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

Blessing Us All

I think that if we sit down and be quiet for awhile, most of us sense a “bigness” that spans far beyond our individual lives. My spirituality is Buddhist. Yours may be Christian or Muslim or Hindu. When you think of a vast presence, it may be Jesus who comes to mind … or God the Father, the Buddha, the Dalai Lama, Muhammad or simply The Divine. It may be an enlightened human being or an overarching Spirit.

I feel a presence that wishes me well, that is intimately for me. Someone is cheering me on, glad that I showed up on the planet. And someone is doing the same for you.

Here’s “The Blessing” … a song that speaks through the words and between the words. It’s for all men and all women.

The Lord bless you
And keep you
Make His face shine upon you
Be gracious to you
The Lord turn His
Face toward you
And give you peace

Amen, amen, amen
Amen, amen, amen

The Lord bless you
And keep you
Make His face shine upon you
Be gracious to you
The Lord turn His
Face toward you
And give you peace

Amen, amen, amen
Amen, amen, amen

May His favor be upon you
And a thousand generations
And your family and your children
And their children and their children

May His favor be upon you
And a thousand generations
And your family and your children
And their children and their children

May His presence go before you
And behind you and beside you
All around you and within you
He is with you, He is with you

In the morning, in the evening
In your coming, and your going
In your weeping, and rejoicing
He is for you, He is for you
He is for you, He is for you
He is for you, He is for you

He’s always on your side
You’re always on His mind
He is for you
He never will forsake
He never makes mistakes
He is for you, He is for you

Amen, amen, amen

Day Twenty-Two: The Tree

We went riding on motos yesterday – onto the dirt roads, out into the country. Women carrying loads on their heads, kids running after us, a few individual men strolling along – many of them waved. So did we. Through the dryness of it all, under the beaming sun, we rode beside fields spotted with African trees and goats. Past a couple of turquoise mosques surrounded by walls … and finally to the edge of Missirah.

We pulled over in the centre of downtown. In a shop, I lusted over a green, yellow and red Senegalese soccer jersey. Sadly the only sizes in stock started at XXL and went up from there.

A smiling old fellow was to be our guide this morning. He was a fishmonger who recognized me from a week ago. I felt badly that I didn’t recognize him. It makes me pause to realize that I have far more distinctions about the facial structure of white people than I do about black folks.

The gentleman led us to the fish farm he tends – three rectangular pools covered with netting. As he continued along, I moved away from the group to linger with several cows on a large expanse of dusty land. Then there were mangrove trees to visit, with their exposed roots reaching down under the water. A quiet time, as I renewed my wondering about whether I could live in Senegal.

It felt like time again to be with my friends. The glom of us returned to village streets. A twist here and a turn there began to reveal a hugeness ahead.

I stopped. I stared. Before me was a gigantic tree … in height, in the circumference of its trunk, in the massive biceps of its main branches. Our leader said don’t go close: the bees will attack you. So I kept the distance in my body. My soul, however, was reaching towards the immense one.

The group was moving on and I was standing still. I was in the presence of vibrant life, a wooden symbol of transcendence, of gathering in, of coming together.

We returned soon to the other side of the tree, where apparently there were no bees, since we were invited to come close. The tree is a fromager, so named because its soft wood made perfect boxes for the transport of cheese. Facing me was the largest fromager in West Africa, approximately 1000 years old. Its bark folded in marvelous ways. One exposed root many metres from the trunk was named Croco by the residents, due to it resembling a crocodile.

As our guide spoke in French, the reverence in his voice was clear. Lydia sidled over to me and began translating. This fromager is the mother of Missirah. Its leaves speak of the turning of the seasons. Crops are planted when the fromager says yes. When there’s a problem in the village, the women dress up as men, and the men as women. Sacred milk is poured on the roots and the fromager receives the supplication, offering its wisdom in turn. Infertile women visit the trunk, asking for a child. Lovers are married within the folds of the sacred one. Anyone and perhaps everyone touches the wood and feels the communion.

I take the dear fromager with me, not only in photos but also in my travelling being. Perhaps the next person I meet will have an inner fromager … to be honoured, to be loved, and to receive love from.

What Kind of Spiritual Person Am I?

First of all, I am one of those. I know it. No calculating, no comparing “yes” and “no” lists of attributes. My heart is open.

