Friday, February 26, 2016

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Bard at Large

I recently completed a project proposal on storytelling as a tool for transformation. Defining the idea for others refined how this wonderful medium of pure auditory indulgence works such magic on our psyche. Who doesn't want to have a tale spun by a true wizard of storytelling?
'Raconteur Racoon' Jeffry Yeager
My own engagement with story has always been a palpable transformative experience.  When I recognized how story was a tangible force of change in me personally was not until college, and I fed my hunger for change by reading. My infatuation at the time was for Louis L'amour; quick easy reads about larger than life Mavericks in the Wild West breaking rules and saving the day.  I would read these tiny tomes of pulp fiction late into the night gobbling up the miraculous way the loner and outsider became the hero. It wasn't really until I graduated from college that I outgrew this need for Western gobbling and how it fed my own independent spirit, helped me filter through my need to break rules and absolutely fed my own perception of loving my  own MacGuyver skills in the world.

At the same time I would read what I thought were 'important' books too.  In fact, for a while I bought every copy of Anna Karenina I came across in the thrift shops because it was too big to carry with me, and I was always buying it again to pick-up where I had last left off.

But it was my literary 'indulgences' that seemed to weave together the fabric of my own transformation.  For probably 5 years in a row I would re-read 'A Room With a View" every summer.  The young romantic in me craving a wistful, coming-of-age begging for grounding in real life every time I had too much time on my hands and began to worry my life wasn't active enough for a smart young lady moving into productive life. And it was then I started writing; considering story and recognizing a growing need to tell my own .

As a transformative medium, reading can be too big an undertaking for the time or space we are willing to take for internalizing--we have been spoon fed our story for so long.  Reading can take a bit more self-awareness to strip out the bits that apply to me, integrating their meaning so I am actually aware of it. Listening to a story is different than this.  It slips in through the cracks of our self-assured or possibly protective exterior; appeals to our entertainment gene and digs right in to subvert  and maybe even convert what the subconscious is calling for. Story slips right the border of what we think we know and goes to work on the deep-within we aren't even aware of yet. 

Disney's Bard, the Rooster of Robin Hood
Most often I think we get our story from video, so prevalent, such a no-brainer to sit and watch. Here's what's tough about embracing story in this way--we often settle for the fast-food version of how this works!  Aaaarrgghhh, Now don't get me wrong, I don't mean to blaspheme the holy cow of television and even more importantly filmmaking as storytelling.  Screen story took the place of reading for me for over a decade in importance, and I still get lost in a film that works hard to engage me in that way.  But I have learned it is the video reel playing in my own head when listening to a story that starts the transformation for me--it is an action verb in the way my senses engage.  I become the casting director, the props master, the executive producer.  There is no budget limiting my vision of the story.  And I get to include an unknown element--I am not the director in these reels of story in my head--at least not consciously so.  There are so many factors my waking self doesn't know how to play.  I can't make the choice for a heroine faced with odds I have never encountered in my own life, or can I?

When I step off the page in story I get to be surprised by what my unconscious does to settle a scene.  And it is in this way--not reading, but telling, speaking out loud--that the true Bard shares her gift.  Each member of the audience, that's you and me in any given moment of listening, get's to contribute equally to the complete experience.  A raconteur sets the mood, invites us to draw back the curtains and mount the production of the story most called for from our own experience in the moment of our imagination.  The Bards of old traveled from town to town, sitting out late by the light of the fire, spinning yarns of nonsense and great import all at once. Society's controls for exposing intrigues were tightly  guarded and public sharing of info contrary to local government or the reigning monarch was punishable by death even.

Shift in gears when story engages our brain. Photo courtesy of Huffington Post
But is was the gift and hidden meaning of the stories shared by these Bards that revealed truths to those who were willing to listen. Eager minds interested in understanding the layers of what is being revealed were ripe for this pastime. So let's frame that level of intrigue in what might be hidden now in the stories that stream at us non-stop. We are practically drowned in the flood of information which society may or may approve of sharing. How do we filter through what is important to us?  Our 'storytellers' break every convention in shocking or taboo image making.  In television and film, our senses can be overstimulated and desensitized by every sight, sound and often touch (like when our seats rumble, or our seatmate grabs us frantically when the villain appears). How can I filter these inputs and settle on what moves me in a way that matters? How do I know what is important to me?
 I return to the story, I engage in every way I can find where stories are being told; in group discussion, in Ted talks, on my favorite radio program, in panel discussions where surprise questions bring phenomenal stories in response.  I notice what stories grab me, where my imagination takes me as the facts unfold and how I am drawn in or done with it in that moment. 
And I tell stories of my own, i write them, i sit with children and whisper them, 
i share them at the dinner table, over drinks and by the fireside.  
They go to work on me, they inspire my self-understanding, they transform like nothing else can.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Monk in the World Guestpost

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of writing a piece for Christine Valters Paintner over at

It turned out to be this great moment of clarity for me, learning a bit about how I make a mountain out of a molehill, or something into this huge whopping truth, when it might just really be a piece of my experience and someone else would define the truth of it entirely differently.  Here's a bit about how that unfolded for me...

