Enter The Sanctuary [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

This is an image of sanctuary. The back yard of dear friends, time spent together, taking precautions to be safe in a time of pandemic.

There’s more than one compromised immune system represented in this photograph. It is why we continue to meet outdoors. It is why, until we were vaccinated, we were careful to keep distance between us. How odd to honor the love of dear friends by inserting space between us. Our flip flops and sandals are stand-ins for a group selfie.

When our postal carrier came to the door to deliver a certified letter, she groused about the process for capturing the required signature, “We have to do this because of COVID,” she sneered, “even though there is no COVID.” We’ve learned not to push back on ignore-ance. I was reading about Brazil eclipsing the the over 500,000 deaths-mark when the doorbell rang. Kerri signed for the letter. She closed the door and we simply stared at each other. No words.

I delight in this photograph because, to me, it is slightly disorienting. If you had to guess which direction the photo was taken, you’d most likely guess blue. You’d be wrong. Perspective is just that – perspective. From my perspective, the photograph is upside-down. The photographer wears black flip flops.

We constantly locate ourselves in our stories. The location we choose is not passive or general. It is unique, dynamic. It gives us a point of view but does not afford us a lock on truth. Learning to question your unique perspective, to challenge your story-as-central, is an important growth step. It is maturation. Learning to question what you are told is an invaluable skill to develop.

As a lover of story, as a student of perspective, I am fascinated by the story-war raging in my nation. Politicians drape themselves in the flag, defending a violent insurrection on democracy, while demonizing and fearmongering BLM. Propaganda, hate-mongering and conspiracy theory is run amok and fueled by entertainment posing as news. Voter suppression laws, gerrymandering, stuffing the courts, all in the name of…what? The story of division. The dedicated maintenance of a half-story. A national story increasingly exposed as redacted. Why should a democracy work so hard to prevent a portion of its population from voting? To prevent its full history from being told? As we ask in the coaching world, “What’s underneath?”

Nations, like people, cannot grow until they look at the whole of their story, until all perspectives are voiced.

I’ve wandered back into the world of entrepreneurs and business. Each day I read or am shown the data on teamwork or the power of collaboration. The software-as-a-service world is dedicated to facilitating better communication, efficiency in sharing and collaborating, crossing disjointed platforms, and reaching into clouds where all are stronger as one than when in silos. I’m finding it intensely hopeful. Progress is calling us together. The economy is global as is the pandemic. We are in this together.

No one is healthy if all are not healthy. It’s the rule of the backyard, the honoring of dedicated friendship. My job is to protect you and yours is to protect me. It’s the story of the sandals and flip flops, the image of sanctuary, and, if not the yearning of this nation, it is the reality of this interconnected world.

read Kerri’s blog post about SANDALS

Read A Tiny Note [on Two Artists Tuesday]

I was still in shock. It was late, beyond midnight. The roosters were watching for the sunrise. The ritual I’d witnessed that night blew the metaphoric wheels off my car. Wave after wave of knife-wielding priests ran at the Rangda, a priest chosen for the evening to wear the mask, to enter the trance and become the demon. The priests stabbed the Rangda but to no avail. The blades bent. They were repelled. Eventually, all entered the trance and turned the knives on themselves, taking the energy, the protection of the Rangda, into their bodies. Into the community. No one was injured. Peace was made with the Rangda. Balance was affirmed.

I held one of the knives after the ritual was complete. It was not a stage prop. I could not have bent the blade on my chest without doing injury to myself.

Budi explained it all to me. I had so many questions. In his culture, the dark forces are not to be resisted or banished. There is no hell separate from heaven. Evil and good are not compartmentalized. There are energies, some dark and some light. There is no need to make peace with the light. The necessity is to face and make peace with the dark. Balance is created, an intentional relationship with a dynamic whole. It’s a dance of responsibility, a balance of dark and light. The middle way.

Balance.

