Understand That Little Is More Than Enough [on Merely A Thought Monday]

I think that maybe\ I will be surer\ of being a little nearer.\ That’s all. Eternity\ is in the understanding\ that that little is more than enough.” ~ R.S. Thomas [via Anam Cara by John O’Donohue]

And so our dear H is gone. I have written about him before, about how I learned from him how to age well. To “have a wonderful urgency to live life to the full” [John O’Donohue]. H was a study in wonderful urgency. He did not grow cranky as he grew old. He did not darken his sight with what he could no longer do. He gently pushed the edges of what he could do. He was a master of focus-placement.

I have known many people who proclaim a spiritual life. They are quick to advertise their illumination. They live to stand on the mountain top and call attention to their heights. H was not one of those. He simply lived his faith as he lived his life – without need for acknowledgment or recognition. No trumpet necessary. I suspect that his why I was drawn to him. He was simon-pure. Genuine.

“We’re afraid you’re going to take her from us,” H said to me, more warning than salutation, when I sat next to him in choir. It was my first rehearsal in my first choir and, as an avowed non-singer, I was intimidated. Kerri was the director. She’d recently asked H, at 87 years old, to rap Via Dolorosa. He’d jumped at the challenge and, as I heard the story, performed brilliantly, complete with costume and bling. He and Kerri were thick as thieves.

He guided me through that first rehearsal, laughed when I honked a bad note – which was often, and, by sweet example over time, steered me through my confusion until I found more joy than fear in singing. At the end, as he was moving into his 94th year, just before the pandemic made rehearsals impossible, it was my joy to help him find his place in the music. A perfect circle.

This morning, just before we received the news of his passing, I spent some time in the final pages of Anam Cara. The last words are a Blessing for Death and this phrase struck me: May you live compassionately and creatively and transfigure\ everything that is negative within you and about you. When the news came of his passing, I was certain it was H who’d tapped me on the shoulder and whispered, “Pay attention to this phrase.” It describes him perfectly. It encapsulates what I believe, H, without words, was trying to teach me. Through compassion and creativity, transfigure everything that is negative within you and about you. That is how to live well and age with wonderful urgency. No trumpet necessary.

read Kerri’s blog post about H

Cast A Shadow [on DR Thursday]

“The soul has no limits.” ~ Heraclitus

It was a hot summer night, humid and sticky, and the community was gathered in the outer ring of the temple. The Wayang Kulit master, shadow puppet master, was performing a play. Part ritual, part entertainment, the Balinese have not yet banished their arts from their worship. Laughter is welcome in the temple. Although the puppets are beautiful, ornate, the audience can only see the shadows they cast on the screen. It is a metaphor for life: in consciousness, we see only the shadows. We are the shadows. Our life-stories are illusion.

We walked in silence. Watching our shadows on the snow I thought of that hot night in Bali, of my astonishment of the skill of the master, manipulating all of the puppets, voicing all of the parts, a lamp of hot oil burning on his head – the light source to create the shadows. If that were not enough, he conducted the orchestra, seated behind him, by tapping the ground with a piece of wood wedged between his toes. He was a priest. A storyteller, not a preacher. Words and laughter swirl in the outer ring. As you progress to the inner ring, the most sacred place, language falls away, no words are spoken. No words are necessary. Kerri and I, while we walk, often occupy the inner ring. We hold hands. We listen to the sounds in the forest. We cast shadows.

Sometimes I feel far away from that hot summer night. Sometimes I sit right next to it. Our walks bring me closer to it.

It was a revelation to me to sit with people that experience no division between what is sacred and what is not. They do not worship on the weekend and then leave their holy place. To the people watching the shadow puppets, it is all sacred. It is all temple, even themselves. They know themselves as sacred. It is all holy, even to the forks and spoons in their drawer.

The separation they experience in this life – as individuals – is the shadow. Separation is the illusion. Fears and foibles are without lasting substance. The puppet master plays his rowdy tale to remind the people seated on the ground in the temple, that the truth of their existence is beyond the projection on the screen of their minds. Forms are fluid, not fixed. Souls have no limits.

read Kerri’s blog post about SHADOWS

Make Noise [on Merely A Thought Monday]

I am conflicted. I wrote a version of this post and then tossed it away. I’m trying to be less argumentative in my daily writing. And then, Toni Morrison collided with Albert Einstein:

“In times of dread, artists must never choose to remain silent… This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.” ~ Toni Morrison, No Place for Self-Pity, No Room for Fear

I am an artist. Is it argumentative, is it confrontational, to write what I see? Yes. Sometimes. Once, I saw a park service truck, on a trail, quickly backing up. The driver did not see the man in the wheelchair right behind his truck. I screamed and ran and banged on the side of truck until the driver stopped, a few inches from hitting the man in the wheelchair. Sometimes it is necessary to shout and make noise.

