Past Lives Future Time


Often when I tell people that I lead retreats to explore past lives, the reaction wavers between amusement and bewilderment. Especially now with so much that is disruptive and harmful happening in the political sphere, it might seem counter-intuitive to spend an afternoon trancing-out into the stories and metaphors that seemingly lay beneath the surface of your consciousness.

But have you ever had the experience of focusing so intently on a problem that all the energy you put into thinking just makes it worse? Or, a situation in which the more you try try to deal with it head on, you are lead you into a hall of mirrors that splinters into a debilitating anxiety and its ripple effect of insomnia?

And so you decide to give it a rest and go to the movies. And you find that getting lost in the narrative of the movie helps you to release emotions that you didn’t know were there. As you follow the characters through the plot, you are able to disconnect from what had been ailing you.

Perhaps, when the movie is over, you cry or feel that weird feeling that you are in a movie, feeling those same feelings. Then, somehow, when you return to deal with your problem, you have a new insight or approach that seems to lift the heaviness out of the situation.

Sometimes disassociating can be a marvelous thing.

And you’ve got more movies than Netflix streaming inside your mind right now — and believe it or not, they’re better than Hollywood when it comes to helping you to get insight into difficult areas of your life. And if you need to heal, spending some time with those movies can actually allow your body to relax and do what it needs to do to bring your body and mind into alignment.

What are the metaphors that open up the rich imaginative doors to the movies within the movies of our lives? Traditionally one imagines being on a boat in a gentle river surrounded by a blue mist; doorways are of course important, as are portals and tunnels.

To me it doesn’t matter if these moves are “real.” Was I actually a young boy who my family had written off/forgotten about? Did I watch from high up in a tree as my family was slaughtered by settlers, not one of them ever wondering what happened to me?

It was in the unfolding of this story that I suddenly felt better about something specific happening in my life—and if this story was my unconscious mind’s way of releasing what needed to be released so that I could move forward, I’d say that’s pretty amazing. Whether it actually happened or not is irrelevant.

The narrative of past life regression allows for unconscious searching. It is like following sign-posts leading somewhere, even if you are not sure where it is that you’ll end up. It’s reader participation–you are making your own narrative, like draping cloth between two poles. The tapestry that unfolds–the quality of the stitching, the colors, the texture–all that all comes from you. And somehow, it means something to you.

Perhaps as you reveal these narratives to yourself you’ll stumble on a story that you can then unfold into your writing or art. A character might emerge and grab ahold of you, prompting you with the energy to write into/around his/her story.

Perhaps it will be more like fragments or pieces of memory that will be revealed.

Or a feeling — unsettled, or settling.

Sometimes if you don’t like the movie that’s playing right now, you need to check out a different theater. Get a different perspective, and make changes from there.

So whatever you are facing in your life—whether it be terror in the political sphere or debilitating stress or illness in your personal sphere—take a break from it. Gather your resources, heal your body, and trust that you have within you the narratives to be strong and survive.

“To Say Thank You All The Time” (Gratitude in spite of it all)

The greatest perception I know in the world comes from gratitude. Underneath desire, fear, and all the other things… always foremost when we are happiest and at our best is the sense of gratitude and reverence for things around us, for people. To say thank you all the time.

[Robert Kelly’s introductory remarks for his keynote reading at the Logic of the Word: Symposium in honor of Robert Kelly at Anthology Film Archives (NYC), May5, 2011]


There are many words of advice about how to manage this life on earth, among them that we need to “think positive” or view the glass as “half full” or “keep on the sunny side,” etc. But any guru willing to go beyond platitudes will clarify that having positive thoughts will do nothing unless those thoughts are intentionally directed to conjure a tangible change in how you perceive and live in the world. In other words, it’s not enough to “think” positive  because this is equivalent to saying “tomorrow I’m going to change the world!” but then tomorrow comes and you have absolutely no idea how to begin – and probably don’t really believe that such a radical change is possible. Like wearing your heart on your sleeve but refusing love whenever it comes near.

It’s difficult to imagine that thinking positive will have any effect on the larger political, personal, and environmental realties many of us encounter on a daily basis. But as master hypnotist Melissa Tiers once said to me, thinking positive isn’t about daisies and smiles. It’s about a woman suffering from years of depression finally unleashing unexpressed rage against her abusive father; or a man struggling to let go of a 20 year addiction by sitting with the idea that he forgives all the people he has ever blamed, including himself, for his self-medicated way of dealing with all the crap dished out at him for so many years. People cry and shake. They stomp and scream. They turn the inside outside, and confront. They take their heart back into their body and let it breath. And doing this, they are able to alter their perception and fight back (live) differently.

But you don’t have to conjure up your demons and change all your big issues in order to, as Robert Kelly says, be at your happiest and at your best. The wolf that bites is the one you feed and you’ll know when it’s time to stop catering to those angry dogs. In the meantime, if you’re tired of feeling angry or helpless try this: think about all that begrudges, offends, colonizes, and harms you. And then sit for a minute – one or two a day – with an image of five things you’re grateful for in spite of it all. Make a list. And see those things in Technicolor, as vividly as you can, in the front of your mind’s eye.  Then grab your “To Do” list and add several small things you can do this week (starting today) to tend to and to cultivate the things you are grateful for. When (as is inevitable) a thought such as “I never get recognized” or “everyone else has ____ and my life sucks” creeps into your mind, think about what you’re grateful for and pay attention to that instead.

I know many of you will say “blech!” The planet is an environmental catastrophe, unjust wars are being fought, people are being intentionally tortured and harmed, illogical self preservation reins, and working people are under assault – and you want me to be grateful?

But what’s the alternative? To go around pissed off and bitter? Gratitude is one of those core emotional forces with the potential to show real results when acted upon in your life. Political activism and community building are fueled by the passion people bring to their own lives, and it’s important that idealism (what we want from the world) and practice (how we live in the world) be aligned. Of course, cultivating gratitude doesn’t mean that bad people or bad situations are going to disappear – but it might mean that dealing with them doesn’t have to destroy you.

Robert Kelly has a poem called the “Ballad of the External Heart”—it can be interpreted in many ways, yet I think it speaks to the kind of emotional shift that can happen when a person gathers from within parts of his life that had been scattered. Many thanks to Robert Kelly for his ever-present work, and for giving me permission to cite this poem here in full:

I am the giant who keeps his heart
everywhere but in his chest.
Everything kills me. Everyone
who finds it overpowers me.

I have lodged this delicate and persistent
organ in the darkest places,
among the dancers, in the delve
of a tree, in a duck passing effortless

it seems along a stream whose quiet
water shows me as I am:
a man who has locked his heart in things.
And now they’re bringing it back to me,

saying: we have found your living organ
here and there in impertinent places,
out of bounds, at risk, at sea
we heard it when the wind died down.

They bring it back to me and stick it in.
What is this thing inside me all of a sudden
throbbing and sobbing? It feels like death
but is the life of me at last.

From: The Time of Voice: Poems 1994-1996 (Black Sparrow Press, 1998).

Heartfelt Poetry. Literally!

I’ve been to hundreds of poetry readings over the past 15 years. Some have been amazing, some boring, others rabble-rousing. So, I was interested to hear from fellow poet Cathy Wagner that there was an actual clinical study conducted in Germany in 2002 that tested the effects of “guided rhythmic speech” on heart rate variation. And the results of the study indicate that reciting and hearing poetry read out-loud modulates the blood flowing in and out of your heart.

According to Heartmath (a team of cardiologists and doctors who research emotional physiology and stress-management) the heart is more than just an essential organ. It’s an “information processing system that communicates and sends commands to the brain and the rest of the body.” In other words, the heart  activates neurological activity, releases hormones, and produces “an electromagnetic field that permeates every cell in our body and extends beyond the skin out into the atmosphere up to 3 or 4 feet.” Woah.

Henrik Bettermann, the lead researcher of this study, writes that heartbeat & respiration are “vital and integrative to rhythms of life”; they are “border posts” between consciously controllable and non-controllable physiological rhythms.

Bettermann’s study suggests that rhythmic patterns in speech affect physiological time signatures in your body –which I surmise means that a poetry reading can activate much more than thoughts and emotions.

Granted, Bettermann’s study was on traditional verse written in hexameter, and the participants in the study were reading this verse out loud. But I’d be willing to guess that it’s not the meter that matters, but rather the tone and groove of the language. In other words, it’s the “guided speech” that’s important — so wouldn’t rhythmic prose have a similar effect?

Regardless, next time you’re at a poetry or prose reading, try this: relax by noticing your breath. As you listen to the writer, don’t feel any pressure to grasp for meaning. Instead, listen to the rhythm of the writer’s language and pay attention to how the writer is guiding you into the tones and grooves of the poem/prose piece. (The meaning will find its way to you, don’t worry.) And as you listen to that language, imagine that you are breathing into your heart. As you do this, imagine the language circulating in your blood, and permeating every cell in your body.

This might be one way to release the “psycho physiological” effects that put the mind/body integration into activation mode.

Or try this: the next time you’re bored listening to someone read or speak, close your eyes and imagine the cardiovascular regulation that your heart rate modulates simultaneously with your breathing. You might get more out of it than you think!

*The study, called “Effects of speech therapy with poetry on heart rate rhythmicity and cardiorespiratory coordination” is technical. I’d be interested in hearing whether or not my more general application of this study correlates to the statistical results of the study itself.

Fred’s Diary

Change doesn’t always happen quickly. It often starts as a thought way in the back of your mind. So far back, there are no words to express it. Perhaps because there is a fear that expressing it will make it disappear. But oddly enough, sometimes people and objects materialize that speak for that submerged thought. That bring it into the world, without you knowing about it.

Three years ago – when the submerged thought that I wanted to work more directly with people in a therapeutic context was shifting around a bit (like an octopus at the bottom of the ocean) – I found a brown leather Eddie Bauer diary stuck between random books at a thrift store. I picked it up and quickly flipped through it. It looked blank, so I excitedly paid $5 for it.

I love fancy notebooks and have quite a collection of them. I put the diary on a shelf, forgetting about it.

Fast forward two years. The submerged thought about becoming a therapist was now out, and actionable. I had enrolled in the certification classes for hypnotherapy and mental health coaching, and needed a notebook that I would use especially for this course. A notebook to represent this transformation in my life.

So I went to my stack of fancy notebooks and grabbed the diary I had found in the thrift store. When I got to class, I opened the diary to the first page, ready to take notes in my fancy leather notebook and be a diligent student.

It wasn’t blank after all. The first 10 pages were quite occupied. They were occupied with notes and a few diary entries that a man named Fred had taken at what must have been an AA meeting. Fred must have bought this fancy diary to represent the major change he was making in his own life.

After a few moments of bewilderment about what I should do (try somehow to track Fred down? Tear out the marked pages?) I decided to go ahead and use the remaining pages for my own notes and diary entries. Fred and I were on parallel tracks: his anxieties, fears, and doubts mirrored my own – although from a different place, time, and set of emotional circumstances.

And Fred’s intense struggles with addiction gave me courage. If he could get through that, certainly I could get through this.

The last page of Fred’s diary reads, “To have something you’ve never had u have to do something you’ve never done.”

And to do something you’ve never done starts with a thought, at first submerged, and slowly realized.


ouilpo: a procedural therapy

One of the interesting things about hypnosis that might appeal to those who are seeking a more theoretical analysis of how/why it works is to consider the difference between confessional and procedural poetry. If a confessional poem is “an expression of intimate, and sometimes unflattering, information about details of the poet’s personal life, such as in poems about mental illness, sexuality, and despondence” (nice nutshell description via Wikipedia), then a procedural poem is the opposite: a poem that arises not from the poet’s personal experience, but from a method designed to generate the language of the poem (like throwing dice.)

I was struck reading Lytle Shaw’s interview with Harry Matthews (one of the motivating forces behind the procedural movement called Oulipo) that he framed his work psychologically. In response to Shaw’s question, “do you still find some kind of political liberation in the idea of readerly participation” Matthews replied:

“I’d like to say at the beginning that the approach that I found in Raymond Roussel — getting to material though arbitrary, game-like procedures — was primarily a way that allowed me to get myself out of the place where I was stuck — feeling and thinking certain ways about the world, confronted with the huge difficulty of working directly from that into the production of the text. The playful procedures gave me something completely different to do and moved me onto another terrain from which I could come back to the material, whatever that might be. I also found very early on that using such procedures allowed me to be much less censorious of myself, of my own experience, because the work of the super-ego, the work of the critical consciousness, shifted from worrying…. to solving the problems of the procedures.”

What Matthews is describing here –finding that his world-view changed when he shifted his focus from writing “about” his thoughts/feelings about the world to solving “playful procedures” — is exactly what can happen in hypnosis. Like the language-game procedures that entices Matthews and other writers/artists, hypnosis is a playful way to distract the mind from it’s habituated patterns of inner-reflection, which often have the tendency to run amook in confusion and doubt.

So it is in shifting your mind from repeating the stories that got you stuck in the first place, to exploration and play that can access the  forms, forces, and dynamics of your experience at this moment. And just noticing this will change your mind.

