Stand In The Narrow Place [on Merely A Thought Monday]

“Western civilization has been a 2,000 year long exercise in robbing people of the present. People are now learning the joys that hide in the narrow place of the hour glass, the eternal moment.” ~ George Leonard, Mastery

The observation has become something of a yearly ritual. Every 9/11, I hear or participate in this conversation: one day, people got out of bed, drank their coffee, brushed their teeth and went to work or boarded an airplane. And then, they never came home.

We are fairly smothered in sentiments about appreciating life, seizing-the-day, living in the present moment, take nothing for granted… “You never know.”

Quinn gave me his copy of Mastery. As was his practice, he underlined significant passages in red pen – and the book was a festival of underlined passages. For years I kept the book on my desk or beside my bed. I’d flip it open and read the red sections. They served as a daily meditation. They gave my busy mind something generative and hopeful to occupy.

George Leonard called presence, “the plateau.” Eckhart Tolle calls it “the now.” In one of the gospels NOT included in the bible, Jesus is reported to have said, “The kingdom of heaven is on earth but men do not see it.” The Way of the Buddha leads to the present moment.

What do we see if we stop thinking long enough to experience the present moment?

2996 people died in the terrorist attacks on 9/11. These people could do nothing about what happened to them on that day. They brushed their teeth. They left for work or got on an airplane.

“You never know.”

This year, there was a new river-of-thought that ran through the annual ritual observation: the daily COVID death toll last week in these un-united states was above 1,000 a day. On January 7th, 2021, 4,147 people died of COVID. In the divided-united states, more than 660,000 people have died of COVID. World-wide 4,550,000 people have perished.

It’s impossible not to look at the numbers and wonder why-and-how we became our own terrorists.

In the past year, with the availability of a vaccine, with the proven effectiveness of masking and social distancing, these people, had they united with the help of their friends and neighbors, had choices. They – we – could have done everything to save their lives. We did not. We divided. 1000 yesterday. 1000 today. 1000 tomorrow. And growing.

Sometimes we know.

Appreciating life is – and always will be, at the narrow place of the hour glass – a community affair. In presence, on the plateau, the line between me and you blurs. It is the reason why all of those firefighters and first-responders ran into the towers that day. My life cannot be precious if I cannot see that yours is also precious. Why – on earth – on any given day – would I not do everything possible – anything possible – to protect your life? Why would you not do the same for me?

read Kerri’s blog post about BLESSINGS ABOVE GROUND

Read The Walk [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Between the morning rehearsal and the evening wedding, we had several hours without commitments so we did the thing we most like to do. We walked. It was a gorgeous September day. We were in Milwaukee’s Third Ward, a miracle of reclaimed and converted warehouses, shops and condos that line the waterway. We followed the Riverwalk, Kerri snapping photographs, ambling our way to Lake Michigan.

It’s odd in this age of pandemic, to be in a city on a beautiful weekend day. The rules of engagement are different. The rules of enjoyment are different. Be out in the day but avoid the crowds. There was an art fair, a crush of people, so, as artists, normally pulled toward art gatherings, we walked the other way. In years past we would have waded in to the fray, talked to the artists, enjoyed people enjoying art.

Instead, we found a bounty of art on our walk. The shadows playing on the walls. The flowers. The finials. The sculpture. Everywhere we looked we found riches of intentional design. People dedicated to creating beautiful spaces had a field day re-imagining what had once been an industrial wasteland on the water.

Chiseled into the the boards upon which we walked was a narrative history of the city. We stepped on top of important dates of the Civil War. We walked across innovations, breweries arising in a city of beer, World Wars and the changes they wrought. Sports victories. We walked across the story of a previous pandemic, a hundred years ago. A few thin boards, markers of a tragic toll.

For a moment I stood and watched the kayaks paddling, the pontoon boats cruising the channel, the diners seated beneath umbrellas, the strollers, like us enjoying the day with no destination calling. Full moments in lifetimes that someday might be told in a few thin boards of narrative highlights.

I wondered how many people, how much dedicated action, it took to make this moment beautiful and possible. The architects. The artists. The artisans. The craftsmen and women. The laborers. The florists, The gardeners. The shopkeepers. The waiters. The chefs. The suppliers. The mail carriers,…Dreamers all, stretching back through time. Interconnected and interdependent in ways that only few recognize.

That’s the challenge, isn’t it? Were I to chisel the story of our pandemic in a boardwalk, or create a sculpture meant to capture our moment in narrative time, my theme would be interconnection and interdependence unnoticed. Unmasked. A myopic madness, a messy delusion of every-man-for-himself, a sure-fire way to perpetuate a pandemic or warm a globe.

There is, of course, no evidence for life thriving in a vacuum. On the other hand, there’s plenty of evidence, apparent on a stroll in a city on a beautiful sunny September day, killing some time before a wedding, that it takes all of us, every last life, to thrive. An artist needs an audience. A developer needs a supplier. A doctor needs a patient who wants to be healthy. Who wants to do more than survive. Thriving is, after all, a group sport. A careful reading of the boards tells a very specific tale: no one does this walk alone.

read Kerri’s blog post about OUR WALK

Enter The Sanctuary [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

This is an image of sanctuary. The back yard of dear friends, time spent together, taking precautions to be safe in a time of pandemic.

There’s more than one compromised immune system represented in this photograph. It is why we continue to meet outdoors. It is why, until we were vaccinated, we were careful to keep distance between us. How odd to honor the love of dear friends by inserting space between us. Our flip flops and sandals are stand-ins for a group selfie.

When our postal carrier came to the door to deliver a certified letter, she groused about the process for capturing the required signature, “We have to do this because of COVID,” she sneered, “even though there is no COVID.” We’ve learned not to push back on ignore-ance. I was reading about Brazil eclipsing the the over 500,000 deaths-mark when the doorbell rang. Kerri signed for the letter. She closed the door and we simply stared at each other. No words.

I delight in this photograph because, to me, it is slightly disorienting. If you had to guess which direction the photo was taken, you’d most likely guess blue. You’d be wrong. Perspective is just that – perspective. From my perspective, the photograph is upside-down. The photographer wears black flip flops.

We constantly locate ourselves in our stories. The location we choose is not passive or general. It is unique, dynamic. It gives us a point of view but does not afford us a lock on truth. Learning to question your unique perspective, to challenge your story-as-central, is an important growth step. It is maturation. Learning to question what you are told is an invaluable skill to develop.

As a lover of story, as a student of perspective, I am fascinated by the story-war raging in my nation. Politicians drape themselves in the flag, defending a violent insurrection on democracy, while demonizing and fearmongering BLM. Propaganda, hate-mongering and conspiracy theory is run amok and fueled by entertainment posing as news. Voter suppression laws, gerrymandering, stuffing the courts, all in the name of…what? The story of division. The dedicated maintenance of a half-story. A national story increasingly exposed as redacted. Why should a democracy work so hard to prevent a portion of its population from voting? To prevent its full history from being told? As we ask in the coaching world, “What’s underneath?”

Nations, like people, cannot grow until they look at the whole of their story, until all perspectives are voiced.

I’ve wandered back into the world of entrepreneurs and business. Each day I read or am shown the data on teamwork or the power of collaboration. The software-as-a-service world is dedicated to facilitating better communication, efficiency in sharing and collaborating, crossing disjointed platforms, and reaching into clouds where all are stronger as one than when in silos. I’m finding it intensely hopeful. Progress is calling us together. The economy is global as is the pandemic. We are in this together.

No one is healthy if all are not healthy. It’s the rule of the backyard, the honoring of dedicated friendship. My job is to protect you and yours is to protect me. It’s the story of the sandals and flip flops, the image of sanctuary, and, if not the yearning of this nation, it is the reality of this interconnected world.

read Kerri’s blog post about SANDALS

Be The Miracle [on Merely A Thought Monday]

“The infinity in the microscope is as dazzling as that of the cosmos.” ~ John O’Donohue

After my surgery, the doctor said, “You my friend are now a modern medical miracle.” It’s true. Had I been born in another century I would not have survived. In fact, had I been born in another century, I would have met the average life expectancy of 30-40 years. Each and every one of us, walking the streets with an expectation to live beyond our thirties, are modern medical miracles and indebted to the brave explorers of the microscopic cosmos.

