The Value of Your Attention

Written by Sandy Naimou
Yoga Teacher,
B.A. in Psychology and
M.L.A. in Women’s and Gender Studies
https://www.sandynaimou.com/ 

Your attention is your greatest asset and everyone is trying to get it.  Your partner, children, boss, parents, family members, friends, are all trying to get your attention.  You agreed, on some level, to give them your attention.  In some way, you all agreed, and you have chosen to give your attention in exchange for theirs.  

Others are trying to get your attention and you don’t know who they are.  You haven’t chose to have a relationship with these people, but they’re forcing their relationship on you.  For example, advertisements are everywhere and they are forcing themselves on you.  It sounds violent, doesn’t it?  It sounds like a physical assault, actually.  It very well is a form of assault on your mind, especially in the way that it can be done; in the way that changes your values without you realizing it.  Similarly, in the way that advertisements are meant to make you do something that benefits others (those who are advertising on you), it is a robbery.  

Now, you and I both market to others.  I understand.  So this is a sensitive topic, but I have to go forward.  It’s too important.

In all ways, your attention is your greatest asset.  It’s like a precious rare and unique jewel, a gem, a diamond.  We all have these jewels, but each one is so unique and so powerful, making them beautiful and highly valuable all at once. 

Making them most valuable, is the power that these jewels hold.  That power is what everyone is trying to get from each other.  Why?  Because once someone has taken that jewel, that power, they can control us.  Yes, that sounds dramatic.  But, it IS dramatic.  Controlling our attention can lead us to a seemingly insignificant decision of making a small purchase.  It can also lead us to significant decisions like supporting an idea that will affect billions of human lives and multiple generations.  Attention is a big deal.

Recently I was learning about crystal singing bowls to make a purchase.  I felt that the bowls people are selling on Amazon didn’t have enough information; it seemed incomplete.  I felt that many sellers didn’t really understand the bowls, but they were advertising them as if they did.  So, I decided I needed to research singing bowls to make the right purchase.  In the process, I found a seller, Zacciah Blackburn from Sunreed Instruments, who has been working with sound healing instruments for decades.  He could explain what I really wanted to know.  His knowledge got my attention and I chose him because of his expertise.  That’s what I was looking for, and with his help and expertise online and over the phone, I purchased two bowls to harmonize with the single bowl I already had. 

Through him, I learned that it was the computer industry that first created frosted crystal singing bowls in order to grow silicon.  Silicon quartz crystals are used to grow silicon chips.  The purity of the bowls made for a beautiful sound that was discovered in the tossing of the leftover bowls.  Single-crystal silicon is described as “the most important technological material of the last few decades” because of its semi-conducting properties and affordability which changed how we make electronics and led to the wide availability of our now, everyday devices.  It’s amazing to me that we use a by-product of the computer industry for sound healing.

Focusing your attention.

When you listen to a crystal singing bowl, your attention is with the bowl.  You hear the sound that captures your attention.  It’s hard to focus anywhere else.  The sound is so soothing and depending on the size of the bowl, it has a beautiful resonance that can last for minutes after the bowl player has stopped singing the bowl, which is done with pressing the mallet around the bowl in many revolutions.  When you’re in the same room as the bowl, it enraptures your senses – your auditory sense and your touch sense.  You can feel the vibrations embrace you.  Getting closer to the bowl makes the touch sense much more apparent, but as the room fills with these vibrations, they eventually are felt consciously.  Nonetheless, you feel them, whether you’re aware of them or not.  The vibrations soothing your senses, also soothes the vibrations in your mind, and so directing our attention becomes more available.  It’s easier to work with attention when the mind is relaxed.

This is one way to learn to focus your attention.  To listen to a sound and be with the sound.

When you are not focusing your attention, your attention is being pulled and pushed.  Forces around you, people’s ideas and desires, forces, are pushing and pulling your attention.  When we don’t claim attention as the precious jewel that it is, it is taken and thrown around as if it is expendable.  It’s like others are playing monkey in the middle with our minds.  Once the push and pull occur, getting a hold of our attention becomes a more difficult task and that can create more mental tension if we don’t already practice relaxation.  

