Conceal To Reveal [on Two Artists Tuesday]

When I was tilting at windmills, one of my favorite things to facilitate was mask work. I brought masks to lawyers, to CEOs, to teacher’s, government workers, elementary school students, corporate trainers, business coaches and sometimes to actors. There’s nothing better than a mask to pop open possibilities and challenge petrified thinking.

Masks conceal and reveal. They serve the paradox and, therefore, are tapped into the root of truth.

It’s impossible to work with masks for long before realizing that the faces we wear everyday are also masks. We “put on” a smile. We attempt to hide what we feel by the mask we manufacture. Some faces freeze in masks of indifference or masks of disdain. We perform ourselves, and craft our masks accordingly.

Many cultures around this world believe the mask opens a communication with the gods. Don a mask and something bigger-than-you speaks through you. When I paint I often have that feeling. Artistry sometimes means getting out of the way so the creation can flow.

It’s why I brought masks to lawyers and CEOs and corporate folks and teachers. To introduce them to the fields that bloom beyond their need to control. So much of their lives, so many of their problems and challenges were wrestling matches of control. They were actively creating the obstacles that they desired to remove.

What do we actually control when we harden our faces over what we feel? What do we gain by attempting to control what others see or think or feel? We are makers of our own prisons. We are deluded by our fantasy that we have the capacity to determine what others see. The only control we exert is upon ourselves.

The mask work makes abundantly clear that control is not power. Power – creativity – flows. It is the dance of the artist to master technique, to learn control, and then transcend it. To get out of the way.

My favorite moment, with every group, in every circumstance, came when the masks released the people and they slowly, respectfully said goodbye and removed them. Their faces was also mask-less. It was like seeing infant’s faces. Bright. Open. They would, for a few brief moments, look at each other, unmasked and unprotected. Simply astonished at being alive, together, in the world.

read Kerri’s blog post about MASK

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?

Flush The Principle [on Flawed Wednesday]

“Yesterday I wrote a long note to Senate Majority Leader McConnell de-crying just a few of the amoral specifics regarding his crass, disrespectful and gleeful jig dance around RBG’s deathbed…and more generally about his and his party’s roles in bringing to its knees what had been a reasonably good land peopled by reasonably good people…” ~ MM

With the passing of RBG I have heard this phrase repeated over and over again by politicians and pundits alike as an explanation or perhaps an excuse for the the behavior of our elected officials: It’s power over principle.

Power over principle. Penny wise and pound foolish. What is gained is minimal when compared with what is lost.

On one end of the political spectrum is my mother who screamed into the phone, “I want my country back!” On the other end is my dear MM, who lamented, “I’m coming to realize that the country I thought I inhabited never really existed.” It’s a lose/lose proposition all the way around. Loss of belief is what is gained.

Catch a few of the key words in the definition of principle: a fundamental truth that serves as the foundation for a system. Fundamental truth. Foundation of a system.

In essence, as the politicians and pundits make clear, our elected leaders are willing to ignore our fundamental truths and erode our foundation for a wee bit of short term control. Is there any among us who does not know what happens to a house when the foundation crumbles?

Dare I state the obvious? Power is what happens when people come together. Control is what happens when people are divided. The politicians and pundits have it all wrong. It’s Control over Principle. The penny gained is not worth the stable republic that is lost. Instability is central to the definition of a banana republic. And so we will take the path all empires walk when their principles take back seat to their control lust.

Children in our public schools are taught a pledge of allegiance to the flag. It ends with these words: …indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. It seems we are locked in a constant battle to define this word: ALL. Are LGBTQ citizens included in ALL? What about Muslim Americans? Women? Are they included in the word ALL? What about black Americans? Is justice for ALL equally applied or is it only available for the select few?

Our pledge is either a statement of principle or it is a lie. We will become indivisible when liberty and justice are assumed and applied equally to ALL. Principles lead to power; that is the point of a principle and why they must be lived, honored. Control is all that remains to a leadership empty of principle. Division is the only tool in a principle-less toolbox.

Principles matter until they don’t. RBG knew there was a line that must be held. She spent her life fighting for principle over control. It is why, in her passing, we celebrate that she represented the best of us.

