I’m not a member of any organised religion but because of where and when I was born, the Christian symbols and stories are the ones I’m most familiar with.
Of all the Christian symbols, the blessed baby speaks to me most strongly. I very frequently dream about babies, and these dreams always carry a wave of positive emotion, along with a sense of magic and mystery.
A baby is a bright bridge to the future, something fresh and new. During politically and socially turbulent times such as these, we might look to the future with fear and apprehension, but the baby is innocence of the open, trusting heart.
Every Christmas, even though I’m not a Christian, I feel inspired by the archetypal energy of the blessed baby. I take time to contemplate and focus on celebrating every thing and every person that I love.
Family and friends, of course; people I’ve met and people I’ve yet to meet. Writing and teaching. Books, art exhibitions, theatre. The moors and coasts of Cornwall, where I live; the amazing cities I still have to visit.
This robin I can see right now, in the hedge outside my window. This coffee.
Every big and tiny thing we love reflects love back to us, warming and lighting our hearts.
My blog is both a big and tiny thing; it’s big for me, but tiny in the blogosphere. I love that some people come back again and again, until I feel I’ve got to know them, and some drop in from Africa or Hong Kong or Norway, giving me a sense of connection across the globe.
I haven’t had time to blog these last few weeks because I’ve been busy promoting my new book,Free-Range Writing, but I didn’t want to let Christmas go by without saying a warm seasonal thank-you.
Happy Christmas, and may you be touched by the archetypal power of the blessed baby, whether you follow any particular faith or none.
I was going on tour with my three books for writers. I opened my well-travelled, old-fashioned suitcase and there they were, just the books, looking bright and colourful against the black satin lining. I felt very proud of them.
I had this deeply pleasurable dream a few weeks ago, when I was emailing publications to see if they would like a review copy of my upcoming book, Free-Range Writing: 75 Forays for the Wild Writer’s Soul, and pitching ideas for articles. (I’m happy to report that Mslexia has accepted a copy for review and I’ve placed an article on free-range writing in the Writers’ News Christmas edition).
Usually, I have to put my shoulder to the wheel and get on with it, when it comes to promoting new books, but promoting this one feels joyful. I want to shout about it, partly because it’s my first brand new book in two years, and partly because it gives me a sense of completion.
These three writing books are a set, although I only notice that now, looking back. They cover the whole writer’s process:
opening to inspiration (Writing in the House of Dreams)
keeping the writing flowing (Happy Writing)
extending yourself as a writer (Free-Range Writing)
They also reflect my own coming-to-writing. First, before I was a writer, I was a dream worker – I learnt to come and go across the borders of my unconscious and work with the stories and images I found in great abundance there. To use Ted Hughes’ analogy, I learnt to fish.
There is the inner life, which is the world of final reality, the world of memory, imagination, emotion, intelligence, and natural common sense, and which goes on all the time, consciously or unconsciously, like the heart beat. There is also the thinking process by which we break into that inner life and capture answers and evidence to support the answers out of it. That process of raid, or persuasion, or ambush, or dogged hunting, or surrender, is the kind of thinking we have to learn and if we do not somehow learn it, then our minds lie in us like the fish in the pond of a man who cannot fish.
Writing in the House of Dreamsit about tapping the mystery of inspiration, the ‘Where did that come from?’ It includes lots of practical writing exercises to help readers open to their own unconscious processes.
Next, at the age of 40, I started my writing career. As well as having to build my writing skills, I also had to develop the psychological toughness this business requires: a thick skin, a willingness to be seen, the ability to set clear goals and the flexibility to adapt them. Authors also have to cope with financial uncertainty, and develop other sources of income – many award-winning authors have to fit their writing in around a day job.
Happy Writingis about the psychology of writing, the ‘How can I keep going?’, whether in a longer piece like a novel, or over the course of a career. It includes lots of practical writing exercises to help readers build their writing skills, such as plotting and redrafting, identify when hidden fears might be holding them back and create writing goals they can pursue whole-heartedly because they come from their core values rather than other people’s assumptions.
In my early 50’s, I began to teach writing workshops, and I always mixed it up, just as I’ve done in my own writing career. I found people were surprised to be asked to write a poem in a plotting workshop, say, or a magazine article in a memoir workshop – they were surprised, also, by how enjoyable and fruitful a more holistic approach can be.
