Woodland magic and writing spirits

When I returned home this week from the Pacific Circle Revival, a pagan campout that celebrated midsummer, I brought back something unexpected.

I had made my camp on the top of Celtic Hill overlooking a wilderness of trees and mountains. Yucca trees stood like blooming spears among the pines. On the ground, lizards scampered. In the trees, blue-feathered birds alighted. On top of that hill, an oak sheltered my tent, and a nearby boulder became my altar to Saraswati, goddess of learning, arts, and creativity.

Part festival and part retreat, the Revival was a gathering of dozens of other people during the three days in Angeles National Forest for workshops and rituals. Though I came to the event alone and didn’t know anyone when I arrived, I was never lonely. I had lots of company when I descended from my camp. Several hours a day, I spent in the company of other people learning about nature and practicing magic.

Most of my time, however, was spent happily by myself among the trees and rocks as I talked to nature and its spirits. I was happy apparently alone because I didn’t feelalone. I had a community of people, nature, and the supernatural all around me.

By Sunday, I was so content that I even stayed after most other people left. As I heard engines start and people saying their goodbyes as they drove out of the campgrounds, I sat in front of my altar watching the sun descend in the sky and talking to Saraswati, feeling more connected than ever.

Mountain top BandidoAt home, my writerly independence can feel isolating. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve prayed for a spiritual and creative partner. So many times. Too many to count. Despite all my many requests, I am single. I live alone. I work alone.

My prayers have felt unanswered.

On that hill, with a breeze blowing in from the west, I asked the goddess how to know her better, how to please her. I wrote a little, because that is what she asks of me.

I drove home slower than necessary as I descended the mountain, soaking the last bit of magic in. Once home, I realized that my prayers had been answered. I just hadn’t recognized it. I had expected a human partner, but my spiritual and creative partner is Spirit itself, embodied as the goddess Saraswati. I am not living and working alone when I take the time to bring her in on my projects and when I stay in relationship with her.

Turns out, the weekend in the mountains was like a magical couple’s retreat for me and Saraswati.

Set aside some time to romance your own creativity. Light a candle. Make some magic. I invite you to consider which of your prayers have been answered but you haven’t recognized, too. Perhaps you will sit with that for a while, and then write about it as I have. Remember: gratitude has a magic of its own.

Learn more about writing and magic in my Magic, The Elements & Writing YouTube video.  Or stop by Wholly Creative and learn more.

 

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Magical Confessions of a Poetry Chick(en); or How to Manifest What Your Heart Desires

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.

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Learn more at PracticalMagicForWriters.com.

Sacrifice: a confession, an oath, an homage

I’ve been trying to write about sacrifice for days now. I realized it was important part of Fire element (I’m writing a book, Practical Magic for Writers, where I look at writing through the lens of the four classical elements), that we need sacrifice in order to keep us committed. I know this firsthand; I’ve sacrificed big time.

I have a clear purpose, a clear audience, but there is something in me so adverse, so resistant to writing about it that I haven’t been able to get myself to sit down to write for three days. When I try, my aversion has me open Facebook or email or compose something else. I’m a professional writer, for fucksake. And a writing coach. “Heal thyself!” I scream at myself in my head. Disgusted.

candle flame
A light in the darkness

Lighting a candle got me to sit down and open my lap top and start writing. I made it to 800ish words in a herky-jerky, stop-start process that felt a lot more like learning to drive a stick-shift than sitting down to write.

It’s a huge relief when I realize I am crying. I’m opening a huge can of worms. Fucking huge. Because to me sacrifice means leaving my then-2-year-old daughter with her father so that I could write. And it’s difficult to explain how I could do that and not be a monster; or if I am, how I got to be that monster. Or how my now-26-year-old daughter has both benefitted and been hurt by my choices. How we both say I did the best I could, given the circumstances, but both of us feel like we deserved better. We’re both still hurting and angry.

It’s difficult to explain the subtleties of what happened – how I didn’t “give her up,” for instance, or how much my difficult relationship – including emotional, physical and sexual abuse – with my own parents influenced my choices. It’s too much. And my cat, which has been relegated to the porch for shitting and pissing all over the house, is howling. Other than the over-eating, she’s a healthy cat. But she’s an emotional wreck.

sappho-2
A 24-pound cat fits easily into any size box.

Anxiety has me by the shoulders and is shaking me hard. And I want to punch the cat and shake her hard. I want her howling to stop so that my pain will stop its howling. Who can write in these conditions?

