Change Your Mantra [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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It was only after the dive that I realized my folly. Rather than enjoy it I repeated to myself, over and over, to just get through it. I’d be fine once I was back in the boat. I was afraid.

It was a very deep dive, the deepest I’d ever attempted. There were sharks swimming beneath me. There were sharks swimming above me. The Blue Hole. The wall was gorgeous, an explosion of red, orange, and yellow. Looking up was a miracle of sunlight on water. Looking down was a study in the color blue, layers of turquoise, cerulean, disappearing into a bottomless (aptly named) ultramarine.

My mantra, just get through it, was a wall between me and extraordinary beauty of it.

Later, in the boat, I appreciated it. I also appreciated that my experience was unnecessarily fearful. Rather, I understood that the only real danger in The Blue Hole was my doubt in myself. The sharks were not man-eaters. The depth was the limit for amateur divers but not extreme. The dive master was world class. I had plenty of oxygen.  I was safe everywhere but in my imagination.

The dive made me wonder how much of my life I’ve spent telling myself fear tales? Instead of having an experience of wonder, how often have I storied myself in fear? How often have I made up monsters and raced to the other side of the moment, raced to get it over with rather than be in it?

Sitting in the boat, I realized that it wasn’t the fear that I was wrangling with. Fear is natural, especially in alien environments like deep water, especially when sharks are involved. It was my mantra that plagued me. Get through it.

Next time, I told myself, I will have a new mantra. Be in it. Fear is an experience, too. It’s part of life and, at the end of my days, I will be sad if the story of my life was simply getting through it. Or over it. I want to know that I was in it, all of it; the fear, the joy, the ugly, the angry, the beautiful blues, the sad days, and the quiet wandering.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about GETTING IT OVER WITH

 

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Put Down Your Straight Edge [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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I just wrote a “Statement of Philosophy of Teaching.” It’s for an application to teach at a college that emphasizes experiential learning. If I had a dime for every time I championed experiential learning or used that phrase on a crowd of wooden educators, stony-faced business types, or boards-of-directors, I’d have no need to write statements of teaching philosophy. And, truly, think on it for a moment, what is the opposite?

Andy’s phrase: experience equals knowledge, knowledge equals confidence, confidence equals success. In other words, the only way to learn to ride a bike is to get on the bike and ride. There will be falls. We call that learning. And, the really great thing about getting on the bike and riding is that one day, after a few more falls and many more miles, you might compete in the Tour de France. You will be pursuing something other than your balance skills. Learning is like that.

The problem with shorthand phrases like Andy’s, although accurate on one level,  is that they describe a straight line. Life, I’ve learned from experience, has rowdy roller coaster phases that nearly fling you off the planet, awkward backward stepping to get out of wrong choices, chapters wandering lost in the forest, days spent sitting on the rock stripping off the armor before another step can be taken. Life is not lived in a straight line. Experience is a windy road. It only looks straight in the post-mortem. Knowledge gathering en route to confidence is no walk in a meadow. Andy will tell you that, too.

We make meaning out of our experiences after the fact. We have experiences first and story them second. It is why learning is circular. It is why a rich life is circular, why life lessons come around again and again.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about WINDING TRAILS

 

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Learn The DogDog Way [on Merely A Thought Monday

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DogDog is an Aussie and takes the job of herding his people very seriously. We are a tough bunch. Two artists (one A.D.D. and the other O.C.D) and a BIG cat are not easily collected or moved in a consistent or singular direction. It is not an understatement to say that DogDog was not given an easy task in this lifetime.

On top of the endless challenge of gathering the un-gatherable, he is a hyper sensitive boy; he knows what we are feeling before we do. He runs all of our emotions through his filters. The Dog Whisperer says that dogs are masters at reading energy and DogDog must have graduated at the top of his pooch class. Anticipating our every move is made more complex by his innate skill in surfing our full palette of turbulent and uninhibited feelings. Were he human, he’d be a nervous wreck.

His days are full, chaotic, and active. And so, at the end of the day, when we at last settle, when the perimeter is safe and we are secure, he collapses. It is almost as if someone disconnected the cable to his battery. He hits the floor. His sleep is immediate and sound (unless, of course, we move).

I realized, in watching his deep and peaceful sleep, the kind of sleep that I rarely experience, that he is teaching me to love the impossible task. In fact, he simply loves the task before him with no regard to its achievement. He engages the impossible with joy and a hearty wag-a-wag. He participates. He delights. He loves. He, therefore, has no need for either the possible or the impossible. Those are abstractions and he deals with the reality of the moment.

Neither does he resent the turbulence we toss in his path. He takes no ownership for how we feel and, so, is not compelled to control what we feel. He simple reads the color of our mood and loves accordingly. He does not deflect or dodge or manipulate. He does not ignore or pretend or deny. He stands without judgment in the daily bedlam of his humans as if there was no better place to be on earth.

