Read A Tiny Note [on Two Artists Tuesday]

I was still in shock. It was late, beyond midnight. The roosters were watching for the sunrise. The ritual I’d witnessed that night blew the metaphoric wheels off my car. Wave after wave of knife-wielding priests ran at the Rangda, a priest chosen for the evening to wear the mask, to enter the trance and become the demon. The priests stabbed the Rangda but to no avail. The blades bent. They were repelled. Eventually, all entered the trance and turned the knives on themselves, taking the energy, the protection of the Rangda, into their bodies. Into the community. No one was injured. Peace was made with the Rangda. Balance was affirmed.

I held one of the knives after the ritual was complete. It was not a stage prop. I could not have bent the blade on my chest without doing injury to myself.

Budi explained it all to me. I had so many questions. In his culture, the dark forces are not to be resisted or banished. There is no hell separate from heaven. Evil and good are not compartmentalized. There are energies, some dark and some light. There is no need to make peace with the light. The necessity is to face and make peace with the dark. Balance is created, an intentional relationship with a dynamic whole. It’s a dance of responsibility, a balance of dark and light. The middle way.

Balance.

I loved this photo when Kerri showed it to me. Clover. You can’t tell but it is tiny. It is bursting from beneath the stone that serves as the step onto our deck. It made we wonder if the fairy people were close at hand. They serve, in the western tradition, a similar role to the Rangda in Bali. Nature spirits. It was most important to keep in the good graces with the Fairies. Honor their places. Respect and maintain the balance. According to tradition, they went into hiding, they left because we assaulted their spaces; we came to value the path of resources, mining, deforestation, fracking, damming…over the path of balance.

This tiny breath of clover. I sat on the stone last night. The air was cool after a humid and hot day. DogDog was doing his rounds. I had not thought of the Rangda in years. A tiny community on a tiny island. The “mayor” of the town introduced the ritual to us as their art. “We have so little to offer you,” he said in his broken English, “but we bring you our most prized offering, our art.”

Art. A prized offering. The dance of energies, an intentional relationship with the dynamic whole. An ongoing ritual of balance. It was the first time I witnessed a community that had yet to exorcise its art from the sacred. It bent knives. It restored balance. It belonged and gave deep meaning to every member of the community.

Tiny. Like the Fairies or the community on the island. A simple respect for what is good for the whole. Balance is expressed in the tiny things, the choices of where to walk, what to say. What helps in the long run. What does not. What gives meaning and cohesion to a community. What does not.

Budi would caution us with COVID and guns and a globe that is weirding and warming, “Rangda is ignored,” he’d say.

“Yes,” I’d reply, “the fairies have gone into hiding.”

But, all is not lost. They left a tiny note at our back door. Balance, it reads, is a relationship, an intentional act. It is an ongoing ritual, a tiny sacred thing.

read Kerri’s blog post about CLOVER

Choose Your Way [on DR Thursday]

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” ~ Viktor Frankel

I always feel a bit disappointed in myself after writing a post like the post I wrote yesterday. It was a near-rant, an ugly system becoming more ugly as it fights to protect its ugliness.

It’s been a battle all of my life, wrestling with what to do or say when my desire to focus on the life-giving runs headlong into the harsh realities of the life-denying. To shine a light on the life-denying is sometimes the most life affirming thing to do, it just doesn’t feel very good. “Look at the ugly. No, really look.” Last night, I listened to a conversation – in all seriousness – about the collapse of our democracy. It’s been a minor fascination of mine to witness how self-destructive people and organizations – and nations – will become before they admit that they need to change. Before they turn and say, “I’ve been lying to myself and to you.” Sometimes they destroy themselves rather than turn and face their truth. That was the crux of the conversation. It seems more and more likely that we’ll set ourselves on fire before we embrace the truth of our dysfunction.

