Category Archives: Romancing the Creative Spirit

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.

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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.

Offering Endless Variety of Nothing

It was Grand Final Day and crowds were packing the MCG. This is the day everything seems to stop in Melbourne and the city takes on the feeling of being a ghost town as people gather in venues to watch the match. It is the day of bar-b-ques and general partying.

Not being vaguely interested in football,  the big match or for that matter being in a crowd, I was feeling a little restless.

Sensing my need for broad open spaces on land where there is a whole lot of nothing, Akari (my beloved Mazda 3) rattled her wheels and said she was up for one of our mystery tours. So, without stopping to gather any supplies, the Lappies (my two Finnish Laphaunds) and I set off on one of our expeditions.

We headed west from Castlemaine, through Maldon, stopping briefly for a sniff run at Eddington and then on beyond Dunolly to Bealiba.

The area around Bealiba was originally known as Cochrane’s, after John and James Cochrane, who took up a pastoral run in 1853. When gold was discovered in 1855-56 the area was known as Cochrane’s Diggings, but the surveyor who laid out the township in 1862 adopted the name of the pastoral run, ‘Bealaba’, later Bealiba. It is thought that the name is derived from Aboriginal words meaning red gum creek.

Once a hub for those seeking gold today Bealiba is a quiet little town. With nothing open to visit, I was content to go to the historic cemetery where one is inevitably confronted with the grief that people who lived in this harsh place endured. As the headstone I photographed testifies, the mortality rate amongst infants was very high. The loss endured by John and Mary Jones is hard to imagine.

Glancing at the petrol gauge Akari and I agreed that it was best to head towards St Arnaud. The drive from Bealiba to this gracious old town seemed to take forever and Akari and I muttered to one another about the folly of deciding to wander about in a part of the world where there is hardly a car to be seen. But we pressed on, relieved to finally reach our destination and stop to refuel, for me to savour coffee and a packet of mixed sandwiches. As I looked at the beautifully manicured park across the road I did think that next time we spontaneously decided to head bush I might pack my picnic basket.

Logan, with its endless variety of absolutely nothing, represents outstanding paucity of value for the tourist dollar. Situated in an area that boasts some superb scenic, high speed, touring roads with extremely low traffic density this is a shabby scrap of dying history

So journey to Logan and relive the shocking hardship of those wretched souls who opened up this land for reasons that no historian has ever been able to fathom.

All roads lead to the Logan Pub.

Sourced from Logan Pub Website – a delightful must read.

As we left St Arnaud I contemplated how far it was to get back to Castlemaine. It was a pleasant surprise to stumble upon the Logan Pub in The Scrub a hotel which promotes itself as offering old fashioned hospitality. The hotel’s quirky website informs us that Logan, a rustic and historically significant hamlet in North Central Victoria, offers the genuine tourist a wealth of valuable experiences.

The perfect place to wait and meet Godot I wondered?

Over a lemon-lime and bitters and a bag of potato crisps, I stopped to chat with the bartender (look carefully you will find him in the photo I took) and took in my surroundings. I mentally noted the assorted items that were hanging from the roof and adorning the shelves. Nearby the huge screen revealed that the big match had started and an array of country folk began to materialize to watch it. I was happy to slip quietly away and head home via Tarnagulla.

A day spent in a land where there is supposedly nothing revealed that there is always something. There never was nothing in the beginning and it turns out that there is something very special in a part of the world that proclaims to be a place where there is a whole lot of nothing.

Footnote: This post is taken from a journal entry. I am offering an intensive journal writing course at the Castlemaine Community House beginning on October 16th. An online version is available at Trains of Thought but only subscribers can view this. Feel free to contact me for more details.

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.

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

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.

The Art of Overseas Gift Shopping

1950’s Bohemian Crystal Beads and Brooch

Wiki How, which claims to explain how to do almost anything, actually has an interesting page about how to buy Souveniers and Gifts Overseas! Needless to say, I only found this page as I prepared to write this post.

Happily, I only intended to buy a couple of gifts while away, but I must admit that, as I walked up along the streets towards the Old Town Square in Prague, I felt despondent! I was not impressed with the tacky tourist offerings. I was looking for posters but instead saw cheap teatowels, postcards, magnets and assorted junk that I wouldn’t even buy for our ‘who can choose the tackiest, ugliest Christmas present’ contest.

Map of Zizkov

As my day for departure drew closer and I had no more success in the villages we visited,  I had all but given up! Then, as if by magic, (well Google actually) I found out about Bohemian Retro. Even with a map in hand, I had trouble navigating my way to this small vintage store which turned out to be only a few streets away from my Airbnb! Believe it or not, when I staggered into Palac Acropolis Retro (which includes a bar and restaurant) to ask for directions, I found the owners of Bohemian Retro having their lunch. I decided that lunch was actually a very good idea and enjoyed an authentic Czech meal served with the most amazing mashed potato of all things – all for little more than five Australian dollars.