Free-Range Writingis about inhabiting more of your writer self and growing as a writer, the ‘Yes, I can do this! What else can I do?’ It includes 75 practical writing forays into different genres, with tips and advice to help readers feel confident about experimenting, and a chapter on how to use these exercises to set up a new writing group or pep up an existing one.
Every stage of the writer’s journey is different, and so these three books are all very different from each other. Until I had the dream and actually saw them in my dear old suitcase, all together, they had felt a bit random and disparate. I hadn’t realised that they were a series, each one a necessary part of the whole.
I’m not sure I realised, either, that I do feel very proud them, these beloved children of my other lives, in dreams and writing.
If you would like to help them make their way in the world, please share this post to your fb/twitter/personal blog.
We were discussing the Senoi method for tackling nightmares in last week’s session of Writing in the House of Dreams, when someone said, ‘We ought to be teaching this to children in schools!’
The Senoi technique is described by Patricia Garfield in her fascinating book, Creative Dreaming – that’s where I first came across it. When you go to sleep, you intend that if you have a bad dream you will confront the difficulty, face down the enemy, and claim a reward.
If you wake before your dream has reached a positive outcome, you either go back to sleep and continue the dream or else complete it in imagination.
You don’t need to be lucid within the dream, so it’s a very easy practice that anyone can begin, and if you always bring your dreams to a positive outcome you set a track in your mind that your dreams will soon automatically follow, resolving themselves before you awake.
It’s obvious that not having unresolved nightmares is a way of making your dream experience better, but the goal of Senoi dreaming isn’t just to make your dream life better – it’s to make your waking life better as well. So how does that work?
When you deliberately face up to challenges and create positive outcomes in your dreams or imagination, you experience yourself as an effective and courageous person. Then when you’re faced with challenges in waking life, that’s the person you know you can be – someone whose first response to difficulties is ‘I can sort this!’
I shouldn’t think we’ll ever see creative dream skills in the national curriculum but I believe children could get the same benefits from learning to write stories.
The Senoi approach is basically the Hero’s Journey. The hero crosses the threshold into the unfamiliar world, meets enemies and falters, before finally facing up to them and claiming her reward to bring back to the ordinary world.
This story is the mythic template for all our stories. Every new experience starts with crossing the threshold into the unfamiliar and making the hero journey, from starting a new relationship or job to small things such as making a phone call or trying a new restaurant.
In the past, creative writing was part of the school curriculum – I don’t mean analysing styles and all that kind of thing, but properly diving into imagination, every child different, every story unique.
Writing stories is joyful, exciting and empowering. I wish we could have more truly creative writing on the curriculum because, in my view, it wouldn’t only make children’s experience of school better – it would, like creative dreaming, make the rest of their life better too.
I recently listened to a programme on Radio 4 called Butterfly Mind, by Scottish playwright, David Grieg, which posed the question, ‘Can a shaman cure writer’s block?’
The programme explained the shamanic world view and took us through Greig’s experience of soul retrieval with a shaman, including finding his spirit animal guide.
The process was effective, insofar that although Grieg still experienced some periods of feeling blocked he no longer felt so worried about it, and his conclusion was that ‘maybe we just need new metaphors.’
Finding new metaphors enables a new understanding of situations, and therefore a new way of experiencing them. Images are bridges to the wider mind of image-ination; the wisdom of instinct, intuition and emotion, that dwarfs and contains the narrow rational viewpoint.
It doesn’t matter what system you use to find these metaphors. Maybe shamanic drumming and chanting will work for you, or maybe the wonderful gifts of your dreams.
Many of my creativity workshops involve some kind of image work. It’s easy, instant, exciting and enjoyable – and very effective. I’ve got two collage workshops coming up for the Society of Authors this autumn, one in London with Lucy Coats, who works in a shamanic way, and the other one in Manchester.
I’ve also scheduled a weekend workshop here in Cornwall in January, because that feels like the perfect time of year to share some image work techniques with writers who want to free up their creativity.
What tricks and techniques do you use to give your creativity a boost? Please share!
I’m delighted to welcome Dutch therapist, Susanne van Doorn, into the House of Dreams today, to tell the fascinating story of how she came to start her dream journal, years ago. She even includes some tips for you if you’d like to try it too.
When Jenny invited me to write something about journalling, I immediately thought about my dream journal. It all started when I was 16.
