Follow Your Bliss [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

“And now you ask in your heart, “How shall we distinguish that which is good in pleasure from that which is not good?”/ Go to your fields and your gardens, and you shall learn that it is the pleasure of the bee to gather honey of the flower,/ But it is also the pleasure of the flower to yield its honey to the bee./ For to the bee a flower is a fountain of life,/ And to the flower a bee is a messenger of love, /And to both, bee and flower, the giving and the receiving of pleasure is a need and an ecstasy.” ~Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet [Pleasure]

Yesterday was a rough day. We awoke to some disturbing news. Kerri cried. And, for the rest of the day, uncharacteristically, DogDog and BabyCat were by our sides. It occurred to me, as DogDog rolled over for his 15th belly-belly of the day, that he was making himself available for a pet, not only because it felt good to him, but because it felt good to me, too. He was helping me to feel good. BabyCat was glued to Kerri’s leg. They decided to divide and comfort.

When we first found DogDog at Farmer Don’s, I dove into multiple books by the Dog Whisperer. It had been an eternity since I had a puppy and felt like I needed some guidance. I read that dogs (and cats) are master-aura-readers. They know what we feel before we know what we feel. It’s true. When DogDog runs into the bathroom, his safe spot, I know there is a storm brewing.

BabyCat has claimed one of DogDog’s toys. He rubs his face on the ribbed fabric and literally moans with pleasure. The first time we heard his pleasure-moan, we thought he was in pain. We ran to find him soaking up the single sunny spot in the house, rubbing his face on his toy, unapologetic in his bliss.

We watched him and laughed. His ecstasy was so simple and pure. The warmth of the sun. The satisfaction of the scratch. His pleasure gave us pleasure. It also gave us pause. “Dibs on the sunny spot when BabyCat is through,” I said. “Good luck with that,” Kerri smiled.” BabyCat, like most retirees, follows the sun.

Vicarious-bliss-sharing is one thing. Leaving the sunny spot is a bridge too far, even for our empathetic B-Cat.

read Kerri’s blog post on BLISS

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

Recognize The Art [on Flawed Wednesday]

The snow was too dry. My snowman fell apart when I put the head on. “It doesn’t have to look like a snowman to be a snowman,” Kerri said to cheer me up.

“Maybe it’s modern art!” I quipped, using my if-it’s-a-mess-call-it-art default statement. As I walked down the trail, away from my unsuccessful snowman, I wondered when incoherence had become included in my definition of art.

I am and have been these many months doing some soul searching and life review. Walking down our snowy trail I remembered working with a dying theatre company. The first step in restoring their health and vitality was to help them face a simple truth: that they made the “art” did not necessarily make the “art” good. In fact, the “art” could not be good until their criteria for “good” wasn’t about them.

The challenge with “art” in the modern era is that it is nearly impossible to define. For purely masochistic reasons I looked up the word ‘art’ in the dictionary and nearly fell asleep before I finished reading the definition. “A diverse range of human activities involving the creation of visual, auditory, or performing artifacts…” Artifacts? The last lap of the definition reads, “…intended to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.”

Beauty. Emotional power.

Of course, the contemporary world is awash in conceptual art and I read in my dictionary that this form of art, dating back to Duchamp in 1917, “…abandoned beauty, rarity and skill as measures.” Bananas taped to the wall. Statements.

Beauty abandoned. No emotional power necessary. But still “art.”

Art is, I’m told by historians and other scholars, a mirror of society. It is reflective of the era in which the artist lived. What a society values is made apparent in their art. It’s true.

Art, I believe, has a power and purpose far beyond mere appreciation. It is more than a mirror. It generates identity. It pulls disparate individuals to a common center. It affirms connectivity. It awakens us – and provides access to – that which is greater than any single individual. It bonds. It affirms. It transforms.

I wonder if our art, often so unrecognizable, sometimes incomprehensible, dependent upon curatorial interpretation, not concerned with beauty or rarity or skill or any other discernible measure, is not the perfect reflection of us. Narcissistic. Statements. Each day I am, like you, met by a tsunami of stories in the daily news revealing our collective confusion, our collapse of values, a commons at war with itself fueled by leaders stoking division for personal gain. Bananas taped to the wall. It is – we are – in our daily tales – so conceptual – so void of beauty or rarity or recognizable skill or measure – that it requires an anchor/curator to tell us why it – or we – might have meaning.

