Touch Nature [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.” ― John Muir

Since we’ve exhausted every mountain climbing documentary ever made, we now end our days walking an epic trail. We’ve done some serious time on the Appalachian Trail, The Pacific Crest Trail, The Continental Divide Trail and, lately, our imaginary feet have, through the magic of hiker movies, walked every inch of the John Muir Trail.

In addition to our actual walks everyday, our end of evening film walks serve as our escape. It’s how we cope. Because my pals routinely tell me that they, like us, are exhausted or anxious or chronically unfocused, I’ve started the practice of asking them how they mentally get away amid the age of pandemic, social unrest, natural disaster, and pathological lie. My question is always met with a look (or sound) of surprise. Some read. Some play music. Some exercise. Some unplug from news and technology. All seek some time out-of-doors.

Mental get-a-way.

Hands in the dirt, feet on the path. The changing sky, getting caught in the rain or facing the sun, the smell of falling leaves or pine, those damn mosquitoes, cicada chorus, a hawk visitation…perspective givers, all.

Much of the madness chasing us through our days is nothing more than the horror story we unleash in our minds. Human beings are wildly creative and for proof look no further than the fear tales daily yammering through your thought. Amidst the presence of an actual pandemic, the imagination can let loose a full gallery of monsters.

We have legitimate monsters running rampant in our world. We also have imaginary monsters running roughshod in our brains. Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish between the two. Fortunately, there is a test that helps differentiate between them: the legitimate monsters, as a people (as human beings) we will always turn toward and face. The pandemic. Climate change. Injustice. The imaginary monsters we either run from or work hard to magnify. Ignore or amplify. Why is it that human beings argue so ardently for their fears?

The folks that deny the legitimate monsters have confused the legitimate monsters with the illusory. They believe the yuck that runs around in their minds is real. In order to validate the inner yuck requires an all out suppression of the actual threats like viruses, a warming globe, systemic racism. Conversely, dealing with the real challenges leaves no space for fantasy monsters like deep states and wild-hairy-democrats-drinking blood in under ground tunnels. That’s my theory.

A walk in the woods famously clears the mind of made-up-monsters. All of our devices and politics and power games seem silly when standing among the redwoods or on a beach with infinity breaking like waves and rushing the sand to meet your toes. There’s nothing like The Milky Way to make all those inner monsters seem trivial.

There’s nothing like cresting a mountain to affirm that we are – if nothing else – united in our smallness and passing lifetimes. It is only in our minds that we are possibly bigger than the mountain or more important than the seas.

read Kerri’s blog post about NATURE TRAIL

Free Your Freedom [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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David sends photographs of his young son, Dawson, painting. Or playing. Or just enjoying the moment. I love them. They bring smiles and a Picasso-esque reminder. Paint like a child. Play-to-play and for no other reason. Wear a cape and fly!

Adults get enmeshed in all manner of weird issues. They come to think that things like wearing-a-mask-during-a-pandemic can be an inhibitor to their freedom when, in fact, they gave away their freedom ages ago. They grew up and forgot how to play, how to mush color around with their fingers, how to roll down a grassy slope and run back to the top to do it all over again. They forgot how to play with others. They muzzle themselves.

Adults give away their freedom when they come to believe that a brand of car or the label on their clothes gives them status or makes them sexy. They confuse their money with their morality. They give away 5 days so they might live for 2 or, worse, they suffer through thirty years of toil with the zany idea that they will live life when they “retire.”

Adults get lost in illusion. They snap towels and brag about their wild-side while pulling on their uniform-stiff-collar-suit and cinching up a tie around their neck. They somehow come to think that pushing other people down will raise them up the ladder. They create odd justifications: dog-eat-dog or business-is-business or divide-and-conquer. Play-to-win and for no other reason.

Let’s face it, adults fill themselves up with fear and judgment. They can’t paint with their fingers because someone might call them childish or stupid or worse! And, horror of horrors! What if their finger painting isn’t perfect in the eyes of others?! Shame is a great inhibitor especially when it is the imagined response to fun-and-free-self-expression. The only safe thing to do is put away the dangerous color, wash the paint from your hands. The only safety is to judge others! Establish some mask of authority; become the arbiter of right and wrong. Dole out the shame so as not to receive it. Phew.

Adults mistakenly believe that power is control, that power is something wielded over others. Every child knows that power has nothing to do with control. Power is something created with others, like painting with your dad. That is power-full! Even infants know that power is a relationship of mutual support, it crackles between people. Humans-of-every-age are never more powerful than when helping others grow.

Poor sad adults have it upside-down and backwards. As I used to tell students, “Any idiot with a pistol can take life, it takes a very powerful person to give life.” There’s no real power in the taking. There’s infinite power in the giving.

