Be Like BabyCat [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

We had a difficult time choosing our Melange this week. The final week of the year is overwrought with reflection and, let’s face it, 2020 is not like any other year. There is too much. For the first time in our 151 consecutive weeks of writing, on Sunday night we published an almost empty slate; one solid decision and four placeholders. We knew our prompt for Monday because, well, it was Monday. The curtain was rising.

It is tempting in a year like no other to write about the tragedies, disgruntle-ments, mountains to climb and we’ve certainly done our share of that. The pandemic has merely served as a baseline to the other palette of poo that populated our 2020 experiences. As we rounded the trail on Monday we decided that filling-out the Melange week with DogDog and BabyCat might be the respite that we needed. Our boys keep us laughing. They bring us back to the moment, to the real stuff of life. More than once this year, lost in the stormy sea of my mind, I’ve joined the boys on the rug, ruffled ears and stroked chins – and in a matter of seconds I’ve been awash in the thought, “It doesn’t get any better than this.” They are wizards of transformation.

BabyCat is a study in contentment. Scratch that. He is a master of contentment. While DogDog runs circles through the rooms of the house or barks at imagined intruders, BabyCats seeks stillness and sleeps. While we wrestle with fears of the future or sort through the wreckage of our stability, BabyCat finds the most comfortable place in the house and occupies it. He is not ashamed of his inactivity. He revels in it.

I watch him. He is my first cat, an alien being, a mystery that I can’t help but study. Yesterday, as he moved from one nap into the next, I thought that, if BabyCat was an artist, he would be in a constant state of conception. He sleeps on his ideas with no imperative to actually make them happen. He loves an idea for its own sake. In that deep-state-of-fulfillment, he specifically and successfully rejects all forms of self-criticism. He is a hedonist, shameless in his love of pleasure, his ease of enjoyment.

There were days in 2020 that pounded us into mush. If Kerri or I found ourselves in a fit of despair, without fail, in a matter of moments, BabyCat would crawl into our lap. He’d plop his hulking contentment in the center of our darkness, stop all movement, and purr himself to sleep, taking our despair with him into that netherworld. There are few more effective soul-balms than a contented cat on your lap.

Wizards of transformation. Contentment in a storm. No words necessary.

read Kerri’s blog post about BABYCAT

Drop The Condition [on Merely A Thought Monday]

suffer gloriously copy

Anyone who tells you that people are not fond of suffering has either 1) never experienced love or 2) never loved an experience. Kerri assures me that giving birth to her children was at the same time the most painful and most joyful experience of her life. It is why humanity, throughout its diverse cultural variations, all bandy-about some version of the phrase “unconditional love.” As they say, love is a sword that cuts both ways. Or, to use a weapon-free metaphor, love is a lemon, both bitter and sweet. All inclusive.  No conditions.

If we are lucky, we do what we love. Whether climbing to the mountaintop or walking the path of an artist, both come with a fair amount of suffering. They also come with an inordinate amount of elation. Moments of passing fulfillment. It is just as I have been taught: the secret to happiness in this life is to  do what you love simply because you love it. Walk toward your love and the suffering will make sense. It will make sense because the suffering-in-love is always transcendent. All inclusive.

Walking toward your love with an added layer of condition (i.e., it has to make money) and you lose what you love. It contorts or goes to dust.

The Buddhists have a phrase: joyful participation in the sorrows of the world. This world is filled with sorrow and suffering and injustice. To be fully alive is not to protect yourself from feeling the sorrows or from experiencing the suffering, but to stand in them. Participate. Engage. Drop the notion that life is an achievement and you will open to the full experience. Colors on the palette.

This is not an abstraction or a dose of idealism.  If you are not walking toward your love you are, in all likelihood, walking away from what you fear. With fear as a motivator, the natural destination is a fort. Separation. Self-preservation. Exclusion. Living in a fortress makes for a very small world, a narrow band of  experience, lots of rules and a multitude of dull and angry days.