And then, just when I wonder if we are hopelessly lost, Amanda Gorman stepped up to the mic. The one true test of artistry is that we know it when we see it. No curator necessary. We are, we were, for a moment, bonded together in a way that no politician, no historian, no concept will ever understand or achieve.

I see it alive in Mike, and David, and Mark, and Chris. It glistens every time Kerri sits at the piano or composes a poem. It is not a mess though sometimes skill meets a happy-accident and, like penicillin, something healing emerges.

When we are washed away into the annals of time, what will be our art-love-letter to the future? What legacy – and art is a legacy – will we leave behind? What will I leave behind?

read Kerri’s blog post about SNOWMAN

for kicks, Kerri made a Snowman mug. Go here to get it

Plan And Reconsider [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

Last night it snowed. I had to pry open the back door and shovel so I could let Dogga out. It is snowing now. We are lying low, appreciating the quiet that comes with winter.

Societies have seasons, too, though their winters look more like forest fires than bears sleeping.

I remember standing atop a Mayan pyramid in Belize, having just read Jared Diamond’s book, Collapse, and wondering how it was possible that such an advanced society didn’t see their demise coming. As NASA Science aptly wrote, “They Did It To Themselves.” It’s hard to see the mountain when you are sitting on it, I suppose.

I no longer wonder how societies do-it-to-themselves as I feel I have a historical front row seat of our unwavering commitment to collapse. We are following a well-known pattern, a rat trail of self-destruction. We are not the first society to impact our temperatures, to influence our rainfall. We are, however, the first to do it on a global scale.

There are so many people ringing the alarm of climate change, the science is incontrovertible, yet overpowering evidence is no match for dedicated human denial. Ignorance is, in this case, to ignore. Action will hurt the markets. Non-action, of course, could destroy life as we know it. We will not be the first society to sacrifice the greater for the lesser, to throw away the essential by protecting the luxury. We will not be the first to ask, “How did that happen?”

I revisited Jared Diamond’s, Collapse. He identifies “two crucial choices distinguishing the past societies that failed and those that survived:” 1) Long term planning – the courage to make difficult choices when problems become perceptible and before they reach crisis proportions. 2) Willingness to reconsider core values – the courage to make painful decisions about values (which treasured values must be jettisoned and replaced with different approaches).

Courage. The-courage-to-make-choices-and-decisions.

The Maya did not cope well when their problems emerged. They doubled down in hearty denial until all resources were exhausted. They waited until their crisis was full blown before attempting to deal with it. The survival odds are better by planning for the hurricane before it hits.

And us? We are on the Mayan path. It seems that we are, like they were, penny wise and pound foolish.

Despite evidence to the contrary, I am not nihilistic or hopeless. In fact, quite the opposite. As Rich used to say, when the pain of change is greater than the pain of staying the same, people get moving. The levels of pain are rising on all fronts. The problems are more than perceptible and it’s debatable about whether or not the crisis has fully arrived. What we’re experiencing could be the very beginning of movement, the willingness to face ourselves and take a good hard look at what we value. It might be the leading edge of courage.

read Kerri’s blog post about POW

find out more about POW

Start Here [on Flawed Wednesday]

Let’s start here: a strange attractor. “Chaos has its own pattern, a peculiar kind of order.” This magical definition pairing chaos and order is from the good folks at Merriam-Webster. They provide definitions of words. Words are a collection of symbols, called “letters,” assigned to specific sounds which, when placed in a sequence, carry meaning. For instance, D-O-G points to something unique and different than, say C-A-T. A collection of words placed in a sequence carries even more complex meaning. Dogs chase cats.

Thought. Expression. It’s nothing short of miraculous if you think about it. And, if you are thinking about it, you, too, are a carrier of meaning. The symbols and their sequence are useless without me and you, reaching to each other, agreeing on the general meaning of the sequence of sounds. And, more to the point, we not only carry but we create meaning. With our magical sounds-in-sequence we are capable of generating the high art of story, the supreme gift of understanding each other. We can reach each other, touch each other, move each other. We can find each other with our words. We shape each other with our words.

