A Fine Place to be Right Now

Ready Wisdom: Make like a tree. Or How to live entirely in the moment.

There is pretty much a yoga pose for everything, and I seem to have spent most of the last week in tree pose.

In tree, you can root yourself to the earth, which helps on those occasions when you feel as if you might spin clear off the planet.

In tree, you can find that crucial place of balance between pressure points as you lift your branches.

You can reach up to the sky and wave your arms as graceful branches that move with the wind no matter how strong it becomes.

It has been one of those weeks.

When I wasn’t actually in tree pose, I spent time amongst the trees themselves, listening to the wind through their branches, watching their buds unfold, and smelling that sweet spring scent of flowering growth.

Most walks brought me to animals, and that is a fine place to be right now. There is a herd of Highland cattle in our local nature reserve, and they are huge, majestic things to behold.

If you squint, you can see Highland cattle across the stream.

A half-hour near a herd of cattle is instant relaxation and reminds me of a special knowledge we have forgotten:  How to live entirely in the moment.

You don’t see animals worrying about the future and fretting about the past. You see them, instead, simply inhabiting the moment. If everything is fine in an animal’s direct vicinity, then they are fine as well.

I’m not sure I can sign up for the cow hugging I’m reading about in both the US and Dutch presses, but I can sit on my side of the fence in the field, and remember how to inhabit the moment. Then, for just a bit, my concerns subside so I can hold space in the quiet of my center and ground myself with the tree roots.

A Highlander up close.

Once as I sat there, the cows began to sing for no other reason but joy I suppose, and I marveled to hear how it sounded like whale song.

Earth’s two biggest mammals, one on land, and one at sea, sing a common song of joy.

Ready Wisdom that you can apply right now is the theme of Owl Magic, my toolbox of anxiety-busting strategies created for times exactly like these. The instantly applicable guided meditations, stories, poems, yoga poses, and writing prompts in Owl Magic will help you meet today’s challenges from the life-affirming power of your own intuition, because times of change are the times of greatest transformation.

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A Conversation with Vashti Stopher Klein

“…make time to do what is most important: create art with positive rippling effects.”

Vashti Stopher Klein is an award-winning filmmaker, folksinger, and songwriter in the Washington D.C. area. She is the author of the multi-media poetry collection The Soprano, the Monster, and the Dragonslayer. Her films have won awards, including CINE Golden Eagle; Gold, Houston International Film/Video Festival; Blue Ribbon, American Film/Video Festival; Best Director, International Monitor Awards; Silver Hugo, Chicago International Film/Video Festival. Inspired to produce artistic products with positive rippling effects throughout the world, she formed Butterfly Effect Productions, Inc. In 2014, she released her first album, The Heart of Things. The following year, her album, Path to the Sun, Moon and Stars was born.

What would you decide to do if fighting a battle to save your life threatened the very essence of your life? Written as a fairytale, with enchanting artistic elements, the Soprano, the Monster, and the Dragonslayer will have readers rooting for the Soprano’s success, worrying over the outcome of her battles, and cheering for her triumph. Her voice is then heard in poetry and music.

Vashti Stopher Klein

A warm welcome to film producer, poet, and singer Vashti Stopher Klein who is joining the blog to talk about her unique book The Soprano, the Monster, and the Dragon Slayer. Klein’s origins from a long line of musicians combine with her experience in the visual arts to shine through her book, which fuses three genres: poetry, music, and visual arts. The result is an inspiring, multi-faceted volume bound together by the theme of love.

Truly do give me

the light in the trees

the sun on the mountain

the river at our feet

the wind in our hair

the joy that surrounds us

of all that we love.

from the poem Love in the Daylight Hours

Poetry and song are close cousins. Have you ever wondered when reading poetry what it might sound like? The Kindle version of Klein’s book has an answer with links to the author singing her poems. Klein sings well with a good range and is able to merge the written with the vocal beautifully. Hearing her soaring voice brings the words to life as the author becomes the Soprano.

