Shifting Timelines

RCWAgain, been reading lately and have another Robert Charles Wilson book in process. Evidently I enjoy his writing style and skills.

I won’t mention which book it is at this point, but it is one of his earlier ones where he isn’t quite as subtle dipping into his extensive bag of tricks. It’s much easier to see how he’s introducing the characters, settings, and scenarios then interweaving them into the storyline.

Mid-way through this one I realized what an excellent teaching tool his books can be to frog disectcreative writing students—no matter the age. It just takes a little extra time, a few margin notes and a coil notebook to trace all the components as you read through it. Lay the gathered info out like an old-school frog dissection if you want to see what’s inside it—pinning those guts out onto the matrix-cardboard, gore everywhere—all over your desk—all over your shirt—all over the notebook.

Then using a white board to display each chapter (represented by small sheets of paper spaced evenly across and down the board), and using some colored yarn for each significant character, one can track character introductions, interactions, and crescendos across the entire whiteboard—which represents the entirety of the novel. This can be very revealing of an author’s intentions and message.

stephen kingIn novels where the narrator (voice and tone) is the main character, it is easier to follow character timelines—because you basically have one point of reference, but when the perspective is more omniscient or limited omniscient, it is more difficult to effectively regulate the writer’s tone and tempo. Then more obvious time descriptors are often used as headers, such as: “a day later”, “the year after this”, “two years prior,” etc.

Exposing too much information too soon makes for clichéd writing; but offering toodark night little information during early chapters creates reader confusion and lack of interest. So it becomes a balancing act of what and who is introduced when and where.

The big question the writer must always answer is the WHY of what, who, when, and where.

WHY is this character appearing early, middle or late in the story? What makes that character significant to the situation as well as to the integrity of the book itself? There are many ways to tell a story—why is the writer using this method? What’s his rationale?

For instance, right now the Wilson book I’m reading is a story about time-travelers, and as one might imagine, scenes switch all over the proposed timeline represented: present, past, future, past, present,…until you start to wonder aloud: “Wait,….which present am I in? The present in the past or the present in the future, or IS THERE ahere and now PRESENT at all?”

I think that might have been one of his themes for this particular novel: “Is there really a PRESENT?”

It’s interesting to me, because that is the same question that I’m sometimes asked when conducting hypnosis Past-Life Explorations with my own clients.

Mid-journey, the client can be describing to me the events and feelings that she is experiencing during a particular past-life situation in a different time and place—a different body—a different setting—a different country, while I sit in PPFthe chair beside her in the NOW. And to the client who is effectively bi-locating in two places at the same time, she may be asking herself or me, “Which PRESENT am I really in? Am I there? Am I here? …..Where is the present?

Well, as the narrator of this story and my client’s tour-guide through her then-current Past-Life Exploration, I simply tell her: We are right here, right now …wherever that is in your timeline because the PRESENT is a constantly moving target.

It comes. It goes. Yet it still remains…the PRESENT, ….at least as we know it.

Memorable Reads

There are spells when I’m a voracious reader. Every two weeks or so I’ve been going to the library—which is really an excellent library with continual supplies of NEW books, both Fiction and Non.

What I’ve noticed is that lately there are some fine quality Fiction books (as well as Non-Fiction—which are usually coleridgemy favorites) available; and then there are some, how shall I say it, less than well-written books with flashier covers and more provocative lead lines. Those tend to be more melodramatic and trite, and unfortunately, they are quite predictable by mid-story.

As a writer myself, I can admire and marvel at a writer’s skill in not only telling a story, but I also like to note the techniques used to create that story’s setting, how the main subjects’ character traits are defined, and how the author handles the passage of time.

Skilled writers are masters of the subtle details hidden between the covers. They can be tricky—like a sleight of hand artist palming a lesser card mid-deal and replacing it with an ace. A flick of the wrist and an unsuspecting eye could miss a persuasive key stroke.

There is far more to a quality novel than just rolling out a somewhat believable plot. Voice, tone, and tempo are all important factors to how a story is told. It’s a lot like that slogan “Destination is not what is important in life—it is the journey along the way.”

readerA good writer can make it a revelatory journey—show you the terrain—the winding curves, the bumps and potholes, the vegetation massed along the side—help you feel comfortable or uncomfortable with your tour guides who are describing scenes, and allow YOU to form your own opinions on what is really occurring in those faux interactions and situations where the main characters are challenged by extreme emotions or passions.