Early in this pandemic, before it hit the shores of these divided-united-states, we watched the movie Contagion. So much of the world painted in the film was spot on. Pandemic deniers decrying the virus as a made-up assault on their freedom. Charlatans selling miracle cures and misinformation. Conspiracy theories run amok. The initial panic emptied shelves at the grocery store. Quarantine. An economy in tatters. A weary and anxious populace awaiting a vaccine that would stop the micro-assault. A microscopic threat vanquished by a microscopic man-made-miracle.

When we pulled into the abandoned-drive-through-bank to receive our vaccines, I felt that I was in the movie. We’d placed our names on a list to receive vaccines that would otherwise need to be discarded. The call came on a Friday afternoon, “Come now!” We jumped into the truck as the sun was setting on a frigid snowy day and raced to the given address: an abandoned bank turned into public health center. We were directed to stop at cone number 1. Nurses in snow pants, knit caps and mufflers came out to the truck. It was so cold that we had to open the door to communicate, the windows were frozen and would not roll down. A bit of paperwork, coats shed and arms exposed, and the vaccines were administered. Coats and gloves and hats were quickly donned again. We were asked to wait at cone number 1 for 15 minutes. They gave us a flag to wave if we needed help.

As we waited, engine running to beat back the bitter cold, we admired those amazing women who gave us our shots. They were absolutely delightful, upbeat, and incredibly kind. Pandemic. A blisteringly frigid day. They’d been giving vaccines since early in the morning, repeatedly taking off their gloves in frostbite conditions. We were the last two of the day. And there wasn’t a hint of exhaustion or suffering or complaining from the cold. “People can be amazing,” Kerri said. “It’s good to remember that sometimes.”

It was good to remember. Dedicated people selflessly serving others in the face of a deadly virus, enduring extreme cold, extreme misinformation, tip-toeing across ice and politics to bring big-heart-comfort and a bit of modern miracle to the dazzling cosmos called my body and yours. My health is your health. Intimately linked as we pass in the grocery store or on the street or trail, across the nation and the world. The microscopic world does not know us as individuals and cares not about our investments or beliefs or freedoms, imagined or not. All that I know is that I am, once again, a modern medical miracle, and owe a deep debt of gratitude to the men and women at the microscope and those that stand for hours in the cold.

read Kerri’s blog post about VACCINES

Turn To The Center [on Flawed Wednesday]

I read in my morning horror trawl that 80% of republicans think democrats are socialists and 80% of democrats believe republicans are racist. There you go! Socialists and racists running amok. Society reduced to elementary school antics. Blame games, name calling, stereotyping and over-adamant claims to know-the-truth-the-whole-truth-and-nothing-but-the-truth. We see each other by gaslight.

There’s a little secret about truth. It is very patient. It will sit and wait until all the shouting and belief-flinging arguments are exhausted. It is quiet. It will not prevent us from diving head-first down the rabbit-hole-of-conspiracy. It will let us claim that we possess it – that we are the single owner of it – no matter how ridiculous the face we attempt to paint on it.

Truth will not intervene. If lie and madness are what we desire, truth will, like a good parent, let us learn our lesson.

Truth honors choices. It is the still center and will wait until the whirling stops. It will wait until the lies spin off and we desire to once again turn our gaze to the still-calm-center.

Truth is not an enabler. Truth will let us put our hands on the burner. Truth will let us choke on COVID even as we cough-and-claim that it’s no worse than the flu. It will sit quietly while we protest and profess and propagandize. It will not intercede when we discard evidence or demonize other points of view. It will watch patiently as we give away the farm.

Truth cares not for what gossip fills our bubbles and brains and bank accounts. It will not stop us from acting as the termites to our very own timbers.

