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

Be A Zebra [on KS Friday]

The Post-It note beside my desk reads “Zebra.” It is a reminder to be more like the zebra. After a near miss with a lion, the zebra does not return to the herd and perpetuate their stress by recounting the story over and over to any other zebra that will listen. The zebra shakes off the adrenaline rush and moves on. No extra stress necessary.

For many years I’ve known that most actions are relatively easy to perform, the stress we experience comes from the story we wrap around the action. There’s a full range of stress stories, from “I can’t do it” to “I have to be…” The it-has-to-be-done-now story is pervasive. At some point in my youth I got it into my human head that faster was better. It’s not a good story since it requires the lion to be on your heels all the time. Watch people sitting in a traffic jam: the story of stuckness has otherwise rational people red-faced and pounding on their steering wheels. The I-have-to-be-there-now story is a recipe for never being present. Running, running, running. Lion on your tail.

Zebra.

When I moved in Kerri cautioned me that the to-do list would never be done. We live in an old house and, like an old body, extra care and patience is required. It’s been quite a transition. This house has become my teacher. It’s in my nature to get-things-done. True confession: If I start a project, I become myopic until it’s finished. All my life, after starting a painting, I lay awake at night rolling the possibilities over and over in my mind until the final brush stroke hits the canvas.

This old house has taught me to let go of my story of need-to-finish. It’s softened the edges of my Puritan work ethic. I’ve grown to appreciate having to tighten the handle on the backdoor once a week. Some day we’ll get to putting knobs on the kitchen cabinets. I’ve come to appreciate jiggling the burner to make the stove work. Our monthly puddle-prevention-thaw of the freezer is part of the rhythm of our lives.

Zebra. No resistance. It’ll get done when it gets done.

Life is infinitely better without an imaginary lion on my heels. It makes me wonder why I spent so much of my life creating stress for myself. I’ll save my stress for the real lions and you can bet when one of those appear, I’ll tell you about it. Again and again. I’m a human after all. Half the fun of being human is telling the tale so I want to make certain my tale, if I’m going to perpetuate my stress, has bonafide lions snapping at my hooves.

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

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE REFRIGERATOR

i didn’t know/this part of the journey © 1998 kerri sherwood

Stroll [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Yesterday, for some reason, I revisited days of early childhood. I played four-square in the driveway. I threw dirt clods at the site of new home construction. I raced my cars off the side of the abandoned building above Del and Dorothy’s house in the mountains; the cars tumbled and I ran to retrieve them so I might send them flying again and again. I ran home in a panic the day I learned that Nancy’s little sister had drowned in utility hole that was filled with water. It was on the route I walked to school and passing the hole filled me with trepidation, it was a dark portal, my first experience of death. I didn’t really understand it.

Late at night, Kerri and I sometimes talk about everything that has happened in the short time of our relationship. We’ve lost parents and lost careers, spiraled in a free fall of uncertainty, had surgeries and broken bones. We’ve also climbed mountains, watched sunrises and meteor showers, we hold hands when we walk, we write together every day. We dance in the kitchen. I am the sous chef to her cooking artistry.

I’m not sure if we practice paying attention to our moments or it’s something that has come naturally to us. She is rarely without her camera, noticing the smallest flower, capturing the angry sky. I hold the space and hope someday she stops apologizing for stopping again to take a photo; I love watching her discover the shapes and colors of this world. Besides, I get to see what she captures in her lens with an excited, ‘Lookit!”

Today the plumber comes. Yesterday we appealed to the company that destroyed our yard replacing the waterline to come back and strip off the top layer of soil, now filled with hardware and concrete and asphalt. Slowly, we are digging out, repairing and replacing all that was destroyed or delayed in our free fall. Our lessons seem to be about stress – or, rather – not stressing. We are having experiences, rich and varied. Some things we can control. Most, we cannot. The best we can do is hold hands and stand together in each experience. Appreciate them no matter whether they look like tragedy or comedy. We’ll make meaning of them later down the road.

The artist dances with death. The appreciation of the fragility of life. Each day I walk by that metaphoric utility hole, only now it does not fill me with trepidation. It makes me squeeze her hand and fills me with gratitude for this life, this moment, this shadow we cast together as we take our time strolling through the garden.

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE SHADOW

Stand Still [on Merely A Thought Monday]

“The understanding of what you actually are is far more important than the pursuit of what you should be.” ~ Krishnamurti, Think On These Things

I wrinkled my brow the first time I heard Kerri say it: “We don’t change. We just become more of who we already are.” I didn’t like it. I wanted to pop the notion with pithy ideas of transformation. Something made me hold my tongue. “Consider it,” I said to myself.

Now, a full decade into the latest phase of my life-long-onion-peel, I see the wisdom in her words. The layers of protection, the suits of armor, the wall of respect, the race from shame, the measuring sticks and self-inflicted-social-expectations stripping away. Trying-to-be falls to the floor like a robe. The story-husks and fear-shells and false skins, false faces, false labels and roles and masks falling to the forest floor.

And, there you are. Just as you are. Naked and vulnerable and oh, so passingly human. Standing still. No ghosts to chase. No monsters chasing you.

And, there you are.

No distance between you and what you desire to create or experience. Finger painting. A child with a crayon and an empty wall for scribbles.

Kerri looks for hearts. She finds rocks shaped like hearts and leaves, heart-impressions in walls and heart-shaped clouds. Each one is a first-and-only and evokes delight. Last week on the trail, it occurred to me that she finds them everywhere, not because she looks for them, but because she expects to see them.

Seeing old friends. There you are.

read Kerri’s blog post about the HEART LEAF

Fail At The Box [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Among Don Miguel Ruiz’s Four Agreements is this gem: do the best that you can.

Through the lens of the Occident, those folks on earth oriented to the idea that their nature is bad and needs taming, the Agreement is a statement of self-forgiveness. Do the best that you can. It’s a good bit of advice when everything on earth seems to come with a measuring stick.

Don Miguel is Toltec so his Four Agreements are rooted in an entirely different understanding of nature. To do the best that you can has little to do with performance or achievement. There’s no judge sitting on the high bench scrutinizing goodness or badness. There’s no book with black marks next to your name. This Agreement is about setting an intention. The other Agreements are about speaking with impeccability, making no assumptions, taking nothing personally. In other words, it’s never about you; you can’t possibly know the reasons why; your words matter. So, do the best that you can.

Circumstances are uncontrollable. Sometimes people are mean. Sometimes the tornado comes through and blows your house away. It’s not personal. You probably can’t do anything to change the tornado and even less to change other people. So, change yourself. Or, better, be yourself. Attend to your story and free yourself from the illusion of living under grand judgment or any of a number of other control fantasies. Do the best that you can.

Lately, I’m pondering the too-tight-image-boxes we squeeze into and try, but can never quite, fulfill. The impossible image; a too tight expectation. The Pleaser. The One Who Knows What Is Right. The Peacekeeper. The Strong One. A step away from the box-expectation, the-role-I-think-I-must-fulfill, is a giant leap into happiness. Inside the box it is virtually impossible to do the best that you can. Boxes are alive with assumptions (what I must do, who I must be); buzzing hives of judgment, and, when in a box, speaking truth is frowned upon, so editing and/or silence rules the day. Just try doing your best when living in a too tight box!

Fear and anger fill boxes. That is, after all, the purpose of the box, the fruit of the impossible mission.

Here’s my advice to myself: fail at the box. Cut it up and put it into the recycle bin. Then, free of the too-tight judgments, it’s possible to set mistake-free intentions. Life as finger painting: do the best that you can.

read Kerri’s blogpost about SOME DAYS