Ensconced in the telling, you even become the helpless witness when they eventually succumb to their own character flaws, allowing the story to play out like a true Greek tragedy—rich in pathos.

So I want to mention that reading-material wise, I was very impressed with The Affinities by Robert Charles Wilson. the affinitiesIt is a bit Sci-Fi but not a far stretch for the possible future of social and cultural evolution where emotional attachments and character tendencies become group-based behavioral classifications. The book is more so a group character study (philosophical and psychological) than action-based, but it is so well-written that I will read it again just to take notes on how Wilson transitioned characters, defined settings, and massaged the passage of time.

Another good book (non-fiction that reads like fiction) is A Death on Diamond Mountain: A death on diamondTrue Story of Obsession, Madness, and the Path to Enlightenment, by Scott Carney, which is a masterful telling of truth and hard-gathered facts as if they were unfolding before you. An investigative journalist allows us to see behind the smoking mirrors of a popularized religion.

So how can you tell good writing from mediocre tries at such?

Good writing is easily distinguished from lesser attempts because it is effortless to read and yet deeply satisfying in effect—a bit like a spicy-hot Italian Sausage Pizza that lingers on your palate long after the meal is done.

Every after-burp is a reminder of its potency on your very being.

CSV or What Makes Real Character?

I ran across this list on Facebook and because these individual character traits are all subjects that I love to explore in my blog, I thought I’d just put the entire list on here with reference to where you can find additional information about this movement toward creating a better life for everyone and how to “grow” a better person to live that life. There are two key points I want to make on this posting before I simply provide the info that I found below:

1) This is a major change in any standard psychologist’s perspective: from what is wrong with you to what is right with you. It is called Positive Psychology. And…

2) by focusing on how to develop and “grow” those positive human traits defined below, it can actually help people live happier and more fulfilling lives.

csv handbook“CSV is based on the book Character Strengths and Virtues by Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman (2004), and is an attempt to present a measure of humanist ideals of virtue in an empirical, rigorously scientific manner.

In the same way that the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is used to assess and facilitate research on mental disorders, CSV is intended to provide a theoretical framework to assist in developing practical applications for positive psychology.[1] [quote taken from Wikipedia.]

“VIA Description of 24 Character Strengths for living a happy and fulfilling Life: VIA website     (VIA means “Value In Action”.)

http://www.viacharacter.org/www/Character-Strengths#nav )

Strengths of Wisdom and Knowledge: Cognitive strengths that entail the acquisition and skillful use of knowledge.
1. Creativity & Imagination [originality, ingenuity]: Thinking of novel and productive ways to conceptualize and do things.
2. Curiosity [interest, novelty-seeking, openness to experience]: Taking an interest in ongoing experience for its own sake; exploring and discovering.
3. Open-mindedness [holistic judgment, critical thinking]: Thinking things through and examining them from all sides; weighing all evidence fairly.
4. Love of learning: Mastering new skills, topics, and bodies of knowledge, whether on one’s own or formally.
5. Holistic perspective [wisdom]: Being able to provide wise counsel to others; having ways of looking at the world that make sense to oneself and to other people.

Strengths of Courage: Emotional strengths that involve the exercise of will to accomplish goals in the face of opposition, external and internal.good character traits
6. Bravery [valor]: Not shrinking from threat, challenge, difficulty, or pain; acting on convictions even if unpopular.
7. Persistence [perseverance, industriousness]: Finishing what one starts; persisting in a course of action in spite of obstacles.
8. Integrity [authenticity, honesty]: Presenting oneself in a genuine way; taking responsibility for one’s feeling and actions.
9. Vitality [zest, enthusiasm, vigor, energy]: Approaching life with optimism and energy; feeling alive and motivated.

Strengths of Humanity: interpersonal strengths that involve supporting and befriending others.
flute playing boy with waterbuffalo10. Love & Compassion: Valuing close relations with others, in particular those in which sharing and caring are reciprocated. Empathic connections with all beings.
11. Kindness [generosity, nurturance, care, compassion, altruistic love, “niceness”]: Doing favors and good deeds for others.
12. Social intelligence [emotional intelligence, personal intelligence]: Being aware of the motives and feelings of other people and oneself.

