Unwrap Them Carefully [on DR Thursday]

I give you an emptiness,/ I give you a plenitude,/ Unwrap them carefully. ~ Norman MacCraig, Presents

John O’Donohue wrote that, “Nothingness is one of the faces of death. The life of the soul is about the transfiguration of nothingness.” As we watch DogDog search and search again for his missing BabyCat, as we quietly talk each day about the empty spaces left by BabyCat’s sudden death, I am hyper-aware of the changes already happening within us.

We are gentler in the world. We spend more time sitting with DogDog, we spend more time sitting with each other. We are not afraid of the silence. In fact, we seek it. We welcome it. Sitting at the table, we watch life-at-play in the back yard. Squirrels hauling leaves for their nest. The crows on patrol. A woodpecker. Green shoots peeking through the soil. We attend the sunset.

The emptiness we inhabit has altered our relationship with time and task. We do not seek distraction or fill our minutes with news-chatter or other noises. We are moving slower with more attention, doing less and experiencing more. Washing and drying the dishes has become an act of togetherness, a generosity, like holding hands.

Tom Mck taught me that, sometimes, it is necessary to close a program or a building and let it sit empty for awhile. The emptiness will eventually attract new ideas and bring new energy. New life seeks empty spaces. Our enormous love for BabyCat has created for us a monumental emptiness. We hold it as sacred space and will, over time, unwrap it slowly, carefully, and wisely, so that the monumental soul-plenitude created by BabyCat will find its way in.

read Kerri’s blog post about AT THE DOOR

at the door ©️ 2017 david robinson & kerri sherwood

nap with dogdog & babycat ©️ 2020 david robinson

Stroll The Esoteric Garden [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

Lately, I am strolling the esoteric gardens and have picked for you these wild blossoms.

First, my favorite quotes of the week:

  1. “Life is mysterious and transcends logic, so the living thing can never be fully analysed, taught or learned…The doctor may explain why the patient is dead, but never why the patient is alive.” [Declan Donnellan].

2. “Samuel Beckett is a wonderful writer who has meditated deeply on the mystery of death…All of Beckett’s works, especially Waiting For Godot, are about death. In other words, because death exists, time is radically relativized. All we do here is invent games to pass the time.” [John O’Donohue]

DogDog and BabyCat are food-driven. The levels of excitement in our house escalate when the food bowls are filled. DogDog performs his vertical-jump-and-counter-clockwise-spin dance. BabyCat uncorks an excited verbal symphony that sounds a lot like “now, now, now, now, now…” The anticipation of the bowl, it seems, is far more satisfying than eating of the food from the bowl. The anticipation lasts longer and I am certain that, in the gobbling, neither DogDog or BabyCat actually taste their food.

3. “After a time, you may find that having is not so pleasing a thing after all as wanting. It is not logical, but it is often true.” ~ Mr. Spock. I laughed the first time I heard this in an episode of Star Trek. Capitalism reduced to a simple, single phrase. The economics of desire, wanting and having en route to wanting.

I have crossed paths with many a seeker. Mostly, they talk of presence or mindfulness or being as a noun. A thing to achieve or possess or gobble. Food in a bowl. The anticipation of unity in a path devoted to separation, thus, we are seekers. The Buddhist’s remedy to the dedication of separation is to chop wood and carry water. In other words, being is a verb.

With the notable exception of how-to-go-on-a-walk-without-pulling-our arms-out-of-the-socket, using the promise of a treat, Kerri can teach DogDog anything. There is no end to the tricks he will perform, the indignities he will suffer, en route to a treat. He sneezes on cue. He counts, high-fives, sits, jumps up, jumps down, wears paper plates on his head…his little Aussie body quakes with excitement, his eyes firmly locked on the promised treat.

We wrinkle our brows daily and ask, “How can they possibly believe that?” Horatio would respond, “It’s game theory. What are the incentives, the promised pay off?” Anticipation. Treat. We might as well ask, “How did hate, division and lie become food in the human bowl?’ There is no end to the tricks people will perform, the lies they will embrace, the funny hats they will wear, the indignities they will suffer or inflict, eyes firmly locked on a promised treat. Superiority. Or mattering?

I have crossed paths with many a power player. Mostly, they talk of winning, and owning, and being-on-the-top. There is never enough food for the bowl. The anticipation of achieving abundance through eyes that only perceive a pie with limited pieces. Owning this piece and then the next and the next and the next…

“Life is mysterious and transcends logic.”

