Unfetter Kindness

Tripper Dog-Dog-Dog on a roadtrip

Tripper Dog-Dog-Dog on a road trip

Tripper Dog-Dog-Dog has no problem communicating his needs. I know without doubt when he wants to go out. I know when he wants his belly scratched or have his ears rubbed. He lets me know where he expects to be scratched. He is abundantly clear when food is his need. He does not second-guess his needs. He does not doubt his desires or confuse himself with obsessing over his reasons why.

Love is one of his needs. To give it and to receive it, exuberantly or tenderly, he does not invest in how I receive or return his love. He is not vulnerable because he has no need to hide or color his love-need. He has no brakes on his exuberance because it is pure, innate, and without story.

One of my favorite exercises to assign during my teacher/consultant phase was the Angel exercise. The assignment was simple: For three hours be an angel to someone. The only requirement was that the recipient could not know. Be an angel with no expectation of recognition; write about what you discover. The assignment was always greeted by a flurry of protests and questions (“I don’t know how…,” or “What does it mean to be….”). Angel-ing is scary business!

Once, to experiment, I assigned the opposite: be a devil/trickster. Instead of protests there were gales of laughter and excitement! No one asked “how.” In midst of their exuberant, fearless plotting and scheming, I reversed the design. Before they went into the world to demonize, I required them to flip their plan and do the opposite to their intended target: be an angel. Their sudden fear was palpable. “Now that you know how to torture this person, do the opposite,” I said. “Be their angel.”

Regardless of how we entered the assignment, the students/clients would return the following week exultant. Their experiences of Angel-ing, of unfettered kindness had profound blowback. They talked of their pre-Angel terror and the unexpected thrill that came with unfettered secret service to another person. They talked of the clarity that came with Angel-ing. They had fun. They felt good. They felt alive. Everything became simple. The greatest surprise of all – something that in this season we see on posters, holiday advertisements, Hallmark cards and screen-savers, something that is a cliché when proffered but rarely experienced: kindness begot kindness. Kindness begets kindness. Kindness clarifies life when it comes with no expectation of reciprocity. Kindness simplifies inner debates when it is wielded without need of reward.

Dog-Dog loves unconditionally. Love may be his only need. For Dog-Dog there is, I suspect, no distinction between giving and receiving. His exuberant love is not meant to gain access to heaven or to change the world in any way. It is without agenda. Angel-ing is like that…

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Change Your Focus

a watercolor from 2003, House On Fire

a watercolor from 2003, House On Fire

Life can change in an instant. There are collective moments. There are personal moments. For years, my dad kept articles about the conspiracy theories swirling around the Kennedy assassination. It was the moment that marked the end of things as he knew it. Life would never be the same. For many years I shared his fascination because my first memory is an image from John F. Kennedy’s funeral which we watched on black and white television: a soldier leading a horse with empty boots reversed in the stirrups. I suspect that the image was potent for me because it was potent for the adults caring for me as they watched the funeral of the president.

Many years later, on a beautiful September morning in 2001, I sat in front of another television set and watched the Twin Towers fall. I thought, “Life will never be the same.”

With the recent anniversary of that day, on another beautiful September morning, Kerri and I read aloud to each other a book, 102 MINUTES: The Untold Story of the Fight To Survive Inside the Twin Towers. I was surprised by my reaction to the book. It felt a return to the place where we got lost. Like my dad, I missed the innocence that vanished in a single day (doesn’t each generation experience this loss? I imagine my grandfather yearned for a world before the atom bomb).

Throughout the reading, two potent and related metaphors would not let me go. First, a two-part metaphor for what I believe ails our nation. With a hyper focus on profitability, many long standing high rise safety precautions were minimized in the Towers. Less escape stairs meant more rentable space. Structural fire prevention measures are costly so they were either written out of the code or ignored. No one believed these twin Titanics could fail and when they did, the greatly reduced escape routes were either severed by the planes that hit them or were inadequate to accommodate the evacuation of the buildings. Additionally, communication between the police and fire departments was broken – they had the capacity but lacked the will. They did not use their updated systems because they were fighting over who would be in control. Their polarization crippled them on the day that they most needed to communicate.

