Evolve And Laugh Heartily [on Merely A Thought Monday]

I find the notion of evolution to be hopeful. Evolution of species. Evolution of consciousness. I assume in my wild idealism that the evolution is toward betterment. Reading Ken Wilber’s thoughts on our chaotic and troubled post-truth times, we are, he suggests, in the throes of an evolutionary step. Evolution is not a smooth stepping dance. It’s more a stumbling forward drunkard.

Last week I posted about the lake in my studio and how the clean up facilitated a life-work review. I was surprised by how many notes I received from life-long friends asking me not to burn my paintings this time. I’d forgotten that, after my move to Seattle, I took most of my paintings and drawings to a fire pit on a beach and burned them. I had so much work that it took three days to complete the purge. That life-work-review ended in fire. This latest life-work-review began with water. I actually loved, post flood, going through my paintings. The paintings that went to the fire felt like a burden, a weight. From heavy burden to love; not a bad progression in my personal stutter-stepping evolution.

We drove to Colorado last October to see my parents. In his dementia, my dad cast me in the role of his college roommate and took me on a tour of the basement. We stopped in front of a large photograph taken at his parents 50th wedding anniversary celebration, a photo of the whole clan. He pointed to my twenty year old face in the photograph and said, “Now, I don’t believe you ever met this one.” It was true. As I listened to his description, I had the overwhelming feeling that he was right. Later, I returned to the photograph and visited that version of myself. I thought, “I think dad’s right. I don’t believe I ever met this one.”

The months that followed set the stage for my flood-inspired-work-review. I’ve discovered that I am more apt to be kind, more given to the positives, than I was a decade ago. Evolution has softened me. Or, opened me.

I’m not alone in reaching back, in sifting through the evolutionary drunken stumble to the present. This pandemic era serves as a marker-in-time as well as a great disrupter of pattern and path. It has inspired many a life review among those in my circle. Together, we ask the questions that have no answers, Quinn’s big three: Who am I? Where am I going? What is mine to do?

There are no answers but from time-to-time it’s necessary to ask.

There’s a fourth question that kept Quinn in stitches every time I asked it. What’s it all about? He’d howl and snicker and snort whenever the question came up. I am now the age he was when that younger version of me sat in his study and wrinkled my brow, disconcerted at his hearty laugh. Now, I know without doubt what’s so funny. I find myself laughing to tears when I hear the un-answerable-fourth-question. It’s about what you make of it as your illusion drops away in the course of your own personal evolution.

What else?

read Kerri’s blog post about EVER EVOLVING

Stroll The Esoteric Garden [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

Lately, I am strolling the esoteric gardens and have picked for you these wild blossoms.

First, my favorite quotes of the week:

  1. “Life is mysterious and transcends logic, so the living thing can never be fully analysed, taught or learned…The doctor may explain why the patient is dead, but never why the patient is alive.” [Declan Donnellan].

2. “Samuel Beckett is a wonderful writer who has meditated deeply on the mystery of death…All of Beckett’s works, especially Waiting For Godot, are about death. In other words, because death exists, time is radically relativized. All we do here is invent games to pass the time.” [John O’Donohue]

DogDog and BabyCat are food-driven. The levels of excitement in our house escalate when the food bowls are filled. DogDog performs his vertical-jump-and-counter-clockwise-spin dance. BabyCat uncorks an excited verbal symphony that sounds a lot like “now, now, now, now, now…” The anticipation of the bowl, it seems, is far more satisfying than eating of the food from the bowl. The anticipation lasts longer and I am certain that, in the gobbling, neither DogDog or BabyCat actually taste their food.

3. “After a time, you may find that having is not so pleasing a thing after all as wanting. It is not logical, but it is often true.” ~ Mr. Spock. I laughed the first time I heard this in an episode of Star Trek. Capitalism reduced to a simple, single phrase. The economics of desire, wanting and having en route to wanting.

I have crossed paths with many a seeker. Mostly, they talk of presence or mindfulness or being as a noun. A thing to achieve or possess or gobble. Food in a bowl. The anticipation of unity in a path devoted to separation, thus, we are seekers. The Buddhist’s remedy to the dedication of separation is to chop wood and carry water. In other words, being is a verb.

With the notable exception of how-to-go-on-a-walk-without-pulling-our arms-out-of-the-socket, using the promise of a treat, Kerri can teach DogDog anything. There is no end to the tricks he will perform, the indignities he will suffer, en route to a treat. He sneezes on cue. He counts, high-fives, sits, jumps up, jumps down, wears paper plates on his head…his little Aussie body quakes with excitement, his eyes firmly locked on the promised treat.

