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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Do Anything Else

sharpersquareinstrofpeacewordsonlyjpeg

It occurs to me now that all along I’ve been asking irrelevant questions. Or, perhaps framing my questions too narrowly. For instance, years ago I went to graduate school to study systems because I wanted to follow a question that reached deep into my life and identity as an artist: can a mythology be rekindled once it has died? Art, after all, is one of the primary life-keepers of a culture’s story and the beating heart of the story is its mythology. And, according to all indicators, our mythology is mostly dead [as Joseph Campbell said, for evidence of our mythological demise, all you need to do is look at the news]. So, the younger version of myself wanted to understand the purpose of my life as an artist if, indeed, I was in service to a dead mythology. Heady questions, yes? Relevant questions?

In the early 1990’s I was invited to a photographer’s studio to see the “newest thing” in photography. The photographer had a new “program” called Photoshop. Before my eyes he “photoshopped” me into a picture, a place I’d never before visited. Today, all of this seems commonplace. Now, any 5 year old can manipulate an image but at the time a photograph stood for proof that something had actually happened. A photograph could not lie. It was evidence of truth. That day, standing in the photographer’s studio, I realized that the old reliable anchors for truth no longer existed. What was our anchor?

The truly significant events in our lives rarely come in with a roar.

We’ve been hearing a lot lately about fake news – as if this was a new phenomenon. It brings to my mind a terrific book written in 1985 by Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves To Death. Here’s bit from the first page:

“Our politics, religion, news, athletics, education, and commerce have been transformed into congenial adjuncts of show business, largely without protest or even much popular notice. The result is that we are a people on the verge of amusing ourselves to death.”

I suppose fake news refers to something wholly concocted but I’d argue that when news agencies pander and promote themselves to conservative or liberal viewpoints, when ratings drive content, it’s all fake news. News with an agenda is…not news. It is, however, dangerous to a democracy and no longer free (as in free press, a cornerstone of our democracy). Historically, newspapers have always had a point of view but there was some attention paid to what was printed as news. Opinion was confined to an editorial page. When the line between true and concocted is blurred, when a populace cannot discern between entertainment and substance, it no longer has the capacity to make sound (read, “informed”) judgments. Worse, it is gullible, gossip-eaten and infinitely manipulate-able. It is, as Neil Postman wrote, entertaining itself to death.

I recently wrote about the absence of recognizable communal anchors (mythology) and the dangers of a community with nothing but the soft soil of belief and opinion as its driver. Is planting a personal-truth flag and defending its territory all that is left to us?

What else can we do? Now, there’s a relevant, open-ended question! Roger once told me that he would never be able to understand suicide. He said something like, “In that moment, rather than take your own life, why not do anything else? Why not make any other choice?” Another relevant question!

What else can we do? In the face of our own entertainment-driven suicide, why not do anything else? Turn off the blather, go outside, meet your neighbor, tell stories of your children or your ancestors. If common ground can’t be found it can certainly be created. Inhabit something bigger than opinion. It’s less entertaining but certainly more useful. Great art – no matter the form- lives in those bigger fields.

 

MAKE ME AN INSTRUMENT OF PEACE – GIFTS

to kickstart your peace, listen to this:

for PEACE on iTunes, go here (track 5 on the album AS IT IS)

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Use Reason

Step Into Unknown with Sig“When a speaker who does not know the difference between good and evil tries to convince a people as ignorant as himself, not by ascribing to a poor beast like a donkey the virtues of a horse, but by representing evil as in fact good, and so by a careful study of popular notions succeeds in persuading them to do evil instead of good, what kind of harvest do you think his rhetoric will reap from the seed he has sown?” Phaedrus by Plato

 

The woman walked to the end of the small pier and started to weep. It was a cold day and windy. Kerri and I maintained silence as we passed. The woman was making an appeal to her god. She asked the stormy lake and angry sky, “Why?”

Belief is a powerful thing.

Beth believes that the universe was created 6,000 years ago. Even though the gasoline she pumps into her car is evidence to the contrary, nothing will shake her firm belief. No amount of science, data, or experience can crack her conviction to what she believes.

At first glance Beth might seem an oddity but she is actually more representative of the norm. Consider this quote published this morning in our local paper. It’s an editorial from the Los Angeles Times entitled, “The ‘fake news’ dilemma.” “Some observers argue that the public’s receptivity to fake news is a sign that we live in a ‘post-factual’ society, with people who are mainly interested in information that comports with their preexisting notions.” In other words, no amount of science, data, or experience can crack our convictions to what we believe. And, like Beth, we do not want to hear [or consider] anything that challenges our beliefs. Rather than question, we plant our belief-flag and defend the territory.

Flag planting makes for good ratings. Conflict is an easier story to sell than compromise so it is not surprising that we have news sources that blatantly cater to our preexisting notions. Division makes us a good market and infinitely manipulatable.