So, the metaphor. One of the themes of my life (and, therefore, this blog) is the importance and necessity of a conscious placement of focus. Where you focus matters. Focus is a creative act. Our hyper focus on profitability took down the world’s economy in 2008. We’ve deregulated our financial institutions, removing all the safety precautions so that we might, as my pals in the financials services once told me, “Print money from nothing.” And the structure weakens. The wealth of the nation is in the hands of a shrinking few even though, as I learned in Economics 101, a healthy capitalist system is built upon a healthy middle class. No one believes this Titanic can sink. Communication between those who are supposed to be looking out for our safety, The House, The Congress, etc., are famously polarized. They have the capacity but lack the will and do not exercise their communication in the fight over who will be in control. In the meantime, we need them to communicate; waiting until the Tower falls will be too late to start. Our focus is on the wrong stuff.

 A sketch working out some details for House On Fire

A sketch working out some details for House On Fire

Which, brings me to metaphor number 2. This is the metaphor that cures us. The other story of those 102 Minutes is a story of kindness. People reaching for other people. When the disaster struck, the gap between custodian and CEO disappeared. The social divisions were irrelevant. People helped people simply because they needed it. They recognized that they were living a common story, a shared story, not the story of division that predominated a single moment before the planes struck the buildings. Everything changed in a moment. Or, perhaps everything became clear. People died to help other people. Their focus changed.

 

 

 

There Is Wisdom In Dancing

TODAY’S FEATURED THOUGHT FOR HUMANS

There is wisdom in dancing

To restate an old notion: knowledge is not wisdom. And, often times, our reliance on knowledge blinds us to wisdom (for instance, passing a test has little or nothing to do with learning). My mentors taught me that the toughest thing in life to master is relationship. The reason: relationship is at the heart of everything we do whether we acknowledge it or not. Life IS a relationship. Education, business, art, spirituality, leadership, management, self love, economics, agriculture, kindness, gratitude… are all relationship skills. Wisdom is found in the fields beyond your thinking. Get onto the floor of life and dance.

TO GET TODAY’S FEATURED THOUGHT FOR HUMANS, GO HERE.

Unroll The Generosity Perspective

from the archives: EmbraceI’m eavesdropping. Kerri and Pastor Tom are in the next room having a planning session. I just heard P-Tom say, “The generosity perspective fell down. Woody rolled it up and put it under the table.” I laughed out loud. They are talking about a banner but, taken out of context, it is a terrific and ominous phrase!

If you take a gander at the daily news, follow the political circus, count the people trampled in the crush to buy stuff the day after Thanksgiving, you would be hard-pressed to find a better phrase for our times. The generosity perspective fell down. And, to add icing on the metaphoric cake: Woody easily rolled it up. He put under a table.

This land is your land. This land is my land. This land was made for you and me.

I’m convinced that there is another side of the coin. There is no denying that meanness exists in our world. Humiliation is a game played everyday through social media and beyond. Yet, I still believe that there is a disconnection between the rhetoric and the lived experience. I see and experience terrific acts of generosity every day. Some are small acts, some are vast – unfathomable, some are spontaneous, some are planned but all are generous. In fact, when I really pay attention, I find that the incidences of generosity far outpace the acts of cruelty.

Cruelty makes for good gossip and good gossip is cruel. And so, meanness sells. It is good for advertisers so those are the stories we broadcast. Generosity, on the other hand, erases victim stories and so is rarely yummy-fun to talk about. Acts of generosity are less potent as a selling tool.

Cruelty is easy to see. Generosity requires an intentional focus.

This morning I bumbled into a TED talk by Patti Dobrowolski. I learned that the odds are 9-to-1 against making change even if the change needed is life saving. Her message is great: draw the story you want to tell. Literally, draw it. And then tell it. If we want a different story we have to imagine a different story. If we want a different story we need to tell a different story. If we want a different story we need to act a different story.

