Dump The Suit [on DR Thursday]

“When you are content to be simply yourself and don’t compare or compete, everybody will respect you.” ~ Lao Tzu

Lately, I’m on a Lao Tzu quote kick. Have you noticed? An advocate for a simple life, his words – or those attributed to him – appeal to me at this moment in my walk.

The outstanding characteristic of my working life is that I have mostly been a sore thumb, the person in the collective who doesn’t belong to the collective. That’s been my value: I am the consummate outsider. I do not sit on the mountain so I can more clearly see the mountain. The alternative perspective. I’ve not always found that to be a comfortable role. For instance, alternative perspectives are invited into conversations but the alternative perspective, when voiced, is rarely welcome. The first response to the alternative perspective is almost always an emphatic whisper, “Conform!”

I have, my entire life as the sore thumb, been told that, “Our people will never do that!” or “They don’t think that way, therefore you must conform-modify-edit…” The emphasis is placed squarely on the limit, the notion that “They can’t…” or “They won’t…”

And, I’ve never found that to be true. In fact, that’s precisely the perception that a sore thumb is hired to challenge. “They” can. “They” will. The job of the alternative perspective is to emphasize the possible, to open paths to the not-yet-imagined, to the revelation of, “We didn’t know we could do that.” Or see that. Or feel that.

In order to walk in an alien world, the sore thumb necessarily steps into the unknown. The first step is to listen and learn: to open to the possible within themselves, to challenge the inner-limiter. The alternative perspective lives on a two-way-discomfort-street with their client.

It is never comfortable to “not know.” It’s never comfortable to say, “I have no idea what that means.” However, it’s a great exercise, a necessary practice. And, it’s actually what the alternative perspective is paid to do and to model. “We didn’t know we could do that,” are words that come after a step into discomfort, a step beyond the known limits. “We step together because we both know how this feels.”

The alternative perspective is never right or wrong, it is simply an alternative. “These are the patterns I see. They may be useful or not.” Conformity bristles when the unknown beckons. Conformity is safe, and the emphatic whisper, while meant to maintain comfort for all, is the line that a sore thumb is hired to help the whisperer cross, “The possibilities we seek live beyond this line.”

The first day I put out my consultant shingle, I bought a suit. It’s what I thought I was supposed to wear. I bought my suit because I’d snagged a client, a financial advisor who wanted me to work with his staff. He’d seen my work – he’d seen me work – in another context. After the job, he asked me, “What’s up with the suit?” I’d always been told by well-meaning teachers that I should “dress for the job I wanted,” so I told my client that I’d dressed for the job. He gave me some great advice: dump the suit. “I want you to show up as you are, not as the person you think we want to see.”

His words became my mantra.

Truth: I hated that suit. I felt like an imposter wearing it. My client gave me a great gift. Be content to be yourself. Challenge the inner-limiter. Inner-limiters are very loud, and like outer-limiters, are generally not worth listening to; they will always advise you to conform, say nothing, and put on an ill-fitting suit.

[Happy Thanksgiving]

read Kerri’s blog post about GOURDS

tango with me © 2018 david robinson

Be Indeterminate [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Through the good graces of our tomato plants, I’ve learned a few new concepts this summer. Determinate and indeterminate. Bush and vine. Determinate tomato plants (bushes) are bred to stop growing. Indeterminate tomato plants (vines) will grow indefinitely or until the weather conditions “are no longer favorable.”

Our plants are indeterminate. Each morning, Kerri visits our planting bench and checks her tomatoes. 20 taught her a few simple tending-rules and now, each morning, there are more and more little indeterminate miracles moving backward along the color spectrum, finally arriving at a brilliant red.

Life is indeterminate.

My new tomato-terms come just in time. My current project has me revisiting my past life as a teacher and facilitator. If I apply my new terminology to people I can’t help but think it is the lucky few who survive so much dedicated energy to stop the learning-mind in the name of education. The natural output of a system designed on manufacturing principles is to truncate the questioning mind by patterning the notion that there is a predetermined answer. It becomes a game of finding the answer that teacher wants – a closed loop – instead of an incitement of curiosity. Children are excellent game players and translate the gaming pattern into their now-dulled-adulthood.

There is a cycle apparent in all genuine learning processes. It begins with discontent. Curiosity is a movement born from some form of discontent. It leads to questioning. Questioning always leads to disturbance (the interruption of the known). And, just like that, out of the disturbance something new is seen, call it a breakthrough, call it an insight, call it new learning…Many classrooms – certainly the systems – are designed and organized to keep disturbances to a minimum. The mantra is ‘control’ rather than ‘inspire curiosity.’ Business has the same dedication.

