Ask The Real Question [on Merely A Thought Monday]

“Through a lack of love everything hardens. There is nothing as lonely in the world as that which has hardened or grown cold. Bitterness and coldness are the ultimate defeat.” ~ John O’Donohue, Anam Cara

We just watched a news segment about Taiwan’s successful response to COVID-19. At the heart of their response, the reporter said, is a sense of social solidarity. Social solidarity; we are all in this together.

American’s celebrate their independent spirit which leads them to the delusion that they can go-it-alone. Watching documentaries and television shows of people living remotely in the great Alaskan frontier, I’m always aware of the manufactured rifles and bullets, the chain saws, clothes and coats from the store, boots and knives and rope and gas…participation in an economy. There is an entire web of support, hundreds of human beings making possible even the most dedicated illusion of the cowboy spirit.

It’s where we get it wrong. We are blind to our reliance on each other. An economy is more than the production and consumption of goods and services. It is a living, breathing web of interconnection.

Income gaps are descriptors of belief. Terms like “consumer behavior” are scrubbed, antiseptic descriptions of relationship, ethics, communal participation. The story is told in the economics. How the money flows defines the legislation: who starves, who prospers, how we support each other or not. Who has access to power and who does not.

Every-man-for-himself is not only a cold and bitter road, it is also a fantasy. The isolation of every hermit is made possible by the production of others. The existence of a leisure class is not possible without a successful working class. Prosperity is a team sport, especially in a capitalist economy.

No one walks this life alone so the real question is how we want to walk it?

These once-united-states have grown cold. We are hardened. We are divided. Fewer and fewer feel the wealth. There are no rules that apply, no ethic to the game of governance. Fearful and angry people are easily led into wild tales of deep states. Neighbors become enemies. Economies teeter and fall when balance is ignored. No one thrives for long in a bitter divide.

The ultimate defeat is ours. No garden grows in hard soil. We will have required no enemy invasion, no conqueror breaking down the gate or overrunning the ramparts. All that was required was to turn our backs on each other. To think we are two distinct teams, and need to win over the other at all cost, no-holds-barred and no rules apply, go it alone, protect the freedom of the individual with nary an understanding that no individual survives in a vacuum.

It is a lonely supper, indeed, at a table for one.

read Kerri’s blog post about CARING

Recognize The Divine [on KS Friday]

“To say that life is destabilized by weakened institutions is merely to say that information loses its use and therefore becomes a source of confusion rather than coherence.” ~ Neil Postman, Technopoly.

“Regularly throughout conversation in Gaelic, ” John O’Donohue writes, “there is explicit recognition that the divine is present in others.” Social fabric is tightly woven and made strong by the recognition of value, divine or otherwise, in all members of a community. During my travels in Bali I was moved again and again by the interconnectivity, the deep assumption of coherence that wove together daily life and community. “If two cars crash, “Budi told me, “the driver’s first thought is not that the other is to blame, it is that they are supposed to meet.”

And when the devaluation of others becomes a national pastime as it has in these once united states, pushing down the head of an other in an attempt to elevate the self – the preferred action of all drowning people – saves no one. It only delays the drowning of all involved. That sound we hear is the rending of our social fabric, the breaking apart of the ship. Those shouts of triumph and scorn coming from the top deck will be short lived. Confusion is a lousy organizing principle and guarantees a watery grave for all on board.

We are awash in information and so we are also awash in an assault on information. Misinformation is our Achilles Heel. So weakened by gaslighting are our public institutions that the single most damning confession of our lifetime, a president admitting for all to hear that he knew and lied about the deadly virus, is shrugged off. “Yeah, well what about Nancy Pelosi’s hair!” I shuddered when I read the inane defense. We flatten. Our values fade as fast as our perspective. Thousands died who did not have to – heads were knowingly pushed under. Thousands will die who do not have to; an estimated 410,000 by the new year. Disposable people.

Neil Postman wrote, “What makes science possible is not our ability to recognize ‘truth’ but our ability to recognize falsehood.” Replace the word “science” with the word “community’ and the statement rings just as true. A community that cannot recognize falsehood is in trouble. A community that will not deal with truth is destined to drown in its own willful confusion.