We wrinkle our brows daily and ask, “How can they possibly believe that?” Horatio would respond, “It’s game theory. What are the incentives, the promised pay off?” Anticipation. Treat. We might as well ask, “How did hate, division and lie become food in the human bowl?’ There is no end to the tricks people will perform, the lies they will embrace, the funny hats they will wear, the indignities they will suffer or inflict, eyes firmly locked on a promised treat. Superiority. Or mattering?

I have crossed paths with many a power player. Mostly, they talk of winning, and owning, and being-on-the-top. There is never enough food for the bowl. The anticipation of achieving abundance through eyes that only perceive a pie with limited pieces. Owning this piece and then the next and the next and the next…

“Life is mysterious and transcends logic.”

Yearning meets obstacle.* The strange alchemy necessary to invent a story.

Dogs and cats living together, oh my!

“All we do here is invent games to pass the time.” I wonder, as I wander through my esoteric garden, what might it take for us to invent more inclusive, life-giving games, a more generous story?

*this definition of story courtesy of Robert Olen Butler

read Kerri’s less esoteric blog post on ANTICIPATION

Cast A Shadow [on DR Thursday]

“The soul has no limits.” ~ Heraclitus

It was a hot summer night, humid and sticky, and the community was gathered in the outer ring of the temple. The Wayang Kulit master, shadow puppet master, was performing a play. Part ritual, part entertainment, the Balinese have not yet banished their arts from their worship. Laughter is welcome in the temple. Although the puppets are beautiful, ornate, the audience can only see the shadows they cast on the screen. It is a metaphor for life: in consciousness, we see only the shadows. We are the shadows. Our life-stories are illusion.

We walked in silence. Watching our shadows on the snow I thought of that hot night in Bali, of my astonishment of the skill of the master, manipulating all of the puppets, voicing all of the parts, a lamp of hot oil burning on his head – the light source to create the shadows. If that were not enough, he conducted the orchestra, seated behind him, by tapping the ground with a piece of wood wedged between his toes. He was a priest. A storyteller, not a preacher. Words and laughter swirl in the outer ring. As you progress to the inner ring, the most sacred place, language falls away, no words are spoken. No words are necessary. Kerri and I, while we walk, often occupy the inner ring. We hold hands. We listen to the sounds in the forest. We cast shadows.

Sometimes I feel far away from that hot summer night. Sometimes I sit right next to it. Our walks bring me closer to it.

It was a revelation to me to sit with people that experience no division between what is sacred and what is not. They do not worship on the weekend and then leave their holy place. To the people watching the shadow puppets, it is all sacred. It is all temple, even themselves. They know themselves as sacred. It is all holy, even to the forks and spoons in their drawer.

The separation they experience in this life – as individuals – is the shadow. Separation is the illusion. Fears and foibles are without lasting substance. The puppet master plays his rowdy tale to remind the people seated on the ground in the temple, that the truth of their existence is beyond the projection on the screen of their minds. Forms are fluid, not fixed. Souls have no limits.

read Kerri’s blog post about SHADOWS

Hold Hands And Listen [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

These words, posed as polar opposites, come from the world of relationship advice. The recommendation is to establish clarity. Before you get into trouble, define whether your mate’s need is to be heard or to hear advice, to receive solace or solutions. Offering a solution when the need is solace is not recommended. Knowing my snap-dedication to solving-her-every-need, Kerri will often cut me off at the pass with, “I just need you to listen.” My lending-an-ear is often the only thing she really needs.

I’ve always been a good listener but it is only recently that I’ve discovered that I cannot solve anything for anyone. I cannot spare anyone the necessity of walking through their life lessons. The solving is not mine to do. The discoveries are not mine to make. This comes as a great awakening to my third-child-in-the-family-peacekeeper-identity. It also comes as a great relief. Peacekeeping, as a role assignment, is impossible. It’s akin to herding cats. It’s best to let each cat find peace in its own way. In sitting still, in surrendering the impossible task, my peace, like a magic castle, appeared.

A few years ago, a friend, sensitive to Kerri’s grief, offered her this truism-nugget: there’s only one way to go through it and that is to go through it. Trying to spare or minimize her grief would be to rob her of the depths of her love. Feel the depths. Meet the monster that lives there. Emerge transformed or at least informed. It is how we come to fully know ourselves.