Certainly defending the territory of unquestioned belief feels good. Righteousness, blame and gossip always feel good. There’s no responsibility required! Here’s another bit to consider from the editorial: “The problem is obvious: When surveys by the Pew Research Center find that 62 percent of U.S. adults get at least some of their news from social media, and 20 percent of social-media users say the things they read online have changed their views on an issue or candidate, the electorate is all the more vulnerable to a disinformation campaign. By Buzzfeed’s count, the 20 most popular fake-news stories in the last three months of the campaign were shared more often on Facebook than the top 20 stories from leading mainstream news sites.”

What prayer do we have when we are too…lazy…incapable…. to discern gossip from news, belief from fact [dear reader help me find a word other than fact].

For me, the top spot on the hierarchy of beliefs-that-blind is the “pre-existing notion” that we human beings operate from reason. Reason requires doubt, questioning, listening, and reaching for the perceptions of others. Reason, like heart, is a commons. It thrives on honest debate and will have nothing to do with individual or collective rigidity. We are not born with it, however we are born with the capacity to engage it. It is not something any single individual attains – it is not attainable – it is relational – it requires multiple perspectives and continued conversation. It requires a step into the  unknown.

Thoughts Babble Hearts Speak

 

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Reach To The Light

TODAY’S FEATURED IDEA FOR HUMANS

Reach To The Light

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

Step Toward Faith

My latest. An unusually small canvas.

My latest. An unusually small canvas: Will Is Belief.

I began writing this post a few weeks ago, just before the run to Florida and the launch of Beaky’s book. It was a very busy week and I’d forgotten that I started but did not finish the thought. This morning, wanting to get back into the rhythm of writing, I opened my iPad and found these words already written and awaiting my return:

I’m sitting in the choir loft watching the evening sun illuminate the stained glass window. I’m tired tonight and listening to Kerri, preparing for the Maundy evening service, rehearsing Nancy’s solo. Nancy’s voice is like a warm cello, deep and rich, and is working like a sound-massage on my tired bones. I’m giving over to it.

This cycle of services on Easter week is relatively new to me so I’m paying attention to all of the symbols and rituals of this story of rebirth. As is true of every great story cycle, the night is darkest before the dawn (thus, the cliché). This night, called Maundy Thursday in the cycle – I’m told that Maundy means mandate – is the night of the last supper and all the betrayals that followed. It is the segment of the story that is chocked full of crises of faith. If, like me, you are a lover of story you will recognize that some form of betrayal usually precedes a crisis of faith and, in turn, a crisis of faith always leads to growth and new direction; it always leads to sunrise.

Others betray us. We betray ourselves. Betrayal happens on the edges of the dark forest and forces a step into the unknown. Betrayal happens when we fall asleep (that is most often how we betray ourselves – sitting in front of the television to numb us to the richness of our lives). Things crumble: the relationship that we believed was secure, the truth into which we rooted our belief, the career that we thought would carry us to retirement. Security dissolves, identity dissipates, and then what? All the fears bob to the surface. All the dragons come out of the closet.

This was the unfinished thought I found this morning. I have no recollection of where I was going with it. Now, two weeks and a lot of life later, I read it as if someone else wrote it. However, there was one other sentence, detached from the others. It now reads like a mystery to me. When writing, I routinely float a sentence at the bottom of the page because it is the point of what I’m trying to reach. My floating sentence read:

A crisis of faith often has very little to do with faith.

And, as I try to resurrect my thought of a few weeks ago, I can only smile and write the first thing that occurred to me when I scrolled down and found the floater: Faith, like love or truth or time or anything else, is not something fixed. It moves and grows as we move and grow. A crisis of faith is really a step toward faith renewed. It enlivens. It helps us retire old dragons or let go of empty promises. It gets us out of our easy chair and helps us fully feel the day.

 

Open To Belief

another from the Yoga series by David Robinson

another from the Yoga series by David Robinson

I’m having one of those days ripe with revelations and have been scrambling to capture the insight ripples before they rush down my thought river, around the bend, and out of mind.

One of the ripples has to do with the “As if….” The “As if…” is a tool for actors, self-growth seekers, and human beings in general. For an actor, to act “As if…” opens the door to belief in a character. For the seeker of self-growth, to act “As if…” opens the door to belief in his or her capacities, as if they were a character in the play of their own lives. The “As if” serves as a bridge into a possible future when belief is hard to come by.

When I was younger, a favorite “As if” mantra imparted to me by adults was, “To dress for the job I wanted, not the job I was applying for.” In other words, dress as if I already had the job I wanted. In my case it was lousy advice because donning pants and shirts spattered with paint was not the ladder climbing attire they wanted me to embrace. For me, the elders needed a different premise beneath their “As if” advice. There was no ladder in my paradigm. Dressing for any job felt like self-betrayal on my way to soul death. Of course, years later, having lost my mind, I actually put on a suit and lace-up shoes to coach my first executive client.  He laughed heartily as I writhed in my new suit. He advised me to show up as I am, not as what I thought he wanted me to be. Great advice! His quote, “You are an unmade bed and need to own it. It’s why I hired you – because you are different.” As if!

