Have A Conversation

my quick sketches of two of the stained glass window panels

my quick sketches of two of the stained glass window panels

Yesterday I learned that my conversation with the stained glass window was only on hiatus. Several months ago we simply stopped talking. In the silence I thought the conversation was complete. For almost two years we had a weekly chat. I took lots of notes.

I recognize that one is not supposed to have chats with windows – at least not admit to it. Master Marsh teased me saying, “There’s help for things like this.” I’ve decided that my conversation with the window is more ordinary than odd: plenty of people around the world talk to statues. Most of us have had silent reckoning with the sky. I’ve witnessed mechanics talking to their tools and bakers wooing their dough. Who hasn’t cursed the object of a home fix-it job-gone-wrong (plumbing regularly gets a tongue lashing from me!) or praised a project done well? Traffic gets a regular talking to. In this region, at this time of year, more than a few brides make deals with the weather. A soul in exchange for sunshine.

Who hasn’t, in a moment of turmoil, looked inside themselves and asked for help? Who hasn’t uttered a quiet thank you or asked for guidance or made an appeal? Call it prayer, meditation, epiphany, catharsis, intuition, gut instinct, reading the signs, hearing the call, or communing with nature, it’s a conversation.

I’m not the only artist – or scientist for that matter – that, in moments of flow, feels as if something bigger is coming through. In that sense, all of my paintings might serve as the record of a conversation with something bigger. Writers often speak about having the experience of the characters writing themselves, of following rather than creating. Following, surrendering, allowing, listening, responding, getting out of the way. Play the chords long enough and you no longer need to think about them. In the land beyond thinking about it, music becomes possible. It’s a conversation.

Sitting on the chancel, listening to Kerri play, I stared as I often do at the morning light pouring through the colored glass. I studied the symbols. Birth and death. Tree of knowledge, Tree of Everlasting Life. The Grail standing between two flames. It’s a repetition in symbol of the same idea. Born into an experience of duality and distinctions, a world fighting over its differences, we have the opportunity to walk the middle path, the unity consciousness, the “something bigger.” “Between the two, one,” I the heard the window whisper. “It’s simple, really.”

a quick sketch of all three panels: birth, death, and the middle way.

a quick sketch of all three panels: birth, death, and the middle way.

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Unfetter Kindness

Tripper Dog-Dog-Dog on a roadtrip

Tripper Dog-Dog-Dog on a road trip

Tripper Dog-Dog-Dog has no problem communicating his needs. I know without doubt when he wants to go out. I know when he wants his belly scratched or have his ears rubbed. He lets me know where he expects to be scratched. He is abundantly clear when food is his need. He does not second-guess his needs. He does not doubt his desires or confuse himself with obsessing over his reasons why.

Love is one of his needs. To give it and to receive it, exuberantly or tenderly, he does not invest in how I receive or return his love. He is not vulnerable because he has no need to hide or color his love-need. He has no brakes on his exuberance because it is pure, innate, and without story.

One of my favorite exercises to assign during my teacher/consultant phase was the Angel exercise. The assignment was simple: For three hours be an angel to someone. The only requirement was that the recipient could not know. Be an angel with no expectation of recognition; write about what you discover. The assignment was always greeted by a flurry of protests and questions (“I don’t know how…,” or “What does it mean to be….”). Angel-ing is scary business!

Once, to experiment, I assigned the opposite: be a devil/trickster. Instead of protests there were gales of laughter and excitement! No one asked “how.” In midst of their exuberant, fearless plotting and scheming, I reversed the design. Before they went into the world to demonize, I required them to flip their plan and do the opposite to their intended target: be an angel. Their sudden fear was palpable. “Now that you know how to torture this person, do the opposite,” I said. “Be their angel.”

Regardless of how we entered the assignment, the students/clients would return the following week exultant. Their experiences of Angel-ing, of unfettered kindness had profound blowback. They talked of their pre-Angel terror and the unexpected thrill that came with unfettered secret service to another person. They talked of the clarity that came with Angel-ing. They had fun. They felt good. They felt alive. Everything became simple. The greatest surprise of all – something that in this season we see on posters, holiday advertisements, Hallmark cards and screen-savers, something that is a cliché when proffered but rarely experienced: kindness begot kindness. Kindness begets kindness. Kindness clarifies life when it comes with no expectation of reciprocity. Kindness simplifies inner debates when it is wielded without need of reward.

