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)

Dream Scribe: Creating from the Astrals

By Sonya Julie
Writer, Reiki Master, and co-creator of Rochester Writers
http://www.SonyaJulie.com
https://awakeningthecore.com/

Over 2300 years ago Greek philosopher Aristotle said that human beings are capable of achieving a pure form of wisdom only during sleep, when our minds are liberated. The dream state allows us to tap into messages, information, and experiences that can enrich the creative experience.

When we are in the dream state, or astrals, we are truly tapping into timeless wisdom. This can be utilized for the betterment of our lives and is especially relevant to the act of creation. Finding the words to a poem, visualizing a work of art, or hearing a song that wants to be written may all be kindled into fruition starting with a dream.

“Astral travel can be quite unpredictable” writes Tiffany Fitzhenry in her book The Oldest Soul. “Everything you need to know comes into your mind and as it does it all makes sense in the vastest scope. Nothing like the way things are perceived on Earth, in dribbles of confusion followed by the smallest of revelations of finite information.”

An all-knowing awareness comes to us in dreamtime and slipping into it is effortless. Astral is an esoteric term referencing a state in which consciousness leaves behind the physical body awareness and makes observations in another realm. This can occur during sleep or meditation.

Some dreams are simply experienced for the purpose of mentally processing our daily lives, activities, thoughts, and basic operations. Another type of dreaming takes us beyond our daily experience and allows us to tap into expanded energetic spaces, pools of wisdom, and layers of multidimensionality. These dreams can often feel very real and are memorable. They may be rich in color, sounds, emotions, and invoke the senses while stimulating our connection to our eternally conscious selves. They may be quite heavy in symbolism and metaphor while also feeling very real.

So how can you utilize dreams in your creative process? The first thing to remember is that intent is very powerful. If there is something you are looking to explore, expand upon, learn, or glean from your time in the astrals, setting that intent before sleep is powerful. It can be specific, like wanting to resolve a plot twist in the book you are writing. Alternatively, it can be more general like simply wanting some inspiration for a project idea.

Dreams

The best quality of sleep occurs in a space that is entirely dark and quiet. Avoid bright lights and electronics and instead choose soothing music or silence, take time to read, meditate, and let the day go while inviting a sense of quietude as you prepare for slumber. Empty your mind, letting go of thought. If something pops up, let it go like a cloud floating by and return to the emptiness.

By recording your dreams, you open up space for remembering and recalling more material, which in turn gives you more to work with. It’s always important to write down all dream details, even if they don’t seem relevant at the time. Significant insight may be gleaned when one revisits these records at a later time.

Everyone dreams but not everyone recalls them. If you record your dreams upon awakening, you will signal your subconscious to pay more attention in the future. Keeping a notebook and pen or a recording device nearby is helpful. Even the act of writing down that you do not remember your dreams can trigger the subconscious into paying more attention going forward.

Upon awakening, allow yourself to remain in a sleepy state, perhaps with one eye still closed in a dim and quite space. Blaring alarm clocks and bright lights are certain to jar you awake, causing you to forget all your astral adventures.

The Sumerians of ancient Mesopotamia viewed dreams as signs sent from the gods. Dreams were translated with the intention to incubate and summon wisdom for the purpose of growth and advancement of self. Throughout the ages, the inspiration required for remarkable feats was often obtained from the dream state.

Dreams rarely have outright messages, though they occasionally offer written or verbal messages that will help you in your waking hours. More often, they are symbolic and metaphorical, and highly unique to each individual and most dream books are generally not very helpful. An exception for me has been Mary Summer Rain’s Guide to Dream Symbols in which she dedicates her book “To slumbering memories awakened through the power of dreams and the wisdom of the watchful dreamer.”

Some symbolism seems to be generally more universal, such as the sun referencing the creator and houses referring to a mental state, while vehicles pertain to the physical body and water represents spirituality. For other dream elements, it must resonate with the dreamer. Searching for the metaphysical meaning of a dream element can also be useful but only if you connect with that perspective. The way one person feels or relates to a cricket, an airplane, or a spoon might be different from another.

