Strange Things Happen

I dreamed I was leaving Hatch (the town where the chiles come from) and took a wrong turn onto a winding road with psychedelic pavement and narrow walls alongside it, also in bright pink, purple, blue, and yellow. The road took me to a farm at the end of a dirt road, where I met men who were raising pigs. I petted a piglet, got directions, and left by yet another route, not my usual way in and out of Hatch, but not the trippy pink one either.

While I drank coffee, I tried to interpret the dream symbols, but they made no sense. A friend called and asked if I’d like to go to Sparky’s in Hatch. A favorite blues band was playing. I agreed, and then proceeded to toss my purse into the trunk of my car with my keys in it and closed it. I hadn’t unlocked the car yet, so my phone and both sets of keys were in the trunk. Normally I would have a key in my pocket, but for some reason, I put the key in my purse. I walked to a neighbor’s blue and purple house and called Better World Club and got unlocked. Hm. Wrong turn on the way to Hatch instead of on the way out?

I picked up my friend at the foot of his driveway—more of a road, really—in the very small town of Arrey, and when we arrived at Sparky’s, Guitar Slim was playing a psychedelic pink and yellow electric guitar. As many times as I’ve enjoyed his music, I’d never seen that instrument before. While the band took a break, I looked in the display case behind me—Sparky’s has a mindboggling collection of off-beat antiques—and there was a collection of pig figurines. Two women in motorcycle gear arrived, one wearing a red elf hat and the other a leopard print elf hat. They also wore jingle bells along with their black leggings, turtlenecks, leather vests, and boots. Leopard Elf had the words “Pig savers” on the back of her vest. (I looked it up later. These are rubber nipples for bottle-feeding piglets. I guess she’s a pig farmer?)

The dancing was great—couples, kids, solo dancers, and trios. People from the audience were invited to sing, including Leopard Elf. Afterward, my friend offered me tomatoes, so instead of dropping him at the end of his “driveway,” I went all the way down the dirt road to a sort of farm—he grows tomatoes, mostly, and has a few chickens—and we picked the last viable tomatoes of his outdoor crop before the frost that’s expected tonight.

On my way home, I missed the turn to get on I-25 for T or C and ended up on the back road, winding and in places narrow, as the sky turned pink and purple and deep blue.

You could say this was all coincidence, a series of normal events. But I’d just been dancing in T or C to a different blues band the previous night, and had encountered this same friend in the crowd. The least likely thing was that he’d want to go dancing again right away on Sunday afternoon. I see him in town so much I haven’t been down the dirt road to his place in over a year. The way the night’s dream lined up with the day’s events, though in scrambled fragments, is intriguing. Hatch, wrong turns, a farm, a dirt road, a narrow winding road, psychedelic colors, and small pigs. The biker elves weren’t in the dream, but a lot of other things were. When I have precognitive dreams, they’re almost always about bizarre trivia like this. Only on rare occasions do I pick up significant events, warnings, or omens. This was just a reminder that time leaks, that past, present, and future are all happening at once, and reality is not the version that our linear perception of it creates.

 

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Crystals

 

Once in a while, I like to recycle an older post that new subscribers may not have seen. This post from the winter of 2015 is a short summary of what I’ve discovered so far, from both reading and experience,  as a novelist incorporating the use of crystals in my books.

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When I researched energy healing, I easily found twenty-six articles in the archives of just one peer-reviewed medical journal. In another, I found a meta-analysis of healing studies, including those done with subjects other than “whole humans”—healing done on animals, plants, and cell cultures, which are presumed not to experience placebo effects. A number of years ago, I read a study on Qi Gong done in China with pigs as the targets of healing by emitted chi. I can’t remember what their malady was, but I recall that they improved at a statistically significant level. Healers have measurably affected fungi, seeds, plants and mice. When researching the use of crystals in healing, I looked for a similar level of scientific investigation and couldn’t find it. However, I found anthropological literature on the subject as well as modern books on crystals. My reading gave me the impression that the primary use of crystals historically has been for strengthening psychic ability rather than for healing.

 In North and South America and in Australia, shamans have used quartz crystals to enhance their ability to see into spirit worlds and other places and times, as well as into a sick person’s body. For example, Navajo crystal gazers use quartz crystals perceive the nature of an illness. One crystal gazer I read about also used his visions to find lost sheep and lost children. In Australian Aboriginal traditions, quartz crystals were used to make ritual cuts as part of a shaman’s initiation and sometimes embedded into a finger or under the skin. The crystals also become spirit forms or energy centers in the shaman’s head or belly.

Quartz—sometimes called a “wild stone” or a “live stone” by indigenous people—has the most uses in shamanism, but other stones have been seen as powerful. In ancient Taoist alchemy, jade was considered to enable one to fly up to heaven, which sounds like a shamanic journey. In European folk magic, any clear surface like a mirror or water as well as a crystal could be used for scrying. The Druids are said to have used beryl crystals when seeking visions.

The present-day practice of crystal healing has grown up from a mixture of influences from the East and the West. In the American colonies, European folk healers met Native healers, and their practices began to cross cultures. This blend is the root from which my character Rhoda-Sue Outlaw Jackson’s idiosyncratic folk healing springs. With the introduction of yoga in the West, color symbolism from India relating to the chakra system was integrated with the shamanic use of crystals. In The Calling, when Mae starts working with crystals, a book on this contemporary East-West approach is her primary resource. She uses crystals in both the traditional shamanic way as a seer and in the modern way as a healer.

Practitioners of crystal healing ascribe specific influences to certain stones, referring to effects of their harmonious structures and their unique vibrations or frequencies. Crystals grow; they have a kind of vitality or life force, and yet they are also stable. An interaction is assumed to take place between the vibration of the person being healed and that of the crystal. Skeptics assume that any results are due to the placebo effect, or that hypnosis is somehow involved in healing with crystals. This latter guess makes sense to me. Trance states affecting both healer and patient are part of the shamanic tradition. **

I first encountered crystal healing at the home of some friends in Santa Fe. After running a five-K race, I’d been experiencing pain in my left ankle, which had developed a ganglion cyst. My friend Jon held an enormous clear quartz point and made circles with it over the painful part of my ankle for about twenty minutes. I was skeptical but open-minded, willing to test out his belief that he could help. That was in July 1999. My ankle didn’t hurt again until June 2013. When I went to the foot and ankle doctor in Santa Fe to have the cyst taken care of, I told him this story. We joked about my getting it treated again with another giant crystal, but I wasn’t sure I could get another fourteen years of relief from just any healer, and Jon and his giant crystal had moved away.

When I lived in Norfolk I met a young woman who used crystals in energy healing. I can’t say if they had an actual effect or contributed to a mutual trance, but the sense of lightness and peace I felt from her work was strong.

While preparing to write the Mae Martin series, in addition to reading about crystals I acquired a collection of them to experiment with. Sometimes I’d try leaving different ones next to my bed at night, in the space between the lamp’s curved legs on the bedside table, to see if they affected my dreams. One night I placed sodalite in that spot—it’s supposed to be good for perception and creative expression, among other things—and I dreamed that people were sitting at a bar playing a gambling game with crystals, shaking them like dice and throwing them. I woke up in the morning and reached to the table to get my glasses—and noticed that the blue-and-white stone, which had been a smooth solid oval the night before, was now broken as neatly as if the end had been sliced off with a saw. Sodalite does fracture easily. If any crystal was going to break, this was the one, but I doubt I picked it up and threw it in my sleep, acting out the dream. If I had, I probably would have knocked over the lamp, and I don’t have any history of parasomnias. The stone lay right where I’d left it. Maybe it already had a crack it in and quietly fell apart while I dreamed it was being thrown. This is one of those strange little things that I could explain away, but that’s different from actually explaining it.

Sources

Harner, Michael, The Way of the Shaman, Harper, 1990

Benz E and Luckert K, The Road of Life: Report of a Visit by a Navajo Seer, Ethnomedicine II 3/ 4, 1973

Cowan, J. Wild Stones: Spiritual Discipline and Psychic Power Among Aboriginal Clever Men,  Studies in Comparative Religion, V. 17 no. 1&2, Winter-Spring, 1985

Permutt, Philip, The Crystal Healer, Cico Books, 2007

Knight, S., Pocket Guide to Crystals and Gemstones, Crossing Press, 1998

* I use the male pronoun because my sources focused on male shamans. Female healers’ and seers’ roles in traditional societies often differ from the men’s.

**If I understand correctly, people in shamanic cultures who use crystals don’t feel the need to differentiate between placebo, trance, and spiritual effects, or between power objects and symbols of power, or between the crystals the shaman carries in his belly or forehead (spirit objects) and the ones in his medicine bundle (physical objects). Their world view is of a whole system, not separated by the veil modern people place between the spiritual and the material.

Shape-Shifters: How Did You Think of That?

SwainsonHawk23One of the hardest questions for a fiction writer to answer is exactly where an idea came from. I was asked that question recently about some of the imagery in one of my books. The short answer is that I imagined it, but the long answer mixes research, experience, imagination and dreams.

In what is basically realistic fiction with paranormal elements, I create some characters who have unusual abilities—psychics, healers, mediums, and shamans. A few can take—or seem to take— animal forms, and my Apache characters speak about this with fear and caution as the sign of a witch. Bearing is a horror story (though gore-free), so in that genre I made the shifting real. In the Mae Martin Mysteries, characters who shape-shift are not physically becoming animals but psychically manipulating others’ perceptions to create the illusion of another creature, or so strongly identifying with an animal that a psychic could pick up the imagery. The power of our minds to share images and information is astounding, and that ability is at the root of the stories I tell.

When I was choosing search terms to help readers find Bearing, one of the ones I chose was shape-shifter, a concept that I associate with skin-walkers and similar witches. I was surprised to find that there are shape-shifter romances. The possibility that this power was romantic had never crossed my mind. To me it’s scary, so it’s an element I use in fiction to give readers goosebumps. What makes an animal image scary to one person and beautiful and powerful to another is often regional and cultural. One of my Apache friends told me some terrifying stories of owl-witches that chilled me to the bone. He scared himself by telling them and said he shouldn’t be talking about the subject. When I was in my teens, I had what turned out to be a premonition, a frightening image of someone prowling outside the house hooting like an owl. Around ten years later, my roommate and I were disturbed at night by owl calls first at the front and then at the back of our townhouse apartment. Her cat’s hair stood on end and he quivered and made pitiful sounds, his fear scaring us all the more. We’d never seen him act like that. My roommate looked outside and saw a man she worked with but didn’t know well, and she called the police. The man admitted to stalking her but couldn’t explain what had gotten into him with the owl calls. Somehow that was creepier than if he knew.

One of my good friends in high school had repeating nightmares about wolves looking through every window of her house, and the way she told it gave me the shivers. When I was a very small child, I had repeating nightmares about bears, including a strange one in which I was a fourteen-year-old boy camping on a hunting trip with an uncle, and it ended with being attacked—I think killed—by a bear. No one in my family hunted or camped, and I had never seen a bear or a gun or even a tent at the age at which I dreamed this.

A little girl I knew years ago liked to think she had hawk powers. We were swinging in swings and she told me the reason she could go so high was this special power she had. She stayed in my mind, too, as another way that people identify with animal spirits.

This can be a “treasure hunt” through the series now. (Obviously the bear story is the standalone Bearing.) Readers will find the wolf, the hawk and the owl in the Mae Martin series. No spoilers. I’ll let you look for them.

Healing as a Mythic Journey: Book Review of The Healing Path

The unifying theme of this book is that healing calls for making meaning out of illness. Stories have arcs that organize experience into meaning, as they grow from the initial alarm into conflict and struggle in pursuit of a goal, and finally come to a resolution. Marc Ian Barasch uses classic films as myths of the healing path, a framework within which he tells his own story and the stories of others who have confronted serious illness. The essence of healing isn’t always surviving. Some of his journeyers, as he calls his fellow travelers on the path, died. Others had virtually impossible recoveries through spiritual and holistic approaches to self-healing, defying both medical predictions and medical advice. Still others, like the author, had conventional treatment while integrating psychological and spiritual changes.

Barasch did substantial research. His own encounter with cancer and his bizarre dreams that diagnosed it long before his doctors did and predicted aspects of his treatment provoked his curiosity about how others heal. (He wrote another book, Healing Dreams, which I highly recommend.) I’ve read just about every book or study that he cites in The Healing Path , which made this section of the book a little too familiar to me, but then, I’m a professor who has taught a course on alternative medicine. The book is few years old, so its medical information isn’t the latest, but the essence of the message holds up. His adventures as a seeker of alternative options, and the profound self-explorations of the journeyers he interviewed, make for a compelling story.

His language is extraordinary. I bought this book as a used paperback, idly curious after having liked Healing Dreams, and I’ve actually highlighted and starred sections, something I don’t normally do to my books. There are so many shining jewels I had to make sure I could find them again.

The final sections of the book blew me away. I’ve studied energy healing, psychology, and a lot of yoga and meditation. I teach the latter two. I write fiction that involves a healer. I know this stuff, but he knows more, because he has lived through things I haven’t. He taught me, even though all the facts were familiar. His wisdom isn’t platitudinous. It’s hard won.

In James Scott Bell’s writing guide Super Structure, he discusses how great movies and fiction all have a turning point in the middle where the protagonist confronts a painful or frightening truth about himself or his life. Bell calls it the Mirror Moment—looking in the mirror literally or figuratively—and says the essence of it is change or die. This might not mean bodily death; it could be spiritual or emotional or professional. (Synchronicity: He uses one of the same movies Barasch does, the Wizard of Oz, to illustrate his ideas.) This next observation is a minor spoiler, if nonfiction can have spoilers. Barasch says his realization at the key stage of his journey through cancer was change or die. He had to change his whole life, not just get the disease treated. He was facing all the forms of death, not just the one threatening his body.

Change or die. That’s the hardest lesson—we fear change. It can seem like a death of sorts. When sick people change, it can upset those around them. This aspect of healing and illness is examined frankly in this book. The larger story around each journeyer shows over and over that healing is not a return to sameness. Disruptions ripple in all directions.

Anyone who is or has been seriously ill, knows someone who is, or simply loves good writing, could appreciate this book. And strangely enough, there’s a lot in it for fiction writers to learn from, as Barasch uses fiction to illuminate aspects of the plunge into illness, the confrontation with mortality, and the helpers and obstacles encountered on the way out—the healing path.

 

Leaves in Mud, Leaves in Sky

trees

Standing on a riverbank, I found myself absorbed in watching the motion of a low-growing tree branch that had been snagged by the current. Dead leaves in water, moving yet going nowhere drifting back and forth in the mud. The swaying was hypnotic. I broke the trance and looked up at the rest of the tree, vital and full of color in a bright blue sky. There was so much more.

It made me think of how much may lie beyond our ordinary perception, how much of reality we may miss. Not only the beauties we fail to notice, or the colors that bees can see and the sounds that dogs can hear, but the worlds that dreams walk through, the shamanic realms.

The Thorn in my Soul

In July in Truth or Consequences I got a mesquite thorn in my flip-flip. It burrowed in deep and I couldn’t get it out, so I set those shoes aside and wore others. This week, in Virginia, I decided that the thorn wouldn’t come though, that it was simply buried in the sole somewhere, and I wore the shoes walking back and forth across campus. Little by little the thorn began to poke me. Not painfully, but it was there.

New Mexico is there. In my soul. The need to change my life so I don’t thave to keep coming back to Virginia to work is always there. The thorn is the craving to be my true self, the writer and yoga teacher, not the professor. I tell myself this job is not a bad way to earn a living, and compared to most jobs it isn’t, and yet the thorn is always prodding me. Go back. Go home. For good.