We are living in a time of overwhelming challenge. This pandemic mountain is steep. There is undeniable suffering. Fear is being fed. Conflict nurtured. Division fueled. Fear drives people to gather at the governor’s mansion and demand to open the economy. In their blind-fear-madness the protestors rave about acceptable losses. The mind can be a dull angry fortress when the heart is lost in the conditional. Souls twist.

Love, on the other hand, brings nurses and doctors, after attending to the sick and dying, to stand silently in the midst of the fear protestors. Their message is simple. Go home.

Do not doubt that these nurses and doctors are suffering, climbing a very tall and dangerous mountain, but it all makes sense because their love is without condition. They are asking all of us to do no more than think of the suffering of others. They are. Love without condition is simple. All inclusive. No loss is acceptable.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about SUFFERING GLORIOUSLY

 

southport sand heart website box psd copy

 

 

 

Inhabit Someday [on KS Friday]

that morning someday 1 copy

My life is nothing like what I imagined it would be. I had ideals and visions, hopes and dreams. Yet, here I am.

One day I awoke with the realization that I was spending an inordinate amount of my life wanting to be somewhere else, someone else, in a place I called “fulfillment.” In other words, I was giving away my day – my happiness – for an illusion. I spent that entire day paying attention to where I was. I didn’t have to try. I had to allow. You’ll not be surprised to learn that my day was extraordinary. An outside observer would have commented that nothing happened but they would have been…mistaken.

I painted for the pure pleasure of doing it. And breakfast (OMG)! I smelled coffee. I walked in the sun. I held my wife’s hand. I fixed again the perpetually broken handle on back door. I sat on the raft and wrote. I read aloud what I wrote (as we used to say, “tasting the words”). I laughed. We laughed. I played with dogga in the backyard. I listened as Kerri played the piano. She sang! We cooked dinner together. Sipped wine.

In fact, my day was much better than my imagined fulfillment because, well, it was actual fulfillment. True, I was not Leonardo Da Vinci, I had no Oscars on my shelf, and my financial situation was the stuff of comedy.  Yet, in fully inhabiting my actual moment, I was surprised at how little those other things mattered. As Quinn might say, my wall of respect had nothing on it and I couldn’t be more pleased.

My life is nothing like what I imagined it would be. It is so much better. That Morning Someday, I’ve learned, is nothing (quite literally nothing) if not today.

 

THAT MORNING SOMEDAY on the album BLUEPRINT FOR MY SOUL is available on iTunes

 

 

pumpkinfarm website box copy

 

that morning someday/blueprint for my soul ©️ 1996 kerri sherwood

Let Go

Dog-Dog three years ago

Dog-Dog three years ago

Tripper Dog-Dog-Dog is now three years old. His birthday is July 4th so he believes all the ruckus and fireworks are for him. Of course, we do not dissuade him from his delusion. Country-wide festivities seem appropriate for the birth of any creature. It is a miracle no matter how you story it and ought to be outrageously celebrated.

Marilyn invited us to her family picnic. It was a riot of volleyball and bag toss, not to mention the best cheeseburger I’ve ever eaten. It was a great time! We sat at the table for elders. In the midst of feeling honored to be included at the grown-up table (I feel like I ought to be seated with the kids at the card table), I was shocked to realize that I was sitting with my peers. I am now of a certain age…. Some delusions pop themselves.

On Sunday at the holiday carnival as we watched the Pier Pups distance jump into a pool, Brad and I had one of those broad and deep conversations that keep me thinking for days. Among many things, we rolled around the idea of what it means to achieve, what it means to be successful. I’ve discovered, as my teachers told me I would, that ideas of success and fulfillment are different at each stage of life. Now, I’m successful if I’m quiet inside, if I do not let one of these too-fast-days slip by unappreciated. Some delusions are shed like too-much armor.

There is the moment that the unbeatable knight is knocked off his horse, the moment when Sisyphus, so strong, knowing and independent, doesn’t know what to do and his only recourse is to ask for help. His life depends upon it. To gain all, so the stories remind me, we must first lose it all. Like them, each time I think I have control of my destiny, I am summarily reminded of my delusion. Control is nothing more than just another story. Let go.

