Smile At Your Challenges

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There’s no shortage of people – and perhaps you’re one of them – who believe that if they only had a flawless face, the perfect body, the right car, the dream job, a full bank account, and a blissfully stress-free lifestyle that Happiness would be theirs for the taking and they could bask forever in the love, acceptance and admiration of others. Accordingly, they try every diet on the market, subject themselves to plastic surgery, engage in daily reinvention exercises, and race around to speed-dating venues in order to find the perfect soul mate who will validate their existence. Sadly, these obsessions reflect our national obsession with “Instant Now” – be it the quest for short cuts, quick fixes, or thinner thighs in 20 minutes. As a colleague of mine is wont to observe, if there was a magic pill that would give people everything they thought they needed to have to be perfect, the inventor of said pill would be an overnight gazillionaire. Since no such pill currently exists, the best investment you can make in your future “newness” is a copy of Danielle Pashko’s debut book, Smile At Your Challenges. Pashko – a former New York model and expert on yoga, massage, holistic nutrition and healing modalities – embraces a reader-friendly approach to improving oneself by accepting that happiness is truly an inside job.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: It’s often said that appearances can be deceiving. Have people ever looked at you and remarked, “What kind of challenges could you possibly have? If you’re pretty, life will always be blissfully easy.”

A: I get that all the time. People think I’ve lived a charmed life based on my appearance and judge me in 15 seconds.

Q: As an adolescent and a teen, what was the defining incident that most strongly honed the survival instincts you would need as an adult?

A: Losing my mother and not having a father to protect me made me realize I was alone in this world. I knew if I made poor decisions I’d probably be on the street.

Q: What attracted you to the field of health and wellness and how did you first break in?

A: My mother’s early illness was my first introduction to health and wellness. Her best friend Beverly turned her on to meditation, visualization, holistic remedies and esoteric concepts. I was meditating by age 12 and followed a holistic lifestyle from a very young age before it became trendy.

Q: In a perfect world, a person who eats their vegetables, exercises regularly, practices yoga, drinks green juice and goes gluten-free would never have a day of sickness in their lives, much less a catastrophic illness. As someone so conscientious about maintaining good health, what was your reaction when you were diagnosed with thyroid cancer?

A: Strangely, I was not surprised. I was always scared of cancer due to the fear that was instilled after my mother’s early death. I was convinced that I’d experience some form of cancer by the time I turned 31, the age she was diagnosed. And guess what?…I got sick at 31. Did I will it? It’s a lesson to consider that our thoughts have energy.

Q: What role does spirituality play in your ability to deal with life’s pot holes, speed bumps, detours, and occasional careening off of unexpected cliffs?

A: Spirituality is the only way to stay sane. Although, it’s not a pretend philosophy for me. I believe our souls all have a lesson and chose the incarnation and body that we exist in. If we can view things as divinely orchestrated and not as a punishment, we can always figure out why we had to experience the pain. It just may not happen while we are experiencing it. Believing that YOU are in control instead of a higher power unfortunately leads to suffering. Nothing is random…

Q: Is there an age-related correlation between attitude and expectations and is it different for women vs. men?

A: For women, 40 seems to be like a very scary number. I think men hit it closer to 50. Although there seems to be more pressure on women than men to be married, beautiful, and have children than the pressures that men face.

Q: When expectations aren’t being met, there’s a general tendency to be grumpy about it and walk around with a glower and a frown. Encouraging people to smile at their challenges – as your new book title recommends – sounds like it’s much easier said than actually done.

A: I like to use my mother as that example. She was dying of cancer, but always wore a beautiful wig, full face of makeup, and dressed to the nines on a very limited budget. She never wanted anyone to feel bad for her. I took the lead from her.

Q: How much does our mental state affect our physical health?

A: Attitude is everything. Anxiety, nerves, depression, etc. will slowly kill us. I think those emotions are even more dangerous than sugar and processed foods – which I completely advise against.

Q: As many parents these days can attest, the “heroes” that their offspring zealously worship and want to emulate insofar as fashion and behavior are more likely to be celebrities whose popularity is a manufactured image. What’s your message about the danger of losing your uniqueness – at any age – when you try to imitate rather than create?

A: When you are not natural, authentic or yourself, it reads as fake. People can see right through that. We attract our soul mates, friendships, and even business relationships by being ourselves. Being like everyone else is so boring – why would you even want that? I love being different, it’s one of my best qualities.

Q: Does this carry over to dating relationships as well?

A: Yes, you can pretend to be someone else to get the guy or girl of your dreams. Then when the real you comes out – guess what? Now you are married to someone you are totally incompatible with. There’s nothing worse!

Q: If your next walk on a beach turned up a brass lamp from the Arabian Nights, what would be the most important wish you’d want its resident genie to grant you?

A: It sounds funny, but that I would always be healthy and not have to work so hard on it. I am grateful every day when I feel good. I can just imagine where I’d be if I didn’t take care of myself.

Q: So tell us what inspired you to put your life lessons into a self-help book and pursue publishing?

A: Honestly, I’ve never met anyone with a life anything like mine. (I’m not sure if that’s good or bad) Friends would always joke and say I need to write a book or movie script. As a professional counseling people on health and wellness, the unique chapters of our life can’t be ignored. Most people don’t just wake up being sick and I question how I came to my own health struggles. We need to realize where our physical problems stem from. The mind, body, and spirit are interconnected. To be truly healthy, we need to work on all of it.

Q: Who’s your target reader for this book?

A: The book appeals to women age 20-50, although I’ve received some very interesting feedback from men and have applied some of these tools to their lives.

Q: Did you work from a preliminary outline or just let the ideas flow as you went along?

A: I tried to work from an outline but have to say so much was just intuitive.

Q: What was the hardest chapter for you to write?

A: The hardest chapter to write was probably “Age, Attitude and Expectations.” Most of the chapters were based on personal experience. I kind of embrace my age so it’s not something that I have struggled with.

