Bearing Witness to Awakening

Bridge at Greenwaters Park in Oakridge, Oregon

On April 11th in 2016, something extraordinary happened to me. A sudden, unexpected, and profound spiritual awakening completely transformed my life and perception of reality. After three years of this abiding realization, I’ve decided to talk openly about it. This is likely the work of a lifetime, and not of a single statement or book, but we have to start somewhere if we’re going to have a dialog.

In some traditions it is customary not to speak about enlightenment directly, and there is good reason for that. In the present circumstances, however, it seems helpful if those who have truly awakened bear witness to it. For the most basic teaching is that liberation is possible. Many have forgotten it, discounted it, disregarded it, downgraded it, reinterpreted it, or not heard about it — even in traditions that attest to the possibility of such an awakening. So the testimony and teachings of those who have realized could give people courage to look deeper into their spiritual path.

Until now, I have discussed these events only with my teachers and a few other people. But as a writer, I felt compelled to make an account of my awakening, to set down my insights, and to answer questions to the best of my ability. That work has resulted in two books so far on the topic of spirituality and awakening. The first book, That Which is Before You, will be coming out soon. Hence the need to make some kind of statement here.

Trust me, I really never expected to be writing or talking about this kind of thing. But after almost 30 years of searching, I find myself in the situation of trying to convey what has happened to me, as well as the insights and teachings inherent to awakening. I think an open, straight-forward dialog could be of great benefit to seekers and practitioners alike. So let us simply move ahead and do the work required of us, whatever it may be. And may these endeavors help to bring illumination, true happiness, and an end to suffering.

World Fantasy 2019

[Note: the website is currently undergoing an update and redesign. Thank you for your patience while the details are sorted out.]

At the mass book signing with Christina Lay and Stephen T. Vessels

I had a great time at the World Fantasy convention this past weekend with ShadowSpinners Press and some fellow authors in the Labyrinth of Souls fiction series. Can’t say I saw much of LA, since I did not leave the Airport Marriott for three days, but the weather was nice, the conference was great, and the company was outstanding. It is truly a wonderful experience to be in the midst of so many creative and inspiring writers and artists.

The crowds gather in LA Airport Marriott

The ShadowSpinners table had a lively showing in the book room, and I had a great time answers questions about Dungeon Solitaire and the Labyrinth of Souls. I signed a few books, did a reading with fellow authors Christina Lay and Stephen T. Vessels, and managed to get to a few talks and panels. I was particularly interested to learn a bit more about audiobook production and particularly taken with the beautiful art of Reiko Murakami.

The ShadowSpinners table and chief editor Christina Lay

With another successful appearance, we are planning to make an even bigger showing next year in Salt Lake. We’ll have more books, more authors, and more games. Hope to see you there!

Art print by Reiko Murakami (available on her website)

Writer’s Stuck

From the 2014 archives at ShadowSpinners, here are some of my thoughts on writer’s block:

The idea of writer’s block gets a lot of attention. I’ve always interpreted it as some kind of psychological block to writing, and while I can imagine such a condition, I can’t imagine it would be too common among writers. Much more common, I believe, and perhaps sometimes mistaken for a psychological block, is the experience of being stuck on a difficult problem.

I’m right in the middle of a summer long campaign to finish the 3rd book in a fantasy trilogy. It’s a project I’ve been working on for around twelve years all together, if you include a few years when nothing got done. And in that time, believe me, there have been times when I felt stuck. I struggled to figure out a particular plot line, or how to turn some necessary action into an exciting scene, or how to develop a specific character or theme over the course of a 300,000 word trilogy.

The first couple times I got stuck like this, it felt like a catastrophe. This thing can’t happen because of that other thing, and that character can’t be in this place at this time because how would he have gotten there, and so on. You’ve written yourself into a corner, and how the hell are you going to get out?

Over the years I’ve learned not to panic or despair. It never helps anyways. There’s always a solution; the trick is finding it. Sometimes it requires a day of hardcore thinking, the kind that makes your brain hurt and your sleep fitful. Sometimes it requires a long walk, a hot bath, or a few hours of looking at birds out my back window. Sometimes I just need a day off. In any case, it’s important to acknowledge that we need time to process problems when they arise, consciously and subconsciously.

Sometimes the answer comes to me in a flash, but if not I move on to the next step. When all the thinking and loafing around starts to feel indulgent, I pick up a pen and start writing ideas down. I brainstorm solutions and variations. I draw diagrams, make notes, and outline possible scenes. Finally, if I’m still not sure I understand the solution I pick the best idea I have and just start writing it. I don’t commit to using it yet. I treat it like an experiment. But more often than not, if I’ve gotten this far, the problem dissolves in the process of writing.

So while I don’t put much stock in the proverbial writer’s block, there are definitely real problems big enough to get stuck on. Luckily, getting unstuck is pretty straight forward: think/rest, brainstorm, and write. Repeat as needed.

*First Published on ShadowSpinners, August 2014.

Mountain of Ashes

A new Labyrinth of Souls novel is out, Mountain of Ashes by John Reed. It’s a wild ride into a strange underworld where Matt Thanos tries to save his life and love from death and doom. This book really has everything: a Harley Davidson, mythic references, cowboys, an exploding trans-dimensional cactus, barfights, chrome lizards, warring gods, and an icebridge! It’s like a psychedelic western of epic proportions. It’s a great adventure, great fun — parts of it are laugh out-loud funny — and I highly recommend it.

John Reed is the author of seven novels and numerous shorter non-fiction works. He has conducted writing workshops, classes and seminars around the country for the past 20 years; his sensitive and insightful critiques have inspired hundreds of writers. His classes on the novel, short stories, essays and magazine writing have given many students a stepping stone to publication. Currently, John is editing a book-length collection of essays by Northwest writers. You can read an author interview here with the release announcement for Mountain of Ashes.

This is the eighth Labyrinth of Souls novel published by ShadowSpinners Press and inspired by the Labyrinth of Souls tarot card game. Every book is a unique adventure into some kind of underground or underworld realm. They’re all great stories by a group of incredibly talented and award-winning authors. It’s so exciting to be a part of this project and see these books coming out.

All the Labyrinth of Souls stand-alone novels are available in print and ebook from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other online book retailers and ebook providers such as Kobo, Scribd, and Smashwords. Start anywhere and keep delving until you’ve read them all, including:

And keep eye out for Bayou’s Lament by Cheryl Owen-Wilson coming soon!

Meditation through Stillness and Motion

I will be teaching a Winter Workshop in Eugene, OR on Sunday, February 3rd from 1-5pm. The title for the workshop is Transparent Mind – Transparent Body. The topic will be developing meditation practice through stillness and motion. This is an all new workshop put on through Eugene Systema and Best Martial Arts Institute.

We will be focusing on meditation through both sitting and movement-based practice. Complementary skills will be taught in multiple modalities, facilitating a deeper understanding of meditation, movement, and action. The workshop is open to all. No prior experience is necessary. The contents are intended to help anybody understand themselves better, see more clearly, resolve inner conflicts, and experience the dropping away of mind and body. This work is for anyone who wants to develop a meditation practice or deepen an existing practice, whatever their art or focus may be.

See the flier here with detailed information, and please share it with anybody who might be interested in attending.

Labyrinth of Souls Fiction Keeps Delving Deeper

Immortal's Penance promo picture1

Halloween marks the launch of a new Labyrinth of Souls novel. Check out Immortal’s Penance by L.A. Alber for a journey in the mythic underworld of the ancient Celts. Perfect Halloween reading as the story opens with a Samhain festival, a great time to be digging up a mysterious giant bog body! Taking place in the post WWII era 1950s, in a remote Irish village, this book has a wonderful feel of place, history, and larger-than-life legend.

This is the seventh Labyrinth of Souls novel, and there is more to come. Every book is a unique and stand-alone adventure. I am so proud that I’m a part of this project and that Dungeon Solitaire: Labyrinth of Souls had a part in inspiring these awesome books.

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With all the work and excitement of the Dungeon Solitaire: Devil’s Playground Kickstarter and launch the first half of the year, I haven’t had a chance to mention the sixth book, which is also available now. The Snake’s Song by Mary E. Lowd follows the adventures of a squirrel in search of the lost Celestial Fragments of the All-Being. It features a cast of animals, but there are plenty of dangers in the underworld, like sorcerer crabs and an army of ghost moles.

All the Labyrinth of Souls novels are available in print and ebook from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other online book retailers and ebook providers such as Kobo, Scribd, and Smashwords. Start anywhere and keep delving until you’ve read them all, including:

And keep eye out for Mountain of Ashes by John Reed and Bayou’s Lament by Cheryl Owen-Wilson coming soon!

Dungeon Solitaire: Devil’s Playground Release

The general release is here for the new Dungeon Solitaire game, Devil’s Playground! The new game book includes a stand-alone game, a two-player version, expansion rules for the Dungeon Solitaire: Labyrinth of Souls tarot game, four variants of a new original cardgame called Dungeon War, and guidelines for fortune telling using the Devil’s Playground custom card deck.

Dungeon Solitaire: Devil’s Playground is a fantasy adventure card game. Fight monstrous diabolisms, overcome obstacles, and endure misfortunes as you delve into the darkest dungeon in a quest to defeat three powerful demons. Along the way you will collect treasure and unique magic items, encounter strange locales, and acquire three divine graces. But beware, the dungeon is deep and even if you survive all immediate dangers, a fate worse than death awaits those who linger too long. You may face starvation and insanity, terrible curses and demonic possession, forever haunted, in the darkness of the pit.

Most of the games require the Devil’s Playground cards, available separately. Expansion rules also require the Labyrinth of Souls rulebook and cards. Dungeon Solitaire print rulebooks, PDF rulebooks, and custom card decks are available through the following outlets:

Print Rulebook: Amazon

PDF Rulebook: DriveThru RPG

Deluxe Cards: DriveThru RPG

Standard Cards: Gamecrafter

Learn more about the complete line of Dungeon Solitaire games and stand-alone novels here on the Labyrinth of Souls page. Gameplay videos can be found on my YouTube channel.

The Commencement Address

This year, the graduating class at the high school where I work asked me to deliver the commencement address. I was honored to do so, and I took the task to heart. It was a rare opportunity to speak to a group of young people at a transformative point in their lives. And with the parents, family members, and friends of graduates, as well as colleagues and members of the larger community gathered in the gymnasium, it was the biggest audience I’d ever had the opportunity to speak to. I’d like to share these words with you as well, so what follows is the speech I gave, pretty much word for word as it was delivered.

COMMENCEMENT ADDRESS

Delivered on June 9th, 2018 by Matthew Lowes

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I have to say, I am deeply honored to speak with you on this momentous occasion.

Some people expressed surprise that I would accept this task. But honestly … this is an honor I could not refuse. I am immensely grateful for the education I received, and for all my teachers, both in and out of school. So to me, to stand before a group of graduates and address them like this, is one of the highest honors imaginable.

Of course, I quickly realized that being honored is not really enough in a situation like this. It’s more of a … you know … you have to say something meaningful kind of situation. And so here I am, charged with saying something meaningful to you — something that might make a difference in your life and how you see yourself and the world.

It’s a tall order.

A few of you seemed concerned about what I would or wouldn’t say. You came around and asked me to say something specific, or asked if you could see the speech. But frankly, I turned down all requests. What would be the point of me speaking if you all knew what I was going to say. Also, I admit I didn’t entirely know what I was going to say yet. But since you all asked me to speak, I knew that I would have to speak from my heart.

The truth is, I know you just well enough to know that I don’t know the funniest anecdotes to tell, or the greatest accomplishments to highlight. But I know you well enough to know that I am grateful to have met you. And I know you well enough to know that some of you have struggled to be here, and others have overcome incredible hardships. And I am immensely proud of every single one of you.

Your accomplishments have encouraged us all. Your struggles have touched our hearts. And your presence has brightened our days.

Each one of you is worthy of far more time than I have here.

Nevertheless, I hope that I can give you some piece of advice, or a perspective on life that might be helpful. And with that in mind, I don’t want to reminisce about past glories, nor speculate on all the great things you may do in the future. I don’t want to pretend that there haven’t been hard times, or that there won’t be hard times to come. I’m sure there were, and there definitely will be.

Instead, I would like to talk about this moment, right now. For it is always in the present moment that we are living. It always has been, and always will be now. In this way, everything that has ever happened has happened today, and everything that ever will happen will also happen today. That is when our lives are unfolding. And this will always be the case, for you, for me, for everybody.

So let’s think about this. The past, as we remember it, is already gone. The future, as we imagine it, will never really arrive. It will always be now. This present moment that we are experiencing goes on throughout our entire lives. So how we live, here and now, is always what really matters.

This may seem obvious, but it’s a fact that is so easy to lose track of. It’s so easy for us to become distracted, unconscious of our remarkable existence in this present moment. And it’s so easy become wrapped up in our thoughts about what has happened and where it’s all going, or to become entranced by our ideas about who we are, what we’re doing, what we’ll become, what we’re capable of, what we should or shouldn’t do in the future, what could happen, and what it all means.

Of course we need to remember the past, to acknowledge and learn from it. And we need to plan for the future as well, to set course now for our greatest aspirations. But never forget that the present moment is all there will ever be. Whatever you do, even when you’re remembering and planning, you will always be doing it now. And even when you are not really doing anything, you cannot help but not do it now.

So whatever joy you seek in life, you can only find it in the present moment. And whatever you intend to accomplish, you can only work towards it in the present moment. And whatever problems may arise in your life or that you perceive in the world, you can only solve them in the present moment. And whatever kind of person you wish to be, you can only be that person now, in the present moment.

