Category: Living Outside the Lines Page 1 of 6

The creative process, a dog in a spaceship, and an excellent adventure

An ad for a creative writing competition cycled through my Facebook newsfeed enough times that my curiosity gave in. I clicked on the link: a flash fiction contest during which participants receive word prompts, have forty-eight hours (a timed weekend) to write a story, and are asked to advance (or not) through a series of subsequent creative writing challenges, resulting in possible publication and a cash prize. I enjoy a challenge, so I signed up. But when then the timed weekend came, I flopped. I received word prompts that didn’t jive with my creative juices. Suddenly, the whole competition seemed moot—and then I realized that the creative writing process allows for valuable personal insight, just like a reflection practice.

The weekend of the competition arrived. Comedy, driving school, fake tattoo—these were the words I received as writing prompts. What was I supposed to do with them? I rarely chose to read comedy, and I didn’t know much about writing it. Driving school and fake tattoo were lackluster words for me, too. I put pencil to paper, and nothing happened. Later that day, I decided to watch a comedy movie for inspo—Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, a time-traveling tale of two doods who need to save themselves (and the world) by passing a history exam. It happened to be on top of a recommended watch list for the media streaming service I have; the movie seemed like it would be a good fit for my creative block. As soon as I turned it on, I started cracking up at Bill and Ted—so many exclamations of “Dood!” and “Be excellent to each other!” I thought, “Wow, whoever wrote the script really captured details that give the movie such character.” I had seen the movie as a kid, but watching it now gave it a whole other layer. It was funnier, stupider, more poignant than I remembered. But the theme—overcoming challenge—and story—two underdogs take on a giant task, which launches them on an epic journey—was really something I could vibe with, especially since personal growth and evolution can feel like that.

Bill and Ted have an excellent adventure

And then I went back to work on my own piece. I decided that I would brainstorm around something I enjoy (exploring space) and how I could turn it into comedy. I wasn’t thinking of a particular theme, rather, I wondered what would make a story funny? What if the main character wasn’t human? What if it were a dog? What would the dog wear? What would the dog’s name be? And then, What if the dog accidentally rocketed itself into space?

Space exploration is something I’m really interested in, so it’s no surprise that popped up in my brainstorming. I’ve had many moments during which I wondered, “How the heck did I wind up here?” in relation to situations in life—and spent many hours retracing memories to figure out the answer. Space, in its vastness and mystery, appeals to me because nothing, not even the rules about how we understand its very existence, are hard and fast. So writing about a dog who winds up in a sticky situation was a way to flex creative muscles and allow anything to happen to a character—but essentially, the dog is me. I decided the dog would wear a fake tattoo while practicing space flight at a driving school, as in, I’m going to practice finding myself in a place that is unknown. THERE! All the prompts were satisfied and a story on hand.

The writing started to flow, but not easily, and I started thinking that if I didn’t do something fantastic, I didn’t want to write at all. I finished (barely), and submitted a story that didn’t feel like an accomplishment, or relief, or (least of all) good; I just got it done. Then, I realized exactly what was happening. I was thinking about how hard it was, which led insight about the quality of my thoughts, how they were attached to an outcome (since I didn’t feel comfortable with the words, my story wouldn’t be good).  The thoughts weren’t part of the actual creative work, and that informed me about my inner dialogue aka the inner critic aka the voice inside that holds me back rather than propels me forward.

That is where I find the overlap of the creative process with the process of personal growth–writing out the story allowed me to imagine, play in a new situation, be a character and not have any investment that might boomerang or bottom out. Writing the story was test driving a new experience, a new reality. I could express what that was like through the comfort and safety of a dog in a space ship. The analog here is for the journey through the inner landscape that manifests in our physical reality.

I’ve facilitated conversations with people who have want to make change in their lives, but who have also said, “But I can’t imagine my life any other way.” I’ve also facilitated conversations with people about writing, and they often say “I am not creative, I can’t write.” That’s like saying, “I can’t hear anything but my inner critic.” The impetus to create is often sparked by an external factor (wanting something to change in our lives or receiving a writing prompt), and the impetus to express is often an internal one (that experience that comes along with change or work). I often ask and encourage people to “Write your own story,” and the process is the same, whether creating fiction or real-life change. What you find in the story—the self expression—is rooted in the exploration to the reaction, “How did I get here? How do I get there? And where do I go?” That is your story. Write your own or explore the one you have—it  involves the same creative process.

After reflecting, I realized that receiving “humor” as a prompt was not what I wanted but what I needed: I need to laugh at myself. I was so serious over the whole creative thing! Likewise, I get sooo serious when trying new things, as in, if the new thing doesn’t work or feel good, I feel like it’s an investment wasted. But this isn’t the case IRL. So this creative writing experience created a little bit of space between the cramped inner voice that was so loud and close that I couldn’t hear anything else, and what was actually happening outside me. And, I wanted the dog to react in a way that embodies courage, not fear, because that’s how I aspire to be (even if it doesn’t happen).

May you be excellent to yourself in the creative writing process!