One of Kerri and my greatest losses during the time of pandemic was our weekly ritual dinners with 20. Thursday night we’d cook at his condo. Sunday night we’d cook at our house. We’d cook for each other. Sometimes we’d cook with each other. Always we’d drink wine, laugh, and reaffirm what is most important about life. Each other.

Post-vaccination, after a long year of isolation, we recently, gratefully, returned to our ritual. We cook. We talk about our days. We laugh. 20 and I tease Kerri. She feigns indignance and loves every moment. We talk about art. We share the curiosities that have crossed our paths and screens. Sometimes we talk about the nation’s self-immolation but only briefly as we very quickly realize that it pulls us from what is really important. Each other.

Tonight is dinner with 20. We can’t wait and are making our menu, designing our day around what will be the most important thing to happen all day. Time with each other.

As a nation, “We have the wolf by the ears, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go. Justice is in one scale, and self-preservation in the other.” ~Thomas Jefferson, in a letter discussing slavery.

How a question is framed determines the answers/paths-forward one sees or does not see. It could be said of our national trauma that we’ve framed our dilemma with justice pitted squarely against self-preservation, or, to be clear, self-preservation will be at the cost of justice-for-all. It’s too bad. As the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy, self-preservation will always negate a reach toward justice. You’d think that we’d someday recognize that the wolf we have by the ears is of our own creation and that justice-for-all is the only path to self-preservation, national self-actualization. You’d think that it might occur to us, rather than do the same old thing in the same old way, to ask a different question.

If I had a magic wand I’d ding the noggin of this nation with the one strength we share, the one thing that 20 and Kerri and I know without doubt, the only real path to laughter and support and all the other good things we can offer: time with each other. A good meal made with heaps of love. A ritual born of a simple desire to each week make the world a bit better for each other.

read kerri’s blog post about DINNER WITH 20

Exercise Choice [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

I know what it is to be kind. I see acts of kindness everyday. Humans helping humans. Humans helping animals. Humans mindful of and taking care of their planet. Synonyms include friendly, generous, considerate. All of these are other-focused. To be kind is to consider the needs and lives of others. Beaky used to say in parting, “Be kind to each other.” Kindness was her wish for this world.

I’m not sure that I know with the same clarity what it is to be human. Philosophers have answers that generally trace back to our capacity to reason, to make meaning from our senses. To think consciously. To question. To be aware.

My quick pass through the news of the day betrays how non-human we humans can be. What is the sense of perpetuating a lie? What is gained by lobbing bombs at neighbors? Cyber attacks? We read that there were, from sea to shining sea, 9 mass shootings over the weekend. I’m having a hard time making meaning of it all. I can rationalize it, explain it away, assign blame…but, at the end of the day, I know my rationalizations are nonsensical. Non-sense. No sense. Which, according to the battalion of philosophers scribbling across the ages, attempting to define what it is to be human, we are, because of our non-sense, not human.

There are so many questions and thoughts bursting from this simple bumper sticker!

Arriving home at 10pm, after two consecutive days of 13 hour drives, 20 had a hot meal waiting for us. I called for help and my neighbor John came running. Jen prepared a travel bag of snacks for us and left it on our doorstep. The family that lived next door to my parents made sure, after every snowfall, that the walks and driveways of their elder neighbors were shoveled and safe. Kind.

Somewhere in Kansas it occurred to me that to be human was a choice. Kindness is a choice. Yes, we make meaning from our senses and experiences and the line that defines us as human is our capacity to choose the sense, the meaning that we make. We witness and then we choose. The choice makes all the difference.

The angry man weaving in and out of traffic in his truck, flying the confederate flag, was making a choice. The man who shoveled my parent’s driveway, never having met them, was making a choice. To focus on division is a choice. To reach across the aisle is a choice. To wear a mask to protect others is a choice. To point a gun is a choice. To lie is a choice. To stand firm in your conviction is a choice. To open a door for others is a choice.

