Trains of Thought

Source: chevalfineart.com

Trains of Thought is the private blog that subscribers who want to engage in The Great Escape – Intensive Journal Writing course can join. This site will house resources and prompts. This is one sample post. Members of Bancroft Manor are eligible to participate. You do not have to join the Manor House. To engage simply choose what you can afford to pay ($20, $30 or $40) using your own currency. Payment can be made via Paypal using the address heatherblakey@fastmail dot fm (obviously you need to insert a dot to use this address)

“As the oak tree lies hidden in the depths of the acorn, so the wholeness of the human personality with its fullness of spiritual and creative capacities lies hidden in the depths of the human being silently waiting for its opportunity to emerge.” — Ira Progoff, Depth Psychology and Modern Man

What Progoff created in the Intensive Journal is a process of writing that enables a person’s deep inner wisdom to become conscious and a source of guidance in their journal writing and in the conduct of our lives. He wanted to give people a tool that was practical and of use in whatever setting a person might be.

I have had my copy of At A Journal Workshop for over twenty years and regularly turned to it when I am working with people who have signed up for the writing courses I regularly offer. Although I have a well-marked copy of this classic book about journal writing I have never undertaken the course. However, I am tempted to go to Eremos in Sydney in November to complete a two-day course.

After writing about the atmosphere of a journal workshop Progoff introduces what he calls the Period Log as a way to begin the work of drawing our life into focus. He talks about beginning with the Now but explains that the Now is not limited to an immediate instant.

When I consider the Now I am reminded of a session with my ‘therapist’ (journal) where we discussed my perception of how much the landscape of the internet has changed since I ran the Soul Food Cafe. I went on to explore, in stream-of-consciousness, how I am no longer sure where or whether I fit in. My period log provides the space where I can record these insights in a succinct, objective entry. I also included a sketch of myself looking from the outside, in wonder at the overcrowded urban cities that have sprung up in cyber-space. I also note aspects of a recurring dream where I cannot find my way in an urban environment.

After completing an exercise like this in a class setting I often ask participants to identify a character and, using material from their entry, write a scene in the first person. After completing an exercise which involved going inside a sea shell Jannali used her observations to complete a piece.

When searching the internet I found  Ed Levin sharing entries from his period log. It is worth exploring Levin’s blog to see how he has been working in an online setting.

A book I strongly recommend that participants examine is ‘A Life Of One’s Own’ by Joanna Field (Marion Milner). In my mind, this is like the Period Log Progoff speaks of. Check out the review at Brain Pickings to learn more about this amazing existential experiment, much beloved by W.H. Auden. After writing this Milner went on to fill her ninety-eight years with a life of uncommon contentment, informed by her learnings from this intensive seven-year self-examination.

Remember that the Present Period will vary with each individual. It may:

  • reach back three years since a car accident
  • go back even further to the time when you walked away from life as you knew it
  • simply be a few weeks after meeting a new friend
  • the period after moving house
  • be about the period after beginning a new job
  • be after an epiphany

Before beginning to undertake an entry in your journal learn about Entrance Meditations.

The Great Escape – Intensive Journal Writing

“I looked at other journals, notably those of Dostoevsky and Anaïs Nin, and I could see that, for them, the journal was a vehicle that led to greater creativity. But I found that a good many other journals were just diaries: without a project to be done, people’s diaries just went around in circles.”
Ira Progoff

“Sometimes I fantasise about throwing my suitcase into the car, taking off down the highway, sucking up that white line like spaghetti and running away from it all road-movie-style. Sometimes I am on my own escaping my current life and indulging the exquisite loneliness of solitary travel” writes Elly Varrenti. Personally, I am happy to pack my bags and go within Bancroft Manor via my journal. When I am in the room of my own at Bancroft I am more likely to grapple with projects that I am working on.

Everyone has a life and that life must be his or her great work of art. There’s an underground stream of images and recollections within each of us. The stream is nothing more or less than our interior life. When we enter it, we ride it to a place where it wants to go. It is within this interior world that we can come to identify who we really are and what our big project is to be.

Cast aside any preconceived ideas you may have about journal writing. Take the quantum leap! Select a journal, pack a creative medicine bag and prepare to go deep within.

Intensive journal writing is quite different from diary writing. There are many good reasons to make the commitment to find sanctuary and to work within a  journal. Keeping a journal provides you with the opportunity to

  • make it a habit to work with your personal creative partner
  • establish a playground for your right brain
  • exercise all your senses and draw from the well of unconsciousness
  • resolve writer’s block
  • position yourself in the now
  • appreciate how creative you actually are
  • identify where you fit into the wheel of life.

