Do It For Yourself [on Merely A Thought Monday]

I have been writing long enough to know that there are sedimentary layers to my themes. The top layer, the most superficial, is the political layer, current events. I am not above shouting into the storm. When I run to the keyboard and ring the alarm or presume that my point of view is relevant enough to roundly criticize others, I know that, above all, I’m breaking the first rule of happiness: I can never determine what another person thinks or does or feels. On my superficial days, in my ranting, I write for myself.

When I was at my saddest, I set about looking for goodness. I walked the streets of Seattle with the single intention of counting acts of kindness. As you might suspect there were more than I could count. In this world where we story ourselves as aggressive, unthinking and unkind, we are remarkably compassionate. Good will is simply more difficult to see. It is not the focus. The deeper layers of my writing-archaeology emerge when I direct my attention, when I exercise the artist in me and attempt to see beyond what I think. Since these are the layers where I desire to live and work, I suppose it is also true that on those days I also write for myself.

It is a looping life-lesson for me: I have the capacity to choose where I place my focus. I will see in the dark ocean where I decide to shine my light. I will author myself according to what/where I decide to give my focus. It is, among other things, why the film ABOUT TIME is among my favorite movies.

Lately, as one of our get-through-the-pandemic-winter-strategies, we’ve taken to assembling jigsaw puzzles. Entire evenings disappear into our intense pursuit of pieces. Our puzzle sessions require absolute focus – all of the other nonsense and monsters that vie to plague our brains are banished. Our focus is so thorough that we rarely speak. We do, however, listen to the soundtrack of ABOUT TIME. Again and again. When it finishes, one of us walks to the CD player (yes…we play CDs) and play it again. Sometimes we don’t make it past the first track, Ben Fold’s THE LUCKIEST. “Do you mind?” one of us asks. It’s a rhetorical question. It warms us so a repeat is always welcome.

Sitting at the dining room table, hunting for bits of colored cardboard, with the soundtrack playing, all things come into focus. While the surface-layer is on fire with a circus of instability, a pandemic, a climate that is changing, all jobs gone, a broken wrist that is not mending,…the deeper layer beckons: DogDog sits under the table, BabyCat is asleep on the chair, 20 just called and made us laugh, a postcard from Jen made us cry, my phone dinged with a text from a dear friend. I look across the table at my wife, pursing her lips as she plucks a piece of the puzzle from the table and attempts to make it fit, and I know to my bones that I am the luckiest.

To see it or not to see it; it’s my choice.

read Kerri’s blog post about REPEAT

Lead And Follow [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

And now, a few days beyond the solstice, we baby step our way back into the light. Yesterday on the trail, for a few moments, the sun broke through an otherwise dreary day. I was immediately heartened. The warmth went all the way to my bones. And then, it was gone.

“This will define me or I will overcome it.” Sue’s quote is a re-statement of Viktor Frankl: this experience will give meaning to me or I will give meaning to it. This morning, while pondering this quote, it occurred to me that almost every coaching/consulting relationship I ever had could be boiled down to this meaning-seeking or meaning-making distinction. Will it define me or will I define it?

In some ways – well, in all ways – it is a false choice. It is not an either/or world. Our experiences inform us and we define our experiences. The sun emerges and my spirits lift. The sun disappears and I shove my hands back into my pockets, hunch my shoulders, look at the ground. It’s a dance.

If 2020 has taught us anything it is that no one has control over their circumstances. Pandemics rage. Wrists break. Jobs vanish. Stability collapses.

We do, however, have the capacity to choose how we engage with our circumstances. We have the capacity to choose who we are within our circumstances.

I don’t know anyone who hasn’t at some point stood under the stars, shook their fists at the sky and asked, “Why?” It’s also true that I don’t know anyone who hasn’t at some point in their journey stopped, turned and looked back on their life, and in festival of meaning-making, connected the dots. “It all makes sense,” they whisper.

Am I the captain of my ship or am I tossed about on the seas? It’s not a useful question to ask. A better question to ask: as the captain of my ship, how am I when the seas rise and throw my boat to-and-fro? Every captain is cocky in calm waters but the real story emerges when Poseidon pitches a fit, when the waves tower over your boat.

One of my mentors told me that the trick is not to eliminate your fear. That is a fool’s errand. The exercise is to to keep your focus on where you want to sail. Choose your focus. The fear will always be there, it’s a necessary part of the gig. In a storm, fear is sometimes useful when making choices. The exercise is to know that you are making choices, the best choices given your circumstances. Just don’t make fear your focus. Don’t make fear your choice.

It’s a dance. Sometimes you lead and sometimes you follow. Sometimes you lose your way. Sometimes you simply stop walking and, for a few brief moments, turn your face to the sun.

read Kerri’s blog post on DEFINING

Look For It [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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“Consider yourself blessed. These stones that break your bones will build the altar of your love.” ~ Lynn Park

20 has a collection of images. Faces found in objects. A light socket that seems to be eyes and a nose and a mouth. A teapot face. A widget-face at the hardware store. He sees them everywhere because he looks for them.

Looking for it. It’s the key to a positive attitude: you see what you look for. Look for generosity and kindness and you’ll see it everywhere. It’s also true of a darker view on life: there’s plenty of horror story to be found if you spend your days looking for it.

As a rule, both kindness and cruelty are available in abundance. Both are on display at any given moment of the day.

People seem to be more attracted to cruelty – especially for pleasure. We build coliseums so we can watch gladiators do combat. We thrill when the car crashes on the track. The bloodier the video game the better the sales. We love to yammer on and on about our bad experiences but will tell far fewer people about the good moments. We’ve managed to turn something as benign as Facebook into yet another bloody coliseum for e-battle. People negating people. Dedicated division. “Shouting into the canyon,” as Rob called it.

And, as a rule, we will either go through life seeking meaning for our experiences or we will go through life giving meaning to our experiences. We focus on what we have or we focus on what we lack. Opportunity or obstacle. Us or Them. Either way, it’s a story and we are the storytellers.

People are patterned so they generally see what they expect to see. It’s the lesson that’s all the rage these days in the USA. Lesson #2: once patterned, people are resistant to seeing anything other than what they believe. We have the unique capacity, in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, to argue to the death to maintain our point of view. The anti-mask crowd are providing generations of psychologists with a heyday of research: people literally arguing to death to maintain their point of view despite a veritable mountain of evidence that contradicts their belief.

It seems impossible, yet there it is. There we are.

Like 20, I have decided to train my eyes to see. Only, instead of faces found in inanimate objects, I’ve decided to look for the little miracles. Intrepid life. The magnificent force that expresses in small affirmations. An unlikely plant growing from a crack in the wood. A snake stretched out on the path to catch the sun. The single-day proliferation of crabgrass taking over our yard! A meteor flying by.  People more invested in the sunset than the Facebook. The fox at midnight. The turkey on the roof. The friends who love each other enough to keep their distance.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about INTREPID LIFE

 

 

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Face The Sun [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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Walking the river trail I couldn’t help but whirl in the contradiction: everything has changed and nothing has changed. While the world of people is awash in pattern disruption, the rest of creation is following the script exactly.

Spring. The muddy season. The world pops green just as we knew it would. Just as it did last year and the year before and the year before. I believe our backyard ferns are growing 6 inches a day. Even the daily Dog-Dog assault cannot deter their reach for the sun. Life returns from darkness. Demeter sings at Persephone’s return.

If you seek an affirmation of life come sit in our backyard. The bird song will lift your spirits, these flying shocks of color will make you giggle with delight. Vibrant yellow, a cardinal more salmon than red. My eyebrows cartoon-pop in disbelief. We sit facing the sun in our broken Adirondack chairs and drink in the warmth.  “This doesn’t suck.” I say, eyes closed, basking in appreciation of the sun as it reaches to my bones. I’m certain I said the exact same thing last year and the year before that. Rituals of renewal need not always be solemn.

Sometimes I think this game of life is really an exercise in focus placement. I can choose to see the world as the work of Hieronymous Bosch– and sometimes I do. Beautifully horrific. Or, I can swivel my lens to Georgia O’Keefe and look at the wondrous small things, the miracle of nuance and the close-up. Sometimes, when I am at my best, I turn my eyes to see as Ellsworth Kelly did, when he imagined his chapel of light. “I think people need some kind of spiritual thing,” he said.

And so, with the vibrant greens popping, the screaming yellows flying, the blue-blue of a cloudless sky, tender lettuce leaves breaking through topsoil, I find myself surrounded by a Hieronymous Bosch narrative cycle but with just a little refocus, I am stunned by the grander cycle of marvel and mystery in this Ellsworth Kelly world.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about CLOVER

 

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Tickle Open The Closed [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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It used to be one of my favorite exercises to facilitate. Ask one person in a small group to tell a story of blame. Ask the rest of the group to invest in the story. In no time the small groups would be indignant, talking over each other in disgruntlement. A klatch of agitated victims, howling.  They’d laugh in their aggravated frenzy. They’d devise clever revenge or ways to torment the object of their blame story. They’d grow a monster.

Blame stories are like sugar. They are easy to eat and highly addictive. There’s rarely any real substance, so much gossip-cotton-candy, but there is an odd pleasure in playing the role of  “the injured party.” The groups would always reflect that the exercise was fun. So much so that they’d often forget it was an exercise. Commiseration and validation, after all, are the point of a blame story. That, and making someone else responsible for how we feel.

