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Interview With Hal Bennett
by Connie Hill

Hal Bennett is the amazing author of 28 books on creativity, Earth-based spirituality, intuition, and healing. His titles include Write From the Heart, Follow Your Bliss and his newest, Spirit Circle. Recently I talked to Hal about writing, creativity and his favorite subject, shamanism.

Connie Hill: Hal, how did you begin writing?

Hal Bennett: Recently I was asked to write something for the Chicken Soup series and a similar question was asked. I started writing in secret when I was 8-10 years old. I always did really badly in school. And I never connected writing with school. So I would write at night, under the covers with a flashlight. I had forgotten that until Canfield asked me to write one of these little stories.

CH: How did your writing career begin?

HB: After high school I took a night poetry class. That was the first time I'd gotten supportive feedback from live people. They really liked what I did and that got me started.

CH: Tell me about the books you have written.

HB: The first one with a major publishing house was called No More Public Schools with Random House. It was about alternative schools and how to set them up. Then I did a series of books including the Well Body Book, one of the first self-help, health books. I've also worked with over 200 authors, many you'd recognize like Jerry Jampolsky, Shakti Gawain and Gabrielle Roth as a behind-the-scenes person to help get their books out. The central theme is always empowerment whether I'm talking about medicine, spiritual development or shamanism.

CH: Where did the empowerment focus come from?

HB: It came from my "wound," which is also my gift. After birth I was literally left alone in the nursery for almost 2 days. I was withering away and dying and they couldn't figure out why. So early on I chose to live and take control of my life and by luck certain people came into my life, certain events happened that inspired me. That theme of empowerment came very early.

CH: Who were some of the people who brought this theme of empowerment to you?

HB: A nurse maid, a Cajun woman. That's all I spoke early on; it was my language and no one could understand me. Then a couple of teachers, an uncle I admired, a variety of people, a shaman in the sixties. Not one single person, but little encounters along the way.

CH: What does shamanism mean to you?

HB: Shamanism has been a core interest of mine since my teens. At 16 I was very ill and in a coma for a couple of days and had a very profound near-death experience. When I came out of the coma I was blind, unable to walk and literally had to learn how to live in my body again. All of the life path ideas I'd had were gone. I searched through many disciplines and was pretty nihilistic and suicidal. I met a person you would now call a shaman. That gave me a perspective that nothing else did. It saved my life and clarified things for me about the nature of human perceptions and the existence of a higher power. It also taught me a lot about the essential principles of how to change things: whether its your own life or changing a community direction. We've learned how to fix things but not how to change or heal them. That's what the shamanic tradition is about. If you suffer a great wound or illness or are an alcoholic, allopathic medicine might give you a drug as an aversion to alcohol. In the shamanic tradition you team the alcoholic or wounded person up with one who has gone through recovery. AA has this kind of a shamanistic tradition. Instead of being shamed by your disease or life experience, you would say, this is a source of great wisdom. Sharing that wisdom with others gives the sufferer hope. You are the light at the end of the tunnel, you're their inspiration, their proof that this can be changed. That is the shamanistic tradition. It's not just fixing, it's transforming and really valuing our life experience, whatever it is.

CH: What do you like the most about writing?

HB: Dealing with the inner processes, what the shaman calls the invisible world; our spiritual connection with our own lives and the worlds around us.

CH: Can this process be done through other arenas besides writing?

HB: I don't see writing as the only way. Any creative or spiritual process and many psychological systems work. Writing is almost contradictory to the process. The oral tradition is much more to the point than writing, but writing is something that we have invented in our modern world and we're kind of stuck with it.

CH: What about computers?

HB: Well, when I really got good at using a word processor it changed language for me from two to three dimensional, more "sculpturesque," because you can mold and move stuff around and to me it's really closer to what I always wanted language to do for me, away from the linear nature of language.

CH: What do you like least about writing?

HB: Dealing with publishers. My wife and I started our own publishing company in part to free me creatively so I didn't even have to think about the publishing end except as an extension of what I do. There are certain books that I publish and certain books that I do with other publishers. We are now taking on other writers to help them publish their books, as well.

CH: What suggestions do you have for people who want to be writers?

HB: To trust your own life experience as the source of your own voice and to understand its importance and power. That is the source of your voice. You can't go anywhere but your own life experience to find your voice; that's what we have to give. There are no new ideas except for one thing and that's your voice. And once you get into your unique voice, you can be saying something that has been said millions of times before, but because you say it in your own unique way, it allows others to hear it for the first time. It's our voice that makes the difference. In writing, the book or the end product has never been very important to me. The fact that it is one of the things we do that honors the creative spirit, that's what's important to me.

CH: Yes, it's the process that gets you there.

HB: It's a sacred process. It is, in and of itself, an honoring of the sacred, creative urge that this whole thing starts with. It's an awesome thing.

CH: What else do you teach in your workshop?

HB: A lot of people say "If I'd known what this workshop was about I wouldn't have come. But I'm so grateful I came." What I want to teach is not just writing, but this other message: how do you get in touch with your voice, how do you honor the creative, how do you reclaim your intimate relationship with nature, other people, yourself, and with a higher power, whatever that might be. The workshops are always that, and incidentally you learn about writing.

CH: Thank you, Hal, for taking time to tell us about yourself.

 

The interviewer, Connie Hill, is Event & Newsletter Coordinator at New Renaissance Bookshop. She also has an astrology practice both in Portland and on the Oregon coast. Contact her at gmnite@pioneer.net.

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