I decide not to be thwarted by writer’s block. Not to succumb to the urge to punch the cat. To write, even if it is crap. Just write it anyway. Because if I don’t write, not only do I feel the pain of the past but I also feel the pain of my present – my past and current powerlessness. And if I punch the cat, then I really am a monster.

I have rationalized my choices, but I haven’t forgiven myself. I’m pretty sure that’s holding me back. I’ve been punished enough. I am ready to be forgiven, to be washed clean. I want all the experience, all of the wisdom, none of the pain, none of the guilt.

The cat is still howling.

Too much of the time, I have felt like a hostage of circumstance. But I’ve decided my victim days are over. So, fuck you, anxiety and pain and shame and fear. Fuck you. You don’t get to control my life anymore.

I’m writing you off, out of my life. I will squeeze you out, shake you off. You will dangle at the end of my sentence, howling.

The Manifestation Tree: A new ritual for a new year

I love a good ritual! A few years back I invented a ritual to celebrate the new year and honor the things I wanted for myself and my life.

It started as an urge to give others what they most wanted. Just before Christmas 2015, I had been brainstorming gift ideas for a couple of close friends. I wanted something that would be meaningful but wouldn’t be expensive. I had squirreled away some giant mugs with spiritual quotes that seemed like a good start, but I didn’t just want to stuff them with candy (so impersonal!) or give an empty mug (symbolically awful!).

I thought, “Wouldn’t it be great if I could give the people I love what their hearts most desire?”

The rest came to me pretty quickly. I conceived of a variation on a floral arrangement in the mug: “The Manifestation Tree.” It would be an attractively arranged bunch of branches from which paper leaves were hung by ribbons. On the leaves, goals, desires, or dreams could be written down with the intention of the growing them into existence.

GET A FREE COPY OF THE MANIFESTATION TREE BOOK!

magical-treeIt was everything: affordable, meaningful, symbolic, and practical.

I gathered fallen branches in a eucalyptus grove. Then I went to the craft store for the rest of the supplies: florist’s foam, decorative moss, silver spray paint, ribbon, craft paper, permanent markers. I selected silver spray paint and shimmery craft paper to create a magical feel, and then I chose ribbon colors specific to my friends’ personalities. My Buddhist friend would get a purple-ribboned tree in a black mug with an image of Buddha; and my yogini friend would get a aqua-blue ribboned tree in a blue mug with the lord Ganesha, remover of obstacles.

My friends appreciated their gifts, keeping them up for the season and then saving the mug when the branches had served their purpose.

I was so in love with my invention that I made an identical blue tree for myself, and it still stands. My manifestation tree sits on my kitchen table year round, a sort of altar in the my home’s nerve center of growth: the place where I nourish, heal, and warm myself.

I’ve watched as each of the intentions I wrote down manifested one by one. The leaves were a visual reminder of what I wanted in my life, and I believe moved me toward what I wanted. As I identified new goals, I wrote them down and added them to the tree.

Tmanifestation-tree-coverhe tree is rather full now, and I’ve seen most of what I intended come to fruition. This year, I may begin removing the leaves that have manifested to make room for new ones to grow. It seems fitting that these leaves be sent up in fire or stored in a special place.


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I lead Creative Flow: Yoga & Writing in Recreation Park in Long Beach, California, on the first Saturday of the month! Come move and write with us!

Summer’s bounty; Writing as harvest

In these final days of summer, let’s take time to honor the season’s fiery energy before it’s gone. That fire manifests itself in lots of activity, frequently recreational activities, because the days are longer and we feel more alive, and because the season’s heat is balanced by the cooling qualities of play and leisure, which restore and rejuvenate us.

They don’t call it recreation, for nothing.

In agriculture, the summer is the period of growth and maturation, catalyzed by all that abundant sunlight. Fall is the season of harvest — that time where we reap the benefits of the seeds we planted in spring. We see the farmer’s calendar reflected in the school year, which is why we have the summer off to play, and in fall and spring we work.

Often the fun we’ve had during the summer is perceived as less productive (and therefore less valuable) than other times of year when we are hard at work. This true only if we are measuring our productivity in terms of external achievements rather than internal growth.

Because I teach a full course load of college classes and run my own creative coaching business, I certainly need my goof-off time just for sanity’s sake.  Summertime is when I get it. Sometimes I’m down on myself for what feels like an indulgence; I often overlook how much I’m actually getting done while I’m “doing nothing.”

