Tickle Open The Closed [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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It used to be one of my favorite exercises to facilitate. Ask one person in a small group to tell a story of blame. Ask the rest of the group to invest in the story. In no time the small groups would be indignant, talking over each other in disgruntlement. A klatch of agitated victims, howling.  They’d laugh in their aggravated frenzy. They’d devise clever revenge or ways to torment the object of their blame story. They’d grow a monster.

Blame stories are like sugar. They are easy to eat and highly addictive. There’s rarely any real substance, so much gossip-cotton-candy, but there is an odd pleasure in playing the role of  “the injured party.” The groups would always reflect that the exercise was fun. So much so that they’d often forget it was an exercise. Commiseration and validation, after all, are the point of a blame story. That, and making someone else responsible for how we feel.

Ask the same groups to tell a story of choice or opportunity and most times, after only a minute or two, they’d sit in silence. Their, “Great. That’s really great,” support would dwindle. Feeding an idea is not nearly as easy as feeding a story of blame.

Quinn used to tell me that creativity is not for the faint of heart.

The groups were always shocked to discover how much of their lives were spent chewing the gristle of discontent, of feeding the notion that someone else was to blame for their choices or their circumstance. They’d generally comment on how easy it was to commiserate and how difficult it is to question, challenge or stop the blame-game. Mostly, they were shocked to discover how little of their time they dedicated to feeding ideas, theirs or another persons.

Blame stories are easy because they are reductive. They engender tight little balls of closed minds and closed circles. They close hearts. They take almost no energy at all to spark but, once burning, like a wildfire, they are capable of consuming entire forests.

Idea exploration is expansive. Seeing possibilities requires eyes that look up and out.  It takes much more energy to imagine, to question, to ponder. To try. To experiment. To ask. To challenge what you think you know. Opening minds, opening circles and hearts requires a deep sense of self-responsibility. It requires an even deeper sense of responsibility to others.

One of the purposes of the artist is to open closed circles, to tickle open closed minds. To help their community see anew and entertain never-before-imagined possibilities.

It takes more effort and courage to sail to the edges of the known world than it does to hang out around the water cooler and complain about others. Great minds do not have more capacity than any other mind, but they do require a very different focus.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about GREAT MINDS & IDEAS

 

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FaceTheRain

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Stand On Any Street Corner [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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For reasons that are beyond my pay-grade to comprehend, human beings are obsessed with seeing conflict and division. The news of the day is generally antagonistic and despair-inducing – and that is not unique to our day. Ancient temples and modern televisions alike are overrun with images of war and hostility.

One of the greatest powers a human being can achieve is the power of focus placement. ‘Seeing’ is, after all, a matter of choice.  It is not passive. In any given moment there are multiple points of focus, there are multiple stories, there are many interpretations to choose from.

Stand on any street corner and watch the world happen. Watch the overwhelming number of acts of kindness and generosity. The small moments of simple kindness and consideration. They are everywhere. People giving way, making way, helping. You will be surprised to find that the kindnesses by far outnumber the rudeness, the antagonism.

Stand on any street corner and watch where your focus goes. In the midst of a tsunami of kindness, if you are human and like all other humans, your focus will be captured by the angry guy honking his horn, the commuter shouting at the bus driver. “Such an angry world,” you think and close your eyes, despairing. Anger is so much louder than kindness.

Tell a story of discord, see a story of discord. Practice a story of discord, live a story of discord. Discord is easily leveraged. Division is easily sold. It is like selling candy to a kid. It is readily chiseled into pillars and hungrily read into teleprompters.  It is so easy to see.

Tell a story of kindness, see a story of kindness. Practice a story of kindness, live a story of kindness. Although it is more readily available it is, somehow, more difficult to see. It is less sell-able and, so, is discarded as trite. It requires choice and discernment rather than default. It requires opening your eyes and your story to what is actual, what lives beyond the thundering chorus of conflict-peddlers.

The angry shooters and tweet-happy presidents live on the far margins yet they garner the majority of the attention. Stand on any street corner and open your eyes. There is a sweeping quiet kindness that permeates the vast majority, that defines the middle ground. You can see it if you so choose.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about KINDNESS

 

 

 

 

 

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Appreciate The Garbage [on Merely A Thought Monday]

your past copyWe saw this phrase on a Baptist church signboard en route to the Des Plaines river trail: your past should not dictate your future.

