trance stories: death glare

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You know, trees have become very important to me. Here’s a picture of the most common tree in Southern Alberta, the Southern Albertan Cottonwood:

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Recalling that the security agency had locked up the River Bottom park the previous night, I decided to change my destination for Paxson’s exercise. I set off for Pavan Park, which is another of Lethbridge’s beautiful spots in nature that can be found on the shore of the Oldman River. I didn’t even get down the hill before the SUV approached.

It was Paladin Security. Now I KNOW I’m in a dream. Wikipedia defines Paladin as:

Paladin (Dungeons and Dragons): The Paladin is a holy knight, crusading in the name of good and order, and is a divine spell caster.

It allllllll makes sense now. Anyway, I’m just having fun here.

I asked the paladin which parks were open. He told me to go to Henderson Park, which looks like this:

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So, lots of trees. And super-close to where I work. So I head over and find a super-tall, super-straight, very healthy looking cottonwood. I introduce myself and put my hand against her trunk. This time, I’ve brought an offering in the form of water. As I stand and do the ward from the book, a jeep drives into the parking lot and rudely shines its lights in my direction. I stop what I’m doing and nod, smile, and bare my teeth ever-so-slightly to indicate my animal nature. The jeep drives away from my subtle death glare post-haste. I’m going to call that my sig-glare.

I left the water, and I connected with the tree and it was soooooo nice. I gained comfort despite the biting cold of the wind. I had a great relaxation, followed by a nice stretch. The meditation was phenomenal despite a less-than-phenomenal day. I forgot one thing that seems to happen to me during times of increased spiritual practice: people.

There’s no way to describe this, but I’ll try. When I start doing ritual, people I know from around town, and sometimes even from around the world, naturally find me. When they find me, they want to talk. When they talk, they don’t want to stop. The most extreme example was running into someone in the Kamloops, Canada bus station a few months after she had taught me yoga in Rishikesh, India and “coincidentally” being on the same bus at the same time going to the same destination without having known if we were even in the same country. It’s not always that extreme, but mind you, I was doing some extreme meditation.

So first, it was a couple I know. Then, it was a mutual friend, and she wanted to talk for a while. Then it was the friend of the mutual friend calling me up and trying to meet with me for supper. Then it was a bunch of people in the heathen group I’m in on facebook. Then I exposed some ignorance and felt awful. All day yesterday, I was zooming from place to place for my work, crowded by people, all telling their stories. This morning it was a stranger at a table next to me with some odd stories about his life of crime. I almost didn’t have time for Tree Meditation, almost. It’s all good. It’s all practice. It’s just very… overwhelming.

It was so overwhelming that today I went to a cafe where I don’t know anyone, just to do my writing. I have a novel I need to publish, and so far, my energy has not extended into the book publishing world. Ultimately, that’s one place to which I’d like to extend my energy.

So, that night, I had this odd dream:

“On the corner of a field at the edge of a Korean town was a car dealership. I was talking with someone about owning a car and I realized how much effort it was and how poorly made the cars were. I could envision the town well, but I know for a fact that the car dealership is fictional. It felt like my hometown of Lethbridge was being superimposed, as if somehow one town was just a metaphor for the other. Also there was some chat about Arizona. Someone really wanted me to go to Arizona.”

In case you wonder why my dream writing is slightly more juvenile than my lucid writing, it’s because that’s me at 4am, when I get woken up by the people whose residence I look after. My occupation is… complicated. Anyhow.