We’re taught that disturbance is the sign of something wrong rather than the crusty earth breaking to reveal new verdant life.

Discontent leads to questioning, leads to disturbance, which leads to breakthrough. And, an insight will always lead to discontent. It’s a story cycle, where yearning meets obstacle. Learning is by definition uncomfortable and at its best when it is uncontrollable.

Last week I attended a meeting. My two companions and I brought our homework back to the team. One was content. The other two of us were filled with discontent. The leader of the session, at first, was angry. He did not get the result he’d anticipated from his exercise. “So, you two are telling me this process was worthless!” he raged. We’d spent our week questioning instead of answering. Discontent. Questioning.

“No! It was great!” we chimed in chorus. “Look at all the good information we uncovered!” It was a mess. Big disturbance. We cycled through our misalignment a few times, wrangling over perception and usefulness. More rage. And then…an insight. The breakthrough. All of the rage, all of the appeasing, began to flow in a single direction. A possibility took shape. A target materialized that was much better than the prescribed pursuit. Energy filled our zoom-osphere. Laughter. Excitement.

Learning. Indeterminate. Open questions. Hot pursuits.

I am drawn to and surrounded by the dedicated indeterminates; those who refuse to stop learning: David, Mike, Horatio, MM, Bruce, 20, Judy, and yes, Kerri…I am a very fortunate man to be surrounded by so many tomatoes moving their way backward along the color spectrum, not afraid to walk through their discontent toward bigger and bigger questions.

read Kerri’s blog post about TOMATOES

Sing It Into Existence [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Lately I am awake for the sunrise. I know it is coming because, very slowly, the birds begin to sing. At first there is one voice, then a few more and then more. By the time the light through the window glows soft purple and gray, the full bird chorus is in session. They sing the sun into rising.

Although I didn’t recognize it at the time, these lawn-art-birds would come to represent to me threshold guardians. Harbingers of the test that my move to Wisconsin would bring. In story terms, threshold guardians are not friendly; they serve as the test of readiness: are you willing and able to greet the challenges that come with change. Or will you run away? Sometimes they are monsters. Sometimes they require the answer to a riddle or solving a puzzle. The new world will open after the obstacle is met. In facing and overcoming the challenge, the guardians often become allies. In truth, they are allies all along. They help you find your self by testing every idea that you have of your self.

Driving the Budget truck on my move from Seattle, filled with the artifacts of my life, Kerri and I stopped in a little village, Stockholm, just as we crossed the Mississippi River into Wisconsin. We wandered down the street and into a gallery. We were drawn to these simple bird-sculptures. They are the first thing we bought together. They represented our step into relationship. Us. They would stand together in our yard.

My first few years in Kenosha were akin to being lost in the woods. My livelihood disappeared. My networks disappeared. Art opportunities vanished. Many of my friendships faded. Every project I tried to pitch or create stalled, every path I attempted to plow broke the plow. I felt stripped. Of little or no value. Even in arenas where I was once appreciated, I was invisible. I’ve done extraordinary consulting work in organizations but learned in my new life that my experience and observations were not welcome. So, silent as well as invisible.

More than once I went out back and sat with the sculptures. They remained silent when I asked of them my questions. Who am I now that I have no useful purpose? What do I do now? In the absence of an answer, the sculptures and I listened to the birdsong.

Often the test brought by the threshold guardians is one of letting go. You cannot become a butterfly if you insist on remaining a caterpillar. The armor must fall. The known shape must go to mush. The what-the-hell-is-happening-to-me necessarily falls unanswered into the void. What’s happening is not complex: you are changing. The old stuff isn’t working because it is too small for the new shape. Let go.

It is not complex but it is uncomfortable. Dark night is cold when you’ve shed your skin. The sun will rise. The birds will sing it into existence. Warmth will return in the moments beyond the soft purples and greys.

We recently moved the bird sculptures from their spot by the pond to a new home by the fence. I hadn’t realized how invisible they were when standing over the pond. By they fence, they are glorious! They are also a metaphor, standing tall, made more vibrant and dynamic by their incorporated shadows. They are transformed. They are present, standing together in the yard. They are signaling the path to the new world, singing into existence the new day.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE BIRDS

Embrace The Mush [on Two Artists Tuesday]

butterfly butterfly spread your wings copy

We walk almost everyday. We always have. We walk to clear our minds or to stir our creative conversations. Since we work together, we sometimes call our walks “meetings.” Neither one of us is good at sitting.