I’ll say it again but more directly: Attention is not expendable.  When we act as if it is, we can easily easily so easily lose ourselves.  We lose who we are, what we know, what we want to know, what we care about.  We lose meaning.  We don’t know why we do anything.  All meaning is lost.  We become robots and do what the programmers around us tell us to do.  It’s a depressing thought, but that’s why so many people seem to be asleep.  Because they haven’t held their own attention as the jewel that it is, as the gem, the crystal, the diamond.  

Attention is precious.  When we see a billboard, commercial, magazine advertisement, and allow our attention to get sucked into it without awareness, we become vulnerable to the messages.  Those are the subliminal messages that marketers learn and employ – working with your subconscious mind because you are not aware.  Awareness, attentiveness, counteracts the forces of manipulation.  I’m happy to make a purchase if I consciously make the decision and I know what, why, how, when the purchase will be good for me or others.  But consider when advertisers who sell addictions slyly get into our minds.  It’s a dangerous game that is being played.

Ask someone who knows that they can’t keep their attention focused, someone who believes they have ADD or ADHD or has a brain injury.  They’ll tell you how painful it is.  Maybe you already know that first hand.  How painful is it to not be able to direct yourself, to control what you think about, why, how, when, and where you think about it?  We take attention for granted.  When we know that we struggle with holding our own attention, we understand its true value.

All of us can strengthen our attention, and hold such a jewel with respect.  But our attention doesn’t begin as a jewel.  It begins as the “diamond in the rough,” an unshaped stone that has potential to be shaped.  

Meditation is so powerful because it aims to completely focus and shape attention; that’s the purpose – to come to a “razor-sharp focus” or an attention as focused as a laser-beam.  

Meditation

This razor-sharp focus is what cuts the rough stone that our attention begins as, and shapes it into the beautiful gem it always had the potential to become.  It just needs practice and yes, attention.  With this gem, we ourselves can cut right into the matter at hand and shape an idea with more intention.  We can shape ourselves with more intention.

So, we have to practice being attentive to our attention if we want to shape our own lives.

There are ways to ease into meditation practices.  We ease in because holding our own attention is a learned task that requires practice.  “We need more practice,” says my son’s martial arts teacher.  It’s written on the wall as the school’s motto.  

We need more practice.  What if each of us live by that motto?  What happens when we practice holding our own attention, not easily swayed by those around us who have their own motivations?

We live how we want to live, not how others want us to live.  Again, we shape our own lives.

So, here’s a way for you to focus your attention on a daily basis so that you strengthen this muscle of attention daily, you shape this diamond in the rough little by little.

Daily Exercise for Attention 

This is a journaling exercise I’ve been committed to since about 2007 when I was trying to complete my thesis for graduate school, which life had interrupted.  I can attest to this method.  It’s probably one of the most important things I do daily and little by little it creates huge effects in my life.  When I don’t use this method, or I do it lazily, I live lazily too.  My priorities get shifted and spun around and my actions can easily go against myself, against my intentions and my values, which affect me and those around me.  You’ll want a dedicated journal for this practice alone, though important daily notes can be written here too.  

I call this my “work journal.”

Journal

Begin every morning setting an intention for your day and write it down in a journal.  Let the intention focus on how you would like to feel, what state of being you want to be in for the day.  For example, to feel joy around me, to feel connected to others, to feel love at all times, to be calm, to be relaxed, to be energetic.  In my journal, I title this the “Thought for the Day.”  Add any other descriptions, reasons, understandings, reflections in this section.  Now and then, I write my thought for the day in a poetic voice.  Those speak to me the most.

Consider some of the actions, no more than three actions, that would be in line with that intention.  You’ll write these in the next two sections.

Title the next section for the day “Personal Goals” for some of the things you will do to accomplish that intention and any other things that need to be done.  Being a “personal” section, you’ll be thinking about yourself, your family, friends, personal responsibilities.  

Title the next section for the day “Professional Goals,” and identify some of the things you will do to accomplish that intention as well as any other things that need to be done.  Being the section focused on the “professional” aspect of your life, you’ll be thinking about the work you do.

The personal and professional intermingle, but for attention’s sake, we’ll keep them in separate sections.

