Practice, Practice, Practice [on Merely A Thought Monday]

clean blackboard copy

Before Jonathan left town he gave us a book of daily devotions from his spiritual tradition. It is a significant book for him. It was his mother’s favorite and now it is his. He  starts his day with it, reading a passage, meditating on its meaning, and carrying the meditation through his day.

A mind needs a focus. Jonathan is one of the most positive people I’ve met and this lightness of spirit is not an accident. He carefully attends to the story he tells himself. He exercises his muscle of interpretation and, because he is looking for it, he will always sort to the positive. He assumes a positive tale.

One of the lessons I learned while in Bali goes like this (almost a direct quote from Budi): In Bali, when two cars crash, the drivers do not get out and begin yelling and blaming the other driver. Instead, they get out of their cars and greet the other driver because the gods meant for them to meet that day. They try to discover why they were brought together.

Sometimes I think the whole journey is a master class in focus-placement and assumption-making.

Early on in our life together, Kerri taught me this phrase: leave the outbreak of baggage behind. We carry yesterday’s baggage into today’s experiences. It’s possible to carry a lifetime’s collection of baggage into each and every moment. Heavy living comes from looking at life though the baggage-layer.

The first meditation in Jonathan’s book is the same first principle found in every spiritual tradition: Be present in this moment. Your life is not what happened yesterday; it is what is happening right now. If you are looking for your life you will miss it if your focus is backwards or forwards. It sounds trite in a world awash in Hallmark cards, Successories, Motivational Moments or books of daily devotions.

It’s trite until put into practice. It’s easy to say ‘be present’ or ‘make no assumptions’ or ‘be the change you seek’ or ‘focus on the positive’ or… It’s a whole different ballgame when the trite phrase comes off the aspirational wall and enters the daily grind.  Presence, the sensitivity to life happening right now, is not an achievement. It is an awareness that comes from practice amidst a world screaming for your attention.

Everyday a clean blackboard. I suspect that thought was Jonathan’s real gift to us.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about

 

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Give Over The Melody Line [on KS Friday]

as it is songbox copy

Spiritual teachers across traditions suggest that the reason we suffer is that we focus on what we think should be/supposed to be instead of on what is. The dedication to being someplace other than where you are will split you every time! The notion that you can be someone other than who you are (at this moment) will cleave you in two. And so, we have traditions of mindfulness (be where you are) and acceptance (be who you are) and forgiveness (be at peace with who and where you are). The cliff notes version: stop hewing yourself in two and you will stop suffering.

This is the seed-idea that inspired AS IT IS. This is what is supposed to be. All is as it is, as it should be.

I delight when Kerri tells me the story behind a composition. This morning, as we listened, she asked me to pay attention to the melody line. The flute mostly carries it. The keyboard – what she is playing – is in a support role. She said it this way: the keyboard gives over the melody line. The flute gives it back. The keyboard returns it to the flute.

No resistance. Relationship. AS IT IS. These, too, are spiritual suggestions for mending the hew. I’ll add to my canon as a practice for presence: give over the melody line.

 

AS IT IS on the album AS IT IS, available on iTunes & CDBaby

 

read Kerri’s blog post about AS IT IS

 

by the fire in breckenridge website box copy

 

as it is/as it is ©️ 2004 kerri sherwood

Stay Fully Alive

a more recent smaller painting: In Quiet Prayer

Horatio issued me this challenge: do something new, something you’ve never done before. Paint something different, something that boggles you.

I love this challenge. In other words, step out of your comfort zone. Dare to not know where you are going. Make a mess with great gusto and intention. Court chaos and wrestle it into something that resembles order for you and no one else.

Horatio might have said, “Dare to see again, purely, with no filters, knowledge, or preconceptions.” He might have added, “What might you see, who might you be, if you stepped beyond the safety of your ideals, your beliefs, and great mass of weighty and important knowledge?”

The child in me, the one not yet accustomed to sitting in a desk or raising my hand or waiting my turn would loudly sing the answer: You’d be fully alive! I’d be fully alive.

from a few years ago, a larger piece: Meditation

I’ve always appreciated how similar are an artist’s path and that of a spiritual seeker. The aim of the exercise is the same. A meditation practice to still a busy mind is identical to an actor’s training to be fully present on the stage or a painter’s pursuit to see purely (to see without the disruption of interpretation). On both paths, truth is a fluid thing. Truth is what is happening right now. What happened yesterday or may happen tomorrow are distractions at best. They are stories that get in the way. They are of no consequence to this moment of living, this moment of aliveness. It is, an actor learns, a fool’s errand to attempt to repeat yesterday’s performance.

Horatio’s challenge is relevant for every human being wrestling with the big questions or trying to stave off or make sense of the chaos. Dare to dance with what’s right in front of you. Dare to drop the questions.

Picasso famously said that every child is an artist. The problem is to remain an artist once he or she grows up. He might well have said that every child is fully alive. The problem is to remain fully alive once he or she grows up.

playing around with simplicity. This one is hot off the easel and not yet named.

this is how she looks in a frame. Magic!

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Surrender And Surrender Again

I’ve grown accustomed to this sanctuary. I come here when Kerri has meetings in the church. It is quiet. As I sit here alone, I easily become quiet. The evening sun pours through the stained glass, the symbols shimmer.

When I met Kerri I told her that, if we were going to have a relationship, she needed to understand two things about me: I don’t sing and I don’t pray. I imagine that was stark news for a woman who works as a minister of music. I imagine she rolled her eyes. It is a running joke with the folks that know the story of my proclamation that I now sing in the church choir and band. I love to sing. As for the praying, well…, I’ve always been a meditator and that counts. Quiet is a delicious form of prayer. I was hung up on definitions. I talk to the universe all the time. To-mAaa-to, to-Mah-to.

I have, all my life, believed religion most often gets in the way of a true spiritual experience (life). “Prayer” was for me, at the time I met Kerri, a word of religion while “meditation” was a word I associated with a spiritual life. One night, not long after my move, Kerri and I had dinner with Heidi. She asked me about my faith and laughed at my reflections, saying, “You are one of those many-paths-one-mountain guys.” Yes. And, to truly be a many-paths-one-mountain guy, I’ve had to challenge some of my long held defenses, walk into some of my long held prejudices.

Yesterday, Bill said a simple, beautiful thing about faith, grace and spiritual journeys. It reinforced something I have known (for myself) for years. He said, “The problem with religion is it is heavily invested in having answers. It becomes invested in being right (righteousness), being “the way” as if there was only one way. A true spiritual life,” he said, “is about walking into the questions.” Life, the real crackling, shimmering life, is always experienced in the questions. Awe is rarely experienced in something so constructed and contained as an answer.

I brought to the sanctuary an outline/book of a class that I intended to teach years ago but never got around to offering. In the introduction a previous-version-of-me wrote this: The premise is simple and ancient: when you change your story you change your world. All stories of transformation begin with an attempt to control the uncontrollable: transformation in a story happens when the main character surrenders their illusion of control, strips their armor, walks into their fear, and meets their dragon. There are many variations on this theme. What is important to grasp is that empowerment follows surrender….

Were I writing that today I would never use the word “empowerment.It is an overused and abstract word like “presence” and generally misunderstood as something to achieve (or sold as an answer). Power is irrelevant after a dragon is met.

When I met Kerri I was terrified to sing. I’d been shamed more than once for opening my mouth, thus my proclamation. I learned, as I sang the fear from myself, that the only thing that follows surrender is more surrender.

And, in surrender, there is shimmering quiet.