Attempt What Is Not Certain


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.

Value Your Growth

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

When we were 12 years old my cousin Randal and I ran away from home. We’d had it with the parental suppression and too many rules! We wanted adventure and revolution. One morning in a fit of discontent we took a can opener and 6 dollars and started walking. We didn’t know where we were walking. We’d not identified a direction or made a plan. Along the way we stopped at a 7-Eleven and bought some candy and Coke to fuel our discontent. We walked from Arvada to Golden, approximately twenty miles before we got tired and called home for a ride. Dinner and a soft bed suddenly seemed more important than freedom and adventure. I have always felt fortunate that our very angry mothers were willing to come fetch us from our adventure. Our walkabout revealed the benefits that come with rules; it also made apparent to me how comfort is often the roadblock to rebellion. My only regret was that we never got to use our can opener.

Discontent fuels movement. I remember thinking as we walked that we were walking for the sake of walking. We were walking because we needed to do something, but the something we chose to do was not action – it was reaction. We were not walking toward anything; we were walking away from our problems. We didn’t know what else to do. It seemed important and necessary when we started and confusing and ridiculous by the time we stopped. We’d defined our actions according to what we didn’t want, not according to the creation of what we imagined. Discontent fuels movement but does not give it direction.

When we got to our respective homes that night, the people that loved us yelled at us, grounded us, fed us really good food, hugged us, made sure we were clean and without injury and tucked us in. It was a full spectrum of loving acts! I slept really well that night. The next day I awoke a different person. I knew that running away wasn’t immediately useful and yet, it created movement within me. It was assertive. It helped me run into more than a few boundaries. It initiated conversations that I needed to have. It helped me recognize that love has many faces and that this business of being a human is messy. It helped me distinguish between action and action with purpose. It helped me recognize that Coke and candy are not good fuel for walking long distances. And, it helped me recognize that if I wanted to make significant change in my life or in the world, I needed to value my growth over my comfort. In fact, growth is always through a path of discomfort.

Lora once told me a story of a Buddhist teacher who took cold showers everyday. I shivered and replied that I couldn’t do it. I like hot showers too much. She smiled and said, “That’s exactly what I told him and you know what he said? ‘I’d rather be fully alive than comfortable.”

Truly Powerful People (444)

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

Megan-the-brilliant, she that is far too wise for one so young (but does not yet know it – so kindly don’t tell her) takes me to task on the details of my posts. She asks for clarification, challenges me on the fine points of my rambling, and knits her brow with such ferocity of thought that it would knock the “P” off of most PhD’s. I count myself fortunate to have eschewed higher education, stopping with an M.A.; her thought ferocity has obliterated the “A” so I am left with a vapid “mmmmmmmm,” in response to many of her questions. “What does that mean?” she exclaims. I bite my lip – a stall tactic to give my synapsis a fair chance to fire. I wish my brain was better organized; clutter slows me down.

Recently I wrote something about discomfort being necessary for movement. Discomfort is a story starter. I can’t think of a single story worth telling that is about comfort. Comedy is not comedy without some serious discomfort. Tragedy is uncomfortable by definition. The Buddha tells us that the key to a good life is to participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world; sorrow is the premise of the story. Stories of illumination, adventure, mystery, love, historical, pastoral, historical-pastoral, hysterical-historical-pastoral are not known for comfort.

Megan-the-brilliant cautioned me that I was too general in my assertion. She knit her brow (there goes my “A”) and asked me to distinguish between movement to get out of the discomfort vs. using the discomfort to move the story forward. They are two entirely different intentions. Mmmmmmmmmmm. Actually, a synapse fired. It was close at hand. In fact, it was so close it is the name of this blog: The Direction of Intention. Moving to get out of the discomfort is to push against what you don’t want – a negative direction of intention. Movement fueled by discomfort that propels you toward what you want – is a positive direction of intention. She’s right!

It seems we have a choice in what we do with our discomfort and perhaps that is the point of every life story. Joyful participation, denial and frustration, pushing against the cage, giving up or finding a way to pick the lock are choices. They are directions of intention. We can choose to hate what we don’t understand and plant our heads in the sand or walk toward what we don’t know – and learn.

Even with the loss of my “A” I can see that Megan-the-brilliant is aptly named. Don’t tell her. Mmmmmmmmmmmmum’s the word.