The Shaman School that Healed my Writer’s Block

I had scheduled a phone session for literary advice, not realizing our conversation would lead elsewhere: how the Iraq war had badly bruised my heart.

“Were you abused as a child?” Lynn asked.

The temptation to hang up the phone burnt my fingertips as if I had touched a car bumper that had been sitting under a hot sun for hours. I did not call Lynn Andrews — a shaman healer, mystic, and an internationally best-selling author with 20 books to her name — to talk about my childhood as if I was sitting in front of a psychiatrist or a talk show host. I hoped that this one-hour phone session could resolve some issues I had been having with my writing career.

“I actually had a safe and healthy childhood,” I said, wondering if I was once again being stereotyped because of the origin of my birthplace, Baghdad, or if I had been swindled by a con artist. Since Muslims are usually the ones who get a bad rap, I wondered if she would change her perception of me if I told her that I am Chaldean. Chaldeans are Christian Iraqis whose ancestors date back over 7,300 years.

“Did you have to be careful as a child?” she persisted.

I began to feel uncomfortable, and yet the conversation had an earthy and intimate hand that disrobed a garment off my character with each word. I laid down my resistance and said, “My parents never spanked me if I did something wrong. The first time anyone ever laid a hand on me was when I was in third grade — I had missed Saddam’s parade. It was mandatory to attend, but my niece, who was my age, begged me to spend the night at her house, and my family did not take the mandatory bit too seriously. The next day at school, as punishment, the school principal slapped me so hard I fainted. The second time someone laid a hand on me was that same principal. The teacher sent me to her office because I couldn’t answer a question in science class. Other than these two incidences, I led a pretty happy childhood in Iraq. I didn’t know what unhappiness was until I came here and felt alienated and isolated.”

A silence followed.

“You were oppressed by and had to be careful of an entire nation,” she said, “and then you came here and you had to be careful of another nation, in a different way. You had to be careful of two nations.”

Her words pinched my waist so hard that it shook my roots. Growing up under Saddam’s totalitarian regime, I learned that there was a boogeyman to fear and avoid through silence and good behavior. When I came to the United States, I discovered that it was best to remain silent in order to avoid ridicule.

“So, my dear, why have you called me?” Lynn asked. “What is it that you want me to help you with?”

We finally arrived at the subject I was anxious to talk about, writing, but now I was interested in further dissecting the role my two nations played in my life. I wanted to ask her what all of this meant. Why was I born in Iraq, yanked out of my birthplace at the age of 10, and placed in the United States? Being uprooted from my home made me feel as though I were a plant taken out of the soil. After repotting, plants often enter a state of shock as they struggle to adapt to the new environment.

If only there was enough time.

Ch. 5 - Receiving Wisdom from a Mentor

“I have lost my literary voice, and I want to get it back,” I said. “Last summer, I came across your book, Writing Spirit. I was in a really bad place with my work. I no longer loved it and half the time I woke up wishing I had the sense to quit and find a different profession.”

Writing Spirit had called for me to pick it up, as if it were a child, off the bookshelves. It was an odd-looking book about writing. The last thing I wanted was a book on writing. I had been writing for over 20 years, and the journey had proven so futile, I wanted to bury the pits of this desire into someone else’s backyard and start a new garden, one that resembled those in the One Thousand and One Nights stories, where the hero ends up with breathtaking trees bearing pears, apples, figs, pomegranates, and apricots made of real gold, diamonds, and rubies.

Yet the book stuck to my hands like glue. I bought it, even though I barely had time to take a shower or eat a meal sitting down, let alone read a book. I was raising two young children and doing a lot of freelance work as well as trying to write a book.

The moment I read Writing Spirit, the fragrance of that Arabian treasure garden raced out of the pages, and I remembered all the reasons I’d become a writer in the first place: the calling, the sacredness of storytelling, the freedom this profession provides, in my case allowing me to raise my children without having to abandon my career. I had scheduled a phone session with the author for a bit of literary advice, not realizing our conversation would lead elsewhere: how the Iraq war had badly bruised my heart; how the loss of my agent threw my career off track.

I sat on the carpet and told Lynn all about it, adding that shortly after these events, I got married, had kids, and attained journalism jobs and other writing-related opportunities. The jobs led to wonderful experiences, but they also scattered my thought process. Trying to return to my literary voice since then was like trying to get to a very faraway place on foot.

