Listen To Them [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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Saul taught me to look beyond anything I understood as an obstacle and, instead,  place my focus on the field of all possibilities. “Place your focus on the obstacle and you will deal with the obstacle. Place your focus on the possibilities and you will deal with possibilities.”

Tom taught me to choose my battles and to fight only those worth fighting. “You don’t want to die on every hill,” he said. “In life there are really only one or two hills worth dying on.”

Ironically, Quinn, one the best storytellers I’ve ever known, taught me not to make up stories. Pointing to the big tall bank building he said, “See those people up there on the top floor? They don’t know what they are doing, either. They’re just making it up, too.” Or, maybe, he was attempting to teach me to tell a better story about myself.

It is not an understatement to say that I am rich in guides, teachers and mentors.

Doug, a Vietnam vet and one of the best teachers I’ve known, one day called me into his office and showed me a tattered, ruined book of poetry. “I bought it in the airport on the way to the war,” he said. “It saved my life.” He told me the story and it made me weep. Doug taught me the power of art. So did Paul and Roger. My two MM’s (Master Marsh and Master Miller) continue to teach me this lesson. Dawson, too.

Kerri and I are in a period of change that is simmering with unknowns. It is not the first time in my life that the dense fog has come in. She asked, “What do you think will happen?” I said, “Well, ultimately we’ll die.” She punched me. “That’s not what I mean!” she groused, adding a second punch. “Geez.”

Later, after the double punch, we took a walk on the Des Plaines river trail. An elderly man came around the bend and said with great jest and enthusiasm, “I cleared the path for you! It’s all clear.”

“Clear.”  It’s a poetic term. It means ‘possibility.’ And I heard them, my chorus of teachers and guides. All of them. Loud and clear.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about CLEAR PATH

 

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Find The Kindergartner [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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On a famous day, we drove the entire width of the state of Wisconsin to pick up the puppy that would one day become known as DogDog. On our drive back across the entire width of the state of Wisconsin, Kerri had a moment of panic. What if BabyCat and the not-yet-named-puppy-dog didn’t get along? What if BabyCat felt rejected? Replaced? What if the dog ATE the cat? What if the cat ATE the dog? The horror story variations of dogs-and-cats-living-together ran amok in her mind.

The flip-side scenarios never occurred to her. What if they love each other? What if they play together? What if they are the best of pals, share bowls, look out for each other? Well, there’d be no problem. Nothing to fret about. No horror story to captivate the imagination.

What is it in an adult mind that defaults to the worst possible assumption? Why, when cutting paper with a razor, do I always think, “I hope I don’t cut my finger off.” It could happen. Once, when my dad was pulling the cord on the chainsaw, I heard him say to himself, “I better not cut my leg off.” Sage self-advice!

We imagine. We assume. We project. It is a potent and powerful force, this capacity to story ourselves through imaging. We learn to imagine the obstacles. We learn not to allow the possibilities.

How many times in my life have I asked students or clients to imagine themselves fulfilled? Too many to count but the actual number is equal to the number of times students or clients have responded, “I can’t.”

What? Yes. You can. Dream in the direction of possibility. Remember that once you were a kindergartner and a teacher asked if you were and artist. Your YES was wild and enthusiastic. Your capacity to dream hasn’t gone away. It’s gone underground.

Guts and gore, dogs fighting cats, fingers flying off; the horror-story-imagination is more immediate.  Sometimes it takes a bit of archeology to find the kindergartner.

Oh, and DogDog and BabyCat? Best of friends. We often find them in the afternoon sleeping back to back. Who could have imagined such a thing?!

 

read Kerri’s blog post about DOGDOG & BABYCAT NAPPING

 

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Face The Wind [it’s Chicken Marsala Monday]

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Saul taught me to look beyond the obstacle and, instead, place my focus in the field of possibilities. How I experience my life is largely a matter of where I decide to focus, what I choose to see.

Life, I’ve learned (or finally accepted), never stops throwing new things at me – challenges & opportunities. And, when looking in the rear view mirror of my life , I am generally hard-pressed to distinguish between what was a challenge and what was an  opportunity. The challenges became opportunities, the opportunities brought a basket of challenges.