I read somewhere that we spend the first half of our life stuffing a bag full of garbage and the second half of our life unpacking and sorting through it. If it is true that we must make mistakes in order to learn, then much of what we judge as garbage must also be the necessary ingredient for growth. Context is everything.

When we first met, Kerri introduced me to a song by Rascal Flatts called Bless The Broken Road. Our conversation was a shared soul searching about all things we’d done in the past and labeled as ‘mistakes’. These ‘mistakes’ set off chains of events that led to the really good things in our lives. One of them led to our meeting. “You have to listen to this song,” she said. God bless the broken road.

Forgiveness seems hard to extend to others but almost impossible to extend to ourselves. Mistakes. Garbage. Broken roads. Who really knows where a path leads? Who really knows the impact of any decision or choice? It is easy to look back on a choice and criticize it because it is also easy to forget the pressures-of-the-moment and future-blindness that factor into our choices. Hindsight is not as clear as advertised.

When we were young Roger told me that he didn’t want to have any regrets when he looked back on his life. At the time I agreed. Now, I know that a life void of regret is a life lived on a too narrow spectrum, a protected life. A life free of risk. And, that life, inevitably comes with one single but whopping regret: it wasn’t really lived.

The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

read Kerri’s blog post about PAST DICTATES

 

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Open Your Hand [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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Asked another way, this question might read, “Why do we hang on so long to the painful stuff and so easily let go of the magical parts?” Or, “Why do we so easily focus on the obstacles and so rarely look for the possibilities?”

Sit in any cafe and eavesdrop and you will mostly hear tales of woe. Any good news editor will tell you that the stories of goodness are a much harder sell than the stories of tragedy. It seems we are attracted like moths to a flame to the struggles, the uphill battles, the pain-full disasters. It is the most human of activities, whipping up and diving into stories of calamity.

In a bygone era, when wearing my consulting cap, I loved doing an exercise with groups that revealed their addiction to blame stories. Blame-stories are like sugar. They are fun to tell. It is yummy to consume handfuls of it’s-not-my-fault or it-happened-to me and once the blame-story gets rolling, it blossoms into an endless dessert buffet. Everyone rolls down the line and loads their plate.

Hanging onto pain. Grasping onto regret. Whipping up conflict. Tug of war. It is so easy. Close the hand and make a fist. Shake it at the sky.

The magical parts? They happen. There’s no need to keep an accounting. Words are woefully inadequate in heart-matters so the story is harder to tell. An open hand is available for the next moment. An open hand is not holding on.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about MAGICAL/PAINFUL

 

 

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Open Your Mind [on DR Thursday]

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Peace on Earth is a nice seasonal phrase but I’m willing to bet that most folks think it is pie-in-the-sky. A utopian ideal. So, pondering what to write about Peace on Earth, I flipped open a book and the first phrase I saw was this: An Open Mind.

Horatio is wise. He once told me that in these United States we are divided because we have competing narratives. Narrative #1: Every man for himself. Narrative #2: I am my brothers’ keeper. I think he is right. Generally, you can toss every national debate into one of those buckets. This morning, for my Peace on Earth rumination, I’d redefine those two narratives this way #1: Closed Mind (every man for himself) or #2: Open Mind (I am my brother’s keeper).

The ‘every man for himself’ narrative is predicated on the notion that there is limited pie in this vast universe. The goal is to grab a big piece of the limited pie. It’s necessarily a fight because there’s not nearly enough pie to go around. It’s fear-based and fear closes minds. Every year people get trampled in the national-celebration-of-limited-pie known as Black Friday. Get yours. It’s true, through this dark lens Peace on Earth is nothing more than pie-in-the-sky.

The inverse narrative, ‘I am my brothers’ (and sisters’!) keeper’ is predicated on the notion that there is plenty of pie to go around. In fact, the goal is not to grab but to create and then to give. Not only to share our toys and our gifts but to cultivate the base layer of Maslow’s Hierarchy for everyone: security & safety. Communal self-actualization follows the same path as personal self-actualization. Morality, respect, and generosity are the blossoms of feeling secure. So is an Open Mind. Peace on Earth, through this lens, is like more pie in the oven.

The ‘every man for himself’ story is a great recipe for closing minds. With fear and studied ignorance at its center, this narrative begs us to ignore a simple truth: no one does this alone. We are, in fact, dependent upon each other for our survival, our identity and our esteem. In isolation, a human being cannot thrive. Withhold interaction and love an infant will not survive.

I have a theory (okay, a belief) that the ‘I am my brothers’ and sisters’ keeper’ narrative is the truth of us. When the chips are down, when another person in peril, firefighters run into the building, they don’t run away. Everyday people leap in harm’s way to save the life of another. It is their instinct. It is our nature.

Like everything, believe it or not, what we embrace is a choice. Narratives are powerful.

An Open Mind is a door into Peace on Earth. It’s possible there’s more pie in this vast universe, this abundant earth, than a closed mind wants you to see.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about PEACE ON EARTH

 

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Give To Life [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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Today is voting day in these United States of America. Our election cycles are usually ugly and interminable affairs but this cycle has established a new low bar. These days my country’s narrative is anything – and everything – but kind. Anything goes, it seems, but kindness (or truth, but that’s a theme for another time).

It’s a complex challenge. People wrapped in an ugly narrative see an ugly world (of course). People wrapped in an ugly narrative respond with ugly actions (of course). As the saying goes, ‘If the only tool you have in your bag is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.’ Ugly narratives are a one-tool-bag.

An ugly narrative is never changed through another ugly narrative. Resistance will always create a fight.  Hammer, nail. Hammer, nail. It’s a great strategy for inflating the ugliness. Winning at all cost usually costs the things most valued: ideals and values. Decency. Division as a strategy works in the short term but the long game is, well, ugly.

Reach Through Time no wordsjpg copyIt is not a secret, though rarely put into practice, that bridging a philosophical divide is easy. It’s rarely practiced because it’s counter-intuitive: Reach.  Reaching is a distinctly different action than resisting and it generates a distinctly different response: reconciliation. It does, however, require a set of tools beyond a simple hammer:

  1. Listening.
  2. A dedication to truth, even if it doesn’t support the belief-of-the-moment. Reconciliation is impossible without leading with the truth.
  3. Operating out of a bigger picture – one that transcends self-interest.

Pie-in-the-sky you say? Why is it less possible to choose kindness than it is to choose violence? Why does reaching across the aisle seem more difficult than demonizing those on the other side? Demonizing is easy. Fear is easy. Planting a flag in the sand and casting yourself as victim is so much easier than stepping across the line and standing in the other’s shoes. Or, if standing in their shoes is too difficult, standing side-by-side is an option.

Many years ago, a student, a former gang member said it best: “Any idiot with a gun can take a life. Taking is easy. The real work comes when you choose to give to life rather than take it.”

World Kindness Day is a week away. Choose to give kindness. Give to life. In little ways. In small moments. And, if it feels good, perhaps consider choosing it everyday, rather than once a year. Kindness is a great addition to any tool bag.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about WORLD KINDNESS DAY

 

 

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DR Thursday

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kerri calls this morsel, Layered Meditation. a perfect name as it comes from my painting, Meditation.

I believe that every moment of life is a meditation, conscious or otherwise. Your current meditation may be about the anxiety of  having enough money to pay the bills. It may be about the frustration of being stuck in traffic – again. It might be about a perceived injustice; blame meditations dominate most of our inner monologues. Of course, you might also be meditating about what to get at the grocery store or what to plant in the garden this year. You might be meditating about how to make life better for your children. Not all meditations are worrisome. Generally, we dedicate a small sliver of the meditation pie chart to the generative.

And, that’s really the point. We choose where we place our thoughts, we decide where we aim our focus. It is a dedication, not a runaway train.

One of my favorite moments in Carlos Castaneda’s book, The Teachings of Don Juan, happens when the master, Don Juan, refuses to place any value in the continued angst of his student, Carlos. Laughing at Carlos’ dedication to his misery, Don Juan says, “You indulge like a son-of-a-bitch!” Discovering and shedding indulgences is a many layered exploration. Shedding indulgences, like cutting junk food from your diet, comes when you recognize that you choose what you consume, not the other way around. You choose what you think, you choose your meditations, not the other way around.

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Meditation, 48 x 48in, mixed media

I am relearning this lesson. Lately, in the studio, I find I am meditating on my personal hall of monsters and past injustices. I’ve been taken aback at my dedication to replaying these tales of woe and unfairness.  And then I hear Roger’s voice in my head saying, “What kind of a sissy word is ‘fair!'” And I laugh. Laughter is great for rededicating the thought-train. Laughter loops me back to another favorite Don Juan-ism: “The trick is in what one emphasizes. We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves happy. The amount of work is the same.”

 

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read Kerri’s blog post about LAYERED MEDITATION

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