This journalling course will help almost anyone who wishes to go deep within and explore his or her life as a work of art. Everyone ends up with a journal full of stories and recollections and often surprising new insights about the most fascinating mystery of all: themselves and their relation to the world around them. To engage you don’t need to be a mystic or perceive yourself to be incredibly creative. All you need is a life!

Check some samples of Intensive Journal Writing activities.

If you are interested in engaging in this course you can make enquiries at the Castlemaine Community House. Alternatively, you can contact heatherblakey@fastmail dot fm to subscribe and join Trains of Thought, a site containing resources and prompts. Contact Heather Blakey for details.

Down Memory Lane

ah, the tambourine
rattle snake enchantment,
rhythm beat of blood and soul
and call to dance –
tiny footsteps
all in flirtation yet more
as life and pledge and doing
weave in the fire’s blending
of all
and nothing
evermore.

swirl skirt and jangle coins,
tempt me with dreams enchanting –
and then be close at dawning
when the dew
must be taught
to sing.
from the Lemurian Gypsy Camp

Bancroft Manor is a Virtual Residence for Creatives

After enjoying a cup of Red Bush tea with Mma ‘Precious’ Ramotswe of No 1 Ladies Detective Series fame I decided to camp under a tree in the grounds of Bancroft Manor. It bought back memories of joining a Gypsy Caravan Camp back in the days when Soul Food Cafe travellers gathered and travelled Lemurian roads together.

As I lay sipping more red tea I realised that I had found another project to undertake while I am in residence at Bancroft and ‘Waiting for Godot’.

The Soul Food Cafe, which I built and ran between 2000-2010 still can now be found in the archives of the Wayback Machine. A series of life’s challenges took me away from the Cafe and I stopped growing it in 2010. However, it is still all there and I have decided to wander back through the labyrinthine corridors and create a Bumper Catalogue of Creativity to honour a site which impacted on the lives of so many early internet explorers.

A Room of My Own at Bancroft Manor

A room of my own at the virtual Bancroft Manor

Since settling in at Bancroft Manor, despite having heard movement through the corridors of this palatial home, a property that rivals the famed Romanov Gatchina Palace, I have mainly been happy with my own company. Mostly I am comfortable to enjoy this room of my own. When I am not on tour, Dansing with Macabre, I enjoy exploring the grounds and gardens with my dogs, going for walks around the estate.

Our host, Georgina McClure, has made sure that we have all that we are well connected to the outside world and I have loved this time of quiet solitude, enjoyed rummaging through Borrow Box. I have been happy to lay on the couch or in the bath listening to a vast range of audiobooks including my childhood favourite, The Magic Faraway Tree.

Imagine my delight when I rediscovered Alexander Mcall Smiths No 1 Ladies Detective Series and was reunited with Mma ‘Precious’ Ramotswe and her brainy assistant, Mma Makutsi. Read brilliantly by Adjoa Andoh I have been happy, not only to wander around Botswana and the enjoyable world of the Kalahari’s own Miss Marple, but to sit talking with Mma Ramotswe and drinking  Rooibos Tea (a redbush tea from the Cedarberg region of South Africa, Mma Ramotswe’s favourite, which I was able to buy locally).

While we are together I will share a reading from my Celtic Tree Oracle with this wonderfully practical woman whose primary professional wisdom has been sourced from Clovis Andersen, the author of The Principles of Private Detection.

 

Lived Experience Narrative

During these sessions, we will work collaboratively in a safe, supportive environment. We will pursue the idea that everyone has an important story to tell. We will spend time yarning with one another, extend our reach and interview people from diverse walks of life. We will also build up personal dossiers of our lived experiences and explore how to share our stories safely, for the benefit of ourselves and others.

A minimum deposit of 25% must be paid before 18th July to secure a place in this course.

Date: Thursdays, 25th July – 12th September (8 weeks)
Time: 6.00pm – 8.00pm
Where: Castlemaine Community House, 30 Templeton Street.
Cost: $200 (Full) or $180 (Conc. or Early Bird Discount. EDB available until 4th July)

Tutor: Heather Blakey

A Not So Silent Partner

This is the image that is on the front of a card I am using to promote my Creative Health workshops. In sessions I have run I have asked participants to spend some meditative time gazing at this masterpiece. I remind them to focus simultaneously on breathing and to simply notice the colours, faces, forms and shapes: to let everything go in and out of their mind like clouds passing through the sky.

