Stop The Chase [on Two Artists Tuesday]

It’s difficult, seemingly Pollyanna-ish, to write about love when our nation is now officially divided and living in two combating realities. When Kerri took this photo on our back deck, I knew it was going to make an appearance in the Melange. “It will be tough to write about given the events of this week, the realities of our divided nation,” I said to no one listening.

I was wrong. The more I pondered this heart in the snow, the more I saw a simple theme, the thing we always miss. It is at the core of almost all spiritual teaching and personal revelation: stop the chase.

Krishnamurti wrote that “Love is a fact, not an emotion.” It cannot be found precisely because it is omnipresent. It is everywhere. It is everything. However, it can be easily missed, especially when covered in a blanket of righteousness. Love will sit patiently and wait for those who believe love to be a separate thing, something to be earned or discovered in the eyes of an other. We recently, through Zoom, sat Shivah for someone dear who had passed. The Rabbi read these words from a poem, “Love doesn’t die, people do. So when all that’s left of me is Love, give me away.”

Viktor Frankel wrote that “Happiness ensues.” It follows. It cannot be pursued or attained.

I can’t tell you how many countless hours I’ve spent with groups who desire to attain presence. To achieve mindfulness. It is nigh-on impossible to convey to achievers that presence cannot be pursued. It’s simple if you think about it: presence comes when ambition disappears. Presence and love. The desire to be anywhere else, to achieve anything, to become something other than what you are in this moment, precludes presence, interrupts love. Allow it; it’s already there.

It is anathema to suggest to modern seekers that they will find what they seek by ceasing to seek. Ha! It is the ultimate collision, in a culture steeped in achievement-as-a-central-tenet, that love, happiness, presence, mindfulness are unachievable – but infinitely available when standing still.

“You can love me most by letting me live in your eyes, And not on your mind,” the Rabbi read. See beyond what you think.

Division lives in the mind. What we seek, what we most need in this historic moment, cannot be found there. What we seek will become apparent – readily available – when we stop the chase, drop the destructive delusion of manifest destiny and its many separation-shadows – and, even for a moment – stand still.

read Kerri’s blog post about HEART

Look Beyond The Wish [on DR Thursday]

Peace on earth. It is something to be wished for, and, in fact, it is something we wish for every winter solstice. We sing. We hold hands. We light candles. We wish.

Wish [verb]: a strong desire or hope for something that is not easily attainable; want something that cannot or probably will not happen.

For months I’ve been taking notes and doing research for a play that I want to write. One of the themes of my someday-play is control-by-division and I find myself constantly tripping over stories and mythology with control-by-division as the central tenet. It’s everywhere. For instance, The Tower of Babel features a unified humanity – speaking a single language – who attempt to build a tower to reach heaven. The god’s response was to blast their language, split them linguistically so they were incapable of understanding each other. Plato’s Symposium tells a similar tale. Humans united are too powerful so fearful gods go to great lengths to keep humanity divided. It’s the history of these intentionally-divided-united-states as understood through the lens of Bacon’s rebellion. It’s a repetitive pattern, a living system.

Peace is something the gods, the 17th century aristocrats, and the current republican party do not want us to have. A united populace is capable of peace and a prerequisite of peace is equity. Good will toward men and women and neighbors and speakers of languages other than ones own. The desire for everyone to prosper, for everyone to be safe. Everyone.

When I was young and perhaps more naive than I am now [if that is possible], I explained to rival gang members that they were essentially puppets doing exactly what the powerful expected them to do: fighting and killing each other. Division serves as a useful preoccupation. It keeps eyes and minds off those who were controlling them, keeping them poor. As you might imagine my blather fell on deaf ears and those beautiful young people were back on the streets killing each other before the sun went down.

This is what I read in all of the myths, in all of the stories of intentional-division: peace is our natural state. It takes extraordinary effort and manipulation to divide us.

Peace. Reaching across division. Division that is often – as we have lately seen all too clearly – trumped up to keep us from coming together, from building our too-tall-tower and approaching heaven. United, we might turn our eyes toward the powerful few and ask, “So what are you really doing?”