For the rest of your day, bring your attention back to that intention and the little steps that you recognized in the personal/professional goals that would help fulfill it.  

Notice what happened when you kept it in mind and acted accordingly.  Notice what happened when you forgot about it, got pushed or pulled in another direction, and acted in opposition to that intention.  We only notice, we don’t need to judge it.

At the end of the day, or the very next morning, you’ll write a “Review and Reflection” to reflect on how the day went and what you noticed.  Did you stay on task?  Did you get pushed or pulled around?  Ask yourself questions here, what helped you stay on track and what took you off track?  

Whatever method works for you, go with it.  Focusing on sound and intentions are two available ways that have worked for me.  

With time and practice, your attention will be shaped into the beautiful gem it could always become.

Sandy(3)

Devoted to Art

I learned about Qais Al Sindy, a renowned artist, some four years ago when I was working on a book called Iraqi Americans: The Lives of the Artists. He lived in California so I was only able to interview him over the phone. This year he made his first visit to Michigan and we had the chance to meet in person.   

What I admired about Qais was not only his artwork but also his work ethics. He’s very disciplined, with a confidence that nourishes his talents and enables him to succeed and therefore sustain himself by being a full time artist. This is despite having come to the United States a little over a decade ago.  

The following is an excerpt from Iraqi Americans: The Lives of the Artists which highlights Qais Al Sindy and 15 other Iraqi American artists. 

Qais was born in Baghdad, Iraq, in 1967 and started painting when he was about fourteen years old. At his teacher’s suggestion, he made reproductions of master painters such as seventeenth century Diego Velasquez, Vermeer and Raphael. In college, he studied engineering at the University of Baghdad. He excelled in his studies, but he soon discovered that this field was not for him.

After graduation in 1989, he applied to the Academy of Fine Arts. He told the administration, “If you force me to be a Baathist, I will study outside this country and you will lose me.” 

They made an exception to his non-Baathist affiliation and enrolled him. In 2002, he attained a diploma in French language from the Cultural French Center in Baghdad and in 2004, he graduated with an MFA from the Academy of Fine Arts. His thesis was about Christian paintings from all over Iraq. This led him to take a big tour of Iraq, to visit all the monasteries and different cities from Zakho (in the Kurdisan region) to al-Faw (marshy region in the extreme southeast of Iraq).

“It was dangerous to travel, especially since I did not have a sponsor,” he said. “I paid from my own pockets and drove my own car. Because I speak English very well, I managed well at American checkpoints. I received harassment from the insurgents and extremists, but at that time, it wasn’t very severe. I managed, but I did leave the country shortly after graduating.”

Qais image 1

Qais has held art exhibits all over the world, his artwork drawing so much attention that nearly a dozen books have been published about it by various venues, including Kuwait Cultural Center and Iraqi Cultural Center in Washington, DC.  As I mentioned earlier, he lives in California where he has no other profession than that of an artist.

“I don’t do anything else in this world except for art,” he said. “If you are able to do the art that you like and find a way to sell it, this means that you believe in yourself.”

Qais says that when he paints, he tries to get his resources from overseas, his homeland. He is also known to engage audiences in his artwork. An example of this is in his Mamdooh series.

“After I left Iraq, I lived in Jordan, where I taught art for the students in the architectural department,” he said. “One day I heard that one of my dearest friends in Iraq, a talented portrait artist named Mamdooh suffered injuries as a result of a car explosion that injured and killed many people. He was transferred to the hospital where he struggled against death for one week, then died.”  

This led Qais to do a series of four paintings. The first one, he did a portrait of Mamdooh, using an expressionist style that focuses on his appearance. The second painting is a ghostly figure with transparency like his character, full of hue colors. It is the moment which Mamdooh suffers and dies. In the third painting, he brought some ashes and charcoal from the ruins of the car that exploded and drew Mamdooh using those ashes. That means Mamdooh is gone. The fourth painting is a pure blank canvas.

Al Sindy 1 - Mamdooh

“Everyone is well aware that it’s prohibited to touch the art works in galleries and in museums,” he said. “But in this artwork, I came up with something new to complete the fourth painting.  I asked the viewers to wipe their hands on painting number three. Of course, now their hands are stained with charcoal and ashes. They want to clean their hands, but I ask the crowd to wipe their hands on the blank canvas, on painting number four. The fingerprints on the canvas mean that you’re a participant of this crime in Iraq.”