The book is illustrated beautifully by  Carol Collett, of Carol Collett Desert Studio, whose mixed media quilted images decorate the text with truly unique Americana.

Klein’s goal is to produce art that ripples out into the world with good, and she achieves that beautifully with this collection.

Vashti Stopher Klein

1. I’M INTERESTED IN THE BACKSTORY. YOUR POEMS READ AS A STORY OF HEALING. HOW DID YOUR EXPERIENCE LEAD TO YOU WRITING THE SOPRANO, THE MONSTER, AND THE DRAGON SLAYER?

All of us who’ve lived through this past year have watched our health care professionals on the front lines, like warriors, selflessly take care of people, while risking their own lives to do so. We have seen what compassionate care means, like never before. When you are the recipient of that kind of care from other human beings in your darkest hour, from people you don’t know, it changes your life forever. 

The backstory of my book began in the winter of 2012 when I contracted a deadly virus that resulted in a cough that became so severe, I cracked a rib. A subsequent CT scan showed a mediastinal mass in my thymus gland.  

My doctor referred me, reluctant and terrified, to a cardiothoracic surgeon who said he wouldn’t know whether it was cancer or not until he performed a surgical resection. Robotics were possible to use but he would convert to a sternotomy if that proved unsuccessful. His words made me feel like I was in a nightmare.  

He said if it was cancer, he would remove anything it touched, including my voice box because his job was to save my life. Radiation treatments would follow. If the laryngeal nerves were damaged, another risk, it could affect my voice forever, leaving me hoarse or unable to speak. This mediastinal mass was an anomaly, unknown to me, that I’d had my entire life, so I asked the surgeon why I should risk surgery now. He said it was the only way to find out if it was cancer, and, it may be growing. I asked a million questions, and he answered every one. I was numb.

I weakly whispered something about being a singer; the surgeon said he operated on a tenor recently who only sang Puccini and he had successfully performed this and similar surgeries hundreds of times. These things happen to other people and right then, I was not feeling like I would be one of the lucky ones. 

I was terrified I would never sing again. All I could think of was if I can’t sing, or speak, what value will my life have?  

I told him I didn’t want the surgery. He said to think about it for a couple of weeks and we would talk again. Drawing up my courage, I heard myself assert, more loudly than before, that I was a singer, and it was “important to my life, to be able to sing.” I had never said that out loud before, as a definition of my life’s value. I asked if I could play a recording of one of my songs for him. I thought that if I played it for him, perhaps he would be more careful. He looked a little surprised but said yes.

I played an operatic piece I was learning, En Aranjuez con Tu Amor by Joaquin Rodrigo and my voice filled the exam room. He listened intently. When the recording stopped, he kindly said, he would do everything he could “to save that beautiful voice.” He answered the multitude of questions I had which earned my trust. A second-opinion doctor concurred with his diagnosis and proposed treatment but was so arrogant and dismissive I didn’t think he heard any of my concerns. I returned to the first surgeon. 

From that point forward until the surgery, I reflected on my life and everything I had ever valued. As a filmmaker, I prided myself on being able to control complicated productions that had massive moving parts every day. Now I had no control at all. I began to imagine the world going on without me. In the weeks before surgery, I was learning to let go.

The night before surgery I had a dream. It was simple. My surgeon’s smiling face appeared, and he said, “Everything is going to be just fine.”

The next morning in the hospital’s pre-op room, I was strangely calm. The anesthesiologist briskly entered and asked about dry eyes and latex allergies, after which there was a small prick to my arm. Six hours later I woke up in the recovery room with a tight bandage around my chest. In between sleep and awakening, there was only a sheer black void, the absolute perfection of nothingness. I didn’t want to know if I’d had a sternotomy at that moment. But I had.

In my post-op appointments with my surgeon, I could not have been more fragile, inching my way down long hospital hallways to get to the surgical suite. He said I was recovering beautifully. I knew that I could trust him, and his words meant I was finally on the other side of the precipice where there was no more fear. Just recovery. And life. But I was still hoarse from the breathing tube.

