Category Archives: Contemplative Practice

Intensive Journal Writing Course Begins with an Invocation

Mother, mother, what ill-bred aunt
Of what disfigured and unsightly
Cousin did you unwisely keep
Unasked to my christening, that she Sent these ladies in her stead
With heads like darning-eggs to nod
And nod and not at foot and head
And at the left side of my crib?
-Disquieting Muses 1957 Sylvia Plath

Back in the day, when I first began running writing classes, I used to invoke the Muse by setting up an altar, burning sage and having everyone actually imagine they could hear the rustling of gowns as the muses came to join us. Ask anyone who participated at that time and they will leave you in no doubt that the Muses were responsive. These wild women were overjoyed to be invited, having felt that they had been all but forgotten for centuries.

At this same time, I was establishing the Soul Food Cafe and one of the early sections I built was The House of the Muse. As a part of this feature, I gathered a collection of hymns to the muse. Then, when my late husband and I travelled throughout Europe for six months the absolute highlight was finally reaching Delphi, Mount Olympus and other sanctuaries in Greece. At Delphi, I called upon the Delphic Oracle and all but plunged myself in the famed waters of Castalia. I bought back bottles filled with water from the Castalian Spring, decanted the magical water into smaller bottles and gave these to those willing to anoint themselves and experience a heightened sense of creativity.

Time has passed and I have never forgotten these big-hearted muses who were so responsive to my call for support. Perhaps it was these heavenly spirits who gently reminded me that there is a whole cast of female mystics who would willingly give their time to massage the creativity of those who feel that it has waned a bit.

Little wonder that, seemingly by chance, I came into possession of Mirabai Starr’s ‘Wild Mercy – Living the Fierce and Tender Wisdom of the Female Mystics’. It is the perfect text to introduce early in my Great Escape – Intensive Journal Writing Class.

Get a key to Trains of Thought!

To learn more about what we did in this class and to engage online you need to subscribe to Trains of Thought. To get the key to Trains of Thought choose the amount you are able to afford (no more than $40 in your currency), pay heatherblakey@fastmail dot fm via PayPal and contact her with details of your WordPress account. It is very easy to acquire an account with WordPress and you may choose to keep your intensive journal online in a private blog. Once you have subscribed, email me your WordPress account email and I will add you to the site. This is intended to become a collaborative blog and you will be able to post and comment.

Wild Food for the Creative Spirit

The bodhisattvas are beings who have realized enlightenment but who remain active in the world, appearing in many forms to help others and lead them to enlightenment. They are venerated and called upon for help in time of need. Creative people  are known to suffer from periods where they feel that the  spirit of creativity has gone walkabout and abandoned them. At such time Quan Yin may be just the deity to turn to.

One of the deities most frequently seen on altars in China’s temples is Quan Yin (also spelled Kwan Yin, Kuanyin; in pinyin, Guanyin). In Sanskrit, her name is Padma-pâni, or “Born of the Lotus.” Quan Yin, alone among Buddhist gods, is loved rather than feared and is the model of Chinese beauty. Regarded by the Chinese as the goddess of mercy, she was originally male until the early part of the 12th century and has evolved since that time from her prototype, Avalokiteshvara, “the merciful lord of utter enlightenment,” an Indian bodhisattva who chose to remain on earth to bring relief to the suffering rather than enjoy for himself the ecstasies of Nirvana. One of the several stories surrounding Quan Yin is that she was a Buddhist who through great love and sacrifice during life, had earned the right to enter Nirvana after death. However, like Avlokiteshvara, while standing before the gates of Paradise she heard a cry of anguish from the earth below. Turning back to earth, she renounced her reward of bliss eternal but in its place found immortality in the hearts of the suffering. (Read More)

One of the challenges of keeping a journal is deciding what to write about. In my Great Escape – Intensive Journal Writing course I provide stimuli which will induce a flow of words. I have a collection of oracle cards which I encourage participants to draw from. The Wild Kuan Yin Oracle set by Alana Fairchild is one pack that I have found feeds the creative spirit.

In a journal writing class, I remind you that within you beats a wild and compassionate heart, alive with fierce optimism. You have the courage to walk a path of transformation. You will not be tamed by convention. You are not afraid to be different, to take risks for what you love, and most of all, to keep hope in your heart. You are one of the wild ones.

Drawing a card from this deck can help when the Spirit of Creativity appears to be distracted and wandered off. This oracle deck channels the energy of the Divine Mother to bring you comfort. She’ll remind you of your fire, your boldness, your unique beauty, your passion, your courage. She’ll guide you through even the darkest trials into the blessing of new life. She’ll open your heart and mind to untold possibilities and assist you to live your highest destiny with fearlessness and joy.