Q: And the easiest?

A: The easiest chapter to write was “You Don’t Have To Wear Your Pain”. It’s a little strange because it reads as the most emotional, but it’s where my journey started.

Q: What would you say are the three major takeaway lessons from Smile At Your Challenges?

A: We are stronger than we think. Shit happens but you can’t let it cripple you. You’re not a victim.

Q: Like many new authors, you opted to go the self-publishing route. What was the journey like for you?

A: You have to be really on top of promoting yourself and social media. Although, for me I like that I’m spreading the word organically without a marketing team. It’s exciting to hear nice reviews that I didn’t pay for!

Q: You also have your first book-signing coming up. Brava! Tell us the details.

A: Yes, I’m doing an event the end of May to talk about the book and why I wrote it. I don’t think even many of my friends know these details of my life or philosophy. It’s really exciting to share.

Q: So what’s next on your plate?

A: I’m going to roll with this book for a few more months and see what opportunities come from it.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A:They can visit my website pashkowellness.com

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: Don’t be a stranger. I’d love to hear feedback from readers!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Grove of the Sun

The Grove of the Sun

A fantasy tale about redemption combined with beautiful artistry and complex characters draws readers into the novel The Grove of the Sun by author Parvathi Ramkumar. A magical journey that revolves around one character’s desire to save his land and his personal struggles while doing so. Fantasy lovers will enjoy stretching their imaginations in this intriguing tale.

Interviewer: Christy Campbell

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Tell us a little bit about Parvathi Ramkumar, and how long you’ve been writing.

I’m an author and freelance journalist, as well as a professional book reviewer for a major newspaper in India. I’ve been writing for over twenty years, I began when I was seven. It’s always been a passion.

How would you describe the synopsis of The Grove of the Sun?

The Grove of the Sun is a poetic tale of magic, Order and Chaos, and one man’s discovery that the life he was taught to believe was true might be an illusion.

What kind of books do you like to read?

I like a variety of genres, and my tastes in reading are pretty eclectic. I do have a particular liking for fantasy and science fiction, though.

Is The Grove of the Sun your first book?

It’s the first book I’ve published, yes.

What was the inspiration for the subject matter?

It was inspired by a strange and vivid dream I had many years ago. Some of the setting for the book and part of the plot came from that dream.

How long did it take you to research and write The Grove of the Sun?

A little over seven years. It was a little longer than I’d initially anticipated, and there was so much I needed to know and work on.

Whereabouts did you research for the novel?

A lot of the subject matter came from Indian myths, and I also did some research on esoteric themes for the presentation of Order and Chaos in the book.

How would you describe your protagonist?

Ildanis? He’s lighthearted and warm, with a streak of ingenuity that often leads him to situations he’d love to avoid.

What’s your prime motivation when you write a novel?

To tell a story. I love creating worlds and characters, and I love putting them all together to weave a tale.

Do you have any writer’s habits that are a must when you sit down to write?

Well, I do prefer silence. Also, my desk has to be neat, just so. Anything out of place is terribly disturbing, even that pencil right there in the corner where it shouldn’t be.

Do you like to dabble in other genres?

Yes, I find literature and poetry fascinating. As well as children’s fiction and magic realism.

What next on your plate?       

I’m working on a couple more books, including a children’s book.

Where can readers find out more about you and your novels?

My website, www.parvathiramkumar.com, has more about me and my work, and I’ve created a Facebook page for my book, www.facebook.com/thegroveofthesun. I’m also active on Goodreads.

 

 

Living a Life of Gratitude

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A Conversation with Sara Wiseman

Drawing from her own experiences, and the wisdom of her teaching experiences with many others, Ms. Sara Wiseman crafted an eloquent description of a life cycle from a spiritual perspective with her book Living a Life of Gratitude: Your Journey to Grace, Joy and Healing.

I had the pleasure of conversing with her on the subject of her awakening, her teachings, and the subtle ways we are part of a beautiful, spiritual community that is rarely seen but often felt. She has an innate care and elegance of expression that reflects her work.

Interviewer: Joanna Celeste

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Q: Your training, podcasts, and series of mini e-books (Soul Immersion Mini Series) seem geared to help people achieve their own spiritual awakening. What was the moment of your awakening?

A: In 2000, I had a near death experience, and that was when my life began to shift; in that experience, I saw, knew and understood God/Universe/Divine/All at a level I can’t explain; it was transcendent. That understanding changed me—it made it impossible to go back to how I had been living before. From that opening, I started to have a series of other experiences: and in 2008, it was sort of like the floodgates opened, and I received The 33 Lessons, spiritual teachings which became part of my first book. I find the opening continues—every moment is an amazing experience!

Q: Wow! How did you come to discover your intuitive abilities?

A: I believe that if you walk along the spiritual path long enough, you can’t help but become intuitive; and if you walk along the intuitive path long enough, you can’t help but become spiritual! When we understand Oneness—that we are One and all is One, and that there is literally no separation—then intuition is a given.

Q: That’s a fascinating concept; but sometimes it can be draining to connect to others on that level, where there is no separation. What was your process for handling that?

A: I have a lot of compassion and feeling for others—I want everyone to be happy! So I do get sensitive when things aren’t going well for them. That said, it’s not my job or place to fix someone—I’m there as conduit for the Divine. So I work on being fully present when I am with someone, and then when that is complete, letting it go. I don’t have any formal process for releasing energy, as some do. I do limit how many sessions I do per week; that really helps.

Q: Good advice, thank you! What led you to offer the DailyOM distance learning courses?

A: I am so impressed with DailyOM’s vision of offering high-quality, distance learning courses at a sliding rate! It’s very important to me, that everyone has access. Especially people in other countries, where the exchange rates are different and it can be hard to afford things like courses. That’s one reason I do so many free podcasts for my radio show—so that anyone can have access to the information, regardless of income.