From the chaos of all-possible-sound, to the pattern of word and alphabet, to the order of sentence, to the power of story. Anyone who tells you that they are not creative is missing the point of their existence.

I suspect the power of story is infinitely more powerful than we might realize. We take it for granted, this extraordinary capacity, this glorious gift. You’d think we’d have more appreciation for our high art of language, our transcendent ability of speech. You’d think we might honor and protect truth and fact. They are the compass, the map through the forest of all possible tales. You’d think we might use our most powerful accomplishment to find, or better yet, to create shared ground. Common good is an intention, a creation.

You’d think.

There’s a vast difference between disagreement, conflicting points of view, and lie.

The point of a disagreement is to find agreement. After all, single-point-perspective begins from two disparate points of view. It is a “coming together.”

The point of a lie is to mislead. To deceive. To create false impression. False ideals. To foster disagreement. It is a tool for exploitation. It is meant to render apart.

Because we so easily sequence our words, pattern our thoughts, we are capable of using our magic, our ordered language to create…order. We are also capable of using it to create chaos. Disorder.

To help. To hurt. To accomplish. To disrupt. It’s a matter of intention. The direction of intention. How do you intend to use your precious gift?

The real power comes when we learn to think beyond our belief. To question. To ask.

The first rule of education, an essential rule in shaping precious words into thoughts, into actions, is simple: check your sources. Make sure the story you’re embracing, the piper you are following, arises from a well spring of good intention. That it has an ethical center. Check that it seeks to clarify and reach rather than obscure and demonize. Check that your thought-house is not built on a lie.

Check your sources. Of information. You, too, are a source of information, so…check your sources.

With our most powerful capacity to pattern, to create, to think in words and sentences and stories, we can be a carrier of the lie-virus or we can be part of the cure. Reach or reject. It is our choice, through how we use our miracle words and language, what we agree to create together.

Let’s start here.

read Kerri’s blog post on AGREE

Look Forward, Look Backward [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

It stood stark white against the umber of the brush and forest. “A wishbone,” Kerri said.

Furcula. My new word of the day. I also learned that the tradition of breaking the wishbone is brought to us via the Romans. It’s an ancient game of luck and fortune divination. I imagine fowl across the ages had and continue to have no idea that they carry within their feathered bodies an augury. Chefs everywhere caution that the wishbone must be dried before it can properly snap. Pull too soon and the power may not be turned on!

I confess that, standing in the woods, I did not immediately see a wishbone. I saw two diverging paths. It brought to my mind a collision of the Hopi prophecy and The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost. It made my head spin and I was grateful that Kerri stopped to take a picture. When my thought-vertigo calmed I realized that both the prophecy and the poem are a call to take the road “less traveled by.”

I see metaphor everywhere. I can’t help it. And so, it is impossible for me not to project this poem and prophecy onto the place we stand in these firmly-divided-united-states. “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood.” I read that the theme of the poem is “that we want to believe that our choices are unique, brave, and life-altering when they really are not.” It is a backward glance at life.

It seems to me that the choices we as a nation make at this particular crossroad, despite the poem’s theme, will be life-altering. Nation-altering. Some interpreters suggest the poem is a celebration of non-conformity, that the real wealth of life is found when breaking away from the well-traveled-and-well-known path. I can only hope that the politicians draped in red, attempting in their blind conformity to minimize a president-inspired-insurrection, find the courage to break from their dangerous orthodoxy.

The Hopi prophecy is a forward look. One path leads to destruction. The other leads to balance and harmony. A “head” path and a “heart” path. Or, a “two-heart” or “one-heart” path. Two hearts are in conflict, a split-intention, and lose all trying simultaneously to chase two goals; a tale of cross purposes. One heart, one intention. One purpose. Unity.

A forward look. A backward look. A wishbone in the forest. We have the luxury of backward-looking and know the path the Romans chose. They are gone. But, they have left us with a rich tradition of chicken-bone-augury.

I wonder what story future-backward-lookers will tell about us? I wonder what path we will take as our road diverges in this yellow wood? I wonder what fowl tradition we will send rippling into the unknown future?

read Kerri’s blog post about the WISHBONE

Sort [on Flawed Wednesday]

As I type this morning, concrete barriers are being set to block off the streets downtown, fencing is going up around the courthouse, plywood panels are once again screwed into place, covering the windows of businesses. We are hunkering down for an announcement about whether or not the officer, who shot Jacob Blake in the back seven times, will be charged. Also, the little kid with the big, big gun who murdered two people blocks from our home is being arraigned. His bail was posted by the My Pillow Guy. Truly, you can’t make this stuff up.

