Circle Back To Change [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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A long time ago, in addition to naming my posts, I used to number them, too. Today, as I considered what to write, I realized that I had an old post sitting on my desk top because I’m slowly (very slowly) working on a maybe-someday-book called For Art Sake. I opened the old post and laughed aloud when I read it. It is  from a younger version of me writing about the wheels of change [I’ve made a few edits]:

1174. MEET THE FIRE

In order for the phoenix to rise it must first burst into flames and be reduced to ash. Every rebirth requires a death. I imagine the phoenix does not relish the flame but after a few cycles it recognizes the necessity of the fire.

The same image (metaphor) is everywhere: the caterpillar must first cocoon and then be reduced to mush before the impossible happens. The leaves must fall from the tree before the root can replenish, revitalize, and do the impossible: bring forth new life.

The healers in Bali assured me that a wound is necessary to open the door to the gift – each of them had suffered a devastating wound or loss en route to fulfilling their healing power. The journey through the wound was necessary to realize and fulfill their gift. The heroes cycle, the belly of the whale, the quest through the wasteland, finding joyful participation in the sorrows of the world; change is a fiery, difficult business.

In my life I’ve worked with many, many people in all manner of change and transformation processes. It is surprisingly common for people to want their phoenix without experiencing the flame. It took me a while to realize that people (organizations and otherwise) were hiring me under the guise of helping them transform but in truth they really wanted me to help them circumvent the fire.

People go to great lengths to avoid the flame. No one willingly seeks the wound and no one transforms without it. No one in their right mind jumps out of bed in the morning ready to jump into the abyss and yet the adventure is impossible without it. If a full rich experience of living is the aim of our limited time on this earth, then the fire is necessary. The fire is part of the ride.

Fire avoidance is what dulls an otherwise vital life. Comfort is certainly a worthy aspiration but as the only aspiration it deadens, it limits the life-color-palette to taupe. The trick, as all the stories teach us, is never to avoid the fire (you can’t) but, once there, to be alive in it.

After ashes comes honesty. With ashes comes a deeper knowing, call it faith, that  somewhere deep inside, the phoenix-in-you will someday rise just as spring will always return.

[Kerri took these photos. They are the treads of the massive tires on the enormous earth moving equipment that is transforming our beloved Bristol Wood into a high ropes course. We grieve it daily, watching the woods reduced to ashes]

 

read Kerri’s blog post about THE WHEELS OF CHANGE

 

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Walk Off The Path [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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This is a tale of two quotes. Both are from Jiddu Krishnamurti who is currently sourcing my start-of-the-day reading.

“To be religious is to be sensitive to reality.”

Kerri and I love to walk. In our first few years together we’d walk the streets and parks of our neighborhood, morning evening, midnight, sunrise. Each day, regardless of weather, we’d walk. Lately, we’ve gravitated to a few local trails. More nature. Less concrete. More quiet. Less noise.

When we walk we very intentionally leave behind all of the mind chatter, all the fearmongering of the day, the battles with abstractions. It’s as if we shift a gear and easily pay attention to the actual world around us. We look. We listen. We sense. We point out beautiful things. We stop and close our eyes and listen. “Did you hear it?” Kerri takes pictures of the extraordinary marvels that surround us. They are everywhere. Brilliant red berries in a winter landscape. A nurse log. The astounding color and texture of a strip of bark. Deer prints, like ballroom dance patterns, in the mud. A distant owl.

Our walks are my church.

“Truth is a pathless land, and you cannot approach it by any path whatsoever, by any religion or sect.”

I am living a life that is not going according to the plan. Some of my best decisions turned out to be my worst. Some of my worst decisions have turned out to be my best. Lately, I’ve been looking for jobs. This is new to me as I’ve been fortunate and capable most of my adult life of creating work. The gift of looking for work is the necessity of making a list of past experience. A life review called a resume.

I’m finding my work-life-review to be like our walks in the woods. Quiet. Sensitive to the realities. At this age-and-stage I am no longer what Kerri calls a strider. I am not climbing over bodies to get to the top office suite. My sword shattered some time ago. My armor is off and most likely by now covered in moss. Saving the world, becoming the next Picasso, finding the Northwest passage and all of the other battles of abstraction are no longer drivers for me. I have no desire to summit Everest. I have an endless desire to stand in this moment just as I am.

I have (for better or worse) walked a pathless path. And, I suspect that is true of all of us despite what topography we scribble on our resume maps. Truth is a personal path, the face behind the mask.

