… to let in a blessing …

I read daily, in bed, for an hour or so before escaping to dreamland. Apart from novels or essays on the go, I keep a stack of books close by to dip into when dark clouds need lifting. One such book is John O’Donohue’s ‘Anam Cara.’ (Bantam Press 1997)

Frequently, these days, my sarcastic imp dominates, and I’m deaf to wisdom, even my own. That said, I respect imps; they cut through the bullshit ignorant people spout around the globe. However, to tune down this sharp wit takes a firm request for silence. When I manage, the imp cuddles up, like my cat used to cuddle up every time I sat quiet.

I call it soul remembrance. You might try and trick your little imp into silence, if only to soften the heart enough to receive this blessing by John O’Donohue …

A BLESSING

May the light of your soul guide you.

May the light of your soul bless the work you do with the secret love and warmth of your heart.

May you see in what you do the beauty of your own soul.

May the sacredness of your work bring healing, light and renewal to those who work with you and those who see and receive your work.

May work never weary you.

May it release within you wellsprings and refreshment, inspiration and excitement.

May you be present in what you do.

May you never become lost in the bland absences.

May the day never burden.

May dawn find you awake and alert, approaching your new day with dreams, possibilities and promises.

May evenings find you gracious and fulfilled.

May you go into the night blessed, sheltered and protected.

May your soul calm, console and renew you

my boy – used as poster for a workshop once

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*   *   *

I want to also share a joy. The poetry editor of Queen Mobs, Joe Linker, has published two of my early poems yesterday. A wonderful perk …

https://queenmobs.com/2019/05/poems-photographs-ashen-venema/

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… taming …

Everything alive is curious, humans excel in this trait. When meeting up with something we haven’t come across we ask … is it worth knowing: is it important, useful, is it friend or foe? Getting to know something is a kind of taming. We energise what we tame, and attempt to exert control over it, be it elements, animals, people, or ideas. Then again, when for innumerable reasons, which include changing priorities or attitudes, interest fades; we withdraw our energy from what we tamed.

Take this vat. Not having held water for some time – its wood shriveled.

a dried-up vessel

lacking its soulful function

becomes an icon

an exquisite memory

or inspiration

where in beauty of decay

new dreams incubate

as nature’s purpose rotates

 

Getting older sparks such contemplation, and the reassurance that a formidable self-regulating force is in charge of life – nature and its cycles of birth, death and rebirth.

Despite every greedy effort to control nature, there is ample proof it will only work for life if we honour the spirit behind the delicate interdependencies of its cyclic system, which in its wisdom continuously expands the consciousness of the one and only being.

‘Stop acting so small. You are the universe in ecstatic motion.’ Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī

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… as writer or reader I drift and dream …

Writers and readers have their unique (often indirect) discernment of text and image; a fluid perception spots moods in the sky, or envisages what’might be happening behind doors.

We look towards individuals to interpret our humanity, or the lack of it. But given the electric maze of mirrors that has come to represent our interlinked minds, what attracts us, what makes sense?

Global media outlets thrive on sensational reports of events, and equally sensational opinions. What merges to cohere and assumes meaning in our inner world swings day in day out  from the shocked, incredulous to the sarcastic, while many of us yearn for resonance with something deeply felt, be it a past, present or future versions of reality. We hope for a truth just around a corner, or a poetic hint towards the hidden place of our own chest of treasures. Food for thought comes through the stories that spring from our collective psyche, asserting we’re not alone, but part of the bliss, and part of the pain of existence.

As a writer, I struggle to express what is not obvious or visible – an insular task, with pitfalls and doubts. Readers who respond with sensibility to imagination that springs from dark and private places of solitude are rare. What wings into the air from solitude, poems among them, fleeting and shy like butterflies, can at times trigger unexpected flashes of light and shift our thinking and feeling.

Imagination is the cornerstone of my novel, ‘Course of Mirrors.’ Combining fragments of my life into a fabric of mythic realities – probabilities wedged between rational deduction and magical alternatives, the story is however psychologically embedded in universal experiences, the ambivalent realities familiar to any reader.

Feedback to my writing sustains me, especially now, once more, the feedback to the ‘Shapers’ manuscript from beta readers/editors during the process of polishing. For such gifts, I give deep and heartfelt thanks to my angels, Zohra, and Susanne.

This question has been put to novelists: … When you write, what readers do you have in mind?

I pass … I’m the only reader I know.

What I write flows from my perception. Words I put into the mouths of characters are based on how I imagine myself into their skin and psychological existence. I follow their trials, immersed in the narrative, just like readers will be immersed in the movie they make in their minds while reading, along with the sensations evoked.

As a dreamer, my writing is playful, personal, fed by unconscious processes, like sharing a dream with a friend in a walled garden, not going on stage to entertain the whole town. In other words, the shape of my novels evolves with no thought of addressing a broad generic group of readers.

Pre-plotted novels can be page-turners and offer welcome entertainment, but they tend to preclude my emotional involvement, which is not to say that I don’t admire the art of wordsmiths wherever I find them.

Intuitively drafted novels, with or without plot, have a different feel for me, with elements of surprise. Intuition applies to my life in general. Writing is an inner demand. I’m most alive when I drift and dream.

Can you, writers and readers out there, add to these reflections?

My post from five years ago relates … better than the present one 🙂 I may need a holiday. https://courseofmirrors.wordpress.com/2014/09/30/moans-from-an-unruly-writers/

I cheer the unruly folk, including fools, dreamers, innovators, artists, poets and writers with an ear towards the hidden …

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…Brexit – the exhausted old man …

Last week I had visitors, Fred, Kit and Mirre, dear friends from Holland. Their invigorating presence took me away from my mordant addiction to the UK Brexit drama, for a while, anyway.

We went to a nearby Sculpture Park.

    seen in Churt Sculpture Park

The particular sculpture on the right was pointed out to me by Fred, or I might have missed it. The body of the old man impressed and his image lingered on. It conveys interiority, a bowing down towards earth, in memory of its elements.

The old man sits still, listening to the hidden part of the soul below the surface of busy things. He may contemplate regrets, feel clichés evaporate and the linear progress of his life fade, together with familiarities of the past. For me, the sculpture also encapsulates a phase when ideals are crumbling during a homecoming to mystery, and hopefully a guidance from the spirit of ‘the one being’ we are part of.

The shape also evokes my father, who died almost a year ago, having nearly reached a century of existence. The most touching thing he said during the last years in a dreamlike moment was … ‘I want to be where you are’ … which took me by surprise, since he disapproved of my choices in life. I can only assume it was a slip of the tongue, or a desire to shed his history for an expanded imagination and another future.

as seen in Churt Sculpture Park

Bless my dad, he’s moved on …

Transformation happens unseen, much like in this present dark moon phase all of us experience within and without – sensing deep down that the eternal is ever now, and there’ll emerge another healing well, another spring of joy and renewal … the wildness of the unknown.

I deeply thank natural cycles, mirrored in seasons, world affairs and the lifespan of creatures.

 

Were it not so, humans would have no chance for reflection, redemption, renewal, and a fresh dance of love.

        seen in Churt Sculpture Park

‘We are the mirror as well as the face in it.                       We are tasting the taste this minute of eternity.            We are pain and what cures pain. We are                        the sweet, cold water and the jar that pours.’

Versions of Rumi from Open Secrets (transl. by John  Moyne and Coleman Barks.

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… two of my heroes in the UK parliament …

Ken Clarke – Getty image

This is an unusual post, for me, living as a European in the UK since many decades, loving the idiosyncratic country, yet having no political affiliation. That said, I want to express my thanks to the people who offer lightness and intelligence through these crazy Brexit times. Here – mainly to the politicians, men and women from various UK parties I respect and admire for their passion, sincerity, common sense and wit. In fairness, I should also name a number of politicians from the other side of the House of Commons, especially some amazing  women …

But I’ll limit myself to highlight two men whose passion, sincerity, wit, wisdom and imagination I value:

Kenneth Clarke – the Father of the house. Below, he typically clarifies his point of view in the House of Commons in … his speech from January 31st 2017

And here Kenneth Clarke on 13th July 2018 in an interview on Channel 4 re: the Brexit chaos.

Ken has been a Member of Parliament for almost five decades. As the longest serving MP, he talks to Krishnan about why Brexit is in such chaos, his long-standing Conservative views and why he thinks it’s important politicians talk honestly to the media.  Recorded: 4 July 2018.

John Bercow in session

The other person lightening up my days is …

John Bercow – chair of proceedings at Westminster MP – a British politician who has been the Speaker of the House of Commons since June 2009. Most famous for calling the house to ORDER.
In addition to the qualities of common sense and wit, he also provides comic relief and excellent entertainment value during these turbulent times.
In this video from recent procedures the Speaker takes points of order for one hour and seven minutes. A pivotal point in the play of powers, one might say. It’s clear that he absolutely loves his job. This session is well worth watching to the end.

Here John Bercow is sharing the passion for his job with students, the Speaker gives a talk to the Oxford Union

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… poetic trash – miniature sculptures …

Miniature scupture - 2981The eye-catching miniatures created by Yuji Agematsu pulled me back to my student phase in Munich during the 1970ies, when a group of friends looked out for small items like roots, twigs, leaves, seeds, grasses, feathers, stones, shells, dried or fresh flowers, the occasional bottle top or bits of shiny sweet wrappers, and sampled such bits into cellophane bags. We then handed these tiny poetry worlds to pedestrians or people sitting outside cafes in the then student district of Munich, Schwabing. It gave us thrill when recipients expressed a shock of surprise.

Yuji Agematsu is drawn to trash. Since mid-1990, his daily ritual is collecting small debris from New York’s streets. From the harvest he creates dreamlike dioramas inside cellophane sleeves of cigarette packets.

In this delightful interview (press for link to a separate page) he shares how his passion for collecting started during his childhood. Here a few more snippets: ‘I see each object as a notation in terms of music. Each has its own sound and rhythm,’ or, ‘Each person has to find his or her own sense of scale,’ or ‘… my objects are accidental objects, already consumed. The object itself stimulates me. The subject relationship is reversed. I’d say that one is consciously unconscious, and the other is unconsciously conscious.’

The last thought rhymes with a recent thought of mine I shared on twitter … my mind is unconsciously magical, while my unconscious mind is irrationally pragmatic …  Like most poetically inclined people I embrace paradox to be able to function in daily life .

Yuji’s search for trash treasures developed into a language that emotionally embraces urban archaeology. He attracts bits of litter we may regard with a smirk, mostly ignore or simply not notice. While his miniature installations are scaled down to finger size sculptures, the mind-expanding and transformative effect equals grand scale installations. My experience, apart from the cognitive surprise, was being left with a bodily sensation, a deep feeling connection with these miniatures.

world objects 1 - smaller

World objects from my sand tray

This deep feeling of wonder can happen in sand play therapy; where in a tray of fine sand world objects are brought into relationship. The imaginary process can symbolise models of operation in the life of a client, bringing with it emotional clarity.

I have miniature installation in my home, on windowsills … unable to resist picking up feathers,  seeds, leaves, driftwood, pebbles and so on, which often hold the story of an eternal moment in time.

A small black stone, for example, features prominently  as a protagonist in my novel, Course of Mirrors..

 

You can glean more information about Yuji Agematsu and his impressive work here in this Guardian gallery, and in this article in Frieze … here.

The earlier images of Yuji Agametsu’s work are courtesy of the Miguel Abreu gallery, NY.

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… breath – elements – purification – relaxation …

We’re first forced to catch our breath when the umbilical cord is cut. In that instant the lungs must exchange liquid for air. Some wise midwives promote, when appropriate, not to cut the cord immediately, but allow time to soften the transition for the infant and enable a gentle new bonding with mother.

Once separated, we’re alone, but if welcome and made to feel safe we hardly pay attention to our breath unless its rhythm is upset, usually through physical strain, excess tension, anxiety, or unresolved anger and resentment.

I wrote shortly about breath before, in the context of bio-rhythms. If this interests, here’s the link.

With this post I’ll share a practice I’m presently in need of myself,  a conscious breathing ritual with a focus on the elements of earth, water, fire, air – and the subtle element of ether. The easy-to-learn sequence, aided by concentration and imagination, bestows relaxation and renewed energy. Parallels to this practice can be found in ancient spiritual traditions. The Sufi version below is thought to derive from Greek mystery schools. Unlike some forced breathing techniques, it is safe to use alone.

