"The Author-Preneur with Something To Say That You'll Love To Read."

The Water Flushed The Praying Mantises Up and Out

This post is from my book Cairn-Space and for my friend Susan who carried a pod to her garden and watched them hatch one fine day.

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The watering flushed praying mantises up and out of the cover of stalk and stem; onto walls, and branches, and posts. Had I not been paying attention, I would have missed them. I would have never seen what they had to teach.

They climbed up trying to avoid the water I was adding to the garden. As they climbed, they would often spot a bug and settle in for the kill. Patiently they would wait for the “perfect” moment before striking. In their rising, nourishment presented itself. They would stop and dine. They watched and waited—like the Wise Virgins of Jesus’ parable. They were watchful and alert.

I had the good pleasure to encounter their watching and waiting. Slowly focusing on the meal, almost hypnotizing it before the strike, they would become careful, and lose their place in time to a slowed attention.  It was the “Power of the Slowing” that Gerald May wrote about in “The Wisdom of the Wilderness”  HarperCollins Books, NY, 2006). Their slowing to capture food made me pause, pay attention, and enter into the slowing myself.  It taught me about what it takes to discriminate and discern the quality and nature of things in my life. Although all things can move us toward union with God, some things pose potential dangers and threats of entanglement that are just not worth risking. It requires watchfulness and alertness to become  nourished—to grow.

Slowing helps us to focus and become aware. Nature has a tendency to help us enter the slowing, if we watch her examples in other sentient beings. Could my praying become the same? Could I still myself enough to become observant and watch what would arise from my heart as I watered it? Could I become still enough to see the many options for nourishment all around me: love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, gentleness,
self-control, community, forgiveness?

For many years prior to this experience of the mantises rising, we had hatched mantis pods as a family. We would buy an egg casing from the local garden store and leave it out in the backyard in a covered aquarium. As the weeks wore on, we would almost forget it was there, until one day someone would notice hundreds of mantises on the walls of glass. It was hard to believe that so many mantises could be in one casing. They were a shifting mass of life and limb covering the aquarium walls. We would take off the lid and watch them scurry throughout the yard.

There was another time we had watched the mantises. Glinda and I had just begun dating. We hiked the woods and collected scraps of nature to weave into a wreath. We started with grapevine. We wrapped it into a circle. We tucked dried garlic-mustard fronds into the hoop. We tucked in some mullein leaves and sassafras roots. We also wove in a mantis pod. We had no idea what it was.

One night, when we returned to her room, the walls were covered in moving spots. At first we thought our eyes were deceiving us. We thought we saw shifting movement. As we stepped closer, we were assured that we did. Hundreds of young mantises covered the wall. This was an accidental hatching. The hatchings in the aquarium were not.

I am glad that we took the time to hatch them. They gave me pause in their hatching, and a renewed sense of stillness in watching them rise while watering the gardens. For years, we had more praying mantises in our gardens than anyone around. For years, I had a new way of seeing prayer. Their presence has been a cycle of routine. I have seen their daily morphs and the slow changes that happen to them over time. I have seen how their colors change as summer lengthens and draws to a close. From green to brown they fade. Their numbers decrease throughout the browning, until they leave the yard altogether. Gone.

from Chapter One of Cairn-Space

“I Dreamed A Dream: the Place of Dreams in Spiritual Formation and Direction”

“I Dreamed A Dream: the Place of Dreams in Spiritual Formation and Direction”

by, Father Dn. N. Thomas Johnson-Medland, CSJ, OSL

The hidden nature of dreams and dreaming in our lives is esoteric – for the most part – because we fail to take the time to sit with them and listen to the value of their content.  Whether it is a lifelong dream and ambition we have or a nighttime visitor to our sleeping consciousness, dreams are vital in revealing our current identity, situation, and our longings for something other.

Countless hours of our lives are spent upon waking trying to remember just beyond the fragment of a notion that we still hold onto from our nighttime visit from a dream. Equal number of hours are spent in our lives trying to remember our lifelong ambitions or hopes and why we feel as if we are no longer on their path. Both of these things have to do with what we call dreams.  Whether they are the sleeping kind or the goal setting kind, I do not believe the path to their integration into our lives is any different. We must sit with our dreams and listen for their content to reveal itself and empower and engage us.

I think everyone has that one dream they are trying to figure out.  What does it mean?  Where did it come from?  Is there something I am missing?  And then, in an instant, we move beyond the notion of discovery and realization by going on to the next thing.  We go and make the coffee or wake the kids.  Leaving our dream in mid-air, like the gossamer wisp it is.  Never to think about it much longer in the future.