Also as I type this morning, the party wrapped in red on Capitol Hill is choosing personal gain over principle. Despite placing their hand on a holy book and swearing to serve the Constitution above all else, they’ve chosen – they are choosing – to serve their ambition above all else. Apparently, the holy book and the Constitution are useful props for photo ops but any real dedication ran away with the fox.

As I write this I’m suddenly flush with a revelation that I blame on Horatio. He once told me that every challenge we face in these supposed-united-states is a tension between dueling philosophies: Every-Man-For-Himself vs. I-Am-My-Brother’s-Keeper. My revelation: To believe, again and again, that leaders-wrapped-in-red who are committed above all else to personal gain should honor an oath to something larger than themselves, like their holy book or The Constitution, makes us the fools. It is the natural end, the path of least resistance, for adherents of the philosophy of selfishness, to believe in nothing greater than themselves.

And, after today, why should we expect them to represent with integrity our best interests? They are demonstrating just how incapable they are at leading. Leadership, by definition, requires a concern about something other, something greater, than your self.

Why should we expect more? Red is the new yellow. To twist a bit from Forrest Gump, “Cowardice is as cowardice does.” It is nigh-on impossible to write a farce of these conflicted-united-states. Such is our dedication to the ridiculous, the mad-fantastical.

2020 was the blue ribbon winner of miserable years. Our picture was blown to bits. So, as part of our new years invocation, we did a jigsaw puzzle. 1000 pieces. We brought order and sense and, finally, a completed picture together from so much disarray. It is what we hope to do for ourselves in 2021.

The first step was to sort, to turn over the pieces and see what was really there. Find the edges. Colors. And, so it is. Today we sort.

We’ll again pack a “go bag” in case the expected violence spills into our street. We’ll witness the antics of a failed state as performed by the privileged, sacrificing the greater for the lesser. Seeing what is really there. Accepting what is really there. “The problem with you, Robinson,” Doug delighted in saying, “is that you want it all to make sense. None of it makes sense.”

Red is the new yellow. Where, oh where, will we ever find our edges?

read Kerri’s blog post about the PUZZLE

Be Like BabyCat [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

We had a difficult time choosing our Melange this week. The final week of the year is overwrought with reflection and, let’s face it, 2020 is not like any other year. There is too much. For the first time in our 151 consecutive weeks of writing, on Sunday night we published an almost empty slate; one solid decision and four placeholders. We knew our prompt for Monday because, well, it was Monday. The curtain was rising.

It is tempting in a year like no other to write about the tragedies, disgruntle-ments, mountains to climb and we’ve certainly done our share of that. The pandemic has merely served as a baseline to the other palette of poo that populated our 2020 experiences. As we rounded the trail on Monday we decided that filling-out the Melange week with DogDog and BabyCat might be the respite that we needed. Our boys keep us laughing. They bring us back to the moment, to the real stuff of life. More than once this year, lost in the stormy sea of my mind, I’ve joined the boys on the rug, ruffled ears and stroked chins – and in a matter of seconds I’ve been awash in the thought, “It doesn’t get any better than this.” They are wizards of transformation.

BabyCat is a study in contentment. Scratch that. He is a master of contentment. While DogDog runs circles through the rooms of the house or barks at imagined intruders, BabyCats seeks stillness and sleeps. While we wrestle with fears of the future or sort through the wreckage of our stability, BabyCat finds the most comfortable place in the house and occupies it. He is not ashamed of his inactivity. He revels in it.

I watch him. He is my first cat, an alien being, a mystery that I can’t help but study. Yesterday, as he moved from one nap into the next, I thought that, if BabyCat was an artist, he would be in a constant state of conception. He sleeps on his ideas with no imperative to actually make them happen. He loves an idea for its own sake. In that deep-state-of-fulfillment, he specifically and successfully rejects all forms of self-criticism. He is a hedonist, shameless in his love of pleasure, his ease of enjoyment.

