Find The Way Home

holdtheworldinpeace-lowerfontcopy-jpeg“Our search for truth must be wide open, even when it takes us in directions we preferred not to go. This is the difference between propaganda and truth. Propaganda has a certain end in mind, and so it marshals and manipulates the ‘facts’ to support its conclusion. Truth weighs evidence, seeks proof, is appropriately skeptical of authoritarian claims, welcomes questions, and doesn’t fear dissent.” Philip Gulley, The Quaker Way of Living*

Kerri and I often read books aloud to each other. On cold winter days we sit beneath a blanket, Dog-Dog at our feet, BabyCat snoring by our side, sip coffee, and read. We like to discuss and compare perceptions, ask questions, and re-read passages for clarity or the simple poetry of the language. Sometimes we savor a book, moving through it slowly. Sometimes we devour a book and go back to reread especially potent sections.

Propaganda resists close inspection and must continually be defended. Truth welcomes doubt and skepticism; indeed it is best served by questions, suggestions, and corrections.”

I am guilty of burying my head in the sand. My move to Wisconsin came with an intentional unplugging from the news. I was tired of pundits shouting each other down. I was weary and wary of conversations with family and friends that seemed to be territory-guarding regurgitations of our news-channel-of-choice. I was using the language given to me by my news sources and rolled my eyes at the predictable language leveled by the “other” side. One day as I raged at family members to pay attention to how they were being manipulated by their news source, I thought that it was probably a good idea for me to do the same. At the time, unplugging, stepping out of the toxic stream, seemed the only option to clear my mind.

The search for truth begins within the seeker, for if we are not honest with and about ourselves, we will find it impossible to be honest with and about others.”

On a recent trip to Indiana, Bill and Linda suggested a book for us, The Quaker Way Of Living by Philip Gulley. They read it with their church group and found it compelling, especially given our corrosive political climate and collapse of civil discourse. We bought it when we returned home and a few days ago started reading it together. We couldn’t put it down. It asks some powerful questions. It doesn’t pretend to have answers [that, I’ve learned, would be the antithesis of the Quaker Way] but it does speak directly to the quandaries of personal and communal integrity in a climate of self-righteousness, blame, and distrust. It is hopeful and funny and places the onus of creating a better world squarely on the shoulders of each and every one of us. It reminded me that burying my head in the sand is not very useful while also affirming that their are options beyond planting a flag in the sand.

“To say a person has integrity means several things. Most commonly, we mean the person is honest, that his or her word can be trusted…. But there is another level of meaning that has to do with the integration of our values and lifestyle. In that sense, to say we have integrity is to say the separate parts of our lives combine to form a unified whole. What we believe is consistent with how we live. Our beliefs influence the work we choose, the way we use our time and spend our money, the relationships we form and the goals to which we aspire. This integration is critical for inward peace.”

While reading, I’ve been thinking a lot about a conversation I had a few years ago with Jim Marsh, one of the people I most admire in this world precisely because he walks his talk. He told me of an issue in his community that had deeply concerned him and that he’d been grousing about for long time. One day he’d had enough and to move forward he recognized that he had three options: First, to stop complaining (he said, “to just shut up.”). Second, to move away. Leave. Get away from the source of his irritation. That didn’t seem like a healthy option. The third was to strap on his boots and do something about it. To act instead of complain. But, (and here’s the reason why I adore him) not to act against, but to work to create what he wanted. His responsibility was not to fight or resist. It was to create.

“We preserve our integrity and wholeness when we are aware of what threatens it and then choose to act deliberately and prudently when tempted. When we fail to do this, we disintegrate, creating a chasm between who we are and who we wish to be.”

I practice tai chi and had the good fortune to have, for a few years, a master teacher, Saul, whose teaching transcended the specifics of tai chi. He was teaching me how better to live. One day, while I was in a fit of resistance, he quietly showed me the power of looking beyond my “opponent” and placing my focus, instead, in the field of possibility. I understood (intellectually) that the opponent was always of my own making and my dedication to having an opponent (inside or out) would always pull me off balance. In other words, as long as I invested in resistance I would always pull myself off balance.

“Integrity isn’t conditional…There is a seamless nature to integrity that transcends situations and relationships. Integrity does not present one face in public and another in private. It delights in transparency, having nothing to hide.”

Now, with my head freshly out of the sand, I understand Saul’s teaching beyond my thinking (I’ve had a lot of time to meditate on things with my head in the sand) and, taking my cue from Jim, I recognize that I have three options but only option-number-three holds the promise of integrity. The best news: no one creates alone…

*all quotes in this post are from the chapter on Integrity from The Quaker Way of Living by Philip Gulley

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THE WAY HOME on itunes – Kerri Sherwood-Track 13 on THIS PART OF THE JOURNEY

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Ask Why

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a detail of my painting, Know That You Are Waiting.

Marilyn told me that she spent the day with her 3 year-old granddaughter. The little girl, like most children her age, peppered Marilyn with the question, “Why?” In her reenactment, after trying to answer the multitude of “Why?” questions, she laughed and said, “I don’t know! That’s the way it’s always been done!” It’s a perfect loop! Sometimes there is no answer to the question, “Why?”

Many years ago Peter Block wrote a great little book called The Answer To How Is Yes. A lifetime of corporate consulting left him perplexed by the pervasive leading question, “How should we do it?” None of his clients ever asked, “Why should we do it?” “Why” was nowhere in the equation.

Asking “Why?” takes time. It slows things down and often requires some soul searching. It lives on the vertical axis of experience, the axis that reaches into the depths and knows no black and white answer. Also, asking “Why?” sometimes leads to the scary profit-challenging twin question, “Why shouldn’t we do it?” The question, “Why?” moves a business and the people that populate it out of reactionary practices and into intentionality. With intentionality comes ownership of action, responsibility. The legal department is dedicated to keeping the conversation away from “Why?” Responsibility can be costly.

People are no different than the organizations they create. We avoid the same questions for much the same reason.

In my life I’ve sat through countless meetings while boards-of-directors asking, “How do we get more people to buy/attend/support our art/business/cause?” I finally made it a practice to stop asking the troubling questions, “Why should people buy/attend/support you?” and “Why are you doing what you are doing?” Usually those questions invoked embarrassed silence or worse, a regurgitation of the company’s value statement. We are valuable because we say we are.

Skip used to tell me that a company isn’t valuable until it serves the customer’s customer. I liked that sentiment a lot: value is service as expressed through two degrees of separation. It is also an orientation according to what is given, not what is received. Serve. It’s a loop with a natural answer to the question, “Why?”

Artists of all stripes, churches, politicians, etc. might find a different understanding of value if they (we) applied Skip’s rule to their (our) plays/symphonies/paintings/dances/businesses. Why? To Serve.

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a detail from my painting May You

Maybe we all just need to be three-year-olds and ask “why?” more often. Maybe the best questions, the ones that make the most sense, are the ones that can’t be easily answered but require us to slow down and challenge doing what we’ve always done.

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Find The Riches

an illustration from Beaky's book, SHAYNE.

one of my illustrations from Beaky’s book, SHAYNE.

During my call with Jim I told him that my projects this year have been the most satisfying of my life. Certainly they have been the most important. And, they have also been, as I laughingly used the term, “negatively lucrative.” He didn’t yet know of Beaky’s books, of her website, of her book signing, so I sent him a few of my favorite photos from the event. Later, he sent me this text:

It is wonderful to be able to eat and pay the bills but there are for a fact things money can never buy. That famous authors obvious joy being one.

Isn’t that the truth? What price could we possibly place on joy? What price would we pay for true love? What price do we place on personal truth? What is the price tag on fulfillment?

I suspect that the great disease of our time – something future history professors and archaeologists will investigate – is that we’ve managed to place a value on our values; morality has somehow enmeshed with money, the purpose of education has somehow become the achievement of a bigger paycheck. In this never-ending political season, count the number of times and ways our candidates tell us that we must weigh our interests against our values.

What is the price of a value? What is the purpose of a value if it has a price?

All my life I’ve been told by people who love me, that, as an artist, I need to make a distinction between the work I do for food and the work I do for love. Most artists, myself included, feel their work is a kind of call. It is an imperative, a necessity. It is food. It is love. Most artists, myself included, do their work-for-love whether they are paid for it or not. They have to. I have to. It is a call. It is nourishment. There is no way in a culture that has placed a value on its values to recognize the real value of food-for-the-soul and food-from-the soul (the purpose of artists in a culture); a market cannot make sense of soul nourishment. This line of distinction, work-for-food or work-for-love, is at best a wonky value statement. It is a line that only makes sense to a people versed and rehearsed in trading their soul-requirements for a better retirement.

what is the price of joy?

what is the price of joy?

Last night I finished reading aloud to Kerri Tuesdays With Morrie. Jim’s text and Morrie’s messages are in beautiful alignment: there are, for a fact, things that money can never buy. And, those things are where the riches of this life can be found.

Drop Beneath The Noise

my latest work in progress

a detail of my latest work in progress

“Oppressors and oppressed meet at the end, and the only thing that prevails is that life was altogether too short for both.” Carlos Castaneda, A Separate Reality

A year and a half ago, when I moved to Wisconsin, I made the very conscious decision to unplug from the daily news cycle. I stopped watching it, listening to it, and reading it. My theory was that, if there was something truly newsworthy, I would hear about it. My intention was not to stick my head in the sand but the opposite. I wanted to drop the noise level so I might hear the stories with real value that were being obscured by the hype.

I was feeling more and more assaulted at the way the news was coming at me. I felt that it was literally coming AT me. I was disturbed that friends, family, and acquaintances oriented their truth (their opinions) according to their news source of choice. Events were not being reported as much as created for attention and spun for political leaning. It was feeding us a yummy addictive soap opera as context for our lives. Danger and deception were everywhere. “Us and Them” replayed at the top of the hour. One day, riding a bus through downtown Seattle, listening to the conversations around me, I realized that we were not consuming the media, it was consuming us. Division and drama sell.

Many years ago, Neil Postman in his brilliant book, Technopoly, like a prophet warned of the coming days when everything under the sun would be “breaking news.” What would serve as the touchstone of value (and values) when the monumental and the minimal were granted equal import, when news sources waved the flag of surrender and served the gods of entertainment? How might we hold a healthy center when we’ve so thoroughly blurred the line between ratings and reality?

So, I decided to live at the metaphoric edge of the village. An amazing thing happens when you drop beneath the chatter: with quiet comes the capacity to see how much of the chaos is concocted. Beauty becomes infinitely more accessible. The divisions drop away.