Olson’s Project

In October 2010 I was invited to the Charles Olson centennial celebration in Gloucester, MA and participated on a panel called “Olson’s Project.” My comments relate to my work as a hypnotherapist in that they attempt to articulate the “big picture” – the driving impulse I am following as I pursue this line of work.

I’m aware of the tendency to read in Charles Olson whatever one desires to read in Olson.

Whether it be to find metaphors embedded in his work that seem to convey the whole of his world view:

Mappamunde –
Human universe –
Reality as process: space myth fact object

Like the coastline of Gloucester’s harbor (which Olson saw from his window), with its deposits of moraines and drumlins formed by glaciers that scoured the region during the last Ice Age, the mappamunde of passing time and its geological impressions is remarkably like the mappamunde of perceptions that shape our experience of the world.

“You take it from there” – as Olson said.

But it’s hard to arrive “there” when given only seven minutes to speak on “Olson’s Project.” How to avoid what Olson hates most about panels– that is:

…selecting from the full content some face or it, or plane, some part…For any of us, at any instant, are juxtaposed to any experience, even an overwhelming single one, on several more planes than the arbitrary and discursive which we inherit can declare. (HU,55)

That said, I offer you a juxtaposition to another apt metaphor in which to think about Olson’s project, which is one we might all claim as well:

In the early 90s you might recall the race to crack the genetic code,  and that two groups of scientists – one from a UK corporation called Celera Genomics and the other from the US based National Human Genome Research Institute — revealed a map showing the “structure of DNA: life.” But you also might recall that what they mapped was only (still an incredible achievement)–  but only the 10% of DNA, the code relevant to the building of proteins. The rest they dismissed as “junk” because it was not relevant to this scientific breakthrough. It was – as they said — just random stuff left over from the progress of evolution.

As Olson said: “The egoism of creation is: order.”

But a group of Russian scientists weren’t content with this dismissal of 95% of the genetic code and so assembled a team of bio physicists, molecular biologists, embryologists and linguistic experts.  Here is a quote that summarizes their findings:

“Their research revealed that the supposed junk DNA that has been completely neglected and forgotten by western mainstream science, was no redundant leftover of evolution at all. Linguistic studies revealed that the sequencing of the codons of the non-coding DNA follow the rules of some basic syntax. There is a definite structure and logic in the sequence of these triplets, like some biological language. Research further revealed that the codons actually form words and sentences just like our ordinary human language follows grammar rules.

Scientists have conducted much research on the origins of human languages and the origins of the grammatical rules that are so essential to all human languages; however they have always failed to find the source. But now for the first time in history the origins of language may be surprisingly attributed to DNA. The language of the genes is much, much older than any human language that was ever uttered on this globe. It is even conceivable that the DNA grammar itself served as the blueprint for the development of human speech.”

Let me now jump to yet another juxtaposition, so eloquently written by Don Byrd:

“The connection between the Way and the method are everywhere present…. The inner structure of language recapitulates the inner structure of the world. The poem is a product of vector forces being brought into phase with one another.”

And phase in Hugh Kenner: “the language of science which is the language of poetry”

As we continue the conversation with Olson:

“All that matters moves! And one is out into a space of facts and forms as fresh as our own sense of our own existence…
The mortal makes the measure work.

Robert von Hallberg’s essay on the connection between Olson and Whitehead shows how both thinkers were pressed with the urgency to remap the entire human framework of how we “think” about truth. They wanted to challenge the Cartesian notion that truth is either “out there” in eternity (Plato) or “in here” through self-examination (Socrates).

von Hallberg writes that “Olson envisions a human universe in which man exists feelingly in the same space and time with the objects of his perception.”


In what sense is
what happens before the eye
so very different from
what actually goes on within…

I put this juxtaposition of ideas from disparate sources out there because the integration of consciousness with the material world is central to both Olson, and to my own way of thinking about the permeability of language, thought, action, and genetics.

We don’t need psychoimmunobiology to read Olson (he’s swimming in his own metaphors) but I do think that there is something instructive in Olson’s project –it’s not purely intellectual. It is instructive in how to survive in our own being to the extent that we become an agent of interchanging – and ever-changing forces.

Call it what is “out there” when it is realized that it is “in here.” Or, as Don Byrd writes, call it “God and the World…where God is not a final cause or creator but a principle of continuation which is no sooner manifest than it becomes a new beginning.”