Ted

This is Ted.  He sits in my bedroom … and he never says a word.  But every morning after I’ve made the bed and rolled up the blind, Ted looks deeply into my eyes.  There’s nothing to add to the moment.  No wise words.  Just the eyes and the smile.  “I’ve got you, Bruce.  You may stumble today, or cavort.  It’s all the same to me.  I just sit here and love you.”  At night, Ted watches me from the floor, making sure I’m safe.  I don’t know what goes on in his mind.  Can I say it’s likely to be a lot of concrete thinking? 

There’s a poem on a wall downstairs that reminds me of Ted.  Here, I’ll go find it …

I especially like this part:

They do not sweat and whine about their condition

They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins

Good man, Ted.  You’re a natural, uncluttered kind of guy.

***

It’s been 22 days since I last wrote.  Maybe I’m drying up.  Maybe I’m slowing down.  Maybe the best is yet to come.

Meditating

I sat down at 5:55 pm. Just now, at 7:08, it was over. A few minutes before, some unknown part of me knew that was true, and my eyes opened. I took the wooden mallet in my hand and tapped the side of the singing bowl. A pure ring started as a solid tone and then slipped into a wave … and slowly faded into silence. There’s a moment when I know the tiny vibration is no more. I tapped the bowl three times.

“Should I write about this?” a small voice calls out in the night. “Nobody’s going to understand. Some folks will see your words as ‘hogwash’, as mom loved to say.” It was a funner word than “ridiculous”. Oh, what the heck, I’ll start writing and you the reader can react as you will. I see now that I don’t need agreement about my meditation experiences. If you don’t like it, I’m sure you’ll find something else to read. What’s clear is that I want to share what my last hour was about.

I’ve meditated for fifteen years or so. Sitting for an hour has become ordinary, certainly not an achievement. For the last month, another version of ordinary has been consistently showing up. Within minutes, or perhaps even seconds, I can’t speak. I think of my favourite phrase – “I love you” – but I can’t say the words in my head. I get to the “I” and there’s an extended “ah” that shows up. If I open my mouth to say the words aloud, they don’t come. Today it took maybe ten seconds for me to slip into this realm. It appears to be a signpost that love indeed has embraced me.

If you can slip in, you can slip out. And that happened today. Without any thoughts showing up, I saw “I love you” in my head and they were said, easily. I smiled. And that smile made me happy. Holding on to some cool state is not the way life works. Tonight I said “Bye bye” to the sublimity, trusting that it would return in its own good time. Sometime later in the hour, it did.

I haven’t had many thoughts during meditation recently, but when they come, sometimes in spurts, I like welcoming these old friends. Grunting and groaning, trying not to have thoughts, is a fool’s errand. I’ve been that fool many times. But not lately.

Even when it’s impossible to speak, there are nuances. For part of the time, I felt a wave flowing behind my eyes. I was being carried on that wave, feeling the pulse. Then there was a spell of “shimmering down”, the sense of something bright falling from the top of my head down my face. Later, as if by magic, both of those disappeared and what was left was stillness. No movement at all, no thoughts, and yet keenly feeling the presence of my bedroom. It’s tempting to see cessation as the goal, the shining peak of the whole climb. In my experience, though, there is no goal – no better or worse. There’s simply choosing to sit, and being open to whatever comes by.

At one point tonight, it felt like I was waking up from a deep sleep. My head had fallen way off to the left. As I brought myself back to vertical, I felt a sharp pain in my side. I didn’t remember falling. In some other sessions, I’ve had the sensation of jerking myself out of sleep, the whole body jolted. And now I’m smiling again. Meditation is such a delightful mystery.

So that’s how I spent a recent 73 minutes. I’m grateful to the psychologist who introduced me to meditation way back when. I’m grateful to the Insight Meditation Society in Massachusetts, the site of several silent retreats. And I’m grateful to … what? I don’t know. But whatever it is, it’s here. Time to smile once more.

Day Two: Jet Lag and Silence

Let’s start with the present moment, which is always a fine place to begin. I’ve just awakened from a 13-hour sleep, and Tylenol Decongestant has emerged as my new best friend. I’m wrapped up in a cozy chair in Lydia and Jo’s living room in Nukerke, Belgium. Either the chair or the world is spinning – I’m not sure which. The family is off to work or school (Lore and Baziel both have exams this morning).

Who is in the house is Lydia’s mom Marie-Paule, their aunt/sister and the weekly housekeeper. I’m sad but accepting that I can’t remember these last two women’s names. “You’re not Superman, Bruce.”

Another relevant fact is that all of these folks are French-speaking. Marie-Paule has a few words of English but I suspect the other two are unilingual. Then there’s the reality that I haven’t studied French in 2019 to prep for my return to Senegal. I summed up my current situation to Marie-Paule with “Je suis trop fatigué pour parler.” (I’m too tired to talk.) Sad again … since I love talking.

My two flights yesterday, to Dublin and Brussels, probably totalled seven hours. In Dublin Airport, I met a lovely young woman who insisted on serving me coffee, as long as I insisted on paying her. She spoke like a song, reminding me of all the Irish commercials I’ve seen in my time. I was tempted to ask her to marry me but demurred, aware of the fifty years between us. I loved her until she mentioned that I should be drinking Guinness. That bitter beer isn’t for me but the young lass and I are still good friends.

I thoroughly enjoyed my conversation with Lorraine and Sean on the way to Brussels. They’re off on a three-day getaway to the Christmas markets of the big city. For the second time yesterday, I visualized marriage but then concluded that Sean would disapprove of the idea. Lorraine spoke with great animation of spirit and I felt at home with them both.

Lydia and her best friend Liesbet picked me up at Brussels Airport. Truly a blessed reunion with my comrade of heart. After dropping Liesbet off, Lydia and I rendezvoused with son Baziel, whom I had hosted for two weeks in Canada last summer. Such a hug between two intergenerational friends.

We got home around 11:00 am, and so began my jetlag ritual. It’s simple, really: stay awake till bedtime in the new place. My goal was 8 or 9 … many hours away. It’s fascinating to see my mind gradually fade away. Clarity of thought goes off to visit someone else. Just for comfiness, I lay down on the couch that I’m currently staring at. Big mistake! Eyelids closing, body sinking towards sleep, unable to process the reality that sleeping daytime Tuesday means not much of the soft stuff Wednesday and Thursday. Wake up, Bruce! Move around. Ahh … go for a walk.

I turned left on Lydia’s road and stumbled towards the small city of Ronse, only a few kilometres away. Ancient row houses greeted me down the hill into town. I came upon a few people enroute but chickened out when it came to say hi. I rationalized that I don’t speak Flemish and they probably don’t speak English. Plus I was so dreary in the head. Still, way down deep I knew that I had fallen short of what the world needs.

Above the red slate rooves, I glimpsed a steeple. It was a magnet. I wanted to sit down somewhere out of the cold and I urged the church door to be open. It was. St. Hermes Basilica was completed in 1526 and welcomed me inside its expanse. Throughout my sojourn within the holy walls, I was alone. Statues, paintings and tapestries hung above me. A winding staircase in the middle of the sanctuary led to a platform from which the priest gives his homily. All was still.

I sat in a padded chair and felt my eyes closing. I teetered to my right and brought myself back. And then some being must have given me a quiet energy. For half an hour, I gazed at the majesty of it all. Soon I realized that complete silence wrapped me in its bosom. No pitter patter of feet. No ringing bells. No sounds of cars outside. It was totally quiet, and I bathed in it. The small voice inside expected interruptions to come but there were none.

Perhaps Sara Teasdale said it best:

From what undreamed of depth within your heart
Have you sent forth the hush that mqkes us free
To hear an instant, high above the earth’s stress
The silent music of infinity?

Nothing … Something … Nothing

And how exactly do you write about nothing?  Maybe I’m done right now, but I don’t think so.

I meditated for two hours yesterday morning.  That’s a long time but it’s not new for me.  Usually in a meditation sitting, I have periods of “quiet mind” and others of “monkey mind”.  You get the idea.  Quiet means relatively few thoughts, and those float away quickly.  Monkey means a constant spewing of negativity, and thoughts that pile on top of each other.  Yesterday was neither.

After a few minutes of settling, I went into a lengthy period that was brand new: no movement at all, either physical or mental.  Virtually no thoughts.  No words came to mind, even when I tried to create one, such as “love”.  Probably for the first hour and three-quarters, all was still.  My body slumped to the left and sometimes I brought it back to vertical, but there was no thinking.  Just this big space inside me.  And a supreme sense that whatever was happening was perfectly fine.

One random thought showed up: I should curl my lips upwards in a tiny smile, to beam loving energy to human beings.  But no smile came and instead there was some global sense that the love was right here right now with no intentional thinking or movement.  This awareness was all-encompassing, unspoken and undeniable.  It didn’t seem to be a discrete thought.

Okay, I feel myself moving into censoring mode.  “You’re not making any sense.  People will think you’re crazy.”  But whatever is going on right now as I type, it doesn’t feel “rational”.  Something else is here.  And I don’t care what it is.  I’m just glad to be along for the ride.