We are learning to walk together with no need to solve. I am learning to hold hands and listen. The walking together, the holding of hands, is essential. The words I spin around our challenges are rarely meaningful and never as necessary as attending to the simple essential of quiet presence.

read Kerri’s blog post about COMFORT OR SOLUTIONS

Emerge Changed [on KS Friday]

This moment “is the place of pilgrimage to which I am a pilgrim.” Paul Murray

Columbus’ journey into dementia has reminded me once again that time is not a linear thing. We cycle as surely as the tides, the seasons, the days that move into night and back again. Each and every moment a pilgrimage, as poet Paul Murray writes, in which we are both pilgrim and the target of our pilgrimage. We journey to discover ourselves. As Columbus moves deeper into his world, I know the separation, the distance from him that I experience is necessary. He must walk alone into this season of his pilgrimage.

Walking the snowy trail a few days ago I asked Kerri about the experience of losing her father, I asked if it necessitated a life review. She told me that, when she thinks of her dad, she is filled with the impression of who he was; she rarely thinks or even remembers events. She viscerally feels his love. She knows his spirit. “I never think about his achievements or how much money he made – all the stuff we get lost in,” she said, “but I fully remember who he was.”

We are in transition. All jobs lost. Broken wrists challenging artistry as it was. Every day it begs us to consider who we are within our circumstance. Who are we if we are no longer that? “Our spirits are high. We take one day at a time,” I just wrote in a letter. It’s true. That is who we are. That, at this present moment, is all we are. Pilgrims walking.

I am, like my dad, in a “winter” in the cycle of time. He pulls in. I am also pulling in. To rest. To reflect. To rejuvenate. Pilgrim and pilgrimage, both. Each moment an unbroken circle. Each moment in transition. The old shell is too small. Someday, it will of necessity split. Columbus will emerge changed into his new world. I will emerge changed into mine.

in transition/released from the heart is available on iTunes

read Kerri’s blog post about IN TRANSITION

in transition/released from the heart ©️ 1995 kerri sherwood

Balance The Opposites [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Skip told me that the only problem Kerri and I would face is that we are both CEO personalities but come at it from entirely different directions. Truer words were never spoken! For instance, when we walk, my eyes are generally in the sky pondering the greater meaning of the universe while Kerri’s eyes are on the ground looking for a cool photo op. I see big pictures and she is a master of detail. I am easily lost in thought and she is snagged in nuance. Most of our wranglings are hysterical arguments for the same thing but from diametrically opposed points of view; we are quite capable of making agreement sound like dissent. Word magic.

Our walks, with my eyes in the sky and hers on the ground, have become a metaphor for why we are so good for each other. She pulls my eyes to the ground. I pull her eyes into the sky. I’ve recently been awed by a nurse log covered in ice crystals, the lines running through a tiny rock, the composition of a fallen pine branch in undisturbed snow. She helps me see in life what I easily miss. It’s a paradox – from my view at 30,000 feet – pulling my eyes to the ground is expansive. I see more. I appreciate more. I stop and look. It is my favorite paradox that, in our house, I’m considered the visual artist but she is teaching me to see.

Balance. It comes from opposition. Like a yoga pose, energy sent in opposite directions creates stable grounding. It creates space, creative tension. Center.

When Terry was teaching me to scuba dive he often instructed me to “get neutral.” He was Buddhist and his teaching was as much spiritual as it was practical. “Getting neutral” meant not to struggle. Maintain or change depth with breathing. Inhale or exhale. “Getting neutral” meant not to swim through the dive like a tourist but to be in it. Be in the enormous power of the ocean. Balance the opposites. Begin with your breathing.

On the trail, Kerri often stops, kneels close to the ground, focusing her camera. “I love this,” she whispers. “This is beautiful.” She carefully frames her shot. “Do you want to see?” she asks, standing after taking a few shots.

“Yes.” I say. “Yes, I do.”

read Kerri’s blog post about UNDISTURBED

Witness The Generosity [on Merely A Thought Monday]

You know the ritual is over when the sacrifice is made. Sometimes the sacrifice is literal, an offering of thanks to the greater powers. A life given for life received. It’s the elemental story cycle with gratitude as the final act.

Sometimes the sacrifice is unconscious and, therefore…unconscious. Unseen. Not felt.

In the weeks before the holiday, the delivery trucks were ubiquitous, zipping this way and that. The deliverers-of-packages worked overtime to ensure all good things arrived on time. We tracked the good people hauling our packages to remote destinations, a luxury of the modern world. As I stroll down my street this week I see, post-holiday, the garbage collectors are working overtime, mechanical arms groaning and methodical, clearing the mountain of debris, boxes, empty bottles (I contributed my share), wrapping paper and remnants of our ritual. Our offering of thanks to the greater powers leaves a mighty litter trail.

