Saturday, October 15, 2016

The Pattern That Connects

"Premonitions open us up to each other and to the greater world... they show that we are part of something larger than the individual self, that we are an element in the great pattern that connects." Dr. Larry Dossey
The opening story of Malcolm Gladwell's Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking should convince even the most skeptical that there are ways of knowing beyond the ability to make logical connections:
"A team of experts with state-of-the-art measurement tools took more than a year to assure the authenticity of a supposedly ancient Greek statue the Getty Museum of California was going to purchase for $10 million. Then several art experts looked at the statue and knew instantly it was a fake. One said he "heard" the word fresh, which seemed odd to him, but on further examination he realized the statue was too "fresh" to be that ancient." (David Brooks, New York Times).
We all have the capability to access these versions of a "sixth sense" although many shy away from that possibility, especially those who fear the unfamiliar. Even the word premonition carries an aura of foreboding - that something "bad" is going to happen.

When we're fully present, however, the possibilities are neither good nor bad, we're simply open to a broader context of knowing, a larger "mind" or "field." Whether you experience this knowing as a feeling in your bones, an image, or a nagging thought, it's saying to you, in Larry Dossey's words, "Wake up. The evidence for a larger world is staring you in the face."

Sunday, July 3, 2016

The Ecstatic Skin of the Earth

One of my favorite stories about C.G. Jung is a reported dream where he was drowning in a vat of human waste and calling "Help me out!" to his therapist, who stood on the rim of the vat. Instead of taking his outstretched hand the therapist pushed Jung's head down into the liquid, saying, "Through, not out."

That's often what it feels like when I commit to greater self-awareness and then see what I've gotten myself into: "Get me out of this!" No matter how innovative my efforts, there's a quality of struggling in, yes, a vat of shit.

I recently watched an episode of "John Adams," where Adams teaches one of his sons about the virtues of manure, insisting that the young man mash it around with his hands. Adams' recipe for compost would delight today's organic gardeners -- seaweed, marsh mud, dead ashes, rock weed, livestock waste, kitchen scraps.

My own dung has a similar variety -- scraps of history; ashes I thought were dead; a deep sea of muddy droppings from unconscious creature selves; weeds I'd imagined pulled forever; the waste of years spent serving an ego-image.

I keep in mind this quote from William Bryant Logan's Dirt: The Ecstatic Skin of the Earth: "Not only the grain in the mealbag, but the full-blown rose are, in one sense, the gift of turds."

Monday, May 2, 2016

Dream Journaling

For years, I've used Clyde H. Reid's Dreams: Discovering Your Inner Teacher as a straightforward format (based on Jungian dream analysis) to walk myself through the key aspects of a dream:
  • Date of dream:
  • Title:
  • Motif:
  • The dream in detail:
  • Context: what's happening in my life at this time?
  • In this dream, who are the main characters known to me before?

       Outstanding characteristics:
       What part of me is this?
  •  Who are the main characters not known to me?
        Same sex figures (shadow)?
        Opposite sex figures (anima/animus)?
  • What are the outstanding features of this dream (flood, explosion, animal, house, etc)?
        What part of me is this feature or image? What is it saying to me?
        What important symbols appeared? How are they related to me?
  • What archetypes may be manifesting themselves here?
  • What feelings did I have during/after the dream?
  • What other thoughts, ideas, or memories does this dream trigger in me?

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Audacious Ekphrasis

In December I accepted the role of Editor-in-Chief for Bacopa Literary Review. Below is a copy of my first post on our Editors Blog:

If you want to know more about me, Googling Mary Bast will first evoke echoes of my other life as an Enneagram coach and related books. But I've also written flash memoir and several forms of poetry including found poetry and ekphrasis, an audacious poetic form that's among many we're encouraging for Bacopa 2016.
You'll find a long history and many definitions of ekphrasis. I like the most open, contemporary version best:
Ekphrasis: the intersection of verbal and visual arts.
I first learned about ekphrastic poetry in a workshop with Melanie Almeder, who drew our attention to two famous poems written in response to Pieter Brueghel's painting, The Fall of Icarus: William Carlos Williams' "Landscape with the Fall of Icarus" and W.H. Auden's "Musee des Beaux Arts." 

