Give Light [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“What is to give light must endure burning.” ~ Viktor Frankel

We walked downtown a few days after the fires. We decided it was time to go see for ourselves what had happened in our town only a few blocks from our home. In truth, the sound of speeches ringing through the neighborhood drew us. We were already walking when we first heard them. We couldn’t understand what they were saying or where exactly they were coming from so we followed the sound. The amplified voices and cheering bounced off the buildings and sometimes seemed to be coming from all directions.

We followed the echo to the street that runs by the civic center. From a distance we could see the crowd. ACLU observers wearing blue vests roamed the area. There was a first aid center. Tables were manned to distribute water to the crowd. When we saw the burned out car lot Kerri took out her camera and began taking pictures. “Why did they burn this?” she asked. Yes. Why?

It is uniquely human to ask why. To need an explanation. We attempt to record and document. To gather evidence. All in the pursuit of sense-making. To find meaning. And, if no meaning is easily found, no readily graspable answer to “Why?” is available, it is among our greatest human powers to make it.

To make meaning. To find meaning.

Viktor Frankel, a survivor of Nazi concentration camps, asked “Why did some people survive and some not? He looked for an attribute that favored survival in such extreme, random and deadly conditions. He concluded that, after sheer luck, survival in the camps favored people who made meaning from their circumstance. The people who sought meaning from their circumstance soon lost hope. He wrote, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

On the hood of one of the burned out cars someone had stenciled this appeal: Let’s Be Better Humans. What might it take for us to be better humans?

When I was in elementary school great pains were taken to teach me how to be a good human and function in a civilized society. Wait for my turn. Open the door for someone with their hands full. Help where you can. Listen to others. Raise my hand before speaking. All of these simple lessons shared one thing in common, a specific organizing principle: consider others. Be considerate to others. Good humans are mindful and cooperative.

All of these simple lessons ran contrary to the rules I was taught about succeeding in the world: it’s dog-eat-dog. It’s a fierce competition. Do whatever it takes. In other words, it’s every man and woman for themselves. It’s just business.

So, like all of us, I’ve wrestled with the national schizophrenia: I can either be a good human and consider others or I can succeed. Not both. Said another way: in order to succeed I have to abandon my goodness.

As is the case with most either/or framing, it is a false choice. Money need not be absent of morality. Success can be the blossom of compassion.

It is important as we stand at this national crossroad, this opportunity for reckoning with our past, that we look at this polarity, that we step into the gaps between all of the false choices, black and white. Our troubles will not go away until we attempt to live our rhetoric, until we unpin white success from black subjugation. Equality of opportunity, equal justice, equal (fill in the blank) has not been afforded all members of our community. To be better humans we need to challenge our either/or false choices and instead walk toward a center that includes a full spectrum of color, choices and opportunities for all.

If we can find our center, if we can challenge our rhetoric, we just might find our path to being better humans living in healthy inclusive society. In the end, we may even come to the same conclusion as did Viktor Frankel: “I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love.”

read Kerri’s blog post about BE BETTER HUMANS

Circle [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

circle copy

Perhaps the most true phrase I’ve read about The Circle is that its symbolism is inexhaustible. It is universal and the ultimate cross-cultural sign. No beginning, no end.

Wholeness. Unity. Infinity. It points to the mystery. Cycles of life. Endless movement.

It also has a meaning-making-flip-side. It can be as vicious as it is virtuous. A closed community. The shape that distinguishes us from them. Loops of reactivity. An energy eddy. An inescapable whirlpool. A widening gyre.

Ask a circle, “What does it all mean?” and the circle will ask in return, “What does it mean to you?”

It is a radically different action to search for meaning than it is to make meaning. And, most likely, the search for and the assignment of meaning are dancing partners. All of us seek. All of us assign meaning.

We can’t help but ask, “Why is this happening?” A few curious scientists and seekers go beyond their circles of understanding and look for answers. They inevitably find more questions. Another loop.

The artists always live on the edge of the circle precisely so they can see in. When the community asks, “Why is this happening?” they scribble lines, make music, write poems, and dance. Communing with what is on the other side of the known. Making meaning. Perhaps incapable of approaching an answer to the question, “Why?” but certainly opening the circle of possibilities to what we might come to understand together. Creating a commons. Another loop.