United, we might ask of ourselves to do something more than our annual-ritual-of-wishing.

read Kerri’s blog post about PEACE

Practice Inner Hospitality [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

“What you separate, the soul joins.” ~ John O’Donohue

A few years ago, when we went to Hippy Tom’s farm, Kerri said, “It feels like we’re inside this man’s sickness.” There was stuff everywhere. A hoarder with a farm. Her comment about the farm has become a code-phrase for us. “Hippy Tom,” she says, and I know we are talking about these-un-united-states under the influence of the outgoing president. A nation living inside of one man’s sickness. The hater-in-chief.

The Bidens’ messages of unity and perseverance are akin to a doorway, an exit from the crazy farm. Although we are running for the door, not yet free of the madness, we can see it from here. We can catch breaths of air free of delusion and division.

“When you decide to practice inner hospitality,” John O’Donohue writes, “the torment ceases. The abandoned, neglected, and negative selves come into seamless unity.”

Practice inner hospitality. The rules that apply to individuals also apply to organizations as well as nations. Practice inner hospitality and the negative selves will come into seamless unity. “The soul adores unity.”

Although our systemic root belies this, soul of this nation has never been isolationism or white supremacy. The soul of this nation has always been our diversity, our willingness to embrace the new, to find a northwest passage, to step foot on the moon, to embrace, to invent and reinvent, to reach. To improve. To challenge a fossilized belief.

Perhaps it is now time for us to review, renew, to at-long-last turn and face what we have not yet faced in “this beautiful, brave, complicated nation.” To look with honesty and clarity at all of our history, our negative and ideal selves. To balance what has been too long unequal, ugly, denied.

There is great space in our national divide. The flaw, as the Amish remind us, is there to let in the grace. The soul joins. It can show us a path, once and for all, out of the sickness of the farm.

read Kerri’s blog post about AMBER WAVES

Cope Another Way [on Merely A Thought Monday]

“A lie can travel halfway round the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” ~ Mark Twain

From the national department of absurdity, I read in my morning news trawl that people-on-the-right were fleeing their tried-and-true social media platforms because they are tired of having their facts checked. They’re tired of being flagged for hate speech. They’re moving to a new platform that allows them to claim as true any old thing that fuels their fantasy. Of course, their new platform purports to have standards. In the absence of truth, they will be monitoring and censoring pornography and nudity. Bare bodies are shunned but bare lies are encouraged.

Google the question “Why Do We Lie?” and you might stumble across this phrase: lying is a ‘maladaptive coping mechanism.‘ Why are the good folks on the right fleeing from fact-checkers in search of an inadequate coping mechanism? Why are they – and, therefore, we – so deliberately racing from the truth? Truth is, after all, supposed to be the glue that holds a society together.

Perhaps, in our case, truth is not the glue that has held our young nation together. Perhaps the current hunger to lie is because we are [once again] confronting our truth? Division, not truth, is our glue. We know it. And we pretend it isn’t true. Denial of the truth is a lie by another name.

Plato reminds us that Zeus feared the power of the original humans so he split them into two separate parts. Our forefathers feared the power of a united working class so, taking a page from Zeus’ handbook, they split their budding society along the color line. And, in an “improvement” on Zeus’ original recipe for division, our god-fathers, in a single action, as a single action, reduced the black faces to less-than-human while simultaneously granting extra privileges to the white faces. They linked the privilege of the whites to the suppression of the blacks. White supremacy and Black Lives Matter are inextricably linked. It is the sad gravity that binds us.

It’s the truth we have never been able to face and, historically, when we dare to part the veil and have a look, there is a concerted effort by the working whites – those on the other side of the diploma divide [so many false divisions…] to run for the comfort of the supremacy-lie. It’s a safe space.

We embrace our maladaptive coping mechanism because we are afraid of facing the consequences of our truth. Great fear of status loss drives the wearers of red-hats to the lie-saloon where they can drink their fill, amp their anger, and fight progress. Fact-checking gets in the way. It’s how the system works.

Fueling the supremacy-lie is the central appeal – it’s the only appeal – of the outgoing titanic Liar-In-Chief. Supremacy stories, after all, require the supremacists to think they are victims. Facts become assaults. News becomes fake. Deep states and conspiracy theories abound. A good victim story is necessary for an Us and Them world. A good victim story is necessary to hold onto the promise-lie of white supremacy.

Division by design.