There were days in 2020 that pounded us into mush. If Kerri or I found ourselves in a fit of despair, without fail, in a matter of moments, BabyCat would crawl into our lap. He’d plop his hulking contentment in the center of our darkness, stop all movement, and purr himself to sleep, taking our despair with him into that netherworld. There are few more effective soul-balms than a contented cat on your lap.

Wizards of transformation. Contentment in a storm. No words necessary.

read Kerri’s blog post about BABYCAT

Lead And Follow [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

And now, a few days beyond the solstice, we baby step our way back into the light. Yesterday on the trail, for a few moments, the sun broke through an otherwise dreary day. I was immediately heartened. The warmth went all the way to my bones. And then, it was gone.

“This will define me or I will overcome it.” Sue’s quote is a re-statement of Viktor Frankl: this experience will give meaning to me or I will give meaning to it. This morning, while pondering this quote, it occurred to me that almost every coaching/consulting relationship I ever had could be boiled down to this meaning-seeking or meaning-making distinction. Will it define me or will I define it?

In some ways – well, in all ways – it is a false choice. It is not an either/or world. Our experiences inform us and we define our experiences. The sun emerges and my spirits lift. The sun disappears and I shove my hands back into my pockets, hunch my shoulders, look at the ground. It’s a dance.

If 2020 has taught us anything it is that no one has control over their circumstances. Pandemics rage. Wrists break. Jobs vanish. Stability collapses.

We do, however, have the capacity to choose how we engage with our circumstances. We have the capacity to choose who we are within our circumstances.

I don’t know anyone who hasn’t at some point stood under the stars, shook their fists at the sky and asked, “Why?” It’s also true that I don’t know anyone who hasn’t at some point in their journey stopped, turned and looked back on their life, and in festival of meaning-making, connected the dots. “It all makes sense,” they whisper.

Am I the captain of my ship or am I tossed about on the seas? It’s not a useful question to ask. A better question to ask: as the captain of my ship, how am I when the seas rise and throw my boat to-and-fro? Every captain is cocky in calm waters but the real story emerges when Poseidon pitches a fit, when the waves tower over your boat.

One of my mentors told me that the trick is not to eliminate your fear. That is a fool’s errand. The exercise is to to keep your focus on where you want to sail. Choose your focus. The fear will always be there, it’s a necessary part of the gig. In a storm, fear is sometimes useful when making choices. The exercise is to know that you are making choices, the best choices given your circumstances. Just don’t make fear your focus. Don’t make fear your choice.

It’s a dance. Sometimes you lead and sometimes you follow. Sometimes you lose your way. Sometimes you simply stop walking and, for a few brief moments, turn your face to the sun.

read Kerri’s blog post on DEFINING

Savor The Simple [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

If there is a single reoccurring lesson rippling through these days of pandemic, it is this: appreciate the small things. Savor the simple pleasures.

With our plate heaped with job losses, backs stabbed, broken-and-not-healing- wrists, parent-worries and COVID restrictions, there is ample fodder over which to fret. We do our share of midnight staring at the ceiling. These are the circumstances, the storm that whirls around us.

In the center of our storm we attend to the moment. We step on the back porch and breathe the cold air. We check the pond for sightings of Epic and Tiny, our frogs-in-residence. We watch the crows chase the hawk from the neighborhood. We laugh at the lengths DogDog will go to get a treat. With care, each night before retiring, we make-up Uncle Mortie’s Hotel, a blanket on the couch where BabyCat loves to sleep (our ample cat snores like a champ so it is no small pleasure that he chooses to check-in to the Hotel over crashing at the foot of our bed).

The smell of coffee. A close-up photo on the trail of pine cones and needles. A special rock. The color of the sky. Deer leaping through a field of sunset grasses. A 45 minute drive to Simple Bakery (a big adventure!) just to get a few pieces of flourless chocolate cake. And a macaroon to share on the drive home. Friends who go out of their way to send encouragement, to touch base, to say, “We are here.”

Life reduced is, in fact, a discovery of riches. Expansion in another direction. A practice of appreciation of “what is.” Sharing a single piece of flourless chocolate cake, the bounty of our adventure, just so we will have anticipation in the morrow, another piece waiting, a double- savor to share.

read Kerri’s blog post about FLOURLESS CHOCOLATE CAKE