Q: That’s cool to be so conscientious of the international (and, in some places, national) economic marketplace. Among your services, you offer intuitive readings and clarity coaching intensives. What is your greatest challenge when it comes to connecting with people in this way?

A: The people who show up to me are such amazing human beings—they are my teachers, as much as anything I can offer to them! My challenge is to set myself aside and be fully present—and then let the guides show me what to notice, say or illuminate. I find it very enjoyable to work with people at that level of consciousness; it’s a very high vibration that we share when we are in session, and it’s wonderful.

Q: Sounds amazing! You have authored six books, including Living a Life of Gratitude: Your Journey to Grace, Joy and Healing. You move through Birth, Emergence, Connection, Love, Convergence, Expansion, Nature, Awareness, Awakening, Presence, Transition and then you return to Birth. What does this circle represent?

A: There’s a commonality to the life experiences we share as humans—we’re on the journey of soul growth, which is about awakening and opening to an unlimited degree. Each of us has access to this kind of progressive awakening as we move through the container of this lifetime. For example: Connection. At some point in your life, you’re going to experience a profound, real, heart-opening connection to another person. This is a passage of soul growth.

Q: Yes, and another example you include is “Nature”. In your blog post, “October is for Respite, Retreat, Hermitage, Healing” (http://www.sarawiseman.com/3/post/2013/10/october-is-for-respite-retreat-hermitage-healing.html) you share some things we may expect to discover in this month. How does nature affect us?

A: Nature has consciousness, just like we do; it’s just at a different frequency or vibration. When we listen or notice nature—watch leaves moving, or really feel the wind blowing, or have an emotional response to the crash of waves—we shift into that frequency. This is a layer or level where it’s very common to have instantaneous opening, bliss, awareness, messages, visions and more. And, you don’t need to be on a nature trek; you can just spend some very simple time meditating on a flower, or walking in the park.

Q: I could reconnect to those sensations just with the reminder. You deal with so many things that might be hard to express, but you capture them beautifully. What is your writing routine?

A: When I’m writing a book or course, I really focus—I’ll write daily for hours. But when I’m between projects, I do other things—I like to just be in life. I do use a journal continually, to work out ideas that arrive to me from dreams, meditation, nature, all kinds of sources. I write at home, in the mornings, in a tiny little office filled with Buddha statutes and books.

Q: Cool! How have you cultivated balance?

A: I don’t think I have cultivated balance! It is such a life dream, to be able to do this work; I’m so passionate about this field of spiritual intuition! I work very hard, and I have the ability to focus very clearly—but when I need a break I take one. I like very simple things, like walking in nature, or eating, or watching a comedy; just easy things.

Q: That’s neat that you’ve got something fluid that matches life. Is there anything else you would like to say?  

A: I find the challenge of life is very interesting. On the one hand we’re Divine beings; on the other, we’re so very human. The day I have the most extreme bliss experiences might also be the day I snap at a family member—it’s all happening at once. We’re both completely perfect, and totally flawed, and that’s what it means to be a soul in a human container—we’re all of everything.

 

For more information, please visit her website at http://www.sarawiseman.com/.  Reviews of her work can be found at Amazon on http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0738737534).

 

 

How to Look Good Naked: Exposing Yourself to the Real You

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“We look into mirrors,” wrote Pearl Bailey, “but we only see the effects of our times on us – not our effects on others.”

When you study your own reflection, how well do you really know that person who’s looking back at you? Is she someone whose value is forever being held up for scrutiny and comparison to others? Are there dreams she plays close to her chest, as reluctant to divulge as she is to pursue? Is she someone you’d like to get to know better but haven’t a clue as to where you should start?

Authors Courtney Frey and Jen Kelchner just may have the answer to starting your own journey of discovery in their new release, How to Look Good Naked: Exposing Yourself to the Real You.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Let’s start with your respective backgrounds and what drives your passion.

Jen: I worked with a Fortune 100 organization for a number of years in Administrative Management which is where I began my coaching career. Over the last three years, I have focused on my life coaching, writing and speaking in order to develop solid tools to help others on their personal journeys. I live in the Nashville, Tennessee area and have two almost grown sons.

Courtney: I hold a B.S in Psychology and Human Services and have spoken across the country for women’s conferences in all avenues of women’s issues.  I have a background in social work, sales, writing, and management and am the published author of several non-fiction women’s books. I live in Iowa with my amazing three teenagers, my significant other, and my three energized dogs.

Q: I’m always curious how independent thinkers connect with kindred spirits and decide to collaborate. What’s the story behind how the two of you met?

Jen:  Ours is a crazy story to be sure! Courtney commented on a blog post of a friend of mine and they began to communicate. Then he introduced me to Courtney and it was love at first sight. I read her book and immediately knew we had been divinely placed in each other’s paths. Our stories, although different, had led to the same emotions and wounds to be overcome. I think it took us all of two days to realize we were truly kindred and that our purpose and passions were in alignment.  It would be a fatal error to ignore something so powerful. So, we decided to launch this movement.  All of this took place in the span of about six weeks from meeting to our decision to create change together.

Q: The two of you have also recently founded your own company, www.igniteyourtruth.com. What inspired this decision and how did you go about structuring its development and subsequent launch?

Jen:  We met in April, formed the idea around the first of June, and we went live on July 1st of this year. Three years ago I made the decision to leave my corporate career for the sake of my relationship with my sons (which led me on my personal journey as it turns out). I realized about a year into that journey that my focus was no longer business but people. My sole purpose in life became to affect change in others and places around me.  With each passing month, my focus became more and more laser-like to be bold with my passion and form an outreach. My problem was I really needed a counterpart to walk this out with me.  I mean it is a tough journey to do solo! As Courtney and I developed our friendship in those few weeks, we saw how our energy, passions and visions matched so perfectly. In truth, we created a general outline for the short term and long term visions and just winged it from there.  I designed our website and put our technical arena in place for podcast and off we went. Thankfully, we are both very resourceful gals and we operate from ingenuity and hard work to get whatever we need done.

