Find The Way Home

holdtheworldinpeace-lowerfontcopy-jpeg“Our search for truth must be wide open, even when it takes us in directions we preferred not to go. This is the difference between propaganda and truth. Propaganda has a certain end in mind, and so it marshals and manipulates the ‘facts’ to support its conclusion. Truth weighs evidence, seeks proof, is appropriately skeptical of authoritarian claims, welcomes questions, and doesn’t fear dissent.” Philip Gulley, The Quaker Way of Living*

Kerri and I often read books aloud to each other. On cold winter days we sit beneath a blanket, Dog-Dog at our feet, BabyCat snoring by our side, sip coffee, and read. We like to discuss and compare perceptions, ask questions, and re-read passages for clarity or the simple poetry of the language. Sometimes we savor a book, moving through it slowly. Sometimes we devour a book and go back to reread especially potent sections.

Propaganda resists close inspection and must continually be defended. Truth welcomes doubt and skepticism; indeed it is best served by questions, suggestions, and corrections.”

I am guilty of burying my head in the sand. My move to Wisconsin came with an intentional unplugging from the news. I was tired of pundits shouting each other down. I was weary and wary of conversations with family and friends that seemed to be territory-guarding regurgitations of our news-channel-of-choice. I was using the language given to me by my news sources and rolled my eyes at the predictable language leveled by the “other” side. One day as I raged at family members to pay attention to how they were being manipulated by their news source, I thought that it was probably a good idea for me to do the same. At the time, unplugging, stepping out of the toxic stream, seemed the only option to clear my mind.

The search for truth begins within the seeker, for if we are not honest with and about ourselves, we will find it impossible to be honest with and about others.”

On a recent trip to Indiana, Bill and Linda suggested a book for us, The Quaker Way Of Living by Philip Gulley. They read it with their church group and found it compelling, especially given our corrosive political climate and collapse of civil discourse. We bought it when we returned home and a few days ago started reading it together. We couldn’t put it down. It asks some powerful questions. It doesn’t pretend to have answers [that, I’ve learned, would be the antithesis of the Quaker Way] but it does speak directly to the quandaries of personal and communal integrity in a climate of self-righteousness, blame, and distrust. It is hopeful and funny and places the onus of creating a better world squarely on the shoulders of each and every one of us. It reminded me that burying my head in the sand is not very useful while also affirming that their are options beyond planting a flag in the sand.

“To say a person has integrity means several things. Most commonly, we mean the person is honest, that his or her word can be trusted…. But there is another level of meaning that has to do with the integration of our values and lifestyle. In that sense, to say we have integrity is to say the separate parts of our lives combine to form a unified whole. What we believe is consistent with how we live. Our beliefs influence the work we choose, the way we use our time and spend our money, the relationships we form and the goals to which we aspire. This integration is critical for inward peace.”

While reading, I’ve been thinking a lot about a conversation I had a few years ago with Jim Marsh, one of the people I most admire in this world precisely because he walks his talk. He told me of an issue in his community that had deeply concerned him and that he’d been grousing about for long time. One day he’d had enough and to move forward he recognized that he had three options: First, to stop complaining (he said, “to just shut up.”). Second, to move away. Leave. Get away from the source of his irritation. That didn’t seem like a healthy option. The third was to strap on his boots and do something about it. To act instead of complain. But, (and here’s the reason why I adore him) not to act against, but to work to create what he wanted. His responsibility was not to fight or resist. It was to create.

“We preserve our integrity and wholeness when we are aware of what threatens it and then choose to act deliberately and prudently when tempted. When we fail to do this, we disintegrate, creating a chasm between who we are and who we wish to be.”

I practice tai chi and had the good fortune to have, for a few years, a master teacher, Saul, whose teaching transcended the specifics of tai chi. He was teaching me how better to live. One day, while I was in a fit of resistance, he quietly showed me the power of looking beyond my “opponent” and placing my focus, instead, in the field of possibility. I understood (intellectually) that the opponent was always of my own making and my dedication to having an opponent (inside or out) would always pull me off balance. In other words, as long as I invested in resistance I would always pull myself off balance.

“Integrity isn’t conditional…There is a seamless nature to integrity that transcends situations and relationships. Integrity does not present one face in public and another in private. It delights in transparency, having nothing to hide.”

Now, with my head freshly out of the sand, I understand Saul’s teaching beyond my thinking (I’ve had a lot of time to meditate on things with my head in the sand) and, taking my cue from Jim, I recognize that I have three options but only option-number-three holds the promise of integrity. The best news: no one creates alone…

*all quotes in this post are from the chapter on Integrity from The Quaker Way of Living by Philip Gulley

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THE WAY HOME on itunes – Kerri Sherwood-Track 13 on THIS PART OF THE JOURNEY

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Sit In The First Seat

 

a detail from my latest painting

a detail from my latest painting

I am living this story, as are we all. I am a lover of story so I count myself fortunate enough to know that I am living it. It’s one of the grail stories. Here’s the section of the story that I am now living:

The knight who cannot be beaten (he has a magic sword) is knocked from his warhorse. A warrior, a man with no armor or shield, no protection, emerges from the woods, challenges the knight, and in a single blow, unseats him. That’s not the worst of it: the knight’s magic sword shatters. And, that’s not the worst of it. His armor, his trusty protection through the many wars in the wasteland, pins him down. Like a turtle on its back, he is defenseless. His magic sword, his trusted armor, all that he has relied on, all that he’s built his identity and purpose upon, betray him. He is stunned. He is lost. He closes his eyes and awaits his death.

