Go Spelunking [on KS Friday]

Arnie is among my team of wise-eyes. In response to a recent post, he wrote that he was relieved that I was stepping back into the light. “Darkness,” he wrote, “has never been the place from which I observed you to start.”

I am also relieved to be stepping back into the light. And, I am most grateful for my foray into darkness. It was necessary. It was useful. “The anger burned off a resistant layer of the onion.” I wrote in reply. “It burned away many of the resentments I was carrying, opened a channel to the voice I was withholding. Nature is not balanced in a world that makes room for light alone.” I was out of balance and needed to walk into that dark cave. Again. There is great power to be found at the dark center of the earth. After defeating the monster Grendel, Beowulf had to go into the dark forest and dive into the dark bottomless swamp to confront a more dark and terrifying monster, Grendel’s mother. He emerged victorious and forever changed.

“This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.” ~ William Shakespeare, Hamlet.

As the night the day. The day the night. Darkness is necessary to perceive the light. It is not possible to thy self be true without a good grasp of the whole truth, including the bits we ignore and deny. I’m only now understanding that this dance in the dark has been central to my lessons and my non-stop-pondering these many months. It is neigh-on-impossible to be true to yourself, to be whole, without embracing the full spectrum of your self. Without both sides of the moon. Self love, it seems, requires a love of ALL parts of your self. Dark and light. There’s plenty of room at the table.

Nature, your nature, is not corrupt or bad. It is nature. There is no judgment in nature, just interrelationship. Cycles and dances. Seasons of growth and rejuvenation. Birth and death. Rather than applying a scalpel it is more useful to go spelunking.

There is no denying we are living through a very dark time. It is the understatement of this young century to suggest that we are finding – again – a host of monsters in our very dark cave. We can, as we have in the past, run from the truth that we find, or, we can at long last pull up a chair, sit with our monsters, and have a chat. Monsters tend to transform when given some time and attention. When light is brought into darkness and darkness is led into light.

It is symbolically perfect and appropriate – deeply human – that the darkest night of the year is the time when many traditions celebrate the return of the light. It is natural, this progression into darkness. It is natural, this journey into light. Roots gather energy during the cold dark months. We rest, knowing that, with the return of the light, there will be much work to do. New crops to plant. New thoughts to harvest and share.

read Kerri’s blog post about NATURE SETTING THE STAGE

find all three of Kerri’s HOLIDAY ALBUMS on iTunes.

Practice Inner Hospitality [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

“What you separate, the soul joins.” ~ John O’Donohue

A few years ago, when we went to Hippy Tom’s farm, Kerri said, “It feels like we’re inside this man’s sickness.” There was stuff everywhere. A hoarder with a farm. Her comment about the farm has become a code-phrase for us. “Hippy Tom,” she says, and I know we are talking about these-un-united-states under the influence of the outgoing president. A nation living inside of one man’s sickness. The hater-in-chief.

The Bidens’ messages of unity and perseverance are akin to a doorway, an exit from the crazy farm. Although we are running for the door, not yet free of the madness, we can see it from here. We can catch breaths of air free of delusion and division.

“When you decide to practice inner hospitality,” John O’Donohue writes, “the torment ceases. The abandoned, neglected, and negative selves come into seamless unity.”

Practice inner hospitality. The rules that apply to individuals also apply to organizations as well as nations. Practice inner hospitality and the negative selves will come into seamless unity. “The soul adores unity.”

Although our systemic root belies this, soul of this nation has never been isolationism or white supremacy. The soul of this nation has always been our diversity, our willingness to embrace the new, to find a northwest passage, to step foot on the moon, to embrace, to invent and reinvent, to reach. To improve. To challenge a fossilized belief.

Perhaps it is now time for us to review, renew, to at-long-last turn and face what we have not yet faced in “this beautiful, brave, complicated nation.” To look with honesty and clarity at all of our history, our negative and ideal selves. To balance what has been too long unequal, ugly, denied.

There is great space in our national divide. The flaw, as the Amish remind us, is there to let in the grace. The soul joins. It can show us a path, once and for all, out of the sickness of the farm.

read Kerri’s blog post about AMBER WAVES

Avoid The Box [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

When I was in high school a significant teacher told me that I couldn’t do it all. I couldn’t paint AND be in the theatre AND write. She told me I had to choose. She told me I needed to focus. When she said the word ‘focus’ I felt like I would suffocate if I followed her advice.

One day, standing in the back of the theatre with Roger, I realized that I was bored. I needed to take my impulse to the theatre out of the building and off the stage. At the time I didn’t know what that might look like. My pals in the theatre rolled their eyes, made smallish assumptions, closed their doors to me. What I found, what I created, was thrilling. Profound.

The single consistent criticism from gallery folk of my paintings is that I am stylistically too broad. I’m all over the map. It’s true. More than once I’ve been told to come back when I know who I am. I’m not yet able to go back and, at this stage of my life, doubt that I will ever meet the criteria. I hope not.

I have made wrong turns and burned bridges. I have been my own worst enemy and my own best friend. I’ve broken things that ought not to have been broken. I’ve restored things to wholeness that others could not because I understand brokenness. I’ve run from opportunities. I’ve taken ridiculous risks. As MM asked, “What is it in you that makes you run at every edge and jump?” Fear of heights.

Makaela once told me that there was something feral in me. I thought of her the other day when I realized that DogDog was a perfect reflection of me: he can learn anything but WILL NOT walk on a leash. Try and constrain him in any way and he pulls, resists, and otherwise works to yank my arm out of the socket. I wonder how many arms I’ve yanked when I was approached with a leash? I know that once, a long time ago, I was a good teacher because I knew firsthand the power and necessity of removing constraints.

I’ve given away my best work, my best thinking. I have lived my way into utter irrelevance. The layers of the onion fall away. These days I feel more essence than substance. Pure ghost watching a world to which I have never belonged and rarely understood.

Horatio calls me a polymath to which I reply, “Back at you.” I dare anyone to try and track our conversations. The question in life that I have learned to hate the most is, “So, what do you do?”

I avoid boxes. And leashes. Apparently, that’s about the best I can do.

read Kerri’s blog post about DEFINE YOURSELF

Fly The Middle Way [on DR Thursday]

a watercolor sketch for Icarus

My call with Norm could not have been better timed. For some reason I’d recently dipped my toes into an old thought-pool and our conversation was like a ripple across the water. He is working with a team dedicated to self-empowerment, articulating purpose, making better relationships and a better world. I laughed as he reminded me of a younger version of myself.

A few days ago I wrote a phrase twice on a piece of paper. My Whole Life. My Whole Life. The phrase could mean “my entire life.” It could also mean “my flawless life.” I’m hard-pressed to conjure up a single example of someone who considers their life-story whole.

The words “purpose,” “power,” “voice” and “strength” populate the contemporary quest through the wasteland. We seek our power. We search for our unique voice. We hire coaches. We consume curriculum. We attempt to tune ourselves to wholeness like we tune our cars for the road.

There is a profound lesson in all of the great stories [stories are terrific guides…] and it is simply this: you can’t find “it” out there. You already have “it” and will, if you are lucky, realize “it” when you give up the search. Stand still. Feel the sun on your face.

The penny dropped for me while working with a group in the Netherlands. Everyone – every group I’ve ever worked with – wants to know “how?” There must be a prescription! What are the guaranteed six techniques to personal power? John O’Donohue wrote,“The gateway to our deepest identity is not through mechanical analysis.” In other words, there is no prescription. There isn’t a list. There are no tools to fix what is broken.

Parcival had his illusion shattered. The more he fought the dragons the worse the wasteland became. The grail castle came back to him only after he took off his armor, only after he completely relinquished and forgot about the fight.

None of this is to suggest that the search is ridiculous. It is not. It is a necessary process step in the cult of the individual. It is a necessity for people who believe themselves to be powerless to climb on a warhorse and ride into a personal hero tale. The knight will also need to flee from or fight with the inner-dark-anti-hero, the one who cries “fraud” or “loser” or “worthless” that serves as the shadow, the balance point of every power quest. The more he fight the dragons the worse the wasteland becomes.

“Let go of the hero,” Harald taught me, “and the anti-hero will also disappear.” Then, and only then, do we find the the middle way and the selflessness that comes with it. Some traditions call “it” presence. Some call “it” illumination. Some call “it” self-actualization. Some call “it” getting neutral or detachment. Some call “it” wholeness. Most locate “it” in the middle way.

Icarus did not listen to his father who warned him not to fly too close to the sun as it would melt the wax holding together his wings – and to not fly too close to the sea as the water vapor would make the feathers of his wings too heavy for flight. “Fly in the middle,” Daedalus cautioned. “Fly the middle way.”

Icarus, so the story tells us, became enamored of his ability to fly, so lost in his new power, that he soared toward the sun. Only when he was plummeting from the sky did he remember his father’s caution, “Fly the middle way. Fly the middle way and live.”

read Kerri’s blog post about ICARUS

Icarus, acrylic, 30.5 x 59.5

icarus ©️ 2004 david robinson

Keep The Sign [on Flawed Wednesday]

I have never, until this election, planted candidate signage in my yard. This season, however, Biden signs abounded. Our front yard was a wash of blue.

We opened the blinds the morning after the election was called and our signs were gone. The sign kidnapper left a clear trail through the leaves. We took a drive around the neighborhood and saw that other homes had their signs nabbed. The larger Biden signs had been tipped over or kicked to the ground.

Anger, as the old trope states, is a secondary emotion. Anger is one of the many shades of fear. That someone – or many someones – would, in their anger at an election loss, troll a neighborhood, stomp and steal signs would be laughable except it is akin to the behavior of their candidate, the one that lost. An angry pout. A child breaking toys so others can’t play. Holding the nation hostage.

In my career I worked with many, many schools and learned that a school generally takes on the personality of its principal. Nations are the same. Aggression, thuggery, bullying, lying…generally erasing opposition (“you’re fired”) in a single-direction-loyalty-imperative is the personality of our outgoing populist-principal. His behavior-fractal extends to the smallest cell of the sick red organism he created so it was not a surprise that election signs were stolen or stomped. Would-be bullies following their leader.

As we endure the final pout, a myriad of empty court cases in a frantic attempt to manufacture evidence of voter fraud, all-caps twitter-temper-tantrums, hoarding all the toys so the transition of power is delayed, sycophants-in-suits tumbling over themselves to please the grand-pout, we should perhaps ask the obvious question, ” What are they afraid of?”

They. Them. They are, I suspect, afraid of Us – of what US really implies. They are afraid of progress, an intention to unify. They fear the exposure of science and fact. They are afraid of women in power and a “minority” becoming the majority. They are afraid of people of color. Just as wagon wheel makers shook their fists at auto makers, just as coal barons now sneer at wind power, the boys club stuffs the courts while throwing doubt at a system called democracy. The remaining tools in their box are obstruction and denial.

We are a crossroads nation that is made great because we have to constantly reinvent ourselves. We change. That is our strength when the center ideals hold. The sign-stompers would have us look backward to a Hallmark time that never actually existed. Perhaps out of our recent chaos will emerge an order that finally fulfills the promise and includes all citizens, one that strives to fulfill the democratic ideals of equality rather than remove them. Obstruct them. Deny them. Perhaps.

“They can have the signs,” Kerri said, “as long as they take their guy with them.”

Amen to that.

read Kerri’s blog post about SIGNAGE

Cope Another Way [on Merely A Thought Monday]

“A lie can travel halfway round the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” ~ Mark Twain

From the national department of absurdity, I read in my morning news trawl that people-on-the-right were fleeing their tried-and-true social media platforms because they are tired of having their facts checked. They’re tired of being flagged for hate speech. They’re moving to a new platform that allows them to claim as true any old thing that fuels their fantasy. Of course, their new platform purports to have standards. In the absence of truth, they will be monitoring and censoring pornography and nudity. Bare bodies are shunned but bare lies are encouraged.

Google the question “Why Do We Lie?” and you might stumble across this phrase: lying is a ‘maladaptive coping mechanism.‘ Why are the good folks on the right fleeing from fact-checkers in search of an inadequate coping mechanism? Why are they – and, therefore, we – so deliberately racing from the truth? Truth is, after all, supposed to be the glue that holds a society together.

Perhaps, in our case, truth is not the glue that has held our young nation together. Perhaps the current hunger to lie is because we are [once again] confronting our truth? Division, not truth, is our glue. We know it. And we pretend it isn’t true. Denial of the truth is a lie by another name.

Plato reminds us that Zeus feared the power of the original humans so he split them into two separate parts. Our forefathers feared the power of a united working class so, taking a page from Zeus’ handbook, they split their budding society along the color line. And, in an “improvement” on Zeus’ original recipe for division, our god-fathers, in a single action, as a single action, reduced the black faces to less-than-human while simultaneously granting extra privileges to the white faces. They linked the privilege of the whites to the suppression of the blacks. White supremacy and Black Lives Matter are inextricably linked. It is the sad gravity that binds us.

It’s the truth we have never been able to face and, historically, when we dare to part the veil and have a look, there is a concerted effort by the working whites – those on the other side of the diploma divide [so many false divisions…] to run for the comfort of the supremacy-lie. It’s a safe space.

We embrace our maladaptive coping mechanism because we are afraid of facing the consequences of our truth. Great fear of status loss drives the wearers of red-hats to the lie-saloon where they can drink their fill, amp their anger, and fight progress. Fact-checking gets in the way. It’s how the system works.

Fueling the supremacy-lie is the central appeal – it’s the only appeal – of the outgoing titanic Liar-In-Chief. Supremacy stories, after all, require the supremacists to think they are victims. Facts become assaults. News becomes fake. Deep states and conspiracy theories abound. A good victim story is necessary for an Us and Them world. A good victim story is necessary to hold onto the promise-lie of white supremacy.

Division by design.

“The lie” crumbles in a social media space that checks facts and flags hate speech. What could be a better alternative than a gossip-circle-social-media-space where lies are called truths and truths are branded as lies?

Division, running from truth, pretending the division isn’t there, has worked well as a national glue if you are a god-father. It kicks the can down the road. Perhaps it’s time we sent Zeus and our forefathers a note. If we want to grow up as a nation, if we want a united people dedicated to ideals like freedom and justice for all, we need to look at our shadow and seek shared truth. Unity is a much better glue than our comfortable age-old division.

We need to cease fleeing into our maladaptive coping mechanism, look at ourselves, our leaders, and, together, begin telling – and expecting – and guarding – some truth.

read Kerri’s blog post on HUNGRY FOR LIES

Stand In Ambiguity [on KS Friday]

Liminality: the quality of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in the middle stage of a rite of passage, when participants no longer hold their pre-ritual status but have not yet begun the transition to the status they will hold when the rite is complete.

Here we are, just like you, standing in the in-between place. The liminal space. The previous way is all-but-gone. The new way has not yet arrived.

We did not know in January when she fell and broke both wrists that the fall would signal the beginning of a transition. Therapy was interrupted by a pandemic. Job loss. More job loss. Job reduction. A wet floor, a second fall on an already injured wrist. More disorientation, a step further into uncertainty. “Who will I be if I can’t play?” she asked. Her question has layers. “Who will I be if I can’t play like I used to?” “Who will I be if my hands are no longer the hands that I know?” She has artist’s hands. Musician hands. This is no small question.

Given a whirl of disappearing norms, we are doing well within the ambiguity.

2020 will serve as a marker for all of us. There was a way of life before the pandemic. There was a way of life before the liar-president. New ways will arise. Out of chaos, order. Right now, there is full-press-disorientation.

Our threshold seems to stretch in all directions, inner and outer. Personal and national. Professional and spiritual. The rite, we know, is not yet complete. The ritual wound is still open and hurting. Our only certainty is that we stand in this not-here-not-there place, filled with mostly unanswerable questions, letting go of what-has-been.

Nothing is ever black and white and that is more true now as we slowly turn to face a new way.

IT’S NOT BLACK & WHITE on the album RIGHT NOW is available on iTunes

read Kerri’s blog post about IT’S NOT BLACK & WHITE

it’s not black & white/right now ©️ 2010 kerri sherwood

Approach The Question [on DR Thursday]

a watercolor sketch circa 2002

Looking at the sketch, Kerri said, “I think that’s how a lot of people feel right now.” I asked her what she would name it. After a moment she sighed, “Collective Exhaustion.”

Horatio and I spoke this morning. He began our conversation with this: “The real deficit today,” he said, “is in truth-telling.” He just ran for local office and experienced the truth-telling deficit firsthand.

Horatio is reflecting on these past several months and, in the absence of truth-telling, asked, “What’s the point?” It is a great question and perhaps the single question we-the-people ought to be asking. What, exactly, is the point?

Is the point to win at any cost? To lie, slander, obstruct? To enable? Get-your-own-way? To keep your seat no matter the cost? To make profit?

Or, is to participate with honesty in the hotly collaborative process otherwise known as ‘democracy’?

Managing civilization through the necessary debate of differing points of view is, historically speaking, a relatively new aspiration. One that requires good intention and a commitment to shared values like…truth-telling.

Democracy as we understand it is a nascent experiment. Whether or not the experiment succeeds or fails, to a certain extent, teeters on Horatio’s question. In our recent national dedicated-rejection of truth-telling and embarrassing romper-room-enabling, we have no alternative but to ask, “What is the point?”

That we even need to ask the question is exhausting. That we need to answer it is essential.

read Kerri’s blog post about COLLECTIVE EXHAUSTION

collective exhaustion ©️ 2002 david robinson

Try, Try Again [on DR Thursday]

shared fatherhood

This morning, as I looked through my stacks, I could find no more relevant painting for this day, for our times.

Ironically, I made two runs at this painting. Both times it evolved into something else. It started in violence and ended in shared fatherhood. In the final paintings, you cannot see is the inception, the original impulse, the story that made me pick up my brushes. Polynices and Eteocles. Brothers fighting for the control of the kingdom. Both die. They kill each other rather than share.

The story is ancient. Like all Greek stories, it’s a cautionary tale. It’s a story of fate. Oedipus’ children. An original sin playing to its inevitable conclusion. It’s been one of my metaphors for these now-ridiculous-united-states. Brothers fighting for control, forgetting that they are brothers. It’s a lose/lose story. Hubris kills all.

The mystery to me is why – in both attempts – did my if-wishes-were-fishes subconscious kick-in and transform this horror story into something positive? Out of the fire, I argue in the naive recesses of my being, we will forge a union.

I’ve always known that I am an idealist but, this morning, listening to the trickster fox whip its gullible crowd into an election fruit-smoothie, amplifying the bloviated rants of a shyster, creating fraud-fantasies from thin air, I recognize that I am perhaps the most foolish of all, the blue ribbon winner of witless. Perhaps not.

I will make a third go of this painting. I have the drawings. This time, my realist might punch through the wall of hopeful idealism. The tale is cautionary. It is ancient. It is worth telling. To look with clear eyes at “what is” does service to “what might be.”

Kerri just reminded me that, on our walk yesterday, I waxed poetic about how what we focus on matters. It’s true. Possibility needs to be firmly rooted in reality.

Bubbles always burst.

The brothers kill each other rather than share a kingdom. Is it their fate [our fate]? Is it inevitable – human nature – to be so blinded by the lust for control that we plug our ears to possibility, that we refuse to see the promise we lose in our petty penny struggle? Do people always need to sacrifice the greater for the lesser en route to waking up?

The pandemic rages. The Fox feeds lies to hungry-angry listeners. The brothers fight over something as silly as a mask. The map sprouts virus-red. The populace dies in the struggle.

Is this merely a chapter in the story of becoming? I guess we’ll see.

read Kerri’s blog post about SHARED FATHERHOOD. With any luck, her thoughts will be more hopeful.

this is my second run at my subject. Shared Fatherhood 2

shared fatherhood 1 & 2 ©️ 2017 david robinson

Wash Your Spirit [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“Keep close to Nature’s heart…and break clear away, once in a while, climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.” ~ John Muir

I did not know how badly my spirit needed a good washing until we were hiking the Ditch Trail. The aspen trees were just beyond their autumn peak so the mountainside popped with islands of orange and vibrant yellow. The only noise was the breeze murmuring through the trees, quaking the leaves. I literally felt the world of angry people drop away. I breathed deeply the air, the sun warmed me to the bone. The cleansing commenced. Silence of the mind.

Jim once told me that people go to the seashore to experience the eternal. The tides were coming and going long before your birth and will come and go long after you are gone. It puts everything into perspective.

The mountains are like that, too. They are perspective-givers. This week Horatio told me “This life is short so we better get out there and do what we want to do.” The mountains are in constant motion but our lifespans are too short to see the waves rising and falling. On our last day in Colorado, while climbing above timberline, I realized (again) that in my short life I have been less and less concerned with what I want to do and more and more interested in how I want to be. Standing at the edge of Lower Lost Man Lake with Kerri and Kirsten, a bitter wind watering my eyes, I wanted nothing more. The spirit washing continued.

Driving back to Wisconsin, we mused that our re-entry into the world of people would be difficult. It was nice to be out of the fighting and the lying and the aggression. It made me wonder how the mountains perceive us. Such a small creature steeped in a full-blown-delusion-story of having dominion over all things. “Hubris,” the mountain blinks and we are gone.

In the midst of our incessant search for value and meaning and achievement and worth and dominance, our bitter fight over whose story we will tell, the mountain issues an invitation. Come. Walk awhile. Exit the chatter and stand in this moment. What else do you seek?

read Kerri’s blog post about THE MOUNTAINS