Truth watches as we bicker on the playground. It honors our choices. It is patient. It knows that someday we will tire of snarling-fearmongering. It knows we will, one day, lose enough to at last shut-up and once again turn together and listen beyond our noisy protestations.

We will of necessity turn to the quiet center. Truth will be patiently waiting.

read Kerri’s blog post about TRUTH DECAY

Consider The Numbers [on Merely A Thought Monday]

There are numbers. Then, there are the realities that the numbers represent. For instance, I am writing this a few days before the post date. Between the time I write this post and the time it publishes, more than 9,000 people will die of COVID-19. The counting-unit-of-measure is not golf balls or jelly beans in a jar. It is not socks lost in the dryer. It is lives lost. People who otherwise would be alive. People who celebrated the new year and hoped 2020 would be better than 2019. The counting unit is people-who-die-of-COVID-19.

9,000 is a number. So is 276,000. That’s today’s number. 400,000 is also a number. That’s the estimated number of lives lost in these divided-united-states by January 1, 2021. People. Dreamers. Seekers. Grandparents. Sisters. Uncles. Friends.

“Lives lost” is also an abstraction. Words. Easy to say. Easy to write. There’s no reality until there is a reality, though, these days, realities are readily denied. Actively denied. In the face of medical professionals pleading with us to listen, emergency rooms overrun, refrigerator trucks serving as morgues, there are still folks who look at the numbers and cry “HOAX!” No one they know has become a number. Not yet.

Mask wearing and social distancing. The two most potent actions we can take to make the numbers smaller. I won’t go on. Enough said. It’s been said from the outset, again and again and again. Masks. Social distancing. Wash hands. Disbelief and/or truth-resistance makes more and more people, each and every day, become numbers-on-the-news.

Life minimized. Life reduced.

Here’s something to think about. Our dear 20 tested positive. A pandemic-disbeliever sauntered mask-less into a space where he was working. She cried “HOAX!” He breathed her hoax-aerosols, already loaded with virus. He has chronic asthma. He needed to order a new phone but didn’t. He wanted to make sure he survived before he spent the money. I’m not sure how to reduce his fear-of-dying to a number or some other abstraction that makes it count-able. “On a scale of 1 to 10,” the interviewer asks, “how afraid are you?”

Of this I am certain. The woman who shared her virus-loaded aerosols with 20 also shared her virus-loaded aerosols with many, many other people. It was apparently her “right” to reduce other people to abstract numbers. She shared her aerosols with us, too! And we never met her. For some reason her hoax-belief was not a protection against infecting other people. She bragged of going to parties and restaurants. She proudly made resistance-statements by going to grocery stores unmasked. Her aggressive pandemic-disbelief, I am certain, sent infection-ripples far and wide. 14,200,000 is a number. People in these delusion-laden-united-states infected by negligent-others. So far. As a denier of reality, she will, I am certain, take no responsibility for her contribution to the numbers. The odds are, she will have contributed in her small way to the 9,000 who will die between the time I write and the time I post.

She may be one of them. A number.

read Kerri’s blog post about COVID TESTS

See Through [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Quinn used to say that if someone has to tell you that they are good at something, they probably aren’t. If someone has to tell you that they are being transparent, they’re definitely hiding something. It is akin to the stereotypical-strategy of the used car salesman, “This baby runs like a dream! Trust me.” If someone has to tell you to trust them, well…

A great athlete has no need brag about their greatness. It is apparent in their play. A great artist has no need to spin perception. Their work speaks for them. A great teacher will never tout their mastery. The expansive nature and lives of their students is testament enough.

Transparent: Trans. Through or across. The appearance. See through the appearance.

Currently, the country is upside-down, in a fog, and choking on irony and COVID. For instance, those crying “FRAUD” are frantically spinning deceit. Those claiming transparency are purposefully opaque. Those claiming moral high-ground stink of muck and mire. Those claiming to save democracy are collapsing the piers upon which it is built [where-o-where is the Grand Ole Republican party?]

