Heed The Call

A detail from my painting, Will Is Belief

A detail from my painting, Will Is Belief

“It’s hard to explain to people,” said Chris. “I’m answering a calling. I know in my bones that I’m doing with my life exactly what I’m supposed to be doing. There is nothing else that gives me life. There is only this that I can give my life to. I don’t have a choice and that makes no sense to my family and friends.”

Chris is an artist, a brilliant actor. He acts because he needs to act and that is impossible to understand to those who’ve never had a soul-deep calling. It makes no sense to those witnessing the hardship his life path requires. His family and friends want him to have a better life. They want him to have a big home and two cars. They want him to have a back yard and a barbecue. What they can’t grasp is that Chris, like all artists with a calling, is acting from a selfless imperative. They aren’t doing it for themselves. They are not indulging an ego-need. They are, as Chris said, “creating to translate experiences for others.” Artists are meaning makers in a world that often makes no sense.

It is simple. Artists serve the force of unity in a world dedicated to the forces of division. And, that makes no sense.

Pastor Tom has a calling. He left a big salary career for the meager salary of a pastor because he could no longer ignore the inner voice demanding that he answer his call. It need not make sense because Pastor Tom can say that he answered God’s call. Chris’ calling is coming from the same source though, in our world, the connective tissue of his claim is not as easy to grasp.

Many people can draw, write, dance, act, sculpt, trumpet, and paint. A very few actually need to do it. They can do nothing else. Just as many people are capable of sermonizing and leading a church, it is the rare person who has to do it, who can do nothing else. Chris would wither if he did, as his elders suggest, leave his crazy pursuit and get a real job that pays real money and provides real stability. They do not know what Chris knows: stability has nothing to do with money or jobs that make sense.

Sense-making is a matter of the head. Chris is a servant of the heart.

There is a very powerful Hungarian film, called White God (though if you are a dog lover as I am you should probably steer clear). It is film about violence and suppression begetting nothing but more violence and suppression. It makes sense. In the final scene of the movie, when faced with a tide of horrific violence, a young girl pulls her trumpet from her backpack and begins to play. The beauty of her playing stops the unstoppable. It breaks the cycle of violence. It makes no sense: beauty has the power to extinguish violence.

Beauty has the capacity to unify a world dedicated to division and violence. This is what Chris’ call is all about. This is what he knows in his bones. It is the reason he gets on the stage for meager pay. It is the reason he spends his days going to endless auditions and producing plays on subway platforms and other places where few will ever stop and take notice. It is the reason a big backyard and sensible job make no sense. He is a servant to the power of beauty, the wonders of art, the necessity of illuminating unity amidst the madness of division. With this calling, all other paths are closed. They simply make no sense.

Sit By The River

photoThe back deck of the Minturn Inn overlooks the Eagle River. We sit in the sun and are mesmerized by the sound of the rushing water. It is liquid peace. In this moment I believe that people seeking to develop a meditation practice should begin sitting by a river. The water easily carries away all thought and worry.

The river is a great giver of perspective, a great deliverer of presence.

I am struck by this power of the river – and it is a power. We easily grasp nature’s power when a tornado levels a town or an earthquake devastates a city but forget that there is a flip side, a quieter side to nature’s ominous power. There is a vast quiet. In our world peace seems nearly impossible to achieve yet in less than a minute, sitting by the river, I am steeped in peace. That is an awesome power!

I once read (somewhere) that we have a vibrant internal compass capable of ringing true from false, right from wrong. If we make a choice that is out of our integrity, the compass spins wildly out of control, setting off an unstoppable inner monologue, a great inner debate. If the choice is in alignment, the moment passes unnoticed. True north is known by the absence of spinning. Inner quiet is an affirmation. Nature – including our inner nature – doesn’t lie.

Sitting on the deck, breathing in the mist and peace of the rushing water, I know that what’s most important in this life, the real art, happens in the quiet spaces, the moments that thought cannot penetrate, the spaces that require no definition or justification. They are the moments ripe with gratitude. They are the moments dripping with appreciation. I know that all the debates and disagreements and defenses are paper tigers. I also know that this peace is not the province of the river. It is, in fact, available all the time. The river simply reminds me to hush up and listen.

Drop Beneath The Noise

my latest work in progress

a detail of my latest work in progress

“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

A year and a half ago, when I moved to Wisconsin, I made the very conscious decision to unplug from the daily news cycle. I stopped watching it, listening to it, and reading it. My theory was that, if there was something truly newsworthy, I would hear about it. My intention was not to stick my head in the sand but the opposite. I wanted to drop the noise level so I might hear the stories with real value that were being obscured by the hype.

I was feeling more and more assaulted at the way the news was coming at me. I felt that it was literally coming AT me. I was disturbed that friends, family, and acquaintances oriented their truth (their opinions) according to their news source of choice. Events were not being reported as much as created for attention and spun for political leaning. It was feeding us a yummy addictive soap opera as context for our lives. Danger and deception were everywhere. “Us and Them” replayed at the top of the hour. One day, riding a bus through downtown Seattle, listening to the conversations around me, I realized that we were not consuming the media, it was consuming us. Division and drama sell.