A purifying practice of breathing through the elements. Repeat the breath for each element five times  and  allow the colour to suffuse your cells …

EARTH … imagine the colour yellow (like desert dunes, or wheat fields)

Breathe in through the nose – count four

Pause one count

Exhale through nose – count six – imagine a horizontal spreading movement.

WATER … imagine a blue-green colour (like a lagoon or a river)

Breathe in through the nose –count four

Pause one count

Exhale through mouth – count eight – imagine a downward flowing movement

FIRE … imagine a golden red colour (like a sunset, or a flame)

Breathe in through the mouth – count four

Pause one count

Exhale through nose – count ten – imagine an upwards rising movement

AIR … imagine a transparent blue colour (like a pale sky)

Breathe in through the mouth – count four

Pause one count

Exhale through mouth – count eight – imagine a dispersing movement

ETHER (optional)

Image a transparent mauve colour

Breathe in through nose – count four

Pause one count

Exhale through nose – count twelve

To ground your energy, return once more to the earth-breath. You may want to ignore the counting for the out-breaths, to begin with. The basic idea is to allow more time for breathing out, until the body naturally draws in a new breath.

*    *    *   To expand the imagination, here some more notes in relation to the elements:

The Earth Element
The early Christian hermits, living alone in the desert, used to concentrate on the earth’s magnetism as a way of restoring their vitality during long vigils. Native American elders have said that the loss of a sense of relationship and communion with the earth is the main cause of psychological and physical imbalances. Standing or sitting, feel like a tree with roots extending firmly and deeply into the earth. Feel the strength and magnetism of the earth. Breathe in through the nose and out through the nose, not forcing the breath.

Imagine drawing healing power through the soles of your feet (if standing) or the bottom of your spine (if sitting). You may have felt the healing power of the earth in your feet while walking barefoot outdoors or in your hands when working in a garden. Try to sense a subtle reality, a crystalline lattice-like structure, behind the denser aspects of the physical plane. The earth is not a singular organism, but is part of its solar system and part of a galaxy …

As you exhale, release your tiredness, disharmony and agitation. Now concentrate on the magnetic field of your body, similar to that of a magnet. Feel as though you are aligning your own field to the magnetic field of the earth, the way that iron filings align around a magnet. When magnetic power is weak, the iron filings are in disarray. When the power is strong, the filings align in symmetric, harmonic patterns.

The Water Element
The breath of the water element brings a sense of flow, of vitality and purity, and helps unleash creativity. It is also useful in breaking free from habitual thinking patterns, and flowing around obstacles rather than hitting them head on. Breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth. You might imagine yourself immersed in a mountain stream. Feel the drops of water penetrating your cells, dripping off of your fingertips. Feel water reaching your chest and heart, helping to loosen any tightness and obstruction there. Feel energized and renewed, again focussing on those parts of the body that are in need of healing, and those that lack life energy and vibrancy. Concentrate on the purity of a crystal clear lake or stream, high up in the mountains. Let yourself become the water, and let the qualities of purity, life energy and power flow into your immediate environment.

The Fire Element                                                                                                                                               The breath of the fire element is a quickening. It sparks inspiration and is useful when you feel drowsy and dull. Breath in through the mouth, hold the breath for a moment and then breathe out through the nose. On the inhalation, imagine fanning a fire in your solar plexus. Purse your lips and draw in a thin stream of air. As you draw in, visualize the embers of the fire glowing. Then hold the breath momentarily and bring your attention to a few inches above the solar plexus. Exhale through the heart, imagining that you are radiating golden sunlight.

On the inhalation, evoke your aspirations; your desire to be authentic; to make your life meaningful and worthwhile; to stand up for what you believe in. On the exhalation, radiate light as if from a miniature sun in your heart. Subject your self-doubt, cynicism, addictive patterns or resentments to the fire. Avoid making pledges you won’t keep. Simply clarify your intention and allow the purification process, instead of using will power to change things.

The Air Element
Breathe in through the mouth and out through the mouth. The breath of the air element relates to freedom, ecstasy and transcendence. Imagine yourself like an eagle perched high on a mountain. Feel the wind ruffling your feathers, blowing through all your pores. Feel the coolness and freshness of the air. Soar upwards on the currents of air. On the inhalation, feel yourself buoyant and free, like a zephyr crossing a lake and lifting upwards. On the exhalation, allow yourself to reach out beyond the boundaries of the body. Let your being disperse with the wind, and let your consciousness reach out into the cosmos. Enjoy a sense of vastness and, if it helps, visualize vast landscapes, such as a mountain, canyon, or the starry night sky.

*    *    *   After you completed the purification breaths, reflect upon the effect of the elements taken together. Separately each of the breaths emphasizes different forces and qualities in our being, together they bring about a sense of wholeness. According to your own affinities, you may feel the need to place more emphasis on one or another element in order to attain greater balance.

For me this is the WATER breath.

Also – I admit I frequently fall asleep to this … consciousness is wherever consciousness is placed, and what travels on our breath travels either mindlessly or with intention.

 ‘Thoughts are beings that generate … One thought of kindness gathers a thousand beings of love and kindness around one.’  – Hazrat Inayat Khan

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… to relish the sense of taste …

Our senses, physical and otherwise, make us feel alive, grant pleasure, and no doubt increase our hunger for taste, touch, smell, sight and sound, and more senses besides. They all overlap.

Try, as I did once with my ex-husband, to go on a weekly fast. You may, like us, get your hunger satiated by the sweet torment of smelling and looking at food on market stalls or in shop windows.

A dear friend of mine, who recently visited, relishes taste. How does one describe taste in our taste-filled world? I challenged my friend to find words to evoke the recent meal I served. Here then a leap of the imagination back to the event – an excerpt:

 … the small, round boiled new potatoes were the sweet, starchy berries of the earth. Their light brown skins stretched enticingly over the creamy white fruit within. The asparagus, almost luminescent green, redolent of a waving forest of green marine plants viewed through the warm clear waters of a tropical island bay, fresh and tender in the soft embrace of the mouth and chewy enough for the teeth to relish their work of liberating the cacophony of nourishing juices over the vibrant, aroused tongue. 

The salmon, its raw fishiness tamed by gentle heat in the company of thin slices of lime, into a piquancy which thrashed around the palette like wild seas. And, the final trigger to culinary orgasm, a tangy, herby sauce, which pulled the palette this way and that, like stretching a rubber band, taking it for moments into the realms of sublimity.

I remarked, ‘You could’ve become a restaurant entrepreneur or a food taster.’

 

 

During gatherings of friends, we love sharing stories as well as food delicacies … the displays and the bouquet of flavours wafting on the air on such occasions may well attract hungry ancestors, grateful for such feasts.

My mythic adventure novel, ‘Course of Mirrors,’ has sections depicting sensual experiences, which is why a re-read, while tuning into editing the sequel, ‘Shapers,’ is a pleasure. My childhood must have served as inspiration, encapsulated in my village poem.

If you relish taste, you may like ‘The Last Banquet’ by Jonathan Grimwood – a feast for the senses, if a little decadent. Here is my review of the book on Goodreads in 2014

With the waves of depressing news around the globe, I thought I’d cheer up my readers, and myself.

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… debates at beech tree junction …

From my desk I see the crowns of a few massive beech trees on the hill beyond my garden. Come autumn, tons of leaves used to smother my mossy lawn until, thankfully, the branches were cut back last year. Wood pigeons value the majestic view across town from up there, as much as they like gobbling up my Stella cherries before I ever have the slightest chance of harvesting them. And yet, I like the pigeons’ cooing code by which they talk to each other in spring, and I find their peculiar waddling, neck-pushing walk in search of worms amusing. Presently the bare branches of the beeches show the pigeons’ constellation throughout the day, bringing on some thoughts … and a Haiku.

at beech tree junction

each morning the ruler lands

sometimes with a mate

later the pigeons gather

and debate migrants

they conclude – not our problem

skies are border-less

Re: migrants, given the human longing for belonging, it is the brave feat of ‘exits,’ people who leave their birth land for whatever reason, which expands tolerance, as well as emotional and intellectual independence from the collective pull towards loyalty for any one group or ideology.

Recently I came upon this quote by Italo Calvino, which resonates:

‘The ideal place for me is the one in which it is most natural to live as a foreigner.’ – Italo Calvino               

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Mystical experiences & J. B Priestley’s Dream

Numerous children, if not all, bring along an openness that allows them a peek through the chinks in the veils that cover ordinary reality. Sudden insights, call them special, spiritual, paranormal, transpersonal, mystical, timeless, ecstasy of oneness … dreams … experiences that make no sense to a rational adult and may evoke fear of the unconscious. Sooner or later children may learn that a vivid imagination, as it is often called, brings no rewards and is of no solid use in a world geared to material respectability and control.

To have one’s experience belittled is humiliating. A child may react with rebellion, remain silent, or learn to deal with contradiction. At worst, the door will be shut against random revelations and curiosity about anything unfamiliar. This is a great pity, since a whole range of dimensions remain untranslated. Fortunately there are those who refuse to have their imagination squashed, who find a medium to hold and share encounters that do not fit prevailing assumptions, concepts of reality or theories of time.

They are truth-seekers – artists, writers, musicians, painters, dancers, physicists, biologists, astronomers, mathematicians, inventors, mystics … people with a passion to re-discover realities beyond appearances from multiple perspectives, including deeply personal ones. In short, anyone adventurous enough to explore the jungle of diverse interests, the way inner and outer truths mysteriously mirror each other and spark mystical consciousness. But since the boundaries between light and darkness are porous, one is always well advised to hold one’s balance, like a skilled martial art practitioner.

Having listened over decades to thousands of client stories, I haven’t yet met anyone who hasn’t shared (often for the first time) a near-forgotten mystical experience. Such experiences are the best kept secret nobody dares to talk about. For fear of ridicule, we let the poets speak for us.

‘To see the world in a grain of sand, and to see heaven in a wild flower, hold infinity in the palm of your hands, and eternity in an hour.– William Blake

Take heart, it is possible to find words, like J B Priestley, to convey the indescribable …

Drawing by Douglas Fenton

I dreamt I was standing at the top of a very high tower, alone, looking down upon the myriads of birds flying in one direction; every kind of bird was there, all the birds in the world. It was a noble sight, this vast aerial river of birds.

But now, in some mysterious fashion the gear was changed, and the time speeded up, so that I saw generations of birds, watched them break their shells, flutter into life, mate, weaken, falter and die. Wings grew only to crumble; bodies were sleek and then, in a flash, bled and shrivelled; and death struck everywhere at every second. What was the use of all this blind struggle towards life, this eager trying of wings, this hurried mating, this flight and surge, all this gigantic meaningless biological effort?

As I stared down, seeming to see every creature’s ignoble little history almost at a glance, I felt sick at heart. It would be better if not one of them, if not one of us at all, had been born, if the struggle ceased forever. I stood on my tower, still alone, desperately unhappy.

But now the gear was changed again, and time went faster still, and it was rushing by at such a rate, that the birds could not show any movement, but were like an enormous plain sown with feathers. But, along this plain, flickering through the bodies themselves, there now passed a sort of white flame, trembling, dancing, then hurrying on; as soon as I saw it I knew that this white flame was life itself, the very quintessence of being; and then it came to me, in a rocket-burst of ecstasy, that nothing mattered, nothing could ever matter, because nothing else was real but this quivering and hurrying lambency of beings.

Birds, people or creatures not yet shaped and coloured, all were of no account except so as this flame of life travelled through them. It left nothing to mourn over behind it; what I had thought of as tragedy was mere emptiness or a shadow show; for now all real feeling was caught and purified and danced on ecstatically with the white flame of life. I had never felt before such happiness as I knew at the end of my dream of the tower and the birds, and I have not kept that happiness with me, as an inner atmosphere and a sanctuary for the heart, that is because I am a weak and foolish man who allows this mad world to come in destroying every green shoot of wisdom. Nevertheless, I have not been quite the same man since. A dream had come through a multitude of business. –  J.B. Priestley (Sept 1895 – Aug 1984)

In case you’ve not come across William James, read his ‘The Varieties of Religious Experience.’

And look up a recent sweeping epic that breaks all the rules by Philippa Rees, ‘Involution.’

And, of course, my novel 🙂

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