Be The Storm [on Chicken Marsala Monday]

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“It is a sacred art that deals with revelation rather than observation.”~Jamake Highwater, The Language Of Vision

Tom used to say, “A writer writes and a painter paints.” Those are wise words grounded in the mechanics of art. Simply show up. Do the thing. Nuts and bolts. That’s the first step. Show up at the easel, on the dance floor, at the piano, at the writers desk and begin. Tom was a teacher and over his life heard an overabundance of excuses, reasons ‘why not.’ Said another way, he advised his students to stop thinking about it and do it. “Get out of your own way,” he’d counsel. That’s the second step. Horatio calls this step ‘trust-your-work.”

Show up. Do the thing. Get out of your own way. Trust your work.

And, what happens with trust? When the artist can get out of his/her own way, the sacred art, the art of revelation becomes possible. It’s a beautiful paradox. Show up and get out of the way. And, between those two actions, those crackling oppositions, a greater force, inspiration, gathers and releases like a storm.

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Make Purple

Polynieces and Eteocles

I dug out an old drawing this morning. I’ve been thinking about it for days and finally decided to heed the impulse and find it. I drew it years ago, a study for a large canvas I intended to execute but the timing wasn’t right or the thought was not complete. I can’t remember. It would have been a statement piece, based on a myth. Polynieces and Eteocles, two brothers fighting for control of the kingdom after the death of their father, Oedipus. They refused to share the riches. They lost sight of the kingdom in their lust for control and killed each other in their battle. Both lost.

I remembered the drawing after reading the daily news. It popped into my head as an image that seemed relevant as I listened to the intensity and insanity of the blues and the reds. These days I hear a lot of rhetoric about what is good for “the American people” and I am certain – it is among the dwindling things I am certain of – that these diverging rhetorical paths are not good for anyone. The kingdom is nowhere to be found, so lost are we in the power struggle, the alternative-truth-games and all of the accompanying hyperbole.

Recently 20 came over for dinner. He read to us a disturbing article from the newspaper and asked, “So, do you think we have it all upside down?” It was, of course, a rhetorical question. The article was from a February 12th issue of The New York Times, Husbands Are Deadlier Than Terrorists, by Nicholas Kristof. It was an appeal to stay focused on what matters in the midst of so many smoke-and-mirror-power-play intentions. It was a plea to not be lost in the diversions:

            “Consider two critical issues: refugees and guns. Trump is going berserk over the former, but wants to ease the rules on the latter….In the four decades between 1975 and 2015, terrorists born in the seven nations in Trump’s travel ban killed zero people in America, according to the Cato Institute. Zero.

            In that same period, guns claimed 1.34 million lives in America, including murders, suicides and accidents. That’s about as many people as live in Boston and Seattle combined.”

           It’s also roughly as many Americans as died in all the wars in American history since the American Revolution….”

There is, admittedly, much to fear in this world but it is rarely where we pin the blame. Insanity almost never recognizes itself.

According to the myth, Oedipus put a curse on his sons. That was the reason they could not peacefully share the rule of the kingdom. It was a curse. They couldn’t help it. So, it was their fate. No lesson learned. No growth possible.

We have a long legacy of using inequity to create and reinforce division. Perhaps that is the curse we inherited? That is the “reason” we cannot find common ground and shared governance? Is it our fate to murder each other and project the danger onto the people least capable of defending themselves: the current wave of immigrants? It seems lazy but certainly appears to be effective.

It might now be time to execute my painting. I’ve lately been focusing on grace and images of internal peace. I seem to be out of accord with the times in which I am living. According to the data we are killing each other faster, more efficiently and more eagerly than any external threat. All the while our ruling class seems singularly devoted to keeping us in primary color-coded camps rather than working with the creative tension that moves divisions in a unified direction. And, we seem singularly devoted to playing along, not a hint of purple to be found.

Art is, after all, an expression of who we are and I can find no other more relevant American image. It will, of course, be a symphony of reds and blues.

 

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Paddle On

photo-3We’d been out in the canoe for more than an hour. The morning was warm and the water was still. We hugged the shore, cruising the lily pads. Dan told us some of the lily pads were over 150 years old. I was amazed at their capacity to reach through time but also reach through long stems to the water’s surface to drink the sun.

The turtle emerged from nowhere. It appeared from the depths, through the lily pad stem forest, and rose to within inches of the surface. It was big for a lake turtle, perhaps the size of a dinner plate. I let my paddle trail in the water. It was so close I could have reached into the water and touched it. We glided forward and turned the canoe so Kerri might see it but the turtle had already disappeared.

the view from the canoe

the view from the canoe

Turtle is perhaps the oldest known symbol for the earth. In many traditions, turtle carries the world on her back; the earth is her shell. She is a great reminder to go slow and persevere, to live grounded amidst the chaos of life. She symbolizes patience and ease. I was struck by how similar are the symbols of turtle and lily pad. Peace. Ease. Both are extraordinary symbols of grounding or rooting. Both cross the boundary of elements: the turtle lives in water and land. The lily pad reaches through the water to find air and sun. Both inhabit the depths and reach to the surface.

It feels as if I came into this world with art already in me. From an early age I drew pictures, not because I wanted to but because I had to. Like the lily pad, I was reaching for something unknown. I drew the same images over and over again: a cabin in the woods, eyes, clowns. I wasn’t drawing to master the image, I was drawing and painting in order to reach beyond the image. There was something there, beyond, deep in the depths, a root, rich soil, the void. There was a force behind the image that pulled me. My artistry felt like a descent into the caves of the ancients, a search for sources mythological.

Sometime during these past few years, the direction of the pull reversed itself. Like Orpheus in the underworld, I turned around. I walked toward the surface. In essence, the pull to the depths became a reach to the light. The sun called. Balance, in this life, at long last necessitated light and warmth.

