Dump The Suit [on DR Thursday]

“When you are content to be simply yourself and don’t compare or compete, everybody will respect you.” ~ Lao Tzu

Lately, I’m on a Lao Tzu quote kick. Have you noticed? An advocate for a simple life, his words – or those attributed to him – appeal to me at this moment in my walk.

The outstanding characteristic of my working life is that I have mostly been a sore thumb, the person in the collective who doesn’t belong to the collective. That’s been my value: I am the consummate outsider. I do not sit on the mountain so I can more clearly see the mountain. The alternative perspective. I’ve not always found that to be a comfortable role. For instance, alternative perspectives are invited into conversations but the alternative perspective, when voiced, is rarely welcome. The first response to the alternative perspective is almost always an emphatic whisper, “Conform!”

I have, my entire life as the sore thumb, been told that, “Our people will never do that!” or “They don’t think that way, therefore you must conform-modify-edit…” The emphasis is placed squarely on the limit, the notion that “They can’t…” or “They won’t…”

And, I’ve never found that to be true. In fact, that’s precisely the perception that a sore thumb is hired to challenge. “They” can. “They” will. The job of the alternative perspective is to emphasize the possible, to open paths to the not-yet-imagined, to the revelation of, “We didn’t know we could do that.” Or see that. Or feel that.

In order to walk in an alien world, the sore thumb necessarily steps into the unknown. The first step is to listen and learn: to open to the possible within themselves, to challenge the inner-limiter. The alternative perspective lives on a two-way-discomfort-street with their client.

It is never comfortable to “not know.” It’s never comfortable to say, “I have no idea what that means.” However, it’s a great exercise, a necessary practice. And, it’s actually what the alternative perspective is paid to do and to model. “We didn’t know we could do that,” are words that come after a step into discomfort, a step beyond the known limits. “We step together because we both know how this feels.”

The alternative perspective is never right or wrong, it is simply an alternative. “These are the patterns I see. They may be useful or not.” Conformity bristles when the unknown beckons. Conformity is safe, and the emphatic whisper, while meant to maintain comfort for all, is the line that a sore thumb is hired to help the whisperer cross, “The possibilities we seek live beyond this line.”

The first day I put out my consultant shingle, I bought a suit. It’s what I thought I was supposed to wear. I bought my suit because I’d snagged a client, a financial advisor who wanted me to work with his staff. He’d seen my work – he’d seen me work – in another context. After the job, he asked me, “What’s up with the suit?” I’d always been told by well-meaning teachers that I should “dress for the job I wanted,” so I told my client that I’d dressed for the job. He gave me some great advice: dump the suit. “I want you to show up as you are, not as the person you think we want to see.”

His words became my mantra.

Truth: I hated that suit. I felt like an imposter wearing it. My client gave me a great gift. Be content to be yourself. Challenge the inner-limiter. Inner-limiters are very loud, and like outer-limiters, are generally not worth listening to; they will always advise you to conform, say nothing, and put on an ill-fitting suit.

[Happy Thanksgiving]

read Kerri’s blog post about GOURDS

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See The Dance [on Merely A Thought Monday]

“Life and death are one thread, the same line viewed from different sides.” ~Lao Tzu

We had a hard time choosing the prompt for this day. Traditionally, on Monday, we use a quote, something we’ve heard or come across in the week prior. We had plenty of thought-provoking quotes and appropriate images from which to choose. A few would have inspired rants. We also had a few ready to go that would have required more time than we have this morning to do the thought justice. They were heart-thoughts. And, so, we sat and stared at our screens. We pulled the original choice just before we published our picks for the week. “Let’s wait on this one,” Kerri said, “I feel like I want to give it more time.”

More time. Yes. In a few weeks time, we will cross the four year mark of our Melange. Five days a week. Four years. It’s a significant body of writing. At least to us.

When Kerri offered this image as an option, she said, “Maybe we should write about silence.” The mums bow their head. It is the end of their season. The flower drops and dies but the plant lives on, readying itself through the cold winter for a blossom resurrection in the spring. The buds will appear to be new life and we will celebrate them as a new beginning. The plant will smile at our surface-worship. Life did not disappear with the drooping blossom.

The phone rang last night in the early evening. It was my mom calling, just to chat. We talked of our disbelief that my dad, Columbus, was gone. We talked of her exhaustion and need to be still, like the mum in winter. We talked of the emergence of new friends and, someday, the discovery of a new purpose. All in good time. Good time. She is heroic walking through this chapter of her good time. When energy turns to the root, when it moves to an internal focus, it necessarily feels lonely.

Some things cannot be rushed. Most things, those with the greatest import, cannot be pushed. They must be lived. Experienced. The blossom droops and drops. The plant knows just what to do. It is winter and energy must go to the root – that is precisely why the blossom dropped. The plant is not separate from the season. It’s a dance that only seems to be a movement with two but, in truth, is the motion of one, a push-me-pull-you. The inner focus, hibernation, once recharged, will, someday soon, feel the sun and turn its attention outward. New buds are certain to answer the call.

read Kerri’s blog post about MUMS

Learn Where To Listen [on KS Friday]

“Her mother told her she could grow up to be anything she wanted to be so she grew up to be the strongest of the strong, the strangest of the strange, the wildest of the wild, the wolf leading wolves.” ~ Nikita Gill

A long time ago I wrote and illustrated a children’s book about a young fox who had extraordinary abilities. Her talents made her an outlier in the pack, something strange, so they hammered her into compliance. She buried her gifts. The story is, of course, how she came to embrace her gifts despite the court of fox-public opinion.

Lao Tzu wrote, “Care about what other people think of you and you will always be their prisoner.” It is a lesson that every artist must learn. Do your work. YOUR work. Some will love it. Some will hate it. Some will walk by without a second glance. You can never determine what another person sees or thinks so waste no energy in that fruitless cause. Do your work.

It’s a tough lesson, a mammoth paradox, since we are, after all, a pack animal, a social being. An artist has no reason to work if there is no audience or community to receive the work. Traditionally, artists live on the edge of the community so they can both see in and express what they see but also serve as a channel to what lies beyond the spiritual perimeter. The tightrope walk is about belonging while marginalized enough to remain clear-sighted. The artist must step back from the painting in order to see it.

I’m enjoying a slow read through Kent Nerburn‘s book, Dancing With The Gods: Reflections On Life And Art. Master Miller recommended it and I’m finding the simple wisdom of an artist-elder a refreshing daily meditation. Were I to write a sequel to my long-ago-children’s-book, it would be about this: coming back to your gift is not a one-and-done affair. It is a cycle. We embrace it and run from it and embrace it and lose it and find it and smother it and resurrect it and step back and look at it. Again and again. To become the strangest of the strange, the wildest of the wild, is not an achievement, an arrival platform, it is a relationship. Yes, with the community, but it is mostly a walk with your self and what lies beyond that spiritual perimeter. It is ongoing. Never static. Somedays you are the strongest of the strong. And, on other days, you are empty and weak. Full spectrum palette. The only way to know and reflect all of the colors of life is to experience them firsthand. And, so, it is imperative to learn where to listen, where to invest your tender care.

The gift grows as more colors enter the paint box.

read Kerri’s blogpost about HER MOTHER TOLD HER

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Hold The Vision Lightly [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

“Тhe gentle overcomes the rigid.
The slow overcomes the fast.
The weak overcomes the strong.”

“Everyone knows that the yielding overcomes the stiff,
and the soft overcomes the hard.
Yet no one applies this knowledge.” ~
Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

If there is a metaphor on this day – or a lesson – it is that a plan or a goal held too firmly is…not useful. Tom Robbins wrote that stability is not rigidity. Stability, like all aspects of balance, is dynamic, constantly adjusting. How’s that for a paradox? Stability is fluid.

