Enjoy The Loss [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

We laughed heartily when we read this phrase in an advertisement. I had two immediate responses: 1) Immortality is not really a thing. No one wins the race against aging. Even vampires have unfortunate sunny days or meetings with silver bullets and so ends their quest to win the race. 2) The best way to win the race against aging is a) to get out of your chair and move, b) laugh a lot. You’ll lose the race either way but mobility and a joyful heart make for a more enjoyable lap around the track.

This life is a temporary, passing thing. I lost the race against infancy and couldn’t wait to blow through those teenage years. I took my twenties and thirties for granted in a festival of unconsciousness. I puffed myself with importance and thought I knew things all the way through my forties and into my fifties. Now that I can spot the finish line I admit to undertaking several measures to slow things down a bit. I’m specifically not entering races and I’m especially not going to try and be something that I am not. Like, for instance, young.

I actually delight in the experiences that life has provided. The lessons learned. I’m especially fond of the needle that life used to pop my inflated notions. I’ll never be a hero. I live in some people’s story as their villain and some people play the role of villain in mine. I’m finding that more time on earth brings greater capacity for compassion and forgiveness. I never meant to be a villain and I suspect the same is true for those I’ve cast in my hall of monsters.

Beaky used to say that aging is not for wimps. We regularly compare our latest wrinkling skin discovery or make up excuses why our clothes no longer fit. It is sometimes a shock to wonder where the time went or to discover that I’ve lost my gazelle-like movement when running across the street. Taking a realistic look at your self and slowing down seem to me to be gifts that come with age and should not be hidden beneath any cream or stretched away by a surgeon. I have learned – and continue to learn – that it is infinitely better to be who you are than to pretend that you are something that you are not. Happiness does not easily nest in illusions.

External motivators might bring the illusion of youth but I guarantee that there’s no way to regain your gazelle. My vote: recognize that the race is made up, like Valentines Day, to sell chocolate and greeting cards. It’s better to love every day of this miracle life rather than pack your love into on a single day called ‘youth.’ There’s nothing like an achy joint to make you appreciate how great it is to be able to move. There’s nothing like seeing the finish line to make you appreciate the first sip of coffee in the morning or kissing your wife on the forehead just-because.

My advice: enjoy every moment of the loss.

read Kerri’s blog post on THE RACE AGAINST AGING

Set It Free [on DR Thursday]

Horatio told me that, according to the happiness index, the good folks in Iceland sit atop the happiness-mountain. One reason, he explained, is that they’ve removed failure from their national equation. They cheer the effort, not the outcome.

Removing failure from the equation is the main ingredient for fun and success in all arenas, especially the arts. It is impossible to learn color theory without making some extraordinary messes. Ask a dancer how many times they tried and fell before they made that astounding leap look easy. Throw many pots and, over time, mastery will come – and mastery is nothing more than the understanding that there is no such thing as failure. It is the feel and touch of a long relationship with clay that can only come from not being afraid to throw it, to see what happens if…

Sometimes, no matter how hard I struggle with it or adjust it, a painting just isn’t working. Usually it doesn’t work because I’ve forgotten the rule about failure-removal. My brush is too timid. My brain is in the way. And yet, sometimes, in the middle of a painting that isn’t working, there is a small piece, the actual inspiration for the painting, that isn’t stilted, that remains alive and free of my fear. It’s easy to see. It captivates my eye, a warm island in the middle of a frozen sea. Every so often, rather than paint over the whole thing, I’ll lift the island, cut it out, set it free from it’s too-labored surroundings.

“Brutal,” Kerri said. “I liked that painting.”

“I’ll do another,” I replied. And maybe, I thought, another and another and another. Who knows, learning to cheer the effort takes some not-so-serious practice. It’s the only road back to the freedom of finger painting and the joy of playing in the sand.

Beautiful K.Dot, 12 x 9IN, mixed media

read Kerri’s blog post about CUT OUT

beautiful k.dot ©️ 2021 david robinson

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

 

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Ask The Question [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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It is a happy accident that we chose this quote for this Merely A Thought Monday. Today, in the United States, we celebrate our veterans. Thucydides was a warrior, a general. He wrote a book on war – and human nature – that is studied to this day.

I confess this quote has left me with thought-fragments, pieces of a mosaic too large to easily construct. So, my fragments:

Happiness. Freedom. Courage. For Thucydides, there is a secret to experiencing  happiness. An effect (happiness) of a cause (courage).

There is this word, ‘freedom,’ a power or a right to act or think without hindrance or constraint.

Then there is this word ‘courage’. The ability to do something that frightens you. Strength in the face of pain.

On the personal level, then, happiness comes from doing the things that frighten you. Stepping toward your unknowns removes hindrances, transcends constraints. Feeling free ensues.

But, then there is this bit of my fragment, something from the bigger picture: Thucydides wrote that fear and self-interest were the central drivers of political endeavor. Political endeavor is the driver of war.

Fear. Self interest. Political endeavor. War.

Thucydides is studied to this day because what he wrote is relevant to this moment in time:

[from Leo Strauss via Wikipedia]: Scholars traditionally view Thucydides as recognizing and teaching the lesson that democracies need leadership, but that leadership can be dangerous to democracy…Thucydides had a deeply ambivalent view: on one hand, Thucydides’s own “wisdom was made possible” by the Periclean democracy, which had the effect of liberating individual daring, enterprise, and questioning spirit; but this same liberation, by permitting the growth of limitless political ambition, led to imperialism and, eventually, civic strife.

On this day that we honor the courage of veterans, amidst a leadership that is dangerous to democracy, we have to ask ourselves in all seriousness, to revisit what we believe is worth fighting for.

 

read Kerri’s blog post on this Merely A Thought Monday

 

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Laugh Together [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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“Why don’t people care?” I frequently loop back to Stephen’s question – asked so many years ago – about art. He’s a prolific and gifted painter. I have so many responses, mostly contradictory. Everything from ‘People do care, it’s just inaccessible,’ to ‘Why should they care, it’s so personal to the artist (not communal, not inclusive) that it’s not accessible.”  The common word in all my inner-Stephen-musings is ‘access.’

My pot was irrevocably stirred during my time in Bali. There, the arts are practiced in the temple – a place, the central focus – for everyone and everything in the community. Every aspect of life is rooted-in and practiced-through the temple. That is to say, all things are still considered sacred – even and especially ‘the arts.’ As sacred, the arts belong to everyone, not just the artist or the elite who can afford it. They are accessible because they are not a possession, they are a sacrament. Additionally, the temple does not stop at the end of the compound. The whole world is the temple. In this temple, the arts serve as the binder, the carrier of the story that holds the treasure of the community: its identity.  The arts are not only accessible, they provide access. They affirm belonging.

In this temple, through this sacred story, laughter is highly valued. Laughter, foible, whimsy, – all reminders that, 1) we should not take ourselves so seriously, and 2) laughter is a potent force, like gravity. It joins us. It cuts through division, turns fear into powder. It provides perspective. Laughter is the sound of appreciation, the music people make together when worshiping the great mystery of life.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE NOBLEST ART

 

 

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Smile [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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When we started our Two Artists Tuesday designs, our subtitle was “Making Stuff for Humans.” We used the word “stuff” loosely. The idea was to bring smiles. we were rooted in whimsy (something I constantly need to practice…).

Over the course of Studio Melange, our idea has morphed. The “stuff” we bring is not only our designs but our experiences as well. And, our latest experience was a riot of fun and the first of many Sip-N-Strums. What could be better than a beginner’s lesson with wine. It makes a good house party, a killer corporate event (we can teach anything through this magical instrument), as well as a fun night out. Whimsy, whimsy, whimsy in a world of whipped up division, ugly partisan fighting and a dedicated focus on the dark things. The ukulele is good medicine.

The ukulele is smile producing. It is impossible to pick it up without feeling playful. Even if you are being forced to play, as one unsuspecting husband was when he came to the Iron Depot Winery with his wife, only to discover that he’d stepped into a ukulele trap. He was in stage-one-full-resistance-mode until he picked up that little green ukulele. Once he wrapped his big bear paws around that little instrument it was all sip-n-smiles from that moment forward.

