Imposters

Every month, the disciple who was sent away after years of training faithfully sent his master an account of his spiritual progress.  

In the first month, he wrote: “I feel an expansion of consciousness and experience oneness with the universe.”  The master glanced at the note and threw it away.

Two months later he received a note: “I finally discovered the holiness that is present in all things.”  The master seemed disappointed, crumpled it, and threw it in the trash.

In his third letter two months later, the disciple enthusiastically explained: “The mystery of the One and the many has been revealed to my wondering gaze.”  The master yawned.

Next letter said: “No one is born, no one dies, no one lives, the self is not.”  The master threw this into the trash and threw his hands up in despair.

Months passed, then a year.  After the second year, the master thought it was time to remind his disciple that he had promised to keep him informed of his spiritual progress.  The disciple wrote back: “Who cares what you think?” 

When the master read these words, a great look of satisfaction spread over his face.  “Thank God!  He’s got it at last.”

I revere the people in my life
Their words and actions influence me
As no doubt mine influence them
And yet …

Praise and blame
Fame and disrepute
Are imposters

Loss

The Buddha said it well 2600 years ago: life is both gain and loss. You can be the smartest, richest, kindest, most emotionally stable human being … and your life won’t be an unbroken surging of happiness. Jolts will come.

There are so many big losses, and a myriad of smaller ones. But even if it’s a paper cut, there’s a slumping of the soul. The reaction could be soft and slow or it might be a burst of “Why me?” “This isn’t fair” or “Life sucks!”

One of my conclusions is that every person I meet on the street or on Zoom is dealing with some painful issue. And our list of defeats, burdens and sorrows can so easily pile up. We get to choose how we respond.

***

In the realm of “biggies”, let’s start with death. Our loved ones die. With respect to Covid, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres recently spoke anguished poetry:

The smile that will now only be a memory, the seat forever empty at the dinner table
the room that echoes with the silence of a loved one

And then there’s one’s own death … my death. All the Bruce accumulations, whether physical or spiritual, will be gone. My writings will remain but who knows if anyone will read them. I feel sad when I think of me ending.

Dying may be long and agonizing or a closing of the eyes at night. The approaching end may be vivid or just some vague thought of the future.

Physical pain cuts like a knife or pulses in the background. It may be in spurts or a lingering throughout the day.

Emotional pain may be full-blown terror or sorrow. It may be a vague feeling that I can’t find my home. Or I’m not much of a human being. Or you don’t like me.

Financial demise may mean not being able to feed your family and keep a roof over their heads. Bankruptcy perhaps. Or it may mean no Christmas presents under the tree, no hope for future family travel, or even not being able to afford the magazine you want to read.

There are many other diminishments that may come our way:

Someone breaks their word with you

Late for an appointment, you run into a string of red lights

At a friend’s home, dinner includes a vegetable that you can’t stand

You love snow, and it seems like this winter we’re hardly getting any

Your Internet connection magically disappears. It comes back hours later

Nobody sends you a Christmas card

You’re scammed for $600 while you thought you were helping a friend

The ache in your shoulder just won’t go away

The last time you looked, you were 25

Covid is keeping you physically away from the ones you love

You can’t speak much French to the folks you care about in Senegal

You were born female but you really think you’re a man

You’re still feeling the PTSD years after the incident

You wish Monday was Friday

You know the work you’re doing doesn’t make a difference

The U.S. Capitol was attacked

***

There are so many woes
There’s no clear winner in the land of joys and sorrows
So let’s stay close to each other

NBA2K19

It’s a video game. I told myself that such things were locked in my past, never to reappear. Hmm. I’ve changed my mind.

Everybody in this house is a rabid Toronto Raptors fan. They’re one game away from winning the National Basketball Association championship. It’d be the first time the trophy comes to Canada.

Tomorrow night at 7:00, we six human beings will be glued to the TV, with hands dipping into bowls of popcorn. The roof will be raised.

Today at 7:00, I watched Jaxon play as Kawhi Leonard for the Raptors … in tomorrow’s game! The announcer mentioned the Warriors’ big loss on Friday night, and how the return of Kevin Durant should help. What?! A video game that’s updated with daily news? What is happening here?

I gaped at the graphics … the dribbles, the balls arcing through the wavering strings of the hoop, the pinpoint passes, the high fives, the facial expressions after missed shots, the crowd going nuts in their red Raptors shirts. Oh my.

The cheers in Scotiabank Arena were deafening: “Let’s go Raptors! Let’s go Raptors!” and “De-fence!” It was immersion. And I was hanging on every shot, every steal, every long pass. Reality was twisting. I really was in the middle of tomorrow’s game. What was happening on the screen would dictate who really wins the championship. So strange.