Just so, there’s no freedom in the taking. There’s infinite freedom in the giving, the free expression, the playing, the laughing, the sharing. Every child knows that.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about DON’T GROW UP!

 

 

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chasing bubbles ©️ 2019 david robinson

 

Let The Pieces Fall [on KS Friday]

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“It is the paradox of spiritual growth that through such bleak midwinter journeys we eventually come through a hidden door into a bright field of springtime that we could never have discovered otherwise. This is the heart of the mystical. It is not about building protectionist armour of prayer and religion; it is, rather, the courage for absolute divestment. In the sheer vulnerability of Nothingness everything becomes possible in a new way, but there is an immense temptation to flee back to the shelter of old complacency. Now could be the most important moment in life to steel our courage and enter the risk of change.” ~ John O’Donohue, Beauty

Parcival returned to the place in the deep woods where he’d stripped off his armor. Was it yesterday? A year ago? Two? He couldn’t remember. While he searched for the place he remembered with satisfaction the battles he’d waged, the ogres he’d defeated. The mission he’d served. He longed to once again inhabit that simple clarity, that single focus.

His old armor was not hard to find but it looked nothing like he remembered it. No longer shiny and hard, it was brittle with rust and covered in moss and vines. Nature was reclaiming it. Still, he wanted to put it back on. He wanted to forget the reasons he took it off in the first place. The loneliness. The fear. Forever fighting the lost cause, the imagined foe. He wanted to remember the good and ignore completely the painful parts of the story.  He could go back! He could be the great knight once again.

His vision crumbled like his armor when he attempted to pick it up. Going back was a fantasy. Retreating back in time, donning again his old armor,  was perhaps the final ogre to fight. Like all of the other ogres, it, too, was an illusion. He let the rusty pieces fall back to the forest floor.

Now, allowing the full force of his vulnerability, the utter absence of role or definition, he no longer yearned for the tight closure of what was, but wholly surrendered to the expansive, the infinite and uncontrollable new.

LONGING on the album AS IT IS is available on iTunes

 

read Kerri’s blog post about LONGING

 

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longing/as it is ©️ 2004 kerri sherwood

 

FaceTheRain

Stand In It [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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Adding to the pandemic-time-disorientation-syndrome, gas prices dropped to a level that we haven’t seen for 20 years. I looked at the sign while filling up and asked Kerri, “Wow. Where are we?”

She shook her head. “This is weird.”

“What were you doing the last time gas was this cheap?” I asked.

“It’s ironic, isn’t it,” she replied, “cheap gas and we can’t go anywhere.” We are road tripping fools so inexpensive gas is a titanic tease amidst a stay at home order.

There are cultures on this planet that believe we move through time backwards, we row ourselves through life with our eyes firmly fixed on where we’ve been rather than where we are going.

This makes sense to me since making sense of life is a backward looking affair. And, the really great thing about sense-making is that it is never completed. The story we tell ourselves about our life and choices is…a story. A new day brings a new perspective on an old well-storied choice. Some of my dumbest decisions, the actions I have been most critical for taking, from my current view, now look wise. Or, at the very least, inevitable.

We afford ourselves more grace with a longer view and several revisions of the old story.

It has been said that the fear of death is not, as advertised, the fear of the unknown. It is the fear of the loss of what is known. We hold fast to our oars, grip with all of our might onto what we think we know and  can control.  We row our little boat in a vast uncontrollable sea.

Actors come alive on stage when they forget their lines. Suddenly the “real” penetrates the pretend. The loss of control ignites life both on the stage and off. The audience sits forward. Something real and unknown is unfolding!

Fear of losing the known. Like actors on the stage, people come alive when they turn and stare into what cannot be controlled. The now. When they forget their lines, lose their name and stare blankly into the dark house. And, the only thing to be done is to stand in it. Relax. Sit forward. Something real is unfolding.

The words will return. We’ll get a grip on the oars sooner or later. The illusion will be restored. A good actor knows that panic only perpetuates the blankness. Relax. A good actor knows the others on the stage will lend a hand if necessary. Good assurances for all of us in this pandemic play. Stand in it. Our boat is going someplace we cannot control.

Something real is unfolding.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about CHEAP GAS

 

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Let It Spin [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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The answer to “Who Am I?” is mostly a matter of perspective [or concoction, depending upon your perspective ;-)]. As much as we might want it to be, who-am-I is not a fixed state of affairs. Thankfully, we are not as narrowly defined as we want to believe.

We constellate together some identity-fixed points (son, father, banker, artist, gardener…) that give general shape to the who-am-I inquiry.  Mix in a few subsets: competitive, passive, rich, poor, successful, homeless, handy, all-thumbs… and there’s some nice variation giving color to the primary fixed points.

