Julie Tallard Johnson's Blog
September 28, 2016
It’s time for a fire ceremony! Do you feel it too? Do you have something to release into the fire to help make room of what’s next in your life? On FRIDAY OCTOBER 7th I am offering my final (free) WRITERS’ RETREAT at my home and retreat center for this year. Click here for more information: http://www.julietallardjohnson.com/calendar/41
Following the retreat on October 7th, at 4:00, we will have a FIRE CEREMONY.
Before coming to the fire circle, create an offering out of burnable materials, typically a small stick. This “spirit arrow” can represent an issue or something that needs to be honored in order for you to let go of it. Here we bless something before we release it. The object can be decorated or left as is. You can make this spirit arrow during the retreat day or bring it with you. Let it represent everything or anything that blocks your creative path.
Ceremony is helpful in so many ways. Ceremony helps generate movement in an area we may be stuck. Ceremony symbolizes and acts out in the world some prayer we hold in our hearts. Ritual, in the presence of others, invites our human and spiritual community to acknowledge and pray along with us. Ritual calls on our spiritual source for help.
There is a Lakota story that goes something like this: The Creator was thinking She made a mistake giving life to humans. They were messing things up so badly. Eagle heard Her plans to remove humans from this earth. So, he flew around and found one person engaged in sacred ceremony and prayer. He flew back up to the Creator and told Him that there is still someone doing ceremony; there is still some one in sacred conversation. So Creator decided to let us stay. And it is now eagle’s job to check in on us and listen for our ceremonies and let the Creator know, we are still in this sacred conversation with life. We are still doing ceremony. This is often why we will witness an eagle fly above our ceremonies…
A Ritual to Read to Each Other
If you don’t know the kind of person I am
and I don’t know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.
For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood storming out to play through the broken dike.
And as elephants parade holding each elephant’s tail, but if one wanders the circus won’t find the park,
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.
And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk;
though we could fool each other, we should consider— lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.
For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep; the signals we give— yes or no, or maybe—
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.
Please email for directions, for further details and to register for the FIRE CEREMONY: firstname.lastname@example.org You are welcome to attend the writing retreat without attending the Fire Ceremony or, just come for the Fire Ceremony.
I have room for two more in my 2nd Wednesday Writing Circle: http://www.julietallardjohnson.com/calendar/67 that starts October 12th in Prairie du Sac.
September 19, 2016
My soul talks to me through my writing, through stories passed on to me and through my slips and falls. The danger comes in not listening to my own writings for the clues they hold. The danger comes in forgetting the stories passed on to me. The danger comes when I keep some personal truth cognitive or trapped on the page and begin to live a secret life.
I have written much about living a life of possibility – of knowing that there is so much more available to us than what we see with our personal limited views, views that are based on our assumptions, projections and fears. I have written and am still writing about how to open our view to see what is truly possible. What happens then when we don’t see for ourselves what is possible and as a result live a secret life along with the other life?: We trip up. We fall off the edge of our familiar path.
Or, we may be walking along some well-worn path, not harming anyone but not fully awake either to what is beneath our feet. So we trip. We fall. We find ourselves in a precarious situation. We are surprised because this path was so well worn by many good people before us.
I was given this story when I was eight years old. I begin my latest book, The Zero Point Agreement, with it:
There was a monk who appreciated his walks along a cliff that overlooked the vast ocean. This path was well used and worn. One day, perhaps not noticing that there was some erosion, or, he just wasn’t paying attention, he slipped and fell. As he fell over the edge of the cliff he grabbed onto a small branch of a tree that hung out from the cliff. After catching his breath and maintaining a good grip on the branch, he looked up. He was close enough to maneuver his way back up. But peeking over the edge was a tiger hungrily looking down at him. He looked beneath him. There was no way to climb down. Letting go of the branch would mean a certain fall to his death. He looked around for other options and saw a beautiful strawberry growing alone on a cliff vine within reach. Oh, how beautiful and sweet it looked to him! But he would surely fall if he were to grab it.
He glanced up again to see the tiger waiting patiently. He looked below at his fall. He waited. Nothing changed. The ocean was shimmering, so vast.
He sighed, took a breath, reached for the strawberry, and enjoyed it as he let go of the branch.
