Skunks

It’s after sunset now and I just went outside to bring the Baltimore oriole and hummingbird feeders in.  If I don’t do that, chances are good that raccoons will climb the poles and go for the goodies, breaking some plastic stuff in the process.

It’s really dark at the side of my home and I was thinking about something as I rounded the corner to the backyard.  And … Zap!  Munching sunflower seeds below my other feeders were three skunks.  My heart pounding skyrocketed and I was rooted to the spot.  And then my mind took over:

They’re going to spray you.  Get out of there!

I consider myself somewhat evolved but there I was, back in cave man days.  Fight or flight.  It’s all about survival.  I could feel my body shaking and I was universes away from appreciating the grace of the animals.  The person I thought Bruce was had disappeared … in a flash.  I had no control over my consciousness, and I scurried back around the corner.

Back in the living room, I turned on the outside lights.  Two of my black and white friends were still chowing down.  The white stripe on their backs formed a Y shape and their tails were pointing to the sky.  And I realized that they are indeed very beautiful animals.  It was like they were models wearing tuxedos.

Skunks aren’t the only creatures that I react to with knee jerk responses.  Certain groups of humans bring automatic negative thoughts out of me.  I’m sad that this is the case.  My job is not to act on such explosions of judgment.  And when I turn on the light of living, I see that these beings are lovely to behold.  They need not reduce me to fear but instead can unfold me into brotherhood and sisterhood.

 

Emerging

A few weeks ago, I was leaving the Aeolian Hall in London after a concert when a young woman said hi. I knew Noelle fifteen years ago when she was a Grade 6 kid at the school where I worked with a blind student. I also remember her sister Renee and their friend Hillary. Noelle told me that the three of them have formed a music group called The Pairs, featuring homemade songs and strong vocals. She told me they were part of a concert on March 23 and invited me to come.

My brain went into compute mode. March 23 was smack dab in the middle of a five-day trip to Toronto although nothing was on my schedule for that evening. The commute time was about two hours.

I said yes.

I would drive to London, take in the show, and then drive back to Toronto, no doubt getting in at midnight or later. Some people would see such behaviour as weird but not me. Seize the day, as Robin Williams told us in Dead Poets Society.

I stood at the front, listening to the girls sing. Except they’re 28 now. Young women. Great harmonies, great songs and a lovely caring among them. I smiled and clapped a lot. The Pairs are finding their way in the world and who knows where their musical path will take them.

The concert was a fundraiser for the Canadian Mental Health Association. Noelle talked to the crowd about how important it is that we be good to each other. She spoke of “relentless kindness”, a sweet turn of the phrase I thought. It was clear to me that these three women were becoming full human beings, contributing to the world. And it became even clearer when I heard them sing “Woman”:

Oh I’m woman, hear me roar
Oh I may not fit where I’m supposed to be
But I do what I need to make my heart soar
Oh I’m woman, hear me roar
And I won’t let you make a man outta me

I talked to Hillary, Renee and Noelle after the music. They were all pleased I had come. Me too.

Reconnecting with folks who were once young students is rare for me. Last night was a privilege. Many kids who were in my life have now stretched their wings in ways I’ll never know about. Good for them. I like to think I’ve made a contribution to many 12-year-olds. Actually, I don’t have to think it. I have.

Jody and The Athletic

The Athletic is a very cool website that gives me fresh insights about sports teams, especially the Toronto Maple Leafs.  The ranks of sportswriters at some daily newspapers have been decimated lately, and The Athletic has scooped up some really fine journalists.

I don’t know if I’ve ever written a letter to the editor but now I can comment on stories online whenever I want.  Except for one thing: reader comments at The Athletic are linked to any existing Facebook accounts.  I deleted Jody’s account months ago but when I pressed “Send” my words appeared under the banner “Jody A” accompanied by a lovely photo of my dear wife.  I stared at the screen in shock.

So what’s happening here?  Do I want to eliminate all remembrances of Jody from my life?  Not at all.  Do I want to be my own person, with an identity separate from being half of a couple?  Yes.

