Stay On The Root [on KS Friday]

“Energy cannot be created or destroyed; it can only be changed from one form to another.” ~ Albert Einstein

Saul’s words have been ringing in my memory: “Stay on the root.” He was a tai chi master.

He might have said, “Stay grounded,” but his reference to “the root” is more dynamic. When on “the root” there is absolutely no resistance to circumstance. Nothing can knock you off center. You are solid, rooted; not for resistance or fight but for flow. No kinks in the energy-hose.

Presence is a requirement of being on “the root.” If your mind jumps into fear-of-the-future it will pull you off center. If your heart dives into regret of the past, it will yank you off balance. Saul might remind us that our bodies are always present. What else? Our minds story us into stress and, mostly, the horror stories we tell ourselves never actually occur. Or did occur.

Here’s the most important part of his instruction: when staying firmly on”the root,” a place of no-resistance, flow is possible. In fact, anything is possible. That may, to some, sound like new-age nonsense but it is actually age-old wisdom. It’s a practice of getting out of your own way. Assume nothing. Lilies-of-the-field, etc. There’s a timeless fable about a farmer and a horse…

A week ago we walked our trail and the leaves were vibrant with color, electric. Now, they are mostly on the ground. Transforming. Nutrient for the soil. I doubt the leaves felt fear of falling or spent an ounce of life-energy in regret.

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read Kerri’s blogpost about THE LEAF

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Give The Benefit [on saturday morning smack-dab.]

Because this strip is about making assumptions, it shot to the top of our publication list. It’s most relevant this week.

A few days ago I had a health crisis and had to rush to see a particular doctor who will remain un-named. In a story of universal-weirdness – or – metaphors I choose to ignore – every time we leave the parking lot of Dr. X, we blow a hole in the muffler of our car. EVERY TIME. We arrive in relative quiet. We leave in a riot of noise. Little-Baby-Scion sounds like a prop plane attempting to take off. I refuse to associate mufflers with my emergency.

We have an appointment next week at Paul’s Bender Center to fix the problem (with the car). In the mean time, our ride is making some serious noise. At stoplights, we get “looks” from people, the same look we give to people when we pull up next to a car with a roaring muffler-about-to-fall-off.

Having just received our umpteenth dirty look, over the din, Kerri shouted, “This is humbling! I think, from now on, we should give people the benefit of the doubt.”

Yes. The benefit of the doubt. Assume positive intent. Next time we quietly pull alongside a rattling, roaring car, I will smile a supportive smile, “I know. I feel your pain.”

read Kerri’s blogpost about ASSUMPTIONS

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With Fresh Eyes, See [on Merely A Thought Monday]

In retrospect, many of the experiences I used to facilitate were meant to pop people – even for a moment – out of the fog of their life story. It’s a curious intention for a guy whose career was/is centered around the telling of stories.

I loved working with masks, especially with people in corporate settings or lofty educational towers. They feared the exposure that a mask might bring so they approached it with eye rolling and whatever-ego resistance. Yet, in every case, they put the mask on with reverence. There is a sequence, after donning the mask, that the wearer “wakes up” and looks at the world for the first time through fresh eyes. Everything is new. Everything. Their hands. The movement of their arms. The color and feel of the carpet. Jaded people, blunted with puffy assumption, through the eyes of the mask, are astonished by the miracle of their fingers. And then, imagine the moment that they discover each other. Their discussion during the debrief would make you weep. It was quiet. Respectful to the point of sacred. In every case the people, newly out of the mask, had to tell of their astonishment and discovery. Their eyes wide with the utter beauty of the world in and around them. And, their new eyes never carried further than the next day. The old mask, the one worn daily, the one full of fear and inflated self-importance, is powerful, too. As they say, masks reveal and masks conceal.

Masks reveal and masks conceal. The phrase refers to the wearer but it also applies to the world seen or not seen through the mask. New eyes are astonished with the ubiquitous beauty of the world newly revealed. Eyes fogged through been-there-done-that stories are dulled to the point of inattention. The magical world is concealed from their sight.

I am working on a script for a piece that I’ll perform in the fall. I realized in my latest draft that it is really about masks. The astonishment of seeing – and seeing is nothing more than or less than the revelation of connectivity. Paying attention is a step toward the eyes that see crackling vibrant color, ears that hear the birdsong. When the dull eyes open, even for a moment, the next impulse is to reach, to “call attention” to the connectivity. “Do you see that?” “Listen, isn’t it gorgeous!”

read Kerri’s blog post about PAYING ATTENTION

Step Back And Realize [on Flawed Wednesday]

If you are like us, every day brings another report of a friend or loved one who has Covid. As someone recently said to me, “With Omicron, it’s only a half degree of separation between you and someone who’s carrying the virus.” I’d say, given the wave of people we know falling sick and reporting positive test results, it’s true. It’s no time to let down your guard.