I’ve been reading Virginia King’s The Second Path, a novel that defies categories—though I’d say visionary fiction is the best fit. It’s a mystery, but like mine, it’s not about a murder. King’s books are about inner mysteries, psycho-spiritual discoveries. In this one, the protagonist Selkie Moon dreams clues to solving her own life’s mysteries and follows them into an extraordinary adventure. I read it before bed and it provokes me to have message dreams.

Preface: A student recently dropped my health class because the emphasis on positive psychology and a “no upper limits” personal vision of wellness upset him. He confided that he felt he didn’t have control and choice in his life, and though he was in counseling, this approach to the class was too distressing for his present state of mind—one in which he felt confined and powerless.

A few nights ago I dreamed that this young man had stolen a valuable rose-gold antique watch from me. I was chasing him across the campus of the college where I got my undergraduate degree and saw him heading for a bike rack. I knocked his bike over and he headed for a van instead, pausing to read a text message before he opened the door. He gave me smug smile. “I just got a higher bid on it.” End of dream.

Belief in “I can’t” is stealing my precious time. I’m still puzzling over the bike, the van, and that higher bid. Higher self? Higher income in a new life? Higher values? Selling my time to the highest bidder instead of taking it back? I guess I’ll have to be like Selkie in the book, following my clues to see where they lead.

It’s possible to ignore spiritual discomforts for a while, but they don’t let go. I can try to change who I am and what I value, but that doesn’t work. My first book, The Calling, is about this theme in my protagonist’s life, and now I need to take that lesson into my life. Change is calling me. How long will it take? Maybe a few years. How hard will it be? Not easy. Staying in a familiar but unsuitable place or situation can feel easier than the effort it takes to get out of the rut, but I know from the effort I’ve put into other life changes, the view from outside the rut is worth the climb.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25754726-the-second-path

Time, Space, and Connection

When I teach my college classes on health and wellness, I usually introduce some meditation techniques to give students a taste of managing stress through mindfulness rather than distraction. A few weeks ago a student stopped to talk with me after class with a question about meditation. This student was an experienced meditator, and something she didn’t understand had begun to happen. I don’t understand it, either—I’m not sure anyone really does—but I assured her that it happens to other people, and that it happened to me when I first began to practice meditation regularly many years ago. She had begun to have psychic experiences.

In yoga, these effects are called the siddhis, the extraordinary powers. In most meditation practices, these aren’t so much a goal as a side effect of deeper and higher awareness, though in shamanic cultures they’re considered a gift.

My student wasn’t troubled by her “side effects” at first. Her boyfriend found it amusing when she could tell time precisely without looking at a clock, or knew when her phone was about to ring and who would be calling. But then she had a vision of a car crash, so vivid she could see the color and make of the car as well as the way it spun and flipped. The next day she was driving on a major highway and saw that car ahead of her—and it had the accident she’d foreseen. She found it both terrifying and bewildering, to be able to know something like that and yet be unable to do anything about it.

About ten years ago in a stress management class, I mentioned the tendency for shared dreams, foreknowledge, or other psi phenomena to occur as a side effect of meditation, and student who had initially thought this wasn’t possible later contacted me privately with a story that still moves and stuns me. She dreamed that her best friend got shot, and on the same night, he had the same dream. It was so vivid and frightening, they called each other and she went to his house. They spent hours together and shared how much they meant to each other. The next day, he was shot and killed.

Why one person foresaw a stranger’s car accident and another foresaw the last moment of a friend’s life—and he foresaw it, too—I don’t know. I’ve had precognitive dreams and visions of important events, and also of incredibly trivial but strange ones. I can’t explain it. Time reshapes itself. Sometimes our losses, loves and dangers reach out to us. At other times, we simply slip through for no known reason, foreseeing oddities that grab our attention the next day, as if to remind us that the mind or soul isn’t confined to the linear progress of time. It lives where everything is happening at once—the past, the future, the present, and the possible.