It is also why, in her passing, we shake our heads in disgust and disbelief as our senate and president represent the very worst of us. They will, of course, slobber and achieve their small amount of control. The cost, of course, is nothing more or less than our nation’s principles.

read Kerri’s blog post about RBG

Step Into The Dark Wood [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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Midway through one of our favorite hikes, the trail cuts through a section of dense tall reeds. I feel as though I could run and jump at the wall of tightly knit green and it would reject me outright. No entrance. I always imagine there must be a magic door, a secret phrase that will unlock passage to the wonders awaiting on “the other side.” Narnia will open if I know which reed to press.

In stories, the dense woods and murky places are to be avoided. They are where the monsters lurk, the bandits hide, where witches offer poison apples to little children. The community cautions against going there but the protagonist, usually to save the community, must enter that place, the place where no one is supposed to go.

The light must turn and see the shadow. Great power is always found there. Wholeness is never experienced by standing safely in the light but is brought back into the light from the dark side of the moon.

Jonah must go into the belly of the whale. The young wife must seek the Crescent Moon Bear. Luke Skywalker has to enter the dark cave on Dagobah. Adventures are not adventurous without a step into the scary unknown. Growth and new knowledge is not accessible from a safe seat on the couch. What we find in the dense wood or dark cave is often upsetting and unsettling. Revelation creates movement. That’s the function of the shadow. The ring of power is dark and dangerous and must be thrown into the volcano if middle earth is to survive. Who will take it?

Stories are there to help us both understand and navigate our personal and communal journey through this life. They help us know what to do when we have no idea what to do.  They help us know that the answers are not easy and usually arise after a step off the lighted path. They will come after a good bit of struggle, mess and misstep. The answers are rarely at first welcome because they challenge our smallness and will inevitably crack our safe denial.

Today, sitting in our city on fire, another night of protests looming, scary rumors running rampant, I can only hope that we – as a nation – listen to the great stories, that we step with shaky legs into our dark woods and face our dragon once and for all. The great stories assure us that what we find will not be easy or welcome. It guarantees that we will make messes and mistakes. But, it reassures us that our vulnerability and willingness to go through the dark passage will one day make us strong.

It will certainly transform us. I find that intensely hopeful.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about DENSE

 

 

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Free Your Freedom [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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David sends photographs of his young son, Dawson, painting. Or playing. Or just enjoying the moment. I love them. They bring smiles and a Picasso-esque reminder. Paint like a child. Play-to-play and for no other reason. Wear a cape and fly!

Adults get enmeshed in all manner of weird issues. They come to think that things like wearing-a-mask-during-a-pandemic can be an inhibitor to their freedom when, in fact, they gave away their freedom ages ago. They grew up and forgot how to play, how to mush color around with their fingers, how to roll down a grassy slope and run back to the top to do it all over again. They forgot how to play with others. They muzzle themselves.

Adults give away their freedom when they come to believe that a brand of car or the label on their clothes gives them status or makes them sexy. They confuse their money with their morality. They give away 5 days so they might live for 2 or, worse, they suffer through thirty years of toil with the zany idea that they will live life when they “retire.”

Adults get lost in illusion. They snap towels and brag about their wild-side while pulling on their uniform-stiff-collar-suit and cinching up a tie around their neck. They somehow come to think that pushing other people down will raise them up the ladder. They create odd justifications: dog-eat-dog or business-is-business or divide-and-conquer. Play-to-win and for no other reason.

Let’s face it, adults fill themselves up with fear and judgment. They can’t paint with their fingers because someone might call them childish or stupid or worse! And, horror of horrors! What if their finger painting isn’t perfect in the eyes of others?! Shame is a great inhibitor especially when it is the imagined response to fun-and-free-self-expression. The only safe thing to do is put away the dangerous color, wash the paint from your hands. The only safety is to judge others! Establish some mask of authority; become the arbiter of right and wrong. Dole out the shame so as not to receive it. Phew.

Adults mistakenly believe that power is control, that power is something wielded over others. Every child knows that power has nothing to do with control. Power is something created with others, like painting with your dad. That is power-full! Even infants know that power is a relationship of mutual support, it crackles between people. Humans-of-every-age are never more powerful than when helping others grow.

Poor sad adults have it upside-down and backwards. As I used to tell students, “Any idiot with a pistol can take life, it takes a very powerful person to give life.” There’s no real power in the taking. There’s infinite power in the giving.

Just so, there’s no freedom in the taking. There’s infinite freedom in the giving, the free expression, the playing, the laughing, the sharing. Every child knows that.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about DON’T GROW UP!