There are a couple of ways we can give voice to these dreams that will move us closer to hearing what they are really all about – what they are trying to say.  They are simple pathways that do not take up much time.  But, they do – as with all aspects of formation and direction – require attention and focus.

First, we can simply go through a chronology of the dream in our head and look at all of the pieces of the drama.  Start at the beginning and move through it sequentially.  Think about each of the elements as you pass through the content the first time.  On the second pass through the story, start to ask yourself these questions:

Does any of this make something else in my life more clear?
Do these snapshots of drama mean anything to me?
Are there symbols for my feelings, beliefs, and hopes laid out in front of me here?
How does this make me feel?
Does this feeling speak to where I am in life right now?
What great teachings do I see in the content?

Once you have begun this dialogue you will begin to engage with the content of the dream and even gain access to some of its empowerment to move on.  Some of the content may be disturbing and you do not want to look at it.  But, regardless there is something to be said.  Listen.

At some point it helps the process if instead of thinking about these things, you actually take the time and space to talk out loud to yourself about the process.  Speak the answers to yourself.  It will feel odd at first.  But, it is a dialogue, after all.

Second, you may want to do the same sort of process, but in a journaling format.  Use the same process of sequential review and the same set of questions to write down the components of your dreams and the responses to the dream interview questions.  It will yield a content you can come back to later if you choose to review or reengage the dream.

In either case there will be a listening that goes on that will take the dream into the next phase of consciousness.  It will begin to unpack itself more because you focus your attention on it and it meaning and importance.

Some people will naturally bring up reasons dreams are less important and transient.  They will say that, “I must have eaten something that caused this”.  Or, “I must be getting sick”.  In either case, we must remember that the contents from our dreams come from within us.  They come up and out of us because they are in there to begin with.  They have “something” to say.  We must be bold enough to listen and hear.

Just the last night I had a dream I was out walking with my family in the woods.  Not uncommon since we live in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania.  Both our home and the property we own ten minutes away are in wooded spaces.

At some point we saw three bear cubs (grizzlies – which we do not have here in the Poconos, so their place must have had some metaphoric content to it) playing along the side of the path.  Almost immediately, someone shouted, “There must be a mother.  Run.”  And, we all ran to some makeshift shelter that was just around the bend – one that we all knew was there.

Once inside, I slammed the door shut and held my hands against it with great force as there was no latch or hasp to keep us safe.  The mother grizzly appeared through the crack between the door and the frame.  She was huge and menacing.  Oddly, although she was a grizzly, she and her cubs were as black; black as the night.

I held the door in place with my full weight. The mother grizzly began snorting and sniffing.  She began smelling my hand through the crack.  She stayed there for smelling for some time. 

The room was filled with a great tension and stillness.  It was then that I could begin to smell the strong aroma of garlic and remembered that my hands were coated with the aroma as I had been cracking the paper shells off of garlic cloves and crushing them for our meal just before we left for the walk.

I held my breath.  She then decided to move on and we were no longer in danger.  We gathered ourselves and waited before we left.

The waking life truth is that I had been shelling cloves before I went to bed and my hands did in fact smell of garlic.  But, not for a minute do I believe that that dream was not telling me something. 
Our family has been going through some tough discussions about or black lab Eli these last few days.  Eli, who was not anywhere in the dream at all. 

It did not take me long to realize the connection to the dread decisions we were trying to make about Eli and his ensuing death from cancer.  It was a large and menacing darkness that took us by surprise.

We were clearly grieving and sensing what it would be like without him in our lives.  The garlic became the bridge to the everyday reality.

After years and years of paying attention to dreams and dreaming, I began to notice a shift in my life.  I felt more settled.  I felt more homeostatic in my world.  I noticed that my writing took on more solidity and I began to write poetry.  I found myself more connected to the deeper recesses of my being.

In the craft of dreaming and sitting with the dream, we will find an opening to our identity and the meaning for who we are.  This is particularly critical during times of illness and great transition in our lives.  It is worth the investment to unpack the meaning of the gifts we receive from our inner self – the gift of dreams.

