See The Wonder [on Merely A Thought Monday]

What is this thing called ‘wonder’ and where does it go? Awe. Astonishment. Surprise. The stuff of sunrises and sunsets. The first. The last.

I am of the opinion, like most people I know, that wonder does not go away. We simply stop looking through eyes that see it. Been there, done that. Nothing new. The daily grind. If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. It’s too bad. It’s no way to live.

We moved our chairs to catch the sliver of sun. We sat, closed our eyes, bathed in the warmth, and sighed. Wonder need not be complicated. Tom Mck, his mind already slipping, forgetting why we came to the cemetery, heard the grieving husband across the way wail in pain. “Listen to the wind!” he said to me, eyes wide in amazement.

“We are such stuff/ As dreams are made on and our little life/ Is rounded with a sleep.” ~ William Shakespeare, The Tempest. We are such stuff. It is a very short window, a single moving moment, rounded with a sleep. The real question is: What moment in this brief life is NOT alive with wonder?

read Kerri’s blog post about WONDER

Look For Joey [on Merely A Thought Monday]

It’s been a life-long fascination of mine. In the most individualistic culture on earth, we like to display our status by wearing brand names and shop the same stores in malls that look the same across the nation. We are the inventors of the chain store, the strip mall. The one-size-fits-all. The suburb and cookie-cutter-house. Here in the cult of the individual, we like to do what every one else is doing.

Kerri and I tease about writing a book. It’s called “Looking For Joey.” Google Joey Coconato or his YouTube channel, My Own Frontier, and our blogs pop up at the top. We’ve not written much about Joey Coconato – a few posts – but to our great amusement, we top-the-google-list. And, so, these days, we are regularly contacted by people who are looking for Joey. They think we know him. They think he’s editing his next video in our basement.

Joey lives off the grid. He backpacks the American wilderness and documents his treks with videos. We became avid Joey fans when pandemic-isolating last year and vicariously got “out there” through Joey’s films.

After watching a few of his films it becomes abundantly clear that Joey is what everyone on the grid pretends to be. An individual. His clothes are ripped. His gear is constantly in disrepair. His food is what he can get his hands on at the moment. He is not climbing any ladder. In other words, he is not invested in how he looks, what he wears, or whether or not he’s doing things the way he ought to do them. He’s doing life in his way. At his pace. In his place. According to his star.

After receiving the latest: “Do you know where Joey is? It’s been 8 months since he posted…” I decided that, in these un-united-united-states, everyone is looking for Joey. He has, for me, ascended to the level of metaphor. He is authentic in an age of thin veneer.

While people are draping themselves in tribal-hate-flags and crying “individual freedom”, sticking their heads in the Q-sands as an act of liberation, blinding themselves in a rabid-festival of group think, all the while shaking their fists declaring, “No one can tell me what to do.” Insisting without any connection to reality that an election was stolen, that vaccines in a pandemic are filled with micro chips, that January 6 was an ordinary day at the Capitol – we are a mess of lockstep inanity.

I think everyone is looking for Joey. They – we – no longer know what is real so they -we – are splintering into disparate group-fantasy. Lemmings singing a chorus of My Way as they – we – plummet off our collective cliff.

Honesty is not that hard to spot if you want to look for it. Much of the fight falls away when you are prepared to acknowledge that much of what we profess is cotton-candy, that we are terrified of looking at our full history. Shops and malls and online outlets are not great places to look for answers. Running from critical race theory does not make our past go away.

A walk about in nature has a way of making the absurd abstractions fall away. Carrying your food on your back and looking for water when you need it strips away the investments in the ridiculous.

Individuals – people truly living out of their own center – generally don’t have to wear brands or broadcast their individuality. They are not seeking validation. They are not fighting for their freedom. Like Joey (I imagine) they simply live it.