It is only after doing this that we spend time interpreting and I explain the link between the image and my perception that I am not only working with each of them but with their silent and not so silent internal partners.

Quite a crowd of not so silent partners work with me. In the heydays of the Soul Food Cafe, it was the Enchantress, Sibyl Riversleigh, Ebony Wilder and the Lemurian Abbess who impacted on my creative work. Now it is Georgina McClure, the matron who presides over Bancroft Manor and the Bancroft Estate.

If you are interested in protecting your creative spirit you may be interested in joining the creative collective that is slowly growing in numbers.

The Uninvited Guests

I am currently working with children from the Castlemaine area at the Castlemaine Community House. The course is called ‘Stories by Me’ and runs for eight weeks. I posted the activity to the Bancroft Manor Collective, suggesting that they might like to work alongside the children. I will be sharing this response to the activity they also did tomorrow night.

At The Crossroads

The Beach was gone, the sky was gone, the guy with the Frisbee and no one to toss it to was gone and the bad tempered lady who had snapped at my dog when he ran up to her wagging his tail  was gone too.

I hope a shark got her.

Right now, at this very second it was just me and my dog and we were standing in the hallway of a dusty  house  and I hoped an empty house. I was hoping it was empty because it looked exactly like my Grandmother’s house.

Nobody went into Grand’s house without an invitation, not even her family

My Grandmother’s house was not a normal house, which made sense because my Grandmother was not normal. Her house was haunted and cursed and she was the reason for all of those things.

My Grandmother is a Witch, you see. And she’s not…

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Writing for Wellness

Are you interested in writing for self-exploration? Would you like to enhance your own personal or professional development through creative writing?

This 8-week course, led by Heather Blakey, guides students in creating a mindful writing practice, exploring therapeutic and reflective writing, through a variety of techniques.

A minimum deposit of 25% must be paid before Thursday April 18th to secure a place in this course.

Date: Wednesdays, April 24th – June 12th (8 weeks)
Time:
6.30pm-8.30pm
Where:
Castlemaine Community House, 30 Templeton Street.
Cost:
$200 (full) or $180 (Early Bird Discount, available until March 27th)

 

After a highly successful inaugural class, I am also offering Drilling Down: Writing For Wellness 2. Experienced writers seeking to ignite the creative flame, or those who engaged in my Travels with A Donkey Course may also enjoy this group.

The other class I am offering is Stories by Me, a course specifically designed with children in mind. But it would be fun to have some adults and children engaging simultaneously.

Shedding Light on Aspects of the Lives of Ancestors

According to ‘Wisdom of the Australian Animals’ when a saltwater crocodile silently watches you he is not only thinking of tonight’s dinner but this powerful creature is also asking you to look at family secrets and to allow aspects of the lives of ancestors to provide some illumination.

At a time when I have been looking at ancestral wisdom and actively working with life stories, I was a little taken aback when a woman, researching the life of my great-great-grandfather, George Watson, and his brother John who were prominent mercantile shipping personalities in Hobart in the early 1800’s, contacted me.

Her enquiry, along with the crocodile’s nudge, inspired me to take another look at the lives of these ancestors. Given that I do not have a seafaring bone in my body I cannot even imagine life as the captain of whaling ships.

However, I do live in a house in George Street which has glass doors with images of Blue Gum Clippers of the kind they built in the Battery Point Ship Yards in Hobart.

Clearly, I am on notice to look at these ancestors again. Perhaps there is something, not only in my great-great-grandfather’s spirit of adventure but in his work with convict lads, that will guide future work and creative projects.

Mah Meri Tribe Celebrate Ancestors

The Mah Meri tribe in Malaysia, is a small minority of the country’s population, where people celebrate the death festival by remembering their ancestors. It’s a day of dancing that’s steeped in tradition. The photographs are spectacular!  Such a rich tradition!

Malaysian villagers give thanks in an ancestor-worship ceremony.

Members of the Mah Meri tribe don their intricately-carved masks and perform the historic Main Jo-oh dance for the annual Ari Muyang festival in Pulau Carey, 90 miles from the capital Kuala Lumpur.

The local people use the festival as an opportunity to offer prayers and blessings to their forebears, as well as thanking ancestors for good fortune in the past and hoping for future prosperity.

Each family will have built their own altar, or panga, to their ancestors not far from their house, which is loaded with flowers, incense and food the night before.

The mixture is then burned, the smell of which is believed to alert the ancestral spirits to the gift.

