Ask A Familiar Question [on Two Artists Tuesday]

I’ve asked this question of clients a thousand times: What’s beneath? What’s beneath the fear, the yearning, the resistance, the denial, the dream? Asking, “What’s beneath?” is one way of “getting to the heart of the matter.”

The-heart-of-the-matter is rarely visible on the surface. The engine room, the place of power and life, is usually hidden at the bottom of the ship. It makes a lot of noise and is generally deemed “not pretty.” Getting to the-heart-of-the-matter usually requires a trip to the lower decks, a willingness to take off the mask or the armor, at least for a little while.

There is a stop on the way to the-heart-of-the-matter. This stop holds two contradictory options and both are misunderstood as the heart. Option #1: To stand out. Option #2: To fit in. To be valued and to belong. Both are wildly important and provide fuel for the trip but neither is the heart, yet it is a common stopping place for most people in their search for the heart-of-the-matter.

The real work of a heart is never dependent on the opinions of others. To get to the heart, one needs to press on.

When my job fell to dust, my first action was to let go of my symphony project. That choice surprised me. A younger version of me would have held onto that performance as if it was a life buoy. A way to stay afloat. A way of knowing who I am. This version of me knows the folly in that way of thinking: my artistry is not a flotation device. It is not a separate thing.

This time, near the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy, I find myself in a wide open space, with an abundance of love and belonging and no absence of esteem. I am at the top and bottom of the pyramid at the same time! It’s a great opportunity to ask myself an all too familiar question: What’s beneath?

In this life, what is the heart-of-the-matter?

read Kerri’s blog post about BENEATH

Knit It Together [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Bold lines that break the visual plane. Once upon a time it was how I started a painting. Impulsive, reactive, spontaneous slashes that fractured the image and, in my mind, made it more interesting. Those lines gave me a popcorn trail to follow. A hard edge to push against.

Sometimes I think my life’s work can be reduced into a single word: disruption. I was the guy brought in to offer a counterpoint. I am the guy brought in to tell the story that no one wants to speak. What if? Why not? The bold line to break the visual plane. There is always a pattern. There is rarely a problem. Problems incite blame-games. With pattern comes responsibility and the revelation of choice.

John Muir famously wrote, “And into the woods I go to lose my mind and find my soul.” We walk in the woods for the same reason. The circle comes around. The big bold slashes no longer break the visual plane but pull it together.

Mind breaks it. Soul knits it together. Ebb and flow.

Today is a day to walk in the woods.

read Kerri’s blogpost about BLACK TREES

Drop The Veneer [on KS Friday]

It was common during coaching calls, for clients, especially at the beginning, to self-diagnose. Essentially saying, “This is what is wrong with me.” It was an odd start to a process that is about fulfillment of intention or creation of desire. A coaching relationship isn’t therapy and a good coach – one that knows what they are doing – is careful not to let the relationship become about fixing-what-is-wrong. Moving through a creative block or clarifying a fuzzy vision in not an indication of a character flaw. The post-it note on my desk read, “Nothing is broken. Nothing needs to be fixed.”

The self-diagnosis was a veneer. A protective layer, like armor. People have innumerable strategies for hiding their fire, for blunting their passions. Succeeding or creating often implies exposure. Being seen. Stepping into the light can be scary business.

Rather than deal with the diagnosis, a useful and often surprising question to ask is, “What’s beneath that?” What’s beneath the protective layer?

It was also common, after taking the time to take off the armor, after dropping the I’m-broken-veneer, to hear a voice whisper, “You know what I really want? I want to be a writer.” Or a painter. Or a dancer. Stepping into the light is scary business and hearing your voice say what you really want, even in a whisper – especially in a whisper – is powerful stuff!

I loved those moments. Their world spins. The eddy of “fixing” slips into the current and there’s no turning back. Their path forward may be gnarly and steep but that tiny whisper clarifies the picture, releases the desire.

Careful not to be too effusive, I’d say, “Good. Now, what’s the next step?”

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

read Kerri’s blogpost on VENEER

holding on/letting go on the album right now © 2010 kerri sherwood

Put It On The Wall [on DR Thursday]

“What you think, you become. What you feel, you attract. What you imagine, you create.” ~ Buddha

I sometimes wonder what the Buddha might think about how words, attributed to him, are now available on Wayfair.com as posters or large decals for every living room wall. Does the ease and ubiquity of the message make it less meaningful? A decoration rather than a wisdom? Or, that we are capable of immersing ourselves in inspiration, a reminder-to-live-well in every room, are we meditating on the messages? Are we incorporating them into our actions and choices?

I’ve read that the only requirement when hanging prayer flags is to hold positive thoughts and intentions in the mind. Intend goodness and goodness will spread. That is, after all, the point of the flag. To spread on the wind goodness, peace, kindness,…

Kerri’s philosophy – her religion – is much the same as Dolly Parton: “You just try to be nice to everybody ’cause you know everybody’s got a dream.” Kerri’s version: “If it’s not about kindness it’s not about anything.” It’s simple.

Minds are powerful things. It’s why stories are so impactful; stories are the stuff that fills-the-minds. What you feel. What you think. What you imagine. It’s not passive. Although a trick of the English language, your thoughts, your feelings, your imaginings, are not really separate from “you.” They are you. The story you tell yourself about yourself in the world.

I suppose that’s why we rub the sentiment onto the living room wall. A desire to be better in the world. To tell a better story. Better about each other. Better for each other. What else?

read Kerri’s blogpost about PRAYER FLAGS

in serenity © 2018 david robinson

Be With [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

“When you love someone, the best thing you can offer is your presence. How can you love if you are not there?” ~ Thich Nhat Hahn

We attended the funeral rites via Zoom. It was moving. Intimate. We felt grateful to be included.

Kerri attempted to keep the ukulele band going. There was a delay in the signal so the group played gloriously out of sync, our rehearsals a hysterical cacophony. In the end it didn’t matter because we met each week and shared stories. We asked the most important question: how are you doing?

We Zoomed with friends across the country. The screen between us punctuated the distance, exaggerated the separation.

The pandemic put a new twist on the word “presence.” How do we – how did we – remain present for each other, with each other, when distancing was one of the few routes available to slow the spread of the virus? We learned both the expanse and limits of technology, sometimes giving us communication but not always the capacity for presence.

It certainly made us more intentional. Presence required scheduling time. Presence required confronting the line of can-this-be-in-person-or-not. It made us slow down and question. In the early days of Covid, Kerri and I had a heated debate en route to Colorado to see my parents: do we wear masks or not? After a few moments the masks came off. We needed to be present. Fully.

“Presence” and “going slow” hold hands. One cannot walk without the other. A slow walk will invite presence. An intention to be more present invites slowing down.

When I returned from Bali I was different. Changed. I understood the necessity of going slow, of being in my life rather than racing through it.

The pandemic years have been equally as profound. Like everyone, we lost jobs, lost identities, lost connections, lost security. Every possible pattern of life was disrupted. Isolation brought a new level, a different understanding of going slow. A two-dimensional and three-dimensional understanding of presence.

We are emerging as different people. I feel it. I can see it. I cannot place words on how we are different. I simply know that we are not in such a hurry anymore. We are much more intentional. We draw deeper lines in the sand.

There are people we want to see. There are people we need to see, beyond a Zoom or a phone call. To sit in the same room, laugh. To hold hands. To go slow. To be “with.”

read Kerri’s blogpost about GOING SLOW

Listen To The Call [on Two Artists Tuesday]

For the past 25 years, I have lived next to water. My Seattle apartment was steps away from Puget Sound. The lighthouse was just around the corner. My Wisconsin home is a block away from Lake Michigan. The sounds of the lake are the soundtrack of our life. A curious elemental flip for a man born at the foot of the Rocky Mountains.

It begs a question.

A few weeks ago, I needed to supply casual bio-pictures for a project. Kerri showed me photographs we’ve taken of each other, some in the Colorado mountains. It was startling. There’s something different about the photos of us in mountain pictures. “We’re different people,” she said. “You can see it. It’s where we belong.”

I could see it. My language: in the mountains, we are in our bodies. Fully. Present. No where else to be. Home.

It makes sense for me to feel the deep rhythm of the mountains. Kerri was born and raised on Long Island yet she comes alive in aspen forests, on the trail just above Breckenridge. The western slope. The mountain song reaches her inner being and she sings it back to the mountain. In the photos, she is radiant. At peace.

We walk along the lake all the time. We talk about how lucky we are to live in such a beautiful place. We are in awe of the power and changing faces of this mysterious lake. And, that’s precisely the point. The Lake is mysterious in its power. To us, the pulse of the mountains is known.

read Kerri’s blogpost about LONG SHADOW

Reconnect [on Merely A Thought Monday]

“We are healing our souls by reconnecting to our ancestors.” Nainoa Thompson (quote from The Wayfinders by Wade Davis)

There is a house I sometimes visit in dreams. It is a mountain house and, in the dream, it belongs to my Grandma Sue. I’m always comforted when I go there.

I have some of Casey’s tools and some of Bob’s. I think of them every time I use the wrench or the screwdriver. Both were good mechanics, handy, so I imagine their tools imbue me with some of their wisdom when I attempt to fix what’s broken around the house.

I gingerly page through the handmade book where DeMarcus made his notes about color. The pencil marks are fading but his enthusiasm reaches from the page and rejuvenates me. Inspires me.

A few days ago I happened upon my Lost Boy session recordings with Tom. His bass voice reached through my computer, telling me a story I now know so well. It warmed me.

In my studio, on top of DeMarcus’ wooden paint box, is a nutcracker that Grandpa Chan kept by his pool table. It’s the only thing I wanted when he passed. Something he touched. I hold it sometimes when I stare at works-in-progress. I feel him there.

I wear a chain around my left wrist. Kerri wears one, too. It is pull chain. The current version is a replacement of the original that we took from Pa’s workbench. I never met him but I feel connected to him. Kerri tells me stories of her dad. “How do you like them apples?” One of his phrases.

I imagine he and my dad are on the other side of the veil drinking scotch together. That drink warms me, too.

read Kerri’s blogpost about THEM APPLES

Chisel [on DR Thursday]

The conversation in the car was about astrology. I am an Aquarius. Confusingly, the water-bearer is an air sign. Kerri is Aries; fire. “Air is necessary for fire,” she laughed. As in most metaphors and models, each element transforms the others. It’s creation-in-motion. Life is a great shapeshifter. A single element is undefinable without the others.

The same is true with people. We only know who we are relative to the others in our lives. The heat of our relationships transform us. Transformation is a daily reality, a common experience, but so ubiquitous that it goes unseen. We only notice it when the volcano erupts or when we wake up one day and say to ourselves, “I am different now.”

The beautiful canyons in Utah were, over eons, carved by water. Zion. Arches. The Grand. Everyday, water meets earth. Heat and wind. Sculpture.

Long drives bring reminiscence. Something sparked our conversation about the canyons we’ve carved in our lives. Everyday, trickles of water. Relationship. Slow, almost imperceptible changes. One day, after years and years, you look in the mirror and see the colors revealed by erosion and time. The chiseled shape. Pieces and parts that felt essential, washed away. What remains?

Beautiful. Crucial. Elemental. Still transforming.

read Kerri’s blogpost about WATER

face the rain © 2019 david robinson

Look Both Ways [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

“We are an impossibility in an impossible universe.” ~ Ray Bradbury

This is, perhaps, a quote sandwich.

Standing at the edge of the lake at sunset, the breezes calm, the quiet stills the water. Who hasn’t felt the beautiful impermanence, the last rays of sun on their face? The truth of life captured in a single moment. It is passing. Precious. Impossible.

Climbing back up the stairs, joining the group on the deck. Red wine. The conversation turns to the news: the state of the world. Politics.

“Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe.” ~ Albert Einstein.

We are, after all, capable of the impossible. Full spectrum impossibility. We write symphonies that open hearts. We tell stories that touch the soul. We witness sunsets and desire for a better world for our children. We create telescopes to help us see deeper and deeper into space. To reach to alien worlds. All the while we divide. We lie and propagandize to feed false fire. We plant our heads deeply into the sand while we soil our nest. We reduce the impossible miracle to a book of man-made rules. Worshipping money and pretending otherwise.

Both/And. Impossibly capable. Impossibly inept. Impossibly hopeful and impossibly pessimistic.

We stand at the water’s edge.

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE LAKE

Call Awe [on Merely A Thought Monday]

“The love you take is equal to the love you make.” ~ The Beatles, The End

Last week was unusual in that I had a sneak-peek at my end-of-life-review. When a trusted doctor looks at you and says, “This is bad,” when tests that ordinarily might be scheduled a few weeks out are rushed into the next few hours, when the palette of available options are mostly shades of black and all include the word “dire,” the life-movie-reel begins to roll. Mine did.

I’ve known for years that among the few choices we really have is 1) where we choose to focus, and 2) where we choose to stand as we focus. Point-of-view, labels slapped onto experience, the story we tell is a story we project onto the world. Rolling through the CT-scan doughnut, I looked at the story I’ve called into the forest. I listened for the story it reflected back at me, as me.

“Take a deep breath,” the machine instructed, “and hold it.” Holding my breath, I saw a single story comprised of many, many chapters. There are the life-pages that I lived in confidence, and pages that I wrote confusion. The shattering, the story of the pieces of my life scattered in four directions. Kintsugi. The pages of the phoenix. Pages written running from my art and the matching pages of running toward it. The chapter of standing still. The pages of betrayal and the balance pages of being betrayed. “Release your breath,” the machine chirped. “Breathe naturally.”

The forest will show me fear. The forest will offer grace. The forest will reflect back to me peace if peace is what I bring to it. Someday, rather than project onto the forest, I will walk into it, become it. A reflector of projections.

Take a deep breath. I’ve never been so appreciative of breath. Hold it. What a gift. Breathe naturally. Call awe into the forest.

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE FOREST