If Woody easily rolled up and stashed the generosity perspective under the table it should be equally as easy for Woody to reach under the table, unroll the generosity perspective and hang it for all to see.

 

Be Kind To Each Other

Eating a celery stick loaded with peanut butter, Kerri paused and asked, “If there is going to be celery on this earth, why does it have to have strings?”

“That,” I said, “is an existential question and, so, an answer is above my pay grade.” She gave me THAT look and crunched another bite, saying, “Too many strings!”

When I stop and think about it, most of the questions I have are existential and, therefore, unanswerable.

On the drive to Florida I passed the time by reading billboards. Fast food, Strip clubs, lawyers encouraging me to get what’s owed to me, all interspersed between fiery messages warning that “Hell is real,” or that “The path to Heaven is straight and narrow.” I smiled when it occurred to me the billboard messages were a smorgasbord of easy answers. In this life we are peppered with advertisements, a litany of easy answers to the things we are supposed to lack.

This drive to Florida is different from all the others. In the past, we made the drive to visit Beaky. This time we are driving to say goodbye. So, I am seeing everything through a very different lens. Easy answers are attractive when pretending that life’s questions are not tough.

My billboard reminiscing reminds me to beware of the easy answer. Gaps are not easily filled. Meaning is never found on a prescribed path. Sustenance is not available at the drive-through. These things are glaringly obvious when someone you love dies. Life is made rich through the questions that have no answer.

It’s human to want an explanation. It is human to want to know why. On the roadside in Illinois, having just received the news, Kerri asked if I thought Beaky knew we were coming. Somewhere in Tennessee, Kerri asked if I thought Beaky in her final moment was scared. In Alabama, she asked what happened, why so fast, and why now?

photo-1After a visit with Beaky, when we were taking our leave, she always said two things. The first was “Be kind to each other.” That might at first sound like a billboard sentiment except that Beaky knew that kindness was not an easy answer to anything. Blame is easy. Judgment is easy. Kindness, extended to the self and to all others, is a constant practice, a way of life. Being kind in all situations, Beaky knew, was not easy and that was precisely the point.

The second was a family tradition of sorts. It was always the last phrase exchanged when taking leave of her: “Bye for now.” She was ever hopeful and that, too, was a practice – a life choice – and not an easy answer. It was a focus of the eye, an orientation to life.

So, from Beaky, I learned two practices : Be ever hopeful. Be ever kind. Beaky, bye for now.

Train Your Eyes To See

an illustration from my unpublished children's book, Play 2 Play

an illustration from my unpublished children’s book, Play 2 Play

Laundromats are liminal places. Enter a laundromat and you leave behind the known world. You step into the great  “in-between,” the land of “not here, not there.” I am in the land of “not here, not there” because Tripper Dog-Dog-Dog came in from the yard with muddy paws and blew past our usual clean up stop. As Tripper was coming in, our neighbor let out his dogs and, apparently, the perimeter needed immediate protection, which required a Dog-Dog mad dash through the house, a leap onto the bed, and loud, raucous barking. So, muddy paws met white bedspread and although the paw prints were beautifully applied, smeared, and reprinted (a perfect composition), the bedspread needed washing.

As I wait for the cycle to finish I’ve been watching people. The proprietor is wearing a Santa cap and sits at the counter scoping the patrons; he is looking for anyone who might need assistance. He jumps at every opportunity to help patrons having problems with a machine. This is his kingdom and I have the illusion that he’s created it so that he might help others. He laughs a lot. He likes his kingdom.

A young man, clearly a regular patron, is quick to help the older clients lift heavy loads (the proprietor is at the ready but recognizes this unique circumstance). They are all regulars and lifting laundry is the organizing principle of their relationship. They ask the young man how he is doing. He is humble yet delights in their attention as they delight in his assistance.

