Find The Deeper Impulse [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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See a penny, pick it up. All that day you’ll have good luck. 

I saw a penny in the parking lot of the UPS store and, wanting to have a full day of good luck, I swooped down and picked it up. Kerri, horrified, said, “What are you thinking? Put that down!” I was marched back to the truck and slathered myself with hand sanitizer.

My penny swoop debacle in the parking lot of the UPS store is how I mark the beginning of the pandemic. It was the first time that the danger of a simple action, touching what someone else had touched, penetrated. The penny dropped [sorry – I couldn’t help myself]. It was early in this experience called pandemic, before masks, before social distancing. Wash your hands. Don’t touch your face. And, above all, leave the good luck penny on the pavement.

And it seems like years since I touched that penny.

My penny swoop was an impulse. Kerri asked me what I was thinking but I wasn’t thinking. I was riding on the instinct train. The child-rhyme ignited my luck desire and I went in for the grab. And, isn’t that the real hardship of this pandemic? Quashing the impulse to hug your friends, to walk toward your neighbor to say hello, to let the kids play together, to stop in the store and chat with acquaintances? 20 stands outside  his mother’s assisted living apartment; she stands on the balcony and they shout to each other. Each day I watch Kerri override the deep-mother-instinct to run and find her children, all-grown-up-and-moved-away.

It’s unnatural, this veto of instinct. And, it is what makes us human. It is natural to run from danger and yet doctors and nurses everyday walk into hospitals during this pandemic. They walk into exposure. First responders, police and fire people, everyday put the public safety above their own. It is what lifts us into our humanity; placing the needs of others above our own. It is what we celebrate, what we admire. What we claim as our highest ideal. People giving of themselves for the benefit of others.

We call that sacrifice. We call it service. We call it sacred. We  call it grace and generosity. We go to houses of worship and proclaim it. We make movies about it. Frodo must destroy the ring of power for the benefit of all. Otherwise, he twists in his selfish personal power lust and becomes like Gollum. This tale is universal for a reason.

And, I suspect that I am wrong. The survival instinct has a deeper nature. Soldiers talk about it just as first responders do: in the moment of real danger there is not a question about throwing themselves on top of their companion, sacrificing self to save the other. It, too, is an impulse. A purer survival instinct. It is not an override.  It is, when all else is stripped away, what we are.

“Compassion is the basis of morality.” ~ Arthur Schopenhauer

 

read Kerri’s blog post about PICKING UP SPARE CHANGE

 

 

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See The Pattern [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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Virgil: From what you wrote, I see that you think you have a problem. The first recognition is simple: you do not have a problem. You have a pattern. ~ David Robinson, The Seer

I’ve stared at this napkin for a long time wondering what to write. It’s not that I have nothing to say, it’s that I have too much to say. I’ve killed more than one dinner party going on and on and on about patterns.

In 2014 I published a book, The Seer. The first three chapters are about patterns of seeing, patterns of thinking. Patterns of self-story. So, rather than rewrite something that I have already written, here’s a small slice, an email conversation, from the first chapter of The Seer:

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Me: I realized that I think in patterns. I think the same stuff over and over. This is a puzzle: the act of looking for patterns opened my eyes. So, patterns reveal. And yet, later, when I became aware of the patterns of my thinking, I recognized that those patterns were like ruts or grooves. It’s as if I am playing the same song over and over again so no other music can come in. My thinking pattern, my rut, prevents me from seeing. So patterns also obscure. Make sense?

Virgil: Yes. It must seem like a paradox to you. Think of the song or rut as a story that you tell yourself. Your thoughts, literally, are a story that you tell yourself about yourself and the world; the more you tell this story the deeper the rut you create. So, a good question to ask is: what is the story that you want to tell? Are you creating the pattern that you desire to create? We will return to this many times. This is important: the story is not happening to you; you are telling it. The story can only control you if you are not aware that you are telling it.

 Me: Can you say more?

 Virgil: We literally ‘story’ ourselves. We are hard-wired for story. What we think is a narrative; this pattern (song) that rolls through your mind everyday is a story that you tell. You tell it. It defines what you see and what you do not see. What you think is literally what you see.

 There was a pause. That was a lot for me to take in. When I didn’t respond, he continued:

Virgil: So, what you think is nothing more than a story; it’s an interpretation. You move through your day seeing what you think – instead of what is there. You are not seeing the world, you are seeing your interpretation of the world. You are seeing from your rut and your rut is a pattern. So, your patterns of thinking, your rut, can obscure what you see. Make sense?

