Day Twenty-Five: No Deficit

Sometimes you need to protect yourself from the heat of the sun.

I was sitting in the Jean-Jacques pub yesterday, off in a corner, writing a blog post. My only companion was a very large beer. I had said bonjour to a big table of Senegalese men and women when I walked in but I knew I wanted to be alone. A few of them returned my greeting with some fast French. I smiled and placed a chair under the shade of a mango tree.

For the next hour-and-a-half, I tapped my screen and found photos. In the background was a non-stop conversation en français and Warlof. Really … nobody seemed to come up for air! I didn’t understand any of it. There was a tall and imposing fellow in a long robe and a hat that reminded me of a woven basket. He spoke loudly, authoritatively, with his index finger poised for emphasis. Others replied to him just as sharply. Were people excited? Angry? In love? I couldn’t tell.

Here I am in the beginning stages of learning a foreign language, with ancient years of high school French, and I didn’t recognize anything these folks were saying. It was so tempting to fall into badness. I’ve done so many a time on this trip – not being able to find the noun, adjective or verb that fits; having no idea how to conjugate a verb so that people know whether I’m talking about the future or the past; leaning unsuccessfully into the kind efforts of a native speaker to go slowly. But not this time.

As I sat there with my double-sized Flag, I saw some truths:

1. I’m surrounded by Senegalese human beings who speak French, Warlof and Serai but only a soupçon of English, if any.

2. I’m doing my best to speak and understand sentences that fly towards me, usually at supersonic speed.

3. With the exception of Lydia (now) and Jo (earlier), there is no one here with whom I can carry on a nuanced conversation.

4. I love talking to people about important things, especially what their lives are like, what they’re experiencing, what visions they hold. With the Senegalese, and with almost all the tourists I’ve met, that’s not available here. I miss the depth of talking.

5. At home, my life feels balanced among being alone, being with one other person, and being in a small group. Here what dominates is groups (large and small) – family, friends. Of course those are marvelous opportunities for togetherness but my balance is way off.

6. I need to spend some time in the shade, away from the intensity of group conversation in French.

7. Rather than feeling “less than”, the opportunity for me is to allow in words such as “courage”, “pioneer” and “sufficiency”. Yes, I can do that.

8. I can also laugh at my mistakes. “J’ai chaud” literally means “I have heat”. More conversationally, it’s “I’m hot”. However, “Je suis chaud” tells my companion that “I’m sexy”. Perhaps I should stick with “J’ai chaud”!

***

Now there is a lightness
Now there is a smile
Now there is peace

Day Fourteen: The Body

Is it a microphone … or is it a trowel? How I perceive it is up to me. The same goes for my body. I’ve spent most of my lifetime seeing it as a problem … fat, weak, U-shaped rather than V-shaped. What if there’s no “reality” to any of that? There’s merely a body here – white, thin in most places, of seventy years. How about no judgments, just a witnessing of the physical life’s ebbs and flows?

And now a new moment: Gnima wants to hold my cell phone (I’ve learned how to spell her name since last time). So I give it to her, knowing that her 4-year-old hands could easily drop it. It’s simply a new way of seeing things. I wonder if I can apply this to all of my life. What freedom is available here?

Now Gnima is cuddled up against my chest as I tap these words. She’s enthusistically examining her hands while commenting en français. Another now has her up and away, tossing the shark-face beach ball to herself. Everything feels loose, untethered.

I watched a soccer game two days ago – the young men of Toubacouta in red, the fellows of another village in green. I watched their grace, their speed and joyed in the flow of movement, the deft flicks of the ball to teammates, the explosive shots on goal. There’s no need to refer all this back to Bruce. I can merely celebrate youth, power and the lungs going full out. A better choice.

