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.

Look Into Their Eyes [on Merely A Thought Monday]

I joke that my experience of moving to Wisconsin was akin to a brake-less semi-truck hitting a runaway truck ramp. I plowed into the sand and pieces of me flew off in all directions. My work, my artistry, my orientation to life. Also lost in the rapid deceleration were my defense mechanisms, my armor, my “status” and “role” as I understood it. Full stop. Bumpers, bolts and bits of me strewn all over the place. It seemed that I was no longer useful.

I recently read a story about African porters, after days of hurrying to keep up with the team of explorers racing to get through the jungle, the porters refused to go another step. They simply sat down. The exasperated explorers appealed to the porters to no avail. “We have been moving so fast, ” the porters said, “we must now wait for our souls to catch up to our bodies.”

I have learned that, amid my wreckage, I am like the porters. Although my abrupt stop was largely unconscious, my soul needed some time to catch up. Wonderment takes time. Depth of experience (otherwise known as relationship) requires a good bit of standing still.

It’s a lesson I have learned more than once. During my time in Bali, if I wanted to walk with Budi, I had to slow way down. It’s actually possible to walk-in-presence rather than walk-in-purpose. In slow walking I learned I could breathe. My mind slowed. Direct experience (also known as relationship) and imagination filled-to-the-brim my new found space.

In our world, so addicted to speed and achievement and possessing and lists and “getting there,” we flatten our experiences to the mechanical. In nuts-and-bolts there is very little meaning to be found. Worse, there is no inter-connectivity. There is no experience of togetherness in an expectation of quotas and cubicles.

When I was consulting with organizations, the most profound experience I could provide my clients was simply to have them stand and face each other. No words. Presence is utterly terrifying to people who are dedicated to never being present. Once through the terror, however, there is no better balm to the horrors of a “business-is-business” wound.

Flat world phrases like “bottom line,” “human resources,” and “business-is-business” are ultimately the language of abdication of responsibility. It is the language of separation. It is the language of cowardice. As we know, it is possible to do all manner of violence on people and the planet when they are reduced to a “resource” or considered an obstacle to business.

We can forgive ourselves anything when we refuse to stand still and look each other in the eye.

The eyes are, after all, the window to the soul.

Stand still. facing another human being, and you will at first pull up the drawbridge and man the parapets. Guards will rush to the towers. But, after a few moments of eye-to-eye-looking, the castle falls apart. The pieces come down. It’s like laying in a hammock on a dark starry night, gazing into the Milky Way. You will either clap your hands and laugh with wonder or you will weep with the profound recognition of belonging.

read Kerri’s blog post about TRAVELING TOGETHER

Practice Inner Hospitality [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

“What you separate, the soul joins.” ~ John O’Donohue

A few years ago, when we went to Hippy Tom’s farm, Kerri said, “It feels like we’re inside this man’s sickness.” There was stuff everywhere. A hoarder with a farm. Her comment about the farm has become a code-phrase for us. “Hippy Tom,” she says, and I know we are talking about these-un-united-states under the influence of the outgoing president. A nation living inside of one man’s sickness. The hater-in-chief.

The Bidens’ messages of unity and perseverance are akin to a doorway, an exit from the crazy farm. Although we are running for the door, not yet free of the madness, we can see it from here. We can catch breaths of air free of delusion and division.

“When you decide to practice inner hospitality,” John O’Donohue writes, “the torment ceases. The abandoned, neglected, and negative selves come into seamless unity.”

Practice inner hospitality. The rules that apply to individuals also apply to organizations as well as nations. Practice inner hospitality and the negative selves will come into seamless unity. “The soul adores unity.”

Although our systemic root belies this, soul of this nation has never been isolationism or white supremacy. The soul of this nation has always been our diversity, our willingness to embrace the new, to find a northwest passage, to step foot on the moon, to embrace, to invent and reinvent, to reach. To improve. To challenge a fossilized belief.

Perhaps it is now time for us to review, renew, to at-long-last turn and face what we have not yet faced in “this beautiful, brave, complicated nation.” To look with honesty and clarity at all of our history, our negative and ideal selves. To balance what has been too long unequal, ugly, denied.

