Count Your (Minor) Miracles

This is a silly watercolor I did a few years ago. I call it 'Dreams and Dogs.' It's not show worthy but makes me laugh so I keep it around.

This is a silly watercolor I did a few years ago. I call it ‘Dreams and Dogs.’ It’s not show worthy but makes me laugh so I keep it around.

Today I heard the phrase, “minor miracle.” It struck me as odd because I’m not sure that miracles come in major, minor, or standard forms. But, that being said, I decided to make a list of the minor miracles I experienced today:

I awoke. I was alive! And, being alive, I was excited to live another day of life.

I had the best cup of coffee I’ve ever had. Although this happens every morning, the first cup of coffee never fails to be the best ever. It was the first. It was the best.

Mid-morning we took a walk. The day was gorgeous. The breezes from the lake were cool but the sun was warm. The collision of temperature was sensual, startling and enlivening. It was so gorgeous that we took an extra long walk so we might linger in the day.

During our walk, we were surrounded by a cloud of dragonflies. They ringed us and stayed with us for several hundred yards.

I had an epiphany.

We made a customer service call and talked with someone dedicated to serving customers. The challenge remains but the company is no longer an obstacle but is now an ally.

Later, taking Tripper Dog-Dog-Dog for a walk, instead of the usual sled dog technique, he actually walked like a real dog that was trained to heel. The change was so impressive that Kerri said, “This makes me believe anything is possible.”

I have a new painting tapping my shoulder. It wants to be painted. It won’t leave me alone until I pay attention. I admire its persistence.

At sunset, we sat in the hammock with cold beer and Skinny Pop popcorn watching the clouds seep brilliant orange and migrate slowly across the sky.

We sang a song on the voicemail of a friend in deep distress. It made her laugh. It changed her day.

The night air is cool. The windows are open and the breeze is almost but not quite cold. It is quiet and begs for a walk. It will be the third walk of the day and will most likely be filled with a few more minor miracles.

The day also held major miracles, too. But, being major, they are subject to a report on another day.

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Say Yes To How

This is one of my first test paintings for the yoga series. It's small, maybe 10inches square.

This is one of my first test paintings for the yoga series. It’s small, maybe 10inches square.

I’ve spent much of the past week shooting and cropping photos of my paintings. I’m cataloguing. I’m gearing up to show again.

I took an extended hiatus from showing when I went on my walk-about. Actually, in the few years prior to walking about, I stopped showing except for open studio nights and the few opportunities that found me. I continued to paint. I drew a comic strip. I wrote a book. There was lots and lots of energy output but very little energy to calling attention to my work.

The process of shooting the photographs has been a process of rediscovery: I painted paintings and stored them. More than once, now, I’ve unrolled a canvas and exclaimed, “Ah! I forgot all about you!” It’s a paradox: it’s as if I stumbled upon the work stash of some long ago artist; each roll holds a surprise. Each roll also holds a homecoming.

Early sample from the Yoga series. 18" x 24"

Early sample from the Yoga series. 18″ x 24″

Because I’ve been painting but not showing, I’ve inadvertently created an opportunity! I have an intact series: my yoga paintings. This series is a great gift because I can track my growth, I can trace the development of a technique and a visual stream of consciousness. I can see the seed. I can see the the seed cracking open, the green tendrils that grew from the seed. I can see the blossom. And, there is more to come that remains yet unknown.

When I started the series I had no idea that I was actually starting a series. At the time I was bored with my work. A friend, an acupuncturist, asked me to create some paintings for his office. Bodies in motion. I was messing around with different surfaces so I took the opportunity to play. I thought few people would see the paintings so there was no pressure to produce. I actually practiced what I preach: I played. I loved the mess. The point was the process and not the product. No single painting was an end in itself. There was no thought to being good or investing in any of the games that make art a labored mental exercise. It was fun. It was a discovery path.

The Yoga series all grown up. This piece is  4' x 4'

The Yoga series all grown up. This piece is
4′ x 4′

It continues to be fun. It continues to be a path of discovery. The pieces are becoming more complex; the figures at first were suspended in space. Now, they exist in environments. The pieces started small. Now, they are quite large (and getting bigger).

I’ve been writing these past few weeks about the question “How?” I realized yesterday, as I shot the latest painting in the series, that over the past few years I’ve often asked myself, “How am I going to paint that?” The answer has always been a rich and vital, “I don’t have the vaguest idea! Let’s find out.”

The latest in the series. This piece is almost 5ft x 5ft

The latest in the series. This piece is almost
5ft x 5ft

Peter Block wrote a great little book entitled, The Answer To How is Yes. As it turns out, these paintings are my visual record of how I said and continue to say Yes to How.

Go here for art prints of my yoga series. The newest pieces will be available soon!

 

 

 

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Let Yourself Go

I have no idea how, but I'm making a mess of sound and will one day play the ukulele.

I have no idea how, but I’m making a mess of sound and will one day play the ukulele. Kerri says that I already am…

My meditation on the word “how” continues.

