Place It In The Hollow [on DR Thursday]

For some reason, people need to leave a trace of their passage. We paint on the walls of caves. We erect monuments to ourselves and our heroes. We build cairns to mark the way for those who come behind; we build cairns so others will add stones to the marker. We put plaques on benches and engraved bricks in walkways. We graffiti bridges and walls. Banksy has made a fortune tracing his masked passage.

Growing tired as we hiked up the trail, we sat on an old log. We looked over the valley, turned our faces to the sun. And, as we stood to continue up the trail, Kerri pulled a sharpie from her bag. We left two small dots on the log. “We were here.”

Our work in the world not only can be a marker, it is a marker. Every little action is a stone on the cairn: we contribute to the whole whether we like it or not. The person who delivers packages to my door makes my life better. Easier. The score of people who created this computer, invented this software, manufactured the chip that makes it all work, have made my life better. Someone coming behind us will see the cairn we’ve constructed and add to it. Improve upon it. The first computer I touched was a toy compared to this miracle sitting on my lap.

I’m an artist and sometimes wonder if my paintings will live beyond me or will they end up in the Goodwill as so much used canvas. I hear the advice, so often offered to me: “Yours is to paint them, not decide what happens to them.” Too true. Mine is to make the offer. I have no control over the acceptance.

Returning down the trail, Kerri peered into the hollow of a stump. It was filled with stones! Hikers, just like us, had left a note that also served as an ancient invitation: I was here. We picked up stones, the sharpie came out of the bag, scribbled a heart and a peace sign on our rocks before placing them in the hollow. “Do you think anyone will see our stones?” Kerri asked.

An ancient question. Deeply human. Heart and Peace.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE HOLLOW

three graces © 2012 david robinson

See Through It [on Flawed or Not-So-Flawed Wednesday]

Light passes through. Transparent. Trans; across or beyond. A prefix of movement.

Last night we had snacks with some pals. Our conversation turned to politics and how resistant we are as a nation to tell our full story. Opaque. The opposite of transparent. Impenetrability of light. “It’s just history,” someone said. “History is history.”

Narrative. With a point of view. The winners of wars tell one story. The opposite side has another tale to tell. History is never just history. A country as deeply divided as ours is warring over its history. What happens if we actually tell our full story? Who are we if we acknowledge our shadow? Shine the light or snuff it?

Boiling our times down to the essence, we’d arrive at these two words. Transparent. Opaque. Isn’t it always the way that people who have something to hide proclaim transparency? Isn’t it always the case that people who lie claim to be holders of the truth? Opacity is a tricky business.

I recently watched again Simon Sinek’s first TED talk. He said, “There are leaders and there are those who actually lead.” We could call it a simple truth: we know those who actually lead because they boldly shine-the-light. They are not afraid of being seen or seen through. They are, however, a threat to those who call themselves “leaders,” those that fear the revelations of light. Reveal-ations. Those leaders will fight to-the-death to maintain their opacity. They will sacrifice the greater for the lesser if necessary to remain opaque.

We are watching – and participating in – history being written. Our question – as has been true from the beginning: will we shine the light without fear of transparency or hide behind the wall of opacity? It’s just history.

read Kerri’s blog post about TRANSPARENCY

Surface The Pattern [on DR Thursday]

Steve read my book and said he didn’t really understand the thing about pattern. His comment at first surprised me but then I realized he was actually reinforcing the point: we are unconscious to our patterning. We think in patterns. We see in patterns. Culture is pattern. Pattern is invisible and making it visible is a necessary first step in change processes.

The people who surface pattern are often seen by the mainstream as deviant or rebellious. Women demanding equal pay are attempting to make a pattern visible. The BLM movement is attempting to make a cultural pattern visible. Shining a light on longstanding oppression is never welcome in the halls of power.

The people who work to repress the visibility of cultural pattern, conserve the norms, generally claim a righteous superiority. They are keepers of the culture and feel threatened, even victimized, by the sudden visibility of cultural pattern. Exposure is always a threat to the existing pattern and no one relinquishes power or privilege without a fight. The current raft of voter suppression laws – made possible by the fantasy of a stolen election – is a great example. The Big Lie is a textbook example of how far people in power will go to hide a privilege-norm. It is, for us in these un-united states, not a new phenomenon; it is a longstanding well-guarded pattern.