With practice, dream travel can be experienced at a more advanced level and assist us in providing us with wisdom and clarity regarding our life path and unique focus. Advanced dreaming has been practiced by the ancients and the shamans who visit remote locations and cross time and space.

The indigenous people of the Great Lakes, the Anishinabek, believe that humans have two aspects, one that is present during the day and the other that travels at night and lives in the dreams. With the two aspects, humans can communicate with each other on earth as well as with other forms in other dimensions, the astrals.

I invite you to become a conduit of wisdom from the dream realm by utilizing new practices and a desire to explore. Seek out inspiration and solutions from the astrals and see how you can apply them to your creative work during your waking life. Set your intentions and take the time to see what adventures the universe has in store for you.

Sonya Julie

Sonya Julie is one of the presenters at the Path of Consciousness spiritual and writing conference and retreat. She’s doing a workshop on vision boards. For more information, visit https://thepathofconsciousness.com/program-schedule/

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/

Making Dreams Come True

It was July of 2016. I arrived a little late at the Yule Love it Lavender Farm to attend a Detroit Working Writers interactive workshop led by Cynthia Harrison. Cynthia immediately captivated me with her storytelling as she talked about her days as a young loving bride who kept the house clean and orderly, and as a result of living this particular dream, she wrote in her book Your Words, Your Story, she’d lost the desire to plop her “bleeding heart between the covers of a notebook.”

Then one morning, she woke up to find out that the basement had flooded during the night. She called her husband at work and he promised to come “to the rescue” during his lunch hour. He brought down the water that had reached halfway up the stairs and told her to go through the boxes, to sterilize anything she wanted to keep with bleach and Lysol because the water had been sewer water and the place was now contaminated.

With yellow gloved hands, Cynthia started to open the boxes when she came across her journals – all soaked! She’d been writing diaries and filling notebooks with poems since she was 11 or 12 years old. She saw that they were ruined but grabbed the top notebook anyway. Although wet, the ink had only smeared, not completely disappeared.

Her husband was already on his way up the stairs when she said, “My poems! Mike! What should I do?”

He looked back down at her, but she could tell he was already thinking about work. “Throw them away,” he said, and then he left.

Although initially, she thought he was right, that she should get rid of it all as it had simply been a phase in her life, that she was done with the 10 years of recording her every agony, she did try to save her poems. She also came to realize how precious her talent was, ended up marrying someone who actually valued her writing life. Cynthia became quite a successful author who is represented by The Wild Rose Press and Amazon Encore. Earlier this week, her tenth book Lily White in Detroit was published. This book is about a private investigator, Lily White, and Detroit police detective Derrick Paxton. In a sometimes racially divided city, a black cop and a white PI work together to solve a complex double homicide. What they find leads them closer to danger, and to each other.

Cynthia has evidently had a wonderful career since she published her first award-winning book Your Words, Your Story in 2007. Back then, she was a creative writing teacher at Macomb Community College. The book came about when she couldn’t find a text that worked for her students so she decided to turn her college lecture notes into her first book. The print edition sold out but the book lives on, in an updated version, as a Kindle e-book. Though she is no longer teaching, her only non-fiction book continues to sell and has hit #1 on numerous Kindle lists over the years.

Everything after Your Words, Your Story has been a novel with strong female characters, which is her first love and what she tried to teach people to do in the first book. She has been blogging at http://www.cynthiaharrison.com since 2012, she writes full time, and loves to read novels, memoir, and spiritual self-help.

After the workshop at the lavender farm, the next time I saw Cynthia was at the Detroit Working Writers conference. Our author tables were next to each other. We quickly became friends because, despite our age difference, we had quite a bit in common. Both are prolific authors who are ambitious but always take the time to shine the spotlight on someone else, to help elevate careers, to create meaningful relationships and do some good in the world.

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After reading my four-part memoir series, Healing Wisdom for a Wounded World: My Life-Changing Journey through a Shamanic School, she invited me to be keynote speaker for the Detroit Working Writers and nominated for vice president of DWW. That meant a great deal for me, and it still does because Cynthia is not just about being a writer, she’s about empowering and uplifting those who she comes in contact with.

