Sucking Swamps and Lotus Flowers

From The Age of Conan:  Hyborian AdventuresMy thoughts have wandered into the darkest part of the woods and waded through sucking swamps.  Now my soul sits like a stone, cold and dusty, and I wonder.  Why do I do this to myself?  I haven’t written anything worthwhile in more than two weeks.  It feels like I’ve lost a friend and maybe I have:  my muse has wandered on, tired and fed up with the journey I’ve dragged us through.

The mind is a funny thing.  It can be a grandiloquent ring master, illuminating wonders and delights, or it can be an insidious traitor:  an assassin of inner peace.  Mine has turned traitor.  All wonders it illuminates are quickly herded into the center ring tempest of self doubt and soul-eating guilt.  Again.

So I sit and I wait.  I poke at the keyboard with hopes it leads me into the sunshine instead of back into those woods and stinking swamps.  I long for a spring rain shower of words.

I remember last year’s monsoon:  the shush of the rain as it beat the pavement.  I watched this interminable dust that clings to everything run off in brown rivulets and reveal splendors hidden.  The air practically sang with the fragrance and sighed with brief relief in the shimmering heat.  The world was abluted.  This is how I feel when I write.

I need a word-monsoon.  But monsoons create mud and turn roads into swamps.  For a moment it seems defeatist to wish such things.  I don’t need more mud.  Ironically I recall, however, in the foulest, muddiest, most mosquito-ridden muck, grows the lotus.  Like a sudden surprise, it’s the shocking reminder that beauty and growth always bloom from what may seem something very unpleasant.  So, maybe instead of wishing for rains and word-monsoons I should look for my lotus in this mental muck and simply watch it bloom.  The monsoon will come when it will.  It always does.

If God Was a Cursor

As I sat on my usual perch in front of my computer screen, I pondered the empty document staring back at me.  The cursor sat there blinking at me, expectantly.  Blink… blink… blink… blink.  With each blink it grew larger, or perhaps the rest grew smaller:  who’s to say.  The cursor became all there was and everything else melted away.  Only the blinking cursor and the vast white sea remained.

Blink… blink… blink… blink.

Suddenly, this unexpected guru standing straight and tall in its white void realm, spoke.

“Imagine passing from this life a stranger to yourself,” it said.  “Like leaving behind an irreplaceable half-read novel and never knowing the outcome of the story.”

I was the one blinking now.

Blink… blink… blink… blink.

I was holding my breath.  It blinked back, seemingly equally poised, waiting for me.  I dared a thought but the thought appeared as a single character and nothing more.


“Write the words,” it commanded.

I obeyed:

Imagine passing from this life a stranger to yourself.  Like leaving behind an irreplaceable half-read novel and never knowing the outcome of the story.

I waited.

Blink… blink… blink… blink.

“Read them,” it requested.

I did and waited.

Blink… blink… blink… blink.

“Now sink in them.”

I did.  And as I did, I slowly began reading the silent novel of myself.  I carefully turn each pristine page.  Even though all the pages are blank I just can’t seem to put it down.

Have a Conversation with Your Dreams

The language of dreams is fascinating as the sleeping mind churns out experiences and imagery without our waking contribution.  Some of those dreams are so real, upon waking it’s hard to differentiate in those first few moments which is the dream reality and which is waking reality.  These are incredibly valuable moments if you are on the path of self understanding.

I use my dreams as a tool.  Not all of them; I believe the sleeping mind needs its freedom to exercise (or perhaps exorcise) the subconscious.  But I’ve learned to use an interesting technique.  It combines journaling, mindfulness and self-reflection.  I’ve found so many incredible benefits, I want to share them with you.  This is an interesting interactive way to communicate with your subconscious.  It can give you immediate results, but over time if you regularly journal your dreams, you will realize this is multi-dimensionally beneficial to you.

Here are the initial steps to dream journaling:

  • Remember your dream
  • Make brief notes
  • Write it out in detail
  • Let it cool
  • Read it mindfully

Now let’s go over these bullet points one-by-one.

Remember Your Dream

In the beginning, this might be difficult for you.  Some people don’t remember their dreams at all and some remember vividly several dreaming episodes every night.  Most of us are somewhere between.  Even if you don’t remember your dreams but want to, don’t despair.  This is an effective way to begin to open up to them.  Just intending to wanting to remember will eventually help carry them to your waking remembrance.

