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

Catch The Glimmer [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Yesterday a treasure arrived in the mail. Mike sent it for my birthday. It is a painting, a study for class that her father, DeMarcus, did when he was a young art student. He was learning to see and use color. This painting hung in her hallway. More than once I stopped and studied it, his color swatches carefully placed at the bottom of the page. She must have noticed that I was drawn to this painting.

Many years ago, Mike gave me DeMarcus’ notebook from this same class on color. It is from a time before it was possible to go to the drugstore and buy a notebook. DeMarcus cut the paper, made a cover from old Levi’s, starched for strength, and stitched it together. The pages, a hundred years later, are tender, so I am careful when I read them. Reading his notes always buoys my spirit since they are a record of his revelation, of training his eyes to see.

During the bitter cold of the past few weeks, an entire ice-age played out on the top of the awning over our backdoor. A creeping ice shelf moved slowly down the awning, crawling over the side. One evening, the long fingers of the ice-age reaching for the deck below, became brilliant with the winter colors of the sky. Kerri grabbed her phone, flung open the door, frigid air blasting into the warmth of the room, she stepped out and snapped photos of the fingers.

“Look!” she said, showing me the screen. “I love this picture!”

Just above the center of the photograph, a glimmer of electric blue. Amidst the suspended bubbles and greens and purples and light-reflections, a tiny beacon of vibrant blue. I could almost hear DeMarcus laughing.

read Kerri’s blog post about ICICLES

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

Listen To The Lake [on KS Friday]

The sun poured in the window this morning. We sat in it. No, we basked in it, ate breakfast, sipped coffee. Simple pleasures. Endless appreciation. We reminisced about our childhood homes. Kerri recalled the layout of the den. I described the kitchen in my growing-up house. We remembered cooking smells and Formica table tops.

Our story zones expanded to include the many chapters of our lives. Multiple eras. Times that seemed as if they would never end. Times that passed too quickly. We imagined a day when we would reminisce about these times, pandemic times, both the hardships and the appreciations. For instance, in our isolation, we’ve created an end-of-the-work-day-ritual called ‘snack time.’ A glass of wine, french fries hot from the oven or a pear and cheese. Olives. We sit at the table we placed by the window, watch the day wane, and savor. I suspect snack time, borne of the pandemic, will be with us for the rest of our lives.

When in my old age I tell the story of the pandemic times, when the hardships fade in importance (as they always do), I will tell the tale of life slowed down. I will remember how limits made movement less frenetic and much more mindful. Rather than doing more, we pared down. We did less and experienced more. We placed increased importance on the simple things. In fact, we placed importance on the important things. Connecting with friends and family, not out of obligation or unconscious pattern, but out of necessity and intention.

I will talk about our walks, already central to our daily happiness, how they took on a wholly new significance. Getting out and walking became an exercise in paying attention, in absolute appreciation of the simple miracles. Affirmations of life. The magic appearance of the robins on a frigid day. The sunset bringing fire to the ice in the harbor.

I will tell the story of the day we were stopped in our tracks by the song of the ice on the lake. It sounded like whale song. I will tell the story of standing still in blistering cold, listening in utter amazement until ours eyes watered and our fingertips burned, until we looked at each other and in unison said, “Snack time!”

read Kerri’s blog post about LAKE SONG

Cast A Shadow [on DR Thursday]

“The soul has no limits.” ~ Heraclitus

It was a hot summer night, humid and sticky, and the community was gathered in the outer ring of the temple. The Wayang Kulit master, shadow puppet master, was performing a play. Part ritual, part entertainment, the Balinese have not yet banished their arts from their worship. Laughter is welcome in the temple. Although the puppets are beautiful, ornate, the audience can only see the shadows they cast on the screen. It is a metaphor for life: in consciousness, we see only the shadows. We are the shadows. Our life-stories are illusion.

We walked in silence. Watching our shadows on the snow I thought of that hot night in Bali, of my astonishment of the skill of the master, manipulating all of the puppets, voicing all of the parts, a lamp of hot oil burning on his head – the light source to create the shadows. If that were not enough, he conducted the orchestra, seated behind him, by tapping the ground with a piece of wood wedged between his toes. He was a priest. A storyteller, not a preacher. Words and laughter swirl in the outer ring. As you progress to the inner ring, the most sacred place, language falls away, no words are spoken. No words are necessary. Kerri and I, while we walk, often occupy the inner ring. We hold hands. We listen to the sounds in the forest. We cast shadows.