Death does not come. Well…

another detail

another detail

The warrior, the man with no armor, does not finish the job. He disappears without a trace leaving the knight stranded but alive. The knight opens his eyes and somehow manages to sit up. He weeps because his endless efforts to save the world have come to naught. In fact, fighting ogres seemed to produce more ogres! He removes his armor. He is no longer a knight. He is no longer capable of saving the world. He is, for the first time since his childhood, unprotected. He is, at last, purpose-free.

Nothing is more frightening – or useful – than to drop the armor of purpose and take a good hard look at what lives beneath all that forged metal.

...and another

…and another

At first his lack of identity drives him crazy. He has no answer to the cocktail party question, “So, what do you do?” He feels naked and exposed. Fortunately, a teacher, a hermit, emerges from the woods to help him navigate the crazies. Namely, the hermit helps him by not answering his endless questions. The hermit helps him understand that the world never really needed him because the world was never really broken. The hermit helps him relax and see beyond all of his thinking. He realizes that the wasteland came, not because the world was broken, but because he believed himself to be broken, somehow lacking.

In a life of chopping wood and carrying water he sees that his purpose has nothing at all to do with doing – or roles or achievements. He sees that the road to the grail castle is blocked so long as he believes he is defined by a role or a bank account or lost in a made-up purpose. When he drops his need for importance the grail castle appears.

...and another

…and another

Satori, in all the stories, knocks seekers from their ponies. It stops all pursuits. It pops the illusion of a purpose-driven life. It necessarily strips the seeker naked.

We are all seekers at some point.

When you are required in the workshop to write your epitaph or are somehow forced to articulate what was most important in this life, the doing, the list of achievements, the purpose-drive will always take second seat. HOW you did what you did, the relationships you tended or ignored, the moments you appreciated or missed, will sit squarely in the first spot.

 

as yet unnamed

as yet unnamed

 

 

 

 

 

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Taste It Fully

ice circles on the lake

ice circles on the lake

We heard the angry barking of crows before we saw them. They were haranguing an owl. It flew into a tree only a few yards in front of us. For several moments, through the ruckus of the crows, we stared at the owl and it stared at us. Time stopped. Nothing else existed. The owl’s eyes, our breathing, the crow’s chorus.

For our wedding gift, H and Teru sent several collections of poetry, “Manuals on marriage,” they wrote in the note that came with the poems. Kerri and I are savoring the poems, reading one or two aloud to each other every day. They are a source of warmth and inspiration during these cold dark winter months. A poem cannot be rushed or read merely. It must be slowly tasted. It is meant to be entered like a meadow; to be experienced. Try to make sense of a poem and you will miss it. Just like life.

She said, “inner quiet is low maintenance,” and I laughed. Yes it is. The trick is in getting quiet. It is not something that can be found or achieved. It is not a place or a state-of-being. It is what happens when you stop looking for it. Like the hermit says to Parcival when the Grail Castle suddenly reappears, “Boy, it’s been there all along.”

For years Sam the poet was afraid of his poems. Like all great art, his poems, his art, revealed the artist, and so he kept them locked up, un-tasted. He came alive and supremely dissatisfied when he finally unleashed his poetry. He let himself want more but also refused to let himself experience more; one foot on the gas, one foot on the brakes. To taste fully one must be willing to be tasted.

A snippet of a poem (a koan imbedded in a poem), RELAX by Ellen Bass:

The Buddha tells a story of a woman chased by a tiger.
When she comes to a cliff, she sees a sturdy vine
and climbs halfway down. But, there’s also a tiger below.
And two mice – one white, one black – scurry out
and begin to gnaw at the vine. At this point
she notices a wild strawberry growing from a crevice.
She looks up, down, at the mice.
Then she eats the strawberry.

Taste your moment. Taste it fully.

I wrote in my black and red notebook a simple recognition. The field of possibilities cuts both ways: in your despair you must remember that anything is possible. In your joy you must remember that anything is possible. Tiger above (the past), tiger below (imagined future). Do not reject your moment or attempt to hold on to it – both are methods of missing the moment. Taste it regardless of the circumstance. Taste it fully.

 

 

 

Be An Avid Catcher Of Your Thoughts

TODAY’S FEATURED IDEA FOR HUMANS

Be an avid catcher of your thoughts

This notion is the heart of change. It is the practice of self-awareness. Listen to the story you tell yourself about your self.  It is ripe with ideas, dreams, and yearnings. It is also ripe with fears, doubts, and comparisons. Capture the ideas. Listen to the dreams. Follow the yearnings. It’s a muscle. Develop a focus for the creative. Capture what’s useful and let the other jabber go.

