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.

Pope Francis

My impression is that Pope John Paul II was a good guy.  I feel the same about Pope Francis.  Looking at that smile of his, I’m sure that he and I would have a good time over coffee at a sidewalk café in Rome.

I read today that he’s writing a book called Dear Pope Francis, his responses to questions posed by thirty kids from around the globe.  The article talked about how determined the Pope was to give deep answers to the soulful questions the children asked.  “Often, he looked off into space and tried to imagine the child in front of him.  And in his gaze I saw care, love.”

Those young folks deserve no less.  They need adults to neither look down nor look up at them … just eye to eye, on the level, one human being to another.  It’s not important that one of them is 79 and the other somewhere between 6 and 13.  There’s the wisdom of accumulated years, and then the spontaneous insights of youth.

One boy asked, “Will the world be again as it was in the past?”

Pope Francis responded, “There are those who manufacture weapons so that people fight each other and wage war.  There are people who have hate in their hearts.  There are people who are interested only in money and would sell everything for it.  They would even sell other people … No, when the time comes, the world will not be as it was.  It will be far better than it was in the past.”

Children need to hear hope, to hear love, not just from famous human beings such as the Pope, but from all us adults.  They also need to see this on our faces and in our deeds.  Are we strong enough to let go of antagonism, entrenched opinions, and a general malaise?  Yes we are.

 

 

Horror No More?

Stephen King is my favourite author.  Yes, he’s a horror guy, but he’s also a master of character development, making them so real that I fall in love, even with the bad guys.  They too have a pilot light of goodness.  Books of terror, such as The Shining and Pet Semetary, have always been enthralling for me as well as scary.

Yesterday I started King’s novel The Regulators.  In the first hundred pages, the occupants of vibrantly coloured vans are terrorizing the residents of a suburban street.  They’ve already killed a man, a woman, a boy and a dog.  Despite all this, I loved reading about the dynamics of the neighbourhood … who’s doing what.  Who’s saying what about whom.

I slept poorly last night.  I’m still pretty dopey.  Stephen, did you have anything to do with this?

I see myself as a spiritual person.  Am I moving towards letting go of the 6:00 pm news, gossip in the coffee shop, and perhaps Mr. King’s depictions of murder?  As for the author, I read fiction and go to international movies to see life vividly displayed in front of me.  I want real people feeling real things.  I want stunning moments between two people.  I want love, sadness, anger … the full meal deal.

No, I’ve just decided.  I won’t stop reading Stephen King.  There are too many “ah hah” moments within those pages, where I recognize humankind, and pause to consider my world view.  To consider what’s important in my life.  To learn.

Bring it on, Stephen.  Teach me.

 

The Messiah … Part One

I went to see Handel’s Messiah at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, Ontario last night.  Fifty members of the Pro Musica Choir were joined by about twenty string musicians from the former Orchestra London.  Four soloists (soprano, alto, tenor and baritone) shared their passion with us.  The ceiling was lofty, the stained glass was exquisite, and we filled the church.

Maybe fifteen years ago, I sang The Messiah with the members of the Knox Presbyterian Church choir in St. Thomas, Ontario.  It was a precious event for me … just like yesterday.

I didn’t time things too well and walked into the church only ten minutes before showtime.  The place was packed.  I walked to the front, saw an empty seat in the second row on the aisle and asked the woman sitting beside it if the space was occupied.  No, it wasn’t.  I sat down, marvelling at how blessed I am in this life.

The context of The Messiah is Christian and the “He” being referred to in song is of course Jesus.  As I listened to the short interlocking pieces, though, I saw another way of holding the words.  Here are some reflections, some fostered by the Buddha, and some just entering my head unbidden:

And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed
And all flesh shall see it together

What is to be revealed? Perhaps the animation of daily life, where each moment can be breathed into (“animus” in Latin), and a dimension of spirit accessed within the flow of the daily round.  Even within our difficult times, we can hold the world with new eyes.  And to be among a group of people who consciously walk this path, such as during the meditation retreat I just experienced, is lovely.

But who may abide the day of his coming?
And who shall stand when he appeareth?

To abide.  To stand.  No forward movement.  No becoming something new.  Rather being in place and allowing the essence of being to escape through the pores.

Nowhere to go
Nothing to do
Nothing to know
No one to be

In the conventional world, such phrases may appear to be nonsense.  But I think not …

And he shall purify the sons of Levi
That they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness

It seems that there’s a natural force of purification that seeps into folks who embrace a spiritual practice.  Often the need to accumulate diminishes, as well as the need to protect ourselves.  Fear lessens.  The heart opens.  And what was so important last year just isn’t so anymore.  Such as being right, being strong, being assertive.  What’s left is appropriate behaviour that often touches others.

