Expect Nothing [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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The man was about to begin hiking the Appalachian Trail. The interviewer asked, “What do you expect it will be like? What do you expect will happen?” The man replied, “I try not to have any expectations. I want to be open to what comes along, whatever that might be.”

It’s a spiritual practice. Make no assumptions. Release all preconceived notions. Open to what is and not what you think should be. Have the experience first, make meaning second. All good advice for attempting presence: that place we fully occupy but rarely visit.

Making meaning. It’s what people do. Wrap an experience in a story. Wrap it in a blanket of belief. Often we muffle the experience in a heavy cloak  before we’ve had it.”It’s going to be hard.” “I don’t think they will like me.” Or, “This will be the best!” “I’m going to crush it!”

Joe used to call this high-dream/low-dream. Imagine the best. Imagine the worst. Like a magical invocation. Either way, an expectation is set. The story has begun and imposes a slick layer over the happenings. The story bleaches the experience-space, that full range of color available between the high and low.

It’s no wonder we can’t find compromise in our current nation-story.

I watch DogDog in the morning. He can’t wait to race outside. He barks for no other reason than it feels good. He sits in the sun. He chases birds with no hope or expectation that he will catch one [he wouldn’t have the vaguest idea what to do if he actually caught one]. DogDog does not know there is a pandemic. He does not care about people politicizing mask wearing. He holds no expectation for the direction of the day. His to-do list is blank. He is happy going on errands. He is happy sleeping on the cool tiles.  He holds no grudges. He makes no judgments. He holds his story lightly. He is happy both before and after he eats. Sometimes he even tastes his food. Above all, he is happiest when we are happy.

Open to experience, DogDog has much to teach me. He has much to teach the world.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about HAPPY DOING

 

 

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The quote “happy doing something, happy doing nothing” comes from an article about Augie the dog.

Love Your Language [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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You know the old joke: two priests are having an argument so they take their debate to the Pope. The first priest writes to the Pope and asks if it is okay to smoke while praying and the Pope answers “No!” The second priest writes and asks the question this way: is it okay to pray while smoking? The Pope responds, “Of course!”

Language matters. In our current world, inundated as we are with marketers and media – language packed with agenda – it seems we are especially dulled to the power of a few words [or the exclusion of a few details] to shape our actions and opinions. We are easily led. Easily divided. Easily provoked to Facebook frenzy.

The way we frame questions determines the possibilities we see or the possibilities we do not see. That is why it is a mistake for us to frame the questions of our troubled times as either/or questions. To defund the police or not defund the police?  Fear or faith? Us or them? Liberal or conservative? Which is it?

None of the questions we face are simplistic. None can be addressed – or should be approached – with black and white thinking. We’ll only see the poles and miss the million shades of gray in-between.

Leaders that divide-to-rule are especially fond of a rhetoric featuring only two options. They play angel/devil games: there are angels and there are devils and since everyone thinks they are the angel, it is an automatic role assignment to anyone with an opposing point of view. It doesn’t matter what side you are on, the agenda is division so mission accomplished! Language matters.

I’ve heard it said that the opposite of love is not hate. It is fear. Fear splits even the greatest hearts and minds like so much kindling. It creates enmity within and, therefore, enmity without. It reduces and makes the complex things – like listening to others – impossible. It demands that meaning be made before the experience is had – and so it is a rally of made-up monsters.

So,  the opposite of fear? It creates goodwill. Within and, therefore, without. It unites. It embraces and expands and includes. It makes no assumptions. It listens. It ultimately surrounds fear and makes meaning after having the experience and, in that way, relieves the troubled mind of its monsters. It has the capacity to hold a full spectrum of color and options (sometimes known as possibilities). It knows that there is more to this universe than angels and devils can allow. And so, just to be clear in my use of language: the opposite of fear has no opposites. That’s precisely what makes it much harder to grasp than fear. Fear is easy to achieve. Love is an ongoing relationship and has no end.

Language matters. The genius of our system, as it was once imagined, was to allow for opposing points of view to come together in an action called “compromise.” It was designed with complexity in mind. It was intended to pull all perspectives toward a common center, a middle way. An idealist might call that – a common center – something akin to love.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about LOVE>Fear

 

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Face Them [on KS Friday]

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The dream was vivid. I was being chased by a pack of very large demons. Terrified, I was becoming exhausted when I saw a door into a warehouse. I quickly jumped through the door, looking for a place to hide. To my chagrin, the warehouse was empty. Swept clean. No walls. A vast, open and exposed floor. The demons came through the door behind me. There was no other door. No way out. My only option was to turn and face them. So, I did.

They rushed me. But, to my surprise, as I stood my ground, facing them, as they raced snarling toward me, they began to shrink. The closer they came, the smaller they got. By the time they reached me they were no larger than ants. They had no power over me at all.

All along, all I needed to do was stop running from them. All I ever needed to do was to turn and face them. To see what they were, not what I feared they were.

This dream – so many years ago – helped me understand hope – a word that is both a verb and a noun, a thing and an action. A wish and a want. Hope, like happiness, ensues. It is not found up front, it follows. It is meaning that becomes available when a choice is made.

This nation, running so long from its demons, is once again, standing in a vast empty warehouse. There is no place to hide. When we recognize that all we can do is turn and face our demons, our racially divided path, the inequity-demons plaguing us may grow smaller. They may lose their power over us entirely.

The choice to stop running and turn. The choice to face the demons. In that moment, hope will arise.

 

HOPE on the album THIS SEASON is available on iTunes

 

read Kerri’s blog post about HOPE

 

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hope/this season ©️ 2005 kerri sherwood

pray now ©️ 2010 david robinson

Sow A Better Seed [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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The last Monday in May, what was once called Decoration Day has, over time, become known as Memorial Day in these United States. On the first Decoration Day, several thousand people descended on Arlington National Cemetery and together decorated the graves of the Union and Confederate soldiers buried there. Honoring the dead.

BENEATH THIS STONE REPOSE THE BONES OF TWO THOUSAND ONE HUNDRED AND ELEVEN UNKNOWN SOLDIERS GATHERED AFTER THE WAR FROM THE FIELDS OF BULL RUN,… [Tomb of the Civil War Unknowns].

The bones of combatants together in repose. Dust to dust. It turns out they were made of the same stuff after all. I have, since I was a small human, wondered why we only get around to honoring the front line after they are gone. It seems a little late to make statements of mattering after we dig a big hole and fill it with bodies. Why not honor each other before we step on opposite sides of a whipped up divide?  Why not hold hands together prior to repose?

I know, I know. Silly idealism! There’d be no drama if we honored each other up front. Peace and collaboration do not make for scintillating news. Cooperation and common cause is bad for weapons sales. When all the deeper meanings of existence have been masked (consumerism is a lousy soul-filler), then the superficial fillers take over. Hatred of other, conspiracy theory and fear-mongering are great unifying forces when buying stuff no longer fills the metaphysical black hole.

Kerri has said it. So has 20. I’ve heard it from Jim, from the checker in the store, from people walking on the trail, the nurse interviewed for the news: “I’m tired.” General fatigue is understandable in the midst of the emotional pandemic roller coaster but I’m sensing a deeper root to the ubiquitous weariness: fields sowed with division and lies and  distraction and misinformation and malfeasance.

Throughout time, those idealist/realists that we most admire and strive to emulate, Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandi, Mother Teresa, Rumi…[it’s an extensive list] including those that we profess to worship, would each and every one ask us why, with all we espouse and purport to believe, do we sow our fields with combatants who find togetherness only in repose?

Today we honor those who died in the many, many, many battles that fill our divisive history. Perhaps tomorrow we will find a way to turn to each other and sow the seeds of courtesy and generosity, and find a way to honor each other before we join together as dust.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about TIRED.

 

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held in grace: rest now

Consider Levitation [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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And what does this mean, this pear sitting atop a wine bottle? Certainly this was not a naturally occurring event! No pear could possibly achieve so grand a seat without some form of assistance. Or, could it?

Levitation is a possibility but it is doubtful that this pear – or any pear, for that matter – is capable of the necessary powers of concentration required to raise itself to wine bottle heights. And, if levitation is the answer, we are still left with the primary question: what does it mean?

The pear might answer, as George Mallory answered when asked why he might want to place himself atop Mt. Everest, “Because it is there.” Meaning making does not require depth but it does necessitate curiosity. “Because I can” really means “because I want to.” The grass is always greener. Why step on the moon? Why sail to the edge of the world? Why paint a painting or compose a song? Something calls.

Because it feels good. Because it is beautiful in my eyes. Because I might learn something about myself and, therefore, the world in which I create/inhabit. Most explorations are internal journeys even if they look like mountain ascents. Soul searching leads to more experiences with soul. The best questions lead to bigger questions, like this one (last week’s winner for best question): Does the soul live in the body or does the body live within the soul?

It seems like a good time to borrow a title from Joseph Campbell: what exactly are The Inner Reaches Of Outer Space?  What are the outer reaches of inner yearning?

Does this pear have yearnings? What does it mean, this pear sitting atop a wine bottle? Believe me, I’ve asked the pear and it remains silent on the subject. Wise pear! It knows I must make my own meaning and hopes that I will never cease asking my questions and, above all, never delude myself into thinking I have even the slightest bit of an answer.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about the PEAR & THE BOTTLE

 

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Be Us [on KS Friday]

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It is times like these that the grand illusion of every man/woman for themselves drops away. It doesn’t take long in a crisis to reveal how interconnected and interdependent we really are. As New York Governor, Andrew Cuomo, said this morning, what I do impacts you and what you do impacts me. There is, in essence, no such thing as you and me.

This is true in good times, too. It is true in all times. It is simply true. What I do affects you. What you do affects me. What I do is often a ripple of what you’ve done and vice versa. We are not nearly as separate nor independent as we like to pretend.

The delusion plays itself out. The run on TP. We’ve all seen the lines at the gun store. Sooner or later it will occur – as it always does – that the best form of self-protection is participation in community. Participation is protection.

Ironically, it is the sturdy fabric of the interconnection – in good times – that allows us to delude ourselves into thinking that – in bad times –  we can do it all by ourselves. Stop for a moment, look at the food on your plate and ask yourself how many people were necessary for you to enjoy your meal. The rings of interdependence will run farther than your capacity to imagine. That is always the case.

An article shot crossed my email this morning. It was from an artist sharing her realization in the midst of this pandemic that she does not create art for audiences, she creates with audiences. Like her, my paintings are not complete until people engage with them. People are not complete in the absence of art. Listening to Kerri play is more life-giving than any of the news broadcasts we’ve been glued to. There are levels to meaning making and the heart level rarely requires data but always requires other people and their gifts.

This morning we are hearing of the real difficulty of social distancing: mental health is stressed in isolation. We do not do well in quarantine. We, do, however, get creative. Jen prompted us to text images of all things green so we are looking around the house for green things. Emails and phone calls are on the rise. Mike reminded me last night that Shakespeare wrote King Lear while in quarantine for the plague. He meant it as a challenge, “Any takers?” he winked.

Rob wrote, “In times like these we NEED art.” Yes. We need art because we need to create with people. To experience with people. To story our experiences with people. To grieve with other people. To laugh with other people. With. Always. Us.

 

 

ALWAYS WITH US from the album AS IT IS available in iTunes & CDBaby

 

 

read Kerri’s blog post about ALWAYS WITH US

 

 

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always with us/as it is ©️ 2004 kerri sherwood

Receive The Message [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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It is my practice, when an animal crosses my path in a special or unusual way, to research the animal’s symbolism. I love story, mythology and the power of symbols (words are symbols, too!) – and, oddly, as a human, I am given to ask that most basic of human questions, “What does it mean?”