One thing I’ve never done is write about a recent meditation experience, then begin another period of meditating, and then write about that too.  So … off I go to my bedroom and my meditation chair.  Will I be thirty minutes or three hours?  I don’t know.  Either way, I’ll talk to you soon.

***

Ha!  I lasted 26 minutes.  I fell asleep three times and a brightening consciousness kept saving me from toppling to the floor.  Not exactly an experience of “nothing”!  I started analyzing why today’s meditation was so different and came up with zero other than my recent overzealous caffeine consumption and the fact that I haven’t had any coffee today.

I decided to go to bed.  “Too tired for meditation.”  An hour later, after lots of coziness but no sleeping, I’m up again.  And how strange – I’m very happy.  The word “symphony” is flooding me, that my life is made up of so many different experiences and they blend to create a perfectly fine whole.  Did I want to repeat yesterday’s nothingness?  Yesiree.  Am I devastated that this didn’t happen?  Nosiree.

What now?  I think I’ll read my book.  And maybe return to my meditation chair a bit later.

To be continued.

***

I’ve just come out of another period of meditation – 70 minutes this time.  And the nothingness returned … unbidden, unforced.  I just watched.  After awhile, partial images came.  At the end, I looked back at the hour and the picture of a blob showed up.  The blob was nothingness and occasionally a something would poke its head up, covered in blob goo, and then recede.  The appearances had no staying power.  They would partially form and then dissipate, gently fall apart.

First there was a fragment of a moment.  It was at night.  I was stepping off the sidewalk to cross the street.  A car with headlights on was heading towards me from the right.  Then … Poof!  Gone.  Next was a series of faces, barely formed and unrecognizable.  Each in turn faded away, to be replaced by another silhouette which also dropped from sight almost immediately.  Just the blob again.  Then a thought would start, but couldn’t resist the gravity of the blob and would sink down again.  Also a word or two, I think.

For the last few minutes, it was just the nothingness again.  And then, without thought, it seemed to be time to go.  I opened my eyes.

***

Well, isn’t this a wonder?  I’m soft and quiet and open to whatever’s next.  I hope nothing comes back.  It may or may not.  I’m all right with either.

 

The Last Post (For Awhile)

Around 3:00 pm today, I enter into a month of silence at the Forest Refuge near Barre, Massachusetts.  Hey, maybe I should start right now, which would make this a very short post.  Naw.  I still have a few hours of yapping in me.  Barre is three hours away and no doubt there’ll be human beings on the way to whom I can say silly things.

These fingers really enjoy tapping on keys.  Well actually, just my two index fingers – the rest are just along for the ride.  And this brain enjoys looking at the world, finding a stimulus (Is that the right word?) and then going with it into a potpourri of tangents.

Okay, how about a stimulus?  A good-sized snowfall last night in Williamstown, Massachusetts.  Do I hope for dry roads today or the beauty of a winter wonderland?  Am I willing to embrace the losses and pains of life right alongside the gains and pleasures?  Oh, I could go on, but why bother?  All this writing stuff is about to come to an end.  The thinking stuff?  Not so much.

Over the next month, I expect to be sitting in meditation for perhaps eight hours a day.  Then there’ll be periods of walking meditation, work meditation (maybe potwashing!) and eating meditation.  Imagine thirty folks having lunch together in silence, with nary a clattering of silverware to be heard.  Sweet (although we’ll only get desserts twice a week).

I’m going on retreat to love people.  That’s it.  And that’s enough.

See you on the far side, with all due respect to Gary Larson.

With love,

Bruce

Dear Me

I woke up this morning with those two words on my lips.  I stretched and said it again.  Nothing odd about that.  But then I listened … to a voice:

“You are dear, Bruce.”

“Uh … yes.  But so is everyone else.”

“That’s true.  There are many flavours of dearness.  Yours is verging on unique.”

“No, no, no.  There are lots of people like me in the world.”

“Oh?”

“What do you mean, ‘oh’?  I’m not special.”

“Okay, I’ll give you that.  But you’re unusual, in a nice way.”

“I suppose that’s true.  But I’m not better than other people.”

“I agree.  You’re different, though.  You see connections that some folks don’t.  You’re silly.  You’re loving.  All in all, not a bad human.”

“Why thank you.  Can we stop talking about this stuff now?”

“As you wish.”

***

And yes, all of this went on in my head.  Perhaps I’m going loony tunes.  I sure hope not.  There’s a lot of living left to do.

