Unwrap Them Carefully [on DR Thursday]

I give you an emptiness,/ I give you a plenitude,/ Unwrap them carefully. ~ Norman MacCraig, Presents

John O’Donohue wrote that, “Nothingness is one of the faces of death. The life of the soul is about the transfiguration of nothingness.” As we watch DogDog search and search again for his missing BabyCat, as we quietly talk each day about the empty spaces left by BabyCat’s sudden death, I am hyper-aware of the changes already happening within us.

We are gentler in the world. We spend more time sitting with DogDog, we spend more time sitting with each other. We are not afraid of the silence. In fact, we seek it. We welcome it. Sitting at the table, we watch life-at-play in the back yard. Squirrels hauling leaves for their nest. The crows on patrol. A woodpecker. Green shoots peeking through the soil. We attend the sunset.

The emptiness we inhabit has altered our relationship with time and task. We do not seek distraction or fill our minutes with news-chatter or other noises. We are moving slower with more attention, doing less and experiencing more. Washing and drying the dishes has become an act of togetherness, a generosity, like holding hands.

Tom Mck taught me that, sometimes, it is necessary to close a program or a building and let it sit empty for awhile. The emptiness will eventually attract new ideas and bring new energy. New life seeks empty spaces. Our enormous love for BabyCat has created for us a monumental emptiness. We hold it as sacred space and will, over time, unwrap it slowly, carefully, and wisely, so that the monumental soul-plenitude created by BabyCat will find its way in.

read Kerri’s blog post about AT THE DOOR

at the door ©️ 2017 david robinson & kerri sherwood

nap with dogdog & babycat ©️ 2020 david robinson

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

Take The Opportunity [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Paul used to teach his actors that, in choosing to step onto a stage, they had a profound responsibility. “Never underestimate your power to influence another person’s life,” he’d say. I took his lesson and passed it along to my students. I hope that a few of my students took Paul’s lesson and, in turn, passed it on. You have a responsibility.

Another lesson I learned, this time from Jim, was that great acting is about standing in truth. “Acting is the honest pursuit of an intention in imaginary circumstances.” Honest pursuit. It’s a misunderstanding to equate the art of acting with pretending. The circumstances are pretend. Actors are meant to be portals to a shared story, a channel to a common experience. They transport. They transform. “Never underestimate your power…”

John O’Donohue writes that the soul does not inhabit a body. It’s the other way around: bodies live within the soul. We only think we are isolated individuals, bubbles. The bubble is singular, soul, and we play our small dramas within it. We fill our bubble by how we stand in it, by what we bring into it. There is no on-stage or off. It’s all the stage.

The other day I was exhausted. I was standing on the edge of despair when my phone dinged. It was Rob. “What kind of wine do you like?” he texted. The edge disappeared.

From across the country, MM sends me cartoons that make me smile. Horatio sent an episode of The Twilight Zone. “You gotta watch this,” he said. David sends photos of Dawson at the easel. There is nothing so freeing to an aging artist than to watch a child draw. No limits.

The bubble is singular. The soul of the earth. These good friends, living honestly on the stage, have no idea of their profound impact and influence on me.

These days, when I think of my good teachers and dedicated mentors, when I think of Jim and Tom McK and Paul, I know that, were I to teach again, I would add a small caveat to our legacy-lesson. I’d say, “In choosing to step onto the stage, you have a profound responsibility and opportunity: never underestimate your power to influence another person’s life.”

Take the opportunity. Each and every moment. Ripples sending ripples.

read Kerri’s blog post about SOUL OF THE EARTH

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

Practice Inner Hospitality [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

“What you separate, the soul joins.” ~ John O’Donohue

A few years ago, when we went to Hippy Tom’s farm, Kerri said, “It feels like we’re inside this man’s sickness.” There was stuff everywhere. A hoarder with a farm. Her comment about the farm has become a code-phrase for us. “Hippy Tom,” she says, and I know we are talking about these-un-united-states under the influence of the outgoing president. A nation living inside of one man’s sickness. The hater-in-chief.

The Bidens’ messages of unity and perseverance are akin to a doorway, an exit from the crazy farm. Although we are running for the door, not yet free of the madness, we can see it from here. We can catch breaths of air free of delusion and division.

“When you decide to practice inner hospitality,” John O’Donohue writes, “the torment ceases. The abandoned, neglected, and negative selves come into seamless unity.”

Practice inner hospitality. The rules that apply to individuals also apply to organizations as well as nations. Practice inner hospitality and the negative selves will come into seamless unity. “The soul adores unity.”