That stack of papers we see is a prop and not a plan. That curve that we are rounding does not lead to the promised land; it puts us on a COVID rocket, a steep arc to the sky of escalating infection and death. The arsonist-in-chief lighting fires is not protecting our homes and families, despite the story we are being told and sold.

When the world is upside-down, truth telling is dangerous. It will get you fired. Pointing to the apparent, stating the obvious, is met by an angry chorus of lies orchestrated by well paid liars. Inane belief screams foul in the face of science, data, fact, and, yes, evidence. Exposure, shining light in the dark corners, is threatening to those loudly peddling transparency in taxes and all things. “A perfect call.”

The glaciers melt. The forests burn. The country splits asunder. And, even as we are admonished for our lack of raking, asked to doubt what we see, we are -at long last – in the midst of a transition. We hold our breath, watch the tantrum-tweeter wreak havoc, and count the days until his thumbs exit stage left..

Transition. To go across.

Perhaps, when we are across, with some time, the country will right itself. Sense will return. Perhaps many, many heads will pop out of dark foxholes, their eyes will clear of the mad-illusion, and truth will matter once again. Perhaps, in the coming times, the word ‘transparency’ will no longer be a word-tool used to obscure. We will easily and together see through the thin-appearances. Let’s face it, this baby is not running like a dream. Don’t trust me, look for yourself.

read Kerri’s blog post on TRANSPARENT

Ask The Real Question [on Merely A Thought Monday]

“Through a lack of love everything hardens. There is nothing as lonely in the world as that which has hardened or grown cold. Bitterness and coldness are the ultimate defeat.” ~ John O’Donohue, Anam Cara

We just watched a news segment about Taiwan’s successful response to COVID-19. At the heart of their response, the reporter said, is a sense of social solidarity. Social solidarity; we are all in this together.

American’s celebrate their independent spirit which leads them to the delusion that they can go-it-alone. Watching documentaries and television shows of people living remotely in the great Alaskan frontier, I’m always aware of the manufactured rifles and bullets, the chain saws, clothes and coats from the store, boots and knives and rope and gas…participation in an economy. There is an entire web of support, hundreds of human beings making possible even the most dedicated illusion of the cowboy spirit.

It’s where we get it wrong. We are blind to our reliance on each other. An economy is more than the production and consumption of goods and services. It is a living, breathing web of interconnection.

Income gaps are descriptors of belief. Terms like “consumer behavior” are scrubbed, antiseptic descriptions of relationship, ethics, communal participation. The story is told in the economics. How the money flows defines the legislation: who starves, who prospers, how we support each other or not. Who has access to power and who does not.

Every-man-for-himself is not only a cold and bitter road, it is also a fantasy. The isolation of every hermit is made possible by the production of others. The existence of a leisure class is not possible without a successful working class. Prosperity is a team sport, especially in a capitalist economy.

No one walks this life alone so the real question is how we want to walk it?

These once-united-states have grown cold. We are hardened. We are divided. Fewer and fewer feel the wealth. There are no rules that apply, no ethic to the game of governance. Fearful and angry people are easily led into wild tales of deep states. Neighbors become enemies. Economies teeter and fall when balance is ignored. No one thrives for long in a bitter divide.

The ultimate defeat is ours. No garden grows in hard soil. We will have required no enemy invasion, no conqueror breaking down the gate or overrunning the ramparts. All that was required was to turn our backs on each other. To think we are two distinct teams, and need to win over the other at all cost, no-holds-barred and no rules apply, go it alone, protect the freedom of the individual with nary an understanding that no individual survives in a vacuum.

It is a lonely supper, indeed, at a table for one.

read Kerri’s blog post about CARING

Unify The Rabbits [on Merely A Thought Monday]

i like your mask copy

If you chase two rabbits, both will get away ~ Chinese Proverb.

In the theatre, the double-rabbit chase is called a split intention. An actor cannot both play well the scene AND try and please the audience. It’s one of the fundamental lessons an actor must learn; play the scene purely and the audience will enter the story. Trying to please an audience is a fool’s errand and will throw everyone out of the story.