 Me: Yes. I guess 😉 So, when I started looking for patterns outside of me, I…stopped seeing from within my rut? I stopped assuming that I knew what I was seeing. So, I was capable of discovering new patterns and connections?

 Virgil: Yes, something like that. You said that when you looked for patterns you slowed down and felt that you could see. I would say it this way: you stopped moving through your world and for a brief period you were actually in your world. For a brief period you were no longer lost in thought but present with what was right in front of you. You suspended what you think you know so you started to see again. You were curious. To be curious is synonymous with “not knowing.”

 Me: Okay….

 Virgil: Humor me and entertain this notion: your thought, your story, is not passive. It is a creative act. What you think IS what you see. Most of the time people create what they see based on their rut. They see what they expect to see. To practice curiosity is to suspend the assumption of knowing. To practice curiosity requires us to step out of the rut. Stop assuming that you know and you gain the capacity to see beyond what you think.

 A glimmer of light pierced the dark recesses of my mind. Suddenly I was back in front of the Sphinx and I could see the answer to the riddle. It was so clear! I typed:

Me: Wait! Is this why I need to distinguish between problems and patterns? If I tell myself that I have a problem to solve, I am telling a certain kind of story. If I tell myself that I have a pattern to change, I am telling an entirely different kind of story. Is that true?

Virgil: Yes. It sounds too simple, doesn’t it? A problem is a story. It is a lens that filters your sight. A problem does not exist unless you insist that it is there. You say that you are an entrepreneur. How many great products and services were the results of an accident in the lab? How many innovations were missed because the ‘solution’ did not fit the ‘problem’ as identified? A problem is a rut that separates you from possibilities. On the other hand, a pattern connects you to possibilities. See the pattern not the problem.

 

[go here for a fun Escher-activity about pattern to use during this time of social distancing]

 

read Kerri’s blog post about THE NAPKIN

 

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the seer ©️ 2014 david robinson

Tickle Open The Closed [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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It used to be one of my favorite exercises to facilitate. Ask one person in a small group to tell a story of blame. Ask the rest of the group to invest in the story. In no time the small groups would be indignant, talking over each other in disgruntlement. A klatch of agitated victims, howling.  They’d laugh in their aggravated frenzy. They’d devise clever revenge or ways to torment the object of their blame story. They’d grow a monster.

Blame stories are like sugar. They are easy to eat and highly addictive. There’s rarely any real substance, so much gossip-cotton-candy, but there is an odd pleasure in playing the role of  “the injured party.” The groups would always reflect that the exercise was fun. So much so that they’d often forget it was an exercise. Commiseration and validation, after all, are the point of a blame story. That, and making someone else responsible for how we feel.

Ask the same groups to tell a story of choice or opportunity and most times, after only a minute or two, they’d sit in silence. Their, “Great. That’s really great,” support would dwindle. Feeding an idea is not nearly as easy as feeding a story of blame.

Quinn used to tell me that creativity is not for the faint of heart.

The groups were always shocked to discover how much of their lives were spent chewing the gristle of discontent, of feeding the notion that someone else was to blame for their choices or their circumstance. They’d generally comment on how easy it was to commiserate and how difficult it is to question, challenge or stop the blame-game. Mostly, they were shocked to discover how little of their time they dedicated to feeding ideas, theirs or another persons.

Blame stories are easy because they are reductive. They engender tight little balls of closed minds and closed circles. They close hearts. They take almost no energy at all to spark but, once burning, like a wildfire, they are capable of consuming entire forests.

Idea exploration is expansive. Seeing possibilities requires eyes that look up and out.  It takes much more energy to imagine, to question, to ponder. To try. To experiment. To ask. To challenge what you think you know. Opening minds, opening circles and hearts requires a deep sense of self-responsibility. It requires an even deeper sense of responsibility to others.

One of the purposes of the artist is to open closed circles, to tickle open closed minds. To help their community see anew and entertain never-before-imagined possibilities.