Although our systemic root belies this, soul of this nation has never been isolationism or white supremacy. The soul of this nation has always been our diversity, our willingness to embrace the new, to find a northwest passage, to step foot on the moon, to embrace, to invent and reinvent, to reach. To improve. To challenge a fossilized belief.

Perhaps it is now time for us to review, renew, to at-long-last turn and face what we have not yet faced in “this beautiful, brave, complicated nation.” To look with honesty and clarity at all of our history, our negative and ideal selves. To balance what has been too long unequal, ugly, denied.

There is great space in our national divide. The flaw, as the Amish remind us, is there to let in the grace. The soul joins. It can show us a path, once and for all, out of the sickness of the farm.

read Kerri’s blog post about AMBER WAVES

Survey And Sit Still [on KS Friday]

“What does it mean?” I asked.

“An abrupt slowing down,” she said, “Like screeching to a stop.” She paused and added, “Like our lives, right now.”

Ritenuto Tacet Fermata. Airbags deployed. No new bone breaks. Oh, wait. Not true. There was that recent slip-n-fall on the wet floor at work. There’s nothing like a pianist falling on an-already-broken wrist to punctuate the force of the full stop. And then, the job disappeared shortly thereafter. “The last job standing,” as she called it. “Don’t let the door hit you on the way out!’

Surveying the wreckage, smarting, she asked, “So what do we do now?”

“Nothing,” I replied. She is still in shock. I am at a loss. “Why don’t we do nothing for a few days.”

It feels as if we stopped – our bodies abruptly stopped – but our souls kept going. They do not have the same constraints as their fleshy cases. It feels like we need to wait for our souls to realize that there was an sudden stop. “We need our souls to come back to our bodies.” She looked at me through sideways eyes.

Silence.

“This year…” she said, before lapsing back into the silence. A few minutes later she began lightly tapping her foot. “Maybe I will write a cantata for a single voice,” her far-away stare already standing in front of the keys.

I looked the other way and smiled. “I think our souls are back.”

Out of wreckage, creativity. “I think that’s a great idea,” I said, trying not to be too enthusiastic. Her idea a tender shoot poking through the crust of her imagining. Exuberance might make it retreat.

Tacet. Silence. There is no rush from the wreckage. Silence and still-sitting is a first step, a necessary step. Take account of what remains. Let go of what flew away. And, emerging from the wreckage, out of the silence, as we know, new music arises.

read Kerri’s blog post about RITENUTO TACET FERMATA

Kerri’s albums are available on iTunes

Get To Work [on Two Artists Tuesday]

On page one of the despot’s handbook is this instruction: silence the artists. Mute the intellectuals. Authoritarians have power only when people become sheep. Silence in the face of abuse is tacit agreement. Permission to bully.

If I had a nickel for every time I’ve stood before a school board and explained that art is supposed to be powerful, that it plays a very important role in a healthy society, I’d have a lot of nickels. I was generally called to speak when a play or a painting upset the apple cart, when the art made the community confront a truth or look at a reality. Brecht’s Epic Theatre or the plays of Artaud were/are meant to shake the irrational in people, force them into discussion and revelation.

Art can be beautiful, poetry can soothe, but that is only one side of the coin. It can also shine a light and expose an ugly truth. It can give voice to what is not-being-spoken. It can work out problems on the stage instead of sending the violence into the streets. It can ask us to take a hard look at ourselves and our motives. Picasso’s large painting, Guernica, a response to horror wrought by fascists on the people of a town in Spain, is a powerful art-mirror.

The conscience of a community, like the conscience of every individual that comprises the community, lives beyond the superficial, it bubbles in the place beyond words. An artist’s job is to reach into that place, pull the veil for a moment, root or re-root the community in its values.

A despot’s job is to secure a unanimous vote, no questions asked. Sheep.

Art is not superficial. It is not the image or the words on the page. It is what the image, the words, the dance, the music, touch. Hearts. Souls. Conscience.

Without it, what remains is propaganda. Propaganda is never news, it is the opposite of art. It snuffs the question, it prevents the quest for meaning and deep-felt-truth. Without it, communities flatten, lose their center, wither, and fall apart. Silence, eyes downcast or sideways glancing. Permission to bully. Sheep.