I loved this photo when Kerri showed it to me. Clover. You can’t tell but it is tiny. It is bursting from beneath the stone that serves as the step onto our deck. It made we wonder if the fairy people were close at hand. They serve, in the western tradition, a similar role to the Rangda in Bali. Nature spirits. It was most important to keep in the good graces with the Fairies. Honor their places. Respect and maintain the balance. According to tradition, they went into hiding, they left because we assaulted their spaces; we came to value the path of resources, mining, deforestation, fracking, damming…over the path of balance.

This tiny breath of clover. I sat on the stone last night. The air was cool after a humid and hot day. DogDog was doing his rounds. I had not thought of the Rangda in years. A tiny community on a tiny island. The “mayor” of the town introduced the ritual to us as their art. “We have so little to offer you,” he said in his broken English, “but we bring you our most prized offering, our art.”

Art. A prized offering. The dance of energies, an intentional relationship with the dynamic whole. An ongoing ritual of balance. It was the first time I witnessed a community that had yet to exorcise its art from the sacred. It bent knives. It restored balance. It belonged and gave deep meaning to every member of the community.

Tiny. Like the Fairies or the community on the island. A simple respect for what is good for the whole. Balance is expressed in the tiny things, the choices of where to walk, what to say. What helps in the long run. What does not. What gives meaning and cohesion to a community. What does not.

Budi would caution us with COVID and guns and a globe that is weirding and warming, “Rangda is ignored,” he’d say.

“Yes,” I’d reply, “the fairies have gone into hiding.”

But, all is not lost. They left a tiny note at our back door. Balance, it reads, is a relationship, an intentional act. It is an ongoing ritual, a tiny sacred thing.

read Kerri’s blog post about CLOVER

Imagine It [on Flawed Wednesday]

Malidoma Somé wrote that a society with locks on its doors is a sick society. Something has broken down when a home needs protection from the other members of the community. Acquiring stuff takes precedence over honoring your neighbor. Can you imagine living in a community built upon mutual respect and trust, that valued and protected its members over its acquisition of stuff? Pie-in-the-sky? That might be the problem: we can’t imagine it.

Societies betray themselves. Despite the values inscribed in library cornices, despite the commandments we hold up as sacred ideals, we lock our houses against each other. We turn away when we see a person in need, their cardboard sign an appeal for help. The gap between the espoused and lived value-set is wide. In a society that claims greatness but practices mediocrity, is it no wonder that so much energy is dedicated to perpetuating a big lie? The lie is not the exception, it is the norm. The lock on the door.

Apparently, there is so much road rage on a particularly beautiful stretch of road rolling into Aspen, Colorado, that signs are posted giving travelers the number to call when the need for help is dire. Societies betray themselves. Why would a road through so much beauty, a road that dead ends in to some of the world’s great ski areas, a place where the elite retreat for some peace and quiet, why would there be so much rage on the road to such a place?

It must be a metaphor.

We tell a good story, that all are created equal, but we fight like hell to keep the full story untold. It’s happening now. Again. Still. Why are we so afraid to tell the whole story of a nation touting equality but built upon slavery and a rolling metamorphic racism? Like an individual, a society can’t address its problem until it admits it has one.

Gaps between espoused and lived values usually fill up with rage. Our gap is textbook. So many guns, so many locks on the door, so many patterns of violence and suppression that repeat over and over again.

Can you imagine living in a society that was proud of its story and need not dunk it in a lie? Or feast on an orgy of guns in order to feel potent and protected? Or post signs warning of the ubiquity of rage? That just might be the problem: we either can’t or won’t imagine it.

read Kerri’s blog post on ROAD RAGE

Look Into Their Eyes [on Merely A Thought Monday]

I joke that my experience of moving to Wisconsin was akin to a brake-less semi-truck hitting a runaway truck ramp. I plowed into the sand and pieces of me flew off in all directions. My work, my artistry, my orientation to life. Also lost in the rapid deceleration were my defense mechanisms, my armor, my “status” and “role” as I understood it. Full stop. Bumpers, bolts and bits of me strewn all over the place. It seemed that I was no longer useful.