And a particular flavour of that living starts tomorrow.  At 5:00 am, I head east on the road of life, otherwise known as Highway 3.  Many hours later, I’ll curl up under the covers in Utica, New York.  On Monday, it’s through the Berkshire Mountains to Williamstown, Massachusetts, where I’ll hunker down for two days.  I hope to visit art galleries, meditate in churches, and find the local coffee shop for good conversation.  On Wednesday afternoon, I show up at the Forest Refuge near Barre, Massachusetts where I’ll essentially be silent for a month.  Many quiet dear ones will sit near me but I’ll never meet them.  We won’t say hi.  We won’t make eye contact.  But I will love them anyway.  Hmm … I suppose that’s fairly unusual.

I’ll blog Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and then it’ll be silencio until February 28.  Come see me then, if you wish.  I may have groovy things to say or perhaps my fingers will begin a vow of silence.  Who knows?  The mystery beckons.

A Long Dry Spell

It’s been twenty-four days since I’ve done WordPress clicks.  Not so long ago, I faced a similar, if shorter, dilemma.  I just didn’t want to write.  I’m tempted now to look back and see what I expressed last time, and not to repeat myself.  But that would be silly.  I’ll just say what’s true in the moment.

I’ve been busy doing this and doing that, going here and going there, watching electricians, plumbers and bricklayers doing their thing.  But none of that is an excuse.  And I really don’t need an excuse.  I’ve simply done what I’ve done.  My small brain says that it’s better to write but a larger perspective allows all of life to unfold.

I’ve had nothing to say.  And in the times when that’s not been true, I haven’t had the oomph to say it.  Both are beyond the realms of good and bad, I feel.

I’d like to write that today’s post marks a resurgence in Bruce’s interest in communicating online, that I’ll return immediately to my rhythm of blogging about every two days out of three.  But that would be dishonest.  I simply don’t know what will draw me tomorrow.

I’ve just spent five days in the heat of Chicago, and four more of the same in Toronto.  The first was a marvelous experience of women’s golf – the top eight countries in the world and the top four players from each one, battling in head-to-head duels.  Then it was men’s tennis – some fierce matches between top echelon players.  Stunning moments in both locales, worthy of writing about.  I found, though, that all was coloured by the humidity … some physical and much emotional.  And so no words passed these fingers.

Enough for today.  Maybe more in days to come.

Singing Voices

I went to a concert last night featuring Judy Collins and Garnet Rogers.  Judy was a folk music icon in the 60s and Garnet sang beside his brother Stan on many a stage in the 70s.  Both have thrived as performers ever since.

Garnet opened the evening with several songs, great stories all.  That’s what I usually glom onto but yesterday it was the voice.  Garnet has a deep baritone. The Aeolian Hall has renowned acoustics.  And the sound guy was brilliant.  The result was my mouth opening in wonder as Garnet sang.  The vibrations coursed through me.

Soon it was Judy’s turn and she picked up right where he left off.  Her glorious soprano reached towards the vaulted ceiling.  And her face was so soft as she sang.  Once more my whole body was silent as the melodies enveloped me. Time stood still.  I stood still.

The grand finale was a duet … Garnet and Judy singing Stan’s “Northwest Passage”.  Such an anthem of exploring northern Canada and the interior spaces of a human being.  Stillness squared.

Thank you for the music.

What To Possibly Say?

I’m back from my 9-day silent meditation retreat.  I feel very open.  Actually it’s like there’s space around each of my cells.  Breathing room.  And I don’t know what to say.  Most of you probably haven’t had the experience that I’ve just lived through.  How can I have you understand?  I’m sure you’re all smart people.  It’s not that.  But you may not have the context to hold whatever I have to say.  And so the likelihood of me being misinterpreted is great.  Maybe I’d try to talk about A but all you hear is B.  Such as the word “surrender”.

What I do know is that I want to communicate with you about what the past week has meant.  Part of me doesn’t know how.  But I know that part of me does.  I’m willing to risk being misunderstood.  So I will put fingers to keys over the next few days … and see what happens.

It was a fine journey, and continues to be so.

Unknown Days

Twelve of them, right in front of me.  I’m starting to drive tomorrow to Massachusetts for a 9-day silent meditation retreat.  Silence begins on Friday evening for the 100 participants.  What a blessing, not needing to speak and make eye contact to have communion among us.  Although there are short times before and after the retreat for the “yogis” to talk to each other, it’s likely that I won’t meet most of them.  And yet I know we will touch each other in our hearts.

I don’t have any goals.  I’ll just let the next moment replace the previous one.  I don’t want to get better at anything.  Gosh, what an adventure this will be!

Since we’re not allowed to do any writing during the retreat, you won’t hear from me again until I get back.  I’ll create a post on Tuesday, April 14 to tell you all about it.

May you have great peace and satisfaction in the days between.