Tom once told me that inheriting his family’s ranch and subsequently finding a trunk hidden in the wall of the house containing his ancestors possessions served as an affirmation that he had finally come home. Sitting in the canoe, the turtle rising by my side, I felt the affirmation. I am now only inches from breaking the surface. I drink the light because I know the depths and am adept at walking in the dark unknown.

the first layer of  under-painting for the next piece

the first layer of under-painting for my next piece

I am working much slower now. I am in no hurry to get anywhere. And my art, my life, is the better for it.

 

 

 

Tell A Good Story

The Storyteller emerges from the forest. Lucy & The Waterfox

The Storyteller emerges from the forest. Lucy & The Waterfox

Over the years I’ve tried countless marginally successful ways to define for others what I do. It would seem obvious: I am a painter. I am a writer. Oh, and a theatre artist. And a consultant. And I’ve maintained a coaching practice. I’ve worked in education, the corporate world, with non-profits, and with entrepreneurs. So, in conclusion, I do too many things.

Well, that’s not exactly true. I do one thing. I deal in story.

I speak the language of story and that is confusing in any arena. What does it mean? Such a simple word, story, and yet it can mean so many different things. For instance, a truism in effective, transformational coaching is that the story doesn’t matter. By story, coaches mean the circumstance; in transformation, in the fulfillment of potential, the details of what happened – the story – are not useful. The circumstance story usually equates to blaming or endless attempts at self-fixing. The circumstance story gets in the way of growth. It is an anchor in the sea of dysfunction.

I don’t work with circumstance stories.

By story, I mean inner monologue, the-story-you-tell-yourself-about-yourself. By story, I mean the language that we use within ourselves to articulate belief. I work with the orientation story, the personal and communal mythology. Rather than get in the way, the orientation story defines the way. It defines what we see. It defines our relationship with time, with nature, with god, with community: it is the lens through which we make meaning. I help people change their lenses. Try explaining that to a CEO!

Last year, when Skip and I shuttered our business, I also shuttered my coaching practice. I ended my corporate work. Much of it came to feel like wearing an ill-fitting shirt –or a host of ill-fitting shirts – so I decided to clean out the closet. I wanted to drop all the definitions, the old forms, to make space for the new.

Last week I decided it was time to peek into the empty closet. And, as serendipity would dictate, I happened to be reading Frank Delaney’s engaging book, The Last Storyteller. On page 99 of this fictional tale, this is what I read:

“…every legend and all mythologies exist to teach us how to run our days. In kind fashion. A loving way. But there’s no story, no matter how ancient, as important as one’s own. So if we’re to live good lives, we have to tell our own story. In a good way. A way that’s decent to ourselves.”

I threw my head back and laughed. There is no story as important as one’s own. To live a good life we have to tell our own story in a good way. And then, there was this:

“…I don’t give anybody advice. All I do is release the good thinking that’s already inside of you. You’re the one who acts on your own advice, and I have the pleasure of helping you reach those thoughts about yourself. So it’s not me helping you. It’s you helping you.”

Ask me today what I do and I will say, I write. I paint. Ask me for more detail and I’ll open the book to page 99.

[to be continued]

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Love Yourself Better

this one is from the archives. I painted this 10 years ago.

this one is from the archives. I painted this 10 years ago.

He said, “The current goal is to love myself better.” And then he added, “Not so much a goal but something that needs teaching from our own mind.” His statement begs a great question, an ages old question: Can the mind teach itself? Really, the question is can the mind see itself clearly enough to teach itself?  Or, the question within the question: Can the mind teach itself to love itself? I scribbled the questions in my notebook and beneath them I wrote, “Is love teachable? Is love reachable through the mind, especially self-love?

We’d been chatting for a while and had covered a lot of territory, from Monte Blanc pens to typewriters to soap use around the world, clean water, the difference between good and bad scotch, the shapes of the 50 states and how they might influence personal identity and we’d somehow wandered into the epicenter: self-love.

His statement nailed the universal dilemma perfectly. It was a declaration of separation. The self watching and wanting more for the self. The separation is in the language: to love myself better. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t made this statement. Which part of the self will better love the other part of the self? Which part of the mind will teach the other to love?

It is where myth meets the everyday. Every human being who has walked the earth has wrangled with separation and the yearning for self-love (re-connection to self, unity). The human journey is a walk from separation (birth, if you want to take it literally) to reunification (death). The story lives in mythologies the world round. If we were still willing to read our mythologies (religions) metaphorically, we’d see it. For instance, being expelled from the Garden of Eden for eating from the tree of knowledge is the story the ancients told of the experience of separation. The inevitable bite of apple from the tree of knowledge brought duality consciousness: male/female, us/them, mine/yours, haves/have-nots, me/you. Separation. The rest of the story, not often told, is how, through out the rest of our lives, we seek the Garden where there lives a second tree: the tree of everlasting life (unity). We journey from knowledge (separation) to everlasting life (reconnection). The death need not be literal. To die to the self is necessary to experience the SELF.

Here’s the great paradox: loving another person is an act of self-love. The path to self-love is found when we serve something bigger than our selves. Think about it: the movement is always from separation to joining, from isolation to connectivity. The obvious question is, “Connectivity to what?”

Self-love is not found when the mind teaches the mind but when the mind gets out of the way of the heart. The love is always there. Love is never missing. Self-love reveals itself when the definition of self grows beyond our own skin. According to our latest neurological science, we experience ourselves as separate because we dull ourselves to our fundamental connectedness to others. In other words, we cultivate a story of isolation and then set about the real work of our lives: to see beyond what we think.

And then he said, “You know what else I just realized?”

“What’s that?” I asked.

“I just landed myself in a blog post.”

Yep.

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