Step Through The Doorway Singing

When I first met Kerri I told her that she needed to know two things about me: I don’t sing and I don’t pray. I imagine that was bracing news for a woman whose life has been about composing and performing music. I imagine it was especially disconcerting for a woman who stands firmly in a greater spirituality. I thought she needed to know.

A few short months later we were driving through the hills of Georgia en route to North Carolina, windows rolled down, a James Taylor and Carole King concert blaring through the sound system. James Taylor’s song, Something In The Way She Moves, began to play and I sang along. Kerri pulled the car over and began to weep. It turns out I sing after all. And I like it, too. That song became our song (one of them). Jim sang it at our wedding.

We have a dvd of the James Taylor and Carole King concert – at the Troubadour in Los Angeles. We watched it a few weeks ago for the first time. James Taylor told the audience that his song, our song, Something InThe Way She Moves, was the song that popped open his career. He said it was like that song was the doorway to the rest of his life. I knew exactly what he meant. A song. A door pops open. Life.

Yesterday was our second anniversary. Two years ago, Kerri recorded a song she wrote for me, for us. It’s called And Now. Amidst the chaos of our wedding week she somehow recorded it so I might enter the church, enter our wedding ceremony, to the song she wrote and sang, her song for me, our song. As I walked down the aisle that day, her song became the doorway to the rest of my life. In a moment, with a song, my life popped open.

Yesterday, after watching the sunrise we came home, made more coffee and sat on our bed (we call it the raft) with DogDog and BabyCat and told stories of our wedding week. It was the wedding equivalent of a barn raising. Our stories are the stories of all the amazing people who cooked, baked, carried, hauled, comforted, soothed, celebrated and helped us through the doorway. Amidst the stories, we reread our vows. We listened to the songs that to which we processed into the church, Gabriel’s Oboe for Kerri. And Now for me.

Listening, remembering, I sat on the raft and found myself weeping. I understood, perhaps for the first time, that on the other side of the doorway I routinely defined myself by what I was not: not a pray-er, not a singer. On this side of the doorway, there is life, rich, uncontrollable, vast, ever moving, no-need-for-nots or brakes or resistances. Just now. And Now.

And Now is on itunes

Hold Hands And Step

Today, I believe the single greatest obstacle we throw in our way, the single greatest disservice we plant in our children, the unfortunate self-imposed exile many seniors adopt, the great source of interruption to all creative dreams and dreamers, is this: the ridiculous notion that one must know “how” to do anything before starting to do it.

Knowing “how” comes second.

The opportunity to look back and see “how” comes (necessarily) at the end of the process, not at the beginning. To learn, one must begin by not knowing “how.” Not-knowing-how is the basic assumption of lively, active, creative beings.

The second assumption: no one does this walk alone. No one knows all things. To successfully not-know-how invites the opportunity to ask questions of others. Hold hands and step.

Peter Block wrote a terrific book with a title that says it all: The Answer to How is Yes.

Stand At The Intersection

2mayyoubepeace-jpegI find myself once again standing at an intersection of seemingly unrelated conversations and experiences and am in awe of the common thread.

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday. The imposition of the ashes is a reminder of mortality: we came from dust and to dust we will return. Last night I watched the ritual from the choir loft. It is new to me and beautiful – a lifelong fascination of mine – to witness the power of people gathering to participate in their rites of transformation. Life made vibrant through the realization of its limits.

After a long hiatus, this week I picked up my art discussions with Horatio. He is wise and I have sorely missed my conversations with him. During my Seattle years we often met downtown for coffee and talked about all things artistic. We’d compare notes, challenge assumptions, share inspirations, complain about obstacles, wax poetic, and laugh at the fears and foibles of life on an artist’s path. A few days ago we scheduled a call and picked up our chat as if no time had elapsed. He is an accomplished visual artist and filmmaker and told me that finishing a drawing (or film) always feels insignificant, anti-climactic. “There is no such thing as completion,” he said. “The product always feels empty. Doing the work is vibrant and alive. The life is in the process!” Horatio told me that he disappears when he goes into the studio. I know that feeling well. It is not an experience of losing your self, it is the experience of transcending your self. It is a ritual of transformation

This morning I read in our local newspaper that the University of Wisconsin, Parkside (the campus in our town) launched an initiative to inspire peace through the arts called “PeaceWorks.” They were inspired by this quote from Eleanor Roosevelt: “It isn’t enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it. And, it isn’t enough to believe in it, one must work at it.” I read that there will be over 20 artistic events from all disciplines that deal in one way or another with peace – or the absence of peace. Peace is likely to be found when a community gathers to participate (not just witness) in the transcendence of self. There are few things like the arts that can facilitate that.