 

HH heart in sand website box copy

 

 

 

Use Your Words [on DR Thursday]

EarthInterrupted4 copy 2

earth interrupted iv, mixed media, 48 x 36IN

Some of my paintings have words incorporated. Some sensical and some nonsensical. Sometimes the letter serves as line. This painting from a series. It is called Earth Interrupted IV. It reminds me of a medicine shield. The words that populate it are not only sensical but sensible.

The challenge of the seeker is not to be separate from what you seek.

Sometimes you have to stand still and let what you seek catch up to you.

The river is moving and I am still.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about Earth Interrupted IV

 

arches shadows k&d website box copy

 

earthinterruptedIVcopyright2018david robinson

Sit In The First Seat

 

a detail from my latest painting

a detail from my latest painting

I am living this story, as are we all. I am a lover of story so I count myself fortunate enough to know that I am living it. It’s one of the grail stories. Here’s the section of the story that I am now living:

The knight who cannot be beaten (he has a magic sword) is knocked from his warhorse. A warrior, a man with no armor or shield, no protection, emerges from the woods, challenges the knight, and in a single blow, unseats him. That’s not the worst of it: the knight’s magic sword shatters. And, that’s not the worst of it. His armor, his trusty protection through the many wars in the wasteland, pins him down. Like a turtle on its back, he is defenseless. His magic sword, his trusted armor, all that he has relied on, all that he’s built his identity and purpose upon, betray him. He is stunned. He is lost. He closes his eyes and awaits his death.

Death does not come. Well…

another detail

another detail

The warrior, the man with no armor, does not finish the job. He disappears without a trace leaving the knight stranded but alive. The knight opens his eyes and somehow manages to sit up. He weeps because his endless efforts to save the world have come to naught. In fact, fighting ogres seemed to produce more ogres! He removes his armor. He is no longer a knight. He is no longer capable of saving the world. He is, for the first time since his childhood, unprotected. He is, at last, purpose-free.

Nothing is more frightening – or useful – than to drop the armor of purpose and take a good hard look at what lives beneath all that forged metal.

...and another

…and another

At first his lack of identity drives him crazy. He has no answer to the cocktail party question, “So, what do you do?” He feels naked and exposed. Fortunately, a teacher, a hermit, emerges from the woods to help him navigate the crazies. Namely, the hermit helps him by not answering his endless questions. The hermit helps him understand that the world never really needed him because the world was never really broken. The hermit helps him relax and see beyond all of his thinking. He realizes that the wasteland came, not because the world was broken, but because he believed himself to be broken, somehow lacking.

In a life of chopping wood and carrying water he sees that his purpose has nothing at all to do with doing – or roles or achievements. He sees that the road to the grail castle is blocked so long as he believes he is defined by a role or a bank account or lost in a made-up purpose. When he drops his need for importance the grail castle appears.

...and another

…and another

Satori, in all the stories, knocks seekers from their ponies. It stops all pursuits. It pops the illusion of a purpose-driven life. It necessarily strips the seeker naked.

We are all seekers at some point.

When you are required in the workshop to write your epitaph or are somehow forced to articulate what was most important in this life, the doing, the list of achievements, the purpose-drive will always take second seat. HOW you did what you did, the relationships you tended or ignored, the moments you appreciated or missed, will sit squarely in the first spot.

 

as yet unnamed

as yet unnamed

 

 

 

 

 

Save

Save

Chase Big Bubbles

photo-1I’m opening old journals. It’s hot and humid so the paper feels as if it is melting. I’m not sure why this morning I reached for them. They sit in several piles and bookcases around the house. I’ve not opened one since moving to Wisconsin almost two years ago.

I used to be an avid catcher-of-my-thoughts. I’d carry notebooks everywhere. I stuffed my pockets with index cards and extra pens. At the end of a day I’d read the days idea-harvest, empty scraps of paper with my nearly unreadable scribbles onto the table and translate them into THE MOTHER SHIP, a black and red hard cover journal. Some thought-scraps didn’t make the cut. Some of the scraps were undecipherable and no amount of brow wrinkling could resurrect the unreadable idea. Some of the scraps were revelations and, to me more precious than jewels.

