Saturday, April 30, 2011

Musical Alphabet - Z

Three "Z"-themed tracks for your listening enjoyment...

Zero 7 - "Pop Art Blue"

What happens if a duo of musically talented sound technicians forms a band and invites various lead singers to join them?  I'm not sure what you call it, other than Zero 7 - but it's hauntingly beautiful in a... um... my wife, Briana, couldn't figure out how to label them either.  (She just chimed in and said I could call it "ethereal pop.")  So here's the hauntingly beautiful, ethereal pop group, Zero 7.

Stornoway - "Zorbing'

An alternative indie-folk band from Oxford.  Their sound somehow reminds me of times long forgotten while being strangely modern.  Well worth a listen.

The Cab - "Zzzzz"

An alternative rock band from Los Vegas, The Alternative Press called The Cab, "The Band You Need To Know," back in 2008 when the group released their album, Whisper War.

A quick note:

We jumped in on the Musical Alphabet with the letter "i."  I'll wrap around and begin working through the beginning of the alphabet on Monday.  After that?  We'll see. :)

Z is for Zero: A New Perspective

On Friday, May 13th, I'm publishing my second novel, The Awakening.  The novel (the first book in the supernatural suspense Rebirth trilogy about the end of the world) is one of the many stories to come out of my quest to find the divine, a journey that has covered more than two decades and deeply explored more than a dozen of the world's religions.  Rather than present the events from a single perspective, there are characters from all races, religions, and creeds populating the series.  The perspective embraces the common ground found between all of those characters - from religion to science - and explains where and how many of our cultural biases and human prejudices originate.

One of the key themes of the series is that what we've been taught is not an accurate reflection of reality.

For instance, in researching Christianity, I discovered that much of what the modern Church teaches is, at best, only part of the story.

Take, for instance, the crucifixion.

Think about what you know of the story.  Chances are that all of us have read, heard, or seen some variation of the tale.  If we take the event as historical fact, there are at least three key points that were either lost along the way or are unintentionally misrepresented today.

One of the most egregious?

The crucifixion wasn't a method of execution.

It was a way to symbolically erase a person from existence.

We look at the events leading up to Jesus's death and think, "Wow... that must have really sucked.  Could I have gone through with it had I known I was going to have spikes driven through my body and hung up to die in public?"  I can guarantee you that was not the source of the anguish Jesus felt as he prayed in the garden.

In our modern culture, everything is pretty cut and dry.  Symbolism still speaks to us, but it isn't a large part of our conscious lives.  For instance, the images of the lone Chinese person stepping in front of a tank during 1989's Tiananmen Square protests weren't simply an individual standing in the way of a vehicle.  They spoke volumes on a symbolic level.

The act of crucifixion carried a similar message.

What we often forget is the area that Jesus lived in was occupied by a foreign military.  To understand that perspective, think of your country's enemy - someone that you would fear if you faced them in a war.  Now imagine that they have conquered you, that they are sitting in your city, state, and national seats of power, making the rules and you live according to their laws.  Their mere presence is a constant reminder that you lost.  This immediately makes you a second class citizen in your own country.

Crucifixion was not a Jewish method of execution; they typically relied on stoning a person to death.  The Romans brought crucifixion with them and implemented the laws related to the act.

(And yes, there is a world of back story about Pharisees bringing a fellow Jew to the occupying army to have him executed.)

One of the reason why the Romans were accommodating of many Jewish beliefs and traditions was because the Romans were pantheistic.  Rather than believing in one god, as the Jews did, they believed that there were many gods.  From this perspective, by accommodating Jewish beliefs and allowing them to practice their own religion, Romans were honoring the greater concept of the divine as they saw the Jewish God as simply another member of the extended divine family.  What most people don't realize is that in practice, monotheism essentially says, "There is only one manifestation of the divine," while pantheism says, "There are endless expressions of the divine."  The Pharisees enforced Jewish law and the structure of the "one" way; the Romans, on the other hand, honored the greater weave of the divine by accommodating Jewish beliefs as much as was realistic for an occupying military force to accommodate.

What's more is that this acceptance of gods other than their own resulted in an adoption of beliefs from other cultures.  The cross is meant to represent the Egyptian ankh - the symbol of life.  And this is where things get interesting.

We look at crucifixion as being nailed to a cross and left there until you died.  In reality, crucifixion was brining death through the symbol of life.  In a symbolic sense, the two cancelled each other out in much the same way that combining a +1 and a -1 result in zero.  Crucifixion wasn't a method of execution, it was a way to symbolically erase the person from reality.  It said, in a very public way, "This person's entire existence was a mistake.  We are publicly declaring that they should have never been born.  When they die, they won't simply be dead - they will have never existed."

Imagine what it would be like to know that your path led to that moment, that you would be displayed to the masses and they would agree that every moment you'd lived, every breath, every sacrifice, every heartache was a mistake because you should have never lived.  Imagine what the disciples felt, faced with the life of the man they followed and believed in being erased before their eyes.  Imagine being a man named Simon, being seized by soldiers and forced to carry the cross behind Jesus, as the crowd jeered you both.

With just this single piece of the puzzle in place, we understand the depth of anguish Jesus felt as he prayed in the garden.  We can understand why Peter denied that he knew Jesus three times before the rooster crowed.  We can understand why, after betraying Jesus, Judas committed suicide when he realized that he had led a man he had followed to the cross.

And this is one of the smallest pieces of this one story that we've lost along the way.

The Awakening is the first book in a trilogy called Rebirth.  By the end of the series, we'll have explored everything from modern Christianity to indigenous beliefs, from prophecy to quantum physics in the same depth, watching as the individuals threads are woven into a single pattern.

Starting Monday, I'll be offering insight into the secrets behind The Awakening as we countdown to Friday the 13th.  Each day we'll explore another facet of the story, framing the larger tale without giving away any of the novel.  The first three chapters are online if you'd like a free preview and the autographed paperback edition can be purchased for $15 (which includes shipping to addresses in the continental United States).  Ebook editions will be available through and on the 13th for $0.99.

If you're interested in pieces of the story of Jesus that we've lost along the way, I'll be publishing my first non-fiction book,  Word and Deed: A New Perspective On Jesus, in about a month.  It will be followed by Unfolding Reality: Waking Up, a book on the lessons and insight that I've learned as a traditionally trained shaman.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Musical Alphabet - Y

Three "Y"-themed tracks for your listening pleasure...

Joanne Shaw Taylor - "Your Time Has Come"

Oh. My. God.  Every now and then someone comes along that leaves you in awe.  This girl can play guitar.  And somewhere, in her blonde, British body, lurks the deep wail of a blues singer.  Even if you don't care for the blues, watch her hands as she plays - and make sure you watch at least until she starts singing.  Hers is not the voice you'd expect to come from her body.  What's more is that this is filmed live in a small bar - which in my mind, isn't an apology, but makes her performance that much more impressive.

Young the Giant - "My Body"

Chances are, you've now heard this track on the radio.  Young the Giant is rocketing up the charts.  Only five months ago, I took my wife to the Marina and the Diamonds concert (Marina was featured in the "I is for Indie" post) and Young the Giant opened the concert.  It's a pretty cool thing when you stand close enough to the lead singer that you can literally reach out and touch him.  (Many of the female fans did just that.)  They are as good live as they are in studio - but the video does not capture the nearly hyperactive energy that they bring to a live performance.  And it's always a treat when you watch a band that you've followed get their big break.

Dar Williams - "You're Aging Well"

A beautiful song from an amazing folk singer's debut album.  (I actually saw Dar open for Joan Baez and she was equally good live.)

Y is for You (Psst... You're Beautiful)

Being a tremendously passionate person, I see beauty everywhere I go - including in the people who share my world. You could be my nemesis and tell everyone who will listen how much you hate me and I could still list a half-dozen wonderful things about you off of the top of my head. It's not flattery. It's truly how I see you. And if you're someone that I consider even "just a friend"... well... let's just say that I'm a little bit in awe of the people in my world.