One night I had a very long eye-to-eye communion with a coyote. Two snakes crossed my path. Crows used to plague me on a daily basis. A white owl kept me company for a spell. Each was the impetus for me to dive into the symbol, the possible medicine or message of each visitation.

Kerri is horse crazy yet it hadn’t occurred to me until last week to spend some time with the horse as an animal spirit. We were up north on a brief get-away and Dan, in a fit of genius, arranged a sleigh ride. The horses pulling the sleigh were Bill and Ace. Kerri and Ace were immediate friends. They were more than friends. I watched a sweet magic swirl between woman and horse. There is no simple emoji for what passed between Kerri and Ace.

This past year has, for us, been a time of great upheaval and contention. Kerri’s broken wrists are only the latest-and-greatest slice in a year full of crazy pie. And so,  I stood witness to the immediate magnetism, the power of the horse to touch and raise Kerri’s spirits. In the sleigh, for the first time in months, Kerri completely relaxed. The tension and contention of these many months disappeared. She whispered excitedly about Ace and her love of horses. No doctor could have prescribed a better medicine for what ailed her.

Horses signify the overcoming of obstacles. They speak of how to carry yourself in the face of adversity. They appear to remind us to take care of our spirits, our minds and emotions and bodies. Above all, they symbolize freedom of spirit. Freedom. A horse can serve people but can never be fully tamed by people [I may as well have written of Kerri: she can serve but she will never be tamed].

A few days later, on our drive home, she was full of light and possibility. “I think we may have finally turned the corner,” she said. “Or, maybe, we should just live as if we’ve turned the corner.” Yes. What better way to address an obstacle, to carry yourself in the face of adversity, than to let your spirit run free, to live as if the hurdle was already cleared. No resistance.

I smiled and looked out my window. What does it all mean? Who cares. I whispered a quiet gratitude that a horse crossed our path and now my wife’s spirit is running free.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about HORSES & SLEIGHS

 

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See The Series [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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The closing moment of the film Love Actually is a wonderful montage of greetings at the arrival gate at Heathrow airport. The Beach Boys sing God Only Knows to images of children greeting grandparents, husbands rushing to their wives, friends opening their arms to friends. Hugh Grant’s voice over: “Love actually is, all around us.”

For reasons I’ve never quite understood, we human beings have an uncanny ability to focus on the negative stuff while completely missing the love all around us. We famously study ourselves and the data is overwhelming: we yammer on and on to all who will listen about the “bad” thing that happened in our day. We share the “good” stuff less and with far fewer listeners. There’s something about a fight that draws our eyes while a kiss will make us look away.

Stand on any street corner and  watch the world go by and one thing becomes immediately clear. There are far more acts of generosity than there are acts of violence. The kind hearts outstrip the mean spirits by far so why do believe the opposite?

Krishnamurti famously said that “Life is a relationship. Living is a relationship. We cannot live if you and I have built a wall around ourselves and just peep over that wall occasionally.”

Violence and division make for better ratings because it’s profitable [and easy] to focus the feed on all things negative. Low hanging fruit. It’s profitable to keep the eye off the thousand tiny miracles. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t happening all around us, every minute of every day.

What might it take to pull down the wall so we might more than periodically peep over it? So that we might see that love actually is all around us? To borrow a phrase from The Beach Boys, “god only knows.”

 

read Kerri’s blog post about A THOUSAND TINY MIRACLES

 

 

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Eat The Cold [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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“Eat the cold!” the Buddhist monk said to the shivering novice. “Eat the cold.” It is” monk-speak for embracing rather than resisting the circumstances of your life.

Non-resistance. Detachment. Hold your self lightly. Presence. Make no assumptions. Be here now. Every spiritual tradition has language for the lesson. Eat the cold. Have the experience. Suspend your judgment. See what is there, not what you think is there. Feel it without condemnation or praise.

When I was a teenager I went on a trip with a school group. The bus broke down in the mountains. We sat on the side of the road bemoaning the state of our affair. The teacher laughed at us. “We’re on an adventure and this is part of it!” he exclaimed. “Rather than fool ourselves into thinking we are stuck, maybe we should fool ourselves into thinking this is exactly where we should be! What’s here? What can we do and create here?” I remember nothing about the rest of that trip but I do remember how much fun we had on the side of the road.

Kerri’s wrists are broken. We find ourselves on a metaphoric roadside. Our patterns are completely disrupted so we are experiencing the gift of mindfulness. Putting on a coat requires complete attention. Lifting a fork. Combing out her gorgeous naturally curly hair. Buckling a seat belt. We have abandoned all notion of rushing. It happens when it happens. When she plays the piano, she does it with full attention; nothing is taken for granted.

What’s here in this storm? Maybe this is exactly where we should be. Amazed at our friendships, our first walk since the accident with Jen and Brad, the sun and wind, laughter with 20, cooing at the meal Joan made for us, flowers, brownies and wine, crawling under the healing quilt that Janet sewed.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about EVERY STORM 

 

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Ripple [on KS Friday]

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“you make a difference in their life, even though they don’t know who you are, you make a difference.” ~ Kerri Sherwood, You Make A Difference

I catch myself in webs of my own weaving. There are things that I know to be true but willingly ignore when I am feeling blue and indulge in a warm bath of self-pity. For instance, my move to Wisconsin brought me to my great love but also came as a career killer. I have, in the past few years, spent inordinate amounts of time pondering my worth to the world. Beyond “husband,” who am I now that “no one” finds value in my work?

When my eyes and heart clear, I know that I have willingly stepped into the single greatest trap plaguing the Western world: investment in the notion that my experience – my life on this earth – is a product. That I must, as John O’Donohue writes, “…strive to garner a quota of significance from the world.”

How isolated we are, searching for purpose, trying to make a mark, seeking an experience, trying to find our voice,…have value, like so much property or stocks to be traded. Reduction. People as bottom lines. What is my value? What is yours?

I’ve decided that my favorite movie is ABOUT TIME. The main character, Tim, is afforded the opportunity to live each day over again. The second time through, instead of grinding out his task list and exhausting rush to achieve, he pays attention to the little things, the relationships he has all throughout the day. He is afforded the opportunity to shift his focus from “life as a product” to “life as relationship.” He makes a difference, not because he makes millions or wins the case, but because he smiles at the clerk of the convenience store. He pays attention to the “space between” and realizes he is nothing more or nothing less than a relationship. Ultimately, he has no need to live each day twice because he ceases throwing the first chance away. He releases the life-dulling-I-am-a-product-mentality and embraces the life-giving-I-am-a-relationship reality.

Sisyphus, in his first trip to the underworld, watches as a thousand souls wander the river bank, so lost in the fog of their own stories that they, each and every one, believe that they are all alone. Finally, their manic little stories play out, the fog surrounding them dissipates, and they see each other. In that moment, they return to their natural state, their most powerful state. They blend together into a single, vibrant mist (relationship). In that moment, Sisyphus is forever changed. He comes alive, returning to the upper regions, knowing that the real vitality, crackling life, is available if he looks beyond his isolating story-fog.

Instead of reducing his life to a measurable value, a few gold coins extracted from the world, Sisyphus expands beyond his little story-prison of worth-seeking to paying attention to what he brings to the moment, focusing on the shared space between. His life ripples and those ripples have no end. In fact, he understands that his life is a ripple.

Instead of trying to be somebody (separation) he simply recognizes and fully inhabits the utter miracle of his being (relationship). In that simple, profound shift, the difference is made.

It’s in Kerri’s song. You make a difference in their lives, even though they don’t know who you are. Your life, and their life, are one and the same thing.

 

YOU MAKE A DIFFERENCE is available in iTunes& CDBaby

 

read Kerri’s blog post about YOU MAKE A DIFFERENCE

 

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you make a difference ©️ 2003 kerri sherwood