From the first day after surgery, my body felt like the weight of the world had lifted from my chest. My sense of touch, taste and smell were strangely heightened, tenfold. When my fingers touched my skin, it was as though it was the first time I had ever been touched. Meals were so delicious and enjoyable I chewed and chewed to prolong the wonderful tastes. Smells were more acute. 

Sometimes late at night as the pain medicine wore off, and my thoughts slowly assembled, I began to experience the profound depth of what had happened to me. I was captivated by Andrea Bocelli singing Vaghissima Sembianza, “a cherished vision,” a song about a painting that was a replica of a long-lost love’s image. Over and over, in a dreamlike trance, I played the song with this precious vision. It brought me such comfort. I didn’t know why.

As the days passed, I couldn’t believe the kindness I received from so many people throughout my ordeal. The nurse who removed my chest tube; the man at the hospital’s front desk who leaped up to take my arm as I unsteadily walked in for a post-op appointment; the anesthesiologist, with a worried look, who checked on me in the ICU. The hospital caregivers and surgeon’s staff were completely selfless. None could know the profound effect they had on my life simply by being supportive. 

As my recovery progressed, and anesthesia drugs wore off, conversations gradually drifted back into my consciousness, and late one night, I remembered my surgeon saying the mediastinal mass had begun to attach itself to my lung, and the pericardium of my heart. I then realized the monster within had been spreading and positioning itself to make its final move. It could have attacked me at any age; but for some reason, it had chosen this time of my life. A time when I was too young to be old, and too old to be young.

In the flickering light of my television that night, in the wee hours before dawn, in a medicated haze, I suddenly realized that this brilliant surgeon, whom I had entrusted with my life, had reached the monster just before it wrapped itself around my heart and lungs forever. And I knew in these twilight hours of excruciating profundity, this story would affect me the rest of my life.

As healing began, I started to sing a little each day, starting tentatively at first. After a few weeks, it began to feel like my voice had no limits. The high notes were unforced without the obstruction of the mass near my lungs. I felt a part of everything that was alive because my voice was nearly lost forever. 

My life changed. The kindness of these selfless medical professionals rekindled my connection to others and to nature which I was drawn to each day, simply because there were remarkable people who cared about someone who to them was a stranger. I knew I could never go back to my previous life; I had to move forward. It was as if I’d been under a spell. These kind people slayed the monster of my life’s faded expectations. The surgeon stood by me, listened to my fears, and gave me the unvarnished truth. He spoke to me with consideration and respect. It was not only his brilliant surgical skill that healed me; it was his honesty and compassion during my darkest hour and his and others’ innate goodness as human beings that saved my life. 

I didn’t want to squander the precious time they gave back to me. My heart was open wide, and it led me back to the music of my life. 

As I recovered and began to sing and write poetry again, I felt my life change as I healed. I practiced until I built up enough courage to perform one night at a local open mic. I was so nervous; I had no idea what to expect. I sang Raglan Road and when I finished the audience stood and applauded wildly. I was overwhelmed.

I then began to sing and perform more locally, and the audience reactions moved me. Sometimes they stood and applauded; other times shouted “Wow! Just wow!” Some walked on stage with me and hugged me as their tears fell; others told me that listening to my music had a trance-like effect on them that soothed them and helped them to relax. 

During this journey, I came across a paper by Edward Lorenz whose theory famously became known as “the butterfly effect.” One small action, a butterfly flapping its wings in Kansas, can have reverberating effects throughout the world, and cause a tornado in Japan. I began to feel that my singing, like the rippling effects of Lorenz’s butterflies, might be something positive I could contribute. I began to feel that everything affects who you are, and who you are affects everything.

I formed Butterfly Effect Productions Inc. to produce artistic products whose rippling effects could be a source of comfort and beauty. Because I didn’t know what the future held, I wanted to capture my music, so I decided to record my first album, The Heart of Things, released in 2014. The artwork of the woman on the cliff, with arms wide open, and heart energy flowing, was an image of how I felt as I healed. 