Master Marsh once asked me, “Why do you need to run at every edge and jump off?” When he asked the question I had witty replies but no real answer. Now, this is what I know: On my quest I’ve read a lot of books and had many, many brilliant mentors and guides. At the end of the day, they were/are pointers at best. The direction they pointed – always – was to the unknown. To the edges. The news from my life-review: It’s never found in a book or well worn path. It’s always found in a moment, in an experience, in a walk in the woods, holding hands.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about NURSE LOGS

 

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Look For Erle [on KS Friday]

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When you pull up Kerri’s page on iTunes you’ll notice that they have a hard time placing her music in a category. New Age? Easy listening? Classical? Country? One does not easily fit into the filing system until one can be clearly labeled. How can you be effortlessly labeled?

It’s a challenge all of us face. What’s the label? How do you fit? And (here’s the rub), it’s bad enough that the greater-world-filing-system needs a label to locate you, the real confusion comes in the labels we impose on ourselves. Are you a dentist? A liberal? A conservative? A mother? A foodie? Self-made, dependent, injured, Christian (which branch?), Muslim, agnostic, vegetarian, cowboy, rich, poor, retired, globalist, nationalist, capitalist, socialist? Do you “know?” Are you the righteous? Professor? How do you place yourself in the greater-world-filing system? Never mind how the “the system” attempts to squeeze you into a role, what’s the little box that you try to squeeze yourself into?

Is that who you are? Is that little box where you belong? Is it the totality of your being?

Sometimes I think we spend most of our lives dividing ourselves so that we might fit into a very small box. And, what we do to ourselves we most certainly do to others. They. Them. Not us.

Divide. Label. Locate.

Reduce. Contain. Shelve.

Although there is a certain amount of safety-feeling when living in a very small box, there is also very little vitality. Little things look big from the vantage point of a tiny box.  Little things look threatening from the confines of a too-tight label. Little boxes are petri dishes for big fear.

We bandy these words about and paste them on the walls of our too-little-boxes: mindfulness, wholeness, vitality. “This life is not a dress rehearsal.” “You are infinite potential.” “Today is day one.” Maya Angelou, Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa. Peace.

These ideals, all of them, wonder, magic, love, artistry, unity, harmony,…truth…crackle beyond the label. They are there – outside the box – and they are never found in the direction of division. They are always present if you care to put down the label-maker.

Get out of your box and turn around. Maybe spin around and around and lose your balance like you did when you were young and less needy of location. Look at the mystery that chases you and chase it. Play tag with this life. Remember how you laughed just because? Reach.

Kerri stood on the edge of a canyon and, although afraid of heights, she threw open her arms. Kirsten called me to tell me. “Mom’s on the edge,” she whispered into the phone. “I’m really proud of her.”

note: this composition has nothing to do with what I just ranted about except for maybe this: the only locators that really matter are the people who love you and show up for you. Your friends along the way. This is the label I am most attached to: Kerri and I are very rich in friends.

OLD FRIENDS REVISITED on the album RELEASED FROM THE HEART is available on iTunes & CDBaby

 

read Kerri’s blog post about ERLE

 

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old friends revisited/released from the heart ©️ 1995 kerri sherwood

erle ©️ 2019 (and beyond) kerri sherwood

Mess With It [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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A simple image skewed. It becomes something else. The original was beautiful, simple stark contrasts. Iron grey corrugated metal meeting untouched snow.  Textures. Man made meeting nature made. It looked like an abstract painting.

When Kerri is restless she plays with images. My composer wife has a better visual eye than her painter husband. She can play for hours with a single image, designing from an inner imperative that words cannot reach. “What are you messing with?” I ask, already knowing the answer. Silence. She shakes her head, my question a horsefly to her concentration.

A curator might tell you that this photo represents a dream gone awry. A door that opened. A possibility that whispered. And then, like the iron grey metal meeting the snow, the dream met the realities of the moment and tilted. The door, the possibility was a mirage, a vanishing oasis.

Of course, a curator might say it represents any number of things and we’d affix their meaning to the image, even if we didn’t want to.  Words are powerful. Sticky.

A simple image. Another day. Another step. Skewed. What are you messing with? I already know the answer. Tell me what it means.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about SKEWED

 

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Sit In The Megaphone [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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Rounding the bend on the green trail at Bristol woods, we sometimes stop and climb into the megaphone. The first time we saw the nature megaphone, we had no idea what it was. It looked like a giant wooden dunce cap. It was big enough to crawl into so we did. Sitting in the dunce cap, we speculated about what it could be (other than a shaming-hat for a giant). Later, the naturalist confirmed our speculation: a large funnel-shaped device for amplifying and directing nature’s voice.

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Amplifying nature’s voice. Last week, on my birthday, we walked the snowy trail and climbed into the megaphone for a rest and some snacks. We laughed a lot and made a few very silly Snapchat messages. We also sat quietly and listened.

We live in a time, it seems to me, that nature is talking loud and clear. This morning we read in the news that an Australian mammal, the Bramble Cay Melomys, is the first species to be declared extinct due to climate change. “Ocean inundation from rising sea levels…which led to dramatic habitat loss.”

Dramatic habitat loss. An antiseptic phrase. Many species, from polar bears, to frogs, to coral reefs (yes, a brilliant life form) are stepping toward the same abyss and will be eulogized, by us, using the same scrupulously clean phrase. Scruple is another good word: a twinge of conscience. ‘Dramatic habitat loss’ is a phrase remarkably clean of scruple.

I can’t help it. I listen to words and usage. I ponder intention, the story beneath the story. Words like ‘tame’ and ‘wild’ are human-made distinctions. So are concepts like ‘property lines’ and ‘natural resources’ and ‘land management.’ Language meant to make it seem that we are somehow removed from or in control of the forces of nature. ‘Hubris’ – another surgical word – masks a nasty bit of delusion: the notion that we are somehow above it all.

After reading the news this morning Kerri said, “They won’t really notice the enormity of the loss until it is people.” With her fingers, she put the word “they” in quotation marks. They. Us. We. And, I wondered silently, will we, even then? Or, will we, as we are now doing, turn it against each other?

Swimming in data AND experience (extinction and climate change are, after all, experiences), we are still vehement in our denial and roaring debate. Sitting  in nature’s megaphone I am almost certain that we story-telling-animals are more-than-capable of arguing ourselves into extinction over the degree of ‘human causation’ in the ‘dramatic loss of habitation.’ ‘Human impact on the environment’ – another very sterile phrase, is, after all, not a new phenomena.  The current iteration does, however, speak volumes about how capable we are of hearing and incapable we are of listening.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about THE NATURE MEGAPHONE

 

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Make The Climb [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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Roger and I used to talk about art in terms of levels of sophistication. For instance, no one masters an instrument the first time they pick one up. There are layers of learning necessary before the musician “knows” how to play. The “knowing” has little to do with the accumulation of information and everything to do with giving over to what the body learns. Finally, it is a letting go (of the mind) into an undefended sharing. Flow. It has nothing to do with knowing and everything to do with availability. This ‘availability to experience’ is what we called sophistication.

Both the artist and the audience pass through layers of greater sophistication. The artist wants greater and greater challenges. The audience wants greater and greater challenges, that is, they want to participate in something that demands more from them. It requires that both artist and audience show up, open, give over. Union is the ultimate purpose of art. Participation in something greater than your self. That is how art informs and transforms.

And then, there is the flip side, the anti-art. You can feel it. The absence of the genuine experience. The demonstration of accumulated knowledge. I cringe when a curator launches a three-masted-ship-of-study that tells me what the art is about, what the artist felt, and what I should see and feel. When the actor attempts to control what I see, when the art is so conceptual that it precludes me or anyone save the artist from entering the conversation, when the  knowledge priest stands between me and my god…you’ll know the levels of sophistication have left the building when the conversation is one way, judged, controlled.

Kerri calls this the blah-blah. When a real moment is disrupted by an agenda, when the flow is dammed by an unnecessary display of knowledge. And, the kicker is, we are all guilty of it. I am. It is a necessary step in climbing the ladder of sophistication, slipping back down the ladder of sophistication. To confuse technique with art. To garble the necessity of the open heart with  the realm of the intellectually abstract.  To give a standing ovation to something that put you to sleep. To try to control what the other person sees or thinks or feels; a fool’s errand. The great artist trap. The great life trap.

And, the best you can do (truly, the best thing), is to catch yourself in the moment of blah-blah, laugh at yourself lost in the trap, pull out the ladder, and begin again to climb toward simplicity.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about AN UNNECESSARY DISPLAY OF KNOWLEDGE

 

 

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Weep [on DR Thursday]

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‘and so he weeps.’ a morsel of weeping man

And so the story goes that one day, deep in the forest, Parcival was knocked from his stallion by a warrior who wore no armor. His magic sword, the object that he believed carried all of his power, was shattered. He lay on the ground like a turtle on its back, trapped by the weight of his shiny armor. He was tired of fighting. He was sad that, despite all of his victories, – he’d never been defeated – the world kept getting worse and worse. And so, laying on his back, exhausted from the fight, he stopped struggling. He gave himself over to his death. He let go.

But the nature-warrior disappeared. Parcival, alive but shattered, for the first time in his adult life, stripped off his armor. He dropped what remained of his sword. And, sitting amidst the wreckage of his life, the fragments of his power, he wept. He let go.

There is a path out of the wasteland. It necessarily leads through weeping. Through loss of illusion. P-Tom would call this a sacrament. Joseph Campbell would call it a threshold.

In any case, letting go of the illusion is necessary before the next chapter can begin.

 

 

 

read Kerri’s blog post on WEEPING MAN

 

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weeping man ©️ 2015 david robinson