Leaping

I was driving to school this morning on a country road. At one point, I was vaguely aware of a cornfield to my right, full of old, yellow stalks. Suddenly a deer comes out of the corn and leaps the fence, clambering onto the road. I slammed on my brakes and saw the doe pass by about fifteen feet in front of my bumper.

“Oh my God, I could have killed that beautiful animal! How could I live with myself?” My mind zoomed back forty years to another country road, in Alberta, and the sickening sight in my rearview mirror of a red fox flying through the air. He died on the asphalt and I was undone in grief.

“Do no harm, Bruce.” That’s been a mantra of mine for many a moon. Killing a living being, even unintentionally, is a gross example of harm, but so is ignoring someone at a party or not opening a door for a struggling senior.

There was the beauty of the being bounding over the fence. There was the sacredness of life. There was blood and ruin in my mind. There was transcendence of our earthly fetters. There was love. Thoughts mingled and twisted. All springing from a single moment in time.

Part of me doesn’t want to soar on the wings of ten seconds here, ten seconds there. “It’s too tiring.” A wiser Bruce, however, says to feel it all … because all will come my way.

We leap
We fall
We leap again

Little Peaks on the Graph of Life

Today was full of conversations, such as how Belmont survived the ice storm, the performance of the Toronto Maple Leafs and neighbourhood condo issues.  All of these are fine topics of concern.  My ears, however, are usually tilted towards the emergence of other moments, ones that transcend the norm.  And there were a few of those today:

1.  Walking down Main Street, picking up pieces of garbage on the way to the Diner and back home again.  Two small plastic bags full.  Quiet satisfaction.  For the greater good.

2.  Talking to an 80-something Belmontonian at the breakfast counter about raising teenage hell with a friend of his (long since dead).  A wistful look in his eye, and a tiny smile of remembrance.

3.  On my return trip home, a woman calling out from across the street “Thank you for picking up garbage.  It helps Belmont.”  (Smile)

4.  At the gym, a friend and employee looking me in the eye and saying “The future needs you, Bruce.”  (Astonishment.  I’d never heard those words before)

5.  Getting out of my car in the school parking lot and hearing “Hello, Mr. Kerr” coming out of a happy Grade 6 girl.  I felt so welcomed.

6.  Seconds later, a kindergarten girl wanting so bad for me to remember her name, and then the two of us taking turns hiding from each other behind a metal post.  For a few seconds, our gazes held each other.  Contact.

7.  A Grade 5 girl asking how my training was going for the ride across Canada and me telling her that I wasn’t feeling too well lately, and hadn’t been training as much as I wanted to.  Great concern for me in her eyes.

8.  Watching a girls’ basketball game after school, in which our team was being beaten badly.  Wondering at how our players continued to push the ball hard and guard their opponents closely.  No sagging heads.  I was so proud of them.

9.  After the game, telling one of the students that I loved seeing her usual reaction after missing a shot or having the ball taken away from her – a huge smile.  To which she replied with … a huge smile.

10.  Sitting down in the Belmont Arena for a senior citizen dinner – a free meal paid for by the Lions Club to honour us oldies.  What a sweet thing to do, I reflected, as I gazed across the sea of local folks.

11.  After eating, we heard a fellow sing the classics.  And two very senior women at my table mouthed the words to a few love songs.  They seemed afraid to sing way out loud, but their hearts were on full display.  It was a privilege to witness their memories.

***

I was above the usual roll and warble of daily life … eleven times.  Thankfully I often had the eyes to see these radiant blips.  Lucky me.  As for tomorrow, whether it’s one moment or twenty-three, I’ll be there.

 

Laura Smith

The written word doesn’t do a great job of sensing the beauty of sound.  But the beauty of sound is alive in my heart right now and WordPress is the vehicle I have to reach you.

Think of the moments in life when the human voice has transported you to a deep place, a spacious place, a place with little reference to our wake-a-day consciousness.  Months ago, I went to a tribute concert for somebody (I don’t remember who!) at Hugh’s Room, a folk music venue in Toronto.  Amongst the musicians offering cover songs was a woman in her 60’s or 70’s.  Nice enough to look at but really nothing extraordinary in her physical presentation.  It was her turn to sing.  The band started up.  She opened her mouth and something came out.  It was a something beyond the sweet voice, beyond the inspired lyrics, and beyond the pure emotion.  It was … heart stopping.  It was Laura Smith.

I sat there, stunned.  What was happening to me?  Laura was going way inside my body and shaking the foundations therein.  I seek the words to describe all this and they’re not there.  Melting, falling, embracing, vibrating, crying.  Like nothing I’d heard before.

It may be that you were in the room that night and weren’t moved in the slightest.  But I doubt that you could have stayed stable during that short performance.  Yes, I was shaken.  Somehow Spirit or God or Grace filled me.  Laura Smith was a conduit for something immensely big.

Here are the lyrics to “My Bonny”, her adaptation of a classic folk song.  How can simple words on a screen shine on you?  I don’t know.  Maybe they can’t.  But here goes nothing:

My bonny lies over the ocean
My bonny lies over the sea
My bonny lies over the ocean
Bring back my bonny to me

The leaves haven’t even started falling
Already there’s such a chill in the air
Someone’s got a kite on the wind and their mate is calling
Well, I’ve got a tramp’s whisker that tells me you still care

So bring back, bring back
Ah, bring back my bonny to me
Yeah, bring back, bring back
Ah, bring back my bonny to me

Soon there’ll be no difference between the land and the water
I can walk on the ice to places I’ve never been
When I get as far as I can go
Oh, I’m gonna turn and throw my cares over my shoulder
Along with your memory
I’ll just let it all float down the Gulf Stream

And I’ll walk home singing
My bonny lies over the ocean
My bonny lies over the sea
My bonny lies over the ocean
C’mon bring back, bring back my bonny to me

Yeah, bring back, bring back
Ah, bring back my bonny to me
Yeah, bring back, bring back
Ah, bring back my bonny to me
Bring back my bonny, yeah
Bring back my bonny to me

Oh, the human longing for connection.  The sadness of loss.  The remembering.

The best I can do is point you to YouTube.  Enter “Laura Smith My Bonny” and see where your soul takes you.  I figure you’re more like me than different.  Perhaps you too will be stopped in your tracks.

Laura Smith is returning to Hugh’s Room on April 14.  I’ll be there.

Bigger Than This

To me, “this” refers to the present moment, as opposed to “that”.  It might be joyous or sad, inspiring or frustrating, or everything in between.  It has adventures and it has movement from one thing to the next.

A couple of days ago, I experienced stillness, no movement, just being here now.  It was so sweet, and then it faded.  I figured it was by grace that such sufficiency showed up and I vowed to simply wait until this light shone on me again.  Trying to make it happen, such as by feeling into the current event and trying to make it stop, was a useless endeavour.  Effort doesn’t lead to the timeless.

Then there was this morning.  What if I found a mantra and simply repeated it throughout the day, hoping that it would trigger the downward flow of energy that I was experiencing recently?  Sounds like a strategy but not really effort.  That might work.  But having things “work” seems contrary to the letting go that came upon me before.  Still, I decided to do it.

How about “Not this”?  I tried that for awhile but no sweetness came my way.  Then I realized that negating the present moment wasn’t it.  I needed to honour present happenings while opening to something beyond them.  Maybe “Bigger than this”.  Worth a shot.

I was driving into London, going with the flow of the traffic, when I let “Bigger than this” seep into me.  Immediately the quiet flow of energy fell softly from my throat to my stomach.  And I was there, fully aware of the cars, but absolutely quiet inside.  I started congratulating myself and right away lost the immense space.  “Just watch the fullness (or emptiness), Bruce.  No analysis or conclusions.”

I got to my bike shop, to pick up ta-pocketa.  Unmindfully, I had broken my pedal last week.  “Come in.  We’re open” said the sign.  A smaller, handwritten one said they had to close unexpectedly for a few hours.  After a minute of grousing, I remembered my mantra … and the world opened once more.  The frustration of driving to Lambeth but not getting to take my bike home was still there but it was … small.  I smiled.

My afternoon was at South Dorchester School, volunteering with wonderful Grade 6 kids.  Right away, I had a conversation with two girls about drawing, and my mantra disappeared.  It stayed disappeared until I remembered it while talking to two women at the end of the day.  In between, I had many glorious moments, such as staring at a computer screen, surrounded by 12-year-olds, trying to guess who’s who from 27 baby pictures.  I got one right!

You could say that I was present for all these interactions with the kids, and I was, but how deeper could the moments have been if “Bigger than this” had augmented the already beautiful?  I don’t know, but I’m thrilled with the possibility that I can access the infinite often within daily life.

Tomorrow there’s more daily life on the schedule.  The Grade 6’s have a class trip to Western University in London.  We’ll be playing 4 or 5 different sports and “new” games.  And I have a challenge:

Stay present
Stay open
Stay fully alive

I can do this
Effortlessly

You Shine in a Very Lovely Way

Another day, another concert for me.  Hugh’s Room, an iconic folk music venue in Toronto, has reopened after financial trouble.  Saturday night was a gala fundraiser, featuring fourteen excellent musicians.  Being in the small hall was like coming home.

There were gentle songs and raucous songs, and everything in between.  I was happy.  Then Laura Smith stepped up to the microphone.  I’d say she’s in her sixties.  And here’s what she has to say in “The Blues and I”:

Everything is moving
So why am I standing still
Looking for a star?
Let there be a star …
Guiding me

The words are lovely but Laura onstage is inexpressible.  Her face has the hollows of an older person.  The eyes reach out, warm and wet.  The mouth holds the words gently.  The voice soothes.  But the whole is infinitely greater than the sum of the parts.

When Laura began, all of me stopped.  Only one other time in my life has a person filled the room like this.  She was a teacher at the Insight Meditation Society in Massachusetts.  And Laura was right there with her.

I said hi to Laura after the concert.  She smiled.

***

Wow.  There’s nothing to say.  The written word doesn’t get the job done.  You’d have to be there and listen.

Only twice in my life.  Has a human being of such transcendence ever come your way?  I think you’d remember if they had.  In fact, I know you’d remember.  Inside your head, you would have heard …

Oh my God!

Include

I’ve always wanted to attend a concert at Toronto’s Massey Hall and last night “wanted” became “did”.  Loreena McKennitt sat on stage way below me, with a cellist and guitarist.  They were accompanied by five tall candelabras, each hosting seven candles.  Soft light was everywhere, including the ceiling, which reminded me of a cave’s stalactites.  Massey Hall is a grand old building, erected in 1894.  It has two horseshoe-shaped balconies.

And then there was Loreena, she of the soaring voice, and a love affair with the Celts and their music.  She has travelled the world in search of their stories and we are the richer for it.

How can a blog post describe that voice?  It flowed through me, vibrating.  And so did runs from the cellist.  I was brought to silence and then to wild clapping.  Everything stopped inside and out.  I believe we were all touched.

Within this aura were other things:

1. Staff members walking left and right across my field of vision during songs – at least thirty times.

2. The young woman sitting in front of me usually leaning forward, partially blocking my view of the performers.  She had lovely long hair.  At intermission, I asked the guy beside me a question about the ceiling lights.  The person in front turned around to answer … and it was a man.

3. The cell phone of the woman beside me went off during a song.  She managed to get it shut off but soon was perusing the glowing screen to find out the latest from her world.

4. I needed a bathroom break but so did a hundred other men.  Washrooms were located next to the merchandise table so it was pedestrian gridlock, of the bursting bladder variety.

To all of which I say “So what?”  The context of the evening was transcendental.  No amount of life’s tiny travails could change that.  I glowed along with Loreena.

Artsy Fartsy

That’s what an ancient friend of mine used to call herself.  Kath was an art student at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta.  A very nice person.

Yesterday I got to explore some of this world at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto.  I showed up for the “Mystical Landscapes” exhibition.  There must have been 100 paintings created by masters such as Claude Monet, Vincent van Gogh, Emily Carr, Lawren Harris, Georgia O’Keeffe and Bruce Kerr.  (Wait a minute … that last guy doesn’t fit.  Must be an interloper.)

I consider myself a spiritual fellow.  No doubt I would be moved to tears by all of the works.  But not so.  Only about five paintings hit me.  The rest were too brownish, dark or complex for my eye and soul.  Naturally, that’s just me.  Joe sitting beside me probably saw transcendence where I saw none.

I’ve collected quotations over the past three decades, but usually didn’t write down the name of the author.  Same thing here.  I can’t remember who painted some of the creations that touched me.  Oh well.  Not important.

Exhibit number one was vivid red hills in front of a misty sun, with circles of light emanating from the centre.  So simple.  So red (my favourite colour).  And the power of those circles!  I thought of passion and the possibilities of contributing to my fellow man and woman.

Next was a crew of black coniferous trees against a bright yellow sky.  Such a contrast.  I thought of one of my two favourite words – animation – and how the yellow brought everything alive.  I would like to be that yellow.

Then there was a pastoral background, replete with woods, fields and a meandering river.  The foreground, however, showed a long building with a sandbagged entrance and two soldiers wearing gas masks emerging.  A sickly yellow cloud hung above it all.  Death colouring life.

I do remember one artist’s name – Lawren Harris.  His triangular mountain, plastered with a huge angular glacier, reached to the sky.  Such a symbol of the world beyond the physical.  I was lifted up.

Finally a night streetscape, with twin lines of lights receding into the void.  There was the suggestion of trees to the right and a looming office building to the left.  A bit scary, but not really.  Nature and civilization hanging out together.

***

After supper, I went back to the AGO to hear Ross King talk about Claude Monet.  He was so funny, not at all like my stereotype of art historians.  Ross told us about Monet the person.  He wanted people to be happy when they looked at his water lily paintings.  His vision was to have six-foot-high images wrap around the walls of an oval room.  And after his death, it happened.  Waydago, Claude.

***

Next lifetime, I’ve decided to be a master