At our recent Summit in Holland, Alan and I asked the question, “What would you do if you didn’t have to know how?” It is a great question. The short answer is this: you’d figure it out. You’d try things. And if your first attempts led nowhere you’d try something else.

In this musing I have often written that “how” is something that is known at the end of the journey. We can’t answer “how” with any honesty until the story is played. Today I recognize that there are two distinctly different “hows:” 1) the explanation, “This is how I did it. This is how you do it. This is the “how” that presumes a path or a prescription. When dealing with this version of “how” I ask groups or clients to consider their life story and tell me how they got to this day in this place doing this job, etc.. The answer is mostly, “A clear path with a lot of happy accidents,” or something like, “I have no idea. I didn’t try.” Yes. Ask me how to paint a painting and I will tell you that I have no idea. I’ve painted a thousand of them and I can teach color theory or composition but I cannot tell you how to open to the muse, how to become a channel for something greater to come through. To paint a painting, to act in the play, to write the book, there is something akin to letting go. There is a divine surrender. So, how did you get to this place in your life? Divine surrender. Happy accident. Unstoppable forces.

If the first form of “how” is an explanation, the second is akin to giving permission. I have worked with a legion of blocked artists who set up studios, buy musical instruments, sign up for improv class,…, and then sit in their studio, stare at their musical instrument, and forget to go to class. When they call me, they tell me their story and always finish the telling with, “I don’t know how….” For my fee, I could say a single, simple word: start. Instead, what we usually do in our work together is find their internal permission. When they realize that their block has nothing to do with “how” and everything to do with the fear of being judged (“how” is an internal braking system meant to prevent starting), when they are ready to, as Saul would say, “Orient to their own concern,” they allow that their opinion of their work trumps all others, they give themselves permission. They start. They play.

Recently, a brilliant woman, an attendee of the Summit, a maker of incredible mandalas, sent me an email with a photo of the start of a painting. She asked for my advice. I wrote: make a mess. Paint on top of the mess. Then repeat. Today in my inbox I received her beautiful mess with a note that their would be more messes to follow. She started. She picked up a brush. She splashed some paint. She splashed some more paint in response to her first splashes. That is how art is made. That is how light bulbs were invented.

This morning I laughed when I realized the double definition of the phrase, “Let yourself go.” In common parlance, it is used as a negative, when people give up, when they stop trying to maintain their health or their appearance, “He really let himself go.” The second possible meaning is to start. To go. The next time someone is sitting in their studio and asks me the question “how,” I will respond like this: let yourself go.

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Yoga Series 7Go here for fine art prints of my yoga series (and more).

Unlearn And Step

Helping Hands.

Helping Hands.

I revisited an old journal this morning. I’ve been thinking much about power these past few days and I have a mountain of writing about power. This blog began as an exploration of personal power, the creation of power (power-with), confusing control with power (power-over), grasping power (fulfilling potential) or vampiring (drinking power from others).

Lately, I’ve been thinking that the question “how?” is a form of learned powerlessness. Most people (adults) are reticent to do something until they know how to do it. That’s backwards; no one knows how to do anything until they actually do it. Doing is a prerequisite of knowing how. As a coach I often hear the fear beneath the phrase, “But, I don’t know how…” Needing to know “how” stops all motion.

Children do not have this problem. The firewall-from-life called “how” is learned. Or, more accurately, it is installed. For instance, the other day when Craig and I walked passed the batting cages, he said, “Those things make me shudder. I totally, I have PTSD from those.” He was joking in the way that means, “I’m not joking.”  Shame is a lousy teacher. So is bullying. The message: there is a right way to do it and you better know the right way before you swing. Or else. Shame is a powerful action inhibitor. It is the tool of the powerless teacher. It develops in the student the necessity of knowing “how” prior to taking action. No one willingly steps toward shame or a bully.

The question, “How?” often functions as a form of premature cognitive commitment. It is how elephants are held captive by the weakest of strings. As infants, a strong chain is attached to one of the elephant’s legs and the other end of the chain is secured to a strong tree or stake in the ground. The young elephants pull and pull until they learn that pulling does no good. They stop testing the chain. They make a premature cognitive commitment to their restraint. They will never pull again. A simple string is all that is required to contain the elephant once it believes it has no power. The question, “How?” works just like the elephant’s premature cognitive commitment. Needing to know “how” before taking the step is a commitment to non-action. It is a belief in powerlessness.

On the other hand, to step without needing to know “how” is the equivalent of pulling on the chain. Pull, and see what happens. Transcending “how” is an act of power reclamation. The ability to step without knowing how is central to all vital artistic and, as it turns out, scientific, processes. Discovery precedes the necessity of “How?”

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.

For fine art prints of my work, go here.

Entertain Random Thoughts

photoI am awash in random thoughts.

Kerri told me that flies barf when they land on you. Swinging in the hammock on a lovely Wisconsin afternoon, plagued by a single persistent fly, she swatted and added, “They poop on you, too.”

I laughed. I doubted. To be honest, I mocked her ridiculous assertion. And then she Googled, “Do flies barf?” And, horror of horrors, they do. Not with every landing but often enough to alter my relationship with flies.