We will not find our way through this paralysis until we can step out of this car crash and, instead of pointing our fingers and blaming, we step toward each other with wonder at what brought us together, until we are willing to ask, “Why did we meet?”

CONNECTED on the album RELEASED FROM THE HEART is available on iTunes

read Kerri’s blog post about CONNECTED

Become A Heart Symbol [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

Almost anything can become a symbol. Almost anything can be made a symbol.

Symbols are very powerful, probably more powerful than we realize or are willing to admit. People die defending them. People die attacking them. They can serve as a moral compass. They can be a siren call and entice entire communities to crash on the rocks of devastation. Symbols can unite. They can divide. They can clarify. They can obscure. In almost every case, symbols serve as the defining line between Us and Them. They identify.

As a servant to identity, a single symbol can facilitate diametrically opposing points of view: hope and threat. It can be the taut rope in a social tug-of-war. Crazy things happen when, within a community, a symbol runs in opposite directions. We are witness to that today through the symbol of the “mask.” Some see a mask as communal responsibility. Some see it as a threat to individual freedom.

The challenge with any potent symbol is that it burns either through the heart or the guts. Only then does it run to the brain.

For instance, mask-wearers begin their symbolic journey in the heart. The symbol of “mask” is proactive. It signifies service to others and community protection. It unites in a common cause. It runs in the direction of hope. Giving. Inclusion. For them, a mask is a positive symbol. It confirms and accepts science, data, fact. It adapts to new information. It grows.

Mask resisters begin their symbolic journey in the guts. For them, the mask represents a fear of personal loss. It is a divider. It runs in the direction of threat. The symbol is reactive and signifies service to self. Exclusion. A mask, for them is a negative symbol. No amount of data or fact can assault a negative belief. A gut inception inflames the brain. It entrenches.

We’ve heard that, where mask wearing is concerned, there is a declining vigilance of the public. I wonder if that is true. I suspect the perception of declining vigilance is actually a matter of noise. Those who operate from their guts, their fear, will do anything, are capable of any and every form of cage-rattling. Theirs is a symbol of distress and is loud and enraged as is the case with most “me” focused symbols.

Those who operate from their hearts are generally quieter. They know the restraint that compassion brings. They are focused on the betterment of the entire community, including the fearful, so, as is true of most “us” focused symbols, calming the panic is an essential aspect of the action.

I doubt that vigilance is in decline. The fearful gut is screaming louder, garnering attention, daring to be made to wear a mask, cranking up the volume, loudly crying “hoax” – all the while knowingly spreading the disease.

In the meantime the quiet heart, the larger part of us, moves masked through each day. Hope need not make noise or news or announce itself. It is satisfied simply by doing the work of community, the real work of public vigilance.

read Kerri’s blog post about DECLINING VIGILANCE

Step Into The Dark Wood [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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Midway through one of our favorite hikes, the trail cuts through a section of dense tall reeds. I feel as though I could run and jump at the wall of tightly knit green and it would reject me outright. No entrance. I always imagine there must be a magic door, a secret phrase that will unlock passage to the wonders awaiting on “the other side.” Narnia will open if I know which reed to press.

In stories, the dense woods and murky places are to be avoided. They are where the monsters lurk, the bandits hide, where witches offer poison apples to little children. The community cautions against going there but the protagonist, usually to save the community, must enter that place, the place where no one is supposed to go.

The light must turn and see the shadow. Great power is always found there. Wholeness is never experienced by standing safely in the light but is brought back into the light from the dark side of the moon.

Jonah must go into the belly of the whale. The young wife must seek the Crescent Moon Bear. Luke Skywalker has to enter the dark cave on Dagobah. Adventures are not adventurous without a step into the scary unknown. Growth and new knowledge is not accessible from a safe seat on the couch. What we find in the dense wood or dark cave is often upsetting and unsettling. Revelation creates movement. That’s the function of the shadow. The ring of power is dark and dangerous and must be thrown into the volcano if middle earth is to survive. Who will take it?

