My Absence

It’s been two weeks since I’ve talked to you.  Have I been “busy”?  Yeah, some.  But the truth is that I just didn’t feel like writing to you.  There was no magnetism drawing my fingers to the keys.  I know that my life is about contributing to other human beings, and sometimes in WordPress the “should” of saying something has been strong.  Sometimes I would write just to keep my daily streak of communication going.  At those moments, I wasn’t being true to myself.  This two-week absence has felt true.  And now it’s time to return.

I woke up this morning with an uncomfortable thought: maybe you folks think I’m dead.  Ouch.  I never want to hurt anybody, and what if some of you are imagining a car accident, a big illness, or a major mental distress?  None of those are true but leaving you in the space of not knowing was unfair.  I’m sorry if I caused you worry.  I should have just done a post saying “I don’t want to write right now.  I’m fine.  It could be a week or two before I reappear.”  That would have been good.

Hmm.  I’m glad I’m saying these things.  And I’m glad that I honoured the rhythms of my life by not writing lengthy posts recently.  And now … it’s time to share my thoughts again.  I’ll be back tomorrow.

 

Truth Telling

I’ve meditated for many years.  Twice I went on three-month silent retreats (silent 98% of the time).  I walked into class yesterday afternoon to see a young kid on the screen, sitting with her legs crossed, eyes closed … meditating.  And the Grade 6’s were quietly at their desks, mostly with eyes closed.  It was a revelation.

“Trevor”, the teacher, has introduced mindfulness to the children.  After witnessing a similar five-minute session today, I asked him if I could lead a discussion about the quiet mind.

I knew that I didn’t want to give them a lecture about the benefits of meditation.  I didn’t even want to tell them about how my life has been changed by immersing myself in the practice.  No, I simply wanted to ask them a question:

Having tried meditation a few times now, what do you think about it?

Before the kids replied, I wanted to set the stage some more:

My request is that if you volunteer an answer, you tell the truth.  Don’t look over at me, try to figure out how I’d like you to respond, and then say that.  There’s great power in the truth, whether you like something or you don’t.

I expected a few hands.  What I got was at least fifteen.

The first girl said that it was boring.  I thanked her for the honesty, and asked the other kids if they thought it took courage for her to say something negative.  There wasn’t much response to that, which was fine.  I sure thought it took courage, and I said so.

Another word spoken was “unnecessary”.  I didn’t argue with the student.  I thanked him or her.  Then another girl talked about how the meditating has helped her during basketball games.  Did saying that take courage?  Yes, indeed.  To speak publicly about how you enjoy something when the prevailing mood in the class seems to be negative about it, is a big thing!  I love the willingness to stand out, to not allow the group mentality to overcome what you honestly see as true.

One boy said something like “It would be boring.”  I encouraged him to be more direct, so that his opinion would be strong and clear.  He changed his words to “It’s boring.”  That made me happy.

It seemed to be an even split, pro and con.  “It helps me out on the yard at recess” versus “Let’s get back to doing something important.”  Both perfectly valid reactions to an activity that’s new to probably everyone.

I was so proud of those kids.  Their heads were high as they spoke – no sense whatsoever of apologizing for their opinion.  And no bombastic declarations.  Just quiet and firm statements of personal truth.

Plus this Bruce guy didn’t have to wax poetic about the virtues of meditating.  Maybe some kid who panned the practice will get curious about what a positive child said and give meditation another try.  Or maybe not.  Either way, what I experienced this afternoon was the freedom of the truth – no fudging, no not quite saying what you mean.  Instead, simply being real.

The Truth

A week ago, a woman asked me “How are you?” I said “I’m happy.” It was a lie.

As my life continues to unfold, I see how damaging it is to not tell the truth. It hurts. And the pain lingers. It’s looking in the mirror and seeing far less than what’s possible.

For the last few weeks, Canadians have been following the saga of Jody Wilson-Raybould and Justin Trudeau. Jody was the former Attorney General of Canada before being demoted by Justin, our Prime Minister. It certainly appears that he and some of his colleagues put pressure on her to intervene in the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin, a Canadian corporation which is suspected of bribery and corruption. If the company is convicted, many jobs would be lost.

The rule of law states that Jody, the top judicial figure in the land, and another woman who is the prosecutor in the case, need to make their decisions impartially and independently. No political interference. Jody chose to speak the truth, despite probable negative repercussions concerning her career. In my view, she stood tall, and was not swayed by the winds of popularity polls and the coming election. Here’s a sample of what she said:

We are treading on dangerous ground here – and I am going to issue my stern warning – because I cannot act in a manner and the prosecution cannot act in a manner that is not objective, that isn’t independent. This is the about the integrity of the government … This is going to look like political interference by the Prime Minister.

This is not about saving jobs. This is about interfering with one of our fundamental institutions. This is like breaching a constitutional principle of prosecutorial independence.

I can’t act in a partisan way and it can’t be politically motivated. All of this screams of that.

Do we stand for the truth or are we searching for “wiggle room”, cutting corners, putting the truth on a lower level than other values?

Jody is an aboriginal woman, a member of the Kwakwaka’wakw nation on Vancouver Island. On Saturday, she was honoured by five hundred people at a feast (a potlatch).

In previous testimony to the Justice Committee, she said:

I come from a long line of matriarchs and I am a truth teller in accordance with the laws and traditions of our Big House [a place for ceremonies and decision-making]. This is who I am and this is who I will always be.

“Judith Sayers, the president of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council who recently wrote an editorial about the subject, spoke with On The Island‘s Gregor Craigie about the significance of the words:”

What she’s talking about here is that area of law as the kind of person that you have to be: one with integrity, honesty and truth telling.

A lot of indigenous laws are related to our spiritual, sacred way of life.

Part of it is to do with us as people, how we treat the land and resources and our role in our communities and governance.

I believe that her role in the Big House has been to be a truth teller, which is very strong in that she has to – and she’s told – that she could never speak unless she knows it to be true.

Amen

I Don’t Know Things

There was a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode where Captain Picard and friends came across a slow-talking, slow-moving group of humanoids.  They didn’t appear to be very intelligent as they kept saying “We know things.”  It turns out they were crafty beyond measure.  Today I felt the opposite.

“Jeremy”, the Grade 6 teacher, had the kids read about the history of St. Patrick’s Day, and then answer questions about the passage.  I was doing fine with all that.  Then he challenged them with word scrambles – decoding twenty terms from the reading.  Pairs of kids worked diligently to rearrange the letters.  Looking over many shoulders, I saw the lists gradually being filled in.  A few kids came over one by one, to ask if I’d figured out #11 yet, or #4.  I said no and suggested they look for the possibility of a silent “e” at the end of a word, or search for consonant blends such “ch” or “st”.  I sounded fairly intelligent, at least in my own hearing.

But what was true?

I didn’t have a clue.  Eleven-year-olds were proceeding merrily towards completion of the twenty but all I’d accomplished was “iswh” is “wish” and “camgi” is “magic”.  Sweat piled up on my brow as I realized I was unable to solve “Ieardnl”, “rogaen”, “evlorc” or “enrge”.

As they say, my whole life flashed before me … times when I clearly wasn’t good enough, times when everyone else seemed to be better.  Failing a French test, falling down continually in my version of skating, piddling around the shallow end while my classmates did laps in the pool.  It’s so powerful, this pull of assumed inferiority.  Today I didn’t have the eyes to see my many good points.  They simply didn’t exist when I couldn’t recognize “clover” within the jumble of my mind.

I was asleep to what’s real.  The challenge for me is to wake up ever more quickly rather than thinking I can eliminate the moments of ignorance, deficiency and angst.

Now, with the benefit of hours between there and here, I smile.  Actually I chuckle.  What a silly goose to be defining my self-worth on my ability to turn “rogaen” into … into … “orange”!

Ahh.  There’s hope for me yet.

Day Sixteen Some More: Fear and Love

Lydia met an old friend of hers in the market yesterday. Nabou is married to Ja Ja and they own a restaurant in Toubacouta. We were invited there for an early afternoon drink of bissap, a pure sweetness made from the flowers we picked a few days ago. It went down just fine in the shade.

Lydia wanted us to experience another village in the afternoon, where people don’t speak French and kids don’t go to school. Unless things change, the children will not leave the walls of their compound to live. How sad. Lydia often says that she can only do so much, can only help so many people. It’s time for other people to step up … such as me.

I was on the back of Yusefa’s moto as we rolled over the dirt roads. We stopped at a grocery store to pick up some suckers for the kids we’d meet along the way. Lydia packed them in a plastic jar and we were off again.

Soon we were off-road on a sandy track across the dry land. The sand became deep in places, at least to my eyes. Yusefa clearly was confident on the moto, so much so that he was tailgating Mamadou ahead. I froze. All that basic trust went out the window as I imagined falling off the bike and recovering in a Senegalese hospital for a year or so.

At a rest stop, I asked Lydia how much farther. “What’s wrong?” she replied. And then … I lied. “I’m tired.” Lydia looked at me like she knew I was telling tales. So now the truth: “I’m scared.” Ahh, the truth works. We talked about how everyone is afraid of something. For her, it’s flying. For me, right now in general, it’s riding my bicycle. Right now in specific, it’s little mounds of sand, and Yusefa often putting his feet down to keep us upright. Yikes!

After we walked for a bit, I felt better. On the moto again, I was able once more to look around, to drink in the parched land and its goats and cows.

At the edge of one village out in the middle of nowhere, we stopped. Kids came running. Lydia pulled out the jar and was quickly surrounded. Such happy faces and full mouths.

We came to an extended family’s homes, surrounded by a fence of long vertical sticks. Cement houses and, according to Lydia, a bleak future. Many eyes met mine, and many smiles. The queen of them all was a tiny girl, all dressed up in orange and red. What a sweetie, and we spent a few moments with each other’s eyes.

Farther on, we came to the highway. Our convoy stopped for awhile, and I never did find out why. I looked across the street and saw a little girl in a pink dress gazing at me from her yard. I raised both arms high above my head … and so did she. I swept my hands to the right and she mirrored me. To the left. Arm circles. Hanging from a tree. Twisting and shouting. All repeated by the girl and soon five or six of her friends. I couldn’t read their faces from our distance but I bet everyone was smiling.

And now, next. I crossed the road and walked up to the barbed wire fence. The kids stayed back some but they were curious. And I just loved the beaming smile of my young pink friend. One of the kids threw an empty jar at me and I tossed it right back, to a flurry of giggles. Then it was an old rubber strap. I wore it around me like a necklace. More giggles. Hands came closer and fingertips touched. Two women in the background smiled.

Then it was time to go. Motos revved up. The young ones smiled at me and I returned the favour. I bowed in my best Buddhist manner and they bowed back. We waved goodbye and the asphalt took me away.

It was of the most remarkable times of my life. I was in love. Sadly, I forgot to take their picture. Lydia said we’ll go back into the area again and I hope to see the kids, this time with my phone at the ready.

Goodnight, dear ones.

The Rules of Life

I sat in Boston Pizza yesterday afternoon, watching the women’s final of the US Open tennis tournament. The sound was off.

Naomi Osaka was playing beautifully and Serena Williams, probably the best female player in history, was struggling to keep up. At one point, Serena started gesturing at the umpire. It looked like she was yelling at him. Then she smashed her racquet onto the court, breaking it. More gestures, including finger pointing. More yelling. Two more officials walking onto the court to talk to Serena. Then she was crying.

What was happening here? I wished I could hear.

Naomi won the match and both players were crying at the awards ceremony. Virtually no smiles from the victor.

