See The Verb [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

Random fact of the day: my waking thought this morning was about The Geography of Thought. No kidding. It’s a terrific book by Richard Nisbett. The subtitle is “How Asians and Westerners Think Differently…And Why.” Somewhere in the recesses of my brain I must have been pondering the bumper sticker we recently saw: I’m With Earth.*

One of the points made in the book, the one that permeated my dream state, is that different languages place different emphasis on different parts of speech. For instance, many Asian languages place emphasis on the verb. English speakers place the emphasis on the noun. In listening to mothers talk to their infant children, an English speaker will say, “Look at the red truck! Do you see the red truck?” An Asian mother will say, “Look at the red truck go!” Do you see the red truck go?”

Why does it matter where the emphasis lands in a language structure? Noun or verb?

The language we use shapes our thinking and seeing. It shapes basic worldviews. Earth as a noun or earth as a verb. Earth as a stand-alone-thing or earth as a moving interrelationship. These are vastly different worldviews.

This was my thought/image coming out of sleep: earth and sky. In a noun world, earth and sky are two distinctly different things. In a verb world, earth and sky are not separate things, they are verbs, actions, interplay of a dynamic relationship. In a noun world, I am also a distinctly different thing. In a verb world, earth, sky and I are not separate things, we are a dynamic inseparable relationship. We.

The bumper sticker is a declaration: I am with earth. It makes perfect sense in a noun world because it is also possible, in a perceptual world of separate things, to be against earth. Nature needs to be conquered, tamed. In a noun world, earth, once tamed, is a resource and resources are meant to be used. In a noun world, we are capable of believing that our actions have no impact on our environment. Action and environment are nouns, separate things.

In a verb world, what you do to the earth is what you do to yourself. No separation. In a perceptual world of relationship, of verbs, it is understood that your actions not only have impacts, your actions are impacts.

We woke to the news of yet another mass shooting. This one in Colorado. As usual, we know that our community and leadership will offer thoughts and prayers but nothing really – not really- will be done to address it. In a noun world, we protect the rights of the individual, the separate thing. In a verb world, there are no mass shootings. None. Violence done to one is violence done to all. In fact, more people are gunned down in the United States in a day than are killed by gun violence in Japan in a decade. The differing linguistic emphasis extends to differing understanding of rights and responsibilities.

Language matters. Where we focus matters. What we emphasize matters. The story we tell is determined by the language we use to tell it. I am with earth. Or, I am earth. I go to worship. I am worship. I seek purpose. I am purpose. Separation. Relationship. A whole philosophy of living reduced to a simple bumper sticker.

So, when we ask complex questions like, “Why can’t we do anything about gun violence?” or, “How is it possible that people in a pandemic refuse to wear masks to protect each other,” our answer is really very simple: our language makes it so.

Perhaps in a world of nouns a declaration is the best we can do. It is a step toward the middle way, a declaration of responsibility to the commons. Black Lives Matter. #MeToo. Stop Asian Hate. I’m With Earth.

*The “I’m with Earth” sticker is from the very cool company Gurus

read Kerri’s blog post about I’M WITH EARTH

Cast A Shadow [on DR Thursday]

“The soul has no limits.” ~ Heraclitus

It was a hot summer night, humid and sticky, and the community was gathered in the outer ring of the temple. The Wayang Kulit master, shadow puppet master, was performing a play. Part ritual, part entertainment, the Balinese have not yet banished their arts from their worship. Laughter is welcome in the temple. Although the puppets are beautiful, ornate, the audience can only see the shadows they cast on the screen. It is a metaphor for life: in consciousness, we see only the shadows. We are the shadows. Our life-stories are illusion.

We walked in silence. Watching our shadows on the snow I thought of that hot night in Bali, of my astonishment of the skill of the master, manipulating all of the puppets, voicing all of the parts, a lamp of hot oil burning on his head – the light source to create the shadows. If that were not enough, he conducted the orchestra, seated behind him, by tapping the ground with a piece of wood wedged between his toes. He was a priest. A storyteller, not a preacher. Words and laughter swirl in the outer ring. As you progress to the inner ring, the most sacred place, language falls away, no words are spoken. No words are necessary. Kerri and I, while we walk, often occupy the inner ring. We hold hands. We listen to the sounds in the forest. We cast shadows.

Sometimes I feel far away from that hot summer night. Sometimes I sit right next to it. Our walks bring me closer to it.