Ask the same groups to tell a story of choice or opportunity and most times, after only a minute or two, they’d sit in silence. Their, “Great. That’s really great,” support would dwindle. Feeding an idea is not nearly as easy as feeding a story of blame.

Quinn used to tell me that creativity is not for the faint of heart.

The groups were always shocked to discover how much of their lives were spent chewing the gristle of discontent, of feeding the notion that someone else was to blame for their choices or their circumstance. They’d generally comment on how easy it was to commiserate and how difficult it is to question, challenge or stop the blame-game. Mostly, they were shocked to discover how little of their time they dedicated to feeding ideas, theirs or another persons.

Blame stories are easy because they are reductive. They engender tight little balls of closed minds and closed circles. They close hearts. They take almost no energy at all to spark but, once burning, like a wildfire, they are capable of consuming entire forests.

Idea exploration is expansive. Seeing possibilities requires eyes that look up and out.  It takes much more energy to imagine, to question, to ponder. To try. To experiment. To ask. To challenge what you think you know. Opening minds, opening circles and hearts requires a deep sense of self-responsibility. It requires an even deeper sense of responsibility to others.

One of the purposes of the artist is to open closed circles, to tickle open closed minds. To help their community see anew and entertain never-before-imagined possibilities.

It takes more effort and courage to sail to the edges of the known world than it does to hang out around the water cooler and complain about others. Great minds do not have more capacity than any other mind, but they do require a very different focus.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about GREAT MINDS & IDEAS

 

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FaceTheRain

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Ride The Lion [on KS Friday]

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Let’s just say that 2020 is off to a rough start. If I was to get out my old-school label maker and slap a sticky tape descriptor on last year, on 2019, it would be the year of contention. 2020 is shaping up to be the watershed. Ka-chunk, ka-chunk, ka-chunk.

Broken contracts [literal and metaphoric]. Broken wrists. Broken dreams. All of our presses have stopped. We are moving very, very slowly through our days. We are having long conversations about where we’ve been, our successes and failures, dreams realized and those that went to ashes in our mouths, and where we want to go from here.

Unless you are being chased by a real lion, fear is mostly a function of imagination. In the real-lion scenario, fear is a life-saver that makes world-class sprinters of us all. In every other case, sans lion, it is a made-up monster that chases.  Running does no good. This chasing monster requires the opposite of the real lion: stopping, turning, and looking squarely into the eyes of your own dark imagination. The only relevant question is, “What’s wearing the mask of this monster?” Shame? Failure? What should have been? What will never be?

It is a turning point. Stopping. Breathing. Turning and staring back at your wild-eyed scare-fantasy and realizing that it’s merely a mechanism to prevent you from being where you are.  Standing in this exact moment is the only place from which you can enact change. It is the single location in which you can fully, unequivocally appreciate your life. Self-made monsters always dissipate when scrutinized.

Running away casts you as both runner and lion, chaser and chased. Fear the imagined-lion, be the runner. It splits you in half. The sky is falling! The sky is falling! And what if it is not falling? What if the lion-monster chases precisely to prevent you from standing still?

It’s a vicious circle, an energy eddy, this hyper-active dark imagination. It is true, if you think about it, that an imagination that is capable of so much doom is equally capable of fixating on the light side. Ride the lion. Better yet, give it wings so the ride is uncanny and wondrous. The ultimate human choice is where we decide to place our focus.

The story we decide to tell follows the focus-choice. Standing still, the only place from which we can see the array of choices and available stories, we are once again learning, seems to be the gift of the Watershed.

 

 

WATERSHED on the album AS IT IS is available on iTunes& CDBaby

 

read Kerri’s blog post about WATERSHED

 

 

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watershed/as it is ©️ 2004 kerri sherwood

Help Yourself See [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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In a particularly dismal period of time in my Seattle years, I decided I needed to focus on the good stuff. I made a game of writing on small bits of paper things in my life for which  I was grateful. And then I left my small gratitude notes around the city as I moved about my day. I left them at bus stops. I rolled some and tucked them in crosswalk signs. A few were tucked into menus or left on coffeehouse tables.

My gratitude notes had an interesting blow-back. They inspired me to seek things that I was grateful for so I might write a note about it. Not only that, but they made me pay attention to the infinite acts of kindness that I saw everyday. People were helping people everywhere! I was blind to it until I started paying attention; until I got out of my misery-head and opened my eyes.

I was struck by the vast difference between the story I was being told about humanity and the story I was witnessing on my daily walks across the city. I could count the acts of aggression. I lost track of the acts of kindness and generosity because there were too many to capture.

When you stop and think about it, isn’t it always the case that the the good stuff, the potential-pool-of-gratitude-possibilities is vast yet the gunk gets all the focus. What is it in us that hyper-focuses on the flaw, sorts to the wound, while the river of beauty roars by unnoticed?