I thought of myself as living like this monk – taking hold of opportunity, taking risks and trusting that there are always other possibilities within my reach. I am living like this. But the true-true turns out, not entirely. I have walked certain paths too many times and just got into the habit of not watching where I was putting my feet. Marriages, jobs, the roles we play in life can become like this if we don’t maintain an honest and consistent relationship with ourselves, in all areas of our life. We can easily find ourselves in jobs or relationships where we leave our true self at the door for a myriad of reasons. Could be we want to keep our jobs or homes. Could be we believe we are doing the right thing. We might feel financially bound to this job or relationship. We may be “doing it for the kids.” Could be we became habitual and unconscious in this particular area of our life out of fear of the unknown.
This above story has stuck with me for a reason. I don’t recall any other sermons or particular stories from this minister, though I sat in on dozens as a child and teenager. And, I would feel like an utter fool in my painful discoveries (I only feel like I am such a fool!) if I didn’t have such great company. “Welcome to the human race,” is what Parker says to such reckonings with our limits and faults.
I first heard this story at first from a progressive Lutheran minister, who later left the ministry to pursue other dreams. Looking back, I recognize this young minister as one of my teachers. That story given to me then has now resurfaced as my story, now. I am on that cliff. The tiger sits on the edge above me, hungerly. I could hang out here and wait to see if someone will come along and rescue me. I know how to do this – wait. Stay. But I have been out here for quite some time. Besides, I may find myself here again and it is better I take this risk, find out how to fall. Find out how to fail. (Maybe even find out what’s possible beyond this holding on).
I want to caution you about waiting to be rescued by a person (or waiting on circumstances to rescue you): the rescuer has his or her story around his or her rescuing. Once rescued you are now caught up in their story. Beyond the tiger there is a well-worn path, so somebody may be able to come by, scare the tiger away and help us up. The tiger may finally give up and go away. But being on the cliff, having already relied on that worn path, metaphorically means I have been here a very long time and that someone else who trusts that old path (my rescuer) may just end up down here with me. (Now we have two people and only one strawberry).
A paradox in this story is that all choices result in death. Well, welcome to our one universally shared experience and the end to everyone’s story: we die. We lose everything. At some point we will be separated by everyone and everything we love and cherish. (Sorry for the spoiler alert). So what do I choose?: eat the strawberry, wait to be rescued (meaning spending more time hanging out here on the cliff, enjoying the view of the ocean), fall, or be eaten by the tiger?
Again, this is a metaphorical tool of what it feels like to not risk or to risk everything for that strawberry, that immeasurable, unknown possibility. This is what it means when our soul reveals to us that we are living a secret life. As writers or thinkers, don’t be tricked in to believing something is true because you have either (only) written it, or only thought it. What is really possible here will happen in the real world of relationships and vocation.
I’m going for the strawberry folks. I’m letting go of the branch of what’s familiar.
And this is what this means to me today:
I’m facing into my fear and letting go of what’s safe and familiar. I am using my work of facing into my resistance and owning my projections as my core practice. And I haven’t a clue what my fall will be like, and I hope to God (as I understand God as in the Great Unknown, and that which is in everything) that the strawberry is ripe and ready for the picking.
Some questions for us all to explore with this story and with our writings:
What do you keep writing about? How might this be your soul speaking up to you?
What story or poem keeps coming back to you?
How can you take your awareness and wisdom off the page and out into the world?
What are you waiting to have happen so you don’t have to choose?
What’s your biggest fear? Mine isn’t loss of life here; it’s loss of God as I know Her, of Truth, of Reality in that: what if the strawberry is just one big scam? What if I have it all wrong?
Finally, who can we go to for help in exploring these encounters with the soul? It is invaluable to find company in soulful places and relationships, like in circles of trust or 12 Step groups, so that you don’t explore alone.
“We cannot get snared in catch-22 unless we consent to it, so the way out is clear: we must become conscientious objectors to the forces that put us at war with ourselves, assaulting our identity, violating the sanctity of our souls.” –Parker J Palmer, A Hidden Wholeness
NOTE: This blog is a version taken from an excerpt in my upcoming book: The Red Thread: A Journey to True Self, True Community & Authentic Leadership—Based on the Teachings of Parker J Palmer., Chapter 10: Hanging Onto the Red Thread in the World: Rejoining Soul in the Roles We Live.