At the time I was facilitating groups, creating models for change and models for growth and models for models…. I was coaching and teaching and reading everything from business books to eastern philosophy. I loved picking people’s brains and trading ideas with friends. I was seeking.

A moment ago I randomly flipped open the journal on the top of the pile. This is what I’d scribbled many years ago:

Joe just used “myth“ this way: We all live in this myth that, what we believe, is reality – that our beliefs are what really exist….”

Myth as falsehood. There are explanatory myths, too (for instance, the Bible). Myths serve to keep us in accord with the universe (a concept of our own creation). Balance and harmony are the purpose of myth. Joe doesn’t yet understand myth.

Myth is an action, it is not a lie.

I flipped to the previous page and read this:

~humor

~humor

~humor

Wholeness attracts wholeness. Live in it and not be of it (what?)

You have to be it to attract it.

On the facing page was this entry:

Conflict and oppositions. Always oppositions. How do I construct… a non-dual existence? A non-dual way of thinking? How do I live amidst to forces of opposition?

I can’t remember the context of these thoughts. I have no idea what I was working on or what was going on in my life at the time. I rarely dated my entries though are identifiable zones given the people I mention or the places I reference. From this vantage point it seems like reading the notes of someone else’s life.

After paging through the journals we walked to the farmer’s market on the lakefront. Amidst the vegetable stands, the baked goods, and crafts people, there was someone selling bubbles! Behind the bubble tent a man was demonstrating the product. He had two sticks with a looped rope and, after dipping the rope in a big bucket of suds, he slowly waved the contraption in the air, producing huge generous bubbles. Children gathered and squealed with delight as they chased the bubbles.

As I watched the bubble-chasers I realized that I had been like those children, squealing with pleasure as I chased my thought-bubbles, each bubble popping every time I got close enough to touch it. The thoughts themselves were of no consequence, not really. The important thing was the chase and the joy and the reaching for something that can never be captured. My journals live like Jackson Pollock’s paintings, a record of my movement, a map of my dance of delight in ideas.

Bumble

photo-1I’m sitting on the deck sipping red wine. It is twilight. Jim is playing the mandolin (he is an extraordinary musician) and Kerri is playing her keyboard. They are rehearsing outside because it is too hot in the house. The breeze off the lake is a godsend. Dog-Dog does not know what to do with all the activity. He is running around and around; there is no sense to his crazy figure-eight patterns. I’ve learned his looping is actually Dog-Dog glee. He likes their music, too.

The fireflies are sparking. Kerri and Jim are working through a series of slow tunes for a performance this weekend and I am falling into their playing. I routinely tell them that they need to make an album together and they routinely smile and laugh at me. It is their laughter that comes through their playing and I love it. This world, I believe, like me, needs more laughter.

There is magic in a mandolin and I am suddenly reminded of my conversation with Arnie earlier today. We had a much needed phone conversation. Over the many years of our friendship Arnie has walked me through multiple mazes of my own construction. He has listened to more than one of my epic rants. He has a gentle way of asking just the right question to stop my rant in its tracks. I seek his counsel when I am lost. He somehow knows when I need an ear to bend or just a walk with a friend. His superhero name might be The Velvet Dope-Slap. I am grateful to be the dope to his slap.

During our conversation we bumbled into the topic of wisdom. I am now old enough to understand that bumbling is the only path to wisdom. No one seeking wisdom will ever find it. Seekers are notoriously serious. I have always been suspect of the dour saints that pock western sacred spaces. The Buddha laughs. Shiva dances amidst the destruction. There is wisdom in dancing, too.

Arnie and I agreed that wisdom only comes from repeated and dedicated folly. Sooner or later, if we are lucky, the mask of comedy breaks through the sad mask of tragedy; we learn to laugh at ourselves and our dedication to drama. It is through the laughter that wisdom finally reveals itself.

Kerri just gasped and stopped playing, “Oh my god! Look at the moon!”

Jim laughed at the interruption, and, pulling his glasses off his forehead, said, “Wait, I have to put my far-eyes on.”