Dog-Dog loves unconditionally. Love may be his only need. For Dog-Dog there is, I suspect, no distinction between giving and receiving. His exuberant love is not meant to gain access to heaven or to change the world in any way. It is without agenda. Angel-ing is like that…

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Gear Down, Baby!

a detail from my painting, John's Secret

a detail from my painting, John’s Secret

When writing The Seer I showed the early chapters to some pals and the response was unanimous: break it down into smaller bites. The conceptual steps were too big for readers to connect the dots.”What!” I exclaimed. “Are you kidding me!” I protested. “Are you telling me that people need me to spell it out for them? Am I supposed to hit them on the head with a hammer?” I cried in disbelief to my bemused pals. Their response to my inner adolescent was, again, unanimous: yes. You need to go slower, take smaller steps, and come a bit closer to earth. The details matter. The job is not to be understood. The job is to create understanding.

After gnashing my teeth and tearing my clothes I took their sage advice. And, it was sage advice. The book that I published was comprised of only the first three chapters from the original manuscript broken into smaller thought-bites. Breaking it down was one of the hardest and best things I’ve ever done. Like Horton the-hearer-of-a-Who, I discovered complete new universes in the details, in the things I’d deemed too insignificant to mention or simply didn’t see with my head so firmly in the clouds. Ironically, while writing a book entitled The Seer, I learned a lesson in seeing.

Skip laughed when we first met. He’s a very-big-thinker and, like me, sees the world from 30,000 feet. He exclaimed, “Oh, No! You have the curse, too!” From 30,000 feet, small steps and details are almost invisible or easy to ignore. From 30,000 feet, everything is inter-related, one great big dynamic flowing motion. From 30,000 feet, the ubiquitous question is, “Don’t they see?” The runner-up question is, “What’s the problem?”

As we learned in school, the devil is in the details so, with my head in the clouds I have often been surprised by the detail-devil. People on the ground plant flags and guard territory. People on the ground choose sides and assume a defensive posture before thinking to ask a single question. Fear drives swifter action than does lofty reason. People are much more complex than they seem from the conceptual heights.

And, the only way of working with a complexity is through a simplicity. Connect the dots. Do not assume that “they” will “know” or “understand.” Do not assume that “they” see what I see or believe what I believe – or that what I see or believe is better or more valid than what they see. Opening a heart is a slow affair. Listening is best done when leaning in. Asking questions before making statements is good artistic process. Be a dot that connects to the other dots. Art, in all of its forms, is meant to serve as the great dot connector.

John's Secret by David Robinson

John’s Secret by David Robinson

Kerri, no stranger to my 30,000 foot rants, has developed a short-hand phrase for those too-many-moments when I need to move slower and pay attention to the details. She is helping me with this life lesson by applying a simplicity to my complexity. Now, when I have assumed that the dots are already connected and am perplexed by the breakdown, she simply says, “gear down, baby.” Move to a lower gear and open your eyes. Connection always happens in a lower gear. What is really there is infinitely more important (and often more beautiful) than what we want to be there. Releasing the “shoulds” opens eyes and hearts for shared experiences. So, gear down, baby.

 

See The Color

857. Join me in inspiring truly powerful people. Each day I will add a new thought, story or idea to support your quest and mine.

Occasionally, for reasons I can’t explain, I become fixated on the words people use to describe their experiences. Language is powerful and we are rarely aware that in using specific language to describe particular experiences we are, in fact, defining ourselves.

Today I was struck by the predominance of phrase polarity I heard in my conversations and travels. People were “effective” or “ineffective.” Experiences were “good” or “bad.” We “liked” or “didn’t like” an idea. I heard, “Are you in or out?” A frustrated pedestrian shouted at a young woman who’d stopped to adjust her ear buds, “Walk or Don’t Walk!”
This or that. Up or Down. Black or white. More or less. Main Street or Wall Street.

It is comfortable to pretend that things are simple and easily defined. It is probably efficient to pretend that there are only two available options. We are, after all, a society of laws and in a legal preset there must always exist a clear line though we learn again and again that the line is never clear. Who honestly believes that Justice is blind? Context complicates even the smallest decision.

Dogma is not spirituality. Data is not knowledge and is miles from approaching wisdom. Wisdom is complex. Data sorts to the simple. There are an infinite number of points between those two poles. The question remains: how is your language defining you. Do you define yourself as data with two points or do you allow for more complexity? Listen to how you story yourself and your world.

The challenge with phrase polarity is that the points are often pitted against each other. It’s as if data and wisdom are two distinct paths so you can have one or the other but not both. The phrase “effective or ineffective” recognizes no middle ground. It eliminates any common ground. The same holds true if you define yourself as either good or bad. Do you have worth or are you worthless? Are you identified with a red state or a blue state? Can business have heart? Can data support wisdom? Can wisdom translate data?

Isn’t life sweet with only two choices! In such a paradigm it is easy to be the good guy and so by default the “others” are bad. In such a paradigm, when rushing to your very important meeting, all the “others” are in your way. My way or the highway is a bleak and immature paradigm.

The important questions do not live at the poles but are in constant movement in search of a balance point. Balance is available in the center and the center moves all of the time. Do you love your children? Do you want to make a better world? Do you want your life to have meaning? Is it possible that people in the other color states also want the same things?

Coloring outside of the lines requires crossing lines. It requires a desire to work with color, lots and lots of color, which opens the capacity to see a multitude of options. Everyday I work with people searching for the greater meaning in their lives. The first thing they come to realize is that they have choices. Not one or two but many, many choices. They have a full palette of choices. And they can only see the multitude of choices when they stop telling themselves that the world is black or white. They can only see the rainbow of possibilities when they get off the pole of rightness or wrongness and step toward the middle. Living a rich and varied story begins when you start telling a rich and varied story. Language is the building block of story. It matters.

Touch The Eternal

706. Join me in inspiring truly powerful people. Each day I will add a new thought, story or idea to support your quest and mine.

It is my last evening in Anacortes and I sit with the lights off watching the grey northwest sky fade into night. The trees lose their dimension and move into silhouette. There is a slight breeze and the silhouettes sway. The colors are cold and my little oasis is warm. I do not want to move from this spot.

Jim Edmondson told me that people go to the ocean to touch the eternal: the waves have been rolling into the shore for millennia and will do so long beyond our short lives. I have this small moment, this blink of an eye and tonight I know I have come to this guesthouse, home of my dear Horatio and Teru so that I might touch the eternal, too. The sun drops in the sky every night and has done so for millennia and will do so long after I am gone. Tonight, on the eve of my next wandering, I watch and know. I touch it and recognize that we are all wanderers here for a moment. My heart breaks and becomes whole in the same moment with the beauty of this sunset and the realization of what I touch.

In a moment it will be full dark and I will stand and leave my oasis. I will walk across the lot to the big house where Horatio is making dinner. We will laugh and talk about art and learn about the man Teru interviewed this afternoon; she writes personal histories. She captures stories for families before the storyteller is lost, before the story fades into silhouette, sways and is gone. Her work is sacred though I think she does not know it.

Yesterday Megan-The-Brilliant sent me a short video that she shot one night a few weeks ago. It is of Lexi and me coloring with crayons between our toes. We called it foot coloring and cheered when we drew with our toes on the page. “We did it!” we cheered, arms waving, hooting in triumph as Lexi jumped onto the paper saying, “I have to dance on this paper!” Small treasures. Simple moments. Touching the eternal and so very grateful for this blink of an eye.

Change Your Song

675. Join me in inspiring truly powerful people. Each day I will add a new thought, story or idea to support your quest and mine.

It is funny to me the confluence of thought-rivers meeting in my life. For instance, Lexi recently introduced me to the Pete The Cat series of children’s books. When Pete’s white shoes turn red from treading in strawberries, is Pete upset? Goodness, no! He simply changes his happy song from “I love my white shoes” to “I love my red shoes.” A very complex thought delivered through a children’s book simplicity; motivational speakers the world over try to convey the same message with startlingly less finesse.

Just as Pete The Cat flowed into my day, Skip and I are in the midst of collaborating on a series of support mechanisms for entrepreneurs. For me, the heart of the series lives in my passion wheelhouse: change your story, change your world. This thought is a simplicity that gets lost in the adult world’s need for complexity. More than once in my consulting life I’ve heard, “But it can’t be that simple!” Translation: that is something I can do so I can either embrace it or insist that it is not possible. Often in the world of adults, complexity is equated with value. If it is simple, it is suspect (note: this is why our education and health care systems are in advanced states of collapse). Our attachment to complexity is often protection against owning our responsibility for change we know is necessary.

And, because Pete The Cat met Skip in the playing fields of my mind, my work with Skip is now finding children’s book simplicity. I heard the adult in me (admittedly a very small, some would say, stunted part of me) just exclaim, “It can’t be that simple!” The voice of Pete The Cat followed immediately saying, “Oh, but it is. It is so simple. Change your song, celebrate your world!”

See The Elegance

659. Join me in inspiring truly powerful people. Each day I will add a new thought, story or idea to support your quest and mine.

Bryan and I talked tonight about the elegance of design. He told me that many years ago he became interested in the Golden Mean, which led him to research the Fibonacci sequence, which led to an interest in eclipses. He became fascinated by the simple elegance and paradox of astronomer’s capacity to precisely determine when an eclipse would happen and the impossibility (due to weather) of predicting if we would be able to see it. The Golden Mean and the Fibonacci sequence are simple equations that, when replicated, maintain the integrity of design throughout very complex structures and calculations. They are fractals. Much of classic architecture is based solely on the Golden Mean. Much of what you will learn in contemporary art school about composition is based on the Golden Mean.

Our physical bodies are complex structures based on a simple cell design. We are at the same time miracles of complexity and simplicity; more space than solid, more water than mineral, reducible to a small pile of dust and yet expansive beyond all imagining. We are elegant in our design, as nature only designs elegant forms from the same simple notion and very simple (yet complex) building blocks.

Our thoughts run according to the same principle. I once read a statistic that showed that we think mostly the same thoughts each day, day after day (don’t ask me how you measure such a thing….). We build our thought on a few replicable principles and then go holographic with them. A few simple assumptions will lock you in prison or set you free. Check out the pattern of the story you tell yourself each day. Are you locking yourself in or opening the cage? I realized years ago that the epicenter of my coaching work – or any other form my whacky work takes – was really about story change. I often say this to groups: change your story and you will change your world. They mostly respond, “It can’t be that easy!” or “Pie in the sky!” I didn’t say it would be easy – we are after all deeply invested in our stories; we are great fighters for our limitations. The wrong assumption is that it need be complex. We are elegant in our design, even down to our repetitive thoughts. Change the simplicity and you will some day be capable of manifesting an entirely new soaring cathedral of thought.

Truly Powerful People (449)

449.
Join me in inspiring truly powerful people. Each day I will add a new thought, story or idea to support your quest and mine.

My great aunt Dorothy was wise. She lived a simple life in the mountains above Central City, Colorado when it was still a mining town – long before the casino conversion turned it into an amusement park. Dorothy pieced together a living with my great uncle Del. They moved through their days with the sturdy simplicity of two people content to be right where they were – alive and grateful for every day. Their aspiration was to walk the hills, appreciate the seasons, and learn the deep quiet of the mountain. In turn the mountain evoked the deep quiet from within them.

For some reason they welcomed their rowdy nieces and nephews; we’d stay for weeks at a time. We shattered their quiet and complicated their simplicity and they loved us for it. Dorothy cooked hearty meals on a wood burning caste iron stove in a house that felt as if it might slide down the ravine at any moment. She collected blue glass, kept the hummingbird feeders well supplied, and made sure Poncho, their ancient dog, was in the sunniest spot.

Once, she took me on a hike. We followed a path through an aspen grove and crossed a field into a stand of pine trees. On the far side of the pines stood the remains of two-story house. Trees grew through the floor and branches reached out the windows; it was as if the trees were wearing the house for a coat or a Halloween costume. We peeked inside and tried to imagine people living there. I’d never before seen the earth reclaim a house. As if she read my mind, Dorothy said, “You never really own anything, do you. It’s all on loan.” Her eyes sparkled as she poked the rotted floorboards with a stick before stepping on them. “Isn’t it beautiful,” she sighed admiring the dilapidation. When I wrinkled my brow she laughed and said, “I suppose you have to know you are on loan before you can really see the beauty.”