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

Eighty-Four Days … Part One

Since I’ve got home from the meditation retreat, I’ve mentioned some of my experiences there in this blog but I’ve never looked it directly in the eye and discovered what’s true for me two weeks later.  I’ve been scared to do that.  Not afraid of what I’d find but rather of being misinterpreted.  I’m sure you’re all smart people out there in WordPress land but I expect that very few of you have the context to hold twelve weeks of silence.

How I struggle to express myself here.  What’s true, Bruce?  Well, here goes …

One hundred of us sat in the meditation hall, did walking meditation, ate together in silence and listened to the teachers’ wisdom.  Although I didn’t make eye contact with my fellow yogis, I could feel them.  Plus I looked at them from afar.  Many were hurting – physically, emotionally and/or spiritually.  My heart went out to them.  As I quieted in meditation, I felt love waft out from me.  Peace too.  Not always but often.  As the weeks wore on, I heard more and more folks sniffing in the hall – some near me and some way up towards the front of the room.  I sensed that much of this was in response to my energy.  Perhaps I’m deluded about this.  Maybe they all had colds.  But the deeper voice inside said that some yogis were moved by my love.

Hmm.  I just had the urge to send this message right here, right now.  I’m scared to face the depths of the retreat.  Is my ego just flaring away or is it true that I touched people in that meditation hall?  As the weeks fell away, our senses, our emotions, were heightened.  I know that kindness came off me, compassion, love, peace.  Back here in society, it feels like others can’t feel me.  And I want to be felt.

When I applied for the three month retreat, one question on the form was something like “What goals do you have for your time at IMS [Insight Meditation Society]?  I answered in three words:  “To love people.”  And I know that I reached that goal.  It doesn’t make me special.  But it happened.

Throughout the retreat, I got to reflect on the Buddha’s words:  “Life is impermanent.”  My peace came and went and came again.  So did my back pain.  I fell in love with another yogi.  At the end, I found out that she’s happily married.  Now she’s thousands of miles away.

I suffered when I thought of my lost love, just like the Buddha said I would.  He said that all of our experiences are pleasant, unpleasant or neutral.  I’d sometimes be in the middle of “unpleasant” and have the astonishing experience of it floating into “pleasant”.  How is that possible?  All I can think of is that I was immersed within the bigness of life as I suffered, and to be so surrounded by infinity made me smile a little smile.

Towards the end of the retreat, I watched myself feel that the only important thing was to contribute to the lives of my fellow yogis.  Since I thought that being in their presence made a difference, I didn’t meditate alone in my room.  I went to every scheduled sitting in the hall, unless I had an interview with one of my teachers.  Oh my.  I just want to love people.  Travel, money, “success” – all very nice, but there’s so much beyond the daily round.

***

I’m very tired.  I told myself I’d come home and write more about the retreat.  But I don’t want to.  I treat the world gently.  I need to do the same for myself.  Heading down to Massachusetts in September, I chose a bus schedule that had me travelling for 16 hours straight, including all night.  I got no sleep. When I got to my motel in Worcester, I slept for 17 hours.  Upon waking up, I realized that I had committed violence on myself.  No more of that, thank you.

And so to bed.  Goodnight sweet princes and princesses.

In Its Own Sweet Time

I remember one morning when I discovered a cocoon in the bark of a tree just as the butterfly was making a hole in its case and preparing to come out.  I waited awhile, but it was too long appearing and I was impatient.  I bent over it and breathed on it to warm it.  I warmed it as quickly as I could and the miracle began to happen before my eyes, faster than life.  The case opened, the butterfly started slowly crawling out, and I shall never forget my horror when I saw how its wings were folded back and crumpled.  The wretched butterfly tried with its whole trembling body to unfold them.  Bending over it, I tried to help it with my breath.  In vain.  It needed to be hatched out patiently and the unfolding of the wings needed to be a gradual process in the sun.  Now it was too late.  My breath had forced the butterfly to appear, all crumpled, before its time.  It struggled desperately and, a few seconds later, died in the palm of my hand.

And so it is with me … or could be.  I cry every day for Jody, often several times a day.  A part of me wants the crying to stop, the grieving to end.  Thankfully just a small part.  The wisdom eye knows that I will cry when I need to, for as long as I need to.  And if my weeping for my loved one extends over months or even years,  then that is the rhythm I must honour.  People may talk about me needing to move on, but there is a far deeper mystery that calls me for as long as it does.  I will listen.

I’m Wrong

I went to the tire shop today to have the winter treads put on.  I was heading north on a fairly main street in St. Thomas when I was stopped at an intersection behind a driver who was signalling left.  No one was coming the opposite way but he or she didn’t turn.  Just sat there, for at least a minute.

My nice transformed mind was thoroughly untransformed.  “What are they doing?  Texting? Doing their nails?”  So I immediately jumped to criticism, which disappoints me as I look back at the incident.  Only after a fair time spent tapping my steering wheel (thankfully not honking the horn) did I open to the possibility that the driver was sick or hurt.  At least my humanity eventually showed up.

I edged Scarlet to the right and pulled up alongside.  The woman behind the wheel seemed fine.  Then I looked through her side window at the scene on the side street.  A school bus was stopped right near the corner and the kids were crossing the street.  Arghh!  Humility, thy name is Bruce.  How wrong I was.

Now at home in my man chair, I’m thinking of another time on the road.  I followed a semi-trailer for miles through some gently rolling countryside near London.  The speed limit was 80 kilometres per hour (50 mph) and this guy rarely topped 70.  Okay, it’s probably a heavy truck but it’s not like we’re climbing the Alps.  I created a thorough character analysis of the trucker in my mind, and I bought the whole story, adding to the list of stereotypes that I had accumulated over the years.  Plus it was such a long straight road – nice scenery but still …  And then the road started curving to the left.  You probably know the rest: a compact car was tucked in front of the rig.  More arghh.

Strangely, seeing my assumptions completely proven false was okay, then and today.  I’m just your basic human being and life keeps throwing lessons my way.  Sometimes I’m a slow learner.  I don’t mind.