My clan is gathering. We are driving a long distance to attend so have plenty of time to talk, to think, to remember. Kerri has lost both of her parents so I have many questions about the river of complex feelings running through me. Joseph Campbell said in an interview with Bill Moyers that “No one lives the life they intend.” I wonder what life my father intended? I think he was more capable of rolling with his circumstance than I, at first, understood.

There are no straight lines in nature and it turns out that we humans, we storytelling animals, are a part of nature and not above it. Our story of dominion is just that, a story. My dad loved to be outdoors. He tried to be a school teacher but there was not enough air in a classroom. He couldn’t breathe so he made a life out in the elements. His skin, at the end, was so sun-baked that it was brittle. He achieved his desire and his desire was simple.

I am, at this point in life, ecstatic that I didn’t achieve what I set out to do when I was 20. I actually thought I was a train on a fixed track and learned through derailing (a few times) that I needed to let go of my notion of the track. I found my artist when I let go of my artist. On this drive, en route to the funeral, I fully appreciate my wanderer heart and my compulsion to step off of edges. I could have done with a bit less chaos but am now of the mind that life has given me a master class in balance. It continues to teach me to open my hand and not hold so firmly to my ideas, my beliefs.

I am currently working with software engineers. They are building a system. It has rules and boundaries and limits. It has a guiding principle. It will do what it is designed to do. And yet, it will never be finished. It grows and changes almost daily. There is a master plan, but the vision does not blind the visionary or the developers to surprises. To changes. They learn as the software emerges. On one hand it is a foreign land to me and on the other, I know intimately how this land works. There are no iron tracks. No straight lines. The movement is in cycles and circles and every time we try to force it into a line, we impede the process, we inhibit the growth.

The lesson is always the same.

We awoke this morning exhausted. And, rather than push our way back onto the road, we sat and sipped coffee. We watched the sunrise. We decided not to put our day on an iron track. We appreciated our moment. So, there is some hope, some small evidence – some – that the lesson is taking root.

read Kerri’s blog post about TRACKS

Dance A Simple Dance [on Merely A Thought Monday]

keep things simple copy

“Simplicity. Patience. Compassion. These three are your greatest treasures.” ~Lao Tzu

“Simple can be harder than complex: you have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple.” ~ Steve Jobs

I am at home in my studio. Even during the times – like now – when my well is dry, I go into my studio and the world makes sense. It is quiet. My intention is pure: I seek an experience, an exploration, not an achievement. In other words, I enter into a relationship with something so much bigger than me. It is a simple dance with no end. The paintings are a map of this relationship.

Krishnamurti wrote that “stillness is the act of worship – not going to temple to offer flowers and pushing the beggar aside on the way.” I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately (thus, not being still;-) in our world of angry competing narratives. Screaming moral high ground. All the shouting down of others. All the static and noise and agenda-masked-as-righteousness. The celebration of the lie (the official term is a ‘post-truth world’). The difference between rhetoric and lived realities. We ask almost every day, “How does this make sense?”

Rome fell. Ask Google the question why? and you’ll get a list of eight simple reasons. Over reliance on slave labor. Military overspending. Government corruption and instability. The loss of values. Weakened and eating themselves from the inside out, they became exposed to easy invasion. Lots of noise. Loss of center.

We know there is no sense to be made so we walk in our beloved Bristol wood. We walk the trails next to the Des Plaines River. We walk the streets of our neighborhood. We hold hands. Simple. We talk about the leaves, the color of the sky. Kerri takes photos of things that catch her eye. Beautiful shapes. Geese flying en masse. An ancient tree. Radiant purple vines climbing from the ochre grass.  We attempt to leave the angry noise even for a short while, to dip our toes into the quiet.

Yesterday we came to the end of the trail and heard a bagpipe playing The Water is Wide. It was lovely. Haunting. So out of place yet so perfect. It made sense. We stopped and listened as the music reverberated through the woods. It brought us fully into the moment. The cool air and sun. The music mixing with the rustling of the leaves. No where else to be. Nothing to change or control or get through. Simple.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about keeping things SIMPLE

 

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