Q: What strengths do you each bring to the table?

Jen: I have days I regret that I have technical skills as I see my task list grow and grow. My personal gifts really lie in being able to see a big picture when someone else is talking. It is like I see images or phrases forming in the air and can quickly snag those and connect dots. It really helps cut to the chase fast if I’m coaching an individual or helping a company identify their issues.

Courtney:  Thank God for Jen who can organize and deal with the technical side of things, because it’s like Chinese to me!  Because she can magnificently handle the details, I am able to utilize my strengths and networks to really get out there and engage our marketing plan and focus on writing.

Q: What is Ignite Your Truth and who is the target audience for your particular message?

Jen:  It is a movement to bring people into knowing who they are, know their value, having authentic relationships, helping them to change their thinking and embrace their visions. We are loved, valued and accepted.

Q: “Not So Lady Talk” – the name of your new series – seems inconsistent at first glance with the genre of Christian/Spiritual. Was the choice of this phrase just a catchy marketing hook or is there a deeper connection in play to a faith-based platform?

Jen:  That is a great question! At our core, we talk about authenticity. Authenticity and transparency has been missing from the church for generations. Our generation craves authenticity. We are tired, bored and hungry for something real. There is a serious gap that needs to be addressed for women in the church culture, especially for women in their 30’s and 40’s. We are highly intelligent, multi-task and get things done. So, when we show up to a women’s function, we don’t want to swap recipes and chit-chat. We have apps for that. We want high-energy, deep, real conversation. We want to know that we can remove our masks and be unfiltered without judgment so we can address our needs. It might be inappropriate and not-so lady-like at times; but it is real and healing. We are out to redefine what women’s outreach looks like – especially for this generation.

Q: Tell us about How To Look Good Naked, your first book in this series.

Courtney:  This book is really an exposing of our true selves and the journeys we have taken to getting to the truth of who we are.  It’s not always pretty, and it’s very humbling.  However, we wanted to be transparent in that journey so that other women would see and believe that they are not alone, they have grand purpose, and are unique and empowered. We address issues from identity to shame to self-acceptance all while being very vulnerable.

Q: Did the two of you start with a formal outline of what you wanted to cover in the book or were you brainstorming as you went along?

Jen:  We started with a general outline for each chapter. Individually we went about our writing then pieced it together for proper flow. Any time we write, we wait until we feel a specific nudge for a topic. Our guideline helped us to stay on point but we really work as we feel directed individually and weirdly it always ties together.

Q: Were you working in the same room this whole time or communicating via phone/email? What were the advantages/disadvantages of this collaborative approach?

Jen: We live over 700 miles apart and have seen each other one time. We wear out Facebook instant messaging all day long! However, when we write we both unplug and then come back together to review. Somehow it all works together perfectly.

Q: How did the two of you resolve creative differences such as what to put on the cover, how to organize the content, what to add/delete, etc.?

Jen: Thankfully we balance each other very well. Courtney defers to my graphic design talents and she will tell me if she doesn’t like it. Since I’m the “organizer” of the two of us she lets me manage the content, edit and such.

Q: What’s the best part of working with a partner?

Courtney: We definitely balance one another out.  Not every day is an easy day and having a partner who is able to be strong when you are weak, who can pull you up and inspire you, is definitely a key to our success.

Jen: I agree that our being in this together is what is making this work so well. Our personal stories include a lot of being the odd ball in our lives, never really being accepted as we grew up. And, let’s face it that entrepreneurs and game changers are generally odd balls. We push the boundaries of what is acceptable in societal norms – especially as women and mothers.

Q: You share several personal experiences in your book and state that everyone has a story and that story matters. Please elaborate on this.

Jen:  A lot of times we want to run from our stories because we carry guilt or shame with them. We need to encourage each other to embrace our stories and that we are the authors of the chapters yet to be written. Our past gives us a rich history to draw from that can encourage others and provide us with new tools and skills. Our stories serve others and build communities of change. There is freedom in owning your story…it cripples fear and returns the power to you.

Q: What inspired each of you to break through your own layers of roles, labels and inhibitions over the course of dispensing advice to your prospective readers?

Courtney:  I desired first and foremost to be authentic.  If I was going to talk to women about exposing their true selves, I had to be willing to really go there as well.  I didn’t want to just talk the talk; I wanted to walk with them hand in hand through the journey.  I believe that the best support comes from those who have gone through the valleys and come victoriously out the other end. And, if I wasn’t willing to do that with my readers then the message was false.

Jen:  Definitely. In my own journey, the only thing I have found to keep fear at bay is to be authentic and put it out there.  I am empowered when I put my life out there. Fear dissipates. The need for others acceptance becomes invalid. It’s freeing.

Q:  Would you categorize this book more as self-help or inspirational?

Jen:  Honestly, I can’t stand labels and so have a difficult time knowing how someone else wants to categorize it.  It’s a real, honest look at life and humanity. It is inspirational as it offers hope that you can really overcome anything.  It is also self-help because it provides tools and direction. Then again, you could stick it in the spiritual bucket as parts of our stories bring our foundation of faith into the mix.  At the end of the day, it is a book about real people who had messy lives and crawled their way out of life’s pit to embrace wellness.

Q: There’s no shortage of books on today’s market about journeys of self-discovery, introspection and empowerment. What do you feel makes your content unique in this regard?

Jen:  I think for one, we don’t play around. If you ever have a conversation with Courtney or me, you will quickly learn that we get to the heart of the matter fast. We don’t want to waste one more second of someone not knowing just how valuable and loved they are. We are very transparent and bring our very personal stories into the mix so people can engage and relate quickly. We have walked out all of the things we talk about. It is not text book or theory; it is a survival guide built around actual events.

Q: Given that the material is faith-based, will the book resonate with women whose religious beliefs are different from your own?

