Look Up. Look Higher. [on Merely A Thought Monday]

“And men are so poor in intellect that a few cold chills down their spine will be enough to keep them from ever finding out the truth about anything.” ~ Thomas Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain

This will read like a blazing generality and I do not intend it to be so. Some of the best people I have known are readers of the book(s). They learned along the line to read their book(s) as metaphor instead of literally, as a history. There are, after all, many paths up the same mountain.

As for me, I was cured of religion when I was a boy but it’s taken a lifetime to understand what and why – and to find language to express what should (to me) be obvious to all.

It only takes a moment to lift your eyes from the book and look up – all the way up to the sky. The book is a human invention, as are the gods and the stories of the gods told in them. The sky, on the other hand, complete with stars and suns and universes beyond imagining, are not human inventions. The book lives in the human mind. That which the book is meant to illuminate is…wholeness…all around us. We are part of, not separate from. That’s it. It’s that simple. The game of separation and unity.

We are part of, not separate from. This word “Love” is unity, the absence of made-up-separations.

The book will have you believing that your body and its myriad of impulses are, like nature, in need of taming. Separation from yourself. The book will promote the notion of a chosen few, the singular path, a destiny that is manifest. Separation from other. Elevation for team-white. Moral authority for team-straight. It’s probably good to feel above others and certainly feels powerful to believe yourself keeper of the book’s rules. Isn’t it blatantly obvious that the rules were/are made by men to justify, as-the-voice-of-god, all manner of privilege and cruelty? Separation, separation, separation.

Here’s what I understood as a boy: any god that promotes separation in any form is very small, indeed, and probably not worth worshipping. At the very least it is a man-made god meant to make folks feel better about their obvious impermanence in an infinite universe.

There’s so much in this life worthy of our worship.

Whether or not we walk as one or decide to beat the hell out of each other for the color of our skin or the natural orientation of our sexuality has nothing to do with the vast universe outside of the book. We create the separations to justify our fear or to protect our property.

We are completely capable of love. We are completely capable of reaching across the unknown and living our short time on this earth in full support of the rich myriad of wonder and diversity expressed through us in this infinite possibility called life.

The book is an abstraction. The person standing before you is not.

Love is love. Love is not separation or division or privilege or a skin color or gender or sexual orientation. Love has nothing to do with how much money you have or do not have. Separations are the province of small people inventing small gods for very small reasons – so they can feel good about being separate and small.

Love is love.

read Kerri’s blogpost about PRIDE

Step Off [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“A tree is not made of wood, it is wood.” ~ Alan Watts, The Watercourse Way

Language is powerful. It’s a drum I have beat for a long time, the notion that we insist that the narratives we wrap around ourselves are somehow “reality.” We are told that 50% of Russians believe the hell wrought on the Ukraine is merely propaganda. A made-up story. Not true. It is the narrative they are fed and, in order to eat it, they must ignore any evidence to the contrary. Their economy crumbles. The ruble falls. How could they not see it? Don’t laugh. 40% of USAmericans still believe the last presidential election was stolen, a plausible story only if wearing blinders with fingers placed firmly in ears. Burying your head in the sand is not a Russian or American trait, it’s uniquely human. We see what we believe, not the other way around. Our language makes it so.

Years ago I read that the word “wild” could only come from a people who believe all things must be tamed. Wild makes no sense without the concept of tame. Wild, bad. Tamed, good. So, a people afraid of their own “nature” must become tamers. A people who think “nature” not only can be but must be managed. To be “above” it all, in charge and atop the pyramid, giver of names. It is the necessary narrative for such tamers of the wild, those who story their very nature as corrupt. Tamed, good. Above it all. Separate. Is it any wonder the intrinsically conflicted human world rarely embraces peace? Our narrative leads us to believe, amidst so much inner and, therefore, outer conflict, peace is something to be created because we are naturally conflicted. What else?

Where, exactly, does wild end and tame begin? Where’s the line that delineates nature from civilization? What if nature is neither good nor bad? What if your nature was neither good nor bad? Perhaps self-love would be within reach and, as a natural extension, the love of others, too. It’s an alternative narrative though not possible in a belief-story that fears the wild. Wholeness begins with a step off the pedestal.

It’s in the language. Somehow separate from the world in which we live, not “in” nature or “of” nature , we are deluded to believe we are made of different stuff. Above it. Divinely manufactured. Made.

