Breakie

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.

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.


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.

Day Three

It’s the “What Now?” conference in Denver, Colorado and I’m following the action on my laptop.  It’s astounding to be in the presence of so many openhearted, inclusive souls.  I long for more “symmetrical” conversations about spiritual life.  Although I have a few of them in Belmont and environs, it’s more typical that I bring up some aspect of Spirit and the other person doesn’t know what to do with me, doesn’t know how to respond … asymmetrical.  I remain hopeful, however, that if I keep bringing forward the best in me, the best in you will respond in kind.

Here are my favourite messages from Sunday’s sessions:

(Amir Nasr, a young Muslim fellow who became discouraged with how his religion was showing up in the world, and wrote a book about that, called “My Islam”, a book that was banned in several countries)

“I just wanted to fit in and be safe.  Going against the system got me so screwed, so beaten up.  I’m a radical humanist, divested of all identities that had been poured into me.  We need an identity based on citizenship, rooted in values – human values, shared values.  Too many of us have been drinking from the poisoned well of separation.”

To what extent do I stick my neck out in life, saying what’s in my heart, even if that’s being critical of the damage often done to other human beings?  If I get scared, do I shut up?

(Chris Grosso, sitting in a counsellor’s office at school, with photos and statues of various spiritual leaders adorning the walls and shelves)

“What’s going on with your walls?  I thought you were supposed to pick one and go with it.”

Reminds me of a story about a Buddhist teacher.  I think it was Munindra.  A student of his had listened to a talk from another spiritual master, probably not Buddhist, and had been enthralled.  Apparently, he then went to Munindra and apologized for straying from his teachings.  Munindra’s response?  Something like “If you find this other person’s words more valuable than mine, then go with him.”  How refreshing.

“Every man, wherever he goes, is encompassed by a cloud of comforting convictions, which move with him like flies on a summer day.”  (Bertrand Russell)

What if my cherished opinions are confronted by “disconfirming data”?  Am I a big enough (or empty enough) person to let go of what needs to be let go of, or does the furrowed brow of being right rule the day?

“I’ve been mourning my departure from an extractive life in which I was a master of the universe.  I had to let go of that world and help co-create the generative world.”

Extractive, as in taking
Generative, as in creating goodness

“Discovering the great Ground of Being and your Real Self, that is your own deepest and truest being, is the only truly effective antidote to the epidemic torment that now drenches the planet.”

Act responsibly in the world … yes
Let go and let go into Spirit … yes and yes and yes

 (Ken Wilber, on how the ecstasy of sexual love can awaken us)

“Transfer your feelings of loving your partner to loving the entire world.  All of it.  No exceptions.  Go from making love to your partner to making love to the entire universe.

Not a single thing is left out of Big Love:

I love that terrorist attack
I love global warming
I love white supremacists
I love the Taliban
I love my friend’s bleeding ulcer
I love that metastatic cancer
I love that recent stroke
I love economic collapse
I love inner city riots
I love the HIV virus

Nirvana is very real.  When the source of consciousness is traced to its very foundation, the entire world stops arising in awareness, and that pure cessation, that pure content-free awareness, is nirvana, where the individual is radically free from everything … This freedom is extremely real, not something we’re making up.”

Oh my.  Can I really be this inclusive?  And can I really let go of the world while living fully in it?  I don’t know.

This Can’t Be True

What if nothing matters?  And I don’t mean some hopeless attitude, such as “Nothing I do, or nothing that happens, will make me happy.”  Instead, what if my happiness is there already, at a most deep level?  That the events of the world don’t impact that wellspring at all?

“Get a life, Bruce.  You’re being nutty again.”

Well … maybe.  But I wonder.  Let’s look at some things.  Here’s what I usually tell myself:

1.  I need to walk – from my condo, along Main Street, to the Diner; down the fairways of Tarandowah; and on the paths of the Archie Coulter Conservation Area.

Maybe not.  Perhaps I don’t even need to see my lovely golf course again.  After all, it’s in my mind.

2.  I need to meditate and go on silent retreats.

Actually, no.  What if my brain becomes a jumble and I never see Massachusetts again?  I sense that there’d still be a little smile on my face, that some current of energy would still be saying hello.

3.  I need to have a loving partner in life, to share the wonders.

Hmm.  I don’t know about that.  I could feel love for all the folks that come my way each day, even if they don’t go home with me.  When there’s love, can I really say that the version aimed at Deborah is more profound than the type flowing to Rob?

4.  I need to be with people.

On one level, yes.  But there are other levels.  It’s possible that the rest of my life could be a solitary retreat, where I hole up in my condo and just come out for essentials.  I could send love outwards, through walls and across the land, and never see the folks that it touches.

5.  I need to be pain free.

That’s a tough one.  How could I ever cope with a constant 8 on the scale of 10?  It might be, though, that I could be happy even within the press of chronic pain.  Maybe I could be present with the physical sensation without adding the “Ain’t it awful” emotion.

6.  I need to travel.

Gosh, I’ve been to lots of places, and the best part of those adventures was the people I met along the way.  Many of their life experiences were way different than mine but I can find folks like that at the Barking Cat Pub, less than half-an-hour’s walk from my front door.

7.  I need to dance.

I love dancing but all those rhythms have taken up permanent residence in my head.  Plus I play a mean set of thigh drums.

8.  I need to golf.

I love the game but I don’t have to walk those fairways.  I see the curling putts and the drives hit with a slight draw.  I am intimate with the undulating greens, the fescue rough and the deep pot bunkers.

9.  I need to have sex.

Sometimes I’m flooded with love, and what skin against skin can match that?  I like physical sensations as much as anyone but my mind cranks out some cool stuff too.  And the eyes are my favourite body part.