Jen:  Absolutely as we share universal truths not religion. While Courtney and I have a few moments where we put it all out there from our perspective; we do take care to use words that remain open to universal truths.  At the end of the day, truth is truth.  And the light of love, forgiveness and acceptance will break through any darkness in life.  The tools we provide others to walk through their journeys with are practical, proven exercises or affirmations.

Q: What governed your decision to self-publish?

Jen:  The content was timely and needed to be out there to the masses not just our known group of people. It was so heavy on our hearts and we didn’t feel like we had time to spare.

Q: What do you know about the publishing world now that you didn’t know when you started?

Jen: Honestly, we still don’t know nearly as much as know we need to.  Our goal remains to connect to women, not necessarily focus on the business aspect of selling mass books.  I suppose the one thing we do, and it’s where our hearts are, is network and connect to others whose visions are in alignment with ours.

Q: What would readers be the most surprised to learn about you?

Jen:  I am a serious Doctor Who fan.

Courtney: I am a sushi loving classic literature addict!

Q: What’s next on your plate?

Courtney:  Our next book in the series is a 15 Day Relationship detox book. We have also had men ask us about a guy’s version of our series so we are exploring that option. And, we are very excited about our speaking and first retreat in 2014.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

Jen and Courtney: Thank you for the opportunity to discuss our business and our latest series; we truly appreciate your time and your passion!

 

Dancing in the Heart of the Dragon: A Memoir of China

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“Twenty years from now,” wrote Mark Twain, “you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

Ramona McKean, author of Dancing in the Heart of the Dragon: A Memoir of China, did exactly that when she heeded the message of an inner voice that suggested her life’s calling might be found thousands of miles from her Canadian home. It’s a must-read for women over 40 who want to be inspired, to find their purpose and, ultimately, to make a difference.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: In 2004, you fulfilled a longstanding dream of living and working abroad. Why did you happen to choose China?

A: In the midst of despair in early 2004, I knew I needed to do something radically different with my life but didn’t know what. That changed the day I heard an inner voice tell me straight out I was going to China. That’s how I happened to choose China. I trusted the voice and had a feeling China would play a very significant role in my life.

Q: How much did you know about your destination prior to going there?

I was moderately up-to-date with current events and moderately knowledgeable with the basics of 20th Century Chinese history. Before leaving Canada I made a point of researching Harbin, the northern city where I’d be teaching. I also talked to many people who’d been to China. Of course, no amount of book learning and conversing could adequately measure up to my experiencing China first hand.

Q: What were your initial impressions of the country in 2004 and of its people when you first arrived?

A: Fascinating and exciting! The energy was different; I could almost hear the crackling of aliveness combined with a sense of urgency. Demolition and construction seemed simultaneous, they happened so quickly. A colleague quipped: “What’s the national bird of China?” Answer: “The crane.” Cranes outlined the skyline whichever way I looked.

The people I encountered were usually reserved until I smiled. I often got huge smiles back. Sometimes people were curious about my nationality. Occasionally, when they learned “Canadian,” they’d bow and say “Bai Qiu En” (sounds a bit like bye-chee’yo-enn). It means Bethune. I felt deeply touched. Dr. Norman Bethune was a Canadian doctor who helped the Chinese during war time. All middle school students read the essay Mao wrote about the “selfless Canadian hero.”

I worked at the Harbin University of Science and Technology, teaching English to first year students. I quickly discovered they were far less sophisticated than my senior high school students in Canada. Their prompt cleaning of the blackboards at the end of class took me off guard. It was something they just did. Right from the start, I also noticed respect, appreciation and good-naturedness. They were a lot of fun.

Too many smokers! At my university, smoke billowed from offices into the hallway, taking me back to previous times in Canada. Too many drivers were bold and audacious, and almost nobody used seatbelts. (Often there were no seatbelts.) As a pedestrian, I had to be extra mindful.

The Chinese food was amazing and inexpensive. Western fast food joints—MacDonalds, Pizza Hut and KFC—charged much higher prices. I went into those establishments for one reason only: their Western toilets, hot water and soap. I still needed my own tissue. In restaurants and everywhere else in China, tipping was illegal.

These are just a few initial impressions. My prequel will be full of my impressions and experiences. Please bear in mind that China is a rapidly developing country. What I’ve said above may be different now.

Q: What was the hardest – and, conversely, the easiest – thing to adjust to in your conscious decision to make a major lifestyle change?

A: The hardest thing before leaving Canada was managing my emotions. I felt thoroughly overwhelmed and also extremely excited with such a radical choice. The easiest part was my complete and utter knowing that going to China was singularly the right thing for me to do.

Once in China, the hardest part of my adjustment was missing my grown-up kids intensely. And Christmas? I could not have predicted how desolate I’d feel being so far from home. The easiest thing was falling in love with China. It happened so naturally that it took about two months for me to clue in. Like the experience of falling in love with a person, my feelings were so deep they often hurt. Being in a serious car accident and having to leave only added to the depth and complexity of my feelings. John Fraser in The Chinese, Portrait of a People expressed exactly how I felt with leaving: “Like many foreigners who went to China and have known the Chinese, a part of me feels in permanent exile.”

Q: You indicate in the opening pages that sometimes an invisible hand directs the course of one’s life.  Do you believe the major events in our personal journeys are predestined or are we still mostly creatures of free will?

A: I lay many long hours in a Canadian hospital bed contemplating that difficult question. I asked myself: “Was falling in love with China and almost dying there a matter of fate, predestination or free will?” My thoughts are not easy to express but I’ll try my best.

First I’ll mention my way of defining the terms. As you can see, I’m throwing fate into the mix. Fate is neutral and impersonal and implies events that are meant to happen. Predestination is used synonymously by some people. To me it differs in that it suggests a plan, not neutral, that’s devised by another, greater power. (That awesome, mysterious force is not male, but I shall call it God.)  Humans have no control with either fate or predestination.

