Slow Down And See [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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There is a theme emerging in my posts this week. Substance vs. the appearance of substance. The flattening of importance.

During an exceptionally stressful and contentious period this summer, we streamed the entire run of Parenthood. Six seasons of escapism!  “Let’s go to  California,” we’d say, all too ready for a leap out of reality. And then, in a moment of horror, the episodes of Parenthood ran out. Our escape hatch closed with a bang. In desperation we surfed and landed in Schitt’s Creek. It was a series a bit too relevant to our circumstance and we howled when one of the characters, in the face of kindness, said that she’d been raised to see that “kindness is a sign of weakness.”

“That’s our problem,” Kerri said, “we see kindness as a virtue.” She was raised to be kind.

That night we had a long discussion about kindness and its general absence in public discourse.

I’ve been thinking much about our conversation since we found ourselves meditating on kindness in Schitt’s Creek. This is my observation: mean is easy. It is fast. Like all forms of reactivity and thoughtlessness, meanness and contention are elementary.

We are surrounded by friends who are kind.  They are kind because they cultivate kindness, thoughts of others, as essential to their character. That’s why we are attracted to them. We are the recipients of unbearable gifts of kindness through our friends. They break us open. They make us bigger.

Kindness is a virtue. It is also a strength. And, it takes time. Kindness is like poetry. It takes development and some higher order thinking.

Lions eat zebras for food. People hurt people for a lesser reason.

In a world obsessed with speed, it is all too easy to run past substance in pursuit of the superficial. Slowing down, taking some time to see, exposes all manner of beauty.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about KINDNESS

 

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Release The Peace [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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Peace. Compassion. Strength. Wisdom. The idea is that prayers and mantras symbolized on the flags are blown by the wind, spreading their peace, compassion, strength and wisdom into the world. It’s not a bad idea. It’s not a bad reminder.

We pass beneath our prayer flags everyday. It is our version of the Balinese split gate. A symbol of bigger things. Coming or going we pass through a moment of meditation, a fluttering reminder of the path that threads through time’s center. The place of presence. It is the place where divisions fade – even for a moment. The place where the drama-of-the-day and turmoil – all expressions of separation – fall away.

The flags quiver and dance. We stop and listen to the quiet flapping, the release of peace into the wind. The basic elements of compassion, strength, and wisdom. Water, fire, earth and sky. A renewed focus.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about PRAYER FLAGS

 

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Unify

a watercolor from 2003, House On Fire

a watercolor from 2003, House On Fire

Stay with me. I actually have a point.

If ever I teach actors again, or coach people in any endeavor, or communities/businesses seeking betterment, I will only have two things to teach: 1) Grounded-ness and 2) Focus placement on the unifiers. These two concepts are really  one looping concept but for ease and the sake of being understood, I will offer them independent of one another.

As focus placement goes, an actor on the stage has two options and depending on the focus placement they choose, they will either create the play or destroy it. A focus on how they look or sound or feel destroys the play. It is a self-focus in an art form of relationship (all art forms are made vital in relationship). A self-focus breaks the relationships and effectively locks the audience out of participating in the story. It makes the actor giddy with fear, easily distracted, alone. Conversely, the actor can focus outside of themselves, on the other actors on the stage, on the energy between, on their pursuit. An outer-focus creates relationships and serves as a magnet that pulls audiences into the story. It facilitates participation, creates relationship, and shared experiences. It unifies. Literally.

The actor who listens to him/herself pulls up their root. They unground themselves. The actor whose focus is outward, who is actively pursuing relationship, creates grounding. In fact, they must be grounded to create vital relationships. It is a first principle. Grounded-ness begets grounded-ness; it unifies. It strengthens. It invites. It clarifies truth.

The same principles apply off the stage or out of the studio. It is, however, more complex off the stage. It is much, much, more sticky.

And here’s the point: It has been said that nothing is better at uniting a community than having an enemy. It’s true. A common enemy provides an outer focus. It provides another team to defeat. It works so well that leaders across the ages, leaders who would otherwise look insipid, leaders who, like a bad actor, have a self-focus, a control need, have concocted all manner of enemies. It is a deflection. It works for a short while but what starts as false unity strips a community of its true binder. It separates and splits. It diminishes. It destroys.

Here’s the sticky part. One of the oldest tricks in the book for controlling a community is to split them, to locate the enemy within the community. And then, for good measure, magnify the split. In the early colonies – that ultimately became The United States of America – it was a strategy known as The Giddy Masses (see Ronald Takaki’s excellent book A Different Mirror). Make the people giddy with a false enemy. Uproot them. Deflect them so they cannot join in relationship and be strong as a community. Self-focused leaders cannot survive a unified, healthy populace. It is a strategy: separate the people so they cannot see the movement of power.

Today I started to read the news but stopped after only a minute. Building walls. Expelling Muslims. Enemy creation everywhere! Fox news and MSNBC are great giddy creators. It’s a bad story poorly told. It weakens all players. The primary actors do harm to their audience. Grounded-ness, a first principle, can only come to all when the actors choose to focus on the relationships, see the unifiers, to create rather than destroy. Groundedness comes when the audience engages, questions what they are being told and open (rather than close) their minds.

Grounded-ness. Focus placement on the unity. The principles that make great art also make great society. Fear, the province of the bad actor, the lot of a passive audience, although temporarily effective, can only destroy the play.

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