I love to write. I’ve published two books, and in some ways writing comes naturally to me. But writing does not have to be about a finished product. In fact, writing, or journaling has many personal gifts.
Journaling can become a mindfulness practice with benefits similar to meditation. Writing helps to focus the mind and creates a body-mind connection linking thought to action; in this case, the action is moving our fingers. This slows thoughts down and gives us the upper hand on disturbing, difficult and persistent self-critical stories that often pass through the mind. If we do use writing as a mindfulness practice, and we are faithful to our time and place of writing, we will naturally develop greater self-discipline. Self-discipline in one area of our life will often spill over into other areas as well, with positive results.
We often use journals to keep lists of what we want to accomplish in a day. We can also use writing as a way to clarify and craft a larger vision for our lives. Try focusing on one area of your life at a time, work, leisure, friendship, and write down what your ideal life would look like in these areas. When we record an idea on paper, it is more likely to materialize in the real world than if we leave it swimming around in the mind. As we begin to write down the bigger picture for our lives, we will inevitably spark creative ideas for how we might accomplish our plan. New ideas birth even more ideas and there can be a creative flow that comes from writing that has its own momentum.
We can journal to explore our thoughts, feelings, and perceptions of the events in our lives. Writing can help us sort out our emotions around a particularly difficult event, often bringing a healing balm to painful past experiences. It may also help to imagine how someone else in our story might perceive the event. Sometimes writing from the other person’s perception can strengthen empathy and reduce stress.
Often we have something to say to someone that is difficult to put into words because of the emotional charge it carries. Writing down what we want to say in our journal first will often garner greater self-confidence and encourage a smooth encounter.
Finally, there are many different reasons to keep a journal. We can keep a journal to express daily gratitude, for emotional release, or for personal planning. Keeping a food journal can be helpful as part of a weight loss program and a workout routine journal can keep us on tract with our exercise goals. When I look over past entries in my journal, I often notice that recent accomplishments were once merely a whispered thought, recorded on an earlier page.
Psychologists tell us most people negotiate life from a certain happiness set point. We may deviate up or down from our set point, but only slightly and for short periods. The good news is we can raise the set point. Here’s how.
Develop a sense of awe. As you go about your day, notice what amazes you.
Find a friend. Engage with people who have similar interests.
Replace the urge to blame with “Don’t know mind”, a Buddhist concept that softens our emotional grip and clears the mind. Ask yourself, “Can I be absolutely certain that someone is to blame?”
When you feel the urge to control someone else’s behavior, focus on your own pleasure and plans instead.
Replace criticism with love. Somewhere it is written, “Love is the pleasure of focusing on the virtues of another.”
Instead of complaining that something or someone is against you, get busy making a list of ten creative solutions to your problem.
Fill your life with experiences, not things.
When Negative Nelly is settling in, creating a nest in your mind, remind yourself of what you are grateful for.
Ditch anyone who doesn’t appreciate you. Think of hanging out with negative people as inhaling second hand smoke.
Every day, find something or someone that inspires you.
Set goals that are challenging and driven by your personal values.
Danger is real. Fear is nothing more than a thought. First know which you are dealing with. Most of the time it is fear. Find a way through it and take a leap of faith.
Be present. Remember that we are anxious because we are not living in the present moment.
Wishing you a joyful journey along your happiness path!
After a series of studies, scientists have recently determined that summer boosts our brain activity. I don’t know if this is true for everyone, but it certainly is for me. This might also depend on where you live. It is easy to imagine that on certain beaches, drenched in sunlight most of the year, summer might not make as big a splash for the people living there. In the great Northwest, that is not the case. After a winter and spring when it seemed it would never stop raining, the sunshine and dry heat finally cleared away the moss, mildew and mold growing on my patio and in my brain!
This year it didn’t stop raining until late June when I could finally spend a week scrubbing moss from my patio, hauling the patio chairs and tables from the garage, filling empty pots with flowering plants, and arranging magazines, books, sunhats, cloth napkins and wine glasses on the table for a few welcome visits from friends. The sunlight streaming through the clouds, and the patio preparations did seem to clear my brain. Everything seemed lighter and energized at the same time, my thoughts, mood, muscles. So how can we best use the new brain activity and energy that summer time brings?
