Imagine The Possibilities! [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Mastering others is strength. Mastering yourself is true power.” ~ Lao Tzu

I’ve had this quote sitting on my desktop for months. I’ve been on a Lao Tzu kick, a Kurt Vonnegut kick, a Rainier Maria Rilke kick…all at the same time. They are, not surprisingly, in alignment on many topics, among them self-mastery. “The secret?” they whisper. “Stop trying to control what other people think or see or feel and, instead, take care of what you think and see and feel.” Their metaphoric trains may approach the self-mastery station from different directions but the arrival platform is the same.

It’s a universal recognition: take the log out of your own eye.

Sometimes a penny drops more than once and so it is with Saul’s advice to me. “Look beyond the opponent to the field of possibilities.” “And, just what does that mean?” you may shout at your screen. It sounds like new-age hoo-haw.

Ghandi said, “Nonviolence is the weapon of the strong.” It is the height of self-mastery to bring ideas to the table rather than a gun. It is the height of self-mastery to bring to the commons good intention and an honest desire to work with others to make life better for all. Power is never self-generated but is something created between people. Power is distinctly different than control. Power endures since it does not reside within a single individual. Power lives, as Saul reminded me again and again, not in throwing an opponent but in helping the opponent throw themself. “Focus on the possibilities,” he said again and again. Throw yourself to the ground often enough and, one day, it occurs that there may be another way.

Work with and not against. It seems so simple. The bulb hovering over my cartoon head lights-up. Work with yourself, too, and not against. Place your eyes in the field of all possibilities. Obstacles are great makers of resistance, energy eddies and division. Possibilities are expansive, dissolvers of divisiveness.

I am writing this on the Sunday that Christians celebrate their resurrection. The day that “every man/woman for him/herself” might possibly and-at-last-transform into “I am my brothers/sisters keeper.” All that is required for this rebirth is a simple change of focus; a decision to master one’s self instead of the never ending violent attempt to exercise control over others.

It’s the single message, the popcorn trail left for us by all the great teachers. Instead of fighting with others, master yourself. Imagine the possibilities!

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE CEILING LIGHT

Collapse And Decide [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Brad calls it “paralysis by analysis”. Over thinking. Over researching. Reading every label. Considering every color combination relative to every other possible color combination. If you do some quick math, you’ll note that there are an infinite number of color combinations so arrival at a choice is a process of exhaustion. Waving the white flag. Conclusion via collapse. Decision by despair.

Neither Brad nor I suffer from this debilitating condition but both of our partners in life do.

It’s hard to watch. I learned at the very beginning to detach from the process. If I wait for the research and comparison phase to pass, if I say nothing until the desperation arrives, then I can tip the turmoil into a choice. And then I return to detachment because the paralysis has only reached its midpoint..

They say that summiting a high peak is not the dangerous part. Most climbers die on the return trip, the descent from the mountain. The same is true for analysis-paralysis-style-decision-makers. Once the decision is made, a river of decision-doubt and choice-remorse rushes in. The real paralysis happens after the decision is finally made. And revoked. And made again. And revoked. More spouses have collapsed on the way down from Mount Decision than on the initial ascent.

There’s a terrific scene in the movie About Time. The wife wants help from her husband in deciding which dress to wear to an important dinner meeting. She models dozens of dresses. He finds goodness in every option. She finds flaws in every dress. He becomes increasingly desperate, no matter what he says or enthusiastic support he offers, he finds himself swirling into the quagmire of no-good-answer.

I love that movie. Every time I watch that scene, I both howl with laughter and close my eyes. I know his desperation. I feel his fatigue. The minute she circles back and decides on the very first dress she modeled, with his wave of relief I whisper to the screen, “Now you’re really in trouble.”

read Kerri’s blogpost about DECISION FATIGUE

Look To The Field [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“…if you observe your mind very quietly without giving explanations, if you just let the mind be aware of its own struggle, you will soon find that there comes a state in which there is no struggle at all, but an astonishing watchfulness. In that state of watchfulness there is no sense of superior or inferior, there is no big man or little man, there is no guru. All those absurdities are gone because the mind is fully awake; and the mind that is fully awake is joyous.” ~ Krishnamurti, Think On These Things

Saul told me to look beyond my opponent to the field of all-possibilities. He even gave it a location, a hundred feet beyond where he stood. We were doing an exercise called push-hands and, as a tai-chi master, he was teaching me not only where to place my focus but also where to place my belief. It took me a few years to grok: believe in resistance and resistance will appear. Call it an opponent and you’ve defined the relationship and, therefore, your choices. An obstacle is only an obstacle because it is identified as so.

I met Kerri because my world collapsed. Did my world collapse or did it open? Saul would say, “Neither.” Energy is energy. It moves and we give story to the movement, thereby shaping it. Storytelling is more powerful than we know.

Saul might as well have said, “The opponent lives in your mind. Look beyond your mind. Look beyond the story.” It’s a good practice to have an experience before naming it. It’s a better practice to have an experience and not name it at all. I’m not there yet, though I can see the field that Saul recommended. It exists beyond my definition-noise.

Saul threw me across the room yet never touched me. He laughed. I wanted to ask, “How did you do that?” but I already knew what his answer would be: “I didn’t. You threw yourself.”

read Kerri’s blog post on this Two Artists Tuesday

tree and sky © 2021 kerri sherwood

Coalesce [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Rich used to tell me that, “People don’t change until the pain of the change is less than the pain of staying the same.” At the time, I thought his mantra was cynical; pain either way. Now, I think it is spot-on.

Discord is the essential ingredient for initiating any creative process. Explorers look at the horizon with a deep need to find-out what’s beyond. Their curiosity outstrips their comfort. Curiosity and comfort. Change and stay-the-same. There’s a tug-of-war in every decision that’s worth making.

Creative tension is a dynamic pull between two poles. Do I add a brushstroke or is the painting finished? This morning I came across a well-known quote by Leonardo da Vinci: Art is never finished, only abandoned. Pain either way. Finishing a work of art is akin to dropping the rope in the creative tug-of-war.

When I was wearing my corporate-consultant-hat, almost daily I repeated a lesson relative to Little Red Riding Hood: without the Wolf there is no story. Too often we try to eliminate our Wolf. We are inundated with messages trumpeting the notion that happiness (or good process) arrives in the absence of discord. It does not. Happiness avails itself when the necessity of the Wolf is understood as the fuel of the story.

People thrive when challenged. We create challenges when we don’t have them. Understanding the role of the Wolf transforms Rich’s mantra into something far less pain-full. The heart yearns. The brain fears. The yearning and the fear will coalesce into some action that may or may not be recognized as a choice. Which is the Wolf? The yearning? The fear? Either way, another day is lived. The story is created.

read Kerri’s blog post about UNCOMFORTABLE

Dance In Timelessness [on DR Thursday]

“We cannot struggle to be present. We can only discover that we are present.” ~ Declan Donnellan

The struggle to reach across the divide and grasp hands with the one that you love. It is a universal story. Yearning requires an obstacle to ignite the story.

I painted this for Kerri when we were attempting to bridge the divide. I lived in Washington. She lived in Wisconsin. During a visit, sitting in Adirondack chairs in her front yard, sipping wine and listening to music, we discovered that we were present. We danced in timelessness.

Obstacles become surmountable when love is on the other side of the abyss. We moved mountains and then dealt with the consequences.

It’s a rule that an artist should never tell an audience what a painting means, should never rob a viewer of their response, interpretation, and story of a painting. Sometimes it’s alright to break a rule. I painted this painting for Kerri. It’s about reaching for love across the divide, discovering the present, and the promise of dancing our way through the obstacles.

read Kerri’s blog post about DANCING IN THE FRONT YARD

dancing in the front yard ©️ 2013 david robinson

See The Moon [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

From Japan comes the story of the Crescent Moon Bear. It is a story of rage and patience. A young wife must pluck a single hair from the crescent moon shape at the throat of the ferocious bear. The single hair is a necessary ingredient for a medicine that will cure her husband. I told the story at a facilitation. After the telling, the vice president of the company said to the gathering, as an apology and a revelation, “I am the bear.”

Sometimes bears are necessary. Just like the wolf in Little Red Riding Hood, without the bear or the wolf there would not be a story. The purpose of a fear is to face it. It is a catalyst. The lesson is almost always concealed in the obstacle.

