Writers’ Circle: Establishing Creative Ritual

I’m delighted to announce that I’m running a bi-monthly Writers’ Circle at Tarot Society in Brooklyn, NY, every other Wednesday night from 7-8:30. It’s my experience as an English and Writing Professor and yoga teacher that ritual can lend not only structure to a creative person’s life but also a great deal of inspiration. Ritual helps us delineate space and energy, and if you are the type to believe that writing is a kind of alchemy, then you may appreciate the practice of charging your writing time and environment with intention. Think of it as a magical rite, invoking the muse, calling to your higher self, or appealing to your genius (those delightful daemons the Romans believed worked through us). We’ll draw from various traditions of meditation, mindfulness, and magic work to open the space for our writing. Then, we’ll begin the circle with craft talk, usually incorporating examples from a diverse array of writers (often outside of the great white canon). From here, we move on to writing prompts and time to write, and end with optional sharing and feedback. The goal is to have you leave with some new material that you can play with afterwards, and if you choose to invite feedback, our suggestions are informed by the freshness of the work, rooted in questions like, “What did you love? What did you want to see more of? What were you curious about?”

If you feel like you could use some more energy, discipline, and magic in your work, then join the Writers’ Circle, open to all genres and writers. Follow Tarot Society on Facebook or join the mailing list to keep on top of the Writers’ Circle schedule.

The Writers’ Circle and Tarot Society is a decidedly safe and intersectional space, welcoming to all genders, ethnicities, sexual orientations, and abilities. Please come in the spirit of art, love, and tolerance.

 

 

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Natural (‘Gypsy’) Cures Backed by Science

In honor of International Romani Day (April 8th), I wrote this piece on Romani folk medicine that’s really backed by science for Thrillist. 

Folk medicine — touted by grandmas all over the world — sometimes offers good advice, just like your grandma. My grandma, a sweet and salty Romani woman, says things like, “Girl, get it while you’re young,” and, “You only get one body, so keep it healthy and fine.”

I listen because she has serious survivor cred. This woman, born in Germany, lived through the Holocaust as a persecuted minority, and came to the States alone at 19. In honor of grandmas everywhere, here are a few traditional medicine practices that are backed by science. As always, check with a doctor if you’re having serious problems, and keep your body fine. Grandma says.

Read  about the cures here: https://www.thrillist.com/health/nation/natural-cures-that-are-backed-by-science

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Image Source: soikkoratamo

Free Yoga! Family of Light Holistic Center’s Open House 1/17!

Jesswink

The brilliant writer Emily Alford did my makeup for this pic. And she just finished her novel. She’s the basically the best.

Do you like free yoga? Aromatherapy yoga? How about I give you a tarot reading? Would you like a mini-channeling session with Igor? Are you a fan of juice and kombucha? Into DIY? Ever wonder what your aura looks like? If you answered yes to any of these, come on over to Brooklyn’s Family of Light Holistic Center in Ditmas Park on 1/17 and enjoy the open house! We want to reach out to the community and have a lovely day. It’s one of my very favorite places in the city, and I bet you’ll love it too. Plus you can pick up some beautiful crystals, mala beads, and other jewelry in the gift shop. Check out the poster for more details. Hope to see you! *Wink*

 

openhouse

 

 

The Symbiotic Magic of Yoga and Writing: Retreat, Ritual, and a Chat with the Women of the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop

If you’re an artist or writer and you’re feeling a little tapped out, check out this Quail Bell Magazine essay/interview “The Symbiotic Magic of Yoga and Writing: Retreat, Ritual, and a Chat with the Women of the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop” about the benefits of practicing yoga alongside your writing practice and the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop Summer Yoga & Writing Retreat at the Château de Verderonne, France. Although the CWW has marked the retreat application deadline as May 15th, admissions are rolling until filled and there are still a few spaces. Apply A.S.A.P.

 

Elissa doing yoga in front of the Château de Verderonne, Image source: Quail Bell Magazine

Elissa doing yoga in front of the Château de Verderonne, Image source: Quail Bell Magazine

Some quotes from “The Symbiotic Magic of Yoga and Writing“–

Robert Olen Butler, Pulitzer Prize winner and author of The Christopher Marlowe Cobb Thriller Series, argues that ritual is the key to creating art. In From Where You Dream: the process of writing fiction, he explains that you must prepare for writing by entering a trance and focusing on the breath in a quiet space, much like the centering meditation of a yoga class. Once you’re there and centered, you must stay present with sensation and allow yourself to create directly and organically from that “dream space.” Like in yoga, you set an intention to stay open to all experience and at the same time, remain unattached to ideas, hence the popular mantra, “I am not my mind.” Butler writes that the best art comes from this “moment to moment sensual experience,” and “non-art” is full of summarized or intellectualized reported experience. 

Those “moment to moment sensory experience[s]” are much more nuanced than you’d think—all the available senses are involved. In my Yoga Teacher Training at Kripalu, I learned that the body holds memories, a phenomenon addressed in the study of somatics, a branch of psychology that examines the mind-body connection. In certain poses, you may feel spontaneously happy, sad, angry, frightened, blissful—you may be flooded with memories, sensations, and epiphanies. You may weep or laugh without knowing why (or knowing all too well why). Stay with present if you can: breathe, relax, feel, watch, allow (or BRFWA). Your body is releasing trapped energy, memories, and emotions—parts of your past that you have been carrying unconsciously, perhaps as tension, shortness of breath, pain, or anxiety. What does the experience feel like, smell like, look like, sound like, and taste like? The information you need to have a cathartic experience is the same information you need to create one on the page. Butler argues that in order to make art, we have to dive into the unconscious mind, confront whatever pain dwells there, and use that intense awareness to write from the “white hot center.” This is just another way to access the unconscious.