Manufactured. Made. Trees made of wood.

And, just what are we made of? I guess it depends on the story we decide to tell. Wild stuff.

read Kerri’s blogpost about TREES

Blur The I [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

We capture quotes all week. Some we see. Some we hear. Some find their way into the Melange. Most do not. We usually note where we heard or found the quote so we remember the context. It’s a practice. It’s not as if we are perpetually eavesdropping on conversations. We’ve simply tuned ourselves to immediately write the amazing words and phrases that catch our attention.

A common phrase is mind-over-matter. Athletes and actors and dancers are conditioned to ignore the limits of their bodies. To keep going. The mind as master over body. I loved this quote because it is the flip side. The mind, the “I”, wanted to stop but the body did not listen. It kept going.

Lately I’ve been reading about – so, paying attention to – the false separations that language necessitates: Mind and body are spoken of, thought of, as separate things. And, the question is this: where does one begin and the other end? Mind over matter. Body did not listen. I made myself do it. Once you start listening for it, it is ubiquitous. Exactly where is the line between “I” and “myself”? When your toe is in pain, isn’t your whole body is in pain? Follow your gut. What does your heart say?

When Dogga gets excited, his little body bounces. He runs in circles. He has to work hard to sit still. Say, “Do you want to go…” and he’s bouncing before the words “on errands?” reach his ears. He knows he won’t actually go on errands until he first sits on the rug. Eventually, he bounces his way into compliance. Control follows unbridled enthusiasm. Control is a means to an end. Rug before errands. Sit before snack.

Dogga might say, while bouncing enthusiastically, “I wanted to stop but my body kept going!”but I doubt it. Given his unified happy spirit, I’m certain the phrase would come out of his muzzle this way: I wanted to stop but I kept going. Watching him is like reading the I-Ching: no separation.

read Kerri’s blogpost about I AND BODY

Feel The Rhythm [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

We lay awake in the night listening to the waves pound the shore. Boom. Rest. Boom. Rest. This lake that is sometimes glassy-in-stillness can rival the Atlantic Ocean in restlessness. It has many moods. It can turn on a dime. I have found great peace walking the shores. I have stood in awe as it blasted those very same shores, hurling boulders with ease.

When we were fortunate to live for a summer in the littlehouse, right on the lake. Kerri had to adjust to the constant sound. Her musician’s ears were caught in the rhythm of sound lapping the shores. Nature’s metronome. We teased about parking a piano on the back deck so she might compose an album of pieces set to the lake’s pulse.

The most striking visceral-revelation that I brought back from Bali is that we function together. Just as I am impacted by the lake, my pace and rhythm are impacted by the people around me. No one is an island. David Abram wrote in The Spell of the Sensuous that it is nearly impossible to meditate in the un-united states. We are an angry frenetic lake, fast moving wave. Changeable. I will always remember pausing at the custom’s gate re-entering the country. It was too much. Finally, I stepped through the doors and felt sucked into a chaotic turbulent whitewater river. It was months before I adjusted, before a walk down the street didn’t feel like a fist fight.

Columbus (my dad) would sit for hours each morning, on the porch. Listening. When I was younger I wondered what he was listening to – or for. He grew up in Iowa and came into adulthood moving to the rhythm of the corn. He lived his adult life in Colorado. It was a different rhythm, the metronome of the mountains. For many years he yearned to live where he understood the rhythm. He was, I think, listening for the corn.

When I return to Colorado I feel an immediate recognition. The mountains are the rhythm I was born into. Alignment. My original dance was a mountain dance.

Kerri and I are both transplants to the lake. Perhaps that is why we hear it so clearly. Jim E. told me that people go to the shore to stare into the infinite. We listen to the lake with the same awareness. The lake was here before me. The lake will be here after I am gone. The mountains, too. We are, of course, delusional to entertain the idea that we control it – nature. That we are somehow separate. Sometimes I think it is the artist’s job to bring proper perspective to the community, to pop the separation-notions – even for a moment – out of ego-brains.

