Be With [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

“When you love someone, the best thing you can offer is your presence. How can you love if you are not there?” ~ Thich Nhat Hahn

We attended the funeral rites via Zoom. It was moving. Intimate. We felt grateful to be included.

Kerri attempted to keep the ukulele band going. There was a delay in the signal so the group played gloriously out of sync, our rehearsals a hysterical cacophony. In the end it didn’t matter because we met each week and shared stories. We asked the most important question: how are you doing?

We Zoomed with friends across the country. The screen between us punctuated the distance, exaggerated the separation.

The pandemic put a new twist on the word “presence.” How do we – how did we – remain present for each other, with each other, when distancing was one of the few routes available to slow the spread of the virus? We learned both the expanse and limits of technology, sometimes giving us communication but not always the capacity for presence.

It certainly made us more intentional. Presence required scheduling time. Presence required confronting the line of can-this-be-in-person-or-not. It made us slow down and question. In the early days of Covid, Kerri and I had a heated debate en route to Colorado to see my parents: do we wear masks or not? After a few moments the masks came off. We needed to be present. Fully.

“Presence” and “going slow” hold hands. One cannot walk without the other. A slow walk will invite presence. An intention to be more present invites slowing down.

When I returned from Bali I was different. Changed. I understood the necessity of going slow, of being in my life rather than racing through it.

The pandemic years have been equally as profound. Like everyone, we lost jobs, lost identities, lost connections, lost security. Every possible pattern of life was disrupted. Isolation brought a new level, a different understanding of going slow. A two-dimensional and three-dimensional understanding of presence.

We are emerging as different people. I feel it. I can see it. I cannot place words on how we are different. I simply know that we are not in such a hurry anymore. We are much more intentional. We draw deeper lines in the sand.

There are people we want to see. There are people we need to see, beyond a Zoom or a phone call. To sit in the same room, laugh. To hold hands. To go slow. To be “with.”

read Kerri’s blogpost about GOING SLOW

See Beyond [on DR Thursday]

I am amazed by nature. We learned in our visit to the botanical gardens that plants in tropical climates are a study in waterproofing. Waxy leaves prevent excess water from accumulating. Holes allow water and sunlight to pass through. It’s a masterclass in protection from algae. Adaptation, not resistance. Working with rather than fighting against.

My adult life has been a meditation on whole systems – which is quite simply a study of perception. It takes a human mind to separate the leaf from the branch from the trunk from the root. Separation and categorization is how we make sense of things. Analysis requires breaking-it-down. It’s easy to forget that those distinctions are in our minds and not in the world we observe. There is no separation of leaf from rain, not really. There is movement. Concert. Equilibrium.

Understanding requires reassembly.

To live creatively is to discover rather than invent. Thank goodness for the scientists teasing apart, deconstructing, uncovering, analyzing. I would not be alive today without their passionate pursuit.

And, while the scientist dissects, the artist reassembles. The reach for wholeness, the pull toward universal experience that cuts across division…I thank goodness each day for eyes that see beyond the separations, the capacity for utter delight and awe – standing in a garden – staring at a leaf made colander over eons of time.

read Kerri’s blogpost about HOLES IN LEAVES

eve © 2006 david robinson

Look Up. Look Higher. [on Merely A Thought Monday]

“And men are so poor in intellect that a few cold chills down their spine will be enough to keep them from ever finding out the truth about anything.” ~ Thomas Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain

This will read like a blazing generality and I do not intend it to be so. Some of the best people I have known are readers of the book(s). They learned along the line to read their book(s) as metaphor instead of literally, as a history. There are, after all, many paths up the same mountain.

As for me, I was cured of religion when I was a boy but it’s taken a lifetime to understand what and why – and to find language to express what should (to me) be obvious to all.

It only takes a moment to lift your eyes from the book and look up – all the way up to the sky. The book is a human invention, as are the gods and the stories of the gods told in them. The sky, on the other hand, complete with stars and suns and universes beyond imagining, are not human inventions. The book lives in the human mind. That which the book is meant to illuminate is…wholeness…all around us. We are part of, not separate from. That’s it. It’s that simple. The game of separation and unity.

We are part of, not separate from. This word “Love” is unity, the absence of made-up-separations.

The book will have you believing that your body and its myriad of impulses are, like nature, in need of taming. Separation from yourself. The book will promote the notion of a chosen few, the singular path, a destiny that is manifest. Separation from other. Elevation for team-white. Moral authority for team-straight. It’s probably good to feel above others and certainly feels powerful to believe yourself keeper of the book’s rules. Isn’t it blatantly obvious that the rules were/are made by men to justify, as-the-voice-of-god, all manner of privilege and cruelty? Separation, separation, separation.

Here’s what I understood as a boy: any god that promotes separation in any form is very small, indeed, and probably not worth worshipping. At the very least it is a man-made god meant to make folks feel better about their obvious impermanence in an infinite universe.

There’s so much in this life worthy of our worship.

Whether or not we walk as one or decide to beat the hell out of each other for the color of our skin or the natural orientation of our sexuality has nothing to do with the vast universe outside of the book. We create the separations to justify our fear or to protect our property.

We are completely capable of love. We are completely capable of reaching across the unknown and living our short time on this earth in full support of the rich myriad of wonder and diversity expressed through us in this infinite possibility called life.

The book is an abstraction. The person standing before you is not.

Love is love. Love is not separation or division or privilege or a skin color or gender or sexual orientation. Love has nothing to do with how much money you have or do not have. Separations are the province of small people inventing small gods for very small reasons – so they can feel good about being separate and small.

Love is love.

read Kerri’s blogpost about PRIDE

Care For Your Space [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

It seems like such a simple concept. Tom taught it. So did Paul. And, since I was one of their students, I taught it, too. How you treat your space is a reflection of what you think of your art. The concept is universal. Replace the word “art” with “work” or “life.” You and your space are not separate. We worked hard at the theatre to become better artists and produce better plays and a significant part of that work was bettering and maintaining our artistic “home.” We were proud of our work and it showed -everywhere. Our “space” included our community and our art was meant to make it better.

Yesterday it was warm so we took a walk on a favorite loop. As we returned to the car we watched a man clean out his truck. He’d come to the park, not to walk or appreciate the quiet. His purpose was to dump his trash onto the paved lot. In an earlier time, pre-gun-gun-everywhere, we might have said something. Instead, we stared in disbelief. His space,I thought, does not extend beyond his truck. Neither does his community.

Yesterday, after the walk I received a text from Mike. He was a big part of my long-ago theatre. He’s realizing a dream and opening his own theatre. He’s led a company for a few decades but they didn’t have their own space. Now, they do. He – the artistic director – was mopping the floor and paused to send me a text. It’s the other part of the lesson from Tom and Paul. And Demarcus. And Quinn. There’s no hierarchy. There’s no above and below. Loving the space, loving the art that happens in the space: no separation. One and the same for everyone involved and everyone needs to be involved.

You and your space are not separate. The care you take of your outer space is equal to the care you give to your inner space. And, vice-versa.

[visit Justin’s to see how a company can make a better world]

read Kerri’s blogpost about NEAT EARTH

Blur The I [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

We capture quotes all week. Some we see. Some we hear. Some find their way into the Melange. Most do not. We usually note where we heard or found the quote so we remember the context. It’s a practice. It’s not as if we are perpetually eavesdropping on conversations. We’ve simply tuned ourselves to immediately write the amazing words and phrases that catch our attention.

A common phrase is mind-over-matter. Athletes and actors and dancers are conditioned to ignore the limits of their bodies. To keep going. The mind as master over body. I loved this quote because it is the flip side. The mind, the “I”, wanted to stop but the body did not listen. It kept going.

Lately I’ve been reading about – so, paying attention to – the false separations that language necessitates: Mind and body are spoken of, thought of, as separate things. And, the question is this: where does one begin and the other end? Mind over matter. Body did not listen. I made myself do it. Once you start listening for it, it is ubiquitous. Exactly where is the line between “I” and “myself”? When your toe is in pain, isn’t your whole body is in pain? Follow your gut. What does your heart say?

When Dogga gets excited, his little body bounces. He runs in circles. He has to work hard to sit still. Say, “Do you want to go…” and he’s bouncing before the words “on errands?” reach his ears. He knows he won’t actually go on errands until he first sits on the rug. Eventually, he bounces his way into compliance. Control follows unbridled enthusiasm. Control is a means to an end. Rug before errands. Sit before snack.

Dogga might say, while bouncing enthusiastically, “I wanted to stop but my body kept going!”but I doubt it. Given his unified happy spirit, I’m certain the phrase would come out of his muzzle this way: I wanted to stop but I kept going. Watching him is like reading the I-Ching: no separation.

read Kerri’s blogpost about I AND BODY

Wander In Wonderland [on Two Artists Tuesday]

I’ve re-read his email several times. Skip’s explanation of the development of the computer. Subject/Object. Noun/Verb. Items/Action. It’s a story of cause and effect. This causes that. I’ve learned more from this single email than from my very expensive graduate degree. And, it’s sent me down the rabbit hole and I am currently in a world easily as miraculous as Alice’s Wonderland.