To be human is not just to exercise choice but to choose actions that support others. And, among the greatest available choices, the choice that most advances humankind, as Beaky knew, is kindness. To think of others, choose, and act accordingly.

read Kerri’s blog post about HUMANKIND

Intend And Stop Wishing [on KS Friday]

We walk. Each day we stop all work, bundle up, and find a trail. That is how we create peace.

We create peace.

It might seem that peace is hard to come by in our angry divided nation, pandemic raging, deniers denying, propaganda smearing,… It’s not so hard if you look for it.

We say to the departed, “Rest in peace.” It is a wish. It’s always seemed to me a bit late to wish peace on others only after they die. Why not wish peace for the living?

Actually, we do – as a seasonal ritual. This is the time of year we hear the hopeful proclamation, “Peace on Earth!” It is sung and inscribed on holiday cards, it is printed on banners hanging in malls and city centers. A wish. Good will toward men and women.

Good will. Peace – like anything else – will always remain a wish, a holiday bromide, until it becomes an action. An intention with effort. A priority. Until we decide it is more important to create peace than it is to wish it. To wish for it.

Good will. To will good.

Will [verb]: expressing a strong intention or assertion for the future.

We walk. We create peace for ourselves. Every day. It is a practice. We know that peace cannot ripple out if the center is turbulent chaos. We know that peace will remain a wish unless we stop work, bundle up, and act on our desire to experience it. To spread it.

Peace. Good will. They are choices. They are actions. They will only be hard to come by until we decide, with strong intention, that it is what we desire for our future. Until we decide peace is more important than division, until we decide to create it. And create it. And create it. Peace isn’t an achievement. It is a relationship.

Pie-in-the-sky? Here’s a thought from my inner cynic: If peace made a profit we’d be doing more than singing about it.

Here’s a thought from my inner idealist: Look around you. We are capable of creating anything. Most likely there’s a little miracle called a “cell phone” within your reach. Peace is no more difficult to create than that little device of connectivity. It is no more difficult than walking. A simple practice. A pursuit. An intention. One step at a time.

All of Kerri’s albums are available on iTunes

read Kerri’s blog post about PEACE

Consider The Circumstance [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Easy Way Down. We laughed. The sign only makes sense in the context of winter and deep, ski-able snow. Just out of the frame of this photograph is a chair lift. There is an easy way down because there is an easy way up. Later, as we knew we would have to do, we matched our easy walk down with a breathless slog back to the top.

Circumstance is everything. Sense-making requires a context. Stories only make sense within a specific context. Plunk a choice or a story line into an unrelated context and it seems like madness. Or stupidity. Yank Romeo and Juliet from the context of a society deeply divided by conflict and there is no story. There is no obstacle. It becomes the story of two delusional self-absorbed teenagers. Their choices would seem ridiculous without their circumstance.

I’m certain that Captain Obvious is yawning at my pedestrian observation. Circumstance is everything to sense-making. “So what!” the good Captain sighs.

Well, stop for a moment and consider this: we are in the grips of a worldwide pandemic. That is our circumstance. On this day in these once-united-states, roughly 8 months into our pandemic circumstance, over 220,000 of our citizens have perished from the virus. More than 8 million Americans have been infected. There are 42 million cases world-wide with more than 1 million deaths.

I might agree that a mask mandate – absent the circumstance of a global pandemic – might seem like an infringement on my personal liberties. It would make no sense. However, within the context of a global pandemic, railing against simple public protective measures – mask-wearing, social-distancing, washing hands – seems like so-much-lunacy.

The pandemic is our circumstance. Despite whatever noise and misdirection is being circulated within the fox-bubble, the pandemic is our circumstance. Denying the existence of a pandemic while the rates of infection break records daily is the madhouse equivalent of dumping Frodo and his mission into a Hallmark movie [a Hobbit with a mission finds himself in Christmas town where nice looking citizens offer him hot cocoa and the opportunity to find love in a tree farm]. It makes those within the fox-bubble crying “HOAX!” seem angry, petulant, delusional, and self-absorbed. It makes their dedicated resistance to mask-wearing and social-distancing infantile. It makes their gun-toting, testosterone-riddled protestations puerile.

