I published the story of how before I became a national poetry slam chick, I used to be a cringing poetry chicken. It’s all about using magic to move past what we are afraid of and how to claim what we really want.
I cringed inside every time he said it.
“This is Marya. She’s a poet.”
I was ashamed. His introduction made me feel like an imposter.
Even though I’d been writing poetry since I was young.
Even though I’d taken poetry workshop classes in college.
Even though I’d published literary magazines.
Even though I’d read and performed poems publicly.
Even though my poems had been published.
Other writers will understand. Something about calling myself a poet felt self-important. Pretentious. I didn’t feel like I deserved to be called a poet because I wasn’t a Great American Poet.
I tried to explain, “Poet, author, artist, musician… one does not just bandy these terms about.”
You can read the rest of it here at my Wholly Creative blog where I discuss some of the Hermetic principles of magic that helped me manifest what my heart really desired.
There’s no mistake how much most of us enjoy our stories. Streaming our favorite films and shows is a national pastime that many of us can’t resist. The thrills, the romance, the suspense — all of this adventure, we experience from a safe distance. We know it’s “not real” so even when it’s dramatically tragic, we aren’t too concerned about how the death of our favorite character is going to impact our actual lives.
At night, similarly, we enter the theater of dreams, seeing stories unfold that terrify, delight, and amaze us. When we wake, we may remember them and wonder about them, but mostly, we shake them off because they aren’t “the real world.”
Then again, lots of what goes on in the real world, what we believe to be true and act on, is nothing but projection, too — just a great drama invented in our minds, a story we made up to give meaning and purpose to the world. It’s amazing how when we decide that something is true how the entirety of reality shapes itself to support that belief.
This condition of our minds is exactly why magic is so effective in producing the results we want. Like films, dreams, and our waking projections, magic creates meaning of the things in our world, attributing significance to them and acting accordingly.
Embracing magic has been a process of waking up within the dream of my life. The more awake I become the more I am aware that there’s no real difference between “reality” and “magic,” except that in “reality,” I am accepting the conditions of my life as somehow less mutable and more imprisoning than those of my imagination. In “magic,” instead of being at the mercy of an external world, I see that I get to choose what I’d like my world to look like. I get to create it intentionally, just like a writer and director would do for a film, except that the movie is my life.
Lots of people stay asleep within their dream. Mostly, I think this is because they don’t realize that they are dreaming. When most people say they are “woke” what they mean is that they are aware of some underlying social or political system at work in our culture. But this what is called in sleeping dreams “false awakening.” They’re just dreaming that they have woken.
To really be woke is to understand how much power we have, that we are the dreamer and that we can change the dream. That is we can actively change the projection that we generally and passively accept as “reality.”
Of course, this takes lots of work. It takes work at things people will often dismiss as frivolous and impractical. Working with the subtle forces of deities (which is to say “archetypes”) and of our desires and aversions is the stuff of magic that wakes us up inside the dreams of our lives so that we are lucid and empowered, and we recognize the significance of everything.
This is what I focus on in the Genius workshop of the Practical Magic for Writers series. We work with the mind’s powers — of imagining, of creating story, of dreaming and believing and knowing — as we write. I have found writing to be the strongest magical tool I know of to shape and create reality. It’s allowed me to wake within the dream and to dream wide awake.
People’s eyebrows do The Wave when I tell them what I’m up to.
They seem intrigued (or maybe confused?) by the yoga-magic fusion that I practice in my writing. Many times I will have met someone in the more mainstream yoga world and when they find out that I practice magic, I watch their eyebrows do their thing.
Yoga and magic aren’t that different, really. They both work with subtle forces to bring about change. They both believe in the power of words.
Yoga philosophy holds not only that words are powerful and important but that language and sound is sacred. The sacred syllable Om brought everything into existence. As writers, our letters create sounds that spell words into existence. We manifest where there was nothing. They don’t call it “a spell” for nothing.
I’ve seen this sort of spelling happen over and over again in my life, where my writing meditations manifested new things and often a new world. In fact, these were often things beyond my wildest dreams.
Once during a waxing moon, I cast a spell for knowledge (I teach this spell in a writing workshop). It was a spell that had chosen me – that is to say, I had chosen the spell randomly allowing The Universe to tell me what work I needed to do in my life to become more aligned with my True Self and True Purpose.
In the seven days that I worked the spell, sitting in the roots of an old tree and recording its wisdom, not much happened except that my journal pages began to fill with smart observations expressed in poetic language. The last day, I finished the spell and I thought, “Well, I got some good writing.” And I thought that was it.
But that night, which also happened to be a lunar eclipse, I got more.
The phone rang. It was a call from my then-teenaged daughter who lived with her father, and he had done all he could to keep her from me and drive a wedge between us. But that night, my daughter was asking to come live with me.
Talk about knowledge! From that point on, I learned what it was like to be a daily parent rather than a weekend one. I learned that all the sacrifices that I had made to stay in my daughter’s life hadn’t been for naught. I learned to forgive myself for being young and poor and unable to fight for her when I left her father.
But it wasn’t just me who gained knowledge. My daughter did, too. Her studies, which had been stunted by depression in her father’s home, began to improve. With hope for something more than going to the local community college, she also began studying for the SAT. Based on the knowledge she demonstrated on that test, the University contacted us to say they would admit her if she had another semester of excellent grades.
And the magic continued to expand over the months. When we got the call six months later saying she was accepted to University, we literally jumped up and down and cried tears of joy.
What unfolded – the sudden reunion with my daughter and her rapid re-routing of her life course – was nothing short of a miracle. And that’s what a spell does for us: it gives us what otherwise seems too difficult or impossible. And this is just one instance of countless others where writing magic changed my life for the better.
It’s why I will always practice what I call Practical Magic for Writers. Not only do I manifest new writing, but I manifest wonderful life changes.
And just in case you were wondering, I shaped the writing from my spell for knowledge into a lyric essay, and it was recently accepted by Tiferet Journal of Spiritual Literature. Once set in motion, the forces of magic are unstoppable.
I’ve never thought of myself as a tree hugger. I mean, I love nature. I enjoy sailing, hiking, sunbathing, kayaking, and bike riding. I’ve even done some protesting of GMOs.
But I know people deeply committed to eco-preservation. These people chain themselves to trees or to each other and block destruction of the environment, like the Everglades, enduring heat, injury, and dehydration, until the authorities eventually haul them away to jail. I deeply admire these people. Still, I don’t see myself as a tree hugger. I mean, I admire martial artists. That doesn’t make me a ninja.
Still, I surprised myself the other day when I did everything short of hugging a tree to make myself feel better. Here’s what was going on:
For no real reason other than it was a Tuesday, my chest was tight and there was lump in my throat. One way I deal with anxiety is to dial up my productivity. Sometimes it helps.
On the Tuesday in question, I applied for a DBA for Wholly Creative, learned online software to help my business, organized my workspace, brainstormed with my assistant about other opportunities, and met a friend for lunch. I felt powerful, full of momentum. After lunch, I crashed for a half hour and took a nap. But by the afternoon, the tension was still there in my chest and throat.
So I tried the opposite approach: do less.
I walked to to the beach. I wrote for a little while. I watched the children throwing buckets of water at each other, the waves rolling in, couples sitting on blankets in the soft sand together, the golden light of the setting sun bathing the whole scene in such magical light that even the garbage seemed enchanted. But the breeze, waves, and sunset didn’t do much for the constriction I still felt, like an unseen hand was reaching down my throat and squeezing my heart.
I packed up my things as the breeze blew colder, and as I walked toward home, I was drawn to the coral tree that stood in the grassy area along the beach. It’s complex root structure fascinated me. Its branches rolled like cursive into the punctuation of bumps and nubs.
I slowly approached the tree, more curious than committed to an action, still with this discomfort, this dull aching in my chest and throat. I thought about doing a couple lion’s breaths, sticking out my tongue with a forceful exhale, which sometimes helped a little.
