Stay Fully Alive

a more recent smaller painting: In Quiet Prayer

Horatio issued me this challenge: do something new, something you’ve never done before. Paint something different, something that boggles you.

I love this challenge. In other words, step out of your comfort zone. Dare to not know where you are going. Make a mess with great gusto and intention. Court chaos and wrestle it into something that resembles order for you and no one else.

Horatio might have said, “Dare to see again, purely, with no filters, knowledge, or preconceptions.” He might have added, “What might you see, who might you be, if you stepped beyond the safety of your ideals, your beliefs, and great mass of weighty and important knowledge?”

The child in me, the one not yet accustomed to sitting in a desk or raising my hand or waiting my turn would loudly sing the answer: You’d be fully alive! I’d be fully alive.

from a few years ago, a larger piece: Meditation

I’ve always appreciated how similar are an artist’s path and that of a spiritual seeker. The aim of the exercise is the same. A meditation practice to still a busy mind is identical to an actor’s training to be fully present on the stage or a painter’s pursuit to see purely (to see without the disruption of interpretation). On both paths, truth is a fluid thing. Truth is what is happening right now. What happened yesterday or may happen tomorrow are distractions at best. They are stories that get in the way. They are of no consequence to this moment of living, this moment of aliveness. It is, an actor learns, a fool’s errand to attempt to repeat yesterday’s performance.

Horatio’s challenge is relevant for every human being wrestling with the big questions or trying to stave off or make sense of the chaos. Dare to dance with what’s right in front of you. Dare to drop the questions.

Picasso famously said that every child is an artist. The problem is to remain an artist once he or she grows up. He might well have said that every child is fully alive. The problem is to remain fully alive once he or she grows up.

playing around with simplicity. This one is hot off the easel and not yet named.

this is how she looks in a frame. Magic!

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Dance With Parallax

My favorite word of the week is ‘parallax.’ Horatio pulled it out of the word bin during our latest conversation about art and artistry. We were discussing the difference between what an artist sees in their work and what others see – and how artistic “sight” changes over time. I scribbled the word along with the phrase, “the difference in what you see and what others see. Perspective over time.” After our call I looked up the word in my dictionary:

paral-lax (noun) 1. Apparent change of position. 2. Angle measuring star’s distance from Earth.

Many years ago in a fit of vulnerability I showed my mentor, a great theatre and visual artist, my paintings. I lined them all up for him to see. I followed him around the room as he quietly studied each piece. Finally, after taking in all of my work, he asked, “What’s the meaning of the spheres?” I was dumbfounded and had no idea what he was asking. “Spheres? What spheres?” So he led me back around the room, revisiting each painting, showing me the three spheres that appeared in EVERY single painting.

“What’s with the spheres?” he repeated, knowing that there wasn’t an answer but there was certainly a vast new question. My universe spun a bit that day so astounded was I at my inability to see the unifying principle in my own paintings.

I needed his eyes to see my work. Isn’t that the point?

When I think back on that day, on that younger version of my self, I revisit the fear, the raging vulnerability I felt in sharing my paintings. I feel again the deep doubt I held against myself. I recall the nausea of inviting someone I admired into my house of doubt. I somehow believed that, to be an artist, I had “to know” what I was doing – yet knew with certainty that I had no idea what I was doing. I knew with certainty that he would see through me to my lack of knowing.

And, he did. Thank goodness. “What’s with the spheres?” Such a simple question yet it spun my universe and pitched me through the portal of a new perspective.

I learned that day that artistry has nothing to do with knowing. Life has nothing to do with knowing. Knowing is an illusion, temporary at best. Knowing has everything to do with hiding.

Making a life, as Master Marsh just reminded me, is an engagement with the unknown. It is to have experiences. It is to make meaning of the experiences. If you are lucky, you learn to have the experiences first, and make the meaning second. It is to understand that, in this dance of knowing and not-knowing, sight and blindness, chaos and order, consciousness and unconsciousness, there are no fixed points. There is dance:

dance (noun) 1. An act of stepping or moving through a series of movements.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

fine art prints available at society6.com

my original work on zatista.com

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Use Reason

Step Into Unknown with Sig“When a speaker who does not know the difference between good and evil tries to convince a people as ignorant as himself, not by ascribing to a poor beast like a donkey the virtues of a horse, but by representing evil as in fact good, and so by a careful study of popular notions succeeds in persuading them to do evil instead of good, what kind of harvest do you think his rhetoric will reap from the seed he has sown?” Phaedrus by Plato

 

The woman walked to the end of the small pier and started to weep. It was a cold day and windy. Kerri and I maintained silence as we passed. The woman was making an appeal to her god. She asked the stormy lake and angry sky, “Why?”

Belief is a powerful thing.

Beth believes that the universe was created 6,000 years ago. Even though the gasoline she pumps into her car is evidence to the contrary, nothing will shake her firm belief. No amount of science, data, or experience can crack her conviction to what she believes.