“Might this be a metaphor?” I asked to save face for my mocking-gone-bad.

“I think it is a metaphor for the small things you learn each day,” Kerri smirked in victory.

“I think it is a metaphor for insurance companies in America,” I said. “They poop on us every time they land on us and that seems to be more and more often.”

“My metaphor is positive and your metaphor is dark,” she said, swinging the hammock and looking to the sky.

“My metaphor is more appropriate,” I replied.

“How?”

“I learned today, thanks to you, that flies taste things through their feet.”

“What?” Kerri asked. “So?”

“When they land on you they decide through their feet whether you are a good snack or not worth their time,” I replied.

“So?”

“Have you ever heard a better description of an insurance company?” I smiled.

Kerri rolled her eyes. “Random,” she said.

See. I told you: awash in random thoughts. You learn something new everyday. Some things you want to know. Some things you don’t.

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

For fine art prints of my paintings, go here.

Embrace The Mess

circa 2011

circa 2011

I did not intend for this post to be a continuation of yesterday’s but when Amy climbed the stairs into the choir loft and said, “I don’t do change very well,” I laughed. It was word-for-word the same phrase that Kerri had just spoken.

For some reason, we’ve come to expect change to be comfortable and breezy. We expect ourselves to be paragons of reason in the face of imbalance. I find this ridiculous expectation of centered-off-centeredness to be suspiciously corporate. Apparently all change needs management and if it is not managed smoothly and without feeling or emotion then it is not well done.

Emotion is messy. Change is hard. The seed cracks before the tender shoot finds its way to the sun. The seed needs to crack in order for the new form to emerge. Hearts are broken, like seeds, to allow new forms to emerge. Even the “right” relationship is dynamic, messy, surprising, joyful, disappointing, filled with fear, the heights of elation, tenderness, quiet, and at the core is this volatile thing called love. Love burns hot during transformation; love is snuffed when excessively managed. Love is transformative when not unduly controlled.

Everyone does change well because change is the nature of our existence. Energy is always in motion. If humans are expert at anything it is change. We do change well because we can’t avoid it. What we do not do well is afford ourselves the grace of feeling the grief, the insecurity, the frustration, the anger, the joy, the exhilaration, and the dizziness that comes with change. We limit our emotional color palate when we confuse change with control. We do not allow ourselves the mess, the unpredictability, and the loss of balance that necessarily comes with this rolling vibrant transformation called life.

Amy would have been more accurate had she said, “I don’t do control very well.” I didn’t tell her the secret: no one who experiences the fullness of life does control well. In the face of her messy, volatile, change process, she wouldn’t have appreciated my counterpoint. When someone is standing in the middle of the muck it is cold comfort to tell them that they are in the right spot. So, I simply laughed, nodded my head, and said, ‘I know….”

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

 

Go here for fine art prints of my paintings.

 

State The Obvious

Sometimes it is necessary to state the obvious (to myself). Sometimes, for me, the potency of life is found in stating the obvious: children are born and children grow up. They leave home. They become parents. Parents become grandparents. Grandparents grow old and pass away. At no point do things stand still.

Or, the obvious can be stated another way: children have dreams. They pursue their dreams or run away from them. Either way, they pass through the stages of becoming – and, at some point, believe that they have actually grown into something (doctor, clerk, lawyer, teacher, vagabond, parent, athlete, etc.). They learn that their dreams are infinitely more complex than they realized. All dreams come with challenges, regrets, and discomfort. Regardless of the path, at no point do things stand still.

We want to “get there.” We desire to arrive. Usually, the misperception of arrival leads to crisis when things change. And things always change. This river of life never stands still. It is never static. It is never fixed. The moment of birth begins the progression to dying. And, depending upon what you believe, a new form always arises when old forms fall away. The new form, the new leaf, turns brilliant colors, withers, falls to the earth, becomes soil and mineral, feeds the root, and reemerges as the grape that ripens, is picked, and becomes wine.

Where is the arrival?

Even inner stillness is fluid. Try to hang on to it; grasping always disturbs the pond. Stillness is more akin to surfing than to stasis. Chaos and order are not opposite sides of a polarity; they are essential phases in a single cycle. Ripples are necessary to experience stillness. Fulfillment and emptiness are necessary to each other. One does not gain without losing. One does not live without dying.

There is no arrival. There are fluid moments of recognition, moments of presence (a word that is often mistaken for an arrival). Presence, otherwise known as consciousness, might be defined as the awareness and appreciation of each moment amidst the realization that things always change. To try and stop the river, to hold on to the moment, to try and stop time will always bring frustration. Presence describes your relationship with change.

This is the obvious thing: nothing is certain. Nothing is still. We always step into uncertainty. We always step. We are never still. Our steps are always into the unknown because no one has ever lived their moments prior to the living of them- despite what the to-do list and cubicle illusion might lead us to believe. Realize it and life is rich and mysterious. Resist it and life is rigid and rich with hardship.

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 a hard copy.