January 05, 2019
A wise woman, a force of nature and a whispering storyteller ... this is Morgan Farley: a poet, a writing coach and trained as a psychologist. She has the rare quality of eliciting creative projects from everyone she comes in contact with through writing prompts and weaving the unseen world into the seen world in tangible, profound ways.
She is also my personal writing coach. Without Morgan, the Flowerevolution book would not exist (as as well as an entire book of poetry I wrote after a transformative experience in my life).
Meet Morgan ~ story whisperer, poet + sister of many lifetimes ...
When I pick up flowers for my altar and my house, it’s the stargazer lilies that usually come home with me. I was attracted by their name and now I love their perfume; it’s earthy and ethereal, and so potent it fills every room. I would describe them as lavish, wide open, and giving, like the best kind of friend.
A dream voice once said to me, “Trust the elements.” At the time I was living through a winter on Sark, a cold and windswept island in the English Channel where the Atlantic gales eventually tore the roof off my house. I’m writing a memoir, The Cliff Singer, about that stark elemental world.
Looking back, I see that I have taken the elements as my teachers and gone to meet them by living alone in remote places. I hand built a log cabin in the mountains north of Taos and lived in solitude there for twelve years, visited by mountain lions and bears. I wrote a crucial book of poems there, How Bodies Are Changed, an exploration of childhood trauma that literally changed my body and my life.
In the poems I’m writing now I find myself drawn to moments when the natural world reveals itself as divine—when yellow aspen leaves lift on the breeze and for an instant I glimpse the shimmering dance of creation. Those experiences happen at the edge of the unsayable, where words fail, and that seems to be where I have pitched my tent as a poet. My poems are acts of attention and homage, love letters to the world.
I have years of training and experience as a developmental editor, licensed psychotherapist, writing teacher and coach, along with a PhD in English from the University of London. Over time those skills have fused into a way of partnering with other writers that feels uniquely mine. I call it story mentoring.
I sometimes joke that story mentoring is either the fastest form of psychotherapy on the planet, or the most radical editing—but actually it goes beyond both, and it’s the story itself that works the magic. I see it happen time and again. A writer comes to me with a story and that story provides both a vessel and a mirror for our work. My job is to settle for nothing less than truth and beauty, because I know that’s what we will find at the story’s heart, however arduous the way into it may be. The close companionship I offer is intuitive and feminine; it’s a creative friendship and a collaborative dance that forges deep bonds. We know the work is done when the story is whole and the writer can feel that wholeness in herself. She is healed and transformed by what she has made. And it doesn’t stop there. Now the story becomes a precious gift she can offer to others. It’s the treasure she brings back to the tribe and it gives her a voice in the larger story, the work we do to know and say what human is. When she sees the whole picture, she understands that whatever she suffered was meant to bring her to this place of innate worth and belonging, where her story has a chance to change the world.
This is what I’m here for—to make this journey myself and to guide others through it for the sake of the world. I’m inspired by the vision of poet Muriel Rukeyser who said that if one woman told the truth about her life the world would split open. I watch my clients move out from our work with powerful books that carry them into a larger sphere. There’s a ripple going out from them—and who knows how far it will reach? Rukeyser said, “The world is made of stories, not atoms.“ I’m splitting the world open one story at a time.
I’ve noticed that the happier I am the healthier I tend to be. And I am happiest when I’m most authentic—when I say what I mean and give my best energies to people and projects I care about. My goal is to have the outside match the inside in every part of my life. To that end, I have made my home into a sanctuary where every room reflects me back to myself:
In the living room, great wings open above an empty bird cage.
In my ocean bedroom, seashells found on far-flung beaches make spirals and mandalas on the altar.
In the red library, my own writing and my clients’ published books fill an entire wall.
I want to turn myself inside out before I’m through—say everything, love the precious people I love with everything I’ve got. I spend lavish amounts of time with my grown daughter, for whom my love knows no bounds, and I’m happiest when I’m close to her. I think for me happiness comes down to expressing what’s inside me every way I can. When I’m not writing I sing, dance, and paint, mostly in community. It’s playful and full of heart, not about a product or a performance, always about freedom and joy.
With my health, the movement is inward rather than outward. Since my body mirrors my inner state, when something goes wrong I work on all fronts: spiritual, emotional and mental as well as physical. I always talk with my body before deciding whether or not to seek medical help. When I do, I’m proactive and eclectic. I’ll use any remedy that seems called for, though alternative medicine is my strong preference. I once risked my life by refusing drastic medical treatment and the intuitive path I chose healed me completely.
Writing is a path of awakening for me. It’s the one spiritual practice I have always done without fail and the one that never fails me. When I write I enter a state of absorption that is not unlike meditation—the same soft-focused attention, the same gentle receptivity to whatever arises. I think of my poems as transmitters of heightened awareness. If I’ve done my job they don’t just describe but actually transmit a little jolt of that intense energy.
I find that doing my own writing and working one-on-one with other writers call forth a similar state. Both are practices for me. Both ask me to set aside my known self in order to listen for something as yet unknown. I want my own writing to startle me awake. I want the space I hold for others to be enormous and free of judgment, an open field any part of them can step into in perfect safety, so they can uncover the depth and complexity of the stories they have lived.
My favorite ritual is to walk in the arroyo near my house. I always go there with anticipation, as to a beloved person. I bow at the threshold and ask permission to enter. Then I quiet my mind and center my awareness deep in my body, because I want to move into that world with all my senses awake. The arroyo is alive and responsive to my presence; some days I can almost see the trees nodding as I pass. It speaks to me in its own language—heart rocks, a shed snakeskin, a flash of blue among the trees. It’s heaven on earth in there, five minutes from my door.
At 22 I spent a year traveling around the world alone. I did it on a shoestring, overland and on small freighters, starting in Japan. I remember saying to myself, I don’t have to let the givens of my life define me. I was intensely curious about other ways of living and decided I would try them out country by country to see if any would fit me.
I bring that same curiosity to my encounters with writers and the work they entrust to me. Every story is a new country. The first thing I do is jettison all the givens so I can come to it fresh, unencumbered by rules and ideas about what a book should be. What are the options? What really wants to happen? That’s when the magic starts—a single poem opens into a book-length sequence of poems, or a memoir begins to speak from its aching heart and tell a different story. Those are the discoveries that change lives.
What stops us from expressing what is in us? I’ve spent half my life exploring the psychodynamics of the creative process and to me it comes down to one thing: the relationship between the ego and the soul. The soul longs to speak in the world and the ego’s proper role is to support it in that sacred task. It’s a bold and risky act to write the truth of who we are and we need ego-strength to accomplish it. When it works the way it should it’s a beautiful thing; the ego provides just enough structure and discipline to ground the soul’s efforts and bring them to fruition.
If the ego gets in the soul’s way it can go badly awry. That fundamental block underlies all the others. The disruption can manifest in many forms—inflation and self-doubt, fear of exposure, procrastination and perfectionism—but these are just the different ways the ego hinders the soul. I know of only one real remedy for that impasse, and that is to approach the work as sacred, do it with devotion, and let go of attachment to the outcome.
Prompts are a great way to jumpstart new writing and take it in unexpected directions. I’ve used and shared hundreds of them, so it’s a challenge to narrow it down—but there is one that never fails. It’s deceptively simple:
What I really want to say is...
This prompt can be particularly helpful in the middle of a piece. If you’ve gone off on a tangent and gotten lost, or just feel the energy flagging, it’s a quick way to refocus. Just rudely interrupt yourself, even in mid-sentence, and write, “but what I really want to say is” and you’ll catch a fresh wave of inspiration.
Here’s a poem about the longing to live a sacred life, written when I was making a medicine wheel to bless a new home.
C L E A R I N G
I am clearing a space,
here, where the trees stand back.
I am making a circle so open
the moon will fall in love
and stroke these grasses with her silver.
I am setting stones in the four directions,
stones that have called my name
from mountaintops and riverbeds, canyons and mesas.
Here I will stand with my hands empty,
mind gaping under the moon.
I know there is another way to live.
When I find it, the angels
will cry out in rapture,
each cell of my body
will be a rose, a star.
If something seized my life tonight,
if a sudden wind swept through me,
I would not resist.
I am ready for whatever comes.
But I think it will be
something small, an animal
padding out from the shadows,
or a word spoken so softly
I hear it inside.
It’s dark out here, and cold.
The moon is stone.
I am alone with my longing.
Nothing is happening
but the next breath.
Love + flower petals,