Drop The Veneer [on KS Friday]

It was common during coaching calls, for clients, especially at the beginning, to self-diagnose. Essentially saying, “This is what is wrong with me.” It was an odd start to a process that is about fulfillment of intention or creation of desire. A coaching relationship isn’t therapy and a good coach – one that knows what they are doing – is careful not to let the relationship become about fixing-what-is-wrong. Moving through a creative block or clarifying a fuzzy vision in not an indication of a character flaw. The post-it note on my desk read, “Nothing is broken. Nothing needs to be fixed.”

The self-diagnosis was a veneer. A protective layer, like armor. People have innumerable strategies for hiding their fire, for blunting their passions. Succeeding or creating often implies exposure. Being seen. Stepping into the light can be scary business.

Rather than deal with the diagnosis, a useful and often surprising question to ask is, “What’s beneath that?” What’s beneath the protective layer?

It was also common, after taking the time to take off the armor, after dropping the I’m-broken-veneer, to hear a voice whisper, “You know what I really want? I want to be a writer.” Or a painter. Or a dancer. Stepping into the light is scary business and hearing your voice say what you really want, even in a whisper – especially in a whisper – is powerful stuff!

I loved those moments. Their world spins. The eddy of “fixing” slips into the current and there’s no turning back. Their path forward may be gnarly and steep but that tiny whisper clarifies the picture, releases the desire.

Careful not to be too effusive, I’d say, “Good. Now, what’s the next step?”

Kerri’s albums are available on iTunes or streaming on Pandora

read Kerri’s blogpost on VENEER

holding on/letting go on the album right now © 2010 kerri sherwood

Seed The Pocket [on Flawed Wednesday]

I’ve appreciated this sunflower for many years and until a month ago it never made me think of Ukraine. Now, that’s all I see. Thus, the power of a symbol. Sunflower seeds placed into the pockets of Russian soldiers by brave Ukrainian elders. “So, some good may come from your death.”

Walking through the antique mall, Brad spotted an ugly homemade sculpture. Golf balls with multiple screws protruding, spray painted and supported by wire rods. “Look, the coronavirus!” he exclaimed. Three years ago spheres with spiky knobs would have made me wrinkle my brow but never associate the shape with a virus. Now?

And masks? Will we ever see a surgical mask without feeling the divide in our nation? A confederate flag paraded through the Capitol? Members of the Capitol Police beaten with the stars and stripes; symbols matter.

Every year more and more our written communication is reimagined with emojis. Visual symbols. The new Ideogram. A thumbs up. A heart. Laughing face. Saying more with less or at the very least opening up our communication to broader interpretation. I find that I’m symbolically rolling my eyes more and more. Exclamation point. HAHA! Know what I mean? Winky face.

Leonard Shlain wrote some remarkable books about how our brains are wired by how we communicate; he posits that linear language, the introduction of writing drove us into our left brains and away from our holistic right. Perhaps in our movement back toward the ideogram we are rebalancing? A course correction or returning to center? It takes more than a few years for brains to rewire. Our descendants will, no doubt, either write books about it or communicate their thoughts through a combo platter of alphabet and pictograph.

Either way, we can only hope they grasp the meaning of the peace symbol. Or, at the very least, learn how to give it more preference than the dollar sign. Or, better yet, figure out how to make peace profitable. Can you imagine? Certainly there will be a symbol for that.

Until then, sunflowers in the killing fields. Sad face. Broken heart.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE SUNFLOWER

With Fresh Eyes, See [on Merely A Thought Monday]

In retrospect, many of the experiences I used to facilitate were meant to pop people – even for a moment – out of the fog of their life story. It’s a curious intention for a guy whose career was/is centered around the telling of stories.

I loved working with masks, especially with people in corporate settings or lofty educational towers. They feared the exposure that a mask might bring so they approached it with eye rolling and whatever-ego resistance. Yet, in every case, they put the mask on with reverence. There is a sequence, after donning the mask, that the wearer “wakes up” and looks at the world for the first time through fresh eyes. Everything is new. Everything. Their hands. The movement of their arms. The color and feel of the carpet. Jaded people, blunted with puffy assumption, through the eyes of the mask, are astonished by the miracle of their fingers. And then, imagine the moment that they discover each other. Their discussion during the debrief would make you weep. It was quiet. Respectful to the point of sacred. In every case the people, newly out of the mask, had to tell of their astonishment and discovery. Their eyes wide with the utter beauty of the world in and around them. And, their new eyes never carried further than the next day. The old mask, the one worn daily, the one full of fear and inflated self-importance, is powerful, too. As they say, masks reveal and masks conceal.

Masks reveal and masks conceal. The phrase refers to the wearer but it also applies to the world seen or not seen through the mask. New eyes are astonished with the ubiquitous beauty of the world newly revealed. Eyes fogged through been-there-done-that stories are dulled to the point of inattention. The magical world is concealed from their sight.

I am working on a script for a piece that I’ll perform in the fall. I realized in my latest draft that it is really about masks. The astonishment of seeing – and seeing is nothing more than or less than the revelation of connectivity. Paying attention is a step toward the eyes that see crackling vibrant color, ears that hear the birdsong. When the dull eyes open, even for a moment, the next impulse is to reach, to “call attention” to the connectivity. “Do you see that?” “Listen, isn’t it gorgeous!”

read Kerri’s blog post about PAYING ATTENTION

Help Them Smile [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

I howled with laughter when she said it. “You can buy anything that looks like something.” She was referring to the sweet Italian sausage that was not sausage at all but made of plants. I thought she was making a political statement. We are solidly in the age of things-are-not-what-they-seem. Photos can be manipulated. Words that come out of mouths can be placed there, not by the speaker. Propaganda is called news and American cowboy culture does not see its full-lemming transformation. Sausage-not-sausage is everywhere!

“What are you laughing at?” she asked, placing the sausage look-alike in our basket. Linda made us a yummy vegetable hash that included the not-sausage and we enjoyed it so much that we left with the recipe. “The age of enlightenment is officially over,” I thought but did not say. Had I answered honestly she would have told me to “gear down.” The grocery store is no place for philosophical hoo-haw.

“Nothing,” I said, giggling.

Standing in front of the cold not-sausage-section, looking down the aisle at people masked and not masked, some wearing masks on their chins, I felt thrust out of all reality and into the tragi-comedy that is our times. Peter Barnes wrote a terrific play, a comedy called Red Noses about the plague that swept Europe in the 14th century. A priest and his band of fools traveling through the villages offering humor as the only relief for the fear and pain. They wore red noses.

“When people in the future look back at us, I hope they laugh,” I said.

“What?” she asked, furrowing her brow.

“We need a band of fools.”

If we could laugh at ourselves, we’d probably have a better time of life during the pandemic, I thought, as an unmasked woman sneered at my fully masked face. I wonder how we’d have fared had there been a red nose mandate? Protect your neighbor by helping them smile.

Kerri stared at me and smiled. “Don’t make me tell you to gear down.”

“Yes, ma’am,” I said. “I think we need Dogga food.”

read Kerri’s blogpost about ANYTHING AND SOMETHING

Find A Way [on Two Artists Tuesday]

In the age of Covid, the rules are different. We keep our distance from friends and loved ones. We make rules for engagement. Vaccinations, boosters and negative tests are the requirement for a visit. What was once connective tissue – like an airplane – is now a barrier. A cost/benefit analysis is required before stepping into a terminal. And then, spin the world of rules and boundaries on its axis and this is also true: we find a way. It’s what I appreciate most about people. Will finds way.

A species ends when it can no longer adapt to changes in circumstance.

For weeks we searched for a way to see Craig. To give him his xmas presents. A restaurant that required masks, proof of vaccination, and had a protected outdoor patio provided the necessary ingredients. On a January night, with temperatures dipping into the low 20’s we sat at a table nested between heaters and shared a meal. We exchanged gifts. And, we weren’t the only guests dining on the patio. Other patrons also searched for and found a way.

We loved our meal and our time together. We laughed at the absurdity of the situation. We acknowledged and embraced the necessity of outdoor dining in sub-zero temperatures. We made a story that we’ll tell in years to come. Do you remember when…?

Zoom has become a way. To a point. We’ve learned in this time of pandemic that seeing someone on a screen doesn’t replace seeing them in person. At work we’ve learned that many things can be done through a screen but many generative experiences are slower or inhibited without presence.

Presence.

Energy begets energy; the fire of enthusiastic idea generation is dampened through an app. As Skip said at our end of year meeting, “Nothing replaces breaking bread together. Someday we’ll share a meal.” I look forward to that time, to meeting the incredible people that I see each day through my screen.

We are racking up stories as we adapt to an ever-changing circumstance. To drive rather than fly takes time so we’re learning to take more time. To not rush to arrive. We feel the limits on the distance of our reach. We’re learning the depth of yearning to be-with as opposed to merely-look-at. We’re learning the necessity of boundaries and the health-considerations that come with saying “No.” Mostly, we’re learning the hard line between what’s do-able through a screen, and when we need to consider the ridiculous – and find a way.

read Kerri’s blog post about HEATERS

See The Point [on Merely A Thought Monday]

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” ~ Viktor Frankel

There is a new mantra cycling through my circle of friends. Once, highly frustrated with people refusing to participate as a community in the relatively benign measures necessary to end the pandemic, they’ve now forged their frustration into a different shape: there’s no point in trying to change “them.”

The circle is closed. Or, perhaps, it has been closed all along. Us. Them.

We spent the weekend in a special cabin with The Up North Gang. Walks in the woods. Pontoon boat rides seeking a sunny spot to anchor. Friends that heal what hurts. Laughter and wine. Occasionally, our conversation wandered into politics and pandemics, usually spurred by a local man posting cryptic and apocalyptic messages from deep within his conspiracy well. He is one of “them.”

“How can he believe this stuff?”

“Imagine everything he has to ignore to believe this stuff!”

“He’s always been a bit kookie.”

“There’s no point in reasoning with him.”

“There’s no point in writing a response, he’d just deny the facts, the court cases, the data, the science, the…”

There’s no point. That’s the mantra. There’s no point.

Us and Them. Together in the same boat. One half trying to rock the boat. The other half trying to keep it from flipping.

Exhaustion? Surrender?

“It’s like they’re drowning in bad information,” she said,

He replied, “And, there’s no sense throwing them a rope, they’d refuse to take it.”

“We have thrown them a rope,” she added. “It’s called the vaccine.”

We laugh a sad laugh, shaking our heads. What’s the point?

read Kerri’s blog post about Safe Together

Stand In The Narrow Place [on Merely A Thought Monday]

“Western civilization has been a 2,000 year long exercise in robbing people of the present. People are now learning the joys that hide in the narrow place of the hour glass, the eternal moment.” ~ George Leonard, Mastery

The observation has become something of a yearly ritual. Every 9/11, I hear or participate in this conversation: one day, people got out of bed, drank their coffee, brushed their teeth and went to work or boarded an airplane. And then, they never came home.

We are fairly smothered in sentiments about appreciating life, seizing-the-day, living in the present moment, take nothing for granted… “You never know.”

Quinn gave me his copy of Mastery. As was his practice, he underlined significant passages in red pen – and the book was a festival of underlined passages. For years I kept the book on my desk or beside my bed. I’d flip it open and read the red sections. They served as a daily meditation. They gave my busy mind something generative and hopeful to occupy.

George Leonard called presence, “the plateau.” Eckhart Tolle calls it “the now.” In one of the gospels NOT included in the bible, Jesus is reported to have said, “The kingdom of heaven is on earth but men do not see it.” The Way of the Buddha leads to the present moment.

What do we see if we stop thinking long enough to experience the present moment?

2996 people died in the terrorist attacks on 9/11. These people could do nothing about what happened to them on that day. They brushed their teeth. They left for work or got on an airplane.

“You never know.”

This year, there was a new river-of-thought that ran through the annual ritual observation: the daily COVID death toll last week in these un-united states was above 1,000 a day. On January 7th, 2021, 4,147 people died of COVID. In the divided-united states, more than 660,000 people have died of COVID. World-wide 4,550,000 people have perished.

It’s impossible not to look at the numbers and wonder why-and-how we became our own terrorists.

In the past year, with the availability of a vaccine, with the proven effectiveness of masking and social distancing, these people, had they united with the help of their friends and neighbors, had choices. They – we – could have done everything to save their lives. We did not. We divided. 1000 yesterday. 1000 today. 1000 tomorrow. And growing.

Sometimes we know.