Am I the monk in the cave, blissing out on the oneness of the universe? Certainly not. I’m in the marketplace of living, full of contradictions. Sublime … exploding. Repeat.

And so we have the subject of dinner at Boston Pizza in Toronto. I love nachos, and many a time at this restaurant chain my order has appeared crammed with cheese on the top, and virtually naked on the bottom. Should my spirituality include all, knowing that the world of form is an illusion? NO, it shouldn’t.

As a proactive human being, I asked the bartender to have the chef layer my nachos. She said she’d do her best.

A few minutes later, a full plate appeared me before me. In the spirit of doubt, I peeked underneath the pile and discovered many chips with no cheese or anything else. “I’m sending this back.” The Bruce of five years ago would never have uttered these words.

Soon the bartender returned. She told me that the chef would charge me for extra cheese to meet my request. And there’s the moment. Do I lower my head, accede to the powers in the world, and chow down on dryness? No again. I asked her to have the manager come over.

The gentleman arrived with all dispatch. He heard my story and said that he’d make it right. No surcharge. He was calm. I was calm. And the result was produced. I was a happy customer.

My perception (and I could be faulty here) is that the bartender’s brightness transformed to stone after I spoke up. Hmm. Am I willing to abide with such perceived distance in order to stand with what I see is the truth? Yes, I am.

There’s an edge to my spirituality. It’s pretty new. I intend it to stay.

Songs and Smiles

Valerie is a new friend of mine.  We met on Thursday at Anne and Ihor’s B&B in Toronto.  We talked about going to the Santa Claus Parade on Sunday afternoon, and just like that … here was Sunday.

Valerie is a devout Christian and wanted to go to a morning service where people really express their joy in the Lord.  Anne told her about a church on Weston Road with mostly black folks and that sounded good.  Valerie suggested we meet after the service but I said I’d love to come.  Yes, I’m a Buddhist, but I love to hear people celebrating their spirituality.

We walked in the front door and were immediately greeted by an elderly woman with the light of Jesus shining in her face.  Truly, we were welcomed.  A Bible study was going on before church, led by the pastor, who also glowed.  He had an accent (I think he was from Sudan), and he spoke some words loudly, others softly.  The bottom line was that I could only make out a few words from each sentence, and therefore I usually couldn’t follow his train of thought.  It didn’t matter.  Love was the communication and I received it loud and clear.  It also seemed to beaming out from many of the parishioners nearby.  Black … white … who cares?  We were together.

Then it was time for singing.  Two women went to the front, accompanied by a keyboard player, drummer and guitarist.  They blasted out the lyrics and tunes … praising Jesus.  The pastor was dancing.  So, it appeared, was everyone else.  I moved and grooved and sung, without throwing my hands to the sky with Valerie and the others.  We were alive!

One of the leaders asked if there was anyone new in church today and I threw up my hand.  “What’s your name?”  >  “Bruce”  >  “And your friend?”  >  “Valerie” soared from Valerie’s lips.  So cool.

At the end of the service, we were presented with little gift bags, containing a can of pop, a package of potato chips, and a pen.  “Thanks for joining us.  Please come back.”  And I will, when I return to Toronto in January.   I know when I’m wanted.

And smiles come in all colours.



My neighbour “Dan” invited me to go to a men’s breakfast at a huge church in London yesterday. The building includes a theatre with inclined seating, a gym, a large windowed meeting room where we ate, washrooms with showers and other nooks and crannies that I didn’t get to explore.

We got there fifteen minutes early and the coffee was ready. Yay! I was sitting in the lobby slurping away when a fellow approached, extended his hand and said “Hi, Bruce.” His face was a blank to me. How in the name of Heaven did he know my name? Probably two minutes later, after he’d left, I looked down and saw a name tag stuck to my chest. “Oh.”

Dan and I sat at a table with friends of his. Everyone was congenial. No one talked about spirituality, and that was fine. At one point, I mentioned to the fellow next to me that I was going to a conference in North Carolina next week where we’ll be exploring consciousness. It’s a hard thing to explain. The best that I can do is to point towards an expansion of love, peace and freedom. The gentleman was polite but soon changed the subject. Again, I’m fine with that.

