Lullaby

“Freedom From Fear”
Norman Rockwell

Yesterday’s energy was surging, exploding, seeking the brand new in the far reaches of existence.  The step had rhythm, the arms were pumping, and I sang a happy tune.  “Come join me,” I said, ” and we will discover together in the light of day.”  My eyes were fierce and my arms far flung.  My voice rose on the wind and I pointed to the blazing sun.

Today … I rest.  There is slumber, my eyes closing, my breath slow and easy.  I look out at each of you with soft eyes and my arms flow around you.  

I’m laughing at the difference.  They’re both parts of what I bring to the world.  They’re friends, certainly not opponents.  I applaud them both.  

Three years ago, as I sat in meditation on a three-month silent retreat, music kept slipping inside me.  Fragments of one song in particular took up residence in my mind.  Not once did I sing out the words but they swept through me, and I could feel them reaching out to my fellow yogis in the meditation hall.  Today I remember a phrase here, a phrase there: “Sleep my child and peace attend thee”, “Hill and dale in slumber keeping”, “Breathes a pure and holy feeling”.  Ahh …

Just now, for the first time, I Googled “All Through The Night”.  The entries were dominated by a Cyndi Lauper song, not at all the one I remembered.  But resting beneath all the fame and fortune was a link to a “lullaby”.  Time for my phone again: “a quiet song that is sung to children to help them go to sleep”.  Today I feel like a child, safe at home with mom and dad pulling the covers up under my chin.

Sleep my child and peace attend thee
All through the night
Guardian angels God will send thee
All through the night
Soft the drowsy hours are creeping
Hill and dale in slumber sleeping
I my loved ones’ watch am keeping
All through the night

Angels watching, e’er around thee
All through the night
Midnight slumber close surround thee
All through the night
Soft the drowsy hours are creeping
Hill and dale in slumber sleeping
I my loved ones’ watch am keeping
All through the night

While the moon her watch is keeping
All through the night
While the weary world is sleeping
All through the night
O’er thy spirit gently stealing
Visions of delight revealing
Breathes a pure and holy feeling
All through the night

Angels watching ever round thee
All through the night
In thy slumbers close surround thee
All through the night
They will of all fears disarm thee
No forebodings should alarm thee
They will let no peril harm thee
All through the night

Though I roam a minstrel lonely
All through the night
My true harp shall praise sing only
All through the night
Love’s young dream, alas, is over
Yet my strains of love shall hover
Near the presence of my lover
All through the night

Hark, a solemn bell is ringing
Clear through the night
Thou, my love, art heavenward winging
Home through the night
Earthly dust from off thee shaken
Soul immortal shalt thou awaken
With thy last dim journey taken
Home through the night

Fighting For Money

Over my long years, I’ve had many images of myself.  The one that’s hung around the longest is of this nice little Buddhist guy, at peace with the world and everyone in it, simply being love.  Well, I am love … my bones tell me so.

But what if a Mack truck is barreling down on me?  Or somebody wants to strip my home of all its furniture?  Do I simply bow and say “Thy will be done”?

No

Part of me is a warrior, brandishing a sword in defense of myself and others.  Right now, it’s me that comes to mind.

In our pre-Covid life of 2019, I planned two glorious trips to see women play tennis in 2020 – to Montreal and New York City.  I booked a hotel in Canada and an Airbnb in the USA.  This spring, the Quebec Government cancelled all professional sporting events and a bit later the Canadian Government closed our border with American friends, plus the US Open said “no spectators”.

(Sigh)

After the sadness came the resolve to get my $2200 back.  No lying down in the middle of the road.  So began two journeys – two months with Airbnb and five with Expedia.  I probably phoned the Montreal hotel twenty times and reached a human being twice.  Neither time the manager.  At the end of most of my voice mails, I asked the manager to phone me.  Nope.  Valiant Expedia reps dialed the hotel over and over.  The manager was never in.  Really nice people at Expedia said that they were escalating my case to a higher department and so-and-so would phone me within ______ days.  No higher-ups ever phoned.  Twice I sent to Expedia a copy of an e-mail in which the hotel manager agreed to refund my money but no one at the travel company could ever find that e-mail.

There are more details about those five months, and less dramatically the two months with Airbnb, but I’m not going for “poor me” here.  There’s another story.

I hadn’t realized what a determined son-of-my-mother I was.  I’d look in the mirror and see a dog who wouldn’t let that bone go.  Nothing would stop me, including the approximate fifteen hours I spent glued to my phone.  So there was the fierceness walking hand-in-hand with the equanimity.  Does this make me schizophrenic?  No, but as Walt Whitman said long ago, “I am inconsistent.  I contain multitudes.”

