Find The Treasure [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Every so often in the grocery store I am struck by how many people are involved in making sure I – we – have food to eat. Pick any item from the shelf and work backwards. It was carried, priced, stocked, delivered, warehoused, produced, picked, manufactured, marketed, accounted, inventoried, scheduled. Imagined. And, I wonder, how many of the hundreds of people involved realized that their labor makes my life – our lives – better?

Sitting in front of my computer yesterday I was swirling in a thought-eddy. Attempting to map a workflow, the mechanics of a process, I was befuddled. There were too many variables. As is my practice when perplexed, I stood up and walked away. Halfway down the stairs my mind jigged. I re-remembered that the only thing that mattered in my silly map was the desire to make someone’s life better, someone I would never meet. I realized (again) that I didn’t need to figure it out. I shouldn’t figure it out. There was and is no single answer. Too many variables simply means I cannot know – but I can intend. I will “know” how it all works after the fact. I know that, if I keep focused on my north star, making a life better, then, at this phase, that is all I need to know. It’s an unbeatable criteria for clarifying what to do.

“Do you think someone found our buttons?” she asked. “Do you think they liked them?” On our last hike in North Carolina, she left a small sack of Be-Kind buttons in the knot of a tree. “I wonder who found them,” she giggled.

A small treasure left in the knot of a tree. A sack of potatoes found in the grocery store. Kindness. We get snarky when we divorce our actions – even the smallest action – from the very thing that makes them matter. We get lost when we forget how deeply interrelated are our every action and thought. Cause and effect, as Alan Watts wrote, are not sequential but simultaneous. If you think your actions do not matter or have no purpose, think again. If you think it does not matter how you treat others or that bottom lines are more potent than people, think again. It’s the miracle of a circle or a cycle: where does it begin? Where does it end?

read Kerri’s blogpost about BUTTONS IN A TREE

Connect The Poles [on KS Friday]

Though it is not, this could be a close-up of an x-ray. Arteries carrying blood away from the heart, veins carrying blood back to the heart, and the capillaries that connect the them. Outgoing. Incoming. And the connection between the two. And, as is always true of language, in the naming and the action-describing, the whole system is obscured. This part does this. That part does that. Mechanical mind applied to a miracle of pulsating life.

In North Carolina I overheard an old guy grousing about climate change. He is a sceptic. “There’s record snow in California!” he decried, “And, we’re having record heat here! You can’t have it both ways!” His reluctant listener bobbed her head. “It’s either warming or it’s not!” he railed. “Explain that to me!” Mechanical mind. Parts-thinkers cannot see the whole system. The capillary-word that tumbled from his mouth but bypassed his mind was “record.” The poles are, after all, connected.

I am fascinated by my current work. I am witness to and a participant in the creation of software. The language is familiar though the meanings are new: epic and story. Bug. My mind, lately, has been awhirl. The developers necessarily talk of information as content-objects. Items. The language of “fixed” things. Yet, the problems in the world that they design and solve for are “fluid.” Information, in our day-and-age, never stops. It grows exponentially everyday. It is movement, constant motion. More/faster. Sometimes I get a glimpse behind the curtain and see the developer’s work of content-items-in-motion. You’ve never seen a faster moving current of symbols. Is it a particle or a wave? It depends.

The tree in our front yard reaches toward the house. Kerri tells me that our children climbed through the branches when they were young. When the crew had to clear some branches to trench the yard, Kerri winced each time a branch snapped and fell to the ground. “I can’t look,” she said, not taking her eyes off the tree. Holding vigil. Holding her heart.

It’s easy to forget that, in all cases, no matter the eyes though which we see, the movement is always back to center. To the heart-of-the-matter. The pieces are never isolated. This tree is not separate or distinct from the sky or Kerri’s heart. The poles are always connected, whether we recognize it, see it, acknowledge it, or not. Breathe in. Breathe out. Two actions or one?

read Kerri’s blog post about THE TREE AND SKY

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

Wash And Wonder [on DR Thursday]

I actually like washing dishes. It gives me a sense of completion. Rarely do I finish a day of work with anything that resembles closure or accomplishment. Doing the dishes satisfies my western goal oriented needs. Ask me what I achieved today and I will proudly respond, “The dishes.”

While washing and rinsing the plates and pots I have a terrific view into the back yard. It’s like having a big screen tv into our teeming-with-life sanctuary. The squirrels and Dogga have a game (Dogga does not know that it is a game), the cardinals visit the pond, the rabbits and foxes and the occasional turkey, hawk or owl excite the noisy crows. The chipmunks are masterful ninjas finding ways to access the bird feeders and make off with pouches full of seed.

Sometimes, the window – the actual glass – becomes more interesting than the games unfolding beyond it. During a storm, in the winter cold, crystals form and migrate across its surface. It’s a giant kaleidoscope, especially as the string of lights stretching across the yard pop on. It’s enough to make me pause my dish washing fervor and stare in amazement. Window-wonder satisfies my eastern presence desires. Ask me to what I gave my full attention and I will smile and respond, “The window.”

read Kerri’s blog post about THE WINDOW

joy © 2014 david robinson

Watch The Dance [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

It was once a guilty pleasure. After a snowfall, through newly plowed streets, I’d tie on my red Nike shoes and go for a long, long run. In Colorado, the sun and the cold air play well together. Atmospheric sweet and sour. Run toward the sun in the snow quiet. Sensual pleasure. I’ve never felt more alive than during those treasured runs.

Our yard is a miracle of shadow-play after the snowfall. Between the trees and the tall grasses that grow along the property line, the cool blue sways and dances across the ice-white canvas, a visual conversation between limb and wind. It can be mesmerizing. Sometimes it reminds me of Wayan Kulit, the shadow puppets of the Balinese. An epic tale told on the screen of our front yard. The lesson of Wayan Kulit: we are not substance, not really. Rather, we are passing shadows projecting our story onto the canvas of our minds.

The mailwoman told me that she adored bringing our mail during the winter afternoons. “The light on the grasses,” she said, “they knock me out.” We wait until spring to cut back the grasses for exactly that reason. The pink, orange and purple light of a late winter afternoon makes the grasses luminous. And the shadows they cast! A gentle blue waving, aloha! Greeting or parting? Longing or fulfillment? I’m never sure.

Sylvia Plath wrote in The Bell Jar, “I thought the most beautiful thing in the world must be shadow.” Staring out our front window watching the dance, the frigid air and sun at play together, I think she was right. What could possibly be more heartbreakingly beautiful?

See The Adventure [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Let the adventure begin. We put the sign on the table when we moved into the little house on Washington Island. Our new job came with housing and we couldn’t have been more fortunate. Even as the job turned into a debacle, the little house grew in our hearts. It was – and is – a very special place. A few years down the road, we never give thought-space to the work-fiasco. We reminisce about the beautiful place we lived, the good people we met, starry nights, mornings in the canoe, the deer, the power of the lake right outside our door.

A few moments ago I was feeling anxious and was complaining – and realized that I have no business complaining about anything. I stopped myself. Adventures are hard. That’s what makes the experience an adventure. When people lack challenges, they create them. Jigsaw puzzles and computer games. I complain when standing on the threshold of learning something new. My complaining – as I realized a few moments ago – runs amok when I don’t know what to do. It marks the line between the fat-comfort of knowing and the utter-discomfort of not-knowing. Complaining provides cover. I expose my obvious not-knowing; I preempt the shame-strike by complaining. The moment I disallowed complaining, I once again saw the adventure. My anxiety dissipated. The adventure is a jigsaw puzzle all akimbo in the box. I’ll figure it out one piece at a time. Or not. The end result is not nearly as important as the spirit in which I bring to the task. To the moment. To my life.

Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi studied, thought, and wrote extensively about flow. The optimal state of being. I’ve often wished I could invite Mihaly and Alan Watts to dinner and listen to their conversation. The psychologist and the Taoist conversing about flow, that magic space that opens when the path is hard, but not too hard, when boredom is no where in sight. The exercise, when either bored or overwhelmed, is to adjust my orientation to the challenge. Amp it up or slow it down. The zone is self-modulated, rarely an accident, which becomes apparent once the complaining stops. The knowledge that I can place myself in the zone is the spirit I hope to bring to every task for the rest of my days. It’s the practice. It is to see and choose the adventure.

Let the adventure begin. The sign now sits on our table in the sunroom where we meet at the end of each day and tell the stories of our day. While I tell my tale, I see the adventure sign, mostly in reflection, the message reversed. Each day an adventure if I choose to see it. Each day an opportunity for flow if I choose to own and modulate my steps, and place myself in flow.

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE ADVENTURE

Step Out Of Time [on DR Thursday]

The color was other-worldly. The morning was cool. Low clouds hung in the valley. We walked on a deep carpet of leaves through a white oak forest. We chatted. Periodically, Linda and Bill stooped to move branches off the path. I couldn’t take my eyes off the beech trees. The leaves of the beech were paradoxically soft yet electric, quietly luminous. I felt as if they were guardian spirits. Forest creatures. I could have watched them all day.

