Open To It [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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I stood gobsmacked on the deck. The horizon, the straight line bank of clouds. It was a piece of contemporary art worthy of Richard Diebenkorn or Ellsworth Kelly. A study in grays and greens and purples. Monumental.

Sometimes I forget that the very best art can only approximate what already exists in nature.  Try to capture the totality of a sunset. We simply can’t do it. We can approach the feeling but our scope will always be smaller, less dimensional. Our work is to see it – to see beyond the thought of it. To dance with it. To be vulnerable to it. To share the dance.

Last night we saw author/musician Michael Perry on stage. He closed his performance with thoughts about gratitude. He told his audience that, as an artist, he is vulnerable every time that he takes the stage or publishes a book. Opening himself to the thoughts and judgements of others is not an easy thing to do. It is, however, a necessity for an artist. But, here’s the gift: vulnerability becomes gratitude. If you are never vulnerable, living in a fortress, you will never arrive at gratitude. Gratitude is forged from the fire of vulnerability.

Openness begets openness. There is a full spectrum of color, an embarrassment of riches that vibrates between vulnerability and gratitude. Grays and greens and purples. Stand on the deck and open to it. Stand on the stage and open to it. Stand with your neighbor and open to it. The best of contemporary art. Monumental.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about GRAY

 

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Open Your Mind [on DR Thursday]

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Peace on Earth is a nice seasonal phrase but I’m willing to bet that most folks think it is pie-in-the-sky. A utopian ideal. So, pondering what to write about Peace on Earth, I flipped open a book and the first phrase I saw was this: An Open Mind.

Horatio is wise. He once told me that in these United States we are divided because we have competing narratives. Narrative #1: Every man for himself. Narrative #2: I am my brothers’ keeper. I think he is right. Generally, you can toss every national debate into one of those buckets. This morning, for my Peace on Earth rumination, I’d redefine those two narratives this way #1: Closed Mind (every man for himself) or #2: Open Mind (I am my brother’s keeper).

The ‘every man for himself’ narrative is predicated on the notion that there is limited pie in this vast universe. The goal is to grab a big piece of the limited pie. It’s necessarily a fight because there’s not nearly enough pie to go around. It’s fear-based and fear closes minds. Every year people get trampled in the national-celebration-of-limited-pie known as Black Friday. Get yours. It’s true, through this dark lens Peace on Earth is nothing more than pie-in-the-sky.

The inverse narrative, ‘I am my brothers’ (and sisters’!) keeper’ is predicated on the notion that there is plenty of pie to go around. In fact, the goal is not to grab but to create and then to give. Not only to share our toys and our gifts but to cultivate the base layer of Maslow’s Hierarchy for everyone: security & safety. Communal self-actualization follows the same path as personal self-actualization. Morality, respect, and generosity are the blossoms of feeling secure. So is an Open Mind. Peace on Earth, through this lens, is like more pie in the oven.

The ‘every man for himself’ story is a great recipe for closing minds. With fear and studied ignorance at its center, this narrative begs us to ignore a simple truth: no one does this alone. We are, in fact, dependent upon each other for our survival, our identity and our esteem. In isolation, a human being cannot thrive. Withhold interaction and love an infant will not survive.

I have a theory (okay, a belief) that the ‘I am my brothers’ and sisters’ keeper’ narrative is the truth of us. When the chips are down, when another person in peril, firefighters run into the building, they don’t run away. Everyday people leap in harm’s way to save the life of another. It is their instinct. It is our nature.

Like everything, believe it or not, what we embrace is a choice. Narratives are powerful.

An Open Mind is a door into Peace on Earth. It’s possible there’s more pie in this vast universe, this abundant earth, than a closed mind wants you to see.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about PEACE ON EARTH

 

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Chicken Marsala Monday

A Chicken Nugget from the melange to help you start the week

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I appreciate the Chicken Nuggets – especially today’s – because I know the back story.  Without knowing where these drawings with words came from or why we took the time to develop them, they could be tossed off as so much fluff. A nice sentiment. But.

What is it to stand in another person’s shoes? To understand the feelings of another? An other. Not me. Nice sentiments are rarely easy when put into practice.

There is a direction in Empathy. It is a reach toward an other. To reach out. To reach across a boundary, seen or unseen.  To try. The direction is important to grock. ‘To understand’ is a fundamentally different thing, a radically different direction and intention than ‘trying to be understood.’ It suggests an openness to possibility, a willingness to consider. A shedding of the armor. It unlocks the magic of “what if….”