On Saturday we watched a documentary film, The First Wave. It’s a film everyone should see. It chronicles the first few months of the pandemic in a New York hospital. It is shocking how, in a few short years, we’ve normalized hospitals being overrun. How removed we, the populace, are from the tangible horror of this pandemic. Refrigerator trucks used as temporary morgues. We stand today at 865,000 deaths and counting. People. By comparison, 620,000 people died in the Civil War. 418,500 US citizens, military and civilian, died in World War 2. We ought to be grieving instead of dividing. We ought to be reaching to help rather than peacocking our politics. This film will slap you awake. It will help you step back and realize what we – all of us – are passing through. It might help you grieve.

Kerri tells me that the woman in the next car thought she and 20 were doing a drug deal. He felt sick, needed a test and could find none. We had a few so they met in a parking lot to make a safe pass. While making the exchange, he handed her an envelope. Money for the phone bill but I’m sure it looked suspicious.

It reminded me of the time, many years ago, that Sam asked me to meet him in a parking lot. He rolled down his window and passed to me a sheaf of poems. The window went up. I was to tell no one. It was terribly vulnerable for him to share. I cried the day he published his first book of poetry. It was a titanic journey from fear-of-certain-shame to proudly publishing his beautiful work. He was transformed.

I imagine someday we will stand and look back at this titanic journey. I hope that I remember with fondness the story of Kerri and 20 making an exchange in the parking lot, the women one-car-over shocked by what she thought she was seeing, and we smile. Transformed. Remade as better people in a better community making better assumptions of each other. Stronger.

For now, as the credits rolled on The First Wave, we looked at each other and together said, “I’m exhausted.”

read Kerri’s blog post about THE EXCHANGE

Love Your Language [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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You know the old joke: two priests are having an argument so they take their debate to the Pope. The first priest writes to the Pope and asks if it is okay to smoke while praying and the Pope answers “No!” The second priest writes and asks the question this way: is it okay to pray while smoking? The Pope responds, “Of course!”

Language matters. In our current world, inundated as we are with marketers and media – language packed with agenda – it seems we are especially dulled to the power of a few words [or the exclusion of a few details] to shape our actions and opinions. We are easily led. Easily divided. Easily provoked to Facebook frenzy.

The way we frame questions determines the possibilities we see or the possibilities we do not see. That is why it is a mistake for us to frame the questions of our troubled times as either/or questions. To defund the police or not defund the police?  Fear or faith? Us or them? Liberal or conservative? Which is it?

None of the questions we face are simplistic. None can be addressed – or should be approached – with black and white thinking. We’ll only see the poles and miss the million shades of gray in-between.

Leaders that divide-to-rule are especially fond of a rhetoric featuring only two options. They play angel/devil games: there are angels and there are devils and since everyone thinks they are the angel, it is an automatic role assignment to anyone with an opposing point of view. It doesn’t matter what side you are on, the agenda is division so mission accomplished! Language matters.

I’ve heard it said that the opposite of love is not hate. It is fear. Fear splits even the greatest hearts and minds like so much kindling. It creates enmity within and, therefore, enmity without. It reduces and makes the complex things – like listening to others – impossible. It demands that meaning be made before the experience is had – and so it is a rally of made-up monsters.

So,  the opposite of fear? It creates goodwill. Within and, therefore, without. It unites. It embraces and expands and includes. It makes no assumptions. It listens. It ultimately surrounds fear and makes meaning after having the experience and, in that way, relieves the troubled mind of its monsters. It has the capacity to hold a full spectrum of color and options (sometimes known as possibilities). It knows that there is more to this universe than angels and devils can allow. And so, just to be clear in my use of language: the opposite of fear has no opposites. That’s precisely what makes it much harder to grasp than fear. Fear is easy to achieve. Love is an ongoing relationship and has no end.

Language matters. The genius of our system, as it was once imagined, was to allow for opposing points of view to come together in an action called “compromise.” It was designed with complexity in mind. It was intended to pull all perspectives toward a common center, a middle way. An idealist might call that – a common center – something akin to love.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about LOVE>Fear

 

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Gag On It [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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“I was the only one wearing a mask.” Were you to have read this quote three months ago, you would have assumed I went to a masquerade party and I was the only one who showed up with a mask. Or, you might have guessed that I was about to recount an embarrassing Halloween story, “I mixed up my dates – it was October 30 –  and I went to work  wearing a costume.”

