Follow by Email

Monday, June 11, 2018

The Hummingbird

The Hummingbird.

The wire that hangs the hummingbird feeder broke. I found some string to hang it back up. Tied one end to the feeder and as I am tying the other to the hook, I hear the loud humming and freeze. He eyes me, flies from my left side to the right, and then around to my back. I feel him staring at my back with wings buzzing and tiny little, singular chirps. Peeps really. Then he floats to the feeder and decides to do it. Drinks and peeps, 10 inches from my face as I stand frozen, my arms above my head.  I see a brilliant green back and a ruby red throat. I see the grass below him, shaded by the blur of his wings. I see dark brows that make his eyes look menacing. He takes his time.  After 30 seconds of drinking he's done and whirs away. I finish tying the feeder.

I remember one hot afternoon several decades ago living in a primitive log house in the Ottawa Valley. I stepped out the back and headed to the outhouse. Along the fifty foot path, bordered with plum blossoms, there were bees and wasps and mosquitoes and black flies. But then I heard a buzzing so loud it had to be the father of all bees, speeding right for me. I fell to the ground fearing the sting to end all stings. The hummingbird passed me by, ignoring my curled body as he swooped to the plum blossoms. I picked myself up and dusted myself off, grateful there was no one to witness my embarrassment.


Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Orange Cat

I'm proselytizing.  You don't have to listen.

When a train stops at a station we don't usually say it has passed from motion to motionless.  We don't tend to think of stopping as a transition.

What things stop?  A song.  I might say the song stopped, or the song was over, but I don't generally say the song passed.

A bullet entering a cat's skull eventually stops.  We don't say the bullet passed.  When the beating of the cat's heart stops… it stops.  It doesn't pass because there's nothing for it to pass to.  Actions don't pass into inaction, they simply stop acting.

And so when the cat's heart stopped, when his consciousness stopped, his consideration for his sister, his insistent desire to be petted, his creature presence as a member of this family stopped, I don't say he passed.  I say he died.  He stopped being.

What did pass?  My dread passed to grief.  The dread of what I was about to do, the dread of how his life would stop passed to a state I can only describe as 'out of heart' -- when I picked up the rifle like an automaton and told myself, "Do it."  The one shot was enough but as I'd planned I fired a second time according to a script, that, once set in motion, I couldn't stop.  But with that, the script ended and my feelings flooded back in overwhelming shock.  The shock at having so suddenly lost a dear friend, a brother.  I sat and put my head in my hands.  And the shock passed into sobs of grief.

I returned to the cat's body.  My knowledge that this cat had died, had not passed but stopped, did not keep me from resting my hand on his stomach and saying goodbye as if there was a cat to say goodbye to, as if it was the same cat who, every time I let him in would mrrow with closed mouth and I would say, "You're welcome."

Yes that cat.  That cat is dead.  

When will my grief pass into a wistful regret, a poignant memory?  Or perhaps it will transform into a cold resentment at the finality of death.  Or perhaps there will always be a touch of grief until I stop.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

The New Room

Today Di and her mother went to see the room she's going to. Now they're packing and unpacking, discussing chairs and bureaus, what to do with the window etc. Rather Diana is asking the questions and answering them as well. I don't hear Shirley. What I kind of know but can't really get hold of is that this move is as ... if not traumatic... monumental for Diana as it is for Shirley. It is astounding her connection to her mother, the love and caring... sometimes exasperation but never resentment. Even though it's meant driving her to her day program every day, bringing her to the store, giving her 'jobs' to do, keeping her entertained in the evenings... and on and on. Attention and love. Attention and love.

I have to say she is frequently exasperated with Shirley's inability to remember things from moment to moment, or when Shirley hides her soiled underwear in the closet, producing a stench Shirley is unaware of and totally denies, as if Shirley were to her daughter still a 'real' mother who should be expected to accomplish the normal day to day activities we all do without thinking. It's hard for me to grok that Diana still sees her mother as a mother, even as she herself has become the mother.

For years in Florida, and then in Smithville where Shirley and Gord lived, there was a crockery dog who stood sentinel on the front lawn, its leg now broken. In my world we would throw it away. In theirs, I spend a half hour finding the epoxy, the clamps, the counter space, the newspaper, to cobble the thing back together so Shirley can take it to her new place, put it at her apartment door, maintain the tradition, the memories to help her feel at home.

They will spend the evening together checking out this and that, packing, arranging, thinking about decor, until Shirley needs to sleep.

When I'm ready to go, my children won't do this and I'm glad. Oh... they'll drive me and make sure I'm comfortable. But I don't have the tradition in my bones. Who am I? Where did I come from? It's not all that important. Should I bring a banjo, a fiddle? Will I still be able to play? What pictures should go on the wall? Will the room be done in blue? It won't matter.

What will matter, I think as I age I would like to see a familiar face from time to time ... coming to my room... wherever I am... as long as I can recognize a familiar face.

I'm 74 years old. There are people my age living in those homes. And I'm still making love to beautiful women. I still coach people,. I still run a workshop program. I'm still living in this world, not that one. Although there are words I can't find when my mind goes blank. But I still muddle through. I still stand on stage and bring people to tears. I still find succor in the exquisite nest of human connection.

The new year is coming. Where will I be in a year?

Wednesday, July 13, 2016


A bull fighter died last weekend... gored to death by the bull.  Scenes of a bull being killed by a matador would not have interested me, but there was something about a primitive desire for revenge that motivated me to google the videos.

The first ones were of the running of the bulls in Pamplona... a three minute stampede of 6 bulls where people measure their defiance of death by how close they come to the ten tons of angry beast hurtling by.  Some get a vicarious thrill standing on balconies above the street.  Others run into alleyways or press against the doorways.  There were 15 injuries.  The worst: two who were upended unceremoniously and landed on their heads.  One bull turned into an alleyway and gored the few who, I guess, thought they'd be safe.

The way I see it, dashing across the 12 lanes of the 401 in Pickering at noon would be just about as death-defying and dumb.  Only the centuries-old tradition would be lacking.

The bull fight was much more sinister. First the bull was taunted and teased.  The matador, with chest puffed and shoulders back, stood like a peacock in heat behind his magenta cape.  He egged the bull into a charge, and got the beast to whiz by as close as possible while avoiding being stabbed.  He did this a few times and then lowered the cape which confuses the bull, turned his back and strutted away as if fearless of a charge from behind.  Then he got on his knees and repeated the ritual, making a fool of the noble beast and of himself: little more than a schoolyard bully.

Then came the real torturing of the bull, with picadors to weaken his haunches with lances so he couldn't raise his head, and banderilleros who snuck up on his blind side, pierced him with spears, and pranced away.

Then the matador returned for a few more passes before the applying the sword which would come from above, between the horns, slice alongside the backbone and pierce to the heart.  Except this time the wrong character in this lurid drama was killed.  I watched it from several angles.  Instead of standing straight and tall as the bull circled him, he bent his knee and it got caught in the bull's horn.  Down he went and the bull stabbed him in the heart.

In seconds they were there to distract away the bull and surround the dying man.  After that there were no pictures of the victor in this medieval debacle.  The bull was killed off camera.  Maybe shot, maybe stabbed, we don't know.  But what we know is the bull is doomed... doomed from the day it is born... doomed from the moment it is pushed out onto the street to the moment the fight is over.  Victim or victor, it is doomed to die.  My desire for revenge was hollow.


Monday, June 13, 2016

Mini Workshops Save My Life

Mini workshops save my life.

Diana and I are going through very difficult times.  Family members have been spitting hateful venom, attacking us since Diana’s father died over a year ago.  Our darling Ava has moved out. Then on Saturday I had a terrible morning that involved a car crash and some very painful strife with someone I love.  With everything weighing on me, I broke down in tears.

A half hour later I was to drive to the city to lead a Mini workshop.  A voice in my head said, “If you call and cancel, people will understand.”  The idea of retreating to my bedroom was seductive.  But I realized that putting myself in the room of love for two hours was where I’d rather be to contrast the hatred and judgement we’re receiving daily, compounded by the present emergency.

The workshop is about being intimate, and how could I be, sitting with this lump of pain in my heart?  When people ask me, “How are you?” I often don’t answer, because “Fine” is not an answer for me and if I express my pain they’ll usually want to hear more, which is not good for me.  Or they’ll look upon me with pity, or need to suggest fixes for the situation, or any number of responses that don’t serve me. 

But to be authentic this afternoon I knew I needed to express the pain in my heart.  So I decided I would also tell people I didn’t want to be fixed and didn’t need them to hear the story.  Then I remembered we’re taught in HAI simply to ask, “Is there anything you need?”  So I decided to share that little tool with the group, and let them now I needed hugs, caring and love… and that’s exactly what I got.

A HAI Mini workshop is a two-hour blossoming of compassion among people, many of whom have never met before.  We create a room of love where people can let go of issues, guilt and judgement, and just notice who they are as human beings.  The workshop ends with a very touching exercise where folks stroke each other’s face and share the connection of being human without agenda, where the event simply equals the event, and all there is is love. 
As I led the exercise, surrounded by that compassion and intimacy, it was as if warm waves of love were washing over the icy pain in my heart, melting it away.  I was left with a sadness that the folks who strike out in fear and hatred don’t get connected to the love I do.  And I felt gratitude to HAI for offering the opportunity to do the work I do to witness the beauty of people’s humanity.