One of the latest paintings from The Yoga Series

One of the latest paintings from my Yoga Series

The ride is limited. The achievements of this life are of little importance if the process (the moment) is missed. Peace, inner or outer, like all high ideals, begins with an intention and is usually possible when, looping back to the beginning, we realize that this ride of life is finite and precious.

 

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Choose Your Path

another detail of And Now

a detail of my painting And Now

Months ago Steve told me that he’d read my book. “I liked it,” he said, “But the only thing I don’t get is the first chapter. What do you mean when you say that we don’t have problems, we have patterns?” Since we were in the middle of a rehearsal we didn’t have the chance to discuss it. I forgot about that conversation until yesterday. I was digging through some old notes and found my original note, the first time I told a group that they didn’t have a problem, they had a pattern. I was facilitating a very dysfunctional group and having a great time untying their collective dedication to misery. Afterwards, I wrote extensive notes because the day’s conversation spun my dials. In rereading these notes I find them more relevant today than ever. Here’s what I recorded:

On the road to power the path splits: one path leads to power-with-others. The other road leads to power-over-others. The fork in the road is determined by where you seek your worth. It is, when all else is stripped away, a matter of focus placement. Where do you seek your worth?

            1) If you seek your worth from others, you will take the path to power-over others.

          2) If you seek your worth within yourself, you will take the fork that leads to power creation with others.

If you seek to glean your worth from others you are essentially trying to control the uncontrollable (what other people think, feel, see,…is out of your control). Control is a fear path and requires protection, shielding, etc..

When people stop trying to control what they cannot control, when they place their energy and focus not on what others think of them but on what they think of themselves, they open. They become safe in the world primarily because their safety is not located in what others think (it is located in themselves).

To pay attention to the self brought from the group an assumption that they would become self-absorbed; they would ignore or disconnect from others. I asked them to imagine this: make the basic assumption that they were loved, that they were already worthy beyond measure. A healthy self-worth does not require self-absorption but its opposite. Respect for others is not possible in the absence of self-respect. Given the imagined assumption of self worth, what might be possible? It all depends upon where they place their focus (where they aimed their focus). Focus placement is a learned pattern.

I have always been interested in comparative religions and have often been confounded by the split that runs through the three primary western faiths (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – all people of the book sharing a common root). To stir my pot Linda and Bill loaned me a book that speaks to the split in the Christian tradition entitled If Grace Is True by Philip Gulley. The essence of its message: what you see (and therefore, what you believe) depends upon where you place your focus. You can focus on the god of righteousness and retribution or you can focus on the god of grace. If your focus is on righteousness and retribution, you will necessarily believe in a chosen people, an us-and-them paradigm, and fear will be your driver (power-over). This god will send hurricanes to punish. If, however, you focus on the god of grace, then there can be no divisions. Grace is for everyone. This god does not send disasters nor takes sides with who wins wars because division is made-up by humans seeking power. Grace creates power-with.

Our nation, at this moment, is in a heated debate about where to place its focus. Standing at the fork it is embroiled in a dispute about which path to take. The danger on the path of power-over is that it invariably and inevitably eats itself. Fear is a potent driver for a little while. Pushing others down to elevate your self might feel good for a time but will always blow back on itself. Diminishing others is a lousy path to (dare I say it?) true power.

For a short time in the 80’s I did work at a school in Los Angeles that served children in gangs. We played a lot. We laughed as a way of loosening the grips of fear-seeing. The epicenter of our work together always came down to this truth: any idiot with a trigger finger can take a life. It is easy to push others down. It takes a heart and a mind (and a community) to give life. The real work of courage is to lift others up; that is what using your gifts in service to the world is all about. And, in the end of the day, the only difference is which path you choose, where you decide to place your focus, and which pattern you decide to reinforce.

 

joywithframecool stuff/prints/mugs/notebooks

WATERSHED on iTunes:  Kerri Sherwood track 10 on AS IT IS

watershed: an event or period making a turning point in a course of action or state of affairs.

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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

 

Taste It Fully

ice circles on the lake

ice circles on the lake

We heard the angry barking of crows before we saw them. They were haranguing an owl. It flew into a tree only a few yards in front of us. For several moments, through the ruckus of the crows, we stared at the owl and it stared at us. Time stopped. Nothing else existed. The owl’s eyes, our breathing, the crow’s chorus.

For our wedding gift, H and Teru sent several collections of poetry, “Manuals on marriage,” they wrote in the note that came with the poems. Kerri and I are savoring the poems, reading one or two aloud to each other every day. They are a source of warmth and inspiration during these cold dark winter months. A poem cannot be rushed or read merely. It must be slowly tasted. It is meant to be entered like a meadow; to be experienced. Try to make sense of a poem and you will miss it. Just like life.