It takes more effort and courage to sail to the edges of the known world than it does to hang out around the water cooler and complain about others. Great minds do not have more capacity than any other mind, but they do require a very different focus.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about GREAT MINDS & IDEAS

 

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FaceTheRain

feel the rain, mixed media, 2019

Follow The Intention [on DR Thursday]

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It occurred to me, last night, when writing about the heart symbol, that the mistake we too often make is to hold fluid aspirations as ‘fixed’ states. Heart as a frozen symbol. An achievement. An arrival station on the train of life.

Nothing in this vast universe is still. Every molecule, every cell, is in constant movement. Constant transformation. Peace, hope, heart, love,…are not end-games. They are not winnable sports. They are dynamic, fluid, ever moving. Try to wrap your fingers around them and they will slip through, fog in a butterfly net. They are unattainable.

What, then, does it mean to dwell in your heart? To be at peace?

None of us are ‘fixed’ states. We, too, are in constant movement. Constant transformation. Constant relationship. Constant choice.

Last week I told the choir that their voices would go where their eyes go. Look up. Look to the back of the hall. In that way all are included in the song. It is also true that our actions will go where our thoughts go. Meditate (think about) division and opposition and that’s where we go. That’s what we see. That’s what we create. It’s a choice.

The words on this painting come from the Buddhist prayer of loving kindness. It is a prayer that ripples out, ripples back. Constantly moving. Peace as a motion, hope as a practice. Love as a dynamic action that follows the intention of a fluid mind.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about BE PEACE

 

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this image is available here. Scroll down for options.

 

 

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yoga series: may you/morsel: may you be peace ©️ 2015/2017 david robinson

 

 

 

Find Another Door [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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Roger and I used to discuss life and career. He would say, “There is a time of becoming and then, one day, you realize that you have become it.” He was right. I wanted to be an artist. For years I chased it. For years I practiced it. And then, one day, I realized I was it. Not because I’d arrived at a place called Artist, but because art was my practice. Art was my pursuit. Art called me.

It’s a paradox. You become the thing that you pursue on the day that you realize it is not an achievement. Becoming is a choice of practice, a dedication of your limited time on earth to an exploration. Follow the Siren long enough and she will claim you.

Long after his retirement, Tom continued to toss his hat into the ring for regional directing assignments. During his career, he was a force in the theatre. He was a master-teacher-director who opened the door to many of my peers, theatre artists, the people I most admire. I heard about Tom long before I met him. And, although he continued his passionate pursuit after his retirement, the world of opportunity could not see beyond his grey hair. Even his former students, those people I most admire, stopped considering his resume or returning his calls.

It was in the midst of recognizing that he had more to give but the old routes were now closed that he pulled me aside and said, “I need help telling a story.” And then he asked, “Will you help me?”

Our project, The Lost Boy, opened ten years later,  several months after Tom’s death.  The opening night audience was a packed house of Tom’s family and relatives, people who brought photographs of the lost boy, Johnny, to the theatre. They clutched them as they watched the play. After the performance, they stayed in the theatre sharing their stories until the management asked them to leave.

A dream. Tom’s practice: uniting people through telling and sharing a common story. Art in its purest form.

His final lesson for me: storytellers (artists) age but the force of their dreams does not grow old. They will inevitably hit walls and freshly closed doors and rather than sit down and throw up their hands, they simply turn, ask a few questions, and look for another way.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about NEVER TOO OLD

 

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The Chili Boys in rehearsal for The Lost Boy. They wrote gorgeous music for the play. I will always be grateful to them.

 

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carrying on the tradition (and my heroes): mike and sabrina bartram

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50 minutes before stepping onto the stage. Kerri and I performed together for the first time.

 

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Listen To The Whisper [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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this image comes from my niece Hannah, a great adventurer and inspiration.

One of the mantras – I called them caveats at the time – that I hammered into clients when I was young and foolish, was this: have the experience first, make meaning of the experience second. It is the natural order of things. It is, after all, how the brain works. Stimulus first. Then comes the meaning-making.

Curiosity is at the epicenter of every hobby. It is what makes us look at hills and walk toward them. It is the driver of scientists and artists alike. What if…? It need not be grand or earth shattering. In fact, curiosity most often leans in and gently whispers.

Adult-people routinely do themselves a great disservice  by making meaning of an experience before they actually have it. It’s going to be hard, bad, no good, dirty rotten, obstacle-laden, shame-ridden, horror inspiring,…or the worst pre-determination of them all: same-old-same-old. Just another day like any other.

So much armor against experience.

