Surface The Pattern [on DR Thursday]

Steve read my book and said he didn’t really understand the thing about pattern. His comment at first surprised me but then I realized he was actually reinforcing the point: we are unconscious to our patterning. We think in patterns. We see in patterns. Culture is pattern. Pattern is invisible and making it visible is a necessary first step in change processes.

The people who surface pattern are often seen by the mainstream as deviant or rebellious. Women demanding equal pay are attempting to make a pattern visible. The BLM movement is attempting to make a cultural pattern visible. Shining a light on longstanding oppression is never welcome in the halls of power.

The people who work to repress the visibility of cultural pattern, conserve the norms, generally claim a righteous superiority. They are keepers of the culture and feel threatened, even victimized, by the sudden visibility of cultural pattern. Exposure is always a threat to the existing pattern and no one relinquishes power or privilege without a fight. The current raft of voter suppression laws – made possible by the fantasy of a stolen election – is a great example. The Big Lie is a textbook example of how far people in power will go to hide a privilege-norm. It is, for us in these un-united states, not a new phenomenon; it is a longstanding well-guarded pattern.

Change happens when the patterns are surfaced. There will always be a tide that rises to extinguish the light of exposure. In the long run, those hardy voices that were, at first, branded as deviant or dangerous, we come to honor and respect. They refused to be silenced. We claim them as our heroes. MLK. Gandhi. Rosa Parks. Cesar Chavez. Susan B. Anthony. There are so many. It is no easy task to surface the patterns. The path of a light-shiner is dangerous and difficult.

John Lewis gave great advice for those dedicated to surfacing unconscious patterns: “Get in good trouble, necessary trouble, and help redeem the soul of America.” He also said that, “…transformation will not happen right away. Change takes time.”

Opening eyes to unconscious pattern, to what is obvious yet unseen, is an artist’s path. Seeing beyond what you think you see…seeing beyond your field-of-dedicated-belief, being curious enough to question what you are being told – can you imagine anything more necessary – more vital – in our age of rabid-misinformation and desperate-pattern-suppression?

read Kerri’s blog post about PATTERN

in dreams I wrestle with angels ©️ 2018 david robinson

Stand In The Narrow Place [on Merely A Thought Monday]

“Western civilization has been a 2,000 year long exercise in robbing people of the present. People are now learning the joys that hide in the narrow place of the hour glass, the eternal moment.” ~ George Leonard, Mastery

The observation has become something of a yearly ritual. Every 9/11, I hear or participate in this conversation: one day, people got out of bed, drank their coffee, brushed their teeth and went to work or boarded an airplane. And then, they never came home.

We are fairly smothered in sentiments about appreciating life, seizing-the-day, living in the present moment, take nothing for granted… “You never know.”

Quinn gave me his copy of Mastery. As was his practice, he underlined significant passages in red pen – and the book was a festival of underlined passages. For years I kept the book on my desk or beside my bed. I’d flip it open and read the red sections. They served as a daily meditation. They gave my busy mind something generative and hopeful to occupy.

George Leonard called presence, “the plateau.” Eckhart Tolle calls it “the now.” In one of the gospels NOT included in the bible, Jesus is reported to have said, “The kingdom of heaven is on earth but men do not see it.” The Way of the Buddha leads to the present moment.

What do we see if we stop thinking long enough to experience the present moment?

2996 people died in the terrorist attacks on 9/11. These people could do nothing about what happened to them on that day. They brushed their teeth. They left for work or got on an airplane.

“You never know.”

This year, there was a new river-of-thought that ran through the annual ritual observation: the daily COVID death toll last week in these un-united states was above 1,000 a day. On January 7th, 2021, 4,147 people died of COVID. In the divided-united states, more than 660,000 people have died of COVID. World-wide 4,550,000 people have perished.

It’s impossible not to look at the numbers and wonder why-and-how we became our own terrorists.

In the past year, with the availability of a vaccine, with the proven effectiveness of masking and social distancing, these people, had they united with the help of their friends and neighbors, had choices. They – we – could have done everything to save their lives. We did not. We divided. 1000 yesterday. 1000 today. 1000 tomorrow. And growing.

Sometimes we know.

Appreciating life is – and always will be, at the narrow place of the hour glass – a community affair. In presence, on the plateau, the line between me and you blurs. It is the reason why all of those firefighters and first-responders ran into the towers that day. My life cannot be precious if I cannot see that yours is also precious. Why – on earth – on any given day – would I not do everything possible – anything possible – to protect your life? Why would you not do the same for me?

read Kerri’s blog post about BLESSINGS ABOVE GROUND

Walk As WaWo [on Two Artists Tuesday]

It was past 3am when Kerri asked me if I wanted to “watch a trail.” We were wide awake. The air was hot and still. We’d recently stumbled upon The Wander Women: Kristy, Annette, and Lynn, woman our age, walking the PCT. They’re doing a flip flop, having started their hike in the middle of the 2600 mile trail and walking to Canada, then, they’ll return to the center point and walk the distance to Mexico. We watched the installment, posted this week, as they reached the Canadian border.