Strengths of Justice:  strengths that underlie healthy and harmonious community life.
13. Citizenship [social responsibility, loyalty, teamwork]: Working well as a member of a group or team; being loyal to the group.
14. Fairness: Treating all people the same according to notions of fairness and justice; not letting personal feelings bias decisions about others.
15. Leadership: Encouraging a group of which one is a member to get things done and at the same maintain time good relations within the group.

Strengths of Temperance: strengths that protect against unhealthy excess and egotism.
16. Forgiveness and mercy: Forgiving those who have done wrong; accepting the shortcomings of others; giving people a second chance; not being vengeful.CSV book
17. Humility / Modesty: Letting one’s accomplishments speak for themselves; not regarding oneself as more special than one is.
18. Prudence: Being careful about one’s choices; not taking undue risks; not saying or doing things that might later be regretted.
19. Self-regulation [self-control]: Regulating what one feels and does; being disciplined; controlling one’s appetites and emotions (equanimity).

Strengths of Transcendence: strengths that forge connections to the larger universe and provide meaning in life.
20. Appreciation of beauty and excellence [awe, wonder, elevation]: Appreciating beauty, excellence, and/or skilled performance in various domains of life.
21. Gratitude: Being aware of and thankful of the good things that happen; taking time to express thanks.
22Being Happy. Hope [optimism, future-mindedness, future orientation]: Expecting the best in the future and working to achieve it.
23. Humor [playfulness]: Liking to laugh and tease; bringing smiles to other people; seeing the light side.
24. Spirituality [religiousness, faith, purpose]: Having coherent beliefs about the higher purpose, the meaning of life, and the meaning of the universe.”

What are your thoughts on the focus of Positive Psychology and these categories and definitions established at VIA?

River Rocks

rocks in riverSo many ways to look at this title…but only one to follow. Kind of like the subject matter contained here that I metaphorically likened to “River Rocks.”

I have a favorite online astrologer that I follow: Tom Lescher (Astrology for the Soul https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5OGanHCos14 ). I’ve mentioned him many times as someone I find extremely accurate in overall energy readings as associated to the planetary alignments of the time.Tom

Whenever I feel something strange or intense in the overall energies around us/affecting us, I listen to his weekly video and usually hear an astro-explanation from him that substantiates what I’ve been kinesthetically noticing. (In a sense, he reassures me that what I am sensing energetically is ‘right on.’)

And because I’ve listened to him so many times and he’s been so reliably accurate to what I had been noticing, I keep listening to him week after week.

But a few months ago, one of his protégés who I shall not mention, caught my ear and I also listened to his vlog for awhile until I began to notice something very different between the two astrologers: a difference in the accumulated wisdom from age and experience, and a lighter (higher frequency)-energy attitude used to deliver the information.

In other words, the younger protégé was a poor substitute for the original, because life does that ‘thing’ to us during the process of living: it ‘seasons us’ the way only time and experience can. It broadens our perspectives and grants us compassionate witnessing.

river rocksThat’s when my mind showed me the image of a rounded, palm-sized, white stone—a river rock that had been tumbled and pounded along the stream bed by torrential rains, flash flooding, and by all things violently affecting the flow and force of a river.

Or to put it more simply, the white rock’s original rough edges and sharp corners were now rounded off from time and river-bottom travel.

That once jagged-edged stone was now smooth to the touch and felt very comfortable in the palm of my hand. That’s the after-effect of being bounced along a rocky, river bottom—you lose all those sharp edges.

To me listening to Tom is like holding that river rock, and his reports are softer, more humorous and compassionate, yet still substantive and real. He keeps his energy light and flowing, and refrains from getting “preachy” with you because he’s been there himself where we all are, and he gets it. It’s more of a been-there, done-that, sharing-the-information-report with friends, than a proselytizing opportunity for an egoic neophyte trying to stand out in an over-populated, astrology-reporting community.

The river rock image I mountain streamsaw in my mind ALSO epitomizes that LIFE may not be as predictable and gentle to us as we often wish that it were, but you eventually learn to tumble along with the flow until those rough edges wear away. Then we can roll more easily during the water’s occasional turbulence instead of catching in every crevice that might snag at us.

Ultimately we learn to ride and tumble along with least resistance to the torrid current around us, until we reach a destination more to our liking; or we may eventually catch an inquisitive eye and find a kindred, fleshy palm to nestle into. Then we can employ a new mode of transportation for a time.wisdom

But wherever it goes, a river rock rolls on and on, because the journey never really ends. Only the terrain changes once in awhile.

Making Meaning

If there were a recipe for living successfully and there were willing cooks to concoct it, how many fragrant loaves of “meaningful lives” would there be?breads

(It’s a trick question really.)

In essence I’m asking does living successfully equate to living a meaningful life?

Perhaps the answer might vary and lie more in the eye, mind, and body of the perceiver.

ordinaryI mention this here because I discovered long ago that I could write about any topic that flitted between my ears, and that each one would be EQUALLY important to me since every aspect of our existence on this earth is ripe with miracles and meaning. It’s just that some of the more mundane things that we experience daily are simply too familiar for us to recognize their genuine significance.

To me, meaning is something that shouts “IMPORTANT” to us in some way; but meaning by its very nature also implies that it might be more of an aesthetic/spiritual importance than a material one.

So the next question might be: Does living successfully imply a spiritual or a material standard of success?

Again for that answer, I think it would be up to the perceiver who would consider what “success” means to him or her.

Personally, time has shown me that material success and monetary pursuits are enticing challenges that can indeed offer greater opportunities for experiencing a variety of “things” that money makes possible.meaningful life quotes

But creating a meaningful life has little to do with material/financial success. In fact, a money-based focus usually obstructs feeling genuine meaning in our lives and often pits our higher intentions against egoic pleasure.

To a deeply-spiritual person (and I’m not saying deeply-religious as it’s not the same thing), spirituality is a connection to a source of energy and inner nourishment far greater than earthly confines can provide us. Material items and possessions simply cannot rival that depth of inner satisfaction.

To a deeply spiritual person who feels that intense connection to a power far greater than his earthly presence—who feels his spirit’s transcendence far beyond the body it inhabits—to THAT person, a meaningful life will be viewed as a successfully lived life, and vice versa—a successfully lived life will be a meaningful life.

To all others who do not feel that amazing higher connection to something far greater than themselves, I do not know whcartoon on meaning-Calvin and Hobbsat their answers would be, but I am thankful that mine would be considered one and the same.

So if all of life is considered a miracle, then all aspects of our lives are mini-miracles, and they should be considered as such—all are equal in value and equal of consideration.

All are fair game for meaning exposition. The quest is to simply uncover it.

Honoring the Senses

This morning I saw the clouds approaching from the western horizon, but at that distance I couldn’t cloud bankdetect their speed. It really didn’t matter to me because I knew there were tasks to be completed today and endeavors to attempt. My mind had set its own agenda for this small window of “work opportunity” and was not going to be deterred by distant possibilities lying outside its “being productive” intention.

As I donned the clothes appropriate to the industrious labor awaiting me, I looked once more out the open window at the fast-advancing cloud front, and then caught the whiff of something distinct and easily recognizable—the scent of rain in the air. Now my wavering mind said, Hmmm, …maybe these work clothes won’t be needed after all.

It wasn’t long past that thought that the first “tinks” and plops” sounded as large rain drops hit the window glass and the AC unit housing beneath it—audio verification to what the visuals and olfactory senses had first alerted me: Yes, rain was on the way and some was now here.

rain puddleJust to be certain, stepping out the backdoor, I raised my palm to the sky and received yet another wet affirmation that the distant possibility preventing outside laboring had just become an actuality. My kinesthetic sense had made the final verdict loud and clear—yes, it was raining. (Yeah!)

My mind then released me from its industrious intentions—there would be no sense of guilt or shame at my outside inactivity when legitimate reasons (like it’s raining) had magically developed for me to now sit in front of my computer and write. One could even call it Divine Intervention if one wanted to stretch it a bit. And I did—I stretched it a lot. That’s why I’m sitting here now.

This morning’s rain event might seem a little mundane to even mention as a blog post, except I suddenly realized that the only human sensing device that I didn’t use this morning to determine my future actions was to stand outside with an open mouth to the sky and await a rain drop landing on my tongue—to taste it. That’s when it occurred to me what all was at play during this simple morning reassignment.

Our brain, the most amazing central processing unit (CPU) ever created, uses our individual sensing units to layers of braindecipher our surroundings, create mental intentions for our appropriate reactions to them, and then it sends electrical impulses out to our muscles for our physical responses.