I recently read a story about African porters, after days of hurrying to keep up with the team of explorers racing to get through the jungle, the porters refused to go another step. They simply sat down. The exasperated explorers appealed to the porters to no avail. “We have been moving so fast, ” the porters said, “we must now wait for our souls to catch up to our bodies.”

I have learned that, amid my wreckage, I am like the porters. Although my abrupt stop was largely unconscious, my soul needed some time to catch up. Wonderment takes time. Depth of experience (otherwise known as relationship) requires a good bit of standing still.

It’s a lesson I have learned more than once. During my time in Bali, if I wanted to walk with Budi, I had to slow way down. It’s actually possible to walk-in-presence rather than walk-in-purpose. In slow walking I learned I could breathe. My mind slowed. Direct experience (also known as relationship) and imagination filled-to-the-brim my new found space.

In our world, so addicted to speed and achievement and possessing and lists and “getting there,” we flatten our experiences to the mechanical. In nuts-and-bolts there is very little meaning to be found. Worse, there is no inter-connectivity. There is no experience of togetherness in an expectation of quotas and cubicles.

When I was consulting with organizations, the most profound experience I could provide my clients was simply to have them stand and face each other. No words. Presence is utterly terrifying to people who are dedicated to never being present. Once through the terror, however, there is no better balm to the horrors of a “business-is-business” wound.

Flat world phrases like “bottom line,” “human resources,” and “business-is-business” are ultimately the language of abdication of responsibility. It is the language of separation. It is the language of cowardice. As we know, it is possible to do all manner of violence on people and the planet when they are reduced to a “resource” or considered an obstacle to business.

We can forgive ourselves anything when we refuse to stand still and look each other in the eye.

The eyes are, after all, the window to the soul.

Stand still. facing another human being, and you will at first pull up the drawbridge and man the parapets. Guards will rush to the towers. But, after a few moments of eye-to-eye-looking, the castle falls apart. The pieces come down. It’s like laying in a hammock on a dark starry night, gazing into the Milky Way. You will either clap your hands and laugh with wonder or you will weep with the profound recognition of belonging.

read Kerri’s blog post about TRAVELING TOGETHER

Direct Your Gratitude [on KS Friday]

Skip wrote, sharing some of Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer. It was a breath of fresh air in a week that’s been chock-a-block with disrespect, deceit, and hypocrisy:

Skip wrote, “I love her discussion of what the tribe does each morning:

Here the school week begins and ends not with the Pledge of Allegiance, but with the Thanksgiving Address, a river of words as old as the people themselves, known more accurately in the Onondaga language as the Words That Come Before All Else. This ancient order of protocol sets gratitude as the highest priority. The gratitude is directed straight to the ones who share their gifts with the world. 

All the classes stand together in the atrium, and one grade each week has responsibility for the oratory. Together, in a language older than English, they begin the recitation. It is said that the people were instructed to stand and offer these words whenever they gathered, no matter how many or how few before anything else was done. In this ritual, their teachers remind them that every day, “beginning with where our feet first touch the earth, we send greetings and thanks to all members of the natural world.” 

Today it is the third grade’s turn. There are only eleven of them and they do their best to start together, giggling a little, and nudging the ones who just stare at the floor. Their little faces are screwed up with concentration and they glance at their teacher for prompts when they stumble on the words. In their own language they say the words they’ve heard nearly every day of their lives. 

Today we have gathered and when we look upon the faces around us we see that the cycles of life continue. We have been given the duty to live in balance and harmony with each other and all living things. So now let us bring our minds together as one as we give greetings and thanks to each other as People. Now our minds are one.* 

There is a pause and the kids murmur their assent.

 We are thankful to our Mother the Earth, for she gives us everything that we need for life. She supports our feet as we walk about upon her. It gives us joy that she still continues to care for us, just as she has from the beginning of time. To our Mother, we send thanksgiving, love, and respect. Now our minds are one. 

The kids sit remarkably still, listening. You can tell they’ve been raised in the longhouse.”

