Go Inward

a new painting perfect for winter and inward looking. it’s part of a set in my sacred series.

“The doctor may explain why the patient is dead, but never why the patient is alive.” ~Declan Donnellan

Once, tromping through a biodynamic vineyard, Barney explained to me that winter is the time for the energy of the vine to go to the root. The vine that appears dormant above ground is, in fact, actively recharging below the surface. The energy goes inward. The root rejuvenates, drinking in the minerals necessary for the new growth of the coming spring. The fruit of the summer is impossible without the rejuvenation of winter.

We are not so different from the vines though language can trick us into compartmentalizing, perceiving winter as distinct and separate from summer, the inhale as a separate action from the exhale, tides that ebb and then flow. Cycles of life have compartments in study but never in real life. The compartments are made up for the convenience of categorization and conversation.

These past few weeks we’ve been cleaning out our house, going through old boxes and files, shredding old bills, carrying furniture and computer carcasses to the curb. Old clothes are going away. Closets and bins are emptied. The house is beginning to breathe. There is space. Spaciousness. We are laughing at old pictures, sometimes cringing. This day’s new-found spaciousness inspires the next day’s cleaning rampage. It is invigorating. Rejuvenating.

and this is the other half of the set. winter has me looking inward and exploring simplicity in line and space.

Our cleaning tsunami wasn’t planned. Our computer crashed. Our work was interrupted. Our expression was limited. We complained and resisted and then turned our energies elsewhere. Inward. Going through and releasing old stuff, past lives, creating space, is rejuvenating. We are taking our time. We are going slowly. It is oddly restful.

Driving home from our walk in the woods, we laughed at ourselves. Mock-praising our virtuous cleaning, exaggerating and inflating our new found spaciousness to full spiritual illumination, we pretended we’d achieved life beyond wanting, living without yearning. Consciousness beyond compartments. Wiping laughter-tears from her eyes, Kerri said, “Wait! This could be boring! What is life without desiring some red wine while cooking dinner? What about the pleasure of yearning for morning coffee? With all this new found space….”

 

Be An Instrument Of Peace

I asked Kerri which of my recent paintings most accurately represented me as an artist. I was building a new website and wanted my home page to highlight a single painting. Without hesitation, she said, “The one titled, He’s A Stubborn Pain In The Ass.” I’d have protested but I knew my protests would be drowned out by her gales of laughter.

When she could breathe again, she said, “Use ‘An Instrument Of Peace.’ It’s the painting that best defines you as an artist. It’s what you bring.”

I am always excited to enter the studio to work because, for me, it is a place of peace. It is THE place of peace. And, as such, it is the place of clarity. When painting, my mind is silent. Peace is a quiet place. It is dynamic, immediate.

It’s a paradox that I enjoy. Peace is more practical than paradise. It lives beyond the turmoil of story and ideals and points of view and resistance. It lives beyond thinking and striving in any form. It is methodical-miraculous.

Horatio and I have often talked of entering the studio and disappearing into work, of becoming present. In other words, we stop ‘becoming’ entirely and simply ‘be.’ The epicenter of the paradox: creating in the absence of striving. It sounds like an ideal, doesn’t it? It sings like an impossible hippie aspiration or a Bob Dylan lyric. The Buddhists have a shorthand phrase for this practical peace: chop wood, carry water. In other words, it is not found in what you do. It is enlivened by how you are within what you do.

Krishnamurti wrote that if you want peace in the world you first must be peaceful. The phrase, Be Peaceful, is appropriately redundant: you will be peaceful if at first you learn to BE.

The trick, as someone once taught me, is to make all the world my studio. After all, it is not the place, not the studio. It is me. I can’t think of anything I’d rather bring to the world than to create as an instrument of peace, to –maybe- be an instrument of peace.

The new website: davidrobinsoncreative.com

 

Find The Way Home

holdtheworldinpeace-lowerfontcopy-jpeg“Our search for truth must be wide open, even when it takes us in directions we preferred not to go. This is the difference between propaganda and truth. Propaganda has a certain end in mind, and so it marshals and manipulates the ‘facts’ to support its conclusion. Truth weighs evidence, seeks proof, is appropriately skeptical of authoritarian claims, welcomes questions, and doesn’t fear dissent.” Philip Gulley, The Quaker Way of Living*

Kerri and I often read books aloud to each other. On cold winter days we sit beneath a blanket, Dog-Dog at our feet, BabyCat snoring by our side, sip coffee, and read. We like to discuss and compare perceptions, ask questions, and re-read passages for clarity or the simple poetry of the language. Sometimes we savor a book, moving through it slowly. Sometimes we devour a book and go back to reread especially potent sections.

Propaganda resists close inspection and must continually be defended. Truth welcomes doubt and skepticism; indeed it is best served by questions, suggestions, and corrections.”

I am guilty of burying my head in the sand. My move to Wisconsin came with an intentional unplugging from the news. I was tired of pundits shouting each other down. I was weary and wary of conversations with family and friends that seemed to be territory-guarding regurgitations of our news-channel-of-choice. I was using the language given to me by my news sources and rolled my eyes at the predictable language leveled by the “other” side. One day as I raged at family members to pay attention to how they were being manipulated by their news source, I thought that it was probably a good idea for me to do the same. At the time, unplugging, stepping out of the toxic stream, seemed the only option to clear my mind.

The search for truth begins within the seeker, for if we are not honest with and about ourselves, we will find it impossible to be honest with and about others.”

On a recent trip to Indiana, Bill and Linda suggested a book for us, The Quaker Way Of Living by Philip Gulley. They read it with their church group and found it compelling, especially given our corrosive political climate and collapse of civil discourse. We bought it when we returned home and a few days ago started reading it together. We couldn’t put it down. It asks some powerful questions. It doesn’t pretend to have answers [that, I’ve learned, would be the antithesis of the Quaker Way] but it does speak directly to the quandaries of personal and communal integrity in a climate of self-righteousness, blame, and distrust. It is hopeful and funny and places the onus of creating a better world squarely on the shoulders of each and every one of us. It reminded me that burying my head in the sand is not very useful while also affirming that their are options beyond planting a flag in the sand.

“To say a person has integrity means several things. Most commonly, we mean the person is honest, that his or her word can be trusted…. But there is another level of meaning that has to do with the integration of our values and lifestyle. In that sense, to say we have integrity is to say the separate parts of our lives combine to form a unified whole. What we believe is consistent with how we live. Our beliefs influence the work we choose, the way we use our time and spend our money, the relationships we form and the goals to which we aspire. This integration is critical for inward peace.”

While reading, I’ve been thinking a lot about a conversation I had a few years ago with Jim Marsh, one of the people I most admire in this world precisely because he walks his talk. He told me of an issue in his community that had deeply concerned him and that he’d been grousing about for long time. One day he’d had enough and to move forward he recognized that he had three options: First, to stop complaining (he said, “to just shut up.”). Second, to move away. Leave. Get away from the source of his irritation. That didn’t seem like a healthy option. The third was to strap on his boots and do something about it. To act instead of complain. But, (and here’s the reason why I adore him) not to act against, but to work to create what he wanted. His responsibility was not to fight or resist. It was to create.

“We preserve our integrity and wholeness when we are aware of what threatens it and then choose to act deliberately and prudently when tempted. When we fail to do this, we disintegrate, creating a chasm between who we are and who we wish to be.”

I practice tai chi and had the good fortune to have, for a few years, a master teacher, Saul, whose teaching transcended the specifics of tai chi. He was teaching me how better to live. One day, while I was in a fit of resistance, he quietly showed me the power of looking beyond my “opponent” and placing my focus, instead, in the field of possibility. I understood (intellectually) that the opponent was always of my own making and my dedication to having an opponent (inside or out) would always pull me off balance. In other words, as long as I invested in resistance I would always pull myself off balance.

“Integrity isn’t conditional…There is a seamless nature to integrity that transcends situations and relationships. Integrity does not present one face in public and another in private. It delights in transparency, having nothing to hide.”

Now, with my head freshly out of the sand, I understand Saul’s teaching beyond my thinking (I’ve had a lot of time to meditate on things with my head in the sand) and, taking my cue from Jim, I recognize that I have three options but only option-number-three holds the promise of integrity. The best news: no one creates alone…

*all quotes in this post are from the chapter on Integrity from The Quaker Way of Living by Philip Gulley

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THE WAY HOME on itunes – Kerri Sherwood-Track 13 on THIS PART OF THE JOURNEY

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See The Sacred

First Anniversary Sunrise

First Anniversary Sunrise

“…it seems to me absurd to consider problems about other beings while I am still in ignorance about my own nature. Phaedrus by Plato

I’m sitting alone in a sanctuary and thinking about sacred spaces. Here’s the thing I’ve come to understand about sacred spaces: slower motion is required to experience the power of the place. People in a hurry to get somewhere have little or no access to the sacred. Race through a meadow and you will miss it. Sacred spaces do not lose their power; people lose their access to the power of the space.

Once, many years ago in Bali, I made it a practice to walk the same pace as my Balinese hosts. To me, they moved at an impossibly slow pace. As an American, patterned to be forever in a hurry, I walk quickly “to get” somewhere else. There must always be a goal to achieve, a destination to reach. The Balinese were not patterned for transit but for presence. Over time, as I picked up their rhythm of movement I also picked up their pattern: it is possible to walk in presence. It is possible to be where you are with no imperative to get somewhere else – even while walking. It is possible to be in your life instead of racing through it.

A most amazing thing happens when “being here” becomes primary to “getting there”: everything becomes sacred space. Slow down enough and it is possible that you will recognize yourself as a sacred space.

After returning home from Bali I was able to sustain my capacity to move slowly for only a few months. It is easy to move slowly and be present when the culture you are in is patterned for presence. It is an entirely different challenge to move slowly and be present in a fast moving river. In the months after returning home I was either trampled or the cause of others (trying to navigate my slow movement) being trampled. We are not nearly as separate as we think we are. As I resumed my American pace I also dropped my capacity for presence and lost my lens on the sacred.

A recent surgery has necessitated slower moving. I have, in these past few weeks, found myself walking once again like a Balinese. I’ve stepped out of the fast moving river. Yesterday, standing on the back deck, I watched Dog-Dog delight in chasing squirrels. I listened to Kerri talk on the phone with a friend. I felt the sun on my face. There was no other place on earth I would rather be. There was nothing necessary to achieve.

Thoughts Babble. Hearts Speak.

TODAY’S FEATURED THOUGHT FOR HUMANS

Thoughts Babble Hearts Speak

Sometimes the hardest thing to do is cut through the mental chatter, the fear stories and investments in obstacles to hear what your heart already knows: what is right for you…. Cutting through the racket is always a process of growing quiet enough to listen.

FOR TODAY’S FEATURED PRINT FOR HUMANS, GO HERE.

Forgive

lightghostWe’re already snowed in and the word is that the blizzard – the real blizzard – won’t start for another hour. Looking out the window Kerri said, “This storm is angry.” It is. This is not a gentle snowstorm. The flakes are not fluffy or big; they are enraged bees that sting. We watched cardinals, brilliant red amidst the flurry of white, hunker down, bobbing in branches of the pine tree. Tripper Dog-Dog-Dog slid off the deck into a drift and emerged with a beard of snow and a look of confusion. He ran outside, felt the bite of the wind, and almost knocked me over running back into the house.

We sat in the living room and watched the snow swirl and howl. We talked quietly until the light waned and we noticed that we were sitting in the dark. It was as if the ferocity outside the house required hushed tones inside. Life is like that – inner turmoil often looks like a quiet exterior just as violent storms require us to talk in gentle voices. Balance is always present although not always recognized.

Lately I’ve been meditating much on the word “trespass.” Once, I had an experience with the word “trespass” that was nothing short of mystical. It altered the course of my life. According to the prayer, one must trespass to be forgiven. Life is nothing if not full of trespasses and those who trespass against us. Crossing boundaries and holding boundaries are both learned skills that require a good deal of trespassing.

Forgiveness feels good. Whether you are the giver of the forgiveness or the receiver (or both, when, for instance, forgiving yourself), it just feels good. Those violent outer storms will always lead to inner peace if you follow them far enough. It is the natural order of things. All that is required is a recognition that stories change like people change; that stories change when people let go of old stories. Miracles happens when, in hushed tones, the story of a trespass is retold as a story of forgiveness.

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A detail from my painting, An Instrument of Peace

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Simply Listen

Pieta with Paparazzi

I call this one Pieta with Paparazzi

I am standing in a lobby listening to people compare their tragedies. It is more than comparison; it is a festival of one-ups-manship. “If you think that’s bad, my niece was just diagnosed with a terrible cancer….” The first speaker, now crestfallen, reaches into her story-bag of pain as another member of the group competes, “That happened to my brother just after his daughter was hit broadside by an enormous truck!” The group coos in sympathy, each in a hurry to make their personal story of hurt the center of the conversation. I wonder at their need to outdo each other in tragedy.

I suppose it is human, this feeding frenzy of drama. I want to reject my supposition outright. Suppose it is not human? I wonder if this dis-ease is cultural, an expression of the fragmentation that comes from the too-busy, the clan that avoids internal quiet at all costs, filling every moment with television, gaming, texting, emailing, gossip-news. As Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote in Gifts From The Sea, it is impossible to know who you are without dedicated inner spaciousness and quiet. To listen to your self is the only way to really know your self. Filling the quiet space with incessant noise withers the root.

Maybe.

All stories require conflict to move forward but it is also true that the point of all storytelling is transformation. Through the conflict we are transformed. Perhaps that is what bothers me as I listen to this pain frenzy: the emphasis is on the suffering. The investment, the identity, is in the wound, not the transformation.

There is a simple Buddhist prayer that I like:

May I dwell in my heart. May I be free from suffering. May I be healed. May I be at peace.

The prayer is like a musical round that progresses from the “I” to the “You” to the “We.” The emphasis is on the transformation. It begins with dwelling in the heart.

Maybe.

What bothers me most is the absence of the capacity to listen. The first speaker needed to be heard, not outdone. I wonder what might have happened if the group had simply said, “Tell us.” I wonder what might have happened if they had been able to be present with another’s pain. To listen, simply to listen, must be a route to free each other from suffering, to heal, to create peace.

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