Stop And Rest [on KS Friday]

At the height of the pandemic she recorded music on her phone and posted it for the community. It was a warm blanket, a comfort sent to people separated by the virus. Yesterday, she stumbled upon the recordings. There are hundreds. She played one for me. Pressing pause, she looked surprised and said, “These were good.”

I appreciated her honesty. I smiled at her surprise. Having been taught that it’s not nice to brag, she rarely acknowledges the scope and depth of her gift. Her pat response when I genuinely gush about her latest composition: “It’s okay.” It is good medicine for a gifted artist to say to herself, “My work is good.”

Also yesterday, she had a “talk” with me. She advised that I be less hard on myself. “Hold yourself softly,” she said. She was spot on. She can see it in me because she can see it in herself. She was telling me that, like her, my work is good. I swallowed my immediate response, “It’s okay.”

“Okay” is a hard word. It comes from a long road of vulnerability and a dedication to getting better and better. Minimizing is both armor and a practice. The path of artistic passion runs through, “Love what you do.” Yes, love it, but don’t get lost in it.

A life of mastery is built upon a mountain-range of mistakes and a dedication to never arriving. Keep walking. Keep growing and opening. Keep discovering ways to say more with less. Every once in awhile, it’s nourishing for the artistic soul to stop for a rest and crawl under the warm generous blanket of, “My work is good.”

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

read Kerri’s blogpost about QUILTS

and goodnight/and goodnight…a lullaby album © 2005 kerri sherwood

Live Like. Reach For. [on Merely A Thought Monday]

These messages are everywhere! Marketing tags, song and book titles, posters and billboards. memes. A sentiment also found in poetry, plays, and religious texts. Live like…

Live like you were dying (title of a studio album by Tim McGraw)

Live like a monk (title of a book by Daniele Cybulskie)

Live like there’s no tomorrow (A ubiquitous quote and set up for follow-up sentiments like, “Tomorrow may never come!”)

Live like.

Live. No guarantees. Dance like no one is watching. Be here now. If I was the rain.

It’s the message human beings like to deliver to other human beings. Don’t waste your one precious life. Realize it. Consider the lilies.

So the story goes, the Buddha was asked, “What’s the biggest mistake we make in life,” His reply: “The biggest mistake is to think you have time.”

It’s as if we were trying to wake each other up. Or, wake up to each other. It’s as if we need to say, “Don’t miss it!” It’s as if we are asking, “Will you help me see it?”

These days there’s plenty of fear-mongering spinning around the word “woke.” I wonder at this collision of universal message and partisan agenda. After all, what is the opposite of “woke”? Why would anyone want to walk through life dulled or asleep? Why would anyone want to walk through life with their eyes closed, uneducated, filled with answers but empty of questions? Why would anyone want you to close your eyes and mind and heart to the fullness of life?

An amazing thing happens when near death kisses open the eyes: all the perceived divisions drop away. People throw themselves on bombs to save other people, people give up their seat on the life boat and, in those moments, skin color, sexual orientation, or politics matter not at all. In Highland Park, while the bullets were flying, decisions made in helping others to safety and the promise of one-more-day-of-life had nothing to do with division.

In the real moments, the awake moments, people reach for other people.

Perhaps that is why we are appealing to each other in beer commercials and bibles, lyrics and legislation, to wake up.

read Kerri’s blogpost about LIVE LIKE

See Down The Pike [on Flawed Wednesday]

“Age and stage,” 20 says, to explain the behavior of people. Age and stage.

I pulled up Shakespeare’s Seven Ages of Man soliloquy. Jaques from As You Like It. “All the world’s a stage…” We perform the role of ourselves in this drama of life. In a funny coincidence, I’m spending some time inside Pirandello’s play, Six Characters In Search of An Author. David is updating the script and preparing for a production. I’m fortunate enough to play witness to his journey. ‘All the world’s a stage’ meets ‘who will tell our story?’

In the final lap of his career, Tom was an assistant superintendent at a school district. He’d shake is head and say, “Parents forget that they were once children and expect their kids to do things that they themselves could not do as children.” Each age grows blind to the previous stage. We forget the great learning-power of making a mistake.

My favorite of Tiago Forte’s 10 Principles of a Second Brain is to make it easier for your future self. It’s a great idea and I wish the bevy of my past selves had been kind enough to consider me at this age and stage. When I turn and look at the rough wake of my passage I know that, with some better choices, I might have scribed a more direct path. Or not. My past selves caution me to fully appreciate the messes and the mistakes that they made. My life is better today because of the rampant foolishness of those former-me’s.

The Balinese believe that we come back every seventh generation. They are an ancestor returned. As such, they are less likely to foul their nest believing they will themselves be the future inhabitants of the nest. Looking down the long-road, they see themselves dealing with the world they currently create. And so cooperation, sustainability, and peace are much higher on their priority list than guns and every-man-for-himself. To care for another is to care for their future self. They find a society like ours, that allows anyone in the community to be homeless, to be broken. Diseased. Or simply adolescent.

I can’t help but think they are mature while we are mewling toddlers. Considering the impact of your actions seven generations into the future is surely a sign of maturity. Thinking of others, understanding betterment as a shared responsibility, is an adult perspective. Currently, we allow our children to be slaughtered and protect the gun that killed them. Surely there’s some growing-up to be done.

I wish I had a penny for every recent conversation I’ve heard that began with the phrase, “I don’t understand what’s going on in this nation.” 20’s voice pops into my head, “Age and stage,” he says in my mind. “Age and stage.” Let us hope that there’s some maturity coming down the pike, that we survive this stick-your-finger-in-the-socket stage.

Perhaps we will someday look back and appreciate the mess, the rampant foolishness, the mishmash we are making.

read Kerri’s blogpost about AGE AND STAGE

Fail At The Box [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Among Don Miguel Ruiz’s Four Agreements is this gem: do the best that you can.

Through the lens of the Occident, those folks on earth oriented to the idea that their nature is bad and needs taming, the Agreement is a statement of self-forgiveness. Do the best that you can. It’s a good bit of advice when everything on earth seems to come with a measuring stick.

Don Miguel is Toltec so his Four Agreements are rooted in an entirely different understanding of nature. To do the best that you can has little to do with performance or achievement. There’s no judge sitting on the high bench scrutinizing goodness or badness. There’s no book with black marks next to your name. This Agreement is about setting an intention. The other Agreements are about speaking with impeccability, making no assumptions, taking nothing personally. In other words, it’s never about you; you can’t possibly know the reasons why; your words matter. So, do the best that you can.

Circumstances are uncontrollable. Sometimes people are mean. Sometimes the tornado comes through and blows your house away. It’s not personal. You probably can’t do anything to change the tornado and even less to change other people. So, change yourself. Or, better, be yourself. Attend to your story and free yourself from the illusion of living under grand judgment or any of a number of other control fantasies. Do the best that you can.

Lately, I’m pondering the too-tight-image-boxes we squeeze into and try, but can never quite, fulfill. The impossible image; a too tight expectation. The Pleaser. The One Who Knows What Is Right. The Peacekeeper. The Strong One. A step away from the box-expectation, the-role-I-think-I-must-fulfill, is a giant leap into happiness. Inside the box it is virtually impossible to do the best that you can. Boxes are alive with assumptions (what I must do, who I must be); buzzing hives of judgment, and, when in a box, speaking truth is frowned upon, so editing and/or silence rules the day. Just try doing your best when living in a too tight box!

Fear and anger fill boxes. That is, after all, the purpose of the box, the fruit of the impossible mission.

Here’s my advice to myself: fail at the box. Cut it up and put it into the recycle bin. Then, free of the too-tight judgments, it’s possible to set mistake-free intentions. Life as finger painting: do the best that you can.

read Kerri’s blogpost about SOME DAYS

Trip And Trip Again [on KS Friday]

One of the advantages of having stepped in every pothole, tripped on every cobble, and made every mistake at least twice, is that I’ve learned about potholes, cobbles, mistakes, tripping and stepping where I ought not step. If I could boil down to the essence the single thing I’m beginning to grok it is this: life is not elsewhere.