Over the last few days, the body has spoken:

1. It wants to rest, walking some and reposing a lot

2. It struggles with the heat of midday in Africa

3. It coughs a lot in the dust and fumes of Senegal, and enjoys puffer times each day

4. It balances precariously between constipation and diarrhea, seeming to lean towards one or the other at every moment

5. It feels midnight pains and knows that there is a way through this. There is intelligence here.

6. It sees the absurdity of tanning, of accomplishing an appearance that will fade over the span of Canada’s winter.

7. It doesn’t want a lot of food, being in the middle of a sufficiency that doesn’t require adding to the essence.

Let us be at ease then, dear Bruce – in mind, spirit and body. Let us abide here within the African moments. Let us continue the study of French so that I may come closer to my friends. It is enough.

Enough

My family of professionals were always struggling to learn more and to be more. It seemed there was always more. It was never enough. If I brought home a 98 on a test, my father would ask “And what happened to the other two points?” I pursued those two points relentlessly throughout my childhood. But my grandfather did not care about such things. For him, I was already enough. And somehow when I was with him, I knew with absolute certainty that this was so.”

Rachel Remen

Rachel is pointing to the common stance that who I am, and who you are, is deficient. Sadly, many of us buy the idea. And so we launch a quest to find that elusive “enough”. But I don’t think we’ll ever get there within that mindset. Goal #1 achieved leads immediately to Goal #2 pursued, or Goal #1 enhanced.

I like what grandpa brings to the world. “Sure, strive to improve, but who you are is just fine.” We all need to hear this. Completely separate from our abilities and disabilities, we are golden, shining like the sun.

May you have someone in your life who looks deeply into your eyes and sees beauty there. Someone who nods and smiles when another mentions your name.

My dad was my biggest cheerleader. When I got zero in a university course because I didn’t hand in the one assignment, he sat with me and helped me plan for the future. When I told him that I wanted to hitchhike from Toronto to Alberta (a distance of 3500 kilometres), he said “Go explore” and drove me to the on-ramp of Highway 400. Did I make mistakes? Many. Did he know about them? Yes. Did he keep loving me unconditionally? You bet.

Now I’m a grandpa figure in a class of 11-year-olds. I get to look into their eyes and have them see that all is well. They deserve to know that they are truly worthy of respect, appreciation and love. If I can do this, maybe they’ll pass it on twenty years from now.

And the world will be a better place.

Just This

I’m sitting on my back patio, facing the farmer’s field.  I get to be in the shade in the early afternoon and my lawn sprinkler is waving its way across the lawn.  All is well.

Tiny corns are starting their summer’s journey and the traffic on Belmont Road to my left is carrying souls to their destinations.  Way in the distance, past the trees at the end of the field, Harrietsville Drive stretches left and right.  My friend Barry’s barn pokes above the leaves.  A weathered barn and a probably unused silo say hi off to the right.  When I first moved in, verging on two years ago, I was disappointed that there were roads and traffic and buildings out back.  Not any more.  Now there are friends out there, some stationary and some moving, reminding me that we are part of a very large family.

And there are birds.  When I got home from my long meditation retreat last December, I was also disappointed that the builder had planted deciduous trees every twenty metres or so along the back edge of our separate condo homes.  “They’ll wreck my view.”  How silly my brain can be.  Those trees are now twelve feet high and love fluttering in the breeze.  My view is still supreme.  And there are birds sitting on the branches.

My two bird feeders are about two metres away from my loveseat, slightly to the left.  As I tap away, a couple of brave souls hang off the sides, rooting out the seeds.  Oops … now they’re gone.  But how marvelous that they came to visit this up close human being.  Sometimes the moments of bliss are so fleeting but I thank God that they happen.

I think I’ll pause the writing and see if any feathered ones return to their food.

Five minutes later.  One male goldfinch (brilliant yellow!) sits on the tree beyond, sizing me up.  Now he flutters to the feeder pole.  Now he descends to the sunflower seed sanctuary.  I worry that my tiny typing will scare him away – but no – he’s still there, craning his neck to get a better view of me.  At least five other birdies are zooming around but so far he’s the only brave one.  Pretty special to make a new friend from a distance of two metres.  May I always be a benign human.

