Be With [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

being present box copy

In the cliche’ hall of fame, this phrase probably sits atop the pile: the best present is being present. And, if you stop for a moment and think about it, this phrase is undeniably true. That is the reason it has the top spot in the cliche’ universe.

We gather. The ritual provides the reason. We gather to affirm. To revivify the story. To nourish the one thing that matters: our relationship to one another. The rest is merely accoutrement.

This season I saw many many photos of families gathered around a table. People shared photos of their loved ones standing by a tree, in the snow, on the beach, organized on a staircase, in a kitchen. People traveling to be with their people. On the cards we sent to family and friends we wrote, “Thinking of you.” What we meant was, “Wanting to be with you.”

In the many photos that people shared with me, no one showed me a photo of the stuff they received. No one showed me a photo of the stuff they gave. They showed me the reason they were giving and receiving the stuff. The relationship.

Sometimes it hides in plain sight.

And, since the relationships are the epicenter, there is only one thing that sits atop the pyramid of gifts given and received. And, every day it is the same: presence. Being with.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about THE BEST PRESENT

 

trinitychristmasphoto website box copy

 

 

 

Stand In It

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a detail from a recent painting

A surprise package came in the mail. It was a gift from David, my artist’s artist. He sends me things to feed my artist soul, to stir my pot or help me sort out my dilemmas. This gift is more timely than most; it is especially relevant for me now. It is a book of photographs and essays by Walter Kaufmann called Time Is An Artist. I’ve barely cracked the cover and already know it carries the wind that will fill my becalmed life-ship.

This is a quote from the first essay: We always live at the limits, but we are rarely aware of it.

I woke up this morning awash with gratitude for a man who stood in line behind me at an airport ticket counter over 30 years ago. I was returning from Europe. I had a hundred dollars and some lose change in my pocket. I was exhausted. I’d flown from London and landed in a blizzard. My connecting flight from D.C. to Denver was cancelled. Because I was traveling on a cheap open-ended student ticket, the cancelled flight meant I was stuck with no way home. I didn’t know what to do and was too tired to sort it out. I was desperate and lost in my desperation. That’s when the man tapped me on the shoulder. He was a guy in a rumpled business suit. That’s all I remember about him. He was also trying to get home. He’d just heard someone mention an airline offering a cheap flight to Denver. It was $89.00 ($100 with tax). I ran for the ticket counter and snagged one of the few remaining tickets.

That’s it. That’s what I remember about this man who tapped me on the shoulder. To him it was probably a little thing. To me it was enormous. I needed hope beyond desperation. I was investing in a story of limitless problems and was met with a moment of generosity.

It seems that I am in a life course, a graduate school for detachment. Last night P-Tom shared a quote that was important to him when he was doing his chaplaincy in a hospital: Don’t’ just do something, stand there (a reversal of the known quote). Stand there. Amidst the grief and the loss and the mess, sometimes it is essential to do nothing but offer presence. The man at the airport gave me his presence. Beyond his situation he was listening to my struggle.

Detach from your story and the gift will be gratitude. What rolls through our minds is nothing more or less than a story. Eckhart Tolle tells us the story is a force that pulls us out of the Now. Carlos Castaneda writes that Don Juan taught him 3 steps on the warrior’s path: Detach. Make a choice. Own the choice. One of the primary reasons people meditate is to quiet the mind. In the quiet it is possible to see the story as just that, a story. Detachment, in this sense, is not disengagement from life or cold aloofness from reality. It is the doorway to life. Stand in it and not the story of it.

Gratitude lives in the Now. Where else?

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another detail from another painting. kerri says this one looks like gratitude

The man at the airport was on my mind because I have learned in this life-course that gratitude is best served in thimbles: the taste of the pear, the sun on your face. The man tapping your shoulder, “Hey, I just heard….” I thanked him before running but the real gratitude came later. Gratitude came again this morning because I was telling stories of the good angels who’ve populated my path.

Real gratitude for this life lived perpetually on the edge is often lost when the expectation-bar is set too high. To be grateful for your life – your whole life – is… an abstraction. It requires a story that pulls you away from this bite. It is a bucket too big. Savoring is a slow affair, available in the smallest taste, right now.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Walk The Line Where Sky Meets Earth

TODAY’S FEATURED THOUGHT FOR HUMANS

Walk the line where earth meets sky

There is a concept that shows up in one form or another in all spiritual traditions: find the middle way. Finding the middle way is simply another way of saying ‘presence.’ Be present. Be where you are, not in the past, not in the future, here, in the middle place. Move out of the distant poles of right and wrong, us and them, red and blue, and walk in the actual, the present, instead of the conceptual. Deal with what’s in front of you instead of what you think is there. It’s a sound business practice, too. Guiding people to the middle way, to the line where sky meets earth, IS the artist’s job.

FOR TODAY’S FEATURED PRINT FOR HUMANS, GO HERE.

Begin Here

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Begin Anywhere

In our house, hanging on the wall like a painting, is an old window frame. In the top pane is a card that reads, “Begin Anywhere.”