A few years ago, I was on a sales trip to San Francisco, working at a convention center across the street from Grace Cathedral.  I was exhausted from my work and searching for a few moments of peace and quiet.  On the second day I stepped out of the convention center for some fresh air and caught sight of the cathedral set up on a hill, beckoning me to cross the street and clear my head.  A posted sign read there was an organ and choir performance that day, the perfect opportunity to decompress.
valerie holt labyrinthAs I entered the cathedral, I realized I was too early for the performance and heard the organist practicing. The space was cool and dimly lit from nearby stained glass windows. I quietly circled the main space and returned to the entry when I finally looked down.  There at my feet, woven in simple variations of woolen dove grey was a huge labyrinth.  A nearby sign stated it was patterned after the labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral in France, which I had been to years earlier. The sign further described the labyrinth as a meditation tool.  It hinted at secrets of the walk and how levels of awareness were available to the devout practitioner.

Read the whole story HERE...


Sunday, February 1, 2015

Difficult Questions and Beautiful Answers

Feb 6th and 7th, 2015 The Lama Farm and Jung Society of Utah welcome the renowned poet, David Whyte, in a live poetry evening and workshop for an early Valentine’s weekend event. Whyte’s poetry readings and teachings take his audience on a fierce exploration into the frontiers of the beloved and undiscovered self. For this author it seems perhaps the boldest love affair any of us might hope to achieve in this lifetime—a love for our once and future self—reminding us of the beauty of an awakened life. Whyte’s venture into the inner-scape of self is entitled “What to Remember when Waking, Asking the Beautiful Questions.

Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into the conversation…
All the birds and creatures of the world are unutterably themselves,
Everything, everything, everything is waiting for you.

—David Whyte “Everything is waiting for you”

* Difficult Questions and Beautiful Answers

David Whyte is a poet, transformational teacher and organizational consultant. One might question how these three unlikely pursuits combine in a cohesive career, and be delighted to find it is Whyte’s most particular and profound gift of inquiry through poetry which invites participants in all three arenas to dare ask their own courageous, difficult and beautiful questions.  In each of his disciplines, Whyte pushes his audiences to examine the inner world in our diverse and sometimes disconnected aspects of life and thereby discover how closely related the answers are in each. His impassioned and lyrical insight offer balm, guidance and practical application for everyday people grappling with a desire to reconnect or most simply, uncover their inner voice.

This February Whyte makes his public debut in Salt Lake City to ask those very questions. Over the past two years Whyte’s career has crystallized around the planet as his poetry and prose reach new levels of recognition and familiarity. With this notoriety, Whyte is sought out to teach and perform extensively to audiences entranced with the modern mystic nature of his voice and themes. Co-sponsoring the event are The LamaFarm a Utah mentoring and guidance organization cultivating inner-consciousness and awakened living and the Jung Society of Utah. Machiel Klerk, founder of the Jung Society, says “David Whyte's poetic vision is similar to the depth psychology of Carl Jung with the notion that the human is no accident but a carrier of meaning and of gifts, that there is an 'other world'. This is what Jung meant as he defined the individuation process and the collective unconscious. Poets explore these ideas in their own words suited for their time, and David Whyte does that magically.”

Whyte has authored seven volumes of poetry and four works of prose. To his devoted readers, Whyte’s poems cast a web of sonorous and earthy self-discovery. In his live readings, Whyte’s gift of penetrating human connection draws his audience into the same web. Shifting seamlessly between reciting his own poems and quoting the work of his favorite poets he weaves an irresistible spell of sound and silence. Whyte’s performances call to mind firesides of old, in which audiences disappear from the world of passive listener and enter into a journey alongside him—the journey into the self .

A native of England, Whyte now makes his home with his family in the Pacific Northwest. As a child, David, roamed the fields of his father’s Yorkshire, England, memorizing aloud—to  clouds and cows alike, the poems of the romantic poets—Wordsworth and Keats to name a few.  “My mother’s voice taught me a connection to Irish folklore tradition coming right out of the ground and imagination of the Irish.”  And it was his “father’s Yorkshire which had its own storytelling tradition and lent a grounded, steady compassion and almost surreal honesty to the voice.”  Whyte says, “In many ways I got schooled in the two ends of the spectrum in human voice.”   “I was always naturally interested in the voice and memorizing poetry. I started quite young and constantly looked to the future with anticipation for building my repertoire; always thinking what the next poem would be, even if that were only two or three a year.”

