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!

Touch Nature [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.” ― John Muir

Since we’ve exhausted every mountain climbing documentary ever made, we now end our days walking an epic trail. We’ve done some serious time on the Appalachian Trail, The Pacific Crest Trail, The Continental Divide Trail and, lately, our imaginary feet have, through the magic of hiker movies, walked every inch of the John Muir Trail.

In addition to our actual walks everyday, our end of evening film walks serve as our escape. It’s how we cope. Because my pals routinely tell me that they, like us, are exhausted or anxious or chronically unfocused, I’ve started the practice of asking them how they mentally get away amid the age of pandemic, social unrest, natural disaster, and pathological lie. My question is always met with a look (or sound) of surprise. Some read. Some play music. Some exercise. Some unplug from news and technology. All seek some time out-of-doors.

Mental get-a-way.

Hands in the dirt, feet on the path. The changing sky, getting caught in the rain or facing the sun, the smell of falling leaves or pine, those damn mosquitoes, cicada chorus, a hawk visitation…perspective givers, all.

Much of the madness chasing us through our days is nothing more than the horror story we unleash in our minds. Human beings are wildly creative and for proof look no further than the fear tales daily yammering through your thought. Amidst the presence of an actual pandemic, the imagination can let loose a full gallery of monsters.

We have legitimate monsters running rampant in our world. We also have imaginary monsters running roughshod in our brains. Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish between the two. Fortunately, there is a test that helps differentiate between them: the legitimate monsters, as a people (as human beings) we will always turn toward and face. The pandemic. Climate change. Injustice. The imaginary monsters we either run from or work hard to magnify. Ignore or amplify. Why is it that human beings argue so ardently for their fears?

The folks that deny the legitimate monsters have confused the legitimate monsters with the illusory. They believe the yuck that runs around in their minds is real. In order to validate the inner yuck requires an all out suppression of the actual threats like viruses, a warming globe, systemic racism. Conversely, dealing with the real challenges leaves no space for fantasy monsters like deep states and wild-hairy-democrats-drinking blood in under ground tunnels. That’s my theory.

A walk in the woods famously clears the mind of made-up-monsters. All of our devices and politics and power games seem silly when standing among the redwoods or on a beach with infinity breaking like waves and rushing the sand to meet your toes. There’s nothing like The Milky Way to make all those inner monsters seem trivial.

There’s nothing like cresting a mountain to affirm that we are – if nothing else – united in our smallness and passing lifetimes. It is only in our minds that we are possibly bigger than the mountain or more important than the seas.

read Kerri’s blog post about NATURE TRAIL

Step Into The Dark Wood [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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Midway through one of our favorite hikes, the trail cuts through a section of dense tall reeds. I feel as though I could run and jump at the wall of tightly knit green and it would reject me outright. No entrance. I always imagine there must be a magic door, a secret phrase that will unlock passage to the wonders awaiting on “the other side.” Narnia will open if I know which reed to press.

In stories, the dense woods and murky places are to be avoided. They are where the monsters lurk, the bandits hide, where witches offer poison apples to little children. The community cautions against going there but the protagonist, usually to save the community, must enter that place, the place where no one is supposed to go.

The light must turn and see the shadow. Great power is always found there. Wholeness is never experienced by standing safely in the light but is brought back into the light from the dark side of the moon.

Jonah must go into the belly of the whale. The young wife must seek the Crescent Moon Bear. Luke Skywalker has to enter the dark cave on Dagobah. Adventures are not adventurous without a step into the scary unknown. Growth and new knowledge is not accessible from a safe seat on the couch. What we find in the dense wood or dark cave is often upsetting and unsettling. Revelation creates movement. That’s the function of the shadow. The ring of power is dark and dangerous and must be thrown into the volcano if middle earth is to survive. Who will take it?