The next year, in a flurry of inspiration, I composed numerous songs and poetry. They came to me as I walked each day in the park, they appeared in my dreams or as I walked into a room. As the music came, I decided to record a second album that became Path to the Sun, Moon, and Stars, released in 2017. 

I was tested regularly to make sure the monster didn’t return. They said it was unlikely. But I felt I had been given a second chance to leave something of whoever I was in the world, and I wasn’t going to waste it. My music, my singing, my poetry, the films I made, the songs and stories I wrote, would be my contribution.


2. THE SOPRANO, THE MONSTER, AND THE DRAGON SLAYER STANDS OUT AS IT INCORPORATES THREE GENRES: POETRY, MUSIC, AND THE VISUAL ARTS. WAS THIS INTENTIONAL, OR DID IT EVOLVE? HOW HAS IT INFLUENCED YOUR EXPRESSION AND ABILITY TO CONNECT TO AN AUDIENCE?

The book evolved from the songs, poetry, and films I’ve been writing since I can remember. I find artistic expression to be such a fluid process that it has a life of its own. For me, the inspiration selects the genre; it’s as if it comes from somewhere else and demands to be expressed. Sometimes it wants to be a poem; sometimes it must be a film; other times, music; sometimes the lyrics come first, other times, it’s the melody. When it happens, it’s as if I must sit down right then and write it down, or sing it and record it, or play it on the piano until it is roughed out. I can’t rest until this is done. I once wrote a poem called “The Late Great Roscoe Mac,” when a friend told me that in medical school they practiced on a cadaver they named Roscoe Mac. That night as I ate my dinner, it was as if Roscoe was next to me saying, “Write this down. Write this down, now!” I had to stop eating and write the poem. Every line was very nearly perfect from beginning to end after one draft. 

One of my songs called “Whatever He Wants,” started as a tune in my head. It had a certain levity to it but also had a helpless feeling. I had no idea what it was about, but the melody kept coming back to me. One morning, after a recording session, the previous day, I woke up out of a dead sleep thinking, “Whatever He Wants! Oh, that’s what it’s about!” Then, as I sat up in bed, I wrote the lyrics on my phone. The song changed very little after that.

This process has gone on for years, off and on; but I had lost touch with that part of myself before my surgery. Afterward, I felt I needed to do as much as I could as soon as I could because I was keenly aware that we only have today to share who we are.

In 2019, I decided I wanted to capture some of the work I’d already created in a book. I thought it should have a specific theme, so I chose love poems I had written over the years. With newfound confidence, I now dared to put it out in the world. I reached out to my lifelong friend, Carol Collett, and asked if she would share her lifetime of amazing artwork for the book; some pieces she had created over the years; others she created especially for the song or poem as needed. It was a joy to collaborate with someone dear to me with whom I felt such a kinship. And it was exciting to think our artwork would be shared in one book.

In terms of the visual media used, as a filmmaker, I’m familiar with the power of sound over images. And since music lyrics are simply poems, I decided I would add my music lyrics to the poetry in the book and link them to my published songs to enhance people’s experience. I imagined someone putting on their earphones, taking my little book of poetry to a coffee shop, looking at Carol’s exquisite artwork, and reading my poetry in an e-reader and listening to my music as they remembered what it was like to be in love. 

I think people are connecting to my music and poetry because they feel a kinship in terms of their own life experiences. It seems to soothe them. Steel Drums and Ode to Harley have received such heartfelt responses of joy from people who found comfort in the promise of the future in Steel Drums, to tenderness and empathy from those who treasure their “best friends…” in Ode to Harley.

I hope that my songs, poetry, short stories, and films will always have positive effects that are meaningful, that move people, and that help heals their hearts, even for just a moment.