Appreciating life is – and always will be, at the narrow place of the hour glass – a community affair. In presence, on the plateau, the line between me and you blurs. It is the reason why all of those firefighters and first-responders ran into the towers that day. My life cannot be precious if I cannot see that yours is also precious. Why – on earth – on any given day – would I not do everything possible – anything possible – to protect your life? Why would you not do the same for me?

read Kerri’s blog post about BLESSINGS ABOVE GROUND

Offer The Chair [on Flawed Wednesday]

“Indeed, the effect of the forum is all the more powerful if it is made clear to the audience that if they don’t change the world, no one will change it for them.” ~ Augusto Boal, Games For Actors And Non-Actors

Many of my pals in the theatre turned their noses up at me when I began doing work in corporations. They thought I was yet another theatre artist doing improvisation-games with the terminally neck-tied. I was not. My work was more in the tradition of Augusto Boal than Keith Johnstone. Some of the best plays I’ve ever facilitated, some of the most profound pieces of theatre I’ve directed and witnessed, happened in board rooms, classrooms or conference spaces. Here’s how I know: the actors and audience were one-and-the-same. Their play was personal. When they left “the theatre” they did not leave the nice story behind and end the evening with a cocktail. They were disrupted. They had seen something that could no longer be ignored or deflected. The hard work was about to begin.

People yearn. People entrench. People plant their flags and claim the most ridiculous territory. I’ve seen teachers come to blows over an overhead projector. I’ve seen lawyers undermine colleagues to gain dominion over a swiveling chair. And, the chair or the projector are never really the issue. The issue is usually an abstraction. Pecking order. Boundaries. Alliances. People have killed each other over a pair of shoes. It’s not the shoes but the status the shoes represent. Abstraction and illusion.

People are generally unconscious about the reasons beneath their passions. I’ve met a score of dedicated meditation practitioners who meditate to control their thoughts rather than realize them. Once I led a group of teachers through the ritual they enact each morning before the arrival of their students. The question was, “What are you preparing to do in your day?” Their answer was unnerving and revolutionary: they were preparing to control the kids. Teaching and learning were secondary.

We are witness to a country-wide communal piece of theatre, an unconscious play. The issue is not the mask. The issue has never been the mask. The issue is, I suppose, people feeling out of control, imposed upon. Fearful. They are, with their bare faces, making a stand. Drawing a line in the sand. That “no one can tell me what to do” might as well be “I am losing control over my life.”

And, as is always the case, as with the office chair and the overhead projector, refusing to don the mask does not really address the real issue, it merely deflects it. The energy and action is focused on non-sense. And when non-sense rules the day, the action taken actually brings about the thing-most-feared. Loss of control. The pandemic continues, the children are being taken, the economy suffers, the community fractures. It’s a lengthy list.

The lesson in the office chair wars and the overhead projector games is always the same. No one wins. Everyone loses in a toxic tug-of-war. The chair might be yours today but it will be theirs tomorrow. The game only ends when one of the players offers the chair to the other or the projector becomes a reason to share. The same will be true of the mask wars. People will die, the pandemic will continue until the mask becomes a generosity. Then, low-and-behold, the virus will abate and real control over our destiny will be within our grasp.

I hope that, like the lawyers or teachers who were brave enough to walk into the real story, to stand face-to-face with a dysfunction, that we meet our story and ask, “Why would so many sacrifice so much over a little piece of cloth?” An overhead projector. A pair of shoes. A chair that swivels…

read Kerri’s blog post about MASKS

Recognize The Greater [on DR Thursday]

strange sky

“Can a shallow mind appreciate beauty?…When the mind is merely concerned with itself and its own activities, it is not beautiful; whatever it does, it remains ugly, limited, therefore it is incapable of knowing what beauty is.” ~Krishnamurti, Think On These Things

What accounts for the strange color of the sky? Smoke from the fires? A coming storm?

The quote above is only half of the thought. It is the set up for the real point to be made. A shallow mind is concerned only for itself. And, while consumed with the lesser, it misses the greater. It is the unintentional theme that emerged for me this week: losing the greater for the lesser. The baby goes out with the bathwater.

It is a matter of perception, of focus placement.

Yesterday I wrote about the judge questioning the potential juror about his capacity to experience hardship in order to keep the system going and growing. The juror entered the exchange with a self-focus and exited, admonished, with perhaps the possibility of seeing something beyond his own agenda. Perhaps.

I read that Rome fell when the luxuries became more important than the essentials. Societies fall when they can no longer discern between what is important and what is not, when the lesser is protected at the expense of the greater.

Years ago, during a facilitation, a young woman pulled herself from and exercise. She sat on the sidelines and brooded. After the exercise, during the debrief, she claimed that she was discriminated against because her team did not listen to her ideas. Initially, her team scrambled to apologize – one does not want to be accused of discrimination. We asked the team to explore the situation a bit further. Because the young woman’s idea was rejected, was she truly a victim of discrimination? It was an illuminating conversation. The problem – the real problem – arises when we can no longer discern between what is discrimination and what is not? There is terrible discrimination in our world and needs to be addressed. It can’t be seriously confronted if we are incapable of distinguishing between the rejection of an idea and laws that prevent citizens of color from voting.

In a pandemic, a mask is not a breach of personal freedom. It is not the state ripping away control of your body. It is a minor inconvenience to ensure the mitigation of a virus that is killing scores of fellow citizens. Despite the rhetoric otherwise, the fearmongering and tribe-building, wearing a mask is something done for the health of the whole. It is not unlike jury duty.

It is a matter of perception. Of focus placement. Self or other? Lesser or greater?

The rest of the quote: “Whereas, a mind that is not concerned with itself, that is free of ambition, a mind that is not caught up in its own desires or driven by pursuit of its own success – such a mind is not shallow, and it flowers in goodness. Do you understand? It is this inward goodness that gives beauty, even to a so-called ugly face.”

Pay attention to the verb. Beauty is given. Concern for the well-being of the other is a sentiment expressed and championed in every corner of the world, by all the figures we quote, elevate, and sometimes emulate. Martin Luther King, Ghandi, Abraham Lincoln, Mother Teresa,…it’s a very, very long list.

Communities thrive when they are capable of enduring hardship for each other, for the benefit of the whole. They also thrive when they hold boundaries and protect the rights of the individuals. Those two seemingly different actions are, in fact, one and the same.

Societies fall when shallow minds prevail, when they can no longer discern between essentials and luxuries, privileges and responsibilities. When personal comfort takes precedence over enduring ideals.

It’s a matter of perception. Of focus placement, and make no mistake, focus is easily led. Just like a package of pastrami mistaken for a strange colored sky.

read Kerri’s blog post about PASTRAMI SKY

shared fatherhood ©️ 2017 david robinson

Conceal To Reveal [on Two Artists Tuesday]

When I was tilting at windmills, one of my favorite things to facilitate was mask work. I brought masks to lawyers, to CEOs, to teacher’s, government workers, elementary school students, corporate trainers, business coaches and sometimes to actors. There’s nothing better than a mask to pop open possibilities and challenge petrified thinking.

Masks conceal and reveal. They serve the paradox and, therefore, are tapped into the root of truth.

It’s impossible to work with masks for long before realizing that the faces we wear everyday are also masks. We “put on” a smile. We attempt to hide what we feel by the mask we manufacture. Some faces freeze in masks of indifference or masks of disdain. We perform ourselves, and craft our masks accordingly.

Many cultures around this world believe the mask opens a communication with the gods. Don a mask and something bigger-than-you speaks through you. When I paint I often have that feeling. Artistry sometimes means getting out of the way so the creation can flow.

It’s why I brought masks to lawyers and CEOs and corporate folks and teachers. To introduce them to the fields that bloom beyond their need to control. So much of their lives, so many of their problems and challenges were wrestling matches of control. They were actively creating the obstacles that they desired to remove.

What do we actually control when we harden our faces over what we feel? What do we gain by attempting to control what others see or think or feel? We are makers of our own prisons. We are deluded by our fantasy that we have the capacity to determine what others see. The only control we exert is upon ourselves.

The mask work makes abundantly clear that control is not power. Power – creativity – flows. It is the dance of the artist to master technique, to learn control, and then transcend it. To get out of the way.

My favorite moment, with every group, in every circumstance, came when the masks released the people and they slowly, respectfully said goodbye and removed them. Their faces was also mask-less. It was like seeing infant’s faces. Bright. Open. They would, for a few brief moments, look at each other, unmasked and unprotected. Simply astonished at being alive, together, in the world.

read Kerri’s blog post about MASK