[ the cool Dr. Seusss plant is called white baneberry or doll’s eyes.]

read Kerri’s blog post about STAND OUT

Stand In The Narrow Place [on Merely A Thought Monday]

“Western civilization has been a 2,000 year long exercise in robbing people of the present. People are now learning the joys that hide in the narrow place of the hour glass, the eternal moment.” ~ George Leonard, Mastery

The observation has become something of a yearly ritual. Every 9/11, I hear or participate in this conversation: one day, people got out of bed, drank their coffee, brushed their teeth and went to work or boarded an airplane. And then, they never came home.

We are fairly smothered in sentiments about appreciating life, seizing-the-day, living in the present moment, take nothing for granted… “You never know.”

Quinn gave me his copy of Mastery. As was his practice, he underlined significant passages in red pen – and the book was a festival of underlined passages. For years I kept the book on my desk or beside my bed. I’d flip it open and read the red sections. They served as a daily meditation. They gave my busy mind something generative and hopeful to occupy.

George Leonard called presence, “the plateau.” Eckhart Tolle calls it “the now.” In one of the gospels NOT included in the bible, Jesus is reported to have said, “The kingdom of heaven is on earth but men do not see it.” The Way of the Buddha leads to the present moment.

What do we see if we stop thinking long enough to experience the present moment?

2996 people died in the terrorist attacks on 9/11. These people could do nothing about what happened to them on that day. They brushed their teeth. They left for work or got on an airplane.

“You never know.”

This year, there was a new river-of-thought that ran through the annual ritual observation: the daily COVID death toll last week in these un-united states was above 1,000 a day. On January 7th, 2021, 4,147 people died of COVID. In the divided-united states, more than 660,000 people have died of COVID. World-wide 4,550,000 people have perished.

It’s impossible not to look at the numbers and wonder why-and-how we became our own terrorists.

In the past year, with the availability of a vaccine, with the proven effectiveness of masking and social distancing, these people, had they united with the help of their friends and neighbors, had choices. They – we – could have done everything to save their lives. We did not. We divided. 1000 yesterday. 1000 today. 1000 tomorrow. And growing.

Sometimes we know.

Appreciating life is – and always will be, at the narrow place of the hour glass – a community affair. In presence, on the plateau, the line between me and you blurs. It is the reason why all of those firefighters and first-responders ran into the towers that day. My life cannot be precious if I cannot see that yours is also precious. Why – on earth – on any given day – would I not do everything possible – anything possible – to protect your life? Why would you not do the same for me?

read Kerri’s blog post about BLESSINGS ABOVE GROUND

Decide To See [on Merely A Thought Monday]

My thoughts while watching the wedding:

Oprah asked Gary Zukav this question: Where is soul? His response: Where is it not?

Exchange the word ‘love’ for the word ‘soul.’ Where is love? Where is it not?

In the English language, words like ‘love’ and ‘soul’ are nouns. Things. And, things must have limits. It is a remarkable misunderstanding, a miracle of minimization. Love, the single hardest ‘thing’ to define, in fact, impossible to define, is undefinable because it is without limit. The best we can do is point toward love-made-visible. A newborn in the arms of its mother. The moment the couple, standing before their community, stares into each other’s eyes and promises, “I do.” Watching a sunrise on an anniversary. A mother dancing with her son, the groom.

Love is. Where is it not? That means, of course, that it is “in” everything, everywhere. The air we breathe. The thoughts we think. The actions we take, big and small. It is in how we treat our neighbors. In how we see ourselves. In how we report our news. In how we tell our lies and our truths. Love is.

It is the province of no-single-religion. In fact, it is where every religion on earth goes off the rails. To claim to be “the way” or “the one true…” is to attempt dominion over love. To place rules and boundaries on the boundless.

The question Oprah didn’t ask: if it is everywhere, in everything, in war and in peace, hate and acceptance, does it have any meaning at all? If it is ubiquitous, unchangeable and indescribable, why bother? Gary’s answer, I imagine, would be something like this: we choose the form we give to our love, do we not? We can choose to put the accent on unity. We can choose to put the accent on separation. Love is. We can choose to put the accent on division or we can choose to offer our support.