There is great space in our national divide. The flaw, as the Amish remind us, is there to let in the grace. The soul joins. It can show us a path, once and for all, out of the sickness of the farm.

read Kerri’s blog post about AMBER WAVES

Keep The Sign [on Flawed Wednesday]

I have never, until this election, planted candidate signage in my yard. This season, however, Biden signs abounded. Our front yard was a wash of blue.

We opened the blinds the morning after the election was called and our signs were gone. The sign kidnapper left a clear trail through the leaves. We took a drive around the neighborhood and saw that other homes had their signs nabbed. The larger Biden signs had been tipped over or kicked to the ground.

Anger, as the old trope states, is a secondary emotion. Anger is one of the many shades of fear. That someone – or many someones – would, in their anger at an election loss, troll a neighborhood, stomp and steal signs would be laughable except it is akin to the behavior of their candidate, the one that lost. An angry pout. A child breaking toys so others can’t play. Holding the nation hostage.

In my career I worked with many, many schools and learned that a school generally takes on the personality of its principal. Nations are the same. Aggression, thuggery, bullying, lying…generally erasing opposition (“you’re fired”) in a single-direction-loyalty-imperative is the personality of our outgoing populist-principal. His behavior-fractal extends to the smallest cell of the sick red organism he created so it was not a surprise that election signs were stolen or stomped. Would-be bullies following their leader.

As we endure the final pout, a myriad of empty court cases in a frantic attempt to manufacture evidence of voter fraud, all-caps twitter-temper-tantrums, hoarding all the toys so the transition of power is delayed, sycophants-in-suits tumbling over themselves to please the grand-pout, we should perhaps ask the obvious question, ” What are they afraid of?”

They. Them. They are, I suspect, afraid of Us – of what US really implies. They are afraid of progress, an intention to unify. They fear the exposure of science and fact. They are afraid of women in power and a “minority” becoming the majority. They are afraid of people of color. Just as wagon wheel makers shook their fists at auto makers, just as coal barons now sneer at wind power, the boys club stuffs the courts while throwing doubt at a system called democracy. The remaining tools in their box are obstruction and denial.

We are a crossroads nation that is made great because we have to constantly reinvent ourselves. We change. That is our strength when the center ideals hold. The sign-stompers would have us look backward to a Hallmark time that never actually existed. Perhaps out of our recent chaos will emerge an order that finally fulfills the promise and includes all citizens, one that strives to fulfill the democratic ideals of equality rather than remove them. Obstruct them. Deny them. Perhaps.

“They can have the signs,” Kerri said, “as long as they take their guy with them.”

Amen to that.

read Kerri’s blog post about SIGNAGE

Come Together [on Merely A Thought Monday]

My theme of life-as-a-circle is still with me. Today, this Labor Day, 2020, bubbles with portent. Unlike any Labor Day in my lifetime, this day seems to dip its toe into the cold origins of this national holiday celebrating laborers but also serves as an omen. An augury.

This holiday, so benign as we now practice it, was borne of fire and conflict. It seems our nation is only capable of learning through the violence that it inflicts upon itself. Waves of riots, years of bloodshed as laborers as young as 5, worked 12 hour days, 7 days a week, and barely eked out a living. The income gap in 2020 mirrors that of the 1890’s, America’s Gilded Age. As historian Nell Irvin Painter explains, “‘Gilded’ is not golden. ‘Gilded’ has the sense of a patina covering something else. It’s the shiny exterior and the rot underneath.” The violence in the streets, the frustration and anger, riots and protests by the common working people forced the government to act. Among other things, Labor Day came into existence. A day off.

“We’re in these cycles in which we learn and forget and learn and forget,” Painter says.

We are in the ‘forgetting’ part of the cycle. It’s Keynsian economics: a capitalist economy can only thrive with the existence of a healthy middle class. Consumption requires capable-and-able consumers. Investment crumbles when consumption stalls. We’ve been here before. We don’t need a crystal ball to see where our unsupported gig economy is taking us. On this Labor Day it is fair game to ask, “What exactly are we celebrating?”

We cycle into remembering when we need to pull together. When we start considering the interests of the whole over the few. When, as the sign says, we remember to take care of one another. During this Labor Day there is a true tell of our capacity to consider one another: a pandemic rages. The estimates top 400,000 deaths by the new year. The only force that can reduce that number is our capacity to consider one another.