 

 

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chasing bubbles ©️ 2019 david robinson

 

Reflect [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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A look in the mirror and something entirely surprising is reflected back to me:

I started writing because I discovered that I had something to say. The story goes like this: facilitating a group in a corporate headquarters in downtown Chicago, one of the participants asked a question about power. She was feeling powerless. I listened to the group discussion for a while. And then I surprised myself with more than a few things to say about power and empowerment. So, I went home and started writing this blog. The Direction of Intention. Move toward what you want, not away from what you resist.

Initially, I wrote as a challenge for myself. How many days in a row can I write and still have something to say. I thought I’d fizzle out in less than week. That was over a decade ago.

By my reflection in the mirror I can see that some things have changed. In fact, a lot has changed. This is from my archive; it was my 98th post:

My business partner and I have asked the group to do something akin to attempting to consciously create each moment of their day. We’ve asked them to place their focus on their immediate relationships (with others, with nature, with themselves) and to ask, “Is this how I want to story this moment? Is this what I want to create in this moment?”

It seems like an impossible request until you consider that it is what you are doing anyway. The pertinent question is not, “Can you do it?” rather, the question is, “Are you aware of how powerful you are at creating?”

The most potent recognition I have in doing this exercise (and I have it every time I do the exercise), is when I ask myself the question, “Is this how I want to story this moment?” Usually, my answer is, “No.” Usually I want to create something else. I do not want to create frustration or angst or rushing around. I do not want to attempt to control or manipulate or pressure an outcome. I do not want to invest in a fear or let loose the lack monologue to rage once again about my mind. I do not want to deflect or hide. And the moment I see it, I let go my grip on something I can only call a “story.”

I let go, my eyes clear and I become present. That is why I suspect that creating is a quality of being as much or more than anything I will ever do.

***

A look in the mirror. There is a woman by my side! She is blonde. We wear masks?!! There is a really bad shirt hanging behind her. I look as if there is a tea kettle growing out of my head.  The person I was ten years ago would be mystified by this peek into the future. “Who’s the woman?” he’d ask. “And what’s up with the masks? Where are you, anyway?”

So. I ask myself now, how do I want to story this moment in time? In five years or ten, when I look back at this reflection in the mirror, will I be happy with how I storied myself in this precise moment? Will I be grateful for what I chose to create?

We live in a circumstance that we cannot impact. It’s true with or without a pandemic. But, within our circumstance, there is infinite capacity to determine the story.  I create the story I live. I create the story I tell. I create.

I am married to the blonde woman! Everyday, sitting side by side, we write together. Using the same image or quote, we write our thoughts. He said/She said. No peeking. Then, we share. We read what we’ve written. We talk about what we created. We edit. We reflect. And then, together, we publish.

A look in the mirror. A story to tell. A choice to make. A question to ask. A moment to craft.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about THE MIRROR

 

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pax ©️ 2015 david robinson

Check Your Reality [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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We parked the truck in the Kemper Center lot, far enough from the shore not to be hit by the flying debris, the chunks of seawall and pavement being hurtled from the impact of the waves. Kerri has lived here for over 30 years, “I’ve never seen anything like this,” she repeated as a towering wave engulfed the gazebo, took down a piece of the wall of the art center, a hunk of coastline disappeared.

Later, after the storm, we went back. Trees were down, encased in ice. Huge sections of the walking path were shattered and tossed into the flooded mess of the parking lot behind the center. Walking was treacherous. Like the trees, the ground, the rocks, the destruction was coated in a thick layer of ice. It was beautiful and inconceivable.

Words mask all manner of reality. We have a word, nature, that can’t even begin to touch the magnitude, the power of where it points. Mother Nature. I have been thrown out of bed in an earthquake that brought down freeways like they were so much satin ribbon. Go to Pompeii or Herculeneum, visit Mt. Saint Helens, watch with disbelief any of the news  footage of any one of the tsunamis that have wiped communities off the map. Wrap your mind around it, if you can.

We are cavalier in our conversations about global warming. We impact, we do not command. We reduce it to questions of business, of protecting the beef industry. Which economy will suffer most? We make up these strangely insignificant divisions. We imagine that we are the center, holding all the controls. We imagine that it is all about us. So small, a chihuahua yipping at a forest fire.

Sitting in the truck, feeling the boom of the waves in my chest as they tore off chunks of the shore, I felt tiny. I remembered a snippet of film I saw about a man who wore a superhero suit and stood in the face of an oncoming storm. He flexed and stomped and raged for the camera. And then the storm hit. The best he could do was run for his life.