Related wisdom from Parker J Palmer from his book A Hidden Wholeness:
“The secret lives of children have inspired some splendid literature, of course. In C. S. Lewis’s classic Chronicles of Narnia, we read about a magic wardrobe through which young Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy pass from their humdrum existence in the English countryside into a parallel universe of light and shadow, of mystery and moral demand, confronting the daunting and bracing challenges of the inner journey.’ I have never doubted the truth of the Narnia tales: that magic wardrobe was in my bedroom, too!
But when we turn from literature to life, this charming feature of childhood soon disappears, to be replaced by an adult pathology. As the outer world becomes more demanding-and today it presses in on children at an obscenely early age-we stop going to our rooms, shutting the door, walking into the wardrobe, and entering the world of the soul. And the closer we get to adulthood, the more we stifle the imagination that journey requires. Why? Because imagining other possibilities for our lives would remind us of the painful gap between who we most truly are and the role we play in the so-called real world.
As we become more obsessed with succeeding, or at least surviving, in that world, we lose touch with our souls and disappear into our roles. The child with a harmless after-school secret becomes the masked and armored adult-at considerable cost to self, to others, and to the world at large. It is a cost that can be itemized in ways well known to many of us:
We sense that something is missing in our lives and search the world for it, not understanding that what is missing is us.
We feel fraudulent, even invisible, because we are not in the world as who we really are.
The light that is within us cannot illuminate the world’s darkness.
The darkness that is within us cannot be illuminated by the world’s light.
We project our inner darkness on others, making “enemies” of them and making the world a more dangerous place.
Our inauthenticity and projections make real relationships impossible, leading to loneliness.
Our contributions to the world-especially through the work we do-are tainted by duplicity and deprived of the life-giving energies of true self.
Those are not exactly the marks of a life well lived. But they are not uncommon among us, in part because the dividedness that creates them comes highly recommended by popular culture. “Don’t wear your heart on your sleeve” and “Hold your cards close to your vest” are just two examples of how we are told from an early age that “masked and armored” is the safe and sane way to live.” –Parker J. Palmer. A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life
Parker J Palmer
September 14, 2016
Rarely is the muse a fairy-princess or a prince charming. Or if so, they show up a few decades late just to stir things up for you. Spirits great messengers come to wake us up. They come ready to shake things up enough so that we sit our butts down and write. They are here to help us continue or return to the spiritual path we once committed to.
They come to answer prayers. Sometimes we carry these prayers secretly in our hearts, others, we mention every day. These messengers intend to get our attention, move us beyond our self absorption and self-criticism. They don’t like pity or stagnation. They are all about movement. And here is what they often look like:
Dirty dishes in the sink, a surprise present, a lost dog, a sick parent, a visit from your mentally ill brother, a phone call from your adult child, no contact with your adult child, a quote, a poem, an encounter that sends you on another path, a chance meeting, a planned encounter, finding an old picture of yourself when you looked beautiful, a picture of yourself when you looked fat, a chickadee’s song, sunrise, sunset, that late morning dream, kindness, loss, death, getting lost on the way to work, end of the world dreams, that song that keeps coming on the radio every time you get into the car, rejection, acceptance from a stranger, your dog going blind, your horses running out the gate across the street, a rainstorm on a sunny day, your horse coming back on its own, a friend’s alcoholism, every disappointment, remembering something from your past, being forgiven, amends being made, the sound of him cleaning the dirty dishes in the sink, the prairie in fall, a new friend, sickness, health, being left, being found; and every form of resistance imaginable.
Face into what you resist. Kiss the frog and set the prince free. Then get on with what you are on this planet to do.
For seasons the walled meadow
south of the house built of its stone
grows up in shepherd’s purse and thistles
the weeds share April as a secret
finches disguised as summer earth
click the drying seeds
mice run over rags of parchment in August
the hare keeps looking up remembering
a hidden joy fills the songs of the cicadas
two days’ rain wakes the green in the pastures
crows agree and hawks shriek with naked voices
on all sides the dark oak woods leap up and shine
the long stony meadow is plowed at last and lies
all day bare
I consider life after life as treasures
oh it is the autumn light
that brings everything back in one hand
the light again of beginnings
the amber appearing as amber.
“September Plowing,” by W.S. Merwin from Flower and Hand (Copper Canyon Press).
September 6, 2016
From a writer’s perspective, sending our thoughts and stories out to be read can be a life changer. At the very least it represents a turning point, dramatic or not. Readers may or may not be altered by what the writer has shared.
But the writer will be, for what we share becomes more alive, more real and tangible. We have committed ourselves to some idea, some knowing or experience. We have claimed it as our own.
Once out, we can’t take it back.
We might send out a group email, or publish a book that shares our experiences and stories with the world. This email or book may be read by only a few, or thousands may read our words. But we are now out in the larger world in another form—in print.
Even if what we write is only a letter to a friend, or a brief blog post, we are still exposing ourselves. We have acknowledged something publically that perhaps for years (or lifetimes), was tucked away in some part of our inner landscape. For me, it is this self–acknowledgement that makes what we share a life changer.
If you are the writer, you may find yourself reading what you have shared over and over for a further clue to what in this piece is so meaningful to you. What did motivate you to send it? (Likely there are clues in there somewhere.)
What we send out sometimes challenges the narratives we have been relying on in our day-to-day life. We may be living one part of our life vicariously through our writing. In fact, many an author of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction can find themselves “living” more than one life. In some cases this makes for a divided life (as Parker J. Palmer writes about in A Hidden Wholeness). For others, it makes for a multiple-storied life.
And sometimes it is our secret soul who pushes the send button.
After that, we live our life having sent out a piece of ourselves—probably our truest self. At least for me this is so.
And we risk either way. By keeping silent or hidden we risk living a lie and possibly destroying ourselves from within. On the other hand, sending our truth out there risks embarrassment and unintended consequences.
Now I have reached the end of this blog. I read it over. Should I hit the “Publish” button or not?
Stone Circle in Ireland
“Twenty years ago, during a summer teaching stint in England, I picked up a small volume of poetry in a Cambridge bookstore. In it was a haunting little poem by D.M. Thomas called ‘Stone,’ which I copied and put into my briefcase, where it can be found to this day. Thomas muses on the titles of a series of books that ‘the poet’ will write over his or her lifetime and ends with these lines:
There is also the seventh book, perhaps, the seventh,
And called The Seventh Book because it is not published,
The one that a child thinks he could have written,
Made of the firmest stone and clearest leave,
That a people keep alive by, keep alive.”
—Parker J. Palmer, A Hidden Wholeness
For more on living life in the open you may want to check out my book: The Zero Point Agreement: How to Be Who You Already Are. (I’m still reading it for clues.)
The final 2016 writers’ retreat is Friday October 7th. We end with a sharing circle (optional of course).
Lydia and Julie in Ireland
And a wonderful offering by another teacher, Santikaro: Taking the Teachings Home. Starts Thursday September 8th at Healing Services on the River.
September 1, 2016
When I catch myself struggling in relationships I find that I may be caught up in what I am not getting, what is not working, and focusing in on what I don’t want. In reality, when we meet the “other” we are always meeting our self. To receive the other is to receive our self. And in all our relationships, in which we have chosen to remain in, there will be qualities about the other that rub us the wrong way. So I am pointing to struggles that arise between you and others whom you have chosen to be in relationship with. I am not in anyway suggesting that you remain in toxic, neglectful or abusive relationships or environments.
Our attention is like a superpower that can be misused to divide us or as an instrument to unite us. Life, as it turns out follows our gaze.
Explore this: When entering a new gathering or where there is difficulty with others, where is your attention? What are you focused on?
You can also help a group explore this together: What is our community focused on? In a true community we understand that there are difficulties and challenges. These may even be what brought us together. But in true community we focus on what gifts can be received and given.
A horse trainer once reminded me that a horse would go in the direction of my gaze. Rather than tugging on the reigns or shouting at the horse or kicking it, all I have to do is look in the direction I want the horse to go while gently leaning in the same direction. Mind you, I tested this approach out for myself. The horse could sense my lack of experience, I am sure. So as I sat stiff and doubtful my trainer invited me to relax and to look in the direction I wanted the horse to go. “Breathe Julie, and as you gently pull on the reigns gaze in the direction you want the horse to go.” I took some relaxing breaths, silenced my busy mind and gazed right. And the horse obediently followed my gaze.
The most profound influence that determines and directs our individual and collective experience is where we hold our gaze. Life in its simplest denominator has gone and will continue to go in the direction of our gaze. Wherever we place our attention, there goes our energy and efforts. We have to hold our gaze softly “ahead” to where we want to go, so our life moves in some forward direction. We also want to focus on our and each others gifts. So unlike focusing on the negatives we give our attention to what is possible: what I am getting, what is working, and focusing in on what I do want.
Can we offer up our attention to others as a gift to be given, rather than tightly holding on to our opinions like reigns on a horse?
When our life seems like an unresponsive horse we can maintain our gaze forward and on the gifts available to us and from us while navigating the particulars of each moment. Breathe, notice where you or the group’s attention is in the moment, then help redirect the focus if necessary.
Wherever our attention is, is where our life will go. Whatever we give our attention to increases.
“Our differences may be deep: what breaks my heart about America may make your heart sing, and vice versa. Protecting our right to disagree is one of democracy’s gifts, and converting this inevitable tension into creative energy is part of democracy’s genius. You and I may disagree profoundly on what constitutes a political failure or success, but we can still agree on this: democracy is always at risk.” –Parker J Palmer, Healing The Heart of Democracy
Thank you for the read. If you find this worthy of a share, please pass it on. Julie www.julietallardjohnson.com
August 30, 2016
Patti’s Garden in Spring Green
(This blog is written by journalist and gardener, Patrice Peltier):
Sometimes my brain is like a train barreling towards its destination. When I get to where I think I’m going, I realize somewhere along the line I switched to another track.
Just recently, this runaway train of a brain derailed my writing process.
About three years ago, when I planted a new garden I began keeping notes. At first, my entries were brief. “Watered today.” “Added leaf mulch.” “Planted three ‘Cajun Fire’ heuchera purchased on sale.” It was record-keeping more than anything. A way to refresh my memory if I decided at some later date to write an article about my garden.
As I fell in love with my garden, mere articles didn’t seem sufficient. I began fantasizing about writing a book about this glorious creature, my garden. Over time, my entries morphed from cryptic phrases to essays of sorts, little vignettes about problems I was pondering, people I was meeting while gardening, what was working in the garden and what was not. I wasn’t sure how this was all going to come together, but I started thinking of it as a book.
My friend and garden mentor, Roy Diblik, encouraged me. He already had a book published titled:The Know Maintenance Perennial Garden. I knew he had worked hard at writing the book—something that doesn’t come easily to him—but he made the whole publishing process sound easy.
“Just send Tom an outline. They’re looking for stuff,” Roy said of his publisher.
Knowing how little Roy writes, I assumed there had been someone at the publisher who had worked extensively with whatever information Roy provided. I imagined a kind of collaborative process with this person, Tom. I’d send him my hodgepodge of notes. I could take this book is so many different directions. What direction had the greatest appeal to him? What would be the most marketable or the most unique? I envisioned a consultation that would enable me to efficiently produce a publishable manuscript in one draft. You’re smiling, I bet, or maybe rolling your eyes.In the meantime, I joined a writers circle. Our leader, Julie, encouraged us to let the thoughts flow freely and to write them all down. There’d be plenty of time for shaping these thoughts into a first draft and then another. She talked about eventually scouring our work for extra words, about “showing not telling”, about metaphor and theme. All that would come later. For now, we should just write.
The feedback from my circle was very encouraging, and that is where my train of thought may have begun to get off track. I had the makings of a book! I would not just send an outline to the mysterious and powerful Tom. I would put together a book proposal. Yeah, I’d show him I’m not just any ole gardener with a book-publishing fantasy. No. I know how to write a proper book proposal.
I had, in fact, taken a class on how to put together a proposal for a non-fiction book. I consulted the handouts and started drafting. Even though I was confident I had this book proposal thing knocked, I made an appointment to discuss my proposal with Julie, just to be sure I had all the bases covered.
More of Patti’s Garden
Julie had lots of questions. Was this a memoir—or non fiction? The rules for submitting each kind of work were different. Had I looked at the Writer’s Guidelines on the publisher’s website to see what was required? Duh! Why hadn’t I thought of that obvious starting point? What was my subtitle? Had I consulted the publisher’s other offerings for subtitle inspiration? What were my chapter titles and how did they relate to my theme? Hmmm. We discussed several steps I needed to take. On the surface, it seemed pretty do-able, but underneath…underneath a storm was brewing.
Suddenly, I couldn’t write a word.