I once had a terrifying dream. I was being chased by monsters. I ran but could not get away. Finally, desperate, I saw a warehouse and ran for the door. I was certain there would be plenty of places to hide. Bursting through the door I was horrified to find the vast space empty. Swept clean. With no other exit available, I had to turn and face the monsters rushing toward me.

Do a little research on the symbol of the crescent moon and you’ll read that she represents cycles and instinct, mystery and immortality. Change. Fecundity. Many years ago I took a class on art and transformation. One of the projects, guided by an elder, was to make medicine shields. The face of the shield was decidedly male, sun. Bull. The back of the shield was feminine, moon. Lizard. Two aspects of power that dance. One is incomplete, superficial and out of balance, without the other.

In the Crescent Moon Bear story, after an arduous journey through the forest of her fear, the bear allows the young wife to pluck the hair. The magic ingredient is not taken, it is given. The obstacle, the monster, the locked door, opens and offers its potion. Insight ensues.

Insight, literally, the sight from within.

All of this, whispers from the psyche, bubbles of deeper wisdom, regeneration, emergence from the dark wood forever changed; could there be a better symbol for our times, a better symbol of promise as we stand with no place to hide, facing our raging pandemic, our ferocious bear of racial injustice, our masculine disequilibrium, than the promise of the crescent moon.

read Kerri’s blog post about the CRESCENT MOON

Walk To The Fence [on Merely A Thought Monday]

“When people disliked each other or wanted to damage each other, they often did it through destroying the person’s harvest. This is the world of pisreoga.” ~ John O’Donohue, Anam Cara

Pisreoga is a Celtic term and lives beyond the reach of Google. It is ancient. The desire to do damage to others who are different or disliked is also ancient. Destroy their harvest. Define them as less than human. Erect obstacles to their participation or power. Starve them.

It’s exhausting.

In Rolling Stone, Wade Davis wrote these words in early August: “In a dark season of pestilence, COVID has reduced to tatters the illusion of American exceptionalism. At the height of the crisis, with more than 2,000 dying each day, Americans found themselves members of a failed state, ruled by a dysfunctional and incompetent government largely responsible for death rates that added a tragic coda to America’s claim to supremacy in the world.”

Four months on, now more than 3,000 Americans are dying everyday. Our death rates and infection rates soar while our government proves itself again and again to be dysfunctional and incompetent each and every day. Our citizenry is divided with several million growing fat on a diet of delusion and misinformation. Our insatiable hunger for misinformation – to believe the worst with nary a fact check or thought-stop – is our nation’s Achilles’ Heel. It poisons our harvest. Our gullibility poisons us.

What is going on? The world of pisreoga.

It’s a precarious community in which neighbors, out of vindictiveness, destroy each other’s harvest. No one thrives when no one can be trusted. Poisoning the neighbor’s harvest eventually – and always – blows back. All are poisoned. The harvest of a poisoned community is its unraveling.

That is what is going on. An emperor with no clothes. Red-hatted-screamers riding the Titanic of party loyalty all the way to the bottom; a nation goes with it. Oaths-of-office that mean absolutely nothing. Sowing the seeds of doubt and misinformation as a tactic to retain power. Useful idiots signing on to garbage lawsuits, undermining the very harvest they were sworn to protect, cheering for a bloated naked ego.

Pisreoga. A failed state. To obstruct. To do damage. To destroy the harvest rather than deal with the realities, rather than walk to the neighbor’s fence and say, “We have a problem. Can we talk?”

read Kerri’s blog post about WHAT IS GOING ON?

Look For It [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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“Consider yourself blessed. These stones that break your bones will build the altar of your love.” ~ Lynn Park

20 has a collection of images. Faces found in objects. A light socket that seems to be eyes and a nose and a mouth. A teapot face. A widget-face at the hardware store. He sees them everywhere because he looks for them.

Looking for it. It’s the key to a positive attitude: you see what you look for. Look for generosity and kindness and you’ll see it everywhere. It’s also true of a darker view on life: there’s plenty of horror story to be found if you spend your days looking for it.

As a rule, both kindness and cruelty are available in abundance. Both are on display at any given moment of the day.

People seem to be more attracted to cruelty – especially for pleasure. We build coliseums so we can watch gladiators do combat. We thrill when the car crashes on the track. The bloodier the video game the better the sales. We love to yammer on and on about our bad experiences but will tell far fewer people about the good moments. We’ve managed to turn something as benign as Facebook into yet another bloody coliseum for e-battle. People negating people. Dedicated division. “Shouting into the canyon,” as Rob called it.

