Stay Fully Alive

a more recent smaller painting: In Quiet Prayer

Horatio issued me this challenge: do something new, something you’ve never done before. Paint something different, something that boggles you.

I love this challenge. In other words, step out of your comfort zone. Dare to not know where you are going. Make a mess with great gusto and intention. Court chaos and wrestle it into something that resembles order for you and no one else.

Horatio might have said, “Dare to see again, purely, with no filters, knowledge, or preconceptions.” He might have added, “What might you see, who might you be, if you stepped beyond the safety of your ideals, your beliefs, and great mass of weighty and important knowledge?”

The child in me, the one not yet accustomed to sitting in a desk or raising my hand or waiting my turn would loudly sing the answer: You’d be fully alive! I’d be fully alive.

from a few years ago, a larger piece: Meditation

I’ve always appreciated how similar are an artist’s path and that of a spiritual seeker. The aim of the exercise is the same. A meditation practice to still a busy mind is identical to an actor’s training to be fully present on the stage or a painter’s pursuit to see purely (to see without the disruption of interpretation). On both paths, truth is a fluid thing. Truth is what is happening right now. What happened yesterday or may happen tomorrow are distractions at best. They are stories that get in the way. They are of no consequence to this moment of living, this moment of aliveness. It is, an actor learns, a fool’s errand to attempt to repeat yesterday’s performance.

Horatio’s challenge is relevant for every human being wrestling with the big questions or trying to stave off or make sense of the chaos. Dare to dance with what’s right in front of you. Dare to drop the questions.

Picasso famously said that every child is an artist. The problem is to remain an artist once he or she grows up. He might well have said that every child is fully alive. The problem is to remain fully alive once he or she grows up.

playing around with simplicity. This one is hot off the easel and not yet named.

this is how she looks in a frame. Magic!

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Stay Open

Illustration from Play-to-Play

Illustration from Play-to-Play

It’s very late. I was deep asleep and am suddenly wide awake. That is happening often these days. My inner light switch is tripped and there is no going back to sleep.

I woke up thinking about something Judy told me yesterday during our phone call. Judy is wise. She told me that she believes the real work in a life is never achieving a goal or arriving at a destination. It is not something with a direction. The real work is to learn to stay open. Stay open to possibility. Stay open to choices. Stay open to feeling. Stay open to changes. Stay open to experiences. Stay open to surprises.

It is not the kind of advice that children generally get in school but it is exactly the kind of advice an elder might impart if asked – and only if asked. Learn to stay open. Life has a way of making us want to close, to armor up, to dull our selves, to turn our backs and whisper, “There’s nothing I can do.”

It sounds too simple, “Stay open to life.” It’s not. What is simple is sinking into the easy chair and falling asleep in front of the television. Simple seems like a good idea until you realize you’ve been doing it for years. That is, of course, the point of the easy chair. The easy chair is a destination. It is a direction.

Staying open is a practice. Turning toward life and facing it with all of its force, heat, and pressure is not simple. Opening to the grief as well as the joy, feeling the pain as well as the pleasure, requires intention. Opening to the full spectrum of living engenders liveliness. Life begets life.

In a recent post I included a quote from Carlos Castaneda that just popped to mind:

“Oppressors and oppressed meet at the end, and the only thing that prevails is that life was altogether too short for both.” Carlos Castaneda, A Separate Reality

 

Grow Young

681. Join me in inspiring truly powerful people. Each day I will add a new thought, story or idea to support your quest and mine.

“A child-like man is not a man whose development had been arrested; on the contrary, he is a man who has given himself a chance of continuing to develop long after most adults have muffled themselves in the cocoon of middle-aged habit and convention.”
Aldous Huxley

It’s not that I don’t want to grow up. It’s just that I don’t want to be like most grown ups that I know. I figure that I will have plenty of time for being deadened after I’m dead so why numb myself to experience now? It makes me wonder if hunter-gatherers became complacent? In the absence of a laz-y-boy and an entertainment center, what constitutes good living?

Twice in my life I put myself on a television moratorium. Both times within a week, after the initial detox period of wondering what to do with myself when not anesthetized, I stopped pacing and began to experiment. I created things. I went places. I stopped shouting at the television and started engaging with people who talked back. I read more books, thought more thoughts, went out into a cold winter night so that I could feel the cold, see the stars and shiver just enough to make a good cup of hot chocolate taste better. Also, there are few things more satisfying than wrapping cold fingers around a hot mug. Once, I smoked a cigar while sitting on a wall that overlooked the city just because I’d never done it before. In short, when not distracted, when not “muffling myself in the cocoon of middle-age habit” I came back to life. Breaking patterns is more important than you might realize.

