Withholding the Biggie

If you were going to die soon and had only one phone call you could make, who would you call and what would you say?  And why are you waiting?

Stephen Levine

What does it mean to withhold something?  Tax people would say that it’s about “an employer deducting tax from an employee’s paycheque and sending it directly to the government”.  Sounds pretty straightforward and neutral.  Another meaning speaks of a “refusal to give something that is due”, such as not telling a police officer your name.  There’s definitely a problem with this one, but hopefully not earth-shattering.  A third definition talks about “suppressing an emotion or reaction”.  How about uttering “I’m fine” to a questioning friend when you’re feeling anything but?

I guess we can all live with these last two transgressions, although the dissonance between what’s true and what you say could wear on the soul over time.

There’s an elephant in the room, however, as in something huge and heavy.  Look at Stephen’s questions.  Whether it’s now or as your final breath approaches, what haven’t you said to the ones most dear?  It could be “I’m sorry that I didn’t stand up for you when that bully was having his way.”  Or … “I feel horrible that I laughed at you when you couldn’t keep to your diet.”  Or … “I gossiped about you when your marriage was falling apart.”  Or … “Last year, I stole money from your bedroom dresser when you were downstairs hosting a party.”

All of this is serious stuff.  If you’re about to die, it would help if you fessed up.  Actually, it would be a good thing even if you were going to remain healthy for many years.  However, there is something so important to say, that the saying of it has us soar with the eagles, and the not saying of it has us plummet like a stone.  Werner Erhard knew what must be said before we die:

When you’ve said all of the bad things and all of the good things you haven’t been saying, you will find that what you’ve really been withholding is “I love you.”


Being Red

I’m pretty red right now but I could be redder
I’m pretty smart right now but I could be smarter
I’m pretty handsome right now but I could be handsomer
I’m pretty witty right now but I could be wittier
I’m pretty young right now but I could be younger
I’m pretty flexible right now but I could be flexibler
I’m pretty strong right now but I could be stronger
I’m pretty kind right now but I could be kinder
I’m pretty peaceful right now but I could be peacefuller
I’m pretty brave right now but I could be braver
I’m pretty sweet right now but I could be sweeter


I’m red
I’m smart
I’m handsome
I’m witty
I’m young
I’m strong
I’m kind
I’m flexible
I’m peaceful
I’m brave
I’m sweet

A Simple No

Ten days ago, a friend sent me a link to an online concert, featuring a bevy of undoubtedly melodic singers, wearing long black dresses and tuxedos.  I remember thinking how kind of her … and then I gently placed the e-mail on the back burner of my life.  “Maybe tomorrow.”

Several tomorrows came and went and once in a while I’d imagine a time slot when I could sit back and enjoy the music.  But then that intention would fade away.  Occasionally the concert would return to consciousness and I’d engage in a little self-talk:

Just sit down sometime, Bruce, and listen.  You don’t exactly have a full social agenda, you know

I wonder what kinds of songs they sing.  I bet I’ll like some and not others

C’mon, Bruce … get your rear in gear.  It’s probably just an hour or so

A few more days, and then the unaccomplished would rear its head again.  Then disappear once more.

And now this evening.  I was lying on my bed in the dark, soaking in the quiet and watching the lights of highway traffic do their magic on my bedroom wall.  My smile was interrupted by a jolt of words:

I don’t want to!
I don’t want to listen to the concert

Thoughts of being a bad person followed, along with disappointing my fellow woman.  Of refusing a gift.  Of being shallow, callous and just not nice.  And then, like magic, those thoughts floated away.  It’s no big deal.  I simply don’t want to listen to a concert.  I want to put my energies elsewhere.

I e-mailed my friend to tell the truth.  It would have been braver to phone her but it was okay not to be brave.  With tenderness and truthfulness, I sent my message off into the night.  The smile returned, knowing that other experiences will beckon.

Day Nine Some More: Naked

Oh, I had clothes on last night, but three strangers got to see what I’m all about.

During the Mutual Awakening internet calls, the heart so often spills out. In response to “What are you experiencing right now?” adjectives such as “soft” and “flowing” describe, emotions such as “love” and “peace” bubble up, and images such as “a cobblestone path” and “the beating heart” sparkle before the eyes. We talk these experiences to our randomly chosen partner. It is so often intimate.

Once more, I was on the campus of Ohio State University, this time enjoying the library. I talked to a staff member about the possibility of reserving a small room from 7 to 8 so that I could be on the Evolutionary Collective Global call. She said that because I wasn’t an OSU student, I couldn’t reserve. “Just walk into an empty one, with no one booked for the hour you want. Probably no one will join you.” Cool.

So here was a small room, with space for twelve humans to sit around a square table. My 7:00 pm aloneness danced with the togetherness of fifteen internet friends from here, there and everywhere. All was well.

Then there was 7:10. Two young men and one young woman walked in and sat down, with their texts and laptops in tow. (Gulp)

The fear went deep. Was I doing something bad? Of course not. Was I speaking words that could easily be misinterpreted by someone unfamiliar with the practice? Yes, indeed.

The image came of the three of them rushing at me with a grey blanket, covering me up … shutting me up. I whipped off my earbuds and talked to them for a few seconds. “Some of this may sound weird. It’s about consciousness.” All three smiled and someone said it was okay. I breathed deep and returned to the call.

It was time for the 1-1 part of the hour to start. When “Karl” appeared on my screen, it was me talking first. “What are you experiencing, Bruce?” > “Terror.” I told him what was happening. Karl stayed with me, feeling into what I was experiencing, “being with” me. Thank you, Karl.

The students could only hear my end of the conversation, but there was plenty to absorb, such as a virtual blanket being shoved into my mouth, then a release, and then the sense of my hands reaching out to the students. I expressed love for Karl, all the while having the contraction of fear alternate with the ease of a lingering exhale.

Near the end of our pairing time, peace flooded me. The five of us showed up in my mind as a circle of humanity, our arms around each other.

There were a few minutes for sharing in the whole group. I told the story and flipped my phone around so everyone could see the young studious ones. And they were far more than that. Smiles all around. I thanked my new friends as I left the room.

I can do this. I can embrace life and speak my truth with folks who don’t know these practices. And I will emerge from such moments whole and complete, perhaps having planted a seed or two.