Tag Archives: inspiration

… meetings – poem …

At times, our inner landscapes allow for communing with nature’s elements. Ana has this knack in Course of Mirrors. As long as she remembers to calm her heart, she senses invisible presences, the timeless spirit within things – telling her that nothing dies, only reforms. She also picks up thoughts forms from uncluttered minds, and some animals talk to her.

Aspects of my protagonist’s receptive traits are based on my own experiences, expressed in a poem I composed during the 1970s. The poem, as such, does not feature in the novel but I like to share it here, with minor tweaks insisted upon by my inner editor.

meetings

earth –

you swallow my hand

giving way with fluid grace

to this dream of flesh and bone

yet as I recall the form

you allow me to retrieve it

tree –

circling round and round

spun by the mesh of time

I see your whirling

and sense my turning too

in its mystic trance

snake –

you slither in the spine of waves

and lay a track of fate in sands

entranced I follow

to your cave and become

this rushing in the dark

bird –

your rising pitch one vow

winging yonder blue

towards the break of dawn

above the silver winding stream

your passing leaves no mark

rose –

by the blink of eye you sink

to my core as glowing cipher

allowing for your lush

and fragrant state

to unfurl from the heart

fire –

your white breath burns clean

dark corners in my mind

without a moment’s pause

you blow apart

all apparitions of my art

Update: My first novel can be found on Troubador, on international Amazon sites and Waterstones via searching for the title, Course of Mirrors, or my name, Ashen Venema.                                                                   The e-book is now available. The paperback will be released on 28th of April and can be pre-ordered.

Paperbacks ordered within the UK will come from a stock of copies held by Troubador who distribute via Orca Book Services. Orders from abroad will be print-on-demand- copies, saving expensive postage.

If you enjoy writing reviews, they are easy to post on Troubador. On Amazon sites one has to log in as a customer, and a review entry only appears on the site of the country where it is entered, be it uk, de, fr, com … and so on. With a little effort reviews can be pasted into more than one Amazon site. 

Related posts:

… the magic of remembrance …

… cover reveal for course of mirrors …

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… a little backstory to ‘course of mirrors’ …

When I enter the room Dot is absorbed in reading from a folder among stacks of papers stored in drawers under a bed. ‘Hey,’ she looks up, ‘this is fascinating. It’s got your name on it.’

We were clearing the main house of a workshop venue near London, a magical place I had been associated with for 30 years and which I facilitated during the winding down period of its operation, dealing with the grief of an international community, as well as managing group bookings for the remaining few months, before the estate was sold.

The folder Dot had discovered contained the beginning of a story I had drafted …  and then lost. For two action-filled decades my protagonist had lingered patiently in a corner of my mind. On that momentous spring day of clearing Ana emerged from her hibernation.

Resembling the experience of my own myth, Ana is called to her adventure by a kind of celestial twin, an agent between past and future, between dense and subtle realms.

The novel was completed five years on, much encouraged by E. Zohra Sharp, who offered her generous editing support. I also shared some chapters on the then still existing Harper Collins Authonomy site, where writers could give and receive feedback for work in progress, and have great fun with trolls.

In 2011 another project took priority for a few months, Heart of a Sufi, which involved organising, arranging and co-editing reminiscences about a remarkable teacher who had died in 1990, much too young. He was Fazal Inayat-Khan, aka Frank Kevlin, the grandson of Hazrat Inayat Khan – more here.

The same year, not wanting to become a writing recluse, I started this blog. Through a poet I met online, Course of Mirrors found a small publisher who loved the story, which perked my confidence. Three years passed without action – a long time when you are not getting any younger. During  the long wait, I did however write a time-travelling sequel and started a third book. Not keen to endure more agonising delays, I decided to self-publish.

In charge of the process, I had to make decision after decision, aided by a competent team at Troubador and my proof readers, Zohra and Susanne. There will be an initial print run, enabling bookshops to stock copies. The publishing date for Course of Mirrors is April 28th, but the book information is up and orders can be taken in advance, as paperback, and soon also as e-book.