(And, here’s a link to the finished story.)

Astronomy and Astrology and Predicting Future Experience

A discussion in an astronomy class asked the question, “Can astrology predict your future?”; the reflection framed a textbook journey through the solar system and revealed how much the planets are like zodiac houses they rule.

The Sun. Image credit: NASA

I’ve recently gone back to school; one of my required classes was an introduction to astronomy. The discussion prompt for the first week of class asked, “Can astrology predict your future?” I took the opportunity to put my positive, direct experience of astrology on the back burner. I stayed open to the perspectives shared in class; there was a general sense that no, astrology doesn’t predict the future, and that astrology is less more like a parlor trick that sometimes works. I realized, too, that our body of astronomy is built upon theories that didn’t always work. Science has sometimes been the parlor trick. I learned how ancients tracked the motions of wandering stars (which is what the word “planets” means in ancient Greek) through astute observation. Later, mathematics taught us about the orbit and locations of planets’ movements in space.

I wondered, If we knew where a body would be, would we know what part of our mind to work with? The mind is where I directly apply astrological insight, since it’s the mind filter that creates our reality in the material world. I learned that the planets have characteristics much like the houses they are associated with, parts that have placements in a whole or totality of the stages of psychological growth.

Here’s what that looked like.

First, the Sun. Sometimes it is called a king. Like Leo, its associated house, the Sun is showy and boisterous. Leo governs the individual impulse, the impulse to individuate, and the Sun activates the impulse to life.

Next, Mercury. Our current science says the planet is shrinking—the planet is tectonically active. This is different from previously established knowledge that said it was a dead world. I think of the trickster, and Gemini, the house Mercury rules; it’s the same either-or, can’t-quite-pin-down literal shape-shifter. Mercury also rules Virgo, where we act on ritual and body wisdom. We are the ones who best know our embodied experience, right?

Next is the planet with a runaway greenhouse affect—Venus. Venus is associated with love and beauty; the colors of the atmosphere are visually stunning; it is a hostile planet, hot and uninhabitable. I can’t think of something that creates more heat than love in its amorous incarnation. Gracious and social Libra, whom Venus rules, can also be sharp and salty; and beauty is desired by Taurus, whom Venus also rules.

The Earth’s Moon, whom Cancer rules, is in our orbit and in our service as a guide to weather, agricultural, and tidal rhythms. Our planet rotates in a synchronous manner with the Moon, and that means we never get to see one side of our nearest neighbor. Cancer, whose soft underbelly of emotional resonance, hides; keeps inside. And yet, the house gives us the mothering impulse.

Earth and the Moon. Image credit: NASA

And then there’s Mars, the planet of war and ruler of Scorpio and Aries. Mar is red. Its mere existence has occupied a place in the collective fantasy: colonization, life, exploration. Aggressive, hot, fiery new beginnings—do you see a parallel to spiritual battles, ones in which we seek to gain power over ourselves? Isn’t choosing mindfulness sometimes a fight? We battle to be present. Overcoming strong ego structures involves strong first steps. And sometimes we have to fake our strength just to get the fight going. Scorpio is the actor/ess in us.

The first outer planet, Jupiter, rules Sagittarius. Jupiter is the largest planet in the solar system, and its through Sanitariums that we can know the part of our mind that seeks expansion. Jupiter has a physical effect that is similar to its appearance.

Next, Saturn, governs Capricorn. Saturn is often called the task maker. I learned that Saturn’s rings, which are visible from Earth, are made of billions of ice particles—and if we were to stand on them we would see they are only a few meters thick. The tiny particles in rings are visible from Earth! Wow. What an analogy for all the little things we do adding up in the bigger picture!

Uranus is actually quite an Aquarian planet; it is the shocker, revolutionary, up-rooter. We know that Uranus rotates on its side (in comparison to other planets)—it’s an exception to the rules that have been ascribed from the other planets.

There’s Neptune, which is nebulous, strikingly blue, and makes me think about the imagination and dreams and dreaminess. I thought, “Pisces much?” (Neptune rules Pisces.)

Last, there’s Pluto, positioned at the far end of our solar system.

Pluto. Image credit: NASA

Pluto, especially in evolutionary astrology, takes an important role for our being, our impulse to incarnate and live and have lives through which we heal. The farthest planet is our impulse to life; it is far away from the Sun that activates our lives. I learned that Neptune and Pluto cross orbits; there are years when Neptune is farther than the sun than Pluto. I saw a strong connection—a metaphor—for the ways our own subconscious and our creative impulse find fulfillment and expression through a back and forth relay with each other.

I was surprised to see so much astronomy reflected in astrology, especially considering that the ancients created these associations without having seen the planets first hand. Modern folks know the solar system through data, which include complex images created by measuring and layering and synthesizing information. They knew where to look, point a telescope, position a camera, and find parts of the solar system. They knew where celestial bodies would be in space by knowing orbital patterns. That’s scientific insight. Astrological insight acts the same way, in as much as our relationships with our minds and our minds filtered through houses can “predict” how we will perceive/be acted upon by events as they happen.

