Realize It [on KS Friday]

i am alive song box copy

Years ago, at the retreat center on Whidbey Island, Kendy talked with me about her budding meditation practice. She was having difficulty quieting her mind chatter. To help, a teacher gave her a mantra to use in her meditation. The mantra gave her busy mind a focal point. It was a simple phrase: I Am. I Am. “It’s the craziest thing,” she said, “I feel like I need to add a description, I Am…what? I am happy? I am fulfilled? I am a loser? I am bored? And then it occurred to me that it’s the descriptor I’m trying to quiet! Why do I need to define everything? Judge everything? Assign a score to everything? Isn’t the whole point to realize how profound it is to be alive? I Am.”

There is a photograph of my uncle Al, just months before he died of cancer, fulfilling a dream of flying on a trapeze. At the moment of letting go of the bar, he reaches into space. The catcher is not in the frame. Al’s face, wracked with his disease, is shining with the joy of his moment. The simple pleasure of his moment of I Am.

There is a lyric in Kerri’s song, I Am Alive, that brings me back to my conversation with Kendy and the enormity of her realization. It makes me miss Al. The lyric goes like this: we are bonded by the power of this dream that is I Am.

Cut through all the chatter-of-the-day and it’s plain enough. It’s simple enough. Add the final descriptive word to the I Am. Realize, as Al did in that gorgeous moment of flight, of not-here-or-there. I Am Alive.

I AM ALIVE on the album AS SURE AS THE SUN is available on iTunes & CDBaby

 

read Kerri’s blog post about I AM ALIVE

 

pumpkinfarm website box copy

i am alive/as sure as the sun ©️ 2002 kerri sherwood

 

facebook logo copy 2

Follow The Trail [on Merely A Thought Monday]

desiderataquote copy

Max Ehrmann died. His poem, Desiderata, was mostly unknown. He did not write it for fame and few poets, unless they are delusional, write for fortune. Desiderata found its way to the light because it struck a chord, people shared it. Today it is known and treasured all over the world.

Vincent Van Gogh died. His paintings were mostly unknown. They were mostly rejected. Only one of his paintings sold in his lifetime.  He did not paint them to increase his fame and few painters, unless they are delusional, paint for fortune. His paintings found their way to the light because they struck a chord, people sought them out. Today, they are known and treasured all over the world.

No one knows the impact of their work. No one controls the ripples that they send. Everyone knows the truth of their intention, the source from which they act. Max Ehrmann wrote his poems during a life that spanned world wars. Vincent Van Gogh endured a lifetime of intense internal warfare and painted in response. Amidst the intensity of chaos they reached for more eternal things.

John told me that my job was to paint the paintings, not to determine how they are seen or received. In this age in which the arts have been detached from all things sacred, I sometimes feel our poems, our music, our dance, our paintings serve as a popcorn trail that point, not in the direction of personal gain or achievement, but to the soul’s home. That place where we sit together and experience the bigger things that live beyond words or names, beyond the nonsense and power games. The popcorn trail reminds us amidst the fighting to stand back and remember that neither side in any fight wins. Not really. The oppressed becomes the oppressor. Ripples and time.

For perspective, look to the stars at night. Poets and painters try to touch the vastness. The popcorn trail reminds us not to forget the center.

 

read Kerri’s blog post on DESIDERATA

 

facebook logo copy 2

like us or not

Have A Conversation

my quick sketches of two of the stained glass window panels

my quick sketches of two of the stained glass window panels

Yesterday I learned that my conversation with the stained glass window was only on hiatus. Several months ago we simply stopped talking. In the silence I thought the conversation was complete. For almost two years we had a weekly chat. I took lots of notes.

I recognize that one is not supposed to have chats with windows – at least not admit to it. Master Marsh teased me saying, “There’s help for things like this.” I’ve decided that my conversation with the window is more ordinary than odd: plenty of people around the world talk to statues. Most of us have had silent reckoning with the sky. I’ve witnessed mechanics talking to their tools and bakers wooing their dough. Who hasn’t cursed the object of a home fix-it job-gone-wrong (plumbing regularly gets a tongue lashing from me!) or praised a project done well? Traffic gets a regular talking to. In this region, at this time of year, more than a few brides make deals with the weather. A soul in exchange for sunshine.

Who hasn’t, in a moment of turmoil, looked inside themselves and asked for help? Who hasn’t uttered a quiet thank you or asked for guidance or made an appeal? Call it prayer, meditation, epiphany, catharsis, intuition, gut instinct, reading the signs, hearing the call, or communing with nature, it’s a conversation.

I’m not the only artist – or scientist for that matter – that, in moments of flow, feels as if something bigger is coming through. In that sense, all of my paintings might serve as the record of a conversation with something bigger. Writers often speak about having the experience of the characters writing themselves, of following rather than creating. Following, surrendering, allowing, listening, responding, getting out of the way. Play the chords long enough and you no longer need to think about them. In the land beyond thinking about it, music becomes possible. It’s a conversation.