There is never more or less love. Isn’t that the point? Love is beyond definition. What changes is not the love or the amount of love. What changes is what we decide to see. What changes is how we decide to see, especially how we decide to see ourselves in this world with so many “others.”

read Kerri’s blog post about JUST LOVE

Meet The Saw [on Merely A Thought Monday]

As the magician saws the woman in half, he tells her that, “Magic is not an exact science.” It is among my favorite Flawed Cartoons.

“There’s nothing sadder than a forty year old production assistant,” she said, sipping her drink, looking across the room at a man she clearly thought was a loser. I was living in Los Angeles and was at a party with movers-and-shakers. The gathering also included a few of the people who carried the cables, loaded the trucks, moved the electrics – the lowest rung on the ladder. The runners. I swallowed hard. At the moment she said it, I was thinking the exact opposite. There is nothing more interesting than a forty year old production assistant. I wanted to be standing with the very man she considered a loser. He’d have stories to tell. Experiences to share. The movers-and-shakers bored me. Dulled by their dedication to security, thoroughly protected from the unknown or surprising experiences, they sneered at the people who’d actually lived. I found my way across the room and spent the rest of the evening sitting in the kitchen talking with a man who traveled the world.

Were I at the party today, she would look across the room at me and whisper, “Sad.”

Life is like magic. It is not an exact science. Ideals collapse. Dreams implode. Yet, the luckiest people I know are the few who have stepped out of their seats and volunteered to climb on to the stage. They’ve taken chances. Built wood buses or put their lifeblood into starting a theatre company or went boarding instead of dying in a cubicle. They’ve stepped beyond traditions and expectation. They’ve been cut in half, opened, challenged, surprised, disappointed, scared, triumphant, awed. They’ve learned. They’ve questioned their beliefs and perceptions. They’ve made titanic mistakes. They’ve stared down their demons. They’ve opted for curiosity rather than being right. They stepped off the edge. They followed, “What if…”

There’s no shortage of people who watch life from the safety of their seats. As Tom used to say, “They paint with a limited palette.” There are those lucky few who, if you see them at the party, most likely the people serving drinks, who’ve been cut in two and know from scary experience that there’s nothing more numbing or illusory than certainty. Follow them into the kitchen and ask about their lives. You’ll be amazed at the full spectrum of colors you find in them.

read Kerri’s blog post about SAWED IN HALF

flawed cartoon ©️ 2016 david robinson

Make Life Better [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Lately, the universe has pitched me headlong into a master class on efficiency. Maximum productivity with minimum wasted effort. A useful concept in certain arenas and an intensely destructive concept in others. For a person who’s spent his life in a study of curiosity, art, and the creative, it’s an unexpected study at this stage of the game. It is sometimes uncomfortable but I consider it an opportunity for balance. Artists rarely meditate on efficiencies. We’re more of a discovery clan and efficiency is generally the enemy of discovery. No one ever sailed to the edge of the world with efficiency-on-their-lips.

Once, I made the argument to a school board that daydreaming was highly productive. It seems a no-brainer to me that exercising the imagination should be highly valued in a learning environment. Einstein’s Theory of Relativity came to him in a dream about cows. It is not an accident that many insights and revelations come in the shower or while driving or peeling a carrot. Newton’s apple did not fall on his head while he was exercising maximum productivity. The mind, to be efficient, needs space to breathe, fields to roam. It is the most elegant of paradoxes but mostly lost on worshipers at the altar of efficiency. In the modern business world, efficiency is all about time since time is billable. You know the mantra: time is money. Do more with less. Somehow, we’ve turned that nonsense into a virtue, a thing to be desired. A reason to squeeze.

There’s another, more admirable side to efficiency-seekers. How to make work less arduous. Grease the wheels and remove the friction. Relieve the burden. Not faster but easier. Ann used to say, “Find a need and fill it.” She’d look at people toiling and ask, “How can I ease their struggle?” Beaky was that way, too.

