The Mystery School

Throughout the ages, as the ancient and indigenous cultures were colonized, the teachings for an enlightened and empowered life had to be kept hidden to preserve the teachings’ powerful wisdom. Without this ancient wisdom, much of the world fell prey to strife and confusion. For over a hundred years, necessity has caused the Mystery Schools to emerge, releasing the teachings once again to the public. Today, there are many mystery schools that exist in plain sight. There are Buddhist, Hindu, and even Christian mystery schools. The school that drew me to it was Lynn V. Andrews’ Shaman Mystery School.

I stumbled upon this school in 2011 after reading Lynn’s book, <em>Writing Spirit</em>. Hugely influenced by this book, and because Lynn is an internationally bestselling author of 21 books, I called her up. An author and journalist, I wanted advice on how to move ahead with my writing career. Little did I know then the journey I’d be embarking upon. I had no idea who Lynn was let alone what shamanism meant. Looking back now, I see that was a blessing. Many people get caught up in names and labels and will solely pursue or reject a study based on the definition and popularity, or lack of, rather than what their instinct tells them about it.

Like magic, the Mystery School began transforming my life as a writer, wife and mother. It freed me of so much guilt and self-esteem issues, I ended up writing over a dozen books, which include a four-part memoir series about my experience in the school.

The ancient teachings were not strange to my ears. I come from a tribal nation called the Chaldeans, which are thousands of years old. My people are from Mesopotamia, where once upon a time long ago, similar types of teachings were the norm, causing that society to create incredible inventions such as writing and the wheel. When that land was stripped of those ancient teachings, it became a hell on earth.

On her website, Lynn describes shamanism as the oldest form of healing on Earth. It has been practiced across the globe for at least 50,000 years. She writes, “When you look at shamanic cultures today, you discover people who live with joy and a sense of purpose and knowing in life, people who do not contract the serious stress-born illnesses that we in the modern world do, even though they face a world that is encroaching on them and threatening to take away their very existence. It’s not that they don’t encounter the stresses of the modern world, it’s that their way of knowing life and resolving that stress is very different from ours.”

When Lynn lived in Beverly Hills, a spiritual quest led her to her apprenticeship with Agnes Whistling Elk and Ruby Plenty Chiefs many years ago. At first, she did not know that they were part of a very private ad anonymous gathering of shaman women of high degree from several native cultures around the world – the forty-four women of the Sisterhood of the Shields.  Nor did she have any idea that her life was about to change forever, that their work and their teachings would become her life’s work and her soul’s quest for enlightenment and that she would become initiated as a member of the Sisterhood of the Shields and their public face.

Lynn’s initial meeting with Agnes and Ruby came after she attended a La Cienega art exhibit and became obsessed with a photograph of an Indian marriage basket. After repeated dreams about the basket and unsuccessful attempts to track one down, she was led by a chance encounter with a Native American author to the two medicine women.

Lynn spent her first six months in the wilderness with her teachers. She wanted to stay with them, didn’t want to return to Los Angeles and Beverly Hills. But her teachers insisted she returns to the city and write a book about her experience with them. Agnes told her, “You are not Indian. The wilderness does not need you. Where do you think the world needs to be healed but in the cities? It’s very easy to be sacred with the trees and the wind. It’s very difficult to be sacred on the freeways of L.A.”

Lynn returned home and wrote Medicine Woman, the first of a long series that followed. In her books, she shares her travels around the world in the company and care to apprentice with the women of the Shields on four different continents and many, many different countries, from the jungles of the Yucatan to the Australian Outback, Nepal, Panama, the Solala region of Guatemala and the shores of Lake Atitlan, Egypt, the Hawaiian Islands and from the far North of Canada to South America.

Medicine WomanLynn describes these women as amazing and beautiful, many of them elders in their communities, all of them shaman healers of exceptional skill and personal integrity. “These are women who have survived the ravages of war, rape, the loss of children, the ruination of their countries by clashes between oppressive governments and rebel forces, the hatred visited upon indigenous peoples in so many parts of the world. And they are women who Know.”

To learn more about the Shaman Mystery School or other programs led by Lynn V. Andrews, visit <a href=”https://lynn-andrews-online-store.myshopify.com/”>https://lynn-andrews-online-store.myshopify.com/</a&gt;

 

Visions of Peace Through Art

The eldest of six children and the peacemaker in the family, Ilham Badreddine Mahfouz is the daughter of the East, that faraway land in Damascus, Syria. Her father was a teacher of history and her mother was a homemaker and educator by example. Her loving and kind parents raised their children to be the best of their knowledge and ability and good citizens of the world. But, as tradition had it, they prepared Ilham mentally to get married at a young age.

