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

 

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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.

Stand In Happiness

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

I drive to Capitol Hill early every Saturday morning to take Tai-Chi class. I go early to get some coffee and a scone and have started a special ritual of sending photos of my incredible morning bounty to torture Megan-the-brilliant who responds in kind, sending me photos of her bagel and jet fuel coffee from The Blue Moon café. Soon I plan on recording my scone enjoyment moans and sending the sound effects along with the photos. Torture is torture and I can’t wait to see how Megan-the-brilliant responds; she has a competitive nature and will one-up me somehow. Video maybe, or her food enjoyment sounds will come with a Hollywood soundtrack. She’s young and has the technological advantage in our torture game.

Although there are several coffee houses within walking distance of my class I now go almost exclusively to the Starbucks – not because the coffee is better or because the scone is world class, I go there because of the way I’m greeted by my barista. As I come through the door he shouts, “Hey! You’re back!” He’s often singing a song or bantering with his co-workers. His joy and enthusiasm is infectious. And, although I am only there one early morning a week, he no longer asks what I want; my coffee and scone just show up. We laugh at something, I pay and move on, and then he brightens the day of the next person in line. He has unwittingly made my Saturday morning ritual, previously a time of quiet reflection, a solitary act, into a homecoming. A simple thing, a greeting, a decision to stand in happiness, has deeply impacted my life to the point that I build my week around walking through a door into a welcome that warms me.

It is a season of giving (and, really, why do we need to define a season when this life could be a generosity fest) and when I think of all the amazing people in my life, the people who nourish and enrich me, my mind does not go to the big events, it goes to a video chat, the pizza that showed up at my door, a barista, a note from a top secret person, a tai chi teacher who has no idea of the impact his quirky sense of humor has on my life. My barista hasn’t a clue that he is my barista and has no idea that he enriches my life. My top secret person knows but has no idea of the profound impact she’s having on my life. At the center of each of them is a pattern, a ritual of generosity, an intentional sharing of heart that these amazing people bring to each day of their lives. From their point of view, their generosity is ordinary; they do not see it as special. They greet. They act. They support. Today, I count myself the most fortunate man on the planet to walk in their circles.