Mary and You

Mary Oliver is a poet. She died last year. Perhaps I should ramble through the details of her life, the awards she’s won, a few choice words from those who appreciate her dearly. I could mention the scholarly papers which have analyzed her style and messages.

Or …

I could leave all that alone
And simply have Mary knock on your door …

The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean
the one who has flung herself out of the grass
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields
which is what I have been doing all day
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

Choosing a Castle

I’m sitting by the pool of Il Casale di Riardo, reflecting on my life. Nearby a couple and their teenaged daughter are frolicking in the water, laughing together in French. It’s lovely to behold – a family truly enjoying each other. The resident swallows aren’t perturbed by the swimmers. They swoop and dive for bugs on the water’s surface.

The doctor told me yesterday that I have bronchitis. Bummer. Giovanna is a wonderfully enthusiastic employee of the B&B and one of her tasks is to stick me in the butt once a day with a one-inch needle containing antibiotics. I took one look at that length and the quantity of liquid that was about to enter my body, and flinched. But Giovanna does it expertly … and somehow painlessly. Her care of me, and Lydia’s, and everyone’s, has been a blessing.

I sure didn’t want to spend another day in bed so I headed off with the folks in the car to visit a 250-year-old castle that the King of Naples had built. A mere 1200 rooms! The Reggia di Caserta.

First on the menu, however, was a visit to the Mediterranean Sea. My first time. As we walked to the sandy beach, a broad expanse of sky and sea wrapped around me. The far shore was far beyond my eyes. And then the warm water was tickling my toes. As I walked the shoreline, happy tanned people were everywhere. So cool. A young woman was shepherding a bunch of three-year-old kids, all decked out in pink waterwings. Oh, how those kids loved splashing around! A few metres away, here came a girl cradling her younger brother in her arms. Smiling together.

The family sat in the shade by the snack bar, assorted drinks at the ready. Along came a marvelous variety of human beings, in various states of undress. Old, young, fit, not so much, outgoing, shy. It was lovely, even as we retreated from the 35 degree Celsius heat.

On to the castle. Inside, there were two huge courtyards separating wing after wing. We entered one labelled “appartamenti”. As it slowly sunk in what was surrounding me, I just about felt sick. Thirty-foot ceilings, some adorned with gold, others with paintings that would feel right at home in the Sistine Chapel; marble floors; stone walls and staircases that could have been on the Titanic; statues that looked so morose to me … but then again, maybe I was the morose one.

The rooms were so large and so empty of feeling. There were uncomfortable looking benches for sitting, but they were behind ornate ropes. Finally I found a simple chair where I could legally drop myself down. My main thought was the egos that created this building. “Look at me. I’m so rich.” And what of the thousands of ordinary folk who helped construct this monstrosity, some of them probably struggling to survive? Okay – end of lecture.


There’s the physical building
There’s the life building
What shall I construct with the time that’s left?

Day Four B

“What Now?” is the question, for the conference participants, and for me.

I want to reach people with my ideas and experiences.  For three years, I’ve told myself that WordPress is a good way to do that, but now I wonder.  On an average day, it appears that only five people read my posts.  But I have maybe 100 followers and I’m guessing that any views from them don’t count in the stats.  I don’t know if that’s true.

Jody loved being on Facebook but it never drew me.  I sensed that the posts of many folks focused on “What I did today”, and I didn’t want to do that.  But now, after watching hours of conference sessions, I’m thinking about opening a Facebook page, to see if my grappling with big issues and experiences could reach a wider audience.  We’ll see what energy is behind that thought, and whether there’s enough oomph for me to begin.


It was the last day of the conference and there was no shortage of intriguing comments from the presenters:

“Ask yourself:  ‘Since I arrived at the conference, has anything shifted in me?’  Shifts that are experiential and embodied, not just centered in your mind.  Are you moved to do and say new things?  When you share about this, bring your life force to it.  Don’t tell us your shift in a monotone way.  The energy of your voice shifts things.”

I’ve long been fascinated with the human voice as an instrument of change.  I had a theory once that the greater the processing of oxygen, the greater the consciousness that’s revealed.  So running, cycling, talking with passion, singing … they feel like ways to reach Spirit.  But then again, I don’t think it’s just about speech volume.  What if I could be totally present with each person I talk to?  What if a current of energy was transmitted to the other person whether I’m whispering or belting out the bass part of “O Come All Ye Faithful”?  More experiments needed.

“What’s alive for me at this point in my practice?  What matters to me is two things:

1. The cultivation of a reliable, trustworthy community, people who understand that evolution is beautiful but not necessarily pretty.  It makes a difference to have a tribe.

2. The transfer of what I’ve learned to a younger generation, acknowledging that they’re creating new things, that they come in with another set of capacities.”  [The presenter is around 60.]

I’ve decided to rejoin the meditation group that meets weekly in London, Ontario.  A sangha.  I need to talk to people who are not brand new to what I’m experiencing.  As for the second point, I’ll soon be 69.  I need to find ways to share my values and experiences.  I want there to be some remembrance of Bruce when I die (even if the solidity of Bruce is a total fiction!)

“I’m no longer engaged in those questions.”

And it’s okay if past passions have morphed into pleasant memories, with no current juice coursing through my spiritual veins.  I used to be fanatical about playing beautiful golf courses on my computer.  I bought lots of them.  I loved the lay of the land, and still do.  But now, I don’t want to play, and that’s just fine.

“When you think about the following domains, what arises?  What questions do you feel pulsing from the inside that are the most urgent and beautiful?  What wants to live through you?  What would you die for?

1. My purpose on the planet
2. Intimate relationships
3. Spiritual practice
4. My stage of life”

I’m here to love people and make them laugh.  I deeply miss being in an intimate relationship, and I realize that I may, or may not, have one again.  With the Dalai Lama, I say that my spiritual practice is kindness.  And coming up on 69?  Don’t waste time.  Don’t miss the stunning moments of life.  Give.  Be sacred in each moment – to others and to me.

“Stand up whenever one of these statements is true for you.  Pause and be seen.  See who’s standing with you.  See who’s sitting down.  No judgments.  Then sit down.  If you’re sitting, witness those standing and hold the truth that the statement is not resonant for you.

1. I feel connected to my deep life purpose
2. I’m still searching for my deep life purpose
3. Right now, in my current life stage, I am preferencing autonomy (i.e. self-development, caring for myself first)
4. In my current life stage, I am preferencing being with others
5. Right now, in my current life stage, I am contemplating mortality on a regular basis
6. In my current life stage, I am at ease
7. In my current life stage, I am not at ease”

How lovely.  No one right.  No one wrong.  Just the truth.


Thank you, Integral Life, for creating this forum.  Folks in Colorado.  Folks on their computers across the world.  And folks who know nothing about what’s happened in a Denver hotel ballroom over the last four days.



Lying On The Bench

I wrote yesterday about Gabriela and her determination to finish the 1984 Olympic Marathon.  As I was typing, I didn’t think once about my own marathon experience.  How strange.

Sometime in the early 80’s, I ran the Calgary Marathon … well, part of it.  Around mile 21, I hit the legendary Wall.  My breathing was still good, but my leg muscles gave up.  They clamped down, harder and harder.  I slowed to a trot, then a shamble.  And then the vices tightened some more.  I stopped in the middle of the road.  When I tried to get going again, I couldn’t walk.  No Olympic heroics here – I was at a standstill, a thoroughly painful one.  And the sadness descended.  How I wanted to complete a marathon.  But it didn’t happen that day.

I trained hard in early 1985 in preparation for the Vancouver Marathon.  I took the bus from Lethbridge, Alberta and was ecstatic when I stepped onto the downtown streets.  I had lived in Vancouver twice and I was thrilled that part of the route followed the seawall in Stanley Park.

The night before the run, there was a carbohydrate loading meal for the runners … plates of spaghetti piled high.  I looked around at my fellow athletes, some of them elite and some just ordinary folks like me.  All those smiles, all that pent up energy, all those months of training now in the rear view mirror.  I was part of something big.  I was proud of myself.

The next day, probably at 8:00 am, hundreds of us were crammed into a downtown street.  Someone fired a pistol and we were off.  I made sure not to go out too fast and soon I was settled into a good rhythm.  People were cheering us from the sidewalks.  Volunteers reached toward me with full cups at the water stations (really Gatorade, as I remember).

Up ahead in my mind loomed mile 20 and the dreaded Wall.  Would my legs say no?  When I got there, they piped up with “Let’s keep going, Bruce.  This is fun.”  So I did.  The breathing was getting a bit laboured and the muscles were moderately tight.  As mile 20 yielded in favour of mile 21 … 22 … 23 … 24, I realized that I only had two more miles to go.  I also realized something else: my chest was hurting.

“Hey, Bruce.  It’s only an inconvenience.  It’s not like you’re having a heart attack.”  Well, I wasn’t so sure about that.  Oh, how I wanted to see that finish line, to accomplish something truly exceptional.

4:12.  As in four hours and twelve minutes.  My arms were up, the crowd was cheering, and I was done.  Actually, very much done.

I was a bit staggery but no big deal.  And no, I didn’t need a massage from one of the volunteers, nor a dip in the hot tub.  I went into some room, changed into my street clothes, hoisted my backpack and walked back out into the sunlight.  I don’t think anyone noticed my unsteady gait.  “Nothing wrong with you, Bruce.  You just finished a marathon!”

I still had three hours before my bus left for Lethbridge, so I decided to explore some of my favourite downtown streets.  In my earlier youth, I had loved strolling down Granville, Robson, Burrard.  Except on that late afternoon in May, 1985, there was no strolling to it.  My chest was banging, my breathing was so heavy, and I thought I was going to fall down.

Up ahead, somehow detected by my blurry eyes, was an empty bench.  I stumbled and flopped onto it.  I was lying on my back … dying, as far as I could tell.  Commuters rushed by and I knew it was true – death was near.  There was no replaying the 36 years of my life, just this great sadness amidst the heart pain.  I was saying goodbye to Jody (my then girlfriend), to other loved ones, and to my life.


Someone was leaning over me, asking if I was all right.  I said no.  “I’m taking you to the hospital,” said the cab driver.  Minutes later, I was on a stretcher in the Emergency Department of St. Paul’s Hospital.  That building was my home-away-from-home for the next two weeks.  As you can tell, I lived.  Turns out I had an inflammation of the walls of the heart called pericarditis.  A month later in Calgary, doctors sent a little camera through a vein, from my groin into my heart.  The verdict?  No permanent damage.

I am so blessed to be alive thirty years later, to have made a contribution to many people’s lives in the time between.  I do believe I’m on this planet for a purpose.  And may that become ever more clear to me.  Just no more running, please.