Couldn’t bring myself to start a single action item Julie had so succinctly outlined. I scolded myself, reasoned, pleaded and cajoled. It’s not that big a deal. Just start, I told myself. Nope. I was having a giant, childish temper tantrum. “I don’t wanna.” But, I wasn’t entirely sure what it was I didn’t want to do. Was I resisting Julie’s guidance? Was I sabotaging myself—afraid of actually submitting my work for publication? Had I already reaped the pleasure of writing about my garden? Was publication necessary? Should I just move on?
I had no answers.
During a lunch date with my writers circle, I confessed I hadn’t written a word. I told them about the three-week-long temper tantrum. They didn’t believe I’d never write my book, but maybe I wouldn’t start until summer’s seductive lure was past. It would be ok.
Shortly thereafter, the lightbulb went on.
The problem was I didn’t HAVE a book yet… just 75 pages of notes. Although I didn’t have the words for it at that time, during my meeting with Julie, that realization was starting to burble up from some murky spot in my brain. SHIT. This was going to be a lot of work!
Without realizing it, I had jumped the track from writing notes to thinking I had whole chapters of a book completed. Along with that fantastical thinking, apparently, came other notions like there would be editors somewhere who would do the difficult and often tedious work of organizing my thoughts, polishing my sentences and making choices about extraneous material. Evidently, I would be the first author ever to go from a first draft to publication.
Some of my unrealistic thinking was based on my perception of Roy’s experience getting published. Next time I talked to him, I asked, “Hey, Roy, how much editing did Tom do on your book?” “Almost none,” Roy answered. “I think he changed two words.” You gotta laugh, right?
More of Patti’s garden
It’s all good, though, because somehow in that crazy, convoluted way that people’s hearts and minds work, my writers circle helped the jumble of pieces fall into place. I don’t have a book yet, but I have a writers circle. I can start actually writing my book. Yes, it will be a lot of work, but at least I’ll have something to bring to writers circle every month. I won’t have a book proposal to send to Tom by Labor Day, but someday I will, and I’ll have Julie to help me along the way.
Thanks, everyone, for helping me get my writing back on track.
Patrice Peltier escaped several decades as a corporate marketer to freelance for gardening magazines. Any day now, she plans to start work on a book about her garden in Spring Green.
Julie celebrating with some local writers at And I have room for one more (you!) in my and several spots in my
COME and MEET UP with Patti and other writers at this Friday’s FREE writing retreat: There is such thing as a free lunch. And I have room for one more (you!) in my Transformational Writing Class in MADISON and a few left spots in my Keep It Simple Writing Consultation Circle in Prairie du Sac. (Both start in October) If you are working on a book idea, a manuscript or trying to put those notes together somehow — the BEST TOOL is a writers’ circle. (Words of wisdom from this writing Sherpa).
August 24, 2016
I believe in God, but not as one thing, not as an old man in the sky. I believe that what people call God is something in all of us. I believe that what Jesus and Mohammed and Buddha and all the rest said was right. It’s just that the translations have gone wrong. –John Lennon
Words are being stolen right out from under us. What happens then is we find we are going right when we thought we were going left. We find ourselves believing without reservation that North is up and South is down. We find ourselves being scared of someone because they are a Christian or a Muslim. We find we shouldn’t feel entitled or hungry. And that selfish is always bad and love is always good. (Many, many nasty acts have been done in the name of love.) We passively agree that war is patriotic but peace is unpatriotic.
We need to claim these stolen words back and do so bravely and relentlessly. In our writing and in our speech we must use and speak out forbidden and stolen words, reframing them when necessary. “I am a monger of peace.”
Find the root meaning of words. Know the original intentions of a word.
Listen to what you are agreeing to when someone tells you something. “I did it out of love.” “This is what a patriot does.” “This is what democracy looks like.” “He’s a socialist.”
Listen for assumptions in someone’s speech and help reframe words and watch the world transform around you. Notice habitual words in your writing and challenge them; find other ways to express what you or your characters mean.
Break the pattern of agreeing to a stolen meaning of a word or phrase and allow for a diversity of meaning to beautify a conversation. Speak up. Write using a stolen word.
Consider every word we carry sacred and itself a container of a potent elixir or poison. You not only carry this word around with you affecting your psychophysical body but, when spoken you impact the world around you. You release the elixir or poison from the bottle. When a word is stolen and we haven’t claimed it back then the vibration and meaning of the stolen word is the one carried in our psyches as well as the one heard and felt by others.
“The penthouse is always on the top floor because the higher up you are the better. The better view is from on top.”