Aside from writing, she, like me is in love with her family. Cynthia is married to the man of her dreams and they have two grown sons who have their own beautiful families. She is a lifelong Michigan resident who, although loves her city, would sometimes rather live in Hawaii (I wonder during which seasons that would be). Thus she spent much time on the Great Lakes, looking out to big blue water, imagining it is the Pacific Ocean. But not long ago she did buy a home near the beach and she firmly believes that dream came true as a result of her popular Blue Lake series, set in a Michigan beach town. She lived there so long in her imagination that it manifested in real life – which is another thing we have in common. We don’t just dream. We make our dreams come true through intent, action, and the belief that we will receive what we request of the Universe. We use our words to make up our stories.

To learn more about Cynthia’s work, visit http://www.CynthiaHarrison.com

Cynthia

Be the Solution

Finding your warrior spirit can be a difficult journey when faced with the daily drama of life and given what we see these days on the news and in social media.  Outside factors can be such strong distractions that they often make us forget how to look within, utilize our skills and talents to grow, prosper and serve the needs of others in our communities.

I believe that you can write your fate with your own hands when the rest of the world is sleeping or busy participating in the drama. Problems can be solved in many ways, including finding someone else’s experience and copying what they did, changing a limiting belief or attitude, or by joining a network dedicated to solving that particular problem. Being the solution is a great way to come out of the problem.

The Alliance of Coalitions for Healthy Communities (ACHC) has encouraged and inspired individuals, families and communities to do just that – to be the solution. They’ve created numerous programs that help shape how well our communities live. This is especially important now since we live in a culture where every day, over 2000 teens begin abusing prescription drugs. 

I interviewed Julie Brenner, CEO of ACHC about their programs. With over twenty years of service in marketing, alliance and partnership development, Julie holds a Bachelor of Arts from Wilfrid Laurier University and a degree in Corporate Communications from Sheridan College, both in Ontario, Canada. She is a Certified Prevention Consultant (CPC-R), and is a graduate of Leadership Oakland XXVIII and Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business Executive Program for Non Profit Leaders.

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Julie shared their wealth of services. The Bear Truth is ACHC’s college outreach program which collaborates with Oakland University to reduce high risk drinking and misuse of other substances while integrating wellness practices and relevant resources. Their Greater Urban Community Coalition Initiative supports local experts and residents to ensure each child in every school has the necessary resources to live a safe, healthy and long life. A key component is to reduce and prevent underage drinking, prescription and opiate drug misuse, illicit marijuana and tobacco use among youth and adults in highly minority populated communities across Oakland County.

Pioneering social change in the realm of health and wellness, the Alliance strives, through their Integrative Wellness program, to reduce the fear of complimentary therapies. They want to empower individuals and families to take care of their health in holistic and sustainable ways.

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Keep Them Safe, Keep Them Healthy! is another program that strengthens families by building curriculum for families who have youth ages 10 to 14 years of age in the home. A compliment to that program is Life is Your Playbook led by former NFL linebacker for the New York Giants, and 2011 Super Bowl Champion, Greg Jones. He imparts knowledge and skills needed for today’s youth using several different “life plays.” These dynamic experiences are for youth of all ages so that they gain protective factors that will help them avoid destructive behaviors, including substance use, by helping them know their value, think about what they want for their futures and what they need to do to get there.

Love a Child is a year round program focusing on areas of mentoring for children, youth and young adults challenged by circumstances of abuse, neglect, and behavioral issues through one-on-one mentoring, home visitation, camps and special events.

With 5-10 meetings held every month in Oakland County, the Alliance serves as the Oakland County Chapter of Families Against Narcotics (FAN). A partnership was formed with FAN to increase prevention, recovery and support connections. This partnership encourages strong ties to all community sectors including parents affected by addiction, concerned citizens, law enforcement, judges, leaders in education, business, and healthcare and the recovery community. 

PEEPs (Peers Educating and Empowering Peers) is a unique group that brings together coalition youth members to promote healthy lifestyles through prevention education across Oakland County. And there’s Resolve, a 16-week comprehensive life skills training program designed and developed for individuals in recovery who are 18+. The purpose of this program is to empower individuals in recovery to move forward in their life skill development targeted specifically to areas of need, whereby addressing the health and well-being of the whole person.

