Here’s an article on how dreams have led me to healing and ballroom dance! Enjoy!

Amazing Dreamers Sheila Asato DreamTime Fall 2015

DreamTime Fall 2015 Sheila Asato


DSC_0873Recently, author and blogger, Robert Waggoner, invited me to join him and other authors in a blog tour that highlights authors who write about intuitive understanding.

When I first met Robert years ago at an International Association for the Study of Dreams conference, he shared a dream with me of strange Japanese ritual. I immediately recognized it as a kind of shamanic practice that I had heard about in the mountains of Japan. Our shared connection with Japan became the basis of a lovely friendship that I continue to treasure today. So when Robert asks me to do something, like joining a blog tour for authors, I can hardly refuse, even though I have yet to publish a book of my own!

Robert is the author of the acclaimed book, Lucid Dreaming: Gateway to the Inner Self. He also co-edits the magazine, Lucid Dreaming Experience, and speaks at workshops, university campuses and conferences worldwide on this exciting topic. Robert served as a past president of the International Association for the Study of Dreams. A lucid dreamer since 1975, he has logged more than one thousand lucid dreams.

For this blog tour I was asked to answer four questions about intuitive understanding and writing. Check out the questions and my responses below:

1. What am I working on?

I am currently thinking about writing my first book for publication – something I have always dreamed of doing, literally, but have yet to accomplish. Now that my grand-baby and his parents have moved out of our basement and our younger son with autism has become more independent, I finally have a window of opportunity in which to focus on moving this book from the world of dreams into waking life. The focus of my book will be on integrative health through the arts and dreaming.

Although I regularly make and exhibit unique, handmade books, as a book artist, as well as write articles, I have found the task of writing a book for publication daunting. I imagine that I am not alone in this! Yet my students, clients and friends continue to ask me to take what I teach and put it into book form for them. Most recently, even my integrative physician Dr. Greg Plotnikoff, suggested that I should write a book as a way of improving my health and chronic joint pain!

To be honest, while living between the English and Japanese languages has deeply enriched my life, at the same time, it has made it difficult for me to write with any ease. I am far more fluent in the spoken word and visual arts, than I am in writing. However, I have always kept journals for myself, as a way of deepening my understanding of the world around me.

The day after Robert asked me to be the next “author” in the blog tour, Dr. Greg also suggested that I meet with a writing coach, to make the process of writing a book more enjoyable. So I met with Steve LeBeau, a “book doc”. What a fascinating experience that was! With a background in philosophy, journalism and cross-cultural studies, as well as his own personal ties to Japan, Steve immediately put me at ease and got me excited about the possibility of collaborating with someone who is able to guide people through process of writing. By the end of our conversation, I was very excited about the possibility of actually birthing this book sometime in the near future!

Before committing to this project, however, I need to ask the dreams for guidance, and support, as I always do before taking on new work. This well allow my intuitive self a chance to speak in it’s own way, confirming whether or not it is willing to support this project. If these two aspects of self, conscious and intuitive, are not in agreement, then it could be a complete waste of time and energy. So for ten days, I will put pressure on the dreaming through a process called dream incubation. Each night, I will seek guidance and support from my dreams by reciting the phrase “show me my book” as I fall asleep. I am eager to see how the dreams will respond.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?
Everything I do is informed by dreaming. If I had to pick a genre for my writing it would be art, Integrative health or dreaming. What sets me apart from other authors in these fields is that I have lived between the cultures of America and Japan for more than 3 decades, so I innately write from a cross-cultural perspective. For example, long before anyone in the West was using terms like Ki or Chi, to describe the vital life force that flows through all of creation, I was working with a Zen calligraphy master in Japan, learning experientially how to move Ki through the brush onto the page. Everything I write today about dreams, healing and creativity has its roots in my early experiences an exchange student in Japan in 1979.

