Balance [on Two Artists Tuesday]

prayer flags 1 copy

Each day we sit on the deck and watch the personality of the lake change. We are witness to the power of the elements at play. Wind drives wave. Wave evaporates and moves wind. Lighting hits earth. Rain feeds the plants. Too much rain, too much wind, too much fire, devastates.

Balancing the elements. It is the central thought in many traditions. The cardinal directions are associated with a color and an element. North, south, east, west. Air, fire, water, earth. People need associations in order to talk about things. In order to know where they fit.

The colors differ from tradition to tradition. Sometimes black, white, red, and yellow. Sometimes blue, green, yellow, red. Sometimes there is a fifth element. There is always a center. When there is the understanding of center point there is also an acknowledgment that separations, experiences like north, south, east and west, are illusions.

Balance is a radically different intention than dominance. Taming-your-nature is not the same as balancing-your-nature. In the tame-your-nature idea, nature, your nature, is corrupt and needs to be controlled. In the balance-your-nature idea, your nature is neither good nor bad, it is a dance of energy, a push-pull of wind and fire, air and earth. In the balance-your-nature idea, there is no such thing as “wild.” because there is no intention to “tame.”

As you might imagine, the artist that explores the tame-your-nature mindset understands their artistry much differently than the artist that explores balance. I was born into and oriented toward the culture of tame-your-nature and so I divine through brush and story the push-pull between goodness and badness. Combat, combat everywhere. Right/wrong. Us/Them. Good enough/lacking.

I desire to see through the other lens. I suspect this desire is the epicenter, the driver behind my paintings. To understand the world I inhabit as energies at play, to know beyond an intellectual understanding that the distinctions don’t really exist; wind is not separate from water, earth is not separate from fire, people are not separate from planet. Illusion. Our division is a play of shadow puppets at best.

I think it is why we hang prayer flags at our littleislandhouse and at our home. Surrounded by combat, we are drawn by the desire to balance, we are enticed by the possibility of harmony.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about PRAYER FLAGS

 

 

 

 

skylake website box copy

 

island prayer flags photograph ©️ 2019 kerri sherwood

Be Mortal

a detail from my painting, John's Secret

It was after 2am and, at first, I thought the screams were human. I was writing at the kitchen table and the screams brought me to the front door. My neighbor’s light came on. Faces peeked out of the window. They thought the screams were human, too. Kerri was suddenly standing behind me. “It’s a rabbit,” she whispered. “They scream like that when they are being killed.” She was quiet for a moment and added, “It’s awful. It’s the sound they make when they are trying to hold onto life.” The screams stopped. The neighbor’s light flicked off. They recognized the sound, too, and went back to sleep.

Kerri returned to her call. She was on the phone with a friend in distress. I remained at the door and stared into the dark night. It was silent. It was as if all of nature had stopped to listen to the screaming. Even the wind was still.

The fox pranced from the darkness into the center of the street. It was vibrant, sated. It stopped and was immediately still when it realized it was being watched. It stared at me and I stared at it. I’ve rarely looked for so long into the eyes of something so wild. Neither of us moved for several seconds. And then, as quickly as it had emerged from the darkness, it bolted and vanished.

My only thought came like a mantra: it knows that it is mortal and I do not.

Earlier in the day I’d read a passage from Tales of Power by Carlos Castaneda. I’m completing my once-a-decade rereading of his first three books. I’m reading them very slowly this time, bit-by-bit, and sitting with what I read. The passage that rang my bell this day was this [I’m made some cuts for brevity]:

“Your reason is telling you again that you are immortal,” he said.

“What do you mean by that, Don Juan?”

“An immortal being has all the time in the world for doubts and bewilderments and fears. A warrior…knows for a fact that the totality of himself has but a little time on this earth.”

…”But, Don Juan, my point is that I’m always under the impression that I’m doing my best, and obviously I’m not.”

“It’s not as complicated as you make it appear. The key to all these matters of impeccability is the sense of having or not having time. As a rule of thumb, when you feel and act like an immortal being that has all the time in the world you are not impeccable; at those times you should turn, look around, and then you will realize that your feeling of having time is an idiocy. There are no survivors on this earth!”

Staring into the eyes of the fox I was shocked out of my immortality. Acting like an immortal being, having all the time in the world to indulge my doubts and fears or dream of greener pastures knocks me out of presence. Staring into the eyes of the fox I, for a brief moment, understood that being fully present in my life had nothing to do with achievement. Presence is not something to strive for and attain like a new car. It is not a study and the path to it cannot be found in a book. Presence is what we are. It is something we forget when we think we have all the time in the world.

The fox does not know time. The fox does not know judgment or indulge in doubt or entitlement. It literally has no time for that. It does not need to story its actions. It lives with what is, not with what it imagines.

Flow With Your Constraints

a rough draft from my soon to be released children's book, Play to Play

a rough draft from my soon to be released children’s book, Play to Play

Margie said, “You two need to learn how to be cool and calm.” We repeated her words as if in a trance, “Cool and calm,” I muttered. “Cool and calm,” Kerri said and then looked at me and asked, “Can we do that?” I shook my head. We smiled. The previous day we jumped out of bed at 1:30am and drove 4 hours to Indianapolis to help Craig move out of his apartment. We made it back home by 10pm.Tomorrow we drive to Colorado and then on to Columbia, Missouri. Next week we drive to Minneapolis and on to Colorado again. “You have to learn to sit still!” Margie chirped.

Many years ago Makaela told me that I was like a feral cat. “There’s a part of you that flees from any form of containment,” she said. I was at first surprised by her comment. From the inside, my life seems ordinary. I go to the grocery store. I pay bills. Makaela has a Cheshire Cat grin and it flashed across her face. In truth, I can’t wear lace-up shoes. Neckties are deadly to me. I am brilliant at starting things: programs, theatres, companies,.., just don’t ask me to maintain them once started. Neckties, cubicles, and commutes suffocate me. “See? Feral,” she said.

Cool and calm? Feral?

Neckties and lace up shoes restrict movement. To me, they are improper constraints. Improper constraints are akin to knots in a muscle: they impede flow. Toxins collect around the knots. Disease in a body is the result of an improper constraint. An improper constraint can be literal, a knot in a muscle, or a thought pattern, like the expectation of being perfect. “Perfect” is a mental knot. It stops flow. It stresses unnecessarily. It blocks the movement of free self-expression and engenders judgment. It becomes toxic to the system. Gossip is an improper constraint.

The flip side an improper constraint is a proper constraint. Proper constraints facilitate movement in a direction. They focus energy. Proper constraints define clear and open channels of movement. In a healthy body, air and blood and lymph move unimpeded through channels of proper constraint. Proper constraint is necessary to feed the body. Proper constraint is necessary for vital artistic expression. Healthy communication works just like a healthy body. A choice is a proper constraint. Proper constraint frees the movement of self-expression and engenders connectivity. It clears toxins from a system.

“Wait a minute,” Kerri said as Margie retreated down the stairs, “I think we’re always cool and calm.” I agreed. Our proper constraints look a bit different than most peoples. More than once Craig has looked as us and said, “You two are not normal.” Too true. What is normal, after all? A proper constraint for me is improper for others and vice versa. Kerri and I know for ourselves what engenders flow and what interrupts it. Jay Griffiths wrote that a society has to be tame to need the concept of wild. If there is no break in the natural world, if there isn’t a need for dams and fences, there is no need to distinguish between wild and tame. I am not feral after all. Kerri and I work at having no internal dams or unnatural fences. Our business is to create our own version of flow. Isn’t that what everyone wants?

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