Does the moon cause the tides? It does if you are an English-speaker. Causation is the foundation structure of the English language. An action needs an initiator. The noun is king. He kicked. The sea rocked the boat. The moon causes tides. If you speak Mandarin, the moon and the tides are inseparable, not perceived or described as separate events but as interconnected. The same dance, differentiated forms.

Where does an action begin? A consequence end? I warned you. A rabbit hole.

Our perception of the world has everything to do with the language we use to describe it. Our creating of the world has everything to do with the language we use to imagine it. In a world where actions are separate from items, verbs from nouns, this causes that, it’s easy to believe that order is separate from disorder, cosmos is separate from earth, humans are separate from nature. Death is separate from life. Is it?

Each year that passes I’ve noticed the world of written communication includes more emojis and fewer words. Attention spans are shorter – mine, too. Tweet and text. Images carries the bulk of the message. If you could see the analytics on my blog you’d note that if I use more than 600 words, you are less likely to read what I write. We are slowly moving toward ideograms and slowly away from alphabets. Whatever will we do, what might we see, when nouns and verbs blend into image? When the eyes of dedicated separation begin to see through the eyes of interconnectivity – or, as Skip says, “When actions become central.”

It’s called a Wolf Moon, I read, because wolves are particularly loud and vocal during the first months of the year. One questioner asked if the moon causes the wolves to howl. Noun/Verb. Subject/Object.

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE WOLF MOON

Look At The Display [on Flawed Wednesday]

Del and Dorothy’s house sat on the side of a mountain. It was small. The kitchen table accommodated two and was placed close – very close – to the front door. Dorothy cooked on a wood burning stove. The house listed to the downhill side. It had a small yard that seemed carved out of the mountain. Del’s WW II jeep sat close to the edge. Dorothy populated the yard with blue glass and hummingbird feeders. It was a quiet home. A peaceful place.

Artifacts of a time gone by. Del fought in the second world war. He kept a corner display cabinet with things he’d brought home from the war. A Luger. Nazi insignia. A flag. Patches and medals. Booty from the enemy. It seemed out of place, especially in a home dedicated to simplicity and peace. The display was a curiosity for me. Why enshrine in your home objects from an enemy-of-the-past? I wanted to ask Del about it but he was not a talker. In fact, while, 50 years later, I would recognize Dorothy’s voice if I heard it today, I have no recall of the sound of Del’s voice. I can’t remember him uttering a word. I never broached the subject of the artifacts.

Each day we receive an alert on our phone. Exposure Notification Available. Recently, when Kerri officiated a wedding, we both took two Covid tests to make certain, while also vaccinated, that we were negative. Dangling from a clip on the side of our refrigerator are masks. Many, many masks. We put in our special box the flag they gave us on the day we were vaccinated. Wave the flag if you have a question or need help. The artifacts in a time of pandemic, now so normal that we barely see them.

This weekend, with all of the observances of 9/11, I watched a tour of the 9/11 museum. A crushed firetruck. A shoe. Xerox pages with faces and the word, “Missing.” Del whispered into my ear, “Pay attention. This is why I kept my display.” The tour guide said, “So we never forget.” The Luger. The Nazi flag and insignia. The medals and ribbons. The reason Del and Dorothy retreated to the mountainside, the reason they simplified and built a life of quiet and peace, the reason he kept his glass-cabinet-display. So they wouldn’t forget. The horrors that people enact upon each other in the name of…righteousness, control. Superiority. The madness people embrace when they are angry or scared. The lies so easily told and so hungrily gobbled.

People are capable of great things. We know because those things are meant to draw us together. They unite us. Great art.

People are capable of appalling acts. We know because those actions are born of and meant to divide. They rend us apart.

Del lived through the full savagery of what people are capable of doing, one to another. He came home and with Dorothy lived an intentional life of quiet, on the mountain, out of the main. I’ve noted of late that Kerri and I talk often, dream, of a mountain retreat. We are witness of what people are capable of doing, one to another. We are also witness of and generators of the beauty meant to draw people together. Her music. My paintings. The things people are capable of doing, one for another. We are surrounded by artists and art. Both/and.

History repeats itself. The story is told – again and again – through the art and artifacts we display, the symbols we keep. The memories we carry forward. Guernica. Empty shoes. A simple mask.

read Kerri’s blog post about ARTIFACTS

Decide To See [on Merely A Thought Monday]

My thoughts while watching the wedding:

Oprah asked Gary Zukav this question: Where is soul? His response: Where is it not?

Exchange the word ‘love’ for the word ‘soul.’ Where is love? Where is it not?