“The lie” crumbles in a social media space that checks facts and flags hate speech. What could be a better alternative than a gossip-circle-social-media-space where lies are called truths and truths are branded as lies?

Division, running from truth, pretending the division isn’t there, has worked well as a national glue if you are a god-father. It kicks the can down the road. Perhaps it’s time we sent Zeus and our forefathers a note. If we want to grow up as a nation, if we want a united people dedicated to ideals like freedom and justice for all, we need to look at our shadow and seek shared truth. Unity is a much better glue than our comfortable age-old division.

We need to cease fleeing into our maladaptive coping mechanism, look at ourselves, our leaders, and, together, begin telling – and expecting – and guarding – some truth.

read Kerri’s blog post on HUNGRY FOR LIES

Pop A Cork And Ponder [on Two Artists Tuesday]

It is, at long last, election day in these-once-united-states. If I had a wine cellar it would be stocked to the top with election night libation and reality-numbing assistance.

Through Kerri, I received a loving and gentle push back against my use of the phrase these-once-united-states. Our reader reminded me that these-states-were-never-united. Not really. Of course, there is the very real possibility that division IS what identifies us. In a stroke of planned obsolescence or perhaps a nod to the absurd, our forefathers wrote that all men are created equal while participating in and promoting slavery as the driver of the economic engine. They certainly knew what they were doing. It might be that division is what unites us.

Who would we be if we actually practiced equality and made sure that our institutions were not only the guardians but promoters of our central ideal?

Mostly, those wacky forefathers kicked the can down the road. They understood that the nation would one day have to reconcile its split-intention. We’ve made a run at it more than a few times and, like every good fractal, rather than deal with our shadow pattern, we manage to repeat it. Slavery becomes Jim Crow…and here we are. BLM meets The Proud Boys.

We are so far away from dealing with the can kicked-down-the-road to us that the mostly-men-on-the-red-team deny the very existence of systemic racism. That, too, is part of the fractal. Take note of how much energy has been spent making it hard for black Americans to vote. Right here in the year 2020. Some things never change. Some things need to change.

So, today we line up to cast our ballots. In this seemingly endless and ugly election season, we’ve been witness to an undermining of the postal service, the removal of ballot boxes, the stuffing of the supreme court, a president casting doubt on the very system he was sworn to support.

So much energy spent to ensure the continuation of the divide! Another squirt of glue? An organizing principle of negative and positive charges? Opposite charges attracting?

We need a new organizing principle. Division is a threadbare story and, as we know, can only run in a vicious circle. I hold little hope for it but wonder what might come about if we attended to a simple basic, just like the sign says. “Be Nice. Say Hi!”

In the absence of general kindness and courtesy, something every mother teaches and every grandmother upholds, I will pop a cork and ponder what we might have been if the system had been set up and penned by our foremothers. I suspect we’d all know how to play nice by now.

read Kerri’s blog post on BE NICE. SAY HI!

Make A Choice [on Merely A Thought Monday]

If you still require a marker for where we’ve come in these past four years, you need only consider this: The International Crisis Group – “an organization that frequently reports on instability in failing states and war zones – warn that a bitterly polarized America faces ‘unfamiliar danger’ in these coming days.”

Instability in a failing state. War zone.

Once upon a time we were so solid in our commitment to the democratic process that the world asked us to send representatives to monitor elections in failing states. The Carter Center alone has observed elections in 39 countries in an effort to support and strengthen democracy around the world.

Once upon a time the peaceful transfer of power honoring the vote of-and-by the people was assumed. It was the epicenter of our stability. A two party system that provides for creative tension and lively debate as it wrestles its way into a more perfect union never, before now, questioned the sacred center, the magic glue of its success: the peaceful transfer of power. It gave us the authority to promote democracy, attend to human rights, and monitor elections in other nations.

And now? The world issues a warning to us. About us. The state of the United States is possibly unstable. Possibly failing.

It’s also possibly growing, evolving. Significant change is often preceded by a challenge to ideals, a stress test of boundaries. Order collapses into chaos and out of chaos, new order arises. A butterfly emerges from caterpillar mush.

In this election the American experiment could very well collapse on itself. It could also rise from the dis-ease of the past four years stronger with a better sense of what needs attention in our walk toward the promise. And, as we stand at this crossroads, the good news is that the leadership does not decide the path we take. We do.