It feels like there’s a time and place for everything.  And now is not the time to be perceived as “Jody A”.  There was a time when I’d laugh at such things but not now.  Way back when, during my first marriage, I got a chuckle one day when I was digging letters out of the mailbox.  “Mr. Rita Kerr” said the envelope.  It was strange, though, the same oddness women used to experience a lot, to the tune of “Mrs. Bruce Kerr”.

After that first jolt at The Athletic, I haven’t let myself make comments on stories with Jody’s face looking at me onscreen.  Silly, I guess, but powerful.  Staff at the website worked hard to get rid of her photo, and they did it, but I still let “Jody A” stop me.

I was awake this morning at 3:00 am.  Very unusual for me.  I wasn’t tense about anything.  I had worked out on the elliptical yesterday and was quite tired.  “Oh well, guess I’ll check e-mails.”  And there was Andrew’s message: “I’ve updated your account to remove the name.”  Oh, supreme joy!  I opened The Athletic and searched for an article, any article, to comment on.  Found one comparing the progress of the Leafs to the Buffalo Sabres.  That’ll do.  The accompanying photo was striking so I talked about it.  And then the magic “Send” moment.

And what to my wondering eyes should appear … but “Bruce A”!

I am not Jody
I am not half of Jody and Bruce
I am me

The Journey Begins 

I’m sitting in Scarlet on the main street of Alliston, Ontario.  I’m way early for the Annual General Meeting of the Tour du Canada.  The TdC is the organizer of the cross-Canada bicycle trip I’m going on this summer, with 19 other riders.  I’m not super keen on motions and policies but there’s one thing that has my juices flowing – the possibility that I’ll meet one of my fellow cyclists at today’s meeting.  Right now I know not a one of them.

I’ve been on the Tour’s website.  Two people have introduced themselves.  I look at the print on my laptop screen and see a name: Joe somebody.  But in a few months, Joe will be my friend and we’ll share many adventures and no doubt numerous obstacles.  Joe will be so very real to me.

Okay, this is a more reasonable time to knock on the door.  Here goes.

***

I shake hands with Bud and hug Margot.  They’re the two sources of the TdC, which they created 30 years ago.  Soon, about 10 other faces are saying hi.  All except one are veterans of the ride.  But sadly no other 2018 cyclist is at the meeting.  I smile to myself.  I can wait another 3+ months.

The meeting is about lots of issues unfamiliar to me.  Doesn’t matter.  It hits me, more than once, that these human beings in front of me mean that the Tour du Canada is now real.  Websites and correspondence and Skyping are fine but now I’m looking folks in the eye.  Again and again, I’m brought to silence when this reality hits home.  It’s not just a long-held dream, a “maybe” – it’s 20 of us setting off from Vancouver on June 22.  And I’m just as valuable a team member as anyone else, probably slower than most but so what?

During the meeting and the supper afterwards, folks tell their stories of the road.  One woman did the ride 29 years ago, but her description of a long ago moment is relived vividly in her eyes.  Actually, every person who spoke transported themselves back to a magical summer, full of joys and heartaches.  The weather, the hills, the aches and pains.  Exhaustion towards the end of the day and then a road sign appears announcing the campground is still 16 k away.  Being on the road for the sunrise.  Eating impossible quantities of food.

I heard about the tremendous feeling of achievement in reaching St. John’s.  About the couples who met on the ride.  Might that include me in 2018?  About the lovable quirkiness of a rider or two.  And smiles all around.  “Do you remember that morning when I looked at the schedule and told you ‘Oh good, only 130 kilometres today’?”  And then we laughed and laughed.”

Advice came at me from all directions.  “Buy $200 cycling shorts.”  (What?)  “Buy a really good tent that won’t fall apart in a fierce storm.”  “Buy three different brands of excellent shorts so the edge of the chamois [padding] isn’t always rubbing away your skin in exactly the same spot.”  (Who would have thought?  Not me.)

As we left each other and walked out into the darkness, everyone wished me good luck.  A few said they were jealous.  And I just said “Thank you.”

I think I’m doing a remarkable thing come June.  Just like hundreds of other folks have done.  I’ll be creating another community for myself, and that makes me happy.  The nineteen other riders deserve my best.  I’ll give them that.

Merging Exhaustion and Inspiration

Point number one: I was on the elliptical for four-and-a-half hours today.  I’m dull and weak.

