Unfetter Kindness

Tripper Dog-Dog-Dog on a roadtrip

Tripper Dog-Dog-Dog on a road trip

Tripper Dog-Dog-Dog has no problem communicating his needs. I know without doubt when he wants to go out. I know when he wants his belly scratched or have his ears rubbed. He lets me know where he expects to be scratched. He is abundantly clear when food is his need. He does not second-guess his needs. He does not doubt his desires or confuse himself with obsessing over his reasons why.

Love is one of his needs. To give it and to receive it, exuberantly or tenderly, he does not invest in how I receive or return his love. He is not vulnerable because he has no need to hide or color his love-need. He has no brakes on his exuberance because it is pure, innate, and without story.

One of my favorite exercises to assign during my teacher/consultant phase was the Angel exercise. The assignment was simple: For three hours be an angel to someone. The only requirement was that the recipient could not know. Be an angel with no expectation of recognition; write about what you discover. The assignment was always greeted by a flurry of protests and questions (“I don’t know how…,” or “What does it mean to be….”). Angel-ing is scary business!

Once, to experiment, I assigned the opposite: be a devil/trickster. Instead of protests there were gales of laughter and excitement! No one asked “how.” In midst of their exuberant, fearless plotting and scheming, I reversed the design. Before they went into the world to demonize, I required them to flip their plan and do the opposite to their intended target: be an angel. Their sudden fear was palpable. “Now that you know how to torture this person, do the opposite,” I said. “Be their angel.”

Regardless of how we entered the assignment, the students/clients would return the following week exultant. Their experiences of Angel-ing, of unfettered kindness had profound blowback. They talked of their pre-Angel terror and the unexpected thrill that came with unfettered secret service to another person. They talked of the clarity that came with Angel-ing. They had fun. They felt good. They felt alive. Everything became simple. The greatest surprise of all – something that in this season we see on posters, holiday advertisements, Hallmark cards and screen-savers, something that is a cliché when proffered but rarely experienced: kindness begot kindness. Kindness begets kindness. Kindness clarifies life when it comes with no expectation of reciprocity. Kindness simplifies inner debates when it is wielded without need of reward.

Dog-Dog loves unconditionally. Love may be his only need. For Dog-Dog there is, I suspect, no distinction between giving and receiving. His exuberant love is not meant to gain access to heaven or to change the world in any way. It is without agenda. Angel-ing is like that…

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Let’s Be Us

a detail from my painting, May You Be

a detail from my painting, May You Be

[continued from Put Down The Hammer]

It is night and I am sitting alone in the sanctuary. I’ve been setting up chairs for a performance and now that the job is complete I’m taking a moment to savor the silence and review this day.

The temperatures have been unseasonably warm and when I opened the back door this morning for Tripper Dog-Dog-Dog I was greeted by the sound of birds singing. It was an April sound in the middle of December. I was so taken by the sound that I called Kerri, “Come and listen to this!” We stood in the doorway for many minutes. It was beautiful as well as a little disconcerting. “El Niño or global warming?” I asked.

Arnie wrote a comment to my last post. He asked: Can it be that we don’t want the ‘we’ in our society – we aren’t comfortable with the ‘we’ and only feel our identity by living out the “us and them”? I am an idealist but, of course, he is right. David Berreby wrote a terrific book called, Us and Them. We are hardwired to perceive the world through a lens of Us and Them. It’s a survival imperative to distinguish between friend and foe. However, a point that is most salient to me: the delineation of Us is mutable. It is not a fixed state but largely circumstantial. That is especially true in this modern age. There is an out of fashion phrase used to describe these United States: a melting pot. There could not be a better metaphor for an ever fluid definition of US. We need not melt but we do need to acknowledge that we are in the same pot. “Give us your tired, your hungry, your poor,…” is central to our national identity (not always central to our national rhetoric) and is a sacred, central statement of an ever-changing US.

We are among the first humans in history to have the pleasure of seeing our planet Earth from space and, as it has been said, from space there are no visible borders. The definition of US depends upon how far out we pull the camera. From space WE are the human race. There are a bevy of alien invasion movies that carry a common theme: when attacked WE inhabitants of Earth will pull together. Or, said another way, until there is a THEM that invades from another planet, WE will be incapable of recognizing full inclusion in the Earth pot.

