Understand That Little Is More Than Enough [on Merely A Thought Monday]

I think that maybe\ I will be surer\ of being a little nearer.\ That’s all. Eternity\ is in the understanding\ that that little is more than enough.” ~ R.S. Thomas [via Anam Cara by John O’Donohue]

And so our dear H is gone. I have written about him before, about how I learned from him how to age well. To “have a wonderful urgency to live life to the full” [John O’Donohue]. H was a study in wonderful urgency. He did not grow cranky as he grew old. He did not darken his sight with what he could no longer do. He gently pushed the edges of what he could do. He was a master of focus-placement.

I have known many people who proclaim a spiritual life. They are quick to advertise their illumination. They live to stand on the mountain top and call attention to their heights. H was not one of those. He simply lived his faith as he lived his life – without need for acknowledgment or recognition. No trumpet necessary. I suspect that his why I was drawn to him. He was simon-pure. Genuine.

“We’re afraid you’re going to take her from us,” H said to me, more warning than salutation, when I sat next to him in choir. It was my first rehearsal in my first choir and, as an avowed non-singer, I was intimidated. Kerri was the director. She’d recently asked H, at 87 years old, to rap Via Dolorosa. He’d jumped at the challenge and, as I heard the story, performed brilliantly, complete with costume and bling. He and Kerri were thick as thieves.

He guided me through that first rehearsal, laughed when I honked a bad note – which was often, and, by sweet example over time, steered me through my confusion until I found more joy than fear in singing. At the end, as he was moving into his 94th year, just before the pandemic made rehearsals impossible, it was my joy to help him find his place in the music. A perfect circle.

This morning, just before we received the news of his passing, I spent some time in the final pages of Anam Cara. The last words are a Blessing for Death and this phrase struck me: May you live compassionately and creatively and transfigure\ everything that is negative within you and about you. When the news came of his passing, I was certain it was H who’d tapped me on the shoulder and whispered, “Pay attention to this phrase.” It describes him perfectly. It encapsulates what I believe, H, without words, was trying to teach me. Through compassion and creativity, transfigure everything that is negative within you and about you. That is how to live well and age with wonderful urgency. No trumpet necessary.

read Kerri’s blog post about H

Follow Your Bliss [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

“And now you ask in your heart, “How shall we distinguish that which is good in pleasure from that which is not good?”/ Go to your fields and your gardens, and you shall learn that it is the pleasure of the bee to gather honey of the flower,/ But it is also the pleasure of the flower to yield its honey to the bee./ For to the bee a flower is a fountain of life,/ And to the flower a bee is a messenger of love, /And to both, bee and flower, the giving and the receiving of pleasure is a need and an ecstasy.” ~Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet [Pleasure]

Yesterday was a rough day. We awoke to some disturbing news. Kerri cried. And, for the rest of the day, uncharacteristically, DogDog and BabyCat were by our sides. It occurred to me, as DogDog rolled over for his 15th belly-belly of the day, that he was making himself available for a pet, not only because it felt good to him, but because it felt good to me, too. He was helping me to feel good. BabyCat was glued to Kerri’s leg. They decided to divide and comfort.

When we first found DogDog at Farmer Don’s, I dove into multiple books by the Dog Whisperer. It had been an eternity since I had a puppy and felt like I needed some guidance. I read that dogs (and cats) are master-aura-readers. They know what we feel before we know what we feel. It’s true. When DogDog runs into the bathroom, his safe spot, I know there is a storm brewing.

BabyCat has claimed one of DogDog’s toys. He rubs his face on the ribbed fabric and literally moans with pleasure. The first time we heard his pleasure-moan, we thought he was in pain. We ran to find him soaking up the single sunny spot in the house, rubbing his face on his toy, unapologetic in his bliss.

We watched him and laughed. His ecstasy was so simple and pure. The warmth of the sun. The satisfaction of the scratch. His pleasure gave us pleasure. It also gave us pause. “Dibs on the sunny spot when BabyCat is through,” I said. “Good luck with that,” Kerri smiled.” BabyCat, like most retirees, follows the sun.

Vicarious-bliss-sharing is one thing. Leaving the sunny spot is a bridge too far, even for our empathetic B-Cat.

read Kerri’s blog post on BLISS

Anticipate The Cake [on DR Thursday]

While I was shoveling snow, Kerri got to work creating a birthday surprise for me. I came around the corner of the house and howled with laughter. She told me her sculpture was me, with my tiara, waiting for my birthday cake. She captured my likeness exactly (this is how I look on the inside when cake is in my future).