Intensive Journal Writing – Give Voice to the Sacred Fool

It is time for play. The more bizarre, left field, unexpected and apparently ridiculous the better. This may not feel safe or appropriate at first. That is okay. That is good actually. It is a sign that you are breaking with your self-imposed conventions. It is time to move beyond them now because a bigger life adventure is calling you.
Sacred Rebels – Alana Fairchild

The Great Escape – An Intensive Journal Writing Course begins on Wednesday the 16th of October at the Castlemaine Community House.

This is a time when we can unleash and play with the Sacred Fool. The fool is a great rebel, able to thwart conventions and tell the truth without restraint.

Our journals provide a safe space to let the fool, who does not give a hoot about what the mind is saying, have free reign. In an intensive journal writing class, we do not have to worry about being socially acceptable or what others may think of us when we sit outside reading children’s books to the trees.

The day time class provides the opportunity for us to sling our creative medicine bags, filled with supplies, over our shoulders and wander around Castlemaine. For example, in order to position ourselves in the now, we may take time to visit the nearby collectible place and see what items demand to be given a voice within our journals. We may sit outside the nearby coffee house, visit the art gallery and step inside artwork, check out what is going on at the Railway Station or just wander down some streets and see what endless variety of nothing turns out to provide a rich vein of gold.

For details check out the Castlemaine Community House. Alternatively, if you are interested in joining a small evening group in a private home, contact me for details.

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

Honouring Ancestors

Many of these contemplative practices provide a doorway to connecting with our ancestors.

All Souls’ Day was first instituted at the monastery in Cluny in 993 CE and quickly spread throughout the Christian world. People held festivals for the dead long before Christianity. It was Saint Odilo, the abbot of Cluny in France, who in the 10th century, proposed that the day after All Saints’ Day be set aside to honour the departed, particularly those whose souls were still in purgatory. Today the souls of the faithful departed are commemorated. Although All Souls’ Day is observed informally by some Protestants, it is primarily a Roman Catholic, Anglican and Orthodox holy day.

All Souls’ Day in Mexico is a national holiday called Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). Many people believe that the spirits of the dead return to enjoy a visit to their friends and relatives on this day. Long before sunrise, people stream into the cemeteries laden with candles, flowers and food that is often shaped and decorated to resemble the symbols of death. Children eat tiny chocolate hearse, sugar funeral wreaths, and candy skulls and coffins. But the atmosphere is festive.

While there are ritual ways to honour ancestors at Samhain, Ancestral Medicine provides some timely advice. Their article offering five ways to honour your ancestors includes some great suggestions such as fulfilling one’s life purpose, staying open to direct communication with them and establishing a physical place to honour them.

This November I am committing to spending twelve months learning more about contemplative practices, epigenetics and to finding ways to actively honour those who walked before me.

Places for Quiet Meditation – Prague

 

Throughout most recorded history, human societies have used various types of cemeteries for burial purposes; this theme points to humanity’s need to construct a meaning behind death and reflect life into the places where the dead are interred. Whether the bodies of the deceased are placed in the ground, within elaborate tombs, or simply in the presence of ancient or contemporary monuments, their location holds symbolic meaning as well as practical historical meaning for the surrounding living community. 

At the beginning of November, Mexicans celebrate Día de los Muertos, Day of the Dead. People wash and sweep their family’s grave-houses, decorate them with flowers, bring their loved ones’ favourite dishes, and eat the meal by the graves.

Up until the early 20th century, cemeteries in America were a popular place to relax, picnic and get together near a loved one’s grave.

In Prague, the old Jewish Cemetery is a popular place of pilgrimage, particularly by Jewish people who come to pray and leave small coins on tombstones. While I was in Prague I visited this famed cemetery but I managed to find my way to the Old Jewish Cemetery in Zizkov and the sprawling, beautiful Olsany Cemetery which is also in Zizkov.

The challenge, this November, is to think of a ritualistic way that I can honour my ancestors.

Romancing the Creative Spirit

Archie Hair’s precious box of wonderment

I have been romancing the creative spirit by wandering back into Soul Food and using tried and true idea generators with children in years 4-6 at Winters Flat Primary School. We have used guided imagery to wander deep within a seashell, through a pearly door to an alternative world. We have chosen fragments from my box of wonder and within seconds of holding it in our hand told stories to one another. We have sat drawing Prince Prospero’s (Edgar Allen Poe Masque of the Red Death) castle and given Red Death a face, written ballads and news reports about the Masque of the Red Death and marvelled at the wisdom of Australian birds and animals.