3. WHAT ARE YOUR FUTURE PLANS?

There is so much I have yet to do. I have pieces of music waiting to be completed; and finished songs waiting to be recorded. I have poetry to collect in another volume; short stories for a book; one is about my mother called, “Sun Mother, Dream God.” Another is a rough draft I’ve written of a book of dreams I want to finish called “The Winnekawe Bear Book of Dreams.” I have a rough cut of a short film to finish producing called “The Trouble with Venetians.” The pandemic stole a year from all of us; for me, I went inward. But now that we are starting to get some semblance of our lives, back, I feel myself opening up, going from survival mode to one of gratitude for my life again. This feeling inspires me to consciously make time to do what is most important: create art with positive rippling effects that will live long after I am gone.

Follow Vashti on Facebook and hear her sing on her website.

Apocalypse: Face Your Fear

Imagine the poets were right and this is the moment we changed.

Imagine the air stays clean

imagine the grief is gone

imagine the ocean clean

imagine the people together.


Imagine the planet healed

imagine the people healed

imagine the fear is gone.


Imagine the poets were right

and this is the moment we changed.

Apocalyptic vision

Have you ever imagined soulless zombie armies, mushroom clouds, alien invasion, and of course, pandemic? We have read about the apocalypse in novels and watched it over and over again on movie screens. We have imagined dystopia and a violent, imminent end to everything we know, and we have probably imagined ourselves amongst the survivors, because who wants to contemplate their own mortality? 

These are modern apocalyptic visions. They are rooted in fear, and they always happen to someone else. Except now, perhaps. 

The fictional pandemic has suddenly become real, and the political instability is happening to all of us in some way, right now. If we are lucky, we get to sit it out on the couch in our yoga pants. If we are not lucky, we may have been sick, or someone we love may have been sick, or maybe we have to leave the couch because our jobs are essential. We may also be out risking danger to protest for a better world.

It is happening to all of us, and while we are probably all scared and thinking apocalyptic thoughts, we are also experiencing the current moment in very different ways. 

It turns out it is not zombies or aliens or nuclear war. It is a virus, a microscopic enemy we cannot even see. It is social upheaval, dredging up all of the dark aspects of this world we need to fix, and it looks like it might have to get worse before it gets better.

Open your owl eyes

Expand your owl vision. Owls always see the truth and are comfortable flying through dark shadows. Summon your owls. Athena is a battle goddess, and the owl at her shoulder protects her in dark places.

This is not the first apocalypse

It has happened many times before, and it is possible to think of apocalypse as more of an ongoing situation than a one-time event. Every time a species goes extinct, they have had their apocalypse. Every time a habitat is destroyed, it is an apocalypse, and the thing most apocalypses have in common is that they are generally man-made.

 Are we the apocalypse?

Did the virus jump species to humans because we put so much pressure on the natural environment? Maybe. And is it the nature of the virus to invade a host and drain it until it is exhausted in the same way humans invade the land and drain it until it too is exhausted? Possibly.

While pop culture defines apocalypse as the kind of explosive world-ending event we have seen in the movies, people have, in fact, been predicting the end of the world pretty much forever. 

And in some times and places, it did end. But never for long, and often not at all.

Notice the fear behind the apocalyptic vision.

Apocalyptic predictions generally follow times of disruption or uncertainty, often involving war, plague, or the sighting of comets in the sky. 

One of the earliest apocalyptic predictions was made in ancient Judea by the Essenes, who thought their battle with Rome was the end battle. For them, it was the end, but it was not the end for everyone. 

The world has been predicted to end by antichrist, fire, and flood at different times by different people—yet still, we are here. 

Between 1290 and 1335, Joachim of Fiore predicted the end of the world twice. His second prediction was a rescheduling of the first after it failed to materialize, and that was followed by the Black Death, which many considered the real end times.

Cotton Mather predicted the end of the world three times, and Nostradamus was specific in his prediction of July 1999. 

We all remember the Y2K predictions and the Mayan Doomsday of 2012. 

How many times and ways might the world have ended?

Bad things have happened, bad things are happening now, but the world has not ended yet, and neither have we. Every previous apocalypse has been based on a false fear.