 

The renovated stables

The renovated stables

Jessica: What are some of your favorite yoga poses, breathing exercises, and/or meditations for stimulating (or sustaining) creativity?

Elissa: To increase creativity and flow, hip-openers like Pigeon pose and Lizard pose (Uttan Pristhasana) are my favorite. When you release tension in your hips, you also release the emotions that come bubbling up. The hips and pelvis are related to the Svadisthana chakra and the water element which governs the area of creation and creativity. These postures help clear writer’s block by encouraging creative energy to flow without over-efforting.

Also, Nadi Shodana pranayama (also called alternate nostril breathing) is a wonderful breathing technique to begin or complete your practice and is appropriate for anyone. It stimulates a daydream-like state, where our senses draw in (called pratyahara) and we can disengage from the external world. It helps us develop the focus and concentration needed in meditation. I think any meditation that works for you is excellent. Meditation is the key to open the mind to inspired creative thought. It brings you back to yourself, to moments of truth, without mind chatter, self-criticism and self-consciousness.

 

I'm enjoying yoga with Elissa

I’m enjoying yoga with Elissa

Jessica: How does community support your yoga practice and/or artistic practice? 

Norma: The image of the solitary writer is deeply rooted in the romanticized myth of the lone, genius writer. In truth, most great writers were part of communities comprised of other writers, intellectuals, and artists that inspired each other. Many great literary movements and unforgettable manifestos came out of the collaboration of such communities of writers….In addition to encouragement, support, and critical feedback, I think one of the most powerful things a community can offer a writer is accountability. If you know that people are counting on you, then you are more likely to follow through. Whether your goals are short term or long term, a community can hold you to your word. 

Of course, the same principles apply to a community supporting one’s yoga practice.

For the rest of the essay/interview: http://www.quailbellmagazine.com/the-real/essay-the-symbiotic-magic-of-yoga-and-writing

Click here for more details

Applications rolling till filled

If you want to read more about the importance of cultivating a community, check out Rita and Norma’s interview with VIDA & HERKIND “Community as Catharsis: A Conversation with Rita Banerjee & Diana Norma Szokolyai”

Surya Namaskar for writers with Elissa Joi Lewis of The Cambridge Writer’s Workshop Yoga & Writing Retreat in Verderonne, France

Surya Namaskar, The Sun Salutation, is a series or flow of asana (yoga poses) that energizes, builds strength, and increases flexibility. This flow is particularly good for the legs, back, and wrists–areas of the body that suffer from staying hunched over in the writing cave and feverishly typing. I also find that just five rounds or so of Surya Namaskar makes me feel like I’ve actually done something– I feel stretched and worked, and there’s a eat or energy that rises in my body from my feet to the crown of my head. The symbolic and literal salute to the sun feels like an ode to and a channel for solar energy, representing action, manifestation, and direction. That’s a nice way to shake off writer’s fatigue  and shake-up your writerly, academic (sedentary) lifestyle.

Yoga teacher Elissa Joi Lewis practices a variation of Surya Namaskar in the video above, at The Cambridge Writer’s Workshop Yoga and Writing Retreat in Verderonne, France. Practicing yoga twice a day with Elissa blossomed my writing practice and my yoga practice– by using the ritual of meditation, pranayama (breathing exercises), and asana, artists can approach their art with the same yogic reverence and mindfulness. And Elissa knows so much about meditation, breathwork, Sanskrit, and the physiological, energetic, and emotional benefits from the postures that we all ended up asking her for personal yoga-advice which she very generously gave. This year I’ll be teaching a Fiction workshop at the retreat (here’s the back-story plus pictures of last year’s retreat!). If you find that your yoga and writing practices support each other and you want to go deeper in the gorgeous French countryside, apply here. The deadline is May 15th.

Quail Bell Magazine’s Good Advertising for The Cambridge Writer’s Workshop Yoga & Writing Retreat

Clearly, I’m getting really excited. Make sure to check out Elissa’s page for more Yoga! http://elissajoilewis.com

Robert Olen Butler, winner of F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Award, talks writing

Whatever kind of writer you are, learning about writing from “the white hot center” and considering “yearning” will give you food for thought. Robert Olen Butler talks with Professor Jarvis Slacks of Montgomery College about his writing process.

Here’s an over-simplified working method for writing a la Butler:

First, kill your ego.

Second, be patient because you’ll write a lot of terrible things at first. That’s cool.

Third, meditate, trance, dreamstorm yourself out of your brain.

Fourth, write every day straight into the white hot center (where yearning lives).

Repeat

Bob Butler is my adviser at Florida State University where I’m working on my MFA and my first novel, tentatively titled Zenith, and holy hell, thank goodness for that because I have no idea what I’m doing. He has helped me tremendously in workshops and as a thesis chair. His book, edited by Janet Burroway, From Where you Dream: The Process of Writing Fiction explores these approaches in detail.

“To be an artist means never to avert your eyes.” –Akira Kurosawa