 "If you bring forth what is within you, what you have will save you. If you do not have that within you, what you do not have within you [will] kill you."
The Gospel of Thomas, verse 70

A selection from Chapter 2 of "Cairn-Space"

Uncovering growth and nurturance from the routine practices of daily life has long been a reality passed on from generation to generation. It is responsible for the development of “tradition” in faith, philosophy, art, politics, and the sciences. It is how we learn what it is passed on. Repetition builds continuity. It is a neural thing. It also helps us open to greater things. Laws are fashioned by it, and organizations are developed because of it. Routine practices keep us moored to the safety of the dock of life.
The notion of routine practice has its bearing on our individual daily lives. We live each day enacting patterns or habits that we have allowed ourselves to accept as meaningful. We go as far as to say that a day has been worthless because we have not checked off one of the habits we hold dear. But, are these habits all necessary? Are they all nourishing? Discernment would tell us, “No”.
We get up everyday and have a cigarette with our coffee. The pattern, over years, weaves itself into the meaning of what we call “morning”. The need for the nicotine is wrapped around the need to repeat familiar events and we are hooked on a habit that we cannot shake. We watch the news before we go to bed. The pattern, over years, weaves itself into the meaning of what we call “bedtime”. The need for tantalizing headlines is wrapped around the need to repeat familiar events and we are hooked on a habit we cannot shake. We know these things are not healthy for us, but we have woven them into our expectations.
We must develop patterns that feed us and strengthen us. We must look for the things we need as divine creatures and build them into habitual routine. This way (just like returning to the prayer practice when distracting thoughts arise) we can return to our core and avert building unhealthy routines. These habits entangle themselves in both our bio-chemical make-up and our cultural patterns of living. They can be at once a physical driving need and an emotional attachment. Habits and routines can ride the crest between the body and mind continuum.
Prayer is needful. Silence is needful. Compassion is needful. Rest is needful. The practices we develop around these needful things should reflect nourishment, health, and wholeness. If we do not routinely make room for the needful things in life, they will not just happen upon us. We do this by wrapping them in the myelin sheaths of repetition.
The same sort of practices should also be present in our lives together – as the body of Christ. Fashioning sacred space and filling it with the heart and essence of prayer is not a journey for the individual alone, it is a corporate practice as well. Having prayer space and prayer time is good for the one; it is also good for the many.
In a day and age when people would like to lose any connection to a daily routine and be set free to experience one new event after another (at least in our own estimation), the need for a nourishing daily routine is great. Having a heart center and a routine visit to that heart center is vital to an emerging stability and health. It is something we can practice together and apart. It is something we can build into the positive associations of what it means to be the Body of Christ.
 Although people may verbally acknowledge that routine is not necessary or a healthy requirement in daily life, they do enact the need for routine on a daily basis. People often enact things they need even if they cannot make a verbal or cognitive assent to the importance of the task.
 They may not turn each day to the sacred routines of old – prayer and or liturgy, but they do turn to the routine of reading email, checking social media, and watching the news. We find comfort in routines. Unbeknownst to most, we crave routine and create it whether we know it or not. Routine finds a way in our lives until we are able to recognize and give voice to the need. It is a myelin sheath sort of thing.
Routine is a cairn. Routine is a marker in time and space that helps us to know where we are, remember where we have been, and gain a sense of identity as we visit it again and again over time. Routine digs down deep below the structure of past, present, and future; into the reality of the eternal sense of NOW. Routine is a bridge that unites the dimensions of time and space.
We transmit the signal from axon, to dendrite, through a neural pathway wrapped in fat. We pile the rocks – stone on stone – leaving a visible mark in space and time. Have we discerned the soundness of the stones? Why were they placed? What do they sign?

 Liturgy, tradition, and prayer are cairns. They help us gain perspective in landscape of life. They mark how far and how close we come and go as we journey. They are a gauge. And, by their nature they are seen as repeatable events. We do them over and over again, wrapping them in meaning and depth. We can do these things as individuals and as a corporate body.

King Solomon and the Mystic Space of the Cosmos

King Solomon and the mystic space of the cosmos. A section from CAIRN-SPACE, Chapter 4:

There is a tradition of stories told about King Solomon that speak of his spiritual practice of prayer. The stories tell that Solomon carved out a prayer-space around himself with his words, his feelings, and his desires. The stories come from the Sufi tradition. Rumi (Jelaluddin Rumi, AD 1207) is the teller of many of these tales. These tales are about King Solomon’s cairn-space.

It is said that Solomon cleared a space around himself and filled it with the escaping power of his intention and love. He cleared a space to make a palace of prayer: words and sighs offered up to the Father.  He found a way to convert time and space into an encountering and wrestling with God. He connected with the Source of All from within his own personal projections. He fashioned the air into a tabernacle of meeting.

It is hard for we modern-folk to recognize that things exist in the “invisibility” of space between objects. Fields exist in these places. Energy exists in these places. Despite our being surrounded by thousands of science fiction stories containing force-fields and energy waves, we are slow to realize that there is something between the electrons of an atom. There is something in the nothingness of space.