Human beings are hard wired for curiosity. What happens to put a crimp in so much good wiring? Why is it so difficult to open to possibilities? To allow that each day of life is not prescribed but is actually filled with unknowns.

The unknowns are the things we sometimes call ‘play.’  I have great faith in people’s desire to play. Inside all of that heavy armor lives the original impulse, curiosity, and it only takes a small reach beyond the protection to touch play. From play, it is a short hop to full-fledged adventure.

Blessed are the curious. Yes. A secret to “how?” The armor comes off – always – with these powerful magic words: “I don’t know. Let’s find out.”

 

read Kerri’s blog post about BLESSED ARE THE CURIOUS

 

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Sit In The Pocket Of Sanity [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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“Speed is a way to prevent ourselves from having to deal with something we do not want to face.” Malidoma Patrice Somé, Ritual: Power, Healing and Community

There is a special place just north of the tension line. It’s a place where people have no reason to lock their doors. They leave their keys in their cars. They sit in an auditorium filled with people and know the names of everyone there. They volunteer and try to do things that help.

It is reminiscent of what those of us below the tension line might have once called a community.

It is not idyllic. People have differing opinions. There are divisions, a tension on the fault line between conserving or progressing. They work it out. Or they try and leave it alone for a spell. They mostly respect each other’s position. Time keeps moving.

You might be gobsmacked to know that this place is somewhere in these deeply divided United States. A pocket of sanity.

After a few moments sitting in the the purple Adirondack chair, I was struck by the absence of noise. No sirens. No hum of the freeway. No weed whackers, blowers, slamming doors or shots in the distance. A haven of quiet.

I left there secure in the knowledge that I have so much to learn.

“One can say, ‘Teach me what you know,’ but the better request is, ‘Teach me about what teaches you.'” Malidoma Patrice Somé

 

read Kerri’s blog post about Purple Adirondack Chairs

 

 

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held in grace: rest now ©️ 2016 david robinson

Listen To Them [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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Saul taught me to look beyond anything I understood as an obstacle and, instead,  place my focus on the field of all possibilities. “Place your focus on the obstacle and you will deal with the obstacle. Place your focus on the possibilities and you will deal with possibilities.”

Tom taught me to choose my battles and to fight only those worth fighting. “You don’t want to die on every hill,” he said. “In life there are really only one or two hills worth dying on.”

Ironically, Quinn, one the best storytellers I’ve ever known, taught me not to make up stories. Pointing to the big tall bank building he said, “See those people up there on the top floor? They don’t know what they are doing, either. They’re just making it up, too.” Or, maybe, he was attempting to teach me to tell a better story about myself.

It is not an understatement to say that I am rich in guides, teachers and mentors.

Doug, a Vietnam vet and one of the best teachers I’ve known, one day called me into his office and showed me a tattered, ruined book of poetry. “I bought it in the airport on the way to the war,” he said. “It saved my life.” He told me the story and it made me weep. Doug taught me the power of art. So did Paul and Roger. My two MM’s (Master Marsh and Master Miller) continue to teach me this lesson. Dawson, too.

Kerri and I are in a period of change that is simmering with unknowns. It is not the first time in my life that the dense fog has come in. She asked, “What do you think will happen?” I said, “Well, ultimately we’ll die.” She punched me. “That’s not what I mean!” she groused, adding a second punch. “Geez.”

Later, after the double punch, we took a walk on the Des Plaines river trail. An elderly man came around the bend and said with great jest and enthusiasm, “I cleared the path for you! It’s all clear.”

“Clear.”  It’s a poetic term. It means ‘possibility.’ And I heard them, my chorus of teachers and guides. All of them. Loud and clear.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about CLEAR PATH

 

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Look For Erle [on KS Friday]

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When you pull up Kerri’s page on iTunes you’ll notice that they have a hard time placing her music in a category. New Age? Easy listening? Classical? Country? One does not easily fit into the filing system until one can be clearly labeled. How can you be effortlessly labeled?

It’s a challenge all of us face. What’s the label? How do you fit? And (here’s the rub), it’s bad enough that the greater-world-filing-system needs a label to locate you, the real confusion comes in the labels we impose on ourselves. Are you a dentist? A liberal? A conservative? A mother? A foodie? Self-made, dependent, injured, Christian (which branch?), Muslim, agnostic, vegetarian, cowboy, rich, poor, retired, globalist, nationalist, capitalist, socialist? Do you “know?” Are you the righteous? Professor? How do you place yourself in the greater-world-filing system? Never mind how the “the system” attempts to squeeze you into a role, what’s the little box that you try to squeeze yourself into?

