Look At The Pictures

photoH’s wife passed after a long illness. This afternoon we went to the vigil and Kerri sang Amazing Grace for the service. We looked at the photographs of her life.

This summer, at my grandfather’s funeral, there was a similar board of photographs showing the span of his lifetime. They are a record of moments. He posed for some of the shots. In some, he had no idea that a camera was pointed at him. We are different when we know a camera is aiming our way. We put something on, a kind of mask, an attitude or assumption.

The photographs on the board served as a history of technology, black and white to color film, and then a jump to the proliferation of digital images. What was difficult became easy. What used to need chemicals and processing became instantaneous. This capacity to snap photographs and see them in a moment has changed us. Selfies abound! Once, at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, I watched with fascination as people posed to have their picture taken with Van Gogh’s painting, Starry Night. They rarely looked at the painting. They just knew it was famous and wanted their picture taken with it. They primped. They smiled. They mugged for the camera or looked serious. Proof of life? Just like a handprint on the wall of a cave, those photographs shouted, “I was here!”

We are among the first people in the history of humanity to have this extraordinary window into our lives. I looked at the photo board of H’s wife and saw H at age 30, at age 40, and 50 and 60 and 70, 80, and I know him now at age 90. In the photographs I can see the cocky young man, the father, the achiever, the dreamer, the man who stopped resisting, the surrender,…each phase of his (and his wife’s) life. More to the point, he can see it. He can see the progression.

Two hundred years ago a photographic record of a life span was impossible. No one posed because there was no need. An old man remembered his life but did not have the window to see his path. No one had the opportunity to see the growth and process of age through the phases of their life. It changes us. And, it is a sword that cuts both ways. We can see. We can record. We can story ourselves like no other time in history. We can be known to future generations. We can talk to the future and the future can hear us. We were here. We had something to say. We had so much to share, so many rich experiences of living! And, we can miss our moment in the recording of it.

Kerri asked H what was his favorite photograph on the wall and he laughed and said, “I don’t know. We had happy times. Look at how much I weighed back then!”

“You need to eat more, H!” Kerri admonished and gave him a hug. He began to cry.

“I’m trying,” he said, laughing through tears. “I think I just need to drink more Frosties!”

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Peel Off The Laminate

An illustration from my children's book, LUCY AND THE WATERFOX

An illustration from my children’s book, LUCY AND THE WATERFOX

Last week in a fit of frustration I climbed a ladder and scraped the damaged paint off the kitchen ceiling. The paint was compromised a few years ago and needed repair. The peeling paint was on my summer list of things to fix but we were traveling most of the summer. Autumn arrived and the to-do list remained. Scraping and sanding always leads to the necessity of new paint and Kerri said, “If you paint the ceiling it will make the walls look dingy. We better paint the walls, too.”

So, standing in the kitchen, fists filled with paint chips, discussing color possibilities, we realized that all of our color choices were defined by the fading yellow of the ancient kitchen countertop. The counter was at least 50 years old, laminate, and held in place by some well-placed packing tape. We’ve talked often of the day in some distant future when we could afford to replace it and that day seemed very far away.

In that moment, hands filled with paint chip possibilities, we realized that the countertop had became a metaphor. We were defining our choices based on a limitation. Or, said another way, we were limiting our possibilities based on our belief in an obstacle; what we could or could not do.

How often is that the case? What self-imposed limit defines the choices we see? How often do we unwittingly shrink our field of possibility? How often do we allow the things we don’t want to define our actions?

It took less than 30 minutes to pull off the old laminate, break it into pieces, bag it, and get it out of the house. As I wrote in an earlier post, the spontaneous kitchen remodel began when we realized we had the power to remove the limit. We had the capacity to make choices based upon a different set of criteria. Before the spontaneous remodel we believed we couldn’t afford to change the kitchen countertops. The moment of paint-chip revelation made us understand that we couldn’t afford not to change them.

Life is great at applying belief-laminate to us: what we think we can and cannot do. Something profound happens when, in a moment, we understand that we are capable of challenging the limit, of pulling off the laminate, of being forced to step into a greater field of possibility (known from henceforth as the “Now What?”)

It is worth noting that our new countertop, the old plywood support and made exceptionally beautiful with chalk paint and wax, has transformed our kitchen and our actions. We hang out in the kitchen. The colors we are considering using for paint are now based on what we want to create and not on what needs to go with the old yellow laminate.

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Step Into Your Sanctuary

An oldie simply called ANGEL

An oldie simply called ANGEL

It is night and I am hanging out in the sanctuary while Kerri attends a meeting. I never in my life thought I’d hang out in a sanctuary but I quite like it. It is quiet and I am by myself. It is a good place to meditate or just get still. I am sitting with my stain glass window wondering if there is a conversation in the offing. I’ve spent many nights in my life sitting alone in dark empty theatres and always felt the same sense of peace that I feel at this moment.

I like the word “sanctuary.” It implies a safe place, a resting place. If all the world is my studio then it is also my aspiration to live as if all the world is my sanctuary. I’ve always understood my studio to be a holy place, a place of creation and presence. Going to my studio has always been a step into a safe space. It is where I rejuvenate. Tonight, sitting here, it occurs to me that “studio” and “sanctuary” are very similar words. They are very similar places just as “theatre” and “church” have, for me, been mostly interchangeable: where we go to affirm the stories that identify and transform us; where we go to find our community. My sister finds her community in a church. I have, until lately, found mine in the theatre.

This rambling path begs the question, “What is sacred and what is not?” Yesterday Diane told me that she is a spiritual teacher and I believe that is true. This morning while walking I remembered her words and wondered if we are all spiritual teachers to each other. Some of my greatest teachers had no idea that they were teaching me.They had no intention of teaching me. One great teacher was sweeping a floor and had no idea that I was watching him. He was one of the happiest people I have ever seen. He was shining. He was doing a job that most people would deplore. Everyone who saw him smiled, myself included. He was not his job. He was not his body. He was…connected and alive in his moment. He was living in his sanctuary and helped me know that all the world can be a holy place. He helped crack my understanding of what is possible.

These lines we draw between the sacred and profane are mostly imagined. They are convenient and sometimes useful but they are illusions that I am beginning to understand as destructive. Us and them. A divided house begins in a belief of divisions – a need for division. I’ve often told the story of the executive, red in the face, pounding the table with his fist, shouting, “I know how to compartmentalize my reason from my emotions!” I remember thinking, why would any one want to cut off their emotions from their reason? A better question might have been, who, in their right mind, willingly cleaves themselves into pieces? What delusion is necessary to entertain the notion that reason and emotions are distinct and separate? Separations are generally an indication of not-right-mindedness and a dedication to controlling the uncontrollable.

The angry executive was also a great spiritual teacher for me, too. He taught me to check my assumptions and step over the lines of false distinction that I draw. I can connect the dots directly from his table pounding exclamation to my desire to define my studio as all the world; to live consciously in my sanctuary all of my days.

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Ask, “Now What?”

photo-1On one of the many Post-It notes that line our idea wall is written, “Say ‘I Don’t Know.” It is especially relevant today as a few days ago, in a fit of spontaneous remodeling, we tore the five-decade-old laminate off the countertops. After the moment of deconstruction we looked at each other, shrugged our shoulders, and asked “Now what?”

I delight in moments like this for two reasons: 1) the first action (tearing off the laminate) always comes from years of wanting change but seeing only obstacles. In what feels like a spontaneous moment, the focus shifts from the obstacle to the action. 2) When the focus shifts only a single step is visible and that step is always some variation of, “I don’t know but I’m going for it anyway!” Second steps are generally invisible until there is a committed action, until there is a first step taken.

These two steps together are a good working definition for the creative process. Shift your focus from the obstacle to the only action you can see. Take the action. Repeat until the action takes hold of you.

The first step generally feels like deconstruction. It feels like breaking things or breaking out of things (like a focus on obstacles). A committed step into, “I don’t know” creates motion and motion begets motion. Rip off the old laminate without a plan and a plan will emerge. Or a mess will emerge followed by a new plan.

title_pageGo here to buy hard copies (and Kindle) of my latest book: The Seer: The Mind of the Entrepreneur, Artist, Visionary, Innovator, Seeker, Learner, Leader, Creator,…You.

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Eve, by David Robinson

Eve, by David Robinson

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Aim For The Field

An illustration from my children's book, Play To Play

An illustration from my children’s book, Play To Play

Lately, Saul the Tai Chi master has been much in my thoughts. It is now September and it has been a year since he taught me a lesson that has become the new mantra of my life: orient to your own concern. Actually, he said that I should look beyond my opponent into the field of possibilities and orient to my own concern. “In this way,” he instructed, “you will no longer have an opponent.” He used the word “opponent” loosely. Any limitation or form of internal resistance is the opponent.

Beyond the opponent is a wide-open field of possibilities.

In the intervening year I have learned that I have been both my greatest opponent and the one who can look into the field of possibilities. Isn’t this true of all people? All stories worth telling (and hearing) are ultimately tales of transcending the inner opponent. If you need help identifying your personal mythic journey simply listen to the areas in life in which you say to yourself, “I can’t.” In that place you will find your opponent. You will also be surprised to find that your inner opponent is most often an orientation to other people’s concern; the fear of what others might think is a mighty inner-monster creator.