Change happens when the patterns are surfaced. There will always be a tide that rises to extinguish the light of exposure. In the long run, those hardy voices that were, at first, branded as deviant or dangerous, we come to honor and respect. They refused to be silenced. We claim them as our heroes. MLK. Gandhi. Rosa Parks. Cesar Chavez. Susan B. Anthony. There are so many. It is no easy task to surface the patterns. The path of a light-shiner is dangerous and difficult.

John Lewis gave great advice for those dedicated to surfacing unconscious patterns: “Get in good trouble, necessary trouble, and help redeem the soul of America.” He also said that, “…transformation will not happen right away. Change takes time.”

Opening eyes to unconscious pattern, to what is obvious yet unseen, is an artist’s path. Seeing beyond what you think you see…seeing beyond your field-of-dedicated-belief, being curious enough to question what you are being told – can you imagine anything more necessary – more vital – in our age of rabid-misinformation and desperate-pattern-suppression?

read Kerri’s blog post about PATTERN

in dreams I wrestle with angels ©️ 2018 david robinson

Compose [on DR Thursday]

Many years ago I attended a workshop facilitated by Sam, a brilliant landscape painter. I was delighted and amused when he demonstrated his technique. Rather than paint what he observed, he took great pleasure in rearranging the elements. He moved the trees, altered the hills, relocated the barn. He laughed while mixing up his elements. His eyes sparkled with mischief. Rather than a workshop on painting, the day became an exercise in joy-in-art. Seeing and playing with what we see.

This morning I read that the word ‘composition’ means “putting together.” Definers-of-art-terms associate composition with freedom. “The artist has freedom when choosing the composition of their artwork.” It is a mistake to believe that compositional freedom is the sole province of an artist. If the mind is a canvas then thought is a composition. It is patterned and composed. Arranged and rearranged. We choose where we place our focus. Point-of-view is cultivated, it is not a default setting. We design the story-we-tell-ourselves-about-ourselves. And, then we project it onto the world.

The trick in both art and thought composition is not to wear ruts in the road. Sam was joyful in his art because he was constantly challenging and engaging with what he saw. Art was fun, not morbid tradition. Art was delight-full, not rule-bound or laden with the pressure to capture. Recall that stepping out of the rut was the first lesson in Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. Morning pages and artist’s dates are meant to both see the ruts and open new paths. The same process applies to the thought-canvas. See the rut. Step out of it.

As Sam taught me so many years ago, seeing and playing with what we see begins with letting go of what we think we see. It begins with a blank canvas, an unfettered mind, and the freedom to choose the composition.

read Kerri’s blog post about COMPOSITION

Unfettered ©️ 2018 david robinson

Be Indeterminate [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Through the good graces of our tomato plants, I’ve learned a few new concepts this summer. Determinate and indeterminate. Bush and vine. Determinate tomato plants (bushes) are bred to stop growing. Indeterminate tomato plants (vines) will grow indefinitely or until the weather conditions “are no longer favorable.”

Our plants are indeterminate. Each morning, Kerri visits our planting bench and checks her tomatoes. 20 taught her a few simple tending-rules and now, each morning, there are more and more little indeterminate miracles moving backward along the color spectrum, finally arriving at a brilliant red.

Life is indeterminate.

My new tomato-terms come just in time. My current project has me revisiting my past life as a teacher and facilitator. If I apply my new terminology to people I can’t help but think it is the lucky few who survive so much dedicated energy to stop the learning-mind in the name of education. The natural output of a system designed on manufacturing principles is to truncate the questioning mind by patterning the notion that there is a predetermined answer. It becomes a game of finding the answer that teacher wants – a closed loop – instead of an incitement of curiosity. Children are excellent game players and translate the gaming pattern into their now-dulled-adulthood.

There is a cycle apparent in all genuine learning processes. It begins with discontent. Curiosity is a movement born from some form of discontent. It leads to questioning. Questioning always leads to disturbance (the interruption of the known). And, just like that, out of the disturbance something new is seen, call it a breakthrough, call it an insight, call it new learning…Many classrooms – certainly the systems – are designed and organized to keep disturbances to a minimum. The mantra is ‘control’ rather than ‘inspire curiosity.’ Business has the same dedication.

We’re taught that disturbance is the sign of something wrong rather than the crusty earth breaking to reveal new verdant life.