Qais says that this was his way of asking his audience to live this moment as a kind of sharing and participating to the message that he wanted to deliver.  He wants to tell people that it is up to us to make this world the best place to live in.

He showed this series in more than ten countries, and people insisted on participating in the artwork. So when you see the fourth one, you see more than a thousand people’s fingerprints.

“Everyone wants to show that they are responsible for us not having peace in this world,” he said. “The frames are cracked and damaged because they toured many many countries. I kept it as it is.”

Qais’ biggest challenge is having to do everything himself. He even made an eleven minute documentary about the burning of the Iraqi library, called Letters Don’t Burn. Projects that he works on today have more of a humanitarian theme. They don’t only encompass the Iraqi subject, because he wants to do something for our globe, not just for Iraq. One of the projects he did was called the Bridge. It showcased the work of forty seven premier and emerging Arab, Persian and Jewish visual artists around the theme of what “bridges” us to each other.

Qais’ synopsis was to collect stones and bricks and, instead of hitting each other with stones and bricks, to build a bridge out of them that would start a cultural dialogue between different countries.

“This would help create love,” he said, “because if I love you I will not fight you. If I love you, then I will put my hands with your hands and we will build something together. All the problems in this universe are the result of us not loving each other. People’s desires for opportunism, greed, for looking out for themselves and not each other, are the reasons we don’t have universal peace.”  

Al Sindy 2 - The Revivification of Music

To learn more about Qais Al Sindy and his exhibits, visit his website: http://www.qaissindy.com/

 

The Importance of Handwriting

Earlier this year, I led a journaling workshop at the Theosophical Society. Robert E. Haskins attended this workshop and when it was over, he asked if he could take a look at my handwriting. Observing the few lines I’d written, he began to describe my character, state of mind, emotions, skills, and some of the blocks preventing me from moving forward. I listened with amusement to his accuracy, wondering how he could know such a great deal of information about a stranger by only reading a few lines.

Robert explained that he’s a master handwriting analyst, graphotherapist, herbalist, and homeopathic practitioner who uses a holistic health care approach to early detection and treatment for various issues such as stress, depression, ADHD, PTSD, and many more. He’d studied in various universities including Bowling Green State, University of Tubingen in Germany, and Wayne State University. He said, “My objective is to highlight the personality and character traits of each person: emotional disposition, aspiration level, sensitivity, goal setting abilities, one’s spirituality, benevolence, manic depressive conditions, self-blame, suicidal tendencies…”

The list went on and on and it was impressive, given his analysis of my handwriting which stayed with me long after we departed. I learned quite a bit from what he said and for the next several months used the analysis to release some old patterns. One thing Robert said about me is that I’m quick to listen. We all get messages throughout the day to guide us through our lives, but how many of us really listen to them? Oftentimes, it’s not because we’re so hard-headed that we ignore these messages, it’s because our world has too many distractions. Our mind is filled with noise, our heart with fear.

Robert quoted Socrates; “An unexamined life is not worth living.” Socrates believed that philosophy, the love of wisdom, was the most important pursuit above all else. Wisdom is different than knowledge in that wisdom is generally considered to be morally good. Albert Einstein once said, “Wisdom is not a product of schooling but of the lifelong attempt to acquire it.” Knowledge is watching and reading about a certain people and culture, maybe visiting them as a tourist. Wisdom is experiencing that people and culture by living among them.

Most people seek knowledge and few gain wisdom. That’s because the love of wisdom is not on their high priority list, although if it was, it would transform their lives and humanity in general. In my interview with Robert, he talked about trying to prevent bullying in schools by helping children and adults bring their body back in balance. But he discovered that the school system did not yet embrace his expertise.

One day, I’m sure they will. They will realize what my Native American teacher often said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing, expecting different results.” Sadhguru, an Indian yoga, mystic and New York Times bestselling author, says, “There is no such thing as modern world and ancient world. At every time in society there is a certain set of people who are trapped in their own logic.”