Make Brief Notes

Keep a pen and a notebook within easy reach of where you sleep so you have access to it with as little effort as possible.  If you wake after having a dream, jot down quick notes to help you remember it.  You don’t need to be detailed.  Key points will be enough to bring it all back in the morning and you can go back to sleep relaxed.

Write It Out In Detail

Preferably, first thing in the morning, sit down and write the dream down.  It doesn’t require perfection, you’re only writing this for yourself, but be as detailed as possible.  This is important.  Be careful here not to lead your mind.  By this I mean if something in the dream doesn’t fit or seem to make sense, don’t change it.  Later you’ll find these oddities reveal quite a bit to you.  So for now, toss out all the rules.  Dreams have none.

Let It Cool

This is the hardest step for me.  I’m too eager to tear into the puzzle my dream has painted for me.  What you will need to do after you’re written your dream out is to put it away.  Close the notebook and don’t even peek in it for at least a few hours and don’t give it any more thought.

Read It

Now we get to the good stuff.  When you have plenty of time when you’re feeling relaxed and not likely to be disturbed, sit down and read it.  You want to do this with mindfulness.  Turn off the television and cell phone.  This is time to sit with yourself and accept the gift you’ve given and are about to receive.  If you’re familiar with meditation, allow your mind to empty and quiet.  If not, just relax yourself and focus on the moment as much as you can without creating tension in yourself.  If you’ve saved your dream journal on your computer, have a notepad handy or open up an extra window on the computer.

Read.  Take your time.  You’ll probably read it several times.  Now here are some things you’ll want to observe in yourself and note down.  Any word or image that:

  • Triggers a strong emotional response
  • Grabs your attention
  • Seems oddly out of place

Note these down and what you experienced.  This may not be easy at first, but if you keep at this daily it becomes second nature.  Take your notes and ponder these things you’ve written down.  Begin to assemble the puzzle.  These will be the little candles to light your way into your subconscious and a better self understanding.

Understanding Symbols

It’s more than likely, if you feel led to do it, you’ll want to do a little research into what some of the symbols may mean.  This can be a little tricky.  You’ll find different interpretations for the same symbols.  Use the interpretation which resonates with you.  You’ll just know it’s right when you read it.  A few online resources are:

Dream Moods:  Dream Theories:  Carl Jung

Dream Interpretation | Dream Dictionary

Where Heaven and Earth Meet – Dream Analysis

Because the language of dreams is so highly personal, you will always be your most accurate interpreter.  If you feel led to other sources, then follow your nose.  I’ve found that sometimes in pursuing the meaning of a symbol, the “real” meaning becomes clear to me without ever finding it externally.

Learn the Language of Your Subconscious

This is where this process becomes fun and exciting because as you practice this, you begin to build your personal “dream language”.  Better put, you begin to understand the language of your own subconscious.  You might want to start a list for yourself.  The more in touch you become with this language, the more easily you’ll remember your dreams and the more sense they’ll make to you.  Ultimately this will rocket you along your path of healing and self understanding at warp speed.

Begin a Conversation with Your Dreams

Keeping a dream journal as outlined above will be everything you need.  But if you want to turn things up a notch and dig a little deeper, or if you feel you just don’t understand what your dreams are trying to say, you can begin a conversation with your dreams.  It’s a slow process but it’s also effective.

As you are lying in bed and beginning to drift off to sleep, ask yourself a question you really want an answer to.  For example, you’ve been tense and angry lately.  In your mind, you would several times repeat the question:

“Why am I so angry?”

Keep repeating this question with the intention you’ll dream the answer as you drift off to sleep.  If you experience a vivid dream during the night, jot down a few notes to be sure you remember it.  I’ve found these answering dreams tend to be the last dream I have before I wake in the morning which makes recalling them much easier.  Follow the procedures above as you would for any dream.  Be very careful not to change anything or lead yourself while you write it out and be sure to let it cool before you sit to read it.  You’ll be pleasantly surprised to find your answer there.  If it seems unclear, then repeat it again before you go to bed again.

This is something that, like meditation, takes some time and practice to become effortless.  It’s an amazing way to become friends with your subconscious.  Over time you’ll begin to develop a deeper sense of mindfulness, healing and inner peace. I’ve even found the abstract imagery dreams, especially when I understand it, makes wonderful poetry.

Happy dreaming!

The Art of Introspection: Creating The Altar of You

I can’t remember exactly how old I was the first time I encountered the immortal words “know thyself,” but I do remember the deep impact those words had.  I was only a child then.  The meaning held in those 3 syllables was too deep to fathom on an intellectual level, but they tattooed themselves on my mind.  They wormed their way into my subconscious and followed me through the years like a whispering shadow, always reminding me to look within for the answers that matter most.

What is Introspection?

Introspection is the examination or observation of one’s own mental and emotional processes.  It’s a turning inward of your curiosity and seeing what you find.  Introspection was even alluded to by Plato when he asked:

“…why should we not calmly and patiently review our own thoughts, and thoroughly examine and see what these appearances in us really are?”

If you’ve tried introspection, then you probably already know it’s not always easy to face and accept what you find along the corridors of your mind.  There are some pretty dark corners.  But if you can assuage your fear and face that dark corner you’ll find it quite inexplicably illumined.  Simple acceptance of what you find in that newly illumined space is all that’s needed to change that something about ourselves we may not like.

A Little Creativity Goes A Long Way

I say simple, but honestly sometimes it’s not so.  Sometimes what we find is stubborn to relinquish its dark hiding place, but I’ve found a way to coax it out into the light of understanding.  This technique takes some of the sting away.

When you encounter something unpleasant or something you’re unclear about during your inner journeying, try bringing it outside yourself.  I’ve found the best way to do this is through creative expression.  Even if you’re not normally a creative person, the results of this simple exercise may astound you.  It doesn’t have to be perfect or ever shared with another soul if you don’t wish to.  It’s just another way of exploring yourself and helping you make sense of what you find.

What Type of Creativity Suits You?

Here are some ideas for ways you can be creative.  I’ll tell you what to do with your chosen form after you decide on which type of expression is best for you.

Writing – If you enjoy verbal or written expression, then this may be the best for you.  This can be as intricate or as simple as you like.  You can:

  • Make a list of emotions and thoughts you are experiencing.
  • Do stream-of-consciousness writing which is simply without rule, rhyme or reason letting your thoughts flow in continuous form without really guiding them.
  • Write a poem.
  • Create a short story where fictional characters play out all aspects of what your introspection has revealed to you.

Drawing/Sketching/Painting– If you’re a person who loves to sketch or paint, or just a doodler, this may suit you the best.  Even if you only manage stick figures, it’ll be enough.  Use anything from a pencil or pen to a whole pallet of paints or pencils/pens.  Try to incorporate the use of color if possible, however.  It adds an extra-enlightening dimension to your creation and may reveal more to you.

  • Create a scene.
  • Do a self portrait.
  • Do a landscape that reflects the mood.
  • Create an abstract of shapes and colors.
  • Create a comic strip acting out the inner conflict.

Sculpting – Try creating a sculpture from clay or even play doh.  It can be abstract, or a shape, or a personage.

Music – Nothing expresses moods and feelings better than music.  It doesn’t matter if you’re a singer or play a music instrument.

  • Hum a tune from the depths of your discomfort or joy and record it on a voice recorder, then listen to it.  If you feel so inspired, write lyrics to accompany the tune.  Most computers come with a voice recorder installed as do cell phones.  If not, you can download Audicity for free.
  • If you play a musical instrument, compose a piece of music and lyrics to express yourself.
  • Find a favorite song that embodies the feeling and dance your way through it.

I’m sure there are other ways to be creative I haven’t mentioned here.  Whatever is appealing to you do it.  And please don’t hesitate if you feel you have no creative talents.  You do.  They’re just sleeping.  No artist is understood by everyone.  What may seem imperfect to you may be beautiful to another.

Open Yourself Up

Okay, now that you’ve selected the mode for your creative expression, let’s dig down and put those wheels into motion. Fully recollect now what the insight was that your introspection revealed.  If it caused you discomfort or joy, be in that experience completely.  Now, begin whatever creative expression you’ve chosen and let it flow.  Don’t second-guess or question anything that’s coming out.  Just keep going until you feel you’ve exhausted the issue completely.

Essentially what you’re doing is stepping away a bit from the emotions of the issue.  You’ve now become a detached observer creating art from what has now transformed from an “issue” to an “inspiration.”  It’s artwork with definite validity.

Take a Look

When your creation is finished, sit back and take a look at what you’ve made.  Most importantly, put it away for awhile.  After it’s had some time to cool, come back to it and examine it again.  You will find what you’ve created is a road map into one of those dark corners, or even sunny places for that matter, that will give you a deeper insight into yourself.  You’ve also created something utterly unique.  This method doesn’t have to be employed for only uncomfortable issues.  You can use it on anything you discover that want to gain more understanding of.  Create a gallery and name it The Altar of You.

What type of creative expression works best for you?

Copyright Jean Mishra 2011