All of my life I’ve understood the first rule of being educated, namely, to check your sources, as simple sage advice. It’s a good idea, if you are going to anchor your identity in a narrative, to make sure that your narrative-of-choice is solidly anchored in verifiable substance. Doubt and questioning, used properly, are necessary tools of an engaged mind.

Years ago, Robert Cialdini wrote, “The world abounds with cults populated by dependent people who are led by a charismatic figure.” In other words, people are easily led and – as we have recently witnessed – with disastrous results. All that people ever need do to avoid a nasty drink of purple Kool-Aid is to check their sources. In our day and age it is almost easier to check the veracity of the story-we-are-being-fed than it is to be misled. Almost. One must first desire to be fed the truth, even if the truth challenges rabidly-held belief.

Checking takes less than a minute.

Just ask the now-jailed-and-soon-to-be-tried capitol insurrectionists claiming that they were led astray by a flimflam-president-man. The Big Lie was easy to check. It remains easy to check. Yet, none cared to check it or perhaps refused to believe what they found. Checking the lie, listening to the data, would undermine the tightly held power-narrative of an entire political party. A pathological lies requires more and more effort, more and more outrageous lies, to sustain itself. It should have been easier to check the story than it was to storm the capitol.

Now I see the first rule of being educated, the necessity of checking sources to verify fact, as a dire necessity. It is the flashing red warning signal to these de-united-united-states that there is a cliff ahead. It is no longer a sweet bit of sage advice; it is a survival imperative. Respect for the line – truth or fiction – will determine whether we as a nation unite and grow or divide and collapse.

Many years ago, Robert Cialdini also wrote,“Audiences have been successfully manipulated by those who use social evidence, even when that evidence has been openly falsified.” Openly falsified. He wrote those words decades before tweets, Fox News, and the mega-amplification of all the openly falsified big lies. His words might now serve as the sad single credo of the Republican party.

It is not shocking that a political party lies. It is most shocking how little the followers of the party care to check the sources of the enraged hype it daily swallows like so much anger-candy. Dependent people. Easily led. Believe wholeheartedly. Ever expanding lie. No facts necessary. It is far beyond Einstein’s observation of people doing nothing in the face of evil; our nation is in peril because the evil we face is an openly falsified narrative. So many of our people, so many of our leaders, know it is a lie, feed the division, and actively look the other way.

read Kerri’s blog post about DOING NOTHING

Check Your Attribution [on KS Friday]

I have just had a front row seat to a full-blown, hyper-antagonistic, years-long, classic case of attribution-bias-escalation. It was [and is] ugly. The ripples are rocking boats, eroding foundations, ending friendships. The damage is thorough and, as is always true, infinitely avoidable.

Attribution bias. Making the assumption that you KNOW why someone did or said something. Assigning your reason to their behavior.

Years ago, a red faced executive called me, the consultant, in and fumed, “She said THAT to demean me!” I paused and asked, “Do you really know why she said it? Have you asked her what was going on from her point of view?” His blank stare told me all I needed to know. He would rather demonize her, be offended by her, than communicate with her. We sat down, drank a cup of coffee and decided that, rather than fume and escalate, rather than simmer in a victim-stew, he had at his disposal a better path. Communicate rather than assume, ask questions rather than blame, poison the well, and indulge in being offended.

It always amazes me how unconscious and/or resistant folks are to challenging their attributions. How eager they are to spin hard narratives and create vicious persecutors. How invested they become at being offended or otherwise insulted en route to being ‘right.’ It is monster-creation. It provides nothing more than a reason to draw a sword.

We do it so fast. Assume we know. And, once the attribution is made, we hold onto it as if it were gospel. It is easier to believe we know-all-things than it is to step out of the yummy-victim-archetype and ask a few simple questions, confess a few honest vulnerabilities. It is easier, more tasty, to take offense than it is to give consideration. Blame provides a great reason to never ask a question. Being ‘right’ is a hard stop to all inquiry.

In the canon of unconscious bias, attribution is one of the most-oft-used routes to really effective miscommunication. It makes mountains out of molehills. It makes muck from otherwise good working relationships. It savages careers. It makes vice presidents run to the phone and call consultants. It makes councils meet in secret and vote without investigation. It makes revenge a serious pursuit of otherwise grown-up adults. It makes weak leaders run for the basement and hide. It makes new-contract-creation and other tit-for-tat flexing a less-than-fun game of control. No one wins. No questions asked. It makes a hammer the only tool in the tool kit.

A few breaths to simmer down, the suspension of a snap-assumption, an honest “can I talk to you” conversation that comes with no blame and a wee-bit of vulnerability…could make a minor miscommunication remain minor. It could save all manner of hurt feelings, ill intention, relationship destruction, HR costs, separation agreements, litigation…all unnecessary wreckage that might have been avoided with an assumption-made-conscious, an attribution challenged. A simple word or phrase can usually be explained, “You took a bullet meant for someone else, I’m sorry.” Mountains return to molehills when we are willing to turn from our hyper-active-attribution-bias (“I’m right and I know it!”) and ask, “I’m not sure what just happened here. Will you help me understand?”

read Kerri’s blog post about ESCALATION

Hold Hands And Listen [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

These words, posed as polar opposites, come from the world of relationship advice. The recommendation is to establish clarity. Before you get into trouble, define whether your mate’s need is to be heard or to hear advice, to receive solace or solutions. Offering a solution when the need is solace is not recommended. Knowing my snap-dedication to solving-her-every-need, Kerri will often cut me off at the pass with, “I just need you to listen.” My lending-an-ear is often the only thing she really needs.

I’ve always been a good listener but it is only recently that I’ve discovered that I cannot solve anything for anyone. I cannot spare anyone the necessity of walking through their life lessons. The solving is not mine to do. The discoveries are not mine to make. This comes as a great awakening to my third-child-in-the-family-peacekeeper-identity. It also comes as a great relief. Peacekeeping, as a role assignment, is impossible. It’s akin to herding cats. It’s best to let each cat find peace in its own way. In sitting still, in surrendering the impossible task, my peace, like a magic castle, appeared.

A few years ago, a friend, sensitive to Kerri’s grief, offered her this truism-nugget: there’s only one way to go through it and that is to go through it. Trying to spare or minimize her grief would be to rob her of the depths of her love. Feel the depths. Meet the monster that lives there. Emerge transformed or at least informed. It is how we come to fully know ourselves.

We are learning to walk together with no need to solve. I am learning to hold hands and listen. The walking together, the holding of hands, is essential. The words I spin around our challenges are rarely meaningful and never as necessary as attending to the simple essential of quiet presence.

read Kerri’s blog post about COMFORT OR SOLUTIONS

Recognize The Art [on Flawed Wednesday]

The snow was too dry. My snowman fell apart when I put the head on. “It doesn’t have to look like a snowman to be a snowman,” Kerri said to cheer me up.

“Maybe it’s modern art!” I quipped, using my if-it’s-a-mess-call-it-art default statement. As I walked down the trail, away from my unsuccessful snowman, I wondered when incoherence had become included in my definition of art.

I am and have been these many months doing some soul searching and life review. Walking down our snowy trail I remembered working with a dying theatre company. The first step in restoring their health and vitality was to help them face a simple truth: that they made the “art” did not necessarily make the “art” good. In fact, the “art” could not be good until their criteria for “good” wasn’t about them.

The challenge with “art” in the modern era is that it is nearly impossible to define. For purely masochistic reasons I looked up the word ‘art’ in the dictionary and nearly fell asleep before I finished reading the definition. “A diverse range of human activities involving the creation of visual, auditory, or performing artifacts…” Artifacts? The last lap of the definition reads, “…intended to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.”

Beauty. Emotional power.

Of course, the contemporary world is awash in conceptual art and I read in my dictionary that this form of art, dating back to Duchamp in 1917, “…abandoned beauty, rarity and skill as measures.” Bananas taped to the wall. Statements.

Beauty abandoned. No emotional power necessary. But still “art.”

Art is, I’m told by historians and other scholars, a mirror of society. It is reflective of the era in which the artist lived. What a society values is made apparent in their art. It’s true.

Art, I believe, has a power and purpose far beyond mere appreciation. It is more than a mirror. It generates identity. It pulls disparate individuals to a common center. It affirms connectivity. It awakens us – and provides access to – that which is greater than any single individual. It bonds. It affirms. It transforms.

I wonder if our art, often so unrecognizable, sometimes incomprehensible, dependent upon curatorial interpretation, not concerned with beauty or rarity or skill or any other discernible measure, is not the perfect reflection of us. Narcissistic. Statements. Each day I am, like you, met by a tsunami of stories in the daily news revealing our collective confusion, our collapse of values, a commons at war with itself fueled by leaders stoking division for personal gain. Bananas taped to the wall. It is – we are – in our daily tales – so conceptual – so void of beauty or rarity or recognizable skill or measure – that it requires an anchor/curator to tell us why it – or we – might have meaning.