“Don’t get upset at some of your past mishaps,” she said. “They made you who you are today. As for your stories, there’s a time for every story. When you live through life-defying experiences somewhere in your life, you come out on the other side with incredible abilities, abilities to survive, abilities to comprehend a higher reality. The Mystery School could help you make the right decisions regarding your work.”

“What is the Mystery School?” I asked.

“It’s a four-year school that will teach and awaken the beauty and power within you. It will give you the direction you need.”

 

Four years? It didn’t take me that long to get my bachelor’s degree.

“I have children,” I said. “I can’t leave my home to go study somewhere.”

“This is a school without walls. I created it so that anyone, anywhere in the world could do this work without having to move to a campus. I wanted to create a learning environment where people could learn through their own experiences, not to try to be their teacher.”

“I’ll check it out on your website and consider it,” I lied. Yes, she said some profound things that stirred me, and yes, I felt a connection with her that was ignited as easily as one lit a match, but no, I was not going to fall for this gimmick.

Yet after we hung up, I spent a moment staring ahead.

For a long time, I had struggled to fit into two worlds, my birth country of Iraq and my home, America. The process made me feel like a yo-yo, and oftentimes, like I was living a double life. Then, not knowing what shamanism is or who Lynn Andrews was, I stepped into a four-year shamanic school that dusted off the residue that clogged up my creativity, one by one removing the particles of fear and sadness, eventually bringing me from darkness into light.

I ended up completing the book I had trouble writing, called The Great American Family, which in 2017 won an Eric Hoffer Award. I also produced and directed a documentary with the same title, which this year won two international film awards. Sometimes it’s not writer’s block that’s preventing us from achieving our dreams but old wounds, patterns, and stories that need to heal and help us transform.

This article is an extract from “Healing Wisdom for a Wounded World: My Life-Changing Journey Through a Shamanic School” by Weam Namou and was originally published by xoJane and later by Yahoo.com https://www.yahoo.com/news/unusual-phone-conversation-led-attend-210000076.html

 

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;

 

Unique Voices in Literature

Born in 1979 to a Palestinian-Lebanese mother and an Iraqi-German father, Rayyan Al-Shawaf lived in the UAE, Cyprus, Luxembourg, Lebanon, and the US. These days, he makes his home in Malta. Rayyan is a book critic whose reviews and essays have appeared in the Boston Globe, Christian Science Monitor, the Washington Post, and other publications. He recently traveled to the United States, to visit with friends in Florida and to promote his first novel, When All Else Fails. His protagonist a Chaldean, I was delighted that he stopped at Michigan to be on my show and visit our home where we engaged in the most fascinating conversations about religion, politics, Europe and the Middle East. I’m currently reading his book and enjoying it.

What was the inspiration for When All Else Fails?

The realization, ironic and disheartening, that too often the only way for you to parry discrimination or bullying based on the illogical notion of guilt by association is by playing on its equally spurious flipside, virtue by association! As I mentioned on your show, we’re basically talking about hitching your sorry ass to someone else’s shooting star – and hoping that this serves to burnish your image in the eyes of your tormentors.

How has your background and upbringing influenced your writing career?

Well, I suppose much of my fascination with communal identity and belonging stems from my status as an outsider wherever I go. As for my concern with non-Muslims’ increasingly precarious status in several predominantly Muslim countries, I think it owes much to the liberal and secular household in which I was raised.

How did being a book critic help / hinder your writing?

It helped by making me aware (often, not always) of vague or imprecise formulations as well as excess verbiage, meaning that I might need no prompting to remedy the situation. It may also, however, have restrained any impulse on my part to take off on creative flights.

Why did you choose your main protagonist to be Chaldean rather than other minority groups, such as Assyrians? What type of research went into this process?

Well, let me first tell you why I made him Christian. Hunayn is convinced that, were Iraq free of Saddam’s tyranny, it would come into its own as a democratic and secular country. This, of course, allows me to set him up for disappointment. Hunayn doesn’t seem to realize that the rot goes deeper than Saddam, whose ouster is a good thing in and of itself but is followed by the rise of Muslim supremacist parties and militias. Making Hunayn Christian meant that the upsurge in anti-Christian violence on the part of these groups would strike his very core.

Once I had decided that Hunayn would be Christian, the main reason behind my making him Chaldean had to do with a sociopolitical orientation. My thinking went thus: Hunayn’s affinity for the modern state of Iraq (i.e., not simply the Mesopotamia of a bygone era), as well as his solidarity with Arabs and Muslims who suffer discrimination in post-9/11 America, would both flow forth easily were he Chaldean. After all, Chaldeans (and Syriacs) have had a far less fraught relationship with both the modern Iraqi state and with ethnic Arabs than have Assyrians.