I laughed aloud when I at last I realized the absurdity of “practicing mindfulness” as if it was something to achieve. Mindfulness arrives when the practice stops. Of course. Meditating for self-improvement, I’ve read, is a uniquely Western oddity. “Trying” to be present is ridiculous if you think about it. You are present. What else? Because your mind is running amok does not actually magically transport you to the past or the future. You are present with a mind that is running amok. Minds are like puppies: chase them and they run away. Stand still and they will eventually come to you.

Is any of this pothole wisdom helpful? Absolutely not. Like mindfulness, wisdom arrives when the obsession with knowledge-for-betterment ceases. I’ll let you know what that looks like when I stop trying to attain it. There’s no end to the tripping stones. I’ve learned that, too. Again and again. And again.

The best things in life are not achievements. They are relationships. Me to you. Me to me. Me to the world I am passing through, one moment at a time. With you. Stand still in the moment – you might as well since it is where you are – and you’re libel to experience all manner of beauty.

read Kerri’s blog post about SNOWFLAKES

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

kindred spirits…away/released from the heart © 1995 kerri sherwood

Get Lost [on DR Thursday]

“A person who never made a mistake never tried something new.” ~ Albert Einstein

Recently, I revisited Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talk about schools killing creativity. Among his many points, the central idea was simple and clear: we reinforce knowing answers instead of the pursuit of the question. We reinforce “being right” when the beating heart of learning, the vibrant center of creativity, the foundation of scientific process, is to try-and-see-what-happens. To be “prepared to fail,” as he said, is to remove failure from the equation. A curious mind seeks discovery, not “rightness.” An experiment is meant to test a hypothesis not immediately arrive at the answer.

When Kerri and I stepped onto the trail, new to us, the signage was more than confusing. “It’s a loop,” I said, “What’s the worst that could happen?” We chose the orange trail and started walking. We followed the blazes rather than the signs. A storm or drunken ranger must have erected the signs because they were often out of alignment with the blazes. “If we followed that sign, we’d be in the creek,” Kerri said.

Early on in our hike, a man came crashing out of the woods. “Is this the trail?” he asked. “I think I’m bushwhacking,” he said. This man, I suspect, followed the signs. He was having a great time but was somewhat relieved to be back on the beaten path. He was the first of many. A woman stopped us. She and her husband were having a disagreement about which trail they were taking. “Is this the long or short loop?” she asked. We shrugged, a shadow of concern creeping up in the back of our minds.

There was supposed to be a waterfall somewhere on the trail. We asked more than a few people as we passed and received a marvel of contradictory instructions. “There’s a side path on the left.” “Somewhere ahead you’ll see a side trail on the right.” We took option B and had a lovely trek up the mountain but turned back when it became apparent that our choice did not include the waterfall. “Next time,” we said. It was late in the afternoon and we wanted to be back at the car before sunset.

With tired legs and lack of trust in the signage, we came to a trail crossroads. Orange went in three different directions. The sign that pointed the way to the parking lot did not inspire confidence but we followed it anyway. We passed an older couple, local hikers, that assured us we were on the right path. A couple crashed out of the woods, having lost the trail but were equipped with a GPS app: we were definitely headed in the right direction but had more than a mile to go to get back to the car.

“It does not feel good to feel lost,” we agreed. “Especially when the light is waning.”

Arriving back at the car, breathing a sigh of relief. “That was fun!” we laughed. “And stressful at the end.” We were never actually lost but we were successful at filling ourselves with doubt. We were grateful for the older couple that reassured us, the lost couple with the GPS that broke out of the woods exactly when we needed them.

And, we learned a lesson. Next time we’ll take the time to study the map. And, we’ll be equipped with a better app. Our lostness was always in our minds, in our doubt. The next time we lose ourselves in second guessing – and it is certain to happen – we’ll be better equipped to handle our self-imposed-disorientation.

In the meantime, we’re already whipping it up into a great survival story. I didn’t mention the bears or starting fire with flint and steel. Building a survival shelter from twigs. That version, the real story of our heroic adventure, is certain to come soon. Lostness, it seems, stimulates fabulous creativity.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE MOUNTAIN

Make Good Mistakes [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

At the front desk, we answered a long series of questions about our recent health, had our temperatures scanned and recorded. A ritual of the COVID era. Name tags rolled from a printer and, with masks on, the door clicked open and we entered the memory care facility. It was the first time visiting my dad in his new home.

We found him in his room, number 110. His bed was sharply made, something he’d done all his life. He was sitting in a cranberry colored easy chair and was, in his mind, tending the store. He breathed an audible sigh of relief when we came in. “Finally!” he said, “I’ve been watching the store all day and haven’t had a single customer.”

I learned long ago to jump into his reality rather than try and pull him into mine so we talked about his business. He was especially excited about the television and radio spots promoting the shop. He pointed to the door to the bathroom and told us it was the library and confessed that he’d started to organize it but had been interrupted so it was a fantastic mess. He laughed and the old sparkle, for a moment, returned to his eyes.

I told him I was really good at making messes. He leaned in, adjusted his oxygen tube, and spoke a lovely wisdom, a lesson from the very old that, in my opinion, should be taught to the very young, “I can make as good a mistake as anybody.” We laughed.

He was always a good teacher. Making good mistakes was, and still is, even deep in his dementia journey, the epicenter of his good teaching. Make mistakes freely and learn from what you find in the mess. Remove failure from the equation.

He walked us to the door when it was time to go, and, for a moment, he knew who we were. He looked at Kerri and said of me, “I’m sorry you have to look at that all the time. Damn, is he ugly.” In my clan, to tease is to love. “I get my looks from my father,” I replied. More sparkle.

“Keep making those mistakes,” I said, hugging him goodbye.

“I don’t think I can avoid it,” he smiled and, he turned down the hall. “Guess it’s time to close up the shop.”

read Kerri’s blog post about GOOD MISTAKES

Appreciate The Garbage [on Merely A Thought Monday]

your past copyWe saw this phrase on a Baptist church signboard en route to the Des Plaines river trail: your past should not dictate your future.

I read somewhere that we spend the first half of our life stuffing a bag full of garbage and the second half of our life unpacking and sorting through it. If it is true that we must make mistakes in order to learn, then much of what we judge as garbage must also be the necessary ingredient for growth. Context is everything.

When we first met, Kerri introduced me to a song by Rascal Flatts called Bless The Broken Road. Our conversation was a shared soul searching about all things we’d done in the past and labeled as ‘mistakes’. These ‘mistakes’ set off chains of events that led to the really good things in our lives. One of them led to our meeting. “You have to listen to this song,” she said. God bless the broken road.

Forgiveness seems hard to extend to others but almost impossible to extend to ourselves. Mistakes. Garbage. Broken roads. Who really knows where a path leads? Who really knows the impact of any decision or choice? It is easy to look back on a choice and criticize it because it is also easy to forget the pressures-of-the-moment and future-blindness that factor into our choices. Hindsight is not as clear as advertised.

When we were young Roger told me that he didn’t want to have any regrets when he looked back on his life. At the time I agreed. Now, I know that a life void of regret is a life lived on a too narrow spectrum, a protected life. A life free of risk. And, that life, inevitably comes with one single but whopping regret: it wasn’t really lived.

The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

read Kerri’s blog post about PAST DICTATES

 

k&dbw backs website box_ copy

Be Clumsy

a detail of my painting, May You Be.

a detail of my painting, May You Be.

Clumsy (klum’ ze) adj. 1. lacking dexterity, grace or skill; awkward. 2. ungracefully shaped or made; unwieldy. 3. awkwardly or unskillfully said or done, ill-contrived.

“We don’t allow ourselves to be clumsy,” Kerri said. “Life is clumsy.”

