Make It Flexible Again [on Two Artists Tuesday]

This is a tale of two quotes. They collided in my brain while I pondered this wacky year, diverging realities, repeated historical patterns, and why I have yet to rake the leaves. You might conclude that I need to relax or that I have too much stuff wafting through my noggin and, as Thom taught me to say, “you might-could” be correct on both counts. Quote #1:

“Sometimes the best way of caring for you soul is to make flexible again some of the views that harden or crystalize in your mind; for these alienate you from your own depth and beauty.” ~ John O’Donohue

Kerri is a series photographer. She has dozens of photos of heart shapes found in nature. Heart rocks, heart leaves, heart water stains. Lately she has started two new series: 1) Trains through trees, and 2) Horse poop on the trail. I rarely bring my phone on our walks or I’d inundate you with images of my artist-wife kneeling to get the best poop shot [I’ve been instructed to tell you that the horse poop series is for use in commentary and not merely aesthetic].

I am an artist and given to looking at my world, but Kerri constantly surprises me with what she sees. She opens my eyes to what I might miss: the beauty all around me. If I could give a gift to the world it would be what she gives me: to see beyond what I think I see. We see what we believe – often without question. There is no better way to atrophy the mind/heart/soul than to see only what you believe. “To make flexible again some of the views that harden or crystalize in your mind.” Can you imagine better medicine for what ails our angry, divisive nation?

Quote #2: “Creativeness is finding patterns where none exist.” ~ Thomas Disch

We stopped at IKEA for 20 to pick up some furniture. In the few moments that it took us to run in, pull the boxes, move through the register line, and run out, Kerri took a series of series photographs. IKEA is a gold mine of pattern. There are patterns within patterns. Her love of shooting photos set up for me a dichotomy, a social observation. She came alive finding patterns, capturing patterns, breaking patterns. She climbed over ropes, into shelves, crawled into tight spaces, and wriggled between stacks to get the shot she wanted. The rest of the people in the check-out line were either bored, impatient, or otherwise lost in their minds. For them, waiting-in-line was the only pattern that existed. I laughed at the contrast, the utter vitality of Kerri’s enthusiasm played against the dulled-cart-pushing of the crowd.

Sometimes there is a sea of pattern dancing right before our eyes. It exists. It surprises. It inspires and challenges. Creativeness, the vitality of living, requires nothing more than opening our eyes and engaging the world that sparkles beyond our burdened minds and worn-out belief.

read Kerri’s blog post about PATTERN

Choose To See [on Flawed Wednesday]

If there are angels, they speak to me through books. Today’s post is a perfect example. We often choose our melange quotes and images a week ahead of time. The point is to NOT know what to write about until we sit down to write. That is the game we play. See what pops up. This morning, I opened Anam Cara, my current slow-read-book, and John O’Donohue’s thought-string could not be a more perfect angel.

“The human eye is always selecting what it wants to see and also evading what it does not want to see. The crucial question then is, What criteria do we use to decide what we like to see and to avoid seeing what we do not want to see?”

I’m hard pressed to find a more appropriate quote for our times. People deciding what they like to see and evading what they do not want to see. In gentler times – in healthier times – people are more willing and capable of challenging their criteria for seeing. Learning, in this sense, is nothing more or less than seeing what was previously unseen. Expanding the criteria.

“Many limited and negative lives issue directly from this narrowness of vision.”

Sadly, we do not live in healthy times. Isn’t it true that our national divide is predicated on NOT seeing? Contraction of thought, reduction of thinking, shrinkage of seeing is the rule of the day. Dedicated narrowness of vision is a necessary prerequisite for clusters of red hats to gather unmasked during a pandemic and cheer for a grifter. Conspiracy theories like Q are only possible when NOT seeing is more vital than seeing. Fox news depends upon viewers dedicated to narrow vision.

“To the greedy eye, everything can be possessed…It is sad that a greedy person can never enjoy what they have because they are always haunted by what they do not possess.”

Leona Helmsley and the current occupant of the White House are doppelgangers. Motivated by “naked greed.” I once directed a version of The Taming of the Shrew that dove headlong into the question of what happens when people try to fill their spiritual void with possessions. The short answer is that they twist and become grotesque. They bloat and become blind. You’ll never find a better image for the “greedy eye” or the current potus than Paul Cadmus painting of Gluttony & Greed.

“This greed is now poisoning the earth and impoverishing its people. Having has become the sinister enemy of being.”

Expanded seeing is the gift given to those who orient on this earth according to what they bring. Narrowness of vision is the result of those who orient on this earth according to what they get. It’s no longer a mystery why we are so divided. It’s now our choice to either see or to evade what is right in front of our eyes.

Read Kerri’s blog post about THE LITTLE PEOPLE

Recognize The Divine [on KS Friday]

“To say that life is destabilized by weakened institutions is merely to say that information loses its use and therefore becomes a source of confusion rather than coherence.” ~ Neil Postman, Technopoly.

“Regularly throughout conversation in Gaelic, ” John O’Donohue writes, “there is explicit recognition that the divine is present in others.” Social fabric is tightly woven and made strong by the recognition of value, divine or otherwise, in all members of a community. During my travels in Bali I was moved again and again by the interconnectivity, the deep assumption of coherence that wove together daily life and community. “If two cars crash, “Budi told me, “the driver’s first thought is not that the other is to blame, it is that they are supposed to meet.”

And when the devaluation of others becomes a national pastime as it has in these once united states, pushing down the head of an other in an attempt to elevate the self – the preferred action of all drowning people – saves no one. It only delays the drowning of all involved. That sound we hear is the rending of our social fabric, the breaking apart of the ship. Those shouts of triumph and scorn coming from the top deck will be short lived. Confusion is a lousy organizing principle and guarantees a watery grave for all on board.

We are awash in information and so we are also awash in an assault on information. Misinformation is our Achilles Heel. So weakened by gaslighting are our public institutions that the single most damning confession of our lifetime, a president admitting for all to hear that he knew and lied about the deadly virus, is shrugged off. “Yeah, well what about Nancy Pelosi’s hair!” I shuddered when I read the inane defense. We flatten. Our values fade as fast as our perspective. Thousands died who did not have to – heads were knowingly pushed under. Thousands will die who do not have to; an estimated 410,000 by the new year. Disposable people.

Neil Postman wrote, “What makes science possible is not our ability to recognize ‘truth’ but our ability to recognize falsehood.” Replace the word “science” with the word “community’ and the statement rings just as true. A community that cannot recognize falsehood is in trouble. A community that will not deal with truth is destined to drown in its own willful confusion.

We will not find our way through this paralysis until we can step out of this car crash and, instead of pointing our fingers and blaming, we step toward each other with wonder at what brought us together, until we are willing to ask, “Why did we meet?”

CONNECTED on the album RELEASED FROM THE HEART is available on iTunes

read Kerri’s blog post about CONNECTED

Face In [on KS Friday]

figure it out copy

“…gentleness can be a greater force for transfiguration than any political, economic, or media power,…” ~ John O’Donohue

Here is my utopian fantasy: The protesters put down their signs, the police put down their shields, the militia drops their weapons, the citizens of all races, creeds, colors, political identities and economic stripes come out of their houses and hold hands facing into a circle of their creation. Nothing need be said. What are we protesting FOR if not this?

We are excellent at pushing against what we do not want. We are practiced at screaming in rabid reactivity. Finger pointing and blame is among our most popular Facebook pass times.  We like to make noise and bluster about the violation of our rights and ignite fearmongering fires warning of imagined assaults on our amendments. Propaganda and lie make for good reality television ratings. They provide permission to smash glass, loot, denigrate “others” and give cover to murder in all its forms, but are lousy foundations for a civil and civilized society.

Truth is intentional, not reactive. It steps toward an ideal. It provides a national focal point, a guide-star that will not cotton with lie and propaganda.

We seem utterly inept, absolutely incapable at walking toward what we profess. Our ideal is printed on our dollar bills and chiseled into the facades of our buildings: e pluribus unum: out of many, one.  Our division is chiseled into our history.

My utopian fantasy is not so hard to realize but notice it requires a common first step: a putting down of weapon and rhetoric and dedicated division. The  second step is also not difficult: reach out, take the hand that is closest. Circle up with those who you most disagree. The third step may be the hardest: say nothing. Defend and justify nothing. Prove or claim nothing. Face in, not face off.  The greatest intentions, like the most profound truths, are often silent. Step four: live the circle.

We can figure it out. It’s no greater matter than walking toward what we want, what we espouse, instead of forever pushing against what we do not want. Perhaps our first truth is to admit that there is a lie built into what we chisel in walls and what we actually live. We need to intend oneness if we are to realize our central ideal.

Doc Rivers, a black man and coach of the LA Clippers said this yesterday: “It’s amazing why we keep loving this country, and this country does not love us back.” Love. Love back. There is no better or simpler statement of intention. Walk toward it.

He also famously said, “Average players want to be left alone. Good players want to be coached. Great players want to be told the truth.” His dictum applies to nations as well as players: great nations want to be told the truth. Average nations want to be left alone.

 

FIGURE IT OUT on the album RIGHT NOW is available on iTunes

 

read Kerri’s blog post about FIGURE IT OUT

 

hands website box copy

 

figure it out/right now ©️ 2010 kerri sherwood

 

 

 

Close The Distance [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

you hate me framed copy

“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.” ~ Rumi

John O’Donohue wrote that spirituality has to do with the transfiguration of distance. “At the heart of spirituality is the awakening of real presence.”  Here. Now. His message is about our busy minds that incessantly create separation. Busy minds create obstacles and keep us seeking. If we are lucky, as the old cliche’s goes, after the long search we learn that we had “it” all along.  Separation is the creation of distance. Presence is the elimination of distance. Love is the absence of distance.

The transfiguration of distance is the power and purpose of art.

On our walk through downtown we saw this message stenciled on a wall: You hate me. There is no greater distance-creating word than “hate.”  You. Me. Hate is the creation of distance between us.

One of the Hermitic Laws is the Principle of Correspondence: As above, so below; as below, so above. As within, so without; as without, so within. Applying the principle, if hate is the word you place between you and me then it is likely that hate is the word you place between you and you. It is nigh-on impossible to hate me without first hating yourself.

Doug used to tell me that health was determined by the distance between who say you are and how you actually live; the shorter the distance the healthier the person.  As without, so within. Applying Doug’s rule, our nation has been distinctly unhealthy for a very long time. We are currently witness to the illness (once again) breaking through the skin. Any physician worth their salt would tell us we have an acute distance problem and health will come when, as a nation, we close the gap and live what we espouse.

I am reminded of an exercise I used to facilitate. Step one: Walk about the space and point at the others in the group and say, “NOT LIKE ME.” Step two: Walk about the space and point at others in the group and say, “LIKE ME.” Step three: Walk about the space and point at others in the group and say, “ME.” Step one is a rejection. Step two becomes an appeal. Step three is a recognition. Step three always brought whispers and a profound shedding of distance.

Rejection. Appeal. Recognition. What is the distance between you and you? What is the distance between you and me?

“From a distance you only see my light; as I get closer and you see that I am you.” ~ Rumi

 

read Kerri’s blog post about YOU HATE ME.

 

 

luminaria website box copy

 

 

 

prayer of opposites ©️ 2003 david robinson

 

 

Learn to Look [on KS Friday]

part of the wind dandelion fluff copy

“At the heart of beauty must be a huge care and affection for creation, for nowhere is beauty an accidental presence.” John O’Dononue, Beauty, The Invisible Embrace

I read yesterday in my Brain Pickings that Georgia O’Keeffe believed her close-up paintings were “a magnifying lens for paying attention.” I read and appreciated this phrase: Painting these close-ups was a way of learning to look, a way of removing the blinders with which we gallop through the world, slowing down, shedding our notions and concepts of things, and taking things in as they really are.

It is the astonishing miracle of a human being: we can choose to see or choose to not see. Also, we can choose what we see or we can choose to deny what is right in front of us. In any case, seeing is predicated on slowing down, on taking the time to “shed our notions and concepts of things.”

Seeing is an intentional act or perhaps it is a creation-in-the-moment – which implies it is an intentional relationship. In this way, as I understand it, seeing the beauty of this life is a decision, it is a lens. It is a dance.

I’ve never been in a hot-air balloon. Kerri had the experience once, it is the source of this composition. Hovering in a basket above the earth, moving with the wind, very few controls. It was, I imagine, an exercise of giving over, of letting go. I think seeing is like the experience she describes of hanging in the basket of a hot-air balloon. All concepts of hurry-up or getting-things-done drop away. Hard time dissolves. There is nowhere else to be. And, in that space, beauty makes known her presence. She opens your eyes.

 

PART OF THE WIND is on the album BLUEPRINT FOR MY SOUL

 

 

read Kerri’s blog post about PART OF THE WIND

 

 

HH coffee cups website box copy

 

 

part of the wind/blueprint for my soul ©️ 1996 kerri sherwood

  blanket of blue sky ©️ 2004 david robinson

Let The Pieces Fall [on KS Friday]

longing copy

“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

 

HH waves feet website box copy

longing/as it is ©️ 2004 kerri sherwood

 

FaceTheRain

Ask, “What Now?” [on DR Thursday]

weeping man copy 2

“Although each of us is fashioned in careful incompletion, we were created to long for each other. The secret of our completion can only be found in the other. Huge differences may separate us, yet they are exactly what draw us to each other. It is as though forged together we form one presence, for each of us has half of a language that the other seeks.” ~ John O’Donohue, Beauty

My favorite definition of “story” comes from Robert Olen Butler: a story happens when a yearning meets an obstacle. It is, of course, also a great definition of the experience of being alive. In our “careful incompletion” we yearn for other things and other places, other ideas of ourselves. And, so, we set sail. We seek.