Children have loved contemplating how to build up their artistic eyes and they have written with speed and passion that is a joy to watch. Words literally fall on to the page within just ten minutes! Ballads, lyrics, complex drawings, news reports, fiction and folklore have emerged on their pages and the excitement, as they share their work and cheer one another on is palpable.

Over the coming weeks, I will be featuring some of their work. It feels good to be romancing the creative spirit again!

Strengthening our Artist’s Eye

One of the oldest art forms on the planet is the artwork of the satin bowerbird. If we take the time to observe we can learn from this bird. We can learn and strengthen our artist’s eye.

The male bowerbird creates what is called his bower. It’s not a nest, but an artwork he builds in the hope he can attract a female to visit it, observe his performance in and around the bower, and then—if he’s lucky—mating just might occur!” In parts of Northern Australia, the bowerbird collects colourful rocks, leaves or other trinkets and patiently places them in an artistic formation. When the shrine is complete they wait patiently for females to approach to judge their creativity. If the females like what they see the pair will breed.

Take the time to go out and gather some special pieces to make a bower, or altar of your own.

Raven’s Magical Thinking

Hold still and be yourself! Be borne up upon the wings of power. Taste the frontier! Wander along the boundary fence and feel its special power.

When you meet Raven, he could be telling you that there will be changes in your life and that possibly you should step by the usual way you view reality and look into the inner realms …walk your talk…be prepared to let go of your old thinking and embrace a new way of viewing yourself and the world.

Given that I have just let go of Soul Food it is no accident that my totem bird, the Raven, has appeared to remind me to embrace a new way of identifying myself. Raven’s appearance is reassuring! He uses his adaptability to magically be present when least expected.

Communicate Your Truth

The Peregrine Falcon has flown into my world today to remind me of the importance of communicating our own truth.

These days I mentor very small writing groups. However, whether I have two or twenty-two people participating, those engaging invariably draw odious comparisons and think that their work is not as good as the work being presented by others.

When this happens I remind people that:

♣ a voice trained to live in a dark cave has a strong inner critic to keep it there. You learned to judge yourself relentlessly and to be cautious, and now your inner critic cautions you at every turn. It questions your natural inclinations, your spontaneity; and it ensures that you don’t stand out, and judges you when you do.

♣ When the inner critic dominates, self-worth is swept away.

♣ You are actually speaking the words of someone else

♣  It is natural to de-value your ideas and opinions if they are not heard and valued when you are young. You learned to question their worth, and now in adulthood, you continue to question them and struggle to share them with others.

Perhaps you can add some advice about how to be compassionate to the voice that wants to speak its truth!

Hasten Slowly

Today the butterfly is reminding me not to rush the process of transformation. I am writing my final essay and I am preparing for a 500-hour placement beginning in June. Butterfly reminds me to spend some time in the cocoon of my home nurturing my creativity and getting in touch with my feelings. Within the cocoon, I can embrace the rapture of transformation and rebirth; trust that a force greater than me has a guiding hand in what I will do when I finally complete this degree in September.

Take the time, within the safety of a special cocoon-like space to read more about butterfly symbolism.

  • Wrap yourself tightly in a blanket for a few minutes and then slowly unwrap it and emerge. Does this seem like a metaphor for anything in your life right now?

Life is Adventuring

 

My old school song began with the lines “Life is Adventuring, beyond the far horizon”. I honestly cannot remember the rest of the song but I do know that life is an adventure when you have lots of coloured pencils, and are able to travel through a portal into another universe, prance along with pipers and meet big friendly giants.

Bask In The Sun Daydreaming

The frilled neck lizard is a creature that spends its days basking in the sun, daydreaming its future into reality. Lizard’s wisdom is that of the dreamer; the daydreamer!

In a culture obsessed with efficiency, mind-wandering is often derided as useless—the kind of thinking we rely on when we don’t really want to think. Freud, for instance, described daydreams as “infantile” and a means of escaping from the necessary chores of the world into fantasies of “wish-fulfilment.”

In recent years, however, psychologists and neuroscientists have redeemed this mental state, revealing the ways in which mind-wandering is an essential cognitive tool. It turns out that whenever we are slightly bored—when the reality isn’t quite enough for us—we begin exploring our own associations, contemplating counterfactuals and fictive scenarios that only exist within the head.

Today Lizard is calling upon us to take serious note of our daydreams and visioning! It encourages us to keep a journal and spend time creating ideal scenes, roadmaps of possibilities.

Try creating some ideal scenes in your journal – writing or drawing. Address areas such as

  • daily routines
  • creative expression
  • leisure and travel
  • money to support the lifestyle you want
  • relationships
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