Point number two: I listened to a live broadcast of Patricia Albere’s mutual awakening work tonight.  It focuses on a shared consciousness between two people, rather than getting better at relating to each other.

Point number three: I want to write in my blog and have my words mean something.

The best I can do is quote what Patricia was saying tonight and add my two cents.  So here goes:

You learn to place your consciousness so you can feel the other person like you feel yourself

(Okay, I’m just too tired to think.  On the morrow)

And here’s the morrow.  What would that be like, to be so “with” the other person that it feels like you’re inside them, feeling what they feel, yearning for what they yearn for?  I want to find out.

To be seen deeply calls forth the depth of who you are

Jumping around trying to get people to see me.  Here I am!

How can you possibly experience love if you aren’t seen?

Very rarely in my life have I felt truly seen.  “Wow, this person really gets me.”  Do people understand that my intentions are virtually always to enhance life, not diminish it?  Do they understand that I want a type of contact with them that opens our souls?

I knew I was home

Geographically, it doesn’t matter where I stand.  Home is an inside job, including both  me and you.

We accept the assumption of our separateness.  There is always a quality of being alone.  I’m here and you’re there.

I don’t have to continue seeing it like this.  I can choose something new and different.

We were together.  I don’t remember the rest.
(Walt Whitman)

So simply and beautifully said, Walt.

A group which first sees each other before addressing their mandate and their tasks

Imagine a family, a team, a classroom, a church, a government.  Makes me smile.

Mutual Awakening

I want to write in my blog today.  Whatever I communicate, I want it to be real, natural and not forced.  I want life force to flow through me as I tap the keys and have it reach you the reader.

I’ve been enjoying a book by Patricia Albere called Evolutionary Relationships.  It feels natural to write about it.  I’ve selected passages and recorded them on white index cards.  The only trouble is that I’m at the London Public Library and the cards are in Belmont.  I do have the book with me, however, since I intended to read it in the library.

So I did what any normal human being would:  I skimmed the book up to page 137 and picked 14 paragraphs to comment on.

What else is happening in my mind?

1.  I’m so determined to write, even if the writing turns out to be not so great.

2.  My mind and body are still tired from yesterday’s elliptical work.  “Too tired for writing, Bruce.”  Should I believe that mind of mine?

3.  Okay, I have 14 page references in front of me.  Surely I’ll have trouble merging them smoothly into this post, so that you folks get what Patricia is talking about.

These are all reasonable thoughts, but who cares?  Just write.

Okay.

What are the depths of relationship possible between two human beings?  And not restricted to a sexual connection with a life partner but available with any person seeking spiritual union.  A relationship that fosters not only an opening between two people but also the evolution of humanity.

Well, Patricia has a few ideas:

“Then out of nowhere it came.  I felt the most intense longing arise within me.  It was like a tornado unexpectedly appearing in the midst of a clear day, tearing through the countryside and rearranging the landscape.  My heart and then my whole body started to burn with intensity.  It seemed to force its way into my awareness, cracking through the surface of my contented life, leaving me aching with an inexplicable, inconvenient, overwhelming desire for love.  I wanted to love and be loved – passionately, deeply and completely – but in a way I had never considered.”

What in your life is calling you
When all the noise is silenced …
The meetings adjourned, the lists laid aside
And the Wild Iris blooms by itself
In the dark forest …
What still pulls on your soul?

In the silence between your heartbeats
Hides a summons
Do you hear it?
Name it, if you must
Or leave it nameless
But why pretend it is not there?

(Terma Collective)

Oh my.  This is so true for me.  I don’t know about you.

“Young people grow up online with hundreds of virtual friends, but as a recent New York Times story put it, technology allows them to ‘end up hiding from one another, even as they are constantly connected to one another.'”

“In this type of relationship, we are inspired, touched, moved, excited and creatively ignited by each other.”

The agony and the ecstasy.

“Regrettably, some relationships do have a limited or specific ceiling while others have skylights that open to cosmic realms you may never have dreamed existed.”

“You also feel the other person from inside their experience.  It may sound strange, but the separation disappears.  Somehow you are inside each other and feel connected to something that is bigger than both of you, as though your connection with each other is a portal to all of existence.”