Still wide awake, we went to their channel and listened as they answered questions about their hike of the Appalachian Trail. They are sirens of the possible, guides of give-it-a-try. They are not hikers who pound out miles to reach a goal. As Kristy said, “We want to enjoy every single moment.” Their yoga is a matter-of-fact-presence. They plan and improvise; both/and.

We’ve listened to more than one Q&A with the Wander Women. In an answer to their follower’s questions about living full time in an RV and life on the trail, Annette responded, “Home is where we put up our tent. You carry home inside yourself.” It was the answer of someone who’d transcended their stuff. It was the response of someone who’d internalized her security.

We couldn’t plug our windows with air conditioners this summer. We had too much of isolation last year. We needed to hear the birdsong and feel the summer air. We knew that would bring uncomfortable days, humid and hot nights. We have always walked our neighborhood and the local trails, but our decision to feel-the-summer pulled us more out-of-doors than usual. We extended the sanctuary of our sunroom out onto the deck. We placed torches along the patio and fixed the lights around the pond.

Each evening, after our work is done, we sit outside in our ever-expanding sanctuary. We listen to the cicadas. The cardinals and the chipmunks vie for a place at the bird feeder. Sitting at our table I had a mini-revelation about why I was so enjoying The Wander Women and following the few couples also out on the trail and posting weekly updates. They talk about the community of support that they find in the trail. It is often unexpected and yet ubiquitous. Both/and. They offer a staunch counter narrative to the horror we hear in the news, the contention and division. There are people dedicated to helping them and they, in turn, are dedicated to helping others. “You can do this!” they say to anyone listening. “We’ll help you do this,” their followers echo back to them. They broadcast friendship, kindness and support.

It is a breath of fresh air, a sparkling optimism for the best in humanity. It rises on the trail. Generosity that cultivates generosity. Hope that is grounded in the experience of the unprotected, the heat and cold and bugs and rain and challenge of being-what-they-are-doing. Shared experience. Sanctuary. Here. Everywhere.

read Kerri’s blog post about SANCTUARY

Root And Fly [on KS Friday]

“Inspiration does exist but it must find you working.” ~ Pablo Picasso

At some point I realized that all of the good guidance I have received, all of the masters that I have admired, made statements about Roots & Wings.

“A writer writes. A painter paints.” ~ Tom McKenzie

“You must write 10 bad pages to arrive at one good page.” ~ John Guare

“Live on the plateau (in the present moment).” ~ George Leonard

“Cultivate your serendipity.” ~ Tom Quinn

I remember Jim E. teaching actors not to push their voices to be heard but, first and foremost, to root down into the earth.

After years of practice I am approaching the lesson that Saul taught his tai chi students: stay on the root and the energy will move you. He also taught me, on a brilliant Saturday morning when I was trying to bend the world to my will, to look beyond my opponent into the field of opportunity. It is two ways of saying the same thing. Root. And the wings will appear. Root, and possibility will find you.

Work at the easel, and inspiration will arise.

all of Kerri’s albums are available on iTunes or streaming on Pandora

read Kerri’s gorgeous blog post on ROOTS AND WINGS

give me roots, give them wings/released from the heart ©️ 1995 kerri sherwood

Be Indeterminate [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Through the good graces of our tomato plants, I’ve learned a few new concepts this summer. Determinate and indeterminate. Bush and vine. Determinate tomato plants (bushes) are bred to stop growing. Indeterminate tomato plants (vines) will grow indefinitely or until the weather conditions “are no longer favorable.”

Our plants are indeterminate. Each morning, Kerri visits our planting bench and checks her tomatoes. 20 taught her a few simple tending-rules and now, each morning, there are more and more little indeterminate miracles moving backward along the color spectrum, finally arriving at a brilliant red.

Life is indeterminate.

My new tomato-terms come just in time. My current project has me revisiting my past life as a teacher and facilitator. If I apply my new terminology to people I can’t help but think it is the lucky few who survive so much dedicated energy to stop the learning-mind in the name of education. The natural output of a system designed on manufacturing principles is to truncate the questioning mind by patterning the notion that there is a predetermined answer. It becomes a game of finding the answer that teacher wants – a closed loop – instead of an incitement of curiosity. Children are excellent game players and translate the gaming pattern into their now-dulled-adulthood.