Sometimes I feel far away from that hot summer night. Sometimes I sit right next to it. Our walks bring me closer to it.

It was a revelation to me to sit with people that experience no division between what is sacred and what is not. They do not worship on the weekend and then leave their holy place. To the people watching the shadow puppets, it is all sacred. It is all temple, even themselves. They know themselves as sacred. It is all holy, even to the forks and spoons in their drawer.

The separation they experience in this life – as individuals – is the shadow. Separation is the illusion. Fears and foibles are without lasting substance. The puppet master plays his rowdy tale to remind the people seated on the ground in the temple, that the truth of their existence is beyond the projection on the screen of their minds. Forms are fluid, not fixed. Souls have no limits.

read Kerri’s blog post about SHADOWS

Follow Your Bliss [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

“And now you ask in your heart, “How shall we distinguish that which is good in pleasure from that which is not good?”/ Go to your fields and your gardens, and you shall learn that it is the pleasure of the bee to gather honey of the flower,/ But it is also the pleasure of the flower to yield its honey to the bee./ For to the bee a flower is a fountain of life,/ And to the flower a bee is a messenger of love, /And to both, bee and flower, the giving and the receiving of pleasure is a need and an ecstasy.” ~Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet [Pleasure]

Yesterday was a rough day. We awoke to some disturbing news. Kerri cried. And, for the rest of the day, uncharacteristically, DogDog and BabyCat were by our sides. It occurred to me, as DogDog rolled over for his 15th belly-belly of the day, that he was making himself available for a pet, not only because it felt good to him, but because it felt good to me, too. He was helping me to feel good. BabyCat was glued to Kerri’s leg. They decided to divide and comfort.

When we first found DogDog at Farmer Don’s, I dove into multiple books by the Dog Whisperer. It had been an eternity since I had a puppy and felt like I needed some guidance. I read that dogs (and cats) are master-aura-readers. They know what we feel before we know what we feel. It’s true. When DogDog runs into the bathroom, his safe spot, I know there is a storm brewing.

BabyCat has claimed one of DogDog’s toys. He rubs his face on the ribbed fabric and literally moans with pleasure. The first time we heard his pleasure-moan, we thought he was in pain. We ran to find him soaking up the single sunny spot in the house, rubbing his face on his toy, unapologetic in his bliss.

We watched him and laughed. His ecstasy was so simple and pure. The warmth of the sun. The satisfaction of the scratch. His pleasure gave us pleasure. It also gave us pause. “Dibs on the sunny spot when BabyCat is through,” I said. “Good luck with that,” Kerri smiled.” BabyCat, like most retirees, follows the sun.

Vicarious-bliss-sharing is one thing. Leaving the sunny spot is a bridge too far, even for our empathetic B-Cat.

read Kerri’s blog post on BLISS

Witness Time [on Two Artists Tuesday]

I have this odd sense that time is standing still. I know it is not true though I still go outside each day to check my one sure source of proof: the ever-growing icicles. Ice damming. Without time, the icicles would not grow.

I have this odd sense that the earth is off its axis. I know it is not true though I still go outside each day to check my one sure source of proof. Through the roof, the heat of the house melts the snow and it behaves as water should. It takes the path of least resistance and flows downhill to the colder gutters and, again, behaves as water should. It slows and drips and refreezes as it reaches for earth. Snow to water to ice sculpture. Nature is still behaving according to its principles.

We are expecting snow again today. People are rushing to do their errands early. They want to be in before the snows come.

Twice yesterday, in separate phone calls, we heard the voices on the other end of the line declare that “Three weeks ago seems like a decade ago.” So much has happened. Everything seems in limbo. Both. Like the icicles, it’s hard to reconcile.

I opened the door early this morning to let DogDog out and I was delighted to hear a chorus of birds. I stood in the cold open doorway for a few moments and enjoyed the music. I closed my eyes. The chirpy sounds of spring were out of sync with the piles of snow and ice in our yard, so, with my eyes closed, I gave myself over to the moment.

