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.

Immunity Poetics: Thoughts on language and the immune system

It seems pretty clear that the metaphors that are commonly used to describe the immune system — “fighting off” diseases and “pumping up” your immunity to “fend off” “invading” tumors or parasites —isn’t the whole picture. Really, because your immune system is evolving simultaneously with the cacophonous yet totally synchronized symphony of your body’s billions of chemical processes per second, it’s more like a braided river: A network of small channels separated by small and often temporary islands:


The flow of channels that form this braided river work best when they are moving coherently, and not surprisingly the Braided River is a metaphor for acupuncture: the channels are opened, blockages in the system are re-balanced. In the midst of this energetic movement, a body is evolving into who (heshe) is at this moment of cellular organization.

According to Francisco Varella, your immune system defines your identity. It is “self/non-self discrimination” and defends itself only when it is excessively perturbed — just as the channels of a braided river will do its best to push out, or diffuse, chemicals that are dumped into it.

And our immune systems — like our waters, our ecosystems, our forests and our economies — are excessively perturbed. We are excessively perturbed and right now your immune system is evolving your identity in order to reject or absorb these perturbations into something useful that will allow you to survive. 

This is useful knowledge for everyone battling the medical model.

A poetics of coherence: language changed with music, patterns, and meaning is a frequency, an emission of energy that provokes thought. Thoughts can trigger a chemical wash of cellular permutations and reactions that always cause a physical reaction. Always.

 Think about someone you love and who makes you smile. As you think about them smiling, you can’t help but smile yourself. And when you smile into thought you are regulating your heartbeat. You are calming your fight or flight response so that it can properly defend you when you really need to freak out. You are igniting a slight dose of serotonin that as it moves up and down your spinal fluid is stimulating your immune system. Just a little smile. Imagine what a daily dose of gratitude in the midst of all that sucks does for your immune system. 

Gratitude means remembering the most basic stuff: I’m grateful that my heart is still beating. I’m grateful that I have two hands that can type. I’m grateful that I still have two eyes.

FILL THE WILDERNESS in the eye-bags,
the call to sacrifice, the salt flood.


Come with me to breath
and beyond.

                                 – Paul Celan (from Corona)

This doesn’t replace political and social action and it doesn’t replace being pissed off about the environmental and social injustices that are perturbing our immune systems. It doesn’t replace paying attention to and effecting actionable change in communities who are under attack.

It simply means that the bodies who are not being sustained by the protective shells of corporate, institutional, or family tethers are empowered by their self-identified and evolving understanding of immunity. 

Language, in other words, transmits the knowledge of how to survive, not just through action, but through thought and emerging evolutionary immuno-self-awareness.   


From a sketch of the revised preface of Trance Poetics: Your Writing Mind (Wide Reality Books, 2013). Written for a panel at Naropa University’s 2013 summer writing program on “Eco-Poetics & Poethics: The Braided River.”

Zombify! (And learn…)

Writing professors and hypnotists have completely different ideas about language.

Remember being told to avoid using gerunds (verbs ending in …ing) and the passive voice?

An article in the New York Times warns us against the use of “Zombie Nouns” in our writing (nouns that suck the life from other parts of speech: eg: “what the country needs is a new state of calmity.” You know what I mean, but it would be far more correct to say “the country needs to calm down.)

But just because grammar is correct doesn’t mean it’s good for your brain, or your deeper sense of learning. If you’ve ever had that experience of a book that “changed your life,” you might recall that part of its power had to do with the fact that you found it challenging to your world-view.

Milton Erikson, the father of hypnotherapy, believed that if a person allowed even a fraction of a second to knock out habitual thoughts with a radically different frame of reference — something that surprised or shocked them so much that their previous patterns of association had to leave their body and mind completely — that this moment of “pure awareness” and fascination could result in something new: an opportunity for a shift in perspective.

Recent studies in neuroscience seem to be supporting this idea. And Shakespeare — who in spite of his reputation for being difficult has been changing lives since 1603 — is interesting to consider in this regard.


 In an article called “The Shakespeared Brain,” a team of cross-curricular researchers from the University of Liverpool found that reading Shakespeare has a dramatic effect on the human brain.


One of Shakespeare’s stylistic feats is his ability to create sentences in which parts of speech are scrambled or used in ways that defy the rules of grammar — he loved Zombifying grammar. For example, “he childed as I fathered” — a line from King Lear in which nouns “child, father” act like verbs. 


What the researchers realized is that when people read, nouns and verbs are processed in different parts of their brain. So when a person reads sentences that messes with their order, the brain has to fire extra neurons to measure and process the confusion.


Those extra neurons result in what they call a “P600 surge”— meaning that when our brains encounter difficulty or confusion it has to work a little harder to fit what is difficult into what we already know. Think of this like a jazz quartet — you’ve got the bass player keeping the background beat going, while the pianist pushes the melody towards ever more complex vibrations and syncopations.


This movement of mind (and its subsequent re-kindling into new learnings) involves experiencing change in a way that re-configures our deeply held beliefs about self and world.

So if you’re writing articles for the New York Times, please mind your grammar. 

But if you’re looking to blow your mind, Zombify! 

Here’s an amazing Radiolab episode on this topic:

And here’s a new book out by Clark Coolidge, king of Zombienounification:



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.