Stories are there to help us both understand and navigate our personal and communal journey through this life. They help us know what to do when we have no idea what to do.  They help us know that the answers are not easy and usually arise after a step off the lighted path. They will come after a good bit of struggle, mess and misstep. The answers are rarely at first welcome because they challenge our smallness and will inevitably crack our safe denial.

Today, sitting in our city on fire, another night of protests looming, scary rumors running rampant, I can only hope that we – as a nation – listen to the great stories, that we step with shaky legs into our dark woods and face our dragon once and for all. The great stories assure us that what we find will not be easy or welcome. It guarantees that we will make messes and mistakes. But, it reassures us that our vulnerability and willingness to go through the dark passage will one day make us strong.

It will certainly transform us. I find that intensely hopeful.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about DENSE

 

 

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See It [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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Systems do what systems are designed to do. For instance, this seawall is a simple system designed to protect one element (land) from the other (water). Left unchecked they come together and change occurs. This wall is a system built to prevent significant changes to the coastline.

Our system, relative to black and white Americans, as stated in the colonial records and enacted through legislation, was designed to keep the two groups from uniting. Division by design.

The law [the Virginia Slave Codes of 1705] was devised to establish a greater level of control over the rising African slave population of Virginia. It also served to socially segregate white colonists from black slaves making them disparate groups hindering their ability to unite. A unity of the commoners was a perceived fear of the Virginia aristocracy which had to be addressed, and who wished to prevent a repeat of events such asBacon’s Rebellion, occurring 29 years prior.” [Wikipedia, An act concerning Servants & Slaves]

A unity of commoners is to be feared. To that end, African Americans were determined through legislation to be less-than-human, three-fifths to be exact. No other group in our history have been institutionalized, bills debated and passed into colonial law, as sub-human.  When we see signs that read “Black Lives Matter” it speaks to a systemic definition, a system that to this day is doing what it was designed to do. African Americans simply want their two-fifths recognized and returned.

To match the denigration of black Americans, poor (non-land-owning) whites were given a promotion, new rights and status. “Many of the European-descended poor whites began to identify themselves, if not directly with the rich whites, certainly with being white. And here you get the emergence of this idea of a white race as a way to distinguish themselves from those dark-skinned people who they associate with perpetual slavery.” [Facing History & Ourselves]

The system only works if pushing the black head down is the mechanism that elevates the white head. The police are merely servants of the system. To redefine the police, through funding changes or otherwise, will not address the root of the pattern. The system will reinvent itself in another form because that is what systems do.

America has a pronoun problem. As I write this I am sitting in my smoke-filled house in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Downtown is burning in reaction to Jacob Blake’s shooting. A quick scroll through the Kenosha Facebook page and I read again and again this question, “What do they want?” THEY. Not a hint of WE to be found. The system is working perfectly to prevent the unity of commoners.

Yesterday, I wrote to my pal David that nothing has changed. I was in Los Angeles in 1991 during the Rodney King riots. I watched Los Angeles burn. Today I am watching the destruction of downtown Kenosha. To understand the violence of the response you need look no further than the violence present in the two videos. In a routine traffic stop, Rodney King was pulled from his car and beaten nearly to death. Jacob Blake, an unarmed black man, was shot seven times in the back. In a situation where no club was necessary, a black man was brutally beaten. In a situation where no gun was necessary, a black man was shot seven time in the back. Is the burning of the city more or less repugnant and out-of-proportion than the violence that incited the flames?

My point: The violence is already present. It is the seawall erected through law to prevent the two groups, black and white, from coming together. Slavery was violent. Jim Crow was violent. This latest iteration is, not surprisingly, violent. It’s how the system maintains itself. The form changes but they system remains constant. The violence prevents the unity of commoners.

Finally, consider this: “With the COVID crisis, 40 million Americans lost their jobs, and 3.3 million businesses shut down, including 41 percent of all black-owned enterprises. Black Americans, who significantly outnumber whites in federal prisons despite being but 13 percent of the population, are suffering shockingly high rates of morbidity and mortality, dying at nearly three times the rate of white Americans. The cardinal rule of American social policy — don’t let any ethnic group get below the blacks, or allow anyone to suffer more indignities — rang true even in a pandemic, as if the virus was taking its cues from American history.” [Wade Davis, The Unraveling Of America, RollingStone Magazine, 8.6.2020]

So, if you are one of the legion asking this question, “How can this be happening?” I suggest you ponder this: how could it not be happening. It’s by design.

