The Writing Life

Respite

 

I take daily respite in the morning. It’s my habit to arise quite early, usually before the sun is up, and sit cross-legged facing the east, to the hills just across the way, above the preserved land below my home. Then I go into meditation. I no longer use any technique as I did years ago. Going into meditation became automatic. The energy and stillness just arrive. When the sun comes up over the hills I know it immediately, not only from the strong light that plays against my eyelids, but also because the sun’s vibration is palpable, adding to what I was already experiencing on my own.

For more than thirty years, I’ve started my day this way, in different homes through time but essentially the same process. The fruits of this ritual are potent. It sets the tone for my day; it’s a benefit to my health; insights and guidance are offered: something explained, inspiration given, direction that becomes evident. But most importantly perhaps is the feeling of Presence, a sense of the sacred.

Hoodoos

Hoodoos, Mt. Lemmon

I have another respite that I’ve come, over the past few years, to treasure equally, with the same benefits. It’s turned into a habit as well. Every several weeks, five women convene at a home to share a meal and deep communication. I am one of them. We come from different walks of life, life stages and range of experiences and talents. Not all of us even knew the others when we began to gather. Yet we are a homogenous group in that we all seek the same thing: a safe haven where we can let our hair down, talk about tough nuggets we encounter, explore new ideas and celebrate each other. I think I can speak for all of those involved in saying: We’ve become significant to each other, a family of choice.

Santa Catalinas

Santa Catalinas

Salad Nicoise

Salad Nicoise with seared ahi with thanks to our gourmet chef who has mastered champagne camping.

Two years ago, we added an annual camping trip. I have to laugh because we have different ideas of what camping is and the activities involved. But we came to consensus, and this days-long respite has become paramount, too. Last year we camped in the Manti-La Sal National Forest in southeastern Utah. Two weeks ago we were in the Catalinas north of Tucson. We were early this year, and those of us in tents, rather than the camper, froze some nights. Indeed, when I got up at 5 a.m. there was frost blanketing the outside of my tent. But the sun came up. The coffee was hot and the conversation warm. As normal, we undertook our individual pursuits—reading, napping, hiking in quiet places and birdwatching, writing, one-on-one time—and gathering as a group for meals or when we felt like it for deep conversation. It’s fully free and easy.

It was to this group I entrusted the initial reading of my forthcoming novel Portals to the Vision Serpent, to test the flow and story. Any author will understand what it is to let others view their work at that early stage. I knew I could let them hold my fragile newborn, and they would make it dear and be honest. I made changes based on their feedback.

 So, I also knew that I could test an idea I have for the next novel with them. I’ve been mulling it over for the past few years, bits and pieces coming to me over time. It’s fairly complex and pushes the boundaries of a religious doctrine. Right before our camping trip somehow I stumbled upon an actual person who may serve as the inspiration for the main character. It finally seemed time to share, even though the framework wasn’t fully formed. I was grateful I had their full attention.  After listening to my somewhat disjointed dissertation, they agreed the idea had sturdy legs. Now I’m further inspired.

I’ll end here by relating what I’ve learned to be true:

       Daily respite enriches life and is a necessity to mine;

       Gathering regularly with intended community encourages risk-taking, provides comfort and is a sacred respite in itself;

       Even though I live in a wilderness area where silence prevails, leaving home and work for retreat invites further Presence into my life.

This post is dedicated to my Moon Sistars.

Categories: Compassionate Communication, Healthy Living, Meditation, Sacred Reciprocity, Solitude, Spiritual Evolution, Spiritual Travel, The Writing Life | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Eugene O’Neill and Me

Eugene O'Neill PhotoI have a relationship with Eugene O’Neill, and it has endured over fifteen years. Like some other close friends I have, we live apart. There may be long periods when we don’t see each other. But when we pick up the threads of communication again, the exchange cuts to the chase. Understanding is immediate. We have history.

A small photo of him sits on my desk. When my eyes glance over in the course of my days, I subliminally recall important times, the same with other friends and family whose photos sit around my home. But much of the time, his image gets covered over with stacks of papers, shunted off, buried in notes. Our relationship seems to go underground.

He made an overt appearance the other day that I’ll tell you about a little later, but first perhaps you’d like to know more about how it all began. It was so significant that I relayed the start and development in my two previous books.

Guidance

 Excerpt from Standing Stark published in 2004:

Calling Our Spirits HomeIn my book Calling Our Spirits Home I relayed a dream that gave me both a warning and a prophecy. Eugene O’Neill appeared in the course of the dream metaphorically compelling me to write and advising that it would become part of my livelihood. It showed me essentially ignoring him and becoming distracted down another avenue. I had this dream well before I considered undertaking the book in question, or even any writing for that matter. I also knew very little about Eugene O’Neill and hadn’t, in my memory, been exposed recently to anything he’d penned. Much later, when I finally decided to write, my attention was indeed split by a venture that proved, in the end, not only disappointing but also distinctly unprofitable. I hadn’t been smart enough at the time to heed his advice.