Lately, we walk as an escape or a pressure release. Between job losses and broken wrists and pandemic fears and aging bodies and titanic leadership failures and civil unrest and financial collapse and missing-family-because-it feels-unsafe-to-travel…there’s very little quiet mind space. We hit the trail and have to remind ourselves to slow down. Be in it, not get through it.

It’s a life reminder: be in it. All of it.

We walked across the busy highway to the trailhead and a butterfly circled Kerri and landed at her feet. She’s been having many butterfly encounters lately. They circle her. They fly with her, crisscrossing her path. This butterfly stopped her motion completely. It snapped her into the present moment. She pulled out her camera and the butterfly hopped. She followed and the butterfly hopped again. It seemed to be leading her. It wanted her to follow. Another hop.

While watching the chase I couldn’t help myself from thinking of the symbolism. A butterfly, the universal symbol of change and transformation, leading Kerri on a chase. Perfect!

Our world is changing.

The process of becoming a butterfly requires the caterpillar to cocoon and then dissolve into mush before reforming, taking on the new shape. There’s no way to rush through the mush phase. There’s no way to rush into a thing with wings. In fact, the arduous process of busting out of the cocoon is necessary. It takes time for the wings to dry and the struggle to get free of the safe house provides the drying time. That, and the what-the-heck-are-these wings-doing-on-my-body phase of new recognition. Fear of the first step affords a few more moments of structural prep.

Going to mush takes time. Re-forming takes time.

No one willingly goes to mush. People famously grouse about changing but avoid change at all cost. I imagine that if the caterpillar had any idea of what was about to happen, it would yammer on and on about its dream of flying but would run screaming from the very idea of cocooning.

COVID has us cocooning. We are going to mush. I can only hope my country is also going to mush. A caterpillar that attempts to ward off the necessary transformation distorts and does not live long. A caterpillar that attempts to control its change process is delusional. It will rush and step off the limb before its wings are ready. Another route to disaster.

We are going to mush. Losing the known form is not easy. Living in uncertainty is uncomfortable. That’s the point. Discomfort heralds change. It opens new paths of thinking and possibilities for experience.

Watching Kerri hop after her hopping butterfly, I found myself laughing. This is what mush feels like. I’ve been here before. There will be another side, a breaking out, a fearful flapping of wings. A timely leap and a discovery. Butterflies are also symbolic reminders to step lightly and with grace in times of change. There’s nothing to be done but take nice walks, breathe a bit slower and hop after photo-shy butterflies.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about the BUTTERFLY

 

 

feet on grass WI website box copy

 

 

 

 

greet the world ©️ 2011 david robinson

 

 

Touch The Chair [on Merely A Thought Monday]

healing copy

I am reading books slowly these days. Meditating on words. Sometimes it takes me months to read what I used to blow through in a few days. I am often pleasantly surprised and taken aback by how the words I read on this morning – words written months or years ago – line up exactly with the events of my day. All the time I catch myself thinking, “How did they know I needed to hear that today?”

“There was an altar upon which we could place a photo of someone who had died. Kim chose to put a picture of his “old” self; I found one of him rowing his peapod looking so happy, so strong. Beautiful. We both grieve the loss of that Kim while getting to know and love this new one.” ~ Judy Friesem, Summoned By A Stroke.

Grieve the loss. This is the fourth time in my life that world circumstance/events have drawn a hard line between ‘what was’ and ‘who-knows-what-will-become.’ What was normal and true last week will never again be the same. Social distancing. Pandemic. Disruption is scary and confusing.

I’ve many times heard the story of immigrants, preparing to leave their homes forever for some distant and unknown shore, just before leaving, circle the rooms, touching walls, running their fingers along the arm of a well-loved chair. One last look. This is who I was. Who will I become? It is necessary to mourn what is known before making space for the unknown.

In the midst of spinning change, hanging on too long to the way things-ought-to-be or used-to-be is destructive. More than once I’ve stood with a group in full denial of their new circumstance insisting that “This is the way we’ve always done it!”  Perhaps. What is comfortable today was at one time new and uncomfortable. Someday, what is now new and uncomfortable will be a well worn path. The first step: one last look. This is who we were.

“No person is a finished thing, regardless of how frozen or paralysed their self image might be. Each one of us is in a state of perennial formation. Carried within the flow of time, you are coming to be who you are in every new emergent moment.” ~John O’Donohue, Beauty

Imagination lives in the midst of “It happened to me.” One of our greatest super-powers is the capacity to imagine ourselves different, more expansive. It is what we call dreaming. We “see” ourselves” writing the book or scaling the mountain or being a better parent or working at the soup kitchen or losing the weight or…becoming the more perfect union.

Imagination requires leaving. Leaving requires imagination.

“Fate has a way of handing us what we need in order to become whole…” ~ Judy Friesem, Summoned By A Stroke

 

read Kerri’s blog post about HEALING

 

moon website box copy

 

 

the way home songbox 2 copy

In mythic journeys, coming home, arriving back at the place where the adventure began, is sweet and sour. There is nothing better than returning home to comforts, patterns, and relationships that previously provided solid identity and definition. However, no one goes on an adventure without being changed by it. In other words, you arrive home but you are not the same person who left. Home didn’t change. You did.

Today, so far from home, navigating the dark woods and dark forces that come with every adventure, I especially appreciate Kerri’s gorgeous composition THE WAY HOME. It reminds me that the gift of the adventure is to open my eyes, to feel and revel in the ocean’s spray as we sail toward the edges of the earth.  The dark woods, the unknowns, the trials and tribulations, are, after all, the transformers. They are the agents of change. To step beyond a comfort zone, to seek adventure, is to invite…discomfort (I know, a no-duh).

In our uncharted waters I am, on this day, most grateful for my wife’s captivating and inspiring reminder that, even this shaky-ground-discomfort, is a solid step on THE WAY HOME.

 

THE WAY HOME on the album THIS PART OF THE JOURNEY is available on iTunes & CDBaby

 

read Kerri’s blog post about THE WAY HOME

 

 

arches shadows k&d website box copy

the way home/this part of the journey ©️ 2000 kerri sherwood

Love The Journey [on KS Friday]

tpotj song box copy

This morning, sitting on the steps off the back deck, sipping coffee, DogDog sniffing around the yard, I watched the eagles fly across the bay, dodging seagulls protecting their brood. I fell into one of those moments, those precious few moments, of profound appreciation for my life. This part of my journey is surprising and as orienting as it is disorienting. Both/and.

I like to travel precisely because it throws me off center. Even the simplest things require attention. Which side of the road am I supposed to drive on? Oh my god, where is the corkscrew? What did I just order (I couldn’t even pronounce it)? Once, in a barter culture, I failed miserably because I bartered myself to a higher price. The merchant and I laughed until we cried and then he patted me on the back and only accepted half of my money. Laughter was my coin. That part of my journey changed the trajectory of my life entirely.

Read the order of the tracks on Kerri’s album, THIS PART OF THE JOURNEY, and you notice that the final two titles on the album are This Part Of The Journey followed by The Way Home. She is hyper-intentional so I believe she did that on purpose. Sitting on the deck this morning, I knew without doubt that this part of the journey, no matter how complicated or lost-feeling or unnerving or uncomfortable…or peaceful, is a great gift. It is a step on the way home. And, it will someday make for the best stories, perhaps the best part of my story.

THIS PART OF THE JOURNEY sparkles like the sun on the lake. It is as abundant as DogDog’s curiosity on his discovery trip around the yard. It is as full of laughter as a merchant in Bali who, to this day, tells the story of the tourist who had no idea what he was doing.

THIS PART OF THE JOURNEY on the album THIS PART OF THE JOURNEY is available on iTunes & CDBaby

 

read Kerri’s blog post about THIS PART OF THE JOURNEY

 

not our best morning minturn website box copy

 

this part of the journey ©️ 1998 kerri sherwood

Pace And Shed [on DR Thursday]

underpainting copy

underpainting

Like all artists I pass through periods of discontent with my paintings. They become like ill-fitting clothes. I want to shed them. I’m embarrassed to claim them. I start poking around for something new. Something that fits.

It took me more than a few cycles of discomfort to realize that discontent was actually a gift. It is the leading edge of curiosity, the fire storm that makes way for rejuvenation. Artists are not immune to holding on tightly to the safety and comfort of what they know and need a good dose of discontent to loosen their grip. At least I do.

Discontent makes me range around. Try stuff. Tear things up. Scribble furiously. Wonder if my muse has abandoned me (feel sorry for myself). Make really bad art (not on purpose). Make really bad art (on purpose). Take walks.

Discontent allows my empty well to refill. It pops any illusion I might carry of perfection. It turns my ship and hoists full-sail toward the edge of the world. And, it is always when I sail into uncharted waters that I find my muse waiting. She drums her fingers and says, “I thought you’d never get here.”