If you are one of the many wondering what can be done, begin by paying attention to how YOU are participating in the design. And then, perhaps, all us can begin the difficult search to find a path to WE.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about the SEAWALL

 

 

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Read The River [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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The great gift of writing this blog is that I now have ten years of recorded ramblings and ruminations. I have an almanac of my thought patterns, a rolling document of what really matters most to me. I  periodically revisit what I wrote five or ten years ago. My visits to the past never fail to surprise me.

I’m chewing on the same stuff. I’m rolling around the same ideas. You’d be shocked – as I am – at how many times I’ve had the same revelation, thinking it was the first time. Yet, since my writing serves as a map to my revelation cycle, I can also see how the man having the old-revelation-anew is not the same man. I have the old revelation through new eyes. Perhaps that is why I have these revelations again and again. Discovery as rediscovery. New perspective makes the old revelation vital again.

As I’ve written before, I feel as if I am living the Parcival story. When I was young I failed in The Grail Castle.  I didn’t speak my truth. Rather, I did as I was taught, practiced my good social training, and withheld my voice as a proper knight should. Should. I started writing my blog when I was wearing armor, riding around the kingdom attempting to slay dragons and fight ogres to make up for the wasteland I’d created. I won my battles but lost my war – just as the story prescribed.

Now, I read about my battles sitting in the forest, having dropped my armor. Having mourned my defeat. Having lost my way. Having passed through the frustration and fear and anger that comes with lost-ness. Having relaxed into chopping wood and carrying water. Having the same old revelation again and again.

The story, this life story that we live, is a story of letting go, of paring down. Dropping the “shoulds.” Simplifying to the point that recognizing who we are is of much greater import than who we should be. Inhabiting the present moment is most often the abolition of “should.”

One of the greatest lessons I taught but failed to grock is, “suspend your judgments and learn.” ‘Should’ is a judgment by another name. A self-judgment. Armor. Mechanisms that separate. What story do I tell that separates me from this moment? What story do I tell that separates me from delighting in my self just as I am – and not as what I think I should be? What limits do I impose on my story and why?

Life, I’m learning, is one long lesson about the illusion of separation. We spend the first half of our days creating distance and the second half closing the gap-of-our-own-creation.

So, this morning I sit with my blog. I read the chronicle, this old river, and laugh at what I’ve apparently always known but refused to learn. The old story comes with a consistent bit of wise and useful advice: let go. No one but you tells the old story. No one but you misses seeing the Grail Castle that, as the hermit-in-the-woods giggles when it appears a second time to Parcival, “Boy, it’s been there all along.”

 

read Kerri’s blog post about AN OLD RIVER

 

 

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See And Speak [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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We were sitting on a concrete wall, taking a break, when he asked the question. I’ve been asked this very question more times than I care to count and I did what I always do: I took a breath. When you facilitate conversations on diversity and culture change, this question is always lurking somewhere in the room, waiting for a break, a side conversation, so it can be given voice without ramification. Truth often steps forward at the water cooler. It was the question that illuminated for me the real problem with race in America and the mountain we need to move. “Don’t you think black people cause their own problems?” he suggested.

Breathe.

No. I don’t. I believe privilege is blind to itself. And, isn’t this the very conversation we need to have happen in the middle of the room and not at the margins? The mark of institutional racism is that it is utterly invisible to the privileged class.

In the United States we hear a lot these days about tribes and information bubbles as if they were a new phenomenon.  They are not new. Our bubbles, like all bubbled history, is meant to cleanse the narrative to justify the indefensible, to hide the ugly behind a noble mask. Here’s a phrase from our history: The ruling class responded [to Bacon’s Rebellion] by hardening the racial caste of slavery in an attempt to divide the two races from subsequent united uprisings with the passage of The Virginia Slave Codes of 1705.