Is that who you are? Is that little box where you belong? Is it the totality of your being?

Sometimes I think we spend most of our lives dividing ourselves so that we might fit into a very small box. And, what we do to ourselves we most certainly do to others. They. Them. Not us.

Divide. Label. Locate.

Reduce. Contain. Shelve.

Although there is a certain amount of safety-feeling when living in a very small box, there is also very little vitality. Little things look big from the vantage point of a tiny box.  Little things look threatening from the confines of a too-tight label. Little boxes are petri dishes for big fear.

We bandy these words about and paste them on the walls of our too-little-boxes: mindfulness, wholeness, vitality. “This life is not a dress rehearsal.” “You are infinite potential.” “Today is day one.” Maya Angelou, Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa. Peace.

These ideals, all of them, wonder, magic, love, artistry, unity, harmony,…truth…crackle beyond the label. They are there – outside the box – and they are never found in the direction of division. They are always present if you care to put down the label-maker.

Get out of your box and turn around. Maybe spin around and around and lose your balance like you did when you were young and less needy of location. Look at the mystery that chases you and chase it. Play tag with this life. Remember how you laughed just because? Reach.

Kerri stood on the edge of a canyon and, although afraid of heights, she threw open her arms. Kirsten called me to tell me. “Mom’s on the edge,” she whispered into the phone. “I’m really proud of her.”

note: this composition has nothing to do with what I just ranted about except for maybe this: the only locators that really matter are the people who love you and show up for you. Your friends along the way. This is the label I am most attached to: Kerri and I are very rich in friends.

OLD FRIENDS REVISITED on the album RELEASED FROM THE HEART is available on iTunes & CDBaby

 

read Kerri’s blog post about ERLE

 

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old friends revisited/released from the heart ©️ 1995 kerri sherwood

erle ©️ 2019 (and beyond) kerri sherwood

Lose Your Right Mind [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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I have made some incredibly bad decisions in my life that set off a chain of events that led to some extraordinary, life-illuminating experiences. Conversely, I have made some incredibly good, well-considered decisions that led me to total devastation. My life reads like one of Aesop’s Fables.

The “bad” decisions were “irrational” and “spontaneous” and some of my pals  questioned whether or not I was in my “right” mind.

The “good” decisions were “rational” and I was lauded for using common sense, for my clear-eyed, right-minded logic.

Intuition, following your gut, listening to your heart has very little to do with the rightness of mind.

Back in the previous century (20 years ago), educators were awash in the term “the mainstream.” Getting divergent students back into the mainstream was the stated goal of most alternative education programs. Doug, my hero of the alternative path, champion of finding the stream that worked for the student (as opposed to channeling all students back into a single stream), used to snarl, “I’d love to see this mainstream if someone would be kind enough to point it out to me.” (note: this is not a direct quote as I’ve cleaned up Doug’s language for my less sturdy readers).

In mythology it is called the left-hand path, this route that makes no sense to adherents of the mainstream. The left-hand path is intuitive and counter-intuitive, all at the same time. It seems nonsensical to sail toward the edge of the known world. Explorers, artists, innovators, mystics, must take this road less traveled. They must wander off the main and cut a new path. They must. Their fellows will wonder if they’ve taken leave of their senses. Left their right mind. The answer: no. They are following a deeper call, something speaking to their senses. They’ve left a mainstream that appears to them like total madness.

If logic is your compass it is, of course, best to stay on the road well-traveled. If safety and security is your goal, then a known path holds what you seek.

If knowing where you’re going sounds a lot like a death sentence, then leaving your right mind for a left-hand path is the only choice that makes sense.

Truth? I think the right-mind is bit of rhetoric that has little to do with the realities of being human. We find the rational side of things comfortable so it gets good marks. No one gets a cake-walk in this life. Everyone has a mountain to climb, a valley to get lost in, a spontaneous jump to make, a gut feeling, a heart to be listened to – and some of the worst impulsive decisions inevitably lead to the most profound growth experiences. It is only after the fact, when we need to make sense of our nonsensical leap, our follow-the-heart choice, that we call on the “right” mind to make the story coherent. Just ask Aesop.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about RIGHT MIND

 

 

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