At age 16, Ilham found herself the wife of a physician who was going to America to pursue his medical specialty. Not only did she have to adjust to being a wife, but to a new culture in the United States. She had to learn a new language and become acquainted with different traditions and ways of life. Her husband encouraged her to learn English by taking adult education classes at night school and by attending Berkley High School, where she eventually graduated.

“I always knew that art and music were my patrons,” she says. “At Eastern Michigan University, I studied ceramics and paintings. I received a lot of encouragement from professors like Robert Piepenburg (ceramics and the art of RaKu) and Barry Avedan (painting).”

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Ilham received her bachelor’s degree in fine arts with a double concentration in ceramics and painting and a minor in art history.

“My dream came true,” she says. “I wanted to set a good example to my children, for them to pursue a higher education than I achieved.”

Ilham’s artwork has won awards and been displayed at numerous exhibitions including Amnesty International Cell Museum in Vestervig, Denmark. She considers herself very fortunate to have come from the Old World, so rich in heritage, culture, and history, and to have the blessing of living in this young country with new ideas, culture, and traditions. She has taken the better part of both worlds and worked hard.

Her artwork is abstract style painting, ceramic, and mixed media.

“In my paintings, I try to capture my life experience as well as my outlook on life,” says Ilham. “I try to display emotions and reactions in my work through several layers of paint. Beneath the many layers may lay the subconscious.”

In her book, Whispers From the East, she writes, “Through art, I express life’s events that reflect pain and the feeling of helplessness… Through art, the truth is delivered for the viewer to experience.”

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Her book includes her artwork, heartfelt poetry, and reflections about her birthplace Damascus, where she recounts the memory of jasmine bushes along the streets, the scent of jasmine in bloom spreading throughout the city and bringing joy and contentment to everyone passing by. Most of all, she remembers the kind, hospitable, and generous people who were always ready to help others in need.

“Life is give and take,” she says, repeating lessons her mother gave her. “With giving, we derive great happiness and joy; and with sharing and helping others, we also help ourselves. We must also know when to be a good receiver. Being a good receiver makes someone else a good giver.”

Ilham points out that “The world is so vast and yet so small with our reach through the net. We are able to reach people all over the world through art and exchange ideas and learn from one another. A beautiful concept of learning and living in harmony and peace.”

Personally, I believe that through art, we can find harmony and inner peace. We’re then able to mirror that into the world. We can use writing, art, and other creative ways to spread beauty into the world, raise awareness, and end destructive forces.

To learn more about Ilham and her work, visit www.artistilhambadreddinemahfouz.com

The Importance of Empowering Others

Last week, I received notice that my feature documentary, The Great American Family, won an IndieFEST international film award (Women Filmmaker category), joining the ranks of other high-profile winners of this respected award including Liam Neeson, George Clooney, Susan Sarandon, Leon Lee, and Katie Holmes. This is the same story that won a 2017 Eric Hoffer book award.

Part of my success is discipline and hard work (I worked 8 years on the documentary and 6 of those years also on the book). Another part is faith, the belief that I can and I will do what I set out to do. Another important part is service, doing something that will benefit another without expecting anything in return. And that also describes Kai Mann’s road to success.

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An author, entrepreneur, and inspirationlist, Kai contacted me years ago to interview me on her show, Conversations with Kai Mann. I followed her over the years and found that her writing is both positive and with purpose. She believes that her keen ability to provoke thought, trigger change and enlighten the lives of others has catapulted her to a literary success. Whether it’s in the form of a blog post or article, Kai strives to empower and educate followers around the world about the nature of love, the importance of relationships and how these play a vital role in life.

Which brings us to the topic of why it’s important to empower and enrich others.

Geshe Michael Roach, a Tibetan monk who’s originally from Los Angeles and who graduated from Princeton with honors, shares the strategy that made him a multi-millionaire.

  1. Decide what it is that you want
  2. Find someone else who wants the same thing
  3. Help that person get what they want
  4. At the end of the day be grateful and happy for the good that you’ve done.

Michael was the first American to receive the Geshe degree at Sera Monastery in Tibet. After, his teacher instructed him to set up a business in Manhattan to help Tibetan refugees. With a loan of $50,000 and three employees, Michael started a company that ended up making $100 per year and at one point $200 million.

I believe that serving others by lifting them up, empowering them, giving them the very thing you are striving for, does help you rise as well – especially if you don’t forget to do the Number 4 step – appreciate the good you’ve done. Rather than complain about what you don’t have, provide it. Before asking an influential and busy person to help you, do something for them. If there’s blockage with your money flow, check if you owe someone money you’re avoiding to return, or ask yourself when was the last time you donated to a cause you believe in?

Spend your time creating and providing rather than complaining and criticizing. Be the source. If nothing else, you’ll be a much happier person.

To join our spiritual and writing community, check out The Path of Consciousness’ upcoming conference and retreat http://www.ThePathofConsciousness.com

To learn more about Kai Mann, visit her website https://kai-mann.com/

The Moral Premise

“Every commercially successful story, be it a movie or novel, has at its heart a true and consistent Moral Premise,” says Dr. Stan Williams. “Without this crucial element, your story is destined to fail.”

Stan is the vice president of Unique Voices in Films, a 501(C)(3) nonprofit organization, a veteran producer of hundreds of documentaries, and an active Hollywood story consultant who has worked most notably on multiple film projects with Will Smith. He’s the author of The Moral Premise: Harnessing Virtue and Vice for Box Office Success, which Will Smith considered “The most powerful tool in my new tool box.”  

“The Moral Premise is the crux of successful storytelling since Plato, 2,500 years ago,” he says. “Yes, it’s been around that long… and yes, I know, my book came out only in 2006.”

In 2006 Michael Wiese Books published Stan’s book and almost immediately he was asked to give workshops on the topic, which he has done across the country, most notably in Los Angeles and S.E. Michigan where he resides.

As a result of his book, the workshops, and the numerous motion picture projects he worked on, which have grossed over a billion dollars worldwide, and due to repeated requests, Stan created a training that’s widely and readily available to people. Through story craft training, writers are able to master their story, whether it is a novel, screenplay, or stage play. Here’s a link to learn more http://storycrafttraining.blogspot.com/

I met Stan at the Motion Picture Institute of Michigan where he taught Directing and Screenwriting classes. He always had a fresh approach to the art and craft of writing, one which helps a writer focus and get to the heart of the story. We recently worked on my feature script, Pomegranate. His eye for detail and respect for the writer’s own moral premise for the characters made the process incredibly productive and fulfilling.

Pomegranate
Working on the script Pomegranate with Stan

Stan offers one-on-one story consult, but if you’re not local, there are many other ways to learn from him. You can read his book, watch the 10 episodes of Storycraft Training (7.5 hours in 20 videos) and read over 200 of his blog posts which offer much inspiration. Stan’s appreciation for storytelling has led to an abundance of material where he talks about why stories are so important to culture, and what do stories and natural law have in common? His program covers, among many other things, the correlation between a story’s moral validity and box office receipts, the role irony plays in every aspect of a successful story, why impossibilities are necessary in every story, and how Aristotle’s 6 pillars of a great story contribute to drama and suspense.

  1. PLOT: The arrangement of events or incidents on the stage. 
  2. CHARACTER: The agents of the plot that provide the reasons for the events.
  3. THEME: The reason the playwright wrote the play.
  4. LANGUAGE: dramatic dialogue which consists of narrative and dramatic.
  5. RHYTHM: The heart of the play.
  6. SPECTACLE: Everything that is seen or heard on stage.

Stan structures his Moral Premise this way:

(Vice) leads to (defeat), but (Virtue) leads to (success).

Choosing the movie Finding Nemo as an example, he writes that Marlin is a clownfish living in the Great Barrier Reef. When tragedy leaves him a widower, with only one remaining son – Nemo – his protective instincts kick into overdrive. He’d do anything to keep Nemo from harm, but in the process he’s smothering his son. Then Nemo is taken by divers, and Marlin has to navigate an entire ocean to find his son and bring him home.

Throughout the movie, the quest to find Nemo is the external story, but the “real” story is about Marlin overcoming his fears for his son. This is seen clearly at the climax, when Nemo and Marlin are finally reunited against all odds. Within moments, however, a school of nearby fish are caught in a net, and Nemo insists he knows how to save them. Marlin has to face his worst fear – the possibility of losing his son yet again – and choose to release Nemo to swim back into danger.

The Moral Premise of the story could be expressed like this:

Overprotective anxiety leads to losing those we love, but releasing those we love leads to finding them again.

In his latest blog post, Stan talks about why he is always encouraging young screenwriters to find friends who are filmmakers to make their own films. Forget Hollywood, he writes, because getting stuff done is ultimately more satisfying that spitting into the Santa Ana Winds.

Having an insight into Hollywood, he helps writers set realistic expectations and yet also encourages them to dream big – through their own work and not through a dependence on others. He appreciates the heart of a story while in the process, ensuring that the writers entertains, challenges, uplifts this generation and the ones to come.