And then, just when I wonder if we are hopelessly lost, Amanda Gorman stepped up to the mic. The one true test of artistry is that we know it when we see it. No curator necessary. We are, we were, for a moment, bonded together in a way that no politician, no historian, no concept will ever understand or achieve.

I see it alive in Mike, and David, and Mark, and Chris. It glistens every time Kerri sits at the piano or composes a poem. It is not a mess though sometimes skill meets a happy-accident and, like penicillin, something healing emerges.

When we are washed away into the annals of time, what will be our art-love-letter to the future? What legacy – and art is a legacy – will we leave behind? What will I leave behind?

read Kerri’s blog post about SNOWMAN

for kicks, Kerri made a Snowman mug. Go here to get it

Turn Around And Look [on KS Friday]

When we were at the other end of life, Roger and I often discussed the “bodies” of artists’ work. The overview of their lifetime of work and what it revealed. We speculated about what our bodies of work might someday reveal. He is, and always has been, singular, a director of plays, certain of his path. His body of work would be – and has become – the plays he’s directed and the actors that he’s instructed. It’s an impressive body of work. I am, as Horatio calls me, a polymath. My body of work has never been certain. As Roger knew with clarity the destination of his path, I knew with curiosity that I would be a wanderer. The path was and continues to be my destination.

In other words, I’m all over the map. It’s visible in my paintings. I dare anyone to make linear sense of my resume.

Tom Mck hired me because, in his words, I was a “Johnny Appleseed.” When he was old, he told me that he turned me loose in the schools to see what I’d stir up and also what I’d plant. It was one of my favorite “jobs” because it came without a description. I followed the fires. I found the need. I brought art and stories to hearts and minds grown arid from the pursuit of dusty answers.

Tom was a brilliant theatre artist and teacher. His body of work was immense. I was surprised, at the end of his life, when he told me that he rarely thought of the plays he’d directed. He believed his best work, the work that he most loved and defined him – his real body of work – was at the very beginning of his teaching career. He was assigned a 2nd grade class and had no idea what to do with them. So, his curriculum was to invent stories with them. They traveled the world as pirates, went on safari, designed and priced supply lists and mapped routes. Math and history and geography. For weeks they prepared for a day of being blind. What would they need to do to spend an entire day safely learning what it was to be without sight? Curiosity and discovery. Empathy. Inner and outer worlds. He ignited and followed their imaginations. Tom was a polymath, too. He was a Johnny Appleseed.

Today marks Kerri and my 156th week of consecutive posts. 3 years, 5 days a week. My wife is a poet and composer and pianist and teacher and singer/songwriter and recording artist and business owner and photographer and designer. A polymath. After breakfast each morning, we write. It occurred to me recently that my body of work, when all is said and done, will be my posts. I’ve directed many plays, performed many plays, written some really bad plays and a few good ones, consulted with corporations, performed stories at conferences and with symphonies, painted and shown paintings, written children’s books, taught and facilitated workshops and dug ditches and delivered warm bread to grocery stores. I started an experiential learning school, a diversity and inclusion training company, and coached people from all over the world. All of my wandering has provided a rich field of experiences to pull from, to ponder and reflect.

Sometimes (more times than I care to count) I ask myself, “How did I get here?” These days, in the pandemic era, I have plenty of time to look back on my road, on my body of work. “How” is a question that can only be answered after the fact. ‘How do we do it?” tops my list of most useless questions. How did I get here? What is my body of work? I turn around and look where I’ve traveled, where I’m from, and write myself into coherence.

where i’m from/blueprint for my soul is available on iTunes

read Kerri’s post about WHERE I’M FROM

where i’m from/blueprint for my soul ©️ 1997 kerri sherwood

Start Thinking [on DR Thursday]

“As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists, who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny, ‘failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.”‘ ~ Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves To Death

Any day now I’m going to watch the 1976 movie, Network. It’s the film equivalent of a crystal ball to our current predicament. A veteran news anchorman loses it on air, threatens to kill himself, but instead goes on a full-blown rant. The network’s ratings skyrocket. An ambitious producer recognizes and exploits the opportunity by creating more and more outrageous programming. Fact falls prey to profitable fiction sold as truth. Ratings imperatives eclipse the north star of accuracy-in-reporting. Roger Ailes created his Fox News Network on the same premise; no veracity necessary. People like a good train wreck, just ask Jerry Springer. It is why the nation is so divided. The blues use news to sort out the lies; the reds use lies to siphon off the truth.

“Contrary to common belief even among the educated, Huxley [Brave New World] and Orwell [1984] did not prophesy the same thing. Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley‘s vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.” ~Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves To Death

Neil Postman wrote Amusing Ourselves To Death before Facebook and Twitter were glimmers in their inventors’ eyes, before the internet hit the personal computer, before multiple channels on cable networks. We have, as Postman wrote, an infinite appetite for distraction with nary a need for honesty. And, as we are witnessing, distraction has arrived in the halls of Congress. We’ve now a party in government that actively shuns verity and raises funds on peddling fallacy.

“When a population becomes distracted by trivia, when cultural life is redefined as a perpetual round of entertainments, when serious public conversation becomes a form of baby-talk, when, in short, a people become an audience, and their public business a vaudeville act, then a nation finds itself at risk; culture-death is a clear possibility.” Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves To Death.

We are a nation that finds itself at risk. In my post yesterday I wrote that I no longer wonder how a society can willingly and knowingly take itself down. We have front row seats. And yet, the road to our recovery is as simple (and as difficult) as a collective valuing of the truth over ratings or poll numbers or bubbles. We worship at the wrong altar. We are inundated with info-dross. We would be better off if ratings plummeted every time a pundit ranted, a politician bullied, or a commentator lied. We’d be better off if thinking, if fact-checking, was a prerequisite to posting or tweeting or speaking. We’d find ourselves in a shared center, a place of possibility built on a generous commitment to probity.

“For in the end, he [Huxley] was trying to tell us what afflicted the people in ‘Brave New World’ was not that they were laughing instead of thinking, but that they did not know what they were laughing about and why they had stopped thinking.” ~ Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves To Death

read Kerri’s much more positive post on LEARNING FROM TV

Throw A Snowball At Poe [on Two Artists Tuesday]

With apologies to Edgar…

Read the real thing, THE RAVEN by Edgar Allan Poe

read Kerri’s blog post about THE SNOW CHAIR

Start Here [on Flawed Wednesday]

Let’s start here: a strange attractor. “Chaos has its own pattern, a peculiar kind of order.” This magical definition pairing chaos and order is from the good folks at Merriam-Webster. They provide definitions of words. Words are a collection of symbols, called “letters,” assigned to specific sounds which, when placed in a sequence, carry meaning. For instance, D-O-G points to something unique and different than, say C-A-T. A collection of words placed in a sequence carries even more complex meaning. Dogs chase cats.

Thought. Expression. It’s nothing short of miraculous if you think about it. And, if you are thinking about it, you, too, are a carrier of meaning. The symbols and their sequence are useless without me and you, reaching to each other, agreeing on the general meaning of the sequence of sounds. And, more to the point, we not only carry but we create meaning. With our magical sounds-in-sequence we are capable of generating the high art of story, the supreme gift of understanding each other. We can reach each other, touch each other, move each other. We can find each other with our words. We shape each other with our words.

From the chaos of all-possible-sound, to the pattern of word and alphabet, to the order of sentence, to the power of story. Anyone who tells you that they are not creative is missing the point of their existence.

I suspect the power of story is infinitely more powerful than we might realize. We take it for granted, this extraordinary capacity, this glorious gift. You’d think we’d have more appreciation for our high art of language, our transcendent ability of speech. You’d think we might honor and protect truth and fact. They are the compass, the map through the forest of all possible tales. You’d think we might use our most powerful accomplishment to find, or better yet, to create shared ground. Common good is an intention, a creation.

You’d think.

There’s a vast difference between disagreement, conflicting points of view, and lie.

The point of a disagreement is to find agreement. After all, single-point-perspective begins from two disparate points of view. It is a “coming together.”

The point of a lie is to mislead. To deceive. To create false impression. False ideals. To foster disagreement. It is a tool for exploitation. It is meant to render apart.

Because we so easily sequence our words, pattern our thoughts, we are capable of using our magic, our ordered language to create…order. We are also capable of using it to create chaos. Disorder.

To help. To hurt. To accomplish. To disrupt. It’s a matter of intention. The direction of intention. How do you intend to use your precious gift?

The real power comes when we learn to think beyond our belief. To question. To ask.

The first rule of education, an essential rule in shaping precious words into thoughts, into actions, is simple: check your sources. Make sure the story you’re embracing, the piper you are following, arises from a well spring of good intention. That it has an ethical center. Check that it seeks to clarify and reach rather than obscure and demonize. Check that your thought-house is not built on a lie.

Check your sources. Of information. You, too, are a source of information, so…check your sources.

With our most powerful capacity to pattern, to create, to think in words and sentences and stories, we can be a carrier of the lie-virus or we can be part of the cure. Reach or reject. It is our choice, through how we use our miracle words and language, what we agree to create together.

Let’s start here.

read Kerri’s blog post on AGREE