Stories are there to help us both understand and navigate our personal and communal journey through this life. They help us know what to do when we have no idea what to do.  They help us know that the answers are not easy and usually arise after a step off the lighted path. They will come after a good bit of struggle, mess and misstep. The answers are rarely at first welcome because they challenge our smallness and will inevitably crack our safe denial.

Today, sitting in our city on fire, another night of protests looming, scary rumors running rampant, I can only hope that we – as a nation – listen to the great stories, that we step with shaky legs into our dark woods and face our dragon once and for all. The great stories assure us that what we find will not be easy or welcome. It guarantees that we will make messes and mistakes. But, it reassures us that our vulnerability and willingness to go through the dark passage will one day make us strong.

It will certainly transform us. I find that intensely hopeful.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about DENSE

 

 

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Read The River [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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The great gift of writing this blog is that I now have ten years of recorded ramblings and ruminations. I have an almanac of my thought patterns, a rolling document of what really matters most to me. I  periodically revisit what I wrote five or ten years ago. My visits to the past never fail to surprise me.

I’m chewing on the same stuff. I’m rolling around the same ideas. You’d be shocked – as I am – at how many times I’ve had the same revelation, thinking it was the first time. Yet, since my writing serves as a map to my revelation cycle, I can also see how the man having the old-revelation-anew is not the same man. I have the old revelation through new eyes. Perhaps that is why I have these revelations again and again. Discovery as rediscovery. New perspective makes the old revelation vital again.

As I’ve written before, I feel as if I am living the Parcival story. When I was young I failed in The Grail Castle.  I didn’t speak my truth. Rather, I did as I was taught, practiced my good social training, and withheld my voice as a proper knight should. Should. I started writing my blog when I was wearing armor, riding around the kingdom attempting to slay dragons and fight ogres to make up for the wasteland I’d created. I won my battles but lost my war – just as the story prescribed.

Now, I read about my battles sitting in the forest, having dropped my armor. Having mourned my defeat. Having lost my way. Having passed through the frustration and fear and anger that comes with lost-ness. Having relaxed into chopping wood and carrying water. Having the same old revelation again and again.

The story, this life story that we live, is a story of letting go, of paring down. Dropping the “shoulds.” Simplifying to the point that recognizing who we are is of much greater import than who we should be. Inhabiting the present moment is most often the abolition of “should.”

One of the greatest lessons I taught but failed to grock is, “suspend your judgments and learn.” ‘Should’ is a judgment by another name. A self-judgment. Armor. Mechanisms that separate. What story do I tell that separates me from this moment? What story do I tell that separates me from delighting in my self just as I am – and not as what I think I should be? What limits do I impose on my story and why?

Life, I’m learning, is one long lesson about the illusion of separation. We spend the first half of our days creating distance and the second half closing the gap-of-our-own-creation.

So, this morning I sit with my blog. I read the chronicle, this old river, and laugh at what I’ve apparently always known but refused to learn. The old story comes with a consistent bit of wise and useful advice: let go. No one but you tells the old story. No one but you misses seeing the Grail Castle that, as the hermit-in-the-woods giggles when it appears a second time to Parcival, “Boy, it’s been there all along.”

 

read Kerri’s blog post about AN OLD RIVER

 

 

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Love Your Words [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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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!

 

 

 

Free Your Freedom [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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David sends photographs of his young son, Dawson, painting. Or playing. Or just enjoying the moment. I love them. They bring smiles and a Picasso-esque reminder. Paint like a child. Play-to-play and for no other reason. Wear a cape and fly!

Adults get enmeshed in all manner of weird issues. They come to think that things like wearing-a-mask-during-a-pandemic can be an inhibitor to their freedom when, in fact, they gave away their freedom ages ago. They grew up and forgot how to play, how to mush color around with their fingers, how to roll down a grassy slope and run back to the top to do it all over again. They forgot how to play with others. They muzzle themselves.