Screen Shot Avid Catcher

TO GET TODAY’S FEATURED IDEA FOR HUMANS, GO HERE

Say More With Less

TODAY’S FEATURED THOUGHT FOR HUMANS

say more with less

One of my favorite humans is Master Jim Marsh. He told me a story of a dilemma. Something in his world was bugging him. He complained about it a lot. One day he realized that complaining was not helping. He said, “I decided I had 3 choices: to stop complaining, to move, or to do something about it.” He stopped complaining and began acting to change on what was bugging him. Sometimes talking about something makes us feel like we’re doing something. It’s a deflection. Actions, as we are told, speak louder than words. 

TO GET TODAY’S FEATURED THOUGHT FOR HUMANS, GO HERE.

Screen Shot Say More

Paddle On

photo-3We’d been out in the canoe for more than an hour. The morning was warm and the water was still. We hugged the shore, cruising the lily pads. Dan told us some of the lily pads were over 150 years old. I was amazed at their capacity to reach through time but also reach through long stems to the water’s surface to drink the sun.

The turtle emerged from nowhere. It appeared from the depths, through the lily pad stem forest, and rose to within inches of the surface. It was big for a lake turtle, perhaps the size of a dinner plate. I let my paddle trail in the water. It was so close I could have reached into the water and touched it. We glided forward and turned the canoe so Kerri might see it but the turtle had already disappeared.

the view from the canoe

the view from the canoe

Turtle is perhaps the oldest known symbol for the earth. In many traditions, turtle carries the world on her back; the earth is her shell. She is a great reminder to go slow and persevere, to live grounded amidst the chaos of life. She symbolizes patience and ease. I was struck by how similar are the symbols of turtle and lily pad. Peace. Ease. Both are extraordinary symbols of grounding or rooting. Both cross the boundary of elements: the turtle lives in water and land. The lily pad reaches through the water to find air and sun. Both inhabit the depths and reach to the surface.

It feels as if I came into this world with art already in me. From an early age I drew pictures, not because I wanted to but because I had to. Like the lily pad, I was reaching for something unknown. I drew the same images over and over again: a cabin in the woods, eyes, clowns. I wasn’t drawing to master the image, I was drawing and painting in order to reach beyond the image. There was something there, beyond, deep in the depths, a root, rich soil, the void. There was a force behind the image that pulled me. My artistry felt like a descent into the caves of the ancients, a search for sources mythological.

Sometime during these past few years, the direction of the pull reversed itself. Like Orpheus in the underworld, I turned around. I walked toward the surface. In essence, the pull to the depths became a reach to the light. The sun called. Balance, in this life, at long last necessitated light and warmth.

Tom once told me that inheriting his family’s ranch and subsequently finding a trunk hidden in the wall of the house containing his ancestors possessions served as an affirmation that he had finally come home. Sitting in the canoe, the turtle rising by my side, I felt the affirmation. I am now only inches from breaking the surface. I drink the light because I know the depths and am adept at walking in the dark unknown.

the first layer of  under-painting for the next piece

the first layer of under-painting for my next piece

I am working much slower now. I am in no hurry to get anywhere. And my art, my life, is the better for it.

 

 

 

Wake Up To Your Dream

a detail of my latest painting

a detail of my latest painting

Oscar said, “I’m way too busy. I have too much to do.” He’s a junk guy, a scrapper and we’d just pulled a piano out of the back of his old truck.

“”That’s better than the reverse problem,” I said. “Too much time and nothing to do.”

Oscar smiled. “My grandfather always told me that sleepers wind up with nothing but dreams.” He added, “I’m trying to teach that to my son.” His son, a strapping young man, rolled his eyes.

It was a nice sentiment, a worthy lesson, and like all sticky-note wisdom, the flip side is usually also relevant. Sleepers wind up with nothing but dreams. People without dreams wind up walking through life asleep.

Once long ago I walked through a house with a realtor named Hans. The place was crammed with piles of stuff, stacks of books and mountains of magazines. I felt claustrophobic and couldn’t wait to get outside. Standing in front yard, having escaped, I said, “I don’t know how people live like that.” Hans replied, “Everyone has their heaven. What looks like hell to you is heaven to them.”

Everyone has their heaven. Everyone has their hell. Isn’t it a good bit of sticky-note wisdom to remember that heaven does not look the same to all people? And, to some people, depending upon how present they are, heaven is here and now. The same sticky-note applies to hell in the here-and-now.

Flipping to the weather channel I found, instead of the weather, an episode of Why Planes Crash (answer: the weather!). A flight attendant who’d survived a crash said, “When the plane is going down, people get religion really fast.” I thought, I bet the opposite sticky-note is also true. Religion is rule bound and usually comes with an in-crowd, a right way, or a chosen people. When the plane is going down I’ll bet all the rules go out the window (so to speak), the divisions become meaningless, and what people get is how precious, unique, and vast is their life – and all of life, for that matter. They don’t get religion, they “get” life. Ric Elias was in the plane that landed on the Hudson River. For him, going down in the plane served as instant clarity. He left the plane knowing without doubt what mattered. He no longer needed to be right. He no longer had time for negative energy. He no longer had time to be too busy. He woke up to his dream.