On my 30th birthday my pals threw me a party. I lived in Los Angeles and the weather was gorgeous. I’ve never really liked being the center of attention so I remember that day, although fun and filled with love and kindness, as being hard work. On this, my 60th birthday, the weather was frigid. The snow powdery with the cold. We attended to the quiet. We lingered with coffee. We laughed. DogDog ran circles through the house as he always does when he gets a new bone. BabyCat snored in multiple spots around the house. For a few minutes I painted. I shoveled since more snow is on the way. Kerri sculpted. We opened a special bottle of wine, ate snacks, responded to texts and emails from dear friends. A package of unimaginable chocolates and treats appeared at the front door. We made dinner together. Talked to 20 and my mom. We wiled away the evening lost in a jigsaw puzzle. It could not have been a better start to a new decade. I crawled into bed feeling warm and rejuvenated.

Birthdays that end in zero naturally come with some life review. A look back at the road traveled. This zero came with some extra review. My father’s move to memory care has given me an added appreciation for memory. Moving Duke’s paintings after his death has given me a curious perspective on my paintings – and, for a while, a wrestling match with the final destination of my work. There was a moment of sweet release and circling back to long lost purity: in the road ahead I will paint for the simple pleasure of doing it, for the soul-dive that I experience when I’m dancing with a canvas.

At 80, I will look back at 60 and along with the simple celebration and enormous snow cake, I will remember the moment I opened my eyes on the new day. My first thought, my very first thought coming out of my dream was: this will be my favorite age. This marks the beginning of my favorite time of life. From here on, it is all cake.

read Kerri’s blog post about SNOWCAKE!

Breathe and Make Choices [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.” ~ William James

A note from the Rejuvenation Fairy: the relief we seek may depend upon the phrase we choose. For instance, consider this phrase: coping mechanisms. What ease might become available if we viewed ourselves as something other than machines? Turn this dial. Adjust this screw. Add a little oil. Check the battery. Do this, then that will happen. Turn down the pressure gauge. Talk to others. Take a break. Cause and effect.

Breathe. Sentient beings are much more complex and subtle than apparatus made from iron and steel.

We story ourselves. For reasons no one will ever fully comprehend, we sort to the tragic. We imagine the worst. Ask any good storyteller and they will confirm that conflict is the driver. Yearnings meet obstacles and stories ensue. Everyone, without exception, is telling themselves a story. Everyone, without exception, is starring in their own movie, complete with impossible mountains to climb, monsters to face, dreams that remain just out of reach. Robert Sapolsky has it right: zebras don’t hold onto their tale of stress while human beings are reticent to let it go. We like to tell it again and again and again.

If we cast ourselves as victims in our movie, our stories will be filled with ogres to blame. If we reduce ourselves to the mechanical, our stories will be endless attempts at fixing what’s broken, looking for the right hose to replace. How to recharge the battery. The fortunate few recognize that their movie might be a story of choice. Choices made within given circumstances. The storm, like time, passes. How do we stand in it?

There’s little doubt that we are living in stressful times. There’s nothing like a deadly pandemic to turn up those mechanical pressure gauges. Add another notch or two of pressure with extreme national ideological division, cowards at the switches of government, mix in some economic stress…there are plenty of choices on the angst-menu. All are visceral. All are circumstances to the story we choose to tell, the story I choose to tell.

I came across a few universal coping strategies. Eat healthy. Exercise. Give yourself a break. Get plenty of sleep. Talk to others. Recognize when you need help and ask for it. I wondered why these good choices are reserved for times of stress. Why not give yourself a break as an everyday expectation. Talk to others. Eat healthy. Weave a calm center it into the fibers of daily life. Make choices. Especially in the story you tell yourself about yourself. The thought upon which you choose to fixate, to play over and over again in your movie-mind.