Sadhguru adds that people have a “constipated intelligence and over-used intellect” where they find frivolous things profound yet discount the profound intelligence of, for instance, the plant that produces a fragrant flower.

“There is more intelligence in the air around you than in your brains,” said Sadhguru. His message is to employ our intelligence without the limitation of our intellect.

Graphotherapy may be applied in multiple situations. It can improve one’s ability for concentration, memory, school performance with the subsequent improvement in self-confidence and self-esteem in children. It is a tool for parents to get to know their children, monitor them and guide them in the right path.

It is useful for rehabilitation after brain damage, dysgraphia, dyslexia and Parkinson. In Psychiatry, it’s used to study mental disorders, different types of stress, lack of will, concentration and attention, behavior disorders, obsessions, disorganization and disorder in general, self-esteem issues and personal insecurities, among others

Robert says that he highlights positive and negative personality and character traits on initial contact with anyone, adding, “Keep in mind, there are no universal formulas for self help, in that, each person is different and must be dealt with this understanding in mind. However, once he is reintroduced to his ‘subconscious being,’ we can help him consciously see himself from a new perspective. Once he is exposed and then acknowledges his latent personality and character traits, he can respond to situations rather than react to situations and rationalize too quickly.”

To contact Robert E. Haskins, call (248) 541-4412 or email edwardohas@att.net

The Scriptorium,a Place for Writing

About a year ago, I heard a good rumor that a new bookshop, The Scriptorium, was opening in Clawson, Michigan. What made it unique was its goal to serve the Michigan literary community by carrying new titles released by Michigan authors. Its owner, Diana Kathryn Plopa, was already quite active in the writing community as the associate publisher, editor-in-chief and a writing coach at Grey Wolfe Publishing, LLC, an independent publishing house. The author of six books of various genres, she had previously led writing and critique groups at Panera Bread.

“I focus on mentoring other writers and supporting their dreams of publication,” she’d once said. 

Diana spent time as a features writer for a Detroit newspaper, and for several years she wrote copy part-time for a popular local radio program. She holds a degree in English, with a concentration on creative composition, as well as a certification in early childhood development.

“Writing and a sincere love for the written word are passions that have followed me since early childhood,” she said. “Whether poetry, fiction, memoir or any other genre; my words create worlds to step into with enthusiasm and wonder. I don’t write because it’s necessary fun – although it truly is – I write because like breathing, if I don’t do it, I would die!”

Her Muse, Drake, a duck her son gifted her long ago, helps her with the tough stuff, quacking inspiration in her ear whenever necessary.

Diana2.png

During the summer, I visited The Scriptorium and learned that it also offers a wide variety of used books by national bestselling authors, writing workshops, writing groups, critique groups, book clubs, children’s literary adventures and a host of other bookish events. When you walk into the bookstore, you’ll immediately notice that they have a special space set aside for writers to focus on their work.

I went in one Wednesday evening to meet Diana when I noticed several tables getting filled with writers, their laptops, coffee cups, and even their dinner of sushi or whatever else. Diana explained that unless the space is temporarily being used for an event, you’ll always be able to find a table and an outlet to comfortably add energy and creativity to your works-in-progress. They even provide hot beverages, bottled water, and snacks (supported by donations) to help fuel one’s enthusiasm because, Diana says, “Our imaginations are fueled by the abundance of hot cocoa whenever we write together.”  

The warmth of the atmosphere and the fact that there was coffee available to energize me, I decided to take out my pen and journal and join the writing group. It was a productive two hours, from 7 pm – 9 pm, so I returned the following week. Now that my children are back in school and I lead a Girl Scout Troop with a conflicting schedule, I haven’t been able to go much, though it still lives nicely in my memory. Not just the writing space, but the spirit of the place and its people.

Diana lives with her husband, Dave, and their two dogs, Alex and Finnigan in Birmingham, Michigan. She enjoys writing, sailing, kayaking, escaping to their cabin in mid-Michigan to write and spend time with the family, especially her son Zachary. Wolfe Cub: The Inspiring Story of a Woman who Made the Conscious Choice to Raise her Child as a Single Parent is the story of Diana’s Wolfe Cub, Zachary, and how together, they re-imagined their limitless American Family. Diana writes about how she raised her son as a single parent not by death of a spouse or by divorce, but by choice. She made a plan to raise her son with intelligent love, reasonable boundaries and lots of patience.