It was perhaps through his youthful learning to recognize the soulfulness in others’ words that Whyte began his own development in understanding human expression of the inner voice. These early solitary recitations began a lifelong ‘courtship’ with his favorite poems and authors—well over 300 at last count—which Whyte recites in his performances as they uniquely apply to the present moment of his teachings.

By education and training Whyte began his formal career with a degree in marine biology, working as a naturalist guide and anthropologist in the Galapagos Islands, Andes, Amazon, and Himalayas.  One can only imagine how he might have plied his craft as a wordsmith pondering anthropological insights and guiding human conversation along the trails and extremes such journeys offer. The combination of explorer of the natural world and guide to seekers’ paths shifted from geographical boundaries to human frontiers as his vocation in poetry emerged.

Speaking from his home last month in the Pacific Northwest, Whyte offered his perspective on his poetry and work and how he enters the conversation on the human experience. Whyte’s transition from geographic to human interior exploration suggests an underlying quest to discover his personal genius. “I think I always intuited the human voice as a representation of our identity in the world,” Whyte explains, “Everyone possesses a personal genius.” Whyte says finding, or at the very least seeking our authentic voice through asking questions of our deepest self is a means of uncovering this personal genius. At the center of every conversation is an invitation, just as there’s an invitation in good poetry to the truth; to uncovering…your own particular way to be in that truth.  It has to do with your own genius, not as Mozart, or Dylan Thomas or Madam Curie. I am thinking just of the way you hold life as an individual.”

Why is it so difficult to ask ourselves these questions and find our authentic voice? (VH)

Whyte describes his own experiences discovering a ‘hidden voice’ that needed to be remembered or gathered back into full expression within the body.I remember when I was 13 or 14 [deciding] to have a consistency of voice no matter who I was speaking to; to have it grounded in my body.”  Learning to express his authentic voice at that time, Whyte says ”Strangely enough, there are huge parts of your body you don’t want to be in because of the hurt and trauma of living, ways you do not want to share your voice. You actually try to escape from that psychologically, so the journey into the voice is the journey back into the body, actually being here. Poetry is a representation of that, an artful expression of the human journey.”

How does our authentic voice help us uncover our genius? (VH)

 “Genius is not something we either have or we don’t.” According to Whyte, “we all have genius to be revealed, an identity to be shaped. By exploring our self-perception, releasing judgments we hold onto in our physical bodies we help reveal our genius, which is often buried in the darkest corners within.” Whyte describes a “fully-embodied” voice as the place from which he strives to share his poetry, a place that allows him to express his own genius. In an era when spiritual seekers ask questions for which they find no answers and mid-life crisis newbies don’t have a manual on which to cut their teeth, David Whyte gently and insistently urges us with his deeply compelling point of view to explore our internal frontiers  for the answers. He explains how as our own voices explore difficult inner questions, we discover “the way the voice represents the frontier of what you think is you versus what you don’t think is you. Once these limits are exposed, [you] just might reach past them into the possibility of who [you] actually are.”

Whyte’s teachings will captivate Utahns at once for his guide-work in untamed frontiers and the discipline of his philosophical and contemplative tradition.

As a powerful storyteller, it is not uncommon for Whyte to recount experiences from his days as a trail guide and anthropologist and share poetry from his current walking retreats in Ireland, Italy, England and the Galapagos Islands. Such pilgrimages have long been a practice of the seeking soul. Here in Utah we are fortunate to have some of the most beautiful and untamed vistas of any wilderness anywhere on earth. We have the opportunity to take to the trails and mountains with similar intent, finding enough silence in nature to awaken, or free from sleep, a certain element of the unconscious mind and possibly begin to examine those interior frontiers.  Speaking about ways to begin an ‘embodied practice’ for self-exploration, Whyte says “our great religious and contemplative traditions look at the way human beings are constantly being invited into the new, emancipated sense of self in the world.” Starting with the walks in the countryside he took as a youth memorizing a favorite verse, Whyte’s expeditions into exterior frontiers introduce an embodied physical practice for the parallel journey we are invited to explore in his poetry—to find our voice and honest expression of self.

The poet has spent years in spiritual practice uncovering his authentic voice.  Whyte says “I sat Zen for years where the beautiful questions are known as Koans, an Eastern contemplative tradition asking the unanswerable questions.” Citing an example of such a question, Whyte asks “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” and goes on to describe what personal meaning such a question might hold by feeling into the places of the body that might be blocked by this query.  A possible answer, he goes on is “how much of my life is real, how much is what I make up speaking back to me in my own voice?”  Explaining how we separate from our manufactured perception of self, Whyte suggests we might discover “…a deeper, more foundational self. Starting there can feel like a kind of death, at least dismemberment or falling away. This is a letting go of a part of you that can no longer speak the truth.”

