Ask A Better Question [on Merely A Thought Monday]

I just erased the post I’d written for today. We often write a few days ahead so we have time to reflect on or edit what we’ve written. We’ve learned that it’s a good practice to consider what you are about to spill into the world.

It’s a good practice because it affords us the opportunity to ask, “Is this what I mean to say? Is this what I really want to say?” The post that I’d initially written was bothering me. A lot. Sipping coffee, I confessed my discomfort to my chief editor and life-collaborator (Kerri) and we followed the trail until we found the source of my chagrin.

There is a question, a much more important question, behind and beyond clarifying what I really want to say. It is this: “Is this who I want to be?” My post was making me uncomfortable because it was the opposite of what I profess to be. It was the opposite of who I understand myself to be. Of who I want to be.

I’ve often written and taught about “the spaces between.” Relationship. Intuition. Heart. Facts and data require interpretation and live on the spectrum at the farthest point away from wisdom. Focus on the spaces between, the movement rather than the noun, and an entirely different life opens. Wisdom is more like water than stone.

Most cliches touch a truth-root and today that is the case for me: We teach what we most need to learn. Thank goodness my editor was around to gently slap open my eyes and help me ask myself a better question.

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE SPACES

Step In [on DR Thursday]

I’ve read that the purpose of the gorgeous soaring cathedrals, built in the middle ages over many lifetimes, in the age before power tools and hydraulic lifts, was to transport the worshipper from the harsh realities of their everyday lives. To give them a small glimpse into their notion of heaven. A sanctuary. A taste of peace.

We made it a point to stop. The road home from Chicago runs past the small village square with the gazebo awash in the light of a tree, the brilliant green and blue spheres beckoning. It was late at night and very cold but we had to stop. We wandered, breaking the cold silence with crunchy footfall and took photographs. For a few moments time stopped. Rather than being transported from our lives, we stepped fully into our moment. We entered our present-cathedral, alive with many moons, and absorbed its quiet peace.

Open to all the stars in the universe, this sanctuary filled us with beauty and hope.

That night, all we needed to do to fill ourselves with hope was make it a point to stop. To step out of our warm car and step into the cold night. No stonemasons needed. No toil-over-lifetimes. Just a simple decision. Stop. Open the door. Step in.

Kerri’s albums are available on iTunes and streaming on Pandora

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE SQUARE

face the rain © 2019 david robinson

joy!/ joy! a christmas album © 1998 kerri sherwood

Stay On The Root [on Merely A Thought Monday]

I wrote a note to myself and put it on the stairs. Later, I’ll carry the note up to my studio/office. It reads: standing still in the sacrament of uncertainty.

I know well this sacrament of uncertainty, this thing of mysterious and sacred significance. I’ve been here before, many times. Standing still is becoming easier.

This morning these words caught me so I underlined them in pencil: They are fully aware that their common ancestors, the Tairona, waged fierce but futile war against the invaders. In their mountain redoubt, lost to history for at least three centuries, they chose deliberately to transform their civilization into a devotional culture of peace.” ~ Wade Davis, The Wayfinders.

Deliberate transformation into a devotional culture of peace. Imagine it if you can.

She was so wise! Karola’s advice to the 30 year old version of me: let the glass go empty. That was terrifying advice to my younger self. At that age, I feared losing myself in the emptiness. At 60, having been empty (and emptied) more than a few times, her advice is sage. As she knew, empty is the only place that you have a chance of finding yourself.

I know now that I used to go into my studio to escape the noise. It was the only place where I could make sense – or find sense – of this crazy world. Studio as fortress. As armor. I will, at some point, re-enter my studio. I wonder what I will paint now that sense-making is no longer a priority. I wonder what I will imagine now that the armor is off.

I tell myself to “stay on the root.” Advice from Saul. That means to stay in the moment. Even in the intense discomfort of uncertainty I do not want to rush through a day of my life. Uncertainty and loss are life experiences, too. Colors on the palette. No less valuable than joy or conviction. When I listen to myself, when I sit solidly on the root, the circumstance remains but the discomfort disappears.