If I were to hazard an interpretation, it would be this:

  1. I’ve never been a big fan of automobiles- I’ve prided myself on being a bicycle guy. The only reason I now drive a minivan is because I work with people who need to be transported everywhere. If it weren’t for that, I wouldn’t bother having a vehicle.
  2. As for superimposition, take a look at the lake park in the city in Korea I moved here from (below). It’s a man-made lake, not unlike Henderson Lake. The town is one of the Church capitals of Korea. The town I now live in is one of the Church capitals of Canada. They’re both University cities, they’re similar sizes, and they’re similar distances away from their nearest big city. The level of technology and character of people is roughly equivalent. How is it that I’ve moved halfway around the world, but I really haven’t moved at all? I’m basically in the same place!
  3. 019_img2.jpgAs for Arizona… Maybe my publisher is there? My dad did always tell me that American markets are more lucrative.

So, what is this all trying to tell me? Anything? Here’s my anxiety: I don’t want to read too much into things. Sometimes a dream is just a dream. Sometimes our desperate grasping for meaning yields dead-ends. I usually go with the flow and see what comes of things. Trance is a gift of itself. It makes life purposeful and intriguing, as if guided by some grand narrative. But I’d like to know if I’m deceiving myself, because that happens too.

So how do I distinguish?

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mead stories: Brooks mead

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by ~cichutko http://www.deviantart.com

Brooks, Alberta is about halfway between Calgary and Medicine Hat, AB. It has been said that one hundred languages are spoken in this town that boasts a population of 15,000. Like, wow.

I know this because I stayed in Brooks for a ski trip with my buddy and his two work friends at Hidden Valley in the Cypress Hills Mountains. When we returned from the trip, we went to his friends’ house for a little mead and hang.

You know how netflix and chill is code for something? Yeah, mead and hang isn’t code. It legitimately consists of drinking mead and hanging out. We were going to play some guitar and sing some karaoke, but then the host’s friends from Nigeria showed up and got the party started.

I’m just going to start with this: people were a bit reserved until the mead came out. Then the damn party was on. We were dancing, connecting, doing and saying things that would definitely not make any sense in any other context, so I really am not equipped to write about this, but. This one guy kept bringing up his life back in Newfoundland, and how they always used to do house parties.

Oh yeah, and of course there was the inevitable party shadow of a few people retreating to the corner and talking shop. That just happens. Mind you, people casually started to hand them drinks until they too were dancing. And shouting. And actually, I now realize why they’d retreated to the corner.

We got back to our basic motel safely, and by that I mean designated. The next day, on the ride home, I was spouting all kinds of phrases about the magic of mead, and how it was so well-liked. My friend interrupted my fantasy and told me that something else was going on.

I guess parties like that aren’t particularly common in Brooks. The reason one of the Nigerian guys kept talking about what things were like back in Newfoundland, might have been that Brooks doesn’t boast much of a night life. Most things close at 6, there are very few health care services and professionals in town, and the whole town smells of the local meat manufacturing plant.

It took a while for the people to warm up at the party, but once they did, we were rocking. It very well may have had to do with the mead. But there’s something beyond that, something you can only really refer to as the vibe. Something like Eugene Hutz’s “connection” he so frequently writes about. Yeah.

trance stories: learning to trance

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I joined a study group that was two chapters into Paxson’s “Trance-portation”. The timing was right. I had just finished writing a novel, which I don’t mind sharing with the few people who read my blog, so long as you send me feedback!

“Three Valkyries Walk Into a Mead Hall” by Leif Sturmanis Nordholm

I had meant to write the novel about a young man who goes on an adventure, but the more I researched material for this story about a Scandinavian-Canadian trying to connect with the traditions of his ancestral culture, the more I found that there were plenty of Internet resources on modern people walking traditional Nordic paths. What was meant to be a simple story of a high-schooler searching for himself turned into a meditative trek through several concepts familiar to the Northern Path.

The book contains practices such as rune yoga, Utiseta, trance and initiation, but that was never my original intent. Just as it was not really my intention to stumble upon a study group and to be accepted on the exact day that I finished my final edit on the manuscript, just as the group was beginning a course on trance.

See, I’d started shooting my mouth off and writing about things I didn’t directly know about in a group I had joined and was consulting for research. Someone in that group asked if it was possible to enter someone’s dreams. I replied:

Yes, it is definitely possible. But the way you phrased it makes it sound like something that was done to you, rather than something you were consciously doing. If you want greater control of the ritual of meeting in dream space, consider the following article:

Abandon any beliefs you may have that the imagination is not real. There is “personal imagination” “shared imagination” and “sublime imagination”. Recall King’s Gylfi’s speech to the Thrice-­High? That was a powerful symbol for our vast neurological capabilities that so often remain untapped in our mundane lives. The exploration of these levels of non-material existence takes you to greater levels of connection with other practitioners, spirits and gods.

I have a friend of Hindu faith who did the “Inner Search” throughout India, Nepal and Tibet. He outlined to me the process of Yoga Nidra, wherein he began by accessing his “personal imagination” with a group of faithful practitioners who were doing the same. Through frequent practice, and a shared symbolism, the membrane separating “personal imagination” and “shared imagination” grew thinner and thinner until there was no separation at all. This is also what devoted groups of practitioners of many magical traditions around the world have done for millennia.

If your scientific mind is battling this concept, just think about your best friend. Surely you’ve had the experience of finishing each others’ thoughts and wanting to do the same things at the same times. This is the process of unconsciously training mirror neurons to disbelieve the fantasy of separateness.

In my friends’ case, his group was using Sanskrit mantras to achieve this effect. I see no reason why we couldn’t use some of our magical phrases from the Hávamál. If you want to dream-­walk and do rune ritual within your shared imaginations, consider a famous passage like:

“Veistu, hvé rísta skal? Veistu, hvé ráða skal? Veistu, hvé fáa skal? Veistu, hvé freista skal? Veistu, hvé biðja skal? Veistu, hvé blóta skal? Veistu, hvé senda skal? Veistu, hvé sóa skal?”

 

This passage, if you repeat it first in words, then in mind, then in trance, will send signals through the realms of the wise and the sublime to grant you the gifts of how to build your runes. The word “rune”, after all, only refers to a carved stone or an alphabetical character in its most material definition. “Rune” can also mean “secret”, “incantation”, “magic sign”, and “hidden lore”.

That response was uncharacteristic of me, because even though I had researched such things for my novel, I hadn’t actually had real experience in it. It was as though someone else was writing it. It was if Freyja was saying, “This is what you get for foolishly professing to know something without having practiced it!” Moral of the story: Don’t say it if you don’t get it. I mean, creative license, right? I’m a novelist, not a shaman!

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So, I took the hint. I began Paxson yesterday. I read through the first two chapters, did the checklist, and set out to try the practices. I drove to a place in nature known as the Coulees, a massive stretch of land on either side of the Oldman River in Alberta. There you’ll find hundreds of small hills, prairie grasses, and groves of Cottonwood. I parked in a parking lot beside one of the many firepit clearings and set out with my earbuds in. I only have one album on my device, and that’s In This Moment’s “Ritual”. I should definitely purchase some more Nordic-themed Utiseta music, but I’ve just gotten into this, so if you have any suggestions? Wardruna seems to be the one everyone’s always talking about.

I walked until I found a straight, healthy tree as Paxson had specified. I removed my earbuds. I took a staff I had sought permission for from the ground. AM I taking this too far? Never. On the way to the site, and began with the Siþ galdr in the book for warding my space. I gave gratitude and recited Aslithar alle, valhallar visir, magn i rotum vinda scal, magn i rotum vefa scal.

I sat and did the balance exercise and the awareness visualization. In front of my was the steel trunk of a massive trestle at stretches from the east to the west over the river bottom area. That became my point of fixation for using several senses to “see”. Metal has a certain smell to it, and imposes a certain magnetism. It feels like something displacing the level of air, pulling surrounding objects into its orbit.