There is a big drum banging the opposite narrative – closed doors, closed ears, closed eyes. It is easy to believe that we-the-people are incapable of listening, that we are unwilling to consider and are only adept at shouting each other down. Putting each other down. Closing off. Closing down. But.

Take a walk today. Count the moments of generosity that you see. Count the times that others reach. Count the times that you reach. You might be surprised how different your actual experience is from the prevailing narrative. Human beings are, for lack of a better analogy, a pack animal. We run together. We die when we close-off. We wither when we turn in. No human being, if we are honest with each other, knows who they are absent of relationship with others. We know each other together. Reaching is what we most naturally do. We reach when we see others hurting.  We open doors. We run into burning buildings, not for ourselves, but for the sake of others. It is infinitely more common to reach than to withdraw. Fear may demand a narrative of opposition, of irreconcilable difference, of standing alone in singularly righteous shoes. But, to believe it, you’ll have to close your eyes. You’ll have to disappear in the corridors of your busy, busy mind.

Today, do what is most natural. Open your eyes. Reach out. See what they see.

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read Kerri’s thoughts on Try To See What They See

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Stay Open

Illustration from Play-to-Play

Illustration from Play-to-Play

It’s very late. I was deep asleep and am suddenly wide awake. That is happening often these days. My inner light switch is tripped and there is no going back to sleep.

I woke up thinking about something Judy told me yesterday during our phone call. Judy is wise. She told me that she believes the real work in a life is never achieving a goal or arriving at a destination. It is not something with a direction. The real work is to learn to stay open. Stay open to possibility. Stay open to choices. Stay open to feeling. Stay open to changes. Stay open to experiences. Stay open to surprises.

It is not the kind of advice that children generally get in school but it is exactly the kind of advice an elder might impart if asked – and only if asked. Learn to stay open. Life has a way of making us want to close, to armor up, to dull our selves, to turn our backs and whisper, “There’s nothing I can do.”

It sounds too simple, “Stay open to life.” It’s not. What is simple is sinking into the easy chair and falling asleep in front of the television. Simple seems like a good idea until you realize you’ve been doing it for years. That is, of course, the point of the easy chair. The easy chair is a destination. It is a direction.

Staying open is a practice. Turning toward life and facing it with all of its force, heat, and pressure is not simple. Opening to the grief as well as the joy, feeling the pain as well as the pleasure, requires intention. Opening to the full spectrum of living engenders liveliness. Life begets life.

In a recent post I included a quote from Carlos Castaneda that just popped to mind:

“Oppressors and oppressed meet at the end, and the only thing that prevails is that life was altogether too short for both.” Carlos Castaneda, A Separate Reality

 

See Again and Again

A detail from my painting, An Instrument of Peace

A detail from my painting, An Instrument of Peace

It has become my habit, when I finish a painting, to take photographs of sections of the piece. It helps me see it again. Often, I like these detail photographs as well or better than the painting. There are always discoveries in the details.

My paintings always surprise me. Years ago, I was showing my paintings to Jim Edmondson and he asked why all of my pieces had three spheres in the composition. I didn’t know what he was talking about. He laughed, our roles reversed, and he began showing me my paintings; each piece included three distinct spheres. I literally did not see them. They were apparent only after he made me look at sections of the paintings. I was both shocked and delighted. Perception is not universal.

Another detail from An Instrument of Peace

Another detail from An Instrument of Peace

The mastery of art (the mastery of life – same thing) is to transcend the notion that you “know” and that what you know is “right.” Krishnamurti wrote that, the moment you judge something, you cease to experience it. The fullness of life is in the experience and not the translation of the experience. All of us assume that we see the whole picture. We assume that we see is reality (truth) – and that reality (truth) for me must be reality for you. It is not. To have an “open mind” and “clear vision” is to release the notion that there is one truth, one way of seeing.

Once, I directed a production of God’s County by Steven Dietz and I knew it was a good production because half of the audience left angry and the other half left inspired. One play, many interpretations and the interpretations were, like all things we name as reality, rooted in each individual’s personal experience. What matters is not that our interpretations need to be the same, but a recognition that what you see is just as valid as what I see. As my friend Joe once said, “We come to know ourselves through other people’s eyes.”

 

An Instrument of Peace

A rough shot on the studio wall of An Instrument of Peace

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