 

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read Kerri’s blog post about THE STORM

 

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ice ©️ 2020 kerri sherwood

for prints of “ice” go here

 

UpLift [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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And, what is the opposite of cohesion? Incoherence. The lack of clarity or unity. Fracture.

For a period of time my work on this earth was essentially a meditation on power. Power with. Power over. After a while I understood that power-over was not really power at all; it was control. Control and power are two very different things. They are often confused.

Power is something created with others. Control is something done to others. The equation is simple: the more controlling a person is, the less powerful they actually are. A person who understands his/herself as powerful has no need to assert control over others.

A leader invested in control has only one sure route to controlling: to fracture. To divide. It is the way of the truly powerless. Incoherence and chaos are great tools if control is the aim. Destroy the unity. Play to the disgruntled. Feed the fire of those who are feeling powerless. Promise them control. Pushing others down to elevate the self can only end badly. Everyone drowns.

People secure in their power create cohesion. They unite. They uplift. Power is a force that grows between people. It cannot be owned by one. It is always the province of the community. A person secure in her/his power generates unity. What else? The power they feel within is an expression of the power they experience with.

Community is a word that implies cohesion. To commune. Common. And, what could be more common than a central focus, the intention to support and bring out the best in all.

What is the opposite of a powerful person?

 

read kerri’s blog post about COHESION

 

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Stand On Any Street Corner [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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For reasons that are beyond my pay-grade to comprehend, human beings are obsessed with seeing conflict and division. The news of the day is generally antagonistic and despair-inducing – and that is not unique to our day. Ancient temples and modern televisions alike are overrun with images of war and hostility.

One of the greatest powers a human being can achieve is the power of focus placement. ‘Seeing’ is, after all, a matter of choice.  It is not passive. In any given moment there are multiple points of focus, there are multiple stories, there are many interpretations to choose from.

Stand on any street corner and watch the world happen. Watch the overwhelming number of acts of kindness and generosity. The small moments of simple kindness and consideration. They are everywhere. People giving way, making way, helping. You will be surprised to find that the kindnesses by far outnumber the rudeness, the antagonism.

Stand on any street corner and watch where your focus goes. In the midst of a tsunami of kindness, if you are human and like all other humans, your focus will be captured by the angry guy honking his horn, the commuter shouting at the bus driver. “Such an angry world,” you think and close your eyes, despairing. Anger is so much louder than kindness.

Tell a story of discord, see a story of discord. Practice a story of discord, live a story of discord. Discord is easily leveraged. Division is easily sold. It is like selling candy to a kid. It is readily chiseled into pillars and hungrily read into teleprompters.  It is so easy to see.

Tell a story of kindness, see a story of kindness. Practice a story of kindness, live a story of kindness. Although it is more readily available it is, somehow, more difficult to see. It is less sell-able and, so, is discarded as trite. It requires choice and discernment rather than default. It requires opening your eyes and your story to what is actual, what lives beyond the thundering chorus of conflict-peddlers.

The angry shooters and tweet-happy presidents live on the far margins yet they garner the majority of the attention. Stand on any street corner and open your eyes. There is a sweeping quiet kindness that permeates the vast majority, that defines the middle ground. You can see it if you so choose.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about KINDNESS

 

 

 

 

 

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Invite Magic [on DR Thursday]

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We are going on an adventure. Our adventure comes with a house on the lake. It is work and although some people might not consider work an adventure, we are not those people. The challenge is great. The work seems oddly destined. It “fits.”

Among the first things we moved into our adventure-home was this painting, Nap On The Beach. One of the quirks of being an artist is investing in the belief (or, perhaps, the cultivated-and-embraced-delusion) that the art you make sometimes carries “power.” This painting is autobiographical. It carries a good memory. It evokes a way-of-being. An intention for living. Once, early in our lives together, we fell into a magic sleep on a beach. We were so comfortable, so at ease entering our new life together.

Magic.

We wanted to invite magic and this way-of-being-together into our adventure-home and our next phase of work. And, so, we hung this painting. There are other paintings poised to join Nap On The Beach. They invite a different spirit. Unfettered, free. But, for now, there is this: comfort. Ease. Peace. Giving over to something much, much bigger. An invocation. An adventure.

 

 

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read Kerri’s blog post about NAP ON THE BEACH

 

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nap on the beach ©️ 2017 david robinson