Go Slow

Our feet at Montauk

Our feet not rushing at Montauk

 

 

Years ago Quinn gave me a book by George Leonard called Mastery. I revisit it from time to time when I feel, as I do now, that I know nothing. In truth, the older I get, the more experiences I have, the more certain I become that I know nothing at all. If George Leonard was still living I imagine he would approve of my not knowing. “Finally, we are getting somewhere!” he might declare.

Here’s a bit from the book’s introduction:

“The many comments and inquiries that I continue to receive have convinced me more than ever that the quick-fix, fast-temporary-relief, bottom-line mentality doesn’t work in the long run, and is eventually destructive to the individual and the society. If there is any sure route to success and fulfillment in life, it is to be found in the long-term, essentially goalless process of mastery.”

Although in the quarter of a century since Mastery was published the pace of life has, if anything, shifted into hyper-drive, the truth of George Leonard’s assertion remains constant. Fulfillment is found in the long-term. It is found in the goalless processes like friendship or love or a walk in the woods. Fulfillment is a relationship and not an achievement. Learning is a relationship and not an achievement. Spirituality is a relationship and not an achievement. Artistry is a relationship and not an achievement.

All the things we think we know, the things we argue for or against, the righteous territories we claim, the belief flags we plant in the sand, the battle lines we draw, the hills we die on, the idea-wars we wage,.., make muddy the life crackling right before our eyes. After all, what do we really know?

On Sunday I witnessed a baptism. The next day I attended a funeral. These two back-to-back rituals left me with a question: What’s the rush?

I have absolutely no idea.

Be Clumsy

a detail of my painting, May You Be.

a detail of my painting, May You Be.

Clumsy (klum’ ze) adj. 1. lacking dexterity, grace or skill; awkward. 2. ungracefully shaped or made; unwieldy. 3. awkwardly or unskillfully said or done, ill-contrived.

“We don’t allow ourselves to be clumsy,” Kerri said. “Life is clumsy.”

Many years ago I read a commentary that suggested we moderns have a harder time of feeling good about ourselves than people of ages past. The argument went something like this: we have an impossibly high standard to meet and it is mostly illusory. For instance, our predecessors compared themselves and their successes against a relatively small village populace. We are swimming in pool that stretches around the earth. The athletes in our ancestral villages ran against their neighbors, the artists created for a specific purpose that served a tangible need in their community. Our young runners know to the hundreth-of-a-second what greatness requires. They run against the world. Our artists rarely know outside of their own inner imperative why they are creating. With no outer limit they spend a great deal of time wondering if their work has any impact or greater significance. With no outer limit it has no defined audience or community. Stephen, a gifted and prolific artist, used to ask, “Why don’t people recognize the value of art?”

The argument is largely a question of access. Our predecessors had limited and very abstract access to the news of the day, to the happenings beyond their region. We have a 24-hour global news cycle that comes to us on multiple devices that are designed to grab and keep our attention. It is not passive. On our multiple devices we are bombarded with images and messages of what we should look and feel like. Yet, almost all of the images populating our personal measuring stick are constructed. They are manipulated, retouched, powdered and Photoshopped. Legs are stretched. Wrinkles are removed. Sunsets are filtered. We measure ourselves against illusions.

Thus, intermediaries are everywhere. Interpreters abound. I rarely go into a gallery without a curator telling me why the work on the walls is important. The news of the day makes us the rope in a tug-of-war of interpretation.

Art, like life, like deep spirituality, requires direct engagement. It is made rich in the rough draft and the mistake. The broken road is interesting, vital. Learning is a process that takes time. It is messy. It is clumsy. It is not straight, paved, and has no road signs. And, it cannot be walked alone.

There is no forgiveness (of self or other) on the path of perfection; forgiveness is in short supply when the standard is both impossible to attain and an illusion. On the clumsy path, on the messy and muddy road, lives grace, generosity of spirit and deep forgiveness.

Clumsy (klum’ ze) adj. 1. Human

May You Be

May You Be

 

Place No Blame

a detail of my painting, "John's Secret."

a detail of my painting, “John’s Secret.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about forgiveness. Earlier today, Kerri read an article to me and the author, someone with terminal cancer, wrote that blame is a waste of energy. Life is too precious to waste on blaming. Forgive and move on.

My meditation on forgiveness has inadvertently become a meditation on blame. As it turns out, forgiveness and blame are often dance partners.

My favorite phrase of this week: Blame, no matter where you place it, does no good. To me, the crucial concept within the phrase is this: blame requires placement. Although it might feel otherwise, blame is not a passive act. We place it. We aim it. It is a way of making meaning of things that don’t feel good. I’ve written that blame is like sugar; it is addictive. It is choice wearing the mask of it-happened-to-me. Oddly, as an active choice, blame actually inhibits action and as an inhibitor it does no good either for the placer-of-the–blame or the recipient. It stops motion. It is an energy eddy. It is destructive both ways.

Forgiveness is also not a passive act. Forgiveness takes more effort because forgiveness is an unmasked choice. It, too, requires placement and aim. It is also a way of making meaning of something that doesn’t feel good. But, unlike blame, forgiveness does great good for both the giver-of-forgiveness and the recipient. It creates motion. It is generative both ways.

Study Your Practice

During his recent visit, Skip wanted to see my latest paintings so we went down to the studio. He is a great studier of people and processes and while flipping through my work he asked if I’d ever taken process shots or filmed my process of painting. Occasionally I take photographs of a painting in process – not to record the stages of development but so I can see what’s there. I’ve learned that a photograph can sometimes help me see what I’ve grown blind to seeing. I agreed to take and share some process shots. Yesterday, I started a new piece and here is the day’s progress:

#1

#1

 

#2

#2

This is the next in my “Yoga series” of paintings. A “yoga” is a practice and I started this series because I was curious about my practices: I was meditating on this question:what is the difference between what I actually do and what I think I do? For most of us the gap is vast between those two points. This series is my ongoing meditation/inquiry into the gap.

#3

#3

A study of your practices will surprise you. What you do and think each day is a practice – it is your yoga; your actions and thoughts constitute the rituals of your life. So, for instance, when I was younger (lots younger) I believed my paintings were “not good enough.” Each day I’d approach the easel and practice “not good enough.” It’s amazing the transformation that becomes possible when you simply change your practice. Practice dropping the judge from your menu. Why not?

Last night I had a conversation with someone who asked, “Why don’t people care?” I suggested that people do care but you have to practice seeing it. It’s all around us if we refocus our eyes. And, in cultivating the practice of seeing the acts of kindness and caring, we become kind and caring (because that is the object of our focus).

photo-5

#4

My yoga series has brought me to this (so far): The world does not need changing; we need, as Doug used to say, to close the gap between what we think we do and what we actually practice doing.

Forgive

lightghostWe’re already snowed in and the word is that the blizzard – the real blizzard – won’t start for another hour. Looking out the window Kerri said, “This storm is angry.” It is. This is not a gentle snowstorm. The flakes are not fluffy or big; they are enraged bees that sting. We watched cardinals, brilliant red amidst the flurry of white, hunker down, bobbing in branches of the pine tree. Tripper Dog-Dog-Dog slid off the deck into a drift and emerged with a beard of snow and a look of confusion. He ran outside, felt the bite of the wind, and almost knocked me over running back into the house.

We sat in the living room and watched the snow swirl and howl. We talked quietly until the light waned and we noticed that we were sitting in the dark. It was as if the ferocity outside the house required hushed tones inside. Life is like that – inner turmoil often looks like a quiet exterior just as violent storms require us to talk in gentle voices. Balance is always present although not always recognized.

Lately I’ve been meditating much on the word “trespass.” Once, I had an experience with the word “trespass” that was nothing short of mystical. It altered the course of my life. According to the prayer, one must trespass to be forgiven. Life is nothing if not full of trespasses and those who trespass against us. Crossing boundaries and holding boundaries are both learned skills that require a good deal of trespassing.

Forgiveness feels good. Whether you are the giver of the forgiveness or the receiver (or both, when, for instance, forgiving yourself), it just feels good. Those violent outer storms will always lead to inner peace if you follow them far enough. It is the natural order of things. All that is required is a recognition that stories change like people change; that stories change when people let go of old stories. Miracles happens when, in hushed tones, the story of a trespass is retold as a story of forgiveness.

title_pageGo here to buy hard copies (and Kindle) of my latest book: The Seer: The Mind of the Entrepreneur, Artist, Visionary, Innovator, Seeker, Learner, Leader, Creator,…You.

A detail from my painting, An Instrument of Peace

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Look At The Pictures

photoH’s wife passed after a long illness. This afternoon we went to the vigil and Kerri sang Amazing Grace for the service. We looked at the photographs of her life.

This summer, at my grandfather’s funeral, there was a similar board of photographs showing the span of his lifetime. They are a record of moments. He posed for some of the shots. In some, he had no idea that a camera was pointed at him. We are different when we know a camera is aiming our way. We put something on, a kind of mask, an attitude or assumption.

The photographs on the board served as a history of technology, black and white to color film, and then a jump to the proliferation of digital images. What was difficult became easy. What used to need chemicals and processing became instantaneous. This capacity to snap photographs and see them in a moment has changed us. Selfies abound! Once, at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, I watched with fascination as people posed to have their picture taken with Van Gogh’s painting, Starry Night. They rarely looked at the painting. They just knew it was famous and wanted their picture taken with it. They primped. They smiled. They mugged for the camera or looked serious. Proof of life? Just like a handprint on the wall of a cave, those photographs shouted, “I was here!”

We are among the first people in the history of humanity to have this extraordinary window into our lives. I looked at the photo board of H’s wife and saw H at age 30, at age 40, and 50 and 60 and 70, 80, and I know him now at age 90. In the photographs I can see the cocky young man, the father, the achiever, the dreamer, the man who stopped resisting, the surrender,…each phase of his (and his wife’s) life. More to the point, he can see it. He can see the progression.

Two hundred years ago a photographic record of a life span was impossible. No one posed because there was no need. An old man remembered his life but did not have the window to see his path. No one had the opportunity to see the growth and process of age through the phases of their life. It changes us. And, it is a sword that cuts both ways. We can see. We can record. We can story ourselves like no other time in history. We can be known to future generations. We can talk to the future and the future can hear us. We were here. We had something to say. We had so much to share, so many rich experiences of living! And, we can miss our moment in the recording of it.

Kerri asked H what was his favorite photograph on the wall and he laughed and said, “I don’t know. We had happy times. Look at how much I weighed back then!”

“You need to eat more, H!” Kerri admonished and gave him a hug. He began to cry.

“I’m trying,” he said, laughing through tears. “I think I just need to drink more Frosties!”

title_pageGo here to buy hard copies (and Kindle) of my latest book: The Seer: The Mind of the Entrepreneur, Artist, Visionary, Innovator, Seeker, Learner, Leader, Creator,…You.

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Clear The Channel

Something else from the archives.

Something else from the archives.

It is the day before we fly to the Netherlands. We started the day early with a long walk, coffee, and a chat about everything but our prodigious to-do list. We’ve learned that it makes a huge difference to our day if we start slow. It makes a difference if we make a conscious choice about where we place our focus in the day.

For years I rose early and read something that inspired me. I read sacred texts, philosophers, artists, seekers, children’s books,…, anything that pulled my mind from my to-do list and grounded me in things that seemed more important to give my thought space. It was a form of meditation. I learned early on that my readings influenced what I saw during the day and, so, influenced my experiences; I interpreted my life according to my meditation instead of my to-dos. I opened to experiences instead of predetermining how I should feel about the list.

Now, after so many years, I have developed an automatic response to the flotsam that might catch my attention. When some clutter catches my attention I say to myself, “I don’t want that to occupy my mind.” And, like a cloud, it evaporates. I want to keep my thought channels clear. I want my thoughts focused on attention to and appreciation of the moment, creative processes, or noodling with cool ideas – and not snagged on the news of the day. Thought channels are like arteries and too much gunk will jam the flow. Gunk is a great source of depression. Last year I went on a news moratorium when I started my walk-about and found that I had a lot more thought space without the news-cycle-chatter. I learned that without turning on the news or opening a paper I heard everything worth knowing. I learned that I  had no need for the endless cycle of breaking news to be well informed; 24 hour news is like bad cholesterol. It is an addiction. It is a false high. I learned the necessity of questioning what I was plugging in to (what I was plugging into my mind).

Knowing what you don’t want clogging your mind necessitates becoming clear about what you do want occupying your thought. Thought requires a focus and focus is a choice. Mostly, my answer is no thought. I want silence. I want presence and presence requires almost no interpretation.

Go here to get my latest book, The Seer: The Mind of the Entrepreneur, Artist, Visionary, title_pageSeeker, Learner, Leader, Creator…You.

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