I had a very romantic self-created Four-poster bed with old curtains that gave me the feeling I was embraced and secure when I retreated at the end of the day. It was all designed so I could secretly read without getting caught by my parents.
When I was 11 I had an out of body experience because I had gotten really ill from undiscovered type one diabetics. That whole experience, of flying around an unknown hospital and seeing (and nurturing) my body from above had ignited a fierce interest in spiritual books.
So, that specific night I want to tell you about, I had the book ‘Creative Dreaming’ from Patricia Garfield in my secret hideaway place to read. It was a revelation to me…
For the first time in my life I read that you have the ability to guide your dreams to give you an answer to a certain topic (and believe me, like any 16 year old, I was an accumulation of questions).
For the first time in my life, I read that you had the ability to ask the persons you meet in a dream for a gift.
I immediately turned out the light and went to sleep. You will not believe what happened…
In my dream I met my deceased aunt An (I am named after her: SusANne). I was thrilled to see her but than I remembered I had to ask her for a gift. So, like in most dreams I communicated telepathically to her and asked for my gift. She gave me a yellow rose, a sign of friendship.
You can imagine that such an experience had me craving for more. So I started writing down as many dreams as I could remember.
Here is part of a dream I had the night before my first date with the man who would later become my husband.
“I am on a train, looking out of the window and I enjoy the sun very much. All of a sudden a drop of water touched my arm. I am amused and enjoy the coolness of the water.”
Being on a train is a symbol of the journey of life. We are all in it together, you have little influence on its direction after you have chosen a certain destination. But in my dream i enjoy the warmth of the sun.
The water is a symbol, of life, a symbol of the goddess if you will. It is like life gives me support to let me know that I am on the good track. The sun is shining, all the ingredients of fertility are there.
I hope that my blog will encourage the idea that you lay a pen and paper next to your bed, and write down a dream whenever you remember something. You’ll see that the more times you write something down, the better the memory of your dreams will be (I have 10 tips to improve dream memory in an ebook on my site).
And even if you don’t believe dreams have any meaning, you’ll be surprised how many times dreams have pointed out something.
Try to write in the first person’s perspective, even though it can be hard (dreams are often in the third person perspective). In this way the dream keeps its “juiciness”.
Jot down the main emotions you had the day before. Emotions are often the key towards attaching more mening to your dream.
Write down all the symbols in your dream and put your first association behind it.
Now re-write the story, using your associations and see if that gives you some useful insights into your personality.
The great thing about dreams is that they ignite your creativity (for example, I took a course in tarot because of a dream, I organised a trip to England searching for King Arthur also because of a dream). So for me the question if dreams mean anything or not is really not relevant. For me, dreams are a key to creativity.
I want to thank Jenny for giving me the opportunity to tell you something about journaling.
Susanne van Doorn, PhD (The Netherlands) is a Dutch therapist working for Therapeut van Binnenuit and blogging for Mindfunda, where she reviews new books about dreaming, spirituality and mythology, interviews authors and teaches several online courses.
Author of “A dreamers Guide through the Land of the deceased”, Mutual Dreaming: A Psiber Experiment with co-author Maria Cernuto published in Dreamtime spring 2014, translator of “Theory of Dreams” by Vasily Kasatkin (2014).
She is a regular presenter at Iasd conferences since 2013, In the Netherlands she gives presentations about dreams on a regular basis. She has a vibrant internet presence on Twitter: @susannevandoorn, Facebook and Linkedin.
You can read Susanne’s review of my book, Writing in the House of Dreams here.
I was astonished, a few days ago, when a writer friend told me she was fed up with politics and wasn’t going to vote in the General Election next week.
I’d known, of course, that there were people who felt that way – like everyone else, I saw the clip the BBC aired repeatedly just after the election was announced, of a woman in Bristol grumbling about what an imposition it was, being called upon to put a cross in a box for the third time in two years.
But as far as I know, that woman was not a writer.
Writing is a solitary act, but it’s about community; it’s about sharing the best of yourself with other people you don’t know, and trying in your own small way to make life better. Reading is about community, too. Hearing other people’s stories fosters empathy and understanding, enabling us to recognise how deeply we all share the experience of being human.
Dreaming is arguably an even more solitary pursuit, but dream awareness brings a deep sense of connection with all our tribes, from family and friends, to nations and the whole of humankind, now, in the past and in time to come.