To Arnie’s point, there is a lot of responsibility that comes with WE. A few months ago, Kerri and I were in Chicago for the day and passed a homeless man, holding a filthy cardboard sign asking for help. He was young, in his early 20’s, and more filthy than his sign. He was suffering. We walked by him. On the train home we had a long conversation about our responsibility to that young man or to any member of our community that is suffering. Many years ago I was with a student group in Bali. We were invited to Udayana University and one member of our group gave a talk about homelessness in America. Our Balinese hosts were shocked. “How could a member of your community be without a home?” they asked. The concept was abhorrent to them, unthinkable. “You are the wealthiest people on Earth…,” they stammered. Later, a Balinese professor said to me, “When you came here today, we wanted to be like you Americans. As you leave, we are proud to be Balinese.”

Us. Them. We. Like me. Not like me. Me. Little words with far-reaching impact. I am not the same person I was only a few years ago. I find it infinitely hopeful – especially now – that, just like me, the delineation of US is mutable, ever changing. It begs the question, Who are WE? And, to another of Arnie’s points, the answer to the question depends upon where we decide to place our focus.

Put Down The Hammer

photo-3[continued from BE WE]

The woman behind the counter at Starbucks, someone I’d never seen before, leaned forward, and chirped, “David! I loved your wedding!” She laughed at the look of confusion that must have crossed my face and added, “No, you don’t know me.” One of our invited guests brought her as a date. “Best wedding ever!” she exclaimed as Kerri joined us. Because the day is a blur, Kerri and I enjoy hearing people’s accounts of our wedding day and she enthusiastically told us of her experiences. It was nice. It was personal.

We took our coffee to a table and joined some friends. After a few moments, the woman behind the counter came to our table. She brought some samples, some health supplements and cosmetic products, “I only do this Starbucks job for the health insurance,” she said, “This is really my business,” she said, sliding the tiny packages in front of Kerri. “You never know who might be interested,” she chirped and blushed before making an exit. It was awkward. It felt awful. We went from personal to prospect in one inelegant step.

There is an old saying that came to mind: When the only tool you have in your box is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Many years ago, in a time of great financial desperation, I worked with some financial folks who recruited me to sell their stuff. I learned their processes, got my licenses in record time, and for a few horrid months, tried to sell their wares. I hated it. The work was highly profitable but the cost was highly destructive. Everyone looked like a prospect. To every social encounter, every friendship, every casual meeting, I brought an agenda. For a few months I looked through a lens that made every person, every circumstance, a commodity-opportunity. It reduced life (my life) to an ugly basic. It was toxic. Anna taught me the very appropriate word for what I felt: vampiring. It was a great lesson. It made me pay attention to the intention I bring to my life.

It’s what the woman at Starbucks felt, too. She was desperate. She, like a former version of me, sold the greater need to satisfy the lesser. Vampires are insatiable and stuck in an untenable lifeless-lens: everyone looks like a food source. Desperation is like that. It is easy when desperate to sacrifice friendships for prospecting. No one likes to be a food source.

As I perused this years bountiful crop of ugly images of Americans fighting and crushing each other for cheap toys and electronics, the annual product-stampede/people-crush-and-fist-fight on Black Friday (formerly known as Thanksgiving), I couldn’t help but think about the Starbucks lady. Desperation wears many masks but always makes others look less-than-human. Communities thrive when they feed each other and die when they feed on each other. This is not a mystery.

Commodity is supposed to service community, not the other way around. Vampiring is the only visible path when community loses itself to commodity; it inadvertently tosses away its many tools and leaves itself with only a hammer. It’s a question of order as much as a question of values. There is nothing wrong with commodity when the order of value is respected. Without a WE there can only be a very confused, desperate, and lonely I. It should not come as a surprise that desperate and lonely people do desperate and lonely things.

This is the season of the return of the light. We need do nothing more to create the miracle than put down the hammer and look at others as if they are more than nails.

[to be continued]

Be We.

a detail of And Now.

a detail of And Now.

“We need to create this together,” I said. We were discussing a project, a collaboration. 20 whipped out his phone and began searching frantically for something.

“What are you doing?” I laughed.

“Ah,” he said, “Here it is.” He smiled and read to me a definition of the word, ‘we.’ “You and I,” he read, “I and another.” He chuckled, adding, “Oh, I’m not sure I like that word.”

We. It’s a little big word.