10.  I need to be revered.

Wait a minute.  If I have this reservoir of well-being inside me, then no other person’s words or actions can dampen that fullness.  Praise and blame could just be two sides of a lovely coin.

***

Well, well, well
This has been a strange turn of the brain
I wonder if more strangeness is just up ahead
I’d be okay with that

Strength

I like myself a lot.  I think I’m kind and compassionate.  I’m working out on the elliptical in the gym and soon with the bike on the road.  So cardiovascular health is coming my way.  But there’s one aspect of life where I’ve always defined myself as “less”: strength.

In 1980 or so, I lost an arm wrestle to my 11-year-old niece Diana.  And yes, I was really trying.  Growing up, I related to that skinny kid on the beach who had sand kicked in his face.  I go the gym now and see the huge weights that some of the men and women are hoisting.  And the “less” starts to grow.

I’ve dabbled in strength training over the past few years, even hired a personal trainer, but I would always find reasons to fritter away my expressed commitment.  During some sessions I was fierce in my determination to do all the reps but then injury or illness always seemed to derail me and my progress returned to zero.

Today I began again.  Light weights but I did my full Day One program.  And oh, it felt good.  I see the opportunity right in front of my nose – to be strong, not with big, blocky muscles, but still, able to grunt my way up hills on the bike, climb stairs with ease twenty years from now, and have my body support my spirit.

One version of spirituality focuses on the sweetness beyond this physical round, on epiphanies of the soul, feeling the depth of the present moment.  Another emphasizes the glory of the senses – the body moving through space, the pleasures of a soft breeze or a fine meal.  But there’s more: the chance to embrace both.

I can be more than my heart and head.  I can include my biceps and quads.  No need for the V-shape but lots of room for a different type of meditation – the intensity of contracting muscles can be in partnership with stillness.

It’s possible that physical fitness can allow me to reach more people with my caring.  I’d like that.

 

In Spirit Together

My neighbours invited me to a London church, to eat good food and hear a gospel concert.  I said “Sure.”  I like eating and singing along.

I’m not a Christian.  I’m a Buddhist.  But Gospel’s just fine.  I tapped my toes to a group from London who had their beginning forty-eight years ago!  Then it was the turn of a family from North Carolina – mom, dad, two sons and a friend.  They gave ‘er too.

I heard songs like “I’m Going Home With Jesus”, sung with passion.  Throughout, the faces onstage were alight with joy, and love as they looked at each other.  Very cool.  In the audience, some folks raised their arms in blissful devotion.  A few swayed in their seats.  And most of us blasted out the fast songs we knew.  A mom held her tiny daughter on her lap, the two of them moving and grooving.

The small voice residing in my head said “This is not you, Bruce.”  But the big one countered with “Yes it is.”  It didn’t matter that Baptist worship wasn’t my spiritual expression.  It was Spirit.  I don’t worship God.  Nor do I see Jesus as my personal savior.  But I saw the light in those faces, both in front of me and beside, and it was the real deal.

I don’t see Buddhism as a religion, although some say it is.  To me, it’s a philosophy, a way of life.  Mr. Buddha was a smart guy who happened to hang out 2600 years ago.  He had some fine ideas about leading a life.  I feel at home when I’m on a retreat.

I don’t compare one religious expression to another.  I figure that opening to a depth of love and peace is a fine thing for all of us to do.  To look over there and see God in the other’s eyes.  To move beyond “I’m better than you” and “I don’t care about you” and “More, better and different”.  Just let the present moment in and be good to those around me.  Yay for religion.  Yay for Spirit.

One Taste

I enjoy reading the thoughts of Ken Wilber.  He’s a philosopher.  And his goal has been to pull together the wisdom of the world, as represented by spiritual leaders, scientists, business people, psychologists and many others, into a coherent whole.  Ken thinks that every perspective has something to offer and it’s a mistake to say “I have the whole truth.”

I find that spiritual ideas stay in my head a bit and then leave.  I’ve read many books but it’s rare that I can recall what they said.  And I want to remember something “important” when I’m writhing amid the daily grind.

I see potential for me in Ken’s phrase “one taste”.  He points to the ocean and the waves on it.  Each wave can be considered as one of life’s experiences: happy stuff, sad stuff, frustrating, peaceful, challenging, sublime.  Or how about each wave as a person you know – someone kind, someone nasty, distant, cozy, chuckly, morose.  But if I look at all these waves, what is their essence?  It’s true that some waves are big and some small, but what is the core of it all?  Why, it’s brilliant and obvious … they’re all wet.  A tiny ripple is just as wet as a tsunami.

All these experiences and all these people, as different as they are from each other on the surface, down deep are the same.  They’re all sweetly light and graceful.  They all have one taste.  How can this be?  Surely the bliss of bright colours in my condo is better than the pain of constipation.  Well, on one level, of course.  But maybe there’s another level that I can access at any time, even when the temperature is 35° Celsius (95° Fahrenheit), with a heat index of 43 (109).  Sure, my body would be massively uncomfortable, but what about my Spirit?

Here’s what Ken has to say.  His use of capitals may be offputting, as well as his inclusion of the word “hopeless”, but then there’s the message:

The desires of the flesh, the ideas of the mind and the luminosities of the soul – all are perfect expressions of the radiant Spirit that alone inhabits the universe, sublime gestures of that Great Perfection that alone outshines the world.

There is only One Taste in the entire Kosmos, and that taste is Divine, whether it appears in the flesh, in the mind, in the soul.  Resting in that One Taste, transported beyond the mundane, the world arises in the purest Freedom and radiant Release, happy to infinity, lost in all eternity, and hopeless in the original face of the unrelenting mystery.

From One Taste all things issue, to One Taste all things return – and in between, which is the story of this moment, there is only the dream, and sometimes the nightmare, from which we would do well to awaken.