Make No Sense

Untiltled Narrative by David Robinson

Untiltled Narrative by David Robinson

The cliché: life is a cycle. Order begets chaos and chaos begets order. Both are necessary. Just as spring is not possible without winter, order without chaos makes for only half a life. Safety without uncertainty makes for only half a life and a very boring life story.

Ann passed away last night. Her battle with cancer was long and nothing short of heroic. Kerri said, “She was such a bright light! Damn cancer. This makes no sense.” Too true.

Last night, John came back into our lives. We sat for hours talking of the events and changes of the lost years. He told us of the necessity to finally stop trying “to make things work” and how he stepped into the discomfort of uncertainty. Now, standing solidly in his uncertainty, he feels both lost and found. That is a great description of how change feels. We got the news of Ann’s death while John was visiting. We had a glass of wine and made a toast to her life. And then we made a toast to appreciating life in all of its textures. John said, “At the end of the day, all that really matters is a bottle of wine to share with friends.” Too true.

More clichés: rejuvenation necessarily begins in the province of disorder and the unknown. The journey back to self winds through miles and miles of uncharted territory.

Each journey is made beautiful by the monsters and masters we meet along the way. Both are teachers. Both bring gifts and force changes of direction. The Cyclops is as necessary as the sage and both serve new sight and the refocusing of the eye. Both are necessary to strip away our resistance to the cycles, to peel away the protective layers we pile on to life that obscures what truly matters.

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Return To Center

Screen Shot 2014-12-26 at 5.16.04 PMMy sister posted some photos and a video of our father dressed as Santa Claus. He was playing the role for her grandchildren, his great-grandchildren. The photo made me smile and the moving images took my breath away. When he came in dressed as Santa he was mostly silent; his voice would have betrayed his true identity. His Santa was gentle and kind. Like every good Santa Claus, he took his cues from the children.

I did not have children, though, recently, there came into my life two amazing twenty-something adults, Kerri’s children, and I am learning the ins-and-outs of the role of parent. It is a complex and rich affair! On Christmas Eve, Kerri and I were up until 5am wrapping packages and hiding gifts for a treasure hunt (the wrapped boxes held clues and the gifts were hidden around the house). It was a riot of fun and gave me some small taste of what being a father must feel like. All night as I wrapped and concocted clues I thought of my dad: what must he feel in a room with his children’s children’s children? If my excitement for the giving of gifts on Christmas morning – also a new experience for me – is any measure, his heart must have been near to exploding as he pulled gifts from a red bag and handed them to his daughter’s daughter’s daughter.

During this season I’ve participated in many conversations about the loss of meaning in this holiday. As P-Tom said, this is the season that everyone seems to be telling us what we need and where we can go and buy it. And, there’s no denying that the commercial has generally overtaken the communal. Yet, when I watched the video of my dad, I knew that his great-grandchildren would someday tell the story of how once, long ago, their great-grandpa played Santa for them. On that day they would not remember what was in the presents he brought, only that he brought them. As I watched the video of my dad, I knew the essential thing was intact, the commerce had not touched the center: family.

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Train Your Eyes To See

an illustration from my unpublished children's book, Play 2 Play

an illustration from my unpublished children’s book, Play 2 Play

Laundromats are liminal places. Enter a laundromat and you leave behind the known world. You step into the great  “in-between,” the land of “not here, not there.” I am in the land of “not here, not there” because Tripper Dog-Dog-Dog came in from the yard with muddy paws and blew past our usual clean up stop. As Tripper was coming in, our neighbor let out his dogs and, apparently, the perimeter needed immediate protection, which required a Dog-Dog mad dash through the house, a leap onto the bed, and loud, raucous barking. So, muddy paws met white bedspread and although the paw prints were beautifully applied, smeared, and reprinted (a perfect composition), the bedspread needed washing.

As I wait for the cycle to finish I’ve been watching people. The proprietor is wearing a Santa cap and sits at the counter scoping the patrons; he is looking for anyone who might need assistance. He jumps at every opportunity to help patrons having problems with a machine. This is his kingdom and I have the illusion that he’s created it so that he might help others. He laughs a lot. He likes his kingdom.

A young man, clearly a regular patron, is quick to help the older clients lift heavy loads (the proprietor is at the ready but recognizes this unique circumstance). They are all regulars and lifting laundry is the organizing principle of their relationship. They ask the young man how he is doing. He is humble yet delights in their attention as they delight in his assistance.

This liminal space is filled with generosity and acts of kindness. It reminds me of the game I played not so long ago during my walk about. Each day, as I walked, I counted the obvious acts of kindness. There were always more than I could count. Always. The game was not so much about tallying goodness as it was about training my eyes to see what was right in front of me. It is too easy to see the road rage, the aggression, and the selfishness. It is too easy to believe in the monsters. That stuff is there. But, when you take the time to see it all –really see it – the generosity always far outweighs the miserliness.

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.

Canopy by David Robinson

Canopy by David Robinson

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Play For The Light

Photo by Wes Morrissey. See more at rocknfish.com

Photo by Wes Morrissey. See more at rocknfish.com

I’m hanging out listening to the handbell choir practice. I meant to bring my ipad so I could write while hanging out but I forgot it so I had to go old school and find a pen and some paper. The pen was easy but the only paper I could find was the back of an old church bulletin. I opened the bulletin and found the language for the communion celebration, “…he took bread, gave thanks, and broke it saying, ‘Take this and eat. This is my body, given for you….”

In reading the words I was thrown back in time (a meditative handbell soundtrack is very useful when being cast backwards in time). Many years ago, just after I moved to Seattle, the Makah tribe attempted to revive their traditional whale hunt. The entirety of their traditional ritual life stems from the hunt – the whale is their central god much as the buffalo is central to the worship of the plains tribes. In the early 20th century the Makah voluntarily suspended the hunt because European whaling techniques had devastated the whale population. Consequently, with no central ritual, their community fell into disarray. The revival of the hunt brought intense opposition and a media circus of epic proportions.

At the time, I was taking a masters degree in systems theory with a focus on Cultural Mythology and Transformational Art and, so, was enrapt by the collision of cultural perspectives. Through one lens, the hunt was an unnecessary slaughter of a whale. Through another lens it was a communion meal; the hunter is deemed worthy and chosen by the god (the whale), the god gives his life to nourish the people (spiritually and literally), and the people, in turn, perform the rituals of rebirth that bring the god back to life. It is a cycle of death and rebirth, the god nourishing the people and the people revivifying the god through their rituals and attention to life.

The central word is “communion;” to commune with the divine – regardless of faith tradition. And, in the end of the day, when the shopping is all done, isn’t that what this season is about? Does it matter how we mark the return of the light, the winter solstice, the return of the god to eventually bring life to a barren winter landscape (I’m writing metaphorically, too), the fulfillment of a prophecy, as long as we truly experience communion with something bigger than ourselves? It is an awesome responsibility to revivify the god – especially when the return depends upon how we live our lives and perform our rituals.

The handbell choir is working extra hard. Although they play each month, this preparation is for something special. They play with a sense of stress and excitement and desire a perfection that they usually do not entertain. This performance matters more than the others because they know, just like this time last year, they are playing for the return of the light.

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Visit With Your Guardian

My Threshold Guardian at the Jelly Belly store.

My Threshold Guardian at the Jelly Belly store.

In addition to being a dear friend, Arnie is my personal threshold guardian. His appearances in my life always signal that change is a’comin’. The last time that I saw Arnie I left behind everything that I knew (literally and metaphorically). I began a long pilgrimage to the church of my self. It felt as if I stepped into my big wooden sailing ship and set a course for the edge of the known world and then, with great intention, sailed over the edge.

Two years have passed since our last meeting. In the interim, I have experienced Sirens and Cyclops, I lost my metaphoric ship and crew to the great whirling Charybdis, I was held captive on an island, I paid an extraordinary visit to the underworld and, at last, returned to the light with new knowledge. And, this week, as is his custom when I am ready to pass through the next portal, Arnie came to visit.

Saul’s voice roared in my head as Arnie and I debriefed my two-year journey: address your self to the field of possibility, not to the opponent. Possibility, I learned, becomes visible when we are vulnerable and available to it. It appears when we place our focus on it, when we seek it. Pushing and protecting and fighting and resisting obscures the field of possibility because our focus is on the opponent, not on the possibility.

And, of course, the greatest opponent is our self.

In the language of story, for great personal transformation to occur, we must leave behind everything we know and go on a journey into the unknown. That includes leaving behind who we know ourselves to be. In other words, we are required to let go of all the things we believe that we can control – but in truth cannot; we are required to release our insistence on keeping things “as they are.” In the end, we are required to face and then release the things that we are trying “to make work” but cannot – and let go of all the things we want to force into existence but cannot. That is the moment the opponent in our self disappears and we are at last able to turn our eyes outward and see the field of possibility that has been available for us all along.

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.

