Carry The Message [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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Rick Stone, founder of the StoryWork Institute, began his workshops with this fill-in-the-blank prompt: I come from a people who___________, and from them I learned____________. Try it. You will be surprised by the characteristics that jump up, the things you don’t really think about that you hold dear or that you resist. The connectivity that, for better or worse, defines you. The seedling of the answer to “Who am I?”

Jean HoustonJean Houston called it the burning point: you are the living flame, the burning point, of an ancestral line. You carry those who came before you. You will live through those in your line who come after you. It is the greater story, “Where do I come from?” It is the greater story, “Where am I going?”

One day, I caught myself standing with my elbow bent, just as my father stands when he is thinking. It is the posture his mother took when she was deep in thought. I imagine it was how her father or grandmother stood. An entire line of elbow tension reaching back into dark history. My elbows connect me. Kerri said, “This DNA thing is real!”

With all the time, money, ego, and energy we spend in life trying to distinguish ourselves as individuals, as distinct, as separate, it is actually the opposite, it is our connective tissue that gives us definition. It is in and through our relationships – our stories – that we generate meaning. It is through our roots – our stories – that we understand who we are.

I come from a people who___________, and from them I learned_________. We are messengers, all.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about MESSENGERS

 

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Live So Much [On Merely A Thought Monday]

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“So much life lived this week,” Heidi said to Kerri. Yes. So much.

It is, of course, true every week. Some weeks it is simply more apparent. The happenings seem bigger. A wedding. A graduation. A passing. A new job. A birth. A week of life.

Last week? A walk on the beach. Both children under the same roof; something that has not happened in years. Travel to another state. Staying present with my dad for those moments when he’d forgotten who I was. Staying present with my mom as a wave of fear washed over her. A job lost. Taking his keys and truck away. The deep gratitude of sleeping in my own bed, even for a night. So much life lived.

I have taught myself, in my waking moments, to think, “Make this day a discovery.” I have given too many weeks of my life away, too many days, too many hours, too many minutes, believing that I knew what was going to happen. Dulling myself. Blinding myself to so much life happening. ‘Discover the day’ is a much better approach than ‘Get through the day.’ The truth: none of us really know what is going to happen.

And this week?

 

read Kerri’s blog post about SO MUCH LIFE LIVED.

 

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Empty The Dishwasher Slowly [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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In the dark ages, when I did my driver’s ed course, I remember reading an experiment in which two cars drove the same long distance route; the first car followed all of the speed limits. The second car drove as fast as possible. The second car, the speeder, arrived only a few minutes, 120 seconds, ahead of the rule follower. The illusion of speed is, well, an illusion.

We just drove a few thousand miles and along the way were passed by more than a few hurry-up-cowboys. In each case, their gain would be minimal. Often we’d catch them (and pass them) within a few minutes. It’s a game I can’t help playing: does the addiction to speed, the anxiety of I’m-late-I’m-late-I’m-late, or the anger of I-have-to-get-there-first actually produce significant gains?

An angel gave us a beach house to use for a week. My normal morning routine is predicated on the fantasy of efficiency. I can cook breakfast, clean and put away dishes while also sorting out and making lists of all the things I think I need to accomplish each day. At the beach I was always the first one awake. I’d start the coffee, wander around and open the blinds, and, after staring at the surf, I’d begin to empty the dishwasher. The waves lulled me into sanity. There was not an ounce of rush-and-get-it-done in my body. Efficiency was nothing more than a distant memory. I enjoyed my morning. Fully. I began wondering if I was just like those speedy drivers? Deluding myself with an idea that, in reality, gained nothing but a wee bit more stress.

What if the idea was more than to get the job done fast? What if the idea was to do the job well and well included the absence of manufactured, self-imposed stress? These are things I already know but have to remind myself to live. And, since all of life appears to me as an analogy, my latest reminder to live what I already know is now a simple dishwasher. Empty it slowly. It need not be at a beach house because, in fact, the beach house has very little to do with dropping delusions/illusions of achievement.