There is a poignant moment in the Sisyphus saga. Death is bound to a post so time stands still. Without death, nothing moves. Nothing changes. Crops cannot grow. Water cannot flow. Eternal life comes at the expense of change, growth and uncertainty. Absolute certainty brings absolute boredom. Stasis. Icicles cannot form. Sisyphus frees Death from his captivity so water can once again behave as it should.

read Kerri’s blog post about ICE DAMMING

Make Noise [on Merely A Thought Monday]

I am conflicted. I wrote a version of this post and then tossed it away. I’m trying to be less argumentative in my daily writing. And then, Toni Morrison collided with Albert Einstein:

“In times of dread, artists must never choose to remain silent… This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.” ~ Toni Morrison, No Place for Self-Pity, No Room for Fear

I am an artist. Is it argumentative, is it confrontational, to write what I see? Yes. Sometimes. Once, I saw a park service truck, on a trail, quickly backing up. The driver did not see the man in the wheelchair right behind his truck. I screamed and ran and banged on the side of truck until the driver stopped, a few inches from hitting the man in the wheelchair. Sometimes it is necessary to shout and make noise.

All of my life I’ve understood the first rule of being educated, namely, to check your sources, as simple sage advice. It’s a good idea, if you are going to anchor your identity in a narrative, to make sure that your narrative-of-choice is solidly anchored in verifiable substance. Doubt and questioning, used properly, are necessary tools of an engaged mind.

Years ago, Robert Cialdini wrote, “The world abounds with cults populated by dependent people who are led by a charismatic figure.” In other words, people are easily led and – as we have recently witnessed – with disastrous results. All that people ever need do to avoid a nasty drink of purple Kool-Aid is to check their sources. In our day and age it is almost easier to check the veracity of the story-we-are-being-fed than it is to be misled. Almost. One must first desire to be fed the truth, even if the truth challenges rabidly-held belief.

Checking takes less than a minute.

Just ask the now-jailed-and-soon-to-be-tried capitol insurrectionists claiming that they were led astray by a flimflam-president-man. The Big Lie was easy to check. It remains easy to check. Yet, none cared to check it or perhaps refused to believe what they found. Checking the lie, listening to the data, would undermine the tightly held power-narrative of an entire political party. A pathological lies requires more and more effort, more and more outrageous lies, to sustain itself. It should have been easier to check the story than it was to storm the capitol.

Now I see the first rule of being educated, the necessity of checking sources to verify fact, as a dire necessity. It is the flashing red warning signal to these de-united-united-states that there is a cliff ahead. It is no longer a sweet bit of sage advice; it is a survival imperative. Respect for the line – truth or fiction – will determine whether we as a nation unite and grow or divide and collapse.

Many years ago, Robert Cialdini also wrote,“Audiences have been successfully manipulated by those who use social evidence, even when that evidence has been openly falsified.” Openly falsified. He wrote those words decades before tweets, Fox News, and the mega-amplification of all the openly falsified big lies. His words might now serve as the sad single credo of the Republican party.

It is not shocking that a political party lies. It is most shocking how little the followers of the party care to check the sources of the enraged hype it daily swallows like so much anger-candy. Dependent people. Easily led. Believe wholeheartedly. Ever expanding lie. No facts necessary. It is far beyond Einstein’s observation of people doing nothing in the face of evil; our nation is in peril because the evil we face is an openly falsified narrative. So many of our people, so many of our leaders, know it is a lie, feed the division, and actively look the other way.

read Kerri’s blog post about DOING NOTHING

Check Your Attribution [on KS Friday]

I have just had a front row seat to a full-blown, hyper-antagonistic, years-long, classic case of attribution-bias-escalation. It was [and is] ugly. The ripples are rocking boats, eroding foundations, ending friendships. The damage is thorough and, as is always true, infinitely avoidable.

Attribution bias. Making the assumption that you KNOW why someone did or said something. Assigning your reason to their behavior.

