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

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

Believe [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

believe ornament copy

Kerri just said, “I think I’d believe more if I had another glass of wine.” After I was done laughing (and getting her another glass of wine), I realized that belief is too often like that – contingent on circumstance.

When I was a wee lad (seriously, this stuff ran rampant around my little kid brain), I’d wonder what happened the day after the bloody battle when both sides raged about god being on their side. What do you need to reconcile when your team loses? Why do you need to win to confirm your belief? A side note, another of those rampant ramblings  racing through of my too tiny skull (no wonder my parents were at a loss of what to do with me)  – this one is to really get me in trouble: if your god takes sides, chooses a team or otherwise reinforces a separation from the whole, how can you not see that it must be a very small god indeed? For perspective, an existential reboot, go outside and look at the stars and understand what you are seeing. No sides. Beyond comprehension.

Conditional belief. It is run amok.

If our capacity for belief was not conditional, what might we actually believe? Who might we become if we understood that we are expressions of this great universe and that this great universe was cheering for us and those rowdy huzzahs  had nothing to do with our winning or losing, with borders or righteousness or rules or books or councils or sexual orientation or money or the color of our skin? Or beliefs. Every atom a delight. Every creation a miracle. Would we be hope-full?  Would ‘the enemy’ look the same through the eyes of unconditional belief?

I know. Pie-in-the-sky thinking. Only a child could believe so completely, so unconditionally in…goodness.

Anything is possible if you just believe.

[note: this beautiful ornament was a gift that came atop a container of ‘slushy’ – a life giving concoction brewed in Dan’s secret laboratory and delivered each year to my squeals of delight. If my belief is conditional it is Dan’s fault and I blame Gay for not reining him in. She found this beautiful ornament so I also blame this post on her generosity and good taste. These two people make me believe wholeheartedly, without condition, in goodness].

 

read Kerri’s more coherent blog post on BELIEVE

 

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Feel Them [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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This is a symbol and as symbols go, this one is arguably the epicenter. It is universal. It transcends all other symbols, religious and otherwise. The others deal with energies, vertical and horizontal, masculine and feminine, spiritual and secular. They are symbols of polarities, separation ends that point to a center, a unity. This symbol is the unity. Heart. The meeting ground. The commons. The push-me-pull-you of life.

Try an experiment and think back on these past weeks running up to the solstice (no matter your tradition of celebrating it); re-member the moments that you felt heart. Kerri’s song. A bonfire at midnight. A walk in the woods at sunset. Dogga buried in gift wrap. Craig’s face when we opened the package with smart bulbs. Kirsten clutching the sloth. There are too many to count. None are abstractions. All are experiences. Feel them.

Yearning can be filled with heart. Loss can be heart-full. This symbol is all inclusive. It does not discriminate. It’s bigger than any single desire, any hot pursuit. It, in fact, requires no seeking. It is ubiquitous. It everywhere and nowhere all at the same time because it has nothing to do with time. It asks little more than paying attention to the many faces it lives through, the many moments it simply waits for you to notice, to see/feel/hear/taste/sense what is already here.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about the NEON HEART

 

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Feel The Mountains [on Two Artists Tuesday]

 

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Look carefully. In the distance you will see the mountains. “It kills me, “Kerri said, staring out the window as we drove east out of Colorado. She craned her neck and watched as the mountains faded into the distance. She took a picture more to reach than record them.

The mountains make her weep. Seriously. Driving up the canyon, leaving the flats of Denver behind, she catches her breath and then the tears roll down her cheeks. “It’s so beautiful.” she utters, wide-eyed, incapable of taking it all in.

Leaving them is harder still. I watch her writhe in her seat, growing more agitated the further away that we get. “Damn it,” she fumes. These mountains are her holy land. They inspire songs and poems and musing. Leaving is not a geographic equation. She feels the separation.

In every corner of our home you will find a pile of rocks, mementos from our travels. And, in each pile, among all the other treasures, there is always a special rock, a mountain rock. She surrounds herself with mountains, even living on this great plain, a block away from a great lake. An artist knows where her power comes from.

She sits at her piano. She opens her computer to write. Surrounded by mountains, she composes. She feels the connection and it fills her with inspiration. Going home is not a geographic equation.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about MOUNTAIN IN THE DISTANCE

 

 

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Tend One Way [on KS Friday]

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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

 

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

 

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

 prayer of opposites ©️ 2004/2019 david robinson