And yes, that means you.

If I could open my heart to you, I'd welcome you into my most vulnerable spaces, the places where it would cost me the most, those places beyond all of my defenses, and I'd let you see yourself through my eyes for even a single moment. Where you see flaws, I see the courage to grow. Where you see wounds, I see someone who loves enough to reach through the pain, even though they're afraid they'll just be hurt again. Where you see short-comings, I see how far you've grown. Where you see something ugly, I see the beauty in you.

Your wrinkles remind me of the way you laugh or the bittersweet beauty of knowing you're capable of loving enough to have your heart truly broken. That you tend to respond harshly when you're feeling vulnerable is just an echo of how much love you're capable of feeling. When you're hard on yourself, it brings to mind how much you value the gift of yourself and you want that gift to be its very best. Everything you see as a short-coming in your world is a reflection of something beautiful when seen through my eyes.

If you're someone I talk to (even just in passing), if you're someone that I drop an email to every now and then (even if ridiculously long periods of time pass), you have a very special place reserved in my heart, just for you. Things change. Dynamics shift. Geographic distance grows and fades. Time passes. But part of being such a passionate person is that I'm incapable of renting space in my heart. I give those pieces away, forever, for you to keep. That part of my soul that you held, even for a moment? Look in your pocket, in the back of the junk drawer in the kitchen, or on the top shelf of your closet. I never took it back. It's yours to keep. Forever. If you ever want to find it, all you have to do is look. It's there.

When my daughter was born and I became a father, I didn't stop loving the people in my world so I could love her in their place. My heart simply grew a little bigger to encompass everything that I felt for her. When my son was born, I didn't love my daughter less - my heart simply expanded once more. In the same way, I never stopped loving you. I never stopped cherishing you. I never stopped seeing the beauty in you.

While I can't show you my heart, I can show you how I see the world. I see beauty everywhere I go. A manhole cover. Spilled oil. A concrete wall. A pile of dead leaves. To other people, they're garbage. To other people, they're missed and overlooked in the flow of their everyday world. But they catch my eye. I don't go looking for them. They jump out and say, "I'm beautiful." And I answer, "You're absolutely right. Hold on a moment. Would you mind if I took your picture?" There are days when I see so much beauty that it's almost overwhelming, when my camera is more of a defense than a tool, an instrument that takes the edge off of the wonder around me and turns the volume of the world down just a little.

If those everyday things are beautiful to me, then you, you are simply awe-inspiring. You are breathtaking. When I'm near you, you regularly leave me in awe. You make me feel lucky just to know you. We may not always agree or always get along, but that doesn't lessen the beauty of you even the tiniest amount, not even for a fraction of a moment. It's just my overly passionate, tremendously emotional self that gets in the way. I realize that it's the price of admission into my world. But it's also what allows me to love you as much as I do.

And I do love you. Even the parts you think are unlovable. Even those, to me, are beautiful.

With all my heart,


A rainy mud puddle

A concrete wall

A sewer cover

A manhole cover

Spilled oil

Paint flaking on a wall

A concrete barrier

An old warehouse door

A train car


Thursday, April 28, 2011

Musical Alphabet - X

Okay.  As far as "off the radar" music is concerned, the letter "X" is clearly not a popular letter.  I had to get a little creative, but here are three "X"-themed tracks for your listening enjoyment...

School House Rock - "Rufus Xavier Sarsaparilla"

I have a theory that everything wrong with our country can be traced back to the disappearance of School House Rock.  Think about it - if we lived in a time where our priorities were to create amazing educational commercials for children (instead of making a buck), how many other things would also have to change to accommodate that vision?  School House Rock was a force more powerful than we ever imagined...

Zoe Keating - "Sun Will Set"
from her album, One Cello x 16: Natoma

I've actually seen Zoe in concert (tickets were $8! Woohoo!) and to fully appreciate her music, you have to see her live.  This entire piece is performed by one woman playing one cello.  She has a laptop and recording equipment on stage with her, samples a track, and then layers over the top of it - all with a push of her toe.  (There's a bonus track at the end of this where an artist you're probably very familiar with does the same thing with equally impressive results.)

X - "Los Angeles"

When we looked at the letter J, we heard a really beautiful folk song by singer John Doe.  Here he is again, much younger, as one of the founders for the punk band, X.

Bonus Track: KT Tunstall – "Black Horse and the Cherry Tree" (Live)

While this has nothing to do with the letter X, it's one of the reasons why I’m really impressed with KT…

X is for eXtreme

One of my stipulations in joining the military was that I had to have a job where I jumped out of planes.  Why was this so important to me?  Because I was deathly afraid of heights.  Climbing a tall ladder pushed my limits and I had trouble walking up certain types of stairs without hugging the wall opposite the railing.

How am I now, after leaping through the open door of countless planes in mid-flight?  I still get vertigo around heights, but I have to be pretty high up to do even that and I'm not afraid anymore.

Facing my fear and pushing my boundaries has become a part of how I live my life.  I've gone on solo backpacking expeditions through bear country.  I learned to sea kayak.  On the list for future years are open mic nights - one with an acoustic guitar at a local coffee shop and a second in front of a crowd of hecklers at a comedy club's amateur night.

For me, fear is simply something that says, "You can't do this."  The thing is, fear isn't real.  It's an illusion.  When I stood in the open door of the airplane, feeling the wind yanking at my clothes and trying to pull me out into the sky, the reality is that I'm still in the plane.  I haven't jumped.  Realistically, I can guess what will happen but the moment has yet to be brought to life. Fear says, "This is what will happen if you jump," but it doesn't know.  No one knows.  In the vast majority of situations it's our choice whether to shriek a terrified scream or to whoop out a "Wahoo!"

I was terrified of heights and jumping from an airplane was my idea of staring into the jaws of a hideously ravenous beast.  Standing in the cargo plane, preparing to hurl myself into the air, there was no Hollywood moment where I suddenly figured it out, became brave, and simply embraced my fate.

Instead, I opened my mouth and sang.

Standing in the midst of a class of other paratroopers, I sang at the top of my lungs.  I sang every song I knew, from hits on the radio to "The Itsy Bitsy Spider."  As the drone of the engines and the roar of the wind tried to drown me out, I simply sang louder.  Faces turned to stare at me.  Some of us were recruits, qualifying for Airborne units or preparing to move on to Ranger training.  Mixed into the bunch were Green Berets maintaining their jump qualifications and Navy SEALS and Marine Force Recon for whom this was the last stop in their training.  And there I stood in the midst of some of the most elite soldiers in the world, singing at the top of my lungs.

And they began to sing with me.

The plane was filled with broad smiles and baritone renditions of childhood tunes.  We sang as the plane gained altitude and sang louder as it banked before leveling out on its approach to the drop zone.  As the jump master called out, "Stand UP!" every voice went silent - even my own.  The fear returned just as great as before.  There was no moment of, "...and now, brothers in song, I followed my newly forged family into the abyss."  As we stood in that plane and the jump master called out, "Hook UP!" and we attached our rip cords to a stationary cable, all I could see around me were parachutes and the backs of combat helmets.

My childhood was not a pretty stretch of road.  I ended up pretty battered. There was a day, back when I was only six years old, when I made a decision about my life and found myself getting angry.  It wasn't hatred; it was defiance.  The "bad people" could be bigger than me, they could be stronger than me, and they could do things to me that I couldn't stop, but they couldn't defeat me.  I refused to let them win.  My philosophy became, "You can hit me, but I'm still standing.  You can beat me 'til I can't stand, but I'm still breathing.  You can beat me 'til I stop breathing, but then you'll go to jail and I'll be some place where you can't touch me - and even then, you can't defeat me."

During my first grade year, as the calendar began to draw to a close, I had spied a plastic mouse Christmas ornament hanging from our tree and claimed as my own. It was my favorite toy and Mouse traveled everywhere in my pocket, safe and protected from the world around the two of us.  You can draw whatever metaphor you'd like from that connection, but I truly cherished that little mouse.

Our apartment complex was home to a bully - a sixth grader named Chris who attended the same K-6 grade school that I attended.   I can still remember the scene as I looked up now and again from where  Mouse and I were playing alone in the snow:  Chris began pushing around a child even smaller than me.  There were no teachers in sight.  The little kid began to cry.  Chris kept pushing.  The kid was on the ground.  Chris was kneeling over the kid with his hand raised in a fist.

Moments later, Chris was running off with a bloody nose and I was returning to where I'd left my mouse to resume playing alone in the snow.

This became a pattern at our school.  Chris was three times my size and twice my age.  In his brain, there was no way that I could beat him in a fight.  If he got in my face, I just ignored him.  If he kept pushing me, I'd walked away in the face of his insults or retreat back into the classroom to sit alone through recess.  As winter turned to spring, Chris discovered that I had a trigger, that I wouldn't allow a smaller child to be hurt in my presence.  The pattern was always the same - Chris would make a little kid cry as he began to hurt them and I'd come to their rescue.  Chris was a giant of a bully; I was scrappy and came up hard.  We fought once every two weeks or so, in full sight of the other students, until teachers would miraculously appear to separate the two of us.  Each time Chris and I fought, my parents were called to the school.  Each time, as we sat in his office, the principal explained that I was simply protecting a younger student, but that fighting wasn't okay and that I should get a teacher the next time it happened.  And each time, Chris would be suspended.

It was during one of his suspensions that Chris stepped out of the bushes in front of me as I walked home from school alone.  The path I followed wove behind a handful of thick evergreen trees and we were secluded in a place where no one could see us.  Chris smiled, a carefully plotted darkness in his grin.  I couldn't figure out why he was so proud of himself.  After all, our confrontations ended the same way every time.

And then two kids, even bigger than Chris, stepped out of the trees as well.

The older boys grabbed my arms and held me in place as Chris began to take out his frustrations on my body, punching me as hard as he could, over and over, until he was tired and my face was pink and beginning to swell.

"That will teach you," he grinned as he stepped back panting for breath, his triumph echoing in his words.

I only knew one response.  As I glared at him, Chris stared in disbelief as I calmly thrust my words into the air.

"You didn't win."

His face twisted in rage and a growl tore from his lips as he rushed me, the older boys still holding tightly to my arms.  Savagely, Chris beat me, far beyond the boundaries of playground rules.  "I'm bigger than you!" he'd scream as he put his significant weight behind each punch. To each challenge I'd gasp in return, "You can't beat me!"

Chris hit me like he was trying to beat down a door.  As he tired, drenched with sweat and flecks of my blood, the flurry of punches slowed.  At one point, Chris had the two older boys lower me so he could kick me while he rested his arms, only to raise me to be his punching bag once more.  Each time, when Chris paused for breath, I'd stare him down and say, "You didn't win."

Chris began to cry.  Sobbing, he hit me over and over, his challenges turning to begging.  "Just say 'uncle,'" he'd plead, his voice nearly hysterical.  "Just say, 'uncle,' and I'll stop hitting you."

Each of us has a range of experience.  For most, our darkest emotions are marked by heartbreak and our highest heights by love.  When you're the product of an affair and forgotten as soon as your parents conceive a child of their own, when you've been violated by every non-family member that has watched over you, when you've experienced more suffering by first grade than most will experience in a lifetime, your range of emotions has different extremes.  His ambush had carried Chris farther into the darkness than he'd ever experienced; for me, we were still on familiar emotional ground.

Chris stepped back his eyes red, his cheeks streaked with tears.  I raised my face, literally dripping blood, and glared at him through eyes that were nearly swollen shut.  My words were slurred, but they were laced with steel.

"You can't beat me."

Chris came forward once more, but there was no conviction as he began to hit me again.  "Just say, 'uncle,'" he sobbed, not knowing that I couldn't let him win, that if he beat me all of those that had hurt me would win as well.  That if he won, all of the smaller children would lose their protector and be at his mercy.  He was fighting for his pride; I fought for my very soul.  There was never any question regarding who would win the fight.

Sobbing, Chris kept working my body like an exhausted boxer at a heavy bag.  The older boys began to plead with him to stop, their voices quivering with fear.  I heard them talking, but it was hard to make out what they were saying.  Everything was becoming quiet.  I defied Chris out of habit, not able to hear my own words, no longer feeling pain, only sensing my body's movement each time he struck me.

I wasn't sure why, but I could feel the ground beneath me where I knelt on the cool grass.  I think I had lost consciousness.  One of the older boys was crouched before me, holding me by both shoulders and looking into my eyes.  "Kid, just say he won and we'll let you go home."

I began to cry.  He was so much bigger than Chris.  The tears stung as they crossed the abrasions on my face, as they dripped over my split and bloody lips.

I looked him straight in the eye and shook my head.  "No.  You can't beat me either. None of you can."

The boy looked confused.  His friend stepped into my field of vision and said something I didn't hear.  I remember them pointing in the distance and yelling something.  Chris sobbed in a heap on the ground.  The next thing I knew I was stumbling toward home.

I was so severely beaten and suffered so much brain trauma that I spiked a temperature that maxed out the thermometer.  In response, my parents gave me a popsicle and had me lay down on the couch.  I kept fading in and out of consciousness.  Sometime later, someone woke me and I found Chris and his dad standing in front of me.  Chris looked smaller than I remembered him being at school.  His dad stared at me, a look of horror on his face.  I kept hearing him ask my parents, over and over, "Shouldn't we take him to a hospital?" and my parents jovial reply, "No.  He'll be fine.  Boys will be boys."  Chris apologized.  I told him it was okay.  He apologized again.  Once more I assured him he was forgiven.

I think he was still apologizing as his father led him angrily from our apartment.

Chris never bullied another child again - and he and I became the best of friends.  The next time I saw him cry was when his family moved away and he told me that he already missed me.  We hugged, not in the way that grade school boys do, but in the way that grown men who have survived a disaster together embrace each other.  For days after he left, I'd walk by his empty apartment, feeling the void Chris had left in my world.  Whatever had happened that day when he stepped out of the bushes had changed him.  He was no longer a threat, only a friend.

It can be argued that my approach to fear isn't particularly healthy.  I respond that I didn't grow up - I was forged.  Since that day I've faced down an entire gang on the streets of Baltimore armed only with an umbrella, sang on stage in front of a maximum capacity audience (having never before sang in public), married my amazing wife two months after meeting her, and single-handedly stopped a violent mosh bit of drunk adults as it threatened numerous young children with injury at an all-ages concert.  Throughout my entire life, the one thing people have said to me over and over again when they're around me is, "I feel safe when I'm with you."

Thankfully, life doesn't bring extreme challenges to us every day, so I've turned my defiance into a tool instead of wearing it as armor.  Now I take the things I'm afraid of (public speaking, a fear of heights, having a novel torn apart by those that read it), I stare them in the eye and say, "You can't beat me."  People look at the things I do, the challenges that I take on and say, "Wow! I wish I could do that," and I never know how to say, "You have no idea how much being like this cost me."

When I began to study shamanism with Nukah, I learned to see beyond the immediate and understand the flow of reality behind a position, a perspective, or a prejudice.  I discovered that I could take, "You can't beat me," along with the countless other lessons that I learned along the way and unravel them.  Those individual threads became useful, not just to me, but to others.  I can teach classes on facing fear and speak from experience on the entire concept.  "Our fears are simply illusions.  When we stand before a moment, we have no idea how it will turn out.  Instead of allowing ourselves to say, 'This will turn out bad,' why don't we say, 'This will be so good,' instead?  If we're going to choose to experience an emotion over an unknown event, let's choose to experience something pleasant.  Zen would teach us not to feel an emotion, but to simply be mindful and in the moment.  If you haven't reached that place on your own path, find something good to imagine and use it as a light to hold the shadows of fear at bay."

As I prepared to jump from the cargo plane, as our voices grew still, waiting for the command of, "GO! GO! GO!" my thoughts were not of hurtling to my death, but of proudly earning my jump wings.  Was I scared?  Definitely.  There wasn't anything I could do about being scared.  But if I'd learned anything along the way, it was that I could choose what I focused on and I wouldn't let fear beat me.

Years later, my son found himself facing a fear of his own.  He had to give a speech in front of his entire second grade class and the thought of doing so scared him.  I encouraged him, becoming a mirror that showed him his innate intelligence and charisma.  We talked about what he worried might happen and I asked him if he had something good he could think about instead.  He shook his head.  None of my suggestions were useful to him and he declined each as his answer.

"Wait a minute, Gavin," I told him.  "I have something for you."

A few minutes later I was back.

I told my son that I was scared of heights - and that I chose to jump out of planes anyway.  I even told him that I'd been so scared that I'd had to sing as loud as I could before each jump.  We talked and I told him that being brave isn't about not being afraid, but in doing what you know you need to do even when it's the thing that scares you.

Then I held out my hand.

"They gave me these for being brave and facing my fear," I told him.  "And I think you should have them."

Gavin looked at the jump wings I held in my hand, then shifted his gaze to me, his eyes wide with a mixture of disbelief and wonder.

"You're brave too," I told him.  "You can't think of anything happy to think about, but you're going to give your speech anyway, right?"

He nodded.

"Then you've earned these in exactly the same way that I earned them - by doing something you knew you needed to do even though you were scared of doing it."

Gavin gave me a huge hug.

He got an "A" on his speech.

And the jump wings are still proudly displayed on his bedroom wall.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Musical Alphabet - W

Three "W"-themed tracks for your listening enjoyment...

The Weepies - "World Spins Madly On"

The Weepies stand on the line between "known" and "unknown" and it's a coin toss whether or not you've heard of them.  An indie folk-pop group, their music has been featured in countless television shows (Grey's Anatomy, Scrubs, Everwood, and How I Met Your Mother to name a few) and their track, "Can't Go Back Now" was in a campaign ad for Barak Obama's presidential campaign.  So chances are you've heard them somewhere.  Or maybe not.  You never know...

Whirl Magnet - "Hanging By A Line"

I love Whirl Magnet.  Their "Altered States" album is simply tremendous.  This is far from the best song on the album.  I really like "Ain't It Strange", but the musical intro made it much too long to use when introducing the band.

Curbs - "The World"
Some indie-alt rock since the today's other tracks were on the very mellow side of things.

W is for Westboro

Topeka, Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church is something of a villainous celebrity in our world. According to Wikipedia, "The Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) is an independent Baptist church known for its extreme stance against homosexuality and its protest activities, which include picketing funerals and desecrating the American flag."

In March, the Supreme Court upheld Westboro's First Amendment right to free speech, giving them legal ground to continue protesting at military funerals.

Recently, Westboro descended on Brandon, Mississippi to protest a the funeral of a soldier who was killed in action.  The planned protest did not go according to plan.  To quote the article:
It seems that certain Rankin county pickup trucks were parked directly behind any car that had Kansas plates in the hotel parking lot and the drivers mysteriously disappeared until after the funeral was over. Police were called but their wrecker service was running behind and it was going to be a few hours before they could tow the trucks so the Kansas plated cars could get out.
A few made it to the funeral but were ushered away to be questioned about a crime they might have possibly been involved in. Turns out, after a few hours of questioning, that they were not involved and they were allowed to go on about their business.
As a writer, I am a huge proponent of free speech.  My stance is the old, "I may not agree with what you have to say, but I'll fight for your right to say it."

However, the practice of Westboro protesting at sacred ceremonies pulls from a part of the human experience that has nothing to do with laws.

It has to do with Tribe.

Our rituals and ceremonies are richly symbolic.  We aren't simply putting a coffin-encased body into the ground - we're returning a loved one to a place that is all around us, a place that we can't see but can still feel.  Each portion of a military funeral, from the presentation of the flag to the grieving family to the twenty-one gun salute, has a much deeper meaning than the event itself.

So when a group steps into that sacred, symbolic situation with the intent of forcing their perspective upon it, they are also acting symbolically.

The reason why these protests have so many of us up in arms isn't because we're offended by Westboro's desire to express their beliefs.  Our reaction is so strong because, in an event that is rich in symbolism, Westboro has been given the right to symbolically attack the mourners - and the mourners have been told they simply have to take it.

One of the challenges that a traditional shaman has living in our society is that we each tend to walk around with one eye closed, claiming that we can see clearly all around us. 

There are two sides to our existence - a linear side and a spatial side.  The linear side of our being is governed by laws and numbers.  Everything lays out in nice equations.  From a linear perspective, the Supreme Court's ruling was correct.  Westboro does have a right, as governed by law (and linear nature), to protest on public lands in any manner they choose as long as it fits within the boundaries of those laws.  The other side of our existence is spatial.  Rather than connecting things in a direct line of cause and effect, it is dependent on the entire weave around it.  For instance, you can cut down the trees uphill from a stream, but you will most likely cause the hill to erode, change the landscape, and impact the stream itself - not to mention altering the environment, the daily patterns of the animals that depend on those trees, and the plant species that will invade with increased access to sunlight. 

From a spatial perspective, the Supreme Court ruling could not be more wrong.

And the reason is Tribe.

In yesterday's blog, I wrote that we could place the people in our world in one of three circles, each representing how close that person is to our core.  This concept becomes clearly illustrated when we find ourselves in the midst of a sacred event - for example a birth, a funeral, a birthday, or a wedding.  There are people who come to support us.  Others send their thoughts related to the moment and our experience in it.  In the midst of those faces are a handful that pull close, that enter into a sacred and intimate partnership, and who "are there" for each other.

Those people are Tribe.

To many, saying that we're Tribal is much like saying we are prone to passing gas in church.  The very term reminds us of something "less than civilized."  As a direct consequences of this, we neglect Tribe in our culture.  We reject the concept that we could still have those Tribal ties after countless cultured generations.  Rather than strengthening and relying on those bonds, we neglect them.  And yet, in the sacred moments that so often define our journey through life, Tribe still gathers together.

Imagine that your Tribe is gathering to honor a sacred ritual, that even though you've drifted away from each other, the moment holds enough weight that it has drawn upon the ties that bind you together, pulling you close once more.  For instance, imagine that it's the funeral of a young man or woman that you've known since they were a child who has devoted his or her life to protecting you.  Now imagine that another Tribe descends upon that moment with the single intent to disrupt it as much as possible. They hold up signs that they're thrilled your child is dead.  Instead of writing a blog, speaking from the pulpit, or engaging in countless other expressions of free speech, they choose to come to personally let you know that they are glad your child was killed.

What do you feel in that moment?

Framed in this perspective, we can understand how Westboro is in the wrong, even if they're simply exercising their legal right.

Our society has swung too far to the linear extreme.  We look at the places it's fracturing and try to find linear solutions to spatial problems.  For instance, it never occurs to us that people are drawn to gangs not because of the drugs or money, but because they find themselves part of a Tribe where before they felt alone.  That Tribe may not be their first choice - it may not even be where they want to be - but when the threats around them become too great, when the symbolic message of poverty and hopelessness manifests, it is human nature to pull close with your Tribe.  Those that have a strong, supportive family often find their Tribe in that framework. Those who have nothing may take the only option they believe is available to them.  We will never truly solve any of the problems that face us until we can find that solution in a balance of the spatial and linear.

A traditional shaman's perspective is that peace will never come through laws.  Prosperity will never come simply through a linear process.  As human beings, we have two parts to our existence - a linear side and a spatial side.  When we find a way for those two sides to exist in balance, we'll know peace and find prosperity.  Until then, we'll continue to go through life with one eye closed.

It's why something can be both legally right and Tribally wrong at the same time.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Musical Alphabet - V

Three "V"-themed tracks for your listening pleasure...

Abused Romance - "Vaporize"

Abused Romance is a melodic rock band from Los Angeles.  The band was recently signed to the newly formed Freeway Records (which was formed by legendary Russ Regan, the former president of Motown Records, 20th Century Records).  What's more, if you like their sound, Abused Romance is offering their first album ("Shine") as a free download through their site  (Downloading it will also sign you up for their email newsletter, but that seems a small price to pay for twelve free MP3 tracks from an up-and-coming band.)

Van She - "Cat and the Eye"

A great indie band (they have a unique, very enjoyable sound) and one the most... um... hmmm... "unique" videos I've seen in a long time.

The View - "Shock Horror"

If you've been following the Musical Alphabet blog, you'll realize that there are numerous excellent artists from the UK that we're simply not exposed to here in the states.  Here's another - a Scottish indie rock band.

V is for Vocation

Why are we here?  It's one of those questions that seekers have asked themselves for countless generations.  Personally, I believe that we're all here for a reason, that we have a calling or (to embrace the letter theme of today's post) a vocation.  As a shaman, people come to me on a regular basis and ask for assistance in finding their calling.  While there are a series of steps that we can go through, a process where you learn to see clearly and listen to your heart, there's a very simple path that leads to the same answer.

One of the key challenges in embracing the concept of a calling is that we look at it in a vacuum.  What is my calling?  What should I be doing with my life?  Ironically, most of the challenge in realizing our calling is found in those questions.  We approach the concept of a calling as if we're doing it alone.

If we were to draw a series of three concentric circles and write "Me" in the very center of our world, as we considered where the people who share our life fall, many of us would discover that we're not alone in that inner ring.  We may write the name of our partner, our children, or our best friend next to us as they are truly at the core of who we are. Expanding outward from there, held within the second ring are our closest friends and confidants, whether they are blood relatives, childhood friends, or someone we just met but immediately "clicked" with.  In the final ring are our connections - friends, family, and co-workers who share our world but who aren't as close as the other names we've written down.  Beyond that is the world and the majority of humanity.

What we find is that these the innermost circle is our oasis.  This is where we recharge, draw our strength and inspiration, and where we're able to set the calling aside and just be ourselves.

The second circle is where we find our calling.  These people hold the clues to our greater vocation and they act as mirrors for who we are and what we are here to do.

Imagine that you're ready to embrace your calling.  For argument's sake, let's say your calling is to build a treehouse in your backyard.  Who would you call?  Why would you call that person?

When we look at that second circle, we find people that are drawn to us through some greater cosmic process we don't clearly understand.  Each of those names is there for a reason.  Some are there for support and encouragement.  Others are there to help with logistics.  Some are there to provide a sounding board.  And others are there for us to say, "I'd like to help you with your calling and I think I can offer you this."

I don't know about you, but while the concept is very reassuring, actually applying it seems way too complicated to me to figure out.

Thankfully there's an easy way to proceed that allows those answers to naturally fall into place without us having to do a single thing to make it happen.

We reach out to the people in our world.

Simply by reaching out to each other, spending time together, and showing an interest in each other, we find ourselves looking in the mirror that we present to one another.  As those bonds deepen and strengthen, we find common ground and talk about topics that interest us both.  Over time, in the midst of those conversations, ideas begin to present themselves.  Soon we find ourselves saying, "We should really do this together," and discover that we're both excited about it.  Maybe all we find is a desire to play a game of one-on-one basketball at the local elementary school.  And, after doing so, we enjoy it so much that we plan to play on a regular basis.

Let's imagine that after nine months of simply enjoying each other’s company and some friendly competition, you stop by the grocery store on the way home from a game and happen to bump into a person who needs your help.  Or you run into an old friend you haven't seen for years that remembered you being interested in something and offers you an opportunity.  Would you have been in position to be at the grocery store at that exact moment if you'd never played basketball with your friend?  Maybe.  But if you hadn't engaged in your regular games of one-on-one, would that friendship be deep and trusted to the point you could turn to your basketball friend as support or a sounding board?

We make our lives much more complicated than they need to be.  You can endlessly offer your assistance to others, but they don't have to accept your aid.  You can pursue one path after another, but that doesn't mean the doors will open for you.  Your calling isn't something you can force; it simply happens, much like the rising sun slowly turns night into day.  As adults in our culture, we have more than enough responsibilities to keep us busy.  The last thing we need to do is to try to unravel the weave of reality so we can trace our own thread.  You can approach things that way - but it will drive you crazy.  Me?  I prefer to look to my circles.  Whether the names have newly arrived or have been there for years each is equally valuable.  Some, like my wife, fit in more than one circle.  Bri is not only my oasis but we support each other in our individual callings.  Others move from one circle to the next as we grow and evolve, either pulling closer or drifting apart.

If you don't know where to put the people in your world, spend time with them.  Reach out.  If you don't connect deeply with anyone, start with yourself.  Spend time with you, exploring your interests, finding out what you enjoy, what helps you recharge after a long day, and how you enjoy expressing yourself.  With that in place, approach the people in your world in the same way - spend time together, explore your mutual interests, and find out what you both enjoy.

None of us live in a vacuum - and our calling doesn't exist in one either.  It's never a process of finding out how we approach life alone, but a journey to discover how we approach life together.  Reach out to those closes to you.  It's there that you'll find not only your answers, but large parts of yourself that are waiting to be uncovered.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Musical Alphabet - U

Three "U"-themed tracks for your listening pleasure...

The Exies - "Ugly"

If you like hard rock, The Exies are an exceptional band that most people have never heard of.  Along with Sugarcult (featured in the Musical Alphabet - S post), they are a name you can drop while in line for most general admission indie concerts and find immediate acceptance from those in line.

The Pillows - "Wake Up! Dodo"

One of my favorite J-Rock bands.  What? You've never heard of J-Rock?  You'll understand the definition within a few minutes of listening to this track...  The entire album that this track comes from (Wake Up! Wake Up! Wake Up!) is solid and very easy to listen to.  (See, I really do listen to everything.)

The Uglysuit - "Chicago"

An indie band out of Oklahoma...

U is for Un-Time

I live in un-time.

Un-time is a very simple way of describing the three-way intersection of non-linear time, the theory that we're simultaneously living an infinite number of lives in endless parallel universes, and the shamanic belief that we manifest our own reality.

See - calling it un-time is much easier on the brain.

Challenges often appear daunting to us.  Heck, depending on how tired or stressed out we are on any given day, simple tasks can seem like they're asking too much of our nearly depleted resources.

This is where un-time comes in.

Today I stand here facing the challenge before me.  If I could step in a time machine and fast forward to tomorrow, I'd be in a place where I've already overcome the challenge and reached my goal.  Instead of focusing on the mountain before me, I focus on the fact that when tomorrow dawns I will have already reached the summit.  With that understanding in place, all I have to do is connect the dots.

It's all about where we put our focus.

We often aren't aware that we have a running dialogue going on in our head much of the time.  For most of us, our inner dialogue tends to be filled with, "can't" and "don't want to" and "too hard" - or some version of those phrases.  It's such a natural part of who we are that we aren't even aware of it - but it's there, running non-stop in the back of our mind.

Now imagine that, instead of being inside of us, that voice was standing next to us, constantly telling us, "This is too hard.  You should quit now.  This one is beyond your abilities.  You don't really want to do this anyway."

No wonder we have such a hard time.

Un-time skips the inner dialogue.  It's not about "can" or "can't." It becomes, "I've already done this."  We look at "Tomorrow Me" and see the task complete, knowing that we will be standing in their place when the clocks catch up with our approach to un-time.  Since we've already overcome the challenge before us, all we have to do is connect the dots.  Each time our focus or strength wavers, we remind ourselves, "I've already done this" and look to "Tomorrow Me" as our inspiration; theirs is the hand that is stretching down to us to help us climb over that last hurdle.

When I start writing a new novel, I don't look at the blank screen and think, "How am I ever going to finish this?"  Instead, I imagine "Tomorrow Me" editing the final draft, utterly thrilled with how the manuscript turned out.  At that point, all I have to do is connect the dots.  If I get frustrated I simply realize that's part of the process that "Tomorrow Me" went through to get there.  Every challenge that comes up can be overcome - after all, "Tomorrow Me" has already overcome them on their way to success.  Each day we approach the task without any pressure.  We don't have to write ten pages; we don't have to write at all.  All we need to do is to connect the dots - both the productive days and the unproductive ones - that carry us to "Tomorrow Me."  We can even ask ourselves, "What did Tomorrow Me do in this situation?" and allow our imagination to fill in the blanks.  The challenges have already been overcome; we simply have to live out the story like turning the pages in a book.

The un-time approach may seem overly simple, but it works.

In February I published Escaping Destiny which has received rave reviews.  On May 13th The Awakening will be released.  In November, my third novel, Remembering Tomorrow will come out.

Not bad for a guy with dyslexia.  Or one who has a learning disability and took five years to graduate high school.  Or who had a severe hemorrhagic stroke two years ago, lost large portions of his memory and had to relearn how to speak and write.

In between those novels I'll be publishing at least two non-fiction books on the brand of spirituality that you see here in my blog.  How does one find themselves in a position where they can write books on spirituality?

You face your challenges.

In first grade I was beaten so severely that I was left for dead and literally had to crawl for help.  Being drugged and kidnapped is a memory for me, not an episode of a television show.  I know what it's like to live in a home so abusive that as I walked home from grade school I'd make peace with the fact that this may be the day they would kill me - simply because they weren't successful when they tried the day before.  Words like "sodomy," "molestation," and "gang rape," are things that I've lived through more than once.  When most kids move into a new house, their checklist for their bedroom doesn't start with "Replace doorknob with one that locks" (I'd carry it with me from home to home) and is followed by "Remove screen from window for easy exit."  There were stretches of my life where being forced to the ground while a gun was held to my head was a daily possibility and others where I had to physically fight multiple attackers each and every day to protect my mom and my little brother.  I've slept on city buses because doing so was safer than being in my own bed.  Add to this a world of neglect, betrayal and abuse where each time you turned to someone for help, they'd turn on you as well.

Life may not have been pretty, but you know what it's like to stand in the shoes of the person that comes to you for help.  It's one thing when you say to someone, "Here's my answer - I believe it will help," and another when you say, "Here's my map.  I've already come through the place you're in and can show you a route through the darkness."

That's the raw material that makes a spiritual teacher.

Looking back on my life, there are countless stretches filled with things that people simply don't make it through.  The challenges are just too big.  When one of your favorite childhood memories is being sent to bed without dinner and the gratitude you felt as your mom smuggled you two slices of processed cheese (so you wouldn't be hungry) while you listened to the screams from the next room as her live-in boyfriend beat his sons senseless - you know you've walked a hard road.  It's not your inner dialogue alone that tries to stop you - it's your inner dialogue and everything around you.

So you live in un-time.  You believe that tomorrow will be better, that the bruises will stop hurting, that you'll be safe.  And the bruises do stop hurting.  Tomorrow is better, even if it's only in little ways - even if it's only in the pride that you made it there.  Small, necessary successes encourage you to take on bigger goals of your own choosing.  You learn that the same tools you've used for your survival, focusing on "Tomorrow Me" and knowing you'll get there, apply to every challenge ahead of you.  Whether it's learning to trust or learning to cook, fighting for your survival or fighting to run that last half mile, the process is exactly the same.  The challenges we face are unique to each of us and, in the moment, seem much bigger than they are in the rearview mirror.  People offer all kinds of advice for facing your challenges and fighting through the obstacles before you.  Me?  I say leap-frog them.  Focus on your goal and what it's like to achieve your success.  Remember that "Tomorrow Me" that has already reached the finish line and understand that each challenge is something you've already overcome.  When you're facing the challenge from that perspective, you're able to learn from the experience, simply because it's an "experience" and not a "battle."  Appreciate the insight that "Tomorrow Me" gives you as you learn to see the lessons behind the challenge and use those lessons to grow.  Each step, whether you're leap-frogging or trudging through makes you stronger; one approach is simply much harder than the other.  Me?  I prefer the easy way.

Take it from a guy who has turned "overcoming challenges" into an art form - living in un-time is my an effective way of reaching your goals. Like most things in life, it's all a matter of perspective.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Musical Alphabet - T

Three "T"-themed tracks for your listening enjoyment...

Cara Dillon - "There Were Roses"

A beautiful modern Celtic folksong...

Little Jackie - "28 Butts"

A British hip-hop/R&B artist that I really enjoy...

Ana Tijoux - "1977"

Latina rap - when I say I listen to everything, I really mean it...

T is for Tao

As I wandered the spiritual globe, I picked up bits and pieces of different religions that worked for me.  From Taoism, I adopted the concept of The Tao which I use as my tool for understanding God.

At its heart, the concept of The Tao is deceptively simple.  "The Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao."  This is the very first line in the Tao Te Ching.  This perspective simply says, "Defining something limits it.  If you say, 'This is God,' then there are countless things in that definition that your version of God doesn't include.  By creating your definition of God, you are limiting how you're willing to experience God."

For example, if we conjured up a fictional Creationist who hates frogs, their argument would be, "Of course frogs aren't from God - they're hideous little creatures."  This begs the question, "What then, is the origin of the frog?"  To our fictional Creationist, saying that the frog came from anywhere other than God would imply that there is a creative force on par with God which also created reality.

That sort of justification requires countless rules that God must follow and has created many of the contradictions we find in religions today.  The problem at the core of that approach is that the entire concept of defining God is based around fear.  We have these crazy, chaotic, intricate, complicated lives where we run from one extreme to the next all in the course of a single day.  But not God.  God must fit in this nice little box so we can climb in it too when we need comfort.  When we open our eyes and look out at the world, we want God to fit in our pocket - a defined, compact version of reality that allows us to disregard the things we don't like.  What's more is that, since we have God with us, we are not responsible for or have to deal with those things that don't fit into our predetermined definition.  Many of us WANT a parental God that will watch over us, set boundaries on our world, and reward us for doing good while punishing those who hurt us or do things that are outside of our rules.

What if, instead of being a parent that set all the rules, God was a blank mural and a collection of paints and brushes?  Whatever we create on that mural - whether it is what we define as beautiful or ugly - comes from us.  That mural that we paint has the potential to become something beautiful which is the pride of our neighborhood; arguments over what can or cannot be painted have the potential to turn into a violent riot.  We find that people lay ownership to broad swaths of wall, insisting that they and they alone can dictate what will be painted there.  Some paint what's in their heart, either applauded by their neighbors or having paint thrown over their creation and harsh words thrown at the painter.

From that perspective, God is simply open and inviting - a mural - and the tools with which to express what comes from within us.  All of the rest, the good and the bad, comes from us.

When I look at our world, that's what I see - a bunch of people loving and hating, arguing or getting along, each of them with a brush in their hand.  Some stand back and simply watch - unsure of what to paint; afraid to leave their mark; happy to say that painting the mural isn't their responsibility.  The traditional shamanic approach is to believe that everything is sacred ("from God") and that each thing creates its own reality (or "holds a paintbrush and stands before the mural.")  Choosing not to paint is still a choice.  Choosing to fight instead of create is still a choice.  Choosing to create something beautiful - even in the midst of the chaos around you - is also a choice.

Some of us like that idea and the power and freedom it brings; others don't want to step beyond the safety of the box they're in.  Both choices are sacred roads to journey down, simply because we choose what's right for us.

Do I understand God?  Nope.  No one can.  If we're to believe the Tao Te Ching, we never will.  Sometimes it's enough to simply frame the argument, to realize that you're standing before a mural with a brush in your hand and that choosing, "What next?" is completely up to you.  Will you paint or will you simply watch?  If you do step up to the mural, what colors will you use?  What will you bring to life?  From a shaman's perspective, if everything is sacred, then we're not simply painting.  As you stand before the mural, brush in hand, realize what the mural is, what the paints and brush are created from and understand that all of that was freely given to you.  Consider not just what you're painting, but the act of painting itself and all of its implications.  And then look around at those around you - the ones who are arguing, the ones who are claiming the mural for their own, and the ones who are painting amidst it all.  When you stand in the place where all of those pieces fall into place and you see how the people, the paint, and the mural are all one, then you're embracing the shaman's perspective.

One of the challenges in writing The Awakening (Book One in the Rebirth trilogy) was framing the story of the end of the world in this perspective.  The tale of, "Hooray! Our religion won!" has been written numerous times; the story of, "All is One - and this is what happens to the mural and those painting it," is, to my knowledge, unexplored ground.  While I drew many of the concepts from sources as diverse as Hopi prophecy and the Christian Bible, I ran each of them through the "telephone game" that many of us played as children.  (A single sentence would be whispered from ear-to-ear until it made its way around the circle, returning with words changed and meaning garbled.)  For example, the concept of angels has become the Old Ones, immortal beings that have parallels in cultures around the globe.

Each piece that was embraced for the story first had to be reduced to its core concepts so that it "fit" on a global scale without contradicting another religion’s core beliefs.  In the midst of it all, there are people from all walks of religious and non-religious life who are swept up in the events as reality begins to unravel.  The question was never, "How do I interpret this belief?" but rather, "How would the individuals gathered at the mural each experience events from their perspective as night began to fall?"

The Awakening (Rebirth: Book One) will be available in both paperback and ebook editions on May 13th through and  You can pre-order the autographed paperback edition for $15 (which includes shipping to addresses in the continental United States) and it will be shipped on May 6th - a week before the publication date.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Musical Alphabet - S

Three "S"-themed tracks for your listening pleasure...

Sugarcult - Bouncing Off the Walls

If you're waiting in line for nearly any general admission indie rock show, you can mention two bands and typically receive immediate acceptance with hardcore fans.  One of those bands is Sugarcult.  (We'll look at the other when we consider "E"-themed artists.)  Formed in Santa Barbara in 1998, Sugarcult is one of those bands that has left me absolutely stumped why they haven't made it big.  Unlike bands where one or two singles will carry them onto the radio (but the rest of their CD is sub-par), I own all three Sugarcult albums and there isn't a single weak track among them.

Small Mercies - Don't You Know Who I Am?

Small Mercies is a rock band from Brisbane, Australia and is one of my favorite bands that falls into the "completely unheard of" column.  The official YouTube video for this single currently has 267 views - and at least five of those are mine (although I do own 2008's, Beautiful Hum album.)

Shirock - I'll Take Love

A really pretty ballad with a pretty sweet and heartfelt message.

S is for Santorini

When I was a very small child, I was surprised to learn that people didn't remember where they had been before this lifetime.  From my earliest memories as a very young child, I clearly remember being a potter, having served as a soldier in the first World War, and have scattered memories from different places and times.  The whole concept seemed completely natural to me.  Imagine you're an instant away from coming into this lifetime.  Where are you in that moment?  How did you get there?  Where were you before that?  To me, life always seemed like a great adventure, like standing on a cliff above a swimming hole on a hot summer's day, ready to take the leap and spend some time with friends before having to go home again when the day drew to an end.

Back in the summer of 2005, I was a single dad with two kids - my daughter, Moira, and my son Gavin.  We had a family tradition where, once the warm summer weather appeared, Gavin, Moira and I would go for nightly walks together under the stars. The three of us would walk and talk, normally discussing science, focusing primarily on astronomy but occasionally drifting into biology and paleontology as well. On this particular night as we walked through the darkness, we discussed the phases of the moon and how they are made by earth's shadow, talked about asteroids and how they most likely brought about the end of the dinosaurs, and we considered the rotation of the earth and how it turns day into night.

And then the kids wanted to talk about God.

It's strangely normal in my world to discuss theology with two small children. Our conversation began with the nature of God, moved on to death and the afterlife, and considered whether there's a placed called Hell or if everyone goes to Heaven. Moira, who was six years old at the time, tried to initiate a thread of conversation regarding how our beliefs manifest our reality, but the concept was still being born within her and wasn't quite ready to be let out into the night air. I've never pushed my own beliefs on them, but instead I encourage them to find their own way. Even today, when Moira brings up the beliefs her classmates share with her, I remind her that it's okay for everyone to believe something different and encourage her to simply, "believe what's in your heart"

It was at this moment that the then four year old Gavin, who was riding on my shoulders, piped up. "Do you know what I believe? I believe that when you die you can come back again as a baby and begin a new life."

Both of the children leapt enthusiastically into the topic. They shared that this was their first lifetime and that they both felt they would come back again.  They talked about what they were doing before they were born, that they knew each other in Heaven, and the places they went and the things that they did while they were there.  Each not only agreed with the other, but would enthusiastically build on the other's memories, adding, "And do you remember this?"  They'd either immediately agree or would gently correct the other - and the other would accept the correction and concur with the change as if it was simply, "Oh yeah, you're right!"

But that wasn't the interesting part.

Long before either child was conceived, back when I was studying shamanism with Nukah, Gavin came to me while I was meditating.  The sudden appearance of his spirit caught me completely off guard.  He wanted to thank me for taking the steps necessary for him to be born and for me to become his father although he wouldn't be born for a few more years.

However, his sister, Moira, ended up being born eighteen months before her brother.

As we walked under the stars, Gavin (who had no idea about his before-being-born visit) suddenly announced, "You know what's not fair? Moira cut in line and was born first."

Laughing, Moira replied. "That's right. Gavin was playing in Heaven and I didn't want to wait anymore."

"It made me angry," Gavin stated with a serious tone. "I wanted to be born first but she got in front of me. It's not fair."

There was actually some tension in the air. I think Moira was a little shocked that her brother was so passionate about the issue and Gavin was actually pretty unhappy about the situation. It's not every family where the children's number one issue is pre-incarnation sibling rivalry and disputes as to which one of them should have entered this lifetime before the other. They play together extremely well and we have long established a paradigm where they talk through their issues before they grow into problems, usually working through whatever difficulty appears in their world without my intervention. It was unusual to see either of them so worked up about anything, let alone Gavin's accusations that his sister "cut in line" and was born before him.  Things settled down pretty quickly and the conversation turned back to the sky above us.

This conversation with my children got me thinking about my own past life memories. 

In one of my favorite past lives, I was a potter. The key memory is a simple one. I was painting a vessel when I decided to stop fighting the fading light in my first floor workshop (our home was upstairs). Rather than lighting an oil lamp, I carried the vessel to the front threshold of my home. I could see the streets, the architecture of the buildings around me, and the body of water that lay a distance to my left. As I prepared to finish painting the vessel, the woman I shared my life with came up from behind me where I sat in my doorway, pressed herself against my back as she wrapped her arms around me from behind, and together we looked out on the calm waters as she lay her cheek next to mine.

There are other memories of that lifetime. People who purchased the vessels. Vague memories of a marketplace, of friends and loved ones. Amidst the fainter memories of that lifetime is a darkness, either the dead of night or something blocking out the sun. Soot, either from smoke or volcanic fallout blackens the air. There are screams, people being piled into boats that were filled to their limits, tears and wails as lovers and families were separated.

The interesting concept behind this particular lifetime is pretty evident if you're something of a skeptic. I've seen the architecture and landscape of the city. There was a major disaster of some type that required a mass evacuation. And I was a potter. Pottery is one of the key elements used to date any civilization.  If my memories were something more than a weird quirk of a young child's mind, I should be able to identify where and when the past life took place.

As much as we are open to the mystical, traditional shaman's approach such topics in a very grounded manner and cautious manner.  After all, we're taught in our own training that our techniques need to consistently work.  That doesn't offer much room to engage in flights of fancy.  We're very open to possibility - but let's do our best to prove it.

The first place I began was with the pottery. In the key memory, I was working on a specific piece, carrying it outside to finish painting it. I had a sense that at least a portion of the vessels that I made were used for ritual libations (pouring out offerings of liquids), so whatever culture mirrored the pottery that I remembered would also need to have an established tradition in their ancient religion. To complicate matters, in some of the more vague memories, I remember different shaped vessels, so I wouldn't need to merely match one type of pottery, but at least two - and those pieces would need to be from the same culture and the same time period.

Upon searching several online archives of ancient pottery, I found a perfect match for the piece in one of the vague memories and a very close match for the piece in the key memory from the lifetime. They were both Minoan, a civilization that dominated the island of Crete, just south of Greece. The first piece is very similar to my own artistic style and features one of my favorite birds, the swallow. I've always enjoyed watching barn swallows acrobatically swooping through the air and they are commonly depicted in Minoan pottery. The second vessel is very similar to the ewer I was working on in the memory; its mouth is slightly different and I was painting it with a different design. To make things much easier, both pieces were from the city of Akrotiri on the island of Thera and from the same archaeological period, somewhere between 1700 BCE and 1450 BCE.

The next step was to see if the Minoan culture actually used ritual libations in their religious practices. After all, what good is a match on the pottery, if there is no historical evidence to support the memory that at least a portion of the vessels I crafted were used for ritual libations?

The answer came from Dartmouth University's "Prehistoric Archaeology of the Aegean." In "Lesson 15: Minoan Religion" the text references libations, libation tables or libation jugs multiple times. It also cites a 1974 text ("The Ayia Triadha Sarcophagus") which offers an interpretation of a scene painted on lime plaster applied over a limestone chest (pictured below.) "The pouring scene represents the mixing of liquids, probably wine and water, in a krater (bowl) in honor of a goddess or goddesses symbolized by the double axes mounted on either side of the krater. The birds perched on the double axes probably indicate the arrival of the deity(-ies) and have been summoned by the music of the lyre."

What's more is that there are theories that not only were the beliefs of the Minoan people very nature oriented, but they worshipped a goddess and a god (or goddesses and gods) specifically tied to nature. Stanford University's Archaeopaedia entry on the Minoan religion states, "The most important shrines appear to be cave and open-air peak shrines, set away from settlements, although religious activities were also carried out both in small household shrines and at tombs. " These are the two places where I almost exclusively do my shamanic work in this lifetime, in fact I've been doing more and more ritual work in a sea cave that I adopted earlier this year. If I'm not in the cave or on a mountain peak, I'm usually doing my ritual work at home. What's more is that Minoan religious activities seem to mirror many of my own practices in this lifetime, a path where I learned the majority of my approaches by instinct, working alone in the wilderness.

The next step, after having narrowing the lifetime to the Minoan culture based on the pottery and its uses, was to find architecture and a geographical location that matched my memories of my home from that lifetime. The University of British Columbia has an excellent "archive of archives" called Ferret that has approximately 500 photographs of archaeological digs in their Minoan Collection. After sifting through the pictures of multiple sites, including Katos Zarkos, Kommos and Pseira, I found a nearly perfect match on the island of Thera (now called Santorini), specifically the Late Minoan city of Akrotiri - the same place where the identifying pottery was found.

In my core memory, I took the pot to the threshold of my home and sat down to work on it. In the Ferret archives I found photographs of exactly the type of threshold that I sat on when I left the darkened interior of my home. What's more is that I lived in a two-story dwelling and I had no idea if this type of architecture even existed during that period of history. In photographs of the Akrotiri dig, I encountered street after street filled with multistory buildings. These were actual residences, not some other structure. Christos Doumas, Director of Excavations at Akrotiri wrote, "The houses, two- and three-storyed, were built of the material available in abundance on the island, small irregular stones and mortar of mud frequently mixed with straw. " What's more is that my workshop occupied the first floor and my living quarters were upstairs. Mr. Doumas described exactly this scenario in "Santorini, A Guide to the Island and Its Archaeological Treasures." He wrote, "On the ground floor there were workshops and store rooms mainly for foodstuffs... The residential apartments were situated in the upper storeys."

One of the things that had concerned me from the moment that I zeroed in on Akrotiri was the fact that most of the archaeological photographs showed vividly painted walls, but my memories of the my workshop (on the first floor) had unadorned walls. Mr. Doumas writes, "The apartments of the upper storeys were flooded with light through large windows. It is mainly in these rooms that the wall-paintings have been found." So even my memories of the workshop walls being unpainted seem to match-up perfectly with the structures at Akrotiri.

As I continued to dig through the archaeological materials, one memory after another was validated. The construction materials used in the buildings were as I remembered them. Each home had a mill for the grinding of grains (I have a large one of my own in my home now that I have a strong sentimental attachment to and prefer to employ a mortar and pestle in the kitchen rather than a food processor.)

The streets that I remember weren't straight or necessarily well-planned out (unlike most Minoan settlements), but were winding and seemed to work their way around larger buildings. Mr. Doumas wrote, "The system of town planning, in so far as it can be traced from the area which has been excavated to date, is more reminiscent of that of the present-day villages of Santorini than of the plan of the Minoan palatial structures. Narrow winding streets traverse the town, circumventing large building complexes. "

As I dug through the archaeological evidence, I found streets very similar to those that I remember walking down in a lifetime almost 4,000 years ago. I kept getting more and more excited as each strangely familiar photograph appeared on my computer monitor. I could suddenly remember sounds, smells, and voices in a language that seemed both familiar and foreign to me. A city with an approximate population of 30,000 people suddenly came alive after having lain silent for thousands of years.

And then, in the midst of one of the archives, I found an artist's depiction of the eruption of Thera. The sky was dark with ash. Boats filled with evacuees fled the seaside city. I stared in half-remembered horror as the feelings of that night came back to me.

It turns out that the eruption of Thera was one of the largest the earth has seen in the last 10,000 years. What's more is that it buried the city of Akrotiri and occurred during the same period that my pottery has been dated to. The eruption radically altered the shape of the island, caused a massive tsunami, and so severely altered the world's climate that at least five consecutive crops failed in China. Three to six feet of ash fell on the city of Akrotiri. No bodies have ever been found, unlike those found preserved in the ash at Vesuvius, insinuating that the population was able to escape. Almost no metal items or portable objects have been found on the island, lending further credibility to this theory. However, according to a BBC report, "Akrotiri's chief archaeologist, Christos Doumas, believes the people of Akrotiri didn't survive, and that the bodies are still to be uncovered, huddled at the harbour where they were trapped by the eruption as they waited to escape. He believes it's highly unlikely that scores of boats were waiting in the harbour to save them."

If memory serves, the vast majority of the population was able to escape. While some bodies may be found, it will not be the full 30,000 inhabitants of the city of Akrotiri. The woman that shared my life with me was loaded on the boats. We both knew that there was no more room on the boats, that those of us left behind had very little hope of escape. I guess we'll have to await the excavation of the rest of the island to know for sure.