The path led to a tiny cemetery. Bill told stories of the man who owned the forest, now the newest resident in the grave yard. There were stones so weather-worn that the names and dates had vanished into time. The 19th century. We wandered. “Look at this one,” and we’d gather. Speculate on a life lived before electric light and power tools. The beech trees holding vigil. Another paradox: time made timeless.

I will paint my entire life and never be capable of capturing the color of the beech leaves. I have no name for the hue. Not to worry: the camera could not capture it, either. It was like attempting to photograph a specter. The life of the spirit dodged the lens.

The path led back to the road. The alpaca led the way. Stepping onto the asphalt felt like waking up after a long quiet sleep; blinking into time. Rip Van Winkle. I stood for a moment and wondered about the world we’d find, now that we were re-entering time. I was disoriented.

“Are you okay?’ Kerri asked, taking my hand.

“Yeah,” I said, “I just can’t stop thinking about those leaves.”

read Kerri’s blog post about THE LEAVES

Three Graces © 2012 david robinson

Look Down [on DR Thursday]

To all the rugged individualists out there living under the grand illusion that you are blazing a new trail, I have only one thing to say: look down. Someone has been there before you. It’s why there’s a path. And, more to the point, someone – a crew of someones – worked very hard to make and maintain the trail you now tread. It’s true in the forest. It’s true in the big-bad city. Every time we flick a switch and the lights come on it might not be a bad idea to recognize how many people were – and are – involved in the maintenance of our comfort and our self-reliance-fantasies.

On the Pink Bed trail there’s a boardwalk that elevates hikers over the swampy sections. I stopped in utter admiration at the section that took a hard left. Someone – a crew of someones – spent a long time making my corner not only easy to walk but beautiful. Certainly there are more efficient ways to build a turn in a boardwalk and they could have chosen any number of simpler solutions but they didn’t. They took the time to make their work functional, sturdy, AND aesthetic.

Daniel was building a house on the lake. He only builds one a year these days, mostly for fun. He invited us in. Far from being finished, the craftsmanship was exposed. The joints were meticulous. The lumber he chose was solid. The materials mattered. There was beauty in the structure and he was proud to point out the love taken in every step, even the roughest stage of the build. The eventual buyers would never see or know the care alive behind the drywall. They might never fathom the depth of effort and design involved in making their comfort – their triumphant lake home – a possibility.

Horatio and I talk often of the deep philosophical divide in these un-united-united-states. The every-man/woman-for-him/herself camp is at odds with the I-am-my-brother/sisters-keeper folks. I understand the appeal of the self-made-man/woman story but I also recognize it to be mostly a fantasy. Sir Edmund Hillary understood that standing atop Everest, celebrated as the first, was only made possible by the efforts of hundreds of Sherpa, months of expedition planning by John Hunt and team, financing, travel arrangements, government officials, 8 previous unsuccessful expeditions, and the good graces and guidance of Tensing Norgay.

We’d be better off if periodically we stopped and simply looked down.

read Kerri’s blog post about the BOARDWALK

prayer of opposites © 2003-4 david robinson

Sing, “EEE-AAAWWW!” [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Drive across the country with Kerri and one thing is certain to happen: the moment she sees a donkey, she bursts into a rousing chorus of “EEE-AAAWW-EEE-AAAWWW!” She loves donkeys. She wants one. Or two. “They’re like big dogs,” she assures me. I have my doubts but I confess to picking up her quirk. Now, if I spot a donkey before she does, I point and launch a festive “EEE-AAAWW!”

Bill and Linda have two donkeys. We arrived after dark so had to wait until morning to go to the barn for a donkey-confab. She wiggled all night with excitement. “Smack-dab material,” I thought. I’ll be drawing cartoon donkeys soon. I can’t wait to figure out how to make the Kerri-cartoon character wiggle in anticipation.

Linda knows of Kerri’s donkey-love so she had donkey treats ready. I stood back and watched. “This is my future,” I thought. “Can I have another?” Kerri asked and Linda smiled, handing over the plastic container of orange donkey-cookies. Those lucky donkeys hit the cookie lotto.

Donkey cookies. Who knew! There’s more amazing wonders in this world than any of us can comprehend. Stand outside of anyone’s world, peer in at their passions, and you’ll have to try hard not to drop your jaw in fascination. From inside their world, the quirk seems boringly normal. I try to remember that when people stand agog at something in my world that seems normal-to-boring. “What’s the big deal,” I think.

People are great at reducing the magic in their lives to seem insignificant. I’m a “people” so, like all people, am guilty of my own diminishment. Beware of the word, “normal.”

Bill and I bumped fists. We are brothers-in-quirk. While Kerri and Linda stuffed the donkeys with cookies, Bill and I talked about the-things-that-come-out-of-our-mouths that get us into trouble. We think they are obvious. Ordinary. But, the response to our commentary indicates otherwise. He just retired from a board position and, his peers, in their farewell speech, described him in two words, both beginning with the letter “o”: outspoken and opinionated. All laughed. “It’s true!” he said, “And I’m proud of that,” and added, “No one wants to be a rubber stamp.”

What a perfect summation. EEE-AAAWWW-EEE-AAAWWW. Donkey cookies! Magic-in-the-ordinary. No one wants to be a rubber stamp.

read Kerri’s blog post about DONKEYS!

Gain The Force [on KS Friday]

It seemed appropriate, in order to conclude our year of water, that we travel to visit a region of the country with 250 waterfalls. Of course, we didn’t know about the waterfalls until we arrived. Water, water everywhere. I howled with laughter and secretly affirmed that our unintentional pilgrimage to the waterfalls might appease the great WHATEVER and finally release us from water-resistance into the watercourse way.

I will someday look back at our journey to the falls and realize the extent to which we “let go.” It already serves as a marker, a breaking through the resistance and fight of the last chapter and into the next. The new chapter.

Yesterday, at work, I had the opportunity to tease apart a question en route to asking a better question. I am fortunate to have a team of collaborators that, instead of rejecting my alternate perspective outright, even amidst the frustration of my challenge of the norm, ask me to lean into it. My assignment was to return next week with a better question. I am a firm believer that the form of a question – the way that it is asked – determines the answers that are seen or – more importantly – not seen.

Better questions are like the watercourse way. They show up when, instead of swimming against the current, against “what is,” the swimmer/questioner turns and allows the current to carry them. Wu-wei. Natural action. Every creator knows the moment of frustration when trying to force something into being. More force can only produce more frustration. Or, it breaks something. The best thing to do, when force can only produce an eddy, is put down the brushes, step back, and look at what-is. Force never produces a better question. Stepping off the mountain so it becomes visible – or acknowledging the direction of the river’s flow and giving into it, always reveals new possibility.

It is what I remembered for myself at the waterfall. It made me chuckle, then, when my first moment back at work, I was doing for my team what I’ve done all my life: attempting to flip or free a perspective by lobbying for flow; acknowledge what exists-in-the-moment versus what we want to exist. The better question – for me – and others – is always found when we turn and gain the full force of the river.

[I can’t imagine a better piece of music to carry us into 2022. Give yourself a treat – truly – and listen to Riverstone]

read Kerri’s blog post about THE WATERFALL

riverstone/as it is is available on iTunes or streaming on Pandora

riverstone/as it is © 2004 kerri sherwood

Note The Beautiful [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

There is a genius in simplicity.

Lately, one of the conversations swirling around me, a conversation I very much appreciate, is about beauty. What is a beautiful building? What makes a software beautiful? Certainly, beauty is subjective though I suspect a sunrise over the ocean is beautiful to all. A baby’s smile. A first kiss.

We are surrounded by noisy advertisements telling us what is (and what is not) beautiful. By this standard, most of us fall into the not-beautiful category. Though, deep down, we know, that the real test of beauty is not in what is concealed but in what is revealed. A warm heart is more potent than skin creme or make-up.

My niece had a birthday yesterday. She is on this earth to help people. She is creating a beautiful life. She probably doesn’t know it – and, that’s a mark of true beauty – it doesn’t need to call attention to itself.

Every collaboration I’ve had with MM was beautiful. We had fun. We explored ideas. We have nothing but respect for each other. We’ve made each other better people, better artists. When I revisit any one of the many projects we created together, I smile and feel rivers of gratitude and pride. A memory that inspires a smile is the very definition of beauty. It brings the goodness of the past into the present moment. Light travels.

20 is a master of the beautiful because he knows the power of simplicity. A heart shape torn from a piece of paper – acknowledging grief that goes beyond words. A construction paper bow. He’s not forgotten the lessons he learned in kindergarten. Laughter, he knows, is the most beautiful gift of all and we receive it from him weekly.

What makes a design beautiful? Aspen leaves shimmering in fall. I’ve stood in front of paintings by Picasso, Matisse, John Singer Sargent…and cried. They were so beautiful. I’ve held Kerri’s hand, walking on a trail, and wanted the moment to never end. Simple.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE BOW