Our minds have created extensive databases of information mainly based on our previous cause/effect actions that create desirable or undesirable consequences for us. The mind uses that behavioral pain/pleasure gauge continuously throughout each day and night to guide us in moment by moment responses.

Our memories, tinged with past emotional attachments to the situations that we have already faced, are the basis for that present-moment perspective filter we use to view the desirability or undesirability of each situation now before us.

brain 1The five senses and the emotions (which are both the energetic and the body chemistry reactions to whatever we encounter or perceive) alert the brain—and more accurately, alert the layers of the brain with their own individual functions and purposes to the overall CPU’s operation: from specific brain stem functions, to limbic functions, to cortex functions, and so on. There’s a lot going on up there that we take for granted until something doesn’t function as well as we hope that it would.

So when I first underplayed the importance of something as simple as a slight change in morning intentions or plans, I stopped myself in my tracks, and said, “Whoa, …look what really happened—look what my engirl in raintire body’s sensing devices told my mind for it to “let me off the hook” from doing that hard labor this morning. Maybe I should take just a moment to honor those sensing devices I’m so blessed to have and be glad that I’m not out there getting soaked to the skin—which I process as undesirable.”

There you have it—all this to say, “I wrote because it rained.”

To Pick a Raisin

“After walking out grapes on vinethe backdoor, Elizabeth ambled off to the grape patch and decided to sit there on the ground until she could pick a raisin from the vine. Knowing that it might take some time for the grape to completely dehydrate, she closed her eyes, straightened her spine and began to meditate.”

“WHAT?” our rational mind protests. “You can’t just wait there until a grape shrivels into a raisin. It could take days. She can’t sit in meditation for days! That’s illogical.”

But the subconscious mind understood the story as metaphor for delayed gratification and immediately got the message from it. Elizabeth knew what she wanted, was willing to wait for it, and considered the wait-time as soul-nourishing and acceptable. It isn’t meant as a literal interpretation of events; it’s a hypnosis device called an Ericksonian metaphor.

Just to be clear, this brief story isn’t about the “dreams deferred” of Langston Hughes’ classic poem “Harlem” or the amazing 1959 Broadway play by Lorraine Hansberry, called “A Raisin in the Sun.”

This story is about how metaphors, particularly Ericksonian metaphors, access that inner systems program that runs our life—which is our subconscious mind—the behind the scenes controller of almost everything we think and do—from how we perceive and interpret the world around us, to how we react to those perceptions, because sometimes we automatically think someone is referring to one thing, when they are instead talking about another.

I was actually providing my own childhood memory of walking out the backdoor, going over to the grapevine area between our backyard and the garden, and sitting down waiting for the then tart green grapes to ripen to sweet burgundy for eating. My grandmother had come over to me sittingrapes-or-raisinsg there and said I’d be waiting a long time for that to happen—like days; and I said I’d wait.

Of course I didn’t. Kids have no concept of time. But my grandmother also told me back then that if I waited there long enough, those grapes would miraculously change to raisins. I later learned that “miraculously” meant to dehydrate in the sun and shrivel on the vine. But miraculously sounded so much better.

Miraculous is how hypnosis works. I admit that hypnosis and NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) absolutely fascinate me. That’s why I’ve been trained in those techniques.

I’m fascinated with them because so much of our lives we believe the world around us to be one particular way, and seldom comprehend that the world around us is how we perceive it to be. It is our perception of the world that makes it the way that it appears. And our perception is very changeable.

In the last 9 paragraphs I have shown that how you perceive and decipher what is presentemilton ericksond to you can be easily manipulated and refocused toward a desired conclusion. That’s the beauty of Ericksonian metaphors: It’s like being driven around the countryside by your eccentric Aunt Betty, who after hours of wrong turns and harrowing near misses of both stationary and moving objects, she somehow manages to find her way back to your home just in time for dinner.

The desired effect is: early suggestion of delayed gratification, food references as rewards for patience, proposed childhood memories to trigger your own childhood memories substantiating suggested premises; and last effect is to refocus your mind on how your perception miraculously creates the world that you experience.

I mean, seriously, …Aunt Betty was just too erratic to drive anyone, including herself, but it’s strange how she always knew when it was time for dinner at our house. I’d call that Selective Craziness; and it worked for her.