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.

Make Some Noise … Listen to the Quiet

I went to a hockey game last night.  The London Knights (ages 16-20) were playing Niagara.  I didn’t handle it very well.  The announcer regularly yelled out “Make Some Noise”, accompanied by flashing red lights.  A noise meter calculated the crowd’s response.  Sigh.  I just didn’t want to.  Then there were the fights.  One time, a London player slugged a Niagara player so that he dropped to one knee.  Some unnecessary portion of the fan base squealed with delight.  I just didn’t want to.  And I shouldn’t omit the work of the referees.  The fellow beside me favoured section 113 with many calls to arms, such as “Hey, ref!  You suck.”  I truly didn’t want to join in.

I guess I’m a queer duck.  What I most enjoyed during the evening was singing “O Canada”, watching some sublime passing plays by the Knights, and walking through the concourse between periods, silently sending “I wish you well” messages to the people I saw.

As for the game, my zip was zapped.  Other times, I would stand up and cheer when the Knights scored.  Not last night.  And that could have been me dancing in the aisle during a stoppage in play.  Another evening, that is.  I just need quiet now, as I deal with Jody’s death.

And the quiet was today.  I went for a walk on the classic old golf course that’s around the corner from me.  It’s snowed a lot lately but I didn’t think that would be any big deal.  I was wearing my heavy boots.  I wanted to find my way to the back holes, the ones with tree-lined fairways far from the road.

I discovered that the snow was shin deep, and sometimes to my knees.  But amid all that I was surrounded by silence.  An occasional crow cawed.  The seagulls, however, flew over my head with nary a peep.  Yes please.  I talked to Jody when I stopped making footprints in the snow.  I stood and cried for my dear wife.  I sang her “Annie’s Song” and I almost made it all the way through.

The crunching continued and I started to poop out.  Looking through my sunglasses, I realized that I didn’t have very good depth perception out there.  If the drift ahead of me was climbing to the right, I couldn’t tell, and then suddenly I was knee deep in fatigue.  The seeing was complicated by my little friends the floaters, who sure move around my field of vision a lot.  And as I pulled my feet out of holes, I started worrying that if I fell down I might not be able to get up again.

As I rounded one corner on a fairway at the back of the course, I looked way ahead and saw a human being, sort of.  Actually it was a snowman.  It became a talisman for me … Get to the snowman.  And I did, minutes later, and quite heavy of foot.  I said hi and shook his little stick hand.  He was the only one around, and I was pretty sure he didn’t think I was crazy.  It was comforting to chat for a few minutes.  Then we said goodbye to each other and I plodded onward.

A long hill, complete with a few sections that touched my knees, had me thinking about mortality.  I had to stop every twenty steps or so to get my breath.  It reminded me of mountaineering movies I’ve seen where the climbers were making such slow and painful progress at high altitudes.  The St. Thomas Golf and Country Club is not exactly Everest, but I could relate.

I was exhausted, and Jody was there to help.  “You’re doing great, Bruce.  I’m proud of you.”  Thank you, my wife.  I plotted a route where I wouldn’t lose elevation as I aimed for the clubhouse parking lot.  Slow, slow, slow.  And then I saw some angels – footprints in the deep snow.  When I got to them, I noticed that the person’s boot size was pretty close to mine.  Yay.  And so I stumbled from hole to hole, thanking my newfound and currently absent friend for his or her generosity.

I made it.  Solid asphalt.  The winding road took me to the course entrance gate and back to civilization.  Thank you, Jodiette.  Thank you, the silence.  Thank you, winter wonderland.  You’re where I need to be.

Lost A Bit

I write because I want to touch people, to give them a little of me, so maybe they’ll pass on a little of themselves to others.  But right now, I don’t know what I have to give.  I miss Jody so much.  I cry a lot when I’m alone.  So why am I writing to you now?  Shouldn’t I just take a few days off for myself?

“But, Bruce – this typing is for you, even if it feels like you have nothing to say.”

I guess I’ll sit here and see if anything comes.  If it doesn’t, I’ll just say goodnight.