Three metres straight ahead, at the edge of my patio, sits an 18-inch statue of the Buddha.  He’s in full lotus position, something I can’t do (but who cares?) and his hands touch.  His eyes descend.  Mr. Buddha is simply here, and now, and he’s silently cheering me on.  Smart guy, Mr. Buddha, up there with Jesus in figuring out what leads to happiness.  Right now he doesn’t have much to say.  Just sitting will do fine.

A few minutes ago, I noticed two flutterbys in the grass – one large and grey, one itsy bitsy and white.  But now they’re gone too.  That’s all right.  I trust they’ll be back, just like I trust moments of transcendence will return in their own sweet time.

Did I mention that all is well?

 

Ouch

I went to see the fireworks last night at the soccer fields in Belmont.  I saw lots of people I know and love.  As I was moving over the uneven grass with my chair, on the way to the best spot, a sharp pain in my right knee said hello.  After sitting a bit, I went for a hobbling walk with two wonderful kids.  It was fun to talk to them.  But then it was time to sit down and await the light show.

The sky was full with bursts of colour.  I especially liked several explosions that looked like the multiple blossoms of a rhododendron.  So cool.

Alas, all good things come to an end.  As I got up to leave, the knee shrieked.  In the dark it was hard to see the subtleties of grass contour and I paid for my missteps.  For awhile I held on to the top of a low fence as I muddled along.  Not good.

The strangest thing was that I smiled through it all.  Despite the pain, I felt peaceful.  Somehow I knew that all would be well.  I crawled into bed and strategically arranged my legs for comfort, trusting that life would continue working.

Early this morning, there was trouble in River City.  Rolling over sent shoots of yuckiness through the bod.  “All right, that’s enough.  Go to Urgent Care in London.”  I’m getting better at obeying those commands.

Walking in the bedroom was in slow motion.  I tried to keep my right leg straight and pretty much dragged it along.  Still I was fine in the head.  Remarkable.  I then took the most careful shower of my life.  Images flooded back of the ruptured tendon I had in 2003.  That produced a tendon transfer surgery and 17 weeks on crutches.  Then those pictures floated away.  I remained calm.

Once I was shoehorned into Scarlet, driving was fine.  I parked in the garage at St. Joseph’s Health Care and began a tedious shuffle towards the door of Urgent Care.  How humbling to be so slow, to make sure there were no cars for 100 metres before crossing the street.  I felt very old … so why was I happy?  I don’t understand me.

As I reached the receptionist, words unfolded in my head: “Be good to them, Bruce.”  Well, of course.  That’s why I’m on the planet.  And I followed through with that intent.  I made the triage nurse laugh and she made me comfy in a wheelchair.  I also shared chuckles with the X-ray technician.  Plus the doctor (“Call me Danielle”) and I reflected on the mysteries of the body while she expounded on the meniscus, a collateral lateral ligament strain, Tylenol, Advil and ice.  She told me that I wouldn’t damage the knee any more by walking on it, so I said no to crutches.  “It was a pleasure to meet you,” she smiled, as we said goodbye.  And the same from me.  Thanks for helping me, doc.

I’m happy.  I’m icing.  I’m medicating.  And I’m going to the visitation tonight for a dear friend and neighbour.  Bill deserves my presence, even a limpy version.

There’s Something Bigger

I was driving from Cambridge, Ontario to London this afternoon when a moment came upon me, and it’s stayed through the hours since.  It was a sense of … completion … sufficiency … total allrightness.  It was, and is, quiet.  Almost not there, except it is.  What’s it look like, you ask?  Well here goes:

I don’t need now to be anything other than what it is

There’s nowhere to go

There’s nothing to accomplish

All is still

I simply am

That’ll do for starters.  I know that goals are good but they’re far off in the back of my being right now.  I’ll strive towards things in the future but at the moment I sense that I won’t be tied to the results.  I know that I need to be concerned about injustice and to act appropriately when it comes my way, but that’s smaller than whatever this is.