The quote on our site captures it best. “The ukulele is a portal through which only happy people can pass.” I’d offer this thought as well: the ukulele is a portal through which grumpy people enter their happy place. It is good stuff for humans.

 

 

read Kerri’s blog post about SIP-N-STRUM

 

pumpkinfarm website box copy

Appraise It [on Flawed Wednesday]

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The first time we visited Hippie Tom’s Serendipity Farm, Kerri said, “It’s like being inside someone’s disease.” The farm is a hoarder’s dream. Stuff piled upon stuff. Stuff packed into corners, hung from rafters, tucked under shelves. Most of the stuff is exposed to the heat and cold, rain and snow. Having the stuff is more important than the caring for the stuff, a 3-D philosophical statement. Certainly there are treasures to be found, curiosities that are heartier than the mildew and rust or perhaps have not yet been on the farm for a cycle of seasons.

In the barn there is a room for chairs. Chairs stacked to the ceiling though I use the term ‘stacked” loosely. Piled, perhaps. It reminds me a scene post tsunami, what remains after the waters have retreated. The artifacts of lives-now-gone. It would be a brilliant set for a play, metaphors abound. The sickness of acquisition. Or, perhaps it is not sickness so much as the inevitable destination of stuff after the story connection is lost.

The power of story. The value is never in the stuff, it is in the shared narrative invested into it. A diamond has no value without people to appraise it.

Once, I visited Georgia O’Keeffe’s home and studio in Abiquiu, New Mexico. It was spartan. And I loved it. A few chairs. And, oh-my-god the paintings. The view and vibrant connection to the natural world. It was like being inside someone’s happiness. So many years after her passing it felt alive – a place of life. That’s my appraisal.

Hippie Tom loves his farm, I’m sure. As for me, I think I’d rather walk the path with Georgia. Less stuff. More life.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about STUFF

 

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Listen To Your Teachers

my yoga companions

my yoga companions and a belly-belly

Tripper Dog-Dog-Dog and BabyCat (aka Slim, Sumo, Belly-with-a-Mouth) join me for my morning stretch and yoga. I need only walk to the yoga rug and my practice mates come running. I suspect they are not invested in the quieting of their minds or keeping limber. Their attendance on the rug has a simpler, more pure agenda: attention and pets.

Our preparation looks something like this: BabyCat wraps himself around my ankles and purrs. Dog-Dog jumps with enthusiasm and nearly knocks me over. With a Sumo-sized kitty warming my ankles and a circus dog leaping all around me, my gentle, quiet practice begins. As I drop forward to touch my toes, Dog-Dog rolls over for what we have lovingly dubbed a “belly-belly.” Clearly, Dog-Dog is an opportunist who sees all things as an opportunity. He is, therefore, a very happy spirit.

BabyCat is more strategic. He waits patiently until I move into a downward-dog pose so he can inhabit his favored spot and nibble my hair. It is counter-intuitive but true that BabyCat is more vocal than Tripper Dog-Dog-Dog. As a strategist, BabyCat complains a lot. He is an adherent to the philosophy of the squeaky wheel getting all the grease and BabyCat knows how to squeak the wheel. He is, therefore, as a necessary prerequisite to wheel squeaking, never satisfied.

photo-3My yoga companions have served to make me more mindful though it took me a while to recognize the teachings of my rug mates. At first I thought of them as distractions: they are very demanding of my attention. I thought they were getting in the way. I contemplated shooing them from the rug but, in truth, they made me laugh and what could be better for any healthy practice – for a healthy life – than laughter. It occurred to me that I’d rarely laughed in the many, many previous years of my practice. I was missing the essential ingredient and nearly banished it from my life-rug!

Next, I had to learn to move slower with much more intention so as not to topple or step on the squeaky wheel. I became much more present and aware of even the simplest movement. Awareness is a muscle and BabyCat is a gifted instructor of the fine art of awareness.

As an opportunist for fun, the Dog-Dog believes every pose is, in fact, a bridge to run under or an invitation to wrestle so I’ve had to learn how to root myself in every moment of my practice, particularly the in-between moments. I cannot afford to be ungrounded, even for a single moment, or the master Dog-Dog will have me sprawling on the floor. Saul-The-Tai-Chi-Master would be proud of my new capacity to remain grounded while in motion. Dog-Dog is an excellent teacher!