This lake could hurl me like a pebble. It also brings peace to my soul. Stillness. We are not as distinct as we want to believe. That recognition is the single greatest blessing of artistry. It’s a circle dance. Just as my dad is disappearing back into the corn, I, too, will someday rejoin my original rhythm and fold back into the mountain.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE LAKE

Look At The Display [on Flawed Wednesday]

Del and Dorothy’s house sat on the side of a mountain. It was small. The kitchen table accommodated two and was placed close – very close – to the front door. Dorothy cooked on a wood burning stove. The house listed to the downhill side. It had a small yard that seemed carved out of the mountain. Del’s WW II jeep sat close to the edge. Dorothy populated the yard with blue glass and hummingbird feeders. It was a quiet home. A peaceful place.

Artifacts of a time gone by. Del fought in the second world war. He kept a corner display cabinet with things he’d brought home from the war. A Luger. Nazi insignia. A flag. Patches and medals. Booty from the enemy. It seemed out of place, especially in a home dedicated to simplicity and peace. The display was a curiosity for me. Why enshrine in your home objects from an enemy-of-the-past? I wanted to ask Del about it but he was not a talker. In fact, while, 50 years later, I would recognize Dorothy’s voice if I heard it today, I have no recall of the sound of Del’s voice. I can’t remember him uttering a word. I never broached the subject of the artifacts.

Each day we receive an alert on our phone. Exposure Notification Available. Recently, when Kerri officiated a wedding, we both took two Covid tests to make certain, while also vaccinated, that we were negative. Dangling from a clip on the side of our refrigerator are masks. Many, many masks. We put in our special box the flag they gave us on the day we were vaccinated. Wave the flag if you have a question or need help. The artifacts in a time of pandemic, now so normal that we barely see them.

This weekend, with all of the observances of 9/11, I watched a tour of the 9/11 museum. A crushed firetruck. A shoe. Xerox pages with faces and the word, “Missing.” Del whispered into my ear, “Pay attention. This is why I kept my display.” The tour guide said, “So we never forget.” The Luger. The Nazi flag and insignia. The medals and ribbons. The reason Del and Dorothy retreated to the mountainside, the reason they simplified and built a life of quiet and peace, the reason he kept his glass-cabinet-display. So they wouldn’t forget. The horrors that people enact upon each other in the name of…righteousness, control. Superiority. The madness people embrace when they are angry or scared. The lies so easily told and so hungrily gobbled.

People are capable of great things. We know because those things are meant to draw us together. They unite us. Great art.

People are capable of appalling acts. We know because those actions are born of and meant to divide. They rend us apart.

Del lived through the full savagery of what people are capable of doing, one to another. He came home and with Dorothy lived an intentional life of quiet, on the mountain, out of the main. I’ve noted of late that Kerri and I talk often, dream, of a mountain retreat. We are witness of what people are capable of doing, one to another. We are also witness of and generators of the beauty meant to draw people together. Her music. My paintings. The things people are capable of doing, one for another. We are surrounded by artists and art. Both/and.

History repeats itself. The story is told – again and again – through the art and artifacts we display, the symbols we keep. The memories we carry forward. Guernica. Empty shoes. A simple mask.

read Kerri’s blog post about ARTIFACTS

Decide To See [on Merely A Thought Monday]

My thoughts while watching the wedding:

Oprah asked Gary Zukav this question: Where is soul? His response: Where is it not?

Exchange the word ‘love’ for the word ‘soul.’ Where is love? Where is it not?

In the English language, words like ‘love’ and ‘soul’ are nouns. Things. And, things must have limits. It is a remarkable misunderstanding, a miracle of minimization. Love, the single hardest ‘thing’ to define, in fact, impossible to define, is undefinable because it is without limit. The best we can do is point toward love-made-visible. A newborn in the arms of its mother. The moment the couple, standing before their community, stares into each other’s eyes and promises, “I do.” Watching a sunrise on an anniversary. A mother dancing with her son, the groom.

Love is. Where is it not? That means, of course, that it is “in” everything, everywhere. The air we breathe. The thoughts we think. The actions we take, big and small. It is in how we treat our neighbors. In how we see ourselves. In how we report our news. In how we tell our lies and our truths. Love is.

It is the province of no-single-religion. In fact, it is where every religion on earth goes off the rails. To claim to be “the way” or “the one true…” is to attempt dominion over love. To place rules and boundaries on the boundless.