*****

A legacy of respect and gratitude. A duty to live in balance and harmony. An orientation of responsibility both to self AND other. Can you imagine – will you imagine – the members of our red team and blue team meeting on the streets and joining hands with protestors of all colors and religions and sexual orientations, starting each day, together, speaking The Thanksgiving Address, “Today we have gathered…” Directing their gratitude straight at the ones who share their gifts with the world. Gratitude set as the highest priority.

It is a legacy to be admired. Words that come before all else. It is a legacy to be desired.

*The actual wording of the Thanksgiving Address varies with the speaker. This text is the widely publicised version of John Stokes and Kanawahientun, 1993.

LEGACY on the album RELEASED FROM THE HEART is available on iTunes

read Kerri’s blog post about LEGACY

legacy/released from the heart ©️ 1996 kerri sherwood

See Mike [on Flawed Wednesday]

Sometimes I think I am way ahead of the game only to realize that I am so late to the party that the party is actually over. When we chose this phrase for the melange about the current president’s re-election strategy, I knew exactly what I was going to write about: Mike the chimpanzee! Mike’s story is from Jane Goodall’s book, My Life With The Chimpanzees.

Mike was not an alpha male but for a few short days assumed the dominant role when he learned that kicking kerosene cans and making noise frightened his rivals. No substance, all noise. I thought I was so clever, my analogy spot on! And then, I found this from an October 2016 article in the Atlantic about the debates with Hillary Clinton:

“In many ways the performances of Donald Trump remind me of male chimpanzees and their dominance rituals,” Jane Goodall, the anthropologist, told me shortly before Trump won the GOP nomination. “In order to impress rivals, males seeking to rise in the dominance hierarchy perform spectacular displays: stamping, slapping the ground, dragging branches, throwing rocks…”

In the 2016 article, Jane Goodall mentioned Mike. I’m so late to the party. So late. My clever analogy is nothing more than yesterday’s news. If the world still believed in print media my pages would already be yellowed.

There are two definitions of audacity. The first is “willing to take bold risks.” The second is “rude or disrespectful behavior.”

Creating confusion and noise as a campaign strategy fits both definitions. Loud sound without substance is a bold choice if you assume a big enough slice of the populace is grossly ignorant and will be wowed by stamping and slapping the ground. Rude and disrespectful behavior is no more or less than what we’ve come to expect from this kicker of kerosene cans. It’s a daily event and it must be since, without an over abundance of disrespect and piles of rudeness, he might be met with expectations of policy or perhaps a few ideas on governance.

Perhaps I am not as late to the party as I imagined. It occurs to me that Mike-the-chimp kicks cans and makes noise to frighten his rivals. Good analogies are familiar. They express an abstract idea in terms of a familiar one. The current prez kicks cans and makes noise to get a rise from his base. Like his allies in the senate, they, too, like loud sound but eschew substance. They cheer deconstruction because it is a fun thing to do but I suspect will disappear when the time of reconstruction comes. Building takes ideas, a blueprint, a commitment to a bigger vision.

Vision is the sticking point. Mike, like the current prez, lacks vision. Mike wanted to feel like he was alpha and achieved his dream and temporary rule through frightening his community with strange and thunderous noises. The community soon caught on when no vision, idea, or leadership materialized. Communities of chimps and communities of people are susceptible to noise for a time but soon catch on.

I learned many good and useful life lessons during acting training – of all places (actors deeply study people and history). Most useful in governance is this: a real leader, a good leader, need not make noise. They need not raise their voice. Their power is assumed, never imposed. Authority, real authority, is a blossom of respect and a respected leader is never fearful of challenge. A great leader need not kick cans or scream or rage or name call or lie. Those are the sure signs of a pretender.

read Kerri’s blog post about CAMPAIGNING BY AUDACITY

Knead And Listen [on Two Artists Tuesday]

rustic bread copy

I am now among the legion of people that turned to baking bread during the pandemic-stay-at-home era. This loaf is gluten free, made with rice flour, since Kerri is allergic to gluten.

In truth, I’ve wanted to bake bread since I knew Brad the baker in California. He was a genuine hippie, a believer in peace and simple living. “Bread is a living thing,” he once said as I watched in fascination his kneading of the dough. You can tell a true master craftsman at work by watching their hands. They feel something in the dough or the wood that the rest of us do not.