Ten years ago, when becalmed in the middle of my artistic ocean, I saw a pile of tissue paper in the corner of my studio. In a fit of why-not-nothing-else-is-working, I tore pieces of tissue and slapped them onto the painting-of-my-discontent. There sat my long missing muse, fingers drumming. “Texture,” she yawned. “You might want to see where this takes you.”

It’s taken me a long way. And, to my surprise, just a few weeks ago, I woke up and my paintings, like ill-fitting clothes, no longer fit me. I look at them as if someone else painted them. “Yikes,” I thought, “I hope no one saw these…” My muse packed her bags. She is nowhere in sight. I paced a little. Discontent like fog descended.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about UNDERPAINTING

 

buffalo adirondack chair website box copy

mother&childprocessshot copy

sometimes the underpainting becomes the painting…this is a slice of Newborn

 

newborn ©️ 2019 david robinson

 

 

Attempt What Is Not Certain

Revelry

A painting from the archives. This one goes way back…

“Attempt what is not certain. Certainty may or may not come later. It may then be a valuable delusion.” Richard Diebenkorn, Notes To Myself On Beginning A Painting

Yesterday we went to Linda and Jim’s house to do some Irish dancing. They are terrific and dedicated dancers – with a dance floor in their basement – and thought it would be fun to teach their pals a waltz cotillon. It was, as they suspected, a riot of laughter, wrong-direction, toe-stepping and left-footed-entanglements. We drank wine, ate snacks, and found ourselves boldly waltz-stepping into the great unknown. 20 called it “an afternoon of happy insanity.”

All my life I’ve been fascinated at what happens to (and for) people when they open themselves to new experiences. Generosity rises. When people allow themselves to step outside of their safe-place, challenge their need to control and open to the new, they come alive. I mean that literally. They come into the present moment, out of their obsession with replaying the past and fearing/manipulating the future, and into the place where life actually happens. Now. It is the artist’s job to open the door to the place where life happens. It is the door Linda and Jim opened for us yesterday.

Krishnamurti wrote, “Have you ever noticed that when you respond to something totally, with all your heart, there is very little memory?” Horatio and I have an ongoing conversation about art and artistry. Lately, we’ve been discussing how completely we disappear when working on a canvas. Hours go by and it feels like minutes. And, more to the point, we don’t disappear, we become present. We show up. We experience the fullness of life at the burning point. Time, that grand master of illusion, disappears.

After our dancing, standing in the kitchen with a glass of wine, I heard, “Where did the time go?” We were revitalized and giddy, compatriots and survivors of a journey into the surprises of the unknown. I smiled when there rose a rowdy chorus of, “When can we do it again?” Life had burst through – as it wants to do – and left its charge.

Meet At The Edge

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

On the plane today I read a short piece on edges and it reminded me of the power of this simple reality. The place where two elements come together, the place where two currents meet, the place where two cultures intersect, the place where the clearing meets the forest, the place where the world drops off: these places either teem with life or fire the imagination. It is at the edges where we become uncomfortable. It is at the edges where we say, “I don’t know” and thus, learning becomes possible.

There are internal edges as well as external edges. I work with people all the time who tell me they’ve hit a wall, come upon a block, or run into a limit that feels like an abyss. Internal edges are just the same as external edges: they either teem with new life in the form of ideas and pursuit or they evoke discomfort and resistance. Edges are present when we say, “I’m lost,” or “I don’t know what to do,” or “I’m frozen and can’t move.” Edges are present when we shout, “That was incredible!” Edges are supposed to generate instability: movement.

You know you are at an edge when you judge: judge some one or something else and it’s a good bet that you aren’t comfortable. Judge yourself and it’s a good bet that you’ve found an edge. If, in the moment of judgment, you realize that you are at an edge and suspend your judgment, you are instantly capable of learning. If, at the moment of judging, that you invest in the judgment, you’ve shut down the learning. Judgment is merely a way of establishing a location, a false “known” so you can get away from the unknown: it is an oddity human development that it easier to call yourself or others an idiot (thus, locating yourself or them) than it is to say, “I don’t know….”

Edges are everywhere. Kichom Hayashi sends his students out in the world to find as many edges as they can. Try it. You’ll find there are edges everywhere: grass meets concrete, brick meets brick, glass meets steel, earth meets water, sky meets horizon, hand meets hand, idea meets idea: the possibilities are endless. See them and then imagine the edges define connectivity instead of separation. If you reinforce the connectivity, you will walk toward your edges every time; the discomfort will call you and fire your imagination. If you see separations, the edges will frighten you and drive you back into the comfort of judgment. It all depends on what you choose to see.