I’ve also learned that Saul’s lesson has come to me in many forms throughout the course of my life. For instance, many years ago I directed plays and, because I am also a visual artist, I was often in the position of designing the sets as well. With great love and humor, another terrific mentor watched as I struggled with my dual role. He gently showed me that I was orienting my designs according to the budget and construction limitations I perceived. I was working in the wrong order, asking “how” before lingering in the potential.   He told me that I needed to “Live first in the possibilities.” Design/orient according to the potential and not the limitations.

To live first in the possibilities is to walk the imagination without a leash. It is to let the imagination run wild. What is beyond your capacity to imagine? What is possible beyond the boundaries of belief? At one point in my life cell phones were science fiction. Today, they are ordinary.

Look beyond the opponent. Orient to your own concern. Imagine how life might change if instead of asking, “Can we do this?” we began by asking, “What’s possible?” And then aim for the field.

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End And Begin

Sand SpiralSome fragments of thought on common story phrases (and life):

Once upon a time. It started. The Big Bang! Movement from a single point, a center. Adventure requires a movement from center, a venture away from the known to the question. Moving from center implies imbalance and opens the possibility for a more expansive center. Here’s the paradox of moving from center: balance is everywhere and nowhere all at the same time. Every person is the center of their unique story. That will always be true: who else could star in your personal movie? Yet stories, in order to move, require imbalance. You know who you are, you lose who you are, you find who you are. Cells divide and divide again. The division is necessary for new forms to take shape. The encoding is already in there somewhere. The same is true of stories.

This is like that. Comparison. Simile. Metaphor. Analogy. It is why stories work. We compare ourselves to the protagonist. We are like him or her. Why do we tell the same stories again and again? Because we recognize ourselves in the story. Stories are like glue that binds a community. It’s why marketing works. To be more complete, you must buy this or wear that. Be like…. It’s all a story and in that way it is all made up, every category, every interpretation (see Once Upon a Time, The Big Bang, etc.).

And so the story goes. Chaos to order, order to chaos, generation to generation, winter, spring, summer, fall, winter, spring,…. This morning on our walk we watched parents take photos of their children as they returned to school. Backpacks, new clothes, and packed lunches; it’s the first day back. “Do you remember doing that for your kids?” I asked Kerri. She said, “It seems like yesterday.” It seems like yesterday when I was wearing new clothes and walking to school.

The End? An End? “The End” is definitive, singular. The Big Bang was a beginning but was it also an end? The end of one form is usually the beginning of another. Endings always lead to Once Upon A Time, don’t they? It depends upon where you stand or who’s telling the story or how you define yourself.

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Eve, by David Robinson

Eve, by David Robinson

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Greet The Day

photo-1Behind Beaky’s house is a retention pond. There is an alligator that occasionally breaks the surface and when it does I say, “Looking for poodles…” Kerri punches my arm and smiles.

The house is nearly empty; Beaky moved into assisted living almost 2 years ago and slowly her possessions have been packed or passed on to family members. It has been a quiet attrition, a gradual acknowledgment of the step into the next phase of life.

We stay in the house when we visit. We sip our coffee, sit in camping chairs, and watch the waters of the pond change with the progress of the morning sun. A cormorant comes each morning. It stands at the pond’s edge, spreads it’s wings, and drinks the sun. “It’s as if it is opening its heart to greet the new day,” Kerri says.

She tells me that the cormorant comes to the exact spot where, a year ago, her family gathered to spread her father’s ashes. A single cormorant came that day, too. In the middle of the rite, the bird landed, stepped into the setting sun, and spread it’s wings. Her father loved the pond. It was as if the spirit of her father came as the cormorant. It opened its heart. It greeted the sunset.

The news with Beaky is not good. I watched Beaky’s face as Kerri wheeled her from the doctor’s office. Beaky is no longer living, as she says, “indefinitely.” Her path is now definite (as I suppose all of our paths are truly definite even though we rarely consider it so). She looked relieved. She looked easy and quiet. Beaky said, “I’ve lived a good life! I’m ready.”

Now, as is true with abundant life, there is metaphor upon metaphor. There is the house. There is the alligator breaking the surface. There is the cormorant spreading its wings. There are cycles of life, passing moments, possessions never really possessed. There are stories made and stories lost. There is a family with an open heart, watching the progress of the sun, ready to greet the day.

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I call this painting, "Canopy"

I call this painting, “Canopy”

 

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