Look Up. Look Higher. [on Merely A Thought Monday]

“And men are so poor in intellect that a few cold chills down their spine will be enough to keep them from ever finding out the truth about anything.” ~ Thomas Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain

This will read like a blazing generality and I do not intend it to be so. Some of the best people I have known are readers of the book(s). They learned along the line to read their book(s) as metaphor instead of literally, as a history. There are, after all, many paths up the same mountain.

As for me, I was cured of religion when I was a boy but it’s taken a lifetime to understand what and why – and to find language to express what should (to me) be obvious to all.

It only takes a moment to lift your eyes from the book and look up – all the way up to the sky. The book is a human invention, as are the gods and the stories of the gods told in them. The sky, on the other hand, complete with stars and suns and universes beyond imagining, are not human inventions. The book lives in the human mind. That which the book is meant to illuminate is…wholeness…all around us. We are part of, not separate from. That’s it. It’s that simple. The game of separation and unity.

We are part of, not separate from. This word “Love” is unity, the absence of made-up-separations.

The book will have you believing that your body and its myriad of impulses are, like nature, in need of taming. Separation from yourself. The book will promote the notion of a chosen few, the singular path, a destiny that is manifest. Separation from other. Elevation for team-white. Moral authority for team-straight. It’s probably good to feel above others and certainly feels powerful to believe yourself keeper of the book’s rules. Isn’t it blatantly obvious that the rules were/are made by men to justify, as-the-voice-of-god, all manner of privilege and cruelty? Separation, separation, separation.

Here’s what I understood as a boy: any god that promotes separation in any form is very small, indeed, and probably not worth worshipping. At the very least it is a man-made god meant to make folks feel better about their obvious impermanence in an infinite universe.

There’s so much in this life worthy of our worship.

Whether or not we walk as one or decide to beat the hell out of each other for the color of our skin or the natural orientation of our sexuality has nothing to do with the vast universe outside of the book. We create the separations to justify our fear or to protect our property.

We are completely capable of love. We are completely capable of reaching across the unknown and living our short time on this earth in full support of the rich myriad of wonder and diversity expressed through us in this infinite possibility called life.

The book is an abstraction. The person standing before you is not.

Love is love. Love is not separation or division or privilege or a skin color or gender or sexual orientation. Love has nothing to do with how much money you have or do not have. Separations are the province of small people inventing small gods for very small reasons – so they can feel good about being separate and small.

Love is love.

read Kerri’s blogpost about PRIDE

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

Wrap It [on DR Thursday]

Christo wrapped mountains in fabric. He wrapped coastlines. He populated passes with umbrellas. When I saw the candlesticks wrapped in plastic and ready to roll out the door, I thought, “Little Christo.” Wrap it and it becomes something else. Visible, invisible.

My favorite part of Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s website was found way at the bottom. Click on the words, “Projects Not Realized.” There were so many ideas! Whacky and wonderful visions that, for one reason or another, never made it off the drawing board. Why was one building wrapped and another rejected? Why did the mountain of barrels never block the intersection? What sense is there to be made of projects that are not invested in sense-making?

Sense-making follows experience and, in these times with so much media shouting for attention and propagandizing belief, it’s very hard to have a direct experience. I suppose that’s why Christo wrapped mountains. It takes an extreme act of non-sense to shock us into silent what-the-heck-ness.

I saw his umbrellas popping vibrant yellow along the pass from Bakersfield to LA. Giant dandelions stretching for miles. What I most remember as I stopped to get a closer look: children found it impossible not to dance at their bases. Make sense of that.

read Kerri’s blogpost about CANDLESTICKS

greet the world © 2011 david robinson

Do It Together [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Our house is beginning to breathe. As each bag or box leaves, as another load goes to Goodwill, space opens. Air moves. Stuck spaces relax. New possibilities circle our imagination. And, as the house takes a deep inhale and long slow exhale, so do we.

This is a task she must do on her own. In the past I tried to make it happen and only created more turmoil. I am a relative newcomer to this house so my memories do not run as deep. What looks like junk to me might carry a sacred family story.

That is the continual lesson of my life. My eyes can never see the full extent of your story. Your eyes can never see the complexity of my story. The creation of “our” story requires constant tending. It’s always best to ask a question. “Our” story becomes vital, rich, and inspiring the moment I cease trying to get you to see my way. There’s a space between – called “relationship”- that we can both see because, together, we create it. Together, we speak to it.

Those few simple lessons apply to all relationships, even the most casual.