We are living in our own apocalyptic Between Times, which brings us to our next universal law:

The Universal Law of Courage: Own your fear and face it down through direct action.

This is how to make your fear a constructive agent of change in a rapidly changing world.

Read more in Owl Magic: Your GUide Through Challenging Times from Sea crow press.

“ This combination of reassurance that there is still magic to behold, that we still have the power and vision to significantly change our world for the better, combined with practical steps that empower us, is healing. Owl Magic” provides just the right amount of heart to remind us what it feels like to be a human being with hope, and enough history to help us put our lives into perspective.” ~Vashti Stopher Klein, author of The Soprano, the Monster, and the Dragonslayer

Tracking Subtleties

I am looking for signs of spring.

This guy turned up on the roof of my old bike shed last week. Technically he is roosting atop a fine collection of wheels mostly unused due to the ongoing COVID lock down.

Recently a screech owl owned the airspace over the house for the better part of a night. It was a wild, welcome sound such as I have not heard since leaving Cape Cod.

While we stay home, the local wildlife is moving into suburban neighborhoods.

We have just moved house ourselves, so we have a new bike shed, and I think I understand how the wildlife feels. Maybe not quite of one place, hanging somewhere in between, exploring new opportunities as they present themselves, making it up as it comes.

I walk a lot in quiet places tracking subtleties.

The change of light, the water level, where the ducks are feeding.

I’m looking for signs of spring.

The first shoots of green.

Growth and renewal, hope and the moment this wild, global card game of 52 pick-up can be resolved and returned to an orderly box.

Read more from Mary Petiet

Lost your Holiday Magic? Need a New Story? 3 Ways Back to You

restore, rediscover, retell

Has 2020 taken your sense of magic? Are old stories no longer serving? Channel the season’s magic to change your stories for a better outcome.

Restore Your Magic 

  •  When you were small, was the world enchanted? Were you a part of its flow? That’s because everything the adult world declares inanimate is alive to the child. Remember holiday magic? The holiday spirit definitely falls under this category. Children understand the magic of living, and this is something you can reclaim, remember, and retell through story and myth. Try to remember the magical rapture of being alive.

The images of myth are reflections of spiritual and depth potentialities of every one of us. Through contemplating those we evoke powers in our own lives to operate through ourselves.

Joseph Campbell

Rediscover Your Myth

  • As adults, we become disconnected from our mythic stories because the structures of the adult world value material profit. We forget our inner journeys as we grow up and conform to those structures. When a society forgets its stories and mythologies, or they fail to work, people forget how to live and enter free fall. A lack of story and myth leads to an attraction to extremes in religion, politics, and civic life. This has been the experience of the pandemic year. However, there is magic and story and myth afoot throughout all of December. Let December’s magic lead you into your own personal myth. What are your stories?

See life like a poem, you are participating in a poem, and the root of the poetry is myth.

Joseph Campbell

Retell Your Stories

  • Do you tell yourself the same stories over and over and end up with the same results? Is it possible the entire world is doing the same thing as the news becomes more and more extreme? We cannot fix the planet right now, but we can look around ourselves and make as much right as possible. One powerful way of doing this involves considering our stories and changing them for a better outcome: Once, I thought I would never find a parking spot for my car. I drove around and around the parking lot, telling myself I would never find a spot. Then I remembered something I had read recently about imagining what you need to manifest it. So I changed my story. I crossed my fingers and visualized myself finding the perfect parking spot. I did another circle back around the parking lot, and not one, but four spots had opened up!

Restore, Rediscover, Retell

Find your way through this pandemic holiday by retelling the familiar old stories and listening to the magic and myth. Keep the parts the work for you. Then, retell your own stories in ways that also work for you. Your highest self is in your stories, so tell them carefully.

The strategies in this article are excerpts from the book Owl Magic: Your Guide Through Challenging Times.

To read more about restoring, rediscovering, and retelling, get your copy here.