Step Through The Doorway Singing

When I first met Kerri I told her that she needed to know two things about me: I don’t sing and I don’t pray. I imagine that was bracing news for a woman whose life has been about composing and performing music. I imagine it was especially disconcerting for a woman who stands firmly in a greater spirituality. I thought she needed to know.

A few short months later we were driving through the hills of Georgia en route to North Carolina, windows rolled down, a James Taylor and Carole King concert blaring through the sound system. James Taylor’s song, Something In The Way She Moves, began to play and I sang along. Kerri pulled the car over and began to weep. It turns out I sing after all. And I like it, too. That song became our song (one of them). Jim sang it at our wedding.

We have a dvd of the James Taylor and Carole King concert – at the Troubadour in Los Angeles. We watched it a few weeks ago for the first time. James Taylor told the audience that his song, our song, Something InThe Way She Moves, was the song that popped open his career. He said it was like that song was the doorway to the rest of his life. I knew exactly what he meant. A song. A door pops open. Life.

Yesterday was our second anniversary. Two years ago, Kerri recorded a song she wrote for me, for us. It’s called And Now. Amidst the chaos of our wedding week she somehow recorded it so I might enter the church, enter our wedding ceremony, to the song she wrote and sang, her song for me, our song. As I walked down the aisle that day, her song became the doorway to the rest of my life. In a moment, with a song, my life popped open.

Yesterday, after watching the sunrise we came home, made more coffee and sat on our bed (we call it the raft) with DogDog and BabyCat and told stories of our wedding week. It was the wedding equivalent of a barn raising. Our stories are the stories of all the amazing people who cooked, baked, carried, hauled, comforted, soothed, celebrated and helped us through the doorway. Amidst the stories, we reread our vows. We listened to the songs that to which we processed into the church, Gabriel’s Oboe for Kerri. And Now for me.

Listening, remembering, I sat on the raft and found myself weeping. I understood, perhaps for the first time, that on the other side of the doorway I routinely defined myself by what I was not: not a pray-er, not a singer. On this side of the doorway, there is life, rich, uncontrollable, vast, ever moving, no-need-for-nots or brakes or resistances. Just now. And Now.

And Now is on itunes

Use Joy Language

joy-croppedTripper Dog-Dog-Dog has moved through several names in his 3 years on earth. He has a cornucopia of names. For a while I dropped the “Tripper” part of his name and simply called him Dog-Dog. Now, much as a mother might use their child’s middle name, we only call him Tripper when he’s in trouble.

Lately I call him Dog-a-Dog (or doggadogga). He answers to Wag-A-Wag. He is an Australian Shepherd and has a bobbed tail that never stops wagging. He is a happy, happy boy. When I let him out in the morning I call him Fuss Bucket. When he comes back in I call him Poop Sack (for obvious reasons) or Bark Monster or Fur Ball. He sheds like a champion. When he circles through the rooms of our house looking for a safe place to deposit his bone, I (cleverly) call him Bone.

All the variations and derivatives are terms of endearment. Dog-Dog knows and responds in kind. Love is like that. Once, sitting on a train, I watched a grandfather lovingly toss his toddler grandson in the air saying, “You’re just Rubbish! That’s what you are! Rubbish!” The boy squealed with delight. The grandfather chuckled with pleasure and repeated the toss, “You’re just Rubbish!”

Language is a beautiful paradox. It is reductive even as it points to the unfathomable universe and the infinity of love. It is referential; we sometimes forget that the word “tree” is not the tree itself. It is merely an invented-phonetic-pointer toward something too complex to comprehend.

Language is powerful beyond comprehension. We use it to narrate our worlds, both inner and outer. The words we choose create the world we see. The words we choose define the world we inhabit. In my consulting/coaching days I used to love playing with exercises that revealed how easily we come to the language of gossip and blame. It requires almost no effort. Like sugar, hate-speak is addictive. It is the mark of a lazy mind.