We are the people who choose our leaders. They lead in service to us. We can join the ranks of failing states and eat ourselves like a cancer. Or, we can sober up and guard our tradition. Disagreement is the energy that drives us forward to vote; the peaceful transfer of power acknowledges that, in our hearty discord, we are servants to a higher ideal, a fluid dynamic relationship moving toward a more perfect union.

It’s our choice.

read Kerri’s blog post about VOTE

Flush The Principle [on Flawed Wednesday]

“Yesterday I wrote a long note to Senate Majority Leader McConnell de-crying just a few of the amoral specifics regarding his crass, disrespectful and gleeful jig dance around RBG’s deathbed…and more generally about his and his party’s roles in bringing to its knees what had been a reasonably good land peopled by reasonably good people…” ~ MM

With the passing of RBG I have heard this phrase repeated over and over again by politicians and pundits alike as an explanation or perhaps an excuse for the the behavior of our elected officials: It’s power over principle.

Power over principle. Penny wise and pound foolish. What is gained is minimal when compared with what is lost.

On one end of the political spectrum is my mother who screamed into the phone, “I want my country back!” On the other end is my dear MM, who lamented, “I’m coming to realize that the country I thought I inhabited never really existed.” It’s a lose/lose proposition all the way around. Loss of belief is what is gained.

Catch a few of the key words in the definition of principle: a fundamental truth that serves as the foundation for a system. Fundamental truth. Foundation of a system.

In essence, as the politicians and pundits make clear, our elected leaders are willing to ignore our fundamental truths and erode our foundation for a wee bit of short term control. Is there any among us who does not know what happens to a house when the foundation crumbles?

Dare I state the obvious? Power is what happens when people come together. Control is what happens when people are divided. The politicians and pundits have it all wrong. It’s Control over Principle. The penny gained is not worth the stable republic that is lost. Instability is central to the definition of a banana republic. And so we will take the path all empires walk when their principles take back seat to their control lust.

Children in our public schools are taught a pledge of allegiance to the flag. It ends with these words: …indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. It seems we are locked in a constant battle to define this word: ALL. Are LGBTQ citizens included in ALL? What about Muslim Americans? Women? Are they included in the word ALL? What about black Americans? Is justice for ALL equally applied or is it only available for the select few?

Our pledge is either a statement of principle or it is a lie. We will become indivisible when liberty and justice are assumed and applied equally to ALL. Principles lead to power; that is the point of a principle and why they must be lived, honored. Control is all that remains to a leadership empty of principle. Division is the only tool in a principle-less toolbox.

Principles matter until they don’t. RBG knew there was a line that must be held. She spent her life fighting for principle over control. It is why, in her passing, we celebrate that she represented the best of us.

It is also why, in her passing, we shake our heads in disgust and disbelief as our senate and president represent the very worst of us. They will, of course, slobber and achieve their small amount of control. The cost, of course, is nothing more or less than our nation’s principles.

read Kerri’s blog post about RBG

Ask, “What’s Really Happening?” [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Lately I’ve been mourning the loss of Occam’s Razor, you know, that simple but useful little principle that, in the presence of two explanations that account for facts, the simplest explanation is most likely to be correct. In our current national spin, the corrosive and stupidly-complex justifications are overrunning the simple explanation every time. For instance, is it more likely that the “Democrat” leaders are conspiring to inflate the pandemic numbers in a worldwide conspiracy (yes, 195 countries that rarely agree on anything are united in collusion with the American Democratic party!) to bring down the president – or – did the man botch the job and that’s why our numbers are so high? I’m going with botched job since I still have sight of Occam with plenty of data sharpening that simple razor.

Sometimes when I am sifting my too-many-thoughts-for-a-post I’ll jump into the Google pool in the hope that I’ll hit my head on a Google rock and clarity or at least some sense will come. Today I typed in a question: what conspiracy theories helped bring down the Roman Empire? There’s plenty to read if the fall of Rome is on your mind. I went down the rabbit hole and bumbled upon this fun phrase embedded in the List Of Conspiracy Theories page on Wikipedia [sidebar: there are more inane conspiracy theories than you might imagine and most find their place on the “What were we thinking” shelf-of-shame after a year or two passes. We can only hope that the good folks at Q or the pandemic deniers take their place high on the shelf before too long and too many people are hurt or killed from their delusion. Occam would cut them to ribbons if he weren’t laughing/crying so hard].