“If you have the courage to explore mutual awakening, you will be amazed at the degree of intimacy, vulnerability, beauty and connection that is possible with another person.”

Bring it on!

“The first time I engaged in the mutual awakening process, I sat across from someone I did not know, except for her first name.  As we leaned into each other, I had the profound and profoundly simple experience of falling into love, of being pulled into the field of love that existed between us.”

(Vibeke)

“Imagine two dancers who are not really engaged.  They shuffle halfheartedly around the floor, out of time with each other and the music.  Now imagine those same dancers fully engaged with each other and the dance.  Their every step bursts with vitality and is perfectly synchronized with the rhythm of the music.”

“Often we are shy about showing how much beauty, goodness or power we possess because we’ve gotten used to sharing the more superficial layers of ourselves.”

“Out of fear of upsetting others, provoking anger or disapproval, or disrupting the status quo, we tone ourselves down, hold back our fullness, dampen our beauty, mute our magnificence.”

Silly humans.

“When we try to separate, announce to our partner we are leaving, or pretend we’re no longer related to those with whom we’ve created strong bonds, the only way to manage the pain is to shut down and disconnect from ourselves and our sensitivity to reality and love.”

Sad.

Even if you fall, you will be held
If you let go, things will be okay
If you let yourself not know
You will be guided
If you do not manipulate
You will be taken care of
In a way that is appropriate for you 

(A.H. Almaas)

Thank you, Patricia and friends.  May we have ears to hear.


Moments With Kids

I was volunteering this afternoon in the Grade 5/6 class.  What I most enjoy about teaching is the conversation, especially when it’s just me and one child.  Had a few of those today.

Jayne loves having the students give Book Talks, the chance to share the author’s thoughts and the reviewer’s reactions with classmates.  She asked me to visit kids and record the title of their next book, and to mark down what page they were on.  Just two simple questions but I enjoyed the connection so much.  From child to child to child … moments of eye contact and often the sharing of a book cover.  Perfect.

Jayne talked about limericks, and how silly and fun this type of poetry can be.  How wonderful that there’s a place in education for lightness and laughing.  She had the kids read seven limericks and deduce from the examples what the principles of this poetic form were.  Marvelous!  Far better than listing “the rules of limericks” on the board.

One young man – “Trevor” – told me that the last words of lines 1 and 5 were always the same.  As it turns out, that wasn’t quite accurate, but it certainly was a tendency of limericks.  Later, Trevor left the room for awhile, just as the discussion of limerick rules was starting.  I hadn’t noticed what Trevor had, and I could feel the urge to blurt out his idea without giving him credit for it.  Happily, I squashed that plan and told the students about “Trevor’s insight”.  And that felt so good, to acknowledge him, even in his absence.

Later I got to coach individual kids as they wrote their poems.  A limerick has three “beats” in lines 1, 2 and 5, and two in lines 3 and 4.  It was such a delicate process to sit with a child and have her see that “He decided to go to the moon” wouldn’t work for a line 3, while “He went to the moon” got the job done beautifully.  We counted out the beats together and I loved it when the child felt the rhythm in her own poem.  Those “ah hah” moments are joyous ones for any teacher.

I love being in that class.  Being next to the energy of young minds and hearts is the best.  Hearing from a girl how sad she was that some people and animals have become sick due to cropdusting … is a blessing.  May we all grow in compassion and insight.  And may those 10-, 11- and 12-year-olds turn into adults who express their highest values long after I’m gone from the planet.

 

 

Tame Me

A friend of mine recently reintroduced me to the book The Little Prince.  The narrator had crashlanded his plane in the desert and was approached by a young boy.  He told the narrator about meeting a fox, who had a lot to say:

“You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.

“What does that mean – ‘tame’?”

“It means to establish ties.”

If you tame me, then we shall need each other.  To me, you will be unique in all the world.  To you, I shall be unique in all the world.”

As I love in this life, it’s clear to me that a few people have tamed me, and I them.  Although I tell myself that I don’t need these precious folks to do or say any particular thing, I am tied to them with ribbons of grace.  One I know is at a great physical distance from me, but she is as close as my heart.  Even if we hardly ever talk, maybe never see each other again, the contact is there.  I can feel it.

“If you tame me, it will be as if the sun came to shine on my life.  I shall know the sound of a step that will be different from all the others.  Other steps send me hurrying back underneath the ground.  Yours will call me, like music, out of my burrow.”

When I enter a room and see one who has tamed and is tamed, a hush falls down my body.  It may be a romantic impulse or perhaps not.  There is a surge of inbreath, an excitement and yet a stillness.  He or she is unique in my world.  I feel pulled towards the source of such peace.

“You have hair that is the color of gold.  Thank how wonderful that will be when you have tamed me!  The grain, which is also golden, will bring me back the thought of you.  And I shall love to listen to the wind in the wheat.”

Jody and I tamed each other.  There are two trees in Belmont that I’ve christened “Jody’s tree”.  And when I’m in their presence I’m also in the presence of my beloved wife.  Although many tears have dripped down my face in the last three years, our taming often produces a little smile of remembrance.  For the good times.  For the laughing and the dancing and the cuddling.  Our trees remind me.

“One runs the risk of weeping a little, if one lets himself be tamed.”

And weeping I do.  For what more is there in this life than relationship, in loving another as oneself?  Weeping in sadness at the distance between us, measured either in miles or in lifetimes.  Weeping in joy for the privilege of being tied to great souls.  And smiling too.

 

Meeting Royalty

I still have two hours of the “What Now?” conference to watch on my laptop so my “Day Four B” will have to wait.

***

Johnny Bower died last week at age 93.  He was my boyhood hero, the ageless goalie for the Toronto Maple Leafs.  Tributes for this hockey player and humanitarian have been pouring in, and I got to thinking about another human being.  I wonder if they ever sat down for a coffee.

Johnny Bower

“Everyone had a story about the way the Hall-of-Famer treated every Leafs fan who asked for an autograph, who asked for time.  He smiled.  He laughed.  He cared.  He was kind.”

“Bower’s grandson … told stories that involved his grandpa laughing: laughing when he fell off the three-legged wooden ladder he had built; laughing when he spilled a can of paint on the carpet when trying to paint the living room when his wife was away; laughing when he would take out his dentures, put on his wife’s swimsuit and hat, and walk around the cottage trying to make other people laugh too … Grandpa could laugh at anything, especially himself.”

“Johnny considered it a privilege, and not a right, to be a Toronto Maple Leaf.  Gratitude drove him to be the best he could be.”

“Every Canadian team is a public trust, a repository of hope and obsession and love, and Johnny Bower never wanted to let anyone down.  So he spent a lifetime making the people he met feel like they mattered, because he thought they did.”

“Overwhelmed by how genuinely nice he was and just a beautiful human being.  He seemed so sincere when he talked to you, and always had such a great smile on his face.”

“I got a good 10 to 15 minutes to talk to him … and he spoke to me as if there was no one else in the room.”

“An honorary member of the Union of Ontario Indians with the name ‘Johnny With A Heart As Big As An Eagle’s Wingspan Bower'”

“Generous, soft-spoken, warm and welcoming.  I’m sure Johnny had an ego but he didn’t show it.  There was no entitlement in Johnny Bower.”

“He took time for every person, for every kid, every fan.  He made sure they got what they were looking for.”

“Not only had Johnny played Santa Claus for many years at the Toronto Maple Leafs family Christmas parties, every day felt like Christmas when you had a chance to chat with Johnny Bower.”

“I read an article a few years ago.  A park in Mississauga, Ontario had been renamed after Bower.  Then the story related how Bower took it upon himself to be the person who would go out on a daily basis and clean up the litter in the park that bore his name.  That was his credo.  Get the job done right.”

“He never had a bad day and he made a point of never having anything but a positive interaction with anyone.”

The Dalai Lama

“We spoke of universal consciousness … We spoke of current military actions and politics.  We laughed.  We mostly laughed in amazement at his bellowing belly laughs … I felt a complete sense of clean, sincere, awesomeness.  In my most humble estimation, this guy registered as The Real Thing.”

“In the West, you have education, and this is good.  And you have technology, and this is good.  But you do not educate your people in values.  Values of the heart.  Compassion.  This you must do.”