At dinner the other night, Brad asked, “Now that you are married does your relationship feel any different?” Kerri and I both smiled. Yes. There is something bigger than ‘you and me.’ It’s hard to explain the change except to say that there is now a ‘we,’ a relationship that takes precedence over any single individual concern.

I was married many years ago and now know why things didn’t work out. We’d established our relationship on the sandy foundation of a bargain: I’ll help you if you help me. Bargains like that do not sound so bad until trouble comes. Bargains are predicated on what you get from the relationship. Marriages, I’ve learned, are built upon what you bring to the relationship. In a bargain there is no ‘we.’

Yesterday Skip and I talked about art (among many other things). It’s been my experience that art happens in the ‘WE’ space. Actors have to bring their gifts in service to the play. In fact, they cannot fulfill their gifts unless they are in service to something bigger than themselves. A self-serving actor essentially locks the audience out of the play; WE is not possible when an actor is oriented to what he or she can get from the experience. Magic happens when an actor is oriented according to what they bring to the experience. It’s the tragic misconception of art in these United States: art is not about self-expression; art, when properly understood, is the creation of WE.

another detail of And Now

another detail of And Now

A few weeks ago we watched a movie, Always, and this line (not a direct quote) jumped out and smacked me on the head: to gain your freedom you first must give it away. Gifts are not fulfilled unless they are given. People are not fulfilled until they give themselves to WE.

[to be continued]

Dance!

A painting called JOY

A painting called JOY

“A dancer’s body breaks down,” she said, “Painters can paint all their lives. Musicians can play until they are old, but a dancer’s instrument, her body, gives out.”

To be a contrarian I responded, “And then there is Martha Graham. She danced into her 80’s, didn’t she?”

She wrinkled her nose and said, “Not very well.”

The lights dimmed, the movie started, and our conversation ended.

She was, in her youth, a dancer, classically trained. She’d spent the bulk of her adult life teaching and choreographing. And, as she told me, “Those things are all you can do when you can no longer dance. They are what’s left.” Had our exchange not bothered me so much I might have felt sadness for her.

Like an art-mantra, Tom used to say, “A writer writes and a painter paints.” I wanted to say to my seatmate, “A dancer dances.” I thought immediately of Linda who dances even when she is not dancing. She is a riot of movement, joy-in-motion; her need to dance is infectious. Even non-dancers find themselves jigging across the floor when Linda is dancing at the party. I once told her that she is my secret weapon for throwing a successful party.

I imagined my seatmate as a young girl. Before all the training, before the technique and expectations, there was enthusiasm. There must have been joy. There must have been lots of joy. She must have known the world by moving, twirling, spinning in it. Artists – before they call themselves artists – make sense through sound, through scribbles, through spinning. They only way forward in life, the only way to make meaning and to learn, is to scribble more, to engage and translate through movement. Lazy educators write off this imperative as self-expression.

The great artist deathtrap is called technique. It is a paradox. It is necessary. It is a kind of language mastery. It is, at first, a struggle of control. How do you say what you need to say when your language is visual, aural, or kinesthetic? Training is necessary. The path to full expression is always paradoxically through constraints, control of breath or brush. Yet, too often, as is the case with my seatmate, technique replaces the enthusiasm. It can turn joy into judgment. It can make an artist forget their WHY and replace it with a too rigid HOW. It is how artists limit themselves with their artistry. It made my seatmate, a healthy ambulatory woman, believe that she is not capable of dancing.

Later, I told Kerri about my conversation at the movies. She said, “That’s why fewer and fewer people are going to symphonies or galleries. People draw lines. Artists not only limit themselves with their artistry but they also limit access to their artistry.” Joy is infectious. Artistry without it is not very interesting (and, arguably, not artistry).

Create A Purpose

photo-2In the sixteenth hour of our drive to the mountains, to keep us awake, Kerri and I began a rousing game of This-or-That. “Frosted Flakes or Lucky Charms?” Frosted Flakes all the way; those little marshmallow things get wonky in the milk. It’s amazing what you learn about yourself and others when the world of infinite possibilities is reduced to two choices. The game soon escalated to the impossible with pairings like “Coffee or Chocolate?” Real life penetrates the game when the only possible answers are, “It depends!” or “Both!”

Since our drive to the mountains I’ve been paying attention to how often people unwittingly play the This-or-That game, pretending that there are only two choices and, further, pretending that the choices are distinct and knowable. Democrat or Republican? Communities collapse when they forget that the important stuff is unanswerable. The important stuff is a moving target and requires conversation, debate, and comes along with multiple points of view. Two sizes do not fit all bodies.