In the English language, words like ‘love’ and ‘soul’ are nouns. Things. And, things must have limits. It is a remarkable misunderstanding, a miracle of minimization. Love, the single hardest ‘thing’ to define, in fact, impossible to define, is undefinable because it is without limit. The best we can do is point toward love-made-visible. A newborn in the arms of its mother. The moment the couple, standing before their community, stares into each other’s eyes and promises, “I do.” Watching a sunrise on an anniversary. A mother dancing with her son, the groom.

Love is. Where is it not? That means, of course, that it is “in” everything, everywhere. The air we breathe. The thoughts we think. The actions we take, big and small. It is in how we treat our neighbors. In how we see ourselves. In how we report our news. In how we tell our lies and our truths. Love is.

It is the province of no-single-religion. In fact, it is where every religion on earth goes off the rails. To claim to be “the way” or “the one true…” is to attempt dominion over love. To place rules and boundaries on the boundless.

The question Oprah didn’t ask: if it is everywhere, in everything, in war and in peace, hate and acceptance, does it have any meaning at all? If it is ubiquitous, unchangeable and indescribable, why bother? Gary’s answer, I imagine, would be something like this: we choose the form we give to our love, do we not? We can choose to put the accent on unity. We can choose to put the accent on separation. Love is. We can choose to put the accent on division or we can choose to offer our support.

There is never more or less love. Isn’t that the point? Love is beyond definition. What changes is not the love or the amount of love. What changes is what we decide to see. What changes is how we decide to see, especially how we decide to see ourselves in this world with so many “others.”

read Kerri’s blog post about JUST LOVE

In-Tolerate [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

In theatre school, I was taught that the action of the play was driven by conflict. I’ve never been comfortable with that word. Something did not ring true with the concept of conflict. A dividing line. Battle. Fight. Kerri just suggested that conflict is not simply a line, it is bandwidth. A full spectrum of color in our human struggle.

I recently read that, through resistance, all things become visible. We see color because some light rays are absorbed and others are reflected. The light ray is filtered, separated into color bands. We see the color that was resisted. Rejected by the surface. Split off. Separated. Is it any wonder that the epicenter of most faith traditions, the driver of most origin stories, is the journey through separation back to unity?

We become visible in our birth. Separate. We become invisible in our death and are given to imagining a comforting story of reunion. Re-union. In between those two points, separation and unity, there is life made visible and wildly colorful by the separation. The filters. What is absorbed and rejected. Reflected. Learned. Ignored. Appreciated. Vilified. Visible. Invisible.

This time of pandemic has been, for us, an exercise in separation. In the distancing, we’ve nurtured, intentionally and unintentionally, an appreciation of quiet. Over these many months we’ve grown a garden of simplicity. We read together. We walk our paths slowly. We’ve found that we do not need to be entertained or distracted. We have a low tolerance for crowds and run the opposite direction when there’s too much noise ahead.

We’ve fostered an appreciation for those who walk through life considerate of the needs of others. Our circle of friends has come into focus. We’ve dropped off the plate of many and many have dropped off of our plate. The connective tissue is felt, established and hearty. In some cases, even though our actual conversations are rare, the focus is sharp. Deeply rooted. Arnie. Judy. Jim. Mike. David. In other cases, we communicate almost every day. 20. Brad and Jen. Heart-y.

Our play has become visible through resistance. What we absorb and what we reject has come into stark contrast, clear focus, through the separation. Layers of shallow tolerance have been peeled away revealing a much deeper understanding of what we desire to create in this life, how we desire to live. It is necessary to understand the boundaries set and the colors illuminated by intolerance. Said another way, it is important to be able to thoroughly sort substance from noise. Both inner and outer. I have learned that I have limited tolerance for thoughtless acceptance, for unthinking noise. My resistance. I surround myself with questioners, those curious enough to dig, dedicated to building their thought-castles on bedrock instead of shifting sands. Those few who are capable of releasing their grips on the comfortable known and step willingly into the uncomfortable question. I absorb them. Take them in.

We – all of us – walk the same path, visible in our birth. Separate. Invisible in our death. Re-union. In this we are equal. What we do, how we choose to support each other, or choose not to, in the passage between those two universal points, is all. These choices define the story we live.

The pandemic, the separation, has helped me to a deeper understanding and appreciation of this word: Intolerant. A word that used to inspire egg-shell walking for what it implied. A word held with shallow roots. Now, it is a word rich in complexity, useful in paradox, a resistance that has made so much come visible. Tolerance, ironically, is at the same time intolerance. What, in your play, is acceptable? What, in your play, will you tolerate? What, in your play, will you not tolerate? Your play is not separate from mine.

read Kerri’s blog post about TOLERANCE LEVELS

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