Lift up thy voice with strength.  Lift it up.  Be not afraid
Arise.  Shine.  For thy light is come

As fear of what others think drops away, we speak wisely, with head held high.  We speak without demand, without needing to convince, without dominating.  We speak what is welling up inside us.  And people notice.

The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light

There is the story of Plato’s cave.  Chained human beings face the back wall, observing shadows that they believe are real.  Such as “I need more, better and different.”  When unchained, they turn around, walk to the mouth of the cave, and behold the sun.  Perhaps terrifying.  Too bright.  But home nonetheless.

Unto us a son is given
And the government shall be upon his shoulder

Something is born in us.  Some mysterious energy.  And we feel the responsibility to do good in this world, to love unconditionally, to be kind.

Glory to God in the highest
And peace on earth.  Goodwill toward men

We are peace.  And the inside becomes the outside.  Simply “being with” people is a joy.

His yoke is easy and his burthen is light

Suffering still happens but something is different.  Fear, anger and sadness are held tenderly, embraced as part of life.  They still hurt but somehow there’s a sweetness within the pain.

Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world

I look at the ways I’ve hurt people and I feel remorse.  Still, self-compassion washes over me and I see the fragile, imperfect human being that I am.  Some energy is holding me up.

***

Hmm.  I’m tired, and I’m only halfway through The Messiah.  But I’m having fun.  I think I’ll tackle the second half tomorrow.  Goodnight.

My Meditation Retreat … Part 1

A little voice in my head told me yesterday that on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday I should write about my upcoming meditation retreat.  I leave for Massachusetts on Thursday afternoon and I won’t be doing any writing for about three months.  I asked that voice, “What the heck am I going to talk about for three blog posts?”  After all, I’m falling towards silence.  The answer?  “You’ll figure it out.”

When I tell people that I’m going to be silent for 84 days, invariably I get two responses:

1. “You?  No way.  You won’t last ten minutes.”  Well, past retreats have shown me that I can last at least eleven minutes.  But I know where they’re coming from.  I talk to virtually everyone.  I’ll find the flimsiest excuse to begin a conversation.  Like standing in a grocery line and sharing with the person in front or behind that my tall cylindrical objects (such as shave cream) won’t stay standing up on the moving belt.  That’s all it takes.  The pump needs to be primed.  If course, if the person just replies with a withering stare, I shut it down right away.  I’ve learned to detect the folks who want to play.

So how can I let that fun go for three months?  As much as I love the banter, I know the silence will be easy.

2.  “I couldn’t do that.”  I suppose they’re right, concerning a jump into a very long retreat.  But I’ve been on 7, 8 and 9 day ones, and I bet most people who say this to me are wrong.  It’s just that extended periods of silence haven’t been part of their experience.  It wasn’t easy for me at first, and I’ve seen many folks in the meditation hall who are clearly going through their “stuff”.  We all have stuff – thoughts, feelings, body sensations.  I don’t see meditation as fixing the negative parts of those things.  It’s more an expression of who I am, an uncovering of what’s already there.  I say that most of us would experience some of that uncovering during a retreat and would slowly allow the silence to caress them.

I used to think that I wanted to be a better meditator.  Sit in the full lotus position, for instance.  Well, my knees hurt too much for that.  I use a chair.  Have all my thoughts disappear.  Good luck on that one too.  Thoughts continue to enter my head but sooner or later they leave (to be replaced by more complex thoughts!)

Over the next twelve weeks of my life, I will not:

1. Talk (except to a teacher, who will meet with me every two or three days to see how it’s going)

2.  Make eye contact (other than with the teacher)

3.  Read

4.  Write

5.  Listen to music

6.  Be on the Internet, e-mail and generally mess around with my laptop

7.  Lie or use demeaning language (I don’t do that anyway, and besides we’re silent)

8.  Have sex

9.  Take something that isn’t freely offered (such as pushing to sit in the front row, or getting a large piece of the vegetarian entrée)

10.  Hurt any living being, even an insect

11.  Consume alcohol or non-prescription drugs

12.  Pee

Okay, just kidding about that last one!

See you tomorrow.  I might be silent, however.

Straight Down The Middle

I love golf.  And today I was loving golf in Cambridge, where the top women professionals are playing this week.  I’m at the Travelodge tonight and will be heading back to the course tomorrow morning.

I especially love women’s golf.  Why, you may ask?  It’s not just because they’re pretty (but that is a factor).  The best, however, is that many of them smile and have fun with the gallery. I want famous people to be friendly, to be nice human beings, folks that I’d enjoy having a coffee with.

Today I followed a 17-year-old Canadian girl – Brooke Henderson.  You should have seen her after the round, signing autographs for kids and other human beings.  She smiled and made eye contact.  Lovely.

I think that a good golf swing is a thing of beauty, especially the full follow through after the club contacts the ball.  Many times today, with Brooke and other women, I was close by as they teed off.  I was so taken with the pose at the end of the swing that I usually didn’t even watch where the ball was going.  Power and grace.  And one example of full self-expression.

