Devoted to Art

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Qais image 1

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

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

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

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

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

Al Sindy 1 - Mamdooh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Al Sindy 2 - The Revivification of Music

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

 

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.

IMG_5177 (2)
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.

Cynthia & Weam.jpg

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

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

The Life of a Writer

The life of a writer can be magical and adventurous, but it’s also a lot of hard work. Aside from the year(s) it takes to write a book and the revision and editing process associated with it, there’s the business aspect. Some writers can afford to write full time but most have full or part-time jobs to help support that lifestyle.

Even some of the most successful writers hustle to maintain a balance between their writing, speaking gigs, and family life. I remember reading that after their success, Gone With the Wind’s author Margaret Mitchell and Harry Potter’s JK Rowling had difficulty finding time to write with the nonstop phone calls from the media and people making numerous requests or offering them dozens of opportunities. The hard work and unsteady income could cause a person to want to quit. For the dedicated, however, when they try to stop, the art always wins. Over time, they learn to simply surrender to it. They persist, despite the instability of it all.

Author Laura Bernstein-Machlay is a good example of persistence. Rejection letters never deterred her from doing the work, at one point repeatedly and boldly but politely sending to the same magazine until they accepted her piece. Laura teaches literature and writing at The College for Creative Studies in Detroit where she also lives. Her poetry and creative nonfiction have appeared in numerous journals and magazines including The American Scholar, Georgia Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, New Madrid, Poetry Northwest, Redivider, Southern Humanities Review, and so on. She’s been nominated for six Pushcart Prizes in both the nonfiction and poetry categories (including one this year).

Last summer, Laura completed a multi-essay series on Detroit for The American Scholar. Her full-length collection of creative-nonfiction essays, Travelers, was published on May 1st of 2018.  The essays map her journey as she makes sense of her recovering city, Detroit, the generations that preceded her, and her own definition of wife, mother and home. The intimate, humorous and heartfelt essays offer an honest and discerning look at the moments which both challenge and redeem us; the shaping of our lineage; and the profound necessity of hope.

Deftly observed and thoughtfully crafted, Laura’s lyrical prose brings to life Detroit’s survivor spirit and the indefatigable nature of family. This collection discovers the inherent grace and defining necessity of place, heritage and the search for our own footing within the vast world we inhabit. Travelers examines the intersection of the connections we form and those we inherit and how, with distance and trust, and a little luck, we might find more than just our way home.

At the Detroit Working Writers (Nov. 10, 2018), Laura will lead a workshop called “The Tinkertoy Essay” which is a form of creative nonfiction that eschews conventional transition devices and instead utilizes short, vivid scenes “to tell stories in artfully arranged fragments rather than in one specific narrative line.” (Elena Passarello). By throwing away the restrains of rigid, often chronological, plot structures such as conflict and rising action, the writer is freed to focus on voice and image to surprising and powerful results.

Laura’s story is inspirational!

Through my decades of writing, I’ve met and worked with hundreds of writers from different backgrounds and “success” levels, from emerging writers to award-winners and bestsellers. I was most impressed with those who have found a balance in their lives, who enjoyed a “success” that was based on their terms and not everyone else’s.

When we take ourselves too seriously, we tend to also take the joy and creativity out of the writing process, even take it out of our lives. Our egos can get in the way of our authenticity, causing us to forget why we became writers in the first place. Our light becomes absorbed by pain and a sense of failure. As long as we don’t get ourselves stuck in that state too long, pain and darkness can be good in that they raise us to new awareness and create more depth in our writing.

So much happens in the writing process. You become informed of the subject you’re writing about. If the subject is close to your heart, you heal and transform as a person. After you release the story into the universe, you may touch someone in a way you’ll never know about. Then you have, knowingly or unknowingly, served yourself and others. You have come full circle.

To learn more about the DWW Conference, click here

To read more about Laura’s book, visit this link: