What I Learned

I just spent five days with eighty open-eyed people.  I was blessed to be in their presence. I knew that I wanted to describe how our time together touched me but I didn’t see the words appearing.  I still don’t.  So allow me to stumble forward into the unknown.

“How am I doing?”  It’s a question that’s haunted me for decades.  It’s so symbolic of my belly button gazing, of looking within, of analysis and evaluation.  At times during the seminar, all of that floated away.  There was service and love, a direction of energy that was out into life, rather than coming from the outside in.  The lowered head in anticipation of incoming danger went on vacation.  The head was high, looking levelly into the eyes of my fellow travellers.

Then all that goodness disappeared.  And then … I was able to locate it again.  I had had an interaction with Patricia, our teacher, in which she asked me a question I couldn’t answer.  I panicked, and blurted out something that sounded halfway reasonable.  Was I touching whatever was just emerging?  No.  I was smashing into a wall that seemed to hide “the right answer”.  No cheese down that tunnel.  I collapsed inside, grew smaller in the badness that I’ve so often chosen as a companion.

The release came as I saw Bruce as a very hard and very small squash ball, sitting on a pillow.  The pain wasn’t inside me anymore.  It was over there, ready to be observed.  In the watching, I came back.  I lost maybe two hours, which is a marked improvement over two days.

The next thing was that I wanted to talk about the process.  I’ve had a couple of coaching sessions with one of the members of the Evolutionary Collective, and she was at the seminar.  I sought her out and told of the journey.  The “going toward” rather than the “turning away” was a revelation.  The mouth opening and disclosing instead of staying jammed shut.

Then there’s the experience of rhythm.  I’ve had this naïve thought that someday I’ll graduate from my pain, and will be this totally together human, emitting a stream of love at every moment – no challenges, no interruptions.  Ha!  Good luck.  Partway through our togetherness, one of the teachers was experiencing a feeling of separation from Patricia.  I had seen this woman as a shining light, and I still do, just not one who’s swimming in perfection.  If she sometimes trips upon the path of life, surely I have the space to do the same.  I can accept my periods of smallness and find my way back to a largeness that touches the world.  Superman … no thank you.

The rhythm of being also showed up in our daily movement sessions.  In one exercise,  we were being “moved” by our partner.  She would flick my wrist, and I had three choices: to let my arm nudge back in response; to exaggerate that reaction – throwing my arm up and staggering backward; or to resist the touch.  Refusing to be moved was so painful.  Refusing to let another influence me.  What remained was a totally right and totally alone piece of armour.  No give.  No take.  No life.  How the body teaches!

The word isn’t just “influence”.  It’s mutual influence.  Despite my moments of rigidity, I’ve often felt the gifts of others coming towards me.  On the weekend,  I saw more clearly that I influence them as well.  Such a long life before I started to let that one in.  I go into the future, perhaps two steps forward and one back, fully capable of giving in a way that allows receiving.

I matter
I love
I act
I change the world

Day Nine: Homeward

It’s over … my west coast communion with Evolutionary Collective friends and my sojourn in the world of Berkeley, California. I’m in the big bird heading to Toronto and Belmont and home. I’m happy in the going, in the abiding, and in the returning.

There was a lovely long lineup at airport security this morning. All I did was mention to the woman behind me that the post-and-strap system to create weaving lines of people was a great invention. And then we began. Priya is Indian in origin and is heading to Singapore to surprise her mom and dad. It’s a big anniversary for them and the husband has orchestrated a surprise party for his dear wife. Neither know about the daughter showing up. She’s so excited. We talked of love, family and the joy of reunion. It didn’t matter an iota that she was young and I was old, that she’s from the business world and I’m from education, that she’s a woman and I’m a man. We felt the same need for connection even though our time together was measured in minutes. We hugged goodbye.

***

A huge mural at the San Francisco Airport filled a wall. You’ll see a photo of it if you’re seeing this on Facebook. It celebrated immigrants finding a new home in the Bay Area. The words on the plaque nearby drew a parallel between those people and the birds who arrive in the nearby wetlands. The painting was orange and green and blue. Flying off the canvas was a mother lost in the eyes of her son, a father tossing his infant daughter high in the air, a likely husband and wife whose auras were blending, a woman holding the head of a monk, folks dancing … It was such a celebration of life, of being thoroughly alive. The power of art to transform.

***

I was packing up this morning when I came upon the card I bought yesterday. A huge owl in mid-flap is looking right at me as he bursts through the sky at sunrise. There’s such power in his gaze and upstretched wings. I want that to be me: unstoppable, unwavering, unaffected by crosswinds. He’s going to have a place of honour in my home as a reminder of what’s possible in life. He’ll be on my Facebook page too.

***

An hour to Toronto. I’m looking forward to being with my loved ones – young, medium and old. I’ll have stories to tell, and I’ll delight in theirs. Home … by midnight.

Day Seven: Living Fully

During the Evolutionary Collective seminar on the weekend, I got to experience some attitudes which allow us to make a powerful difference in the world.

***

One participant shared that she often felt like she was squeezed between the luggage on a bus.  Our leader countered that we need to take a seat on the bus.  Hmm.  So … I’m just as important as anyone else.  I belong.  I have a part to play.  I deserve to be here.  Who cares if someone else has more life experience, more smarts, a more open heart?  Not important.  What is crucial is that we talk to each other and allow ourselves to influence each other.

I’m no better than other passengers and no worse.  In fact, the whole comparison business doesn’t serve anyone.  Together we can flow towards the future, sharing our connection while also allowing each person’s uniqueness to blossom.

***

At a social gathering full of adults and kids, a four-year-old girl came to the centre of the action and said “Everyone stand up.”  They did.  “Now hold hands.”  They did.  It wasn’t a bunch of grownups humoring a kid.  It was a natural response to the power of another human being, who just happened to be very young.  Our age, gender, personality and knowledge don’t matter.  We get to throw ourselves out into the world and impact others.  We each have the juice inside to to be forthright and assertive.  Now, can we bring that to the outside?

***

Let’s say you have a negative pattern that keeps repeating.  You’re awfully tired of it.  What’s possible is to quietly say “No.  I’m not doing that anymore.”  A determination without fanfare.  A declaration.  I realize that some deep traumas (such as the ones which reside in me) need a more extensive strategy but others are perfectly susceptible to a sudden stop.  “I don’t like what caffeine does to me.  I don’t like what aspartame does to me.  That’s it.  No more caffeinated coffee or tea.  No more Diet Coke.”  So there.

***

I don’t have to shut myself down.  I don’t have to settle down.  I can be a very big Bruce, even if some folks say that’s too big.  And I can find someone to share my life who won’t back away when I’m being powerful.  She won’t run away.  Instead, she’ll beckon me closer.  “Give me all you’ve got.  I want all of you.”  Sounds pretty rare, both in the giving and the receiving, but why not?  Why should I tone myself down in my passion and commitment because someone might get uncomfortable?  Well … I shouldn’t.  The planet needs all of us to be at the top of our game – to be willing to express, to give, to disrupt the status quo.  If not us, then who?

***

Stand up
Stand up straight
Look the world in the eye

Animation

I have two favourite words.  The first is love … well understood by all and sundry.  The second is animation.  The reaction I usually get to that one is some version of “Huh?” or “You like Disney flicks?”  No matter – my joy in the word goes on.

Someone, no doubt wise, said:

“The Latin word anima (meaning breath, soul) that gave us animal, has given us other words.  The English adjective animate (meaning alive) comes from the Latin verb animare, meaning to give life to, which in turn comes from anima.”

The dictionary sees animation as the state of being full of life or vigor, and offers these synonyms:

Liveliness, spirit, high spirits, spiritedness, energy, enthusiasm, eagerness, excitement, vigor, vivacity, vivaciousness, vitality, vibrancy, exuberance, ebullience, buoyancy, bounciness, bounce, perkiness, sprightliness, verve, zest, sparkle, dash, elan, brio.

Woh … so many words.  But the word itself is true.  For decades, I’ve understood that to animate is to breathe life into, to take an ordinary moment and make it vibrate.  I think that is a gift of mine – to see the light in an apparently normal second or minute.