I closed the practice with breathing and visualizing the rooting exercise. This felt very much like the pranayama of moola bandha that I had done before. For the longest time, I was looking for a way to apply my training in pranayama, but it seemed to me that Western yoga circles were, paradoxically, the wrong place for pranayama and pratyahara.

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It was time to do the tree meditation. I asked permission from the tree I’d found, and recited the Aslithar Alle once more. The tree held me in its branches and I felt its sublime embrace. There was a feeling of warmth, and I didn’t want to leave. I heard some talking in the background. A stranger was walking past, and it sounded like he was talking to himself. His talking was tinny and  robotic.

I did the ward and sith glador around the tree and gave gratitude, paying no mind to the stranger. I nestled into the tree and felt its embrace. I connected with its power and felt its process of pulling nourishment up from the ground. I must have connected with it for fifteen minutes before it was time to thank the tree and return to my vehicle. When I got to the parking lot, a sticker on my van read, “your vehicle has been locked in to the parking area. Please observe park closing times.

I found that private security was monitoring the area, and I asked one of the passing guards what time the park was closed. He told me it closed at 8pm. I was disappointed, but at least I knew who the stranger walking past was.

I drove back to the town area and went to the Y for a sauna and hot tub. I returned to my residence and did the relaxation, which put me out for an hour. I woke at midnight and did some stretches on my fitness rug and fell asleep. My dream was a strange one.

I was on a road trip and my traveling companion and I happened upon a novelty shop. We looked through the aisles and I made a game of trying to convince my travel partner to pick up certain items, snacks or whatnot. I would pick things up off shelves, and talk about how they could be used, but my partner didn’t agree that the things I selected were useful. We looked through some items and upon learning the store owner was Korean, I started speaking in that language, and accentuated an -ayo ending by drawing out the symbol, which is a whiny way of speaking popular in Korean drama. The store owner laughed at my way of saying “얼마예요?” pronounced, “Uhl-mo-ayo”, which means How much is this?

It seemed to me I was on a road trip in North America, and my traveling companion was a stranger. I honestly have zero idea what any of this meant. But if I were to hazard a few guesses:

  1. I have anxiety about people around me having different priorities
  2. I feel more comfortable in a non-American culture
  3. I feel the need for a deeper connection with my companions
  4. Something to do with learning a new language

That’s what I picked up on. I can’t wait to see where this all goes 🙂
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Okay, one more treat:

tea stories: Ilam tea

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This image appeared on the box of Ilam tea that my friend brought me from Nepal. ཨོཾ is a common way of writing “om” as in “om mani padme hum” in Tibetan characters.

Left with the question of how I might bring the experience of Asian tea home to Lethbridge, I did what any Euro-Canadian in love with Asia would do: I fell in with a Bhutanese-Nepalese gyan yoga (“yoga of knowledge”) group and enjoyed satsang with music, day trips, Nepalese food, and most importantly, tea, every Sunday for the better part of two years.

After these two years of harmonium, tablas, yoga, sabji (curry), visiting mahatmas, spontaneous road trips, singing, dancing and mantras, at last I told the group that taking the next step of initiation into the group was further than I intended to go. The truth is: I loved the tea culture.

You’ve probably had chai at your local coffee shop. You may have even wondered why the Hindi word, चाय, or“chai” is so similar to the Mandarin word, 茶 or “cha”. These words mean nothing more than “tea”. The reason you think of Indian tea as containing milk, cloves, cardamom, fruits, milk, and other spices is that every region has a different method of preparation, and the regions of India, Nepal and Tibet have historically chosen to garnish their tea with several additives.

As Kakuzo Okakura writes in his “Book of Tea”:

“By the fourth and fifth centuries Tea became a favorite beverage among the inhabitants of the Yangtse-Kiang valley. It was about this time that modern ideograph Cha was coined, evidently a corruption of the classic Tou. The poets of the southern dynasties have left some fragments of their fervent adoration of the “froth of the liquid jade.”