When Kerri and I fall off the pony and run around like our hair is on fire, we make chicken soup. I am the sous chef. She is the master mind. The recipe comes from her mother so the making of the soup is more than food prep, it’s a love-touch to her anchor. We touch love. And, of course, defying the advice of experts to avoid alcohol, we enjoy a glass of red wine. We choose the glasses: Jamie’s? Or Skip’s? Or Joan’s? For our wedding, we were gifted with many special wine glasses from many special people. Recently, Jay and Carol and Rob sent us wine. When we clink our glasses, we touch the depth of our support and reach of our friendships. We call 20 and laugh. As the soup simmers and the wine disappears, we realize that our hair is not on fire, that, although we are not zebras, we are infinitely capable of releasing our tale of woe. We need not cope or distract. We can grasp hold of the full tale of the enormity of our lives. We need only refocus our eyes, see the depth and expanse of our story and choices, enjoy the warming soup. Appreciate the story of the wine.

read Kerri’s blog post about CHICKEN SOUP & WINE

Look In And Laugh [on DR Thursday]

I’m concerned. This is the 4th week in a row that Kerri has penned a new AT THE DOOR for use in our Melange. “This would be good for DR Thursday,” she says, showing me the latest draft. Originally, this cartoon was about the differences between DogDog and BabyCat; what they might think when staring out-into-the-world from the same door. Now, I fear Kerri’s new AT THE DOOR revival is about us. I am the dog. She is the cat. I am easily amused and too often state the obvious. She is more discerning and precise. I am, I confess, remedial. She can’t help but roll her eyes.

It’s not that I mind the cartoon comparison to DogDog. There are definite similarities. The circles I run are also counterclockwise. I am food driven. I want to run at every horizon simply to see what’s there. She is given to sitting in the sun, content in the bounds of the known, the delights of home.

Other comparisons of note: when BabyCat is hungry, he tortures the Dog. When Kerri is hungry, well, let’s just say that I spring into food-prep-mode for self-preservation. I can feel BabyCat’s stare boring a hole in the back of my head. Kerri’s stare has the same power. No. Words. Necessary. When DogDog is upset, he disappears into his safe spot. For him, it’s the bathroom. For me, it’s the studio.

Saturday – the day we choose our images for the upcoming week of the Melange – is fast approaching. I lay awake last night wondering what message or observation will come my way via AT THE DOOR. Last Saturday, before she showed me the cat’s commentary on the dog, dog = remedial, she was literally cackling. Looking at me and snickering. So was BabyCat!

Of course, it’s possible that AT THE DOOR has always been about us. It’s possible. DogDog and BabyCat, despite their vast differences, are constant companions and champions for the other. Just like us. I suspect that, if DogDog and BabyCat were to collaborate and pen a cartoon about us sitting at the door, staring into this vast wide-open universe, they’d snicker with love at our character collisions, a study in oppositions, and adore us and celebrate us, as we do them, weird quirks and all.

read Kerri’s blog post about AT THE DOOR

Give Yourself Time Together [on KS Friday]

In the pre-COVID world we had dinner with 20 twice a week. We’d cook on Sunday night. He’d cook on Thursday night. It was the rhythm of our week, how we’d locate ourselves in time. Nothing special, nothing fancy, just good food and laughter…and time together.

In the pre-COVID world, one of our favorite treats was potluck with Brad and Jen. We are a foursome with severe dietary restrictions so we found it was easier to have potluck rather than try and cook for each other. Our potlucks were time warps; we’d start talking and, in a moment, 5 hours would have passed. Our ritual question in the car driving home: “Where did the time go?” Time together with Brad and Jen has the lovely quality of never being enough time.

In October we drove to Colorado. My dad is slipping deeper and deeper into the land of dementia. In a pre-COVID world it would have been an easy decision but we delayed our trip for months. Fearing I may not see him if we did not go, we planned the safest trip possible and hit the road. He did not know me during the few days that we sat with him but there is no more precious gift I have ever given myself than those few days of time together.

If I have learned anything during this pandemic, it is that there is nothing better in this life than time together. A platitude. Maybe. But, if I could do anything right now, if I knew my time on this earth was short, I would hang out with Horatio, or MM, or Master Miller, all of the Chases…[you all know who you are]. Dinner with 20. Potluck with Brad and Jen. Every-single-moment precious. The chatter. The laughter. The quiet sitting. It is why, even in the severity of our circumstance, I consider myself, I consider Kerri and me, rich beyond measure.

This is no small revelation/admission for a dedicated introvert.

On the other side of this pandemic, it is how we will treat ourselves. Something commonplace and simple. Time together.

Kerri’s albums are available on iTunes

read Kerri’s blog post about TIME TOGETHER

The cool tag in our image is from in the land of elsewhere. Find and support them on etsy and instagram

time together/this part of the journey ©️ 1997/2000 kerri sherwood

Stop The Chase [on Two Artists Tuesday]

It’s difficult, seemingly Pollyanna-ish, to write about love when our nation is now officially divided and living in two combating realities. When Kerri took this photo on our back deck, I knew it was going to make an appearance in the Melange. “It will be tough to write about given the events of this week, the realities of our divided nation,” I said to no one listening.