Here are seven ideas:
1. Of course, get outside: bike, hike, garden
2. Bring friends around a beach fire for a drumming circle
3. Begin an activity you’ve always wanted to try; now is the time!
4. Take a class
5. Explore a nearby city you’ve never been to before
6. Engage in a conversation with someone you don’t know
7. Want to lose some weight this summer? Don’t diet. Try intermittent fasting; it’s all the rage. And it is also supposed to increase brain activity.
Happy sun worshipping!
The esteemed psychologist Carl Jung writes in his autobiography, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, "Thus it is that I have now undertaken, in my eighty-third year, to tell my personal myth."
Personal myths are stories we tell about events in our lives that bring greater cohesion to periods of chaos, meaning to moments of sorrow, understanding to confusion and more gratitude for the gifts life offers.
As we mature, the pattern and shape of our story evolves, expanding with our greater awareness and understanding. Significant events in our story may shift in the prominence we give them and who we believe we are, and who we believe we can be, changes over time.
How we tell our stories can shed light on our authentic core values bringing awareness to what really matters to us.
Telling our stories from a position of power will inspire even greater adventures and sure up hope and courage in those who hear them.
There are good reasons to explore our personal myths. Personal myths fulfill the same function as cultural myths; they bring meaning to our experiences and beg for the rituals that give purpose to life. The ancient Greek myths, Hindu myths, world myths from all cultures and times grew out of a desire to make sense of things. In many instances personal myths are expressions of these larger global myths. For this reason, it can be beneficial to reflect on the themes in historic myths.
Learning of cultural myths and the characters who play them out, we often identify with one hero or another, their particular qualities and challenges. As with the gods and heroes in these stories, we suffer struggles and glory in triumphs. Also like the gods we give these events particular meanings often determined by our own biology, culture, and interpersonal and transpersonal experiences.
Another way we can explore personal myth is by recording our nighttime dreams. Dreams and personal myths have similar functions. They both exist in part to make sense of and process disturbing or confusing psychic material too difficult or painful for the conscious mind to understand or explain.
Exploring personal myths in these ways can give us greater personal power. We all have core myths at the heart of our lives, stories about events that happened in our past that will often shape our future. Many of these stories reside deep in the subconscious mind hidden from us yet, influencing our decisions, urges and motivations. If we can shed the light of understanding on these stories, we may make better conscious decisions moving forward. There is power in re-framing, perceiving and interpreting our stories to shape the future we most desire.
There may in fact be danger in ignoring our personal myths and neglecting to discover the hidden meanings we give to them. If we do not consciously create our own personal myths, we may find ourselves trapped in someone else’s. We can be controlled unconsciously by giving greater significance to someone else’s interpretation of our personal story. In this way we unwittingly give ourselves over to someone else’s misguided imaginings. This kind of negligence can be fatal.
Almost every myth has both a dark side and a regenerative, spirit-filled quality. We may find ourselves living out a self-destructive myth where we view ourselves as victims of exploitation and addiction. Awareness is the first step toward awakening. Once we recognize that there will always be two aspects of the myth, we can seek out and expose the creative life-giving aspect. For instance, Carl Jung saw the alcoholic as a soul seeking the divine through the altered state of mind that alcohol can bring. Unfortunately this desire for the transcendent was deeply miss-directed. Alcohol for the alcoholic ultimately brings both spiritual and physical death. With this insight, many begin a conscious path, one of hope, humility and support. Through Alcoholics Anonymous, many individuals are set on the spiritual path that they were seeking all along.
Simply put, story plays out in our psyches and in our lives; we can positively engage these imaginings to heal our psychic wounds and thrive in work and love. Choose how you want to view your own story. Write your own script and include the view from heaven; beyond your intellect, how would your spirit, soul or senses tell your story?
Personal myth shapes our identities, helps us grapple with and re-frame difficult circumstances, brings fragments of our experiences into a coherent story and ultimately empowers us in moving forward creatively along life’s journey. Transform your story, transform your life and step more fully into your authentic self.
Making Travel Sacred
A friend explains that she is leaving on pilgrimage with a group from her church. She hopes the journey will bring more vitality to her spiritual life, which she says has been laying dormant for some time. Pilgrimage can certainly do that. At the same time she has concerns, depleting her savings account to make the trip, worrying about how family members will get along in her absence, and if her physical strength will hold up to the journey. These hopes and fears make sense and are common to many travelers.
There is great solace and comfort in joining together with other fellow travelers to share stories of holy paths and hardships along the way, great discoveries and deep loneliness that can surface during an extended journey. We learn from those who have traveled ahead of us, the best places to lodge, a favorite café, hidden temple, the train stop to avoid and so much more.