***

So much of my experience is silent.  Big moments seep through.  Like now.  I’m just so quiet.  Jody is here.  I long to touch her, to stroke her cheek, to brush her hair, to rub her feet.  My brain wants to go to the empirical evidence for life after death but the soul within me just wants to hold and be held.  My hand moves naturally to cover my heart.  My cheeks sag.  Where did my bones go?

Wow.  I have nothing to say.  There are no words that can add to the moment I’m in.  And so …

Goodnight

Artful

When I directly view, say, a great Van Gogh, I am reminded of what all superior art has in common: the capacity to simply take your breath away.  To literally, actually, make you inwardly gasp, at least for that second or two when the art first hits you, or more accurately, first enters your being: you swoon a little bit, you are slightly stunned, you are open to perceptions that you had not seen before … You are ushered into a quiet clearing, free of desire, free of grasping, free of ego, free of the self-contraction … For a moment you might even touch eternity.

So many years ago, I was taking a philosophy of education course at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta.  The professor, Gordon Campbell, gave us one assignment for the whole course: write a daily log, reflecting on our discussions, the readings and our field trips (such as to the school on a nearby Blackfoot reserve).  And of course, apply it to our lives.  Such freedom! Such responsibility.

I was looking through a book in the university library, and flipped the page to a remarkable photo, showing Michelangelo’s sculpture “Pieta”.  Jesus is lying in the lap of his mother Mary after he had been crucified.  I stared at the immense sadness in her face, at her right hand supporting Jesus’ back, and at her left hand, palm up.  After the silence diminished, I started writing, about the suffering in the world, in homes, in the classroom.  Over the course of the next day or two, it seems to me that I completed 8 or 10 pages.  It just flowed out of me.

I think the words are gone now, probably discarded inside a pile of stuff on one of our moves.  But she and he remain, tucked away within me.

Near us, in St. Thomas, there is a shrine also tucked away, in a leafy corner of a cemetery.  The centrepiece is an elevated statue of a kneeling girl, with arms upraised, looking in wonder at the golden ball she holds in her hands. Her smile is so sublime, beyond any words I could attach to it.  I go and visit her, just to be with the young lady.  Not often enough for my liking, though. People like me need to bask in her glow.

Sometime in the 1970s, my former wife Rita and I visited the Butchart Gardens near Victoria, B.C.  Paths dropped us into a host of wonderlands, such as the Sunken Garden, the Japanese Garden, and the Mediterranean Garden.  For part of the time, I explored on my own.  I was walking on a manicured lawn, bordered by a rainbow of flower beds.  My stretch of lawn was getting narrower and began curving to the right.  Finally I was “ushered into a quiet clearing”, where I came face-to-face with another girl.  She was naked, and her arms covered her breasts.  Her eyes touched the sky … no smile, no frown, just space.  So lovely to behold.

Three statues.  One Spirit.

Alone in a Room

Somehow, this is special – to be all alone in a large room, one that’s used for meetings, gatherings, and socializing.  Me and a big space.  And when I’m quiet in that space, all by myself, it’s a holy feeling.

My most vivid memory of this is one late evening during a retreat at the Insight Meditation Society.  The last sitting was over at 9:30, and I had gone outside to sit with a cup of tea and the stars.  And now to bed?  No, actually, back into the meditation hall.  I walked in, glanced around, and saw that I was alone.  Facing the statue of the Buddha at the front were rows of square purple meditation cushions, with chairs at the sides and back.  Just me.  I sat on a chair in the back middle, central to the Buddha’s gaze.  And something slowly happened.  In my meditation, I could feel warmth cuddle me close.  I got glimmers of all the human beings who had sat here since 1976, and I felt cradled in their company.  I stayed a long time.

About ten years ago, I had the rare opportunity to visit my former high school during school hours – Lawrence Park Collegiate in Toronto.  I walked into the foyer to find my name on a plaque … and there I was, circa 1967.  Ahead of me were the doors to the auditorium.  I pulled on a handle and it gave, opening to me a grand space of soft chairs sloping down to the stage.  I walked a few rows in and sat down.  Just me.  And so quiet.  I remembered the acne-sprouted teenager who sat in these chairs – for assemblies, concerts and plays.  I also remember the young cellist who got to play some stunning symphonies on the stage, surrounded by many gifted musicians.  A younger man, and he sat there quietly beside me.