Throughout the years of raising her son, she found many creative ways to support her family. She has spent time in the theater as a technical director and lighting designer, worked as a nanny, a preschool computer teacher, and a medical transcriptionist. During Zachary’s teenage years, she opened a website design company called Wolfe Technologies, Inc. In her free-time, she writes with enthusiastic abandon. She’s currently working on a number of books.

“My personal goal is to write one book in each of the major genres,” she said, “and then choose a favorite – if that’s possible.”

Check out Diana Kathryn Plopa’s website to learn more about her work http://www.dianakathrynplopa.com/

Here’s a link to the Scriptorium Bookshop https://www.thescriptoriumbookshop.com/

Link to Grey Wolfe Publishing http://www.greywolfepublishing.com/

The Beginning of My Gong Journey

By Vince Anthony Pitre

Licensed Psychotherapist, Master Hypnotherapist & Healer

Have you ever been in paradise or even imagined it?  For me it’s Kauai.  Sandy beaches for miles, waterfalls, tropical jungles, cleansing rains, and mostly sunny days in the high seventies — that’s what does it for me.

Six years ago, this quaint island nudged us to come back and play.  I’m so grateful we did. An hour after checking into our condo, my partner Diane announced, “I signed us up for a gong meditation.”

My sense of interest swelled inside like waves cresting and crashing along the ocean shoreline. Diane handed me the flyer. Included was a picture of our teacher, a beautiful description of the gong meditation and what I felt was a high fee. I remember thinking, “This better be good!” but felt very excited and curious about the upcoming experience.

Vince 2

Tomorrow came quickly and we arrived early at the community room by the pool. Doors opened, eyes front and center, and there she was…a beautiful shiny symphonic gong.  Soon the room was full and the air buzzed with excitement. Our teacher Guru Purkh Kaur (Diane Cline) introduced herself, tuned in and opened the space for healing.

I laid back, took a few deep cleansing breaths and began to surrender into relaxation.  After a long pause, Diane invited the gong to open up a wave of sound that I can only describe as a primordial OM. This cosmic sound drew me into sacred space. The quieter I became inside, the more I could see, hear and feel.

More about that in a moment.

Vince

Now, think of a time when you tapped into your creativity. What was that like for you?  How did you let it flow? Are you expressing your creativity as much as you want to be creative? Letting go is the secret sauce for allowing your creativity to flow.

Now, there’s a claim for you…Letting go of what exactly? Remember, if it’s not loving; it’s not you. Accept what you feel fully as you release everything that’s not you, so you shine brighter.

How does that relate to creativity? The answer’s pretty obvious if you think about it…When you relax, release fear and trust yourself fully, you’re tapping your creative genius. Have you ever overanalyzed something only to be reminded that when you surrender, everything starts to flow in your favor?

Intellect is really good for setting intentions and routine problem solving. Beyond that, trusting your creative powers opens up a whole new world of limitless possibilities. Now, you could write those possibilities off as luck, the placebo effect or pie in the sky – I love cherry.  Or you could do the smart thing and ask: How can I allow this to work for me?

In all industries, knowing and using your creative power matters.  In creative fields and healing, they’re doubly important.  Knowing who you are and trusting the deepest parts of you significantly opens up your creative powers and very definitively influences all your relationships.

Your creative power only gets stronger every time you invite it. Now…knowing yourself and trusting your creativity enhances your sense of value. How much you value yourself directly impacts how you share value in your relationships. Deep work brings deep rewards.  Only the deeper work of discovery unlocks your ability for unconditional positive regard, true healing, and being a greater force for good.

Which reminds me of our story.Once the stress and boundary dissolving gong meditation was complete, I wiggled my fingers and toes, opened my eyes and very slowly got up. My partner Diane made her way over to me with the most unforgettable look on her face.  She enthusiastically shared highlights of her journey.

Having had an equally profound and yet different experience, I said, “I’m getting a gong and I’m going to share this at home.”

Diane smiled and replied, “Yes you are.”