“And then the Dalai Lama did the most incredible thing.  When I thought he was about to exit left and hightail it out of there, he moved toward the doorway entrance and waited patiently for each of us to file out.  And then he hugged each one of us goodbye.  Slowly.  Firmly.  Like your favorite grandparent hugs you – with thankfulness and deep care, like they have all the time in the world.  And when he pulled back from our Most Holy Bear Hug, he looked me in the eyes, as he did with each of us, and he smiled wide and nodded.  And let me tell you, without an ounce of romanticism, being in his gaze was like having the Milky Way grinning down at me.  I have only rarely in this lifetime felt so clearly seen, and so clearly loved.  The simultaneity of recognition and acceptance was intoxicating.”

“I tried to contain my excitement but it exploded when we saw him arrive.  Everyone stood up and rushed to the walkway and security held us back.  He is already 81-years-old and had to be supported by people as he walked.  Still, he looked at us with a cheeky smile.  He didn’t just walk past.  He stopped to watch the crowd carefully and made sure he greeted all of us.”

“His infectious smile and laugh came suddenly and exuberantly, and rippled through the whole gathering each time.  He regularly made jokes, looking around to see if we were all paying attention.”

“I felt like I was meeting a small kid who cheers you up with a merry smile.”

“There is a real joy surrounding him.  When he looks at you, he looks into you.”

“Having met HHDL numerous times, I would say it’s like meeting yourself.”

“During the talk, the subject of Tibet came up.  You could tell this was a very painful subject for Tibetans because the Tibetans around us were either weeping or holding back tears, but he talked with such serenity, without a single trace of anger in his voice, and he repeatedly emphasized non-violence, mutual understanding and his appreciation for the Chinese people.”

“What a sweet soul he is.”

***

Well, ladies and gentlemen, it’s not just about two famous guys
It’s about you and me

Day Four A

I haven’t seen a single minute of the conference live.  I’m usually a day late in talking to you.  But it doesn’t matter.  Wisdom has a long shelf life.

Here are some juicy morsels from the first half of Day Four:

“Projection is the attribution of cause to someone else that makes me feel something.  As in ‘If you changed your behavior I’d feel better.’  Or … ‘You make me feel good.  Without you, I wouldn’t feel good.'”

Hmm.  I think I do this a lot, especially on the positive side.  If that cherished person wasn’t in my life, could I be happy?  The quiet answer is “Yes”.

“If you witness the location of the distress in your body and allow it to be there, you bring energy to the distress.  Instead you can focus on another part of your body that has no pain.  Where in my body am I feeling some energized flow?  I’ll go there.  I’ll leave the pain.”

Hmm again.  I’ve always been told to be with the pain.  What you resist will persist.  And now I’m invited to ignore the pain and go elsewhere.  Taking a new path seems to negate my history, and I don’t want to do that.  But really, shouldn’t my well-being be the main thing here?

“There are iron chains: attachment to money, power or sex.  But there are also golden chains: attachment to our aspirations and ideals … What’s needed is to act impeccably regarding our aspirations while simultaneously releasing any attachment to the outcome.”

I’m training to ride my bicycle across Canada this summer.  Can I visualize and accept being exhausted or injured in Ontario … and leaving the ride?  Yes.  Will I do all I can to prevent that from happening?  Yes.

“Three of the most powerful figures of the 20th century – Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela – had that spiritual, passionate non-attached kind of power that overpowered the power against them.”

Indeed.

“The invitation is towards this deeper integration, to see past surfaces.  Without the integration of our sexuality, you get all this intellectualization and pedophilia.  Or you get these people who can talk such a good line … and are raping women.  How does that work?  It’s because that human being does not have the whole system integrated.”

So I dedicate myself to balance – physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.  All make me Bruce and all assist in letting Bruceness go.

“I’m not sure if democracy is the last stage of the big game.  Will we be governed by a council of wise people?  Democracy is a mess.  It’s a beautiful mess, and better than anything before but there’s something beyond, something more civilized and intelligent.”

To what extent can I see outside of the box?  To honour what has solidly been the case in the past and present but also ask “What’s next?”

Day Four B tomorrow.