Life in the forgetting sweep of the cycle: the streets are alive with riot and protest. People by the millions are losing their homes and their jobs. Desperation and division reign; panicked people rarely think straight.

Life in the remembering sweep of the cycle: people pull their energy and resources together remembering that no one can thrive in a vacuum. A united workforce is capable of reminding “the system” that it was meant to serve them and support them in a shared prosperity. Not to use their labor to benefit the few. Coming together for the betterment of all: it is the original impulse and meaning of Labor Day.

read Kerri’s blog post about LABOR DAY

Shift [on Merely A Thought Monday]

shift key framed copy

Shift is not an insignificant key. In a nanosecond it can take you from lower case to upper. It can throw your backslash into question. The simple finality of a period can be pitched into a statement of worth: greater or lesser.

Doesn’t it feel like a malevolent pinky just hit the universal shift key in our world? Of this we can be sure: it’s a new sentence and there’s no going back to what we once knew as “normal.”

In spiritual circles, shift is what happens when our otherwise cloudy consciousness becomes crystal clear. In circles of learning and growth, shift is what happens to our perspective when what was previously unknown becomes readily apparent. The penny drops and we can never again not-know what we now comprehend.

Perhaps the omnipotent pinky pushing our shift key is not malevolent. Perhaps it was long past time that we took stock of the gap between our rhetoric and our actions, our professed history and the full accounting? Perhaps we needed a boost from our lower case value-set to actually approach our upper case potentials.

In the great stories, as in life, there is a paradox associated with profound shifts. They come, not through pursuit or seeking, they come when the protagonist stops looking, surrenders and stands still. The shift always comes with the realization that what is sought has been readily available all along. The belief in separation creates the necessity to seek. The commitment to division creates the necessity to fight for dominance.

Shift words like “unity” or “common” or “harmony” or “accord” or “wholeness” or “integrity” arise when the seeking and fighting and pursuing cease. They show up when we stand still, when we stop looking for them. They become options when we realize that they have been available all along.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about SHIFT

Kerri is still in the Facebook penalty box so if you enjoy reading her thoughts please consider subscribing to her blog. I do – even though I get to read what she writes before she publishes. As her greatest fan it is always a pleasure to read the before-publish AND after-publish versions.

 

 

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color & contemplation copy

an oldie but goodie: contemplation

 

contemplation ©️ 2004 david robinson

Unify The Rabbits [on Merely A Thought Monday]

i like your mask copy

If you chase two rabbits, both will get away ~ Chinese Proverb.

In the theatre, the double-rabbit chase is called a split intention. An actor cannot both play well the scene AND try and please the audience. It’s one of the fundamental lessons an actor must learn; play the scene purely and the audience will enter the story. Trying to please an audience is a fool’s errand and will throw everyone out of the story.

The lesson is not what it might at first seem. The lesson is to recognize that, in truth, it is not an either/or choice. The only way to “please” the audience is to play well the scene. The only way to “please” them is to forget about them. The job is not about “pleasing.” The job is about the performance of a play.  It’s a lesson in priority of focus. In recognizing and attending to the first principle, all other concerns fall into their proper place. The magic is in unifying what might at first look like a two-rabbit chase.

It’s a lesson that has great usefulness far beyond the stage in every walk of life. Either/Or framing is usually a warning sign that two rabbits are on the run.

A split intention is always resolved through a focus priority.

In our pandemic time, in these states-once-united, we’ve managed to cleave our intention. Health or economy? The chase is on and both are getting away. Trying to reinvigorate an economy by ignoring the health implications is akin to an actor trying to please an audience – it is a fool’s errand. People will not go out if they do not feel safe. Although each day we are plied with scenes of packed bars and beaches, we also read an ever-mounting roll call of bankruptcies, job losses, impending evictions, rapidly shrinking GDP, etc.

It’s a pandemic. Roughly 1,000 people a day are dying. In five months over 150,000 people who otherwise would have seen 2021 have ceased to live. The infection rate is doubling [a gentle reminder to those who make me shake my head in wonderment: just as pregnancy is not caused by the test, COVID-19 testing does not produce cases. Testing identifies cases and someday will provide the opportunity to contain the spread.]

Attend to the play. Prioritize the focus. Public health and economic health are not at odds. They need not split and run in opposite directions. Economic health is not possible if people do not feel safe. It’s a basic rule of survival, a fundamental requirement of the play-of-life. Protecting public health, attending to public safety, is the first principle. Wearing masks. Testing and tracing. Social distancing. The rabbits will unify when the message aligns, when the audience-pleasers realize that, by ignoring the first principle, they are literally throwing people out of the life-story.

Focus on the priority and all other concerns will fall into their proper place.

It is palpable when an actor stops splitting their focus. It is magnetic when they fully enter the scene. The play crackles with life and possibility. It pulls audience and actors alike into the same story. Together, all move to the edge of their seats. When it really sparkles, hearts sync and beat in a unified rhythm (no kidding).

I see signs of a single-rabbit-chase everywhere. Checking out from the store a week ago, the cashier said through her face-covering, “I like your mask!” I smiled. I’m certain she knew I smiled even though she could not see it. “Where did you get it?” she asked.

Mask-fashion is arising. In mask-envy I find tiny glimmers of hope.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about MASK ENVY

 

 

southport sand heart website box psd copy

 

 

 

 

three graces ©️ 2010 david robinson

Treat The Origin [on KS Friday]

it's a long story copy

Yaki called. He wants to dust off our Prometheus project and give it another whirl. The Creatures Of Prometheus is one of Beethoven’s early works, a ballet that is nigh-on impossible for a contemporary ballet company to afford. Besides a symphony, it requires  scores of dancers. Twelve years ago, Yaki asked if I would write and perform a narrative – a storytelling- that would weave together the movements. It lives among my all-time favorite collaborations. Yesterday he asked, “Can we update it? Can we make it relevant with what’s happening in the world today?’

My first thought: it’s already relevant! It is a creation story. Prometheus is given the task of creating human beings, a man and a woman. Although he is instructed to make them dull and crude, he creates them to be beautiful, to see and appreciate their connection to the earth from which they were made. Angered by his disobedience, Zeus punishes Prometheus by corrupting the new creatures; he fills them with fear and division. He twists their fear into a lust for war. He makes them dull and crude. Now, Prometheus waits for them to remember and recover their original sight, to remember their capacity for pure seeing, fearless living. To drop their madness and return to their senses.

My second thought: people are notoriously incapable of grasping metaphor. It’s the Zeus thing in practice. The update has to be a direct statement. It must leave no doubt and puncture the commitment to dullness. “Gear down!” as Kerri constantly reminds me.

“How can Prometheus speak to Black Lives Matter?” he asked. We are both artists in the later stage of our career.  Yaki added, “I want my work – my art to really speak to what’s happening today. I want it to help.”

I’ve been sitting in his questions since we talked yesterday. We are standing again at a moment in time when change is possible. We are also standing at the moment when the system, a living thing, a wizard of recreation, will fight to maintain itself. Consider: we had this moment with the abolition of slavery and the system responded with Jim Crow. Segregation. Institutional racism. We had the moment again with the civil rights movement in the 1960’s and the system responded with a draconian judicial/policing/incarceration apparatus, disproportionate tax structures…segregation by legislation (again and again and again).

In our current moment, in this latest moment, how can we make the necessary changes that are not merely the existing system putting a new face on a 400 year old mechanism? Real change requires steps in unknown directions [the rule: if you know where you are going you are merely re-creating what already exists]. How can Prometheus speak to that?

We focus on behavior when we need to stare at the underlying structures. Behavior, as Robert Fritz reminds us, always follows the path of least resistance – the sub-structure determines the path of behavior.

In the story, Prometheus is in it for the long haul. He knows his creatures are made for beauty and will inevitably see beyond their made-up fear and return to their source. They will one day stop listening to the fear mongers and race baiters. They will wake up and recognize that they are not made to be dull and crude and divisive. In fact, quite the opposite. They were made to appreciate and participate in the creation of beauty and betterment. Nature.

Prometheus is in no hurry. He waits for his creatures to remember. He plays the long story. What will that look like?

 

 

IT’S A LONG STORY is on the album THIS PART OF THE JOURNEY

 

 

read Kerri’s blog post about IT’S A LONG STORY

 

treehole website box copy

 

 

 

it’s a long story/this part of the journey ©️ 1997/2000 kerri sherwood

joy ©️ 2014 david robinson