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

Learn The Trick [on Two Artists Tuesday]

It’s a problem when your dog is smarter than you. If I lapse into thinking that I am the master of my ship or that my opposable thumbs give me an advantage over paws, I find that I am somehow using my opposable thumbs to do the dog’s bidding. “Wait a minute,” I question, “didn’t I just give you a cookie?” The rapid tail wag overrides my doubting frontal lobe and the cookie finds the open muzzle.

We can teach DogDog almost anything and in fairly short order. We can rest a tasty treat on his paw and he won’t touch it until we give him the signal. Last week, Kerri taught him to balance a paper plate on his head. She’s taught him to sneeze for a treat. We used to spell the word E-R-R-A-N-D because he goes berserk if we say it – he likes to go on errands – he REALLY likes to go on errands – but since he’s learned to spell, we are forced to use an advanced eyebrow code, a series of knit-and-raised brows, like dots and dashes. I could warn the allied army of enemy secrets with my eyebrows. It’s insane though Kerri and I can now openly gossip at a party and no one would know we’re talking about them – though they might be curious about the sudden rise and fall of our strange facial twitches.

All of this is to note that Kerri taught DogDog to wear a mask. And, even though his dogga-ears are not made for masking, it took her less than a minute. With her eyebrow-Morse-code she sent me a secret message: “Damn!” she arched and bobbed her brow, “It’s been 9 months and human-beings-in-a-pandemic haven’t been able to learn this trick. Dogga got it in seconds!”

“Dogga is a smart boy,” I reply with twitches.

“Maybe if we gave people treats?” Kerri mused. Dogga wagged his tail.

My eyebrows fell silent.

“You’re right.” she eyebrow-coded. “Even tasty treats wouldn’t change the selfishness of people.” She ruffled his head, saying, “Dogga is a very smart boy.”

read Kerri’s blog post about DOGGA MASKS

Split The Symbol [on DR Thursday]

One of the great pleasures of having a bevy of cartoons-that-went-nowhere is to pull them out and see them anew through the lens of changing times. Space Invader – which begged for the addition of a mask – has taken on a whole new meaning in these days of COVID-19.

It’s funny and it’s not. Each week we hear stories of the collision of mask wearers and pandemic-deniers. Each week we are witness to the aggressive posturing of the mask-free.

This little piece of fabric has become a split symbol: for those of us who believe in science, a mask saves or could save lives. To wear it is to care for the well-being of others. For those who deny the science and gorge on the rhetoric, wearing a mask has come to represent an affront to their personal freedom. To ignore it is to care only for themselves. Space invading is now a bellicose statement.

These once-united-states has 4% of the world’s population and boasts over 20% of the world’s deaths. This is not an accident. It is utterly predictable. When the simple science of mask wearing and social distancing is whipped into a fruit-smoothie-of-controversy, a dividing line for division, more people will die. More people are dying.

The split-symbol goes further. It has come to represent America-the-Ridiculous. My pals in other nations shake their heads in disbelief at our mask-wrangling. They express sadness for our plight but a river of incredulity runs beneath their concern. Were Americans this superficial all along?

My imaginary future professor, preparing his notes for the seminar, “2016-2020 – What Were They Thinking,” will no doubt utilize the mask as symbol for our collapse. The symbol of the divide. The marker of how shallow, glib, and selfish we came to hold our notion of freedom.

The original. From the time when space invasion couldn’t kill you.

read Kerri’s blog post about SPACE INVADER

space invader/flawed cartoon ©️ 2016 david robinson, kerri sherwood, john kruse

Know How To Use It [on Flawed Wednesday]

Kerri has started a new collection of images. It began a few months ago on our walk through Des Plaines. Why did someone discard their mask on the river trail? Her collection is the discarded mask collection.

Look around you. They are ubiquitous. Star Wars masks and smiley faces, Mickey Mouse masks and the garden variety medical mask. They are on sidewalks and in parks. They are in less obvious places like a nature trail.

I suppose a few of the masks in her now vast collection fell from a walker’s pocket. Most were tossed aside. As cultural studies go this one is many layered. We are consumers. Mostly, we know not where our garbage goes as long as it goes away.

