Trespass And Forgive

from my Yoga series of paintings.

from my Yoga series of paintings.

I’m back in the choir loft staring at the stained glass window. We’re having a conversation about the word ‘trespass;” it has lately been central to my meditation.

When I was a kid my cousin, Randal, and I used to trespass a lot. There was an old abandoned house built on a hillside. It had a big fence around it to keep us out. It also had the best tree swing in the world so it was worth the breach. Using the back porch as a launch pad, we could swing out over the hillside and let go, falling into a pile of mattresses and foam rubber stacked by all the trespassers. Many times we ran or hid when the police came to shoo us away, always returning when the coast was clear for another swing. It was thrilling.

I’ve trespassed a lot this past year, not into abandoned properties but into places within myself that I had erected fences, places I was not supposed to go. That is the necessity of growth. Transformation always requires a trespass. In stories it is the equivalent of leaving home and going where you are never supposed to go, the place where the monsters live, the place where the entire society (your psyche) tells you never to go. And, so, it becomes the one place that you must go to grow. It is usually ugly and messy and filled with betrayal – and that is the point: all the order dissolves into chaos so that a new order might emerge.

And, in the trespassing within, we trespass against others, especially against people we cherish. They are part of the old order. When the internal order dissolves, the outer order dissolves, too. That is also ugly and messy and filled with betrayal. There is loss of friendship. Love is tested.

My stained glass window tells me that forgiveness – of self and other – is a necessary step on the path to the new order. Trespass is a wrecking ball. Trespass is thrilling. The cops in the head (to borrow a phrase from Augusto Boal) will drive by to run you off or make you hide. The cops in the head will tell you that you are not safe or that you are doing damage that cannot be repaired. Fear wears a badge of authority. Fear wags a finger and calls you traitor, liar, or coward.

Trespass makes all things true and nothing true; that is the point of chaos. All location points disappear. My stained glass window tells me that forgiveness is new location point. It is an anchor. It is a sign that the new order, the butterfly, is emerging from the mush of chaos. Just as trespass is an essential movement away from the known, forgiveness is essential to return home. And, in story terms as in life, when you come home, finally and at last, after all of the trials and all of the betrayals, after all the mess and ugliness, you are new, so home is new, too. When you trespass, leave, and return, you find that there are no more fences and no more badges keeping you out. You find that the swing is available anytime. Love is reformed and everything becomes possible.

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See The Force

from my children's book, Peri Winkle Rabbit Was Lost

from my children’s book, Peri Winkle Rabbit Was Lost

Bill is a board member for non-profit education organization and is forming a case for changing the curriculum. He’s asked me to help him shape his argument. The students going to the organization’s classes did not fare well in the public schools. As Bill wrote, most of the students are interested in the arts and there are no arts available. He wrote that the curriculum is mostly “traditional.”

Many years ago, my mentor, Tom, told me that the alternative schools were filled with artists, so Bill’s observation is not surprising. Anyone familiar with Howard Gardner’s work will recognize the notion that people learn in different ways. Desks are torture chambers to kids who need to move or manipulate things in order to process information. I was one of those kids and I can tell you that the word “torture” is not an overstatement. Even today, sitting is unproductive time for me. I do my best thinking while I walk or while painting. Staring out a window is also highly productive: after all, the imagination is a fancy dancer.

Bill is making the same wrong assumption made by all people interested in educational reform when they first wade into the swamps of change: he’s focusing on the teaching and the teachers. If only the teachers could see the value of working experientially, engaging the students in a real pursuit instead of an abstraction, all things would be better. On the surface, that might be true. What he’s not considering are the forces in place that require teachers to default to rote exercises, compartmentalization, and standardization. In his case (and all cases), the teachers are not being reinforced (paid) to engage the students on a learning journey; they are being reinforced to raise test scores. The change he seeks is not in the teachers or the teaching. He must address the forces of compliance that teachers, just like their students, must obey. He must address the systemic assumptions that define the expectations.

This is the same conundrum that organizations face when they desire their employees to work in teams but are structured to reward individual achievement. The desire for team is in direct conflict with the systemic foundations.

As Arnie recently reminded me, 1) our system of education was not created by educators, so 2) the aim was never to educate but to standardize. These two aspects, the structure and the intention, are powerful forces to change. They now define our assumptions of what education should be. Systems are living things, and, as I learned in school, will fight to the death just like all other living things.

Bill has his work cut out for him. Changing the focus of the teachers is the easy part and can only happen when the focus of the system supports the deep human desire to learn.

Go here to get my latest book, The Seer: The Mind of the Entrepreneur, Artist, Visionary, title_pageSeeker, Learner, Leader, Creator…You.

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Take The Time

photoLife is so fragile. It hinges on subtleties, kindness and happenstance.

When the bird hit the window it sounded like a gunshot. It was early morning, the sun was just above the horizon and I was outside with Tripper-Dog-Dog-Dog. The sound startled me but Tripper was across the yard to the bird in heartbeat. I screamed, “Stop!” The Dog-Dog stopped even though his mouth was open and the bird was in it. Trip backed away and I took him into the house. He’s a good dog.

The bird, a finch, was stunned. It sat on the porch, its heart racing. Kerri came out of the house and sat with the bird. She started talking to it, placed her hand on the ground in front of it, and the bird stepped onto her fingers. She carried it to the sunny side of the deck and they sat together. The finch closed its eyes. Kerri continued talking to it, whispering that it would be all right and if it wasn’t, not to be afraid. After several moments, the finch opened its eyes, sat up, and shook itself back to life. And then it flew away. Kerri began to cry.

The sun was warm and the air was cold. It was a new day. We sat in the sun and drank coffee. We worked on Back To Center. This evening, Kerri led the Taize service and told the gathering about the finch. She talked about the feeling of connection and the fragility of our lives. Later, I asked her what the experience with the bird was about for her. She told me that, in the scope of all things, we are all just little birds. Gaze into the night sky and consider your place and you’ll know what she means. Then, she added, “You have to take the time to be kind. It’s as much a gift for you as for the receiver. It’s a gift both ways.”

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Hide The Horse

from my archives. This one is called 'Angels At The Well.'

from my archives. This one is called ‘Angels At The Well.’

I first learned this story prompt from Rick Stone at The Storywork Institute: I come from a people who (fill in the blank), and from them I learned (fill in the blank).

Rick’s story prompt was with me when I awoke this morning because I’ve lately been thinking about my grandma Sue. Kerri and I just started rehearsals on our Back To Center concert series and for some reason Grandma Sue has been present when we rehearse. She passed away several years ago and I adored her. She was small in body but big in spirit. Over the weekend my mother said of her mother, “She took everything in stride and adapted to whatever came her way.” Grandma Sue did not resist her lot in life, she made the most of it. She had fun. She created fun.

I’ve been rolling over and over in my mind a specific story about her that happened before my time on this planet. The shorthand goes like this: the glue factory was coming for an old horse that lived in the pasture next to her house. She knew the truck was coming so she hid the horse in her kitchen.

I grew up playing in her house. I know her kitchen. What makes the story miraculous to me is that 1) her kitchen was teeny and 2) you had to climb some stairs to get from the back door into her kitchen. This tiny woman managed to get an old horse through her back door, make a right hand turn, and climb some very narrow stairs. And then she “hid” it from the owner and the glue factory search team.

I do not doubt the truth of this story for a moment and if you knew my Grandma Sue you would not doubt it either. She was a champion for the underdog, a lover of the small moment, a believer in the extraordinary in the ordinary. She lived from her heart and not her need to make sense. What do you do if the sweet old horse next door is in imminent danger? Anything you can.

This morning, as I awoke, I was again thinking of my Grandma Sue and Rick Stone’s prompt came to me. I smiled because I come from a people who act on what they believe- against all odds. And from them I learned moxie and perseverance.

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Take Note

from The  Yoga series.

from The Yoga series.

Things I love about life and the past 24 hours:

We ended our vigil and buried Kermit (our pond frog didn’t survive the winter. We hoped for hibernation but he was doing something other than sleeping). He didn’t make it so we took great pains to find the right spot to bury him. As we put him in his pond side grave, Kerri said, “We have to sing something.” So, we sang Kermit a farewell song. The neighbor stopped raking and held silence during the song.

I lost my voice on Palm Sunday so joked that, instead of singing, I wanted to do interpretive dance with the palm fronds. Suzi told me not to laugh because she once participated in a Liturgical Dance Team.

The owl.

Kerri misread a quote and instead of reading “life extends” she read “Life Ecstatic!” It’s become our mantra for the week.

Mike the Moose ate a stone. Pastor Tom said Mike would leave the stone behind one way or another.

The sun.

I learned that I could successfully eat skinny pop popcorn while reclining in a hammock.

Judy and I were talking about mistakes. She told me that if you weren’t making mistakes, you weren’t alive. On the same morning, Mary wrote and reminded me of a comment I made on our recent group call. I said: “Being ‘lost’ is an experience of living!” In other words, get lost. Appreciate the unique human experience of not knowing where you are.

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Join A Group!

title_page“This book invites conversation,” Mary said. “I’m enjoying that others feel the same way and want to talk about it.”

I was enjoying it, too because it was my book, The Seer, that they were meeting to discuss. It was the first time since publishing The Seer that I’d participated in a conversation about it. There have been other group conversations and I’ve received some very useful emails and insightful notes, but this was the first time that I was able to attend. Since I’ve been approached to coach people using The Seer process, I was delighted with the opportunity to hear their discussion. It was the first of several calls with a people from many countries who are working their way through the 9 Recognitions (the chapters are a progressive series of recognitions).

During the call I thought about my very first art exhibit. I was young, shy and unknown so I was able to follow people through the gallery and listen to what they saw in my paintings. It was a revelation. There were as many different interpretations of my paintings as there were people in the gallery. Each person interpreted the paintings through their unique lens; they did not see what I painted, they made sense of the image through their life-narrative. They recreated the images. I loved it. It was a lesson in the power of art, seeing and was a seed for my fascination in communal narrative: where do our stories become transcendent and singular? Where does identity become cultural?

During the call I listened to what was important about the First Recognition to each caller. They had unique experiences with the concept. The First Recognition sounds simple but is capable of reorienting what you see if you take it seriously. It goes like this: you don’t have a problem, you have a pattern. “Problem-seeing” is a lens and defines a path of available actions. It defines a worldview is rooted in the notion of separation. “Pattern-seeing” is also a lens and defines a path of available action. It, too, defines a worldview but the rooting is in connectivity. The callers discussed their experiences of shifting their seeing from problem to pattern.

Mostly, I appreciated Mary’s comment because she echoed two concepts layered into the book: 1) No one creates alone. Creating, whether it is a painting or a life story, is a team sport. We need each other to make sense of this life. 2) Working with my book is like riding a bike or throwing a pot: you can’t make the shift unless you do it. To read it alone is useful and perhaps illuminating, but the real worth becomes available when you step into the actions, when you get on the metaphoric bike and fall down a few times. And, looping back to the first point, it is easier to fall with others stumbling along with you. Creating is a team sport because life is a team sport. This group inspired me and how lovely for the potency of the First Recognition to come back at me through the eyes of my readers.

Go here to get my latest book, The Seer: The Mind of the Entrepreneur, Artist, Visionary, Seeker, Learner, Leader, Creator…You.

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Be Chosen

photo-3A few months ago Kerri and I went to look at guitars. The salesman reiterated what she’d already told me: you’ll know it when you see it. It’s personal and not rational. It will choose you. I played several guitars that day and a few more since and have yet to be chosen.

So it was with great wonderment and mirth that yesterday I watched Kerri be chosen. One of the first things I learned about her was that she has a deep river yearning to play the cello. We’ve often talked about it as something that may happen in the distant future, almost as if it was a fantasy or out of reach. In our travels we’ve seen a few cellos for sale that have served to pluck her yearning but nothing more.

Yesterday we went into the local music store to pick up a loaner trumpet for an Easter service. To the left of the register was a cello. It was as if the store and everyone in it disappeared. Dale was unpacking the trumpet to show her when she caught sight of the cello. It was like the sun and she was pulled into its orbit. Dale was in mid sentence when she walked away, touched the cello as if it was her long lost child, and caught her breath. Dale said, “Kerri? Kerri? Do you want to see this?” She was gone, beyond the land of Easter trumpets and caring for the day-to-day. We watched her pluck the strings, listen to tones, and whisper things like, “Ohhhh” and “Ahhhh.”

Dale raised his eyebrows and looked at me. I said, “Wow.”

He closed the trumpet case saying, “This can wait.” We both knew what was happening.

When she returned to earth and the land of Easter trumpets, Kerri peppered Dale with questions about the make of the cello, how it compared to other cellos, what he thought about this particular cello, and if he thought she was crazy to want to play the cello. He kept a remarkably straight face and answered all of her questions. She left the store to think about it but called and asked them not to sell it for 24 hours.

Many years ago I met Arnie for dinner. He’d just been asked to apply for a superintendent’s position and I spent the dinner listening to him tell me all the reasons why he shouldn’t throw his hat into the ring. “It’s a thankless job!” he insisted. “Why would I put myself into such a miserable position!” he thumped the table indignant with himself for even considering the option. We both knew he would do it. We both knew it was his destiny. We both knew he would be offered the job. When he’d exhausted his resistance we laughed and acknowledged what we both knew. He got the job and transformed the district. In transforming the district, he transformed himself.

When Kerri left the music store I felt as if I was having dinner with Arnie all over again. She told me all of the reasons why she shouldn’t get it. She listed the thousand and one reasons why it made no sense. She told me all of the things that she could do with the time and money that it would take to own and learn the cello. And when she’d exhausted her resistance, we laughed and acknowledged what we both knew. She had been chosen. This was her cello and it would give her life and light her creative fire.

Later, after bringing the cello home, we talked about how the important moments in life rarely make sense. Sense making is the province of the known; sense making is backward looking. The transformational moments are transformative precisely because they make no sense, precisely because they require a step away from what is known. From the point of view of sense, transformation seems ludicrous.

This is why art never makes sense. To be vital it is not supposed to make sense. Art is meant to pull you into the unknown where a cello can call your name.

Go here to get my latest book, The Seer: The Mind of the Entrepreneur, Artist, Visionary, title_pageSeeker, Learner, Leader, Creator…You.

Or, go here for hard copies.