See The Adventure [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Let the adventure begin. We put the sign on the table when we moved into the little house on Washington Island. Our new job came with housing and we couldn’t have been more fortunate. Even as the job turned into a debacle, the little house grew in our hearts. It was – and is – a very special place. A few years down the road, we never give thought-space to the work-fiasco. We reminisce about the beautiful place we lived, the good people we met, starry nights, mornings in the canoe, the deer, the power of the lake right outside our door.

A few moments ago I was feeling anxious and was complaining – and realized that I have no business complaining about anything. I stopped myself. Adventures are hard. That’s what makes the experience an adventure. When people lack challenges, they create them. Jigsaw puzzles and computer games. I complain when standing on the threshold of learning something new. My complaining – as I realized a few moments ago – runs amok when I don’t know what to do. It marks the line between the fat-comfort of knowing and the utter-discomfort of not-knowing. Complaining provides cover. I expose my obvious not-knowing; I preempt the shame-strike by complaining. The moment I disallowed complaining, I once again saw the adventure. My anxiety dissipated. The adventure is a jigsaw puzzle all akimbo in the box. I’ll figure it out one piece at a time. Or not. The end result is not nearly as important as the spirit in which I bring to the task. To the moment. To my life.

Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi studied, thought, and wrote extensively about flow. The optimal state of being. I’ve often wished I could invite Mihaly and Alan Watts to dinner and listen to their conversation. The psychologist and the Taoist conversing about flow, that magic space that opens when the path is hard, but not too hard, when boredom is no where in sight. The exercise, when either bored or overwhelmed, is to adjust my orientation to the challenge. Amp it up or slow it down. The zone is self-modulated, rarely an accident, which becomes apparent once the complaining stops. The knowledge that I can place myself in the zone is the spirit I hope to bring to every task for the rest of my days. It’s the practice. It is to see and choose the adventure.

Let the adventure begin. The sign now sits on our table in the sunroom where we meet at the end of each day and tell the stories of our day. While I tell my tale, I see the adventure sign, mostly in reflection, the message reversed. Each day an adventure if I choose to see it. Each day an opportunity for flow if I choose to own and modulate my steps, and place myself in flow.

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE ADVENTURE

Gain The Force [on KS Friday]

It seemed appropriate, in order to conclude our year of water, that we travel to visit a region of the country with 250 waterfalls. Of course, we didn’t know about the waterfalls until we arrived. Water, water everywhere. I howled with laughter and secretly affirmed that our unintentional pilgrimage to the waterfalls might appease the great WHATEVER and finally release us from water-resistance into the watercourse way.

I will someday look back at our journey to the falls and realize the extent to which we “let go.” It already serves as a marker, a breaking through the resistance and fight of the last chapter and into the next. The new chapter.

Yesterday, at work, I had the opportunity to tease apart a question en route to asking a better question. I am fortunate to have a team of collaborators that, instead of rejecting my alternate perspective outright, even amidst the frustration of my challenge of the norm, ask me to lean into it. My assignment was to return next week with a better question. I am a firm believer that the form of a question – the way that it is asked – determines the answers that are seen or – more importantly – not seen.

Better questions are like the watercourse way. They show up when, instead of swimming against the current, against “what is,” the swimmer/questioner turns and allows the current to carry them. Wu-wei. Natural action. Every creator knows the moment of frustration when trying to force something into being. More force can only produce more frustration. Or, it breaks something. The best thing to do, when force can only produce an eddy, is put down the brushes, step back, and look at what-is. Force never produces a better question. Stepping off the mountain so it becomes visible – or acknowledging the direction of the river’s flow and giving into it, always reveals new possibility.

It is what I remembered for myself at the waterfall. It made me chuckle, then, when my first moment back at work, I was doing for my team what I’ve done all my life: attempting to flip or free a perspective by lobbying for flow; acknowledge what exists-in-the-moment versus what we want to exist. The better question – for me – and others – is always found when we turn and gain the full force of the river.

[I can’t imagine a better piece of music to carry us into 2022. Give yourself a treat – truly – and listen to Riverstone]

read Kerri’s blog post about THE WATERFALL

riverstone/as it is is available on iTunes or streaming on Pandora

riverstone/as it is © 2004 kerri sherwood

Roll With Every Punch [on DR Thursday]

And on the fourth night, just before retiring, I stepped onto the stoop and unplugged the colored lights. Forever. The ancient plug had had enough. It was weary and left behind one of its prongs. “No worries,” Kerri said, “I wouldn’t trust those wires to replace the plug. And, I loved them while they lasted.”

Yes. Just enough. A satisfying gesture. I believe that is our theme for the season. Just enough. Satisfying gesture.

Lately, I’ve made it a practice to ask friends and family, with all the water problems that Kerri and I have had this year, what’s the metaphor they see? What’s the universe trying to tell us? The responses have been great fun: build an ark. The slate is washed clean. Put on your waders. I’ve decided it is none of the above (or all of the above). I’m going with the Lao Tzu paradox:

“Water is fluid, soft, and yielding. But water will wear away rock, which is rigid and cannot yield. As a rule, whatever is fluid, soft, and yielding will overcome whatever is rigid and hard. This is another paradox: what is soft is strong.”

Fluid, soft, and yielding. We are rolling with every punch. Soft is strong. Not much gets us riled up these days. There have been so many punches; rigid wasn’t working. Yielding seemed the better path. We are, as Kerri so aptly articulated, ” Leading with surprise.” Not that a waterline break is to be desired but, ours, although intensely disruptive, brought good stories and good people into our sphere. “I want to be like Kevin,” I said. He’s the engineer at the water utility. Kind, funny, easy in his life. His dedication was to make easier our path through disruption. He and Kerri are sharing holiday recipes.

We are, out of necessity or intention, either way, walking the middle path and being careful not to wander into oppositions. Just enough. Satisfying gestures. Love them while they last. Lighten up. Let go. Fluid, soft and yielding.

No worries.

read Kerri’s blog post about LIGHTS

nap with dogdog & babycat © 2020 david robinson

See The Spaces [on DR Thursday]

The space around and between. Shapes that share edges. Emptiness that provides definition. In art it is called negative space. Not-the-object. In art classes, students draw the negative spaces in order to see or to learn a new way of seeing. Try it. See the holes and the space around the leaves as primary. It’s not as easy as it sounds.

Some folks use the term “air space” because they get snagged on the word “negative.” It’s a term of opposition when set next to “positive.” Yet, just as there is an electric field that flows between negative and positive ions, electrons and protons, there is a field that flows between negative and positive space. Yin and Yang. A dynamic polarity. A creative field of movement and energy. The air space is alive because of the perceived opposition. The positive space is not visible without the negative.

When I was a consultant, I used the phrase “the space between” to imply relationship. There are people. There is the space between people. Relationship is invisible but it defines the people. Relationship illuminates the otherwise unknowable individual. They are impossible to separate. In a community obsessed with nouns, bottom lines, test scores and individual rights, the verbs and the relationships often go unnoticed and unappreciated. As if the negative space didn’t matter. The space between is where the movement lives and the problems are solved. It is where new seeing is possible. It is created and creative. The word “community” lives in the space between.

Try it. Take a day and focus on the space between. See relationship as primary. You may experience a whole new way of seeing.

20 sent this image,a memorial. It makes the point.

read Kerri’s blog post about NEGATIVE SPACE

iconic ©️ 2010 david robinson

Pull The Weed [on KS Friday]

One of my favorite simple pleasures each day is watching Kerri go out in the early morning and tend to her tomatoes. The world is quiet. The coffee is brewing. Dogga makes sure the yard is clear of marauding squirrels so the path to tomatoes is safe. An extraordinary ordinary moment. A tender ritual. A wonderful world.

Put down your clever and pick up your ordinary. It is one of my favorite “rules” of improvisational theatre. It is also a good credo to live by. Trying to be clever will take you out of the game every time. It is as true in all aspects of life as it is in art. The beautiful little secret: power, presence, flow…these live in the province of the ordinary.

