Be A Nart

My latest: A Day At The Beach

John inadvertently coined my favorite word of the week. We were sipping wine, watching the fire burn in the chiminea, and he was telling us about a recent trip to the Milwaukee Art Museum. It was his first visit and he was thrilled by it. In a moment of brilliant thought collision, he said, “I’m a Nart.” His eyebrows knit and eyes crossed at the force of the collision. “What I meant to say,” he said, shaking his head, “is that I am not very well versed in the arts.” We laughed heartily. A new word was born.

Nart (noun) – a person not well versed in the arts.

When people talk with me and Kerri about their encounters with the arts they often include a disclaimer as if we are, as artists, universal experts (and critics) of all artistic experiences. I told John that, even as an artist, I feel that I, too, am a Nart. I’ve studied it, experienced it, practiced it, rejected it, claimed it, been lost in it, found in it, baffled by it, thrilled by it, transported, disappointed, confused, bored, energized, fed and starved by it. The longer I do it, the deeper into it I walk, the less I am able to put my arms around it.

It is impossible to contain. It is impossible to plumb the depths of it.

In my younger years I was intimidated by this vastness. I thought my job was to grasp it. It was – and is – a calling and I felt inadequate to the call. Now, I understand that my job is not to grasp or contain or to know. My job is to experience it. And, to relate what I experience. I will never be able to express all that is living within me. I will never have enough life to find its (my) edges.

Art is intimate and public, deeply person and intrinsically communal. It can heal or destroy. I have never been more lonely than when standing empty in front of a canvas. I have never been more fulfilled that standing before a finished canvas wondering where the past few days went.

Roger once told me that, where the arts are concerned, there are levels of sophistication. Shakespeare, like fine wine, is not immediately accessible. It takes time for black-and-white thinkers to develop a socket for metaphor to plug into. Art, after all, is not a thing. It is a relationship. The more time you give it, the more experiences you have with it, the more rich and complex it becomes. It opens. You open. If you are lucky, it is a yoga (a practice) that is necessarily personal in a never ending pursuit of greater range and flexibility.

Greater range and flexibility can only be found when you are a Nart. Relationships are made vital in not-knowing. Those who think they know have stopped seeking. They have stopped relating. To believe you know, is to stagnate.

Although I didn’t say it, it would have made John re-knit his brow, but he is lucky to be a Nart. I hope that will always be so.

Attempt What Is Not Certain

Revelry

A painting from the archives. This one goes way back…

“Attempt what is not certain. Certainty may or may not come later. It may then be a valuable delusion.” Richard Diebenkorn, Notes To Myself On Beginning A Painting

Yesterday we went to Linda and Jim’s house to do some Irish dancing. They are terrific and dedicated dancers – with a dance floor in their basement – and thought it would be fun to teach their pals a waltz cotillon. It was, as they suspected, a riot of laughter, wrong-direction, toe-stepping and left-footed-entanglements. We drank wine, ate snacks, and found ourselves boldly waltz-stepping into the great unknown. 20 called it “an afternoon of happy insanity.”

All my life I’ve been fascinated at what happens to (and for) people when they open themselves to new experiences. Generosity rises. When people allow themselves to step outside of their safe-place, challenge their need to control and open to the new, they come alive. I mean that literally. They come into the present moment, out of their obsession with replaying the past and fearing/manipulating the future, and into the place where life actually happens. Now. It is the artist’s job to open the door to the place where life happens. It is the door Linda and Jim opened for us yesterday.

Krishnamurti wrote, “Have you ever noticed that when you respond to something totally, with all your heart, there is very little memory?” Horatio and I have an ongoing conversation about art and artistry. Lately, we’ve been discussing how completely we disappear when working on a canvas. Hours go by and it feels like minutes. And, more to the point, we don’t disappear, we become present. We show up. We experience the fullness of life at the burning point. Time, that grand master of illusion, disappears.

After our dancing, standing in the kitchen with a glass of wine, I heard, “Where did the time go?” We were revitalized and giddy, compatriots and survivors of a journey into the surprises of the unknown. I smiled when there rose a rowdy chorus of, “When can we do it again?” Life had burst through – as it wants to do – and left its charge.

Start Walking

photoTell Me. How can I be a learner?

My mind went absolutely blank, and I heard myself saying, Its simple. To be a learner youve got to be willing to be a fool. ~George Leonard, Mastery

I used to do a lot of work in education. My career in the theatre took a sharp left-hand turn when I started consulting with schools. The puzzles that plagued educators seemed to me easy to address. To be human is to be curious. Tickle the curiosity, begin the story and get out of the way.

Tom once told me that teaching is about relationship (not control). He also told me that the best teaching/learning needed to be directly applicable; it had to be immediate. It had to be real. It had to matter – to both the teacher and the learner. The trick is to extend the mattering into greater and deeper levels of abstraction.

An emphasis on testing is an emphasis on knowing. Great learning places the emphasis on not-knowing. It reinforces the pursuit and dispels the notion that knowledge is something achievable. Worthy questions always open more worthy questions. To be human is to be curious. To be alive is to wonder what is on the other side of the hill and then take a step toward it.

The fool George Leonard references isn’t “ the unthinking person,” it is “the carefree fool in the tarot deck who bears the awesome number zero, signifying the fertile void from which all creation springs, the state of emptiness that allows new things to come into being.”

Emptiness. Not knowing. Relationship. Mattering.

Step Into Unknown with SigThe question, “How do we/I do it?” is a great step-stopper. It is the leading edge of every personal and organizational stagnation excuse. We don’t know how. I’ve come to believe that it isn’t a natural question but is learned behavior. It is an emergency brake installed by a system that values right answers over great questions.

My wife and I have a short-hand phrase, Beaky’s Wheelchair, to remind us when we stall, that “how?” is something that can only be known after the fact. No one knows “How?” at the beginning. Beaky needed an electric wheelchair to be mobile and the world of insurance/medicare was standing still. After months of waiting, with no clue which direction to begin, we started making calls. We met every “no” with a “why not?.” We asked a multitude of foolish questions. We learned. And learned some more. Within a matter of weeks, Beaky had her wheelchair.

How do you play the guitar? Paint a picture? Bridge a conflict? Transcend a limit? Know one knows. Tickle the curiosity, let go of any notion that you need to know how, and start walking.

text from Krishnamurti as it appears in my painting

the text from Krishnamurti as it appears in my painting

 

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Go Slow

Our feet at Montauk

Our feet not rushing at Montauk

 

 

Years ago Quinn gave me a book by George Leonard called Mastery. I revisit it from time to time when I feel, as I do now, that I know nothing. In truth, the older I get, the more experiences I have, the more certain I become that I know nothing at all. If George Leonard was still living I imagine he would approve of my not knowing. “Finally, we are getting somewhere!” he might declare.

Here’s a bit from the book’s introduction:

“The many comments and inquiries that I continue to receive have convinced me more than ever that the quick-fix, fast-temporary-relief, bottom-line mentality doesn’t work in the long run, and is eventually destructive to the individual and the society. If there is any sure route to success and fulfillment in life, it is to be found in the long-term, essentially goalless process of mastery.”

Although in the quarter of a century since Mastery was published the pace of life has, if anything, shifted into hyper-drive, the truth of George Leonard’s assertion remains constant. Fulfillment is found in the long-term. It is found in the goalless processes like friendship or love or a walk in the woods. Fulfillment is a relationship and not an achievement. Learning is a relationship and not an achievement. Spirituality is a relationship and not an achievement. Artistry is a relationship and not an achievement.

All the things we think we know, the things we argue for or against, the righteous territories we claim, the belief flags we plant in the sand, the battle lines we draw, the hills we die on, the idea-wars we wage,.., make muddy the life crackling right before our eyes. After all, what do we really know?

On Sunday I witnessed a baptism. The next day I attended a funeral. These two back-to-back rituals left me with a question: What’s the rush?

I have absolutely no idea.

Spin A Web

from the Yoga series by David Robinson

from the Yoga series by David Robinson

Quinn’s study smelled of cigarettes and books. There was always a red felt tip pen and a yellow pad for note taking or for his latest composition. Quinn didn’t type and I doubt that he ever touched a computer. He had to feel the pen move across the paper. He was a sports writer though, in truth, he was more a poet philosopher. For Quinn, sports were a path to illumination. He filled his articles with haiku, analogies to chaos theory, Michael Murphy, and George Leonard.

One day while sitting in his study, talking about athletic achievement and success, he said, “You have to cultivate your serendipity.” What a terrific phrase! Serendipity is one of those paradoxical words that imply both coincidence and destiny. So, according to Quinn’s coupling of “cultivate” with “serendipity,” we must either promote coincidences or encourage destiny. Or both.

I responded, “So, in other words, the harder you work, the luckier you get.”

“It’s more than that,” he said. “It’s much more than that. Of course you have to do your work. But you also have to share your work. You have to show up, be visible, ask lots of questions, and seek the masters in your field. You have to show what you don’t know. In fact, you have to operate from what you don’t know. There’s always a better way to make a shot or shoot a basket. To cultivate your serendipity is to never stop learning, never stop improving, never assume that you’ve got it.” He paused and then said, “What you don’t know can be an obstacle or it can be connective tissue.”

Quinn watched me take it in. I knew we were talking about more than athletic achievement. He was trying to help me. At the time, I was an accomplished introvert and was wrestling mightily with sharing my work. I had no problem painting the paintings but telling galleries about my work seemed an utter impossibility. Sharing meant I would have to talk to people. It meant I’d have to say, “This is my work and it is good work.” It meant claiming my gift beyond the thoughts and opinions of others. Quinn was teeming with blarney and always seemed at ease in a crowd though I knew even then that we shared a similar demon. He doubted his gift. He recognized my struggle because it was his struggle.

After a moment he lit a cigarette, blew the smoke and continued, “It’s like spinning a web – and the silk, the connectivity, is spun from seeking what you have yet to learn. The more you share your gift, the more you ask others what they see, the more people know about your gift, the higher the odds that a path to success will open. You have to spin the web.” I nodded my head, taking it in. I remember being daunted by what he was telling me. He leaned back in his chair, his eyes filled with mirth, and said, “Success is really about letting yourself learn; always learn.”

I nodded and stared at the floor. He took a drag on his cigarette and as he blew the smoke he added, “No one does this alone.”

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Make Another Choice

757. Join me in inspiring truly powerful people. Each day I will add a new thought, story or idea to support your quest and mine.

Today I drew cartoons. I had coaching calls. I turned soil and helped plant a garden. I’ve never planted a garden before. I read a recipe and made naan bread and turmeric chicken. I’ve never before made naan or turmeric chicken. I will do all of the above again and again. As I turned the soil and later as I kneaded dough I remembered a moment in class earlier in the week. We had a conversation about the absence of resistance.

The conversation went something like this: The absence of resistance in your life is a sure sign that you are living fully in choice. If you are pushing against what you don’t want, chances are you’re invested in the notion that you have no choice. Flip it over and say it another way: resistance is a signal that you are invested in a drama. Pushing against what you don’t want is a signal that your inner victim has come for a visit.

If you pay attention, resistance can also be a guide. Resistance shows you where you’ve invested in the idea that things happen to you. Resistance exposes the places in your life that you’ve abdicated your responsibility for your choices.

The great thing about planting gardens for the first time or making new recipes, is that presence is not a problem. Doing things for the first time invites presence. Not knowing brings us to this moment. We pay attention. It is the magic secret to learning. Another side benefit to stepping into unknown activities is that you have a choice. You can have the experience first and then make meaning out of it (note: this is how your brain works. Or, you can resist the not knowing, pretend that you should know, resist the moment, and miss the learning. It’s a choice. Experience is always determined in that tiny moment when you choose to walk toward something, or push against what you don’t want. It sounds simple because it is simple. Listen to what you resist and make another choice.