The day after Christmas, at the mouth of the lot where we park to hike our trail, the discarded trees were already stacking up. Kerri speculated that the people who enjoyed the trees must certainly be going on travels. Why else would they discard their trees so fast? “Or,” she speculated, “maybe they’ve had them up since the first of November. Maybe they are ready to move on.”

The sacrifice is too easy. It’s piled on the curb. It’s hauled away.

Despite how this reads, it is more meditation than criticism. This holiday season was one of my favorite precisely because we could take nothing for granted. 2020 was brutal for us as it was for many. With our patterns blown to bits, with our security nowhere to be found, our community fragmenting, with no easy choices, we were – and are – conscious of every single step. We are grateful for every moment of heat in the house, for every kindness that has come our way, for every small kindness we’ve been able to offer. We imbue our meals with a deep thankfulness that we did not a scant one year ago.

Why is it that gratitude is so easy when everything else is hard – and why is gratitude merely lip-service when everything is easy? It is, I suspect, why our congress can’t move to help a struggling populace; they have it too easy to identify with the people they represent. We are too easily taken to the curb, to readily swept away.

It has been my role in this lifetime to walk the margins and look inward at the mechanics of my community. To see. It’s the role of the artist to see the patterns, the shapes and colors of their culture and reflect them back, to make conscious what is too easily ignored. To bring the heart, the eye and the mind to the ugly as well as the beautiful.

By the backdoor of our house are bags we’re filling with crackers and peanut butter, socks and sweatshirts. The bags are for the army of people appearing on our streets with signs that read “Homeless” or “Hungry.” It’s not that I am a fan of hard times, I am not, but I’m grateful for what these times are evoking in me – in us. It’s waking us up, helping us reach to others rather than push them away. It’s moving us to see and wildly appreciate our simple abundance.

In the early days of this new year, with the glitter all but swept up, the champagne bottles hauled away, I am moved to tears at the acts of generosity I’m experiencing and also seeing pop up all around me. The holiday is over, the sacrifices made, but the generosity-of-spirit continues. It’s rising in hard times. It’s there. It’s everywhere, if you care to see it.

read Kerri’s blog post about DISCARDS

Practice Inner Hospitality [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

“What you separate, the soul joins.” ~ John O’Donohue

A few years ago, when we went to Hippy Tom’s farm, Kerri said, “It feels like we’re inside this man’s sickness.” There was stuff everywhere. A hoarder with a farm. Her comment about the farm has become a code-phrase for us. “Hippy Tom,” she says, and I know we are talking about these-un-united-states under the influence of the outgoing president. A nation living inside of one man’s sickness. The hater-in-chief.

The Bidens’ messages of unity and perseverance are akin to a doorway, an exit from the crazy farm. Although we are running for the door, not yet free of the madness, we can see it from here. We can catch breaths of air free of delusion and division.

“When you decide to practice inner hospitality,” John O’Donohue writes, “the torment ceases. The abandoned, neglected, and negative selves come into seamless unity.”

Practice inner hospitality. The rules that apply to individuals also apply to organizations as well as nations. Practice inner hospitality and the negative selves will come into seamless unity. “The soul adores unity.”

Although our systemic root belies this, soul of this nation has never been isolationism or white supremacy. The soul of this nation has always been our diversity, our willingness to embrace the new, to find a northwest passage, to step foot on the moon, to embrace, to invent and reinvent, to reach. To improve. To challenge a fossilized belief.

Perhaps it is now time for us to review, renew, to at-long-last turn and face what we have not yet faced in “this beautiful, brave, complicated nation.” To look with honesty and clarity at all of our history, our negative and ideal selves. To balance what has been too long unequal, ugly, denied.

There is great space in our national divide. The flaw, as the Amish remind us, is there to let in the grace. The soul joins. It can show us a path, once and for all, out of the sickness of the farm.

read Kerri’s blog post about AMBER WAVES

Fly The Middle Way [on DR Thursday]

a watercolor sketch for Icarus

My call with Norm could not have been better timed. For some reason I’d recently dipped my toes into an old thought-pool and our conversation was like a ripple across the water. He is working with a team dedicated to self-empowerment, articulating purpose, making better relationships and a better world. I laughed as he reminded me of a younger version of myself.

A few days ago I wrote a phrase twice on a piece of paper. My Whole Life. My Whole Life. The phrase could mean “my entire life.” It could also mean “my flawless life.” I’m hard-pressed to conjure up a single example of someone who considers their life-story whole.

The words “purpose,” “power,” “voice” and “strength” populate the contemporary quest through the wasteland. We seek our power. We search for our unique voice. We hire coaches. We consume curriculum. We attempt to tune ourselves to wholeness like we tune our cars for the road.

There is a profound lesson in all of the great stories [stories are terrific guides…] and it is simply this: you can’t find “it” out there. You already have “it” and will, if you are lucky, realize “it” when you give up the search. Stand still. Feel the sun on your face.

The penny dropped for me while working with a group in the Netherlands. Everyone – every group I’ve ever worked with – wants to know “how?” There must be a prescription! What are the guaranteed six techniques to personal power? John O’Donohue wrote,“The gateway to our deepest identity is not through mechanical analysis.” In other words, there is no prescription. There isn’t a list. There are no tools to fix what is broken.

Parcival had his illusion shattered. The more he fought the dragons the worse the wasteland became. The grail castle came back to him only after he took off his armor, only after he completely relinquished and forgot about the fight.

None of this is to suggest that the search is ridiculous. It is not. It is a necessary process step in the cult of the individual. It is a necessity for people who believe themselves to be powerless to climb on a warhorse and ride into a personal hero tale. The knight will also need to flee from or fight with the inner-dark-anti-hero, the one who cries “fraud” or “loser” or “worthless” that serves as the shadow, the balance point of every power quest. The more he fight the dragons the worse the wasteland becomes.

“Let go of the hero,” Harald taught me, “and the anti-hero will also disappear.” Then, and only then, do we find the the middle way and the selflessness that comes with it. Some traditions call “it” presence. Some call “it” illumination. Some call “it” self-actualization. Some call “it” getting neutral or detachment. Some call “it” wholeness. Most locate “it” in the middle way.

Icarus did not listen to his father who warned him not to fly too close to the sun as it would melt the wax holding together his wings – and to not fly too close to the sea as the water vapor would make the feathers of his wings too heavy for flight. “Fly in the middle,” Daedalus cautioned. “Fly the middle way.”

Icarus, so the story tells us, became enamored of his ability to fly, so lost in his new power, that he soared toward the sun. Only when he was plummeting from the sky did he remember his father’s caution, “Fly the middle way. Fly the middle way and live.”

read Kerri’s blog post about ICARUS

Icarus, acrylic, 30.5 x 59.5

icarus ©️ 2004 david robinson

Make It Flexible Again [on Two Artists Tuesday]

This is a tale of two quotes. They collided in my brain while I pondered this wacky year, diverging realities, repeated historical patterns, and why I have yet to rake the leaves. You might conclude that I need to relax or that I have too much stuff wafting through my noggin and, as Thom taught me to say, “you might-could” be correct on both counts. Quote #1:

“Sometimes the best way of caring for you soul is to make flexible again some of the views that harden or crystalize in your mind; for these alienate you from your own depth and beauty.” ~ John O’Donohue

Kerri is a series photographer. She has dozens of photos of heart shapes found in nature. Heart rocks, heart leaves, heart water stains. Lately she has started two new series: 1) Trains through trees, and 2) Horse poop on the trail. I rarely bring my phone on our walks or I’d inundate you with images of my artist-wife kneeling to get the best poop shot [I’ve been instructed to tell you that the horse poop series is for use in commentary and not merely aesthetic].

I am an artist and given to looking at my world, but Kerri constantly surprises me with what she sees. She opens my eyes to what I might miss: the beauty all around me. If I could give a gift to the world it would be what she gives me: to see beyond what I think I see. We see what we believe – often without question. There is no better way to atrophy the mind/heart/soul than to see only what you believe. “To make flexible again some of the views that harden or crystalize in your mind.” Can you imagine better medicine for what ails our angry, divisive nation?

Quote #2: “Creativeness is finding patterns where none exist.” ~ Thomas Disch

We stopped at IKEA for 20 to pick up some furniture. In the few moments that it took us to run in, pull the boxes, move through the register line, and run out, Kerri took a series of series photographs. IKEA is a gold mine of pattern. There are patterns within patterns. Her love of shooting photos set up for me a dichotomy, a social observation. She came alive finding patterns, capturing patterns, breaking patterns. She climbed over ropes, into shelves, crawled into tight spaces, and wriggled between stacks to get the shot she wanted. The rest of the people in the check-out line were either bored, impatient, or otherwise lost in their minds. For them, waiting-in-line was the only pattern that existed. I laughed at the contrast, the utter vitality of Kerri’s enthusiasm played against the dulled-cart-pushing of the crowd.

Sometimes there is a sea of pattern dancing right before our eyes. It exists. It surprises. It inspires and challenges. Creativeness, the vitality of living, requires nothing more than opening our eyes and engaging the world that sparkles beyond our burdened minds and worn-out belief.

read Kerri’s blog post about PATTERN