My spirituality as a Buddhist is different from the Christian fellows I was with. There’s nothing wrong with that. I’m just glad to be with folks who have a spiritual life, who see something bigger in life than the daily routines. A hundred or more men who are gathered for a Christian breakfast may differ in their willingness to talk about their faith but their simple presence yesterday morning says a lot.

Just as we were chowing down, a young man and his infant son joined us. A gentle soul, and so loving as he fed his boy. “Jason” works at a day care centre. I looked around the room and saw mostly older people (like me!) but there was a fair sprinkling of young adults, teens and kids. Cool, I thought. We gather together to learn from each other.

After the eats, it was time for the speaks. Guys who spoke Arabic, Spanish and I believe Chinese each had their own meeting room, so they could hear the presentations in their own language. It wasn’t separation … it was consideration.

In the English-speaking room, five men participated in a panel discussion. The moderator had questions ready. My favourite was “When you look back on your life, is there anything you regret?” One speaker, probably in his 70’s, looked around the room and found the young ones. “I regret not being brave enough to tell my friends what was important to me, especially things that they’d likely see differently. I just wanted to fit in, and I lost some of me in the process.” Wow. Well said. I pray that a seed was planted through his words.

So … the morning was not always my way, but it was a truly fine way. Thanks, guys.

The Holy Land

My friends Anne and Ihor got back from their pilgrimage to Israel last week. They’re devout Christians and shared this devotion with 24 other souls from their Ukrainian Catholic church. Yes, “pilgrimage” is the right word.

Pilgrims from all over the world come to Jerusalem, Nazareth, Mount Tabor, Bethlehem and Jericho. They walk the Via Dolorosa, the street where Jesus carried his cross. They gaze up at Golgatha, where he died.

I sat in the living room this morning as my B&B hosts told me what most deeply impacted them on the trip.

Ihor was struck with the groups of pilgrims who each dressed in their traditional clothing as they honoured Jesus by their presence. Flowing gowns in bright colours were common. Some devotees formed a circle and sang holy songs. Reverence filled the space. The North Americans, in their individual clothing choices, contrasted with the “families” of worshippers, but their inner faith was no doubt the same.

Anne experienced the presence of God atop Mount Tabor. As she looked around at her companions, many of them were similarly moved. The mountain is apparently the site of Jesus’ “transfiguration”. In Matthew we read:

After six days Jesus took with him
Peter, James and John the brother of James
and led them up a high mountain by themselves
There he was transfigured before them
His face shone like the sun
and his clothes became as white as the light

Who knows what energies are alive in the world? Sitting quietly though, in a state of reception, we may welcome in God, the Buddha, Spirit or whatever we choose to call it, and we too may radiate lovingkindness. Some immensity touched Anne and her friends on Mount Tabor.

Alas, all is not roses and lemonade. Ihor and Anne were in a cafeteria packed with locals and tourists, about to chow down on the lunch they had prepared in their hotel. Chicken and cheese sandwiches looked pretty tasty.

Suddenly a middle-aged Jewish woman ran over to them, yelling:

“You are breaking kosher laws. Get out! Get out!”

Although many Jews abide by kosher rules, in which meat and dairy products are not to be eaten together, this was a public place, with people from all over the world. Sadly, in their shock, my friends chose to leave. Even though the woman’s behaviour did not show a general Jewish attitude, it was a sad commentary on the abuse that can be done in the name of religion. Anne and Ihor are still trying to process this incident.

Ihor loved being at the site of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount – the side of a hill overlooking the Sea of Galilee. As a priest led a ceremony, the view was through graceful trees down to the water. No doubt many pilgrims could imagine Jesus standing exactly where they were, sharing his soul with the faithful:

Blessed are the poor in spirit
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven

Blessed are those who mourn
for they shall be comforted

Blessed are the meek
for they shall inherit the earth

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness
for they shall be satisfied

Blessed are the merciful
for they shall obtain mercy

Blessed are the pure of heart
for they shall see God

Blessed are the peacemakers
for they shall be called children of God

Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven

And blessed are Ihor and Anne

Shaking Again

After I quit the Tour du Canada, my body took over.  I was so scared on those B.C. highways, and my right hand shook sporadically for days afterwards.  Pure stress.  Pure imagining my death on the side of the road, brushed aside by a semitrailer.

Today was worlds away from terror, but the result was magnified: my whole body shook.  I’m taking a course on relationships – it’s live on the Internet.  For some of the time, we do a practice with one other person, who could be living anywhere in the world.