There is a cycle apparent in all genuine learning processes. It begins with discontent. Curiosity is a movement born from some form of discontent. It leads to questioning. Questioning always leads to disturbance (the interruption of the known). And, just like that, out of the disturbance something new is seen, call it a breakthrough, call it an insight, call it new learning…Many classrooms – certainly the systems – are designed and organized to keep disturbances to a minimum. The mantra is ‘control’ rather than ‘inspire curiosity.’ Business has the same dedication.

We’re taught that disturbance is the sign of something wrong rather than the crusty earth breaking to reveal new verdant life.

Discontent leads to questioning, leads to disturbance, which leads to breakthrough. And, an insight will always lead to discontent. It’s a story cycle, where yearning meets obstacle. Learning is by definition uncomfortable and at its best when it is uncontrollable.

Last week I attended a meeting. My two companions and I brought our homework back to the team. One was content. The other two of us were filled with discontent. The leader of the session, at first, was angry. He did not get the result he’d anticipated from his exercise. “So, you two are telling me this process was worthless!” he raged. We’d spent our week questioning instead of answering. Discontent. Questioning.

“No! It was great!” we chimed in chorus. “Look at all the good information we uncovered!” It was a mess. Big disturbance. We cycled through our misalignment a few times, wrangling over perception and usefulness. More rage. And then…an insight. The breakthrough. All of the rage, all of the appeasing, began to flow in a single direction. A possibility took shape. A target materialized that was much better than the prescribed pursuit. Energy filled our zoom-osphere. Laughter. Excitement.

Learning. Indeterminate. Open questions. Hot pursuits.

I am drawn to and surrounded by the dedicated indeterminates; those who refuse to stop learning: David, Mike, Horatio, MM, Bruce, 20, Judy, and yes, Kerri…I am a very fortunate man to be surrounded by so many tomatoes moving their way backward along the color spectrum, not afraid to walk through their discontent toward bigger and bigger questions.

read Kerri’s blog post about TOMATOES

Be The Rain [on KS Friday]

Simple elegance. Courteous goodwill. Thoughtfulness. Consideration. Do honor. Ennoble. Look up the word “grace” and these are the phrases and synonyms that you will find.

John Updike wrote that “Rain is grace; rain is the sky descending to the earth; without rain, there would be no life.” California is on fire. So is Greece and Turkey. Siberia. Reservoirs are shrinking. So many are looking to the sky awaiting its descent to the earth. Awaiting simple grace.

When I lived in Seattle I delighted on a hot summer day of running through the International Fountain. I was not alone. Children and adults alike squealed as they played in the dancing jets of water. It was a joy to go to the fountain, sit in the spray and watch people play, rest, and rejuvenate with and in the water.

We are following couples as they through-hike the Pacific Crest Trail and the Continental Divide Trail. They plan their days according to their water sources. There are water-less stretches that are made do-able only because a trail-angel maintains a cache of water for the hikers.

Trail-angels, people who, for no other reason than having the satisfaction of helping ease the journey of others, give me hope. They bring respite, perhaps because someone in their past did it for them and it mattered. They make difficult passages do-able. Sometimes they provide a ride into town. They look for opportunities to help. They are the rain when rain is nowhere to be found.

Isn’t that grace? Rain meeting earth? Angel meeting a need, providing water so a thirsty traveler might drink and continue walking?

Grace on the album Right Now

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

read Kerri’s blog post about WATER

grace/right now ©️ 2010 kerri sherwood

Smile With Pete [on Two Artists Tuesday]

It is a hot and humid morning as we sit to write. The sky is dark and rumbling. A storm is moving in. Dogga doesn’t like the thunder. He stays close. He studies our responses. Kerri jumped up to close the windows against the rain.

News of Pete’s passing came yesterday. And, although I have not seen him in a few years, it sucked the air from my lungs. His path through life was not easy. He was the first truly free spirit I met in my youth. I’d met lots of pretenders, cape-wearing artists that fancied themselves to be free. Angry activists. Pete was different. His protest against the Vietnam war meant that he simply refused to fight. Peace made him a criminal so he went where he could live as he believed, a hippie, living off the land and off the grid. He understood that his actions mattered. He understood that his choices impacted everyone so he was dedicated to making sustainable, non-violent life-choices. Pete was way ahead of his time.

He was a beekeeper and, occasionally, when he needed help, I rode in his old truck and helped him lift the heavy hives, moving them to the next field. He collected the honey for sale and made beeswax candles. If a puritan work ethic smashed into a Buddhist mindset, Pete was the result. He worked hard. He relaxed hard.