Free will is the opposite, allowing humans the ability to make conscious choices. The key word to note is “conscious.” People can only exercise free will to the extent that they’re conscious. For instance, in my life I’ve too often made choices dictated by unconscious dynamics; that is, by unhealed emotional wounds and habitual responses. To be truly “free,” my will must involve intelligent self-reflection. For the major events, my will must also be accompanied by courage and strength. I’ve found that the more courageous I can be, the stronger I become. Strength I never knew possible comes to me from God.

You asked me if I thought predestination or free will characterized the lives of humans. I have a hard time with the idea of predestination. Maybe the issue is one of consciousness, i.e., the conscious awareness that we are all part of the greater power, God; that in essence, we’re all one. I believe the more we each heal our personal pasts (including what’s been passed down through our families), the freer we are to determine our own direction. I believe that when God sees us constructively use whatever awful stuff life throws our way, “it” says: “Here is one to enter into co-creative partnership with me. Hooray!” When we maintain an open and humble attitude, mindfully attuned with God, a new direction is created together. It’s like a delicate, dynamic dance with the Divine to co-create a destiny.

Especially after the accident, I had an uncanny feeling that China was part of my destiny.  Do you remember I said a voice took me to China? When I was trapped in wreckage I heard the voice again. It used the first person and in a calm, matter of fact way said: “I don’t know what this is all about but I do know it’s part of a bigger picture and it’s a good picture and it involves me and China.” I’m grateful that I somehow had the presence of mind to notice and remember.

Q: According to Amy Tan in Opposite of Fate, a Book of Musings, the best stories often come from the worst experiences. As a stranger in a strange land, you certainly endured one of the worst experiences imaginable – a head-on-collision that nearly proved fatal. Tell us about this nightmare experience and what gave you the strength to survive it.

A: It was Spring Festival time (aka Chinese New Year). A bilingual Chinese friend and I were travelling in a poor rural area in the south, far from where I taught in the north. I realized our driver was sleepy when I saw a bus headed straight at us. We were on the wrong side of the road. The drivers’ trying to avoid each other didn’t work. We collided head-on at a slight angle. In no time I found myself pinned between the crushed front of the van and the right passenger door. Given I had no seatbelt, it’s miraculous I didn’t go through the windshield. My friend, seated behind me, was injured too. We helplessly watched our driver die. It took quite a while for rescuers (private citizens) to show up. The events that followed were unusual and some downright bizarre; I have included them all in my book. My friend’s father, cousin and sister slept on a hospital floor for three nights to take care of me until a 26 year old colleague flew 2200 km from Harbin. He got me released from the hospital and saw me safely back to Canada.

In Canada, I found out the true extent of my injuries: 7 ribs broken, both legs broken and right knee crushed. How I survived crude rescue, two questionable Chinese hospitals and two flights home is beyond me, especially considering my right lung lining was punctured too.

What gave me the strength to survive? Shock in the form of denial helped. I was calm, trusting and present; it didn’t occur to me I might die. The voice helped. It told me goodness was in the works and I’d be able to derive purpose from awfulness. Most of all, it was the love of my Chinese friends and students who with all their hearts told me: Da nan bu si, bi you hou fu, “If a big bad event doesn’t kill you, then you are guaranteed happiness and extraordinary good fortune.” Their love and faith sustained me.

Q. It sounds like the voice provided you with an epiphany. Tell us about how you derived “purpose from awfulness” and in what ways you feel you’re making a difference.

A: “I don’t know what this is all about but I do know it’s part of a bigger picture and it’s a good picture and it involves me and China.”

The voice did not explicitly tell me what my purpose was. Rather, it opened me up to a new world of possibility. I knew it would involve writing. China had made a profound impression on me, both the culture and the people. I wanted to build a narrative bridge of understanding between us and China. That bridge is now built, Dancing in the Heart of the Dragon.

Something that really concerns me is how our Western media deliberately creates fear and misperception about China. As far as I’m concerned, an “us vs. them” mentality is plain bad news. China’s a big country developing fast. What wisdom is there in our casting them as the “enemy”?  The Chinese are people, just like us. Why not choose to get to know them better? The mutual benefits would be enormous!

It’s time for a more balanced and fair picture to be painted. Dancing in the Heart of the Dragon does this and also gives readers plenty to self-reflect upon. It’s a story told honestly from my heart to readers’ hearts.

Just imagine all our children and grandchildren inheriting a more friendship based world! That’s what I stand for, and that’s how I am making a difference.

Q: You mention using your story as a bridge between cultures. Is the bridge on your cover meant to be symbolic of this? Tell us about your book’s striking cover and how you chose your title.

A: Yes, I intend the bridge as a symbol linking East and West. The dragon, which happens to be the most important creature in Chinese folklore, is the national symbol of China. The phoenix is a creature thought to bring goodness. In most Chinese legends the phoenix does not burn like its Western counterpart. In my cover design, the phoenix represents me, finally able to rise from the flames of physical and emotional trauma. In terms of the physical, I required three surgeries and well over a year of rehab to walk normally. As for emotional trauma, I was not able to experience release until the day I launched this book, February 10, 2013, eight years to the day after the accident.

As regards the title, I did not choose it. It’s more apt to say it chose me. I wanted something “perfect” that included the words “dragon” and “dancing.” Try as I might, I couldn’t think of it. Then one afternoon the words “Dancing in the Heart of the Dragon” flashed into my head. I almost fell over in awe. A little later that same day while shopping, I pulled a red top from a clothes rack and was amazed to see its front sequined with a Chinese dragon. It was like God saying: “My dear, I am so with you.”  I leave it to readers to experience how perfectly Dancing in the Heart of the Dragon fits my story.

Q: If the chance presented itself to go back to the country that nearly killed you, would you take it?