The question Oprah didn’t ask: if it is everywhere, in everything, in war and in peace, hate and acceptance, does it have any meaning at all? If it is ubiquitous, unchangeable and indescribable, why bother? Gary’s answer, I imagine, would be something like this: we choose the form we give to our love, do we not? We can choose to put the accent on unity. We can choose to put the accent on separation. Love is. We can choose to put the accent on division or we can choose to offer our support.

There is never more or less love. Isn’t that the point? Love is beyond definition. What changes is not the love or the amount of love. What changes is what we decide to see. What changes is how we decide to see, especially how we decide to see ourselves in this world with so many “others.”

read Kerri’s blog post about JUST LOVE

In-Tolerate [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

In theatre school, I was taught that the action of the play was driven by conflict. I’ve never been comfortable with that word. Something did not ring true with the concept of conflict. A dividing line. Battle. Fight. Kerri just suggested that conflict is not simply a line, it is bandwidth. A full spectrum of color in our human struggle.

I recently read that, through resistance, all things become visible. We see color because some light rays are absorbed and others are reflected. The light ray is filtered, separated into color bands. We see the color that was resisted. Rejected by the surface. Split off. Separated. Is it any wonder that the epicenter of most faith traditions, the driver of most origin stories, is the journey through separation back to unity?

We become visible in our birth. Separate. We become invisible in our death and are given to imagining a comforting story of reunion. Re-union. In between those two points, separation and unity, there is life made visible and wildly colorful by the separation. The filters. What is absorbed and rejected. Reflected. Learned. Ignored. Appreciated. Vilified. Visible. Invisible.

This time of pandemic has been, for us, an exercise in separation. In the distancing, we’ve nurtured, intentionally and unintentionally, an appreciation of quiet. Over these many months we’ve grown a garden of simplicity. We read together. We walk our paths slowly. We’ve found that we do not need to be entertained or distracted. We have a low tolerance for crowds and run the opposite direction when there’s too much noise ahead.

We’ve fostered an appreciation for those who walk through life considerate of the needs of others. Our circle of friends has come into focus. We’ve dropped off the plate of many and many have dropped off of our plate. The connective tissue is felt, established and hearty. In some cases, even though our actual conversations are rare, the focus is sharp. Deeply rooted. Arnie. Judy. Jim. Mike. David. In other cases, we communicate almost every day. 20. Brad and Jen. Heart-y.

Our play has become visible through resistance. What we absorb and what we reject has come into stark contrast, clear focus, through the separation. Layers of shallow tolerance have been peeled away revealing a much deeper understanding of what we desire to create in this life, how we desire to live. It is necessary to understand the boundaries set and the colors illuminated by intolerance. Said another way, it is important to be able to thoroughly sort substance from noise. Both inner and outer. I have learned that I have limited tolerance for thoughtless acceptance, for unthinking noise. My resistance. I surround myself with questioners, those curious enough to dig, dedicated to building their thought-castles on bedrock instead of shifting sands. Those few who are capable of releasing their grips on the comfortable known and step willingly into the uncomfortable question. I absorb them. Take them in.

We – all of us – walk the same path, visible in our birth. Separate. Invisible in our death. Re-union. In this we are equal. What we do, how we choose to support each other, or choose not to, in the passage between those two universal points, is all. These choices define the story we live.

The pandemic, the separation, has helped me to a deeper understanding and appreciation of this word: Intolerant. A word that used to inspire egg-shell walking for what it implied. A word held with shallow roots. Now, it is a word rich in complexity, useful in paradox, a resistance that has made so much come visible. Tolerance, ironically, is at the same time intolerance. What, in your play, is acceptable? What, in your play, will you tolerate? What, in your play, will you not tolerate? Your play is not separate from mine.

read Kerri’s blog post about TOLERANCE LEVELS

Choose Your Way [on DR Thursday]

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” ~ Viktor Frankel

I always feel a bit disappointed in myself after writing a post like the post I wrote yesterday. It was a near-rant, an ugly system becoming more ugly as it fights to protect its ugliness.

It’s been a battle all of my life, wrestling with what to do or say when my desire to focus on the life-giving runs headlong into the harsh realities of the life-denying. To shine a light on the life-denying is sometimes the most life affirming thing to do, it just doesn’t feel very good. “Look at the ugly. No, really look.” Last night, I listened to a conversation – in all seriousness – about the collapse of our democracy. It’s been a minor fascination of mine to witness how self-destructive people and organizations – and nations – will become before they admit that they need to change. Before they turn and say, “I’ve been lying to myself and to you.” Sometimes they destroy themselves rather than turn and face their truth. That was the crux of the conversation. It seems more and more likely that we’ll set ourselves on fire before we embrace the truth of our dysfunction.