I was wrong. The more I pondered this heart in the snow, the more I saw a simple theme, the thing we always miss. It is at the core of almost all spiritual teaching and personal revelation: stop the chase.

Krishnamurti wrote that “Love is a fact, not an emotion.” It cannot be found precisely because it is omnipresent. It is everywhere. It is everything. However, it can be easily missed, especially when covered in a blanket of righteousness. Love will sit patiently and wait for those who believe love to be a separate thing, something to be earned or discovered in the eyes of an other. We recently, through Zoom, sat Shivah for someone dear who had passed. The Rabbi read these words from a poem, “Love doesn’t die, people do. So when all that’s left of me is Love, give me away.”

Viktor Frankel wrote that “Happiness ensues.” It follows. It cannot be pursued or attained.

I can’t tell you how many countless hours I’ve spent with groups who desire to attain presence. To achieve mindfulness. It is nigh-on impossible to convey to achievers that presence cannot be pursued. It’s simple if you think about it: presence comes when ambition disappears. Presence and love. The desire to be anywhere else, to achieve anything, to become something other than what you are in this moment, precludes presence, interrupts love. Allow it; it’s already there.

It is anathema to suggest to modern seekers that they will find what they seek by ceasing to seek. Ha! It is the ultimate collision, in a culture steeped in achievement-as-a-central-tenet, that love, happiness, presence, mindfulness are unachievable – but infinitely available when standing still.

“You can love me most by letting me live in your eyes, And not on your mind,” the Rabbi read. See beyond what you think.

Division lives in the mind. What we seek, what we most need in this historic moment, cannot be found there. What we seek will become apparent – readily available – when we stop the chase, drop the destructive delusion of manifest destiny and its many separation-shadows – and, even for a moment – stand still.

read Kerri’s blog post about HEART

Do It For Yourself [on Merely A Thought Monday]

I have been writing long enough to know that there are sedimentary layers to my themes. The top layer, the most superficial, is the political layer, current events. I am not above shouting into the storm. When I run to the keyboard and ring the alarm or presume that my point of view is relevant enough to roundly criticize others, I know that, above all, I’m breaking the first rule of happiness: I can never determine what another person thinks or does or feels. On my superficial days, in my ranting, I write for myself.

When I was at my saddest, I set about looking for goodness. I walked the streets of Seattle with the single intention of counting acts of kindness. As you might suspect there were more than I could count. In this world where we story ourselves as aggressive, unthinking and unkind, we are remarkably compassionate. Good will is simply more difficult to see. It is not the focus. The deeper layers of my writing-archaeology emerge when I direct my attention, when I exercise the artist in me and attempt to see beyond what I think. Since these are the layers where I desire to live and work, I suppose it is also true that on those days I also write for myself.

It is a looping life-lesson for me: I have the capacity to choose where I place my focus. I will see in the dark ocean where I decide to shine my light. I will author myself according to what/where I decide to give my focus. It is, among other things, why the film ABOUT TIME is among my favorite movies.

Lately, as one of our get-through-the-pandemic-winter-strategies, we’ve taken to assembling jigsaw puzzles. Entire evenings disappear into our intense pursuit of pieces. Our puzzle sessions require absolute focus – all of the other nonsense and monsters that vie to plague our brains are banished. Our focus is so thorough that we rarely speak. We do, however, listen to the soundtrack of ABOUT TIME. Again and again. When it finishes, one of us walks to the CD player (yes…we play CDs) and play it again. Sometimes we don’t make it past the first track, Ben Fold’s THE LUCKIEST. “Do you mind?” one of us asks. It’s a rhetorical question. It warms us so a repeat is always welcome.

Sitting at the dining room table, hunting for bits of colored cardboard, with the soundtrack playing, all things come into focus. While the surface-layer is on fire with a circus of instability, a pandemic, a climate that is changing, all jobs gone, a broken wrist that is not mending,…the deeper layer beckons: DogDog sits under the table, BabyCat is asleep on the chair, 20 just called and made us laugh, a postcard from Jen made us cry, my phone dinged with a text from a dear friend. I look across the table at my wife, pursing her lips as she plucks a piece of the puzzle from the table and attempts to make it fit, and I know to my bones that I am the luckiest.