A: The chance did not “present itself”; I actually made it happen. I returned to China in 2008 to study Mandarin at a university. I had to overcome a lot of fear to do that. I expect I’ll return yet again when my book is available in China.

Q: Tell us about the development of Dancing in the Heart of the Dragon, a Memoir of China and the takeaway value you believe it holds for your readership.

A: The dream to write about China started to germinate the day a voice told me I was going to China (early 2004 in Canada). I knew I was in for dramatic change and wanted to capture it. I made a point of writing emails and journals full to the brim with details. That writing provided the treasure trove I drew from later.

For a long time after the accident I wanted to write for publication but couldn’t. Doing so would mean facing trauma. It wasn’t until joining a writers group in early 2010 that I was able to start. I wrote more than half a book, none of which deals with the time period covered in Dancing in the Heart of the Dragon. (That material shall be in my prequel.)

In 2012 I took coaching sessions with the woman who was to become my publisher, Julie Salisbury (Influence Publishing). She told me I had to start all over again, with the accident. (Gulp, now or never!) I decided to use actual journal entries, conversations, email correspondence, photographs, songs and dream work. I also decided to move back and forth in time and tell my story from a hospital bed. In that way it’s like The English Patient.

Dancing in the Heart of the Dragon is an engaging story. I know because I’ve been accused of keeping people up all night. The writing has a quality of immediacy, such that readers feel they’re right there with me—whether it’s lying on the sub-tropical sands of the “Island of Pianos” or being freed from wreckage with crowbars and carried up and down flights of stairs on a narrow board.

And of course, there is learning about the real China, in a book written by a Westerner who loves and respects the people of China.

Q: How did you go about finding a publisher?

A: I did not try to find a publisher. I saw Julie for coaching before she even owned a publishing company. She was moved and inspired by my story. From there everything flowed, just like it was meant to be.

Q: What do you know now about the publishing business that you didn’t know when you started?

A: The industry is in a process of redefining itself. I knew this when I started but didn’t know just how rapid the changes were. Writers must work diligently on their own promotion. Utilizing the Internet is critical, a task daunting for many. It can also be daunting to know just who to hire. Money plus much time, energy and ingenuity seem to be necessary to meet with success.

Q: Have you been influenced by Chinese literature you have read? If so, in what ways?

A: My sensibilities have been influenced the most by the I Ching, an ancient book woven together with Taoist and Confucian teachings. It has helped me enormously, ever since I encountered it in the late 1980’s.

Twentieth century writers particularly influencing me include: Anchee Min (Red Azalea), Jung Chang (Wild Swans), Xin Ran (The Good Women of China), Amy Tan (Kitchen God’s Wife), Adeline Yen Mah (Watching the Tree), Lisa See (Snow Flower and the Secret Fan), Han Suyin (A Mortal Flower) and Jan Wong (Red China Blues). These writers have all provided me with much insight into the lives of Chinese people, especially their own and other women’s. They’ve educated my mind and heart and helped me to understand China’s culture and way of viewing the world.

Q: In light of current global tensions, do you believe a true understanding between Chinese and Westerners will ever come about? If so, what concessions and compromises would be necessary from both sides? 

A: A true understanding between Chinese and Westerners will take effort. I can’t know if it will come about but it’s my dream. I’m willing to do what I can to promote that possibility. For one, we need to recognize that we’re fed a lot of propaganda about China as they are about us. It’s important not to believe everything we hear and read, especially from politicians and mainstream media. They have their agendas which include nothing about heart-level understanding.

Westerners have to stop finger pointing. It does no one any good. China has a lot of problems. Any country with such a huge population developing so fast would have problems. Let’s develop compassion and a desire to build rather than destroy with our attitudes.

We ALL, everywhere, need to get over ourselves and get educated about each other—each other’s culture and different ways of perceiving the world. We need to see our common ground. This education does not have to be unpleasant at all. In fact, it can be fun.  In the West, a great way to start experiencing Chinese culture is through literature, movies, music and food. Have conversations with Chinese people we meet. People in China: Don’t be shy to have conversations with the foreigners in your midst. If language is an issue, smile, be friendly and courteous. Chances are others will respond similarly. Curiosity can be a wonderful attribute. Travel is also awesome. Regular people, perhaps more than politicians, need to lead the way in understanding.  And everyone, please remember: People are not their governments and people everywhere are individually unique. No one is a stereotype.

Q: As of this writing, your book is being considered by three book awards committees. Whether you are short-listed or not, how might being nominated help promote your purpose? 

A: Award nominations and actual awards draw much attention to a book and increase the credibility of the writer. Many readers have already told me how moved and inspired they felt by Dancing in the Heart of the Dragon, a Memoir of China. When people feel moved and inspired, their hearts and minds open up at least a little more than before. True understanding is then more possible.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: Within a year I’d like to have my book translated into Chinese and on the market in Asia. I also want to write my prequel.

Q: Anything else you’d like readers to know?

A: The Dalai Lama said that Western women will save the world—women because of their ability to nurture and respond with their hearts; Western because of their many hard won victories that women elsewhere have yet to experience. I believe it’s not only women who’ll serve as the world’s capable and compassionate “rescuers,” but also men who are not ashamed to own and honour their own gentler qualities.

Though my story may not “save the world,” I recognize its unique potential to promote understanding between us in the West and people in China. It’s a human heart to human heart understanding, the kind that leads to friendliness and good-will. My story reveals how communicating and opening to each other’s goodness can benefit us all.

In closing, I would like to invite people to visit my website, read the first few pages of my book (“Preview”) and listen to some of the music (“Soundtrack”) that helped me fall in love with a nation. http://ramonamckean.com Until then, “Xin xiang shi cheng”: May the dreams of your heart come true.

 

 

Onward & Upward: Reflections of a Joyful Life

Onward and Upward

Okay, by a show of hands, who thinks they have the craziest answer to the question, “Where did you spend your 21st birthday and why?”

A guy toward the back who looks like a tall, introspective Dustin Hoffman responds to the challenge.