And so, while I’m working upstairs, she is downstairs unpacking boxes and bins. Sometimes I hear her sigh. Sometimes there is laughter and I know a good story will come my way. Each day, before I climb the stairs, I ask, “Is there anything I can do to help?” Her reply is always the same. “I don’t know but, if there is, I’ll let you know.”

read Kerri’s blog post about CLEANING OUT

Fulfill The Promise [on KS Friday]

Look up the word “suffrage” in the dictionary and you’ll discover it means, “the right to vote.” Synonyms include “voice,” “enfranchisement,” and “choice.” It took a hundred years of protest for women to secure the right to vote in these un-united United States. As we prepare to take a giant step backwards it should not be lost on us that the battle for a woman’s voice to be heard continues to this day.

The size of the tide rising against a woman’s right to choose has a long root in suffrage. A woman’s choice. The crusty old ideal: “The Cult of True Womanhood, that is, the idea that the only “true” woman was a pious, submissive wife and mother concerned exclusively with home and family.” is yet again rearing its ugly head.

I’ve written before of my experience in a jury pool. I was in the third group of 50 to be called into the courtroom. The judge gave us a single instruction: “Raise your hand if you either have been or know someone who’s been the victim of sexual assault.” Every member of my group raised their hands. The same had happened with the previous two groups. Out of 150 potential jurors, 150 had either been or knew intimately someone who had been the victim of sexual assault. “How am I ever going to seat an impartial jury,” the judge said to us and to himself.

It was a great question. Here’s a better question: why is sexual assault so prevalent in our nation?

The cult of true womanhood is, of course, a man’s idea. What about a powerful woman, with full protected rights and choice over her body, makes (a minority in) this nation froth and scream? What exactly are these few trying to control?

Equality. Actual equality. A promise unfulfilled for so many.

To my long ago judge I would say that we cannot seat an impartial jury until we experience an impartial court and a governing body willing and able to protect the rights of all citizens equally. It’s the ideal, the organizing principle of this nation-of-promise. Or is it?

A woman with an equal voice and equal pay, with the same protections a man enjoys, will, of course, express fully her equality. It begs the rhetorical question: What exactly are these few afraid of?

Suffrage. Enfranchisement. Choice. Equality.

Kerri’s music is available on iTunes & streaming on Pandora

read Kerri’s blog post about MADE FOR WOMEN

silent days/blueprint for my soul © 1997 kerri sherwood

Say The Word [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“In the realm of ideas, everything depends upon enthusiasm…in the real world all rests on perseverance.” ~ Goethe

To outside eyes it looks like a small stack of plastic Adirondack chairs. To our eyes, it is a marker of something almost unimaginable to us during these past few years: stable ground.

If you want to know what these semi-cheap plastic chairs represent to us, look no further than the movie Gravity. Sandra Bullock in space in a story of “if it can go wrong, it will go wrong.” Through a rolling series of disasters peppered with just-in-the-knick-of-time hand-holds, against all odds, she splashes down to earth, safe. She stands on a beach, shaky legs. For the first time in a seeming eternity: stable ground.

Perseverance is a word used after the fact. During the free fall to earth, nothing feels even remotely like tenacity. Survival-mode does not allow for meaningful reflection or personal congratulations. Look for anything to grab to stop the fall. Believe that the ghost of George Clooney will crawl into the space capsule with a kick-in-the-butt speech at the very moment when giving up seems like the only option.

“There’s always another option,” we told ourselves. There’s always another step to take. Any step. There must be…

During our free fall we sat on our back deck in our broken white, cracking-and-en-route-to-collapsing plastic Adirondack chairs. We felt the sun on our faces. We talked of appreciating our moments. We encouraged and affirmed each other when “hope” was a word that made us roll our eyes and laugh-out-loud.

Last week, in a daring gesture of new times, we bought (on sale!) six black Adirondack chairs. Six! For friends to sit in when they come to visit. A statement of “hope” during a season of pandemic.

Yesterday we sat for the first time in two of our new chairs, faces in the sun, appreciating our moment. And, for the first time in three years, we dared utter the word “perseverance.” Shaky legs. Stable ground.

read Kerri’s blogpost about NEW CHAIRS

Pass The Cheer [on DR Thursday]

We do some quirky things. Driving an aspen tree halfway across America in the back of our car is certainly on the list of quirky.

It’s from a place special to us. We honeymooned at Linda and Bill’s condo in Breckenridge, Colorado. I am from Colorado and our honeymoon trip felt like coming home – for both of us. We return to that special place when we can, though not often enough. There is a trail we like to hike. It’s become an old friend that we need to visit when in the area. If we do nothing else, we strap on our boots and begin the climb. It follows a brook up the side of the mountain. We’ve never made it to the top but one day…

On our mantel is a piece of driftwood from Long Island, Kerri’s home. In our dining room is a log – literally a log – we carried from our trail in Breckenridge. Elemental. We have stones from our respective birthplaces, too. Our house is filled with confused cairns, pointing both east and west.

We named the little aspen tree Breck. It traveled in a pot with its tippy top branches bent against the car ceiling for the ride. It survived the journey. For the first few years it lived in a pot on the deck in the warm months and was wrapped and protected in the winter. Breck’s quaking leaves make us smile and instantly transport us to the special town in the high mountains.

Breck did not like its first spot where we planted it in the yard. The top branches died. When we moved it last fall, we were afraid that Breck would not make it through the winter. We talked to it. We cheered for it. “You can do it!” we chirped. Imagine our relief and celebration a few weeks ago when we went out back and found Breck budding. Lots of buds. More sun. Better soil. New Growth!

A reminder of a special place. A symbol of resilience and a hearty can-do. This spring it feels as if Breck is speaking to us, too. More sun! Better soil! You can do it. New growth. Art-life budding.

read Kerri’s blogpost about BRECK

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

Look Out [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Perhaps the most useful and profound lesson I’ve learned happened under the water. I was doing my first night dive. I was scared. I was not yet a confident diver. As we descended the world became inky black. All I could see was where I pointed my light.

It was that simple. I can see where I point my light. That’s it. And, more to the point, I choose where I point my light. I have the capacity to choose what I see. I can…and have…chosen to focus on hardship and lack. I can…and have…chosen to focus on what I love. On any given day my focus bounces full spectrum between complaint and appreciation. And then I remember: it’s my light, where do I want to aim it?

There’s a second aspect of the lesson. My focus is a beam. My light is not all encompassing. Each of us looks at life through a soda straw. None of us has the big picture. That’s why the commons is so important. In order to know what to do, we need to bring our many perspectives together to approximate something close to a full picture. Rather than fight about disparate points of view – who is right – it’s more useful to try and assemble all of those differing views, like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, into a bigger picture. No one wins when the pieces refuse to interlink.

With two broken wrists the cello became impossible to play. It has sat in her studio, the case unopened, since her fall over two years ago. I remember the day we bought it. We were early in our relationship, not yet married. I knew she was having cello dreams. We went to the music store for some other purpose, I can’t remember. The cello was sitting in the corner. She sat. She began to play. It was a perfect fit. And, although we could not afford it, we also could not leave it behind. It was a perfect fit.

Our lives these past two years have been a descent into dark water. We’ve worked hard to shine our light at our good fortune in a dark and inky landscape. As we make our way back to the surface, we are cleaning out. Taking stock. “The cello needs to be played,” she said, deciding to sell it. “I’ll never be able to play it, now.” She took photographs of her cello. Sent out a message through the network.

At the end of the day she showed me the photo. Edges. The view from inside the empty cello case, looking out. A slice of the world visible outside the case.

What’s “out there” is rarely clear. We see a small slice. It tickles our curiosity. The cello dream moves on making space for…? Who knows? We can’t see that far. In the meantime, we keep our eyes and hearts uplifted as we slowly kick our way back to the surface.

read Kerri’s blogpost about EDGES

Reseed [on Merely A Thought Monday]

We pulled everything off the walls of the office. The photographs and posters of plays I’ve directed, Kerri’s first album, framed, a gift. Our poster announcing Beaky’s Books. “I don’t think the office should be about the past,” she said. “It’s time to make this space about our current work and the future.”

She chose a painting, Nap On The Beach, one of many created from our experiences together. She’s making a poster of Smack-Dab, our cartoon. Turning our eyes from what we’ve done, where we’ve been, who we were. We’ve changed. We want different things now. We work in different ways now.

She’s slowly cleaning out the house. I can’t help. This is something she must do by herself. Purging closets, the laundry room, the storage and work rooms. The year of water upended our house. Several times. It continues in the front yard, all the way to the street. When the ground settles, we’ll reseed the lawn. How’s that for a metaphor? When the ground settles, we will reseed.

It takes time for the ground to settle. It can’t be rushed. It should not be rushed. The same is true for cleaning out. We have new piles forming: what goes, what stays. I climb the stairs to the office each morning. When I come down again, she shows me the new space that she’s created from the day’s purge. It’s true on many levels. She’s creating space. Old baggage and burdens are going out with the old clothes and broken appliances. I can see it in her eyes. Space. Light. Like the house, she is beginning to breathe again.

She told me about the dream, her father was setting up microphones. “What are you doing?” she asked.

“Working for tomorrow,” he said.

I had to work hard not to weep. She’s had a rough few years. “Your daddy’s talking to you,” I said. “Sage advice.”

She nodded. Her eyes turning from the pain and constraints of the injuries. Letting go of the past. “Work for tomorrow,” she smiled.

read Kerri’s blog post about WORK FOR TOMORROW