Lead And Follow [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

And now, a few days beyond the solstice, we baby step our way back into the light. Yesterday on the trail, for a few moments, the sun broke through an otherwise dreary day. I was immediately heartened. The warmth went all the way to my bones. And then, it was gone.

“This will define me or I will overcome it.” Sue’s quote is a re-statement of Viktor Frankl: this experience will give meaning to me or I will give meaning to it. This morning, while pondering this quote, it occurred to me that almost every coaching/consulting relationship I ever had could be boiled down to this meaning-seeking or meaning-making distinction. Will it define me or will I define it?

In some ways – well, in all ways – it is a false choice. It is not an either/or world. Our experiences inform us and we define our experiences. The sun emerges and my spirits lift. The sun disappears and I shove my hands back into my pockets, hunch my shoulders, look at the ground. It’s a dance.

If 2020 has taught us anything it is that no one has control over their circumstances. Pandemics rage. Wrists break. Jobs vanish. Stability collapses.

We do, however, have the capacity to choose how we engage with our circumstances. We have the capacity to choose who we are within our circumstances.

I don’t know anyone who hasn’t at some point stood under the stars, shook their fists at the sky and asked, “Why?” It’s also true that I don’t know anyone who hasn’t at some point in their journey stopped, turned and looked back on their life, and in festival of meaning-making, connected the dots. “It all makes sense,” they whisper.

Am I the captain of my ship or am I tossed about on the seas? It’s not a useful question to ask. A better question to ask: as the captain of my ship, how am I when the seas rise and throw my boat to-and-fro? Every captain is cocky in calm waters but the real story emerges when Poseidon pitches a fit, when the waves tower over your boat.

One of my mentors told me that the trick is not to eliminate your fear. That is a fool’s errand. The exercise is to to keep your focus on where you want to sail. Choose your focus. The fear will always be there, it’s a necessary part of the gig. In a storm, fear is sometimes useful when making choices. The exercise is to know that you are making choices, the best choices given your circumstances. Just don’t make fear your focus. Don’t make fear your choice.

It’s a dance. Sometimes you lead and sometimes you follow. Sometimes you lose your way. Sometimes you simply stop walking and, for a few brief moments, turn your face to the sun.

read Kerri’s blog post on DEFINING

Try, Try Again [on DR Thursday]

shared fatherhood

This morning, as I looked through my stacks, I could find no more relevant painting for this day, for our times.

Ironically, I made two runs at this painting. Both times it evolved into something else. It started in violence and ended in shared fatherhood. In the final paintings, you cannot see is the inception, the original impulse, the story that made me pick up my brushes. Polynices and Eteocles. Brothers fighting for the control of the kingdom. Both die. They kill each other rather than share.

The story is ancient. Like all Greek stories, it’s a cautionary tale. It’s a story of fate. Oedipus’ children. An original sin playing to its inevitable conclusion. It’s been one of my metaphors for these now-ridiculous-united-states. Brothers fighting for control, forgetting that they are brothers. It’s a lose/lose story. Hubris kills all.

The mystery to me is why – in both attempts – did my if-wishes-were-fishes subconscious kick-in and transform this horror story into something positive? Out of the fire, I argue in the naive recesses of my being, we will forge a union.

I’ve always known that I am an idealist but, this morning, listening to the trickster fox whip its gullible crowd into an election fruit-smoothie, amplifying the bloviated rants of a shyster, creating fraud-fantasies from thin air, I recognize that I am perhaps the most foolish of all, the blue ribbon winner of witless. Perhaps not.

I will make a third go of this painting. I have the drawings. This time, my realist might punch through the wall of hopeful idealism. The tale is cautionary. It is ancient. It is worth telling. To look with clear eyes at “what is” does service to “what might be.”

Kerri just reminded me that, on our walk yesterday, I waxed poetic about how what we focus on matters. It’s true. Possibility needs to be firmly rooted in reality.

Bubbles always burst.