Many years ago, Neil Postman in his brilliant book, Technopoly, like a prophet warned of the coming days when everything under the sun would be “breaking news.” What would serve as the touchstone of value (and values) when the monumental and the minimal were granted equal import, when news sources waved the flag of surrender and served the gods of entertainment? How might we hold a healthy center when we’ve so thoroughly blurred the line between ratings and reality?

So, I decided to live at the metaphoric edge of the village. An amazing thing happens when you drop beneath the chatter: with quiet comes the capacity to see how much of the chaos is concocted. Beauty becomes infinitely more accessible. The divisions drop away.

Play The Ukulele

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

Last night I was at Ukulele practice in a garden on the shores of Lake Michigan. I am a rank beginner and learning to play the Ukulele with 47 other people. We were laughing our way through Over The Rainbow. I was playing air Ukulele pretending that I was expert at my chord progressions, when a sphinx butterfly circled us, flew into the garden right next to me, and began drinking from the flowers. It was close enough to touch. I’d never seen anything like it before. I was so captivated by the butterfly that I forgot to pretend that I was strumming.

A sphinx butterfly looks like an exotic hummingbird. It is shaped like a hummingbird, its wings beat like a hummingbird, it hovers like a hummingbird, and yet it is not a hummingbird. My section of the ukulele band completely dropped their chord progressions and joined me in gaping at the butterfly. We entered an intense debate about whether it was a hummingbird or indeed a sphinx butterfly. The people seated to the left of the garden voted for hummingbird. Those of us on the right were solidly in the butterfly camp. I had no idea so I went with those seated around me. Each camp had solid justifications and good reasons for their point of view. The butterfly paid us no attention. It was not concerned about our debate or our need to identify its species. It continued feeding regardless of the label we attached to it.

I can’t help it. In moments like this I step into the role of witness. I watched people enrapt by a butterfly. I watched their loving debate, their laughter, their awe. I watched this group of amazing people hold their treasured ukuleles of many colors – green, purple, midnight blue, orange, red, pink and sky blue, white and black – watching a butterfly of many colors – pink, orange, purple, salmon, white, blue and black – and I was in awe of their awe. They did not see how beautiful they were as they admired the beauty of the butterfly.

This is the role of the human being isn’t it? To see the beauty of the world. To appreciate and give a name to the awesome and unimaginable. To engage with the beauty and then to join in a simple way with the creation of beauty: this group who gathers each Wednesday night to play their ukulele’s together and laugh and drink wine and gape in utter amazement at a butterfly.

Meet The Beautiful

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

It is one of those glorious clear nights in Seattle and the moon is round and bright and high in the sky. I was leaving the Samurai Noodle restaurant, one of those lovely tiny crannies turned into a food establishment. It’s the kind of place where you need to keep your elbows in tight or you’ll upset the table next to you and nobody cares because the chili noodles and genmaicha are to die for (the noodles are homemade, the tea is renowned, the food moans are genuine).

I stepped out into the cold night and was stopped in my tracks by the moon. I was not the only one who paused in my arc from here to there. Shoppers from the grocery store stopped, too. The moon called and we took a moment to listen. In a city where the lights blot out most of the stars and we the people are in a perpetual rush to be somewhere else, it requires a potent call to reach us, to make us look up from the ground, to bring us to a full stop for just one moment. And, in that moment, we touch that deepest of human places, the appreciation of beauty, a single breath given to the sublime.

Because the good people at the Samurai Noodle gave me a to-go cup and more hot water for my tea, I decided to sit for a while and watch people answer the call of the moon and touch the transcendent. My favorite part is the moment of recognition, the moment that the light of the moon stops the story, and for an instant, peoples’ faces relax and reflect the light back at the moon; just for an instant, a single breath, the beautiful meets the beautiful, time suspends, and there is not discerning which heavenly body is the source of the light.

Truly Powerful People (449)

449.
Join me in inspiring truly powerful people. Each day I will add a new thought, story or idea to support your quest and mine.

My great aunt Dorothy was wise. She lived a simple life in the mountains above Central City, Colorado when it was still a mining town – long before the casino conversion turned it into an amusement park. Dorothy pieced together a living with my great uncle Del. They moved through their days with the sturdy simplicity of two people content to be right where they were – alive and grateful for every day. Their aspiration was to walk the hills, appreciate the seasons, and learn the deep quiet of the mountain. In turn the mountain evoked the deep quiet from within them.

For some reason they welcomed their rowdy nieces and nephews; we’d stay for weeks at a time. We shattered their quiet and complicated their simplicity and they loved us for it. Dorothy cooked hearty meals on a wood burning caste iron stove in a house that felt as if it might slide down the ravine at any moment. She collected blue glass, kept the hummingbird feeders well supplied, and made sure Poncho, their ancient dog, was in the sunniest spot.

Once, she took me on a hike. We followed a path through an aspen grove and crossed a field into a stand of pine trees. On the far side of the pines stood the remains of two-story house. Trees grew through the floor and branches reached out the windows; it was as if the trees were wearing the house for a coat or a Halloween costume. We peeked inside and tried to imagine people living there. I’d never before seen the earth reclaim a house. As if she read my mind, Dorothy said, “You never really own anything, do you. It’s all on loan.” Her eyes sparkled as she poked the rotted floorboards with a stick before stepping on them. “Isn’t it beautiful,” she sighed admiring the dilapidation. When I wrinkled my brow she laughed and said, “I suppose you have to know you are on loan before you can really see the beauty.”