The winds of change blow all the time. As Chicken, like Saul, reminds me on this Chicken Marsala Monday, the winds of change are never an obstacle. They are a constant force (called life) moving you, moving all of us, to learn, to grow. They are an invitation to turn our faces into the wind, look to the horizon and appreciate the ride.

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read Kerri’s blog post on The Wind Never Stops Blowing You

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the wind never stops blowing you/designs ©️ 2016/2018 david robinson & kerri sherwood

Two Artists Tuesday

A thought for your Tuesday from the melange.

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we call these pieces, “just words.” double meaning? perhaps!

If I had to write a how-to book on soul wellness it would be brief and could be summed up with simple phrases like, lighten up, or cease the practice of taking yourself so seriously [or, the inverse, practice not taking yourself so seriously]. Soul wellness and lightheartedness are companions.

Many southwestern native American traditions include a sacred clown. Don’t you love that phrase! Sacred clown. A sacred clown serves many purposes but usually they lob some light into the too-serious-ritual; they shock us out of our attachment to “how things should be” and spin our dials so we can see “how things really are.” Those wacky sacred clowns know that the path to center is more often found with the assistance of light than when stumbling through the heavy dark. Stephen Colbert is a sacred clown. Jimmy Kimmel is, too. John Oliver. There are many great clowns to help us laugh our way to soul wellness.

The jester, the sacred clown speaks truth to power when no one else can. Power rarely likes to hear truth so most often surrounds itself with sycophants. Power needs a mighty sacred clown to keep it honest. The same rule applies with inner monologues and the runaway stories that plague our minds.  A good inner-jester, the practice of not taking yourself so seriously, acts as a mighty dope slap, a necessary reminder that an alternate focus, beyond the insurmountable obstacle or the unsolvable incessant problem or the unshakable attachment to being right, is possible.

Feed well your sacred clown and you will invariably find the path to wellness with your soul.

 

IT IS WELL WITH MY SOUL merchandise/reminders

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read Kerri’s thoughts about IT IS WELL WITH MY SOUL

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kerrianddavid.com

 

it is well with my soul ©️ 2018 kerri sherwood

Have A Conversation

my quick sketches of two of the stained glass window panels

my quick sketches of two of the stained glass window panels

Yesterday I learned that my conversation with the stained glass window was only on hiatus. Several months ago we simply stopped talking. In the silence I thought the conversation was complete. For almost two years we had a weekly chat. I took lots of notes.

I recognize that one is not supposed to have chats with windows – at least not admit to it. Master Marsh teased me saying, “There’s help for things like this.” I’ve decided that my conversation with the window is more ordinary than odd: plenty of people around the world talk to statues. Most of us have had silent reckoning with the sky. I’ve witnessed mechanics talking to their tools and bakers wooing their dough. Who hasn’t cursed the object of a home fix-it job-gone-wrong (plumbing regularly gets a tongue lashing from me!) or praised a project done well? Traffic gets a regular talking to. In this region, at this time of year, more than a few brides make deals with the weather. A soul in exchange for sunshine.

Who hasn’t, in a moment of turmoil, looked inside themselves and asked for help? Who hasn’t uttered a quiet thank you or asked for guidance or made an appeal? Call it prayer, meditation, epiphany, catharsis, intuition, gut instinct, reading the signs, hearing the call, or communing with nature, it’s a conversation.

I’m not the only artist – or scientist for that matter – that, in moments of flow, feels as if something bigger is coming through. In that sense, all of my paintings might serve as the record of a conversation with something bigger. Writers often speak about having the experience of the characters writing themselves, of following rather than creating. Following, surrendering, allowing, listening, responding, getting out of the way. Play the chords long enough and you no longer need to think about them. In the land beyond thinking about it, music becomes possible. It’s a conversation.

Sitting on the chancel, listening to Kerri play, I stared as I often do at the morning light pouring through the colored glass. I studied the symbols. Birth and death. Tree of knowledge, Tree of Everlasting Life. The Grail standing between two flames. It’s a repetition in symbol of the same idea. Born into an experience of duality and distinctions, a world fighting over its differences, we have the opportunity to walk the middle path, the unity consciousness, the “something bigger.” “Between the two, one,” I the heard the window whisper. “It’s simple, really.”

a quick sketch of all three panels: birth, death, and the middle way.

a quick sketch of all three panels: birth, death, and the middle way.