For some real fun, factor in the changes of identity that happen over the course of a lifetime. Who did you understand yourself to be at 10? At 20? At 30? Dear friends just became grandparents; their entire universe is spinning. Who are they now?

I have had moments of triumph that turned to dust in my mouth. What looked like fulfillment was, in fact, an empty sack. Once, thinking I was looking good, I walked headlong into a glass door. Instant fool. Identity is much more fluid than fixed.

In the Buddhist tradition there is a “Big Dipper” exercise. From our perspective on the earth, there is a constellation of stars that form a big dipper in the sky. But, travel toward that constellation, the image of ‘big dipper’ starts to warp and then falls apart altogether. The position of the stars does not change. Our perspective does. The constellation is nothing more than an illusion. Mostly, my constellation of fixed identity points is nothing more than an illusion.

These days I’m thinking much about my illusion and attachment to my fixed points. My move to Wisconsin came with career death and I spent more than a few years grasping for the lost stars in my constellation. New stars appeared. I became a husband. I have two ‘given’ children. My beard has become grey. Yesterday, to my utter amusement, I found myself concerned with fallen leaves staining the patio and had thoughts of immediate raking. What has become of me? In the past week, I’ve awakened more than once with this thought: What if the painting on my easel is to be my last. It’s not finished and it’s an utter mess! I want to leave a better last impression! I have more work to do!

And then, I wondered, what if, as I travel out beyond the constellation, this image of myself, this part of me that I call ‘artist,’ matters not at all? Fluid, not fixed.

And so, my perspective spins, more anchor points fall away and the entire universe opens.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about PERSPECTIVE

 

 

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Step Into The Ripple [on DR Thursday]

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I’ve never understood faith as a religious term. Look up the word in the dictionary and you’ll come across trust, belief, and conviction. Rather than a lofty word reserved for worship day, it has always struck me as an everyday something – that becomes extraordinary when you realize how ever-present-and-ordinary it actually is. Stepping blindly. Blindly stepping. Each and everyday.

We surround ourselves with calendars and lists and routines and rituals and patterns – all necessary mechanisms to plan our days but they also serve to protect us from the truth of our walk on this earth: there is not a moment, an hour, or day that is actually known before it is lived. Every moment of every day is a step into the unknown.

The real practice of faith is not about an abstraction.  It is a recognition that walking in faith is an essential part of the human condition. The real practice is in realizing it. Being right where you are, open to the reality and empty of the illusion of certainty that you know what is coming. You do not. The true spiritual practice is to empty yourself of the need for the illusion of control.

Fully inhabiting the moment. Standing at the crossroad of past and future without the map of ‘I-know-what’s-going-to-happen’ dulling the experience.

Spiritual practices are not meant to be other worldly. They are, at their best, concrete relationships found at the intersection of past and future, in that tiny slice of infinity called “the moment.” It is a miracle of unknowns and surprises.

The practice of faith is the practice of putting down what you think you know – dropping the notion that you know what will happen- and stepping fully and with intention into the rippling unknown.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about FAITH

 

 

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chasing bubbles ©️ 2019 david robinson

chicken marsala ©️ 2016 david robinson & kerri sherwood

See The Truth [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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“The mind has the power to do the most extraordinary things…But the mind cannot create truth. What it creates is not truth, it is merely an opinion, a judgment.” ~ Think On These Things, Krishnamurti

Last night at a gathering with our pals, we had a hysterical conversation about looking into the mirror and not recognizing the wrinkled, aging face looking back. The image in the mirror does not match the image in the mind. We agreed that we feel much younger than we appear.

Mirrors are mysterious and magical devices. They are surprisingly powerful. They merely reflect an image, yet, it is impossible for a human being to look into a mirror without launching a fleet of judgments or hosting a party of comparisons. “I look old.” Old? Relative to what?

A quick glance into a mirror is most often an image-check on how we think we appear. And, here’s the kicker: the quick glance is an image-check on how we think we appear to others. In other words, mirrors are excellent for feeding the fantasy that we have control over what other people see. None of us truly knows how we look. None of us has any control over what other people see. Mirrors inspire illusion illusions.

We do, however, have control over what we see.

I have rarely met the person who has made the choice to look in the mirror and see beauty staring back. I’m not referring to the ego-beauty, the magazine-model-concocted-beauty, but the inner-light-beauty. The recognition that life-is-a-miracle-beauty. The nothing-is-broken-and-nothing-needs-to-be-fixed beauty.

There is a beauty that is the truth; it bubbles just beyond the opinions and judgments and comparisons. We see it in others. Last night I looked around at my pals laughing and sharing stories and each and everyone was brilliantly beautiful. Now, looking in the mirror, I ask, what prevents me from seeing ‘what is there’ instead of ‘what I think is there?’