My greatest teachers in one pix

My greatest teachers in one pix

This morning, talking about all that has happened in three years, my wife looked at me through the steam of her coffee and said, “Time just keeps moving. You’d think it would slow down or take a vacation every once in a while.”

Dog-Dog now-a-days

Dog-Dog now-a-days

Go Slow

Our feet at Montauk

Our feet not rushing at Montauk

 

 

Years ago Quinn gave me a book by George Leonard called Mastery. I revisit it from time to time when I feel, as I do now, that I know nothing. In truth, the older I get, the more experiences I have, the more certain I become that I know nothing at all. If George Leonard was still living I imagine he would approve of my not knowing. “Finally, we are getting somewhere!” he might declare.

Here’s a bit from the book’s introduction:

“The many comments and inquiries that I continue to receive have convinced me more than ever that the quick-fix, fast-temporary-relief, bottom-line mentality doesn’t work in the long run, and is eventually destructive to the individual and the society. If there is any sure route to success and fulfillment in life, it is to be found in the long-term, essentially goalless process of mastery.”

Although in the quarter of a century since Mastery was published the pace of life has, if anything, shifted into hyper-drive, the truth of George Leonard’s assertion remains constant. Fulfillment is found in the long-term. It is found in the goalless processes like friendship or love or a walk in the woods. Fulfillment is a relationship and not an achievement. Learning is a relationship and not an achievement. Spirituality is a relationship and not an achievement. Artistry is a relationship and not an achievement.

All the things we think we know, the things we argue for or against, the righteous territories we claim, the belief flags we plant in the sand, the battle lines we draw, the hills we die on, the idea-wars we wage,.., make muddy the life crackling right before our eyes. After all, what do we really know?

On Sunday I witnessed a baptism. The next day I attended a funeral. These two back-to-back rituals left me with a question: What’s the rush?

I have absolutely no idea.

Be We.

a detail of And Now.

a detail of And Now.

“We need to create this together,” I said. We were discussing a project, a collaboration. 20 whipped out his phone and began searching frantically for something.

“What are you doing?” I laughed.

“Ah,” he said, “Here it is.” He smiled and read to me a definition of the word, ‘we.’ “You and I,” he read, “I and another.” He chuckled, adding, “Oh, I’m not sure I like that word.”

We. It’s a little big word.

At dinner the other night, Brad asked, “Now that you are married does your relationship feel any different?” Kerri and I both smiled. Yes. There is something bigger than ‘you and me.’ It’s hard to explain the change except to say that there is now a ‘we,’ a relationship that takes precedence over any single individual concern.

I was married many years ago and now know why things didn’t work out. We’d established our relationship on the sandy foundation of a bargain: I’ll help you if you help me. Bargains like that do not sound so bad until trouble comes. Bargains are predicated on what you get from the relationship. Marriages, I’ve learned, are built upon what you bring to the relationship. In a bargain there is no ‘we.’

Yesterday Skip and I talked about art (among many other things). It’s been my experience that art happens in the ‘WE’ space. Actors have to bring their gifts in service to the play. In fact, they cannot fulfill their gifts unless they are in service to something bigger than themselves. A self-serving actor essentially locks the audience out of the play; WE is not possible when an actor is oriented to what he or she can get from the experience. Magic happens when an actor is oriented according to what they bring to the experience. It’s the tragic misconception of art in these United States: art is not about self-expression; art, when properly understood, is the creation of WE.

another detail of And Now

another detail of And Now

A few weeks ago we watched a movie, Always, and this line (not a direct quote) jumped out and smacked me on the head: to gain your freedom you first must give it away. Gifts are not fulfilled unless they are given. People are not fulfilled until they give themselves to WE.

[to be continued]

Focus On The Important Stuff

an offer from TwoArtistMakingStuffForHumans

an offer from TwoArtistMakingStuffForHumans

A note from the temporary site of TwoArtistsMakingStuffForHumans:

The waxing moon was muted with fog. It made the air shimmer. Avalon was near. Although it seemed too soon, there was a hint of autumn in the air. We sat next to a chiminea talking to friends. Monica told us of her daughter working in villages in South America. She told Monica that, by our standards, the people there have nothing. They are possession poor. But, they were happy, genuinely happy. They didn’t have much money or stuff but they had the essential thing that many of us lack: peace of mind. They focus on different, more important stuff.

