Ask A Better Question [on Merely A Thought Monday]

I just erased the post I’d written for today. We often write a few days ahead so we have time to reflect on or edit what we’ve written. We’ve learned that it’s a good practice to consider what you are about to spill into the world.

It’s a good practice because it affords us the opportunity to ask, “Is this what I mean to say? Is this what I really want to say?” The post that I’d initially written was bothering me. A lot. Sipping coffee, I confessed my discomfort to my chief editor and life-collaborator (Kerri) and we followed the trail until we found the source of my chagrin.

There is a question, a much more important question, behind and beyond clarifying what I really want to say. It is this: “Is this who I want to be?” My post was making me uncomfortable because it was the opposite of what I profess to be. It was the opposite of who I understand myself to be. Of who I want to be.

I’ve often written and taught about “the spaces between.” Relationship. Intuition. Heart. Facts and data require interpretation and live on the spectrum at the farthest point away from wisdom. Focus on the spaces between, the movement rather than the noun, and an entirely different life opens. Wisdom is more like water than stone.

Most cliches touch a truth-root and today that is the case for me: We teach what we most need to learn. Thank goodness my editor was around to gently slap open my eyes and help me ask myself a better question.

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE SPACES

Refill [on KS Friday]

I confess to being a bit blue. Blue. That’s a metaphor for low-in-spirit.

And, isn’t it odd that we locate our spirits as either high or low? Where, exactly, is your spirit? Today, mine is low. Apparently, I think spirits are spatial.

That means my spirit is either laying down, taking a nap, dancing the limbo, or that its flame is minimal. My spirit isn’t burning much fuel. Don’t try and read a book by the light of my spirit! Not today, anyway.

Last night we had dinner with 20. After he left I told Kerri that I was grateful because he “lifted our spirits.” Spirits are impressionable. 20’s spirit breathed some air into my balloon. Balloon. That’s another metaphor. Expansive-spirit. Receptive of the light-hearts brought by others. Apparently, I think spirits are fickle, malleable. Or connected.

The sunset stopped us in our tracks. We knew the ranger would be waiting in the parking lot. Tapping his foot. He can’t go home until the parking lot is clear and people are supposed to be leaving at sunset. He previously threatened a citation. A citation is not a deterrent when a sunset is filling your spirit. I hoped the ranger was standing outside of his truck (and his role) and, like us drinking it in. Refilling.

Apparently I think spirits can be refilled. Refilled. That’s a metaphor. What’s the full capacity of my spirit?

Kerri’s albums are available on iTunes & streaming on Pandora

read Kerri’s blogpost about SUNSET

in transition/released from the heart © 1995 kerri sherwood

Listen To The Call [on Two Artists Tuesday]

For the past 25 years, I have lived next to water. My Seattle apartment was steps away from Puget Sound. The lighthouse was just around the corner. My Wisconsin home is a block away from Lake Michigan. The sounds of the lake are the soundtrack of our life. A curious elemental flip for a man born at the foot of the Rocky Mountains.

It begs a question.

A few weeks ago, I needed to supply casual bio-pictures for a project. Kerri showed me photographs we’ve taken of each other, some in the Colorado mountains. It was startling. There’s something different about the photos of us in mountain pictures. “We’re different people,” she said. “You can see it. It’s where we belong.”

I could see it. My language: in the mountains, we are in our bodies. Fully. Present. No where else to be. Home.

It makes sense for me to feel the deep rhythm of the mountains. Kerri was born and raised on Long Island yet she comes alive in aspen forests, on the trail just above Breckenridge. The western slope. The mountain song reaches her inner being and she sings it back to the mountain. In the photos, she is radiant. At peace.

We walk along the lake all the time. We talk about how lucky we are to live in such a beautiful place. We are in awe of the power and changing faces of this mysterious lake. And, that’s precisely the point. The Lake is mysterious in its power. To us, the pulse of the mountains is known.

read Kerri’s blogpost about LONG SHADOW

Go Will-Hunting [on KS Friday]

In the middle of the day, Skip sent a quote: “We take ourselves too seriously these days. Something sad appears to have happened to our sense of humor. It is true that our outlook is grim; we face many tough problems. We have to tackle them with determination, and we will do a better job at it if we do not let them get us down—pitch us into gloom and frantic despair. Have we lost our sense of humor?” 

I snapped back a reply, “Timely,” I wrote, “Humor relies on shared context – and shared values…we have definitely lost our shared context.”

“Not bad for being written 50 years ago,” he responded – laughing, I’m sure. It’s a quote from Pieces of the Action by Vannevar Bush. The rest of the quote:

“Have we lost our sense of humor? I don’t think so. But I sorely miss Will Rogers, who could remind us of our absurdities, and do so without rancor. One new Will Rogers would do us more good than a dozen economics professors lecturing us on our sins. I have been looking for him, and have not found him.”

Sitting on the back deck after work, watching the sky morph into electric orange, purple and pink, I wondered if people in every era have shaken their collective head in utter amazement at the absurdity of their time. Who hasn’t thought, “If we can’t laugh about it, we’ll cry.” I’ll bet Abe Lincoln regularly pinched the bridge of his nose and whispered, “…unbelievable.”

We often start our day sipping coffee and reading the news. Sometimes we end the day sipping wine and reading the news. Toxic bookends. I wish I had kept count of the number of times we spontaneously combusted with, “Can you believe it!” Absurdity abounds.

I have a choice to either put my head in the sand (again) or go in search of my inner Will Rogers. I know he’s in there (here) and I’ve never had more reason to go searching for him.

To laugh without rancor at the absurdities of our time. A worthy pursuit! I’m going good Will Rogers hunting!

kerri’s albums are available on iTunes & streaming on Pandora

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE PINK ORANGE SKY

the way home/this part of the journey © 1997/2000 kerri sherwood

Open The Story [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

Put on your swimmies for a dive into the esoteric.

It was hot last night so I lay awake thinking and that’s never a good thing for the people – like you – who pay attention to the random things I write or say. This is what I thought in the heat of the night: Saul always instructed me to look beyond my opponent and place my focus in the field of possibilities. “Look a hundred feet beyond your opponent,” he said.

It’s universally true that a mind needs something on which to focus. And, left untended, most minds will focus on complaints or problems. During my tilt-at-windmills-consulting phase I’d tease my clients with the notion that, rather than eliminate challenges, people create them. We need them. We call them hobbies. Or play. Or problems. After all, stories are driven by conflict and we are, at the base, storytelling animals. It’s worth noting that a great collaboration is not the absence of conflicting opinions but the capacity to use the heat of creative tension to find/discover a third way.

What does this have to do with Saul and the field of possibilities? A focus, to be useful, needs to be specific. What exactly does the field of possibilities look like?

The reason our untended minds sort to the negative is that the negative is usually concrete, an easy fixation. Fear is a clear picture – even when imaginary. Obstacles are easy to spot. Possibilities are rolling and amorphous. Changeable. It is the nature of a good possibility to shape-shift.

The masters of meditation mostly tell us to soften our focus. Or to let the thoughts roll through the brainpan like clouds; do not attach to what we think. Do not take ourselves so seriously. Practice flow instead of the hard fixing of thought.

And, therein is the source of my late night esoteria: the mind needs something to focus on. Or does it?

If I soften my gaze, if I look beyond the problem-of-the-moment to a vast field of floating possibility, am I tossing myself into a feedback loop? I lay awake wondering what the field of possibility might look like if it was graspable. Some people make vision boards for just this reason. Quinn used to hum and fill his mind with lyrics.

Tjakorda Rai laughed at me and told me I needed to “open my story.” At the time I thought he meant to take responsibility for my story. Now, I know exactly what he meant: let it flow. Get out of the way. The demons and monsters and fears and problems and challenges are…passing things. Story fodder, nothing more. So look beyond them. Flow. Focus on the flow. Open the story.

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE FOUNTAIN

See Down The Pike [on Flawed Wednesday]

“Age and stage,” 20 says, to explain the behavior of people. Age and stage.

I pulled up Shakespeare’s Seven Ages of Man soliloquy. Jaques from As You Like It. “All the world’s a stage…” We perform the role of ourselves in this drama of life. In a funny coincidence, I’m spending some time inside Pirandello’s play, Six Characters In Search of An Author. David is updating the script and preparing for a production. I’m fortunate enough to play witness to his journey. ‘All the world’s a stage’ meets ‘who will tell our story?’

In the final lap of his career, Tom was an assistant superintendent at a school district. He’d shake is head and say, “Parents forget that they were once children and expect their kids to do things that they themselves could not do as children.” Each age grows blind to the previous stage. We forget the great learning-power of making a mistake.

My favorite of Tiago Forte’s 10 Principles of a Second Brain is to make it easier for your future self. It’s a great idea and I wish the bevy of my past selves had been kind enough to consider me at this age and stage. When I turn and look at the rough wake of my passage I know that, with some better choices, I might have scribed a more direct path. Or not. My past selves caution me to fully appreciate the messes and the mistakes that they made. My life is better today because of the rampant foolishness of those former-me’s.

The Balinese believe that we come back every seventh generation. They are an ancestor returned. As such, they are less likely to foul their nest believing they will themselves be the future inhabitants of the nest. Looking down the long-road, they see themselves dealing with the world they currently create. And so cooperation, sustainability, and peace are much higher on their priority list than guns and every-man-for-himself. To care for another is to care for their future self. They find a society like ours, that allows anyone in the community to be homeless, to be broken. Diseased. Or simply adolescent.

I can’t help but think they are mature while we are mewling toddlers. Considering the impact of your actions seven generations into the future is surely a sign of maturity. Thinking of others, understanding betterment as a shared responsibility, is an adult perspective. Currently, we allow our children to be slaughtered and protect the gun that killed them. Surely there’s some growing-up to be done.

I wish I had a penny for every recent conversation I’ve heard that began with the phrase, “I don’t understand what’s going on in this nation.” 20’s voice pops into my head, “Age and stage,” he says in my mind. “Age and stage.” Let us hope that there’s some maturity coming down the pike, that we survive this stick-your-finger-in-the-socket stage.

Perhaps we will someday look back and appreciate the mess, the rampant foolishness, the mishmash we are making.

read Kerri’s blogpost about AGE AND STAGE

Re-Connect [on Merely A Thought Monday]

The latest addition to my “Terms in this Unknown Land” document is TL;DR. Too-Long-Didn’t-Read. I laughed aloud when I heard this new acronym in a meeting. If there is a sign of our times, an identifying marker of our era, it is this: TL;DR.

We communicate through text and emoji. Chat. Twitter is a thing because it mandates brevity. Scrolling the news app is a study in cramming the full story into a brief headline. Marketers have mastered the 5 second ad. Businesses are liberal in their use of “narrative” and “story” but have no time to actually hear one. A short synopsis will have to do. Get to the point.

As a member of my culture I find that I scan more than I read. If I can find it on Youtube, I’d rather watch it than read about it. When I began writing blogposts ten years ago, the “rule” was 800 words or less. The rule has adjusted with our attention spans and now the target is between 400 and 600 words. Often, when I receive links to articles, they come complete with an estimate of how many minutes are required to read them. Yesterday, I read advice from a marketing guru that suggested we restrict paragraphs to two sentences or less; more than two sentences is a red flag: too much information. Less than two sentences is…a sentence.

So much information is coming at us all the time, we have no time or thought-space to take it all in. I wonder if we can discern relevance from dreck. A quick look at our leaders leaves me with a resounding “No!” Relevance is lost in the dreck and, since they represent us, they are us, our information inundation has rendered our attention spans tiny and blunted our acuity. We are awash in information while wisdom has gone missing.

Each week I attend meetings; the central concern is explicitly or implicitly about helping people connect. It reminds me of the conversations I heard in graduate school: while living in a city of a million people, the concern was about how to create community. So many people. So little community.

I ponder these things every day. With our ubiquitous technology, we couldn’t be more connected. Through social media, I know what people had for dinner or what cute thing the kids said. I receive advertising that confirms my devices are listening to me. Yesterday, for-the-hell-of-it, I said, “Machu Picchu.” Today I am awash in travel ads for Peru.

We are connected. Connection to everything is connection to nothing. Relevance is hard to discern in a tsunami of information masking as connectivity.

Relationships – real relationships – take time. Values cannot be communicated in a text. They must be demonstrated and deeply rooted in lived narrative. Stories that carry relevance cannot be well-told in synopsis. Opinions are so easy to tweet. Dreck is easy to fling. It is not the capacity to share that we lose in the crush. It is not connection. It’s the capacity to be present. With presence comes the capacity to listen. Presence is not in a hurry to be some other place.

Rich connectivity requires more than quick consumption of information. Sharing, real sharing, the kind beyond pressing a “send” button, is a two-way street between people who have the time to invest in each other. Once, it was called relationship.

TM;CL. Too much. Can’t listen.

read Kerri’s blogpost about TL;DR

Know Their Name [on Merely A Thought Monday]

As I let Dogga out each morning, I stand for a few moments and listen to the birdsong. Our particular spot on the earth is alive with birds: starlings, finches, sparrows, robins, hawks, crows, owls… The Mourning Doves always stop my motion. Their song is hypnotic.

The pandemic changed – and continues to change – many things. Our world became significantly smaller. The table in the sunroom. The backyard. Our trails. As someone with his head in the clouds I am a dedicated generalist. I have always appreciated bird song yet never, not once, thought of identifying the specific birds and their song. “Sparrow? Finch? Who cares! They are beautiful and that’s enough for me! I spend too much time in my left brain as it is! The last thing I want to do is categorize the birds!”

COVID changed that. Sitting on the back deck or at the COVID table staring out the window for hours on end, our relationship with the birds grew. From general appreciation to specific experience. From passive appreciation to personal connection. We began to see nuance. Pattern. We wanted – and want to know more about these beings that sing us awake each morning, that alert us to changes in the weather, that signal alarm in the neighborhood.

While visiting the Botanical Gardens, Kerri found a small book, coded by color, that identifies the birds in our region. In a flash we can open the book and identify the bird. “Hey! Look! That’s Paul!” I say.

“Stop!” Kerri scowls. “It’s Martha. Paul’s on the fence.”

Just kidding. House Sparrow. Carolina Wren. My favorite to pronounce is Grackle. Great-tailed Grackle to be exact. I’ve decided that, were I to somehow achieve tough-guy status and ride a Harley to breakfast, my motorcycle-dude name will be Grackle. “Hey, Grackle,” the waiter will say, as I come through the door en route to my usual stool. “Hey,” I respond. Motorcycle-dudes named Grackle are birds of few words.

Deb showed us an app. Merlin. It identifies birds by their song. Now, armed with our book from the Botanical Garden and our Merlin app, when I ask, “What’s that?” Kerri – who is always alarmingly way ahead of me – has the answer. “Eastern Towhee,” she says.

“You’re making that up!” I cry, knowing she can’t stand to be challenged so will immediately jump to prove to me that she is right (it’s my secret fast-track to knowledge).

“Look it up!” she insists, showing me both the book and the Merlin return.

“Wow,” I say. “Towhee. Who knew. Maybe my pen name should be Grackle Towhee!”

She yanks the book from my hands. “Oh, Look!” she exclaims. “Merlin has identified you: Midwest DoDo.”

read Kerri’s blog post about BIRDS!

Imagine The Possibilities! [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Mastering others is strength. Mastering yourself is true power.” ~ Lao Tzu

I’ve had this quote sitting on my desktop for months. I’ve been on a Lao Tzu kick, a Kurt Vonnegut kick, a Rainier Maria Rilke kick…all at the same time. They are, not surprisingly, in alignment on many topics, among them self-mastery. “The secret?” they whisper. “Stop trying to control what other people think or see or feel and, instead, take care of what you think and see and feel.” Their metaphoric trains may approach the self-mastery station from different directions but the arrival platform is the same.

It’s a universal recognition: take the log out of your own eye.

Sometimes a penny drops more than once and so it is with Saul’s advice to me. “Look beyond the opponent to the field of possibilities.” “And, just what does that mean?” you may shout at your screen. It sounds like new-age hoo-haw.

Ghandi said, “Nonviolence is the weapon of the strong.” It is the height of self-mastery to bring ideas to the table rather than a gun. It is the height of self-mastery to bring to the commons good intention and an honest desire to work with others to make life better for all. Power is never self-generated but is something created between people. Power is distinctly different than control. Power endures since it does not reside within a single individual. Power lives, as Saul reminded me again and again, not in throwing an opponent but in helping the opponent throw themself. “Focus on the possibilities,” he said again and again. Throw yourself to the ground often enough and, one day, it occurs that there may be another way.

Work with and not against. It seems so simple. The bulb hovering over my cartoon head lights-up. Work with yourself, too, and not against. Place your eyes in the field of all possibilities. Obstacles are great makers of resistance, energy eddies and division. Possibilities are expansive, dissolvers of divisiveness.

I am writing this on the Sunday that Christians celebrate their resurrection. The day that “every man/woman for him/herself” might possibly and-at-last-transform into “I am my brothers/sisters keeper.” All that is required for this rebirth is a simple change of focus; a decision to master one’s self instead of the never ending violent attempt to exercise control over others.

It’s the single message, the popcorn trail left for us by all the great teachers. Instead of fighting with others, master yourself. Imagine the possibilities!

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE CEILING LIGHT

Gaze At The Seam (on KS Friday)

Some things are hard to grasp. When that’s the case, it’s a good time to look at the sky. You’ll not find many explanations up there but gazing at the seam between us and the infinite-universe can, in moments of clenched fists, bring some perspective. As Kerri says, “It just keeps rolling.” No problem can remain large when measured against the seam, that fragile ozone layer that makes breathing and every current dilemma possible.

Sometimes when I look at the sky I wonder how many people across the ages have engaged in seam-gazing.

I imagine, one day in Kansas, 1932, as his fields turned to dust, a farmer looked to the sky. All his appeals for rain exhausted.

I can’t imagine how many women looked to the sky over the 100 years of protests and parades before being afforded the right to vote.

Can you imagine how many African-Americans looked to the sky as slaves in a nation that boasted to the world about its freedom and equality?

I look to the sky every time another state in the union passes legislation prohibiting discussions about our history, so fearful are we of critical race theory and the equality that we profess.

I find nothing in the seam that explains anything, but the clouds remind me that it just keeps rolling and, since I believe we tend toward wholeness, I catch a whiff of hope in all the blue and moving puffy white.

Someday, somewhere down the historic road, someone will look to the sky, in a post-nonsense era, and will, perhaps, imagine me staring back. To them, from their perspective, my unanswerable questions will have found resolve. They will have questions of their own, no doubt, but won’t it be nice to have a new set of questions to thrust at the seam?

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE SKY

Little By Little (©2022 Kerri Sherwood featuring Dogga)