Will it matter if I empty the dishwasher 16 seconds sooner? So I can get through it to the next task that I will rush through so I can get to my next task? Is my efficiency real or in service to anything useful? Probably not. Actually, certainly, not.

Will it matter that I am present in my actions and mindful in my day? Will it matter that, instead of pushing myself to concocted efficiencies, that I arrive at an empty dishwasher 16 seconds later?  Will it matter if I carry that way of being throughout my day? So, that, instead of pressing myself to get it done faster, I allow myself to live my life well (and, yes, I use that word intentionally with a double meaning). To be in it rather than get through it.

Imagine what I might gain.

 

read kerri’s blog post about EMPTY THE DISHWASHER SLOWLY

 

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See Two [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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“Birth is painful and delightful. Death is painful and delightful. Everything that ends is also the beginning of something else. Pain is not a punishment; pleasure is not a reward.”
Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times

I am fond of symbols. A horizontal line bisecting a vertical line. Two triangles interlocked to create a star. A black and a white swirl,  coupled to form a circle and each containing a dot of the other. All symbols of opposing forces interconnected and counterbalancing.

It is a story of two. Spirit and body. Male and female. Inhale and exhale. The pull of the moon rolling the tide in and out. Birth and death.

Most of us live our lives in abstraction, that is, generally removed from the push-pull of nature. Electric light. Hot and cold running water. Food picked from a grocery store shelf. Our trash easily goes to the curb and disappears.

We do not see that life eats life. We rise with the alarm rather than the sun. Perhaps that is why we engage in the ridiculous debate over whether or not we the have impact on the environment. We somehow have deluded ourselves into thinking we are not part of nature or worse, that we are above it. Our actions do not matter. Isolated, we somehow have come to live in a disembodied story of one.

Kerri and I walk almost every day. We often walk the same trails through Bristol woods or the Des Plaines river trail. We walk them through every season. The barren snowy winter, the budding spring, the full leaf of summer, the color and fall of autumn. As we cycled through the seasons on our trails, I am reminded that these symbols were always meant to help us live and understand life here and now, to engage fully in the dance between the natural forces, the story of the two. Interconnected. Counterbalanced. A part of. The middle way.

It is only when these symbols are mis-taken within the story of one that they become warring emblems. Self-righteous. Inert and other-wordly. Out of balance. Domineering.

Tornadoes are impersonal. Forest fires are not discerning. The tsunami does not pick its direction. The sun melts the snow without ire. Judgment has not place in a story of two. Building up. Tearing down. Sunrise. Sunset.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about BUILDING UP & TEARING DOWN

 

 

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Appreciate The Garbage [on Merely A Thought Monday]

your past copyWe saw this phrase on a Baptist church signboard en route to the Des Plaines river trail: your past should not dictate your future.

I read somewhere that we spend the first half of our life stuffing a bag full of garbage and the second half of our life unpacking and sorting through it. If it is true that we must make mistakes in order to learn, then much of what we judge as garbage must also be the necessary ingredient for growth. Context is everything.

When we first met, Kerri introduced me to a song by Rascal Flatts called Bless The Broken Road. Our conversation was a shared soul searching about all things we’d done in the past and labeled as ‘mistakes’. These ‘mistakes’ set off chains of events that led to the really good things in our lives. One of them led to our meeting. “You have to listen to this song,” she said. God bless the broken road.

Forgiveness seems hard to extend to others but almost impossible to extend to ourselves. Mistakes. Garbage. Broken roads. Who really knows where a path leads? Who really knows the impact of any decision or choice? It is easy to look back on a choice and criticize it because it is also easy to forget the pressures-of-the-moment and future-blindness that factor into our choices. Hindsight is not as clear as advertised.

When we were young Roger told me that he didn’t want to have any regrets when he looked back on his life. At the time I agreed. Now, I know that a life void of regret is a life lived on a too narrow spectrum, a protected life. A life free of risk. And, that life, inevitably comes with one single but whopping regret: it wasn’t really lived.

The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

read Kerri’s blog post about PAST DICTATES

 

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Realize And Reach [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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A beautiful thing happened ages ago when human beings, gazing at the night sky, recognized patterns in the myriad of blinky bright stars. The recognition was so profound that it lit a roaring fire in their curiosity. It propelled them to do what human beings do. They studied the patterns. They mapped them. They philosophized about them. They storied them. They argued about them. They created models. They claimed them and named them. They projected onto them their thirst for meaning and order, their need for reassurance in a greater design. If there is pattern and predictability in the stars then there must be pattern and predictability in the arc of a human life! They navigated their ships and their days according to their relationship with the stars.

During my life in Los Angeles, for a few eye-opening months, I volunteered at a school. The students at the school risked their lives everyday to attend. They had to cross rival gang territory. In some cases, the students had to literally check their guns at the door before entering the building. Some of the faculty, in an attempt to help the students dream of a better future, used the phrase, “Reach for the stars.” One day, watching a class, I recognized that the students had a limited capacity to relate to the phrase because they’d never seen the night sky. In their experience, the meager few stars that they could see through the light and haze of the Los Angeles sky were less than inspiring. The staff took the students to a place where they could see the stars. The shock and awe of standing beneath the unobliterated night sky was profound. It reoriented them to a universe of possibilities more vast than the tiny gritty city that had always before seemed so large and given them context.

It is possible to reach for vast visions when you recognize how tiny you really are.

In a moment of uncertainty and confusion, 20 told us not to fret because the opportunities unfolding before us were in the stars. In the stars. Safe. There was pattern and predictability. Things were lining up and all we need do was play our part. These things were meant to be. Kerri and I held hands and stared, like our ancestors, into the myriad of blinky bright stars, feeling very very small. “Do you think 20 is right?” she asked.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about STARS

 

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Enjoy The Ride [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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There was that eye-popping day that I ran across the street, more geezer than man. Somehow, my knees and hips, rather than running with the ease I had always enjoyed, squeaked and creaked and rattled along. Although I made it to the other side without being hit by oncoming traffic, I was forced to face the fact that my appendages were aging. I needed to allow more time in my crossing.

And then there was the day that I was driving. My eyes, always 20/20, missed an exit because I could not see it. I blamed it on the oncoming headlights, a dirty windshield, a too busy mind. A paper thin veneer of denial. I knew I’d finally come to the day that my eyes were no longer hawk-perfect [vanity note: I still don’t wear my glasses unless I need to read subtitles at the foreign film festival or drive at night. Denial, although thin, is elastic stuff].

When I was a kid I was on a road trip with my mother and grandparents. My grandfather was driving and he was pulled over for speeding. When the cop came to the window, my sharp-as-a-tack grandfather transformed. Cranking down the window he was suddenly a doddering, hard-of-hearing, slightly shaky, clearly demented old guy. The policeman asked for his license and my grandfather looked in panic to his wife for interpretation and assistance. The cops next question was, “Is this man capable of driving?” We stared  blankly ahead. Grandpa dialed it back a notch and recovered some coherence and believability. He got off with a warning. That day I learned one of the primary advantages of aging.

Sometime since moving to Wisconsin, I crossed a magic line. Although I do not think I am old, I am, more often than not, seen as old. A grey beard helps that perception. I confess to looking into the mirror and seeing, not my face, but my grandfather’s. Actually, a mix master image of both of them. They stare back at me when I brush my teeth. I now brush my teeth in low light.

I find this new mask odd and slightly intriguing. Sometimes I wonder who this new face will become. Sometimes I wonder who this new face is. Mostly, I can’t wait to be pulled over. I know exactly what to do and only hope that Kerri will play along.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about There’s Nothing Wrong With Being Older

 

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sacred series: inner life. one of two versions of this image. it is one of the many benefits of aging is to look inside and see lots of color!

 

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sacred series: inner life ©️ 2017 david robinson