A woman and I were having a fine old time this afternoon.  In response to her question “What are you experiencing right now?” I found myself clinging to a huge ball, and so was she, and so were many other folks.  As my mind let go, our arms lengthened and soon we were all holding hands … and smiling. The ball was rolling and there was a great sense of ease among us.  When the ball rolled over someone, he or she would pop up laughing.  Nobody knew where we were going but we all knew it would be good.  We were safe.

I’m loving these images when suddenly some huge energy ripped through me.  My arms, my legs, maybe even my internal organs were vibrating madly.  And this lovely human being was watching me unfold from her side of my laptop.

I had experienced something like this before, during a long meditation retreat.  But now I was on public display.  Embarrassment flew from me to her but my friend stayed with me.  I could feel her calm presence inside my head.  “No thing is wrong,” she said.  So comforted, I let go into it.  I wanted to name the energy, figure it out, but that mind subsided … and I just shook.  And then, near the end of our conversation, it stopped.

Back in the large group, it was time for sharing.  I decided to tell the folks about my ungluing, from the safety of “This happened back then.”  So I did.  Partway through my words, the shaking resumed.  “Here it is again,” I told my companions.  Now it was naked time.  Something that others might label as negative was coursing through me … right now.  No escape from the eyeballs of my fellow travellers.

Soon it was on to the next sharer but I knew that if the participants had their screens set for “Gallery View” they’d continue seeing all of us, in little rectangles.  My head jerked a bit and my arms wouldn’t stop.  The laptop on my thighs jiggled.  Some energy, of a spiritual nature I thought, was having its way with me.  I closed my eyes and let it be there, also trying to be okay with the attention of others settling on my trembling body.

There is no badness here, no deficit.  Our evolving group consciousness seems to be stirring something deep inside me.  “Well, Bruce, let it stir away.  Who knows what worlds you’ll visit?”

Hours later, I’m still.  In the days to come, as I go back online with these folks, the universe will decide how it wants to use me.

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.


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.”


“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.”


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.

Pastor and Me

I had breakfast with a local pastor this morning at the Belmont Diner.  I’ll call him Peter.  Due to the heavy snow falling, he was a half-hour late.  As I sat at the counter waiting for him, and engaging in conversation about the weather and (less convincingly) about the placement of garages, I felt into the sense of loss I was experiencing.  “If he doesn’t show, how will I get to see him again?  I don’t have any contact information.  And then who will I talk to locally about spiritual matters?”

On the retreat last fall, we were encouraged to classify our present moments as “pleasant, unpleasant or neutral”.  This was unpleasant.  Then we’d be asked to see what feelings were present.  This morning it was sadness and fear.  And then the experience of “OK-ness” washed over me.  I didn’t need Peter to show up.  Confidence came … that the universe would create spiritual discussions for me.  Peace was here.  And I continued on with my bacon and eggs.

The Diner door opens and in walks Peter!  I was happy.  Thank you, dear universe.  He had loads of questions about the retreat, starting with what the daily schedule was like (wakeup bell at 4:50!)  I talked about the Buddha’s focus on the present moment, on his insistence that certain types of suffering were always going to be with us (such as sporadic physical pain), but other forms of it were optional.  Mr. Buddha said that craving people and things was the source of that second type.  Peter smiled and expressed his sense of relationship with the Divine, in the form of Jesus.

I marvelled at what was happening.  There was no judgment from either of us.  And no sense of contraction that I could feel, even as we revealed our differences.  Four or five folks sat near us at the horseshoe-shaped lunch counter.  Some, maybe all of them, were listening.  I told Peter that occasionally in Belmont I’m brave enough to venture into spirituality in conversation.  Often people change the topic quickly, but sometimes not.  “A lot of folks think I’m weird, Peter.”  His response?  “Welcome to my world!”  I love it.

To expand my range of spiritual contacts, I’ve decided to rejoin a meditation group in London, usually about a 40 minute drive away.  Their first meeting after Christmas is tonight but the snow continues to fall.  Travel is not recommended.  But it doesn’t matter if that reunion happens tonight.  I’m drawn to it.

Peter and I arranged to talk again next Monday.  Who knows what epiphanies might arise?  Or maybe not.  But we will connect in a way that transcends the rational mind.