Instead I began talking to the tree. “Hi there. You’re an interesting tree. Do you mind if I sit here?” I climbed onto the horizontal portion of the trunk and settled in. “I used to have another tree friend back in Florida.”
And then I began to tell this tree about another tree, a Green Buttonwood, that used to grow along the sea wall in Lake Worth. I used to sit on its similarly sideways trunk and listen to the waves slop against the seawall while I wrote. The days I spent there with the tree, I unburdened so much in the pages of my notebook. During our time together, I went through several boyfriends, my father died, I went back to graduate school, my daughter moved in with me and I became a full-time mom. I experienced and learned so much with that tree, that I developed a relationship with it. I started to call it my tree.
Then the fences went up. Hurricanes and time had damaged the sea wall, and a restoration project was underway. I couldn’t get to my tree without climbing under the fence. I wrote the city a letter expressing my concern about the tree. I was told by the city’s arborist that there were others who inquired, too, and that the city was looking into what could be done to preserve the tree.
One night as I walked in the moonlight to the park, I let out a howl. The tree had been uprooted. Its trunk and limbs, sawed into pieces, were in a pile.
“Murderers!” I shrieked and ran toward the fence. I lifted the chain link and crawled under it. Surveying the damage, I let out a roar, as much furious at my helplessness as at the person or people who had done this. And then began to sob. I rested my hand on a large limb, as I looked at the severed pieces lying casually on the grass.
“I’m so sorry. I’m so so sorry.” I cried in the darkness as the leaves limply hung from their drying branches. “I tried. I didn’t know what else to do.”
That night I walked home with a bundle of smaller branches in one arm, dragging one large leafy branch behind me. Weeks later when they had dried enough to burn, I lit a funeral pyre and said goodbye. I saved one two inch piece of a large branch from the fire. It moved with me to California. I keep it on my altar.
I told this story to my new tree friend as we sat together looking out at the ocean. And then I settled in to write a poem about a girl in a tree. “Her heart relaxes in this hammock of arteries and veins.”
“Practice the art of doing without doing”: it’s on a Post-it stuck to a binder for what I call my “Phoenix Feather” project. “Phoenix Feather” feels good in the mouth; it’s fun to say. I had a childlike wonder as I used crayons to draw a picture of a red and purple feather. Then I slid my artwork into the front the binder to impart that energy to my work there. I’ve learned that feeling good about my project helps me approach it in a way that lets work happen easily rather than as part of a struggle. I’ve been making much progress on this project because it feels fun, wonder-filled, and inviting.
Another Post-it on the binder reminds me “I can of my own self do nothing. John 5:30.” And a third, a paraphrase of the Gayatri mantra, a highly revered Hindu prayer, invokes the source of all inspiration and creativity: “You who are the source of all power, whose rays illuminate the world, illuminate also my heart so that it, too, can do your work.” I’m eclectic when it comes to spiritual inspiration! There’s wisdom and guidance from so many sources.
I love that invocation in the Gayatri. When I’m connected to Source, letting divine energy move through me, my work is effortless. It becomes doing without doing. In my search for more on the topic, I found this post by Lindsey Lewis on Daily Cup of Yoga: 5 Ways to Master the Art of Doing without Doing.
For me, writing has provided the spiritual adventure of a lifetime. It’s been the impetus for leaving bad relationships, for understanding the nature of love, for coping with trauma, for creating community, for taking up exercise, and for getting sober. While I was a columnist, writing was also a sort of therapy, connecting me with the outside world in a way that made me get out of my emotional pain — rather than looking inward, I had to look out and around. It was one thing that helped me not collapse into despair.
So while lots of wonderful people go to a sanctuary of some religious affiliation to get their spiritual experience, I get mine by showing up for my writing practice. I can tell how “spiritually fit” I am by looking at my relationship with my creativity. Am I disciplined and showing up regularly? Am I showing up with reverence for the “magic” that happens when I get in the zone? Am I humble when I am blocked or uncertain? Am I loving and accepting of myself and my work when it isn’t awesome?
