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  “Maybe tomorrow morning when I fire up my laptop, I’ll find that the post has been archived somewhere.”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.

Meditating

I did so for a long time this afternoon.  I sit in my cozy turquoise chair in the bedroom and gaze out at the field beyond.  Then I close my eyes.  On my better days, worlds open.

Today, I started with lots of thoughts coming through – about the British Open golf tournament I’d just watched, about the Mutual Awakening global community I’m a part of, about my swollen left foot.  I’ve learned to watch it all without further editorial comment, and usually I’m successful there.

After maybe half an hour, a sweet curtain came over me and all the words receded to the back forty.  A type of fullness came over my face, the sense of there being a huge space around me.  Somehow I was watching and wondering at the absence of thoughts.  It was so quiet.

Today, saliva started dripping from the corner of my mouth and I just sat there with the dribble, having no desire to wipe it away.  The liquid was just a natural part of the sitting, easily included in the whole experience.

Later, there was some humming noise nearby.  And eventually a thought did come: “That’s my neighbour’s generator.”  One thought led to many more and I wondered if I was in the middle of a power failure.  There was no sense of being disturbed by the sound.  I opened my eyes, tried my lights (they worked), put on my shoes and went next door.  Sharon and John’s generator simply does a test for fifteen minutes every week.  No sweat.  Back home, back in my chair, eyes closing and peace returning within a short time.  Goodbye again, dear thoughts.

An hour or so later, my eyes just opened.  No planning.  I sat there, watching the birds flit to and fro on my young tree.  Everything was lovely and I wondered if I could reach this space when talking with someone.  I think I can, and in fact I sometimes do when I’m on one of the online Mutual Awakening sessions with folks from here, there and everywhere.

My quiet times are influencing my times with people.  The solitary softness melts into the conversations I have.  And the connections go deep.

Alone and together … I need them both.

Just This

I’m sitting on my back patio, facing the farmer’s field.  I get to be in the shade in the early afternoon and my lawn sprinkler is waving its way across the lawn.  All is well.

Tiny corns are starting their summer’s journey and the traffic on Belmont Road to my left is carrying souls to their destinations.  Way in the distance, past the trees at the end of the field, Harrietsville Drive stretches left and right.  My friend Barry’s barn pokes above the leaves.  A weathered barn and a probably unused silo say hi off to the right.  When I first moved in, verging on two years ago, I was disappointed that there were roads and traffic and buildings out back.  Not any more.  Now there are friends out there, some stationary and some moving, reminding me that we are part of a very large family.

And there are birds.  When I got home from my long meditation retreat last December, I was also disappointed that the builder had planted deciduous trees every twenty metres or so along the back edge of our separate condo homes.  “They’ll wreck my view.”  How silly my brain can be.  Those trees are now twelve feet high and love fluttering in the breeze.  My view is still supreme.  And there are birds sitting on the branches.

My two bird feeders are about two metres away from my loveseat, slightly to the left.  As I tap away, a couple of brave souls hang off the sides, rooting out the seeds.  Oops … now they’re gone.  But how marvelous that they came to visit this up close human being.  Sometimes the moments of bliss are so fleeting but I thank God that they happen.

I think I’ll pause the writing and see if any feathered ones return to their food.

Five minutes later.  One male goldfinch (brilliant yellow!) sits on the tree beyond, sizing me up.  Now he flutters to the feeder pole.  Now he descends to the sunflower seed sanctuary.  I worry that my tiny typing will scare him away – but no – he’s still there, craning his neck to get a better view of me.  At least five other birdies are zooming around but so far he’s the only brave one.  Pretty special to make a new friend from a distance of two metres.  May I always be a benign human.

Three metres straight ahead, at the edge of my patio, sits an 18-inch statue of the Buddha.  He’s in full lotus position, something I can’t do (but who cares?) and his hands touch.  His eyes descend.  Mr. Buddha is simply here, and now, and he’s silently cheering me on.  Smart guy, Mr. Buddha, up there with Jesus in figuring out what leads to happiness.  Right now he doesn’t have much to say.  Just sitting will do fine.

A few minutes ago, I noticed two flutterbys in the grass – one large and grey, one itsy bitsy and white.  But now they’re gone too.  That’s all right.  I trust they’ll be back, just like I trust moments of transcendence will return in their own sweet time.

Did I mention that all is well?

 

Completion

I like ordering books from Amazon.ca.  The service is exquisite, the speed supersonic.

Months ago now, I ordered a philosophical tome written by Ken Wilber, one of my favourite writers.  What showed up was a journal written by Martin Heidegger, a German philosopher.  Oh well, at least the content was in the ballpark.

Actually the book that arrived came from an Amazon reseller in England.  When I told them of the mistake, they apologized and got the correct book off to me that day.  As for Mr. Heidegger, “Don’t mail it back to us.  Sell it or give it away.”  Okay, I’ll do that – the giving away part.

I love going to concerts and brunches at a small white church on Toronto Island.  At the entrance to Algonquin Island, where lots of folks live in cute cottages, is a wooden structure.  It’s usually full of shelved books and hanging clothes.  A “Take one … leave one” concept.  Perfect.  Martin will have a new home.

Two weeks down the road, I’d be making the two hour drive to Toronto for Island music.  Drop it off.  At the appointed time, I nudged Scarlet eastward but the book managed to stay in my living room.  Nuts!

A month or more after that, a string quartet was to grace St. Andrew-by-the-Lake Church.  This time I was smart.  I placed Martin in the back seat.  In Toronto, I parked at the train station and whisked myself off to the platform.  Downtown was a mere 25 minutes away.  Peering out the train window as neighbourhoods zoomed past, I realized I was bookless.  Nuts again!

Okay, that brings us to yesterday.  Another Sunday, another quiche and string quartet.  I took a little backpack with me and stuffed it full of philosophy before leaving home.  At the train station, the straps went around my shoulders.

I walked from the ferry towards Algonquin Island.  I climbed the cute stone bridge, and there waiting for me was the book shelter.  Why is my heart pumping so madly?  This is not exactly an aerobic activity.

I opened the backpack and gently pulled Martin out.  I inserted him beside a cookbook.   And stared.  I was flooded with peace as the smile widened.  Done.  100%.  No unfinished business.  Ahh …

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