Day Twenty-Five: No Deficit

Sometimes you need to protect yourself from the heat of the sun.

I was sitting in the Jean-Jacques pub yesterday, off in a corner, writing a blog post. My only companion was a very large beer. I had said bonjour to a big table of Senegalese men and women when I walked in but I knew I wanted to be alone. A few of them returned my greeting with some fast French. I smiled and placed a chair under the shade of a mango tree.

For the next hour-and-a-half, I tapped my screen and found photos. In the background was a non-stop conversation en français and Warlof. Really … nobody seemed to come up for air! I didn’t understand any of it. There was a tall and imposing fellow in a long robe and a hat that reminded me of a woven basket. He spoke loudly, authoritatively, with his index finger poised for emphasis. Others replied to him just as sharply. Were people excited? Angry? In love? I couldn’t tell.

Here I am in the beginning stages of learning a foreign language, with ancient years of high school French, and I didn’t recognize anything these folks were saying. It was so tempting to fall into badness. I’ve done so many a time on this trip – not being able to find the noun, adjective or verb that fits; having no idea how to conjugate a verb so that people know whether I’m talking about the future or the past; leaning unsuccessfully into the kind efforts of a native speaker to go slowly. But not this time.

As I sat there with my double-sized Flag, I saw some truths:

1. I’m surrounded by Senegalese human beings who speak French, Warlof and Serai but only a soupçon of English, if any.

2. I’m doing my best to speak and understand sentences that fly towards me, usually at supersonic speed.

3. With the exception of Lydia (now) and Jo (earlier), there is no one here with whom I can carry on a nuanced conversation.

4. I love talking to people about important things, especially what their lives are like, what they’re experiencing, what visions they hold. With the Senegalese, and with almost all the tourists I’ve met, that’s not available here. I miss the depth of talking.

5. At home, my life feels balanced among being alone, being with one other person, and being in a small group. Here what dominates is groups (large and small) – family, friends. Of course those are marvelous opportunities for togetherness but my balance is way off.

6. I need to spend some time in the shade, away from the intensity of group conversation in French.

7. Rather than feeling “less than”, the opportunity for me is to allow in words such as “courage”, “pioneer” and “sufficiency”. Yes, I can do that.

8. I can also laugh at my mistakes. “J’ai chaud” literally means “I have heat”. More conversationally, it’s “I’m hot”. However, “Je suis chaud” tells my companion that “I’m sexy”. Perhaps I should stick with “J’ai chaud”!

***

Now there is a lightness
Now there is a smile
Now there is peace

Day Nineteen: Just Sitting

The span of three photos … left to right. I brightened the middle one so hopefully you can see the woman in the shade.

***

Within the flurry of fast French and many people around, it’s too easy to forget the lingering, the silence within, the abiding in place. Yesterday I made room for the quiet. Some of us were out walking in Toubacouta and I saw cement steps in the shade. I sat down … and I stayed there for an hour. My friends continued on their journey.

How will I know a country and a people? Part of it is focus, study. And part of it is simply “being” in the environment – seeing what’s there and who’s there. Not interacting, not judging, just watching. No hurry at all. Here’s the world that came by:

1. Seeing the boutique across the street where my friends were. Letting them be there, letting them leave, staying put.

2. A very tall black fellow, dressed all in white. Even his pointed hat was white. He walked slowly. Sadly, he reminded me of the Klu Klux Klan but of course the skin was different. And his bearing spoke of the spiritual.

3. Chickens and roosters scurrying in the dirt, across the way and then almost at my feet, pecking here and there. The moving was jerky, almost frantic, and then they were gone.

4. A large water bottle seemed to have a life of its own until I spied a young boy continually launching it down the playing field that was the road.

5. For a few minutes, Mariama sat with me on the step, watching me write the moments on white index cards. I wondered what she was thinking as my black scribbles hit the paper.

6. Above the metal rooves and thatched huts, large black birds soared against the blue sky. Were they vultures? The question didn’t need to be answered … they were simply artists of the air.

7. A young boy rode by on a bicycle, probably his sister hanging on the back. Clearly they had places to go, for the street to the right soon swallowed them.