The brothers kill each other rather than share a kingdom. Is it their fate [our fate]? Is it inevitable – human nature – to be so blinded by the lust for control that we plug our ears to possibility, that we refuse to see the promise we lose in our petty penny struggle? Do people always need to sacrifice the greater for the lesser en route to waking up?

The pandemic rages. The Fox feeds lies to hungry-angry listeners. The brothers fight over something as silly as a mask. The map sprouts virus-red. The populace dies in the struggle.

Is this merely a chapter in the story of becoming? I guess we’ll see.

read Kerri’s blog post about SHARED FATHERHOOD. With any luck, her thoughts will be more hopeful.

this is my second run at my subject. Shared Fatherhood 2

shared fatherhood 1 & 2 ©️ 2017 david robinson

Turn Around And Look [on Merely A Thought Monday]

A few years ago, while swimming in the world of entrepreneurs, I wrote a short book entitled The Seer. It was in many ways a process summary of the work of my life to that point. All of my work – whether in the visual arts, the theatre, diversity and intercultural facilitation, systems change, teaching…driving a bread truck, shoveling dirt…all of it, has in one way or another orbited the moon we call ‘story.’ Occasionally, I pull my little book from the shelf and read what I once knew because it seems more relevant now than when I wrote it.

For instance, the white house recently pulled the plug on all diversity training in government agencies. The reason is simple and explicitly stated: they do not like the story it tells of these-once-united-states. The story, they claim, is “anti-American.”

I structured my book around 9 Recognitions. The first is this: You do not have a problem. You have a pattern. We don’t have a problem. We have a pattern.

Our pattern, generation after generation, is the lengths we will go, the violence we will suffer, to ensure that we exclude a significant part of our story from the national telling. It is untenable to maintain a nation-story built on the ideal of equality that began with, among other things, the institution of slavery and the annihilation of native peoples. To avoid the full story guarantees a schizophrenic national persona. It perpetuates division. Ours is a pattern of adamant story avoidance.

The story works well for the white aristocracy that created it. It’s an exercise in celebrating Doctor Jekyll while denying the existence of Mr. Hyde. Those good guy settlers had to eliminate those pesky “Indians” because they stood in the way of a destiny that was manifest. What is the story as told from the Native American point of view? Or from the point of view of the black American that, to this day, everyday, navigates institutions designed to repress them? They have lived this history – this story of slavery, Jim Crow, and new forms of institutional violence. They are located in the story as the obstacle or the bad guy. The less-than-human.

Diversity training is nothing more than an attempt to tell the full story from all points of view. It is only made necessary because we have a deeply ingrained pattern of either dismissing the full story or pretending that our inequality is in the past.

We cannot become whole until we look in the mirror and reflect on the full picture. It is as ruthless as it is hopeful. It is as dark as it is bright. The path to health for any individual is to first admit that they have a dis-ease. The same is true of a nation.

In the recent actions of the white house, the response to the BLM movement, we are witnessing the latest in our pattern to severely edit our story made the more violent because diversity is percolating its way into the halls of power.

The slogans “Keep America Great” and “Make America Great” only make sense or have appeal to those committed to the Jekyll part of the story. They are the pattern. They are a rally cry to those who feel that in real equality they have something to lose. It’s an “all hands on deck” siren that will tolerate all manner of violence, ugly rhetoric, shaming, dereliction of duty, undermining of judicial integrity to avoid admitting the full story entrance into the American narrative.

The good news is that it is possible, once the full story is realized and the pattern is seen and told, to change the story. The tension is, after all, between conserving what was and progressing toward the ideal.

America may one day become great.

First, we must tire of our schizophrenia, our commitment to division and a system that works for the few. Doctor Jekyll must turn and take a good honest look at Mr. Hyde and stop pretending that the horror that follows him isn’t really there.

read Kerri’s blog post about GRRRREAT!

Love Your Words [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

kawaii raccoons copy

I have grown fond of words. No one is more surprised by this statement than me.