On their web page, Bohemian Retro include snippets from the press that they have clearly enjoyed. One fan writes that

If you want to be cheered up, feel welcomed, find something unique and totally in your price range, and walk out feeling better than you did when you arrived – then definitely come here and visit Becky

In fact I don’t even know why I’m raving about this place because it just means you might go and buy something that I’ve been eyeing .. But there are always some surprises waiting so be sure to visit and take a look!

As a Buy Nothing New, vintage shop, charity shop fan, I was certainly cheered up as I rummaged through the piles of goodies. Bohemian Retro is the kind of place I take people on mystery writing tours because the goods have so many stories to tell.

Ultimately it was the 1950’s  Bohemian Crystal bead necklaces that were affordable and not from the heavily branded company with stores up and down the alleyways of popular tourist villages, which caught my eye – along with some delightful brooches.

Completely satisfied with my selections, carefully placed into lovely old jewellery boxes at no extra expense, I treated myself to a tiny hand-stitched wall hanging to pin with a host of other things I have on pinboards, located, believe it or not, in my toilet. Ask my friends! Complete with fairy lights it is quite a gallery there now!

On my final day in Prague, inspired by my success at Bohemian Retro, I intended to visit a charity store I discovered was within walking distance from my apartment.  Alas, it was closed, as was the Poster studio I had found out about. But back at the market, I managed to pick up some cool second-hand books! Another time I will be better prepared and I will have researched and identified precisely where to go.

Solo Traveller – iPhone Story Starters

During my seven days in the Czech Republic, to quote Thoreau, I chose to ‘live deliberately’, mindfully and with intention. For most of the time in Prague, I stayed clear of the primary tourist haunts. However, I took the advice dispensed by sites like Solo Traveller and booked two tours that took me out to villages in the Bohemian countryside.

I stepped on to the tour buses with an open mind, prepared to relinquish my abhorrence of guided tours for two single day trips. Needless to say, I found kindred spirits on board and we shared many laughs, sat over lunch and had fascinating conversations that I will not forget. One of my companions was with a group of architects who had been given a ‘Victoria and Albert’ style ticket to Prague to enrich their understanding of architecture. Martha, like me, was taking photographs of details rather than broad sweeping vistas!

Each photograph here tells a story, brings back memories of day trips I will never forget, largely because I mindfully planned and navigated them by myself.

Time to apply some mettle

Emu is a powerful teacher and guide. It promotes spiritual excellence and achievement by encouraging diligence, hard work, respect and humility in the lives of those it visits. Emu demands the great application of time, energy and love to all spiritual pursuits and can guide those who seek knowledge down paths of wisdom.

Emu is an excellent guide for those interested in shamanic pursuits and techniques. It is one of a few animal guides that is very powerful for shamanists, or those who simply strive for brilliance in all that they do. Emu guide can be quite stern and is a custodian of societal law. When emu appears in your life, it is time to apply some mettle and hard work to your situation. Emu doesn’t permit laziness, and emu energy is not very relaxing or soothing.

The energy of emu tends to come about at a time when rapid movement can be nourishing. Many animals teach us to slow down and take our time, but emu comes into our lives to say ‘speed up, work hard.’ Rapid movement can also be applied physically, through exercises like jogging and physically demanding cardiovascular movement. It can be applied spiritually, by drastically increasing how often your journey, make offerings or rituals, pray etc. Look at what you are doing to serve yourself, your spirituality, or others, and multiply it.

On a personal level, I sense, as I work with children at Winters Flat Primary School, that it is time to apply some mettle and grow a fresh very wild garden.

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.

Hear the song of your soul

To hear the song of your soul

The whale is renowned for its soul songs, songs that enrich and nurture the soul. Carl Sagan taught that one of the truly magical things about whales was the importance of their songs. Whales, quite literally, have a catalogue of songs that they remember and sing. Apparently, they have a different song for each month of the year. They will also have a special song that they sing in a certain location, leave, come back and pick up the song again. These soul songs travel far and wide throughout the oceans.

Since I have been on placement at Winters Flat primary I have remembered the song of my soul. I am back in the classroom as a specialist teacher of writing working with children of all ages and plan to feature the activities and responses of students, parents and teachers in a special Advent Calendar at the end of this year.

Here are some words that are associated with the whale. Think of them as fridge leftovers and make something out of them. Sing a song, be it a ballad, some hip hop, a hymn or a rhapsody and share it today.

  • Abundance
  • Awakening
  • Awareness
  • Balance
  • Beauty
  • Communication
  • Community
  • Consciousness
  • Conversation
  • Creation
  • Creativity
  • Devotion
  • Emotion
  • Experience
  • Family
  • Imagination
  • Inspiration
  • Knowledge
  • Language
  • Movement
  • Navigation
  • Nurturance
  • Psychic
  • Rebirth
  • Record Keeper
  • Rhythm
  • Song
  • Speed
  • Strength
  • Telepathy
  • Understanding
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