Sylvan Points at Stuff: Meditation Tools for the Addled and Dorky

Oddly enough, lately I’ve been doing a lot of meditating.  For most of my life I’ve tried to do it almost out of a sense of duty – as a “spiritual” person I was obligated, right?  Well, as you can guess, that went over like a turd soufflé with my psyche, who is essentially a cosmic six-year-old:  if you tell her she has to do something, she’ll stomp her foot and give you the finger.

Still, the more the world seems to be skipping merrily to hell, the more necessary I find it to seek some sort of inner equanimity or peace, so I keep trying.

Then about a month ago I found this book:


Meditation for the Love of It by Sally Kempton.  This book offers a different way of looking at meditation:  rather than spiritual drudgery, it’s an exciting and fun way to delve into both your own awareness and through that into the Universe itself.  A quote:

In the end it is the direct, naked encounter with our own awareness that shifts our understanding of who we are, and gives us the power to stand firmly in the center of our being. No one else can do this for us. Only meditation unlocks those doors.

Kempton writes from a Tantric tradition (though her ideas and exercises are useful for most any tradition), meaning there’s no “eliminating” thoughts or trying to transcend reality, at least not with the goal of eradicating the Self – she wants to befriend and enjoy the Self, while understanding its limits, and treats thoughts as mere energy that can be transformed or used instead of pushed away. Her tone is knowledgable but enthusiastic – and it’s contagious.  I found myself wanting to put the book down and try out her exercises, and amazingly, every one I tried yielded results at one level or another.  It’s a long book, but worth every minute.


I rediscovered a fantastic tool I had forgotten about:  MyNoise is a sound generating website, but it’s so much more than just rain and random flutes.  It offers nature sounds, meditation sounds, voices, industrial background noise, you name it – including the usual white noise generators.  You can customize nearly every sound by moving sliders, so if you’re listening to a forest generator and want more birds, you can hear more birds.

You can also calibrate the site to your own hearing range, which according to users is amazing for tinnitus and other hearing issues, and there are brainwave-type sounds like isochronic tones that are apparently good for migraines and other issues.

You can animate the sounds so that they constantly shift, making them more realistic and immersive.  And you can stack generators on top of each other, so if you want the sound of chanting monks along with the sound of an airplane cabin and a cat purring, bam! you’ve got it.  There are even RPG sound generators you can play in the background of your games.

I seriously love this site.  The “Healing Water” soundscape has helped me sleep better, and the “Sleeping Dragon” is fantastic for meditation.  The site owner tells stories of when and where the sounds were recorded, how they were created, and what they can be used for, and each one has several precalibrated variations to play with.  I’ve never seen a sound-generating site with so many options.  You can create a meditative garden with birds and wind chimes and a pond full of frogs – or you can create the Starship Enterprise and practice Kolinahr, whatever gets you there.

And it’s free!  If you donate a few dollars you unlock the really complicated generators, but 90% of the site is totally free.  I kicked in a bit just as a thank-you for all the work that went into the site.

My favorite generators include:

Healing Water
Sleeping Dragon
Rain on a Tent
Tibetan Spirit
ASMR Whisper
Fish Tank
African Trance (basically build your own drum circle)
Fairy Pond (so many frogs!)

Even if all you need is some background noise to help you concentrate, do yourself a favor and check out  It also has a free iOS app.

(I was not paid to say any of this, I just love it that much.)


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Yo, I Heard You Like Altars…

One of the things I find myself compelled to do during times of personal upheaval is to strip down, clean, and rebuild my altar.

I’ve kept an altar pretty much my entire adult life, regardless of what I was or wasn’t practicing.  It’s been within sight of my bed for over a decade, making it one of if not the first thing I see when I wake up.  It’s a reminder of what’s important to me even during times when it feels like nothing matters.

Since I haven’t shown you folks what it looks like in the last…um…year or more?  I thought I’d share it now that it’s shiny and clean and rearranged once again.  When I took it apart this time I pared down a few items (believe it or not).

Visual balance is important to me, as is having space in the front for a reading (or, in days of yore, magical bits and bobs).  I like having multiple levels for display, so when I found the carved wood shelfy thing I hit “buy” with glee.  You can’t see in the picture that to the altar’s left is a stack of storage boxes, books, and baskets that helps balance the height and visual weight of the Gaia statue on the right.

This is what it looks like right now (and yes, my walls are purple):

altar 1

You should be able to click on the images and see them full-sized.

I thought, “Why don’t I make it a little easier for people who are doubtless wondering what the hell they’re looking at?”  Thus:

altar 2

1The altar itself started life as my grandmother’s piano bench, refinished and shortened.  I love it not only because of its origin but because I can store things inside it (things I won’t need until the next time I clean it off, like seasonal decorations).  It’s exactly the right height and size for me.

2 – The carved wooden piece in back just happens to have the same finish as the table itself.  It came from The Sacred Feminine, and there are two different models to choose from.  In theory I would have a card or painting of some sort in the center where the rectangle is, but I like it just fine without that.

3 – Just about every Pagan, at least the ones from my generation, know this statue, the Millennial Gaia.  I’ve had her for over a decade and she still makes me smile. is also where I get the tiny deity statues I put in some of my shrines.

4 – Radiant Health by Bell Pine Art Farm.  (She didn’t come with the holey stone – she has a divot on her base in which you can place tiny objects.)

5 – A gorgeous resin Sarasvati statue I found on Ebay.  (It wasn’t from this exact seller.)

6 – I had a devil of a time finding a link for this Green Tara – I don’t remember where/when I got it, so I had to Google another source.

7 –  Bluebird of Happiness from Terra Studios.  A Christmas gift from my mother.

8 – A jar of coastal redwood needles from the vicinity of Muir Woods in California, one of my holy places.

9 – A power outlet.  There’s one on the other side, too.  Just in case you were wondering.

10 – Seashell my mother brought me from Port Aransas.  I don’t normally allow animal parts on my altar but I’ve had this for a really long time and it means a lot to me, so I kept it.

11 – For the life of me I can’t remember where I got this raku bowl, which I use as an incense burner (with sand in the bottom); I think it came from a local Pagan shop, Natural Magic, which closed years ago.  I just love the shape of it and how it feels in my hand.

12 – The altar cloth is a scarf I found for a dollar at a local thrift store.  At the time, it matched my bedroom perfectly; now not so much, but it works as an Autumn drape.

13, 18, 23 – These are all tiny handmade bowls my bestie Laurie brought me from her trip to India a couple of years ago.  13 is empty until I think of what needs to go in it; 18 has sand from Cozumel; and 23 is full of red sandalwood, which I thought Sarasvati might appreciate.  I like building little tableaus around the statues.

14 – Dried lavender sprigs in a bottle.  There used to be most of a handful, but over time they’ve vanished one by one.  *gives cat the side-eye*

15 – I used to have such a thing for fluorite; I still love it, though these days I’m more into labradorite.  This gorgeous fluorite bowl was a gift from a friend, and it holds the rosewood mala I’ve had for a good 12 years.

16 – (Tiny, carved) stone kitties representing my (large, furry) kitties.

17 – A piece of kyanite, another favorite stone.  I have a thing for layered and striated stones in shades of blue, green, purple and grey, apparently.

19 – I believe the cupped hands came from local rock shop Nature’s Treasures; they’ve held stones and all sorts of other stuff, but right now bear a cone from the same redwood tree as #8.

20 – More stones:  a stripey, smooth piece of flint; and a carnelian I’ve had since high school.

21 – This fluorite votive holder also came from Nature’s Treasures, or rather from their booth at the yearly Gem & Mineral Show here in Austin.  It doubles as a bludgeoning device in the event of a break-in.

22 – Somehow I’ve amassed a collection of holey stones even though I only remember finding one – this one, which I discovered in the Barton Creek Greenbelt.  In front of it is a piece of polished jet.

24 – Brian Froud’s Oracle of the Faeries is my go-to deck for personal readings.  Let me tell you, if you ever want an inanimate object to shoot you the finger, go most of a year without touching it.  I keep my Runes (my go-to oracle for reading other people) in a basket off to one side, and they were good and pissed too, but where the Faery Oracle usually gives me the benefit of the doubt, the Runes…well, they want blood.  More on that later.

25 – In front of Radiant Health is a quartz crystal – the very first crystal I ever acquired.  I got it in a grab bag at the Texas Renaissance Festival the same day I bought my very first Pagan book, Scott Cunningham’s Wicca: a Guide for the Solitary Practitioner.  I was 16.  It was a hell of a day.

26 – I almost forgot the carved box Gaia is perching on; it’s been her pedestal for so long I just consider it part of the statue.  I don’t remember where I got it – I think World Market.  Inside are tiny treasures and souvenirs from rituals and gatherings.  I have another box for larger things.

So, for my spiritually and/or magically inclined readers:  what’s on your altar or in your personal shrine?  If you blog about it or post a picture somewhere, post the link down in the comments.  I love other people’s altars!

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One Last Reminder…

flotsam5January 25 is the last day you can register for Becoming a Spiritual Nomad, a six week e-course beginning February 4, 2013.

Don’t forget – this edition of Nomad is special, because your teacher will be taking the course along with you.  I’ll be writing special posts about each week’s assignments (and some in between) in a private blog only students can access.  There will also be extras that haven’t been available in previous Nomads.

You can sign up here, where I talk a bit about why I’m doing it this way.

For more information about the Spiritual Nomad course in general head over here.

Don’t forget – if you’ve already bought the e-book version, or if you’ve taken the course before but want in on the Special Edition, your registration is only $20.  For new students, it’s $40.

I can’t wait to see you all there!  For those who’ve registered, you’ll start receiving emails and information about the course as soon as registration is closed on January 25.

Here are just a couple of things past students have said about Nomad:

Becoming a Spiritual Nomad is a down-to-earth approach to spirituality, drawing on many paths and allowing for each member to create a spirituality based around them and their beliefs. I found the modules easy to follow, the projects engaging and the opportunity to share the path with other members invaluable in defining what really matters to me.
~ Katy Rose,

 The course was a guided walk through identifying where I came from to help me figure out where I’m going, challenging me in unexpected ways. It was wonderful, and I’m glad I found time to follow the course. I definitely found more than I anticipated.
~ Rachel

(If you’ve taken the course and want to add to that, feel free to post your own experiences in comments.)

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Coming Soon: Becoming a Spiritual Nomad, Special Edition

nomad header

Have you been hemming and hawing over whether to give my Spiritual Nomad course a try, but thought the six-week version sounded like a lot more fun than just downloading the e-book? Well, you’re in luck!

Registration is now open for the very first Nomad 2013 –
the course will begin the first Monday in February.

But here’s the awesome part: not only will you get the six course modules, and access to a Nomad Facebook Group; this time I’m doing something a little different. I’m going to create a private blog for this course alone where I’ll be making special posts about each module. Why?

Well, this time, I’ll be taking the course too.

The last year has done a serious number on my spiritual life (on my whole life, actually), and I’ve decided it’s time to start from scratch. I’ll be stripping my altar bare along with every other student in the course, and I’ll write about my experiences in a blog that only other students can read and discuss.

In addition, I’m planning some new extras –  fun stuff that will only be available with the six-week course (not with the ebook on its own). The six-week course will cost only $40.

Have you already downloaded the e-book and either not had time to get through it or missed the feeling of having other people to bounce ideas off of? You’re in luck too – if I have you in my records as having purchased the e-book, you can join in with the rest of us for $20.

If this is all new to you and you’d like to read a little more about the Spiritual Nomad course, surf on over here for more details. If you’re ready to sign up, just have at the Paypal link below.

Registration closes on January 25, and there’s a limited amount of space in the course, so don’t wait – register today! I’m so looking forward to getting down and dirty with Spirit alongside all you guys.

Becoming a Spiritual Nomad

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Three Things Make a Post!

Thing the First:

Yours truly is featured on Penguin’s SciFi/Fantasy webpage, so check it out (scroll down slightly).

Thing the Second:

You still have one week to register for the newest round of Becoming a Spiritual Nomad!  Registration is $25 for the six-week course.  Click here for more info or to enroll.  The course goes live on April 16 and registration will be closed that morning.

Thing the Third:

I made this. Let’s see how many of mine you agree with – then go make your own.


There’s a lot more fun stuff coming up around here in the next few weeks, so keep a sharp eye!

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