At first glance Beth might seem an oddity but she is actually more representative of the norm. Consider this quote published this morning in our local paper. It’s an editorial from the Los Angeles Times entitled, “The ‘fake news’ dilemma.” “Some observers argue that the public’s receptivity to fake news is a sign that we live in a ‘post-factual’ society, with people who are mainly interested in information that comports with their preexisting notions.” In other words, no amount of science, data, or experience can crack our convictions to what we believe. And, like Beth, we do not want to hear [or consider] anything that challenges our beliefs. Rather than question, we plant our belief-flag and defend the territory.

Flag planting makes for good ratings. Conflict is an easier story to sell than compromise so it is not surprising that we have news sources that blatantly cater to our preexisting notions. Division makes us a good market and infinitely manipulatable.

Certainly defending the territory of unquestioned belief feels good. Righteousness, blame and gossip always feel good. There’s no responsibility required! Here’s another bit to consider from the editorial: “The problem is obvious: When surveys by the Pew Research Center find that 62 percent of U.S. adults get at least some of their news from social media, and 20 percent of social-media users say the things they read online have changed their views on an issue or candidate, the electorate is all the more vulnerable to a disinformation campaign. By Buzzfeed’s count, the 20 most popular fake-news stories in the last three months of the campaign were shared more often on Facebook than the top 20 stories from leading mainstream news sites.”

What prayer do we have when we are too…lazy…incapable…. to discern gossip from news, belief from fact [dear reader help me find a word other than fact].

For me, the top spot on the hierarchy of beliefs-that-blind is the “pre-existing notion” that we human beings operate from reason. Reason requires doubt, questioning, listening, and reaching for the perceptions of others. Reason, like heart, is a commons. It thrives on honest debate and will have nothing to do with individual or collective rigidity. We are not born with it, however we are born with the capacity to engage it. It is not something any single individual attains – it is not attainable – it is relational – it requires multiple perspectives and continued conversation. It requires a step into the  unknown.

Thoughts Babble Hearts Speak

 

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Learn To Question

My best place for asking questions

My best place for asking questions

20 (aka John) tells me that his coworker, Amy, aged 22, will have answered all of life’s questions within the next three years. He assures me that she will share her answers when she has them. “We just need to hang on for another three years,” he quips, “…and it’ll all make sense!”

The admitting nurse at the surgery center feels like a threshold guardian. She said, “People who pass through here learn just how little they actually control in life. Surgery is humbling. I’m here when their illusion of control bursts. That moment is hard.” She was quiet for a moment and added, “What gets me is all these people in the world who think they have all the answers – and they think their answer has to be the answer for everybody. All these rules made up by all these people who think they have the right answer for everybody! That’s why people are killing people everywhere.”

“It sounds like more people ought to have surgery!” I tease.

“You got that right,” she said, handing me my gown, hairnet and blue booties. “Put one of these on and you realize how little control you actually have; in this place none of your answers matter and none of your rules apply!”

It should be a mantra for educators and the only argument necessary to dismantle a test-driven system: Life is always found in the direction of the question. At best, answers are relative – and the best answers, if understood, are simply doors to more questions. Learn to question.

The best art follows the same mantra. It steps into big questions, wanders into unknowns and complexities. It tests and tries, explores and experiments. It leads us to explode our answers and like a good trickster does not allow us to hold our gods too tightly. It begs us to question.

“Shall we tell Amy that there are no answers?” I ask 20.

“Nah. Why spoil the surprise.”

From the archives. This one often calls to me

From the archives. This one often calls to me

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Be The Fool

The Fool card from The Radiant Rider Waite deck

The Fool card from The Radiant Rider Waite deck

Each day I open The Bible of Mankind (sadly, now out of print) and read a phrase. It’s a form of daily meditation for me akin to throwing the I Ching; I pick from the reading what seems relevant. Some days the phrase is confusing, some days it is curious, some days it is profound. Every day it is significant. Today, the phrase was from the Buddhist tradition and under the subtitle, Foolishness & Wisdom:

“The man who has learned little grows old like an ox. His flesh grows but his knowledge does not.”

I delighted in the pairing of foolishness with wisdom. I suspect there is only one path to wisdom and it requires a good deal of foolishness. I googled the meaning of the Fool card in the tarot because, as I recollect, when upright, the Fool is about beginnings and bold steps into the unknown. From my search I found other words and phrases like unlimited potential, purity, and innocence. The Fool is ever present and has in his (her) bag all the tools and resources necessary for the journey through life. The Fool came to this earth to learn.

Another phrase that caught my attention was this: the Fool is always whole, healthy, and without fear. He is the spirit of who we are, the spirit expressed and experienced as wonder, awe, curiosity, and anticipation.

Recently, Bruce and I had a great talk about how life looks different at 50 than it did at 30. The main difference is that you know without doubt that it is limited. And, because the big death is visible, all the little death passages, the steps into the unknown, take on more import. Yearning is more electric when mortality is undeniable. All of the belief and investment in outcomes and achievements dissipate. This life is an experience, nothing more. It passes. And, it is dealer’s choice whether the experience is expressed and experienced as fear or expressed and experienced as The Fool: wonder, awe, and curiosity.

The wisdom path is the Fool’s path. The ox, to become a fool filled with knowledge, need only step out of its pen, into the unknown, and be filled with new experiences.

title_pageGo here to buy hard copies (and Kindle) of my latest book: The Seer: The Mind of the Entrepreneur, Artist, Visionary, Innovator, Seeker, Learner, Leader, Creator,…You.

Eve, by David Robinson

Eve, by David Robinson

Go here for Fine Art prints of my paintings.

Choose Your Experience

767. Join me in inspiring truly powerful people. Each day I will add a new thought, story or idea to support your quest and mine.

It’s after 7:00pm and I just realized that it was Sunday. One of the privileges of wandering is that days of the week blend and become one. There are relatively few patterns so markers like workday and non-workday do not exist. This has been somewhat true most of my life. The line between work and play is indistinct. My play and my work have mostly been the same thing.

This afternoon Skip and I did a test run of experiences for our new start-up business. The audience is entrepreneurs. Some members of our team are young entrepreneurs so we gathered and talked through the content with them and then threw them into some experiences. Having been a data-basher most of my life it’s an interesting flip to do things to gather data and adjust my work based on audience responses. I learned a lot today!

What came clear to me was something that I’ve known for a while but did not fully grasp the magnitude until today. Human beings come into the world oriented to the unknown and strive to pretend that we are oriented to the known. We make meaning of chaos. And, what is chaos really? It’s a made up concept. It means, “I don’t know!” It has no use outside of the human need to make story and project order onto the world. It’s like the word, “wild.” Wild is only useful when there is an expectation of tame. Chaos is only meaningful relative to an expectation of order. Both are categories. One is generally comfortable because it provides the illusion of control and the other is uncomfortable because the illusion is of no control. Tame and wild follow the same general principle. I was in the Northridge earthquake in Los Angeles and as the earth threw my house off of it’s foundation and hurtled me through the air, I learned that control was not mine to assign. I learned that wild is tame and tame is wild and chaos drives order and order collapses into chaos. It’s a dance.

It’s not the nouns that matter. It’s the verbs. It is the movement. Nothing is static. Nothing is fixed. The answers are not important. The questions matter, it is the conversation and the relationship that hold the real stuff of life. Questions and relationships are fluid. They move. Orient to the unknown and you orient to the questions. The questions will open you to discovery. Orient to the known and you orient to the answers. The answers will close you to rules and righteousness. This would seem obvious but it is not. The most potent revelation of all: how you orient is a choice. Choose to open or choose to close. Orient to the unknown or orient to the known. Orient to the infinite game or to the finite. Choose your experience.

Taste. Test.

762. Join me in inspiring truly powerful people. Each day I will add a new thought, story or idea to support your quest and mine.

Many years ago I spent most of my time in the studio. I spent hours each day alone with my paintings and my thoughts. I’d go out at noon to get food. Later in the evening my friend Albert would meet me for coffee. He knew I would twist and fall into my self if I wasn’t forced to emerge and speak to other humans. He was right. The life of a painter is a lonely existence. In addition to my gypsy tendencies I used to tend toward the hermit and it was wise and loving friends like Albert that saved me from myself. Now my inner gadfly has the keys to my personality; I just can’t leave people alone.

I had occasion to go through old journals this afternoon. It is a quirk of mine that my personal and work journals are one-and-the-same. I’ve never understood the separation between working and not working, playing and not playing. I’ve tried to explain that to the IRS to no avail. Apparently one must separate oneself to be in compliance with the regulations. My life is my work. Megan told me that I am purpose driven and she is right. So sorting through old journals is a funny affair because I’ve collaged dream imagery with workshop notes with thoughts about paintings with personal insights with notes from calls. And, since I’ve never learned what the lines on the paper are used for, my notes go in multiple directions. Ask me which came first and I will squint and turn the journal upside down. I also noticed that I sometimes start an entry on the right hand page and then move to the left hand page – essentially moving one step back before taking two steps forward. I refuse to entertain this journal practice as a life metaphor. I intend to lie to the IRS if they ever ask me about my journaling. I am linear, linear, linear.

I opened a journal from 2009 and found this thought from Ana-The-Wise: For every child everything is new and unknown. They see with the eyes of the new and that is okay. For the child, it is all unknown and so it all must be tasted and tested.

We dull our palates. Last night in class a man asked me what is the point of courting chaos once you’ve made order of your world. He liked order. Arriving at order was his goal. I’d just finished telling the class that chaos is where innovation lives: if you are playing in the fields of the known you are not innovating. I edited my reply and stayed in the context of business and entrepreneurship. What I wanted to say was that, just as innovation, vitality and life are found in the unknown. Order is not a fixed state. It is fluid and flows toward chaos. Life is motion. Try and stop the movement and you will one day look up and wonder why your life has no meaning. You’ll wonder where you lost your passion.

Ana-The-Wise spoke truly: it is all unknown and so it must be tasted and tested. I’ve not yet lived tomorrow and I will miss it if I think I know what’s coming. There is so much to be tasted, so much that begs to be tested.