This summer was no exception. By summer’s end, I groaned at how little I’d done in the way of crossing things off my “To Do” list. I was pretty close to giving myself a hard time about my lack of discipline. But then I thought about how much got done (intentional use of the passive voice, folks!) while I was doing nothing.

While I was off playing and having a great time, I underwent important, transformational growth. For instance, I met a wonderful someone with whom I deeply connected and thereby received not only a summer playmate, but a growth accelerator. The romance sparked my imagination and ignited my heart, but it also aroused fear and touched old wounds. As the fiery energy of summer  kindled desire and affection, it helped me burn through some of the debris of the past.

summer-wheat_21358588

Moving into the fall, I have an opportunity to create stories and essays from my summer experiences, harvesting the wisdom from my my growth. Like that old Christian hymn says, I will be “bringing in the sheaves” (sheaves are bundles of grain) that matured during the sunny season. And I will rejoice the planting, growing, and harvesting as I write.

Writing is how I thresh and winnow, separating the wheat from the chaff (or rice from the chaff, for those of us who are gluten-free). To continue the metaphor, ultimately, this process is how I make my dough, make a living, sustain myself. It’s how I became a “real writer.”

Remember that essay your teacher made you write on what you did during your summer vacation? Why not write one now?

Rejoice!

 

Want more writing inspiration and awesomeness?

Writing Myself: On Becoming a Real Writer — Women Who Submit

by Marya Summers In the summer of 2003, poets from around the world converged in Chicago for the National Poetry Slam. One densely packed nightclub was electric with anticipation for the group poem showcase, a highlight of the annual event. You could have supplied power to a small town with the energy my own body […]

How do we face rejection? How do we claim our right to be and express ourselves in a sometimes hostile world? The answer is in a spiritual paradox. via Writing Myself: On Becoming a Real Writer — Women Who Submit

A Daily Writing Practice for Busy People

Writing “into the moment” rather than “about the moment” allows you to slow down and appreciate where you are. This practice can help writers be writers. And crazy-busy people be just plain ol’ busy and not so much crazy.

Think of it as a form of meditation. Except that, if you’re a writer, you’re also getting something accomplished and not just sitting there. To do this, you use the five senses to bring yourself fully into your experience. You will see how memory is fed and intuition is fired when you drink in everything deeply through the senses. In your dilated state, fully aware of the gross world, you are attuning your awareness so that it can become increasingly subtle. Writing about the sensory world “the world of the particulars” allows you to really immerse yourself. In meditation, they call this “mindfulness.”

But if you’re a busy person — one who is juggling so many things that it’s hard to slow down like that for big chunks of time — sometimes trying to honor a daily writing practice seems like one more thing to do. And it doesn’t feel urgent, so it gets put off. I know. I’ve been there.

When I was a smoker, even when I was crazy busy working full-time and going to graduate school full time, I used to take 5 minutes to go outside and smoke a cigarette. Suddenly everything just got put on hold for 5 whole minutes. It wasn’t a question of if I would do it. It happened like clockwork. Every hour or two, I’d take those 5 minutes and enjoy the sun on my skin and the wind in my hair. I don’t smoke anymore. But I often take these little breaks anyway.

It’s the perfect time to write about the sun and the wind in just a little writing “quickie.” One that feels like a stolen moment of down time.

Buddhist priest and writer Fiona Robyn calls these short snippets of writing into the moment  “Small Stones.” She says two things define this writing practice: 1) it’s short  and 2)  it preciselystones captures a fully-engaged moment. Writing Small Stones is not only a mindfulness practice, it’s a creative practice that can get you living up to your potential as a writer.

It’s practices like these that help us build a consistent and feel-good writing life that I address in my Wholly Creative writing workshops. If you want to know more about them, you can go here. I have found that writing is my spiritual practice, and it’s important that I do it regularly and often to stay centered and grounded, which translates to sane and happy. If leading and attending workshops is like going to church; small stones are like daily prayers of gratitude. I need both.

These excerpts from well-known poets are fully engaged and small enough to be a small stone. The last one is by Fiona Robyn herself.

William Carlos Williams, From “Paterson: Book I”

nothing but the blank faces of the houses
and cylindrical trees
bent, forked by preconception and accident–
split, furrowed, creased, mottled, stained–
secret–into the body of the light!

Wallace Stevens, From “Of Mere Being”

The bird sings. Its feathers shine.

The palm stands on the edge of space.
The wind moves slowly in the branches.
The bird’s fire-fangled feathers dangle down.

Dan Oestreich, From “Going to Sleep”

the sound of the creek
just after the rain stopped
trees still drip-dripping
and the clouds starting to break
wide open into
(I remember now)
a kind of blue peace
the still
wide open
unknown

Fiona Robyn, From Small Stones

The sun sags in the sky. Half a lemon sits face down in a puddle, scenting the water with citrus. Everything tightens against the cold.

Take a break right now and write a Small Stone, and then share it in the comments section!

Be the star of your very own solar system

While the stars were out last night, I was dreaming crazy dreams. I mean C-R-A-Z-Y.

When the sun rose, and I awoke, I began writing.

Magic was afoot, and it was evident because something was out of balance. Someone had imposed his or her will on the land, and the result was a frenzy of wings. Every sort of bird took to the sea and sky and found space among the four-legged animals that crowded the land. It felt scary, an omen of some kind…

…a villainess and her entourage want your home, which has no doors only elaborate passages between rooms, but more — she seems to want YOU. There is some power you hold that you are unaware of. She tries to control you by taking away what you love — Ashley and Oliver, your daughter and your cat. You know who you are when you are with them — because you serve each other and give each other reasons to live, to go out, to go on, and to come home. These are the attachments that fortify you. When they disappear, you are as concerned for them as you are for yourself. You ask about the chaos of animals outside. She says, “A creativity spell.”dream

You know what you must do, but do not know how.

You begin to cast a spell you can barely recall that you saw once in a book. You spell R-E-G-I-N-A out, tracing each letter with a finger in the air. Then shave the first letter off, E-G-I-N-A. Then G-I-N-A. Each letter is supposed to represent something, hold some power. “S” you remember stands for “Sin” but there is no “S” in “Regina” and you think maybe you’ve remembered the spell wrong, but you go on. Because now that you are powerless, faith is all you have. Faith, and this magically enhanced land, and this doorless house, and though you are uncertain of your power, you know it’s valuable because other people have come for it. You need to learn about your own abilities, understand your own resources. You have to become your own teacher.

Writing down snippets of imagery and story from my dreams has helped me glean their messages. I do more than merely recording the events, which is often boring and time-consuming because I dream so much. But as I write into, rather than about, the dream images and feelings while I am still waking up, I awaken to the depth of the messages.

From this dream, I realized I’d been resisting financial success and material gain because it made me feel vulnerable on many levels — spiritually, emotionally, and physically. I also realized I don’t entirely trust creativity or understand my own power. Still, I rule (Regina means queen) and can create change with words and writing … even in thin air.

WOW! Huge messages that I would have missed if I simply woke up and said, “Dude, I had some crazy-ass dreams last night.”

Some mornings I wake up and write into the dream just to record characters, images or plot.

Like this recent entry:

No one was certain but they speculated she’d been eaten by alligators, having spent so much time among them. She was once queen of the forest, connoisseur of the bramble and buzz, cheerleader for the chaos of nature. She appreciated its logic. She knew the alligators and did not fear them. She watched them float at the surface, creep from the black Florida muck, and slide into the darkly steeped rivers. Every river was alligator soup, teaming with decay, which was nourishment, more that she’d ever received on either side of the desk in a classroom. She thought, “It won’t pay much, but at least I’ll make a difference.” But teaching was full of its own kinds of gators — bureaucratic administrators and entitled parents would drag a teacher under and let a child’s education rot there with her. So to save the only one she could, she retreated to the bureaucracy of the forest. And then she quit the forest to farm the land. So when the young boy went missing near the banks of the Loxahatchee where she’d also gone to hike that day, folks pretty much assumed instinct overcame the logic, and she’d tried to wrestle a gator to save the boy. Or at least that’s how people were telling it from the cracked vinyl seats of Curley’s over their coffees and pancakes. 

Every time I write a dream down, it becomes real. Solid. Like a planet, the story orbits me during the day. Often, I am aware of several of them orbiting at the same time. Each dream is its own world, and I am its sun. I may not be the center of the universe, but I am the star of my very own solar system.

Not everyone dreams as vividly and frequently as I do, obviously. Some may recall their dreams only infrequently. Still, even these occasional recollections can provide some fantastic source material for writers, artists and other creative thinkers. The trick is tapping in…

#whatsyourstory #whollycreative

Sign-up for my free online Dream Writing workshop: Discover Inner Wisdom & Creative Gold. Wake up and dream on! Attend the live webinar Saturday, February 27, 2016 at 11 am PST. Or watch in replay.

 

 

Awakening in the shallow end of paradise

I jogged in place in three-and-a-half feet of cool water, warming my muscles, while I watched the sun stream its golden light into a blue sky and fill the white clouds with iridescence. Foghat pounded from a big, plastic boom box, and I kept pace with the steady, driving beat of “Slow Ride” while the pool filled with bodies.

For the next hour, on the command of the water aerobics instructor, all thirty of us swooshed right and left with the kickboard in our arms or waved our arms overhead and bounced up and down in a series of jumping jacks or whatever it was we were told to do while 100.3 The Sound offered a continuing stream of classic rock.

But my attention was on the sky. Several women also turned away from the instructor and gazed toward the swollen, setting sun as we exercised.

“Beautiful,” said the woman next to me, acknowledging our shared experience.

While we kicked, lunged, jumped, and swooshed, the sky’s blue turned to striated pastels. The clouds became pink and then bruised slowly, first on their bottoms; then the purple seeped up, overtook the pinks, and swallowed the rosy glow in their scalloped tops. Quickly then, purple became ash.

“Such dramatic change,” I thought, my mind turning toward how I often resist and resent change, even when it comes in the span of years rather than a few minutes.

That me – earthbound and limited – seemed foolish and small now to this me, immersed in the pool and expanding awareness. I was more than in the moment.

Time stretched – and I with it – as the music pulled me into a non-specific nostalgia for a past era, the water and movement anchored me in the present, and the trajectory of the sun and its myriad sky effects, still working on the Western horizon, pulled me into the future. I was in five decades at once. Maybe more.

In line waiting to pay admission to the Belmont Pool
Heaven’s waiting room: the view from the line for the Belmont Pool

On my back, I held on to the lane line, scissor-kicking and gazing up into the now blue-black expanse of the sky where time seemed to reach out in all directions. I felt myself move with it, transcending mere presence. Weightless and timeless, I felt myself expanding toward omnipresence.

“This must be what it’s like to be God,” I thought, not with self-importance but with awe.

This side of heaven and still time-bound, class ended at 8. The bodies began to emerge from the pool. While people wrapped themselves in towels, I did a handstand. I turned a few somersaults. I stroked the surface of the radiant blue water, which had become more beautiful now that it twinkled in the pool lights, wanting to stay.

“It’s time,” I thought, making my way toward the steps. My fingers were water-logged. My bladder was full.

Back on the pool deck, I felt a different pull. Gravity.

As I picked up my towel and made my way toward the exit, everything felt twice as heavy as it had before I’d gotten in the pool. And I wasn’t ready to be burdened again – not physically with the weight of the world, nor mentally by the conventions of linear time and thinking.

“Nope,” I thought. “Not yet.”

Tossing my towel toward the bleachers, I took several large and eager steps and plunged back in.

Meditation on abundance

I feel pregnant: abundant, full of life, physically crowded, moody, hopeful, expectant, and a little exhausted. I’m incubating ideas for my writing, my teaching, and my coaching business. All this from my bedroom…my bed, actually, since the 120 square feet is not enough to include a separate workspace. Some women get bed rest when they have difficult pregnancies. Not me, I’ve got bed work…and my baby is the work itself.

A cactus in full bloom on my porch
A cactus in full bloom on my porch

I’ve got notepads, pens, a lap top, books, and a coffee cup on a queen-sized pillow top. I’m propped against pillows with a cat curled up beside me as I write. My former office – my 200 square foot living room — is occupied by former baby, now my adult daughter, who has moved across the country and is living, working, sleeping on my couch. I’m thrilled as always by her arrival and take pleasure in her company, even though the apartment is a tiny place meant for one person with a day job, not two people, two cats, and a small business.

I know this is why literal pregnancies have limits — conception and growth are followed by delivery. We can only contain so much.

I know this is why I must sit down and write, too. The ideas, the words, and the emotions want to come. They are ready. They crowd me. If I do not make room for them, anxiety comes like labor pains.

The fullness is not always comfortable, but I remember not to complain. I learn to make space. This is what abundance looks like. My craft, my calling, my daughter and animals. My life full of warmth, tenderness, and purpose in this tiny, sunlit haven on the coast of Southern California.

All this is full. All that is full. From fullness, fullness comes. When fullness is taken from fullness, fullness remains. So say the Upanishads.

The nature of life: fullness — what flows in, how we expand and accommodate, what flows out and into the world.
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