Discontent leads to questioning, leads to disturbance, which leads to breakthrough. And, an insight will always lead to discontent. It’s a story cycle, where yearning meets obstacle. Learning is by definition uncomfortable and at its best when it is uncontrollable.

Last week I attended a meeting. My two companions and I brought our homework back to the team. One was content. The other two of us were filled with discontent. The leader of the session, at first, was angry. He did not get the result he’d anticipated from his exercise. “So, you two are telling me this process was worthless!” he raged. We’d spent our week questioning instead of answering. Discontent. Questioning.

“No! It was great!” we chimed in chorus. “Look at all the good information we uncovered!” It was a mess. Big disturbance. We cycled through our misalignment a few times, wrangling over perception and usefulness. More rage. And then…an insight. The breakthrough. All of the rage, all of the appeasing, began to flow in a single direction. A possibility took shape. A target materialized that was much better than the prescribed pursuit. Energy filled our zoom-osphere. Laughter. Excitement.

Learning. Indeterminate. Open questions. Hot pursuits.

I am drawn to and surrounded by the dedicated indeterminates; those who refuse to stop learning: David, Mike, Horatio, MM, Bruce, 20, Judy, and yes, Kerri…I am a very fortunate man to be surrounded by so many tomatoes moving their way backward along the color spectrum, not afraid to walk through their discontent toward bigger and bigger questions.

read Kerri’s blog post about TOMATOES

Meet The Frame [on DR Thursday]

“There are people who prefer to say ‘yes’ and there are people who prefer to say ‘no’. Those who say ‘yes’ are rewarded by the adventures they have. Those who say ‘no’ are rewarded by the safety they attain.” ~ Keith Johnstone

A violent storm blew through so we spent the night hunkered down in the basement. We had very little sleep. Sleeplessness always leads me to moralize and for that, I apologize.

A frame of reference is a powerful thing. Experiences are interpreted through a frame of assumptions. We are witness to a time in which verifiable reality is denied because it doesn’t jive with the tribal frame.

Master Marsh passed along this quote from E.O. Wilson’s Sociobiology: “(Humankind) would rather believe than know.”

Knowledge often challenges the frame. That is the point of knowledge. Growth. And growth is always a challenge to what was formerly believed possible.

It is somehow easier to lapse into a conspiracy theory, demonize an other, deny what is indisputable, than it is to allow that the frame is just that, a frame. It’s not a truth. It’s a context. It’s a binding agent. Culture is a frame of reference. Religion is a frame of reference. What we believe of ourselves is not a fact. Identity is a frame of reference. Democracy is a frame of reference. Autocracy is a frame of reference. Supremacy is a frame. Equality is a frame. Every-man-for-himself is a frame. Brother-and-Sister’s-keeper is a frame.

None are truth. Frames are creations. Agreements. Aspirations.

Frames that allow for challenges, for growth, are sustainable. Those that do not, those that deny insight, fact, data, new knowledge, those that are threatened by opposing-point-of-view, inevitably collapse in their denial.

The fire burns. A garden hose is not an effective defense, regardless of belief. Temperatures rise relative to emissions. Rain forests disappear. A lie undermines the foundations of democracy. Believe it or not. Harry Truman sat in his cabin nestled into the mountain called St Helens. Despite repeated appeals from fleeing neighbors, repeated rumbles and tremors, warnings from scientists and safety personnel, he believed he would be safe, that his mountain would never erupt. Traces of Harry have never been found.

So it goes with the denial of believers. Frames held too tightly blind rather than reveal.

Every artist knows the transformative power of a frame. A frame can make almost any scribble look substantial. A cheap frame can diminish the greatest masterpiece.

New knowledge meets an old frame. Growth or entrenchment? Blind acceptance or emerging possibility? Yes? No? Both?

read Kerri’s blog post about FRAMES

held in grace: surrender now ©️ 2016 david robinson

Gather And Share [on DR Thursday]

Back in my Don Quixote days, with the onset of a camera in every phone, one of my favorite exercises to give to groups was to send them out in search of textures. Gather texture. Gather pattern. It was quite literally eye-opening. It was also, quite literally, presence-enabling and life-invigorating.

There is enormous power in the simple phrase, “Stop and look.” See.