Stan will be doing a workshop for the upcoming Path of Consciousness spiritual and writing conference & retreat (Oct. 4-6) http://www.thepathofconsciousness.com

You can contact Stan through email at Stan@MoralPremise.com 

Unique Voices in Films Website http://www.UniqueVoicesinFilms.org

Trusting What Comes

Her father was a taxi driver and her mother a stay-at-home mom. He supported his eight children and they lived a comfortable life in Al Ghadeer, a district in Baghdad where many Christians lived. She remembers wanting to be a doctor.

“My parents and grandparents called me doctor,” said Nidhal Garmo. “They were sure I would become a doctor. That was the dream they had for me.”

Nidhal went to college for just a few months in Iraq before she came to the United States at age 20. She worked as a cashier and studied medicine at Wayne State University. The strong school system in Iraq made the education process for her at WSU “a piece of cake.” Although she received good grades, and felt she was ahead of the game, she didn’t make it to medical school but she did finish pre-med. She became a pharmacist instead.

“God gave me something better than I expected,” she said. “I didn’t know I would be a charity lady. Had I become a doctor, I would’ve been too busy and under too much pressure to do humanitarian work.”

Nidhal with kids3

It wasn’t an easy path. People put Nidhal down for going to school. They said things such as, “Tomorrow you’re going to get married and have a baby. What then would be the use of your degree?”

Well, Nidhal did get married when she was still a student in the liberal arts department. She became pregnant, gave birth to a baby girl, and returned to class three days later. Her husband helped a lot with the baby even though they opened a salon.

“The same people who discouraged me from getting an education now call me asking to help them find a job for their kids,” she said. “They’re impressed with me. Life turns different ways.”

After graduating from college, she earned a position working as a pharmacist for Perry Drugs, which is now Rite Aid. Five years later, she decided to establish her first pharmacy, Nidhal’s Pharmacy, as part of the Sav-Mor franchise in Farmington Hills, Michigan. Her business grew rapidly and was a success.

During the sanctions against Iraq, Nidhal send a lot of medication, money, and other donations for people in that region. Later, the 2003 war caused her to have nightmares. Watching the suffering of the Iraqi people ignited her passion for humanitarian work. She felt she had to do much more. That’s when her missions to Iraq and Kurdistan began, 23 to date.

“I saw things that touched my heart,” she said. “Sometimes it’s difficult – when you get close to someone and when you go back and ask about that person, you learn that person is dead.”

Among many, many things, Nidhal has sponsored 12 containers of medicine and medical supplies, clothing and dry food to doctors, clinics, and hospitals in Iraq and Kurdistan to treat the sick and wounded children refugees there. She helped save thousands of lives through her nonprofit foundation, One World Medical Mission which since 2008 has provided medical assistance, food, and clothing for underprivileged, at risk refugees and IDPs in conflict areas such as Kurdistan Iraq, Jordan, and Honduras.

“There is joy in helping these people and it’s not hard,” she said.

It’s not hard because Nidhal works from her heart, not her mind. She sees the bigger plan in everything and doesn’t allow circumstances to deter her. She once said to me, “My house is big. There’s a reason my house is that size. It’s arranged by God so I could use it as storage for the medical containers and other donations.”

She’d also said, “I trust God. When I don’t have money, I talk to God and within 30 minutes or so, I receive a call or email that guides and assists my situation. God does not disappoint anyone! Just wait and see what will happen!”

Trusting what comes is sometimes not easy to do in a western culture that encourages us to push and pull rather than look inward, listen and embrace. Trust what comes. Embrace it. Love it. Be grateful for it. And miracles will happen.

For more information about Nidhal Garmo and to help her with her mission, visit https://owmm.org/

The Oud Player

 

It was Nineveh Cultural Night. As I set my books on the author table, I heard the sound of the classical music of the legendary singer Abdel Halim Hafez. It transported me to the days of long ago, when I was a little girl in Baghdad, Iraq. Television was programmed for only several hours a day and the rest of the time my family listened to the radio.

After I finished setting my books, I turned around and was surprised to see a young man playing the oud. Not having paid any attention to my surroundings, I’d assumed it was a stereo. He then sang the songs in their original Arabic language even though I learned later that he was born in America.

This event, where I was a speaker, occurred shortly after my mother had passed away. Listening to him brought so many heartfelt memories that, for me, it became the most notable part of the evening. I sat there and enjoyed the sound of the oud, a musical instrument that’s some 35000 years old, the oldest found in Persia.

Brian Polis3.jpg

Brian was lucky to be born to a very supportive mother who taught him and his siblings several languages and encouraged his music career. At 12 years old, he cried to her that he wanted an oud so she took him to a small warehouse in Dearborn where he was given the option to choose one of two ouds. He loved the design on one of them, they bought it, and this became his favorite oud.