Through Troubador, where I get the best royalties

Through Amazon …  and through Waterstones

Today the dynamics of spring enchanted. I glimpsed a yellow butterfly. Sunlight, dappled by branches into a gently moving lattice, was playing on a carpet of fresh cut grass, where Robins feasted on worms. The laurel hedge glistened. A few tulips made a pink and white appearance, their leaves folded as if in prayer.

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… I lost an ally, but not her frequency …

Launch of 'Heart of a Sufi.'

2011 launch of ‘Heart of a Sufi’ at a friend’s place.

Before I share the book cover of ‘Course of Mirrors,’ my first novel to be released in spring, I must step back and credit once more a book I co-edited and am proud to have helped produce. ‘Heart of a Sufi’ was published by a group of friends in 2011. A limited print-run of hardbacks sold quickly and recouped our expenses. I wrote about the background to this project in honour of Fazal Inayat-Khan here in March 2013.

 

Joe Linker, a blogger friend, wrote only this week a spot-on review of this unusual book – brilliant, heartfelt thanks. One of our small editorial team, Rahima (Elspeth) Milburn, would have been delighted with the review of this book she endorsed with passion. Sadly she died peacefully shortly before 2017 was rung in.

by-ashen-portrait-of-elspeth-spottiswood-smallerI miss her. She was a deep thinking woman, a painter, psychotherapist and lover of poetry, especially Rumi, whose verses she recited often in her very deep and distinctive voice.  She was an inspiration to many. For over ten year, up to 2004, we run monthly seminars and additional workshops together, on themes like mythology, the power of the imagination, and the significance of dreams. I feel deep gratitude for her supportive friendship and feel strongly that her frequency lives on.

The portrait on the right I did in her studio, around the Millennium.

A group of us, companions on her path, will travel to Cornwall next week to join the large Milburn family and send their mother, grandmother and great-grandmother on her journey. Some of my readers may remember a humorous poem I wrote for Rahima and her family – posted here last October:

Regarding ‘Heart of a Sufi’ … while there are only very few of the beautiful hard copies left, some with Watkins in London, the work is also available as an e-book  with Troubador or Amazon.

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… may grace whirl me …

So insults are spat                                                               

from voices of discontentdancing on my shadow

and righteousness trumps 

on every side of the fence                                  

like bubbles of soap

words dissolve on air

all names sound hollow

 

deep down we know

that truth flows among solids

as a soft wave – rolling

back and forth in time

moved by love that can’t be told

though it turns all worlds

I’ll keep on bridging

realms that mirror each other

and may grace whirl me

on my shadows’ crest – that is

this mystery’s heart dance  …

 

Bridging is also a theme of my first novel, ‘Course of Mirrors,’ whose cover image I’ll reveal in the New Year

 *   *   *   I’m wishing you all many moments of grace in 2017   *   *   *

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… so we stumble along …

Drawing by Claire Finaz

Siva and Shakti, the Divine Couple in Hinduism, are in their heavenly abode watching over the earth. They are touched by the challenges of human life, the complexity of human reactions, and the ever-present place of suffering in the human experience. As they watch, Shakti spies a miserable poor old man walking down the road. His clothes are shabby and his sandals are tied together with rope. Her heart is wrung with compassion, touched by his goodness and his struggle. Shakti turns to her divine husband and begs him to give this man some gold. Siva looks at the man for long moment. ‘My dearest Wife,’ ‘I cannot do that.’

Shakti is astounded. ‘Why, what do you mean, Husband?’ You are Lord of the Universe. Why can’t you do this simple thing?

‘I cannot give this to him because he is not yet ready to receive it,’ Siva replies.

Shakti becomes angry. ‘Do you mean to say you cannot drop a bag of gold in his path?’

‘Surely I can,’ Siva replies, ‘but that is quite another thing.’

‘Please, Husband,’ says Shakti.

And so Siva drops a bag of gold in the man’s path.

The man meanwhile walks along talking to himself, ‘I wonder if I will find dinner tonight – or shall I go hungry again?’ Turning a bend in the road, he sees something on the path in his way. ‘Aha,’ he says. ‘Look there, a large rock. How fortunate that I have seen it. I might have torn these poor sandals of mine further.’ And carefully stepping over the bag of gold, he goes his way.

*    *    *

‘The Bag of Gold,’ like many wisdom tales, has layers of meanings, one being: within each stumbling block is also a treasure. Gold, of old, is associated with the inner sun.

The above version of the story is shared by Elisa Pearmain in ‘Doorways to the Soul.’ See the link in my blogroll at the right. One page on her site features publications. 

To the above story she adds: … Before going to sleep each night, think about all the gold encountered during the day. You may feel quite rich …

The longing remains, expressed in this song by Neil Young:    … I want to live, I want to give. I’ve been a miner for a heart of gold …

One of my New Year resolutions is to practice tunes on my G Blues Harp – a magical instrument that fits into my pocket –  however bad things get, a little breath and a harmonica can cheer people.

The drawing is by a friend – Claire Finaz – on a Christmas Card many years back. It depicts the inner sun very well.

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… a writer must selfie herself …

 

August 2016

August 2016

This  selfie of mine was taken last summer. As you can see, I’m an introvert.

If you’re in for a funny video on selfies, here is one I found on the Urban Dictionary website. Its definitions help to lift despair.

I was initially delighted when in spring 2013 my first novel was picked up by a small publisher. Course of Mirrors was in good shape, thanks to my dear beta reader friend and editor, Evlynn Sharp. Our selfie from 2014 shows below.

April 2014

When over time my publisher was prevented from preparing my novel for its launch, for various reasons beyond her control, I shelved my frustration, finished a sequel, and even started a third book – still, gradually my confidence suffered. Then again, if the promise for my first novel had not been there, I might not have continued writing, so whatever my misgivings, thank you Emma for loving my story.

Back in control, I decided to self-publish. And now I’m challenged, like many lovely writer friends whose fate I follow online, to set up a stage for ‘Course of Mirrors,’ squeezing myself into an overcrowded publishing scene.

I have lived and worked in England since 1978. When time allowed, I contributed poems and articles to specialist magazines and anthologies, but only started writing novels later in life. Writing was a vocation, not a career. An early humiliating experience at school, made me return to writing only through photography, film, and the freedom of another language. Though financially risky, I took time out, and writing became immersive.

Finding words to condense my myth into imagined worlds is totally satisfying, sans financial rewards. But then, forgive the sigh that escapes so many of us in the same situation, writing is a full time devotional activity, and I spent now many years writing and editing into midnight hours, a little financial reward would at least compensate for reduced income and allow me the occasional holiday.

I observe that marketing and advice professionals possibly outnumber writers. However brilliant these experts may be at their job, I can’t afford their services. Now even simple questions I hoped my publisher would support me with shout for answers: What’s your genre? What readership do you hope to address? How will you capture the tone of the novel in a title image? Should the cover express the concept, or a scene from the novel? What’s the unique angle of your story? How does your story differ from others in your genre?

In a public sphere over-saturated with information, how does one engage a reader’s attention without having to boast? I feel like having to provide an answer at gunpoint to one question only – Who are you?

Frankly, I have no idea. Maybe I’ll find out. As I said, I’m an introvert. Like my protagonist, I’m a suspended character. The whole circus is a gamble. I can only hope that you, the readers of my blog, will stay with me through this labyrinth of my author-creation.

While I struggle with particulars, and hopefully amuse you with updates, I’m planning to launch ‘Course of Mirrors’ through Matador/Troubador in spring 2017.

Here, to deliciously confuse you, is a river of keywords relating to Course of Mirrors:

Course of Mirrors combines literary genres to thread in elements of: fantasy; mystery; thriller; adventure; friendship; romance; humour; suspense; magic realism and tragedy. It is adult and young adult fiction, and it includes allusive cultural references spanning: imaginal odyssey; coming of age; quest; road trip; identity; the single child; cinematic style of chapters; psychology; intrigue; loss; murder; betrayal; speculation; metaphysics; insight; poetics; irony; future; despair; passion; triple soul; compelling characters… and in the sequel – Shapers – shape-shifting and time travel across decades.