He believed in the illumination of human consciousness. He meditated and practiced presence. We talked endlessly about the nature of…nature and what it was to be of the earth and not on the earth.

One night, after a long drive and a long day of moving hives to a farmer’s field, too late to drive home over the passes, the farmer gave him permission to camp overnight. Pete rolled out his sleeping bag and fell asleep under the stars. Two county ditch riders, seeing a hippie in a farmer’s field, decided it would be great fun to run their truck over the hippie. Pete’s hair got caught in the bumper. He was drug behind the truck for a long, long way before his hair finally released from his head.

No one can explain how he survived. His body was broken, his brain was damaged, but his spirit was unharmed. I’ve never seen another human being go through so much, lose so much, and come out smiling. In my middle age, years after the “accident,” sitting with Pete at family picnics, I’d ask him how he was doing. “Greeeeaaaaat!” he’d say, smiling his famous smile, closing his eyes again, turning his face to feel the sun.

No one I’ve ever known had more reason to be bitter yet had less capacity for self-pity. A peace-lover who became a survivor of horrific violence, an independent spirit who became impossibly dependent, a man of nature who was rendered incapable of doing any more than looking at the mountains and the fields, and his response was to smile.

Pete was rendered present. He embraced a simple gratitude for every day of life. He was capable of being no where else and inhabited his limitation with appreciation.

Even in his wreckage he managed to live fully his convictions. Isn’t that the mark of a great person?

read Kerri’s blog post about GRASSES

Climb The Ladder [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Very few images are as potent as Tom Mck’s story of finding his 90 year old aunt Bunty on the roof of the farmhouse. There had been a storm. She’d hooked her cane on a rung and climbed the rickety ladder to make sure the shingles were intact, “Papa put a fine roof on this house,” she said, staring down at her alarmed nephew. Bunty was a farm woman. She saw no reason why she should not be on the roof. As the elder of the family, she was the keeper of the legacy. The house and ranch were the tangible creations of her ancestors and she was the steward.

Years later, when Bunty was gone and Tom was the ancestral steward, his task was untenable. The city was spreading like a fire, gobbling up farm land. He knew it was only a matter of time before the ranch was consumed. A Walmart was being built and he could almost see it from the porch. “What am I going to do?” he asked, knowing that he was the end of the line. His question was rhetorical. Sometimes the steward’s job is to close the door on an era. He knew what he had to do.

After Tom passed and the ranch was sold, I imagined him, like Bunty, standing on the roof of the farmhouse. He made sure that, as the land was lost, the legacy remained intact. He was strong, like Bunty. His ladder was rickety but he climbed it none-the-less. He made sure the shingles were intact. He met his task without self-pity.

I learned from him that life can forge you into strong metal or, if you choose, if you feel sorry for yourself, it can break you into tiny pieces. Jonathan told me that a tree must split its bark to grow and I understood that as a metaphor for aging. The bark splits because the spirit outgrows the body’s capacity to contain it. Beaky was like that. And, Dorothy. Mike. Grandma Sue. H. I admire them. Bodies break down. Aging hurts. Spirits, on the other hand, need not wither.

I’m told that, in her elderhood, Margaret stopped what she was doing each day to go out back and watch the sun set over the desert. She was made hardy by a hard life. She was made kind by how she chose to live within her hard life. Drying her hands, stepping out on the back porch, the sky electric with peach and pink, she met each sunset with gratitude. Intentional thankfulness for the day.

Gratitude is not a soft thing. It is an attribute of the strong. Hard won from a long life of choices. Bitterness is easy, a lazy thing. Climbing the ladder, standing on the roof, feeling the aches and the loses, facing the running sands with a smile and admiring the day’s end, celebrating the shingles that held fast through the storm and those who placed them, that takes grit. Courage. And, an understanding of the connected power and responsibility of standing in the long line of ancestry.

read Kerri’s blog post about STRONG WINGS

Pack The Cheese [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

Let me state from the get-go that Bota Box wine should sponsor Joey Coconato. More than once in his back country hiking videos, to the delight of his hiking companions, he pulls a box from his back pack. There is general merriment all around, not to mention amazement: every ounce counts when you are carrying it on your back and a Bota Box is more than a few ounces. For a dedicated wine drinker like me, it is heroic. “I want to hike with Joey!” I exclaim, knowing that I don’t have the metal to hoof in a box of wine on top of everything else I’d be hauling.

In one of my favorite Joey moments, the Norwegian Xplorer and Joey are comparing the food that they’ve packed into the back country. The Norwegian Xplorer has space-like silver pouches of freeze-dried meals neatly displayed and organized for the camera. They look easy to carry. Easy to pack. Joey, on the other hand, shows us a dozen raw eggs in a collapsing carton, avocados, a bottle of sriracha sauce, a pack of brats, flour tortillas and the item that made me howl with appreciation: a full can of Parmesan cheese. “I was cleaning out my cooler,” Joey narrates as the camera pans his supplies. Huy Fong Sriracha and Kraft should consider sponsoring Joey, too. It takes some serious dedication to hump those luxuries into the land of grizzly bears and moose.

I think it is why we’ve become dedicated Joey followers. On every level – even to his food – he’s not doing life as he “should” do it. He’s doing life as he wants to do it. Comfort is not high on his list of organizing principles. Being fully alive is. How many people do you know who can claim that?

The rules on the margins are different than they are in the main. It is the hallmark of someone truly free.

His pants are ripped, his equipment is collapsing, his tent is on loan, he regularly breaks his cameras or loses lens caps, and yet he finds a way. What most of us would see as an obstacle, he simply rolls with. I mean, why shouldn’t you pack your backpack with a carton of raw eggs, a can of Parmesan cheese, and a Bota Box of wine? Joey tells those of us watching from comfort-land that, after the wine is gone, the box makes a good fire starter.

There are two things to note: he is generally surrounded by friends and supporters. When his equipment breaks, someone sends him a replacement for which he is always grateful. Not a little grateful, Not pretend grateful. Grateful. Second, no matter the condition of his clothes or equipment, no matter the weight in his pack, he never ceases to notice how gorgeous is the world, how breathtaking is this earth. Appreciation. He knows it is his privilege, for a time, to walk on it.

Gratitude. Appreciation.

And, at days end, sprinkle some cheese on it and wash it down with wine. No one living in a penthouse has the view that Joey has. The ridge is brilliant in the last rays of the day. No one lounging in a tower or afloat in their yacht is as carefree or as willing to walk away.

Open your pack and I’ll wager that there are more than a few “should-do’s” or “should-be’s.” Open Joey’s and you’ll find only what he needs to fully live another day. Maybe. But, if it’s not there, no problem. Something nourishing will certainly be found along the way.

read Kerri’s blog post about PARMESAN CHEESE

Be Difficult [on Merely A Thought Monday]

I confess that I’ve been struggling to form my thoughts around this prompt. It is a remarkably different task for me to write about women being seen as difficult than it is for Kerri.

I have, my entire life, been surrounded by powerful women. My first sweat lodge experience was with 11 women; I was the only male. It is not uncommon for me, when I take classes or join cohorts or enter groups, to be the single male in a gathering of women. I have been privy more than once to the conversation of veiled power. The necessity of eggshell-walking in a world of male expectations. Deep into the truth-telling, the women remember that I am present and invariably turn to me and say, “No offense.” I usually make light of it, “Don’t worry,” I say, “I know I’m an a**hole.”

What I want to say is, “You’re doing it again. Why should you apologize to me for being honest?”

Kerri just read me her post. It is honest. After she read to me she said, “Do you think it’s too much? Do you think I need to tone it down?”

“You’re doing it,” I replied. “The very thing this prompt is about: questioning yourself because the prospect of speaking your truth will probably make you appear difficult.”

I considered asking her to do an experiment: swap posts. What might we discover if I publish her words as mine? If her words come from a male voice will they be considered offensive? Too emotional? Un-reasonable? Would I be applauded where she would be vilified? Probably. Luckily, I didn’t speak my wacky idea. I realized that we’d be, once again, finding a way to veil her words.

Over the weekend we watched a short film of elder women speaking about the need to return this earth to some semblance of balance. Women’s voices meeting men’s voices as equals. Yang AND Yin.

There’s a hysterical scene in My Big Fat Greek Wedding. The strong women of the family want something done but, in order to make it happen, they must convince the patriarch, Gus, that it’s his idea. Making it appear to be his idea is the only way. Actually, it’s a theme and happens more than once in the story. “The man may be the head of the household.” Maria tells her daughter, “But the woman is the neck and can turn the head whichever way she pleases.”

It’s funny and poignant in the film because it rings so true in life. Powerful women cloaking their power to make the man think the idea is his. Sometimes it is the only way to get things done. It is the path of least resistance.

Perhaps a little resistance is what is called for. Powerful women refusing to veil their strength, willing to be vilified and branded as difficult. From my seat in the corner, listening to the conversation of these incredible women, they understand something that the boy’s club has never understood but clearly fears: power and control are often conflated but they are not the same thing. Power is something created together. Control is something one does to another.

read Kerri’s blog post about DIFFICULT WOMEN