The language of love takes some intention and consciousness. It demands conscious effort. It requires paying attention. It requires focusing the energy of the mind and, like any focus (or muscle) it demands exercise to be healthy. And, when exercised, it becomes easy. With great love, the word “Rubbish” can generate squeals of pleasure. The name “Fuss Bucket” will engender a full body joy-wag. And, a full body joy-wag will bring the love full circle. Love is like that. Joy is like that.

In his many books, Martin Prechtel writes beautifully about the power and necessity of speaking beautifully. Speaking beautifully creates a beautiful thinker and a beautiful thinker creates – narrates – a beautiful story, a beautiful world.

Prints/Mugs/Pillows/Cards/Totes

kerrisherwood.com   itunes:  kerri sherwood

 

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Let Life Come Through

a sketch: Dancing At Crab Meadow

a sketch: Dancing At Crab Meadow

Kerri works on her “un-cantata.” She plays a short section from a piece and it captures my attention. I put down my pencil, close my eyes, and listen. I am inking a cartoon, preparing a proposal. It is mechanical work, rote. I have learned to use this stage of the process as a kind of pay-attention-exercise. It is only tedious if I slip into the illusion that I’ve drawn this line before; I have not, just as I have not lived this moment before.

Artistry is often like laying bricks. Repetition is rarely sexy but beautiful creations come from it. I know that in my repetition I am “putting the lines in my body,” building muscle memory.

I have not heard Kerri play this piece and I find myself savoring it. I love it when she plays. The first time she played for me I was stunned into silence. “Something came through you,” I tell her. “It was enormous.” I often tell her the story of the first time I heard her play. I tell her the story so she will play more. I tell her because I know that music wants to come through her like images want to come through me. “You have to go to the piano,” I say. “Let it come through you.” She responds, “Let’s take a walk.” And we walk. Life comes through.

Neither of us spends as much time in the studio as we ought. Our walks, however, are extraordinary.

We went to a funeral on Saturday. We will attend another funeral tomorrow. There have been many, many in the past few years. I suspect that we are of the age that funerals become common. I have been paying attention to the eulogies with some fascination. They have become life-giving or at least revealing of what actually gives life (and what does not). In the many eulogies I’ve heard, the lives recounted, I’ve yet to hear about the big house, the luxury car that was bought, the clothes or jewelry that the deceased strove to possess. I never hear about the accumulations, the stuff or achievements. I hear warm stories of relationship. I hear of family dinners, trips to the lake, walks in the woods, laughter and lessons. I hear stories of life’s repetitions, the holiday feasts, the coffee sitting, the small moments, the messy moments that amount to time spent together. The walks.

Life comes through.

Let Go

Dog-Dog three years ago

Dog-Dog three years ago

Tripper Dog-Dog-Dog is now three years old. His birthday is July 4th so he believes all the ruckus and fireworks are for him. Of course, we do not dissuade him from his delusion. Country-wide festivities seem appropriate for the birth of any creature. It is a miracle no matter how you story it and ought to be outrageously celebrated.

Marilyn invited us to her family picnic. It was a riot of volleyball and bag toss, not to mention the best cheeseburger I’ve ever eaten. It was a great time! We sat at the table for elders. In the midst of feeling honored to be included at the grown-up table (I feel like I ought to be seated with the kids at the card table), I was shocked to realize that I was sitting with my peers. I am now of a certain age…. Some delusions pop themselves.

On Sunday at the holiday carnival as we watched the Pier Pups distance jump into a pool, Brad and I had one of those broad and deep conversations that keep me thinking for days. Among many things, we rolled around the idea of what it means to achieve, what it means to be successful. I’ve discovered, as my teachers told me I would, that ideas of success and fulfillment are different at each stage of life. Now, I’m successful if I’m quiet inside, if I do not let one of these too-fast-days slip by unappreciated. Some delusions are shed like too-much armor.