The date of the festival changes every year and is influenced by the lunar cycle. It is also thought by some the date of the ceremony is delivered to a village elder in a dream by the spirits of his ancestors.

Breaking Open a Lock

This is a lock on a door at the old Castlemaine Gaol, a building which certainly holds many secrets.

Just as Adam and Eve ignored God’s command in the Garden of Eden it was inevitable that Blue Beard’s bride would disobey him and use the one key he explicitly instructed her not to use. From the outset, we knew that she was going to go through a door into a room containing a terrible truth.

Apart from the secrets, we, as individuals, keep under lock and key, families have secrets which have been carefully locked away.

Sometimes it is best to keep those safely stored in lock proof places.  Entering lock proof places can end in tears. Just as Blue Beards bride came to grief for violating a lock proof place one of my ancestors was transported to Australia from Scotland for having had nimble fingers. The punishment was so severe that after being freed he left Tasmania and settled in Victoria under a new name. It took over a hundred years for this truth to be revealed. Happily, most living Australian relatives were more than a little excited to have genuine convict roots.

The Old Castlemaine Gaol

Revealing secrets does not always go so well! It can be painful to choose to unlock some of the secrets that have been carefully hidden from view. However, there are very real benefits from uncovering truths. By taking a close look at a family secret an individual may just be freed from the impact that secret has actually had on their life. Most importantly, some genuine healing may take place.

Bring a family secret to the surface and give it some air. Take it out and carefully interrogate it. Be honest and consider the impact of concealing the truth, of keeping the secret under lock and key. Remember, you can always choose to lock it away again!

Lock and Keys – Real and Imaginary Travelling in Lemuria by Imogen Crest

Lemuralia – Banishing Malevolent Ancestral Spirits

Patrons of the Soul Food Cafe who found their way through the back tunnels into the fantasy world of Lemuria will appreciate material describing this festival!

Lemuralia, also called Lemuria, was a festival observed in ancient Rome to banish malevolent spirits of one’s ancestors from one’s house.

To cleanse the house, the head of the household had to wake at midnight and wash his hands three times. Then, while walking barefoot throughout the house, he would throw black beans over his shoulder nine times while chanting, “haec ego mitto; his redimo meque meosque fabis.” This translates to, “I send these; with these beans I redeem me and mine.”

The ritual was said to have been started by Romulus to appease the spirit of the twin brother Remus that he had killed for jumping over a wall. Because of this annual exorcism of the noxious spirits of the dead, the whole month of May was rendered unlucky for marriages, whence the proverb Mense Maio malae nubent (“They wed ill who wed in May”).

The Japanese have a similar ceremony for driving out demons. On February 3, the head of the householdputs on his best clothes and goes through all the rooms at midnight, scattering roasted beans and saying,“Out, demons! In, luck!”

Look carefully at the family tree and see if there are any negative spirits who have been impacting on you that need to be removed. Consider having a dialogue with them and talk about why they need to be doing something else now.

An article about the festival

Bon Odori Festival Japan

“Old fathers, great-grandfathers,
Rise as kindred should …”
(Yeats)

Bon Odori is a Buddhist custom that lasts for three days, most commonly celebrated on the fifteenth of August. The Bon Odori Festival has been celebrated in Japan for over 500 years and is meant to honour and commemorate dead ancestors. The festival originates from a legend in which a man asked Buddha for help when, while meditating, he saw that his deceased mother was trapped and suffering in the realm of Hungry Ghosts. Buddha advised the man to pay homage to the monks who had just finished their summer meditation. The man did so and he saw the release of his mother. Overjoyed with the outcome he (naturally) broke into dance.

Bon Odori has evolved into a family reunion holiday during which people return to ancestral family places and visit and clean their ancestors’ graves, and when the spirits of ancestors are supposed to revisit the household altars.

The Bon festival is not a solemn time. It often involves fireworks, games, feasts, and dances, including the Bon Odori, which is danced to welcome spirits. Buddhist temples in cities around the world host Obon festivals: vendors offer tantalizing Japanese cuisine, temples fill with visitors and an Asian cultural influence is in full force. Originally a Buddhist-Confucian custom, the Japanese have been visiting ancestors’ graves and honoring the spirits of deceased loved ones during Obon for more than 500 years.

We do not need a specific festival to pay homage to the dead. The story of the man releasing his trapped mother will inspire me to meditate upon ancestral lines and consider those who need a kind word of rememberance, who need to feel loved! There are plenty of ways to pay homage to such spirits. We can either write a letter, visit a grave, make an altar or simply light a candle in the place where ashes were scattered.

I plan, amongst other things, to get a lantern to hang from the branch of the tree in my front yard where I scattered the remaining ashes of my father, mother, husband and much loved companion animals.

Make Descansos to Honour Ancestors

Traditionally Descansos (Spanish for ‘place of rest’) marked
the place of loss. Often we pray that the one who has died will rest in peace. In truth, it is those that are left behind that face the challenge of resting peacefully. Descansos is also a way to mark a loss and a space to find peace.

I first learned about the concept of Descansos when I read Clarissa Pinkola Estes ‘Women Who Run With Wolves’. Estés writes that there is a time in our lives, usually in midlife when a woman has to make a decision – possibly the most the important psychic decision of her future life – about whether to be bitter or not”. 

Estes describes how when you travel in Old Mexico, New Mexico, southern Colorado, Arizona, or parts of the South, you will see little white crosses by the roadside. These are descansos, resting places. The concept of marking resting places is not confined to the United States or Mexico. They may be found in Greece, Italy and many other countries, including Australia.

When I photographed these wayside memorials I was actually thinking about other ways to mark and lay to rest other important moments in our life. Over eleven years ago I applied the concept of Descansos to mark the loss of my husband to cancer.

Now I am thinking that making visual maps and marking the moments that changed lives, be they major or relatively minor events, has a lot of potential as a part of a project to honour ancestors. Clearly, if we have lived a long time our bodies have accumulated a lot of debris but the science of epigenetics also suggests that we are also carrying ‘the sins of our’ forebears. We can make descansos by taking a look, not only within our lives but in the lives of our ancestors. We can take the time to carefully mark the small deaths and the big deaths.

On a big sheet mark with crosses the places where even before infancy events impacted on your life. For example, the premature death of my maternal grandmother impacted not only on my mother but reverberated and significantly affected my life. Mark the roads not taken, the ambushes, betrayals and deaths. Mark the places which should have been mourned and consider spending time noting what has seemingly been forgotten, but which like the spirit of Joan of Arc lives on.

Making Descansos:

Imogen Crest

Visit the Isle of Ancestors Tonight

I come to the island
tonight to remember
blood that runs in my blood
all those whose footsteps marked their passing
sailors who travelled far
and brought their stories
teachers who told the tale
babes who listened cuddled safe in strong arms
young wives who became grandmothers
grandmothers whose young lives
were cut short
for tonight the pibroch rings through the mountains
and in far away places
young lovers dance once more
to the mellow tones
of a saxophone
and the children’s piping voices
remind me that I too was young
once
Fran

Writing letters to ancestors is an activity many have worked with. High school English teachers give it as a writing assignment, websites have cropped up offering a place to publish them, and books are written about them. Sometimes they are written to famous people. Other times we write them to those we loved who have died or even to those with whom we have a troubled relationship.

Back in the day when I was overseeing the Soul Food Cafe patrons who found their way through the cavernous tunnels into Lemuria visited the Isle of Ancestors. After completing an Ancestral Isle Meditation they posted moving accounts on a collaborative blog.

This Samhain I am returning to the Isle of Ancestors, but before I go I will light some candles beside a photo of my parents and hope that I may spend some precious time with them simply remembering and letting them know what I have been doing lately. Perhaps you will make the journey too!

A Card from Dad

The other day
while searching
for something unrelated,
I stopped to look at pictures
made so long ago,
and there I found,
a postcard from Dad.

Among long forgotten images
of Mum and Dad,
and me
when I was small,
eight as I recall,
was
a sepia picture postcard
from Dad.
On the front,
a picture of
the First and Last House
on that glorious British Isle.

On the back,
the writing faded,
was the message.
Dear Vi, it read,
I’m sending this inside Mum’s letter
because I do not want it spoiled.
Keep it for a souvenir of me,
Love, Dad.

Seeing,
holding,
and reading its message now
after so many years have passed,
means more to me, I think,
than it did
when I was eight.

My Dad … he was my pal,
and though he never said
he loved me,
never hugged me,
I knew I was his buddy,
but was I not his daughter, too?

Those simple words
across the years
tell me that,
despite his silence,
he loved this child,
but couldn’t voice the words
that would have meant so much.

Two years later
and far too young,
he was taken,
ravaged by
the cancer that took his mind
and made him crazy.

Now that I am old,
his words are strong
and clear.
I am his daughter,
always was—
Love from Dad

Vi Jones
©February 5, 2006

Another Suggestion:

At one time the Family Tree Magazine suggested writing thank you notes to ancestors and they include samples of some that appeared.

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