Then emperors used to bestow some rare preparation of the leaves on their high ministers as a reward for eminent services. Yet the method of drinking tea at this stage was primitive in the extreme. The leaves were steamed, crushed in a mortar, made into a cake, and boiled together with rice, ginger, salt, orange peel, spices, milk, and sometimes with onions! The custom obtains at the present day among the Tibetans and various Mongolian tribes, who make a curious syrup of these ingredients.”

Imagine my surprise when one of my Nepalese friends boiled a special tea, tea from the famous Ilam tea fields of Nepal, with a ton of sugar!

Here’s the story. My friend went to Mt. Everest to climb to base camp 1. He sent me a message over facebook to ask if there was anything I wanted him to bring back. I had no idea, so I asked my Nepalese friend, Robin, what I should request.

His answer was immediate and direct: Bring tea from Ilam. It’s the best.

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I answered my friend in Nepal, “my good friend tells me Ilam tea is the best tea. How about a box of that?” Two weeks later, I receive the tea and I thank my friend profusely. The presentation is beautiful. The box comes with a greeting card adorned with a dried leaf and the Nepalese character for the syllable of “om”. I brought the tea to Robin’s workplace and we did it up.

Robin looks at the tea, and tells me he’ll take care of it. He raves about the stuff, telling me that he hasn’t had it for nine years. He throws the leaves into an electric kettle and boils them with several spoonfuls of sugar. I’m puzzled.

I drink the tea, but I can’t taste any of the flavour. He’s very happy with the result, but I’m left wondering how much of the tea you can taste through the spoonfuls of sugar. We look at the leaves. It seems they’re a blend of green and black, thrown together willy-nilly. The hectic nature of the blend and the pour are immaterial. The fact that I’m hanging out with Robin and another friend of ours makes the tea ceremony well worth the tea spread.

Of course I rush home after and make a few pots without any additives. Honestly, the tea has its own characteristic that makes it special, like any tea. The taste of the tea isn’t too terribly different from a commercial-grade pekoe. Something’s missing from these pots, some ingredient that the tea with Robin was abundant with. The ingredient wasn’t sugar.

Tea actually tastes better with friendship. Hm. I might have discovered something today.

tea stories: waygookin tea

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Sometime after the tah-do tea ceremony, and tea fields, and the tea master who was now studying the practice of Taoism in and around the hermitage areas of Jeonju and beyond, Summer began to fizzle and with it erupted the new school year. Halloween was upon us and our local mentor teachers were far busier planning lessons than their native-English-speaking counterparts. For the most part, we spent our days creating presentations, researching language and culture, and investing most of our time learning how to connect with students. Our Mission: to become fun foreign teachers.

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So while the local teachers did things like drawing up assessments, responding to parent concerns, designing performance tasks and the like, we made Halloween costumes and terrorized the locals by pretending to be zombies and asking for brains in Korean (두뇌, or “dun-way”). There had to be a better way to immerse our waygookin (Korean for “foreigner”) group in Korean culture.

Enter: Tea.

If there’s anything you can count on finding in a typical Korean school, it’s a cupboard overflowing with tea and coffee. Korean Teachers would go out for hot beverages quite frequently, and invite along foreign English teachers for conversation clubs, incorporating lively chit-chat, conversations about books, and usually a dessert of cake, tarts or pat-bin-soo (frozen red bean).

After Halloween, I invited some friends over to join in the wonderful tea culture I had discovered. It seemed like a fleeting pastime, until the connections I made turned out to be a group of artists, philosophers, writers and travelers. The crowd were not your typical bar-going tourists. These were foreign teachers who had already seen much of the world, written about their experiences, and loved starting new projects.

We wrote, traveled, enjoyed festivals, took photographs, and had several cups of tea together. The group was ever-expanding, with our core of three-to-five regular tea-drinkers inviting more and more foreign English teachers to my little apartment in Sekyoung Tower.