And just like that, in that moment of creative genius, my attention and intention agreed to see this through and soon enough, I purchased our first gong and set out to share this spiritual technology with thousands.

And that, kind folks, was the beginning of my gong journey.

Experience it for yourself, but only if you want to:

→ let go deeper

→   allow your creative genius to flow

→   be a greater force for good by acting on your creativity

→   integrate your learning

→   experience peace

For the upcoming spiritual and writing retreat (Oct. 5-7) Vince will be doing a gong meditation inside the chapel of Colombiere Retreat Center. To register, visit https://thepathofconsciousness.com/spiritual-writing-conference-retreat/ Chapel.jpg

Previous interview with Vince (January 2018)

A Story’s Moral Meaning

For decades, Stanley Williams, PhD, has been helping writers in the art of storytelling.  Many of his teachings are based on his book The Moral Premise: Harnessing Virtue and Vice for Box Office Success, which Will Smith called “the most important tool in his tool kit.” Stan has consulted with Will and his team on over a dozen motion picture projects, which have totaled over 1 billion dollars at the worldwide box office.

Stan was my screenwriting instructor at the Motion Picture Institute of Michigan (MPI). Over the years, he was supportive of my work by attending, sometimes with his lovely wife, my events and giving me advice on my first feature documentary, The Great American Family. In January of this year, I invited Stan as my first guest on my TV show. Earlier this month, he invited me as his first guest on a podcast he’s starting called, “VERISIMILITUDE, Conversations with Storytellers: How the narrative arts reveal what is good, true and beautiful.” To listen to the interview, click here To listen to the interview, click here.

We met one Saturday morning at a nearby park where, we learned, there were some renovations being done. From the start of the interview, the topic of Gone with the Wind surfaced. I read that novel at the age of nine, while living in Amman, Jordan and awaiting a visa to come with my family to the United States. The novel was in Arabic and it grabbed my interest to the point where my family had difficulty getting me to the breakfast, lunch, and dinner table. I felt such a connection to the character of Scarlet O’Hara and her tribe that I didn’t want to separate from them.

Imagine a nine-year-old girl from the Middle East being able to relate to a Southern teenage girl from Georgia. The two were worlds apart, but the author’s storytelling transcended their differences through the common human traits we all have of love, fear, family, and desire. Margaret Mitchell knew how to tell a story, and won the hearts of many people with her storytelling abilities. She took readers on a journey and, despite the trials the characters faced, she didn’t let us feel hopeless.

What I didn’t realize then is that the story also formed a foundation for the type of woman I looked up to. Scarlet was a confident girl who didn’t let her tribe’s limiting beliefs, criticism, or her gender to stand in the way of what she wanted. Her courage helped her pursue her dreams as well as defend her home. Also what I didn’t realize was that Atlanta, Georgia in the 1800s was not Detroit, Michigan in the 1980s. I was disappointed not to see the horse carriages and puffy dresses in the streets as we drove through the highway to our new home in the suburbs.

Picture With Stan2

I believe that artists, whether they’re writers, filmmakers, or painters, have a responsibility to society, to unearth the truth of things but also to help shift consciousness. We see with our brains and our perception, not our eyes, and so, whether we know it or not, the words and images that we use, and the actions we participate in, have a great impact in the world.  

In his book, The Moral Premise, Stan writes,“A Moral Premise describes a story’s moral meaning. The moral meaning of messages is the cornerstone of historical and popular narrative and is the reason stories, in general, are so important to us as human beings… Whether we look at the novel, television, or film, moral messages are everywhere. For instance, A Time to Kill, as a book and as a film, is about how ‘faithfulness leads to justice for both the innocent and the guilty’ or how ‘unjust hatred leads to a just death.’”

I try, through my writing, to infuse my stories with love, life, culture, humor, and authentic people who make my real world interesting. Some of my role models, Margaret Mitchell, Jane Austen, Henry James, and Lynn V. Andrews, have this romance with their stories give us timeless lovers, heroines and cunning social satire.  