A decade ago I did not consider myself a writer. Nowhere in my limited identity structure did I harbor thoughts of writing. This is an admission of my utter unconsciousness since I was writing and performing stories at conferences, with symphonies, and during facilitation. Tell a good story and even the most disparate-and-divided group will inhabit a common metaphor. Tell a good story in cliffhanger segments and even the most resistant conference-goer will greedily return to the general assembly to gobble up the next bit of story.  Stories are powerful magic and I loved telling them. At the time, it never occurred to me that I first had to write them.

The Buddha said, “The mind is everything. What you think is what you become.” I’ve also found the quote modified to read, “What you think is what you are.”  We think in words. We think in stories. Mostly, we are unconscious to the stories we tell ourselves and, more to the point, we rarely recognize that the river of words running through our mind is not truth. It is not fact. It is interpretation. It is story. We are storytellers all and the stories we tell define the moments we live. The stories we tell determine what we see or do not see, how we see or do not see.

That recognition brought me to my love of words. I started paying attention to the stories that I tell myself. I have a Hall-of-Grievances. I have a Complete-Book-Of-Rules for how I ought to live. I have a Jukebox-Of-Greatest-Hits, a entire collection of  stories and conversations that I replay again and again and again. I’m fond of the debate records I play because I win every time! There’s even a special long play set of recordings of things I SHOULD have said and, guess what? In my mind I say the SHOULD-HAVE-SAID words every time! I especially enjoy being witty and quick (in my mind).  It is a wonder that I have any space for new thought given the story-grooves I play over and over ad infinitum.

Words matter. The words I choose matter. I learned in school that William Shakespeare had a working vocabulary of approximately 26,000 words. If we are average, you and I top out at around 1,800 words. William either made up or was the first to put on paper roughly 10,000 of his 26,000 word vocabulary. We tell shorter, less articulate stories. Less poetry and more “get-to-the-point!” He didn’t have commercial breaks shaping his attention span.

I story other people as much or more than I story myself. The annoying little secret about the-story-I-tell-myself-about-others is this: it is not a story about them at all. It’s my story about them which makes the story I tell not about them, but about myself. “Words, words, words,” Hamlet replies to Polonius.

My world can be beautiful. My world can be ugly. My world can be safe. My world can be violent. My world can be kawaii. My world can be fugly. My world can be fearful. My world can be love-full. My world can be. I can be my brother’s/sister’s keeper. I can be concerned only for myself. Yes. No. Just words. Not just words.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about KAWAII

We are still in the Facebook annihilation zone. It is possible that Kerri’s posts may never reappear so, if you enjoy reading Kerri’s blog, consider subscribing to her blog. I know we publish waaay too much but, with the minor exception of us, no one reads everything that we write – except Horatio and for his dedicated perseverance, we are grateful.

 

chicken and perseverance website box copy*look at this website box on Kerri’s post. She added pupils to the eyes. Originally, I drew Chicken Marsala without pupils and that creeps Kerri out. She always adds pupils to Chicken!

 

 

 

Reflect [on Two Artists Tuesday]

masked copy

A look in the mirror and something entirely surprising is reflected back to me:

I started writing because I discovered that I had something to say. The story goes like this: facilitating a group in a corporate headquarters in downtown Chicago, one of the participants asked a question about power. She was feeling powerless. I listened to the group discussion for a while. And then I surprised myself with more than a few things to say about power and empowerment. So, I went home and started writing this blog. The Direction of Intention. Move toward what you want, not away from what you resist.

Initially, I wrote as a challenge for myself. How many days in a row can I write and still have something to say. I thought I’d fizzle out in less than week. That was over a decade ago.

By my reflection in the mirror I can see that some things have changed. In fact, a lot has changed. This is from my archive; it was my 98th post:

My business partner and I have asked the group to do something akin to attempting to consciously create each moment of their day. We’ve asked them to place their focus on their immediate relationships (with others, with nature, with themselves) and to ask, “Is this how I want to story this moment? Is this what I want to create in this moment?”

It seems like an impossible request until you consider that it is what you are doing anyway. The pertinent question is not, “Can you do it?” rather, the question is, “Are you aware of how powerful you are at creating?”

The most potent recognition I have in doing this exercise (and I have it every time I do the exercise), is when I ask myself the question, “Is this how I want to story this moment?” Usually, my answer is, “No.” Usually I want to create something else. I do not want to create frustration or angst or rushing around. I do not want to attempt to control or manipulate or pressure an outcome. I do not want to invest in a fear or let loose the lack monologue to rage once again about my mind. I do not want to deflect or hide. And the moment I see it, I let go my grip on something I can only call a “story.”

I let go, my eyes clear and I become present. That is why I suspect that creating is a quality of being as much or more than anything I will ever do.

***

A look in the mirror. There is a woman by my side! She is blonde. We wear masks?!! There is a really bad shirt hanging behind her. I look as if there is a tea kettle growing out of my head.  The person I was ten years ago would be mystified by this peek into the future. “Who’s the woman?” he’d ask. “And what’s up with the masks? Where are you, anyway?”

So. I ask myself now, how do I want to story this moment in time? In five years or ten, when I look back at this reflection in the mirror, will I be happy with how I storied myself in this precise moment? Will I be grateful for what I chose to create?

We live in a circumstance that we cannot impact. It’s true with or without a pandemic. But, within our circumstance, there is infinite capacity to determine the story.  I create the story I live. I create the story I tell. I create.

I am married to the blonde woman! Everyday, sitting side by side, we write together. Using the same image or quote, we write our thoughts. He said/She said. No peeking. Then, we share. We read what we’ve written. We talk about what we created. We edit. We reflect. And then, together, we publish.

A look in the mirror. A story to tell. A choice to make. A question to ask. A moment to craft.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about THE MIRROR

 

savannah selfie WEBSITE BOX copy

 

 

pax ©️ 2015 david robinson

See The Pattern [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

napkin copy

Virgil: From what you wrote, I see that you think you have a problem. The first recognition is simple: you do not have a problem. You have a pattern. ~ David Robinson, The Seer

I’ve stared at this napkin for a long time wondering what to write. It’s not that I have nothing to say, it’s that I have too much to say. I’ve killed more than one dinner party going on and on and on about patterns.

In 2014 I published a book, The Seer. The first three chapters are about patterns of seeing, patterns of thinking. Patterns of self-story. So, rather than rewrite something that I have already written, here’s a small slice, an email conversation, from the first chapter of The Seer:

 ***

Me: I realized that I think in patterns. I think the same stuff over and over. This is a puzzle: the act of looking for patterns opened my eyes. So, patterns reveal. And yet, later, when I became aware of the patterns of my thinking, I recognized that those patterns were like ruts or grooves. It’s as if I am playing the same song over and over again so no other music can come in. My thinking pattern, my rut, prevents me from seeing. So patterns also obscure. Make sense?

Virgil: Yes. It must seem like a paradox to you. Think of the song or rut as a story that you tell yourself. Your thoughts, literally, are a story that you tell yourself about yourself and the world; the more you tell this story the deeper the rut you create. So, a good question to ask is: what is the story that you want to tell? Are you creating the pattern that you desire to create? We will return to this many times. This is important: the story is not happening to you; you are telling it. The story can only control you if you are not aware that you are telling it.

 Me: Can you say more?

 Virgil: We literally ‘story’ ourselves. We are hard-wired for story. What we think is a narrative; this pattern (song) that rolls through your mind everyday is a story that you tell. You tell it. It defines what you see and what you do not see. What you think is literally what you see.

 There was a pause. That was a lot for me to take in. When I didn’t respond, he continued:

Virgil: So, what you think is nothing more than a story; it’s an interpretation. You move through your day seeing what you think – instead of what is there. You are not seeing the world, you are seeing your interpretation of the world. You are seeing from your rut and your rut is a pattern. So, your patterns of thinking, your rut, can obscure what you see. Make sense?

 Me: Yes. I guess 😉 So, when I started looking for patterns outside of me, I…stopped seeing from within my rut? I stopped assuming that I knew what I was seeing. So, I was capable of discovering new patterns and connections?

 Virgil: Yes, something like that. You said that when you looked for patterns you slowed down and felt that you could see. I would say it this way: you stopped moving through your world and for a brief period you were actually in your world. For a brief period you were no longer lost in thought but present with what was right in front of you. You suspended what you think you know so you started to see again. You were curious. To be curious is synonymous with “not knowing.”

 Me: Okay….

 Virgil: Humor me and entertain this notion: your thought, your story, is not passive. It is a creative act. What you think IS what you see. Most of the time people create what they see based on their rut. They see what they expect to see. To practice curiosity is to suspend the assumption of knowing. To practice curiosity requires us to step out of the rut. Stop assuming that you know and you gain the capacity to see beyond what you think.

 A glimmer of light pierced the dark recesses of my mind. Suddenly I was back in front of the Sphinx and I could see the answer to the riddle. It was so clear! I typed:

Me: Wait! Is this why I need to distinguish between problems and patterns? If I tell myself that I have a problem to solve, I am telling a certain kind of story. If I tell myself that I have a pattern to change, I am telling an entirely different kind of story. Is that true?

Virgil: Yes. It sounds too simple, doesn’t it? A problem is a story. It is a lens that filters your sight. A problem does not exist unless you insist that it is there. You say that you are an entrepreneur. How many great products and services were the results of an accident in the lab? How many innovations were missed because the ‘solution’ did not fit the ‘problem’ as identified? A problem is a rut that separates you from possibilities. On the other hand, a pattern connects you to possibilities. See the pattern not the problem.

 

[go here for a fun Escher-activity about pattern to use during this time of social distancing]

 

read Kerri’s blog post about THE NAPKIN

 

tpacwebsitebox copy

 

the seer ©️ 2014 david robinson

Look Beneath [on DR Thursday]

underpainting copy

What’s beneath? It’s a question all artists learn to ask. It’s the same question good coaches ask of their clients. Seeing is not a superficial affair.

What’s beneath? What alchemy of color was brewed to make this image or that painting? What alchemy of experience was brewed to make this belief or that perception?

Sometimes “what’s beneath” supports and enlivens the surface layers. It’s magnetic and makes you stare – even if you don’t know why. Sometimes it dulls the painting, pulling the life from it. The same holds true for how a life is storied. Sense-making is as dynamic as color.

Color is a miracle. It is never passive. It is only understood by what it is relative to. That is, color, like a relationship, is fluid, moving, spirited.

What’s beneath all those layers and layers of color?

 

read Kerri’s blog post about UNDER PAINTING

 

 

pumpkinfarm website box copy

 

under painting, like captain underpants, is under copyright. ©️ 2020 robinson david

Take A Picture [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

24 hours copy

Our time on island was a polarity. The antagonism of the organization was balanced by the utter peace of the littlehouse. Just as we learned to roll with the quickly changing faces of our board, we stood in awe of the swiftly shifting personality of the lake. One moment it was still and the next moment it roiled and took great bites of the shore. It was (and is) a study of the degrees of change, the subtleties of ever-changing-movement.

Each morning Kerri walked to the water’s edge and took a photograph. Reviewing three months of mornings is eye-opening. So much life! So much variation and beauty and power. If I am ever again bored or delusional enough to think that life is dull, I will remember our morning photographs. Were I still working with artists or corporate types I’d make it a mandatory exercise to take a photograph at the same spot everyday for three months. The review at day 90 could slap awake even the most dedicated blindness.

It is the visual equivalent of morning pages. See what you do not see. Aim your focus and realize that, in fact, you have the power to aim your focus, to determine what you see and, therefore, what you study. And, therefore, how you story your life.

During our last pass on the island, Kerri, as is her custom, took her morning photograph. Later, she wandered out of the little house to capture a midday shot. In the evening, I found her by the water’s edge photographing the sunset. She created a panorama, a sweeping story of the day. “Everywhere I look, it’s perfection,” she said.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about PERFECTION

 

boots onthe bay website copy

 

 

Live In The Middle [on Merely A Thought Monday]

not salmon quote copy

The first of Don Miguel Ruiz’s 4 Agreements is to take nothing personally. He writes that everyone (in their mind’s eye) is the star of their own movie and you are merely a bit player in their story. Their drama is theirs. Their drama is not yours. So, when they hurt you or shout at you or call you names, it is not personal. It is their story, their drama, and there is no need to make their story yours. In fact, to try and own their story or take responsibility for what is playing through their head is impossible. It is, in fact, madness.

It’s easier said than done: don’t take ownership of other people’s drama.

I laughed aloud when, many years after reading the 4 Agreements,  I read the 5th Agreement: Doubt everything you think. In other words, in addition to not owning other people’s drama, realize that your own drama is not as serious as you might think. It’s a passing cloud, a made-up story in which you are the star and other people are cast as bit players. Take seriously your story and you will yell at others, call them names, try to hurt their feelings as you attempt to force your drama on them.

Bookends. Their drama is not yours. Don’t take it personally. Your drama is not nearly as serious as you pretend. Doubt everything that you think.

What lives between those two dramatic delusion-poles is sometimes called presence. Sometimes it is called peace. It is not a static state, not an arrival or an achievement. It’s a relationship available with others (and the world) when the realization comes that no single story is central or primary or really that important. It is, in many spiritual traditions, called the middle way.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about NotSalmon QUOTE.

 

all of us on island website box copy

Balance [on Two Artists Tuesday]

prayer flags 1 copy

Each day we sit on the deck and watch the personality of the lake change. We are witness to the power of the elements at play. Wind drives wave. Wave evaporates and moves wind. Lighting hits earth. Rain feeds the plants. Too much rain, too much wind, too much fire, devastates.

Balancing the elements. It is the central thought in many traditions. The cardinal directions are associated with a color and an element. North, south, east, west. Air, fire, water, earth. People need associations in order to talk about things. In order to know where they fit.

The colors differ from tradition to tradition. Sometimes black, white, red, and yellow. Sometimes blue, green, yellow, red. Sometimes there is a fifth element. There is always a center. When there is the understanding of center point there is also an acknowledgment that separations, experiences like north, south, east and west, are illusions.

Balance is a radically different intention than dominance. Taming-your-nature is not the same as balancing-your-nature. In the tame-your-nature idea, nature, your nature, is corrupt and needs to be controlled. In the balance-your-nature idea, your nature is neither good nor bad, it is a dance of energy, a push-pull of wind and fire, air and earth. In the balance-your-nature idea, there is no such thing as “wild.” because there is no intention to “tame.”

As you might imagine, the artist that explores the tame-your-nature mindset understands their artistry much differently than the artist that explores balance. I was born into and oriented toward the culture of tame-your-nature and so I divine through brush and story the push-pull between goodness and badness. Combat, combat everywhere. Right/wrong. Us/Them. Good enough/lacking.

I desire to see through the other lens. I suspect this desire is the epicenter, the driver behind my paintings. To understand the world I inhabit as energies at play, to know beyond an intellectual understanding that the distinctions don’t really exist; wind is not separate from water, earth is not separate from fire, people are not separate from planet. Illusion. Our division is a play of shadow puppets at best.

I think it is why we hang prayer flags at our littleislandhouse and at our home. Surrounded by combat, we are drawn by the desire to balance, we are enticed by the possibility of harmony.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about PRAYER FLAGS

 

 

 

 

skylake website box copy

 

island prayer flags photograph ©️ 2019 kerri sherwood