I now have $2200 that had gone AWOL for months.  My head is held high.  And I have fond memories of Expedia reps who so much wanted to help.  As for the hotel manager, and whoever in the Expedia Corporate Department let me fall through the cracks …

No way!

Sufficiency

I enjoy meditating. Here’s the view from the meditation chair in my bedroom.

This afternoon I closed my eyes and let the flowing come to me, being with whatever thoughts or no-thoughts were there. As is often the case, there came a moment when my eyes opened, unbidden by my mind. Someone knew that the meditation was over.

For the first time ever, I remained in the chair for half-an-hour or so. With meandering eyes, I looked across the fields and welcomed far-off cars on their left-to-right or right-to-left journeys.

At one point, there was a thought: “I am sufficient.” It wasn’t an assertive affirmation. It was merely a fact … a quiet one. There was no eruption in my brain, no strident legal arguments to dispute the peace. What did show up was a calm inventory of potential deficiencies:

You want to lose a few pounds.

That’s true. But no big deal. I want to stay healthy and I will.

Do you realize that hardly anybody comments on your WordPress posts or likes them on Facebook?

You’re right. I wonder why. Oh well … I’ll write again tomorrow.

You wanted your next life partner to show up within a few years of Jody dying, but you haven’t found the special one.

Hmm. So true. And yet I’m fine. I can feel it in my bones.

You know, it’s possible that you don’t have much time left on this planet, even though you seem to be in good health.

I wonder … do I have one year left or twenty? (Smile)

***

So quiet right now
Was that a pin I heard dropping?
Time stretches beyond the horizon
And all is well

A Singing Bowl

It’s a quiet thing from Tibet.  When I meditate, it sits there peacefully, the mallet resting in the bowl.  At the end of my meditation time, I tap the side … three times.

There’s something magical about lingering between taps, till the sound is no more.  It reminds me of giving a speech.  When my words are done, I pause at the podium until I know it’s time to walk away.  There’s a gap within which there is completion.  Same with the singing bowl.

The singing comes when you sweep the mallet around and around the lip.  Sweet … but it’s not my sweet.  I tap instead.

Should I release the idea of “quality” in my tapping?  Any old strike will do?  Well, I could do that, but it doesn’t feel right.  There’s a communion when the tone hangs long in the air.  I intend to reach that state of relating, to experience the freedom that comes with precision.

Tapping near the lip creates an extra tinny sound at the beginning.  It fades quickly to a slow vibration but it’s not what I want.  It is indeed extra … beyond the essence of things.

Hitting hard halfway down the bowl produces a jolt, rather than a caress.  The tone lasts a long time, but I still find myself shaking my head “No.”

Hitting soft halfway down begins the flow almost immediately.  It allows me to hear the nuances of quieting music.  A quiet that fades to empty space.  I nod approval.  It feels “appropriate” without that word being offered by anything other than the Divine.

At the last, when the third tone has faded away to nothing, I lean close to my friend.  The song continues.  And I smile.

They Disappeared … and So Did I

The “they” are birds. The “I” is me. It’s been a month since I’ve written you. I just haven’t been interested. “No oomph” equals “no write” in my mind. But it seems so strange. One of my contributions on this planet is writing – hopefully writing that reaches people in their lives.

Actually I let myself be stopped. A month or two ago, I wrote a piece here that I knew was the best thing I’d ever written. And nobody, on WordPress or Facebook, said a peep about it. I felt sad. I went away. I let you folks determine my happiness. That was a mistake. I can’t guarantee I won’t make it again.

Anyway, hello to Saturday. It’s time to say a thing or two.

***

I love the birdies who come to my two feeders – sunflower and nyjer. Seeing my friends so close out my living room window has been a blessing. A week ago they stopped coming.

Just like that. No goldfinches. No sparrows. No redwinged blackbirds. And especially no mourning doves. They’re my favourite. It felt like friends turning their backs on me. I’d look out this window longingly, wondering which would be better – birdies flying by to somewhere else, or no birdies at all. Both have happened in the last few days.

I’ve felt the truth: I have no control about what the other chooses to do. There’s no cage, physical or mental, that will do the trick. I can set the scene for visitors but there may or not be a knock on the door.

There’s a bittersweet beauty in the absence of things well known. See that field out there? The rise of grass? Many feathered ones have graced those spaces over the past four years. I remember them well, and feel them still as the sky is empty.

I turned on my brain two days ago. “We had a huge rain awhile back. The seed must have got wet. No self-respecting birdie wants to peck away at porridge.” So I put dry seed in the feeders. Hours later, all remained still.