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… verwandlungen – transformations …

Bilder des Vaters – Wörter der Tochter                                                                                   A Father’s Images – A Daughter’s Words 

Auf dem wilden Kaiser

My father, now in his 90s, recently recovered from the shock of a fall. Brought to the fore, mortality reshuffles experiences – a mysterious process, different for everyone, young or old. Whether relationships are supportive or troubled by frustrated expectations, in the deep cavern of the psyche experiences assume fresh meaning when endings are contemplated, or happen suddenly. The unconscious speaks a surreal language.

A few years ago, my father took photos of a phenomenon on the island of Fuerteventura, where, in some places, when the tides recede, the white shingle derived from bleached shells and sea creatures mingles with the black sand of volcanic rock. The bizarre sand drawings my father came upon inspired me to write short lines in German, here with English translations. The alliance of images and words surprised us both, hinting at an underlying creative connection between us that could not have been otherwise expressed.

Im Sand träumt das Angesicht der Zeit … The Face of Time Dreams in Sands

Sand - no1

1

Ich seh Dich, du siehst mich noch nicht.

Meine Stimme klingt von der Ferne

In deinem Muschelraum

Geheimnisvoll im Werden.

Manche glauben ich sei nur Sand,

Die irren sich gewaltig.

Ich bin ein Traum wie Du.

 

I see you – you don’t see me yet

My voice sounds from far away

In your snail chamber, secretly becoming

Some think I’m only sand

They’re mistaken

I am a dream – like you

Sand - no22

Tränen waschen mich rein von der Macht

Das war mir eine Last.

Ich will ich mich nun auflösen

Im Gesang von schönen Symphonien.

 

Tears cleanse me of power

Which burdened me

Now I will dissolve

In tunes of beautiful symphonies

Sand - no 3

 

3

Ich bin ein komischer Vogel – mit Hörnern und Brüsten

Wie Du trag ich das schweigende Anglitz der fliessenden Zeit

 

I am a strange bird – with horns and breasts

Like you I wear the silent face of fluid time

 

 

 

Sand - no 44

Die blassen Gestalten um mich wollen mich beschützen

Als ob ich zu klein bin fur die Welt – vielleicht ahnen Sie

Dass ich ein Drache werden will der die Welt erschüttert

 

The pale figures surrounding me mean to protect

As if I was too small for the world – maybe they suspect

That I want to become a dragon to shake the world

 

Sand - no 5

 

5

Mein kleiner Tanz ist ansteckened – bald wird der ganze Strand

Bevölkert sein mit Kindern die Hände fassen in Ringelreihen

 

My little dance is catching – soon the whole beach

Will fill with children who hold hands in Ring a Ring o’ Roses

 

 

Sand - no6

 

6

Vom Wind verwischt und verwandelt bin ich

Das restlose Gemüt einer schlafenden Seele

 

Blurred by the wind and transformed

I’m the restless mind of a sleeping soul

 

 

Sand - no 77

Meine Flügel sind mir ans Hirn gewachsen

Wer weiss who ich dahin mit segeln werde

Mein Herz blickt schon längst ins Unbekannte

 

My wings have grown to my brain

Who knows whereto I shall sail with them

My heart has long been gazing into the unknown

 

Images: Ludwig Weiss – Words: HMA Venema

And then there is ‘The Story of the Sands,’ one of my favourite Sufi stories. Here told by Terence Stamp: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oNasXE5_OTI

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… memory – fear – global imagination …

Mirrored clouds, without birds, smallerMemories are like images that flow reflected on the surface of water, at times fast, skipping, turning in on themselves among curling eddies, at times distracted by currents, breaking up into choppy waves … or coming together as facets meeting in quiet waters, as in a calm heart, where past, present and future images arise clearly.

Then again, if waters were always still, never flowing, the reflections in our heart would remain static and never change.

But how to stay aware of images that bring up irrational fears from the deep waters of our collective mind?  Imprinted in dust, earth, mud, rock, sand, water and blood, such fears, be it for survival or identity, based on traumatic histories, rob us of our capacity for rational thought. How do we stay aware of the phonmenon that fear begets fear?

P1090890 - Copy (2)We live in a time when listening, by those who have the capacity for it, seems of crucial importance. A time when individuals must make an effort to understand diverse traditions and opinions, a time to aim for compromises, a time to utilise all the knowledge and wisdom aquired by the eduated, and those with wise hearts, a time that requires us to act in unison towards the maintenance of our beautiful planet and all its inhabitans. It’s a time for politicians to look ahead, beyond the span of their appointment. It’s time to wake up – to see the amazing potential of people migrating across the globe, whatever the causes, it’s happening, a time when sharing each other’s traditions and talents can be enriching to everyone.

Our imagination is our hell and our paradise.

Imagination is all: the creator, the maintainer and the destroyer of life, replicating the natural seasons of our earth.

The same capacity for imagination that makes us ill can also heal us.

Humans have a choice.

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… grandparents …

I must have been 4 or 5 years old when my mother took me to Berlin to see my maternal grandmother for the first, and, as it turned out, the last time. Due to the Soviet Berlin blockade after the war, the severe lack of resources, and the disrupted transport system, many families were kept apart for years.

We stared up a bleak wall, until Hildegard appeared. She flung her arms towards us, wanting wings, leaning precariously from the window of the hospital ward where she was kept isolated with TB.

Or so we Berlin 1955sthought. A nurse confided her doubt to my mother, and how she had urged for a second opinion, a hint my grandfather ignored. My mother insisted on a fresh blood test, but was ridiculed by the doctor in charge.

To console me, a kind neighbour rescued an old bicycle and taught me how to ride it among the rubble of ruins in the streets. He also allowed me to watch him construct a ship with sails inside a bottle, which made me think of gran being confined, not sailing anywhere. The atmosphere between my mother and her father grew tense. She insisted he should query the doctor’s diagnosis.

The crescendo happened in the kitchen, when she lifted a tray of 2 dozen eggs from the top of the fridge. He said, ‘You won’t.’ She said, ‘I will.’ He demanded, ‘You will not.’ She shouted, ‘I will.’ He shouted, ‘What can a nurse know?’

That’s what did it. Two dozen yellows and whites marbled the red-tiled floor and my mother walked out. I was thrilled. The drama mobilised my grandfather to challenge the hospital.

Sadly, my gran died within days, much too young, and not of TB. The blood test had been mixed up. What killed her were toxic medications based on a wrong diagnosis.

The message went deep. I was going to be a warrior. I learned to appreciate my intuitions and developed a useful allergy against intimidating authority.

Memories of my paternal grandparents are more serene. Oma and Opa, Erlangen145 Oma was a tall, striking woman. Despite having lived through two tragic wars she kept her back straight and held her head high into old age. When she caught me sitting crouched, she would gently push her fist into my back – ‘Free that, spine girl.’ At other times, she advised me to pull superfluous thoughts from my nose. The tricks work to this day … sometimes.

My parents had moved south towards the Alps after my birth, but we regularly visited my grandparent’s home in Erlangen. With fine weather, we would walk across the River Schwabach into the wooded hills to have a picnic. Oma would place several handkerchiefs on the moss under fir trees for us to sit on. Once we were settled, she spread out the much anticipated picnic treats from her basket, with plates, cutlery, napkins and all. My favourite treat was Gugelhupf  Marble Cake. Increasingly, my imagination was plagued by the secrets of her handbag. During one of our picnics I dared to ask why her bag was so bulky. Forthcoming, Oma explained how during the war, before I came along, when sirens frequently announced bombing alerts, they needed to drop everything and rush to the underground shelters.

text, German cookbook‘I developed a habit of having our survival gear ready at short notice,’ she said. To my delight, she displayed her survival gear on the forest floor:

Identity papers, notebook, pens, her favourite recipes, dried fruit, a pocketknife, matches, candles, string, clothes pegs, a scissor, plaster, ointment, cotton strips, tin opener, mirror, needles and yarn, buttons, a slim book of Rilke poems, a small bottle of Brandy … and spare knickers.

To this day I never leave the house without identity papers, notebook, pen, and a slim book of poetry. Skipping knickers 🙂 I carry a shrill-sounding whistle, visa cards, a pay-as-you-go mobile, a Barret in case it rains, and a small makeup bag. Times changed, or have they?

Opa, a dreamer like me, enticed me to create imaginary scenarios in the soft, black forest soil. We sculpted landscapes, with villages, a pond made of gran’s round mirror, churches, roads, rivers, bridges and hills, using pinecones, sticks and stones, and tiny people made of leftover food and chocolate wrappers.

I came to value the creative power of sculpting when it comes to out warding inner worlds. I encourage my therapy clients to shape sand in a tray and and to populate the landscape with world objects.

The recent post of an online friend, Katia, reminded me of my paternal grandmother, and the incident with the handbag I had in mind to share. Memory swerved and expanded. It occurred to me that whether we are grandparents, aunties, uncles or family friends with the benefit of a certain age, our influence on young ones has a timeless quality. Children may crown us with a halo of mystery. Given this kind of power, even small incidents, benevolent or troubling, can leave deep impressions and impact lives, nursing stories that travel onwards through generations.

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… maps of meaning …

Maps, the symbolic depictions of relationships between different elements, be they objects, regions in space, or ideas in conceptual domains, serve as orientation devices. Though it’s worth remembering Korzybski’s point, ‘The Map is not the territory.’

Earthrise, Dec 1968

Earthrise, Dec 1968

Given the complexity of global problems, there’s a dire need for charting the increasing expansion of specialised knowledge, diverse traditions and experiences, into a wider context. Since the poetic image of our planet rising in space did not grip the hearts of a critical mass, we need theoretical overviews to dispel confusions, and explore how all the seemingly disparate comprehensions of the world we live in can work together in a more intelligent and unified way.

Ken Wilber is a great proponent of an’ Integral Theory,’ bringing together many fields of knowledge and methodologies, scientific and spiritual, in an attempt to show how all these partial truths can be reconciled and be mutably enriching. This 1.5 hour talk  is brilliant, and eminently worth listening to.

In his AQAL  map  (You can press – 1MB free – and get a screen resolution)  Wilber integrates various developmental ideas, which may remind of Abraham Maslow and Carl Gustav Jung, to name but a few mapmakers before him.  In the above talk Wilber describes developmental tipping points in recent history, which apparently needed only a small percentage of the population, the 10 percent who could embrace the new value, to bring about a collective shift in consciousness.

He’s expecting another tipping point to emerge soon. Fresh conceptions can bring more truth and more love to our actions, more consciousness, more skill to deal with complexities, and more compassion to every dimension of human knowledge and activity.

I hope you’ll find the time to listen to Wilbers talk, and maybe further study his work.

Fazal Inayat-Khan  Photograph by Ashen

My former Sufi teacher, Fazal Inayat-Khan, (image by Ashen) also felt strongly that new conceptual maps were required. His aim was to integrate transpersonal aspect into the field of psychology. During a summer school in 1990, a few weeks before he died, he sketched the following cosmology on a flip chart and invited us to play with it.

Fazal's Cosmology

The graph depicts three worlds, the natural Cosmos, the finer Psyche, and the yet finer Pneuma (spirit,) differentiating the function, structure and content of each world.

How these three dimensions can relate to an individual is set into the same framework.

For me, this playful ordering made perfect sense, and, in a kind of epiphany, helped me to clarify the tremendous importance of the world of the imagination, and how it is held together by meaning. It also gave me new ideas about time. These days I like to call the Psyche the changing room.

Barn, group room, smallerOur small group that day was encouraged by Fazal to replace terms and use our own words in this presentation, according to our own understanding. He was this kind of teacher. I dearly miss this wonderful friend, the community and the place.

Does this cosmology, this orientation device, corresponds in any way to your understanding and experience? And I’d be curious know if you feel inspired to change or move words around.

*       *        *

On the ‘OTHER’ page of this site (see top bar) you can find a PDF link to an article I wrote on the imaginative function based on ideas of the great Muhyi-d-Din Ibn ‘Arabi. The article is called ‘Science of the Heart.’

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