And then there’s my stomach again – not a pain but a fine awareness down there.  It’s as if my body is helping me recenter myself, again and again.

And now the softness is gone and I’m my closed nose again.  Still I think of nasally normal moments in my future.  Will I be able to access yesterday’s peace at will when my body isn’t distracting me?  Maybe.  But it seems to me that I can create other distractions pretty easily.

And so what if I’ll often be able to reach an open state of being?  How can that better the world?  Assuming that I’ll be able to do this (without effort), perhaps other people will resonate with the same energy.  Maybe our minds will be so calm that our doing becomes a blessing.

Then again, all these musings could be so much horsepucky, the meanderings of a deluded one.

***

Shortly after the reference to horsepucky, I’d had enough vertical life and went to bed.  Where I slept for the next twelve hours, nose and all.  I’m up now and the spaciousness is gone.  Well, let’s see.  Maybe I’m wrong.  I’ll go searching.  But searching isn’t it.  That’s just more effort.  Peace is as clear as the nose on my face or it’s not there.  No.  Nothing.  But that’s okay.

Y’all come back sometime …

Circle of Peace

How strange that yesterday my mind was floating free and today I’ve come gently back to earth.  No pulses of energy behind my eyes, no sublimities.  And that’s okay.  We’re all rolling along within some unknown rhythm of life.

I did meditate today and an image presented itself.  I’ve been thinking of the type of sculpture I want for my bathroom and had settled on a human figure in metal – arms outstretched and head down.  But this morning came a circle, one composed of people, holding hands.  It was so vivid as I floated in quietness.  They were all smiling.  And I thought back to other circles I’ve known.

1982.  A suburban parking lot in Honolulu.  Christmas morning.  Perhaps one hundred of us held hands for awhile and then sang carols.

Mele Kalikimaka is the thing to say
On a bright Hawaiian Christmas day
That’s the island greeting that we send to you
From the land where palm trees sway
 Here we know that Christmas will be green and bright
The sun to shine by day and all the stars at night
Mele Kalikimaka is Hawaii’s way
To say Merry Christmas to you

And then “Silent Night”.  So sweet a time in the presence of strangers who became not that.

Years later, fifty of us stood in another parking lot, joined in a prayer circle for my lovely wife Jody.  We held hands, we talked of Jodiette, and we prayed for her.  Sweetness again.  A fellow was walking through the lot and decided to join us.  We made room and he favoured us with tender words for my dear wife.

Hawaii and London, Ontario … just places where the heart resides.  And in a month of two, the same spirit will call my bathroom home.

 

Skating In My Mind

I don’t know how to skate.  As a kid, my ankles just kept flopping over.  I was scared to fall.  I was scared to look stupid, which I guess I did.  Come to think of it, I was scared about most things.  But I turned out okay.

Last night was New Year’s Eve and I didn’t know what to do.  My massage therapist told me that there was some sort of family festival happening in the early evening in Aylmer so I decided to go.

It was a short drive to the East Elgin Community Complex and I was greeted by a packed parking lot.  Lots of folks were heading to the entrance with ice skates over their shoulder.  Somehow I forgot mine.

Inside, the lobby was overflowing with festive types young and old, with the pull of the crowd leading to the skating rink.  I got myself a coffee and climbed the stairs to the upper level.  Below me were a hundred skaters looping around the ice surface.  I looked … and I marvelled.

And there I was, in teenaged female form.  The young lady was walking unsurely on her skates, with none of that graceful pushing off motion to the sides.  She jerked when gravity threatened to take over.  The fear shot through her body.  For several laps, she skated  alone.  But then an older gent, perhaps her father, came alongside.  They talked and smiled.  And my unknown friend kept going, undeterred by the graceful forms flowing by her.  Good for you.

The music of Abba was flooding the scene:

Chiquitita, you and I know
How the heartaches come and they go and the scars they’re leaving
You’ll be dancing once again and the pain will end

And on the world glided.

***

A young mom pushed her son in a wheelchair.  He was laughing every time around

Two ten-year-old girls skated unsteadily together, holding hands and sharing the latest news

A six-year-old boy burst past the slow ones in a flurry of speed and skill

A teenaged fellow tried to look cool as he moseyed along, hands in his pockets

A girl practiced her figure skating, shifting suddenly from one foot to the other, and then took a lap moving backwards

Parents on the boards smiled at their kids and shared the video they’d just taken

And a guy sitting in the balcony took it all in

Space

I spent years in the Rockies, hiking the trails above treeline and others deep in forests.  Long views were everywhere.  I had room to move, rather than some of my employment situations, where it felt like I was wearing a large cardboard box over my head.

Lately, my room to roam has been walking the fairways of Tarandowah, the golf course I love.  So sweet to be immersed in that world.  But are there other possibilities in Southern Ontario?

Heading west from Belmont today, I was imagining another golfing journey.  I know my route – south on Belmont Road, east on Yorke Line, cross Dorchester Road, cross Imperial Road, cross Whittaker Road.  But today I found myself turning left on the gravel of Whittaker, just to see what was there.

Well, I knew that further on was Lake Whittaker Conservation Area.  Jody and I had been years ago, but I couldn’t remember what it was like.  Lakeshore trail, I guessed.  Woods, meadows.  As I approached the park gate, I was pretty blasé.  Guess I’ll go for a walk.

But then …

Past some bushes, the lakeshore was revealed, as well as a hundred Canada geese floating serenely.  And their calls echoed above the trees.  I paused.

Then the woods.  Corridors of fir trees, with the late afternoon light slanting through.  I gasped.

Later, waist high grass in the fields, escorted by golden larch trees.  Everything shining.  I simply stopped.

My mind was large
My heart was open
My world was free

I Get To Go

I’ve been on many silent retreats at the Insight Meditation Society in Massachusetts.  All of them have been at the Retreat Center, the facility at IMS which provides great support, and regular routines, for the yogis.  Basically, all one hundred of us would be doing sitting meditation at the same time – the same with walking meditation.  There’d be talks every evening to educate us about Buddhist principles and meditation.

There is another way at IMS … a second facility, called the Forest Refuge.  This is where you can work with a teacher in developing your own program.  Maybe really short walks and sits would be best.  Or a long sitting session of two hours (but for some yogis that would be far too long).  Fewer talks.

At the Forest Refuge, unlike the Retreat Center, yogis can read.  They can study some aspects of the Buddha’s wisdom in depth.  I’m especially interested in the Brahma Viharas: lovingkindness, compassion, empathetic joy and equanimity.  I’d like to deepen them in my life.

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to apply for a month’s stay at the Forest Refuge.  I knew I could handle the independence.  So I did all the paperwork, including a detailed questionnaire … and waited.

One day stretched into two, four, seven.  I listened to what was inside.  “I’d love to have this opportunity.  I’m excited.  But IMS might say no.  I’d be sad.”  As time ran onwards, I watched my feelings ebb and flow.  And my thoughts would sometimes explode.  “What are they thinking?”  “Maybe I’m not good enough.”  “Of course I’m good enough.”

And yesterday, I just let go.  All is fine.

***

Lots of condo details to handle today.  Wrong toilet seats arrived – too big for the bowls.  Wanted to pick up the lights I’d ordered but some of them were still at the warehouse.  Kitchen counters won’t be ready until maybe September 26 but I can still move in on the 20th.

Take a break, Bruce.  See who’s e-mailed you.

And there it sat, titled “Your IMS Forest Refuge Acceptance”.  That last word barely registered.  Click and here was the letter:

Dear Bruce,

Your application for retreat at IMS’s Forest Refuge has been approved, and I’m happy to say there is currently space available for your dates of February 1-28, 2017.” 

And lots of etcetera.

I stared.  I get to go.  I cried.  I get to go

Thank you

One Taste

I enjoy reading the thoughts of Ken Wilber.  He’s a philosopher.  And his goal has been to pull together the wisdom of the world, as represented by spiritual leaders, scientists, business people, psychologists and many others, into a coherent whole.  Ken thinks that every perspective has something to offer and it’s a mistake to say “I have the whole truth.”

I find that spiritual ideas stay in my head a bit and then leave.  I’ve read many books but it’s rare that I can recall what they said.  And I want to remember something “important” when I’m writhing amid the daily grind.

I see potential for me in Ken’s phrase “one taste”.  He points to the ocean and the waves on it.  Each wave can be considered as one of life’s experiences: happy stuff, sad stuff, frustrating, peaceful, challenging, sublime.  Or how about each wave as a person you know – someone kind, someone nasty, distant, cozy, chuckly, morose.  But if I look at all these waves, what is their essence?  It’s true that some waves are big and some small, but what is the core of it all?  Why, it’s brilliant and obvious … they’re all wet.  A tiny ripple is just as wet as a tsunami.

All these experiences and all these people, as different as they are from each other on the surface, down deep are the same.  They’re all sweetly light and graceful.  They all have one taste.  How can this be?  Surely the bliss of bright colours in my condo is better than the pain of constipation.  Well, on one level, of course.  But maybe there’s another level that I can access at any time, even when the temperature is 35° Celsius (95° Fahrenheit), with a heat index of 43 (109).  Sure, my body would be massively uncomfortable, but what about my Spirit?

Here’s what Ken has to say.  His use of capitals may be offputting, as well as his inclusion of the word “hopeless”, but then there’s the message:

The desires of the flesh, the ideas of the mind and the luminosities of the soul – all are perfect expressions of the radiant Spirit that alone inhabits the universe, sublime gestures of that Great Perfection that alone outshines the world.

There is only One Taste in the entire Kosmos, and that taste is Divine, whether it appears in the flesh, in the mind, in the soul.  Resting in that One Taste, transported beyond the mundane, the world arises in the purest Freedom and radiant Release, happy to infinity, lost in all eternity, and hopeless in the original face of the unrelenting mystery.

From One Taste all things issue, to One Taste all things return – and in between, which is the story of this moment, there is only the dream, and sometimes the nightmare, from which we would do well to awaken.