Eve, by David Robinson

Eve, by David Robinson

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Move Your Words

My friend, Mark, made this Wordle of my blog

My friend, Mark, made this Wordle of my blog

I am working with words again today but in another aspect entirely. Now that The Lost Boy has the minimum funding necessary for a production I am working on the play in earnest. Tripper Dog-Dog-Dog cocks his head and wrinkles his brow in wonderment as I talk to myself or dance the words. Sometimes he confuses my work method as an invitation to play and he leaps, catching the cuff of my shirt and pulls me to the ground. “Not now!” I cry out as Dog-Dog stretches my sleeve so that it might fit a giant (a side note: Dog-Dog has altered all of my shirts – he regularly mistakes my work for play. If I do not roll them, my shirt sleeves look as if I am small child wearing an adult extra-large).

I am a kinesthetic learner and realized years ago that working on a script was easier and more productive if I moved or danced the words as I worked with them. To borrow a phrase from a lost friend, my years at school were “fresh hell” because sitting in a desk was painful, it hampered my learning. If I want to have an insight or gain an understanding of something, the best thing for me to do is take a walk. If I move it, I can break down a script in no time. I can memorize anything if I can physicalize the intentions. For me, language, word use, and sense-making are a physical affair.

It is a physical affair for everyone. Try to speak without breathing (an impossibility); breath is movement. Speech is physical. For a real laugh, try to communicate without gesturing. Limit your movements and you will inhibit your capacity to communicate. For more fun, Google the latest statistic about how much of our communication is really non-verbal (we primarily read body language; listening to what is being said is a distant second). The deep mastery of a storyteller is found, not in the words, but the punctuation of a moment: the turn of the head, the intake of breath, the smallest of gesture, the connection made through the eyes; the fire of imagination is fanned when the storyteller, no matter how subtle, dances the story.

Last night I was reminded again of the power of language – the real kinesthetic of it. Betsi is disturbed by the violence and darkness she sees in the world and asked, “How do we push back on it.” I challenged her verb. When we choose our language we also choose a “metaphor path”. Language choices come with images and images are not passive. They define what we see. They define the available options. They are a root for movement. To push back is a verb of resistance. It is counter force, a choice of aggression. “Why push against what you don’t want?” I asked. “Why not put your energy, effort, and imagination into creating what you actually want?”

To push. To create. Which verb will move you?

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Follow The Thread

My work in progress.

My work in progress.

I spent the morning in the studio fanning the flame of a painting I started weeks ago. It’s hard for me to leave a painting once I start it. Once started, there is a thread that I must follow through the maze of developing imagery that will eventually bring me to completion. If I drop the thread, I lose my way. When I find myself thinking too much I know I’ve lost the thread and it is best to do nothing. It is best to sit in the maze and be lost. Moving from the intellect alone will always create mud or worse, it will kill the painting. The thread, to be useful, is intuitive, a guide of feeling. I’ve learned that sitting still is a necessary and useful skill.

To return to the painting requires finding a wholly new thread. It requires sitting with the existing image until the new thread appears. Sometimes the new thread presents itself when I stare at the painting. Sometimes the new thread jumps me in an alley or while having coffee with a friend. That’s what happened with this painting.

The new thread mugged me. I was miles from the studio and heard someone recite a portion of The Prayer of Saint Francis; the painting was suddenly smacking my inner eye. I knew exactly what I needed to do. It felt right. It felt vital. It would not leave me alone – and that’s how I know I’ve found the thread again. The prayer wanted to be in the painting. This thread would not lead to the same outcome. This thread would lead to a completely different painting.

More and more, words are showing up in my paintings. As I walk deeper into specific symbolism, I’m discovering the word as image. Using words as design elements, shaping a word as I shape a drawing, letters as visual symbol (they are symbols referential to sound). These words that do so much to shape our perception and either put locks on our experiences or set us free – they are calling to me as pure visual forms. Letters are simple lines and shapes sequenced and given meaning as words. Just so, words are lovely shapes sequenced and given meaning as sentences. The meaning is not carried in the words (the symbols) but in the reader. The shapes are visual statements before they are infused with symbolic meaning. Open a book written in a language that you do not read and you’ll see what I mean. You can’t make meaning of the symbols but you can appreciate the visual – in fact, once your brain ceases attempting to assign meaning to the symbols you can actually see the pure form (this is a good rule of thumb for cultivating presence, too).

Here’s the prayer in its symbol form for you to interpret and an image of how it currently exists in the painting:

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.

A detail of the prayer.

A detail of the prayer.

O’ Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.

 

 

 

 

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.