Years ago, a red faced executive called me, the consultant, in and fumed, “She said THAT to demean me!” I paused and asked, “Do you really know why she said it? Have you asked her what was going on from her point of view?” His blank stare told me all I needed to know. He would rather demonize her, be offended by her, than communicate with her. We sat down, drank a cup of coffee and decided that, rather than fume and escalate, rather than simmer in a victim-stew, he had at his disposal a better path. Communicate rather than assume, ask questions rather than blame, poison the well, and indulge in being offended.

It always amazes me how unconscious and/or resistant folks are to challenging their attributions. How eager they are to spin hard narratives and create vicious persecutors. How invested they become at being offended or otherwise insulted en route to being ‘right.’ It is monster-creation. It provides nothing more than a reason to draw a sword.

We do it so fast. Assume we know. And, once the attribution is made, we hold onto it as if it were gospel. It is easier to believe we know-all-things than it is to step out of the yummy-victim-archetype and ask a few simple questions, confess a few honest vulnerabilities. It is easier, more tasty, to take offense than it is to give consideration. Blame provides a great reason to never ask a question. Being ‘right’ is a hard stop to all inquiry.

In the canon of unconscious bias, attribution is one of the most-oft-used routes to really effective miscommunication. It makes mountains out of molehills. It makes muck from otherwise good working relationships. It savages careers. It makes vice presidents run to the phone and call consultants. It makes councils meet in secret and vote without investigation. It makes revenge a serious pursuit of otherwise grown-up adults. It makes weak leaders run for the basement and hide. It makes new-contract-creation and other tit-for-tat flexing a less-than-fun game of control. No one wins. No questions asked. It makes a hammer the only tool in the tool kit.

A few breaths to simmer down, the suspension of a snap-assumption, an honest “can I talk to you” conversation that comes with no blame and a wee-bit of vulnerability…could make a minor miscommunication remain minor. It could save all manner of hurt feelings, ill intention, relationship destruction, HR costs, separation agreements, litigation…all unnecessary wreckage that might have been avoided with an assumption-made-conscious, an attribution challenged. A simple word or phrase can usually be explained, “You took a bullet meant for someone else, I’m sorry.” Mountains return to molehills when we are willing to turn from our hyper-active-attribution-bias (“I’m right and I know it!”) and ask, “I’m not sure what just happened here. Will you help me understand?”

read Kerri’s blog post about ESCALATION

Anticipate The Cake [on DR Thursday]

While I was shoveling snow, Kerri got to work creating a birthday surprise for me. I came around the corner of the house and howled with laughter. She told me her sculpture was me, with my tiara, waiting for my birthday cake. She captured my likeness exactly (this is how I look on the inside when cake is in my future).

On my 30th birthday my pals threw me a party. I lived in Los Angeles and the weather was gorgeous. I’ve never really liked being the center of attention so I remember that day, although fun and filled with love and kindness, as being hard work. On this, my 60th birthday, the weather was frigid. The snow powdery with the cold. We attended to the quiet. We lingered with coffee. We laughed. DogDog ran circles through the house as he always does when he gets a new bone. BabyCat snored in multiple spots around the house. For a few minutes I painted. I shoveled since more snow is on the way. Kerri sculpted. We opened a special bottle of wine, ate snacks, responded to texts and emails from dear friends. A package of unimaginable chocolates and treats appeared at the front door. We made dinner together. Talked to 20 and my mom. We wiled away the evening lost in a jigsaw puzzle. It could not have been a better start to a new decade. I crawled into bed feeling warm and rejuvenated.

Birthdays that end in zero naturally come with some life review. A look back at the road traveled. This zero came with some extra review. My father’s move to memory care has given me an added appreciation for memory. Moving Duke’s paintings after his death has given me a curious perspective on my paintings – and, for a while, a wrestling match with the final destination of my work. There was a moment of sweet release and circling back to long lost purity: in the road ahead I will paint for the simple pleasure of doing it, for the soul-dive that I experience when I’m dancing with a canvas.

At 80, I will look back at 60 and along with the simple celebration and enormous snow cake, I will remember the moment I opened my eyes on the new day. My first thought, my very first thought coming out of my dream was: this will be my favorite age. This marks the beginning of my favorite time of life. From here on, it is all cake.

read Kerri’s blog post about SNOWCAKE!