Time for some specifics:

1.  I haven’t written a blog post for 24 days. This morning that was a problem but not right now … There’s something bigger than the need to write to you.

2.  What if I never write again? … There’s something bigger than ever writing again.

3.  I have a cold and am all stuffed up … There’s something bigger than this discomfort.

4.  My left foot hurts when I walk.  I wonder if it’s plantar fasciitis.  I’ve had it before … There’s something bigger than plantar fasciitis.

5.  I want to lose weight in preparation for the 2018 Tour du Canada cycling trip.  So far not much has happened … There’s something bigger than losing weight.

6.  I want to improve my cardio and strength in preparation for the Tour.  To this point, there’s just a bit of improvement … There’s something bigger than getting fitter.

7.  I want to ride the Tour du Canada … There’s something bigger than crossing my country by bicycle.

8.  I want to be in a loving relationship.  I don’t see any potential life partner on the horizon yet … There’s something bigger than being in a romantic relationship.

9.  I want to live in my new condo for many years … There’s something bigger than having a lovely home.

10.  I love the kids in the Grade 6 class where I volunteer.  I hope than some of them love me … There’s something bigger than being loved.

11.  I love being around people and making them happy, making them laugh … There’s something bigger than spending time with human beings.

***

On one level, I don’t want colds and I do want to say good things to the folks I meet.  Right now, though, I’m immersed in a sense of sufficiency that is just sitting here with me.  Will it be on the bed when I wake up tomorrow?  I don’t know.  But there’s something beyond having this sweetness continue uninterrupted.  The fact that it’s here right now suggests that it will come back after it leaves.  And that’s good enough for me.

 

Gone … No … Here

Writers are supposed to speak to their audience, use words that they’ll relate to, be comfy to them so that meaning flows easily from me to you.  Well, perhaps not this time.

I’ve just come out of one-and-a-half hours of meditation, and the world is big.  There are spaces between my cells.  It’s not quite like a pause button, and it’s not really slow-mo, but those words are in the territory.  And “coming out of” is not true either.  That suggests some trance state of blissful nothingness.  What I’ve just experienced is sweet nowness, fully aware of the traffic on Belmont Road and the wind ripping at my condo.

It took maybe twenty seconds for me to go deep.  How can that be?  During my recent retreat, I often couldn’t reach peace during an entire sitting.  The mind was just too chatty.  “Couldn’t reach” suggests effort and I know now that there’s no loving cheese down that tunnel.  By grace do I flow.

Today, I mostly felt complete stillness, and such an alertness.  Many times before, my stillness was punctuated by ripples of energy running under the skin of my face, including some sort of movement under my eyeballs.  Don’t know what that looks like since I’m inside the show.

Wo.  (I really don’t know how to spell that.)  Half an hour later, in the midst of tap-tapping on the keys, all is quiet.  Somewhere way back in my head is a tiny voice.  “You’re not making any sense.  They won’t understand.  They’ll think you’re weird.”  But that voice is so small, just about not there.  What is here is love, and peace, and okayness.  Hmm.  It’s very nice.

Bathing in this land of sufficiency is warm and comforting … but now what?  Do I head to the nearest cave and pray for world peace?  Do I stay downtown and see if this space can show up in daily conversation?  Do I chuck it all out the window and just obsess about the Toronto Maple Leafs?  Think I’ll pick Door Number Two.

Ain’t life grand?

Letting Jake Go

Last September I auditioned for the part of Jake in the Neil Simon play Jake’s Women.  The director chose someone else.  I was sad, and that sense of woe has been a frequent visitor in the months since.  I so much wanted to be Jake.

The play is about a writer who lives in his head, working on characters and plot while largely ignoring his wife Maggie.  Jake has conversations (some imaginary and some real) with the women in his life – his current wife, former wife, daughter, sister, therapist and new girlfriend.

Jake’s Women opened a few days ago in St. Thomas, Ontario.  I went last night.  I’ve known for months that I would see the production, rather than staying away from something that represented pain.  The truth is that I love the play.  It has both funny and tender moments.

I got there early and scored a front row seat.  The set was spectacular, especially Jake’s home office at the top of the stairs.  I sat quietly for half an hour, and all sorts of thoughts came my way.  I wanted the theatre to be full (about 150 people).  I wanted the theatre to be virtually empty (How small of you, Bruce).  I wanted the actors to be great, totally inhabiting their roles.  I wanted the actors to stumble over their lines.  I wanted Jake to be superb in his happiness, sadness, anger, giddiness and love – the best Jake ever.  I wanted him to be ordinary so I could think I would have done better.

As the story unfolded, I realized that it was a first class rendition of Simon’s play.  And Jake was brilliant.  Perhaps far better than I would have been.  I enjoyed the evening immensely.

At the end, as the actors were fanned out across the stage for their bows, I stood, clapped and smiled.  They deserved the standing O.  Although I had planned to see Jake’s Women once this week and once the next, I won’t be coming back.  I am complete with Jake.  What’s in him is in me.  On we go.

Nothing To Say

 

I can’t think of a thing.  What would happen if I just sat here and waited?  Guess I’ll find out.

***

I’m just watching my thoughts … the words that bubble to the surface.  I’ll write them down.

***

“Where in the world am I going?”  February 26-29 – Toronto.  April 1-15 – Cuba.  June 7-10 – Vancouver.  June 11-19 – Haida Gwaii.

***

“Why am I going there?”  To meet people, maybe to meet that very special love.  To watch people, in their infinite variety.  To talk to people, to learn about their lives and what makes them “fly”.  To love people, and then let them go.

***

“What kind of person am I?”  Curious, caring, open, determined, sad, happy.

***

“What’s important?”  People, including me.

***

“Will I live a long time?”  I don’t know.  I hope so.  So many moments to sit in.  But maybe I’ll die tomorrow.  It’s been a great life and I know I could happily let go of it (but even more happily enjoy the continuing ride).

***

“Do I want to be with a woman … to give love and receive love?”  Yes.

***

“Is that relationship near or far away?”  I don’t know, but it’s coming.  In its own sweet time.

***

“How come I was never a sports hero?  Or a singing hero?  Or an acting hero?”  I don’t know.  Perhaps none of that is important.  I still want to act but celebrity is not the way I want to contribute.

***

“Okay.  How exactly do I want to contribute?”  It doesn’t feel like a doing.  It feels like a momentary thing … over and over again.  Just show up in people’s lives and stand there … with love.

***

“Do I want to keep talking?”  Actually no.  I can’t think of anything to say.

Asking For More

This afternoon I picked up three tickets for the London Lightning basketball game next Thursday at Budweiser Gardens.  The woman at the box office found me some good seats.

The three of us had the opportunity to get better seats than I’ve ever had in my life – probably first row courtside.  Some player leaping for a loose ball would likely have ended up in my lap!  To secure these gems, all it would have taken was a request to a powerful person that one of us knows.  We decided not to do that.

Would I have accepted front row if the gentleman in question had given it to us with no prompting on our part?  Yes.  But the idea of asking for what hasn’t been freely offered makes my stomach turn.

For me, happiness doesn’t come from the accumulation of pleasant experiences, even though I love pleasant experiences.  Happiness shows up when I know I’ve shown integrity, and when I’m present as I enjoy the people who show up in my life.  I’ve discovered that happiness can even be there during times of sadness, as contradictory as that sounds.  When I touch something immense, no matter what the surface emotion, something sweet bubbles up.  It’s a vastness.  Holy.  And infinitely more rewarding than pushing to get courtside seats.

Next Thursday, we’ll be many rows from the action, and yet we’ll feel the ebb and flow of the game.  We’ll come out of our seats at a slam dunk and groan over a missed layup.  We’ll have a great time with each other.  And that’s certainly enough to put a smile on my face.