Only later could I piece it all together:

1. Carlos Ramos, the umpire, gave Serena a warning when he saw her coach giving her advice from the stands, using gestures. Coaching during a match is not allowed.

2. Serena complained to the umpire with words and gestures.

3. After losing a game to Naomi, Serena broke her racquet, also a violation. A second violation means that the player is assessed a one-point penalty. Carlos did that. (For those of you unfamiliar with tennis, a point is sort of one quarter of a game. You need to win six games to win a set. And usually a match is the best two of three sets.)

4. Serena continued to complain to the umpire. She called him a “liar” and a “thief” and said that he’d never again referee a match of hers. Carlos, again according to the rules, gave Serena a third violation, this one for “verbal abuse”. A third infraction comes with a one-game penalty, which is clearly far more important than a one-point one.

So … what to make of all this? Here’s my take on it:

In any human endeavour, there are rules to encourage appropriate behaviour and to penalize inappropriate acts. For life to work, these rules need to be applied to everyone, regardless of their status, wealth, gender, age, personality, or any other variable you can think of. The act determines the consequences, not the person performing the act.

If someone thinks that a rule is unfair, he or she needs to work through a democratic process to get the rule changed. In the present moment, the current rule stands.

In the tennis world, Carlos is known as a “stickler” for the rules. That term is often seen as derogatory. To me, though, it feels like a commitment to the truth, and should be applauded.

Do we want a society where it’s okay to berate each other, to cast aspersions on the integrity of another, to use one’s power to make inappropriate things happen? Well … I sure don’t want that.

Staying Put

I went to a concert yesterday afternoon.  Yuja Wang is a world-renowned pianist from China.  At the tender age of 31, she wows audiences all over the world.

I was not wowed.  Yuja played pieces from composers such as Rachmaninoff and Prokofief.  What all these works had in common was … no melody.  Just a whole bunch of notes flurried together in a variety of ways.  I soon found myself close to nodding off, which isn’t the coolest thing to do in a fancy concert hall.

My heart wasn’t in it, not at all.  Yuja’s technique was astonishing.  All those runs at the speed of light!  But in my oh so biased mind … “So what?”  I want to be touched by life and the fine human beings who populate it.  I want an ecstatic “Oh!” to escape my mouth.  My eyes were closing, all right, but not for the best of reasons.

Yuja was very pretty and wore a stunning yellow gown.  From my vantage point, I could see her legs, her feet and the top of her head (occasionally her soft eyes).  The rest, including those flying fingers, was hidden behind the grand piano.  Her glowing dress and pumping feet didn’t do much to send the wearies away.

There were folks sitting on the stage.  From my spot in the front row, I could look under the piano and see them, from the neck down.  And I zoomed in on one couple.  They saved me from unconsciousness.  Throughout the concert, they held hands, in various configurations.  My favourite was when she was rubbing her foot against his calf.  So sweet.  This is the human contact I so desire, whether in physical touch, the meeting of the eyes, or the soaring expression of music.  I watched them a lot.  And then it was intermission.

I talked to the woman next to me about my troubles.  She knew exactly what I was talking about.  And then Yuja reappeared, this time wearing a short emerald dress that sparkled in the lights.  So sexy!  My neighbour leaned over and said “This should help.”  I smiled.

So I got to see gorgeous legs in the second half.  And got to hear no melodies.  (Sigh)  At the end, I was surrounded by wild cheering and rising bodies.  Not me.  I was not moved and so I didn’t move.  I applaud Yuja’s brilliance but she didn’t reach me.

I turned to my new friend and said “The legs didn’t really help.”  She laughed.

Merging Exhaustion and Inspiration

Point number one: I was on the elliptical for four-and-a-half hours today.  I’m dull and weak.

Point number two: I listened to a live broadcast of Patricia Albere’s mutual awakening work tonight.  It focuses on a shared consciousness between two people, rather than getting better at relating to each other.

Point number three: I want to write in my blog and have my words mean something.

The best I can do is quote what Patricia was saying tonight and add my two cents.  So here goes:

You learn to place your consciousness so you can feel the other person like you feel yourself

(Okay, I’m just too tired to think.  On the morrow)

And here’s the morrow.  What would that be like, to be so “with” the other person that it feels like you’re inside them, feeling what they feel, yearning for what they yearn for?  I want to find out.

To be seen deeply calls forth the depth of who you are

Jumping around trying to get people to see me.  Here I am!

How can you possibly experience love if you aren’t seen?

Very rarely in my life have I felt truly seen.  “Wow, this person really gets me.”  Do people understand that my intentions are virtually always to enhance life, not diminish it?  Do they understand that I want a type of contact with them that opens our souls?

I knew I was home

Geographically, it doesn’t matter where I stand.  Home is an inside job, including both  me and you.

We accept the assumption of our separateness.  There is always a quality of being alone.  I’m here and you’re there.

I don’t have to continue seeing it like this.  I can choose something new and different.

We were together.  I don’t remember the rest.
(Walt Whitman)

So simply and beautifully said, Walt.

A group which first sees each other before addressing their mandate and their tasks

Imagine a family, a team, a classroom, a church, a government.  Makes me smile.

What’s True?

On my way into London, I pass two parked semi-trailers, a kilometre apart.  They’re both advertising the same hotel in Ingersoll, Ontario.  The first one announces that you’re only 25 minutes from soft beds, yummy food and the pleasures of a spa.  That time just doesn’t compute in my brain.  The second one says you’re 10 minutes away.  That seems about right.  But there the two of them sit, one truthful and the other clearly lying.

How often do I assume that a sign, a newspaper article, or a radio news item is accurate?  Often.  Seeing or hearing it somehow makes it legitimate in my mind.  I don’t have the energy nor the time to delve deeply and find out if the truth is being spoken.  I just go along.

A celebrity says X, and does so with a convincing tone of voice and facial expression.  Is the truth sometimes Y?  No doubt.

The Canadian history textbook I studied in high school said nary a thing about how white people often treated natives poorly.  All was fine as the dominant culture spread west, apparently quite heroically.

In Canadian politics, the party in opposition invariably is critical of the governing party’s policies.  Rarely do you hear about good ideas being acknowledged as such.

All this leaves me with a healthy skepticism and a commitment to another source of truth … the intuition that lives within us all.

 

The Truman Show

I watched The Truman Show last night.  It’s a movie in which Truman’s wife, his best friend, his neighbours … are just actors, following a script.  A film which many people see as a satire on the media’s control over human beings.  But I think it’s far more.  Truman Burbank’s story calls us to embrace freedom, with all its beauty and blemishes.  To have courage.  To step beyond the norm.  To truly live.

***

TV Announcer: 1.7 billion were there for his birth. 220 countries tuned in for his first step. The world stood still for that stolen kiss. And as he grew, so did the technology. An entire human life recorded on an intricate network of hidden cameras, and broadcast live and unedited, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to an audience around the globe. Coming to you now from Seahaven Island, enclosed in the largest studio ever constructed, and along with the Great Wall of China one of only two man-made structures visible from space, now in its 30th great year… It’s The Truman Show!

Truman’s whole life … for all to see.  A carefully controlled life – only happy stuff.  No nasty sadness, fear or loneliness.

***

Mike Michaelson: Christof, let me ask you, why do you think that Truman has never come close to discovering the true nature of his world until now?

Christof: We accept the reality of the world with which we’re presented. It’s as simple as that.

And what exactly are we being presented with?  “No, Bruce.  You can’t change the world.”  Spontaneity is somehow bad.  Fit in.  Do what people are comfortable with and life will be smoother.

***

Marlon: [Emotional almost to the point of tears] The point is, I would gladly step in front of traffic for you, Truman. And the last thing I would ever do to you…

Christof: [Feeding Marlon his lines] … is lie to you.

Marlon: …is lie to you.

Oh, may I have true relationships, where people are real in their love, in their anger, in the feedback they give me.

***

Mike Michaelson: The Hague for Christof. Hello? The Hague? All right, we’ve lost that call, let’s go to Hollywood, California. You’re on Trutalk.

Sylvia: Hi, Christof, I’d just like to say one thing, you’re a liar and a manipulator and what you’ve done to Truman is sick!

Christof: Well. We remember this voice, don’t we? How could we forget?

Mike Michaelson: Uh, let’s go to another call, what do we have…

Christof: No. No, no, no, no, no, it’s fine, it’s fine, Mike. I love to reminisce with former members of the cast. Sylvia, as you announced so melodramatically to the world, do you think because you batted your eyes at Truman once, flirted with him, stole a few minutes of airtime with him to thrust yourself and your politics into the limelight, that you know him? That you know what’s right for him? You really think you’re in a position to judge him?

Sylvia: What right do you have to take a baby and turn his life into some kind of mockery? Don’t you ever feel guilty?

Christof: I have given Truman the chance to lead a normal life. The world, the place you live in, is the sick place. Seahaven is the way the world should be.

Sylvia: He’s not a performer, he’s a prisoner. Look at him, look at what you’ve done to him!

Christof: He could leave at any time. If his was more than just a vague ambition, if he was absolutely determined to discover the truth, there’s no way we could prevent him. I think what distresses you, really, caller, is that ultimately Truman prefers his cell, as you call it.

Sylvia: Well, that’s where you’re wrong. You’re so wrong! And he’ll prove you wrong!

Do we prefer our cells?  Our comfy cozy sanctuaries?  Is the world of gains and losses, pleasure and pain, praise and blame, and fame and disrepute, the sick place?  Or is that world also the home of transcendence, peace and true love?

***

Christof: We’ve become bored with watching actors give us phony emotions. We are tired of pyrotechnics and special effects. While the world he inhabits is, in some respects, counterfeit, there’s nothing fake about Truman himself. No scripts, no cue cards. It isn’t always Shakespeare, but it’s genuine. It’s a life.

May I always be genuine, and may you be as well, so we can look each other in the eyes and see ourselves.

***

Truman Burbank: Was nothing real?

Christof: You were real. That’s what made you so good to watch…

Indeed.  Give me a real person to cherish.  Whether rich or poor, pretty or plain, assertive or shy.  None of that stuff matters.

***

Christof: As Truman grew up, we were forced to manufacture ways to keep him on the island.

[flashback to Truman at school]

Young Truman: I’d like to be an explorer, like the great Magellan.

Teacher: [rolling down a map of the world] Oh, you’re too late. There’s really nothing left to explore.

This is not about teachers … in fact, I’m a retired one.  But some folks in our lives don’t want us to stretch, to go outside of the nine dots, to become something new.

***

Truman: I figure we can scrape together $8,000…

Meryl: Every time you and Marlon get together…

Truman: We can bum around the world for a year on that!

Meryl: And then what, Truman? We’d be where we were five years ago. You’re talking like a teenager.

Truman: Well, maybe I feel like a teenager.

Meryl: We have mortgage payments, Truman.

[He sighs]

Meryl: We have car payments. What, we’re going to just walk away from our financial obligations?

Truman: [He stands, whirls around, bends pleadingly, his hands reaching as though to grab the world] It would be an adventure!

Meryl: I thought we were gonna try for a baby.

[He turns away and rubs the back of his neck]

Meryl: Isn’t that enough of an adventure?

Truman: [Truman turns back, waves his arms dramatically] That can wait. I want to get away, see some of the world! Explore!

Meryl: [teasing him] Honey, you wanna be an explorer.

[She rises, goes to him, strokes his cheek]

Meryl: This’ll pass. We all think like this now and then.

***

May the deepest urges of our humanity never pass
May we explore the infinities of life
May we heed the call of adventure
May we not regress to the mean