We don’t only become aware of the collective layer of consciousness through dreaming – we also understand that just as we draw from it, we also contribute. Our thoughts and feelings, our beliefs and experiences, become part of that realm that connects us.
Voting is connection, too. We are privileged to be able to contribute to the wellbeing of our communities, by trying to understand the issues and make the best choices we can, according to our lights.
It doesn’t matter which way you vote but, if you don’t bother, you are missing a precious opportunity to care and connect in a positive way.
Every vote matters, just as every book in the multitude of books matters, and every dream in the dreamspace we share. Each one is like a drop in a pond; it may seem so small as to be insignificant, but without drops there is no pond.
If you’re in the UK, and you’re eligible to vote, are you planning to put your cross in the box?
This new post in my guest series on personal writing, by Anne Phillips, vividly evokes the feeling of danger and edginess that writing can bring – something I’ve often felt myself, and that I see in other writers who come to workshops. It can hold you back, but overcoming it is part of the buzz of writing.
Anne lives and works in North Wales as a teacher; she’s widowed with four grown up children. Her entry spans 50 years of diary writing life.
My writing life began at a young age. I was two. Blue pencil in hand, I scrawled my name backwards on the wall beneath the coats in the cupboard under the stairs. No one had any idea it was there, until twelve years later (seven after dad died), when my mother decided to paint the cupboard.
I filled exercise books with ‘double writing’ writing books for my doll and teddy. One of my earliest memories is sitting at my brother’s school desk and pretending to be a writer. No surprise that I kept diaries between then and the age of seventeen …. Young love, crushes. The superficial details and concerns of teen life. I vividly remember the day I stuffed them into the rubbish bin outside Swansea Market. I was seventeen, I had my job. I was an adult. It was time to grow up.
Writing then was a secretive occupation — not to be admitted to. This was compounded when someone close to me read a diary where I had been working out my thoughts and feelings about our relationship. In my memory I heard my mother’s voice, ‘You can’t write that. You can’t say that.’
I married, left the bank, had children. I stopped journalling — it was too dangerous and disturbed other people. Best keep thoughts inside. Writing was the stuff and dreams of childhood.
Unsurprisingly, as a full time privacy freak, full of censored thoughts, I was outraged in my thirties, when a therapist, casually — yes casually — asked me, ‘So, have you had any dreams this week?’
To begin with, I’d narrate them, then for speed I’d write them down. Stories would emerge, poems, thoughts — each in its designated notebook. For more speed I’d email my dreams. My husband was diagnosed with an incurable but treatable multiple myeloma. My dreams and journals became uglier, muddled, frightening. How would I cope? Widowhood brought with it a series of A4 journals too ranty to reread. In the middle of this I rediscovered my love of writing. Somewhere in this process – I remember where, not when – I said, ‘All I want is to be a writer.’
I kept an ideas notebook, a work notebook (by now I was teaching), a dream notebook and a notebook for my MA. I was awash with notebooks swapping one for another dependent on where I was. I down graded form A4 to A5 swapped utility blue for sparklier, more colourful diaries.
Now I am still negotiating widowhood, single parenting, a stressful job. My MA is complete and I write, occasionally with a small amount of success. I only keep one notebook and I nearly died of fright this week when I mislaid it. It’s got my whole life in there: stories, ideas, dreams, to do lists class lists resit lists, plans story arcs. I don’t want anyone to read it and realise that inside my head is a dangerous place to be.
My use of journals and journalling sums up my attitudes to a writing life. Keeping one integrated book feels ok. It’s ok to have thoughts and feeling written down. It’s ok to have dreams. It’s ok to disrupt other people. The note book covers enlivened my life as it become more enlivened. I had a sparkly phase, a butterfly phase, a blue phase, and these reflect my inner state too. There are still ‘no-go’ areas in my inner life. That too is ok. I’ll get to them when I need to or am moved to.
Only one notebook remains unwritten in. A gift from my sister who is as much a mother to me, it is the most beautifully jewelled clasped design. I simply cannot bring myself to write in it! This is a book not for drafting — not with my mucky handwriting! The inscription reads, Anne keep putting pen to paper, but most of all have joy in doing so. Love L & H
Can you relate to Anne’s conflicting feelings about writing? Leave a comment!