My areas of interest and expertise are broad and cover many disciplines, including the arts, bookbinding, creativity, cross-cultural communication & psychology, spirituality, holistic health, education, dreaming and the Japanese language, culture and aesthetic traditions. My strength is in bridging different areas of specialization and finding the common threads between them, which connect in surprising and beautiful ways. I also love teaching and facilitation, so whatever I write also has an educational component to it. My audience is primarily people who are interested in the arts and dreaming,  people facing health challenges, or people living between cultures, such as ex-patriots on a foreign posting, third culture kids and biculturals like myself.

3. How does my writing process work?
All of my work comes directly from dreaming. In practice, this means that dream incubation is an essential part of my creative process. Dream incubation is an ancient practice in which one works very hard on something in waking life, gets stuck and then turns to dreaming for support and guidance. Ever since I was a child, I have done this quite naturally. I would work hard on something during the day, hit a wall and then sleep on it. The next day I would wake knowing what the next step is. It could be something as simple as trying to figure out how to make a secret fort in the backyard when I was a child, to writing my master’s degree thesis, as an adult. Each night, I would go to sleep with a request for guidance on a particular issue. Then I would sleep with the promise of acting on whatever wisdom the dreams might share with me.

It’s important to note that I rarely, if ever, take dreams literally. Rather, I take the energy of a dream into my body as I wake in a process I now know as “embodied imagination work”. This is a way of working with dreams, which was pioneered by Robert Bosnak and Jill Fischer. However, long before I completed my certification in embodied imagination coaching, I understood intuitively that it was possible to take the energy of a dream into my body and then work with the memory and energy of that dream within the body, as it guides me through the next step in my creative work. This is the way I write, the way I paint and the way I teach. I work hard during the day, run into an obstacle, dream, invite the dreaming into my body upon waking, express gratitude and then move into the day with fresh dreams stirring within me as I work. I never know where they will lead, but I have come to trust the dreaming to lead me towards greater health and wholeness.

4. Why do I write what I do?
Frankly, I do all of my creative work, including writing, so I can sleep. When there is an image that is seeking form in the waking world through me, I find that if I do not honor it or give it expression through writing, art or dance, then I am plagued with nightmares. However, when I welcome the creative spirit of the dreams into my waking life and creative work, I not only sleep better, but my health improves and daily life is so much more fun and interesting! It also gives me a chance to meet wonderful people like Clare Johnson, who I would like to introduce as the next writer in this blog tour.

Clare Johnson is a friend and also a member of the International Association for the Study of Dreams. She is also known by her pen name Clare Jay. Clare is a joyful, creative woman who regularly leads “Dreamwriting” workshops at international conference and retreats, as well as Creativity Weekends and short story courses. Be sure to check out her dream based novels Breathing in Colour and Dreamrunner. I especially find her writer’s trance process useful. Drawing on her own experiences as a lucid dreamer, Clare has come up with some very fun and insightful ways of writing that draw deeply upon the experience of dreaming. I hope you will check out her blog next week.

Dreamtime Cover

I’m so pleased  to have my work featured on the cover of Dreamtime Magazine and my article on how to make a simple dream journal included inside.  Dreamtime is a wonderful magazine devoted to the humanities and dreaming, which all members of the International Association for the Study of Dreams receive as one of the perks of membership.  Enjoy!

Click on this link to see my article

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The Art of Healing mural is finally finished and has been installed.  We will be having a celebration on Friday July 20 from 4-5 PM.

Meet at the Penny George Institute Outpatient Clinic on the Southeast corner of 28th Street and Chicago Avenue, Minneapolis, MN.  We will see and discuss the role of art in healthcare as I lead participants through a hospital art tour, which will end at the newly installed mural (See the image above).  Nearly 100 patients, employees and community members together with artist Teresa Cox from COMPAS worked together to create this beautiful mural.





Dangerous Flexibility

Years ago, I quit making new year’s resolutions and began to focus on just one word a year instead. For me, resolutions felt more like a list of failures from the previous year rather than exciting possibilities for exploration in the new one.  It’s no surprise that I often abandoned them as soon as the weather warmed up.  I noticed that when I made resolutions, each one seemed to focus on an area of weakness in my life such as managing my weight, getting the house organized or developing a regular writing practice, rather than on the possibilities for growth and wholeness.  Once I started focusing on only one word at a time, something shifted and a new kind of creative energy entered the process.  Last year the word was STRENGTH.  This year, I will focus on RESILIENCY.  If you could pick only one word for 2012, what would it be?

Choosing just one word has been incredibly freeing, leaving ample room for improvisation while still giving me a sense of purpose and direction throughout the year.  This approach to planning is a little secret that I picked up while I was in the human development program at St. Mary’s University.

In this innovative graduate program, each student has the opportunity to create their own master’s degree.  For as long as I can remember, I have been passionately interested in the connection between creativity, dreams, healing, and the arts.  St. Mary’s allowed me to create a degree that fit my interests and needs perfectly.  At the heart of this program is the “contract” which serves as a kind of road map for one’s course of study.  Students must complete four contracts and a “position paper” in order to graduate.  A position paper is a kind of thesis that sums up where one currently is in relation to their creative exploration, knowing that the journey will continue to unfold in the years to come.

I quickly learned that if I tried to articulate every twist and turn of the material I intended to cover in a contract there wouldn’t be any room for the natural detours and surprises that often pop up.  By focusing instead on specific signposts along the way, such as embodiment, imagination, spirituality or dreaming, I had a clear sense of direction for each contract with enough room for the unexpected.  This approach to learning has become a tremendously helpful model for all areas of my life, including new year’s resolutions.

Since graduating from St. Mary’s, I have continued this practice of making a contract with myself for the coming year by choosing one word to focus on at a time.  Last year, the word was STRENGTH, which led me back to the gym.  Of course, I could have just made a resolution to exercise more, but that wasn’t nearly as helpful to me as focusing on learning more about nature of strength not only through readings but also through my own body.

In this way, I was able to bring a sense of curiosity and play with me into the health club rather than treating exercise as just another chore to be completed.  I really wanted to understand first hand what it means to cultivate strength in a body that often suffers from chronic pain.  How would becoming physically stronger affect my relationship with pain?  Could I learn to exercise in a way that wouldn’t create more pain in the process?  I soon learned that by doing less than I could more often than I would was the key to steady growth and increasing strength.

During my first pilates class, I naively thought that since I am quite flexible it would be relatively easy to begin.  I was appalled to discovered how weak I had become over the years of struggling with chronic joint pain.  Although I have always prided myself in my flexibility I didn’t realize how little muscle strength I had.  One day, when I stretched much further than I should have and couldn’t get back up, my pilates instructor warned me that too much flexibility without strength can actually be dangerous.  How counter intuitive!

It was one of those “Ah ha!” moments when things suddenly came together.  Her comment got me thinking about all the other areas of my life in which I am incredibly flexible but not terribly strong at maintaining boundaries for taking care of myself.   Where there other areas of my life in which had I lost core strength without realizing it while constantly bending to meet the needs of others in my family, work and daily life?  What latent strengths did I have that I could build on at this point in my life rather than starting from scratch?  These questions led to a renewed interest in studying Japanese and deepening my relationship with my husband, as well as reconnecting with my love of music and enduring interest in Zen, the arts and self cultivation.

By focusing on STRENGTH for an entire year, a new way of weaving the various strands of my life together naturally emerged.  As I have continued to cultivate strength in my physical body, a desire to build on strengths that I already have led me back into the daily study of Japanese in a way that fits into my life today in Minnesota.  I have fallen in love all over again with Japanese films and TV dramas thanks to all of the streaming sites on the internet.  I have also found myself drawn back into cooking from scratch daily in an effort to strengthen my overall heath and immunity.  Rather than deciding that I needed to LOSE weight, as I have vowed to do way too many times at New Year’s, I now find myself wanting to STRENGTHEN my overall sense of well being and enjoyment in the kitchen through home cooking, natural ingredients and a closer connection to the seasons through food.  It doesn’t hurt that many of the Japanese dramas I watch while cooking dinner focus on the role of food in Japanese culture as well!

So now as I begin 2012, I am curious about how strength and flexibility work together to create RESILIENCY.  I have learned that without flexibility AND strength, it is impossible to bounce back from the many challenges of life.  To celebrate this year of RESILIENCY, I recently participated in a resiliency training program at the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing, which was started by Dr. Henry Emmons and his team.  This program takes an integrative approach to cultivating resiliency for a greater sense of health and wholeness.  I am looking forward to seeing where RESILIENCY will take me in the coming year!

Cut-Art By J. A. Christensen

I am currently teaching a class on Kiri-e (Japanese paper cutting) at the Minnesota Center for Book Arts.  It is such a pleasure to slow down to the pace of paper, cutting one shape at a time.  In its purest form, Kiri-e allows us to literally hold the tension between the dark and light aspects of our lives while focusing on the simple art of cutting paper.

In Kiri-e, it is essential to have both dark and light in order to create a work of art.  Without contrast, it is impossible to see anything.  For example, try to imagine a picture of a black bear in a cave at night or a white polar bear in a dazzling blizzard and you get the idea.  Without contrast, an image is impossible to see, leaving us with just an intellectual concept rather than a work of art.

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In the same way that contrast is essential to all of the arts, contrast is also the key to living authentically in this world.  Experiencing fully the darks and lights of our lives can be a tremendous gift, allowing us to know what is really important.  Contrast brings the essence of our lives to the foreground.  When we embody both, rather than focusing only on the light or dark sides of life, we find a new kind of balance which is fully alive and healing for ourselves and those around us.  The root of the word “to heal” means to become whole.  By consciously embracing both the dark and light aspects of life, we become whole.

Another lesson Kiri-e teaches is how to slow down and really pay attention.  Because we are constantly moving between dark and light shapes while making Kiri-e, it is very easy to get confused and lose the way if we try to move ahead too quickly.  In order to create Kiri-e, it is essential to take things one step at a time.  Through the practice of cutting one shape at at time, we learn through our senses of touch, sight and sound, as well as through our posture and body position how to slow down and be fully present.  It also becomes clear very quickly that pushing through when we are tired or when we lose our focus can ruin an entire piece of work in an instant.  These lessons are learned non-verbally, through the body.  Later, if we stop to think about it, we may realize that through the act of cutting paper, one step at a time, we have come a little closer to who we really are in the process.  As is said in Zen, “train the body and the mind will follow”.

Like many of the Japanese arts, Kiri-e, when practiced mindfully, can become a very satisfying means of growth and transformation.  It’s also a really fun way to create satisfying works of art.  I am delighted to have the opportunity to share this humble art form with my students at MCBA.  I look forward to introducing more of the Japanese paper based arts into my classes in the future.

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M*A*S*H* Signpost

For the past month, I have been working on a very special book for Amy at Pathways – A health crisis resource center.  After many years of service, Amy and her husband will be leaving shortly to begin a new life in Kentucky.  Although I have only known Amy for a short time, her radiant spirit and warm friendship have enriched my life greatly.  She has been a constant source of encouragement, support and good humor.  I am honored to have had the opportunity to work with her at Pathways.

Thanks to Dan Averitt and Tim Thorpe at Pathways, I had the opportunity to create this very special going away present.  Together, we made the watercolors that were used in this book, while dreaming provided the inspiration for the shape the book and it’s box would take.  In one dream, the image of the signpost from M*A*S*H* appeared, suggesting signposts along the way for Amy’s journey.  Knowing how much she loves her basket of inspirational cards, I used words from the cards for the signs in this flag book.  It was great fun learning how to make this new structure, fueled by the creative energy and guidance of the dream.  Bon Voyage Amy and best wishes for a safe journey to your new home.  We will all miss you!