Friday, May 15, 2015

Simplifying the Website Conundrum



Like anyone else trying to get their name out there for fun and profit, websites are a necessary evil for writers. It was a fact I used to enjoy because I was one of the people paying the bills by creating them. Now, however, that time is past. Part of the problem, you see, is that, like any technology-based enterprise, web design requires a lot of time. Not so much in coding and designing--though that is a concern--as in keeping up with the latest advancements in coding and designing. The swell folks over at the W3C, which is the governing body for all things web-related, are in a constant state of flux, scrambling about to ensure design standards keep pace with the ever-evolving technology at our command.

Which brings me to the point of this post. As I get older, I find that I would rather use the time I spend in front of a computer working on my writing. Truth is, I'm liking that computer time less and less these days. Life is going on out there, and while I can view it safely from my trusty office chair, I'm realizing I'd prefer not to. Maybe it's all those years of working in a corporate cubicle farm, but I'm getting a little PC LOAD LETTER on the whole sitting-at-a-desk-staring-at-a-screen thing. Which means I'm looking to streamline my web presence. A little convenience store, one stop shopping mentality, if you will.

We have evolved into a world of immediate gratification, and in that world, a static website is like art on a wall: pretty, but irrelevant. People want their content to be current and ever-changing, which means things like blogs and social media rule the web waves now. So I've decide to forego the time and expense to maintain my aj-church.com site in favor of migrating everything to this blog and my Random Sh!t Nobody Cares About blog, which is basically my repository of novel excerpts and short stories.

Judging by my traffic numbers, this decision won't create any massive waves of concern among either the writing or web community, but I thought making an announcement would be prudent. You know, just in case.

So, from now on, any writing related news in my world will be conducted here at ajchurch-nytwriter.blogspot.com. Short, sweet, and free.


Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Bringing Magic into a Creative Life


Recently I was digging through some old articles and blog posts I had written to use as samples for some freelance opportunities, and while some were quite dated, a few I found to be candidates for recycling. The following is one such article I originally posted in 2007 for my Nido-Zine blog.



Like many people of the post-World War generations, I have been on somewhat of a spiritual quest my entire life. I've studied the major desert religions and those of the Far East, Native Americans, and Celtics, dabbled in the occult, astrology, and numerology, and come away with a belief structure melded of all. I've seen too many unexplainable things in this life not to believe there's something else out there, but at the same time, I live in an age where science and technology have provided rational answers to many things once believed to be magic. Still, who can argue with the blending of science fiction and fantasy in quantum physics?

What is Magic?

Since the beginning of time, man has looked to the heavens and asked, “Why?” Why does the sun rise and set? Why do the seasons change? Why are we here and where are we going? Religion through the ages has attempted to answer these questions, but for many of us, the answers have fallen far short because they all try to impose a rigid set of rules upon the arbitrarily ordered chaos of the universe. You can no more harness all the wonders of Life in a structured doctrine than you can control the weather.

Personally, I believe in magic. Magic is all around us. I'm not speaking merely of the wonder of a baby's birth or the opening of a spring blossom. I'm referring to Magic with a capital "M." The force that creates and controls the UN's, as I like to call them. The Unknown, the Unseen, and the Unexplained.

I've seen ghosts and witnessed phenomena than can't be explained with rational arguments. I've experienced past lives and precognitive dreams and the telepathic bond between mother and child. I've cast astrological charts and saw the relationship between the stars, the planets, and the choices we encounter in our lives. I've worked with people who have a true connection to the world beyond our five senses. In short, I've seen too much NOT to believe.

It's obvious I'm not the only one interested in the subject, as witnessed by the overwhelming popularity of books and movies on the subject. Most of us are attracted by the prospect that there is something out there beyond our known reality, something mystical and divine. Something that perhaps we can learn to use to find that same quality in our own lives.

We can get into all kinds of pros and cons about the use of magic, the kinds of magic (both positive and negative), and so on and so on, but for the purpose of this discussion, we're concentrating on magic as it pertains to our own creativity.

Magic and the Creative Life

Magic is simply transformation, creating and bringing into being. We are all capable of it. With practice, we can all direct and control the forces in our lives, using them to accomplish our goals. Whether we do this by altering our physical world or our spiritual self, it is this act of transformation that allows us to grow and create.

In times past, transformation was the realm of the alchemist, who, on the surface, concerned himself with the transformation of physical matter, in this case, base metal into gold. But the true magic of alchemy came not in changing the useless into the precious, but in the transformation of the alchemist himself--the accession to a higher state of consciousness. Whether we realize it or not, it is this same form of transformation we strive for whenever we direct our energies creatively.

The act of creating, of harnessing the inspiration that turns on that light bulb in your head, is a form of transforming the physical into the spiritual. Creativity comes from the soul, that most wondrous and misunderstood aspect of life. It resides in all of us, but few have learned to tap into the well that makes them truly great at their craft. For some it comes naturally, but for most of us, it takes work. Hard work. We must learn to reach inside to touch that spark of the divine in each of us and transform it into a physical representation of our innate creativity.

Meditation and the Magic of Transformation

The easiest way to get in touch with that inner source of the divine is also one of the oldest: meditation. Meditation is nothing more than clearing and quieting the conscious mind so that it will be receptive to the subconscious. Now that sounds easy, right? Not always. In fact, unless you've been shown how to do it right and have practiced it regularly, it can seem more like an exercise in futility. No matter how hard we may try to clear our minds, everyday problems and random thoughts seem to creep in, distracting our best efforts. The trick is not to fight them, but rather to let go of them.

In the early 1970s I was fortunate to be living in Madrid near a Transcendental Meditation (TM) retreat. At that time, thanks to high-profile followers such as the Beatles, the Maharishi Mahesh Yoga was the icon of the New Age movement, before there even was a New Age movement. When I heard that he was going to be conducting classes at the Madrid center himself, I immediately enrolled.

I have to admit to being skeptical at first. After all, TM was being touted as the answer to everything from getting ahead in your job to better health to finding spiritual enlightenment. How could anything be that good? But I went with an open mind, which I have since learned is the greatest tool we possess for success at any new endeavor we undertake.

The biggest mystery of TM revolves around the mantra, the series of syllables given to the novice to help him/her focus and clear the mind. It is said that each individual's mantra is selected specifically for them and that they are not to reveal it to anyone. Now, whether or not this is true, I have no idea, since I've never revealed mine nor had anyone else's revealed to me. But just the thought that I had a secret word all my own lent the entire process an air of mystery.

The thing is, you can choose any word or series of syllables you want for your mantra, providing you believe in their ability to focus your thoughts (and actually, in magic of any kind, belief is the most important component). The process of meditation will be the same regardless of method or mantra because it is, in its simplest form, self-hypnosis. There are plenty of self-help books and classes around if you feel you need more hands-on help, but the basic process is this:

Find a quiet place where you can relax without fear of being disturbed. Sit down with your back supported and your feet on the floor. Laying your hands in your lap palms up is said to be the best position for drawing in the energies around you, but I suppose it's all a matter of preference. Close your eyes and start to relax your body, starting with your feet and working your way up your body. Visualize the tension leaving your muscles. When you feel you are physically relaxed, start repeating your mantra or chosen word. If it helps, you can say it out loud at first. The important thing is that you focus on it, the sound of it, the feel of it. Let your mind encircle it until it becomes the only sound you hear.

Now this is the point where the novice gets discouraged, because no matter how hard you try, you can't keep those random thoughts from popping into your mind. The answer to that is simple: don't fight them. Let them come up, then picture them as bubbles rising to the surface and floating away. It may take you three or four sessions to accomplish this, but like anything else, practice will make it easier. Eventually you'll get to the point where your mind has been cleared of everything but the sound of your mantra. At this point, you should be repeating it only in your mind.

When you have reached this point (and as I said, it may take you several sessions to get there), your breathing and heartbeat will start to slow as your body becomes more relaxed. And here's another trap for the novice, because your first reaction is going to be fear of suffocating. You may even start to concentrate on your breathing. Like those random thoughts, don't fight it, just let it go. It's a natural part of the process. One of the benefits of meditation is that it slows your bodily functions, giving you the benefit of a deep, relaxing sleep.

Eventually, after several sessions, you will attain the goal of all practitioners of regular meditation: pure consciousness. You'll know you're there when you experience a sensation of floating, that your mind has suddenly expanded to encompass the universal whole. It's a difficult thing to describe, but you'll know it once you experience it. And once you experience it, you'll want to do it again and again, because each time you do, it gets easier and more effective.

End your session by slowly allowing awareness of your physical body to return. Keep your eyes closed until you feel you have completely returned to your physical body. That may sound crazy, but anyone who has ever experienced astral-tripping (where the consciousness leaves the physical body, either during sleep or a meditative state) realizes how dangerous awakening too soon can be for keeping the psyche and physical body in sync.

Twenty minutes is the recommended time for a single session. Many practitioners encourage two sessions a day, morning and late afternoon or early evening. Right before bed is not recommended because the process of meditation stimulates as well as relaxes the mind and may make it difficult to sleep. Also, to take full advantage of the benefits of meditation, you should channel that newfound energy and clarity into some form of creative endeavor.

Our Inherent Magic

We've all experienced moments of extreme clarity in our daily lives. Athletes call it "being in the zone," and that's a perfect metaphor for it. And like an athlete, when we can teach ourselves to quiet the distractions of the conscious world and listen to the voice of the divine within us, we can then visualize what we want to accomplish–whether that be creating a work of art, writing a symphony, or winning a race–and make it happen. The power is ours to claim, we have only to believe in ourselves to develop it.

"To embark upon the uncharted seas of selfhood, to reach out creatively to the potentials of life, and to select of these as our own reason permits requires that one be able to bear the anxieties intrinsic to a creative approach ... we find that a creative approach to life -- be it in the arts, sciences, or any other life context -- can evolve only when there is sufficient esteem for the self." 
-- Lyall Watson, Supernatural

Suggested Reading

Interested in expanding your understanding of the magic around you? Check out some of the following books I've found to be inspirational.

I Ching, The Book of Change, translated and edited by John Blofeld
The Hero With a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell
The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell
The Golden Bough by J.G. Frazer
The Way of the Shaman by Michael Harner
Man and His Symbols by Carl G. Jung
Memories, Dreams, Reflections by Carl G. Jung
Saint Germain on Alchemy recorded by Mark L. Prophet and Elizabeth Clare Prophet
Chakra Therapy by Keith Sherwood
Positive Magic, Occult Self-Help by Marion Weinstein