Near our home there is a stretch of shoreline with an ineffective seawall. It was built with stones and debris that become projectiles when hit by forceful waves. The locals know to avoid that stretch during a storm. It’s deadly. After the storm, it has become our ritual to walk the path to see the destruction. It’s always impressive. How far can a wave throw a heavy stone? The answer: farther than you think. Mother Nature yawns when we think we can control her. The seawall has become my metaphor for human hubris but also masterful inefficiency. It would cost money to build a proper wall. So, instead, after each storm, crews collect the rocks and pile them back on the shore, readying them to be hurled by the next storm.

We saw a double-rainbow and turned toward the shore. Kerri never misses an opportunity to capture a little miracle or a slice of beauty. We parked in front of the seawall-of-inefficiency and I laughed out loud. A budding Banksy sprayed a message on the rubble: love. The secret message-maker could not have found a more appropriate word: Love. Can you imagine anything more inefficient and, at the same time, more potent? Love moves mountains but is not billable. It transcends time. What better reason to do anything? Well, perhaps reason has nothing to do with it and never has. Reason has the worshipers-of-the-efficient perpetually re-stacking stones.

It’s easy to be seduced but let’s face it, life reduced to billable hours is not life at all. On the other hand, there is nothing more inspiring, nothing more curiosity-invoking than asking, “How can I make life better for everyone?”

Love on a rubble pile. What could be better? On second thought, what could possibly be more efficient?

read Kerri’s blog post about LOVE ON A ROCK

Ask The Simple Question [on Merely A Thought Monday]

“Simplicities are enormously complex. Consider the sentence “I love you”.” ~Richard O. Moore, Writing The Silences

I’ve been told again and again that, at the heart of every complexity, there is a simplicity. And, of course, at the heart of every simplicity, there is a complexity. So, either way you go, there you are.

I find that I am yearning for greater and greater simplicity. I appreciate quiet. I avoid crowds, not “like the plague” but because of it. I’d rather be in my studio or on a trail than almost anywhere else. I wish I could go sit in a museum all by myself, in the quiet for an hour or two, with a Chagall or Picasso. Intentional beauty. I feel like the world is so full of extraneous noise and dedicated bloviating that I’m having trouble hearing the simple essentials.

And, perhaps because my desire is for simplicity, I find that I am, like Frankie, projecting simple solutions on to everything. Yes, 9 million dollars in my bank account would solve everything!

Almost.

Do you remember Rodney King? I was in Los Angeles when he was beaten, when the city was aflame after the acquittal of the officers who beat him. Do you remember what he asked? It was the ultimate simplicity: “Why can’t we all just get along?”

I think it would take something more than 9 million dollars to solve the complexity to which Rodney King spoke. There probably isn’t enough money in the world. But, here in my dedicated simplicity, I think the opposite should be true. Rather than cost anything, getting along would probably save all of us a lot of money, and time, and heart ache. Getting along would profit all of us.

It costs nothing to open a door for someone. Put a price on gratitude. I can’t. How much does it cost to tell the truth? What about making sure everyone is safe and well fed, that everyone can walk safely down the street, that people are paid fairly, that the rules apply equally to all, that, if you’re injured or become sick, you will be treated and not lose your house in the process?

It doesn’t seem like that should be so far out of reach.

There I go again. At the heart of every simplicity…

read Kerri’s blog post about 9 MILLION DOLLARS

Let The Outside In [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Civilization excels at manufacturing anesthetics.” ~Declan Donnellan

“What are you waiting for? Snow?” 20 was sweating. It was July, hot and humid, and he wondered why we had yet to put the air conditioner units in the windows. Our house was built in 1928 and central air is something we can only imagine. In truth, we’d been asking ourselves the same question all summer. Why are we suffering the heat and, yet, so resistant to putting the ac units in the windows?

Finally, the penny dropped. We realized why we had no desire to plug up the windows, shut the door, and manufacture cold air. Last summer, as the pandemic numbers soared, as our city burned with civil unrest, we shut the world out. We isolated. We turned on the cold air and made certain we felt as little of the heat as possible. This summer, even though we are still keeping our circle small, we want to feel the summer. We want to breathe the real air, not the manufactured stuff.

The real air is hot. Humid. Uncomfortable.

I made breakfast after reading the news. Poor Kerri had to listen to my epiphany-rant: While cracking eggs I realized that the horror story of the GOP wouldn’t be able to perpetuate their pandemic-denial-march if the people listening to them wanted to hear truth. “If I was born in 1700,” I said, “I’d have an excuse for being ignorant. I’d be illiterate and have very limited access to information. I’d be easily led because I wouldn’t have the capacity to check the story that I was being fed. That’s not true today.” We have, unlike any time in human history, immediate access to information. I rarely participate in a conversation that doesn’t involve someone pulling up information on their phone, checking a fact or the veracity of a story being shared. How then, in the middle of the national pandemic hot spot, can the governor of Florida block every science-based mitigation measure and whip up a fruit smoothie of fear – how can he manufacture so much empty air – without his constituents crying foul? The answer is easy: they would rather not feel or know what’s really going on outside their comfort-bubble. They are choosing fluff over fact, anger over curiosity.

In our day and age, ignorance is a choice. Denial is a choice. Plugging the windows is a choice. Insular is a choice. The device carried in every pocket could, in a heartbeat, puncture the gasbag-foolishness.

Reading this post, MM will be compelled to once again send me this quote, so I will preemptively include it: “(Humankind) would rather believe than know.” E.O. Wilson, Sociobiology.

I know. I know.

Belief, like sugar, is easy to consume. Knowledge takes some effort and self-reflection. Anger and fear and division are easy, too, especially when the target audience of the fearmongers has no desire to challenge the narrative. It is the great paradox of our times that those waving their flags and screaming the loudest about their freedoms are so ready and willing to abdicate their freedom of thought. They parrot the fox. They inhale the anesthetic, the manufactured air.

Last night we watched a great short documentary, Lessons From The Water: Diving With A Purpose. Black divers searching for the shipwrecks of slave ships. One of the founders of the projected said,“Here in the US, our (African American) history has been ignored,” he adds. “They don’t really teach anything about slavery in schools. And I think if you don’t teach your history, you’re bound to repeat it.”

They dive to find the artifacts, to tell a fuller story. They dive. They look for artifacts. Facts. A complete narrative.

It made me think about the enormous resistance to critical race theory, the intense counter-narrative to climate change, the ferocious dedication to perpetuating The Big Lie, the ubiquitous conspiracy theories and global rise of authoritarian voices…all of it an appeal to an insular story. Close your eyes. Trust without question what you are told.

The real story is uncomfortable. It is hot. It needs telling. Fingers out of ears, eyes wide open. Forward movement, growth, health, is never the result of suppression, distraction or numbness. Health, equilibrium, always follows the revelation and acceptance of the full story. It’s open windows. It’s letting the outside in.

read Kerri’s blog post about LET THE OUTSIDE IN

Climb The Ladder [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Very few images are as potent as Tom Mck’s story of finding his 90 year old aunt Bunty on the roof of the farmhouse. There had been a storm. She’d hooked her cane on a rung and climbed the rickety ladder to make sure the shingles were intact, “Papa put a fine roof on this house,” she said, staring down at her alarmed nephew. Bunty was a farm woman. She saw no reason why she should not be on the roof. As the elder of the family, she was the keeper of the legacy. The house and ranch were the tangible creations of her ancestors and she was the steward.

Years later, when Bunty was gone and Tom was the ancestral steward, his task was untenable. The city was spreading like a fire, gobbling up farm land. He knew it was only a matter of time before the ranch was consumed. A Walmart was being built and he could almost see it from the porch. “What am I going to do?” he asked, knowing that he was the end of the line. His question was rhetorical. Sometimes the steward’s job is to close the door on an era. He knew what he had to do.

After Tom passed and the ranch was sold, I imagined him, like Bunty, standing on the roof of the farmhouse. He made sure that, as the land was lost, the legacy remained intact. He was strong, like Bunty. His ladder was rickety but he climbed it none-the-less. He made sure the shingles were intact. He met his task without self-pity.

I learned from him that life can forge you into strong metal or, if you choose, if you feel sorry for yourself, it can break you into tiny pieces. Jonathan told me that a tree must split its bark to grow and I understood that as a metaphor for aging. The bark splits because the spirit outgrows the body’s capacity to contain it. Beaky was like that. And, Dorothy. Mike. Grandma Sue. H. I admire them. Bodies break down. Aging hurts. Spirits, on the other hand, need not wither.

I’m told that, in her elderhood, Margaret stopped what she was doing each day to go out back and watch the sun set over the desert. She was made hardy by a hard life. She was made kind by how she chose to live within her hard life. Drying her hands, stepping out on the back porch, the sky electric with peach and pink, she met each sunset with gratitude. Intentional thankfulness for the day.

Gratitude is not a soft thing. It is an attribute of the strong. Hard won from a long life of choices. Bitterness is easy, a lazy thing. Climbing the ladder, standing on the roof, feeling the aches and the loses, facing the running sands with a smile and admiring the day’s end, celebrating the shingles that held fast through the storm and those who placed them, that takes grit. Courage. And, an understanding of the connected power and responsibility of standing in the long line of ancestry.

read Kerri’s blog post about STRONG WINGS

Give So Much [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Sometimes on the trail we find a painted rock. A penguin perched on a tree limb. A sweet sign of peace atop a sign post. Someone took the time to send a ripple of good-feels.

It is a paradox. It really doesn’t take much to bring a positive gesture into the world. Paint a rock. Open a door. A spirit lift. Intend well. But, good intention takes far more energy than reactive anger. Driving on someone’s bumper is easy. Blocking the vote takes infinitely less energy than protecting it. Belittling a child consumes far less energy than nurturing a child. It was out of my mouth before I could stop it, “Any idiot can pull a trigger – taking a life seems so easy,” I said to the boys-in-the-gang. “Bringing life, protecting life, saving life takes some thought, some heart, and effort.”

Tearing down is fast and easy. Building up takes some skill, knowledge, heart. Investment. Said another way: destruction, division…takes very little skill and almost no thought. Obstruction is a mindless, selfish game. Creation, on the other hand, requires a master’s path. Bringing ideas to the table and then into manifest begins with a desire to make things better. For everyone.

After the last 4 years, the world seems to have grown more aggressive. There’s no lack of angry rhetoric. The divisions couldn’t be more pronounced. Every day we are witness to exceptional hostility; a truck roaring through a turn lane, cutting around the line of traffic, bursting through a red light, cars braking to avoid a collision. It was too much to wait. Impossible to participate. All “me” and no “us.” Derogatory social media posts from the privileged, demonizing the less fortunate, fearful, I suppose, of losing their privilege. Making monsters, playing victim.

We were walking our route through the neighborhood, talking about the rising levels of aggression, the latest hostility we’d seen. We were stopped in our tracks by a series of messages chalked on the walk. “I just wanted to say you look awesome.” A few steps later, “You are still looking good!” And more. We laughed. Stopped in our tracks.

“What were we talking about?” Kerri asked, walking toward the next chalk- message.

“I can’t remember.” I looked around to see if the message-chalker was spying on our delight. I hoped so. They’d just changed the arc of our day. I hoped our delight was making their day.

It takes so little. It gives so much.

It creates an entirely different conversation.

read Kerri’s blog post about CHALK MESSAGES