To see it or not to see it; it’s my choice.

read Kerri’s blog post about REPEAT

Root In Love [on DR Thursday]

The truth is that I loved drawing Chicken Marsala. There was the cartoon strip and there was the single panel variation. Chicken strips and chicken nuggets…we are clever that way. The syndicates entertained them for a minute but they ultimately went nowhere. We put them on the pile and moved on to other ideas.

Unlike the million-and-one other ideas stacked on the pile, Chicken occasionally calls. “Have a look,” he whispers, “just for yourself.” He called to us this week. Out of the blue. I’m so glad he did.

It seems that life offers a variety of possible roots from which to choose. Chicken’s call, root in love, might seem like so much cotton candy but I distinctly remember drawing this nugget and considering all the facets of love. Once, out of love, I screamed at a child running into the street. He cried and, when he stopped running, I cried, too. Love can be fierce.

The first time I laid eyes on Kerri we linked arms and skipped through the airport. Love can be spontaneous and ancient at the same time.

Tonight, just like last night and the night before, DogDog will lay on our bed and wait for us. He will feign exhaustion but his tail will wag as we approach the room. We’ll scratch his ears, give him a belly-belly, some gentle words, and he will jump down and get into his crate. Love can be tender.

Kerri and I are in the ashes-phase of our phoenix-cycle. I think that is the reason Chicken called. It’s in the ashes that other roots make themselves available. Cynicism. Anger. Why-bother. All roots ultimately lead back to the main but that’s sometimes hard to see with ashes in your eyes. Love is the main root. “Why waste your time?” Chicken asked. “You’ll get there sooner-or-later so why not choose sooner?”

That Chicken! He’s a smart boy. Simple. He cuts-to-the-chase.

I think that’s probably why I loved drawing him so much.

read Kerri’s blog post about ROOT IN LOVE

chicken marsala ©️ 2016 david robinson & kerri sherwood

Follow The Lights [on KS Friday]

Before moving to Wisconsin I had no holiday tradition. Being “not religious,” my celebrations were more spontaneous and improvisational than rooted in any specific custom or expectation. Dinners with friends. One year I baked bread with strangers. One year I took a boat to an island because there was a hot springs by the beach. One year, because I was alone and life was crumbling all around me, I scheduled for myself 30 coaching calls; that was the most memorable and profound holiday season of my life. I helped people. I met Kerri.

Since moving to Wisconsin my holiday tradition has been to help Kerri create choir performances for services. When I suggest that I helped, I mean I carried stuff, set up chairs, pushed pianos, moved bells into the choir loft, set up microphones, hauled big bowls of sand for candles. I am part Sherpa. It has been the busiest and zaniest time of the year. After playing the late night Christmas Eve service – the last of many running through the week, we come home, and with our neighbors, light luminaria up and down the street, pull two fire pits onto the driveway and stoke them for warmth. We open bottles of wine and place on a table bowls of snacks. People come and, huddled around the fire, we talk and laugh until the cold wee-hours of the morning.

This year, with the loss of jobs and collapse of community, with the pandemic spiking, our traditions are erased. For me, this feels like familiar territory. For Kerri, it is a profound loss and is disorienting. She had a full-on-old-fashioned-melt-down a few nights ago after cutting her finger on a broken wine glass. “It’s too much…” she sobbed. I couldn’t help but feel as she wept that I/We have walked a full-circle. Eight years later, life is again crumbling all around me/us. This could be the most memorable and profound holiday season of our lives. I didn’t offer my thoughts. I have learned in moments of crisis that silence is often more helpful than platitudes of encouragement. I am slow but sometimes I get there.

Leo had a Christmas tradition that I admired. He gave everyone in his circle an orange and a few walnuts. He grew up very poor and, as a child, those were the gifts he received. It was the most and best gifts that his parents could give. Throughout his long and successful life, he gave them to remind himself – and those he loved – that the holiday was not about the stuff. It was about the people who stand in the circle with you, the people who stand in the fire with you. The people who you love, who give all that they have: their hearts. An orange. A few walnuts. Big, big love.

This year, those people will stand virtually with us and we with them. The hot fire of this year has burned away the superficial. The recognizable patterns have all but disappeared. Yet, the essentials remain. The essential few remain. Deeply rooted. Deeply felt.

The cycle of life, the cycle of The Lights in Kerri’s song, reminds us of all that really matters. New life, linking back. Ancient hearts beating in our breasts. Full of light. Full of big, big love.

Kerri’s albums – including the lights – are available on iTunes

read Kerri’s blog post about THE LIGHTS

the lights ©️ 1996 kerri sherwood