The pandemic is our circumstance. It is the circumstance of the world. Denying it does not make it go away. As Doug might have said, “Wow! Every goddamn country in the world is pretending to have a deadly pandemic just to throw an election in the USA! I’ll bet that took some serious diplomacy!” [note: his language would have been much more salty]. Denying our circumstance creates worldwide incredulity at our utter stupidity and, above all, facilitates the spread of the virus.

I’m certain that theatre companies across this land are planning productions of Romeo and Juliet set in America 2020. Romeo is a child of the Blues, Juliet is the child of the Reds. The two youngsters, for a moment, with hearts full of new love, transcend their circumstance. Their society’s dedication to division will, of course, kill them both. Remember, too, that other cherished family members die along the way. Mercutio. Paris. It’s an old story asking a current question: how many will have to die, what [or who] is the loss so great that it/they will finally and at last open our eyes?

The pandemic is our circumstance.

read Kerri’s blog post about EASY WAY DOWN

See The Pattern [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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“The United States, virtually a demilitarized nation on the eve of the Second World War, never stood down in the wake of victory. To this day, American troops are deployed in 150 countries. Since the 1970s, China has not once gone to war; the U.S. has not spent a day at peace. President Jimmy Carter recently noted that in its 242-year history, America has enjoyed only 16 years of peace, making it, as he wrote, “the most warlike nation in the history of the world.”’ ~ Wade Davis, The Unraveling of America

The most remarkable thing about these toy soldiers on a dish, is that a child did not place them in the garden. The adults did. People regularly place statues in their gardens, a Buddha or the Virgin Mary or gnomes or fairies. They are statements of value. They are statements of identity. Little guardians with powers no bigger than their guns.

In the words of Captain Obvious, the United States is rife with contradictions. In our sacred founding documents we wrote that “All men are created equal,” while simultaneously legislating that black men (and women) were less than human. It’s the crevasse we fall into again and again, our metaphoric original sin. The people currently protesting on the streets across this land simply want the rhetoric of the nation to align with the actions of the nation. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Today in Kenosha we await the unwelcome arrival of the commander-in-chief, a leader whose has only one note to pluck: division. The white nationalists are taking to the streets, waving their flags and chanting, “Four more years.”  For a nation comprised of immigrants from all over the planet, the world’s greatest crossroads, it seems more-than-absurd that anyone in this nation could or would revel in xenophobia. It’s astounding that the leader of a nation so rich in diversity would throw gasoline on the fires of racism. Contradiction upon contradiction. It’s farcical.

Or, perhaps it’s not contradiction at all. As Shakespeare wrote, “The truth will out.”

It shouldn’t be surprising that “the most warlike nation in the history of the world” is habitually at war with itself. The battle lines are as clear as the vast difference in the photographs comparing the Republican and Democrat members of the 116th Congress Members-Elect [scroll the article to see the photographs]. Ours is a war of identity and the dividing line runs along the color line. More Captain Obvious, I know [my apologies].

We do not have a problem, we have a pattern. And, to change our pattern of division and internal war, we need only take an honest look at the story we tell ourselves. The story we continue to tell ourselves about ourselves. We need to take a good honest look at who fits into the definition of “ourselves.” Right now we have two working definitions. And, that is our pattern. A pattern of conflicting definitions (inclusion vs. exclusion) works for some but is misery for most. Division by design.

Taking an honest look at ourselves is easily said. Even Captain Obvious is rolling his eyes!

The truth will out. It’s in our gardens. It’s in our statues. It’s in our streets. It’s on the images of brutality we capture on our iPhones. It’s in our tax codes and how we fund our schools and the children killed by guns while at school. It’s in our COVID-19 morbidity data and the populations of our prisons. The truth will out again and again and again until we decide to look at it with honesty, until we learn that our words matter, until we resolve to tell a different story, a story that lines up with our professed ideals. Until we decide that perpetual war is not a pattern that leads to social harmony and peace.