8. Perhaps twenty white goats came into view, managed into rows by an old man wielding a long stick. Bleats abounded but there was a casualness to it all as the family headed down a narrow alley.

9. What? A dark blue Honda CRV blasted past me from the left. Dark faces looked over through tinted glass. This does not compute. But still I smiled with the mystery of it all.

10. Over the hour several women in bright dresses strolled by, their arms at their sides and baskets comfortably riding on their heads. They moved with grace, and some shifted their eyes to me with a smile when I greeted them with “Bonjour.”

11. Five goats wandered over curious and a baby’s eyes came within two feet of mine. Neither of us felt the need to say anything.

12. Teens with a ragged volleyball played soccer in front of me. A long kick from the left split Main Street and landed on the instep of the receiving fellow. He brought the ball softly to the ground and arched it back to his friend. Such grace of movement.

13. Along came a fragile-looking wooden cart, occupied by two donkeys and six kids. No stop and go … just the languid pace needed under a burning sun.

14. Over the way, there stood a huge shade tree, brilliantly emerald and lemon, with long strands of leaves fluttering in the breeze. “Hey, it looks like a maple tree back home.” But it wasn’t.

15. A woman in a pink dress had set up shop under the tree before I arrived. As the heat climbed, she packed up her shiny coloured objects for sale and walked away, complete with basket, tiny table and plastic chair. Maybe it was time for a nap.

16. Apparently not too hot for running. A young black fellow sped by. Above his eyes were blond locks – logically out of place, but actually not.

17. Three young boys and a bicycle joined me in the shade. After the ritual “Ça va?”s, they launched into conversation with each other, not minding my presence in the least. Shade is meant to be shared and words need not be understood.

18. A clearly strong 20-year-old walks close, scoops up the youngest kid, and starts away. The adult fellow looks back at me, smiling. Once the young one is upright again, his mouth also curls into a smile.

19. As the earth bakes, the street empties. No human beings to the left or to the right. The woman managing “Chez Sadio Demba” behind me has just locked her door. The world is quiet.

***

The melodies are soft but they’re still here
Toubacouta reposes
Bruce wanders away, the dirt sliding under his feet
All is well

Day Fourteen: The Body

Is it a microphone … or is it a trowel? How I perceive it is up to me. The same goes for my body. I’ve spent most of my lifetime seeing it as a problem … fat, weak, U-shaped rather than V-shaped. What if there’s no “reality” to any of that? There’s merely a body here – white, thin in most places, of seventy years. How about no judgments, just a witnessing of the physical life’s ebbs and flows?

And now a new moment: Gnima wants to hold my cell phone (I’ve learned how to spell her name since last time). So I give it to her, knowing that her 4-year-old hands could easily drop it. It’s simply a new way of seeing things. I wonder if I can apply this to all of my life. What freedom is available here?

Now Gnima is cuddled up against my chest as I tap these words. She’s enthusistically examining her hands while commenting en français. Another now has her up and away, tossing the shark-face beach ball to herself. Everything feels loose, untethered.

I watched a soccer game two days ago – the young men of Toubacouta in red, the fellows of another village in green. I watched their grace, their speed and joyed in the flow of movement, the deft flicks of the ball to teammates, the explosive shots on goal. There’s no need to refer all this back to Bruce. I can merely celebrate youth, power and the lungs going full out. A better choice.

Over the last few days, the body has spoken:

1. It wants to rest, walking some and reposing a lot

2. It struggles with the heat of midday in Africa

3. It coughs a lot in the dust and fumes of Senegal, and enjoys puffer times each day

4. It balances precariously between constipation and diarrhea, seeming to lean towards one or the other at every moment

5. It feels midnight pains and knows that there is a way through this. There is intelligence here.

6. It sees the absurdity of tanning, of accomplishing an appearance that will fade over the span of Canada’s winter.

7. It doesn’t want a lot of food, being in the middle of a sufficiency that doesn’t require adding to the essence.

Let us be at ease then, dear Bruce – in mind, spirit and body. Let us abide here within the African moments. Let us continue the study of French so that I may come closer to my friends. It is enough.

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