There is the moment that the unbeatable knight is knocked off his horse, the moment when Sisyphus, so strong, knowing and independent, doesn’t know what to do and his only recourse is to ask for help. His life depends upon it. To gain all, so the stories remind me, we must first lose it all. Like them, each time I think I have control of my destiny, I am summarily reminded of my delusion. Control is nothing more than just another story. Let go.

My greatest teachers in one pix

My greatest teachers in one pix

This morning, talking about all that has happened in three years, my wife looked at me through the steam of her coffee and said, “Time just keeps moving. You’d think it would slow down or take a vacation every once in a while.”

Dog-Dog now-a-days

Dog-Dog now-a-days

Know Your Stuff

my latest and the first of a new series. Held In Grace: Rest Now

my latest: Held In Grace: Rest Now

This a note of gratitude. Unashamed and unabashed.

Yesterday was our third annual trip to Cedarburg for Winterfest. It is one of my favorite adventures of the year with some of my favorite people. The temperatures were unseasonably warm, in the 50’s, so there was no snow and the river ran freely. The ice sculptors lining the streets tried to carve but soon abandoned their too-rapidly-melting blocks of ice. I stood with my back to a brick wall and drank in the sun.

Like the rest of the crowd, we wandered in and out of the many boutiques and shops, ate brats, sipped coffee, watched the sweet -small-town-parade and cheered at the bed races, an event that usually takes place on the frozen river but this day was held on a side street. The team with the best wheels won.

The shops, like shops in every town dependent on tourism, are chocked full of trinkets, greeting cards, clothes, and tchotchkes galore. Some of the shops are so stuffed with stuff that shoppers routinely flee to the streets to avoid imminent suffocation. I am generally crowd-averse so I hovered near the door and watched the games that emerged when the rules of personal space also fled to the streets. I delighted in the dance of strangers-in-too-tight-aisles bumping bellies, stepping on toes, laughing and blushing at unintentional nose touches and unfortunate hand placements.

In one of the shops I found displayed among the stuff a book entitled, Less Stuff, More Life by Amy Maryon. Ironies abound! I laughed heartily and was surprised when I found the same book in the very next shop we entered. So, I made a game of finding how many shops stuffed with stuff carried the book about collecting less stuff. The count: I found it in every shop we entered with the single exception of the antique store. It’s okay to load up on old stuff.

Each time I found the book I assigned it as a trigger for me to turn and appreciate the amazing people sharing the day with me: Dan and Gay, Sandy, Noelle, Daena, Jay and Charlie. Kerri above all. I also made it a game of giving gratitude for the riches of my life: 20, Linda and Jim, Russ and Mary Kay, Marilyn, Arnie, my Jims, …I could go on and on. I am the recipient of infinite kindness and support, love and friendship. This is the stuff of my life – as it is the stuff of life for us all. I suspect (the author) message is that the stuff in our closets obscures the real stuff of life. The shoes and houses and dish towels are not in themselves negative, they are, in fact, nothing at all. They are stuff. And, in the midst of the stuff, if we can see the forest through the trees, is our family and friends and community. There are people in our lives that we will never meet who make it all richer, better (for instance, I’d like to hug the human that first made a cup of coffee). They are the people we read about in the newspaper who donate time to make playgrounds, volunteer at the library or to man the local firehouse. There is the woman in the shop in Cedarburg that prays that we will buy something so she can pay her mortgage and feed her children.

 

Taste It Fully

ice circles on the lake

ice circles on the lake

We heard the angry barking of crows before we saw them. They were haranguing an owl. It flew into a tree only a few yards in front of us. For several moments, through the ruckus of the crows, we stared at the owl and it stared at us. Time stopped. Nothing else existed. The owl’s eyes, our breathing, the crow’s chorus.

For our wedding gift, H and Teru sent several collections of poetry, “Manuals on marriage,” they wrote in the note that came with the poems. Kerri and I are savoring the poems, reading one or two aloud to each other every day. They are a source of warmth and inspiration during these cold dark winter months. A poem cannot be rushed or read merely. It must be slowly tasted. It is meant to be entered like a meadow; to be experienced. Try to make sense of a poem and you will miss it. Just like life.