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Cut A New Path

ComfortNow

The latest in my Held In Grace series. This is Comfort Now

It seems to me that most of our days on this earth are spent moving through patterns, conscious or unconscious. These patterns are the rituals of our lives. Some of the rituals are easy to see. For instance, what is the sequence of actions you perform before going to bed each night? What about your ritual of rising each day? The care and feeding of Tripper Dog-Dog-Dog and Babycat are central to my rising and retreating rituals each day. We move through the same actions every morning and evening and I delight in the warmth of the ritual.

Some of the rituals are not so easy to see. Researchers tell us that most of the thoughts we think every day are the same thoughts we had yesterday. We mostly think in patterns (it makes sense once you recognize that language is constructed of category and pattern). We talk to ourselves, cutting paths through the forest of our minds and, once we’ve established a trail, we like to stay on it. Easy is often unconscious. There’s nothing wrong with staying on the easy trail if the path you’ve cut, your repetitious thought-ritual, is self-loving. The rub: ritual paths of self-loathing and self-limitation are also easy, well-worn paths and that makes them both unconscious and hard to leave.

Cutting a new path through the mind forest begins with recognizing that new paths are always available. They just aren’t easy to establish. They require new practices. They require surrender and the first bit of surrender necessary for cutting a new path is the ritual giving-over of needing-to-know-anything; new paths, by definition are unknown.

New paths are not comfortable precisely because they require attention, consciousness.

My teachers taught me that all stories worth telling are stories of transformation. The main character or characters will know something at the end of the story that they did not know at the beginning and the new knowledge will be hard-won. That’s what makes the story worth engaging. Hamlet is a much different character in Act 5 than he was in Act 1. His peace was difficult to come by. He had to learn to surrender. To cut a new path he had to make a practice of peace.

The same ideal applies to the stories we live off the stage.

 

Taste It Fully

ice circles on the lake

ice circles on the lake

We heard the angry barking of crows before we saw them. They were haranguing an owl. It flew into a tree only a few yards in front of us. For several moments, through the ruckus of the crows, we stared at the owl and it stared at us. Time stopped. Nothing else existed. The owl’s eyes, our breathing, the crow’s chorus.

For our wedding gift, H and Teru sent several collections of poetry, “Manuals on marriage,” they wrote in the note that came with the poems. Kerri and I are savoring the poems, reading one or two aloud to each other every day. They are a source of warmth and inspiration during these cold dark winter months. A poem cannot be rushed or read merely. It must be slowly tasted. It is meant to be entered like a meadow; to be experienced. Try to make sense of a poem and you will miss it. Just like life.

She said, “inner quiet is low maintenance,” and I laughed. Yes it is. The trick is in getting quiet. It is not something that can be found or achieved. It is not a place or a state-of-being. It is what happens when you stop looking for it. Like the hermit says to Parcival when the Grail Castle suddenly reappears, “Boy, it’s been there all along.”

For years Sam the poet was afraid of his poems. Like all great art, his poems, his art, revealed the artist, and so he kept them locked up, un-tasted. He came alive and supremely dissatisfied when he finally unleashed his poetry. He let himself want more but also refused to let himself experience more; one foot on the gas, one foot on the brakes. To taste fully one must be willing to be tasted.

A snippet of a poem (a koan imbedded in a poem), RELAX by Ellen Bass:

The Buddha tells a story of a woman chased by a tiger.
When she comes to a cliff, she sees a sturdy vine
and climbs halfway down. But, there’s also a tiger below.
And two mice – one white, one black – scurry out
and begin to gnaw at the vine. At this point
she notices a wild strawberry growing from a crevice.
She looks up, down, at the mice.
Then she eats the strawberry.

Taste your moment. Taste it fully.

I wrote in my black and red notebook a simple recognition. The field of possibilities cuts both ways: in your despair you must remember that anything is possible. In your joy you must remember that anything is possible. Tiger above (the past), tiger below (imagined future). Do not reject your moment or attempt to hold on to it – both are methods of missing the moment. Taste it regardless of the circumstance. Taste it fully.