Again, it’s possible that this is just an interesting and coincidental story. But after I had started this present book and was finding all ways imaginable not to write—as writers sometimes do—Eugene O’Neill appeared to me again in a dream. This time it was very brief. But it was a flash I clearly recalled. 

“I’ll have to go,” he said to me and began to turn away.

“Wait!” I cried out desperately, waking myself up.

After that I once again picked up my pen, so to speak. A few weeks later, I was cross-country visiting my parents. While there, I had dinner with an old friend. In the midst of our conversation, I told him about my unusual relationship with Eugene O’Neill. We laughed about it and went on to other topics.

When I returned to my parents’ home late that night, they were already in bed. Being too energized by my hours long discussion with my friend, I looked for a way to unwind so that I could go to bed. Reading the newspaper is not a habit of mine. However, the newspaper was there and after scanning the front page, I opened it. There staring back at me was a photograph of Eugene O’Neill! In a column entitled “This Day in History,” I was informed that on that date in 1946 “The Iceman Cometh” had opened on Broadway. I also noticed from the article that he had passed the year I was born. I may have been chuckling with my friend earlier that evening, but someone was having a big laugh at my expense then. It was a few more hours before I was able to retire for the night.

Standing Stark CoverHow is it that I could be the “protegé” of Eugene O’Neill? Or that simple events could arrange themselves in a way that I definitely glean meaning in them for my life? The only answer I have is that at those times when he actively manifested in my awareness, there must have been a resonance of some sort between us. If vibrations are similar, they often attract. I noticed that I saw him only when I was using delaying tactics, or was generally unconscious in my actions. Perhaps in his life, he knew those same patterns all too well. I can only feel deeply touched by his clipped, direct guidance and be grateful for it.

I haven’t seen my mentor in a metaphysical manner in quite some time. But writing has become a regular practice for me. Maybe it’s his intense dark eyes staring at me from the newspaper photo that I preserve on my desk that keeps me in line. He’s had no further need to reappear.

My illustrations here lend a new meaning to possibility. If something has ever existed in some form, then it’s still present on a certain level. In the instances above, I stumbled upon this truism. But we can consciously open to it. Holding the intent to connect with what would guide us, we can do so.

Acknowledgement

As I noted in Standing Stark, I no longer need encouragement to write. But it’s always nice to be acknowledged and to do the same in turn. Several days ago, I was clearing my desk, throwing out a plethora of notes I no longer needed. The project had come to completion. I had just sent off the last advance copy of my new book Portals to the Vision Serpent to the editorial reviewers. 

In my straightening up, Eugene O’Neill was suddenly visible again, the photo yellowed with age. Our eyes hadn’t met for a long time, and when they did, I could swear that he bowed his head slightly to me. I smiled and bowed mine in return.

***

Portals to the Vision Serpent is the initiation journey of a young man, carried by faith to fill the gaping hole left by not knowing his people, even as they insistently call to him. The story moves through Georgia, Arizona and into the rainforests of Guatemala and Mexico. Interwoven are the struggles of native people to preserve their way of life and tragedies that often come through misunderstanding between cultures. This is a tale of dark wounds, healing, hope and cross-cultural acceptance.

The novel will be published in print and e-book by June. Watch for the announcement.

Categories: Creativity Strategies, Sacred Reciprocity, The Writing Life | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Review – Sacred Reciprocity: Courting the Beloved in Everyday Life

The Poetry of Jamie Reaser

The beauty of Jamie Reaser’s poetry causes my heart to thrill, to ache, to still—with each turning of lyrical phrase. In Sacred Reciprocity she is both transparent seeker, sitting in deep communion, and gentle guide, gracefully leading us to those innermost places where the Soul revels.

The Sacred Way of Giving and Receiving

Sacred Reciprocity by Jamie Reaser

Sacred Reciprocity by Jamie Reaser
Newly published by Hiraeth Press

Jamie and I have a mutual connection through Andean mystic Don Américo Yábar where, many years ago, we were both exposed to the life-affirming practice of reciprocity—in a vastly different way than when we think of that word in our culture. The Quechua word ayni has no exact translation but can be understood as a sacred sense of giving and receiving, a balanced energetic exchange. You see, in the Andes, all is related to energy and respect. Ever since I learned of ayni, its my daily intent. I’ve taken it to heart.

So has Jamie; she offers this further distinction in the introduction to her new book: “…Ayni can be established among people, between humans and all other beings, and between all beings and the animate Cosmos…What is given may not be anywhere near as important as how it is given. In ayni, it is the heart that counts.”