I used to think that my writing career as a columnist and poet was a measure of my awesomeness: my drive, my talent, my connections. When I got stuck or I failed, I was full of self hate and shame. I’ve learned over the years that my intellect is not “mine” (I was just born with that innate intelligence into a family that nurtured it), my talent is not mine (again, I’ve nurtured it, but the aptitude was inherent), my will is not “mine” (all the energy I derive for that will power comes from food and air and lessons others taught me), and my love of writing is not “mine” either (many people share this love).
Oddly, before I really did some spiritual growth, I used to brush off my successes (“Of course I’m a columnist, I’m good at writing! That’s not really an achievement!”) and really focus on my failures. I’ve learned that I can celebrate success, but I have to give credit to EVERYthing that contributed (thanks Air! thanks, Food! thanks, Mom and Dad! thanks, Editors! thanks, neighbors for shutting up often enough for me to get work done!). To me this “EVERYthing” is a lot like what people talk about when they talk about ONEness, or how everything is one.
This also gave me a new relationship with the “f” word — failure. It’s not all on me. A host of factors play into my non-success. I’ve learned to interpret these occasions as an opportunity to renew my commitment to my craft or project, to exercise my humility, and to contribute to creative growth as I try again but in a different way.
Writing is not my religion, but it is my practical approach to spirituality. Instead of telling me the WHAT of spirituality (which is what religion does in its dogma–its code of beliefs), it has shown me the HOW. For me, that’s a wonderful approach because the HOW is inclusive of people of all faiths (or none at all), while the WHAT is exclusive to a specific religion. We also could use more practical spirituality in our everyday lives.
I used to be entirely pragmatic with no “trimmings”; however, now I see the value in creating altars and practicing rituals to support my creativity. As a pragmatist, I put my altar on the bookcase in the living room beneath the wall-mounted TV, where my focus naturally rests when I’m sitting on the couch, where I often write.
I have an image of the Hindu goddess Saraswati (she rules creativity and intellect), some candles, flowers, and a stone printed with the question “What would you do if you knew you could not fail?” I often light the candles as I hope to spark some new idea or let creativity shine. I look to the water (in the vase and in the Saraswati image) as a reminder to let things flow and not to be too rigid. The flowers remind me of the organic cycles of creativity (not always blossoming). And the stone I will often pick up and hold in my hands because grounds me as much as it reminds me to invest in what I really love and to dream bigger.
I’ll be leading a FREE webinar on Practical Magic for Writers. Join me and learn more about simple practices to infuse your writing life with joy, inspiration, and vitality.
Poor Monday. Without fail, people bitch about it every week. And it’s not just people who hate their jobs. (If you hate your job, do one little thing every day to find a new job — you’ll feel happier just plotting your escape). Even for people who like their work, Mondays can be difficult. After the weekend, it’s not easy to get back in gear for the workweek.
The thing is we expect 0 to 60. And that’s not good for us. And it’s not the sort of energy Monday carries. Monday is named after the Moon. Unlike the previous day, Sunday, charged with energy of direct light, Monday is meant to be reflective and sort of dreamy. It’s a good day for intuition and insights. It’s more mysterious and more subtle than the energy of Sunday. Which makes it a terrible day to get back to the grind. Grind energy is good on Tuesdays, which is why its traditionally the more productive day of the week.
Don’t fight Monday. It doesn’t mean you have to take the day off or you’re totally screwed if you have to report to work. Save the tasks that lend itself to this energy for this day. Know that you’re going to be a little slower, like you are moving through a dream.
Last week, excited about a new project, I jumped in on Monday, determined to learn a new software program and complete a project. Halfway through the day I was so frustrated that I updated my Facebook status saying that the project made me want to kill myself, my laptop, and the internet. (My sense of drama is strong every day of the week.) It didn’t occur to me until later in the week that I’d picked a crap day for my project.
This week I’ve reordered things. Mondays are a good day to use intuition to explore ideas, imagine ways to develop projects, and to start setting up to jump in on Tuesday.
Planning your schedule to align with the mood and quality of the day will help you work smarter. It will also help you learn to love Mondays.