It brought to mind my experiences in Bali. When I arrived all I could see was the poverty. By the time I left several weeks later, I’d have given everything I own or will ever own to have what they have: presence. Ease of mind. They weren’t looking for fulfillment, status, or living for retirement. They were living. Life was fulfillment. In a world where all things are sacred, status is gained by the quality of your giving and not by the size of your piece of the limited pie. It is a different focus.

There is a hidden cost to what dominates our focus, the things that take our attention…as opposed to the things we pay attention to.

As artists, both Kerri and I believe the work of our lives has been, one way or another, to help people focus on the important stuff, to see the extraordinary in the ordinary moment, to find inside what people seek outside. We’ve both worked across the boundaries of business, art, and the fine art of living everyday, there is no lack of necessity to refocus the eye, mind, and heart.

In a few weeks we will be launching our business (details to follow). All the many aspects of our work – if you can call art a product and performing a service – are intended to support, exercise and pay forward a focus on the important stuff, the important moments…sometimes the teeniest things that in the chaos pass unnoticed.

We want to do for others what we do for each other. Check out our pre-launch coaching offer. Take us up on it! Or, if you know someone who might benefit from working with us, pass it on, pay it forward.

Breathe Out. Breathe In

...if beakybeaky was a band, this would be the album cover...

…if beakybeaky was a band, this would be the album cover…

The most important thing in life is to learn how to give out love, and to let it come in. Mitch Albom, Tuesdays With Morrie.

Somewhere in the 22nd hour of our drive, the sun rose. Even through our exhaustion and bad fast food coffee, it took our breath away. It replaced, or, rather, swallowed, a brilliant sliver-crescent moon.

We’d stayed longer in Tampa than we expected. The day after Beaky’s book reading and signing, Sunday, we were exhausted so we delayed our return trip home for a day. The following day, Monday, was bad for Beaky – she was in tremendous pain and we were overwhelmed with the need to stay. So, we stayed, knowing the result would be a 24 hour dash home for rehearsals.

His voice dropped to a whisper. Let it come in. We think we dont deserve love, we think if we let it in well become too soft. But a wise man named Levine said it right. He said, Love is the only rational act.’” Mitch Albom, Tuesdays With Morrie

...and the truth of beakybeaky....

…and the truth of beakybeaky….

This year is unusual. I’ve done too many plays, paintings, and projects to count and each had its rewards and regrets. Twice since the turning of the New Year I’ve completed a project that was so fulfilling, so right, that I would not change a thing. Both have this in common: the intention was pure. I did them for the right reason: someone else. The first, The Lost Boy, was a message from Tom to his nephew, Seth, and I was the messenger. The second, Beaky’s first book, Shayne, was to make a dream happen. Every dream needs assistance to be born: the manuscripts existed. Beaky’s desire to share (publish) existed. They lacked an illustrator and designer. I did the illustration. Kerri did the layout and design; a dream fulfilled itself. For me, both are lessons in breathing out love so that I might also breathe it in.

Just prior to Beaky’s reading, we took a series of selfies with her. I told her that, if Beakybeaky was a rock band, the selfies would make excellent album covers. After our photo opp, we wheeled her to a standing-room-only crowd, many people that she knew and many more that she didn’t, people who’d gathered to hear an almost-94 year old author read and sign her very first book.

a dream fulfilled

a dream fulfilled

Breathe out. Breathe in. It turns out that an exhale is necessary for the inhale.

 

 

Covet The Right Stuff

I did this drawing for my book, The Seer

I did this drawing for my book, The Seer

This morning Kerri shared a nice definition of the word “covet:” insufficient gratitude for what you already possess. It made me laugh because the definition exposes the ethical double bind of being human.

I imagine that in some distant past, a hairy guy stepped out of his cave and was startled to find that his neighbor had a new thing called fire. Being cold and also tired of eating sushi for every meal, he coveted his neighbor’s fire. He wanted some of that. A healthy lack of gratitude for what you already possess is often how good ideas spread (a random anthropological note: I read this morning that the average life span of a cave man was 18 years. I suspect coveting warmth-by-fire increased the average by a couple of years).