Children

Through my extensive travels around the world and my journalism of over ten years, I discovered that what we do at home, in our own little corners, creates the environment we dream for ourselves and future generations. I love watching individuals, families, businesses, and corporations who understand the power of that. They make conscious decisions, placing their focus on the solution within their scope, spreading it to those in their proximity, then naturally expanding to larger circles. They take a proactive role in shaping their lives and helping those around them. They help make the world a better place. 

Here’s a wonderful and informative video about their Integrative Wellness Program, which is a sponsor of the Spiritual & Writing Conference & Retreat  Click Here

For more information, visit http://achcmi.org/

Treasure Chest of Memories

Our stories don’t start the day we are born but long before that. The decisions made by our parents and their parents, whether biological or adopted, have an impact on our lives. Their legacy, their dreams and ideas influence our childhood experiences and the choices we make as adults. Understanding who they were helps us recognize certain patterns in ourselves, and gives us a sense of love and belonging. It also brings us closer to them, especially if they are no longer on this beautiful earth.

Laura Hedgecock, a freelance writer, blogger, and speaker, has a passion for helping others share their stories. This stems from a gift left by her grandmother. Shortly before her death, Hazel Crymes passed on an old spiral notebook filled with a lifetime of memories, which she dubbed her “Treasure Chest of Memories.”  Her writings included childhood memories, stories of her children as they grew, good recipes, and wisdom she had gathered along the way.

So Laura wrote a book to guide hobbyists with writing prompts, exercises, and varied examples. The book is called Memories of Me: A Complete Guide to Telling and Sharing the Stories of Your Life. Using this guide, even beginning writers will find that they too are capable of sharing their memories and compiling a legacy for their loved ones.

Drawing on her grandmother’s “Treasure Chest,” as well as her experience in genealogy, photography, scrapbooking, writing, and blogging, and her own journey compiling such a “Treasure Chest,” Laura empowers memory collectors with down-to-earth, practical advice and creative ideas. Similarly, her second book, Blogging for Family History: How to Launch a Blog and Make it Successfulprovides a road map for family historians to launch a professional blog.

The process of collecting memories can be quite fun and adventurous.  One of Laura’s blog posts, for instance, talks about how to identify emotional family heirlooms. She writes, “Heirlooms can be a bit like flowers. One person’s flowers are another person’s weeds.” To figure out what one should pull and what they should fertilize, she advises to look around and start asking questions. To look for objects you’ve always taken for granted, travel treasures, such as items brought back from military or business travel overseas, and even furniture. To explore the attic, basement, or garage for long-sealed boxes.

For immigrants or refugees, or people who lost their homes to fires or disasters, the items might be few in number but the story behind it could fill hundreds of pages. The process could be therapeutic. For me, it was very healing to write a memoir series which helped me discover the powerful women in my lineage and to recognize the affects our departure from my birth country of Iraq had left on me.

The day we left Iraq was so hush-hush I didn’t even know about it. One day I was in Baghdad, and the next day – poof! – I was in Amman, Jordan. I have no recollection of our actual departure, which type of transportation carried us across the border or what happened when we arrived. Everything happened so fast and in secrecy, because we couldn’t let anyone know we were heading for America. We disappeared as quickly as sugar in a cup of hot tea, and then we began a new life.

We spent almost a year in Amman awaiting our visa to the United States. Until we arrived to Michigan, I had no idea that I would never again enter the home, school, and neighborhood where I grew up. Suddenly, I discovered I was no longer going to see my friends. We never even said goodbye.

I spent years wanting to ask my family, “Why have you uprooted me from my birthplace and brought me here?” I felt like a plant taken out of the soil. After repotting, plants often enter a state of shock as they adapt to the new environment and struggle to get over the shock of being uprooted and moved.  But my family was so busy acclimating and surviving, I could not express how I felt – until decades later, when I began writing my memoir. I was able to share story now and for future generations.

You too can start sharing your memories, ideas and stories through journaling, blogging, or a book. It might be difficult to be honest about your discovery and finding a loving and authentic way to share it, but this would be an opportunity to write what you’re most passionate about – you and your loved ones.

Visit Laura’s website to learn more