She said, “inner quiet is low maintenance,” and I laughed. Yes it is. The trick is in getting quiet. It is not something that can be found or achieved. It is not a place or a state-of-being. It is what happens when you stop looking for it. Like the hermit says to Parcival when the Grail Castle suddenly reappears, “Boy, it’s been there all along.”

For years Sam the poet was afraid of his poems. Like all great art, his poems, his art, revealed the artist, and so he kept them locked up, un-tasted. He came alive and supremely dissatisfied when he finally unleashed his poetry. He let himself want more but also refused to let himself experience more; one foot on the gas, one foot on the brakes. To taste fully one must be willing to be tasted.

A snippet of a poem (a koan imbedded in a poem), RELAX by Ellen Bass:

The Buddha tells a story of a woman chased by a tiger.
When she comes to a cliff, she sees a sturdy vine
and climbs halfway down. But, there’s also a tiger below.
And two mice – one white, one black – scurry out
and begin to gnaw at the vine. At this point
she notices a wild strawberry growing from a crevice.
She looks up, down, at the mice.
Then she eats the strawberry.

Taste your moment. Taste it fully.

I wrote in my black and red notebook a simple recognition. The field of possibilities cuts both ways: in your despair you must remember that anything is possible. In your joy you must remember that anything is possible. Tiger above (the past), tiger below (imagined future). Do not reject your moment or attempt to hold on to it – both are methods of missing the moment. Taste it regardless of the circumstance. Taste it fully.

 

 

 

Let’s Be Us

a detail from my painting, May You Be

a detail from my painting, May You Be

[continued from Put Down The Hammer]

It is night and I am sitting alone in the sanctuary. I’ve been setting up chairs for a performance and now that the job is complete I’m taking a moment to savor the silence and review this day.

The temperatures have been unseasonably warm and when I opened the back door this morning for Tripper Dog-Dog-Dog I was greeted by the sound of birds singing. It was an April sound in the middle of December. I was so taken by the sound that I called Kerri, “Come and listen to this!” We stood in the doorway for many minutes. It was beautiful as well as a little disconcerting. “El Niño or global warming?” I asked.

Arnie wrote a comment to my last post. He asked: Can it be that we don’t want the ‘we’ in our society – we aren’t comfortable with the ‘we’ and only feel our identity by living out the “us and them”? I am an idealist but, of course, he is right. David Berreby wrote a terrific book called, Us and Them. We are hardwired to perceive the world through a lens of Us and Them. It’s a survival imperative to distinguish between friend and foe. However, a point that is most salient to me: the delineation of Us is mutable. It is not a fixed state but largely circumstantial. That is especially true in this modern age. There is an out of fashion phrase used to describe these United States: a melting pot. There could not be a better metaphor for an ever fluid definition of US. We need not melt but we do need to acknowledge that we are in the same pot. “Give us your tired, your hungry, your poor,…” is central to our national identity (not always central to our national rhetoric) and is a sacred, central statement of an ever-changing US.

We are among the first humans in history to have the pleasure of seeing our planet Earth from space and, as it has been said, from space there are no visible borders. The definition of US depends upon how far out we pull the camera. From space WE are the human race. There are a bevy of alien invasion movies that carry a common theme: when attacked WE inhabitants of Earth will pull together. Or, said another way, until there is a THEM that invades from another planet, WE will be incapable of recognizing full inclusion in the Earth pot.

To Arnie’s point, there is a lot of responsibility that comes with WE. A few months ago, Kerri and I were in Chicago for the day and passed a homeless man, holding a filthy cardboard sign asking for help. He was young, in his early 20’s, and more filthy than his sign. He was suffering. We walked by him. On the train home we had a long conversation about our responsibility to that young man or to any member of our community that is suffering. Many years ago I was with a student group in Bali. We were invited to Udayana University and one member of our group gave a talk about homelessness in America. Our Balinese hosts were shocked. “How could a member of your community be without a home?” they asked. The concept was abhorrent to them, unthinkable. “You are the wealthiest people on Earth…,” they stammered. Later, a Balinese professor said to me, “When you came here today, we wanted to be like you Americans. As you leave, we are proud to be Balinese.”

Us. Them. We. Like me. Not like me. Me. Little words with far-reaching impact. I am not the same person I was only a few years ago. I find it infinitely hopeful – especially now – that, just like me, the delineation of US is mutable, ever changing. It begs the question, Who are WE? And, to another of Arnie’s points, the answer to the question depends upon where we decide to place our focus.