Masks, like the people they protect, in these once-united-states, are disposable. That sounds harsh but with every prediction of lives lost, with the daily horror story of rising loss of life, comes a clear caveat: roughly 80% of those who will die, those who have died, would be alive today, will be alive by January, if 95% of us wore masks.

We hear that wearing a mask is an assault on personal freedom and shake our heads.

Many years ago in a facilitation, a person bemoaned that they didn’t have a voice. My business partner asked simply, “If you did have a voice, what would you say?” The person was…speechless. Having a voice is wildly different than knowing how to use it, why to use it. The same is true of personal freedom. We have it but know not how to use it.

And, after all, isn’t that the point? To have freedom requires the responsibility to know how to use it well and to know when…well…you are being used.

read Kerri’s blog post on MASK DISCARDS

Open The Box [on KS Friday]

“Old beliefs die hard even when demonstrably false.” E.O. Wilson, Consilience, The Unity Of Knowledge

On the field where the city holds its Tuesday night summer jazz concert series, boxes are painted on the grass. A visual statement. A nod to the necessity of social distance in a time of pandemic. Stay within the box. The series started despite the CDC warning against large gatherings. The series stopped when the protests began.

Boxes within boxes within boxes. We are a nation that has gladly and enthusiastically confused itself. Mitigating the spread of the pandemic is easily achieved – as demonstrated by much of the world – through mask wearing and social distancing measures. We’ve somehow managed to force ourselves into a too-tight-box by defining the simple pandemic-mitigation-measures as assaults on freedom.

Our freedom must be very fragile indeed if a thin piece of fabric, a mask worn to benefit others in our community, is all that it takes to constitute a threat. Our freedom. 200,000 dead in six months. We wage war on each other, no external threat is necessary.

We’ve managed to make simple science the Cassandra of our time. Screaming in the streets, she delivers to us simple truth and we ignore her dire warnings. We tug the Trojan Horse through once-secure gates into our cities and homes. “We are free to do whatever we want!” we gloat unmasked in reply to Cassandra science. “We are free!”

Boxes within boxes within boxes. Yes, we are free to shoot each other. It is our right. We are free to spread the virus while we assemble unmasked to demonstrate our freedom. In a time of confronting our history of racial injustice, we are free to equate a temporary pandemic lock down to slavery. There is, after all, more than one way to shoot at each other.

We are free, we are free, we are free. Boxes within boxes.

THE BOX on the album BLUEPRINT FOR MY SOUL is available on iTunes

read Kerri’s blog post about THE BOX

the box/blueprint for my soul ©️ 1996 kerri sherwood

Become A Heart Symbol [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

Almost anything can become a symbol. Almost anything can be made a symbol.

Symbols are very powerful, probably more powerful than we realize or are willing to admit. People die defending them. People die attacking them. They can serve as a moral compass. They can be a siren call and entice entire communities to crash on the rocks of devastation. Symbols can unite. They can divide. They can clarify. They can obscure. In almost every case, symbols serve as the defining line between Us and Them. They identify.

As a servant to identity, a single symbol can facilitate diametrically opposing points of view: hope and threat. It can be the taut rope in a social tug-of-war. Crazy things happen when, within a community, a symbol runs in opposite directions. We are witness to that today through the symbol of the “mask.” Some see a mask as communal responsibility. Some see it as a threat to individual freedom.

The challenge with any potent symbol is that it burns either through the heart or the guts. Only then does it run to the brain.

For instance, mask-wearers begin their symbolic journey in the heart. The symbol of “mask” is proactive. It signifies service to others and community protection. It unites in a common cause. It runs in the direction of hope. Giving. Inclusion. For them, a mask is a positive symbol. It confirms and accepts science, data, fact. It adapts to new information. It grows.

Mask resisters begin their symbolic journey in the guts. For them, the mask represents a fear of personal loss. It is a divider. It runs in the direction of threat. The symbol is reactive and signifies service to self. Exclusion. A mask, for them is a negative symbol. No amount of data or fact can assault a negative belief. A gut inception inflames the brain. It entrenches.

We’ve heard that, where mask wearing is concerned, there is a declining vigilance of the public. I wonder if that is true. I suspect the perception of declining vigilance is actually a matter of noise. Those who operate from their guts, their fear, will do anything, are capable of any and every form of cage-rattling. Theirs is a symbol of distress and is loud and enraged as is the case with most “me” focused symbols.

Those who operate from their hearts are generally quieter. They know the restraint that compassion brings. They are focused on the betterment of the entire community, including the fearful, so, as is true of most “us” focused symbols, calming the panic is an essential aspect of the action.

I doubt that vigilance is in decline. The fearful gut is screaming louder, garnering attention, daring to be made to wear a mask, cranking up the volume, loudly crying “hoax” – all the while knowingly spreading the disease.

In the meantime the quiet heart, the larger part of us, moves masked through each day. Hope need not make noise or news or announce itself. It is satisfied simply by doing the work of community, the real work of public vigilance.

read Kerri’s blog post about DECLINING VIGILANCE

Unify The Rabbits [on Merely A Thought Monday]

i like your mask copy

If you chase two rabbits, both will get away ~ Chinese Proverb.

In the theatre, the double-rabbit chase is called a split intention. An actor cannot both play well the scene AND try and please the audience. It’s one of the fundamental lessons an actor must learn; play the scene purely and the audience will enter the story. Trying to please an audience is a fool’s errand and will throw everyone out of the story.

The lesson is not what it might at first seem. The lesson is to recognize that, in truth, it is not an either/or choice. The only way to “please” the audience is to play well the scene. The only way to “please” them is to forget about them. The job is not about “pleasing.” The job is about the performance of a play.  It’s a lesson in priority of focus. In recognizing and attending to the first principle, all other concerns fall into their proper place. The magic is in unifying what might at first look like a two-rabbit chase.

It’s a lesson that has great usefulness far beyond the stage in every walk of life. Either/Or framing is usually a warning sign that two rabbits are on the run.

A split intention is always resolved through a focus priority.

In our pandemic time, in these states-once-united, we’ve managed to cleave our intention. Health or economy? The chase is on and both are getting away. Trying to reinvigorate an economy by ignoring the health implications is akin to an actor trying to please an audience – it is a fool’s errand. People will not go out if they do not feel safe. Although each day we are plied with scenes of packed bars and beaches, we also read an ever-mounting roll call of bankruptcies, job losses, impending evictions, rapidly shrinking GDP, etc.

It’s a pandemic. Roughly 1,000 people a day are dying. In five months over 150,000 people who otherwise would have seen 2021 have ceased to live. The infection rate is doubling [a gentle reminder to those who make me shake my head in wonderment: just as pregnancy is not caused by the test, COVID-19 testing does not produce cases. Testing identifies cases and someday will provide the opportunity to contain the spread.]

Attend to the play. Prioritize the focus. Public health and economic health are not at odds. They need not split and run in opposite directions. Economic health is not possible if people do not feel safe. It’s a basic rule of survival, a fundamental requirement of the play-of-life. Protecting public health, attending to public safety, is the first principle. Wearing masks. Testing and tracing. Social distancing. The rabbits will unify when the message aligns, when the audience-pleasers realize that, by ignoring the first principle, they are literally throwing people out of the life-story.

Focus on the priority and all other concerns will fall into their proper place.

It is palpable when an actor stops splitting their focus. It is magnetic when they fully enter the scene. The play crackles with life and possibility. It pulls audience and actors alike into the same story. Together, all move to the edge of their seats. When it really sparkles, hearts sync and beat in a unified rhythm (no kidding).

I see signs of a single-rabbit-chase everywhere. Checking out from the store a week ago, the cashier said through her face-covering, “I like your mask!” I smiled. I’m certain she knew I smiled even though she could not see it. “Where did you get it?” she asked.

Mask-fashion is arising. In mask-envy I find tiny glimmers of hope.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about MASK ENVY

 

 

southport sand heart website box psd copy

 

 

 

 

three graces ©️ 2010 david robinson