Perhaps their attendance on the rug with me has a more complex agenda after all: they recognized that their human needed to welcome more laughter into his too serious practice (life), he needed to find a deeper, easier grounding. And, in my predisposition the think I am higher up the chain of consciousness, I foolishly believed I was giving my love and attention to them but the opposite has been the case all along.

See It Blaze

text from Krishnamurti as it appears in my painting

text from Krishnamurti as it appears in my painting

Every once in a while the things I read, the experiences of my life, seem to coordinate. Like a thought-confluence, the books, the poems, the errands, the conversations, run into a single thought-stream. It’s as if they called each other last week and asked, “So what are you going to wear?” Often, this is how the universe places its hammer on my head.

A few stanzas from a Mary Oliver poem, Morning Poem (read the whole poem sometime. It’s breathtaking):

each pond with its blazing lilies
is a prayer heard and answered
lavishly,
each morning

 whether or not
you have ever dared to be happy,
whether or not
you have ever dared to pray

Did you catch the word, ‘lavishly?’

Here’s a bit from Carlos Castaneda, A Separate Reality:

What makes us unhappy is to want. Yet if we would learn to cut our wants to nothing, the smallest thing would be a true gift…. A warrior knows that he is waiting and what he is waiting for; and while he waits he wants nothing and thus whatever little thing he gets is more than he can take.

Prayers answered lavishly. Whatever little thing he gets is more than he can take.

For me, there are a few important words that have, from over-use, fallen into the bin of meaninglessness:

presence, transformation

Actually, they are in the bin because we’ve managed to make them (like the word, ‘art’) commodities, marketing terms, something owned or purchased with coin or wile or reason. Something possessed or not possessed. Something available to a few but not all.

Sometimes the words open again, the experience opens again, when said another way. For instance, the phrase, “cutting our wants to nothing,” is another way of saying ‘presence.’ Don Juan would have made a good Buddhist! When present, the ordinary pond blazes, it teems with life and isn’t the experience of teeming life at the heart of any good prayer? The last time you caught your breath, a sunset or watching your child sleep, you were present, you wanted for nothing,  your prayers were lavishly answered.

my latest work-in-progress

not yet finished – maybe never will be – an, perhaps, that is the point.

The message of the hammer on my head: The pond is always blazing. The transformation is not in the pond but in our ability to see it.

 

Be The Source

660. Join me in inspiring truly powerful people. Each day I will add a new thought, story or idea to support your quest and mine.

While preparing a new curriculum this morning, I reviewed work from the past and came across this phrase, something I wrote 4 years ago: In our language usage we often say, “_______ gives me joy.” So, for instance, “Painting gives me joy.” This phrasing leads us to believe that the joy is in the painting and you are the recipient of the joy. It leads us to believe that these “things” like joy, happiness, and contentment are external gems, separate from us, something we must seek to find.

Joy, happiness, and contentment are not things, not nouns. The painting does not give you joy, you bring the joy to the experience of painting. The capacity for joy is in you and ignites within you when you put yourself into a generative relationship. As I too often quote Viktor Frankel, “Happiness ensues.” Happiness and joy are not something you seek (separate from you), they are qualities that follow (originating from within you); joy is movement; a feeling is a verb. You are the source not the recipient.

I realize that I am writing a lot lately about the power of language to shape our perception. At present I am in a coffee shop and I just heard the barista tell her coworker that this upcoming year she will learn to say “no.” The couple at the table next to me are having an intense conversation and I just heard, “That’s just the way I am!” followed by, “Why can’t you be happy?” These are stories and the language is not incidental. It matters if you define yourself as separate from you joy. It matters if you believe that you are separate from your creativity or that you must do something to “deserve” happiness. If you define yourself as separate you will live separate from your powers of happiness, joy and contentment. You will think you need to seek them from others. You will define yourself as fundamentally powerless because you will orient yourself toward what you get from experiences instead of recognizing your infinite capacity to bring power to your life, to be power and vibrantly alive. Be the source of dynamic movement instead of a chaser of nouns. It matters.