22 November 2005

Annealing the metal, forging the sword

My husband has been helping me craft some language to describe what service I plan to offer on my soon-to-be website for Runningwave Workshop. The Runningwave Workshop is a dream I have had for years of owning my own business and becoming self-employed. My parents own their small business and have kept it afloat for 40 years, so I am well aware of the potential risks as well as the potential gains in this venture. I recently took an introductory workshop given by the county's manager for Small Business Development. I came away from that workshop thinking that I must carefully define the service I will be selling. I think I have hit upon a job title that describes what I will do: creativity facilitator. Very few people on the Internet are using this phrase, but those who are seem to be doing something similar to what I'd like to do for a living. I have had a rush of other thoughts and words about the services I will offer in teaching creativity workshops and seminars and in facilitating creative problem-solving. I already have many of the required skills, it is a matter of knowing how to market them and how to network to sell my services.

M., my husband, is brilliant when it comes to analogies. He always find the most apt imagery to draw upon whenever he must explain a complex process or concept to others. It is one of his true gifts and one of the qualities that makes him a scholar as well as a scientific researcher. M. told me that some cognitive scientists and machine intelligence engineers are now using the verb "to anneal" in order to understand and to describe the human creative thought processes.

From Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary
Main Entry: an·neal
Function: verb Etymology: Middle English anelen to set on fire, from Old English on[AE]lan, from on + [AE]lan to set on fire, burn, from Al fire; akin to Old English [AE]led fire, Old Norse eldr transitive senses
1 a : to heat and then cool (as steel or glass) usually for softening and making less brittle; also : to cool slowly usually in a furnace
b : to heat and then cool (nucleic acid) in order to separate strands and induce combination at lower temperature especially with complementary strands of a different species

This process of annealing thought can be pictured if you imagine what your brain does when you are problem solving. All of the thoughts are static at first, then as you begin to solve the problem you move, organize and "heat" your thoughts with focused energy until a point when you have reached a mental rut or stumbling block. Then often you have to cool down, step back and allow the thoughts to dissapate and relax a bit. Then sometimes, when you've given your brain some rest, a new idea occurs that sends you off in a new direction with renewed purpose.

I am a visual thinker, so while he was describing this analogy I saw in my mind's eye the rugged hands of a metalsmith pounding a hammer onto a piece of glowing metal into a sword. The smith was forming and shaping the sword with sheer physical force until the metal was annealed to the right point to make it supple, into a weapon of great power.

Weyland the Smith is a character featured in myths and legends of the Norse and Saxon people. I have been thinking about him and about the anicent Celtic goddess Brighid, patroness of metalsmithing, poetic inspiration and healing, who later became a Christian saint known as St. Brigit of Kildare, Ireland. I think my Celtic and Northern European ancestors would have appreciated this "annealing of thought" metaphor. Thoughts must be honed and tempered like good steel so that your blade becomes a thing of power and of beauty. I am a very peaceful person by nature, but sometimes the ancient Celt in me lifts her head in defiance of circumstance and fights for what she feels is just. Sometimes you must fight to be creative in a world that wants you to stay inside the proverbial box, filed under the proper label, signed for, and copied in triplicate.

Hmmm. . . Annealing thoughts into powerful tools with sharpened edges. Edward Bulwer Lytton once wrote: "the pen is mightier than the sword." But isn't it the keyboard now that is the weapon of power a creative thinker and writer must wield in cyberspace?

16 November 2005

Attunement to the Universe

My word for this week seems to be "attunement." I might venture a definition for that word as "the state of coming into balance." Balance is a quality I have craved in my life for many years. While it is impossible for anyone to be in balance all of the time, I have been able to practice maintaining my balance by consciously slowing down when I know I'm stressed out by breathing deeply and centering myself. I have also increased my attention to keeping my physical self in tune because I neglected and disliked my body for most of my teenage and early adult years.

Tuesday night I went to a meeting of my women's group to learn about Reiki, pronounced "ree'-key" in American English. Reiki is a Japanese word that translates as something like "universal life force." As my friend K. described it, the "ki" part of the word designates something similar to the Chinese concept of "chi," as in the body movements called Tai Chi Chuan. Reiki is a healing practice for many in the West and some people take it further and consider it as a spiritual practice.

When I came to the gathering, K. took me aside and asked if I had ever had a Reiki Attunement. I didn't even know what an Attunement was. Basically, it's a manner of laying-on-hands to convey healing energy. K. had me sit on a chair outside on the balcony under the brilliant light of the full moon. She asked me to hold my hands together in front of my heart, as if I might bow to someone. She raised my hands upward, then back to my heart, then my hands outward and open like a book, and once again to my heart. She walked behind me and touched my back briefly and then held her hands behind my head, not touching me.

I know many people who find the idea of spiritual energy to be a "crazy hippy concept" or something akin to belief in angels or UFOs. I admit I was skeptical about energy work until about ten years ago, but I what I have learned about it since then has changed my mind. Modern scientists rediscovered what has been known by healers since ancient times: the human body has electrical current flowing through it. Our nervous system is electrical and runs on chemical impulses. The brain is the central computer that sends waves of energy to the appropriate places. If you have a pain, sometimes it feels like pulses are running through the afflicted area--those are your nerves at work. I experienced that kind of pain once when I was diagnosed with sciatica, a type of shooting pain in my legs brought about by a problem with my lower back nerves. Fortunately, medication followed by a program of regular workouts have solved that problem for me. I also know I have experienced the body's electrical power in other more positive ways. When you touch someone with whom you are in love, isn't just possible you actually sense "sparks" as your nervous system responds to another's?

My experiences with energy work are amateur and experimental, but I believe that massage, accupressure, accupuncture, tai chi, yoga and other bodywork healing practices can help smooth and improve the body's electrical system. So as K. lead the meeting she explained more about Reiki and how it works. I can understand the aspects of energy she described. Picture if you will, later that same evening, when she had the whole group of 15 or so fully-clothed women of ages ranging from teenager to grandmother, sitting in a big circle on the floor, with each woman touching the back of the other. The idea was that we would pass our energy to the next person and through the physical connection of touch spread the healing throughout our circle and out into the universe. In other words, once each of the participants felt attuned to the universe, she could pass that healing energy onward to herself and to others. It seems to me like opening a channel to the universe. In fact, K. used the phrase "it's like tuning in to a frequency on the radio dial" to explain what Reiki Attunement does.

Scientists know that atoms bounce around and are attracted together to form chemical bonds and repelled from each other to break the bonds down. I think of it as a dance, where the individuals move and sway to the beat of cosmic time. Movement is energy. The dance of the atoms creates the maple tree, the air you breath, that cat perched on the windowsill and the metals and plastics comprising your car. And You! As Astronomer Carl Sagan used to say, "We are, all of us, made of star-stuff."

Back on earth, it is a stressful week at my place of work. My positive experience at the meeting of women who I like and care about has left me feeling more relaxed and confident. The odd thing is that I have been having stiffness in my lower back when I wake up in the morning lately, but on the morning after that meeting my back was not stiff at all. Perhaps the healing power of energy work is all in my mind, but I am not so certain.

10 November 2005

"Memory: Where our vanished days secretly gather"

The title above comes from a subchapter heading of poet and philosopher John O'Donohue's book Anam Cara . He writes:

Your soul is the place where your memory lives. Since linear time vanishes, everything depends on memory. In other words, our time comes in yesterdays, todays, and tomorrows. Yet there is another place within us that lives in eternal time. That place is called the soul.

--John O'Donohue, Anam Cara (HarperCollins, 1997).

I have been thinking about art as a tool of memory during the past day. My coworker and I were brainstorming about some children's activities we want to organize at our local history museum currently under construction. She told me about an assignment her elementary-aged daughter had to do for homework at her Montessori school. The teacher wanted each child to create a "heritage box." The outside of an old shoebox was to be decorated by the child to represent herself or himself: sports, hobbies, pictures of themselves, things they like, etc. Inside the teacher wanted the child to collect objects, notes, information about her/his parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, etc.

What a wonderful idea! I exclaimed. And I thought to myself, I'd like to do that assignment.

I think the cooler edge of autumn is a natural season to contemplate memory, ancestry and heritage. Many religious traditions hold festivals to honor the departed at this time of year. Recently I brought out the photographs of my grandparents to place in our living-room near the other fall decorations. I do this every autumn with great intent. All of my grandparents have passed beyond the veil of life into what Shakespeare's Hamlet called "the undiscovered country." By bringing out their pictures each year I honor their memory and my heritage. Memory sometimes has a way of easing the wrinkles caused by sorrows and frustrations of the past and making them indistinct.

08 November 2005

An Infinite Storm of Beauty

I went through some old files last night in search of materials that I want to integrate into my art and spirituality workshops. I ran across a file labeled "John Muir." Muir was a Scottish immigrant to the U.S. in the 19th century who became one of our country's leading naturalists. He founded Sierra Club in 1892 and lead the charge to forming the National Park System. It was amazing to me that someone who lived a century ago had such a profound impact on the landscape of the United States of America.

Five years ago, I organized a summer service about John Muir's spirituality of nature at Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church entitled "An Infinite Storm of Beauty." This was my very first lay ministry service. The title came from a quote of Muir's which inspires me with it's great love for everything in Nature.

When we contemplate the whole globe as one great dewdrop, striped and dotted with continents and islands, flying through space with other stars, all singing and shining together as one, the whole universe appears as an infinite storm of beauty.
--Travels in Alaska, 1915

In the service, I celebrated John Muir's understanding that the land itself is holy, that we as human beings need to honor the planet which nurtures us. I had several participants read excerpts from Muir's own eloquent words. That day, my goal was to convey something of the deep reverence I feel for Nature and to honor the memory of one person whose words and actions have made a difference for the whole planet. I only hope that more people can be inspired by his example.

07 November 2005


Creativity ebbs and flows like the tide. A person's creativity is affected by the cycles of seasons and weather. Creativity is also influenced by the winds of change, turbulence of emotional storms, and feelings of placid calm. Creative balance is difficult to achieve in the fast-paced postmodern world, where everything must be done by the clock and machine. Human beings may do better to live and work by the sun and moon, but we are always overconfident in our desire to outstrip Nature.

More and more I feel the pulling of the creative tide of Nature. More and more I want to shape my life to be in balance with the Earth and the plants and animals which share this planet with us.

This is a journal of my creative life and work.