It was a revelation to me to sit with people that experience no division between what is sacred and what is not. They do not worship on the weekend and then leave their holy place. To the people watching the shadow puppets, it is all sacred. It is all temple, even themselves. They know themselves as sacred. It is all holy, even to the forks and spoons in their drawer.

The separation they experience in this life – as individuals – is the shadow. Separation is the illusion. Fears and foibles are without lasting substance. The puppet master plays his rowdy tale to remind the people seated on the ground in the temple, that the truth of their existence is beyond the projection on the screen of their minds. Forms are fluid, not fixed. Souls have no limits.

read Kerri’s blog post about SHADOWS

Stop The Chase [on Two Artists Tuesday]

It’s difficult, seemingly Pollyanna-ish, to write about love when our nation is now officially divided and living in two combating realities. When Kerri took this photo on our back deck, I knew it was going to make an appearance in the Melange. “It will be tough to write about given the events of this week, the realities of our divided nation,” I said to no one listening.

I was wrong. The more I pondered this heart in the snow, the more I saw a simple theme, the thing we always miss. It is at the core of almost all spiritual teaching and personal revelation: stop the chase.

Krishnamurti wrote that “Love is a fact, not an emotion.” It cannot be found precisely because it is omnipresent. It is everywhere. It is everything. However, it can be easily missed, especially when covered in a blanket of righteousness. Love will sit patiently and wait for those who believe love to be a separate thing, something to be earned or discovered in the eyes of an other. We recently, through Zoom, sat Shivah for someone dear who had passed. The Rabbi read these words from a poem, “Love doesn’t die, people do. So when all that’s left of me is Love, give me away.”

Viktor Frankel wrote that “Happiness ensues.” It follows. It cannot be pursued or attained.

I can’t tell you how many countless hours I’ve spent with groups who desire to attain presence. To achieve mindfulness. It is nigh-on impossible to convey to achievers that presence cannot be pursued. It’s simple if you think about it: presence comes when ambition disappears. Presence and love. The desire to be anywhere else, to achieve anything, to become something other than what you are in this moment, precludes presence, interrupts love. Allow it; it’s already there.

It is anathema to suggest to modern seekers that they will find what they seek by ceasing to seek. Ha! It is the ultimate collision, in a culture steeped in achievement-as-a-central-tenet, that love, happiness, presence, mindfulness are unachievable – but infinitely available when standing still.

“You can love me most by letting me live in your eyes, And not on your mind,” the Rabbi read. See beyond what you think.

Division lives in the mind. What we seek, what we most need in this historic moment, cannot be found there. What we seek will become apparent – readily available – when we stop the chase, drop the destructive delusion of manifest destiny and its many separation-shadows – and, even for a moment – stand still.

read Kerri’s blog post about HEART

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

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

Tend One Way [on KS Friday]

be thou my vision songbox copy

This is what I’ve learned. Boil away the rules and regulations penned into the great spiritual traditions and you will find they all pretty much say the same stuff:

~presence is not something you can seek because you are already present. What else? It is not a matter of finding it as much as realizing it. Fear is a story in your head and will always split you into yesterday and tomorrow. I’ve learned: get out of your head.

~in this dual-reality world you can make sense of your life in one of two ways. You can either put the accent on separation (us/them, right/wrong, rules and regulations) or you can put the accent on unity (love, the middle path, relationship). You will most likely dance between these two in a miracle of creative tension. Sometimes you will feel alone, self-righteous and under assault (separate). Sometimes you will feel connected and a part of something bigger than your little self (united). Eventually, you will tend one way or the other. I’ve learned: either way, you will make meaning of your limited days on earth according to where you place the accent. “God” has nothing to do with the choice you make. That is all on you.

Mostly I’ve learned: it is the lucky few who are able to see that fear is the story in their head that always splits them (separation). The love-path opens when we get out of our heads and into our hearts (unity).

The title of Kerri’s hymn album is Always With Us. This beautiful hymn, played beautifully, is called Be Thou My Vision. Listen. Kerri just might help you, for a moment, stand in your presence (love), which is, of course, the only real way of getting out of your head. Thus, the real power of the arts and the extraordinary gift of this great artist.

 

BE THOU MY VISION on the album ALWAYS WITH US is available on iTunes & CDBaby

 

read Kerri’s blog post about BE THOU MY VISION

 

PrayerOfOpposites10.17 copy 3

prayer of opposites. a perfect image for my lessons learned.

 

hands website box copy

be thou my vision/always with us ©️ 2004 kerri sherwood

 prayer of opposites ©️ 2004/2019 david robinson

Look To The Living Thing

my latest, as yet un-named, painting

Kerri looked at this painting and told me it captures how she feels when our daughter is hurting and calls home. “Describe that feeling to me?” I asked. She pointed to the painting, and said, “Just like that.”

Some things are universal and understood regardless of political affiliation or religious belief. What does a mother need to know to support her child? The political investments and religious doctrines are abstractions, separations. Motherhood is direct; it lives beyond the capacity of language to capture and articulate. It is the impulse to unity. It transcends all divisions. It knows nothing of conceptions like the rational and irrational.

Jim and I just had one of our famous phone calls. Our discussion romped through many fields but we returned again and again to the notion that the important things in life cannot be rushed. For instance, relationship takes time. Relationship takes attention and tending. It is fluid and dynamic so it is nearly impossible to slap a single word-label on it. It changes. It grows. In a single day it can pass through many descriptors. Dog-Dog can drive me crazy in one moment and melt my heart the next. The important stuff, like relationship, is not static or containable. It is not a concept. It is a living thing.

So What?

The best language can do is point to the living. Language can describe experience but can never be experience. Language, of necessity, reduces while the important stuff – like relationship – like love – expands. Language, as a tool of abstraction, can never be true. It can only point toward truth. Language separates. Truth is like relationship. Truth is a living thing, dynamic and changing. To be known, it must, like motherhood, be experienced directly.

Again, so what?

Direct experience is always (obviously) personal. Truth is not so easily captured. Is it exclusively liberal or conservative? Is it Christian? Buddhist? Is it unique to Islam, Judaism, or the Tao? Leave the city lights some night, take a good long look at the stars, and realize what you are staring into.

Last week we rushed 20 to the hospital. He couldn’t breathe. He walked to the edge of the abyss and looked into it. We watched him teeter on the edge. As we watched, all other concerns, pursuits, bills, frustrations, news,…, dropped away. The stuff of separations and abstractions went to dust in the face of the actual. Ask me what I experienced watching 20 grasp for life? There are no words. Ask him what he experienced in those long hours and he will shrug his shoulders. There are no words – but it is clear in his eyes.

The important stuff, the stuff beyond words, leaps the boundaries of separation and abstraction; all else falls away. The important stuff always leads to a universal place, a common ground. It is a beautiful paradox.  As a test, try this: if language can reach it, ask this very important and often absent question: Is it really true or merely another entrenched point of view?

a detail

Listen To Randi

a detail from my latest painting in progress

a detail from my latest painting-in-progress

Randi is wise. Though, like all truly wise souls, she is completely unaware of her wisdom. She knows that she takes great delight in learning new things. She knows that her curiosity is boundless. She knows beyond the platitude of the sentiment that each new day is an opportunity to renew. Each new day is a step into unknown territory and, for Randi, there is no sense in taking timid steps. There is no sense in trying to make the day fit into a preconceived “normal.” There is no sense in watching the dance. Dance!

She squeals with pleasure when she hears a word used beautifully. “I am a lover of words!” she exclaims. She knows that words are powerful and when used beautifully will define beautiful experiences. She uses her words to define life beautifully. And, because she understands the power of words – and the brevity of life, she also understands the imperative of telling others what they mean to her. She has no problem expressing love.

another detail

another detail

We took a rare opportunity to see her, swinging north to Buffalo after traveling to Boston to celebrate Thanksgiving with Craig and Dan. At dinner, we talked of new relationships and new work and new phases of life. We talked of the necessity of creating balance amidst the tug and push of this fast moving life-river. Randi smiled, “I once heard someone speak about attempting to balance life and they said something that changed how I see it. They said that when yearning to balance the many aspects of our lives it is most often not balance we seek! It’s integration! Rather than try to bring all these separate pieces of life into a balancing act, why not integrate them into a unified whole!” She clapped her hands as if having the revelation all over again. “It’s integration, wholeness that we desire!”

Wholeness is another word for presence, and presence is the goal of the performers’ art. Quinn, another wise person, used to tell me that all spiritual teachings speak of finding the middle way, the path between poles or opposites. “Zealots miss the point!” he’d say. Life is not found in the extremes, in the separations, in the fragmented, or the isolationist’s dream. Those are aims of the controller. The rule bound. The real balancing comes in the letting go. As Randi reminded us, it is found in the integration, the middle way, the whole.

the whole

the whole painting as of 12.1.16

 

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