Sitting in my Canadian prairie home, looking out at the freshly-fallen snow, I recollect those tea parties fondly, and wonder if there’s a home for such a vibrant tea-culture here…

travel: Five Flags in Korea

LAST FRIDAY,three Canadian expats in Korea, Steve, Alex and a weirdo who calls himself the flying fish cycled to Gyeonggi province, home of Seoul, the 11th most populated city on earth and home of the world’s biggest theme park

GET THIS. They left from a charming coastal rural town one hundred and seventy-seven kilometers (roughly a hundred and ten miles) away from Seoul thinking they could get to their destination in less than three days with next to no training.

Their friends tried to talk them out of it, but it was no use. Steve and Alex were sold on the idea. The flying fish just kept repeating the phrase: “Anything is possible.”  They had no idea how true that would be.

This Odyssey brought these three odd adventurers over mountains, across bridges, through orchards, inside dark tunnels, into an unrelenting storm and straight down into the seedy underworld of rural Korea. At times they feared for their sanity. At times they truly felt alive.

This is their story. STAY TUNED.



first episode:

DOWN BY LAW

From hopeful beginnings to being chased by police, diverted to the middle of nowhere and winding up at a house of ill-repute, nothing seems to turn out right… but anything is possible!


travel: 5Flags pt. 3

 

[soundtrack]

After a memorable night at the jimjilbang, it was now time to do what we thought would be impossible: cross the bridge into Gyeonggi province, home to Korea’s capital city. I didn’t even consider the possibility that I might not make it home in time for work the next day. All of our clothing was wet, but the sun was our dryer for a bit. Steve thought to dry his clothes at 5AM. I, on the other hand, wouldn’t have been able to wake at 5AM if the world were on fire.

Uphill riding, I like. Riding uphill sparks the flint inside this old body. My legs burn. I sweat. Everything from my toes to my nose radiate with heat. The human body is a nuclear reactor. Hack it correctly and you can do much more than you thought possible. My breathing teacher has a friend in his seventies who climbs a mountain twice a day and hasn’t had solid food in four years. Yes, it’s possible. Anything is possible.

Before entering the tiny township of Inju, where buses and trains waited to allow us an exit to our pain, we stopped and consulted. Alex, as I’ve mentioned, had the least training for this adventure. Steve and I stopped and talked about how much we admired him for taking on this suicide mission, and concluded that it would not be shameful to call it quits. Steve led the discussion.

“So, Alex, how yah feeling there, bud? I’ll bet your ass is killing you.”

I interjected, “Man, my ass is feeling pretty raw.”

He nodded with his cool disposition I had come to expect. “Naw, it’s not so much my ass but this knee.”

“Yeah, so if you like, we got this town here. Why don’t we catch a bite and think about getting home?”

“Well… let’s eat and talk about it.”

 

With our minds made up, we plugged on towards Yesan, and were pleasantly surprised. It turns out Yesan is filled with beautiful orchards, stretching out towards the horizon. We stopped to buy a few apples and continued our trek refreshed.

As sunset came, we approached the bridge.

Finally, we reached our destination. Cycling the bridge beside the traffic was harrowing, but by this time we’d all been through enough that it barely phased us.

Finally, we, entered the small Seoul suburb of Pyeongtaek, and took a bus to Nambu terminal in Central Seoul. The journey was at an end.

The Nambu terminal had no buses back to Gunsan. I would have to get to the other terminal. I frantically rode around, trying to find out how to get to the Express Bus terminal. I finally ended up up on a subway train with Alex and Steve. The two of them chilled out while I beamed a pair of crazy eyes. I would have to run up two giant sets of stairs with my bicycle on my shoulder and buy a tickets with only minutes to departure.

I finally felt it. I was as stressed as Alex had been the night before.

I’d asked for it. Be careful what you wish for, because anything is possible.

So concludes Five Flags. Tune in again soon for more wild stories of the flying fish!