Sitting on the chancel, listening to Kerri play, I stared as I often do at the morning light pouring through the colored glass. I studied the symbols. Birth and death. Tree of knowledge, Tree of Everlasting Life. The Grail standing between two flames. It’s a repetition in symbol of the same idea. Born into an experience of duality and distinctions, a world fighting over its differences, we have the opportunity to walk the middle path, the unity consciousness, the “something bigger.” “Between the two, one,” I the heard the window whisper. “It’s simple, really.”

a quick sketch of all three panels: birth, death, and the middle way.

a quick sketch of all three panels: birth, death, and the middle way.

Save

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.

 

 

 

Walk The Line Where Sky Meets Earth

TODAY’S FEATURED THOUGHT FOR HUMANS

Walk the line where earth meets sky

There is a concept that shows up in one form or another in all spiritual traditions: find the middle way. Finding the middle way is simply another way of saying ‘presence.’ Be present. Be where you are, not in the past, not in the future, here, in the middle place. Move out of the distant poles of right and wrong, us and them, red and blue, and walk in the actual, the present, instead of the conceptual. Deal with what’s in front of you instead of what you think is there. It’s a sound business practice, too. Guiding people to the middle way, to the line where sky meets earth, IS the artist’s job.

FOR TODAY’S FEATURED PRINT FOR HUMANS, GO HERE.

Unroll The Generosity Perspective

from the archives: EmbraceI’m eavesdropping. Kerri and Pastor Tom are in the next room having a planning session. I just heard P-Tom say, “The generosity perspective fell down. Woody rolled it up and put it under the table.” I laughed out loud. They are talking about a banner but, taken out of context, it is a terrific and ominous phrase!

If you take a gander at the daily news, follow the political circus, count the people trampled in the crush to buy stuff the day after Thanksgiving, you would be hard-pressed to find a better phrase for our times. The generosity perspective fell down. And, to add icing on the metaphoric cake: Woody easily rolled it up. He put under a table.

This land is your land. This land is my land. This land was made for you and me.

I’m convinced that there is another side of the coin. There is no denying that meanness exists in our world. Humiliation is a game played everyday through social media and beyond. Yet, I still believe that there is a disconnection between the rhetoric and the lived experience. I see and experience terrific acts of generosity every day. Some are small acts, some are vast – unfathomable, some are spontaneous, some are planned but all are generous. In fact, when I really pay attention, I find that the incidences of generosity far outpace the acts of cruelty.

Cruelty makes for good gossip and good gossip is cruel. And so, meanness sells. It is good for advertisers so those are the stories we broadcast. Generosity, on the other hand, erases victim stories and so is rarely yummy-fun to talk about. Acts of generosity are less potent as a selling tool.

Cruelty is easy to see. Generosity requires an intentional focus.

This morning I bumbled into a TED talk by Patti Dobrowolski. I learned that the odds are 9-to-1 against making change even if the change needed is life saving. Her message is great: draw the story you want to tell. Literally, draw it. And then tell it. If we want a different story we have to imagine a different story. If we want a different story we need to tell a different story. If we want a different story we need to act a different story.

If Woody easily rolled up and stashed the generosity perspective under the table it should be equally as easy for Woody to reach under the table, unroll the generosity perspective and hang it for all to see.

 

Seek Solitude

from my Yoga series of paintings

from my Yoga series of paintings

It is easier to sail many thousands of miles through cold and storm and cannibals, in a government ship, with five hundred men and boys to assist one, than it is to explore the private sea, the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean of one’s being alone. ~Henry David Thoreau, Walden

I remember watching a documentary of the painter Lucien Freud. He said he couldn’t understand why anyone would choose to be a painter because the choice meant living a solitary life. His comment struck me as odd because, for me, solitude was necessary for the muse to come through. I often yearned for solitude. I always looked forward to my time with the muse.

More than twenty years ago, for a period of time, I was painting exclusively. I had an abundance of solitude. Each evening my dear friend Albert would show up at my door, force me out of the studio and take me to a coffeehouse. He told me that he feared my isolation, that without human contact and conversation, I might twist. His fear, although probably valid, also struck me as odd.

A solitary life can be quiet, prayerful; it can be full. A solitary life can also be lonely and empty. The difference, of course, is in the presence of a relationship. Most painters that I know, most artists, feel as if they are a “channel to something bigger.” Something comes through and it is in the solitary moments that the channel opens. It is in the solitary moments that the relationship becomes available. The relationship with the muse can be full, rich, and three-dimensional. I imagine monks, nuns and ascetics of all spiritual traditions know this relationship, too. Solitary need not be lonely just as, paradoxically, the loneliest place on earth can be in the middle of city teeming with people.

The exploration of the private sea, the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean of one’s being is the province of the artist. The relationship with “something bigger,” with the muse, is the seed from which all art forms grow. The seed is visible in the adornments found in pyramids, in the harp of Orpheus, and in the paintings of Marc Chagall. It is present when children with gusto run their fingers through paint or dance all alone in the grass just because it feels good.