And, it’s a choice. Nothing more, Nothing less. Obviously.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about TOYS IN THE GARDEN

 

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Care Enough [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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This is my broken record moment: a system will do what it was designed to do. Sitting as I am in Kenosha, Wisconsin, the latest national flashpoint, I feel I have a front row seat to the system activating in response to a challenge.

Our system was designed to prevent “the unity of the commoner” in order to keep the focus off of the ruling aristocracy. This morning I read this sentence in the news: The president is fanning the flames of violence and dividing the country for political gain. The implication of Trump’s attacks is that there is a binary choice between law and order, and offering understanding and a path to justice for Black Americans.

A binary choice. A false choice. The commoners can EITHER have law and order OR they can stand for equal justice for all Americans. With equality comes the possibility of unity and unity is a threat to the system. In other news, just as you might suspect, vigilantism is on the rise. The system is responding exactly as designed.

Here’s the conundrum: we believe that protest and civil unrest are the path to real systems change and yet protest and civil unrest always split the community (prevent the unity of commoners). The path to social change in the USA cannot come from division. It might start there but it has to transcend the designed divide.

While the pandemic rages and the commoners are fighting each other on the streets, the stock market has soared. The United States has the highest level of income inequality among the countries in the G-7 and the gap is growing. It is not an accident that Fox News has its Henny Penny followers running around screaming “Socialism!” at the very time that America boldly steps toward an oligarchy.

My dad used to tell me that I’d educated myself into stupidity and I’d shake my head. Why would anyone choose to be uninformed? An ignorant populace is easily swung by the nose. An ignorant populace might have guns but they are unarmed where the real danger lurks.  It seems a good many of us are happily manipulated, hungrily eating anger and hate rather than asking a question or bothering to scratching the paint to discover if what we’re being sold is true or a con. It’s easy to check a fact or a source but you first must want to do it. That is where we fall down. We simply do not care. We opt for tribal division and easy blame over communal health – again, the system is doing exactly what it was designed to do.

Caring enough to question. That, too is an option. Caring enough to question is a possible path forward but requires us to look beyond the spoon-fed-rhetoric, the misinformation campaigns, and the intentionally stoked fires of division. It requires us in our questioning to shift our focus from the fight to the workings of “the ruling aristocracy.”

There’s also this: the businesses in downtown Kenosha and beyond are boarded up. The people of the community came out to paint them with messages of hope and support. Stamped on the hood of a burned out car is an appeal: Let’s Be Better Humans.

The impulse for change and a better world is there. A river of hope is there. The voices from the angry fringe will always shout loudest but I have to believe the vast majority, the quiet people who come out to paint, are looking for a common ground. There is hope, lots of hope, if we can take a look in our national mirror and see that we are doing exactly what the system is determining that we do. If we see it, we might be able to care enough to question, to deny the divide. We might be able to come together. We might be able to find a way to do better, to be better humans.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about HOPE

 

let'sbebetterhumans website box copy

 

 

Know And Share [on Merely A Thought Monday]

 

If you were alive in the 1980’s you’ll remember Robert Fulgrum’s book, All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten.  It is a festival of simple-yet-clear-advice for living well. Play fair. Share everything. Don’t hit people. Say you’re sorry when you hurt someone. Each bit of advice is a nod to our inter-connectivity. No one walks this path alone. Hold hands. Stick together.

Visit Robert Fulgrum’s homepage and you’ll read this: “Often, without realizing it, we fill important places in each other’s lives.” Mutual influence. We impact each other everyday in ways that we remain mostly unaware.

If this pandemic has done anything illuminating it has proven beyond doubt how utterly interconnected we actually are. My breath and your breath are intimate exchanges. My choices and your choices will either harm or help each other. It’s a choice. Your story and my story may be diametrically opposed and warring but they both must adhere to the force of gravity, the nature of time, the spread of virus. This virus actually thrives when we shout at each other. It rides our aerosols in a rodeo of mutual influence and cares not for the political color of the lungs it inhabits. After all. truth and misinformation share the same airspace, touch the same doorknobs, are broadcast over the same technology, are paid for and brought to us by the same commercial sponsors.