Yesterday was another chapter. “Bruce, you haven’t cleaned the feeders for a year or two! Don’t you remember how to do things?” Well, apparently not. A big bucket full of bleach water, dismembered feeder parts, several hours of soaking, a thorough rinse, and an overnight of drying brought me to this morning.

Before you is the result of such purification. Calm and unvisited towers of seed. Oh, there have been glimpses: two tiny ones on the perches of the nyjer feeder, and one brave soul chewing on sunflower seeds. Plus two mourning doves grazing on the ground beneath. But no sudden happy ending. Sounds like life.

Right at this moment, no birdies are with me. And yet they are.

It Shouldn’t Be The Way It Is

It was about 1:30 pm today.  I was dead tired.

What’s wrong with you?  You had seven hours’ sleep.

I spent part of the morning wandering patiently from store to store, gathering my necessaries.  Then I was on a lovely Zoom call with twenty-four souls from the Evolutionary Collective.

You should be enlivened by the EC call, not stupefied.

Exhaustion continued.

It’s time to meditate.  Get yourself together and do it.

My bed was calling me.  I pulled back the covers in preparation for a glorious immersion.

No!  Sleeping now will mess up all your rhythms.

Under the comforter … waiting for comfort.

!!! … !! … ! … zzz …

Recently my eyes opened.  The watch said 2:47.  I’m a little renewed, and still dozey.  Happily, the italics voice has quietened.  For the last few days, though, it’s been speaking its mind:

There shouldn’t be a coronavirus.

I shouldn’t be cooped up so much.

I should be sitting at the bar at Boston Pizza, enjoying my nachos and beer while watching large-screen sports.

I should be gearing up to watch my beloved tennis on TV … the French Open in May.

I should be enjoying the presence of the Grade 5/6 kids at the school where I volunteer.

I should be blissfully married, not gazing at the photo of Jodiette on the wall.

I should be an alumnus of the Tour du Canada – a cross-country bicycle ride.

I should be 25 … 30 tops.

I should have kids, and grandkids.

I should be a former Olympic athlete.

Etcetera …

***

What’s true is that I’m well and happy, exploring consciousness with friends, living with a wide-open heart, and knowing that I’ve contributed to the lives of hundreds of children.  It is enough.

 

Meditating

I’ve meditated for ten years, including two three-month silent retreats at the Insight Meditation Society in Massachusetts. I would say we were silent 98% of the time.

When people hear about my quiet adventures, they literally don’t know what to say. And I haven’t been able to communicate my experiences very well.

This afternoon, I sat in my cozy mediation chair in my bedroom. I told myself to tell you afterwards what it was like. So here I am … feeling naked and unknowing. As much as I love writing, I don’t know what to say.

Trust. That’s become a large word for me. I trust myself. I trust my thumbs tapping on the phone screen. I trust that something good will proceed from right now and that this goodness will reach you.

***

Thoughts come. That’s the way it is. Deeper into the meditation there usually are larger spaces around the thoughts. That’s nice, but it’s not a goal to be sought. By grace comes the space.

Sometimes the body is tired. The large openness falls easily into a nodding off. This happened again and again today. The response is a smile, for the rhythms of life are to be respected.

As I settle into the silence, there may come a flow of energy across my face. There may be a “shimmering down”, a vibration that touches my head and seeks my toes. Beyond that may be an awareness of love, simply wafting outwards with no sense of destination. The love, when it’s given to me, brings a tiny smile to my lips and takes me by the hand to a realm without thought, without image, and yet infinitely full.

During the moments of immense sweetness, and yet with a matter-of-fact quality, I am fully alert to the physical world. There have been times when someone has spoken to me while the peace covers all. Happily, there was an acceptance here, with no sense of intrusion whatsoever.

Sometimes there’s music in my head … celestial melodies often accompanied by words:

Nowhere to go
Nothing to do
Nothing to know
And no one to be

Mostly though, the music floats away and there is silence. It’s as if a word such as “love” begins to separate in the air, and the letters are swirled away to the four corners of the universe.

Even though my hands are nestling each other on my lap as I meditate, there’s a sense of reaching out to the beings of this world … loving them, blessing them, wanting them to be happy. Somehow these wishes don’t form as conscious thoughts but I know they’re here.

My eyes know when my meditation is done, for they choose to open. My right hand reaches for the wooden mallet, and the singing bowl rings. Three times it is touched. For each, the sound fades to the merest vibration before the next tone appears.

And I wish … “Please may the shimmer stay with me throughout my day.” Often it does.

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.