The lesson is not what it might at first seem. The lesson is to recognize that, in truth, it is not an either/or choice. The only way to “please” the audience is to play well the scene. The only way to “please” them is to forget about them. The job is not about “pleasing.” The job is about the performance of a play.  It’s a lesson in priority of focus. In recognizing and attending to the first principle, all other concerns fall into their proper place. The magic is in unifying what might at first look like a two-rabbit chase.

It’s a lesson that has great usefulness far beyond the stage in every walk of life. Either/Or framing is usually a warning sign that two rabbits are on the run.

A split intention is always resolved through a focus priority.

In our pandemic time, in these states-once-united, we’ve managed to cleave our intention. Health or economy? The chase is on and both are getting away. Trying to reinvigorate an economy by ignoring the health implications is akin to an actor trying to please an audience – it is a fool’s errand. People will not go out if they do not feel safe. Although each day we are plied with scenes of packed bars and beaches, we also read an ever-mounting roll call of bankruptcies, job losses, impending evictions, rapidly shrinking GDP, etc.

It’s a pandemic. Roughly 1,000 people a day are dying. In five months over 150,000 people who otherwise would have seen 2021 have ceased to live. The infection rate is doubling [a gentle reminder to those who make me shake my head in wonderment: just as pregnancy is not caused by the test, COVID-19 testing does not produce cases. Testing identifies cases and someday will provide the opportunity to contain the spread.]

Attend to the play. Prioritize the focus. Public health and economic health are not at odds. They need not split and run in opposite directions. Economic health is not possible if people do not feel safe. It’s a basic rule of survival, a fundamental requirement of the play-of-life. Protecting public health, attending to public safety, is the first principle. Wearing masks. Testing and tracing. Social distancing. The rabbits will unify when the message aligns, when the audience-pleasers realize that, by ignoring the first principle, they are literally throwing people out of the life-story.

Focus on the priority and all other concerns will fall into their proper place.

It is palpable when an actor stops splitting their focus. It is magnetic when they fully enter the scene. The play crackles with life and possibility. It pulls audience and actors alike into the same story. Together, all move to the edge of their seats. When it really sparkles, hearts sync and beat in a unified rhythm (no kidding).

I see signs of a single-rabbit-chase everywhere. Checking out from the store a week ago, the cashier said through her face-covering, “I like your mask!” I smiled. I’m certain she knew I smiled even though she could not see it. “Where did you get it?” she asked.

Mask-fashion is arising. In mask-envy I find tiny glimmers of hope.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about MASK ENVY

 

 

southport sand heart website box psd copy

 

 

 

 

three graces ©️ 2010 david robinson

Fill In The Thought Bubble [on DR Thursday]

sketch with frame copy

I sit in the truck and wait while Kerri goes into the building to work. I’m not allowed in so I use my time to sketch or work on other projects. Big Red is my mobile studio.

I was flipping through my latest sketchbook and found  this on the last page. I laughed because I’d forgotten about it. It is from the early days of the pandemic. I LOVE YOU. NOW STAND BACK. It captures the ever growing mountain of contradictions that tumbled-in with COVID-19.

On the facing page of the sketchbook, I wrote 3 haiku:

Screen Shot 2020-07-01 at 11.20.28 AM

Sketchbooks are like archives or a diary. If I wrote a book about this time I’d call it Weird Calculus. Every decision, even the smallest, is awash in contradictions and placed on a sliding scale of risk.

Since I drew this sketch, we’ve thrown ourselves against a hard wall of conflicting beliefs. We play a deadly game of racquetball with so much intentional misinformation. Data denial. We’re 4% of the world’s population and we’ve managed to fight ourselves into a full 25% of the world’s infections. That’s quite an achievement.

Were I to draw this sketch today, a mere 3 months later, the thought bubble might say: I LOVE YOU. NOW WAKE UP!

 

read Kerri’s blog post about STAND BACK!

 

seagull in fog website box copy

 

 

 

now stand back ©️ 2020 david robinson

sleepers ©️ 2014 david robinson