Brian Polis

Brian was soon taught by Abdul Karim Badr, who I happened to interview in 2010, and who has since passed away. I’d had the pleasure of visiting Badr at his home and listening to his story and music. Badr was born in 1921 in Lebanon to a Lebanese mother and a Syrian father. Yet much of his music career was spent in Iraq, during the country’s “Golden Age,” where he said that King Faisal II was so moved by his music that he granted him an Iraqi citizenship. Badr said that during that time, “People wished to have the good fortune of attaining a visa to Iraq.”

Times have changed, haven’t they?

Badr had said to me, “Today’s music has no meaning, depth or talent. Authentic singing and those who value true art are gone, replaced by too much noise.”

I find this to be the case even in writing, where people spew whatever comes to mind without consideration for authenticity and literature.

Badr felt that the media attributed to this problem. He’d said, “The media has become a school for people. Children imitate and become attracted to idols like Michael Jackson who sometimes behave in an obscene fashion while performing.  And the words singers these days use! Dressed in fine clothes and wearing lots of makeup, female as well as male singers sing about their loved ones abandoning them. Why are pretty singers singing about lost love? Because they are not so pretty on the inside.”

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In the olden days, when legendary singers like Um Kalthoum or Abdel Halim Hafez sang, there was no food or drink served or any other distractions. It was pure music. Back then, when one turned on the radio, one knew a singer’s origin, whether they were Iraqi or Lebanese or Egyptian. Later different singers began mixing things up and using others’ songs and music. Today, many singers and musicians are forced to do the music people want of them, to know everyone else’s songs, in order to make a living and survive in the industry.

In August of 2005, Abdul Karim Badr was given the Golden Oud Award for his fine artistic work, teaching and inspiring a rising new generation. And on August 12, 2006, he was awarded the Michigan Heritage Award in Lansing by the Michigan Traditional Arts Program of the Michigan State University Museum. While he has made many contributions to the arts, he credits his greatest achievement to having married his beautifully elegant and supportive wife of over four decades, Evelyn, who was born in Iran to a Chaldean family.

Brian was very fortunate to have had such a teacher. And the Iraqi American community is fortunate to have a young man like Brian continue the art of music which reminds people, such as myself, of our ancient birth land’s richness. In 1932, Iraq was awarded first prize for music in the Arab world by the Egyptian Music Award. In 1956, the first Arabic television in the Middle East was set up by the British Museum.

Art is important for a healthy democracy. That is it is such a threat to some countries who want to keep their citizens oppressed.

Brian can be contacted on Facebook “Oud player in Michigan  خضر العواد.” By phone 586-424-7101 or email brianoud6@gmail.com

Literary Atmospheres

Literary atmospheres are important at home and outside it. Writing is a solitary act and being in groups will not finish an article let alone a book. However, the support, inspiration, and education that a writer can receive from workshops, conferences, retreats, and other writers help us move forward with our projects. It keeps us going.

I’ve taken as much care in my personal literary atmosphere – my home office – as I have with my outside literary atmosphere – my writing communities that go back decades. There’s a whole world out there to explore, but to have a sense of sacredness and get things done, local organizations provide the type of human relationships that keep us grounded and connected.

In the mid-1990s a university professor advised me to join a writers group that met at Barnes and Nobles in Rochester, Michigan. I was very shy about showing my work to anyone outside of my niece and my then teacher/editor. Finally, I gathered the courage to attend and for the first time read aloud Chapter 1 of my first novel, The Feminine Art. The constructive feedback I received was amazing and the friendships I made from that group was priceless. I’m still close friends with the author who led the group, Marie Gates.

The Rochester Writers Group eventually folded and then Michael Dwyer formed the Freelance Marketplace Writers Group at the same Barnes & Noble location (2800 S. Rochester Road). They meet on the third Tuesday of the month at 7:30 pm and have different topics and guests each month. However, the main conversation is always about the business of writing as it’s not a critique group.  

Rochester Writers2

At the time he started the group, Michael was already an established freelance writer, with articles published in local newspapers, national print magazine and online news outlets. I met the late Hawke Fracassa at one of these meetings. Hawke was an award-winning journalist and mayoral candidate who had several newspapers, the Macomb and Oakland Observer, where I had a column for a few years. Soon, Michael saw a want and need for professional development in the Southeast Michigan for new, working and published writers, so in 2008, he founded and organized Rochester Writers’ Conference.

The first conference, which I’m proud to have presented at, was held at Rochester College. In 2010, it moved to Oakland University where it continues until today. By then, Sonya Julie had come on board, eventually becoming the executive administrator for Rochester Writers. A voracious reader since the age of five, Sonya has been writing creatively for decades. She has published columns in company newsletters and created freelance content for print and digital publications about health, fitness, spirituality, lifestyle, travel, adventure, and community.

