Category Archives: Psychology

Does your mother dream?

I recently read a really touching article called Mother daughter dreaming on Tzivia Gover’s blog, Waking up to your dreams.

Tzivia describes how she discovered her mother had been a prolific dreamer, but it was too late to explore their shared interest because, by then, her mother had slipped into ‘her dream of dementia’ and lost the ability to communicate in speech.

It made me wonder whether my mother dreamed – or rather, remembered her dreams. I would think not. But what about my father? My sisters and brother? My grandparents?

It struck me how rarely most of us talk about our dream lives, even with those closest to us. I’m glad I’ve always had that conversation with my children, and these days, also, with my friends.

It’s fun, intriguing and sometimes reassuring to talk about the places we go and the experiences we have in our dreams. For me, it’s like talking about great movies we’ve seen, or wonderful novels, or little pieces of poetry we’ve chanced upon and felt inspired.

I think one of the reasons why it isn’t part of our culture to talk about our dreams is because psychology has hijacked dreaming and shaped our view of it into some kind of secret code that makes us vulnerable to being exposed.

For me, my dreaming is a rainbow of emotions, themes, images, characters and stories that show, not my deep unconscious analysable life, but the moving colours of my psyche.

Next time you remember a dream, try sharing it. If you still have your mother in your life, perhaps you could share it with her or, if she has already left, you might invite her to visit you in dreams, as Tzivia has done. 

Do you talk to friends and family about your dreams? If not, what would hold you back? If so, how does it make you feel?

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Christmas and the blessed baby

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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

‘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.

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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.

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’?

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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.

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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…

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In the Northern isles of the Faroes

…and a week in the campsites of Ullapool….

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From the top of Stac Pollaidh

…and Durness…

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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.

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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?