Amazon Link

WHEN ALL ELSE FAILS.jpg

You emphasize that the novel is not autobiographical. Why do you think so many people assume that the protagonist, Hunayn, is you?

Some of it surely derives from the fact that the story is written in the first person. And, ironically, due to real parallels between Hunayn’s life and mine (for the most part in terms of where we’ve lived and when), people who know me and therefore recognize these limited commonalities may prove more inclined than others to view the story as autobiographical! They might well extrapolate that everything else about Hunayn goes for me, too.

What are you currently working on?

I’m about to begin a second novel, one in which a young Palestinian man whom the Nakba turns into a refugee devises what he considers an ingenious plan in the early 1950s; he will make his way back to his homeland – which is now Israel, and which is blocking the return of Palestinian refugees – via Iraq. Naturally, complications ensue!

Why have you chosen to live in Malta?

Why, because of all the Chaldeans, Syriacs, and Assyrians here, naturally! Just kidding. I took a job almost one year ago as an editor with a startup university keen on righting its course following a rocky start; I’m the in-house editor at the American University of Malta (AUM).

You have an interesting background and lifestyle and multifaceted views. Do you think you’ll one day write a nonfiction book, and if so, what would you like it to be about?

It’d probably be a collection of essays – which would mean that I’d have a devil of a time finding a publisher! The subject would most likely have something to do with the way that, for many of us, historical contextualization is not simply a means to better understand the motivations animating our national or religious forebears, but an instrument by which we redeem those of them who committed actions we would otherwise consider morally questionable.

What advice would you give a new writer, someone just starting out?

Allocate some time to reading outside the fiction genres and nonfiction disciplines that intrigue you – not simply to learn new stuff, but to expose yourself to different writing styles, elements of which you may wish to incorporate into your own material. Also, read fiction from other cultures (whether in the original language or in translation), as well as from various eras.

What, in your opinion, are the most important elements of good writing?

If you’re attempting to create something tightly structured, the elements in question are the musculature of the plot and the sinuousness of its trajectory. If, on the other hand, you’re fashioning a character study (in which case you can opt for an episodic approach when it comes to structure), the emotional arc of your protagonist/s is in my view paramount. In either case, try to leaven the story with humor!

An Author’s Journey

R.L. Herron once worked for some of the world’s largest advertising agencies, and had a long public relations/marketing career with an international Fortune 10 company. After he retired, he decided to be a full-time writer. Ron has published eight books since 2012, received fabulous reviews and has won multiple awards.

“I have to admit, it feels pretty good to know critics and reviewers like my books,” he says.

Reviewers have said about his characters that they become quite believable, a few adding that they couldn’t wait to find out what happens to some of them.

“I’m extremely pleased by that,” says Ron, “because the characters were obviously seen as real people with real issues, and not characters in a book.”

While his characters are not based on real people, there are elements of people he has known in most of them.

“For myself, and many writers I know, character usually takes the top spot in a story,” he says.  “Humans connect with other humans, after all, so it’s often easier to invest one’s self in characters and their conflicts. A place, though important, is a bit more difficult and, if you’re one of those writers who struggle with setting – I know I am – I’d like to share an approach that might help. Treat your setting like a character.”

Ron says that memorable fictional characters always have strong characteristics. You need to explore how to assign equally vivid characteristics to your suggests, and suggest those characteristics to your readers.

How does Ron plan out his writing? He writes at least 1,000 words a day, but, he says, “Life has a funny way of telling you what you need to do at any given moment. It often doesn’t include writing at all.”

He doesn’t plan an outline, doesn’t think that life is much like that, so instead, he starts by imagining a few personality traits for each of his characters. Then he asks himself some basic “what if?” questions. After, he tries to imagine how each character he created will react to the hypothetical situation he posed. “Then I let them surprise me and tell me their story,” he says.

Whatever his approach, his novels have been well received by readers. Reichold Street was a 2012 Readers Favorite Gold Medal Winner that Kirkus Reviews called “Skillfully written and emotionally charged…” and Writer’s Digest commented, “Readers are in for a treat when they pick up Reichold Street…”

His 2013 fantasy collection Zebulon was a Readers Favorite Silver Medal Winner. His novel, Blood Lake, a modern horror/thriller that begins with a Cherokee curse uttered in 1838, won The BookLife Prize in Fiction (Publishers Weekly), calling it “…strong prose and well developed characters… an atmospheric tale.”

“That’s nice to hear, but I think the best thing that has happened so far is having my wife say she likes the way I write.”

In his first book, Reichold Street, the dedication is written for three people, “… who didn’t come back…” and also “For Lucy, who believes in me.”

“The ‘three’ were school buddies of mine who were drafted and sent to Vietnam,” he says. “Sadly, they died over there and ‘Lucy’ is one of my nicknames for my wife, Mary Lu. She was my high school sweetheart. She’s still my best friend, confidante, and critic.”

R.L. Herron’s earliest known ancestor arrived in the colony of Virginia, from what is now Northern Ireland, in 1635. A mere 313 years later, Ron was born in central Tennessee.

His parents moved him north as an infant and, despite a monumental dislike of the winters in Michigan, he still lives there with his lovely wife, his youngest son and one <em>enormous</em> cat. A National Merit Scholar, he attended Wayne State University (Monteith College), where he worked on the college newspaper, and earned enough credits to be offered his choice of BA or BPh degree. He later earned an MBA from Michigan State. He submitted his first story at 17, maybe not imagining then that, decades later, he’d publish multiple works of fiction, including five award-winners.

You can learn more about Ron Herron’s work by visiting his website http://www.ronaldherron.com

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).”

Ilham2

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.”

Ilham3

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 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

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

 

Conversations in Silence

Narenda (Nick) was a customer at a family video store I managed for 12 years, called Video Castle. He would often have long conversations with me about God, meditation, and how to live a healthy and well-balanced life. He eventually invited me to his meditation group where I met interesting people from all backgrounds who were in professional fields and dedicated to spiritual growth and connections. Originally from India, Narendra was an engineer so his practical concepts were easy to understand.

“True spirituality is simple, contemporary and practical,” he would say. “It never loses the yardstick of common sense.” 

He introduced me to life-changing books such as Conversations with God and Daughter of Fire. He later wrote his own book, Conversations in Silence, which is a diary of three years which reveals his transition from a fairly typical, stressed-out businessman to a blissful, loving man eager to share his newly spiritual gifts. 

Conversations in Silence

To learn more about Conversations in Silence, click here:

The book focus on his experiences with spiritual master, Mother Meera. Narendra met Mother Meera through a picture. He noticed something extraordinary loving and mesmerizing about this young Indian lady’s big eyes. He learned that she lived in Germany and hoped that one day he would get to meet her. That opportunity came when his work sent him on an assignment in Germany.

Born in a small village in India, she allegedly had her first samadhi, a state of complete spiritual absorption, at the age of six, which lasted for a whole day. When she was 12, her uncle met her for the first time and was convinced that the girl had already appeared to him in the form of visions. He came to believe that she is the Diving Mother and started to take care of her, allowing her to unfold her inner experiences. In 1981 she made her first trip to West Germany, where she settled with her uncle. She married a German in 1982.

Mother Meera.jpg

Mother Meera is an embodiment of the Divine Feminine, the Divine Mother on earth. She gives thousands of visitors her unique blessing of Darshan – in silence – and teaches the unity of all religions. Everyone can go their own ways. It is only important to be connected with the light (the personal spiritual role model) every day by praying, reading or meditating. She doesn’t charge any money for her work and she will not give lectures. Her reported task on Earth was in calling down a dynamic light-force from the Supreme (Paramatman – the supreme Self) in collaboration with other saints and diving beings, as she says, making spiritual progress on earth easier. About this light she says, “Like electricity, the light is everywhere, but one must know how to activate it. I have come for that.” 

Narendra’s accounts in this book, his determination to attain enlightenment, are inspiring. After work as an engineer, he is anxious to drive for hours to sit – even if briefly – in front of Mother Meera. One wonders how this world would be if we gave as much attention to our spiritual growth as we did to the physical and mental aspects of our lives.

In her presence he had numerous supernatural experiences, including many healings. When fully convince, he accepted Yogananda as his Spiritual Master. Through Mother Meera’s help, he was put on fast track and given many spiritual gifts. Most of his spiritual education came in the form of pictures during meditations. One of the gifts is his ability to measure a person’s consciousness level. As a Perceptor, Narendra has the ability to quickly transform people of all faiths and Masters, as ordered by the Divine. In his workshops, he uses everyday language, graphics, and common-sense approach. 

He notes in his book: Reading holy books is a great; the practice of prescribed values comes next. Beyond a point, an individual spiritual journey is so unique that copying someone else’s path alone will not help. During the advanced stage, one cannot join a spiritual club and expect faster results. This journey has to be completed alone just like a surgeon performing a surgery himself. During training, however, a surgeon must be in the company of other experts. Similarly, the spiritual journey requires that we accept our unique true-self once we have been “normalized.”

Here’s a video where Narendra talks about meditation and he holds workshops on some Saturdays in the mornings at the Rochester Library.

The World of Wellness

I was at the hospital a few days ago, waiting for my mother’s procedure to be done. She had a blood clot in her left arm which needed to be removed in order for the blood to flow through the arm. I decided to take the stairs from the fourth floor to the first floor to grab a coffee from Starbucks. On each level, there were signs encouraging one to walk and take steps to maintain a strong heart and have a good night’s sleep. That’s interesting, I thought, that we, the two-legged ones, are encouraged to do a movement that ought to be a regular part of our routine when other animals, especially the non-domesticated ones, don’t need to be reminded. I take walks every day unless something urgent prevents me from doing so, like being here with my mom in the hospital.

Over the centuries, humans have steered very far from doing the simplest tasks that bring us joy and good health. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. It’s rare for us these days not to encounter obesity at every corner, even in children. People have become obsessed with food and, for the most part, abandoned nature and exercise, not necessarily a regiment exercise but the act of, for instance, mopping the floor in an old fashioned manner. In Iraq and even here in America, the woman in my family mopped the floors using the famous posture known in yoga as downward facing dog. It was an excellent way to clean and stay fit and we didn’t have to go to a yoga studio to do it.

“As both a stretching and strengthening asana, downward dog provides incredible balance for mind and body,” says Lauren Weisman, senior yoga and Core Fusion teacher at Exhale Spa in Santa Monica, California. “It also targets your upper and lower body at the same time, so you’ll feel it in your hands, arms, shoulders, back, calves, hamstrings and even the arches of your feet.”

world of wellness 2

Our relationship with food and nutrition is tumultuous, to say the least, and it has created thousands of harmful diet fads. The word diet first appeared in English in the 13th century. Its original meaning was the same as in modern English, “habitually taken food and drink.” But diet was used in another sense too in the Middle and early modern English periods to mean “way of living.”  

What is your way of living? That’s what matters. How do you care of yourself in a world that is bombarded with unhealthy ways of living?

Given my upbringing in an eastern country and my teachings of shamanism and other ancient traditions that were passed down to me, I have learned quite a bit about health and wellness. I have learned the importance of balancing our yin and yang energies, our Sacred Wheel – the physical, emotional, spiritual, and intellectual aspects of ourselves. As a storyteller, I see how our words and stories affect our way of life. I’ve been sharing these ancient teachings through my books, workshops, and spiritual and writing retreat, and I’m very happy to see the world embracing this new but technically old way of life as, frankly, they’ve come to realize they have no other choice.

Over the years, I’ve met and collaborated with many practitioners and experts working to help people transform their lives and to make this world a better place. Diane Dovico is one of them. She and I have formed a friendship based on our desire to serve.

Diane is the Integrative Wellness Program Administrator at the Alliance of Coalitions for Healthy Communities. She creates and facilitates educational programs, initiatives, and campaigns for all who live in Oakland Country. Diane spent 21 years as the Executive Director of the Royal Oak Community Coalition, a nonprofit and has over 40 years of experience facilitating successful collaborations between individuals, families, businesses, schools, and social organizations to address challenging social conditions and creating sustainable solutions.

Diane played a pivotal role in helping me with the administrative aspects of The Path of Consciousness, the spiritual and writing conference and retreat that took place last October. This year, she invited me to be one of many wonderful speakers at the World of Wellness (WOW) Symposium taking place on Saturday, February 9. WOW’s goal is to equip the audience with take-home skills they can do on their own.

Diane asked me to discuss narrative therapy as she’d attended one of my workshops at the Royal Oak library and found the topic fascinating.  The other speakers have many fascinating topics as well, from the powerful role that art can have on your overall health and healing to mindfulness medications to promote greater mind/body healing. This event is a beautiful way to be reminded of the ancients, of techniques that were used thousands of years ago which need to be brought into our daily lives today.

The World of Wellness Symposium is Saturday, February 9th from 9:30 am to 2:00pm at UFCW Hall – 876 Horace Brown, Madison Hts., MI  48071. The doors open at 9:30am and the program begin at 10:00 – 2:00.  A light breakfast and lunch will be served. Early registration is encouraged at: www.tinyurl.com/ACHCWOW2019 For more information, like us on Facebook: www.tinyurl.com/infoonWOW2019

world of wellness