What are the multiple ways that we check out or pad ourselves from new experience? What paradigm do we embrace that makes “just getting through it” a viable option? If I had a nickel for every time I heard someone count the years before they could retire I’d be hauling around a ton of nickels. While sitting in the Blue Moon a few days ago I heard this: “Six more years to retirement and I can finally start living.” The others at the table nodded as if to say, “Hold your breath; you’ll get there someday.” With such a premise, why would anyone want to grow up? A real friend would have stood up, slapped them and screamed, Wake Up!”

The Buddhists say that life is the joyful participation is the sorrows of the world. The key word is participation. Protect yourself from the sorrows and you blunt your capacity to participate. We aspire to “easy” and “easy” comes with a cost. Children count the minutes until class is over. Adults count the years until retirement. And in the mean time, the rich textures of life, the capacity for joyful participation, passes unnoticed.

There is no mystery to fulfilling your potential or releasing your inner artist. Get up, let go your current form of distraction, look around, step toward the thing that will take some effort and is worth doing. Get messy. Do something for no other reason than you have never done it before. Aspire to grow young.

Live Everywhere

676. Join me in inspiring truly powerful people. Each day I will add a new thought, story or idea to support your quest and mine.

For the past several weeks I have been in gypsy mode. I am traveling from place to place, landing for a few days and then moving on. There is a great gift that comes when you’re on the road as a rule and not an exception: when you’re not living anywhere, you start living everywhere.

I’ve noticed that I’ve let go of the expectation of norms or routines so consequently I am paying attention to the little things – each day is filled with little amazement, little gifts surround me. I’ve realized that when there are no day-to-day patterns, you cease investing in the comfort of the pattern so are capable of welcoming what is right in front of you. You truly begin to live everywhere because every moment is unfamiliar.

There are tiny arrivals in my gypsy mode, resting places but it is as if I am seeing life without its security mask. Sometimes a cliché is a cliché for a reason: the idea that I possess anything or own anything is an illusion. I am at best, a steward. We are all merely passing through. We are, as Jean Houston wrote, “the burning point” of the ancestral ship. Others came before and were witness to their time and have passed the burning point to me (and you). For this brief lifetime I am the eyes, ears, and hands of the experience; I am the witness; we are the stewards of our time. In gypsy mode there is only one question that really seems to matter: Did I open my eyes and ears and other senses to the full experience of being alive? Was I present during every moment of this incredible ride?

Take One Step

671. Join me in inspiring truly powerful people. Each day I will add a new thought, story or idea to support your quest and mine.

I watched the sun come up this morning. I was sitting in Alan’s sun room sipping coffee, marveling at the winter colors of the sky: salmon pinks, lavender, and ice blue. And then, beneath the tree line, in a specific spot, the branches began to shimmer. I expected Merlin to materialize. And then the shimmer warmed, became orange and round and instead of Merlin, the sun lifted above the horizon, streamed through the trees, and washed me with the warmth of a new day. Were I a plant my leaves would have opened and I would have taken a might drink of the light of the new day. As a human, I had coffee on the inside, sun on the outside – I was warmed through and through.

I do not know what this day brings. Alan and I will teach a class, that much I know. Then, I will dash to catch a plane and then if the timing is right I will catch a train. If not, there will be an entire day between the plane and the train. Planes and trains are sometimes on schedule and sometimes off schedule depending on Mother Nature and the nature of machines. Tonight I could be in one of 5 different cities. I recognized as the sun rose that I am in presence training. I am learning to trust. For the next several months there will be no daily pattern that repeats itself. I will be mostly on the move; my suitcase is my home. Sometimes I will be with loved ones, sometimes I will be in isolation, sometimes with new friends, sometimes in another country. I am throwing my work away, tossing the patterns of my life as I knew them and re-imagining things. I couldn’t be more alive and present to my moment. My inner gypsy stubbed out his cigarette and hissing smoke through his nose said, “It’s about time.”

It is about time. We count our days, our minutes, we measure our lives, check our lists, stay on our schedules. We count ourselves into desperation when we forget what we are counting. Each breath is life giving. Each breath is unique and never to happen again. I watched the sun rise again and it was no less a miracle today than it was yesterday. It was not the same. Another year just turned over (if you recognize the same calendar that I do) and I can look to the past and think, “This and this happened.” At least that is the story that I tell, none of it is true for anyone but me. I realized an amazing thing about personal edges and story this week. The scary edges are only visible if you are oriented to the past; anchored into and trying to maintain the known. Orient to the unknown, anchor into present and there are no edges, only experiences. I think that is what I mean by learning to trust – I am learning to orient according to what is with me right now as opposed to what has been, what should be, or what might have been. Those things are mental abstracts – as are scary edges….the edges certainly exist, the “scary” is a story I can tell. Here is presence school, I am taking one step at a time, something I have done since first learning to walk only now, as an experienced walker, I am paying attention to the steps as I take them.

Go Up!

670. Join me in inspiring truly powerful people. Each day I will add a new thought, story or idea to support your quest and mine.

In airports, people are often racing to catch a plane. I have, more than once, sprinted through a concourse trying to catch my connecting flight before they closed the doors and captured me like a bug in the airport pickle jar: no way out. When I was in the Philadelphia airport, having more than enough time between flights, I found a nice perch and watched other less fortunate travellers race to their liberation. “That’s what I look like,” I thought as I spied a man wearing his too intense face, trying to reconcile his need to sprint through the crowd with his desire to not trample other people.

Coming from opposite directions, entering a knot of people, two wheelchair bound travelers, each late for a connection, spurred their airport attendee to go faster. It was like watching an old-time film clip of two trains roaring toward each other, unaware, an imminent head-on collision. They couldn’t see each other through the throng of people. The sea of travelers parted, the wheelchair riders caught sight of each other, eyeballs bulged, eyebrows raised, hands came to protect faces, and time – as it does in a spell or a moment of presence – came into a sharp, clear focus. At the last moment, in an impossible maneuver, the pushing attendees, as if choreographed, altered course. The chairs kissed, the spell was broken, and neither chair slowed down; grins of relief broke across the faces of all concerned. Mine, too. “That was well done!” one of the riders hooted to her wheelchair pusher as they sped off into the distance.

There are moments on the stage when an actor forgets their line and all pretenses fall. It’s called, “Going up.” Eyes bulge, eyebrows rise, their mind double clutches in panic, locks up, and for brief moment, without thought, they are intensely present, vitally alive. It feels like a mini-spell as time expands. And somehow, inexplicably, the words show up, moving the mouth without the assistance of the mind. The moment passes; the spell is broken, presence retreats behind the notion of control; waves of relief crash on the sandy shores of the actor. And yet, when the evening is over, the actor will tell you that moment was the most honest moment of the whole play. It was the most “alive” moment of their performance. It was the only moment that was not controlled, constrained, premeditated. It is what they attempt to master: presence on stage.

In watching the near wheelchair collision and remembering those brief moments of vitality on the stage, I couldn’t help but think that we (or I) have it backwards. The spell is not those moments of intense presence; the spell is a life that is rarely present. In those moments of near collision, when we lose control or are snapped into the immediate, the spell of the mundane is, for a moment broken, time no longer matters, nothing is measured or contained or controlled, and we enter life as we exit the predictable. I’m delighted that the wheelchairs did not collide and yet what a gift! Just like the rider I was left thinking, “For a moment, I was here and nowhere else. Well done.”

Flip it!

669. Join me in inspiring truly powerful people. Each day I will add a new thought, story or idea to support your quest and mine.

I am in New England and it is winter. This morning as the sun rose, as the sky progressed through purple and orange to steel grey there was a very light snow falling. The world was so quiet that it inspired inner quiet. I think this is what is supposed to happen in winter: we are meant to slow down, get quiet, to go inside, reflect, keep warm, catch up on some sleep, and touch the eternal in ways that are only accessible when the days are short and the ground is frozen.

Yesterday, as Alan and I planned the summit that we will facilitate in Holland in March, we strayed from our task and talked about separation and connectivity. I am oriented into the world according to my cultural defaults: separate from all of nature (including my own), a dominator, steeped in the notion that I can control things and given to the hubris that one of the things I can control is nature. And yet, I am at odds with my orientation. I don’t believe any of it. My life’s work (for myself and others) is to flip it, to offer a different, healthier narrative.

Once, many years ago, when I was in Bali, I had a conversation that helped me clarify what would become the work of my life. I was explaining to a Balinese man what it was to be an artist in America and he was deeply perplexed by my premise. He said to me, “But, all people are artists; all people are creative.” To be alive is to be creative. It is a mark of the culture of separation to believe that you are or are not creative, to see creativity as a limited resource or a perhaps an endowment for the special. It is a characteristic of a culture of connectivity to understand that all of life is creative and to be alive is to be a participant in the vibrant, creative, ever changing flow of life – as a vibrant, creative, ever changing being.