Earlier this week I had a great conversation with Diane. She laughed and said, “In my meditations I was whining to God because I wanted to see the plan of my life. I got the clear message that I was never going to see the plan but I could always see the next step. The next step is always right in front of me.” Dancing with what’s right in front of you is sometimes called faith. Sometimes it is called play. Sometimes it is called art.

Diane and I are good reflectors for each other; we are usually on parallel paths. For both of us, the past year or two has been a process of letting things go and stripping things back: paths, patterns, and presuppositions. It has been the mother of all house-cleanings (she had a literal flood!) and, like all good house cleaning it took some elbow grease and few hard decisions about what to keep and what to throw. After the job is done, nothing feels better than a clean house and along with the good feeling, new space, and wide-open possibilities, comes the question, “What’s next?”

Diane told me her story because my next step is so clear that I can focus on nothing else. With such a myopic focus I can see nothing else and that’s why I called her. I must do this play. I must. I cannot see beyond this dance. It is my first thought in the morning. It is my last thought falling into sleep. This step, my dance with The Lost Boy, makes no sense and Diane’s point was well taken: the next step rarely makes sense. Sense-making requires context. Sense-making is a skill of relativity – and since we can never know the plan (if, indeed, there is one), we can only make sense based on old information. That is good news for plumbers but is dubious at best for leaders, explorers, seekers, and artists.

After our call I realized that dancing with what’s right in front of me is how I paint. It’s also the key to a good conversation – and painting, for me, is a good conversation. After my good conversation with Diane, she sent me an email of affirmation and concluded her thoughts with this: “Stay focused on what is before you now and let the creations show you how and when they are ready to play.”

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Unbridle Your Enthusiasm

Tripper Dog-Dog-Dog's trophy collection

Tripper Dog-Dog-Dog’s trophy collection

Tripper Dog-Dog-Dog is tough on toys. He does well with hard rubber Kongs and rawhide bones but the stuffed animal variety haven’t got a prayer. We long ago stopped buying them for him. Even as a small puppy he’d make short work of anything that squeaked or resembled a creature. More than once, moments after giving him a new toy, I found him sitting happy and content amidst a nest of fiberfill with the empty body-shaped sack of toy remnant clutched firmly between his paws. Dog-Dog has several admirers who are unaware of his destructive talents and bring him stuffed animals as gifts. Like offerings to a high priests in days of old, Tripper graciously accepts their offer and removes to the backroom for immediate slaughter. For reasons I can’t explain, we keep the heads from his sacrifices. We use the heads as sleeves for our knife set or as wine bottle covers; it’s our own little version of Game of Thrones.

I’m learning much from master Dog-Dog. Lately his lessons are about faith and exuberance for the sheer pleasure of being alive. For Tripper, every doorway is an opportunity for bounding, every fence an opportunity for discovery. Even if he hopped at the fence 30 seconds prior, his return to the same spot is no less enthusiastic. He does not assume that he knows what he will find there, in fact, he assumes that the world is new no matter which way he looks. He does not blunt himself with notions of knowing like we bipeds. He is a four-legged master of beginner’s mind. If he had an inner monologue I’m certain it would be, “Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god,…”

During our late night pre-bed visits to the backyard, Dog-Dog routinely stops and stands very still (unusual behavior for an Australian Shepherd), and for several moments he listens. He feels the breezes. He smells the air. He checks in with me to make sure that I am standing firmly rooted in the present moment. When he is certain that I am present with him in his quiet enthusiasm for life, that I have given up all of my stories and distractions from the day, that I, like him, am breathing in the miracle of existence, revels for a moment longer and then lets me know that I am ready for sleeping. He turns and prances toward the house, satisfied with my progress and exhausted by the sheer wonder of it all.

Go here to get my latest book, The Seer: The Mind of the Entrepreneur, Artist, Visionary, title_pageSeeker, Learner, Leader, Creator…You.

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Sense Half A Breath

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

Last year Carol learned to sail. She went to the Center for Wooden Boats and took lessons from a man who’s been sailing all his life. He taught her that a sailor must learn to feel and see the elements just a moment ahead: he said she needed to sense what was a “half a breath ahead.” With the lead of “half a breath,” she could adjust, anticipate (not with her thinking mind, but with your knowing presence) what was coming. He taught her that it was folly to think that she could be any further ahead than half a breath, any further ahead and the conditions will have changed before she got there.

Today I stepped into my day believing I knew what I was going to do. The winds changed, the rains came, the sun broke through, the café closed, the phone rang, the rehearsal ended, the phone rang again, and finally I gave up and was surprised by Doctor Who. I stepped into the day invested in my folly fully believing that I could see beyond half a breath. I am still learning to sail and need to bring my sights much closer to my present moment. I close this day recognizing my folly and my lesson, sitting more easily in my boat, no further ahead than a single breath, knowing that although I am closer than I was this morning, I am still too long in my anticipation by half. And I hope that is always true.