My loaf was not made by a master. Not even by an apprentice.

Bill sent a photo of his first loaf and I asked for the recipe. It came as screen shots and I scribbled them into a recipe on notebook paper. Easy steps to follow but I knew from watching Brad that I would not find in my recipe any easy guidance on how to feel the life in the dough. That would come with time. Maybe. If I was lucky and diligent and practiced listening through my hands.

I’m not surprised people are turning to bread during this time of pandemic uncertainty. It is essential. The making of bread, the cultivation of wheat, made civilization, as we know it, possible. It is, therefore, a central symbol in many belief systems. Separate the chaff from the wheat. A time for harvest. This is my body. Eat.

Brad told me that the dough kneads you as much as you knead the dough. It’s a simple relationship between living things and requires complete focus. Mutual respect. Attention must be proffered.

Perhaps that is why we turn to bread in times like these. Simple relationships of attention and mutual respect are increasingly rare. Bread reminds us of what is possible, what is healthy. It reminds us of the patience that is required if we are to find our way to harvest. It reminds us of the necessity of knowing what is chaff and what is wheat, or remembering that there is a direct relationship between what is planted and what is grown.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about BREAD

 

ely website box copy

 

Respect and Protect [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

birds and turtlesHH copy

For a critter that imagines it has dominion over and responsibility for all other critters, we are mostly doing a lousy job. We are the root cause of 99% of species currently threatened by extinction. And, the rates of extinction are up to 1000 times the natural or “background” rate. It is staggering.

And, so, it gave me pause to walk the beaches of Hilton Head and see the lengths that residents are going to protect the sea turtles and the piping plover.

At ten o’clock every night, all the outside lights on all the beach houses go out. Shades are drawn. Inside lights are dimmed. The hatching turtles know to go toward the moon. The safety of the water is in that direction. The lights on the houses used to confuse them. So. Participation. Protection of an endangered miracle. The locals take great pride in their cooperation. It seems the respect they give the turtles has blown back on them; they respect themselves.

Great swatches of beach are roped off. Signs are posted. The plover’s habitat is off limits. I watched people navigate these vast patches of sand for over a week and not once did anyone wander in. No dogs were left to roam the protected areas. The people were vigilant in their deference to the plover.

With all of this consideration, protection and respect, – and active understanding of the responsibilities that also must come with dominion fantasies – the world felt…aright. And oddly right-side-up.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about Respect and Protect

 

shadow in surf HH website box copy

 

Honor All Perspectives

my latest painting. Hope asks, “What do you see?”

Hope Hughes, Kerri’s longtime assistant and voice of reason in all-things-business, passed through my studio and flung herself in front of the painting I was working on. “Stop!” she cried. “Don’t touch it! It’s finished!”

“Finished? I just started,” I whined. She laughed at the perplexed look on my face.

“Put down your brushes,” she smiled, “and listen for a minute.”

Over time I’ve learned to listen to Hope. She makes sense of the world through her feelings which comes in handy to an over-cerebral artist like me. She has no inner-editor in the early stages of communication so I’ve learned her heroics are pure. She sees something that I do not. This is not the first time Hope has thrust herself between me and the painting I am about to destroy, so when she asks me to ‘look’ there is usually a good reason. I set down my brushes, cross my arms, and huff as if to say, “I’m listening but make it fast.”

Each time she begs me to stop work on a painting, a great debate rages in the household. This time was no exception. I sit in my chair and listen to what she sees. It is always diametrically opposed to what I see so I pretend to pout (I secretly love this process because it is EXACTLY what I adore about art in general and painting in particular). She tries to get me to tell her what I intended to paint, coaxing me to talk about what I see but I refuse. As Joseph Campbell once said, “If an artist respects you, s/he will not tell you what a painting means. ” Art is always about a relationship between the piece and the viewer and the artist needs to stay out of the way. If the artist has no respect for you (or themself), s/he will tell you what the painting means to them. I respect Hope so I stay out of the way.