One of Kerri and my greatest losses during the time of pandemic was our weekly ritual dinners with 20. Thursday night we’d cook at his condo. Sunday night we’d cook at our house. We’d cook for each other. Sometimes we’d cook with each other. Always we’d drink wine, laugh, and reaffirm what is most important about life. Each other.

Post-vaccination, after a long year of isolation, we recently, gratefully, returned to our ritual. We cook. We talk about our days. We laugh. 20 and I tease Kerri. She feigns indignance and loves every moment. We talk about art. We share the curiosities that have crossed our paths and screens. Sometimes we talk about the nation’s self-immolation but only briefly as we very quickly realize that it pulls us from what is really important. Each other.

Tonight is dinner with 20. We can’t wait and are making our menu, designing our day around what will be the most important thing to happen all day. Time with each other.

As a nation, “We have the wolf by the ears, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go. Justice is in one scale, and self-preservation in the other.” ~Thomas Jefferson, in a letter discussing slavery.

How a question is framed determines the answers/paths-forward one sees or does not see. It could be said of our national trauma that we’ve framed our dilemma with justice pitted squarely against self-preservation, or, to be clear, self-preservation will be at the cost of justice-for-all. It’s too bad. As the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy, self-preservation will always negate a reach toward justice. You’d think that we’d someday recognize that the wolf we have by the ears is of our own creation and that justice-for-all is the only path to self-preservation, national self-actualization. You’d think that it might occur to us, rather than do the same old thing in the same old way, to ask a different question.

If I had a magic wand I’d ding the noggin of this nation with the one strength we share, the one thing that 20 and Kerri and I know without doubt, the only real path to laughter and support and all the other good things we can offer: time with each other. A good meal made with heaps of love. A ritual born of a simple desire to each week make the world a bit better for each other.

read kerri’s blog post about DINNER WITH 20

Seek The Old Gods [on KS Friday]

I’m thinking a lot about gods and goddesses these day. No, it’s not a weird fixation. It’s a project, a story that involves the old gods and the new. The elemental and the angry. The unified and the divided. We make ourselves in the images of the god[s] we embrace. It’s a story about reaching back to the old gods, to a time before the worship of the great divide.

We took a walk along a trail just behind our airbnb. We were only in the mountains for a short time, long enough to have dinner and a day with our daughter and her beau. On the trail we turned and gasped. The mountain towered above all things. It reached to the sky. So majestic in its presence, it did not look real. “Now, there’s an old god,” I whispered to no one. It challenges one to know it, to climb it and participate in the beauty and the ascent – with no opinion at all about who might deem themselves chosen or not. It does not discern nor divide. It reminds. You are this. Climb and breathe the fresh air.

Kerri saw hypericum berries [“You say hypernicum, I say hypericum, let’s call the whole thing off…”] in the grocery store. “These would look lovely on our table!” she exclaimed. They came back to the airbnb with us and found themselves placed in a fine Ball jar sitting in a prime spot on the table. She was right. Lovely. We did a bit of research and discovered that 1) no one can agree on the spelling of the berry [or they’re two different things but we could not discern the difference], and 2) it is often used as a winter wedding flower. Winter’s daisy. Red on green giving its color and presence at unions. “Another old god!” I declared to no one. Elemental. Till death do us part where we will once again unite.

She wrote a note of gratitude and placed the corner beneath the Ball jar that held the hypericum. “Our host will love these!” she said. Gratitude adorned with beauty. We hated to leave but had run out of time. We had to hit the road. We stood at the door and breathed deeply of the mountain air. More gratitude. The blue sky ringing against the red rock of the western slope. Old gods everywhere.

“We’ll be back soon,” I said.

“Maybe we shouldn’t leave,” she whispered.

“But oh if we call the whole thing off then we must part,
And oh, if we ever part, then that might break my heart.”

You say hypernicum. I say hypericum. Winter wedding. Both/And. Gratitude and mountains. Old gods. Old gods everywhere.

read Kerri’s blog post about HYPERICUM

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Welcome A New Day [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

An old dream. A new day. Enough said.