Life can seem incredibly complicated, but the truth is very simple. Moment by moment, we live these beautiful lives. They are filled with soaring heights, mundane plains, and abyssal depths. But whatever happens, have courage for the moment. For all we can do is attend to ourselves and the situation at hand, always living in this present moment.

Wisdom has not changed throughout the ages. But it’s up to you to discover what it really is. I can only give you a taste, point in the general direction, and encourage you to discover it for yourselves.

To all those ends I say: Be kind, be curious, be loving, be truthful. And I say all these things in the deepest possible sense.

Endeavor to find out who you really are and what your true potential is. I assure you, it’s way bigger than you can imagine.

And through it all, always strive to understand what it is to be a good person.

It won’t always be easy, but moment by moment, if we can just be that, everything else will take of itself.

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Thank you, and congratulations to the Class of 2018!

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Devil’s Playground Progress

The Dungeon Solitaire: Devil’s Playground Kickstarter was a big success. Thanks to 314 backers we topped out at $13,605 in funding, and added eight substantial stretch goals to the project and some Kickstarter exclusives. I’m very excited to share this game with all our backers, and still anticipate shipping on time in June.

I’ve been very busy this last week doing final play-testing for the stand-alone game, putting together a rough draft of the entire rulebook with all stretch goals included, getting a start on creating the interior diagrams and tables, and coordinating with artist Josphe Vandel on the remaining artwork and card formatting. All the elements are starting falling into place, and everything is looking pretty awesome so far.

There’s still a ton work to be done though, including further play-testing on stretch goal games and variants, editing, re-editing, and re-re-editing the rulebook. Finishing final tables and diagrams and doing the interior layout. Then book and box covers, Then card proofs, book proofs, backer surveys, shipping logistics and finally orders! It’s a lot to do, and I will be on a tight schedule the next two months.

dp-playtesting

Devil’s Playground play-testing in progress.

Stay tuned here and on the Kickstarter page for further updates as the project moves forward. They probably wont be as frequent as I would like because I’ll be focused on the game itself, but don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions. In the meantime, check out all the amazing Dungeon Solitaire games and Labyrinth of Souls fiction that is already available.

Three Days Left for Devil’s Playground Kickstarter

It’s been an exciting month, and an amazing success so far thanks to all the enthusiastic backers and supporters of the Dungeon Solitaire games. The Devil’s Playground Kickstarter smashed its initial funding goal in under 24 hours, and has gone one to hit seven stretch goals. We are on the cusp of another stretch goal with three days left to get in on the Kickstarter.

Time to get into the dungeon, and get in on the great rewards! There are high quality red-back cards for both the Devil’s Playground and the Labyrinth of Souls games, both featuring incredible, original artwork by artist Josephe Vandel. Included in the rulebook are a stand-alone dungeon delving game, Labyrinth of Souls expansion games, an all new card-based territorial wargame with multiple variations. And by getting in now, you will get two Kickstarter exclusive cards with special rules for incorporating them into your games.

In these last three days, please help spread the news by sharing this post or the Kickstarter page with your friends and gaming groups, on your blogs and especially on social media. This kind of word of mouth really makes a difference.

There is nothing more I can say, except to thank you deeply for all your support, enthusiasm, and encouragement. These games can only reach their full potential with the support of backers like you. And so I leave you with a few words from the introductory material for the Devil’s Playground rulebook, words taken from Malhak the Great’s Tome of Demonology:

At last, thoughts fall like shooting stars in the gravity of awareness. Some burn with the light of blinding suns, others with the light of a dim candle. But all catch fire and burn out. Nothing ever remains. Yet until that time, the soul is a house divided. It is a devil’s playground, at war with itself and everything it encounters.

I have seen the pox-ridden skies Illeanth, and the vermilion seas of Yoon. I have conversed with voices in realms of unending darkness. I have nosed perfumes so exalted that a single whiff bore a thousand years of bliss. I have walked with the first ragged tribes of humanity, and I have tasted ashes in the fallen ruins of their great civilizations. I have seen the arcs of eons and heard the silence that reigns in the depths of space.

And yet, all of these experiences have been but dreams within dreams within dreams. For in the emptiness between thoughts, there is no good or evil, no up or down, no light or darkness, no backward or forward, no past or future. There is no sight, no sound, no taste, no smell, no feeling. There is only that which cannot be uttered.

Until the sun rises beyond the distant mountains, until the spring comes, until we wake again, we remain lost in a dungeon of our own making. Until the illusion of the mind itself is destroyed, we wander in its depths. And though we ourselves designed the patterns its winding halls, we do not know the way out.”