Category Archives: Psychology

Using creativity to make life better

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.

 

 

Advertisements

‘Poetry is an act of peace’

I came across this quote from Pablo Neruda when I was preparing my workshop for Bridging Arts at the Truro Museum in June, and it was very much in my mind as I watched the writers who came to the workshop engaging on a deep emotional level with the stories in the ‘Heart of Conflict’ exhibition, about the Cornish experience in wartime.

2017-06-24 16.10.39

Poetry is an act of peace. Peace goes into the making of a poet as flour goes into the making of bread. Pablo Neruda

Writing is always about connection, whether we’re writing poetry or prose, fiction or non-fiction. In stories, we connect with the characters we create; they come alive for us because of the way they make us feel. In non-fiction, we connect with the ideas and experiences that spark our interest and passion; in poetry, we connect with the symbolic layer of the psyche, where meaning is not objective and exact, but something the heart understands.

Every kind of writing connects us with our shared humanity and helps us feel and appreciate the rich complicatedness of our shared human condition.

I’m thinking about this quotation again today because we seem to be bombarded in the news with reports of appalling acts of ignorance and cruelty, from the vicious suppression of citizens in Catalonia to the treatment of the poor and disabled by our government here. The maverick gunman in Las Vegas. Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump… well I really have no words for them.

What we have, on the side of civilisation, is books. Reading, like writing, strengthens empathy, creates connection. It’s frightening to me that communities are losing public libraries, and schools are losing libraries too. Children are not encouraged and taught to read for pleasure, but rather to analyse and imitate, in order to gain good marks.

In my familiar world of children’s writing, the World Book Day list has just been announced. It’s full of books by celebrities, as if books by wonderful authors are somehow of less value than those that carry a famous name on the cover. We are not teaching children to value writing, but only to value fame.

Sometimes in the madness that seems to have the world in its grip, it can feel as if our civilisation is going to Hell in a handcart. Writing and reading are small acts of rebellion against a dominant ideology of greed and division.

I was really keen to teach the poetry workshop in the ‘Heart of Conflict’ exhibition – it felt like a privilege to have that opportunity. It felt like something really good to do, and I loved the ethos of Bridging Arts, which is all about creating connections.

I’m delighted to say that I’ve just heard from Bridging Arts that they would like me to run some more writing workshops next year in the run-up to the centenary of the end of WW1.From_love_story_to_mystery_to_discovery,_WWII_widow_remains_devoted_121114-F-AH552-002

Write, read, remember. It doesn’t seem like much, but it’s important.

What do you think? Does reading and writing feel, to you, like ‘an act of peace’?

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

Why we need to tell our stories

I wasn’t going to write any more posts about depression and suicide, but I’ve been thinking this week about a writer I knew, Jonny Zucker, who killed himself last year.

Jonny’s family have just announced the Striker Boy campaign, in which they are donating all proceeds of a new edition of one of his books to the mental health charity, Mind.

When Jonny died, the tributes and memories that poured in all said very similar things. How generous he was, how full of energy and enthusiasm, how funny, and how very loved.

So often, those who take their own lives seem to be bright stars like him, people who have touched other people’s lives in one way or another, but don’t seem to have understood how amazing they are.

So here I am, thinking and talking about suicide again, wishing like everyone must, that there was some way of reaching across the dreadful chasm that can open up around a person and swallow them down.

I don’t think we can convince somebody thinking about suicide how wonderful and loved they are, or how much they matter. Even if we could, would that be enough to reach across the chasm and hold onto them?

Certainly, we can make sure the people around us know we are there for them, and will listen in a non-judging way, if they ever need someone to turn to. We can avoid saying unhelpful things that will make the person feel even worse, such as ‘I don’t know why you’re so hard on yourself’ or ‘Why don’t you just snap out of it?’ But not everyone is actually able to talk about it when they’re struggling with depression.

My feeling is that the biggest thing we can do for each other is be honest and not hide our own darkness. Sadness, feelings of pointlessness, even despair, are all part of the human condition, although that goes against our cultural assumptions.

We think we should be able to be happy all the time and every kind of pain is – or certainly should be – fixable. In our culture, unhappiness feels like failure, and we’re ashamed of owning up to it.

But the golden life is an illusion. We shouldn’t be claiming it while hiding our own darkness, because that make the darkness even more terrifying and lonely for people currently going through it.

What we need to recognise and especially to teach our children is that everyone experiences sadness, fear, despair… it’s natural. Life can be hard, but we can learn to handle it. This is the message in all my kids’ self-help books, including How 2B Happy.

I don’t mean I think we should bang on about our problems all the time, but just be real with each other. Real life stories belong to all of us; they lift us above our own situation and show us our wider human condition. They give us a sense of belonging.

A member of Jonny’s family commented, ‘Mental health needs to be discussed in the open and these personal stories need to be shared.’

I could not agree more.

If you would like to buy a copy of Jonny’s book, the new special edition comes out on October 6th. 

 

 

 

 

 

Can a shaman cure writer’s block?

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.

IMG_0028
One of my animal guides

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!

The dichotomy in the writing life

Every summer I take off with my tent and drop off the radar for a while. That’s partly why I haven’t been blogging.

I almost always head to the far North, where you feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere and there’s no-one around and there’s nothing to do except walk. Usually, at some stage, it occurs to me to wonder if there might be something wrong with me that I choose these solitary times in solitary places.

But this year I had one of those moments when you know everything is just as it should be.

After 10 days in the Faroe Islands, which lie between Shetland and Iceland…

IMG_4424
In the Northern isles of the Faroes

…and a week in the campsites of Ullapool….

IMG_4686
From the top of Stac Pollaidh

…and Durness…

IMG_4707
Balnakiel beach

…I stopped off at Lotte Glob’s sculpture croft on my way to Scrabster to pick up the boat to Orkney.

The sculpture garden is extensive, full of little trails with sudden nooks and vistas, where the visitor is constantly surprised by weird and lovely little treasures. It was raining hard  but I wanted to see it all and not miss anything, so I just let myself get soaked.

IMG_4714
Weird little objects that seem to spring organically from the peaty Scottish soil

I thought how wonderful it felt, this magical garden in the vast emptiness of the surrounding landscape, and it made me think of the part of the creative process where we leave the world behind and venture alone into the spaces of our mind, looking for unexpected treasures.

I love that time, just as I love my summer wildernesses. I need that feeling of independence and adventure you get when no one else is with you and you don’t know what you will find.

Now I’m easing myself back into the more sociable side of my writing life, reconnecting with my writing friends and networks, planning workshops, organising schedules for the books I’ve currently got in production and talking about ideas for new ones. I need that sociable time too.

That’s the dichotomy in the writing life; writers spend so much time all alone, but the drive is a deep desire for connection. After my wonderful travels in the North I’m always happy to be back here blogging in the House of Dreams.

Do you have a favourite kind of holiday? Do you think it reflects something of your nature too?

 

 

 

 

A home-made four-poster bed, an out-of-body experience and a flash of inspiration…

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.

susanneklein kopie

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.

IMG_3304

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.

 

About Susanne

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 stopped journalling – it was too dangerous…’

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.

IMG_1007
Some of Anne’s lovely notebooks

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!