I digress. Here’s the phrase: Psychologists attribute finding a conspiracy theory where there is none to a mental illness called illusory pattern perception. Illusory Pattern Perception. It’s a “phenomenon in which observers see patterns that do not exist.” The epicenter of the illness that drives folks to see what is not there: lack of control. It’s existential, this American decline.

We are rapidly becoming the poster child for “a nation divided cannot stand.” As a lover of pattern, perception, and metaphor I find it profoundly sad that our latest chapter of lack of control has led us to division and mental illness. Seeing patterns where none exist. Making up horror stories about each other rather than letting Occam’s razor slice away the absurd and elucidate some simple truth.

Lack of control, as we know from the stories we just shared about 9/11, can also unite us. Lack of control can clarify us. It can inspire us to run into burning buildings, link arms with fellow passengers to rush a cockpit – knowing full well your action will bring a plane down and your life to an end – and do it anyway because your action will save the lives of people you’ll never meet or know. The lack of control can inspire us to stand in the hot fires of injustice (injustice is a control mechanism) and declare it wrong.

Unity, goodness, self-sacrifice – all of these virtues are exposed – or can be – in moments when control abandons us. Our path need not be ugly, vicious, divisive, or inhumane. The mental illness that blinds us is not natural to this nation – or to humanity. It’s what happens when frightened people, feeling out of control, meet a salesman of snake-oil solutions, a weaver of dark places in the public mind, rather than link arms and ask, “What’s really happening?”

read Kerri’s blog post about AMERICAN DECLINE

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

 

 

Face In [on KS Friday]

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“…gentleness can be a greater force for transfiguration than any political, economic, or media power,…” ~ John O’Donohue

Here is my utopian fantasy: The protesters put down their signs, the police put down their shields, the militia drops their weapons, the citizens of all races, creeds, colors, political identities and economic stripes come out of their houses and hold hands facing into a circle of their creation. Nothing need be said. What are we protesting FOR if not this?

We are excellent at pushing against what we do not want. We are practiced at screaming in rabid reactivity. Finger pointing and blame is among our most popular Facebook pass times.  We like to make noise and bluster about the violation of our rights and ignite fearmongering fires warning of imagined assaults on our amendments. Propaganda and lie make for good reality television ratings. They provide permission to smash glass, loot, denigrate “others” and give cover to murder in all its forms, but are lousy foundations for a civil and civilized society.

Truth is intentional, not reactive. It steps toward an ideal. It provides a national focal point, a guide-star that will not cotton with lie and propaganda.

We seem utterly inept, absolutely incapable at walking toward what we profess. Our ideal is printed on our dollar bills and chiseled into the facades of our buildings: e pluribus unum: out of many, one.  Our division is chiseled into our history.

My utopian fantasy is not so hard to realize but notice it requires a common first step: a putting down of weapon and rhetoric and dedicated division. The  second step is also not difficult: reach out, take the hand that is closest. Circle up with those who you most disagree. The third step may be the hardest: say nothing. Defend and justify nothing. Prove or claim nothing. Face in, not face off.  The greatest intentions, like the most profound truths, are often silent. Step four: live the circle.

We can figure it out. It’s no greater matter than walking toward what we want, what we espouse, instead of forever pushing against what we do not want. Perhaps our first truth is to admit that there is a lie built into what we chisel in walls and what we actually live. We need to intend oneness if we are to realize our central ideal.

Doc Rivers, a black man and coach of the LA Clippers said this yesterday: “It’s amazing why we keep loving this country, and this country does not love us back.” Love. Love back. There is no better or simpler statement of intention. Walk toward it.

He also famously said, “Average players want to be left alone. Good players want to be coached. Great players want to be told the truth.” His dictum applies to nations as well as players: great nations want to be told the truth. Average nations want to be left alone.

 

FIGURE IT OUT on the album RIGHT NOW is available on iTunes

 

read Kerri’s blog post about FIGURE IT OUT

 

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figure it out/right now ©️ 2010 kerri sherwood