In fact gathering with others to share a meal and story is a wonderful ritual for our leave taking. There are many more. One person I know likes to sit on his suitcase for twenty minutes after it is packed and keep an open mind, open to what he may have left out that he really intended to pack. There are as many leave taking rituals as there are travelers.
Often our talisman is one of those things we don’t want to leave behind. This is any object that will comfort us on the path and keep us connected to those left behind. Some have a specific stone or ring, photo or book of poems. Old letters from loved ones can do just as well.
We can step into all of the blessings of travel, learning more about ourselves as well as receiving an education about a distant place. We may also find synchronistic moments and magical events that surprise us and bring our experience to a deeper level. We will inevitably be confronted with some form or degree of culture shock. And when we arrive home we may confront a different form of culture shock.
These travel experiences are renewed and revitalized in the sharing and help spark new visions of the open road. They also give comfort and help to those about to journey along a similar path. You may already have packed your walking stick or are simply dreaming of a possible destination. In either case gathering with others will spark greater creativity and courage for the journey. Think about joining us in my new workshop Travel as Sacred Practice on Saturday April 15th. email@example.com
I am often asked, “How do you work with Tarot and why?”
Many of my clients come with questions about their life path. They want to know what is the best career direction, should they stick out a relationship, make a change in location? Some feel they have everything they want materially and yet inside feel something is missing, others complain of feeling spiritually bankrupt, or that work drains their energy and there isn’t any for nurturing pleasurable activities. Some simply want to live a more creative life but don’t know where to begin.
The journey can feel even more confusing because often the question we bring to a counselor or coach is not the question that we are really concerned with. We may sit and talk for sometime before that primary concern surfaces. This is because many of our unhealthy motivations, urges and troubles originate in the subconscious, hidden from our conscious discerning mind.
Yet all is not lost. We can find the answers to most of our questions and problems if we know where to look and how to listen, engaging with the subconscious mind is often the first best step; and image is the language of the subconscious.
The Tarot images give us an immediate opening or doorway into the realm of the subconscious. They go straight to the heart of the matter, because the subconscious mind never lies. I have been a counselor and life coach for many years, but I’m also an artist and I understand this power of image.
For instance, I love to travel and once thought of writing a book entitled, The Traveler’s Tarot. The idea was to do Tarot readings for people about to go on a long voyage or pilgrimage and see if I could identify any themes, collective concerns or common revelations. But each time someone who was about to travel to New Zealand, or Italy, or India would come for a reading, what would come up, what would be revealed through the Tarot images as paramount, was not the concerns or interests of travel. Instead what surfaced was concerns about a difficult relationship, or dissatisfaction in vocation, or concerns about money and resources…nothing about the eminent trip. So I scrapped the idea. The subconscious will lead us to our true and hidden concerns or questions through working with the Tarot images. This gives us a start. At least we are moving in the right direction. After the first reading we can come up with a plan and clarify the on going support needed to follow through with it. Once we have a true direction, I am able to coach my client through out the journey to the creative fulfillment of his or her own purpose or vision.
When you hear an inner, critical voice, remind yourself, “to error is human.”
Feeling blue? Wrap your arms around yourself or ask someone to give you a hug.
Allow a 2-hour nap time. Give yourself permission to let go of your responsibilities, even if only on a Saturday.
Create a mantra, an affirming word that you silently repeat to yourself whenever you feel stressed or even when you don’t.
Make an appointment to see a counselor. We really don’t have to carry our difficulties alone.
Ask for what you need. Keep asking until someone truly hears you.
If you expect to heal from a loss in a year, give yourself seven.
Turn “should” thoughts into gratitude statements. Instead of “I should have gotten more done today” make a list of the blessings life has given you today. Say these out loud.
Frame this message and keep it on your bedside table: “You are loved.” Reflect on all the people who love you.
Make yourself a warm nourishing meal; eat mindfully.
I enjoy going to Friday prayers at the mosque. When I mentioned this to a friend over tea he said, “How can you? Don’t you find it oppressive that the women have to be separated and secluded from the men?” I was glad he asked. Actually, no, I am not offended, but I see the separation of women and men differently. The men have to stay down stairs, and that is not a bad idea one day a week. Besides, the practice allows an intimate gathering of women and children in the balcony.
Since there are no chairs in a mosque, we stand, sit or lay on plush carpet, some in prayer or simply resting and everyone taking part in tending to the children. Through exchanging knowing smiles or words, whispered, showing gratitude for each other’s presence, we form a beloved community. I enjoy wearing a long silk scarf over my head. This feels more of an expression of my femininity than an affront to it and I appreciate the very feminine embroidered flowers and lace that adorns the scarves of the other women. Of course, I have a choice to cover my head or not, but all of the women I pray with would say the same thing. They choose to follow the practice of their faith in this way. Culture also plays a big part in choice, but that is true for all of us. We are women of many cultures here, Southeast Asian, East Indian, Middle Eastern, African and American, Christian and Muslim. We have all come to pray and it is a gift to do this in a family of women and children.
I feel at home in the mosque for other reasons. My father’s family is Orthodox Christian and descendents emigrated from Syria in the early 1920’s. I grew up listening to the conversations of relatives in Arabic. In the Mosque, verses of the Quran are chanted in the same melodious Arabic sounds that I heard as a child.
Faith is often intimately connected to culture and childhood. Faith practices are expressions of our search for meaning and belonging. The varied forms of this expression have the scent and beauty of a rose garden with many different varieties of roses. Friday prayers at the mosque is like this for me.
1. A couple hours before bed, turn off all distractions, television, computer, phone. Make a cup of your favorite tea.
2. Light a candle or sit by the hearth enjoying the firelight, sip your tea.
3. Read from your favorite book of poems.
4. When the teacup is empty, put the book down and enjoy some gentle stretches.
5. Have a massage, from a loved one or by your own hands.
6. Now take a warm bath before settling under the covers.
The Magician in Tarot and in You
The Magician Tarot image is an archetype very much alive in each one of us and he expresses through our Power of Imagination. He is paired with The Empress card. The Empress is often pictured in a lush and unruly garden. She is eternally pregnant with your ideas and visions for the future and waits patiently for just the right time to birth them, but it is the Magician who sculpts these ideas into material form.
First let’s focus on the role of the Empress and the importance of waiting until the moment is ripe. You have probably at least once had the experience of telling a friend of some exciting new idea or endeavor, a spark that energized and motivated you, only to have her speak some word of caution that left you feeling limp and dampened your enthusiasm. Friends are well meaning and want to protect us, but sometimes it is best to keep our ideas to our self until we feel confident in a well-developed plan. Once you have a clear plan, or something in the works, friends and family will be less concerned and less likely to try and derail your zeal.
Even with a well-developed plan, once we begin we might find things don’t always go according to our expectations. There is almost always an element of surprise in birthing a fresh new idea. Art is a perfect example. When I begin a work I may have a vision in mind but inevitably while drawing and certainly while painting, a fresh and unexpected image will arise. The magician sees to this, he is the king of surprises and he represents the wonder-working aspect of ourselves.
How do we know when our inner Magician is active? The magician brings us experiences of déjà vu or synchronicity. In a déjà vu experience, we are certain something is happening for a second or third time, or have the sense “I have been here before,” when in fact it is a fresh new event. Synchronicity, or “meaningful coincidences” was a concept of Carl Jung’s. An example might be, while sitting on the bus observing a fellow passenger with kindly thoughts, she turns around to smile at you. Whenever the Magician is at work, we experience an expansion of Mind beyond our normal, every day understanding. You have probably all had this happen: Thinking of someone you haven’t seen for awhile, she suddenly calls or you run into her on a walk in the neighborhood. We also make up stories about the significance of these events. Here’s another example: One night late, alone at home, I was reading the book Jung and Tarot, an Archetypal Journey. I was on the chapter about the Magician, trying to make sense out of how the Magician might play in my life when the phone rang. A woman was calling to speak to my housemate who was not at home. I asked to take a message and she said to tell her Sallie Nichols called. I hung up the phone trying to remember where I had heard that name before. I went back to my reading and realized Sally Nichols was also the name of the author of my book; I guess one of those synchronistic events. After all I was asking the Magician to show me one of his tricks.
The Magician can show up as a trickster, a shape shifter who brings unplanned and un-wanted results to our original intention. This can happen at any time, since how our dreams manifest, is not always under our control. For instance, in an uncanny way, four of my friends at the same time discouraged at work and longing to move in a different direction, were unexpectedly laid off. All four of them! They had kept quiet about their intention to leave the job, but their unexpressed wish came to pass anyway, sooner than they had wanted and with difficult circumstances, no one wants her bosses disapproval. But their intentions were fulfilled in a sense behind the scenes, in the world of the Magician.
Another example of the Magician archetype at work in our lives can look something like this: My astrologer told me I would meet someone who would make the beginning of my journey to India very easy. She said I would meet this person in November. One day in November my partner came home from work and said that there was a new person hired in his Department. The new guy was from India so I was interested in meeting him. Puneet and I met over lunch and I shared my intentions of making a solo trip to India for an extended stay. He asked me a lot of questions about my intentions. At the end of our conversation he said, I’m going to speak to my father. I didn’t know what that meant but a week later he told me his father would pick me up at the airport and take me to their home in Delhi for the first night of my journey. I couldn’t have asked for a better introduction to my long adventure. It is easy for me to imagine that the Magician had his hand in these events. The Magician doesn’t play tricks on us he performs for us. In a sense, he includes us in his plans.
In another sense, we are imagining and reimagining our world all the time. Our lives are made of stories that we craft moment to moment. This happened because of that. She did that because of this. It happened this way, I’m certain, because I know him. An event happens and everyone who saw it has a different understanding and even different “facts” about what actually happened and certainly a different opinion as to why. Throw the Trickster into the mix and we have another layer of confused certainty.
So how do we consciously engage our inner Magician? In the movie, Awake chronically Paramahansa Yogananda’s life story, neuroscientist, Andrew Newberg, explains that the mind doesn’t simply sit in the brain, but extends throughout every cell in the body. Every part of our body holds intelligence and memory. Making friends with our bodies, listening to the language of our bones, muscles and organs can help lead us to the Magician, who is busy materializing our next idea. For instance, when I am stuck in writer’s block I take a walk or go for a long swim. I try to keep my attention on sensations in the body and empty my mind. Inevitably, after a period of exercise, I have another idea that will keep me writing for a longer stretch of time.
Attention, intention and visualization are other ways to engage the Magician. How skillful we become at the art of attention is an individual matter and often depends on how we learn or process information. Educators tell us there are three kinds of learners, visual, auditory and kinesthetic. If you are a visual learner, it is going to be easier for you to keep focused attention using visual cues. If you are an auditory learner you will be more successful at attending to what is pleasing to listen to. Kinesthetic learners learn by engaging in physical activity; here the body becomes the best teacher and assistant in focused attention.
We can take advantage of our natural and inherent style of learning to deepen and enhance our power of attention. Meditation doesn’t always have to happen sitting silently on a cushion. We can become entirely absorbed in music, painting or dance. We can be so completely absorbed that our mind becomes empty. This is also when we find ourselves in a state of Flow, heightened attention and enjoyment. Whenever we are in flow we have activated the Magician archetype.
Once learned, this heightened state of focused attention can be joined with our intentions, what we most desire to manifest, receive or give. If our intentions are strong enough they evolve into our life’s purpose, what we love to serve. If we are lucky this path is straightforward, but usually we are caught in a web of too many intentions, not always cooperating or in alignment. For instance, we may intend to get a college degree and intend to travel around the world, marry and settle down; when many possibilities have equal value we can become frozen or stuck or feel we are walking through quick sand. Of course, we don’t have to do everything at once and we could follow the advice of parents, co-workers and teachers who tell us to prioritize. Prioritize, sounds so business like, and hopelessly dull.
I’m more inclined to call in my inner Magician and join my power of attention and intention with the freedom of imagination. Our imagination has a way of finding a path to yes, a world of this and that, to several opportunities maturing at the same time, or a miracle we could never have noticed from where we were looking. Fully engaging our imagination requires slowing down, spending long lazy hours alone, allowing the mind to wander, exploring the wildest possibilities, playfully. This is the work of the Magician. Through imagination our attention and intention are brought to the world of anything possible. Soon you may find yourself enrolled in the University without Walls, living in Nice, France researching and writing your dissertation while listening to the sound of laughter of a loved one near by, feeling settled and happy. The Magician knows how to integrate several different ideas and seemingly opposing desires into a tapestry of what is possible.
For now, simply notice when the Magician archetype is alive in your life through experiences of déjà vu and synchronicity or choose to activate the Magician through your attention and intentions, empowering your life forward toward new ideas or personal visions. This power of imagination and creation is always within us waiting to be ignited and materialized.
Part of this essay is published in my book, Tarot and the Twelve Powers: A Journey for the Heart and Soul