I’ve understood for years that people perform themselves. “As if” can be a kick-starter for a belief-filled performance. It is an illusion-seed that, when watered and tended, grows into the identity you wish to inhabit. In other words, perform the person you want to become and not the one you currently believe yourself to be. Invoke “As if…” and sooner or later you may start to believe in your performance. Sooner or later you may become who you imagine yourself to be.  The roles we play are not fixed identities and much more fluid than we pretend! Becoming who you imagine yourself to be is called growth and requires a wee bit of acting.

One of my favorite lessons from the theatre is that character (the role you play, like Hamlet or Juliet) is not something you pretend, it is found in how you do what you do. Characters in plays want something; how they go about getting what they want reveals who they are. So, when building a character, swim upstream.  The character will reveal itself through you (the actor) if you identify and take action: craft how he or she does what they do. Young actors have to transcend the notion that acting is pretending. It is not. Action and pretense are two different things. A musician does not pretend to play music and an actor does not pretend to play a character. An actor pursues intentions. An actor acts (thus, the moniker). Actions are the notes an actor plays. Hamlet is the consummate student. He seeks truth. He tests hypotheses. How he goes about seeking and testing determines what we see as a character.

The same might be said of you and me. A human being pursues intentions. We take actions everyday and so, perform ourselves. How we go about our pursuit reveals what we believe. When we have little belief and big, big fear, we have the option of acting “As if…” It’s a loop. “As if…” leads to belief and belief leads to “As if…” Life off the stage is just like life on the stage: it is a cycle of belief and dis-belief. “As if…” is an ongoing growth process. Imagination knows no outcome.

In a recent workshop, after remembering a favorite childhood game, a man in the workshop said, “My imagination opened me to my belief.” Yes. That’s it exactly!

Go here to get my latest book, The Seer: The Mind of the Entrepreneur, Artist, Visionary, title_pageSeeker, Learner, Leader, Creator…You.

Go here for hard copies (Amazon)

Face The Sun

Lake Michigan frozen

Lake Michigan frozen

Standing on the sea wall, the sun on our faces, the frozen Lake Michigan looked like a vast field of broken glass, shards akimbo, glistening in the morning light. The shards popped and crackled, moaned and snapped; it was the first warm day in months. The birds frolicked. It was a small taste of spring, a gift before winter’s return tomorrow. I closed my eyes, faced the sun, and drank it in.

Kerri and I had just walked across the harbor. We watched the ice fishermen drill holes in the ice. The bit dropped more than two feet before breaking through. The fishermen assured us that the ice was very thick. “I’ve lived my whole life here and never seen the ice this deep,” the man said, sipping his coffee and looking at the lines he’d dropped in the water. We stepped out onto the ice, making a pact to rescue the other – and walked across the harbor.

The sea wall is on the far side of the harbor and usually requires a boat to reach. It is constructed of enormous boulders, some still encased in ice and looking like something the artist Christo might have created. On our water walk to the sea wall we snapped photographs, splashed in newly formed puddles, and left footprints in the snowy spots.  We laughed. We waltzed around an old fishing hole. We looked at each other and said over and over, “I can’t believe it!”

On the wall, listening to the ice chorus, my eyes closed and soaking up the sun, I photo-1remembered a conversation that I had years ago with Father Lauren when I was a student at The College of Santa Fe. We had great conversations because he knew I was not a believer in his faith. In many ways we saw the world from diametrically opposed points of view but rather than wrestle with winning the other to our perspective, we asked questions to try and understand. Father Lauren saw the earth as corrupt. I saw (and see) it as magnificent. We were talking about reincarnation and he’d just asked, “What kind of god would punish people by bringing them back to this place?” I responded with a phrase I’d recently heard in a lecture Joseph Campbell delivered about the gnostic gospels, “The kingdom of heaven is on earth and men just do not see it.”

Father Lauren closed his eyes and tried to spin his paradigm around. He asked, “So, we are already in heaven and simply need to open our eyes to the beauty of it all?”

“Yes,” I said. “That’s what I believe.”

He smiled, “I just can’t believe it.”

Standing on the sea wall, Kerri took my hand. The ice sang. She whispered, “I just can’t believe it.”  I wanted to reach back in time and tell Father Lauren, “Yes. That’s the thing! When you open your eyes and see heaven on earth, what you see is impossible to believe.” Heaven has nothing to do with belief and everything to do with what you choose to see.

“Me, too,” I whispered, the sun on my face. “It is unbelievable.”

Go here to get my latest book, The Seer: The Mind of the Entrepreneur, Artist, Visionary, title_pageSeeker, Learner, Leader, Creator…You.

Go here for hard copies (Amazon)