So, to covet is sometimes useful, especially where essentials like food, fire, and stories are concerned. It is only human to want enough food, a roof over your head, and a life-story that has meaning and purpose.

To desire is human. To want a better life is universal. What is the line between desire and coveting? To want what others have, to a certain extent, is pack behavior and we are, like it or not, creatures of the pack. Product marketers around the world count on our capacity to want what other people have and so our covet-muscle is exercised daily. The creation of imaginary need is a super trick for selling stuff and coveting what others have is key to lack creation. It’s hard to sell things if people are fulfilled.

So, to covet may be a warning signal that you are building your tower of meaning on sandy soil.

And that loops back to gratitude. All day, Kerri and I have been talking about being conscious in the moments of your life. None of us have unlimited time on this earth. The only thing we actually possess is our moments and our choices within our moments. The other stuff is really on loan and generally passing. Spiritual teachers and artists throughout history are unanimous on this point: the path to a rich life is built upon presence. Paying attention, exercising deep gratitude for the moments of your life, will always illuminate the extraordinary in the ordinary. Cultivating the capacity to see your extraordinary life will help you will covet the right stuff. Feeling grateful for your moment is always easier when you are warm and your brontosaurus burger is cooked just right.

title_pageGo here to buy hard copies (and Kindle) of my latest book: The Seer: The Mind of the Entrepreneur, Artist, Visionary, Innovator, Seeker, Learner, Leader, Creator,…You.

Check out the kickstarter campaign for my play The Lost Boy. DSC_1196 copy

Run With It

The criminal with the evidence. Tripper with Kleenex.

The criminal with the evidence. Tripper with plundered Kleenex.

Tennessee Tripper Dog-Dog-Dog is a fantastic pick pocket. I’m certain he is kin with the Artful Dodger and the other sticky-finger street boys who lift wallets and jewelry without detection. Dog-Dog’s preferred target is Kleenex. With his snout he can reach into the deepest pocket and disappear into a crowd, Kleenex in mouth, and his poor victim is none the wiser. Lately I have had a nasty cold so my pockets are prime targets for his crimes. More than once I’ve reached into my pocket, alarmed by the rising tide of an inevitable sneeze, and found that my pocket has been picked. “Dog-Dog!!” I scream (and then sneeze). He always appears with tiny bits of evidence in his whiskers.

I first noticed his pilfering when he was still more puppy than dog. He was adept at undetected napkin snatching. I knew it was a crime scene when dinner guests started looking on the floor for missing napkins and came up empty. Although publically I’d hang my head and make Tripper confess his misdeed and return his plunder, secretly I was impressed by his stealth and wondered if he would grow up to become a Ninja.

Tripper Dog-Dog does not suffer guilt. He does not question his choices. He rarely debates whether he should or should not do something. He does not mask his confusion or blunt his awe. He races across the yard in full celebration of his speed and how good it feels to run. He does not run to win, he runs to run. Were I still working with actors I’d have them study the pure intentionality of their pets. I’d have them study what undiluted commitment to action really looks like.

One of my favorite themes running through the books of Paulo Coehlo is to find your enthusiasm and follow it; there lives your treasure. Joseph Campbell famously said, “Follow your bliss.” One of the post-it notes on our Be A Ray plan wall reads: Dream big dreams. The sub note adds: Run At It. The other day we heard a man say, “At least when I die, I’ll know I took my shot and gave it my all.” I sat up and wrote his thought as two questions: What is your shot? What would it look like to give it your all?

And then, finding my pocket empty of Kleenex, I added a third question: If “it” was a Kleenex and I was Tripper, what would I do? I’d take “it” with great enthusiasm, no apology, and without doubt or question. And then I’d run with “it” just because I liked the way it feels.

Go here to get my latest book, The Seer: The Mind of the Entrepreneur, Artist, Visionary, title_pageSeeker, Learner, Leader, Creator…You.

Or, go here for hard copies.