This liminal space is filled with generosity and acts of kindness. It reminds me of the game I played not so long ago during my walk about. Each day, as I walked, I counted the obvious acts of kindness. There were always more than I could count. Always. The game was not so much about tallying goodness as it was about training my eyes to see what was right in front of me. It is too easy to see the road rage, the aggression, and the selfishness. It is too easy to believe in the monsters. That stuff is there. But, when you take the time to see it all –really see it – the generosity always far outweighs the miserliness.

title_pageGo here to buy hard copies (and Kindle) of my latest book: The Seer: The Mind of the Entrepreneur, Artist, Visionary, Innovator, Seeker, Learner, Leader, Creator,…You.

Canopy by David Robinson

Canopy by David Robinson

Go here for fine art prints of my paintings.

 

Ponder The Pieces

Kerri's head exploding.

Kerri’s head exploding.

My beautiful Kerri’s head just exploded. I am currently surrounded by exploded head-bits and a dog-dog running loops around the house from the thrill of experiencing his first head explosion. Baby cat had the good sense to hide. There’s nothing for me to do but drink wine and write this post. And drink more wine.

Heads explode when the world ceases making sense. Beaky, Kerri’s mom, 93 years old, is no longer capable of crossing the room with her walker. Mobility is a problem and the source of Beaky’s despair. For months Kerri has been working to get Beaky an electronic wheelchair. Her doctor prescribed it. A physical therapist diagnosed it. A bevy of nurses recommended it. A mountain of paperwork was filled out and filed for it. Medicare did the expected and requisite thrice denial before begrudgingly approving a lesser model (apparently, Beaky looks like a reckless driver and can’t be trusted with too much speed). At long last, after hours of phone calls, pleading, cajoling and begging, the chair was ordered and scheduled for delivery. And then there was Jose. The man who measures aging bottoms to make sure the chair is a perfect fit decided that, while measuring Beaky, she was not yet ready, at 93 years of age, to have an electronic wheelchair. His reason: Beaky is too mobile.

Kerri playing for her mom and the other ladies.

Kerri playing for her mom and the other ladies.

I wish I had filmed Kerri’s head explosion. I’d send it to Jose, the man with the measuring tape and the power to explode heads. As I watched the pieces of her mind drift back toward the earth I couldn’t help but remember the statistic – relative to the rest of the developed world – of how much Americans pay for their health care and how little they actually receive. Our costs are astronomical. Jose just showed me why. I wondered how many man/woman hours of work that Jose just annihilated. As Kerri said to the electric wheel chair supply company representative, every day of Beaky’s life is an extra inning or like a dog year. It is a gift. To tell this woman that it will only be a few more months before she will be approved is cruel. It need not make sense. It is merely cruel.

On another related note, today was Josh’s first day of work as a nurse in an emergency room. He wrote that he had a very good first day. The highlight was extracting a penny from a young boy’s nose. Apparently, the boy tried unsuccessfully to swallow the penny and coughed it up and into his nose. A hole in one! What are the odds of such a perfect shot? If I ever have a penny up my nose I want Josh to do the extraction. He cares for people. He is kind. Mostly, I want Jose, the man with the tape measure, to meet Josh, the man who helped a kid with a penny problem, so that Josh can explain to Jose how to recognize a person in need and what it means to serve. Service often requires dropping the tape measure and looking at the person being measured.

I suppose this is yet another tribute to Doug whose wisdom is worth repeating: “Your problem,” he said to me, “is that you want it all to make sense.” The path to happiness, according to Doug, is to cease the expectation of sense. No mother can make sense of a penny lodged up the nose of her son and Kerri will never be able to make sense of the man with the tape measure. It was her attempt at sense making that caused her head to detonate. I’ll keep that bit of information to myself until all the pieces find their way back to earth. In the meantime, let’s have more wine!

Go here to get my latest book, The Seer: The Mind of the Entrepreneur, Artist, Visionary, title_pageSeeker, Learner, Leader, Creator…You.

Or, go here for a hard copy and Kindle.