Note that Williams' poem to some degree follows the tradition of describing the visual scene (a farmer was ploughing / his field / the whole pageantry / of the year was / awake tingling / with itself), while Auden's interpretation is a bit wider (About suffering they were never wrong, / the old Masters: how well they understood / Its human position: how it takes place / While someone else is eating or opening a window).

Almeder invited workshop participants to write our own poems in response to the Brueghel painting, encouraging us to range as far as our muses would go. My poem "plummet" (published in Bacopa Literary Review 2012) imagined Icarus as a woman:

there is an Icarus
a woman who flies 

on intricate
feathered web
of covert


she breathes faster
learns to soar

the admonition
do not fly too high

her efforts full
of sky
of wind

her breasts
still flecked with honey
dripped from wings' wax

heavy with her father's
heavier than water

when she dives
no sun's light
scuffs the surface
As a visual artist I've explored other ways to interpret "the intersection of verbal and visual arts." For example, in response to Kim Addonizio's poem "Divine" (Oh hell, here's that dark wood again. / You thought you'd gotten through it--), I created my acrylic painting, "Oh hell, here's that dark wood again." Then I reacted to my own painting with the poem "Backdraft" (again the dark wood. / Guardian of the Abyss hovering above / like a gold flame to incinerate what's left of my life). 

Friday, March 18, 2016

Developing Intuition

In The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals, Gavin de  Becker described a childhood where his ability to sniff out his mother's moods quite literally meant survival. As an adult he parlayed this keenly developed intuition into a world-renowned business -- serving victims of domestic abuse and stalking, evaluating threats to political and media figures, and proposing new laws to help manage violence. His book could be a manual for healthy intuition:
I have gotten great benefits from taking the voice of skepticism I used to apply to my intuition and applying it instead to the dreaded outcomes I imagined were coming. Worry will almost always buckle under a vigorous interrogation. If you can bring yourself to apply your imagination to finding the possible favorable outcomes of undesired developments, even if only as an exercise, you'll see that it fosters creativity. . . Worry is a choice, and the creative genius we apply to it can be used differently, also by choice.
We're all trained to be analytical, and consequently to doubt intuition that isn't tied to direct knowing or experience. In her introduction to Inner Knowing, Helen Palmer admitted that her "anchor in intellectualism made it difficult to accept even profoundly convincing intuition as being meaningful and real." Palmer was referring to several incidents of her own inner knowing, the first of which occurred when she was deeply involved in the East Coast movement of resistance to the Vietnam War: "My imagination became as believable and solid as the furniture in my room." She knew, for example, that a friend must take a route across the Canadian border different from the one planned, and later learned that others who took the original route were stopped and arrested.

Many people describe intuition as a hunch based on experience. In a New York Times review (1/16/05), David Brooks summarized the opening story of Malcolm Gladwell's Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. The Getty Museum in California had planned to purchase a supposedly ancient Greek statue for almost $10 million. A team of experts with state-of-the-art measurement tools had taken more than a year to assure its authenticity. Then several art experts looked at the statue and knew instantly it was a fake. When asked to explain how they knew, one said he heard the word fresh, which seemed odd to him, but on further examination he realized the statue was too "fresh" to be that ancient. Another felt a wave of intuitive repulsion. The outcome? "The teams of analysts who did 14 months of research turned out to be wrong. The historians who relied on their initial hunches were right."

I encourage you to develop trust in your hunches, whether experience-based or seeming to come out of nowhere, the kind of intuition that has served me so well and that led Helen Palmer to found the Center for the Investigation and Training of Intuition. Maybe you'll only feel a nudge. Something feels right about this, though I'm not sure why.

