Practice, Practice, Practice [on Merely A Thought Monday]

clean blackboard copy

Before Jonathan left town he gave us a book of daily devotions from his spiritual tradition. It is a significant book for him. It was his mother’s favorite and now it is his. He  starts his day with it, reading a passage, meditating on its meaning, and carrying the meditation through his day.

A mind needs a focus. Jonathan is one of the most positive people I’ve met and this lightness of spirit is not an accident. He carefully attends to the story he tells himself. He exercises his muscle of interpretation and, because he is looking for it, he will always sort to the positive. He assumes a positive tale.

One of the lessons I learned while in Bali goes like this (almost a direct quote from Budi): In Bali, when two cars crash, the drivers do not get out and begin yelling and blaming the other driver. Instead, they get out of their cars and greet the other driver because the gods meant for them to meet that day. They try to discover why they were brought together.

Sometimes I think the whole journey is a master class in focus-placement and assumption-making.

Early on in our life together, Kerri taught me this phrase: leave the outbreak of baggage behind. We carry yesterday’s baggage into today’s experiences. It’s possible to carry a lifetime’s collection of baggage into each and every moment. Heavy living comes from looking at life though the baggage-layer.

The first meditation in Jonathan’s book is the same first principle found in every spiritual tradition: Be present in this moment. Your life is not what happened yesterday; it is what is happening right now. If you are looking for your life you will miss it if your focus is backwards or forwards. It sounds trite in a world awash in Hallmark cards, Successories, Motivational Moments or books of daily devotions.

It’s trite until put into practice. It’s easy to say ‘be present’ or ‘make no assumptions’ or ‘be the change you seek’ or ‘focus on the positive’ or… It’s a whole different ballgame when the trite phrase comes off the aspirational wall and enters the daily grind.  Presence, the sensitivity to life happening right now, is not an achievement. It is an awareness that comes from practice amidst a world screaming for your attention.

Everyday a clean blackboard. I suspect that thought was Jonathan’s real gift to us.

 

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Release The Peace [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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Peace. Compassion. Strength. Wisdom. The idea is that prayers and mantras symbolized on the flags are blown by the wind, spreading their peace, compassion, strength and wisdom into the world. It’s not a bad idea. It’s not a bad reminder.

We pass beneath our prayer flags everyday. It is our version of the Balinese split gate. A symbol of bigger things. Coming or going we pass through a moment of meditation, a fluttering reminder of the path that threads through time’s center. The place of presence. It is the place where divisions fade – even for a moment. The place where the drama-of-the-day and turmoil – all expressions of separation – fall away.

The flags quiver and dance. We stop and listen to the quiet flapping, the release of peace into the wind. The basic elements of compassion, strength, and wisdom. Water, fire, earth and sky. A renewed focus.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about PRAYER FLAGS

 

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Paint With Sand [on KS Friday]

TRANSIENCE songbox copy

Many years ago I was lucky enough to see a sand mandala created by Tibetan monks. It was intricate and vibrant. It seemed impossible to create something so complex with sand. The day after I saw the painting the monks ceremoniously destroyed it. The process, the painting, is a mediation on the impermanence of all things.

Yesterday was my birthday. I am now 58 years old. More and more the transience of all things is less a metaphor and more of a reality. If there is wisdom that comes with age it is at least partially attributed to the awakening reality of our transitory lives. As the monks remind us, we are, in truth, a beautiful intricate sand painting.

Kerri and I took a walk yesterday through our beloved and soon-to-be-passing Bristol woods. A sizable ropes-adventure-course is being constructed that will cut through the center of the woods. More than ever we appreciate our walks through Bristol because we know these are probably among the last. We stopped along the path to catch our breath and, laughing, found ourselves spontaneously rolling balls of snow to create a snowman. Permanence is not a high priority in making a snowman.

Later, sitting together in the nature megaphone, we were being silly and howling with laughter. I realized that, because it was my birthday, we’d granted ourselves a free pass for the day. Nothing need be achieved. Nothing need be created. We had no agenda so, therefore, no time constraints. There was no attempt at permanence or investment in importance or thought to fill-up-time and so, in the absence of a purpose-filled-day, we found great open space for play and laughter. Pure enjoyment of our fleeting moment and of each other. I found myself in the mandala, appreciating the passing moment of vibrant colored sand.

In TRANSIENCE, Kerri builds a snowman, she takes us on a stroll through the passing woods, a mandala of rich musical color, and, if we give over to it, she knows, we might just find that great open space teeming with play and presence and the simple enjoyment of being alive.

 

TRANSIENCE on the album RIGHT NOW is available on iTunes & CDBaby

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read Kerri’s blog post on TRANSIENCE

 

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transience/right now ©️ 2010 kerri sherwood

DR Thursday

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kerri calls this morsel, Layered Meditation. a perfect name as it comes from my painting, Meditation.

I believe that every moment of life is a meditation, conscious or otherwise. Your current meditation may be about the anxiety of  having enough money to pay the bills. It may be about the frustration of being stuck in traffic – again. It might be about a perceived injustice; blame meditations dominate most of our inner monologues. Of course, you might also be meditating about what to get at the grocery store or what to plant in the garden this year. You might be meditating about how to make life better for your children. Not all meditations are worrisome. Generally, we dedicate a small sliver of the meditation pie chart to the generative.

And, that’s really the point. We choose where we place our thoughts, we decide where we aim our focus. It is a dedication, not a runaway train.

One of my favorite moments in Carlos Castaneda’s book, The Teachings of Don Juan, happens when the master, Don Juan, refuses to place any value in the continued angst of his student, Carlos. Laughing at Carlos’ dedication to his misery, Don Juan says, “You indulge like a son-of-a-bitch!” Discovering and shedding indulgences is a many layered exploration. Shedding indulgences, like cutting junk food from your diet, comes when you recognize that you choose what you consume, not the other way around. You choose what you think, you choose your meditations, not the other way around.

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Meditation, 48 x 48in, mixed media

I am relearning this lesson. Lately, in the studio, I find I am meditating on my personal hall of monsters and past injustices. I’ve been taken aback at my dedication to replaying these tales of woe and unfairness.  And then I hear Roger’s voice in my head saying, “What kind of a sissy word is ‘fair!'” And I laugh. Laughter is great for rededicating the thought-train. Laughter loops me back to another favorite Don Juan-ism: “The trick is in what one emphasizes. We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves happy. The amount of work is the same.”

 

LAYERED MEDITATION reminder/merchandise

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layered meditation METAL WALL ART copy

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layered meditation FLOOR PILLOW copy

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it makes a cool beach towel!

stationary gift cards, mugs, framed art prints, and more.

PURCHASE THE ORIGINAL PAINTING: MEDITATION

read Kerri’s blog post about LAYERED MEDITATION

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layered meditation & meditation ©️ 2018, 2012 david robinson & kerri sherwood

Learn To Question

My best place for asking questions

My best place for asking questions

20 (aka John) tells me that his coworker, Amy, aged 22, will have answered all of life’s questions within the next three years. He assures me that she will share her answers when she has them. “We just need to hang on for another three years,” he quips, “…and it’ll all make sense!”

The admitting nurse at the surgery center feels like a threshold guardian. She said, “People who pass through here learn just how little they actually control in life. Surgery is humbling. I’m here when their illusion of control bursts. That moment is hard.” She was quiet for a moment and added, “What gets me is all these people in the world who think they have all the answers – and they think their answer has to be the answer for everybody. All these rules made up by all these people who think they have the right answer for everybody! That’s why people are killing people everywhere.”

“It sounds like more people ought to have surgery!” I tease.

“You got that right,” she said, handing me my gown, hairnet and blue booties. “Put one of these on and you realize how little control you actually have; in this place none of your answers matter and none of your rules apply!”

It should be a mantra for educators and the only argument necessary to dismantle a test-driven system: Life is always found in the direction of the question. At best, answers are relative – and the best answers, if understood, are simply doors to more questions. Learn to question.

The best art follows the same mantra. It steps into big questions, wanders into unknowns and complexities. It tests and tries, explores and experiments. It leads us to explode our answers and like a good trickster does not allow us to hold our gods too tightly. It begs us to question.

“Shall we tell Amy that there are no answers?” I ask 20.

“Nah. Why spoil the surprise.”

From the archives. This one often calls to me

From the archives. This one often calls to me

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Create A Purpose

photo-2In the sixteenth hour of our drive to the mountains, to keep us awake, Kerri and I began a rousing game of This-or-That. “Frosted Flakes or Lucky Charms?” Frosted Flakes all the way; those little marshmallow things get wonky in the milk. It’s amazing what you learn about yourself and others when the world of infinite possibilities is reduced to two choices. The game soon escalated to the impossible with pairings like “Coffee or Chocolate?” Real life penetrates the game when the only possible answers are, “It depends!” or “Both!”

Since our drive to the mountains I’ve been paying attention to how often people unwittingly play the This-or-That game, pretending that there are only two choices and, further, pretending that the choices are distinct and knowable. Democrat or Republican? Communities collapse when they forget that the important stuff is unanswerable. The important stuff is a moving target and requires conversation, debate, and comes along with multiple points of view. Two sizes do not fit all bodies.

I’ve also been playing my own inner game of This-or-That, purposefully choosing impossible pairings. Order or Chaos? It seems like a no-brainer until you dive in a bit deeper.

My favorite version so far is the Purpose-of-Life category. I picked a most lofty purpose: Illumination – and matched it with the utter absence of purpose. And, of course, I came to, “It depends!” or “Both!” I sprang my line of reasoning on Kerri (she thought we were going to talk about what to make for breakfast. She’s grown quite used to my surprise topics so she rolled her eyes, sipped coffee, and listened, knowing that no breakfast choice would be possible until after I unpacked my game).

No matter which spiritual tradition I read, the final point seems to be presence (living fully – aware of your moments). And in practice, presence becomes possible when thought is either transcended (meditation) or focused (prayer). Meditation and prayer are both purpose-full. Thought needs transcending and/or focus because it is mostly a babbling brook of nonsense or, better, a brook of babbling nonsense. It’s a lot of made up stuff that often takes the form of a game called This-or-That (I win/I lose, I’m right/I’m wrong, Us/Them). The game, as is true of all forms of interpretation, gets in the way of direct experience. It interrupts presence.

Detach from the babble. Meditate. Or recognize that it’s all made up and focus what’s made up. Pray. In either case presence comes through the recognition that it is all made up. The hitch: every notion of purpose, then, is also made up. There isn’t one. But, having a purpose is required to come to the recognition that there is no purpose. It’s a loop. It’s all creativity. It’s all imagination.

Spectrums and polarities are often cycles in disguise. They are both/and. They are yin and yang (not Yin or Yang). Illumination or Purposelessness? It depends. Both. Order needs chaos just as much as chaos needs order. The question is, what do we want to create? Why, a purpose, of course! So, let’s see what’s needed and decide to address it.

“My imagined purpose is breakfast,” Kerri sighed at the end of my rambling dissertation. “Pancakes or an egg scramble?”