I’ve also been playing my own inner game of This-or-That, purposefully choosing impossible pairings. Order or Chaos? It seems like a no-brainer until you dive in a bit deeper.

My favorite version so far is the Purpose-of-Life category. I picked a most lofty purpose: Illumination – and matched it with the utter absence of purpose. And, of course, I came to, “It depends!” or “Both!” I sprang my line of reasoning on Kerri (she thought we were going to talk about what to make for breakfast. She’s grown quite used to my surprise topics so she rolled her eyes, sipped coffee, and listened, knowing that no breakfast choice would be possible until after I unpacked my game).

No matter which spiritual tradition I read, the final point seems to be presence (living fully – aware of your moments). And in practice, presence becomes possible when thought is either transcended (meditation) or focused (prayer). Meditation and prayer are both purpose-full. Thought needs transcending and/or focus because it is mostly a babbling brook of nonsense or, better, a brook of babbling nonsense. It’s a lot of made up stuff that often takes the form of a game called This-or-That (I win/I lose, I’m right/I’m wrong, Us/Them). The game, as is true of all forms of interpretation, gets in the way of direct experience. It interrupts presence.

Detach from the babble. Meditate. Or recognize that it’s all made up and focus what’s made up. Pray. In either case presence comes through the recognition that it is all made up. The hitch: every notion of purpose, then, is also made up. There isn’t one. But, having a purpose is required to come to the recognition that there is no purpose. It’s a loop. It’s all creativity. It’s all imagination.

Spectrums and polarities are often cycles in disguise. They are both/and. They are yin and yang (not Yin or Yang). Illumination or Purposelessness? It depends. Both. Order needs chaos just as much as chaos needs order. The question is, what do we want to create? Why, a purpose, of course! So, let’s see what’s needed and decide to address it.

“My imagined purpose is breakfast,” Kerri sighed at the end of my rambling dissertation. “Pancakes or an egg scramble?”

 

Love To Laugh

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my bride on our wedding day.

Today marks our one month anniversary. Kerri and I were married one month ago at 11:11am. There are two things that probably best define our wedding: 1) the very first thing we bought for use in our reception was a wiffle ball set and a kickball. It’s taken me a long time to learn that ‘sacred’ and ‘fun’ are essential to each other. Love without laughter is empty, indeed, and I cannot now imagine anything more sacred than love. We wanted to laugh and we wanted our guests to laugh with us.

There is, I’ve learned, a very good reason that the Hopi include tricksters in their important rites. They know that laughter lets the god in. It is a paradox. If you take the god too seriously you will inhibit your relationship with it. You will abstract yourself from it. You will abstract yourself from what is most essential. Laughter is a great facilitator of relationship. Friends laugh together. Kerri often talks about the Amish quiltmakers building a flaw into their quilts. The flaw allows the grace to come in. The laughter, the fun, plunks relationship squarely in the center of the sacred. It makes it real. It makes it relevant. It makes it personal (the three most oft used words to describe our wedding: personal, real, relevant).

To that end, 2) of the wedding week, Jim said it best, “You do know how to throw a great litter of parties.” Truer words were never spoken. We threw 5 consecutive parties in 5 consecutive days, each growing in size and scope. We wanted the people we love to have ample opportunity to meet, talk, and grow to love each other. It took a litter of parties, multiple touches, multiple opportunities, to sow our new garden. More than once Kerri and I watched as the circles of our lives crossed and recrossed, a new tapestry of friendships and stories emerging. Linda taught folks Irish dances on our back patio. Jim and Jim met and played a spontaneous mini-concert. It was gorgeous and spontaneous and rich, rich, rich in laughter (see #1).

This morning Kerri sat with coffee in bed and talked about our wedding (“Can you believe it’s been a month?”). We told stories and compared notes. We laughed. “My one regret,” Kerri said, “was that we never played kickball! I wanted to play kickball!” It’s true. The wiffle ball set and kickball never made it to the beach. There was dancing, so much dancing. The hula hoops even found their way to the dance floor (the bride had four going at one point). So, the kickball remains unrequited. However, the plan for our first anniversary is now set: October 10, 2016, a game of kickball on the beach. An after party of wiffle ball will follow with any and all comers. It will be casual, like the wedding. No need to bring anything. Simply come prepared to laugh.

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