Kerri designed these cards for another project and they made me remember my notes. Encouragement of gratitude. Give it a try. Download the blanks. Scribble a note or two of thanks-giving and leave them behind somewhere. Be prepared for some eye opening blow-back.

 

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read Kerri’s blog post about GRATITUDE

 

 

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Gaze Through It [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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Once, doing a night dive, through the inky black water, the sum total of what I could see was what existed in the beam of my flashlight. That experience provided insights into the limitations of perception and the power of focus placement. We see what we decide to focus on. We never see the whole picture.

It also gave me the Alice-in-Wonderland feeling of looking through a tunnel at an alternate reality. Peering through the portal, strange shapes darted across my beam. I was tempted to swim into the light, toward the illuminated world, but knew that I would never reach it. “There” was in constant motion and moved as I moved. It was hypnotic.

There is a old tree stump on our walks that Kerri likes to visit. It has a knot that serves as a looking glass. She peers through it and sometimes takes a picture to record the changing seasons, life as seen through the magic knot. Her photographs are a record of another kind of portal, another alternate reality only this one is not fluid. It is a fixed point of view. Yet, were I to sit for many days and gaze through this knot hole I’d be overwhelmed by the endless life-in-motion slowly moving within this limited view.

I used to lead groups through an exercise called The Long Walk. It is simple. Walk in any direction for ten minutes. However, if anyone can discern your movement, you are walking too fast. In fact, if you cover more than a few inches of territory in ten minutes, you have moved too fast. The Long Walk creates quite the challenge in a body used to racing through life. After the panic and frustration of slowing way down, an amazing thing happens. Senses open. Perceptions sharpen. The rich sounds and smells and breezes that generally go unnoticed crackle into presence. Tight concentration morphs into wide awareness. And, for a few short breaths, the mind ceases its babble and nothing stands between the walker and the walk.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about TWO VIEWS

 

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©️ 2019 kerri sherwood & david robinson

 

Practice, Practice, Practice [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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Before Jonathan left town he gave us a book of daily devotions from his spiritual tradition. It is a significant book for him. It was his mother’s favorite and now it is his. He  starts his day with it, reading a passage, meditating on its meaning, and carrying the meditation through his day.

A mind needs a focus. Jonathan is one of the most positive people I’ve met and this lightness of spirit is not an accident. He carefully attends to the story he tells himself. He exercises his muscle of interpretation and, because he is looking for it, he will always sort to the positive. He assumes a positive tale.

One of the lessons I learned while in Bali goes like this (almost a direct quote from Budi): In Bali, when two cars crash, the drivers do not get out and begin yelling and blaming the other driver. Instead, they get out of their cars and greet the other driver because the gods meant for them to meet that day. They try to discover why they were brought together.

Sometimes I think the whole journey is a master class in focus-placement and assumption-making.

Early on in our life together, Kerri taught me this phrase: leave the outbreak of baggage behind. We carry yesterday’s baggage into today’s experiences. It’s possible to carry a lifetime’s collection of baggage into each and every moment. Heavy living comes from looking at life though the baggage-layer.

The first meditation in Jonathan’s book is the same first principle found in every spiritual tradition: Be present in this moment. Your life is not what happened yesterday; it is what is happening right now. If you are looking for your life you will miss it if your focus is backwards or forwards. It sounds trite in a world awash in Hallmark cards, Successories, Motivational Moments or books of daily devotions.

It’s trite until put into practice. It’s easy to say ‘be present’ or ‘make no assumptions’ or ‘be the change you seek’ or ‘focus on the positive’ or… It’s a whole different ballgame when the trite phrase comes off the aspirational wall and enters the daily grind.  Presence, the sensitivity to life happening right now, is not an achievement. It is an awareness that comes from practice amidst a world screaming for your attention.

Everyday a clean blackboard. I suspect that thought was Jonathan’s real gift to us.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about

 

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Release The Peace [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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Peace. Compassion. Strength. Wisdom. The idea is that prayers and mantras symbolized on the flags are blown by the wind, spreading their peace, compassion, strength and wisdom into the world. It’s not a bad idea. It’s not a bad reminder.

We pass beneath our prayer flags everyday. It is our version of the Balinese split gate. A symbol of bigger things. Coming or going we pass through a moment of meditation, a fluttering reminder of the path that threads through time’s center. The place of presence. It is the place where divisions fade – even for a moment. The place where the drama-of-the-day and turmoil – all expressions of separation – fall away.

The flags quiver and dance. We stop and listen to the quiet flapping, the release of peace into the wind. The basic elements of compassion, strength, and wisdom. Water, fire, earth and sky. A renewed focus.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about PRAYER FLAGS

 

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