In other moments, the flight of the ball held me.  When I hit a ball, it’s always coming down by the time I lift my head on the follow though.  Not these women.  The ball climbs and climbs … touching Spirit on high.

Of course there’s the world of golf scores and who’s in first place and who gets to hoist the championship trophy.  That’s good, but it’s the moments that enthrall me, not the cumulative result.  Some of golf’s moments are ecstatic and some are devastating, but they’re all symbols for the roller coaster that each of us lives.

Another reality today was that I got really tired.  My feet and legs had enough of sidehill walking through fescue grass.  And despite my water bottle, I got dehydrated in the sun.  I told myself this morning that I’d walk 36 holes, but in fact I did 16.  I retreated to a tent housing some energy company, and the attendant there kindly allowed me to sit down for awhile in the shade.  We had a lovely talk and she was happy to take a copy of Jody’s book.

Tomorrow I’m into grass once more.  Sure I’d like to see Brooke play well and make the 36-hole cut but it’s far more important to see the balls fly and the mouths turn upwards.  The soul soars.

Hand Dryers

Sometimes objects out there in the world have a lot to say to me.  When I go into a washroom, I make sure that I use soap.  I also want to have my hands dry when I walk out the door.

Years ago, my office was at Catholic Central High School in London.  I’d do my phone calls and paperwork there, and then zoom off to all sorts of schools to see low vision kids.  The stress of the job often overwhelmed me.  I was just going so fast.  A washroom was right next door, and I’d sometimes fly out of there with hands dripping.  It took me maybe two years to figure out that my bathroom behaviour was a symbol of what was “off” in my life.

One day, I decided to wait until my hands were completely dry.  That was a trick, since the CCH hand dryers were definitely underpowered.  But I was determined.  I rubbed and waited and then rubbed some more, turned the dryer back on a few times, and felt the tension growing in my chest.  What an education.  Having a natural completion of the task seemed wise, but it was so hard to not lean forward into the next moment.

Then what about companions?  I’m in a restaurant washroom rubbing away but another fellow is washing his hands at the sink.  He’ll need the dryer in seconds!  And my hands are still wet.  What discipline it takes to finish the job while feeling him standing behind me.  But that’s what I do.  It’s good to feel the pressure, and to hold it gently, realizing that I will still be alive when my friend and I exit.

But some dryers are painfully loud.  Such an assault on my whole being.  I’ve decided that if there are no paper towels, I’ll drip dry.  This seems to defeat my commitment to dry off completely, but really it doesn’t.   What I’m committed to is my well-being, whether that means not subjecting myself to noxious noise or seeing a task to its natural end.  If my heart and soul remain balanced and happy, then they’re available to the next person I meet.

So … thanks, all you manufacturers of hand dryers.  Little do you realize that you’re contributing to my spiritual development.

Pathless

Buddhism asserts that the spiritual journey is unique to each individual.  Therefore, of course, it cannot be held, circumscribed, limited, or even ultimately judged by any institution, tradition or external authority.  The unique journey that lies before us does not exist in any text, external person, or religion.  In fact, it does not exist at all, but only lies ahead of us, to be discovered literally as we go.  Thus it is that the spiritual journey cannot in any way be preconceived or predetermined; it is not humanly constructed or fabricated.  The journey to ourselves is truly a journey into the unknown, a setting forth onto a sea that has never before been sailed and never before been fathomed or mapped.

Reginald Ray

So what is spiritual life?  You don’t get to say for me, and I guess I don’t even get to say for me.  It’s unfolding as we speak.  But this doesn’t mean a rejection of the wise teachers who came before, such as Jesus and the Buddha.  No, I can absorb what they say about living a good life, and see to what extent I make it my own.

Take “The Sermon on the Mount” and “The Metta Sutta”, for instance.  Who am I to argue with the Beatitudes, which honour the “merciful”, the “pure in heart”, and “those who hunger and thirst for righteousness”?  Or with the Buddha’s assertion that “Even as a mother protects with her life her child, her only child, so with a boundless heart should one cherish all living beings, radiating kindness over the entire world.”

My conception of Spirit has been nurtured by decades of spiritual practice.  More and more, I breathe life into what I’ve drawn from my fellow travellers, from books, from meditation retreats.  I’m happy about that.

But Reggie Ray is pointing to a mysterious sea.  I don’t know where my voyage is taking me, and you don’t know where yours is taking you.  We’ve thanked the guideposts along the way, but now … there aren’t any.  We point the bow of our ship to the horizon, and wait.  Will we fall off the end of the world?  No.  Will we fly?  Yes, I think so.

I await my future.  I will write a new song and sing it out loud.  And may your melody be sweet.