And then there was the fall of 1974 when I helped the caretaker close up the Prince of Wales Hotel in the Rockies of Alberta.  Built in 1927 as a huge chalet, the PW’s interior beams and posts of the darkest wood, plus its chandelier and interior walkways, left me in awe.  And that fall I often got to be on the fourth floor balcony alone, looking down into the lobby as I sang a little song.  And then fall silent as the space of history wrapped itself around me.  Just me.

***

Three big rooms and an itsy bitsy human being, enjoying each other’s company

 

Trees

They just stand there.  No goals, no fears, no deficiencies.  Just perfect in the moment, every moment.  When I need a reminder to simply be, I look at a tree.

A bit east of us on Bostwick Road (Home Road), a very tall deciduous tree welcomes me every time I pass by.  The diameter of its trunk must be five feet.  Part of me wants to know the type of tree it is, but alas, naming things is not one of my strong suits.  And actually, it’s not even an alas.  My friend big guy opens me up when I linger a moment.  His or her name could be Bob or Carol or Ted or Alice … no matter.  He just is.  The fact that he looms so high above me is fine.  There’s no sense of better or worse, bigger or smaller.

Another friend hangs out on the east side of Highway Road as I venture north to London.  On a slight curve, his leaves and branches spread wide, falling at the edges down towards the earth.  Not so lofty, this fellow.  But just about perfectly symmetrical.  The balance draws me in, and in my moments of awareness, I say “Hello, lovely tree.”  He or she smiles back.

In 1969, 1974, 1975 and 1976, another tree helped me keep going.  I was working those summers in the superheated laundry building of the Prince of Wales Hotel in Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta.  The sheet mangle was just about mangling me, with sweat usually pouring off my brow.  When the dizziness and exhaustion came, I looked out one of the windows to gaze upon a straggly pine, gnarled by the wind.  It was slightly uphill to that tree, and I knew that just past it, the ground sloped down to a view of Waterton Lake and the surrounding mountains – a vista for the gods.  I knew that something marvelous was just beyond my physical sight, and the laundry tree was my conduit for touching it.

Listen to the trees, Bruce.  Listen.

Silence

Another tranquil summer Sunday shattered by the incessant yapping of humans

It’s strange.  I love to talk, but only about matters of the heart.  I love telling stories that leave people laughing, crying or thinking.  But I love silence even more, whether being beside Jody or with myself.

Many a time in a group conversation I have nothing to say.  I’m not interested in problems that some folks love to unearth.  I’m not interested in the latest scandal, whether it’s the Hollywood or political version.  And I don’t care about the darn weather.  I figure that weather is good and we need to have it, the more variety the better.

I wonder if some people think I’m stupid, stuck up or unsocial when I don’t participate in the current topic.  Oh well.  Let them think what they want.  I’m happy being silent, just watching the flow of events, mostly without judgment.  “Bruce, you’re so quiet.”  “Yeah, I guess I am.”

Jody is fine with not talking as we sit together.  If we’re outside, the birds usually have plenty to say.  If we’re cuddling in bed, no words would add to the love.

Occasionally in quietness I beam good stuff to the other person.  Usually though, even that feels too forceful.  It’s good to just be with them, not throwing energy outwards but instead letting it waft away, like a fine mist.  Space hangs in the air.

And then there’s sitting meditation.  Jody and I have a room with a hot tub and warm brick walls.  I have a comfy chair in there that seems to surround me, wrapping me in its arms.  It’s a marvelous feeling to fall into deep silence within, no matter the sounds without, and to respond with grace if someone speaks to me while I’m meditating.  I read a story once about a guy who was determined to be a great meditator.  He focused like anything on his breath.  One time, his daughter walked in to show him something she’d drawn … and he chewed her out.  “Can’t you see I’m meditating?!”  No thanks.  People deserve better.

Sitting meditation is very cool.  Thoughts come and thoughts go.  It’s all right.  Images show up unbidden.  Woo … where did that come from?  And them I settle back again.  So quiet.

Right now, right here, I’m still
Writing this has been a meditation
Enough said