In this painting, Hope sees deep humility in dual fatherhood.

My refusal drags other people into the fray. She snaps a photo of the painting and then shares it with others, asking what they see in the painting, what descriptors they would use. As is always the case, the replies sometimes align with her perception and sometimes not which further fuels the debate. 20 had the misfortune of coming over for dinner and he was subjected to the photograph test.

In this painting, 20 sees grief and loss. In this aspect he agreed with Hope: the painting is finished.

When I first started showing paintings I would follow patrons through the gallery (they did not know I was the artist) and listen to their perceptions. They rarely saw what I intended but what they saw was marvelous – almost miraculous to me. It was an advanced course in understanding the futility of trying to determine what another person perceives. Art, I learned in those days, is a living relationship. Perception is personal. No one is a blank slate. Paintings evoke. The meaning is made between the patron and the painting.

I enter into the studio to drop out of my many descriptors and over-cerebral tendencies. I go to the studio to engage in a pure relationship with…my muse(?) I am never more alive than when I am painting. I am never more quiet than when I am painting. The images that emerge from my quiet are sometimes incidental, always surprising, and are sometimes just a map of a moment in the greater relationship of my life. Only a moment. I feel that I have never finished a painting because the paintings themselves are not distinct, separate from each other. They are living things. They change over time. They are moments, marks in the sand in a greater ongoing relationship in the long-body of my life.

What do I see in this painting? It is not important to know. Is it finished? For me, never. And, and for Hope, yes.

Every artist needs a Hope Hughes. Someone they trust, someone they respect to step in front of their work and without editor, tell them what they see. Hope reminds me that the true value/purpose of art is to create a commons capable of affording multiple perspectives and the rich opportunity to discuss the differences in what we perceive.

See Your Angels

angelsallaroundyou-jpeg

Products with this and other images available at society6.com

One of my favorite rituals is the reading-of-the-calendar on the last day of the year. It is no ordinary peruse through an ordinary calendar. Kerri, every day, writes in her calendar the events, the important calls, the amazing sightings, the simple and the profound moments. The day we first spotted the owl, the ice circles in the harbor, the generosity of the clerk at the store; they find a spot in the calendar. The tough stuff is in there, too. It is a habit she picked up from her mother. Calendar-as-diary. With a hot cup of coffee and nothing but time, we read through and talk about the days of our life.

It is probably not surprising that our most common exclamation is, “I’d forgotten about that!” I’m always amazed at how many of the years happenings are lost in the stream of time. The review not only helps me remember but also refreshes my appreciation for all that we navigated, discovered, survived and created in a mere 365 days.

At our gathering that night I laughed when Mary Kay told us that she dislikes New Year’s Eve because it always makes her feel as if she hasn’t done enough. I recognized Mary Kay’s disdain because earlier in the day I’d levied the same judgment against myself. The ritual reading of the calendar put my self-judgment to rest. After reviewing all that we’d done in a year, Kerri looked at me (tired of hearing my endless self-criticism) and asked, “Now, doesn’t that give you a greater respect for what we’ve done?” Yes. It did.

Although we didn’t say it this way, we told Mary Kay and Russ, Linda and Jim, John and Michele that they had made it into the calendar. This year was tough for us and when I was ill, when things were going badly, they brought us food, they offered to carry some of our load, they showed up to shovel our walks. So, rather than thinking of the year as bad, in our ritual we read about year of generosities extended to us.

Mary Kay said, “But that was nothing.” Kerri responded, “That was everything! It changed our world.” We were reminded in our ritual that the world is changed for the better everyday, not by the grand gesture, but by the small things, the passing kindnesses. From the point of view of the doer, they are often too tiny to remember. From the standpoint of the receiver, they are monumental. Opening a door can change someone’s day. And who knows how far a kindness-ripple will travel?

From the archive: 'Angels At The Well.'

From the archive: ‘Angels At The Well.’ This painting is available at zatista.com

Fun products featuring details of my artwork are available at society6.com.

 

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save