The light was with me half an hour ago.  I’m in Aeolian Hall, a 135-year-old concert venue in London.  A young woman from Montreal has just sung five songs, as the opening act for Martha Wainwright.  After five minutes, Amélie Beyries looked at us and said “There are spirits here.”  So true.  Her voice climbed the heights of tone and soul.  Her fingers caressed the piano keys.  And just before her last song, she stood at the edge of the stage and cried.  “I’ve never experienced a hall like this.”  We smiled and loved her.

Amélie had taken us into her heart and shone a light upon us.  The time was alive, glowing, vibrating.  And we all have the power to do the same – to set others ablaze.  Maybe a little smile, a kind word, a hand on the shoulder.  We can animate the lives around us simply by being “over there” with them.  Then candles can light themselves.  Dimmer switches can push themselves up to maximum.  Off-white can transform to forest green.

Let’s do it

Power

I was walking to the library yesterday afternoon when I came upon a schoolyard, of the cement persuasion. Through the chain link fence, I saw about a hundred pigeons – most of them grey, some white and a few golden brown. There didn’t seem to be any food to eat. They were simply hanging out. I smiled. They were just like us. We come in all shapes and colours and we too like being close. Really doesn’t matter what we’re doing as long as we’re together.

I was feeling all warm and fuzzy. Then, on a hunch, I glanced upwards. The fence was twelve feet high, and along the top rail sat maybe eighty more brothers and sisters. Peace evaporated as my brain sent me straight to Alfred Hitchcock’s movie The Birds, where flocks of crows terrorized a small town.

Ahh … the mind. An instant association and I’m transported from heaven to hell. It feels like I’m triggered many times a day. The past leaps up and grabs my throat. Doesn’t seem to be a very wise way to live.

I say the question is how long do I linger within the horror of Hitchcock . How quickly do I return to the beauty of pigeon heads nestling down in their feathers to ward off the cold? Let’s have it be speedy fast.

I ask myself where “source” is in my life. Is it me or is it all the events of my day? Where does my experience of living begin? What if I really get that the power is right here in this body and heart of mine? What surges of energy would be made available if I stopped feeding a good/bad analysis of my moments with people, places and things?

Woh. Bring it on.

Being Fred … Being Me … Being You

Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was a popular children’s TV show in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. I never saw it. But here I sit in the Hyland Cinema, waiting for a documentary on Fred Rogers to start. It’s called Won’t You Be My Neighbor? Apparently he was a kind soul and many kids “got” him. I like to think the same is true of me.

One of my favourite quotes, author unknown:

I won’t remember what you said
I won’t remember what you did
But I’ll always remember how I felt when I was around you

Bring it on, Fred!

***

My eyes widen as Fred’s story unfurls. How am I going to remember all the juicy quotes? And then I felt my pocket. I had a few index cards in there for making notes when I read books. I whipped out my pen and scrawled in the darkness. Here’s what Fred had to say:

People who have smiled you into smiling
Hugged you into hugging
Loved you into loving

Find me one person who, whether they know it or not, doesn’t need this

Kids need adults who will protect them
From the molders of this world

How tempting it is to make children in the image of ourselves
While they desperately need to be uniquely themselves
An original in the world

(While holding eyes with a handicapped girl, and extending a puppet to her)
Would you like to see Barney the Owl?

We so much need that precious contact
The sense of being truly held and acknowledged

I’ve always weighed 143 pounds – “I (1) love (4) you (3)”

What forces are at work on the planet
Far beyond the reasonableness of coincidence?

(Fred as a puppet)
I’m not like anyone else

(His friend, a girl)
I know
You are just fine as you are
You’re not a fake
You’re no mistake

So wise, this Mister Rogers, knowing what’s in the hearts of kids
And expressing the truth about them in a way that they can hear

What is essential in life is invisible to the eye

Fred planted this seed, first in his mind, and then in his actions with children
In some kids, the seed will transform into wisdom, many years later

(Talking to a young boy in a wheelchair)
I’m glad to see you
It’s you I like
Every part of you

Dear adult:
Please see me
Not my report card
Not my gold medals (or lack thereof)
Not what I look like

Let’s make goodness attractive

Why not? There are other ways to be an adult
Ways not usually featured on the nightly news
Let’s show ourselves to kids
In all our happiness and sadness
In our kindness and compassion

(Speaking to the U.S. Congress in defense of public television)
This is a plea not to leave the children isolated

Kids need the presence of fully alive human beings
They watch us like hawks
Trying to figure out how to lead their lives
Let’s give them some good examples

Don’t listen to those who try to make you feel less than you really are

There are other voices
Keep your ears peeled
You will hear them

(Fred as a puppet, and many decades ago as a kid)
I can’t go to school tomorrow
Because I don’t know everything

Fred Rogers knew children because he never lost touch with being one
I’m not Fred
I’m Bruce
And you’re you
May we all listen to the young souls around us

Close

I went to hear the Barra MacNeils last night.  They’re a Celtic musical family from Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia, Canada.  And I got to see them from the middle of the front row.

Often the folks featured in a song stood at the front of the stage, and their faces loomed above me, maybe eight feet away from mine.  It was intense.

When Lucy sang “Caledonia”, I fell deeply into me.  Her eyes were open, and the little white dots at the centre shone.  All was liquid, and her soul reached the words:

Let me tell hou that I love you
That I think about you all the time
Caledonia, you’re calling me, now I’m going home
But if I should become a stranger
Know that it would make me more than sad
Caledonia’s been everything I’ve ever had

All was well

Later Kyle strode to a spot right above me with his fiddle.  He played a soulful Scottish air, with his fingers gliding so sweetly on the strings.  The violin purred into the love song and Kyle would often close his eyes in response.  I would have such beauty linger forever.

Then it was a rousing drinking song, soloed by Stewart.  On the chorus, four brothers were only a breath away from me, blasting out the melody and harmonies.  The whole was greater than the sum of the parts, with the tones vibrating inside my heart.

Towards the end, Lucy did some fancy Irish dancing and I watched her feet fly.  The taps on her soles beat out a brilliant rhythm and her feet twisted this way and that at supersonic speed.

All happened in my very near presence and the immediacy was a huge gift.  Human beings blissing a fellow traveller in the front row.

Power

I’m used to the mellow energy of meditation.  Quiet and all-encompassing at times.  Nothing that I would describe as “powerful”.  But today’s been different.

I’ve been working out a lot on the elliptical at the gym, to get ready for my cross-Canada bicycle trip this summer. Usually, at the end of an hour of sweating and swinging my limbs every which way, I’m pooped.  But this morning, after the workout, and after I drove home, there was a tingle inside.  I headed out the front door for the 20-minute walk to the Belmont Diner and soon energy flooded me.  Yes, it was POWER.  My head felt “big”.  Something was coursing through me, pushing out from my heart.  I expected that I’d look in the mirror and see a 6 feet four hulk … hopefully not green.  I walked fast, feeling that if a car careened towards me, I’d just flip it over my shoulder.

At the restaurant, I was even more talkative than usual.  I wasn’t an idiot.  I wasn’t argumentative.  I just felt this great urge to talk about stuff that’s important to me … and I did.

My body felt strong, like I could tackle the Tour du Canada today, average 30 kph (good luck with that!), and burn up the hills.  I know I’m getting fitter but this surging flow was brand new.  And yes, I liked it.

This afternoon, I volunteered in the Grade 5/6 class. Tiffany, the teacher, asked me to read a chapter from The City of Ember, a science fiction novel.  The characters included Doon and Lina, two 13-year-olds, and an assortment of quirky adults.  I had the best time pulling on different voices.  At one point, someone in the book yelled, so I followed suit, scaring a kid or two.  I was intensely “there”, tender and snarly in turns as I inhabited the folks of the novel.

Basically I felt “fierce” all day, like my chest was about to burst my buttons, like I could have lifted my own body weight … no problem.

So it was another rich life experience, knowing I can be intense as well as sublime.  And I decided that I like all of it.