I desire the peaceful sleep he experiences. He shows me the way everyday. Admittedly, I am a slow study but he is a patient and generous teacher. “Tomorrow,” I tell myself, “I will love the impossible task.” Or, perhaps, if I really learn the DogDog way, I will give up the notion of possible or impossible altogether and simply attend with joy to the task at hand.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about DogDog Sleeping

 

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Love The Mud [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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“It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.” ~ Picasso

It would seem to be a no-brainer. Mastery comes from a lifetime of doing. Trial and error. Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours rule: success is nothing more than practicing the task for many hours over many years. As the old joke goes, it’s how you get to Carnegie Hall.

Efficiency. Ease. Body knowledge. Body of Knowledge. Flow. Wisdom. The blossoms of a long-body of experiences. The farmer, over a lifetime of living and working the same plot of land, knows the signs that no one else can see. They sense the storm coming. They smell the time for planting. They waste no time; their 10,000 hours having developed a solid relationship, a kinship with their environment and work.

An artist, over a lifetime of living and working the same plot of music or paint or dance, knows the signs that no one else can see. Artistry is efficiency, a single line saying more than 20. A musical phrase capable of reaching deeper into hearts than was once possible. Like the farmer, their 10,000 hours becomes 20,000 and then 30,000. Their worth, their work, after so many hours of hands in the soil or fingers on the keys, is incalculable.

Awash in abstractions, organizations play by a different set of understandings. Bottom lines are blind to mastery. You’d be amazed (or not) at how many people I know who’ve been “let go” because a younger, less expensive person, might “fill the role” and “cost less.” Mastery as deficit. You’d  be astounded (or not) at how many people I’ve coached who were punished because they became highly efficient. Their life-of-experience made their work look too easy. They were either squeezed for more or released as unnecessary.

What happens when all of the organizational knowledge, the ease and efficiency that comes via experience, becomes a liability? Wearing my consulting hat I’d routinely shake my head at the standard folly of leadership – people in power suits and ties a hundred miles from the dust and grit of the boots-on-the-ground – determining with pencil and paper the time and worth of a task. Abstracting the worth of a life. Budgetary efficiency driving the carefully calculated undervaluation of experience. Actual efficiency red-lined by abstract efficiency. As John would say, “Penny wise and pound foolish.”

Maturity in season of life. It comes from a job description that came across Kerri’s desk. Maturity as a job requirement! A search for someone with the experience necessary to paint like a child. Seeking the mastery that results from years and years of plowing the same fields.

I wonder if the hiring committee merely tossed out flowery language or actually understood that their ideal candidate would come through the door with boots made muddy from a lifetime of walking the fields?

 

read Kerri’s blog post about MATURITY IN SEASON OF LIFE

 

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Reflect On It [on KS Friday]

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I so loved Kerri’s post yesterday that, today, I’m reflecting it back to her.

Do we ever really know what it takes to do someone else’s job? We don’t know the tools used, the research done, the years of training and experience, how someone perceives their own work. We can only guess and, most often, fall desperately, arrogantly, audaciously off the mark.

Kerri’s piano dominates her studio. A black 6’7″ Yamaha grand. It is not a show piece, it is a workhorse. Littering the music stand are stacks of composition notebooks, idea journals, sketches (she is visual) and pile after pile of church music – old hymnals, new downloads of pieces she’s considering for her ukulele band, choir or handbell choir. On the floor are several heavy binders arranged in alphabetical order with the music already played, binders from the 30 years of experience as a minister of music. There is yet another stack reserved for pieces she’s considering playing with Jim, her brilliant guitarist. Lining the walls are ukuleles, a few guitars, a cello, a keyboard, several music stands, more stacks of the original recordings of her albums (note: they are not stored as sacred artifacts. Rather, they are piled willy-nilly for easy reference). My wife is a Yamaha artist (look it up) and her constantly shifting studio topography (ever-moving piles) is testament to the music in her soul, her very-long history of artistry.

Now, I’ve sung a song or two in the shower. When I met Kerri I told her that I didn’t sing and she fairly quickly called my bluff. I sing in her choir. I delight in singing with her and Jim. They are kind and pretend that I add something to their mix. Nowadays I can even pick out a slow tune on the ukulele!

All of this, however, does not make me capable of really understanding how Kerri plays or composes. I can pluck a note. I can warble a song. I will, however, never have mastery of all the instruments, I will never approach her capacity to transpose on the fly, or compose poetry and melody. I will never hear the nuance she hears, the music of silence. I do not have a natural gift of music nor an entire lifetime to exercise and explore it.

I do not know the tricks of the trade she has accumulated over decades of honing her expertise. Nor do I know the knowledge base she brings about other artists, other musicians and compositions, the instrumentation, the way she ‘feels’ an audience and adjusts, the very technical details and the very heart-based intuitions she has learned through many, many years of study and practice. I can’t understand or even try to predict the amount of time it takes (or doesn’t take) for her to conceptualize, to explore, to create, to review, to assess, to adjust, to re-create. I can respond to her work but I cannot define it, nor would it be credible for me to even try to do so. Out of respect for her work, this ‘music’ that is one of the essential things that define her, I know that I really have no idea. I will never approach all that she knows. What I can do is appreciate the enormity of her talent, the endless hours of study, pursuit, practice, passion, experimentation, frustration, rehearsal, writing, performance, teaching, research, recording, pondering, pounding and playing and playing and playing – a lifetime of experience – that has brought her to this place where she creates beautiful music that seems to take no effort whatsoever.

Making it look easy. It takes a lifetime. The woman who delivers our mail has been a postal carrier for 30 years. It is hubris to think I know what that takes. It is utter arrogance to think I could pick up a mailbag and simply know what she knows, do what she does. Experience is invisible. Value is too easily reduced to dollars and cents. As Kerri wrote yesterday, with regard to anyone, the work they do, the life-path they bring to their work, we have no idea. It is both humbling and respectful to take a step back and consider the invisible, to remember that what appears easy comes from years and years of very hard work.

 

read Kerri’s blog post on KS FRIDAY

 

 

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Follow The Path [on Chicken Marsala Monday]

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Rule #1: When a path announces itself it will make no sense. Trying to understand it will make stepping onto the path problematic. The order is clear: Step first. Make sense second.

Rule #2: A path is a living thing, a relationship. A path requires engagement, experience. If you confuse yourself into thinking that the path is about achievement then you are most certainly off the path. Achievements are fixed, like trophies. Paths are fluid, like friendship. Achievements are finite games. Paths are infinite games.

Rule #3: Paths do not speak in loud voices. They whisper. To hear the path’s announcement it is often necessary to get quiet. A path is patient. It will know you are ready to listen when it sees you turn away from the chatter.

Rule #4: A path requires a single action: pick up the paint brush, preferably the big brush, dip it in the bucket of paint, and start. The need is not to know where you are going. The need is not to be right or best or wise or clever. The path merely needs you to start.

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read Kerri’s blog about PATHS

 

www.kerrianddavid.com

 

sometimes the path forward announces itself ©️ 2016 david robinson & kerri sherwood

Look To The Living Thing

my latest, as yet un-named, painting

Kerri looked at this painting and told me it captures how she feels when our daughter is hurting and calls home. “Describe that feeling to me?” I asked. She pointed to the painting, and said, “Just like that.”

Some things are universal and understood regardless of political affiliation or religious belief. What does a mother need to know to support her child? The political investments and religious doctrines are abstractions, separations. Motherhood is direct; it lives beyond the capacity of language to capture and articulate. It is the impulse to unity. It transcends all divisions. It knows nothing of conceptions like the rational and irrational.

Jim and I just had one of our famous phone calls. Our discussion romped through many fields but we returned again and again to the notion that the important things in life cannot be rushed. For instance, relationship takes time. Relationship takes attention and tending. It is fluid and dynamic so it is nearly impossible to slap a single word-label on it. It changes. It grows. In a single day it can pass through many descriptors. Dog-Dog can drive me crazy in one moment and melt my heart the next. The important stuff, like relationship, is not static or containable. It is not a concept. It is a living thing.

So What?

The best language can do is point to the living. Language can describe experience but can never be experience. Language, of necessity, reduces while the important stuff – like relationship – like love – expands. Language, as a tool of abstraction, can never be true. It can only point toward truth. Language separates. Truth is like relationship. Truth is a living thing, dynamic and changing. To be known, it must, like motherhood, be experienced directly.

Again, so what?

Direct experience is always (obviously) personal. Truth is not so easily captured. Is it exclusively liberal or conservative? Is it Christian? Buddhist? Is it unique to Islam, Judaism, or the Tao? Leave the city lights some night, take a good long look at the stars, and realize what you are staring into.

Last week we rushed 20 to the hospital. He couldn’t breathe. He walked to the edge of the abyss and looked into it. We watched him teeter on the edge. As we watched, all other concerns, pursuits, bills, frustrations, news,…, dropped away. The stuff of separations and abstractions went to dust in the face of the actual. Ask me what I experienced watching 20 grasp for life? There are no words. Ask him what he experienced in those long hours and he will shrug his shoulders. There are no words – but it is clear in his eyes.

The important stuff, the stuff beyond words, leaps the boundaries of separation and abstraction; all else falls away. The important stuff always leads to a universal place, a common ground. It is a beautiful paradox.  As a test, try this: if language can reach it, ask this very important and often absent question: Is it really true or merely another entrenched point of view?

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