What are the ‘Beautiful questions’ you are asking us to remember when waking?(VH)

“These questions come from a part of you already knowing and calling you, one who already knows the new truth to which we belong,” Whyte says.  “A place from which to speak, dance or shape a life that can distinguish the authentic you from the pattern of thousands of images told from the courageous human life at the center of your existence.”  As suggested by answering the Koan above, we  “[don’t want] to be part of some other life, body…but right here at this place, now!  Taking only the steps you can take, speaking the only words you can speak, making the only life you can make.”

Why is the live interaction you have with an audience so profound? (VH)

“On stage, there is a kind of ritual invitation being made; strangely enough that invitation is to the silence that lies as a context for all the beautiful language and truths you hear in poetry. Quite often in a room full of people whether on stage or in a conference room, I’m following the listening in the room--where the silence is most profound.”  When Whyte speaks to an audience, something almost alchemical happens in the interaction. As he describes “something quite new happens in performance; listening and responding to the profundity of the silence…that’s where the magic and the art form are and that’s where something new will happen at the same time.”  Audience members engage in dynamic interaction in response to the poet’s invitation to discover our personal genius, to join what resonates from that selfsame voice of authenticity and honesty with which he speaks. As Whyte engages with an audience he dares us to ask the Beautiful Questions, to risk discovering our unexplored interior frontiers, not necessarily because of their innate beauty, but because of the beauty and genius we discover in ourselves when we ask them.

Valerie Holt is a writer, mentor and founder of The LamaFarm where the soul of the seeker rises from the ground we break, dig on purpose.™  She  is thrilled to cohost David Whyte in February as he urges us to Remember the Beautiful Questions as we are waking.

see the article as it appears in the CATALYST MAGAZINE  Here

Friday, October 25, 2013

Start Making Sense

Before great vision can become reality there may be difficulty. Before a person begins a great endeavor, they may encounter chaos. As a new plant breaks the ground with great effort, foreshadowing the huge tree, so must we sometimes push against difficulty in bringing forth our dreams. Chaos-where dreams begin...
I Ching Hexagram #3

Brilliance from Chaos
 mandala by Valerie Holt

Dharma: Finding sense in  
the Order of the Universe...
Finding sense or order in life asks us to bring our 'A' game.
Consider this an invitation to get into  
coaching mode for yourself--Time for an internal dialogue.

Life gets messy, chaotic even.
How do we incorporate the experiences of our own lives and those examples that we truly value,  as a way to make some sense, find some wisdom, seek a path we actually want follow?  So often we seek and seek, learn and learn, surf the waves of living and totally turf it on the shore...over and over and over...When someone has lived or survived a certain cycle of learning and whether they consciously choose to or not, they are holding out a light for all they are worth to make their way on the path in front of them without breaking their neck. We are each of us, doing this, in some aspect of our lives-- 

Showing the Way, Making the sense, Finding the path.

Take a minute as you read these words, reflect on your own Turf Sessions, call this the video highlights of the game.  Now it's time to talk strategy--we're gonna call this part of living and learning the spin cycle and my suggestion today is that you start to reflect, apply a tiny bit of big picture strategy, find that inner voice of coach; dig a little deeper and amazingly you will see you have such inner wisdom, you are your best divine source for guidance--the best choice to bring order to your sense of spin. 
The divine, still, knowing self that dwells right in your center--the Divine Wayshower--knows what it takes to bring your 'A' game--so it's time to start a little chatter,
wouldn't you say?
 Getting to the insight or perspective of WayShower requires living through the Spin Cycle--cycles of personal growth. That means you gotta play a lot of games just to figure out how you like to throw, whether you are a fast runner or better at a slow game...

The Wayshower is a powerful archetype to take on, sit with, walk around and think about, or invite into dreamtime when learning to recognize inner guidance--start some inner chatter with this guy! 
I like to picture the very humble image of a monk or maybe even a hermit-someone who journeys to the holy mountain to get some perspective and stillness. But the beauty of inner dialogue is that you get to choose any image you like that offers great perspective, wisdom, and most definitely humor in your life (it's really just Divine You in a new suit).

You could even sit with the image of a lighthouse, but one that is moving-not locked in place-and only just missing the rocks ahead in time enough to shine a light for those following behind because you are living this wisdom, learning it moment by moment and applying it in the very next moment when new rocks appear.

 The rocks, Spin Cycles or cycles of learning are constantly arising as we make our way through life. When we understand this cycle is rotating through our lives--on huge major cog wheels, or tiny little spokes, they can be measured in generations, minutes, milliseconds or milennia--it is the beginning of understanding our own strategy for a successful Spin Cycle. 

Here's the key... we become empowered in our own lives when we recognize & acknowledge the cycle.  The Brilliance of this sense of Order is begging for its turn--this is your turf, why not master the spin?   

 We start just by recognizing...

big loves, Valilama