There is something present in the nothingness we behold. There is something between particles of matter. There is something between the earth and the moon. We may not see it, but there is something there. Perhaps the “something” that is there has myelin sheaths wrapped around it so information can be passed from one point to another. Perhaps the invisible holds millions of axons and dendrites passing neural data back and forth. Perhaps this whole universe is hardwired with the neural pathways of God; energy moving across the surface of the deep, in matter and in space.

This same field, this same energy surrounds us and permeates us as individuals. It is easy to perceive it on a day when someone is riled up and angry. The air around them is palpable. You can feel the anger. It is the same with mirth. When someone is exuberant with joy, you can feel the joy. We radiate feeling out into the “space” of our own lives; out into our immediate environment. The tenor of the space around us reflects the tenor of the heart.

The Fathers called these fields and energies that surround us and permeate us “logosmoi” (pronounced lo yose mee). Logosmoi are thought-forms. They are our thoughts, emotions, and desires taking shape and form as they dwell within us and as they leave us and enter into the world around us. They are very real.

Perhaps these logosmoi are the angels and demons the desert solitaires wrote about and did battle with in the deserts of Nitria, Scetis, and Kellia. Perhaps these logosmoi are the forces that we battle with in Church when someone leans over and says, “She hasn’t been to church since her husband had that affair.” Perhaps the logosmoi are what distract us from silent stillness in our prayer-spaces.

We weave a shelter around us with the fields of thought, emotion, and desire we generate from within and project out onto the world. These fields we are weaving create the “me” of our lives. They become what we consider to be the personality. In a real sense they precede us and are still around when we leave. If we fail to cut down an inappropriate logosmoi by returning to our practice, it enters the neural field of our communications about prayer.

Think of the affect certain people have when they walk into a room: some liven things up, while others shut down conversation. Some people exude an atmosphere of love and union, while others exude an atmosphere of distraction and chaos.

Scientists have discovered a whole “mirror” system within us. The mirroring begins with the “mirror neuron” which assumes the behavior and emotion in the immediate environment and then reflects it. Individuals mirror “the other” as if it were themselves. It is how we pick up feelings of conflict and dis-continuity. If someone is saying something with their mouth that they are in conflict with in their heart, their body language will relay that information to us and our mirror neurons will pick up the disconnect. It is that feeling that something does not ring true or is just a bit off.

If we are presenting ill-health and darkened logosmoi, we are setting the tone for the people around us. We are leading them into the valley of the shadow of distraction and separation.

It is believed that the use of language is somehow related to this notion of mirror neurons. Language carries mirroring information and that language is a part of the mirroring process. Emotions are clearly perceived in the mirroring process. Someone walks into the room who is depressed and you can feel the gloom affecting you.

We are not talking about magic. We are talking about the freedom of personal choice. We chose what we will project, but we can also just simply reflect what is all around us. We have control over the things we create in us and project out into the world around us, or we can relinquish control and mirror the world. People can affect the tenor of their own lives. There is a giving and taking in our lives and mirroring neurons are a part of the equation.

Perhaps the greatest wrong we commit on a daily basis is not recognizing that we have the freedom to create – today - the things we choose. We are bound only by what we choose to bind us. We can also choose what we mirror. This day, this moment do not have to mirror every other day or moment, or even the people around us. We can slow down enough to retrain our neural communications and develop sound and healthy habits and routines.

The process of purification at the outset of monastic therapy (purification, enlightenment, and union) is about purifying the inner man (the human nature) by destroying negative logosmoi and creating positive logosmoi. Spiritual practices help us to remove negative strands from the weaving of our personality and replace them with positive strands. Prayer, fasting, vigils, charity, scriptures, hymns, creeds, prostrations are all tools that work on the purification of the heart of man.

Rumi let us know that daily, Solomon would build a space at dawn made of mystical conversation, intention, and tender compassion: a place within which he could work with his own logosmoi. Rumi called it “The Far Mosque”. Solomon created a holy place around him where he could weave heaven and earth together into the fabric of his own personality. He built a prayer-space within which he could meet God through his spiritual practice and then enter into the stillness of the presence of the Most High. He kept within the scope of this ideal by always returning to praise, adoration, wonder, and awe before the Creative Father. He built in positive logosmoi; positive routines.

Solomon is one of the holy ones (in what will become a long tradition from Merkabah mysticism through the Hassidic movement) that sought to conjoin heaven and earth within himself. The “Far Mosque” – this prayer-space that King Solomon created daily -was Solomon’s place to flee to; his place to hide and be still.

It is said that all of his wisdom was given to him in this “Far Mosque”. His constructive prayer gave him a place within which to give and receive. He gave to the All-Wise his adoration and praise. He received back the wisdom of the ages. Because he made a place to give, he was given to, in return.