In “gather” there is no judgment. Consequently, the photos that came back, rich in texture and collision of texture, patterns revealing themselves everywhere, were gorgeous. Dynamic. But, mostly, they were revealing. Otherwise serious adults, who believed that there was nothing new, that life was less-than-exceptional, came back from their texture-gather with open eyes. Some giggled. These people, claiming that they did not possess an ounce of artistry, would show their photos to the group and say, “I pulled that in so we could see it better.” Or, “Don’t you just love how those two things come together?” Or, my favorite, “You didn’t give us enough time! I couldn’t gather it all!”

Ah. Not enough time to see it all. Not enough time to take it in. Now, isn’t that a statement of the-love-of-life? Isn’t that the epicenter of an artist’s life. Isn’t that a more interesting path than, “Same-old-same-old”?

Dots. Diamonds of dots. Lines. Pattern. Texture. Too much to see. Too much to experience. And the best, most simple way to step into vibrancy is to stop and look.

But, there is one more step, the part that made the exercise powerful. The essential part was and is almost always overlooked. Stopping and looking and gathering is great but only has meaning – only becomes artistry – when it is shared. Without fear or judgment. Stop. Look. Gather. Come back to the center and share what you see.

read Kerri’s blog post about TEXTURE

yoga series: meditation ©️ 2012 david robinson

Use Your Chalk [on Two Artists Tuesday]

There are two words floating around in my universe these days: structured and unstructured. Structured data. Unstructured data. Structured time. Unstructured time.

The world as seen through the Puritan lens gives great preference to structure. Unstructured anything is suspect. “Idle hands,” we are taught, “are the devil’s workshop.” Yikes. Apparently it’s dangerous to take a stroll, to sit and ponder, to clear the day and do nothing.

I suspect it explains why our notion of business is hyper-focused on the bottom line and often misses the value of relationships. Bottom lines are easy structure. Relationships, not so much. It is the same with test scores in education. Easy structure. However, stepping into the unknown – the very definition of learning – is largely eschewed because it begins in an unstructured pursuit. Creating the structure, making the meaning, discovering the connectivity is what our hearts and brains like to do. When learning isn’t merely a factory, when business is more than a bottom line, people prosper. They come alive.

Unstructured time. There was a time when time had no structure. Monks attempted to “keep” time by monitoring water through a bucket or sift sand through an “hour” glass. Sometimes the water froze in the bucket so the structure of evening prayer was disrupted. The sand clumped in the hour glass and the measure of time clumped with it.

There are moment on the stage when the actor forgets their lines. It’s called “going up” or “drying.” It is always, in the re-telling, the moment when everything becomes real, alive. It is the moment when the structure becomes unstructured. Hearts race. Eyes widen. The stakes are suddenly palpable. The actor breathes, stands in the vast unstructured universe, and the words return like a swinging bar to a high-flying aerialist. The play is infused with aliveness. Presence is mostly unstructured.

As is common in the structured and unstructured use of the English language, oppositions are easily constructed. Unstructured simply means the meaning has yet to be made. Structured data, structured time, are the tip of a largely unknown iceberg. Love, joy, despair, awe…the full spectrum of experiences, bubble in the unstructured spaces. Numbers can describe a moment in time, can orient for a moment, but will never “explain” yearning or desire or our fundamental need to tell stories (put structure on unfathomable experiences). Structure & Unstructure: they are dancing partners, not combatants.

Where do we come from? What are we here to do? I am going to die, what then? It takes a good deal of unstructured time to sit in these unanswerable questions. There are, of course, plenty of people who will gladly provide structure to your unanswerable – and therefore uncomfortable – questions. Perhaps that is why we adore our structure and demonize the empty spaces? Comfort. Ease.

Kerri cannot pass a hopscotch template chalked on the street. It’s almost automatic. Step, hop, hop, step, hop. The little girl in her connects to the child who chalked the squares on the sidewalk. A simple game. Play. It’s one of the things people do with unstructured time. Set challenges. Make up obstacles. Seek puzzles. Invent. Dream. Connect to the deeper places. Where’s the structured bottom line watching the little-girl-in-my-wife hop and skip and turn in the game-chalked-on-the-sidewalk? The laughter of remembering? The giggle and freedom of the woman hopping the scotch, just because she can?

read Kerri’s blog post about HOPSCOTCH

Do What They Do [on DR Thursday]

I’ve posted this painting more than any other in my stacks.

Some paintings serve as markers for new directions. This painting is one of those. What came before this painting was suddenly old. What came after was an exciting unknown path. Exploration and play. Big mistakes and messes followed by understanding. Materials can only be pushed so far. Bodies and shapes reveling in negative and positive space.

When I met Kerri, this painting did not have a name. I called it #7 in my yoga series. She called it “Iconic” and the name stuck. I liked the name. It seemed appropriate. An icon is a symbol. Something worthy of veneration.

Now, over ten years later, this icon, once the harbinger of the new, serves as the hallmark of what was.

I delight in this painting, Iconic. It is one of the few. And, although I am grateful for where it led me, I’ve come to realize that it no longer serves to locate me, except in a past chapter, like a yearbook photo.

Letting go. It is why I stand in my studio – I can’t even sit there of late – and look at the mess on canvas that sits untouched on my easel these many months. Somewhere, after this mishmash phase, somewhere, beyond the chaos and disorder and wiping away, there will emerge another marker. An icon. A compass.

Although I’ve written it many times in these past few months, it’s way past time that I admit – to myself – that I am, once again, in the wilderness. Someone once told me that we go to the wilderness to face our demons and find our gods. That seems a bit dramatic. Demons and gods are one and the same, like positive and negative space or comedy and tragedy. The lesson is always the same: stop taking yourself so seriously and the oppositions, the demons and gods, will stop pulling you apart.

Find a child and watch them play with paint. Do that. Do what they do. The wilderness is rich in sustenance if you know where to look.

Someday, in the midst of being lost, I’ll make an accidental mark that jolts me. I’ll turn it around, asking, “What’s this?” A new direction will emerge.

Read Kerri’s blog post about ICONIC

iconic ©️ 2010 david robinson

Practice It [on Merely A Thought Monday]

“…our brains are prime to notice and remember negativity – things we don’t like or abhor doing – while barely registering the positive. Because of this negativity bias, we have to make a special effort to get our brains to notice, register, and savor the good.” ~ Kristine Klussman, Connection

It is not some special gift nor is it reserved for the select few. Seeing the positive is a practice. It takes practice. It requires cultivation.

I am fortunate. I am surrounded by people who point their cameras at beautiful sights, special moments, a lovely meal…the point is not capturing the photograph. The point is to practice seeing the positive, the gorgeous, the moments of gratitude and appreciation. A camera is a great support in practicing seeing the positive. “This blossom is elegant!” Kerri whispered. Master Miller regularly sends me photos of finger painting discoveries or sunsets over the river. Judy paints the most exquisite flowers; she is a master of seeing the sunshine.

I am fortunate. I am surrounded by people who, in the middle of difficult circumstances, point their minds and hearts at the positive. Mike’s Changing Faces Theater Company is a master-class of making lemonade from a pile of lemons.

Read any poem by Mary Oliver. Each verse a suggestion to see the magic in this mystical world, to place focus on what is too easily missed. The grasses in the breeze. The kind gesture. The geese in formation. “I ask you again: if you have not been enchanted by this adventure – your life – what would do for you?” Evidence

It is very easy to focus on the negative, too easy, to latch onto the one critical comment in the midst of an avalanche of praise. To dwell on the single moment of wound in a lifetime of helping hands. It’s too easy to sit in the dark alone and complain about being lonely. It’s too easy to miss the precious moments of this life [they are everywhere] mired in a dedicated misery. It’s a hard step to rise out of the misery-chair and decide to place your focus on what is bright, what is right in the world, to offer a helping hand, to accept one. To practice savoring. It is hard to step from a darkened mind into a gathering of strangers, a new world, by bringing unguarded kindness with intent to see the best in others.

It’s hard, no doubt, at first, to refocus the eye. But it is much harder not to make the effort. It is so much harder to live a life bound by a practice of seeing only the negative.

There’s a simple truth, a secret, to seeing the positive, found in The Beatles lyric, The End, “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.” Bring it and you will receive it. Practice the positive and you will evoke the positive. No one walks this path alone unless they choose to. The positive, just like the negative, is created in your mind, by where you decide to place your focus, by what you decide to bring to your life.

read Kerri’s blog post about UNPRESCRIBED SINGING