“And your name, sir?”

“Michael. Michael Wiese. I just wrote a book called Onward & Upward that I’d like to talk about.”

“Do you have any special credentials for being here?”

“I make meaningful films, I publish the works of talented writers, and I live on the Cornwall Coast.”

“Anything else?”

(beat) “Well, I know The Great Ken Lee. I mention that on page 164.”

“Seriously?”

“Seriously. I don’t make this stuff up.”

“Now about that 21st birthday story…”

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

**********

Q: At age 12, you had every expectation of the secret of life being revealed to you on Confirmation Day. If as the adult Michael you could travel back in time and whisper in the ear of your younger self, what would you say?

A: There is no death.  The Earth is your paradise.  Look within.

Q: One of your childhood aspirations was to grow up and be an ice cream man. Would you have sold cones straight off a truck and had little kids cheer your arrival on their street or had your own soda parlor and invited ice cream lovers of all ages to sit and linger? (and what do you think your choice reveals about your personality?)

A: Selling ice cream from a bicycle.  I like the element of surprise – showing up unexpectedly with a treat.

Q: You spent your 21st birthday in an unexpected venue and for a reason that could cause many people to raise an eyebrow. What was it, did you ever do it again, and what did the experience teach you?

A: I was in court standing before a judge with my film crew after being arrested shooting a nude scene of a dancing couple in a field.  Did I ever do it again?  Yes.  What did I learn?  To be more careful and never shoot in fields that Girl Scout troops walk through again. (laughs)

Q: Music is a recurring theme throughout the chapters of Onward and Upward. If you were involved in the music scene today, what would you be performing/producing?

A:  Indian tabla, of course.

Q: What was your inspiration to become a publisher and launch Michael Wiese Productions?

A:  Necessity!  Twelve publishers rejected my first book, I had to do it myself.  It sold 50,000 copies and I started publishing other writers as well as my own books.

Q: With so many screenwriting and filmmaking books out there on today’s market, what do you feel keeps MWP sustainable? In other words, do you ever worry about running out of topics to cover?

A:  We provide information that has – until now – been closely held film industry secrets.  We kicked open the doors with our books.  Like Mother Nature, we will never run out of ways to express ourselves creatively.  There are many facets on a diamond.

Q: You recently launched a new imprint, Divine Arts. Tell us about it and the correlation to your own spiritual journey.

A:  We are in service to provide a conduit for sacred knowledge, both ancient and emerging.  Divine Arts books demonstrate how one can bring mindfulness to daily life and reconnect with the sacred nature within.

Q: Having spent so much time behind a camera, which is the greater challenge for you – to direct the energies and skill sets of other people to deliver your vision for a documentary or to exercise the solo discipline of putting your thoughts on paper every day and writing a book as deeply introspective – and humorous – as Onward and Upward?

A:  Having Parkinson’s has made me refocus and reduce my energies toward a one-man band kind of filmmaking.  I no longer have the stamina for crews and 14 hour days.  I may hire assistants to carry the gear or an editor to help put the film together, but my challenge nowadays is to make small, personal, sacred journey films on a micro-budget.  Books or films all require a disciplined and committed approach.

Q: Documentaries that seek to introduce the world to little-known cultures often do so at the price of foisting “civilization” on tribes that were perfectly happy being ignorant of modern trappings and technology. What is your advice to aspiring documentary filmmakers insofar as doing no harm in their quest to bring home a compelling story?

A:  Walk softly.  Don’t leave a footprint.  Be very respectful.  Bring as little equipment as possible.  Leave the ‘video circus’ at home.

Q: How does the Balinese connection to the divine that you observed and experienced in your 20s help you to stay focused and positive in dealing with your recent diagnosis of Parkinson’s?

A:  I focus on the daily miracles of what I can do:  Seeing and smelling the flowers in my garden.  Hearing the ocean and birds singing. Feeling the breeze and warmth of the sun.  Like the Balinese with their constant offerings, I give gratitude daily.

Q: For you, what are the distinctions between being religious and being spiritual?

A:  Religions ask you to believe.  Believing what someone tells you to believe is not very useful.  Having an experience of the divine makes the spiritual real for you.

Q: The chapters of Onward and Upward are replete with anecdotes of famous people with whom you have crossed paths and drawn inspiration. Is there anyone you wish you could have met and if so, what question would you most like to have asked him or her?

A:  I’d like to ask Robert Johnson if he really sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads?  Of Einstein I’d ask how many dimensions are there and who lives there?  And I’d ask Carl Jung why he didn’t publish The Red Book when he was alive?

Q: When you learned that you were going to be a father at age 45, what was your first thought?

A:  Forty-five is the new thirty-five!

Q: Had you met your beloved soul-mate Geraldine 20 years earlier, what would your approach to parenting have been?

A: No difference.  Babies didn’t come with an Operating Manual then either.

Q: Parents often tell their children, “Do as I say, not as I do.” Has Julia shown signs of emulating the wild and crazy days of your own youth? If so, what’s your response going to be?

A:  You bet she has!  It’s natural and healthy to experiment and test the world.

Q: What’s the most recent movie you saw and what did you most love/hate about it?

A: “The Cave of the Yellow Dog”.  A wonderful Mongolian film about a nomadic family.

Q: What inspires you the most about living on the Cornwall coast?

A:  It’s elemental magnificence.  It’s like Big Sur on steroids.

Q: What would most people be surprised to learn about you?

A: Just about everything I write about in Onward and Upward.  I’ve been many people and had many lives.  Most people who know me see only one face.  The book reveals all!

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A:  An esoteric quest in Sicily. An interactive e-book.  The first screening in London of my latest film, “Living with Spirits: 10 Days in the Jungle with Ayahuasca”.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: I thank you for your challenging and insightful questions.  Sorry to ramble on so. 😉

Onward and Upward is available now through www.mwp.com or Amazon.