Yearning meets obstacle.* The strange alchemy necessary to invent a story.

Dogs and cats living together, oh my!

“All we do here is invent games to pass the time.” I wonder, as I wander through my esoteric garden, what might it take for us to invent more inclusive, life-giving games, a more generous story?

*this definition of story courtesy of Robert Olen Butler

read Kerri’s less esoteric blog post on ANTICIPATION

Understand That Little Is More Than Enough [on Merely A Thought Monday]

I think that maybe\ I will be surer\ of being a little nearer.\ That’s all. Eternity\ is in the understanding\ that that little is more than enough.” ~ R.S. Thomas [via Anam Cara by John O’Donohue]

And so our dear H is gone. I have written about him before, about how I learned from him how to age well. To “have a wonderful urgency to live life to the full” [John O’Donohue]. H was a study in wonderful urgency. He did not grow cranky as he grew old. He did not darken his sight with what he could no longer do. He gently pushed the edges of what he could do. He was a master of focus-placement.

I have known many people who proclaim a spiritual life. They are quick to advertise their illumination. They live to stand on the mountain top and call attention to their heights. H was not one of those. He simply lived his faith as he lived his life – without need for acknowledgment or recognition. No trumpet necessary. I suspect that his why I was drawn to him. He was simon-pure. Genuine.

“We’re afraid you’re going to take her from us,” H said to me, more warning than salutation, when I sat next to him in choir. It was my first rehearsal in my first choir and, as an avowed non-singer, I was intimidated. Kerri was the director. She’d recently asked H, at 87 years old, to rap Via Dolorosa. He’d jumped at the challenge and, as I heard the story, performed brilliantly, complete with costume and bling. He and Kerri were thick as thieves.

He guided me through that first rehearsal, laughed when I honked a bad note – which was often, and, by sweet example over time, steered me through my confusion until I found more joy than fear in singing. At the end, as he was moving into his 94th year, just before the pandemic made rehearsals impossible, it was my joy to help him find his place in the music. A perfect circle.

This morning, just before we received the news of his passing, I spent some time in the final pages of Anam Cara. The last words are a Blessing for Death and this phrase struck me: May you live compassionately and creatively and transfigure\ everything that is negative within you and about you. When the news came of his passing, I was certain it was H who’d tapped me on the shoulder and whispered, “Pay attention to this phrase.” It describes him perfectly. It encapsulates what I believe, H, without words, was trying to teach me. Through compassion and creativity, transfigure everything that is negative within you and about you. That is how to live well and age with wonderful urgency. No trumpet necessary.

read Kerri’s blog post about H

Take The Opportunity [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Paul used to teach his actors that, in choosing to step onto a stage, they had a profound responsibility. “Never underestimate your power to influence another person’s life,” he’d say. I took his lesson and passed it along to my students. I hope that a few of my students took Paul’s lesson and, in turn, passed it on. You have a responsibility.

Another lesson I learned, this time from Jim, was that great acting is about standing in truth. “Acting is the honest pursuit of an intention in imaginary circumstances.” Honest pursuit. It’s a misunderstanding to equate the art of acting with pretending. The circumstances are pretend. Actors are meant to be portals to a shared story, a channel to a common experience. They transport. They transform. “Never underestimate your power…”

John O’Donohue writes that the soul does not inhabit a body. It’s the other way around: bodies live within the soul. We only think we are isolated individuals, bubbles. The bubble is singular, soul, and we play our small dramas within it. We fill our bubble by how we stand in it, by what we bring into it. There is no on-stage or off. It’s all the stage.

The other day I was exhausted. I was standing on the edge of despair when my phone dinged. It was Rob. “What kind of wine do you like?” he texted. The edge disappeared.

From across the country, MM sends me cartoons that make me smile. Horatio sent an episode of The Twilight Zone. “You gotta watch this,” he said. David sends photos of Dawson at the easel. There is nothing so freeing to an aging artist than to watch a child draw. No limits.

The bubble is singular. The soul of the earth. These good friends, living honestly on the stage, have no idea of their profound impact and influence on me.