I’m doing what I’ve so often advised others to do: when you cannot see, ask those you trust to tell you what they see. Perspective requires some distance and I am sitting squarely atop my event horizon. I cannot see. These days I’m happily borrowing perspective. My friends have wise-eyes. They tell me – each in their own way – to stand still. Honor the sacrament. Listen. Empty and make space for imagination.

read Kerri’s blogpost about BEGINNING

Stay On The Root [on KS Friday]

“Energy cannot be created or destroyed; it can only be changed from one form to another.” ~ Albert Einstein

Saul’s words have been ringing in my memory: “Stay on the root.” He was a tai chi master.

He might have said, “Stay grounded,” but his reference to “the root” is more dynamic. When on “the root” there is absolutely no resistance to circumstance. Nothing can knock you off center. You are solid, rooted; not for resistance or fight but for flow. No kinks in the energy-hose.

Presence is a requirement of being on “the root.” If your mind jumps into fear-of-the-future it will pull you off center. If your heart dives into regret of the past, it will yank you off balance. Saul might remind us that our bodies are always present. What else? Our minds story us into stress and, mostly, the horror stories we tell ourselves never actually occur. Or did occur.

Here’s the most important part of his instruction: when staying firmly on”the root,” a place of no-resistance, flow is possible. In fact, anything is possible. That may, to some, sound like new-age nonsense but it is actually age-old wisdom. It’s a practice of getting out of your own way. Assume nothing. Lilies-of-the-field, etc. There’s a timeless fable about a farmer and a horse…

A week ago we walked our trail and the leaves were vibrant with color, electric. Now, they are mostly on the ground. Transforming. Nutrient for the soil. I doubt the leaves felt fear of falling or spent an ounce of life-energy in regret.

Kerri’s albums are available on iTunes and streaming on Pandora

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE LEAF

figure it out/right now © 2010 kerri sherwood

Find Your Flower [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.” ~ Lao Tzu

Lately I am learning that I don’t need to immediately accomplish every task. Our house has been an excellent teacher and I have gained the useful phrase, “delayed maintenance.”

Kerri and I have two different operating styles. Mine is a straight line and hers is a circle. She can start a project and leave it and think nothing about it. On the other hand, if I start a project, I can’t stop thinking about it until it is complete. I am only now learning that I tend toward the obsessive. I have a gift for the myopic.

I thought I was kind of a zen guy, easy going, and am shocked to discover that I can be a hot mess of fixation. Thus is the nature of self-discovery. Life is helping me loosen up.

We sat on the deck last night and talked of our childhood homes. The games we played. I drew pictures on typing paper with a #2 pencil for hours and hours. The world disappeared. I’d wait until the rest of my family was asleep and then I ‘d get up and paint on my wall. I thrived in the quiet of the night. I suppose myopic comes naturally to me. Single focus. Disappearing into my work.

I marvel that butterflies seem like drunken sailors, careening this way and that, yet they always clear the fence. They always alight on the flower of their intention. My career has been like the flight of a butterfly. I dare anyone to make linear sense of my resume. Drunken sailor. Yet, somehow, I clear the fence. I find my flower.

People ask me if I like my job and I tell them I love it. They, of course, want to know why I love it and I tell them that I never know in the morning what I am going to do that day. Each day the work is good. I fall into my myopic ways, sail into my conceptual universe, but have no expectation of completion. It’s like wrestling with a shape-shifter. And, so, to keep in the match, I, too, must shift my shape. I’m honing my inner chameleon.

There is a post-it note on the wall next to my desk. It reads, “Live as if the universe was tipped in your favor.”

Fly like a drunken sailor. Like Dogga, run in circles of delight. Learn to love your myopic ways, yet do as the Balinese taught: know that “it’ll happen when it happens.” What else? Sight – seeing the flower (myopic and otherwise) – is fully available when practiced without expectation.

read Kerri’s blogpost about WHITE MOTHS

Make A Mess [on Merely A Thought Monday]

One cannot know life’s ups without experience of life’s downs. The quality that defines order is chaos. And, vice-versa.