She said, “inner quiet is low maintenance,” and I laughed. Yes it is. The trick is in getting quiet. It is not something that can be found or achieved. It is not a place or a state-of-being. It is what happens when you stop looking for it. Like the hermit says to Parcival when the Grail Castle suddenly reappears, “Boy, it’s been there all along.”

For years Sam the poet was afraid of his poems. Like all great art, his poems, his art, revealed the artist, and so he kept them locked up, un-tasted. He came alive and supremely dissatisfied when he finally unleashed his poetry. He let himself want more but also refused to let himself experience more; one foot on the gas, one foot on the brakes. To taste fully one must be willing to be tasted.

A snippet of a poem (a koan imbedded in a poem), RELAX by Ellen Bass:

The Buddha tells a story of a woman chased by a tiger.
When she comes to a cliff, she sees a sturdy vine
and climbs halfway down. But, there’s also a tiger below.
And two mice – one white, one black – scurry out
and begin to gnaw at the vine. At this point
she notices a wild strawberry growing from a crevice.
She looks up, down, at the mice.
Then she eats the strawberry.

Taste your moment. Taste it fully.

I wrote in my black and red notebook a simple recognition. The field of possibilities cuts both ways: in your despair you must remember that anything is possible. In your joy you must remember that anything is possible. Tiger above (the past), tiger below (imagined future). Do not reject your moment or attempt to hold on to it – both are methods of missing the moment. Taste it regardless of the circumstance. Taste it fully.

 

 

 

Unfetter Kindness

Tripper Dog-Dog-Dog on a roadtrip

Tripper Dog-Dog-Dog on a road trip

Tripper Dog-Dog-Dog has no problem communicating his needs. I know without doubt when he wants to go out. I know when he wants his belly scratched or have his ears rubbed. He lets me know where he expects to be scratched. He is abundantly clear when food is his need. He does not second-guess his needs. He does not doubt his desires or confuse himself with obsessing over his reasons why.

Love is one of his needs. To give it and to receive it, exuberantly or tenderly, he does not invest in how I receive or return his love. He is not vulnerable because he has no need to hide or color his love-need. He has no brakes on his exuberance because it is pure, innate, and without story.

One of my favorite exercises to assign during my teacher/consultant phase was the Angel exercise. The assignment was simple: For three hours be an angel to someone. The only requirement was that the recipient could not know. Be an angel with no expectation of recognition; write about what you discover. The assignment was always greeted by a flurry of protests and questions (“I don’t know how…,” or “What does it mean to be….”). Angel-ing is scary business!

Once, to experiment, I assigned the opposite: be a devil/trickster. Instead of protests there were gales of laughter and excitement! No one asked “how.” In midst of their exuberant, fearless plotting and scheming, I reversed the design. Before they went into the world to demonize, I required them to flip their plan and do the opposite to their intended target: be an angel. Their sudden fear was palpable. “Now that you know how to torture this person, do the opposite,” I said. “Be their angel.”

Regardless of how we entered the assignment, the students/clients would return the following week exultant. Their experiences of Angel-ing, of unfettered kindness had profound blowback. They talked of their pre-Angel terror and the unexpected thrill that came with unfettered secret service to another person. They talked of the clarity that came with Angel-ing. They had fun. They felt good. They felt alive. Everything became simple. The greatest surprise of all – something that in this season we see on posters, holiday advertisements, Hallmark cards and screen-savers, something that is a cliché when proffered but rarely experienced: kindness begot kindness. Kindness begets kindness. Kindness clarifies life when it comes with no expectation of reciprocity. Kindness simplifies inner debates when it is wielded without need of reward.

Dog-Dog loves unconditionally. Love may be his only need. For Dog-Dog there is, I suspect, no distinction between giving and receiving. His exuberant love is not meant to gain access to heaven or to change the world in any way. It is without agenda. Angel-ing is like that…

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