These days, when I think of my good teachers and dedicated mentors, when I think of Jim and Tom McK and Paul, I know that, were I to teach again, I would add a small caveat to our legacy-lesson. I’d say, “In choosing to step onto the stage, you have a profound responsibility and opportunity: never underestimate your power to influence another person’s life.”

Take the opportunity. Each and every moment. Ripples sending ripples.

read Kerri’s blog post about SOUL OF THE EARTH

Walk To The Fence [on Merely A Thought Monday]

“When people disliked each other or wanted to damage each other, they often did it through destroying the person’s harvest. This is the world of pisreoga.” ~ John O’Donohue, Anam Cara

Pisreoga is a Celtic term and lives beyond the reach of Google. It is ancient. The desire to do damage to others who are different or disliked is also ancient. Destroy their harvest. Define them as less than human. Erect obstacles to their participation or power. Starve them.

It’s exhausting.

In Rolling Stone, Wade Davis wrote these words in early August: “In a dark season of pestilence, COVID has reduced to tatters the illusion of American exceptionalism. At the height of the crisis, with more than 2,000 dying each day, Americans found themselves members of a failed state, ruled by a dysfunctional and incompetent government largely responsible for death rates that added a tragic coda to America’s claim to supremacy in the world.”

Four months on, now more than 3,000 Americans are dying everyday. Our death rates and infection rates soar while our government proves itself again and again to be dysfunctional and incompetent each and every day. Our citizenry is divided with several million growing fat on a diet of delusion and misinformation. Our insatiable hunger for misinformation – to believe the worst with nary a fact check or thought-stop – is our nation’s Achilles’ Heel. It poisons our harvest. Our gullibility poisons us.

What is going on? The world of pisreoga.

It’s a precarious community in which neighbors, out of vindictiveness, destroy each other’s harvest. No one thrives when no one can be trusted. Poisoning the neighbor’s harvest eventually – and always – blows back. All are poisoned. The harvest of a poisoned community is its unraveling.

That is what is going on. An emperor with no clothes. Red-hatted-screamers riding the Titanic of party loyalty all the way to the bottom; a nation goes with it. Oaths-of-office that mean absolutely nothing. Sowing the seeds of doubt and misinformation as a tactic to retain power. Useful idiots signing on to garbage lawsuits, undermining the very harvest they were sworn to protect, cheering for a bloated naked ego.

Pisreoga. A failed state. To obstruct. To do damage. To destroy the harvest rather than deal with the realities, rather than walk to the neighbor’s fence and say, “We have a problem. Can we talk?”

read Kerri’s blog post about WHAT IS GOING ON?

Practice Inner Hospitality [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

“What you separate, the soul joins.” ~ John O’Donohue

A few years ago, when we went to Hippy Tom’s farm, Kerri said, “It feels like we’re inside this man’s sickness.” There was stuff everywhere. A hoarder with a farm. Her comment about the farm has become a code-phrase for us. “Hippy Tom,” she says, and I know we are talking about these-un-united-states under the influence of the outgoing president. A nation living inside of one man’s sickness. The hater-in-chief.

The Bidens’ messages of unity and perseverance are akin to a doorway, an exit from the crazy farm. Although we are running for the door, not yet free of the madness, we can see it from here. We can catch breaths of air free of delusion and division.

“When you decide to practice inner hospitality,” John O’Donohue writes, “the torment ceases. The abandoned, neglected, and negative selves come into seamless unity.”

Practice inner hospitality. The rules that apply to individuals also apply to organizations as well as nations. Practice inner hospitality and the negative selves will come into seamless unity. “The soul adores unity.”

Although our systemic root belies this, soul of this nation has never been isolationism or white supremacy. The soul of this nation has always been our diversity, our willingness to embrace the new, to find a northwest passage, to step foot on the moon, to embrace, to invent and reinvent, to reach. To improve. To challenge a fossilized belief.

Perhaps it is now time for us to review, renew, to at-long-last turn and face what we have not yet faced in “this beautiful, brave, complicated nation.” To look with honesty and clarity at all of our history, our negative and ideal selves. To balance what has been too long unequal, ugly, denied.

There is great space in our national divide. The flaw, as the Amish remind us, is there to let in the grace. The soul joins. It can show us a path, once and for all, out of the sickness of the farm.

read Kerri’s blog post about AMBER WAVES

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]

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“…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

 

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figure it out/right now ©️ 2010 kerri sherwood