One of the things Robert Fulgrum learned in kindergarten and wrote about is this: goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup – they all die. So do we.

This virus cares not whether we love or hate each other in the precious bit of life that we share. About us, its host, it is utterly agnostic. On the other hand, we have the choice. It’s a choice and seems so simple. Play fair. Don’t take things that aren’t yours. Like it our not, recognize it our not, our lives are in each other’s hands.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about ELEMENTARY SCHOOL RULES

 

 

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in dreams I wrestle with angels ©️ 2017 david robinson

 

Learn to Look [on KS Friday]

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“At the heart of beauty must be a huge care and affection for creation, for nowhere is beauty an accidental presence.” John O’Dononue, Beauty, The Invisible Embrace

I read yesterday in my Brain Pickings that Georgia O’Keeffe believed her close-up paintings were “a magnifying lens for paying attention.” I read and appreciated this phrase: Painting these close-ups was a way of learning to look, a way of removing the blinders with which we gallop through the world, slowing down, shedding our notions and concepts of things, and taking things in as they really are.

It is the astonishing miracle of a human being: we can choose to see or choose to not see. Also, we can choose what we see or we can choose to deny what is right in front of us. In any case, seeing is predicated on slowing down, on taking the time to “shed our notions and concepts of things.”

Seeing is an intentional act or perhaps it is a creation-in-the-moment – which implies it is an intentional relationship. In this way, as I understand it, seeing the beauty of this life is a decision, it is a lens. It is a dance.

I’ve never been in a hot-air balloon. Kerri had the experience once, it is the source of this composition. Hovering in a basket above the earth, moving with the wind, very few controls. It was, I imagine, an exercise of giving over, of letting go. I think seeing is like the experience she describes of hanging in the basket of a hot-air balloon. All concepts of hurry-up or getting-things-done drop away. Hard time dissolves. There is nowhere else to be. And, in that space, beauty makes known her presence. She opens your eyes.

 

PART OF THE WIND is on the album BLUEPRINT FOR MY SOUL

 

 

read Kerri’s blog post about PART OF THE WIND

 

 

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part of the wind/blueprint for my soul ©️ 1996 kerri sherwood

  blanket of blue sky ©️ 2004 david robinson

Face Them [on KS Friday]

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The dream was vivid. I was being chased by a pack of very large demons. Terrified, I was becoming exhausted when I saw a door into a warehouse. I quickly jumped through the door, looking for a place to hide. To my chagrin, the warehouse was empty. Swept clean. No walls. A vast, open and exposed floor. The demons came through the door behind me. There was no other door. No way out. My only option was to turn and face them. So, I did.

They rushed me. But, to my surprise, as I stood my ground, facing them, as they raced snarling toward me, they began to shrink. The closer they came, the smaller they got. By the time they reached me they were no larger than ants. They had no power over me at all.

All along, all I needed to do was stop running from them. All I ever needed to do was to turn and face them. To see what they were, not what I feared they were.

This dream – so many years ago – helped me understand hope – a word that is both a verb and a noun, a thing and an action. A wish and a want. Hope, like happiness, ensues. It is not found up front, it follows. It is meaning that becomes available when a choice is made.

This nation, running so long from its demons, is once again, standing in a vast empty warehouse. There is no place to hide. When we recognize that all we can do is turn and face our demons, our racially divided path, the inequity-demons plaguing us may grow smaller. They may lose their power over us entirely.

The choice to stop running and turn. The choice to face the demons. In that moment, hope will arise.

 

HOPE on the album THIS SEASON is available on iTunes

 

read Kerri’s blog post about HOPE

 

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hope/this season ©️ 2005 kerri sherwood

pray now ©️ 2010 david robinson