Without yearning there would be no story. Without obstacles there would be no story.

Like you, I have spent my time on the kitchen floor, Kerri’s code-phrase for weeping.  When my obstacle was insurmountable, when my yearning required leaving. Loss. Weeping invited surrender. Surrender required weeping. Letting go.

And, after the weeping, emptied of what was, I, like you, stood, took a deep breath and asked myself, “What now?”

 

read Kerri’s blog post about WEEPING MAN

 

 

cropped head kiss website copy

 

weeping man ©️ 2015 david robinson

Touch The Chair [on Merely A Thought Monday]

healing copy

I am reading books slowly these days. Meditating on words. Sometimes it takes me months to read what I used to blow through in a few days. I am often pleasantly surprised and taken aback by how the words I read on this morning – words written months or years ago – line up exactly with the events of my day. All the time I catch myself thinking, “How did they know I needed to hear that today?”

“There was an altar upon which we could place a photo of someone who had died. Kim chose to put a picture of his “old” self; I found one of him rowing his peapod looking so happy, so strong. Beautiful. We both grieve the loss of that Kim while getting to know and love this new one.” ~ Judy Friesem, Summoned By A Stroke.

Grieve the loss. This is the fourth time in my life that world circumstance/events have drawn a hard line between ‘what was’ and ‘who-knows-what-will-become.’ What was normal and true last week will never again be the same. Social distancing. Pandemic. Disruption is scary and confusing.

I’ve many times heard the story of immigrants, preparing to leave their homes forever for some distant and unknown shore, just before leaving, circle the rooms, touching walls, running their fingers along the arm of a well-loved chair. One last look. This is who I was. Who will I become? It is necessary to mourn what is known before making space for the unknown.

In the midst of spinning change, hanging on too long to the way things-ought-to-be or used-to-be is destructive. More than once I’ve stood with a group in full denial of their new circumstance insisting that “This is the way we’ve always done it!”  Perhaps. What is comfortable today was at one time new and uncomfortable. Someday, what is now new and uncomfortable will be a well worn path. The first step: one last look. This is who we were.

“No person is a finished thing, regardless of how frozen or paralysed their self image might be. Each one of us is in a state of perennial formation. Carried within the flow of time, you are coming to be who you are in every new emergent moment.” ~John O’Donohue, Beauty

Imagination lives in the midst of “It happened to me.” One of our greatest super-powers is the capacity to imagine ourselves different, more expansive. It is what we call dreaming. We “see” ourselves” writing the book or scaling the mountain or being a better parent or working at the soup kitchen or losing the weight or…becoming the more perfect union.

Imagination requires leaving. Leaving requires imagination.

“Fate has a way of handing us what we need in order to become whole…” ~ Judy Friesem, Summoned By A Stroke

 

read Kerri’s blog post about HEALING

 

moon website box copy

 

 

Coalesce [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

in the woods copy

Sometimes, when we are walking through the woods, I imagine myself with none of the labels that I claim as important. What if “artist” did not apply? Or “teacher.” What if none of my opinions or ideas or justifications had any merit or substance? What if they were bits of armor or heavy clothing that I could drop as I walked? So much lighter, less encumbered, who, then, would I be? Divested of my made-up-meaning and my hard-fought-for stress, what might I experience?

These imaginings, my questions – at least to me – are not nihilistic. They are the opposite. When I am walking in the woods and all the clutter and noise and the oh-so-important-to-do-list falls away, when all of my investments in my-very-important-ideas and my-resistances-to-immovable-objects drops off, when my frustrations and anxieties evaporate, I come back to my senses. Literally and metaphorically. The cold air. The limbs waving and groaning in the breeze. The quiet chatter of the brook that ambles through Bristol Wood. I become the moment I inhabit. I inhabit the moment of my becoming. That’s it. My “meaning” takes on a proper proportion, no greater or smaller than life itself.

Listening to the brook, the sound of our feet crunching the snow, I remember something John O’Donohue wrote. “The river is a miracle of presence. Each place it flows through is the place that it is…In a river, past, present, and future coalesce in the one passionate flowing.”

 

read Kerri’s blog post about THE WOODS

 

 

footprints in sunlit snow website box copy