Do HAI Mini workshops save my life?  Yes that’s an exaggeration.  But it is certainly one of the many ways I hold myself in love in this world. 

Saturday, July 18, 2015


Why, after 30 years of knowing each other, leaving our spouses, adventuring in HAI, sharing a songwriting career, excavating the tunnel of sex and desire together, discovering a cave of ancient soul where we huddle around the fire of passion in wonder, … why now after thirty years to decide to get married?

The simple answer is we’ve done it all except the celebration, the party, so why not treat ourselves to one?  But the more complex answer has to do with putting aside the old stories and exposing our hearts to our community.  Diana never wanted to get married because, I think, her first one was such an affront to her inner self.  Dictated by family, expectation, commitment -- buying into the picture of the standard husband, succumbing to the mythology -- it served to bury more deeply the free spirit who lived beneath, the little girl who dug in the dark earth for worms on her way to school and so arrived always late and dirty to be chastised and reported.

By the time she met me, she wanted never to smother that independent creature again.

And then there’s me, married I don’t know, four-five times, a traditional wedding, a romantic wedding, a hippy one, a wedding of convenience.  I like weddings really.  I think everyone should do them until they get it right. So why should she marry someone so cavalier about weddings?

But one evening after a day of licentious sex, lying exhausted among the crumpled bed sheets, I think she realized we were in fact married and she just hadn’t admitted it.  I was already proclaiming our marriage to everyone.  At the bank they’d want to know marital status and I’d respond, “It depends on who you ask.  I say yes.  She says no.”  Perhaps it was time to stop confusing people.

Or perhaps she was reacting, as I was, to the fact that the time-honoured edifice of marriage is in process of overhaul, its ownership wrested from the church and redecorated in rainbow colours by the new tenants.  Damn.  What self-respecting reprobate wouldn’t want to reside there?   You know of course that once this recent dust has settled and mixed-race-same-sex couples are unremarkably BBQing on the balconies next door, a poly trio is going to come knocking and once again there goes the neighbourhood.  Obama will be gone by then but some president is going to have to remove the ‘two’ from the phrase, “two people who love each other.”  I hope I’m alive to join that struggle.

In any case the die was cast.  We would marry and of course do it at HAI Tea in July among our extended family.  HAI Tea, however is for workshoppers only, and when neighbour folks got wind of it they wanted to come too, so we decided to get married twice, two weeks apart.  For neither event did we send out invitations but instead just spread the word, told the folks we ran into.  No written invites, everyone welcome. 

One exception to our workshoppers-only rule had to be the minister, David Howes, whose relationship with us began as my banjo student and morphed into close and dear friendship.  As the date(s) approached David asked me if we were writing our vows.  I recoiled.  “Vows,” I said “smack of commitment.  They are promises and promises can be broken.  I have spent a good portion of my life eschewing commitment and instead prefer prediction.  Based on the evidence of the past thirty years,” I pontificated, “I can predict to Diana with some confidence that our marriage will last, but to promise that, to commit to it, to make a vow of forever… that would be against my principles.”

Instead of arguing principles with me, David simply said, “I hear you’ve been hurt by broken promises.”  That’s why I love David.  He also asked that we think about who these guests are, these witnesses to our wedding, and what we might want to say to them.

One thing I wanted to say to my community is why I think our relationship has lasted thirty years, has not burnt out but in fact grown stronger and hotter.  It is because rather than a desire to mold to each other’s needs, to do everything together, we both have a fierce dedication to independence.  Although thrown together by work, by home, by community, each of us has always lived by the credo, “I am my own person, true to my own inner core.”  So I was amused when I mentioned that David wanted us to write our vows and she said she assumed I’d write them for both of us.  But I knew what she meant.  Being independent doesn’t mean being unfamiliar.  She didn’t intend for me to decide for her what her vows should be, but rather to already know what they would be.  So yes, she jotted a few notes and I wrote the vows.  Here they are:

Eric:  “Diana, when I met you love was a feeling that rose and fell with the lightness and darkness of my heart.  Love was a commodity that could be stolen or used up, or given more to one than another. Love was an appreciation, not unlike appreciating my VW’s gas mileage.

“And I guess love still is those things to some extent.  I appreciate the mileage I’m getting out of you.  But over these years our relationship, and my experience of HAI has pointed to a deeper meaning to what Stan dubbed the room of love.  To me, Love itself is a room, a room I prepare where I can be myself and let you be yourself.  This is a wedding ceremony so I could ask you to be true to me, but I’d rather prepare a room where you have no need to be false.  I could ask for your intimacy, but I’d rather invite you to a room where you don’t need to hide.  I could ask for your love, but I’d rather share a room where you need not fear.

“So if I have a vow for you, an intention, then let it be that I vow my love, and by that I mean my intention to care for and nurture that space where I can be me and you can be you.”

Then Diana said, “This is an unconventional wedding at an unconventional time.  Instead of getting married and then living together for decades, we’ve done the reverse, and raised our children in the process.  At times I’ve worked for you and now you work for me.  We’ve taken life as it’s come to us without flinching.  We’ve reached out for the opportunities that have called to us without hiding in the shadows of security.

 “I first heard this Helen Keller quote at a HAI workshop:

Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable.

“So if I have a vow for you, an intention, it is to continue to take life without flinching, and keep that flame of adventure burning, to see that our room of love is kept hot with passion.”

To tell the truth, although I wrote her vows according to her notes, I did take some license and added the “hot with passion” part.  Hey, who could resist the temptation to get her to declare that in front of witnesses? 

The first wedding was an amazing collection that ranged from Diana’s family friends of 57 years, to the guy who serves us at the hardware store.  There were HAI friends, family from California, neighbours, old folkies and some store customers.  After Isaac, Diana’s son shuttled folks from the parking lot and ran and found his camera, we were ready to start.

As the minister and I with my son and best man waited under an apple tree in the front yard -- one whose branches I had pruned into a canopy, a sort of chuppah -- Ava stepped out of the forest carrying a bouquet of flowers, followed by Lauren and Sarah in dresses of rich, exotic colours.  Then a moment later Diana descended.  It was all so lovely and pristine, like a covey of nymphs emerging into the afternoon sun.  

Everyone loved the ceremony, stayed for tea (at a string of tables stretched across the veranda to seat all 50) and a BBQ later that evening.  We visited, met new people, sang songs and sat around a bonfire.  I was left with a sense of wonder at the disparateness of this group coming together from different walks of our life, intersecting and luxuriating in the joy of celebration under the aegis of a loving day.

Two weeks later we repeated the event for our HAI friends, about 70 folks gathering from Ontario, Michigan, Ohio, Massachusetts and as far away as Germany.  They were dressed in their wildest regalia as we are wont to do, and my eyes watered over in gratitude as I looked down from the veranda to a waiting crowd that resembled a scene from Fellini yet the most functional family I know, our chosen family.    

Friday, March 27, 2015

Pathways Comes To Toronto


The very first HAI workshop to come to Toronto back in the 90s was a one-day ‘Pathways to Intimacy’ led by HAI's founder, Stan Dale.  Since then the Ontario HAI community has steadily grown until we are now up to five weekend workshops at the Ecology Retreat Centre in the verdant Hockley valley.

And last week another Pathways held in Toronto was a milestone of sorts because for the first time no one flew in from the States to lead it.  Led by myself and Mardie Serenity, we were, all 40 of us, Ontarians. 

For me it was a special milestone because Stan Dale was my dear friend and mentor.  And after years of sitting at his feet, I now sat in his chair.

At that first Pathways pretty much the first thing Stan asked was for us to close our eyes and call out words to describe love.  Folks responded with words like, “exciting”, “Warm”, “Sexy”, “Safe”, “Connected”…  And then Stan asked, “Why would we take ourselves out of that feeling?”  We had basically one answer: fear. 

That exercise, which I've done several times in workshops over the years, never struck me as very significant, a rather rhetorical question the answer to which I already knew.  But more recently the question has gained dimension as I’m gradually discovering the many disguises fear wears in my life. Judgment, insecurity, rejection, superiority, jealousy, blame, shame… to name a few… all have roots in fear.  And I've been noticing that whenever these negative aspects of me begin to fade, the space they leave just naturally gets filled by love.

And the question, ‘what takes me out of love’, is gathering a different, deeper significance.  Yesterday my partner went through a difficult day having received an angry blaming letter.  In pain and frustration she spent hours trying to construct a response that explained her actions.  She was in a conflict between being above it all, and needing to defend herself.  I got involved, trying to help her through her process.  But she wasn't resonating to my invitation that she notice how she was giving her power away by needing to be right.  I felt my own frustration with her, and exasperation rising. 

Then I heard a voice in my head, “Are you in love right now, Eric?  What’s taking you out of love?”

O.K., the clouds didn't open and the sun didn't burst through with a shining epiphanal beam of light.  But I did pause.  I saw the futility of the situation, and much of my frustration turned to to sadness.  I became free, or at least freer, of the conflict.  And much of the jangled energy in my body calmed.  I became aware once more of the love I have for my partner, which had never really left but was just ignored for a bit.

So what’s helping me is not so much to seek an answer to why I take myself out of love, but more to notice when I have, and then see if that noticing changes anything.

Well, the Pathways we held last week was very successful, very much appreciated, and so Mardie and I will be checking our calendars to see when we can schedule another in Toronto.  Stay tuned.  And for those of you living in Michigan, there’s a Pathways coming up.