It’s time for the artists to get to work.

read Kerri’s blog post about ARTISTS

Make It Flexible Again [on Two Artists Tuesday]

This is a tale of two quotes. They collided in my brain while I pondered this wacky year, diverging realities, repeated historical patterns, and why I have yet to rake the leaves. You might conclude that I need to relax or that I have too much stuff wafting through my noggin and, as Thom taught me to say, “you might-could” be correct on both counts. Quote #1:

“Sometimes the best way of caring for you soul is to make flexible again some of the views that harden or crystalize in your mind; for these alienate you from your own depth and beauty.” ~ John O’Donohue

Kerri is a series photographer. She has dozens of photos of heart shapes found in nature. Heart rocks, heart leaves, heart water stains. Lately she has started two new series: 1) Trains through trees, and 2) Horse poop on the trail. I rarely bring my phone on our walks or I’d inundate you with images of my artist-wife kneeling to get the best poop shot [I’ve been instructed to tell you that the horse poop series is for use in commentary and not merely aesthetic].

I am an artist and given to looking at my world, but Kerri constantly surprises me with what she sees. She opens my eyes to what I might miss: the beauty all around me. If I could give a gift to the world it would be what she gives me: to see beyond what I think I see. We see what we believe – often without question. There is no better way to atrophy the mind/heart/soul than to see only what you believe. “To make flexible again some of the views that harden or crystalize in your mind.” Can you imagine better medicine for what ails our angry, divisive nation?

Quote #2: “Creativeness is finding patterns where none exist.” ~ Thomas Disch

We stopped at IKEA for 20 to pick up some furniture. In the few moments that it took us to run in, pull the boxes, move through the register line, and run out, Kerri took a series of series photographs. IKEA is a gold mine of pattern. There are patterns within patterns. Her love of shooting photos set up for me a dichotomy, a social observation. She came alive finding patterns, capturing patterns, breaking patterns. She climbed over ropes, into shelves, crawled into tight spaces, and wriggled between stacks to get the shot she wanted. The rest of the people in the check-out line were either bored, impatient, or otherwise lost in their minds. For them, waiting-in-line was the only pattern that existed. I laughed at the contrast, the utter vitality of Kerri’s enthusiasm played against the dulled-cart-pushing of the crowd.

Sometimes there is a sea of pattern dancing right before our eyes. It exists. It surprises. It inspires and challenges. Creativeness, the vitality of living, requires nothing more than opening our eyes and engaging the world that sparkles beyond our burdened minds and worn-out belief.

read Kerri’s blog post about PATTERN

See The Break [on KS Friday]

a double haiku:

She crawled in the tube,

face down, arm above her head.

Magnetic portrait.

Miraculous hand,

as seen from the inside-out.

Tiny bone, big soul break.

read Kerri’s MRI haiku

Kerri’s music – what she makes with her hands – is available on iTunes

Search [on Flawed Wednesday]

explicitly divisive copy

I’m a broken record: words matter. They are rarely accidental. For instance, the division between “black” and “white” was created. Our racial legacy is not happenstance. It is by design.

Power does not like to be challenged or threatened and strategies of division are great mechanisms of control. Taking pride-in-ignorance is another – it is a terrific support strategy if discord is the goal. An ignorant people are easily misled.

We enact and reenact Bacon’s rebellion again and again. It is a vicious cycle, a whirlpool that is hard to escape without a clear view of the full story. History, like language, is never passive, it comes with a dedicated point of view – and so we are witness once again to the great narrative tug-of-war.  We could drop the rope if we decided to look at our history, ask a few questions, and perhaps see the narrative slop that the fox and friends are force feeding to white fear as just the latest iteration of an old, old scare tactic.

Misinformation is nothing new. Propaganda is as old as human history. It is the downfall of a critter unique in its need for an identifying narrative to believe almost anything if it provides a sense of belonging. People who refuse to take a step back and ask, “Is this true?” will buy almost any line. Fear is a narrative with an agenda so what-on-earth prevents otherwise thinking people from considering that the daily dose of fear they are being fed might be cooked up intentionally? Trading brains for belonging never works out well in the end.

Black and white. Red and blue. We have a pattern, not a problem.

A people united are an unstoppable force and the worst nightmare of identity politicians.  People unite when their ideals – things like freedom and truth and justice and equality – transcend their small identity bubbles.  Ideals are unattainable – that is what gives them their special uniting capacity. We strive. It’s an active verb with an inclusive pronoun.

Hate and fear – all things divisive – are easily attained. That’s what makes them so useful to despots and control-mongers. Keep the thinking small and encapsulated within the tiny bubble. It will keep the people warring among themselves with no questions asked.

How do we move beyond this pattern and rise above the incessant division that plagues us? Well, we must first desire to see the pattern. We must choose to see. Then, we might be capable of revisiting the words we placed as central to our national ideal and choose to live them. Our words matter. That might require a few challenging questions.

It will definitely require a good deal of soul searching and that’s not such a bad thing. Nations, like people, grow and become better when they grow weary of their dysfunction and go looking for their soul.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about Explicitly Divisive

 

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surrender now ©️ 2016 david robinson