Jamie Reaser is a naturalist who has worked around the world as a biologist, environmental educator, eco-psychologist and much more. But the aspect that allows me to know her true nature—and devotion to ayni—is her ability to: sit in silence where she lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia; take in the glory she experiences…and transmit it back in such beautifully accurate ways that speak of our common condition. Here is just one sample.

 Dawn Kiss

The Sun,

dressed in dawn robes,

rose with time enough

to kiss the Moon, his beloved,

on full, wanting lips.

Birds,

still distinguishing themselves from

the wings of dreamtime,

looked abashedly at each other,

wondering…

How often had they

failed to seize

a precious passing moment…

A moment that could have

united the transiting heavens.

That was the morning birds

decided to sing.

Jamie will be joining us for our Winter Solstice “Entering the Maya Mysteries” journey to the highlands of Mexico and Guatemala. I’m delighted that she has consented to share her poetry during sacred periods of those travels because—I know—it will add to the deep meaning of that time.

Sacred Reciprocity: Courting the Beloved in Everyday Life is a new title published by Hiraeth Press in August 2012; also available via Amazon. My review of Note to Self, her previous book of poetry, is located here. And be sure to visit her poetry blog Talking Waters.

Categories: Book Review, Meditation, Spiritual Evolution, The Writing Life | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

My Imagination Runs Wild

NJ airport

Newark, NJ Airport
©2012 Carla Woody

At this point I’ve lost track of how many hours I’ve been up without sleep in transit from Ireland back home. I’ve just spent two weeks traversing Counties Clare, Kerry and Waterford on my folks’ 60th anniversary trip where I was their willing driver. We had quite memorable travels and I’ll probably share bits of it over time. I’ve been up since 1:30 AM Ireland time for a wake-up at 5 AM—and it’s gone on from there.

But now I’m sitting in the Newark, NJ airport in a restaurant called Gallagher’s Steakhouse tucked into a corridor in the back, thankfully away from the chaos of the airport. I was attracted by the Caesar salad with grilled shrimp, there being a noticeable absence of fresh veggies in the last two weeks.

My folks are safely settled over in Terminal A waiting for their plane home and I’m here in C with another four hours yet before I take the next leg. You’d think that with the many hours of travel and absolutely no sleep, plus the onerous stress of travel these days, that I’d just want to veg and people watch. Part of that was true.

Gallagher's Steakhouse

Gallagher’s Steakhouse
©2012 Carla Woody

If you sit in a place long enough you begin to notice the dynamics of the interactions or let your imagination run wild—at least I do. I guess the first thing that sparked my interest was when the server approached my table, a dead ringer for Hattie McDaniel, in a black and white uniform. It was clear in no time that she ran the show, firing off side retorts to the other servers and some kind of gesture shorthand I didn’t understand—and they immediately snapped to. Or a look that screwed up her face and they scurried away in response. I filed away a mental note for a potential story later.

My mind quickly ran off to other times when I sat in restaurants, parks or other places and gave myself leeway to imagine the lives of the inhabitants.

***

In 1998 I sat in a pub in Brighton, England passing time. I happened to have a journal with me. I’d been leisurely observing two elderly gentlemen on their third or fourth stout: Beamish. Paul McCartney singing “Yesterday” came through the sound system and one of the gentlemen softly sang along under his breath, ending with “Ahhhh…yesterday.”

Spud's Place

Spud’s Place
©2012 Carla Woody

“Do you remember when Hudson’s used to be down along the corner? Now they were ones who offered service, not like it is today. They had those boys with bicycles and baskets.”

“Yea…delivery. And they had so many things. Sometimes they’d even throw in the odd bottle of wine. You know, to show your worth to them.

A few minutes passed in silence.

“Yea…Christmas will be here soon.”

“My daughter always gives those abominable books. The ones she likes to read, you know. Not me. Can’t tell her anything though. Quite so. She just pops off.”

“Yea…Well, must be pushing off now. Thursday then.”

***

Sometimes I’d have an accomplice and we’d muse together. I remember years ago in a small bagel shop outside Bar Harbour, Maine when my companion and I tried to decide if the man and woman who worked the place were married. We decided they were and then made up a life for them when the town virtually shut down for the winter.

It’s part of the license given to a writer—and one who imagines life into being. It’s an indulgence but also a creative exercise. In the meantime, here in Gallagher’s Steakhouse in the Newark, NJ airport I can see the woman at the table in the corner stealing looks at me as I write this…perhaps wondering what I’m up to. Hmmm. I wonder what her story is.

Written July 29, 2012.

Categories: Creativity Strategies, The Writing Life, Travel Experiences | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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