Dr. Michael Ray, author of Creativity in Business and The New Paradigm in Business, offered five truths about intuition.
  1. Intuition can be developed. You have intuition within you. Accept responsibility to develop your individual style of intuition.
  2. Intuition and reason are complements. Reason, experience, information and intuition are a powerful combination.
  3. Intuition is unemotional. It involves paying clear attention to the most appropriate alternative that comes from your creative Essence.
  4. Intuition thrives on action. Follow-through is important to make use of your creative ideas, and intuition is strengthened by seeing its manifest effects. 
  5. Intuition is mistake-free. Sometimes your intuitions will be on target and sometimes not. The more you develop it, the more often it will be on target. Your intuition will grow when you have faith that it doesn't make mistakes -- it just offers new possibilities.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Mindfulness: Experience the Experience

Listening to Dr. Ronald Siegel in a Mindfulness webinar, I was struck by his observation that the common factor underlying all psychological disorders is "experiential avoidance."

Notice how you typically handle painful experiences. Do you tell yourself "I can't stand it" or "If I let myself go there I'll never be happy again"? When we retreat from life this way we deny our own healing resources. When we're mindful we allow ourselves to be present to experience.

Mindfulness is not limited to meditating on a prayer cushion for 20 minutes morning and night. "Many of us are so busy," Dr. Siegel writes, "that the thought of adding one more thing--no matter how potentially beneficial--is just too much. The good news is that mindfulness practice can be taken up in different ways to suit different lifestyles."
Here's an excerpt from "Nature Meditation" in his book, The Mindfulness Solution: Everyday Practices for Everyday Problems:
Turn your attention fully to the world around you. If you can get to a window or go outside, use the natural world as a focus. If you need to stay in a room and can't go to the window, you can do the same thing with the walls, floor, and objects in the room. The idea is to systematically look at everything in your visual field and describe it. If your mind wanders to thoughts or body sensations, just gently bring it back to the outside world. As with walking meditation, this can be used as a formal meditation practice, replacing breath meditation during particularly anxious times, or as an informal practice as you go about your day.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

A Strong Drink

Humor is a good antidote to untested assumptions and a marvelous way to elicit change at a symbolic level. It shakes us loose. For example, in a workshop on personality types I handed out a variety of Slammers — beanie-type toys that make a sound when you throw them down on a hard surface. Participants had great fun with these, sometimes slamming them down on the table to make a point during the discussion.
  • For Skeptics, who worry about what could go wrong, their Slammer was a puppy dog that shouted, “Oh, no!”
  • For Helpers, who take care of others’ needs and forget their own, their Slammer had a puckered-up mouth and made the sound of a big, smacking kiss.
  • My own Peacemaker types tend to merge with others' agendas and fail to speak up for ourselves; when we threw our Slammer down… it made no sound at all!
A friend says we Peacemakers are easy to tease and enjoy self-deprecating humor. That may be true. While reading Iris Murdoch’s The Green Knight, I laughed out loud at this passage:

“What he saw might have been her pity for him, her sympathy. Or perhaps just her kindness, the way in which, ever after as he watched her, she instinctively made all things better, speaking no evil, disarming hostility, turning ill away, making peace: her gentleness, which made her seem, sometimes, to some people, weak, insipid, dull. ‘She’s not exactly a strong drink!’ someone said.”

Ironic that my favorite cocktail is a Godfather. Hmmm. I might be symbolically drinking strength. Anyway, as I've matured I've become a stronger drink, stepping up, shouting out; my paintings and my tastes in poetry are becoming less and less rule-bound.

I LOST MY BOOBS, NOT MY SENSE OF HUMOR proudly stated my post breast cancer t-shirt more than five years ago. So my son Dylan Schwab helped me create a rap about having no breasts (click here). I was inspired by Anne Hathaway, who is Sweetness personified (and I’m sure has very nice breasts), performing her paparazzi rap: