I had scheduled a phone session for literary advice, not realizing our conversation would lead elsewhere: how the Iraq war had badly bruised my heart.
“Were you abused as a child?” Lynn asked.
The temptation to hang up the phone burnt my fingertips as if I had touched a car bumper that had been sitting under a hot sun for hours. I did not call Lynn Andrews — a shaman healer, mystic, and an internationally best-selling author with 20 books to her name — to talk about my childhood as if I was sitting in front of a psychiatrist or a talkshow host. I hoped that this one-hour phone session could resolve some issues I had been having with my writing career.
“I actually had a safe and healthy childhood,” I said, wondering if I was once again being stereotyped because of the origin of my birthplace, Baghdad, or if I had been swindled by a con artist. Since Muslims are usually the ones who get a bad rap, I wondered if she would change her perception of me if I told her that I am Chaldean. Chaldeans are Christian Iraqis whose ancestors date back over 7,300 years.
“Did you have to be careful as a child?” she persisted.
I began to feel uncomfortable, and yet the conversation had an earthy and intimate hand that disrobed a garment off my character with each word. I laid down my resistance and said, “My parents never spanked me if I did something wrong. The first time anyone ever laid a hand on me was when I was in third grade — I had missed Saddam’s parade. It was mandatory to attend, but my niece, who was my age, begged me to spend the night at her house, and my family did not take the mandatory bit too seriously. The next day at school, as punishment, the school principal slapped me so hard I fainted. The second time someone laid a hand on me was that same principal. The teacher sent me to her office because I couldn’t answer a question in science class. Other than these two incidences, I led a pretty happy childhood in Iraq. I didn’t know what unhappiness was until I came here and felt alienated and isolated.”
A silence followed.
“You were oppressed by and had to be careful of an entire nation,” she said, “and then you came here and you had to be careful of another nation, in a different way. You had to be careful of two nations.”
Her words pinched my waist so hard that it shook my roots. Growing up under Saddam’s totalitarian regime, I learned that there was a boogeyman to fear and avoid through silence and good behavior. When I came to the United States, I discovered that it was best to remain silent in order to avoid ridicule.
“So, my dear, why have you called me?” Lynn asked. “What is it that you want me to help you with?”
We finally arrived at the subject I was anxious to talk about, writing, but now I was interested in further dissecting the role my two nations played in my life. I wanted to ask her what all of this meant. Why was I born in Iraq, yanked out of my birthplace at the age of 10, and placed in the United States? Being uprooted from my home made me feel as though I were a plant taken out of the soil. After repotting, plants often enter a state of shock as they struggle to adapt to the new environment.
If only there was enough time.
“I have lost my literary voice, and I want to get it back,” I said. “Last summer, I came across your book, Writing Spirit. I was in a really bad place with my work. I no longer loved it and half the time I woke up wishing I had the sense to quit and find a different profession.”
Writing Spirit had called for me to pick it up, as if it were a child, off the bookshelves. It was an odd-looking book about writing. The last thing I wanted was a book on writing. I had been writing for over 20 years, and the journey had proven so futile, I wanted to bury the pits of this desire into someone else’s backyard and start a new garden, one that resembled those in the One Thousand and One Nights stories, where the hero ends up with breathtaking trees bearing pears, apples, figs, pomegranates, and apricots made of real gold, diamonds, and rubies.
Yet the book stuck to my hands like glue. I bought it, even though I barely had time to take a shower or eat a meal sitting down, let alone read a book. I was raising two young children and doing a lot of freelance work as well as trying to write a book.
The moment I read Writing Spirit, the fragrance of that Arabian treasure garden raced out of the pages, and I remembered all the reasons I’d become a writer in the first place: the calling, the sacredness of storytelling, the freedom this profession provides, in my case allowing me to raise my children without having to abandon my career. I had scheduled a phone session with the author for a bit of literary advice, not realizing our conversation would lead elsewhere: how the Iraq war had badly bruised my heart; how the loss of my agent threw my career off track.
I sat on the carpet and told Lynn all about it, adding that shortly after these events, I got married, had kids, and attained journalism jobs and other writing-related opportunities. The jobs led to wonderful experiences, but they also scattered my thought process. Trying to return to my literary voice since then was like trying to get to a very faraway place on foot.
“Don’t get upset at some of your past mishaps,” she said. “They made you who you are today. As for your stories, there’s a time for every story. When you live through life-defying experiences somewhere in your life, you come out on the other side with incredible abilities, abilities to survive, abilities to comprehend a higher reality. The Mystery School could help you make the right decisions regarding your work.”
“What is the Mystery School?” I asked.
“It’s a four-year school that will teach and awaken the beauty and power within you. It will give you the direction you need.”
Four years? It didn’t take me that long to get my bachelor’s degree.
“I have children,” I said. “I can’t leave my home to go study somewhere.”
“This is a school without walls. I created it so that anyone, anywhere in the world could do this work without having to move to a campus. I wanted to create a learning environment where people could learn through their own experiences, not to try to be their teacher.”
“I’ll check it out on your website and consider it,” I lied. Yes, she said some profound things that stirred me, and yes, I felt a connection with her that was ignited as easily as one lit a match, but no, I was not going to fall for this gimmick.
Yet after we hung up, I spent a moment staring ahead.
For a long time, I had struggled to fit into two worlds, my birth country of Iraq and my home, America. The process made me feel like a yo-yo, and oftentimes, like I was living a double life. Then, not knowing what shamanism is or who Lynn Andrews was, I stepped into a four-year shamanic school that dusted off the residue that clogged up my creativity, one by one removing the particles of fear and sadness, eventually bringing me from darkness into light.