I have a sense of what deep happiness is about. Relationship. Communion. Love. Playing video games isn’t in the same time zone. I want to spend most of my time giving to people. The pleasure of sports simulations isn’t the profound sweetness of gazing into a beloved’s eyes.

And yet … seeing the Raptors become world champions 24 hours before they really do was great fun.

Find a Ball

I think back forty years.  I was teaching a life skills program at Lethbridge Community College in Alberta, designed for young adults who were struggling in some respect, and who wanted to get into regular college programs.  We were on a winter outdoor education trip to the mountains.  We had just completed a loop trip on snowshoes, including portions on trails and another on a road.

As we approached our van, John came up to me.  “I think I dropped my glasses back up there on the road.”  (Sigh)  I looked inside and immediately knew that I would go back and find them.  The students would huddle in the van with the guy who was supervising with me.

Off I went, alone.  Not too wise, in retrospect (the alone part).  As I trudged upward, it became so clear in my head: Somewhere, John’s glasses would appear before my eyes.  And they did.

***

Now today.  After a scrumptious brunch and several conversations at the Mount Elgin Golf Club, I decided to walk the fairways of Tarandowah … my friend and lover.  Yes, I am in love with the windswept fairways, the deep pot bunkers, the undulating greens, the silence.

I decided to walk the six holes that would loop me back to Scarlet.  Soon a quest emerged in my mind: “Find a golf ball.”  My goodness, what a silly thought.  Tarandowah was covered in snow.  Finding white amidst a sea of white seemed hopeless.  Actually ridiculous.  To which my quiet voice replied … “Find a ball.”

Alrighty then.  I said hi to Hole Number 1, and to Number 3.  I stood behind the green of Number 14, reliving the scene that shines on my bedroom wall.  Today was winter rather than summer, but that didn’t matter.  So far no emerging white spheres, but my faith kept erupting.  Dear Number 6 has a mound in the middle of the fairway – such a delightful and unfair obstacle for determined golfers.  There was lots of white on the mound, even a few globs of snow that were roughly round, but no dimpled fellow that I could see.

I crossed the bridge over the creek on Number 7.  Way off to the right, at the bottom of things, a white ball appeared to show itself, but wading into freezing waters just isn’t my thing.

On each hole, I scrutinized the bunkers.  They were all tilted up, facing back to the tees.  At the front, all you needed was a step or two down to enter the kingdom but the far edges were usually at chest level and adorned with a beard of long fescue grass.  I often stood on the fairway or rough above the high edge and looked down, hoping to see some white regularity among the strands.  Nothing.

There are huge mounds behind the green on Number 8, bordered by a sea of gnarly grass.  I looked here, I looked there, but as far as I could tell, no golf balls winked back at me.

Finally Number 9 and the return to Scarlet.  I seemed to be running out of options but there was a fierceness within.  “The ball is here.  Find it!”  Number 9 is a par five and I roamed from bunker to bunker without satisfaction.  All that remained was to cross the 18th green on the way to the parking lot.  Four more bunkers loomed.

First – blah.

Second – nyet.

Third – endless snow.

And now the fourth.  My quiet voice said “Walk onto the sand.”  I did.  “Approach the far wall,” with its flurry of long grasses hanging.  I did.  “Run your hands down through the vertical grass.”  I did … nothing.  “Again.”  I did.  “Keep going.”  On my fifth or sixth swipe, my mitted fingers bounced off something solid.  I pulled the grass away.

Embedded in a pocket of frozen mud
I read these words:
“TaylorMade 22”
A golf ball

So …
What’s real?

The Truman Show

I watched The Truman Show last night.  It’s a movie in which Truman’s wife, his best friend, his neighbours … are just actors, following a script.  A film which many people see as a satire on the media’s control over human beings.  But I think it’s far more.  Truman Burbank’s story calls us to embrace freedom, with all its beauty and blemishes.  To have courage.  To step beyond the norm.  To truly live.

***

TV Announcer: 1.7 billion were there for his birth. 220 countries tuned in for his first step. The world stood still for that stolen kiss. And as he grew, so did the technology. An entire human life recorded on an intricate network of hidden cameras, and broadcast live and unedited, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to an audience around the globe. Coming to you now from Seahaven Island, enclosed in the largest studio ever constructed, and along with the Great Wall of China one of only two man-made structures visible from space, now in its 30th great year… It’s The Truman Show!

Truman’s whole life … for all to see.  A carefully controlled life – only happy stuff.  No nasty sadness, fear or loneliness.

***

Mike Michaelson: Christof, let me ask you, why do you think that Truman has never come close to discovering the true nature of his world until now?

Christof: We accept the reality of the world with which we’re presented. It’s as simple as that.

And what exactly are we being presented with?  “No, Bruce.  You can’t change the world.”  Spontaneity is somehow bad.  Fit in.  Do what people are comfortable with and life will be smoother.

***

Marlon: [Emotional almost to the point of tears] The point is, I would gladly step in front of traffic for you, Truman. And the last thing I would ever do to you…

Christof: [Feeding Marlon his lines] … is lie to you.

Marlon: …is lie to you.

Oh, may I have true relationships, where people are real in their love, in their anger, in the feedback they give me.

***

Mike Michaelson: The Hague for Christof. Hello? The Hague? All right, we’ve lost that call, let’s go to Hollywood, California. You’re on Trutalk.

Sylvia: Hi, Christof, I’d just like to say one thing, you’re a liar and a manipulator and what you’ve done to Truman is sick!

Christof: Well. We remember this voice, don’t we? How could we forget?

Mike Michaelson: Uh, let’s go to another call, what do we have…

Christof: No. No, no, no, no, no, it’s fine, it’s fine, Mike. I love to reminisce with former members of the cast. Sylvia, as you announced so melodramatically to the world, do you think because you batted your eyes at Truman once, flirted with him, stole a few minutes of airtime with him to thrust yourself and your politics into the limelight, that you know him? That you know what’s right for him? You really think you’re in a position to judge him?

Sylvia: What right do you have to take a baby and turn his life into some kind of mockery? Don’t you ever feel guilty?

Christof: I have given Truman the chance to lead a normal life. The world, the place you live in, is the sick place. Seahaven is the way the world should be.

Sylvia: He’s not a performer, he’s a prisoner. Look at him, look at what you’ve done to him!

Christof: He could leave at any time. If his was more than just a vague ambition, if he was absolutely determined to discover the truth, there’s no way we could prevent him. I think what distresses you, really, caller, is that ultimately Truman prefers his cell, as you call it.

Sylvia: Well, that’s where you’re wrong. You’re so wrong! And he’ll prove you wrong!

Do we prefer our cells?  Our comfy cozy sanctuaries?  Is the world of gains and losses, pleasure and pain, praise and blame, and fame and disrepute, the sick place?  Or is that world also the home of transcendence, peace and true love?

***

Christof: We’ve become bored with watching actors give us phony emotions. We are tired of pyrotechnics and special effects. While the world he inhabits is, in some respects, counterfeit, there’s nothing fake about Truman himself. No scripts, no cue cards. It isn’t always Shakespeare, but it’s genuine. It’s a life.

May I always be genuine, and may you be as well, so we can look each other in the eyes and see ourselves.

***

Truman Burbank: Was nothing real?

Christof: You were real. That’s what made you so good to watch…

Indeed.  Give me a real person to cherish.  Whether rich or poor, pretty or plain, assertive or shy.  None of that stuff matters.

***

Christof: As Truman grew up, we were forced to manufacture ways to keep him on the island.

[flashback to Truman at school]

Young Truman: I’d like to be an explorer, like the great Magellan.

Teacher: [rolling down a map of the world] Oh, you’re too late. There’s really nothing left to explore.

This is not about teachers … in fact, I’m a retired one.  But some folks in our lives don’t want us to stretch, to go outside of the nine dots, to become something new.

***

Truman: I figure we can scrape together $8,000…

Meryl: Every time you and Marlon get together…

Truman: We can bum around the world for a year on that!

Meryl: And then what, Truman? We’d be where we were five years ago. You’re talking like a teenager.

Truman: Well, maybe I feel like a teenager.

Meryl: We have mortgage payments, Truman.

[He sighs]

Meryl: We have car payments. What, we’re going to just walk away from our financial obligations?

Truman: [He stands, whirls around, bends pleadingly, his hands reaching as though to grab the world] It would be an adventure!

Meryl: I thought we were gonna try for a baby.

[He turns away and rubs the back of his neck]

Meryl: Isn’t that enough of an adventure?

Truman: [Truman turns back, waves his arms dramatically] That can wait. I want to get away, see some of the world! Explore!

Meryl: [teasing him] Honey, you wanna be an explorer.

[She rises, goes to him, strokes his cheek]

Meryl: This’ll pass. We all think like this now and then.

***

May the deepest urges of our humanity never pass
May we explore the infinities of life
May we heed the call of adventure
May we not regress to the mean