When I was learning to scuba dive,Terry tried to teach me one central concept: get neutral. After several dives, fighting for control, trying “to do it right,” burning through my oxygen with my dedicated stress, I simply relaxed. I found the neutral that he advised. It was as if I joined the current. The colors sharpened. Time seemed to slow. My breathing definitely slowed. What was a struggle only a few moments before was suddenly easy. I’d picked up my ordinary. I got out of my way.

I delight watching children draw. They are free in their ordinary, not a shred of clever to be found. They lose that. We lose that, trying to be…something other than what we are. How many of us shudder in the notion that we are inauthentic? How many of us invest in the notion of low “self-esteem?” The circle of ordinary comes back around though it is cloaked in words like “self love” or “acceptance” or “wholeness.” Get neutral. Put down your clever.

Ordinary, not clever. It is a discovery that ought to stick early in life but generally lands much later. There’s very little distance between the child that freely colors and the adult that one day remembers that nothing is broken, nothing needs fixing. It is ordinary to color with abandon. The riches are in tending the tomatoes. “Clever” is merely a weed that needs pulling. In the ordinary, a wonderful world is waiting.

PULLING WEEDS on Kerri’s album RIGHT NOW is available on ITunes or streaming on Pandora

read Kerri’s blog post on TOMATOES

pulling weeds/right now ©️ 2010 kerri sherwood

Conceal To Reveal [on Two Artists Tuesday]

When I was tilting at windmills, one of my favorite things to facilitate was mask work. I brought masks to lawyers, to CEOs, to teacher’s, government workers, elementary school students, corporate trainers, business coaches and sometimes to actors. There’s nothing better than a mask to pop open possibilities and challenge petrified thinking.

Masks conceal and reveal. They serve the paradox and, therefore, are tapped into the root of truth.

It’s impossible to work with masks for long before realizing that the faces we wear everyday are also masks. We “put on” a smile. We attempt to hide what we feel by the mask we manufacture. Some faces freeze in masks of indifference or masks of disdain. We perform ourselves, and craft our masks accordingly.

Many cultures around this world believe the mask opens a communication with the gods. Don a mask and something bigger-than-you speaks through you. When I paint I often have that feeling. Artistry sometimes means getting out of the way so the creation can flow.

It’s why I brought masks to lawyers and CEOs and corporate folks and teachers. To introduce them to the fields that bloom beyond their need to control. So much of their lives, so many of their problems and challenges were wrestling matches of control. They were actively creating the obstacles that they desired to remove.

What do we actually control when we harden our faces over what we feel? What do we gain by attempting to control what others see or think or feel? We are makers of our own prisons. We are deluded by our fantasy that we have the capacity to determine what others see. The only control we exert is upon ourselves.

The mask work makes abundantly clear that control is not power. Power – creativity – flows. It is the dance of the artist to master technique, to learn control, and then transcend it. To get out of the way.

My favorite moment, with every group, in every circumstance, came when the masks released the people and they slowly, respectfully said goodbye and removed them. Their faces was also mask-less. It was like seeing infant’s faces. Bright. Open. They would, for a few brief moments, look at each other, unmasked and unprotected. Simply astonished at being alive, together, in the world.

read Kerri’s blog post about MASK

Line Up Behind “They” [on Merely A Thought Monday]

When the world is just too much to ponder, one of our favorite bits of escapism is to catch an episode of Highway Thru Hell. Heavy rescue tow trucks working miracles clearing the highways of impossible wrecks. Flipping large semi-tractor-trailers, pulling them off of icy bridges and out of ditches. The physics of their work is mind-bending. Angles of lift, leverage, and thrust. Marvels of nuance in heavy metal. It is a symphony of paradox: crude meets delicate, tender masculinity.

On the surface, it seems an odd choice of wellsprings to refill our faith in humanity. But, every time we indulge in our flight from the news-of-the-day, I find myself whispering, “Unbelievable.” Not only do they willingly wade into impossible messes, they do it with a singular and clear understanding: they are serving a greater good. They are trying to open or keep open a highway. Connectivity. Commerce. Community. Like any doctor removing a blockage, they are servants to communal flow. I think that is why we visit them on the highway.

At the shop, they work out their pecking order. There is no lack of flexing muscles and man-drama. But, once they are called to a crash, all the “I” flees the scene. There are police, and flag people. There is traffic backed up for miles; each and every car and truck a person with a place to be. And the tow truck operators know it. They talk about it. Their service outruns their egos. They do not hesitate to call for help. They make choices based on the needs of others. The fantasy-world of “I” dissolves into the hard reality of “Us.”

In that hard reality of “Us,” you’d be hard-pressed to find a more thankless job. They work long hours in extreme weather. The conditions are dangerous and dirty. They clear the wreck, get back into their trucks, and move onto the next, with little or no thanks from the community they serve. Yet, they show up everyday. They take extreme pride in doing their work. There is a mastery that they acknowledge in the older drivers and strive to achieve it themselves. They learn from each other. They mentor each other. They celebrate each other.

They.

When Kevin, one of the tow truck operators, driving away from an exhausting job that took many people and many hours to complete, said with tired satisfaction, “There’s no ‘I’ in team,” I thought, that’s exactly why I escape from my highway thru hell to this Highway Thru Hell.

These Highway Thru Hell guys are plugged into the simple reality of existence. They know unequivocally that no one walks this earth alone. They know that their work on this earth, amidst the mess and chaos and dirt, is about keeping the flow going, and that requires an “I” that lines up behind service to “They.”

read Kerri’s blog post about NO I IN TEAM

Pick Up The Tool And Play [on DR Thursday]

Paint Box copy

If every life is a journey of self-discovery then it follows that every life-journey is supported with a unique series of challenges. The challenges reveal ourselves to ourselves [how’s that for an awkward use of language!]. Obstacles wake us up.

My challenges require a special set of tools. Master Miller sends photos of his young son, Dawson, painting. I love those photos because Dawson is free in his use of paint and brush. His exploration is pure pleasure. It is beautiful (seriously. It is Beautiful).

Last night I sat on the floor of my studio and played with the tools that support my unique series of challenges. I scraped paint with knives. I mushed around color with a fan brush. I was not free. My challenge is to circle back to what Dawson already knows. I think too much. I study too hard. I seek rather than simply experience.

What Dawson knows: I don’t have to look for it. What I seek is already here. I merely need to pick up the tool and get out of the way.  It’s a platitude for the aging but true nevertheless.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about MY PAINT BOX

 

windyHHwebsite box copy

 

Chase The Bubbles [on DR Thursday]

morsel bubble chasers copy

Some paintings don’t make it to the finish line and I suspect that this painting, Chasing Bubbles, will be one of those. I’ve been working on and off with it for weeks and that’s the problem. I’m not paying enough consistent attention to the painting to actually develop it into something good. Like an absent father I return to it every once in a while and wonder why the relationship isn’t progressing.

The playwright John Guare said that writers need to write ten bad pages to get one good page. Remove failure from the equation. Place the emphasis on the process and not on the product. Experiment. Play. Make strong offers.

The same principle is the reason why actors rehearse or artists do drawing exercises and rough drafts. A photographer for National Geographic (whose name escapes me) said that he shoots a thousand shots to get one really good photograph.

For an artist, silly notions like perfection interrupt the necessity of flow.

Kerri just thumped me. She looked over my shoulder and read what I was writing. “I like this painting!” she declared. She wants a stay of execution. She rapidly listed all of the reasons why I shouldn’t paint over it. “At least consider it,” she said, glaring at me.

I will consider it. After all, that is exactly what I have been doing. Considering whether or not to keep working it or start anew. Trying to find a way, given my spotty attention, to bring life to this Frankenstein. In either case, I am certain of one thing: this bad page will eventually lead to something good.

 

IMG_4067

Chasing Bubbles in process or perhaps in its last hours (thump).

read Kerri’s blog post about CHASING BUBBLES

 

drc website header copy

 

cropped head kiss website copy

chasing bubbles (for better or worse) ©️ 2019 david robinson

Love The Mud [on Two Artists Tuesday]

maturity with background copy

“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

 

buffalo adirondack chair website box copy