And, as a rule, we will either go through life seeking meaning for our experiences or we will go through life giving meaning to our experiences. We focus on what we have or we focus on what we lack. Opportunity or obstacle. Us or Them. Either way, it’s a story and we are the storytellers.

People are patterned so they generally see what they expect to see. It’s the lesson that’s all the rage these days in the USA. Lesson #2: once patterned, people are resistant to seeing anything other than what they believe. We have the unique capacity, in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, to argue to the death to maintain our point of view. The anti-mask crowd are providing generations of psychologists with a heyday of research: people literally arguing to death to maintain their point of view despite a veritable mountain of evidence that contradicts their belief.

It seems impossible, yet there it is. There we are.

Like 20, I have decided to train my eyes to see. Only, instead of faces found in inanimate objects, I’ve decided to look for the little miracles. Intrepid life. The magnificent force that expresses in small affirmations. An unlikely plant growing from a crack in the wood. A snake stretched out on the path to catch the sun. The single-day proliferation of crabgrass taking over our yard! A meteor flying by.  People more invested in the sunset than the Facebook. The fox at midnight. The turkey on the roof. The friends who love each other enough to keep their distance.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about INTREPID LIFE

 

 

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Ask, “What Now?” [on DR Thursday]

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“Although each of us is fashioned in careful incompletion, we were created to long for each other. The secret of our completion can only be found in the other. Huge differences may separate us, yet they are exactly what draw us to each other. It is as though forged together we form one presence, for each of us has half of a language that the other seeks.” ~ John O’Donohue, Beauty

My favorite definition of “story” comes from Robert Olen Butler: a story happens when a yearning meets an obstacle. It is, of course, also a great definition of the experience of being alive. In our “careful incompletion” we yearn for other things and other places, other ideas of ourselves. And, so, we set sail. We seek.

Without yearning there would be no story. Without obstacles there would be no story.

Like you, I have spent my time on the kitchen floor, Kerri’s code-phrase for weeping.  When my obstacle was insurmountable, when my yearning required leaving. Loss. Weeping invited surrender. Surrender required weeping. Letting go.

And, after the weeping, emptied of what was, I, like you, stood, took a deep breath and asked myself, “What now?”

 

read Kerri’s blog post about WEEPING MAN

 

 

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weeping man ©️ 2015 david robinson

Play The Same Stuff [on Merely A Thought Monday]

string bass with frame copy“If you are a chef, not matter how good a chef you are, it’s not good cooking for yourself; the joy is in cooking for others – it’s the same with music.” ~will.i.am

I lived most of my life believing I didn’t have a musical bone in my body. I was convinced that I had a tin ear. I was afraid to sing. I carried a guitar (I named her Magnolia) with me for years – a gesture of hopefulness amidst my absolute commitment to my ineptitude – and finally gave it away to someone who could play it. An instrument needs to be played and I felt I was being selfish holding onto a guitar that I would never play. Oh, how I wish I had Magnolia today.

I didn’t just make up my fear of music. I had plenty of reinforcement, lots of shaming, before I committed to a story of I CAN’T. Over time, with more and more horror experiences, my story solidified into I WON’T. Ever. Close the door. Kill the desire.

When I met Kerri – a consummate musician – I told her this: “You have to know two things about me. I don’t sing & I don’t pray.” A few months later we were driving back roads in Georgia, windows rolled down, a James Taylor CD blaring, Kerri singing at the top of her lungs, I thought it was safe to sing along. She’d never hear me. But, she did. She burst into tears and pulled the car off the road. I shook like a leaf but we sang together and it was grand.

It took her about 15 minutes to identify my obstacle. I had to relearn how to hear. That’s it. It took a few months and a willingness to mightily miss notes and my scary story of CAN’T crumbled. I learned how to feel the sound. The music was there all along.

Here’s the magic for a beginner like me: when I am rehearsing with the ukulele band or singing in the choir, I am capable of so much more than when I am practicing by myself. Playing the same stuff elevates everyone. It’s as if we transcend ourselves. Actually, we do transcend ourselves. We sync up and the energy uplifts everyone. Even me. Especially me, a toddler in knowing that I CAN.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about PLAYING THE SAME STUFF

 

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