If you are white in America this might not yet have pierced your bubble. Note these phrases relative to the history you learned in school. It might help to understand the system at play in our current historical attempt to change systemic racism: Ruling class. Harden the racial caste of slavery [yes, a created caste system. The system of slavery was erected and black Americans were legally defined as lesser beings]. Divide the two races [black & white]. The point of the black/white division was and is to prevent subsequent uprisings against the ruling class. Ruling class.  The division we wrestle with was intentional, crafted for a specific purpose, and systematized. It serves the same institutional purpose to this day.

Another tidbit worth gnawing on: According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first appearance in print of the adjective white in reference to “a white man, a person of a race distinguished by a light complexion” was in 1671. Colonial charters and other official documents written in the 1600s and early 1700s rarely refer to European colonists as white.

If we are learning anything in these days of fox propaganda and pandemic tales it is the power of people to entrench in their narrative despite data, fact, and personal experience that disputes the narrative. Systematize a narrative and it is nearly impossible to challenge. No see, no hear, no speak. Systems, as I learned in school, are living things – not mechanical – and will fight to the death to keep themselves alive. We are currently watching the fight of a systemic challenge.

The question at the water cooler, “Don’t you think black people create their own problems?” was always asked in earnest. It revealed the successful hardening of racial caste, the power of the mechanism preventing the uniting of the races so as to ensure no possible subsequent uprisings. Us. Them. Bubbles. A vicious cycle.

It’s hard to see a mountain when you are sitting on it. We The People. Ruling class. These two phrases are incompatible but co-exist through the successful creation of division. It’s black and white.

We have a long history and have worked very hard not to see what is right before our eyes. The second rule of systems change: if you know where you are going then it is not change but repetition. Rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

The opportunity for change is, once again, upon us. The conversation needs to move to the center of the communal square and we need to muster the courage to step into unknown territory. Silence and denial are not now nor ever have been valid excuses for perpetuating an ugly system. We betray ourselves.

“When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have to speak up. You have to say something. You have to do something.” ~ John Lewis

 

read Kerri’s blog post about SILENCE

 

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Embrace The Mush [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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We walk almost everyday. We always have. We walk to clear our minds or to stir our creative conversations. Since we work together, we sometimes call our walks “meetings.” Neither one of us is good at sitting.

Lately, we walk as an escape or a pressure release. Between job losses and broken wrists and pandemic fears and aging bodies and titanic leadership failures and civil unrest and financial collapse and missing-family-because-it feels-unsafe-to-travel…there’s very little quiet mind space. We hit the trail and have to remind ourselves to slow down. Be in it, not get through it.

It’s a life reminder: be in it. All of it.

We walked across the busy highway to the trailhead and a butterfly circled Kerri and landed at her feet. She’s been having many butterfly encounters lately. They circle her. They fly with her, crisscrossing her path. This butterfly stopped her motion completely. It snapped her into the present moment. She pulled out her camera and the butterfly hopped. She followed and the butterfly hopped again. It seemed to be leading her. It wanted her to follow. Another hop.

While watching the chase I couldn’t help myself from thinking of the symbolism. A butterfly, the universal symbol of change and transformation, leading Kerri on a chase. Perfect!

Our world is changing.

The process of becoming a butterfly requires the caterpillar to cocoon and then dissolve into mush before reforming, taking on the new shape. There’s no way to rush through the mush phase. There’s no way to rush into a thing with wings. In fact, the arduous process of busting out of the cocoon is necessary. It takes time for the wings to dry and the struggle to get free of the safe house provides the drying time. That, and the what-the-heck-are-these wings-doing-on-my-body phase of new recognition. Fear of the first step affords a few more moments of structural prep.

Going to mush takes time. Re-forming takes time.

No one willingly goes to mush. People famously grouse about changing but avoid change at all cost. I imagine that if the caterpillar had any idea of what was about to happen, it would yammer on and on about its dream of flying but would run screaming from the very idea of cocooning.

COVID has us cocooning. We are going to mush. I can only hope my country is also going to mush. A caterpillar that attempts to ward off the necessary transformation distorts and does not live long. A caterpillar that attempts to control its change process is delusional. It will rush and step off the limb before its wings are ready. Another route to disaster.

We are going to mush. Losing the known form is not easy. Living in uncertainty is uncomfortable. That’s the point. Discomfort heralds change. It opens new paths of thinking and possibilities for experience.

Watching Kerri hop after her hopping butterfly, I found myself laughing. This is what mush feels like. I’ve been here before. There will be another side, a breaking out, a fearful flapping of wings. A timely leap and a discovery. Butterflies are also symbolic reminders to step lightly and with grace in times of change. There’s nothing to be done but take nice walks, breathe a bit slower and hop after photo-shy butterflies.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about the BUTTERFLY

 

 

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greet the world ©️ 2011 david robinson

 

 

Walk With Me [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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Lately, I’m dreaming of walking the Pacific Crest Trail. It is an escape fantasy. I want to unplug from this angry culture and its toxic division. I want to walk until it hurts. I want to listen to the wind. I want to think-no-thoughts.

I’m kinesthetic. Walking is a better form of meditation for me than sitting. I get quiet when I walk. Chris once told me that I should lead pilgrimages. At the time it made me laugh since I was certain I could probably guide the walk but had very little to offer seekers other than this bit of counsel: shhhhhhhhhhhh. Listen.

I grew up in Colorado and camped often. Say the word, “sacred” to me and I immediately hear the sound of wind rustling through the tops of pine trees. Once, walking a trail in the mountains, it began to gently snow. The forest stilled. It was so quiet I thought for a brief moment that I’d grown deaf. The wind. The quiet. I heard myself catch my breath. Sacred.

At the beginning of this pandemic time, we’d wake in the morning and, sometime during coffee, we’d remember. “Oh, right,” Kerri would say, “we’re living in a sci-fi movie.” The night had forgiven the previous day’s stresses.

One day in Bali, walking down a long road, I felt unsettled. A young man came from the fields and joined me. At first I was perturbed because I wanted to be alone but soon I found his company reassuring.  I asked where he was going and he said, “With you. I walk with you.”

I was confused and asked “Why?”

He was confused by my question. “You are a guest here,” he said in his broken English. “To let you walk alone…is not nice.”

I thought of this young Balinese man, my one-day companion, as I drifted off to sleep last night. The gentle courtesy of his act. His deeply felt obligation of presence. His work-of-the-day was less important, less vital, than showing spontaneous kindness to a stranger. Would I need my escape fantasy, my epic walk, if the people in my country were as generous, as respectful of each other, as he was to me?

“Life is grace. Sleep is forgiveness. The night absolves. Darkness wipes the slate clean, not spotless to be sure, but clean enough for another day’s chalking.” ~ Frederick Buechner

 

read Kerri’s blog post about ANOTHER DAY’S CHALKING

 

 

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held in grace: rest now ©️ 2016 david robinson

Create Calm [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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This word, calm, is a rare bird among words. It is a triple play of words: an adjective, a noun, and a verb. A descriptor, a thing, and an action.

If I had a superpower, it would be to calm. To create calm. To inspire calm hearts. Soothe, make peaceful, generate calm within and beyond the eye of the hurricane.

Last night we watched The Barkley  Marathons, a documentary about a wacky ultra-marathon trail race in Tennessee. Very few people finish the race. One of the racers, an unlikely finisher, told the story of how he came to be in the field. His dad did what he was supposed to do – he worked and saved all of his life so he might retire and then go have experiences. But – you know the story – he died one year shy of retirement. “I decided not to wait,” the runner said. “I want to suck the marrow from every moment of this life.”

Usually, the center of a delayed life smolders. Henny Penny races around the center-cage of a fearful life. But, you’ll know someone who is fully in their moment, who is sucking the marrow out of this tasty life, when you see them. Their center is calm. They are not predetermining their experiences. They’ve stripped off their “should” and “can’t.” Rather, they step onto the unknown field and open their arms to what comes. They play an infinite game, they play-to-play, and perhaps learn a little bit about themselves along the way.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about CALM

 

 

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classic ©️ 2013 david robinson