“Dark is dangerous and bad.”
“You bring me down.”
“This is ugly.” What makes something ugly? And I wonder, where does this word originate? If something is considered ugly, is it considered bad?
“Many of us know the northern countries are ‘on top’ and it is always better to be on top.”
“She’s ugly.” She’s beautiful.”
“I am patriotic.”
“He’s a Pagan.”
Stolen words hold many assumptions and agreements and often hidden lies. When we passively agree to stolen words our creative expression is halted. Stolen too. If top is always better than bottom where does that leave the snake, the inhabitant of the first floor apartment, or the earthworm? If hot is always red? . . . The day was blue-hot. A hot so uncontaminated it purified and released the long-ago deceased. It was time for everyone to go home. The dead who knew their way fell into the blue of sky, the blue of heat. Even the dead seek the warmth.
Maybe the volume of stolen words is just too great to tackle. Just too premeditated to wrestle. Just too much to even consider. But let me remind you, words and the use of words make up both our inner and outer world. Words and the narratives they weave are the world. What better past time to have but shouting out on the page or at the gathering, “I don’t agree! I don’t agree! I don’t agree!”
Here are several stolen words, can you add to the list? —
to be fair
“If love is the answer, could you please rephrase the question?” -Written by Jane Wagner for Lily Tomlin.
As a counselor and writer I witness many things done in the name of love. A great way to reclaim a word and its narrative is to write about it. Write about what you were taught love is. How was love used (or misused) in your family, religious institution, and community? Is love, “never having to say you’re sorry?” Is love, “This hurts me more than it hurts you?” “She loved him so much she had to do what she did.” What does it mean to love god? What is god’s love? What does love mean to you now? Whom do you love and how? Choose a better word to represent this affection for others. Sometimes we reclaim a word by finding another one to takes it’s place.
“Fire has a love for itself–
It wants to keep burning.” – Hafiz, Sufi Master and Poet
Reclaim the above stolen words for yourself. Write a story or a letter to someone using several of the stolen words, claiming them back in the process. How can you claim these stolen words in your writing project?
Identify and write about several other stolen words. What makes them stolen?
Write about an enemy using the following words: reluctant, inside, fearless, grasping, mirror, revelation.
What makes up a family for you?
Midway on our life’s journey, I found myself
In dark woods, the right road lost. -Dante’s Inferno
Join other writers at my free writing retreat.
August 17, 2016
When we write in the first person there are boundaries of what we can claim to know about the other people in our story. In fiction and nonfiction alike, the same boundaries apply. In first person we can’t assume what others are thinking, or their motives for their actions. At the same time, what we the writer or first person character assume about the others in our stories and scenes are critical to our message and the reader’s experience.
“Creativity, in almost every area of life, is blocked by a wide range of rigidly held assumptions that are taken for granted by society as a whole.” –David Bohm, “Dialogue as a New Creative Order” from The Essential David Bohm
Assumptions underlie every thought, every interaction, and every experience.
Assumptions predispose us to experience others and situations a certain way. There are countless assumptions built into our unconscious from our past, family, and cultural heritage. If we are part of some organized religion, we are in agreement with some rather significant assumptions. For those who are part of a group, especially where there is emphasis on those who belong to the group and those who do not—there are likely unspoken assumptions that keep you part of the “in group.” Assumptions are so consistent, historic, and pervasive we can’t expect to free ourselves of them with a simple affirmation of “don’t make assumptions.”
To experience more joy and freedom in our relationships we want to assume we are making assumptions. By stepping back and witnessing yourself in certain social interactions, notice too what assumptions may be underlining your experience. By assuming we are all operating under assumptions, we can walk more consciously and gently among each other. When we accept that we hold assumptions, we are able to view and respond to new ideas, to see the many other possibilities inherent in the situation because we have gotten beyond an assumptive posture.
In writing, same:
As we write we make all sorts of assumptions about our subject and theme and about our readers and what they understand. So, as you write, check your assumptions. Is there something you need to describe or show so that the reader can understand your point or to help get your reader more into a particular scene?
In those more challenging encounters in life we can be aware that the reasons for someone else’s behavior, choices, and emotional reactions are not fully known to us. This way, we can offer up some equanimity and compassion when another’s choices and behaviors are disturbing or confusing, instead of adding to the negativity with our assumptive posturing.
In writing – show us what you know as the writer, or reveal to us what the first person character knows through the writing of details. I like to close my eyes and witness a scene and see what I need to show the reader so they too can have the same experience as I had or as the character had. In writing in the first person, we have to show what the others in our story may be feeling, thinking or wanting by revealing their actions. All assumptions must be exposed. As a writer we become a witness to everything that is happening in a given scene or story. When we write from this witnessing presence, our scenes and stories will captivate the reader. (A happy reader makes for a happy writer).
In life the more we can witness and observe, and respond to life from this witnessing presence, the happier we will be.
“It should be clear by now that the major barriers to such [a creative] order are not technical; rather they lie in the rigid and fragmentary nature of our basic assumptions. These keep us from changing in response to the actual situations and from being able to move together from commonly shared meanings.” –David Bohm, “On Dialogue and Its Application” from The Essential David Bohm
ROOM FOR ONE MORE in my Transformational Writing circle, held in Madison on the first Tuesday of each month. Starts in October.
And several spots in my upcoming (year long) writing support circle: Keep It Simple, held in Prairie du Sac every 2nd Wednesday night.
(Photos were taken on my recent trip to Ireland by myself or my daughter, Lydia.)
August 10, 2016
Presently a subject I am writng about is spiritual teachers and the theme is around what makes a good teacher. I carried this question as I went on my morning walk. On several walks this summer I noticed how a Blue Bunting sat on the top branch of a dead tree. I recalled how a friend of mine mentioned how it seemed that birds liked to occupy dead trees. From here i got a nudge for a great analogy about good teachers. And I on my return home I wrote about it. (You will have to read my next book to find out what i did with this imagery.)
When we stay in the conversation, everything becomes possible material. The world around us is rich and diverse with images, metaphors and analogies to help us express meaning to others. Instead of just saying: This makes a good teacher. In this recent piece I am using the imagery of birds perched in trees.
I focus on this same approach in my spiritual life: stay in the conversation and the world becomes a myriad of possibilities.
Your great mistake is to act the drama
as if you were alone. As if life
were a progressive and cunning crime
with no witness to the tiny hidden
transgressions. To feel abandoned is to deny
the intimacy of your surroundings. Surely,
even you, at times, have felt the grand array;
the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding
out your solo voice You must note
the way the soap dish enables you,
or the window latch grants you freedom.
Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.
The stairs are your mentor of things
to come, the doors have always been there
to frighten you and invite you,
and the tiny speaker in the phone
is your dream-ladder to divinity.
Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into
the conversation. The kettle is singing
even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots
have left their arrogant aloofness and
seen the good in you at last. All the birds
and creatures of the world are unutterably
themselves. Everything is waiting for you.
— David Whyte
from Everything is Waiting for You
©2003 Many Rivers Press
August 3, 2016
On this coming FRIDAY AUGUST 5th and then on FRIDAY SEPTEMBER 2nd I am offering my (free) WRITERS’ RETREAT at our home and retreat center: Thundering Clouds Center for Creative Living, LLC. Begins at 10:00 am and goes till 4:00. Bring own lunch. Write, walk the labyrinth spiral in the restored prairie, stalk the woods, visit with the horses. Take a spot on the deck. Enjoy the awakening inside and out. We have 40 acres to explore. Or, sit comfortably in the Writer’s gazebo. At 3:00 we have a sharing circle.
This is an opportunity too to meet up with other poets and writers. I offer these days in remembrance, and as a way to honor the poet and essayist, William Stafford. He knew how valuable the written word is to our humanity and felt it worthwhile to support other writers and poets. He lived an open and generous life.
AND, this Friday, August 5th, I will be giving an hour lesson on consulting the I Ching. Bring your questions and journals. I use the I Ching to help me write and live. This will take place after lunch, around 12:30 in the gazebo. Everything is free and optional.
Please email for directions and to register: email@example.com
Still room for a few more in my upcoming Transformational Writing Circle in Madison.
Consider the slight nudge
that a leaf once found
with the late spring wind
that one that held on through winter
like so many soft brown apples
now overly ripe
food still for the migrators
now adrift in air
with that slow descent
moves out over the prairie
then almost catching
on the Angelica
following the softest breeze
out and away
around the corner past the oak
that hangs over the pond
The leaf that disappears from view
but captured perhaps by another’s.
–JTJ, for you, my writing tribe
Here is my calendar of events: Julie’s Calendar