Sonya is a passionate believer in creative growth. She enjoys teaching, sharing, coaching, and encouraging people to find their inspiration. She loves interacting with the Michigan writing community and that love has nourished the growth of Rochester Writers. Her support has also allowed Michael a little more free time to do things that he loves, including brewing coffee kombucha, watching Doctor Who, teaching skiing, and feeding peanuts to squirrels out of his kitchen window.

With Michael and Sonya working as a team, the conference quickly grew to being held twice a year – in the spring and the fall – as well as now including tailored workshops throughout the year. The annual fall event in October is a traditional writers’ conference for fiction and non-fiction writers with a variety of genres presented in lecture, workshop, and panel discussion formats. The annual spring event is more of a focused approach – topic, genre, business – that changes every year.

Rochester Writers3

What’s so special about this conference? It’s an easy one-day event for a reasonable rate. You don’t have to travel to New York or L.A. to find good, effective writing instruction, to meet other authors, and to move your career forward. Local writers’ groups and regional authors are involved with making the event happen each October.  Most presenters are Michigan based or have a strong connection to the area. The event is truly Made in Michigan.

I’m happy to present at the upcoming spring conference (March 30) where my wonderful colleague, Sylvia Hubbard, will be keynote speaker. I’ve had her on my show before and she’s truly a great inspiration for emerging and established writers. This year’s theme is “All About Self-Publishing” and other speakers include Lev Raphael, Mel Corrigan and Colleen Gleason. 

A writing career can be quite a struggle, but it has many rewards. Aside from the ability to express ourselves on paper and share our stories with people we may never meet, the lifestyle is beautiful, contemplative, and permits us the opportunity to meet creative writing souls who are worth our time.

For more information or to register for the conference, visit https://rochesterwriters.wordpress.com/conference-registration/

Encouraging and Fostering Writers

Once a retired professor of Middle Eastern Studies said to me that the highest thing any of us can achieve is to be human beings. “Al-Inssan,” he said, is an Arabic word that means more than being man or woman, but being humane, caring, governed by reason and searching for purpose. This man did not try to sell anything to anyone. His motives were simple: “to encourage and foster as the end of my life is nearer than the beginning.”

I learned much from this man and people like him who make it a priority to encourage and foster others as they make their dreams come true.  One such person is Terry Hojnacki, author of I Can See With My Eyes Shut Tight. Terry is an award-winning flash fiction writer, children’s book author, poet, novelist, editor, and lover of words. When not lost in her own words, she edits manuscripts, reads, and encourages other authors to improve and promote their work. Although she had written for decades, with stories getting published in various publications, last year was the most productive year for Terry.

“You never know what moves timing along,” she said. “A great motivator was showing dad something I produced so I got it done.”

The founder and editor-in-chief of Sterling Script: A Local Author Collection, Terry feels that this book is one way she can promote her local writing community.

“In Detroit we have an incredible writing community,” she said. “So many people don’t know that and many writers are afraid to submit their work. Sterling Script was my way of opening up that opportunity for the community. The reward was seeing these authors of diverse background and stories see their name and work.”

Amazon link to Sterling Script

Terry's Book2

Terry is involved in a multitude of writing communities. She is a member of the Detroit Working Writers, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, the Rochester Writers, and the Tuesday Morning Writers. She is the facilitator of the Creative Writers Workshop and volunteer event coordinator for the Local Author Book Sale at the Sterling Heights Public Library. Check out this link for scheduling https://www.sterling-heights.net/590/Library

Her current projects include a contemporary fiction novel, a middle grade adventure, and the 2019 edition of Sterling Script.

The secret to good writing is simply to continue to write and write. If you write a book, continue to the next and the next. For that matter everything comes from plugging away at it. Artistic projects like other endeavors of creativity start with the author and when shared with other collaborators gain life as opposed to being mere words on a page. When the work is finally produced it becomes about the audience. Like the words that you see before you, it’s all about how they can move life forward in the manner where you can find them useful.

We all have something to learn from each other. What’s most important is the singular focus on being the best person you can be and let that reflect upon those you come in contact with. Knowing who you are solves the problems of purpose and your reason for being here. Labels do not serve anyone while you’re in the grave.

Those closest to you are the most important people. Here in America there is too much focus on fame to the point of distraction. The process is more relevant than the fame and fortune because the love of doing something with passion lasts longer. The saying goes, “Be patient with most things, but mostly with yourself.” I wish you success in a whatever field you’re in, but most importantly to find fulfillment in whatever you do.

To learn more about Terry Hojnacki’s work, visit http://www.TerryHojnacki.com

 

Chaldeans and the Theosophical Society

There are times when we stumble upon places that feel like home. These places may have an ancient aura that speaks to us and remind us who we are and what our purpose is on this earth. They inspire to expand and create. Most of these places are right around the corner from where we live, though we might not have ever noticed they exist.

The Theosophical Society is such a place for me. Over a year ago, my niece Sandy invited me to speak at TS about Mesopotamian priestesses and goddesses. Sandy Naimou is a board member of TS. She teaches yoga full-time, primarily at GM, holds a B.A. in psychology, a M.A. in women’s and gender studies, and is currently a TSD board member. She stumbled upon TS when her older son’s Waldorf School was going to close.

“He’d been there for three years,” she said, “and I jumped on board with other parents to save the school.”

She ended up learning from the parents about Rudolph Steiner and his spiritual philosophy of anthroposophy. Sandy went to the library and checked out books about Steiner which talked about theosophy.

“It was mentally challenging reading but I had to know more,” she said.

One day, she had a conversation with a man at the farmer’s market about TS and was surprised when he said, “It’s only a quarter mile from here, around the corner.”

She couldn’t believe that it was so close to her home. Eventually her son’s school did close, but it introduced her to a world she wouldn’t have otherwise known existed.

“The books at the Theosophical Society address so many of my questions,” she said. “As a Chaldean, I found an ethnic tie to the past. I learned that Chaldeans are a part of this history of ancient wisdom. There are Chaldean Oracles and Chaldean magicians and Nestorians, words I’d never heard of before because they were kept hidden.”

 

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When I spoke at TS about the priestesses and goddesses of Ancient Mesopotamia, I realized how important it was for these deities to be further researched and brought together in a book. I started to work on this subject immediately, using resources from the TS library, such as The Chaldean Account of Genesis. I learned a great deal about my heritage, the history of my birthplace, and I published my 13th book, Mesopotamian Goddesses: Unveiling Your Feminine Power, which was released January 6, 2019. Through the process, I felt the blessings of Russian noblewoman Helena Petrovna Blavatsky.

The Theosophical Society was founded in late 1875 in New York City by Madame Blavatsky, Colonel Henry Steel Olcott, William Quan Judge, and others. Olcott was its first president and continued until his death in 1907. In 1879, Madame Blavatsky and Col. Olcott moved to India, where they eventually set up international headquarters at Adyar on the Bay of Bengal.

The first Russian woman to be naturalized as an American citizen, Madame Blavatsky was widely traveled and she published Isis Unveiled, a book outlining her Theosophical world-view. She described Theosophy as “the synthesis of science, religion, and philosophy,” proclaiming that it was reviving an “ancient wisdom” which underlay all the world’s religions.

TS-Helena Blavatsky

The Detroit Lodge was formed on August 14, 1897, was very active and its meetings took place in various places until the late 1970s when it moved to 27745 Woodward Ave in Berkley which has been its location ever since.

“The Theosophical Society is not a religion but a way of life,” said Mary Jo Kokochak, current president of TS who has been a member for over 44 years. “It encourages individual research, is non-dogmatic, but also provides essential principles on which to build an intelligent philosophy of life. It is practical and emphasizes service, living a ‘harmless’ life, and compassion for all beings.”

Mary Jo formerly worked for the department of social services in Detroit and for vocational rehabilitation services in Pontiac. During those years, she lived in Southfield and traveled every day to the inner city. The discrepancy between how people lived in the inner city and in Pontiac was so different than the comfort she lived in Southfield, it bothered her and caused her to question the situation of life. She wondered, “Why do some people experience poverty, hardships and suffering and why I’m fortunate to have a happy life? Why are some people born healthy, others with physical handicaps?”

One day, browsing the aisles of the May Flower Bookstore in Ferndale, she came across a book called Egyptian Book of the Dead.

“It like fell on top of me,” she said. “Another day another book at the bookstore fell on top of me.”

She began reading these books at a time when she was going through traumatic experiences.  Within two years, the doctors discovered a tumor in her breast; then she got a divorce; followed by a car accident where she had a near death experience and saw white light; and she lost all possessions when her home burned down.

“I ran out barefoot in my bathrobe,” she said. “That’s when I finally got the message and started seriously searching for the meaning of life.”

She joined the Theosophical Society where she immediately felt at home.

“I realized that each individual comes to this world specific to their life as well as general purpose in all of life,” she said.

She later moved to TS’s headquarters in Wheaton, Illinois and got a Master’s degree in library science. She worked as a librarian for seven years, got married, and moved to Ojai, California where she worked at Krotona Institute of Theosophy as a librarian. Eventually she returned to Michigan.

Today the International TS has members in almost 70 countries around the world. Their three objectives are to form a nucleus of the Universal Brotherhood of Humanity, without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste, or color; to encourage the study of comparative religion, philosophy, and science,; and to investigate the unexplained laws of nature and the powers latent in man.

Since my first time speaking at the TS, I’ve had many wonderful opportunities to give talks and do workshops about my areas of expertise in writing, shamanism and mysticism. I’m looking forward to my next talk there on International Women’s Day, March 8th at 7pm, where I’ll be discussing Mesopotamian Goddesses, the Untold Stories.

To learn more, visit www.tsdetroit.org

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A Night in Nineveh

Nineveh was an ancient city on the eastern bank of the Tigris River in Mesopotamia, which is modern-day Iraq. It is one of the oldest and greatest cities in antiquity. The area was settled as early as 6000 BC and by 3000 BC had become an important religious center for worship of the goddess Ishtar.

“Nineveh was the superpower of her day,” my pastor once said during a church sermon. “It required three days to circle metropolitan Nineveh. And the Ninevites lived large. They enjoyed the best chariots, the finest food, and the most exotic entertainment. It had an extensive business and commercial system like none in the world. In addition, it had ruled the world for 200 years and was the strongest military power. Sounds familiar?”

Yes, very much so.

Nineveh is where Jonah was swallowed for three days and three nights by a whale. It’s where he was called to preach, to help its people repent and change their ways. Despite its great power, this ancient city was attacked and reduced to rubble by a number of groups as Nahum had prophesied. Nahum was a minor prophet whose prophecy is recorded in the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament. By 612, the city was left lost and buried until its rediscovery by archaeologists in the mid-19th century.

What happened in recent times to that region is truly tragic. After the advancement of ISIS in 2014, most of Nineveh was emptied of the Assyrian Chaldean Syriac people for the first time in thousands of years. 12,970 homes, 363 churches and 140 public properties were destroyed. The people who fled ended up living on the streets and in tents in the city of Ankawa, Kurdistan. Every effort was made by ISIS to destroy one of the oldest and most influential cultures in world history, bulldozing cemeteries, desecrating ancient churches and burning irreplaceable books. Without a country, minority groups were, and still are, bombarded from every angle with Arab, Kurdish, Iranian, Syrian, and western influences.

In response to this catastrophe, a young group of Americans of Mesopotamian heritage quickly formed a nonprofit organization called Shlama, which means “peace.” Peace is what they ultimately wanted to give back to their community so that they can thrive and prosper in their native lands. Today, most families who remained in Iraq have moved back to their villages. Shlama continues to be fully committed to supporting them in rebuilding their lives.

The organization’s board members are very creative. They provide a spreadsheet that states the name of the donor, the amount they donated, and a link to a short YouTube video that portrays how and for whom the money was used, with photos of the receipts.  In each video, the recipient(s) express their situation, thank the donor by name and address how the money has touched them. This not only shows where the money went, but it also creates a relationship between the donor and the recipient.

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Currently Shlama is organizing a mission’s trip to Iraq in March and before that, they’re having a fundraising event on March 1st called A Night in Nineveh where I’m honored to be the guest speaker. I’ll be sharing stories about the women of Ancient Mesopotamia, the history of education and schools in that region and healthcare and doctoring, and I’ll be talking about the marriage customs of the olden days. At this event, there will be lively music, great food, and a number of fun stations where you get to experience the colorful and rich traditions of ancient Mesopotamia.

The name Mesopotamia was changed to Iraq by the British in the early twentieth century when they occupied the region. Up until the 2003 US-led invasion, the general public was not aware that this area is the cradle of civilization. Writing, the first school, law, literature, a map of the world, and the idea of dividing time and space into a multiple of 60’s started in this historic land. Man’s most important invention, the wheel, was devised in Mesopotamia, as was plumbing, the plow and the sailboat. Iraq is the birthplace of Prophet Abraham, supposedly the site of the Garden of Eden, and where many biblical stories occurred. The first writer in recorded history was Enheduanna, a woman from ancient Iraq. She lived, composed, and taught roughly 2,000 years before Aristotle and 1,700 years prior to Sappho. Before the “golden age” of Greece.

It’s unfortunate that the region where science, astronomy, and numerous inventions were a prominent way of life has become the exact opposite of what it once was. But it’s inspiring that the youth connected to its ancestors have not forgotten their heritage and are highlighting it in celebratory and humanitarian ways.

For more info about the event, visit https://www.shlama.org/events

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