Adults give away their freedom when they come to believe that a brand of car or the label on their clothes gives them status or makes them sexy. They confuse their money with their morality. They give away 5 days so they might live for 2 or, worse, they suffer through thirty years of toil with the zany idea that they will live life when they “retire.”

Adults get lost in illusion. They snap towels and brag about their wild-side while pulling on their uniform-stiff-collar-suit and cinching up a tie around their neck. They somehow come to think that pushing other people down will raise them up the ladder. They create odd justifications: dog-eat-dog or business-is-business or divide-and-conquer. Play-to-win and for no other reason.

Let’s face it, adults fill themselves up with fear and judgment. They can’t paint with their fingers because someone might call them childish or stupid or worse! And, horror of horrors! What if their finger painting isn’t perfect in the eyes of others?! Shame is a great inhibitor especially when it is the imagined response to fun-and-free-self-expression. The only safe thing to do is put away the dangerous color, wash the paint from your hands. The only safety is to judge others! Establish some mask of authority; become the arbiter of right and wrong. Dole out the shame so as not to receive it. Phew.

Adults mistakenly believe that power is control, that power is something wielded over others. Every child knows that power has nothing to do with control. Power is something created with others, like painting with your dad. That is power-full! Even infants know that power is a relationship of mutual support, it crackles between people. Humans-of-every-age are never more powerful than when helping others grow.

Poor sad adults have it upside-down and backwards. As I used to tell students, “Any idiot with a pistol can take life, it takes a very powerful person to give life.” There’s no real power in the taking. There’s infinite power in the giving.

Just so, there’s no freedom in the taking. There’s infinite freedom in the giving, the free expression, the playing, the laughing, the sharing. Every child knows that.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about DON’T GROW UP!

 

 

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chasing bubbles ©️ 2019 david robinson

 

Reflect [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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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

 

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pax ©️ 2015 david robinson

Sing [on KS Friday]

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The story is famous in these parts. It goes like this: when I met Kerri I told her that she needed to know two things about me: 1) I don’t sing. 2) I don’t pray. She gave me a sideways knowing look and said, “Oh, that’s too bad.”

I had some very-traumatic-early-in-my-life-singing-experiences. Lots of shame and humiliation led me to an adamant preemptive proclamation with my musician-soon-to-be wife: I do not sing. No way. Don’t even ask. I’ll watch from the sidelines.

Of course, within a few months, she had me in a ukulele band, a choir, and a band. It turns out I like to sing. The problem, she taught me, was not in my capacity to sing, it was in how I hear sound. I hear an octave up. She taught me how to hear. I am now a confident parasitic singer (i.e. I sing just fine with others, just don’t ask me to sing alone).

I’ve spent my life teaching people to see. How beautifully ironic (or perfect) that I needed to learn to hear.

Early in the saga of Beowulf, he is caught in a swarm and blinded by bees. Because he was blinded, he had to develop other senses; his heightened senses were critical in combating and defeating the monster Grendel. Late in his life, he retired as a beekeeper. He not only made peace with bees, they become his allies. At the very end, his bees are his greatest strength. They defeat a dragon plaguing his kingdom.

The great stories are with us for a reason. They can help us navigate and craft our own life stories. For instance, the greatest wounds can be limits or they can lead to new and vital gifts. I’ve learned from Beowulf that the path you take – limit or liberation –  depends on the story you argue for, the focus you choose. When I met Kerri I was arguing for my limitation. I do not sing. Period.

Another recurring theme in the great stories goes like this: when you are ready, the right teacher appears.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about SING

 

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shaman ©️ 1993 david robinson

Imagine It [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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This is a tale of two schools, both in the same school district. It is the story of the very day when the younger version of me grasped with both hands the absolute importance of the arts, when I understood to my bones that art was not a luxury but a necessity in a healthy world.

As the manager of the theatre conservatory, I sometimes went to observe the actor outreach programs in the schools. On this particular day, two schools were on the schedule. At the first school, I followed a team that went into the younger classrooms, 1st graders. They played imagination games with the students. I saw princesses and dragons and superheroes reach into wild possibilities.