Link to Stan interviewing me on his new podcast

Below is the half-hour interview with Stan (Jan 2018)

Stan’s book:

Spiritual and Writing Labyrinth

In my fourth year apprenticeship in Lynn V. Andrews’ shamanic school, our group walked with our mentors to a desert area in Arizona and set our pipe bags on a sitting bench with a table. We unwrapped the items in the bags, like tobacco, sweet grass, a lighter, and began the ceremony. Afterward, we went to the labyrinth nearby. One of the apprentices brought her flute, others brought their rattles. The woman with the flute led the group. She played charmingly, reminding me of when my Native American teacher played his flute. 

I had nothing to hold and was last in line. The moment my feet touched the sand, I felt myself walking as a child in the streets of Baghdad, on the way to school, dressed in a uniform, silk ribbons tied around my braids and ponytails. The memory caught me off guard. How did I get here?

The flute and rattle sounds kept bringing everything to the surface, the wide boulevards, the grassy traffic circles, but mostly, the vast desert oasis with unpaved roads, some of which I had heard have the biggest and best types of hawks and an abundance of rare birds. By the time we left the labyrinth, I fell into utter silence. I couldn’t speak. The next day, my teacher, Lynn, did a healing ceremony with me which took years and years back and then brought to the present moment, to full circle.

I wrote about my experience in Lynn’s school through a four-part memoir series which chronicles the teachings of each year. The books are called Healing Wisdom for a Wounded World: My Life-Changing Journey Through a Shamanic School and the labyrinth experience is in Book 4. Prior to this, I’d never known the spiritual or historical context of a labyrinth which has been known to the human race for well over 4000 years.

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The Labyrinth I walked in Arizona

The word labyrinth comes from the Greek labyrinthos and describes any maze-like structure with a single path. That’s what differentiates it from a maze which has multiple paths. A labyrinth is unicursal and the way in is the way out. It can be found in ancient cultures, traditions and countries including China, Ireland, India, England, Scandinavia, France, Crete and others.

One of the best known legends is the story of Theseus, who with six Greek youths and seven maidens was sent into the Cretan labyrinth to face the terrible Minotaur. He killed the monster, but would have been unable to find his way out of the innumerable twisting passages of the labyrinth had not Ariadne given him a skein of thread to unwind as he entered. The great labyrinth of Egypt, which Herodotus considered more marvelous than the Pyramids, was long ago torn to pieces, but its site can still be traced. The massive temple complex was said to contain 3,000 rooms full of hieroglyphs and paintings and it’s said that perhaps it holds the key to mankind’s history.

Prehistoric labyrinths may have served as traps for malevolent spirits or as paths for ritual dances. Many Roman and Christian labyrinths appear at the entrances of buildings, suggesting that they may have served a similar apoptotic purpose. The oldest existing Christian labyrinth is probably the one in the fourth-century basilica of Reparatus, Orleansville, Algeria. It was a time when pilgrimages were popular. Christians used labyrinths that were built on pre-Christian site and modeled their own after ones used by earlier cultures. For Christians who could not take the long hard pilgrimage journey, the labyrinth served as an alternative form for prayer. Its path of seven circles was shaped like a Cross. Gradually it became one of the central symbols in the Christian tradition.

Labyrinth has long been used as a meditation and prayer tool. In recent years, there has been a rebirth of interest in it as it is a physical representation of the journey of your life, including experiences, changes, discoveries and challenges. As you walk the path you are invited to remember the story of your life. The center can represent Heaven, God, self-discovery or a personal goal. There is no right or wrong way to walk the labyrinth. It is a sacred experience for everyone who takes the time to journey its circular paths.

In an interview, Lisa Argo, second level Reiki practitioner and a student of the Center of Enlightenment Ministry program, shares her recent experience walking the labyrinth. Lisa serves the congregation as a certified Medium of spiritual messages and Spiritual Healer. She is a nanny and is working on a series of children’s books centered on a group of boys and their spiritual and emotional growth. 

Lisa will be leading a workshop at the Path of Consciousness spiritual and writing retreat called “Spiritual and Writing Labyrinth.” Upon entering the labyrinth, there’s only one path to follow – same with the writing path. You need to trust that you are exactly where you need to be, surrender to the process of writing, and allow it to take you where you need to go. There’s something about the mindfulness required to navigate the gently winding path that makes the cares of the world drop away.

For more info, visit https://thepathofconsciousness.com/program-schedule/