Words from Jody’s Mouth

Dear kindhearted ones,

In four hours, I’m driving to London, then getting on a bus to Toronto, and then a plane to Cuba.  I’m so excited!  And Jody’s going with me.

I remember my dear wife in many ways.  One of my favorites is reading what she has written.  The human being, in all her glory and pain, shines from the page.  Here are some snippets that I hope you’ll enjoy:

***

On June 25, 2014, we celebrated our 26th anniversary:

Dear Bruce:

I love you completely, without reservation, and my heart sings with happiness when you are with me.

***

And to a dear friend in April, 2014:

I hope you enjoy this pouch that was made to help you carry both jewelry, money and important papers when you are travelling … I hope you find it extremely useful.

We love you dearly,

Jody and Bruce

 ***

In the midst of great sickness:

I don’t want to be alone.

(To Bruce)   Fuzz top

Oh, Bruce. I’m so glad you’re here.

 ***

Bruce: May I go outside and get the paper first?

Jody:  No.  You have to sit here and smile … Of course you can get the paper.

 ***

A letter to herself at the end of a meditation course:

I need to pay attention to ME!  Everything else will naturally get better … I am naturally a happy person … I don’t have to get sucked into the situation or stay that way for long.  I do have the ability to create distance from the issues.

***

Bruce: Hello, loved wife.

Jody: Hello, loved husband.  I love you so dearly.

 ***

Bruce: I wish we’d had kids.

Jody: I’m sorry that we didn’t.

Bruce: You would have been a good mother.

Jody: You would have been a fantastic father.

 ***

And as Jody got weaker:

Jody: I need to have somebody help blow my nose.

Bruce: Pick me.

 ***

A letter to her grandmother on October 31, 2014 shows the soul beyond the limitations of time:

It’s been a long time.  I realize that it’s been a long time since we’ve said hello so saying goodbye seems like a funny thing to do.

***

 A couple of weeks before Jody died:

I’m more than happy to comply with your wishes, kind sir.

***

 Two days after Jody died:

I am with you, husband, in a way you can’t comprehend from your side.

 ***

Lovely phrases all.  I’m so glad that I get to hold onto many of Jody’s words.  And I’m sure we’ll talk lots in Cuba.

On Saturday, December 6, 2014, there’ll be an announcement about Jody’s Celebration of Life in the London Free Press and in the St. Thomas Times-Journal.  It will be held at 11:00 am on Saturday, January 31, 2015 at Bellamere Winery in London.  I thought long and hard about whether to include in the ad something funny Jody said to me.  Well, heck, it’s a celebration isn’t it?  So the funny stuff now sits there, waiting for your laughter on Saturday morning.  I’ll be on the beach at the time, reading The Book Thief.  I dearly hope that I’ll see you in January.  Jody deserves a big crowd.

I love you all,

Bruce

Hearts Opening All Around Me

Jody was having trouble breathing last night.  I called 911 and the paramedics arrived quickly.  Once she had the oxygen mask on for a few minutes, Jody felt better.  She decided not to go to Emergency.

What a moment in time for me, to stay silent in response to Jody’s decision, while yearning to have her fully checked out in the hospital.  In the words of Shantideva, an ancient Buddhist sage, “It’s then that like a log you should remain.”  Jody gets to choose.

This morning, she once again was struggling for air.  And Jody chose ambulance.  I wondered as we headed down the road for the St. Thomas-Elgin Hospital if she would ever come home again.

It turned out that Jody has a lung infection with some fluid buildup.  Not the re-emergence of blood clots nor the spectre of imminent death.  Now she’s sleeping soundly beside me at home, with an antibiotic coursing through her, and nasal prongs delivering oxygen.  (Sigh)  Perhaps Jody’s time on Earth is short but this is not the day of leaving.

I am so blessed to have people stroll into my life, happy to be in my world. Today’s angels included:

1.  Two young paramedics, a man and a woman, both with big smiles, kind words, and funny words.  “The unbearable lightness of being”, as one movie was aptly titled.

2.  The resident doctor who smiled so fully at Jody and me.  She sparkled. And her words were wise, coming from a place far beyond her years.

3.  The emergency doc who first saw Jody a year ago, and both compassionately and assertively suggested that she may have cancer.  He was “with her” both then and today, showing me how the contact of the moment outstrips the content.

4.  The pharmacy technician who saw that I needed the antibiotic in a hurry, who saw in my fear the deep love I have for my wife, and who pulled strings to get me what I needed quickly.  Our eyes truly met when I said thank you.

5.  The respiratory therapist who saw Jody briefly in hospital and then came to our place tonight to comfort her with air and love, and who patiently showed me how to operate the equipment, returning to a task when she saw I was confused.  She realized that I was “gone”, and allowed her caring to flow.

***

Out of the woodwork they come
Out of their phone booths
Out of their skin