Three months. Meaning is now made through the pandemic lens. I went to the store. The parking lot was full. I went into the store and stopped as I entered. I was the only one wearing a mask. My cup of assumptions filled to the brim and spilled over. These people do not care.

In the best of times, meaning is made on a layer cake of assumptions. Assumptions are too easily generalized and thrust into the hard ground as fact. Assumptions are a wide net that catches mostly trash – which is to say that they snag very little of substance. They are nothing more than cake though, because they are mistaken for fact, they can be a deadly cake, indeed. A young black man went jogging. Need I say more?

Our current favorite assumption set is political. For instance, Ohio Governor, Mike DeWine, was asked in an interview why the nation is seeing a partisan divide in response to the pandemic. “Generally, Republicans are less inclined to have the government tell them what to do. And that’s generally how I am,” DeWine said.

I’m willing to wager that most Democrats are not fond of the government telling them what to do. The pro-choice movement is decidedly liberal and is essentially resistance to the government telling a woman what she can or cannot do with her body.

Here’s a safe assumption: none of us want the government telling us what to do. That is in the genetic strand of the American identity.

The nation is seeing a partisan divide in response to the pandemic because we are being force-fed oppositional narratives that demonize the other side.  “They’re socialists trying to ruin the nation.” Or, “They are lazy and ignorant and cannot see how they’re being swung around by the nose.” Assumptions, assumptions everywhere!

As Horatio has said (and I have repeatedly borrowed) the narrative has always been schizophrenic and the divide goes like this: 1) Every man/woman for him/herself or 2)  I am my brother’s/sister’s keeper. Do we care about the others in the populace or do we take care of our own needs? It is a false divide. It is an easy target for propaganda.

And what if taking care of our own needs included taking care of the needs of others. Wouldn’t we all be wearing a mask? Isn’t that the point of the mask? It is not worn to protect me but to protect you from me. What if the assumption – the safe assumption -was that we are all in this together? We are. What if, as I stood in the doorway of the store, the only person wearing a mask, I could have made another assumption? What assumption is it that I could have made?

Three short months and the word “mask” has become a line drawn in the pandemic sand, a symbol of community or is it a marker of our divide?  No matter. Through this lens we can only cast a broad net of assumption and gag ourselves on the same giant piece of cake.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about THE ONLY ONE

 

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Why Wait? [on DR Thursday]

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“Perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave.” ~Rainier Maria Rilke

And, so, we wait. We sit in our homes for the benefit of all. I’ve heard from my pals that time has seemed to warp, twist, and fade. Routines are broken. Patterns scattered in the new necessity. It begs the question, as we wander from room to room, where can we go if cannot go from here?
I’m fond of a thought from Eckhart Tolle: Presence is when you are no longer waiting for the next moment, believing that the next moment will be more fulfilling than this one.
In our daily walks, we often end up in the cemetery at the end of the street. It is the only place we can go and not cross paths with other people. Cemeteries are good for perspective. There are birth dates and death dates and nothing in between. Whole lives lived, loves lost and found, fortunes made and lost.  ‘Imagine all the crap this person worried about that didn’t really matter,” I say. Kerri nods. I imagine each and every one of these souls would give anything – anything for a single moment of precious life. Any moment would do, but I suspect they’d want back all of those moments that they branded as “waiting.” Moments wanting to be somewhere else and completely missing what was right before them, rich and beautiful.
Presence is one of those easily abstracted and often misunderstood experiences. It can be found in the drawer labeled ‘spiritual things.’ It is loaded with paradox. One cannot strive for presence. Striving for presence is the ultimate oxymoron. Presence is actually very practical. Stop striving to be elsewhere. That’s it. Simple. Yet, that is what makes it so hard to embody. It requires a bit of surrender.
And, so, in this time of pandemic, we wait. We sit in our homes for the benefit of all. Time twists. Assumptions turn to dust. Tomorrow cannot be planned. We writhe for entertainment, places to go. We grouse for something to fulfill us, distract us. We make up things to fill time.
Strolling through the cemetery, I ask myself, “How much of my life am I willing to give away to waiting?”

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Leave It At The Door [on DR Thursday]

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There is a simple exercise that I am particularly fond of but less than terrific at practicing. It goes like this: don’t drag yesterday’s trash into today. See this day as it is: new. Live this day without the control fantasy of believing that you know what will happen, that you know or can control what other people think. Recognize that the burden you carry is exactly that – something you carry. Put it down for a spell. It will be there when you are ready to pick it up.

It’s not an exercise in denial. It’s actually the opposite. It’s an exercise in dealing with the real moment rather than the imagined monster. You’ll be amazed at the world of light, color, and possibility that opens when yesterday’s trash stays in yesterday, when the weighty story wrapped around the past-moment drops away.

I used to tell my actors, when entering the rehearsal hall, to leave their day at the door. Rehearsal halls, like artist studios, are sacred places. The art of the theatre is the mastery of presence and it’s a necessary skill to tuck the story-of-the-day into a safe keeping box before stepping onto the stage. And, what if, as master Will wrote, all the world is a stage? It seems to me that the art of living is the mastery of presence.

I call it the “garbage layer,” those moments when I am first coming out of sleep. Coming up from the bottom of the slumber-ocean there is a surface layer where all the trash floats. It is coming through the garbage layer that I have the option of leaving behind or picking up yesterday’s flotsam. The nagging to-do list, the contention, the worries, the fears and fights can all be scooped up and hauled into the new day or the story-of-yesterday can be left at the door.

And when I leave yesterday’s garbage in yesterday? An entirely different set of experiences and assumptions become available. Awe at the light in the trees. Awe at the smell of coffee brewing. Awe at the sun and the enormous cat that purrs when I sit close.

[Chicken Marsala was one of our cartoon creations. He tickled the syndicates but never got picked up. We love him still. We designed all manner of cool prints, cards, cups and other stuff that you can find here]

 

read Kerri’s blog post about ASSUME AWE

 

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chicken marsala ©️ 2016 david robinson & kerri sherwood

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Practice, Practice, Practice [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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Before Jonathan left town he gave us a book of daily devotions from his spiritual tradition. It is a significant book for him. It was his mother’s favorite and now it is his. He  starts his day with it, reading a passage, meditating on its meaning, and carrying the meditation through his day.

A mind needs a focus. Jonathan is one of the most positive people I’ve met and this lightness of spirit is not an accident. He carefully attends to the story he tells himself. He exercises his muscle of interpretation and, because he is looking for it, he will always sort to the positive. He assumes a positive tale.

One of the lessons I learned while in Bali goes like this (almost a direct quote from Budi): In Bali, when two cars crash, the drivers do not get out and begin yelling and blaming the other driver. Instead, they get out of their cars and greet the other driver because the gods meant for them to meet that day. They try to discover why they were brought together.

Sometimes I think the whole journey is a master class in focus-placement and assumption-making.

Early on in our life together, Kerri taught me this phrase: leave the outbreak of baggage behind. We carry yesterday’s baggage into today’s experiences. It’s possible to carry a lifetime’s collection of baggage into each and every moment. Heavy living comes from looking at life though the baggage-layer.

The first meditation in Jonathan’s book is the same first principle found in every spiritual tradition: Be present in this moment. Your life is not what happened yesterday; it is what is happening right now. If you are looking for your life you will miss it if your focus is backwards or forwards. It sounds trite in a world awash in Hallmark cards, Successories, Motivational Moments or books of daily devotions.

It’s trite until put into practice. It’s easy to say ‘be present’ or ‘make no assumptions’ or ‘be the change you seek’ or ‘focus on the positive’ or… It’s a whole different ballgame when the trite phrase comes off the aspirational wall and enters the daily grind.  Presence, the sensitivity to life happening right now, is not an achievement. It is an awareness that comes from practice amidst a world screaming for your attention.

Everyday a clean blackboard. I suspect that thought was Jonathan’s real gift to us.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about

 

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Chicken Marsala Monday

Chicken Marsala thoughts from the melange to help you start your week:

MASTER assumeawe WITH EYES jpeg copy 2.jpg Almost every spiritual tradition offers a form of this thought: make no assumptions. Sometimes it is called ‘detachment.’ Sometimes it is called ‘the middle way.’ Often, it is referred to as ‘presence.’

It sounds so simple. Be where you are. Be here now. Aspirations always sound easy but are never easy to realize.

In my past life as a consultant/facilitator I regularly issued two “caveats” prior to beginning the work of the day. The first was, “Have the experience first, make meaning of the experience second.” The idea of opening to an experience, that they might actually be capable of stepping out of their roiling story of assumptions, was a revelation to my clients.

And, that’s the point. The revelation, the insight, the heaven-that-you-seek is just on the other side of the story-fog that obscures your experience of life. That is why it shows up so often in all-practices-spiritual. Quiet your mind. Make no assumptions. Open to what is there beyond what you think is there.

However, we are human. That fast running inner monologue, that incessant storying of experiences, pre-and-post occurrence, is what we do. So, a good first step toward the quiet mind, toward the suspension of assumptions, is to make life-giving assumptions. Our runaway minds chug down a track so why not put that train on a generative track: assume awe.

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read Kerri’s thoughts about Assuming Awe on Chicken Marsala Monday

 

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