We left the first school and literally drove across the tracks to the poorer side of town. I decided to follow the same team. They played the same imagination games with the same age group but, at the this school, the children played “Where will the rent come from?” This time, instead of flying into possibilities, these children hit an imagination glass ceiling. The hard realities of life already had a strangle-hold on their creative minds. The actors had to work hard to break through the glass ceiling. I realized that, for these children, it was not safe to entertain possibilities.

Picasso once said that, “He can who thinks he can, and can’t who thinks he can’t. This is an inexorable, indisputable law.” We dream ourselves into being. That is the point and the power of the story we tell ourselves about ourselves. That is the purpose of art, to open our imagination so we might create  a better, more expansive version of ourselves. To intend and give shape to what we imagine.

This inexorable, indisputable law applies to nations and communities as well as to individuals.

We have always been a nation divided. There have always been tracks to cross. Our history is of a two party system tug-of-war. We’ve espoused equality while practicing slavery; even our rhetoric is at odds with itself. The new wave of immigrants have been subjected to unspeakable cruelty from the previous generation of immigrants. There has always been “haves” and “have-nots.” The question of whether of not we can unite in the face of diversity is at the epicenter of the American experiment. Can we imagine ourselves whole? Can we create opportunity for all? It is a question with no definitive answer because it requires us to engage with it again and again and again. We must imagine ourselves anew each and every day.

We unite when we are at our shining best. We pride ourselves on the dream of creating a new world where all people experience the freedom to create what they can imagine. Creative tension, competition on a level playing field, invites innovation and invitation. We can.

We divide when our imagination fails us. Fear always fills the void left by vapid imaginations. We are – like people of all nations in all times – easily manipulated when we lapse into fear and turn our angst on each other. It is, after all, a strategy. Divide and rule is the oldest trick in the book used by dictators and emperors to fracture an otherwise powerful populace.  It will play out as it always has and always will – a weakened nation. A collapse. People who turn in and cannibalize each other.

We-the-people are telling ourselves a miserable story. The pandemic is merely exacerbating our real dilemma. Divide and rule is filling the void, installing hard glass between us and our best imaginings. We are eating each other alive.

We are better than this. We deserve better.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about WE DESERVE BETTER

 

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Consider Levitation [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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And what does this mean, this pear sitting atop a wine bottle? Certainly this was not a naturally occurring event! No pear could possibly achieve so grand a seat without some form of assistance. Or, could it?

Levitation is a possibility but it is doubtful that this pear – or any pear, for that matter – is capable of the necessary powers of concentration required to raise itself to wine bottle heights. And, if levitation is the answer, we are still left with the primary question: what does it mean?

The pear might answer, as George Mallory answered when asked why he might want to place himself atop Mt. Everest, “Because it is there.” Meaning making does not require depth but it does necessitate curiosity. “Because I can” really means “because I want to.” The grass is always greener. Why step on the moon? Why sail to the edge of the world? Why paint a painting or compose a song? Something calls.

Because it feels good. Because it is beautiful in my eyes. Because I might learn something about myself and, therefore, the world in which I create/inhabit. Most explorations are internal journeys even if they look like mountain ascents. Soul searching leads to more experiences with soul. The best questions lead to bigger questions, like this one (last week’s winner for best question): Does the soul live in the body or does the body live within the soul?

It seems like a good time to borrow a title from Joseph Campbell: what exactly are The Inner Reaches Of Outer Space?  What are the outer reaches of inner yearning?

Does this pear have yearnings? What does it mean, this pear sitting atop a wine bottle? Believe me, I’ve asked the pear and it remains silent on the subject. Wise pear! It knows I must make my own meaning and hopes that I will never cease asking my questions and, above all, never delude myself into thinking I have even the slightest bit of an answer.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about the PEAR & THE BOTTLE

 

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