Can astrology predict the future? Astronomy is much better at that. Astrology tells us how to grow with it.



Playing With Subjective Experience

An art and hobby festival highlights the benefits of creative play; I offer attendees opportunities to fiddle with their subjective experience.

Flyer for the Art & Hobby Festival

“I’m sorry, I had such a hard time getting here,” said the woman who looked a bit frazzled as she walked into the room. I was sitting at my workshop table arranging journaling prompts. I could tell that she had physically arrived, but she hadn’t really mentally arrived yet. “Well, now you’re here,” I replied. “And that’s all you need to be.” She sat down on an adjacent empty chair and looked at me with a face that said, “I’m listening.” I explained that Pluto, the planet and archetype of primordial energy and deep, slow-to-process transformation, was transiting and it might be making things a little hard for everybody right now. I live for moments like this, where the injection of new ideas alters the way a person looks at a situation and changes their experience of it.

The woman and I were at the Spring 2019 Art & Hobby Festival, held in Marbletown, NY. The event, dreamed up by Allison Braun of Smell the Damn Roses, is meant to give people options to “try new things” and play. Presenters are display their hobbies, aka offerings, through hands-on activities at tables. The presenters are also given a time slot to do a workshop featuring their hobby aka skill. Allison has invited me several times to showcase EVOL because my offerings are a gateway to exploring inner worlds and self care. Taking a play-filled approach eases the exploration for those who might think that self care isn’t their “thing.” I ask attendees, “Who are you?,”  and the straightforward, unexpected question often causes people to reflect on something they might not be thinking about. I set up my table to be a reflection workshop. I provide prompts, paper, and writing instruments for people to spend a few minutes having a conversation with themselves.

Spring 2019 Art & Hobby Festival

My definition of self care is inclusive, too, because I say that it is a practice that brings awareness to a state of consciousness. Self care doesn’t have to look or be a certain way–it only has to serve your growth, wellness, and evolution. Self care as a hobby improves mental health because you can determine what brings you joy–like taking time to try new things–it’s the practice of checking in and noticing how your experience is while you’re doing the activity that matters. It’s you plugging in to the power of your presence. Being present means you acknowledge the factors that are affecting your momentary experience.

Another reason I like to do the festival is the opportunity to talk to people about how environmental factors, including astrological ones, can affect mental well being. Often, it’s the first time people hear about evolutionary astrology, which is soul focused and emphasizes the ability to transmute experiences through spiritual growth. Evolutionary astrology says that what’s happening in your life is set up as a lesson, ie, give us the opportunities to challenge previous courses of actions (cause and effect, aka karma). It also says that through transmuting aka integrating the lessons of the things that happen around us, we move toward different expressions of actions and reactions. The more aware we are of our tendencies, the more informed we can be to make conscious choices. If we choose differently, we break karma.

Jeffrey Wolf Green’s book Pluto: The Evolutionary Journey of the Soul is a foundational text in the body of knowledge of evolutionary astrology. He writes that

Pluto’s house and sign placement describe two simultaneous phenomena. One the one hand, the natal position of Pluto describes the … individualized patterns in identity … on the other hand, … Pluto points to the evolutionary desire.

A seminal work in evolutionary astrology

Pluto was active in the astrological weather during May, which was a serendipitous coincidence with mental health awareness month. It provided a brilliant circumstance to be sitting at the table and having honest and authentic conversations with people during the Spring 2019 Art & Hobby Festival, like the one with the woman.

“Let’s look at your chart,” I told her. We considered at the placement of Pluto that was specific to her, and together we considered aspects, aka how the mix of energies of Pluto and the other planets moving through the sky at that moment were working off each other and giving her a certain flavor of experience. We talked about what her comfort zone (the natal position of Pluto) was and how to gently step outside of it, take mindful action, and grow (the sensation, force of evolutionary desire). It’s a psychological process that can be stressful as well as beneficial.

“Wow,” she said at one point. “I feel better knowing that I’m not crazy.” Her mood shifted and she left in a different mental place and with many things to reflect upon. Astrology is a science of mixing and experimenting; each sign, house, placement (of celestial bodies) produce unique reactions when considered with other celestial bodies. The woman, by learning about her natal Pluto placement, was able to let go some of the “Why?” and move toward “What now?” as in, taking informed action. The reflections cause by our conversation will inform her self care if she sticks with and applies the practice.

I call EVOL offerings self care “practice” because that’s all we can expect ourselves to do—try it. Each time we bring awareness to our mental state, we can interface with the factors that might be influencing our experience. An understanding of our unique astrology within the larger cosmos can help us understand where thoughts are coming from. When the inner landscape, mental health, is more understood, movement toward peace, ease, and acceptance is greater. We learn to EVOLve through reflection applied to a self care practice.

NOTE: Seek out a mental health professional when necessary. Changing your subjective experience isn’t always as straightforward as the example in this post. There’s no shame in getting help. Self care supports movement toward wellness, but no one does self care alone, and anyone can benefit from mental health care.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month.

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