In the same vein, Horatio hit me with a thought that gave me the shivers: wisdom is the blossom of regret.

Regret is one of those special words that is both a verb and a noun. To lament. A feeling of sorrow. It comes from experience. When he was young, Roger told me that he wanted to live a life with no regrets and although we’ve lost touch, my great hope is that he was incapable of living the life he wanted to live. He is made of deeper stuff.

Hermann Hesse’ novel, Siddhartha, is a story of arriving at wisdom. So, too, is his novel Narcissus and Goldmund. Far beyond the lands of understanding and knowledge, the fields of wisdom are born of messy life. Mistakes made. Fears confronted. Loss and awe. Illusions pierced. A protected life may fill your cup and bank account with information but will leave you with a limited palette of life experience. A full closet of clothes for the ghost that wears them.

Coincidentally, last week, Horatio and I both spent some time on sterile medical beds looking up at the bright lights on the ceiling. Doctors looking down. Suddenly filled with gratitude for the regrets that we’ve racked up in this life.

Sitting by the river, watching the river flow by, we compared notes. We shared life stories. How on earth did I get to be so lucky?

read Kerri’s blogpost about CATERPILLAR ON A ROPE

Drink It In [on Two Artists Tuesday]

…and then, I have nature and art and poetry, and if that is not enough, what is enough?” ~Vincent Van Gogh

We stood for a long time staring at the quaking aspen trees. Initially, we went to the nursery to look at grasses to plant against the fence. Tall grasses. Pampas. Oddly, Colorado called and we were drawn as if hypnotized by the siren song of the aspen stand. In the breeze, the leaves make this sound…

Like all things in our life, our backyard has been blasted to bits by the force of the events of past few years. We are now, slowly, pulling the pieces back together again. We’re working our way toward blank canvas, clawing our way back to zero. We are, at long last, beginning to dream the dreams that percolate beyond mere survival. To design life with more than duct tape solutions.

The aspen quaked for us and we quaked for it. We exchanged a silent promise. Not yet. There are too many things on the list that need to be done. But the promise is made and a design is taking shape.

The gift of free fall is that it indelibly sears appreciation of the small moment, the passing kindness into your soul. It’s a great perspective giver. Precious life is the thing that passes while wishing and moaning to be safe and secure somewhere else. If you’re lucky, as we are, you hold hands and experience the full palette of life experiences.

“The grasses remind me of the beach and Long Island,” she said. “Someday, we’ll bring the aspen and the grasses together. Both of our birthplaces in the backyard.”

A design intention. A new experience. A promise to a vibrant stand of trees made on a sunny day in a quiet nursery. Drinking it all in. Beautiful.

It is enough. More than enough.

read Kerri’s blog post about the ASPEN STAND

Have A Constitutional [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“Have you not noticed that love is silence? It may be while holding the hand of another, or looking lovingly at a child, or taking in the beauty of an evening. Love has no past or future, and so it is with this extraordinary state of silence.” ~ Jiddu Krishnamurti

As the evening cools the heat of the day, we look at each other, no words need be said, stand, hold hands and walk out the gate. In another era, they called this kind of evening stroll a “constitutional.” Walking at days end is good for your constitution, your health.

I’ve learned it’s good for my mental health. All of the energy swirling around inside my brain channels down and out through my feet. Fifteen minutes into our stroll, I take a deep breath. I sigh. The last swirl spirals out. With a clear mind, I relax. I squeeze Kerri’s hand. The beauty of the evening flows in. I can see beyond what I think.

We walk a loop through the neighborhood that winds toward the shore, past the beach house where we held our wedding reception. We follow the path through the park, emerging onto First Avenue along the row of houses overlooking the lake, by Jim and Linda’s old house. Echos of laughter. Good times gone by.

Sometimes we talk. Sometimes not.