 

read Kerri’s blog post about BEAUTIFUL

 

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Bend It [on DR Thursday]

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The terminology in art reads like so much poetry. Zero point perspective. Chiaroscuro. Foreshortening. Rococo. Image plane. Vanishing point. Oblique projection. Intaglio. It goes on and on, these tasty and magical words.

They should be poetry. They describe fields of possibility. They attempt to codify the making of illusion or the impulse of an explorer. Bending space. Deconstructing and reconstituting. Perceptual distinctions. The visual language of cultural norms.

There has been for centuries a mathematics of art. Optics and relativity, movements in science that have their conjoined artistic twins. Rebellions. The maintenance of form. Rules and rule breakers.

I sat in on a class taught by a master artist. He was a lover of landscape (another yummy word) and taught his students an earth-shattering lesson: reality, like time, cannot be caught. It’s a fools errand to try. Painting is a conversation. It is an infinite game. Bend space. Move the tree. Color is fluid, moving, never fixed.  Be like color. Play. Discover. Transform.

I do not consider myself a landscape painter. And then I remember the master teacher and I remove the word ‘landscape’ from my vernacular. And then, suddenly, there is a universe of movement, color, light, and shapes to bend.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about a LANDSCAPE SKETCH

 

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newborn. deconstruction. reconstitution.

 

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newborn /landscape sketch ©️ 2019 david robinson

 

 

Weep [on DR Thursday]

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‘and so he weeps.’ a morsel of weeping man

And so the story goes that one day, deep in the forest, Parcival was knocked from his stallion by a warrior who wore no armor. His magic sword, the object that he believed carried all of his power, was shattered. He lay on the ground like a turtle on its back, trapped by the weight of his shiny armor. He was tired of fighting. He was sad that, despite all of his victories, – he’d never been defeated – the world kept getting worse and worse. And so, laying on his back, exhausted from the fight, he stopped struggling. He gave himself over to his death. He let go.

But the nature-warrior disappeared. Parcival, alive but shattered, for the first time in his adult life, stripped off his armor. He dropped what remained of his sword. And, sitting amidst the wreckage of his life, the fragments of his power, he wept. He let go.

There is a path out of the wasteland. It necessarily leads through weeping. Through loss of illusion. P-Tom would call this a sacrament. Joseph Campbell would call it a threshold.

In any case, letting go of the illusion is necessary before the next chapter can begin.

 

 

 

read Kerri’s blog post on WEEPING MAN

 

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weeping man ©️ 2015 david robinson

Dance With Parallax

My favorite word of the week is ‘parallax.’ Horatio pulled it out of the word bin during our latest conversation about art and artistry. We were discussing the difference between what an artist sees in their work and what others see – and how artistic “sight” changes over time. I scribbled the word along with the phrase, “the difference in what you see and what others see. Perspective over time.” After our call I looked up the word in my dictionary:

paral-lax (noun) 1. Apparent change of position. 2. Angle measuring star’s distance from Earth.

Many years ago in a fit of vulnerability I showed my mentor, a great theatre and visual artist, my paintings. I lined them all up for him to see. I followed him around the room as he quietly studied each piece. Finally, after taking in all of my work, he asked, “What’s the meaning of the spheres?” I was dumbfounded and had no idea what he was asking. “Spheres? What spheres?” So he led me back around the room, revisiting each painting, showing me the three spheres that appeared in EVERY single painting.

“What’s with the spheres?” he repeated, knowing that there wasn’t an answer but there was certainly a vast new question. My universe spun a bit that day so astounded was I at my inability to see the unifying principle in my own paintings.

I needed his eyes to see my work. Isn’t that the point?

When I think back on that day, on that younger version of my self, I revisit the fear, the raging vulnerability I felt in sharing my paintings. I feel again the deep doubt I held against myself. I recall the nausea of inviting someone I admired into my house of doubt. I somehow believed that, to be an artist, I had “to know” what I was doing – yet knew with certainty that I had no idea what I was doing. I knew with certainty that he would see through me to my lack of knowing.

And, he did. Thank goodness. “What’s with the spheres?” Such a simple question yet it spun my universe and pitched me through the portal of a new perspective.

I learned that day that artistry has nothing to do with knowing. Life has nothing to do with knowing. Knowing is an illusion, temporary at best. Knowing has everything to do with hiding.

Making a life, as Master Marsh just reminded me, is an engagement with the unknown. It is to have experiences. It is to make meaning of the experiences. If you are lucky, you learn to have the experiences first, and make the meaning second. It is to understand that, in this dance of knowing and not-knowing, sight and blindness, chaos and order, consciousness and unconsciousness, there are no fixed points. There is dance:

dance (noun) 1. An act of stepping or moving through a series of movements.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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