Many years ago I read a commentary that suggested we moderns have a harder time of feeling good about ourselves than people of ages past. The argument went something like this: we have an impossibly high standard to meet and it is mostly illusory. For instance, our predecessors compared themselves and their successes against a relatively small village populace. We are swimming in pool that stretches around the earth. The athletes in our ancestral villages ran against their neighbors, the artists created for a specific purpose that served a tangible need in their community. Our young runners know to the hundreth-of-a-second what greatness requires. They run against the world. Our artists rarely know outside of their own inner imperative why they are creating. With no outer limit they spend a great deal of time wondering if their work has any impact or greater significance. With no outer limit it has no defined audience or community. Stephen, a gifted and prolific artist, used to ask, “Why don’t people recognize the value of art?”

The argument is largely a question of access. Our predecessors had limited and very abstract access to the news of the day, to the happenings beyond their region. We have a 24-hour global news cycle that comes to us on multiple devices that are designed to grab and keep our attention. It is not passive. On our multiple devices we are bombarded with images and messages of what we should look and feel like. Yet, almost all of the images populating our personal measuring stick are constructed. They are manipulated, retouched, powdered and Photoshopped. Legs are stretched. Wrinkles are removed. Sunsets are filtered. We measure ourselves against illusions.

Thus, intermediaries are everywhere. Interpreters abound. I rarely go into a gallery without a curator telling me why the work on the walls is important. The news of the day makes us the rope in a tug-of-war of interpretation.

Art, like life, like deep spirituality, requires direct engagement. It is made rich in the rough draft and the mistake. The broken road is interesting, vital. Learning is a process that takes time. It is messy. It is clumsy. It is not straight, paved, and has no road signs. And, it cannot be walked alone.

There is no forgiveness (of self or other) on the path of perfection; forgiveness is in short supply when the standard is both impossible to attain and an illusion. On the clumsy path, on the messy and muddy road, lives grace, generosity of spirit and deep forgiveness.

Clumsy (klum’ ze) adj. 1. Human

May You Be

May You Be

 

Meditate On Mistakes

taking advantage of my mistakes: a detail of my latest painting in progress called Weeping Man

taking advantage of my mistakes: a detail of my latest painting in progress called Weeping Man

A meditation on mistakes:

Actors know. In performance, when they forget their line, they come alive. The exhilaration of forgetting shocks them into presence. The mistake achieves the essential thing: presence. The audience may not be aware of the lost line but they cannot help but come into presence when the actor does. That’s how it works. Presence begets presence. Actors also know that, in such a moment, tension is their enemy. Panic is counterproductive. Relaxation is the only path back to their play.

Mistakes wake us up.

Many years ago, I produced a summer theatre company. In the middle of a performance, a storm blew out the power to the theatre. The performance stopped. The emergency lights came on. The actors looked at the audience and the audience looked at the actors. And then, in the ghostly blue-white light, the actors continued their play. It was the one and only time that the play was riveting. Actors and audience alike became invested. They were together in an experience that was unique. It was, as are all true mistakes, unrepeatable.

the under painting and sketch.

the under painting and sketch.

The playwright John Guare wrote that a writer must write ten bad pages to arrive at the one good page. The writer must value the ten bad pages for the single good page to be possible. The ten bad pages, what educators, locked into testing regimens, might call mistakes, are necessary. Up front expectations of perfection are guarantees of mediocrity. No process is perfect – and that’s the point. Perfection, like happiness, comes after the fact. It is the blossom of a rich process. It ensues and only becomes available when mistakes are valued, when exploration is encouraged. A rich process is alive with trial and error, with strong offers that may or may not work. The strength of the offer, the capacity to make a grand mistake, learn, adjust and boldly offer again – is a great definition of freedom. It is otherwise known as vitality.

It’s what artists understand. When nothing seems to be working, when the most powerful offers fall flat, when paintings turn to mud, relaxation is the only path forward. There is comfort in knowing that the single good page is out there somewhere if only you keep making grand, luscious, brilliant mistakes.