The other night, as we strolled in silence, I smiled at how much of my life I spent trying to “get somewhere.” Trying to “achieve” or “obtain” some imagined thing. Always separate from my moment. It made my constitutional that much sweeter, knowing I had no where else I wanted to be. No imagined place, racing around my mind, pulling me from the lapping water, the cooling evening air, my wife’s hand, the sound of our slow walking.

read Kerri’s blogpost about EVENING

Live Inside The Altar [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Dear reader, you have done me a great service. You’ve connected my past to my present.

I’m not sure why but, initially, I numbered rather than named my blogposts. My 623rd blog post was about a practice I’d all but forgotten. Building an altar of gratitude.

Someone out there read #623 so it popped up in my analytic. “This is old!” I thought, staring at the screen. A numbered post! Another era. “I wonder what I was writing about?”

2012. Thanksgiving. Among the darkest days of my life and yet, on that day, I was deeply, profoundly grateful. Life had chased me to a cliff. There was nothing to do but leap. I remember like it was yesterday wandering the streets of Seattle placing notes of gratitude in the cracks of walls, at bus stops, at coffee shops. I felt as if I was invoking. I wanted a better world. If I wanted it, I needed to offer betterment to the world. It was a prayer. A weaving. It was the last time I built my “altar of gratitude.”

A year later I lived in an entirely different world. Everything went to ashes.

2022. Kerri and I are walking our trail. We’re giggling because we just planted a painted rock in the elbow of a tree. “Do you think someone will find it?” her inner 5 year old asks, too wiggly with excitement to stand still. I expect her to skip in circles of enthusiasm.

“Yes,” I laugh. “Someone, someday, will find it.”

As I reread #623 I realized that, in rising from the ashes, I was no longer building my altar on a single day in a single season. I was no longer invoking gratitude. I was no longer hoping for a world that might someday come into being.

I am creating it. Not on a single day or special occasion. I’m practicing gratitude every day. I’m living gratitude every day. Painting rocks, making dinner, watching sunsets, buying groceries, writing blogposts.

Because you sent #623 back to me, a marker in time, I’ve realized I’m living inside my altar. All the world….

read Kerri’s blogpost about EXPLORE

Live Like. Reach For. [on Merely A Thought Monday]

These messages are everywhere! Marketing tags, song and book titles, posters and billboards. memes. A sentiment also found in poetry, plays, and religious texts. Live like…

Live like you were dying (title of a studio album by Tim McGraw)

Live like a monk (title of a book by Daniele Cybulskie)

Live like there’s no tomorrow (A ubiquitous quote and set up for follow-up sentiments like, “Tomorrow may never come!”)

Live like.

Live. No guarantees. Dance like no one is watching. Be here now. If I was the rain.

It’s the message human beings like to deliver to other human beings. Don’t waste your one precious life. Realize it. Consider the lilies.

So the story goes, the Buddha was asked, “What’s the biggest mistake we make in life,” His reply: “The biggest mistake is to think you have time.”

It’s as if we were trying to wake each other up. Or, wake up to each other. It’s as if we need to say, “Don’t miss it!” It’s as if we are asking, “Will you help me see it?”

These days there’s plenty of fear-mongering spinning around the word “woke.” I wonder at this collision of universal message and partisan agenda. After all, what is the opposite of “woke”? Why would anyone want to walk through life dulled or asleep? Why would anyone want to walk through life with their eyes closed, uneducated, filled with answers but empty of questions? Why would anyone want you to close your eyes and mind and heart to the fullness of life?

An amazing thing happens when near death kisses open the eyes: all the perceived divisions drop away. People throw themselves on bombs to save other people, people give up their seat on the life boat and, in those moments, skin color, sexual orientation, or politics matter not at all. In Highland Park, while the bullets were flying, decisions made in helping others to safety and the promise of one-more-day-of-life had nothing to do with division.

In the real moments, the awake moments, people reach for other people.

Perhaps that is why we are appealing to each other in beer commercials and bibles, lyrics and legislation, to wake up.

read Kerri’s blogpost about LIVE LIKE