Among the wealth of wisdom he received, Rumi teaches that Solomon was taught the mystic use of all of the plants of the earth during this time. He was shown which plants healed which diseases. Solomon emptied himself to God in this space and God filled him back up. 

He mirrored the wisdom of the Wise Father.

Entrance Into the Heart

On entrance into the heart from CAIRN-SPACE: 

Once we have arrived in the heart and encountered God many things transpire. We are left with the raw data of the encounter, the fresh impression of the meeting. We are asked by this meeting to become different people. We have met God; we feel a need to be transformed. We move ahead and live our lives anew, based on what we have beheld and how we have been changed. These inner changes begin to change the world around us.
The markers that we leave (CAIRNS) in life tell us volumes about who or what we have accepted as God. Sometimes we allow the wrong things to take the place of God and they are instead “gods”. Some of our cairns may be askew. But, the cairns will still remind us of the process we were about, the journey we were on, the milestones we have gone beyond.

Freedom of Forgiveness

"To live in the freedom of forgiveness
and the power of the spirit of love."

Iona Abbey Worship Book, p. 75.

The holding onto of things in our lives creates a wear and tear on the inner-self that is so subtle that we tend to forget it is happening.  Slowly, in small incremental ways, our lives are altered by all of the things we hold onto.  If we are holding onto positive things, our inner-self leans into positive ideation; if we are holding onto negative things, our inner-self leans into negative ideation.

We are a composite of all of the increments of our inner-self.

I have always loved the Iona Abbey Worship Book and their other resources.  There is a crisp clarity that has always come from Celtic spirituality and this community is a powerful mirror of a Celtic interior life.  This one simple line reveals two core principles in Celtic spirituality that show up again and again: freedom and power.

I love that these two show up in one line of a prayer since that makes us free is our true power.  It is a comforting thought and a supreme challenge to know that we can gain real freedom and true power in learning to forgive.  A great personal mission and ambition in life.

Thank you, Iona Abbey!


Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World

It really is a step-by-step guide for anyone with something to say or sell.  He is not lying.  As with everything Michael does, says, or writes about, he is only putting out there what he knows to be true from his own wrestling, practice, and long-endured experience.  The integrity behind what he says is tested before it comes out of his mouth or before the pencil is put to paper.

Michael is the real deal - and I have known his work for many years and on many frontiers.

Over the past 25 years everything has changed.  It is not only true for the world of writers; it is true for every person's individual world (predominately because of the shift in the world of the writers/information givers).  Everything has changed.

Whether it is the packaging, the content, the style, or the delivery; everything in writing has changed.  The speed with which you can get an idea/bit-of-info out into the world, digested and commented on has exponentially increased to dizzying speeds.  And Michael has seen it coming from several perspectives.  As both a writer/informer and a publisher/enabler he has seen the world of creatives be born anew.

I think we all knew the world changed when the internet hit the scene.  We were reminded that things were still changing when Apple helped speed up the evaporation of paper-books and journals.  We gasped in fear when Borders died wondering if we could stop the eventual digitization of everything in the world.

What Michael has done here is to take all of that input and map out a pathway through the haze of progress that will keep us on target - even when we cannot see - because of what he has sensed and experience in his life as and individual, author, and professional.

This guide is based on that which he has heard, seen with his eyes, looked upon, and that which his hands have handled.  Because of that, this is clearly Michael's very own Gospel and Epistles. This "ain't just his passion" this is his passion and experience.   He is not "all hat and no cattle"; as he reminds us Texans are ofttimes known and want to say.  He is hat and cattle.

The book is divided into strategy by processes.  It is a beginning, middle, and end guide for building the platform you need to shout out your "offering" to the world in such a way as to be heard.  He lets you know what works and what doesn't work in each of the phases of the work.

"Do this."  "Don't do this."  Every section is chocked full of the advice he has lived; and, each and every suggestion is backed up with solid fact.  You will find nothing pulled out of thin air.  I have always loved that about Michael.  Nothing hits his blog unless it is based in his own experimentation and acceptance process.  Michael is a master at processes.

He helps you to strategize and implement the building of your platform within the framework of these milestones:

 I. Start with WOW
 II. Prepare Your LAUNCH
III. Build your HOMEBASE
IV. Expand your REACH
 V. Engage your TRIBE

You need to build a platform to share what you have with the world.  You need help to do that because it is impossible to go it alone.  Let Michael start the project with you and help you see it through to the end.  You cannot afford to not read this book if you have anything to offer while you are here on this planet.  Hurry up, life is short and time is wasting.  Don't miss the prophet's suggestions and message - Borders did fall in a day (well, just about).

Check out Michael's short bulleted synopsis of his offering at: