Wednesday, March 15, 2017

A Writer's Way

Writing, like anything else you want to do well, is a practice. Having something you really want to say is important, but it may never come through without a practice that supports delivery. I thought I would share some of the elements of practice that work for this writer.


1. Show Up. Make time to write something EVERY DAY. What writers do is write.

2. Borrow Habits That Worked for You in Other Areas of Life. As you look over your personal history, do you find you were most productive when working regular hours, among other people? Or when you were solitary, seeking to fulfill an assignment under deadline? Apply the habits that worked before to your writing practice.

3. Keep a Journal. This is essential practice for any well-lived life, not only a writing life. This is a place for you to commune with your Self, compose your personal encyclopedia of symbols, store quotes and ideas, and gather the raw materials for what may become a script or story.

4. Warm Up. Journaling, blogging, writing literate Facebook posts or  email letters - as long as they are real letters, not just office stuff - are excellent ways to start working those writing muscles, and material you can rework in a story or essay may just pop up. 

5. Set a Time Limit (until you are on a roll and simply can't stop). 30 minutes is great. So you can't finish something in half an hour - even greater, because the next time you sit down you don't have to start with a blank page. I have a 15-minute "hourglass" on my desk. I find I am often amazed by how much I can get down in a quarter hour.

6. Sideline the Editor and Avoid Feedback Felons. Don't judge or evaluate what you are writing until it's done. And do not let others play editor or critic - avoid Feedback Felons (anyone who gives you less than positive encouragement or saddles you with wrong or premature expectations or is simply jealous because you are creating and they are not).

7. Keep Your Fingers Walking. Don't agonize over trying to perfect any part of what you are writing until you have sketched out the whole thing.

8. Relax - and Pay Attention. The flow state is one of relaxed attention, or attentive relaxation. You are stretching yourself, and your ability to receive and bring through, without forcing anything on the level of the control freak in the ego. If you're stuck, put on some music, take a shower or a swim - getting in flow with water always helps - take a walk for five unscheduled minutes and see what the world gives you.

9. Gag the Demon of Expectations. You want fame and fortune from this, or at least some respect from your friends? Fine. But don't let your expectations damn your performance. Write for the heck of it, have a good time doing this for its own sake.

10. Put Yourself Where the Big Story Can Grab You. Writing, at its core, is about releasing a story. Never forget that the Big story is hunting YOU. The whole art of telling it is to keep moving - further and further from the tame and settled lands - until you get deep enough into the bush for the Big story to jump on you. Then everything will be different, and fabulous.

11. Remember Your Writing Partner. You may have various writing partners, but right now I am talking about the big one, the creative spirit the Romans called the genius. The more you are willing to give yourself to your writing for its own sake, to dare something new, the closer you draw this guiding power and its limitless energy.

12. If You Must Work to Deadline, Make Sure It's an All-But-Impossible Deadline. Our genius loves us best - and helps us most - when we take on the greatest challenges, and play the game hardest.

Photo: RM in Yeats' tower, Thoor Ballylee, in County Galway.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Opening the Spring of the Muses

Hooves on Helicon

Harder. The hooves drive sparks from the rock.
The great wings beat the air, driving a warm wind
Across the snowy slopes of the mountain.
Again, the hooves come down. And again.
The rock groans and yields, releasing the jets
Of the secret spring. I am down on my knees,
Catching the water in my open mouth.
Shockingly cold and pure, it floods my senses
And a figure takes form before me, from the mist.
I know her as grey-eyed Clio, muse of History.
Her sister appears at my other side. I know she is
Sophrosyne, or Tempering. She is not on the roll-call
Of muses; she has come because I need her instruction.
Above my feminine guides, huge as the mountain,
Is their mother, Memory. Knowing is remembering.
I am here to help people remember the origin
And purpose of their lives. My sun-father shines
A blessing on the peak, twin ravens, black and white.

In the myth, the Hippocrene spring on Mount Helicon, sacred to the Muses, is opened when Pegasus drums his mighty hooves on the rock. It's a way of creation.

Sophrosyne is, indeed, not in the roll-call of the Muses. But she appeared in the lucid dream that gave birth to this poem.

Image: Apulian red-figure vase, 4th century BCE.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Following the Amber Road: Dreaming with my Ancestors

Guest Blog by Tenaya Amelia Wieczorek

“This is where the wolf resides. Show me the way through deep forest. Take me back to where I came from, long before. I know the path begins in the dark trees… They know my name. Our family has always worshipped a form of the great Mother. I surrender to your grace. I feel you ever inside me…Holy, wholly.” - The Amber Road painting text 2017

These words are inscribed on the ochre-colored road in my painting The Amber Road. This is the story of how this painting came to be, guided by dreams of my ancestors.
     For the past few years I’ve been obsessed with genealogy shows on television. On both Who Do You Think You Are, and Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates Jr., famous people trace their ancestry, often revealing unknown family stories and thrilling revelations of ancestors that share common interests and life experiences. 
     In the late spring of 2015 I got my DNA tested and had some surprising revelations of my own! All my life I was told that I was half Yugoslavian (Serbian and Montenegrin) and half Polish. When I was in 5th grade I became obsessed with Ireland, and dreamed of travelling there, so I started tucking away extra coins into a large green glass wine jug to save up money for the journey. My grandmother recalls that I used to tell people that “My dad is Polish and my mom is Yugoslavian, but I’m Irish!”
     So when I opened my DNA results I was shocked to find out I did indeed have a tiny percentage of blood from the British Isles, as well as several other places and cultures that I have felt a profound connection with. I have had dreams and visions of reindeer herding people from the far north, and I discovered that I have Yakut (Siberian) as well as Scandinavian blood.
     As I sat in front of my computer, dumbfounded, with chills running up my spine as I read the results, a vision formed in my mind’s eye of lines of ancestors fanning out in long rows behind me, stretching all the way to early, prehistoric times. It was the first time I had a visceral sense of myself as being connected to the ancient past, to indigenous people, my people. I saw the thrumming beauty of DNA woven like threads in a basket rushing forward to the present… and had the sense that I AM MY ANCESTORS. For a moment I stepped outside of time and space and felt part of a vast continuum of humanity, like I had a place in history. I wept at the feeling of homecoming, confirmation and remembrance.

A few months prior to these revelations I recorded the following dreams:

The Amber Rosary and Blessed with Cabbage Water 5/14/2015

I dreamed that I needed to be on my way, and dusk was falling, so I took up jogging, unsure of where I was going, or how to get back to my car. I couldn’t remember where my room was for the night, and I hadn't checked in yet. It felt like Virginia~ the trees were bare and lacy, so I knew it was late fall.

I came to a tent set up in a driveway and saw two nuns in white, and immediately thought they might be able to help me. The one in front saw me right away. She was sprinkling holy water on people with a purple cabbage leaf. That felt so familiar to me, connected to my Polish heritage. There were religious items laid out on the table, rosaries etc. The nuns chanted in what I first thought was Polish, then realized was Latin.

Dipping a cabbage leaf in a bowl, the nun sprinkled me with holy water, and indicated I should take an amber rosary that was in a cloth bag on the table. I wasn't sure if I should make a donation or not. I walked around to another table and saw all sorts of baked goods, including triangular scones with rosaries baked into them. I asked the nuns for directions, worried because I couldn’t remember my eventual destination, and my phone was low on juice. They couldn't help me, and said I should ask someone at a service station. I saw a woman from Spirit Rock Meditation Center with medium length dark hair and couldn't remember her name, but was relieved to see someone familiar. I knew she would help me. We started chatting and I picked out a rosary, and I told her how I was embarrassed that I had forgotten her name. She said her name was Sarah and I saw that she had become Sarah A., my dear friend and I was overjoyed!

At the back of the booth two young 15-year-old girls were helping out and they started singing for us! They sang haunting Appalachian/Eastern European sounding harmonies~ quietly at first, then building in strength and power, completely a cappella. We were riveted by their perfect harmonic sound. It gave me chills of recognition.

Then it was time for me to be on my way so I took off jogging and wished I had settled into my accommodations before I have left on his journey.

At Dream Teacher Training Level One in July 2015 at Mosswood Hollow in Washington State I encountered a wonderful woman and fellow dreamer, Stefania, who was also of Polish descent. I shared these dreams with her and we discussed many levels of connection and symbolism. She was the first Polish person I had really connected with outside of my family, and it felt like we held keys of wisdom and knowledge  for each other.
    Just days before leaving for the Dream Teacher Training I had the following dream:

Our Family Has Always Worshipped a Form of the Great Mother 7/12/15

I dreamed I was with Sonia and Tadek (my siblings) and Sonia had on a beautiful, intricate, spiritual piece of jewelry. It was a thin gold chain that draped around her body with tiny carved figures made of jade, aquamarine and citrine and faceted rosary-like beads. It was a prayer/spiritual device. We were at Nana and Dziadzi’s (my Polish grandparents) house in Fremont in the front yard. Nana Aggie was there and she pointed out a large white plaster statue of the Virgin Mary in a place of honor amid the cactus and juniper bushes, and she told me that: “Our family has always worshipped a form of the Great Mother.”

In September 2015, in a moment of Facebook synchronicity, a video popped up that I am certain has changed the course of my life. The video was of Laboritorium Piesni, a young all-female polyphonic singing group from Gdansk, Poland. At the first sound of their voices rising in song (just like the sisters in the Amber Rosary dream) and the heartbeat thud of the drum, I was riveted, blood pounding and my eyes filled with tears. I felt my ancestors clamor around me as I listened to the voice of the ancients sing through these young women that could be my sisters. Suddenly my Polish lineage felt relevant to me, I could see myself among these women, singing draped in earth-colored fabric, dancing in a circle, arms tracing the shape of sacred energies…
    The song, Sztoj pa moru, was the fuel for my painting, The Amber Road, that I began at an intuitive painting workshop in October 2015 in Portland Oregon with inspiring teacher Flora Bowley and finished a year later.
     Using deep turquoise, black, ochre and fluorescent red, applied with a large foam brush, I created a dark under painting for the first layer, which is unusual for me~ I usually work in bright, vibrant colors. After the layer dried, I approached it again, and as this song looped on repeat  in my headphones, the painting began to reveal itself and I was pulled into the dark woods I often visit in dreams.
    I consciously steered myself into the Amber Rosary dream as the art studio faded away and the harmonic music circling through my ears induced a mild trance state. I painted for six hours that day and five the next day, barely stopping as the world of my dream came to life before my eyes, infused with the energy and essence of my ancestors~ The sacred purple cabbage leaf dripping holy water, the dark trees looming overhead, the white plaster Mary statue, draped in gold chains, who, as my mother pointed out later, actually looks like a Black Madonna.

Chestnuts for Mary 10/15/2016

I dreamed it was a holiday (Thanksgiving or Christmas) and I was with my family. There was a high wooden mantle (like the one at my adolescent home) and Mimi said I should “Give some chestnuts to Mary.” There was a large framed image/icon of mother Mary, and I arranged autumn leaves, orange cherry tomatoes, 2 termite wings and 2 chunks of tree sap/amber on the mantel in front of the image. Mimi placed a several chestnuts up there and it felt right. 

At Thanksgiving, when I visited my mom and grandma in Oregon, I noticed my mom had a greeting card that looked very much like the image of the goddess in the dream, which inspired me to lead a simple ritual to honor this dream and our ancestral line. We bought chestnuts and lit candles and frankincense, and I played music from Laboritorium Piesni’s new album. We sat quietly around the table, holding our chestnuts and pouring our prayers into them. Through closed eyes, with the resonant voices rising in waves around us, I saw a vision of my ancient family, in concentric circles of women and circles of men, dancing around a fire outside of a village in former Yugoslavia. I felt my beloved departed also in the room (my dad, Popi, Dziadai and Nana, Ciocia Jane and Uncle Tadek among others) as we called up a connection to our ancestral line. Then, beginning with my grandmother, we offered our chestnuts to the image of Mary on the hearth, our prayers flickering by candlelight.

During this visit I showed my mom a photo the Amber Road painting in progress, and she exclaimed that the goddess figure actually looked like a Black Madonna, which was unintentional on my part, but resonated as soon as she said it. It also immediately made me think of my Polish grandmother’s funeral card, which depicts the famous Black Madonna, Our Lady of Czestochowa, from Poland. In the course of my research into this particular Black Madonna, I learned that King Louis of Hungary (1326-1382) brought the Black Madonna to Poland in response to a dream.    
    I discovered that there are numerous Black Madonna statues located throughout Europe, and that some theories suggest that they may have originally been depictions of pre-Christian goddesses such as Isis, Demeter, Persephone, Astarte, and Athena. When Christianity came to various areas in Europe, people had to take down their shrines and “cloak” their goddesses in the more acceptable guise of the Virgin Mary and child, much like is done in syncretic religions such as Candomble and Santeria.  This seems related to what my grandmother told me in the dream:  “Our family has always worshipped a form of the great Mother”.
     I put the finishing touches on the Amber Road painting by adding red, blue and ochre fabric motifs to the tree trunks. The motifs are based on embroidery from a blouse my great grandmother brought back from Yugoslavia in the early 1950s. These red “flags” are markers, guiding the way through the trees, encoded with patterns and messages, just like my blood and DNA is encoded with vital information. In the Amber Rosary dream I was trying to find my way, looking for my place, and now these flags, woven of memories, stories, dreams, and recollections are pointing the way. 
    These dreams have given me exciting clues and set me on a path to discovering the lines of my family, known and unknown. I have been talking to family members and consulting a family history my father wrote. I’ve started learning the Polish language, with hopes of attending a singing workshop with Laboritorium Piesni when they come to the US for the first time in the fall of 2017. My big dream is to travel to Poland in September 2018 to visit places my family lived, and to study polyphonic singing and Polish crafts, such as basket making and paper cutting, as well as traditional herbal medicine and pagan practices. My dreams are weaving the way…

Tenaya Amelia is a life-long dreamer trained as a teacher of Active Dreaming by Robert Moss. Intuitive, sensitive and creative, she holds a safe and vibrant space to explore the inner realms. Tenaya weaves together intuitive painting, collage, expressive movement and evocative music into her unique offerings. She is based in Northern California and offers workshops, private dream sessions and a monthly dream salon.  Tenaya is Robert's guest on his Way of the Dreamer radio show on Tuesday March 14. Listen to the show live or download from the archive

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Our days are full of dream residue

We often wake with a dream hangover, even if we don't recall the dreams that caused it. Freud said that dreams are full of "day residue", thoughts and memories left over from waking life. It is no less true that our days are full of dream residue.
     Sometimes we become aware of this when we wake up feeling jet-lagged or even as if we have been run over by a truck, even though we seemed to sleep well enough. This is often the effect of what esoteric writers used to call "astral repercussion". You get out and about in an energy body, in night dreams, and what happens to that astral vehicle may reverberate in your physical system. In extreme cases, like those Dion Fortune made the stuff of the highly illuminating and sometimes cautionary tales in her Secrets of Doctor Taverner, bruises or apparent wounds may be left on the physical body.
    Those jetlag sensations may be caused by a lot of dream travel;  if you are flying across the world in a dream body, especially if you are crossing large bodies of water (which drain energy from the subtle body) you may have quite literal reasons to feel the way you would feel after a long flight on a plane. Frequent fliers need to learn more about the nature and care and maintenance of energy bodies, which is a major theme in my book Dreamgates.
     Our dream activity, remembered or not, often sets the tone for the day. Sometimes we rise with a terrific surge of energy and confidence or a clear sense of direction that was lacking the day before. We may say that we slept well; chances are we also dreamed well.
     The "vigilance" theory developed by Finnish dream researcher Antti Revonsuo maintains that in dreams the brain rehearses for patterns of challenge and opportunity that lie ahead, preparing us to move faster and more effectively when certain situations arise, and that this activity is important and useful whether or not we remember our dreams.
     Deja vu is one of the most striking examples of dream residue, though many of us fail to understand how it comes about. We meet a person or enter a scene that is absolutely familiar to us; we are sure we have seen this before. Most often this is because we are now catching up, in waking life, with an event that first took place in a dream.
    Sometimes dream residue is so outrageous and in our face that we can't fail to see it. In my book Conscious Dreaming I report an episode shared with me by a nurse who dreamed she received a visitation from a guide who appeared as half-woman, half-deer. In the morning, she was amazed to find deer scat on the rug in her second-floor apartment. It seemed impossible that it could be there - unless it spilled from the dream.
    We might recall Coleridge's famous questions:

What if you slept? And what if, in your sleep, you dreamed? And what if, in your dream, you went to heaven and there plucked a strange and beautiful flower? And what if, when you awoke, you had the flower in your hand? Ah, what then?

Then we would know that the dream experiences are real, and that what goes on in the dream world doesn't necessarily stay in the dream world. It happens.

Photo of Cafe Jet-Lag in Les Halles, Paris by Robert Moss

Monday, March 6, 2017

Shamans as dreamers, dreamers as shamans

The shamans who interest me are world-class dreamers who can travel between different worlds in the multiverse at will.
    They know the roads of the afterlife because they have died and come back. They walk with Death at their left shoulder, as an ally, not a dread.
    They know where to find lost souls and how to guide them to where they belong, in one world or another.
    They travel in the company of animal spirits, and can borrow their senses and use their forms.
    They are time travelers who can scout out the future, repair the past and heal ancestral karma.
    They are poets of consciousness who entertain the spirits by bringing them fresh words. They heal body and mind and re-enchant the world by telling better stories about them.
Let's go back to the beginning. In all the descriptions of the shaman in the literature – as wounded healer, as guide of souls, as walker between worlds, as negotiator with the spirits – there is an essential element that is rarely featured strongly enough, and is sometimes missed altogether.
     First and last, the shaman is a dreamer. Shamans typically receive their calling in dreams, and are initiated and trained in the Dreamtime. The heart of their practice is the intentional dream journey. They may incubate dreams to diagnose for a patient and to select the appropriate treatment. They travel – wide awake and lucid – in their dream bodies to find lost souls, to intercede with the spirits, to fight sorcerers and to guide spirits of the departed along the right roads.
     In indigenous North America, the dominant word for "shaman" (and also for "healer" or spiritual elder") means Dreamer, as in one who dreams strong, one who can dream for others, one who can travel at will into other realities. In Mohawk (a language I had to learn because of my dreams) the word is "rateshents". Among the Dane-zaa of northern B.C. and Alberta, the Naachin, or Dreamers, are the shamans who travel between worlds and open roads for others.
    Anyone who dreams, as the Kawahiv, an Amazonian dreaming people say, is "a little bit shaman". We stand on the brink of claiming this power when we remember our dreams and start to develop the practice of working with dreams as daily practice.
reaming, a contemporary American woman finds herself in a different body, traveling with her clan beside a river in a primal landscape untouched by the ax. She knows the lives and relations of these native people intimately and feels the coming of a hard winter.    She sees an eagle flying near the river, and someone tells her, “You can go fly with it.” She is afraid to go too far from the river, so she waits until the eagle hovers overhead. Then, as she told me later, 

I fly an eternal moment with this magnificent bird: beautiful brown, glistening feathers with golden speckles. Eagle is above me, beside me, then lands in the river. I land downstream and float on the warm white foam. The river is blanketed in white foam.
    After I dry off, I fly over the river again. I see turtles where Eagle had flown and landed. The turtles are a darker green. They are solid on the foam, not moving, just peacefully sunning themselves.

The dreamer asked me how she should approach the meaning of this dream. For me, an experience of this kind requires not analysis but honoring. Her dream was a journey into the life circumstances of an indigenous people, an entry into a “past” life that might be a previous experience of her own multidimensional self, or that of an ancestor of the land where she lives, or of her wider spiritual family. Within that life experience, she learned what indigenous dream shamans know: you can become an eagle.

The story of the woman who flew with the eagle is adapted from Dreaming the Soul Back Home by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library.

Drawing by Robert Moss

Why do we dream?

"Why do we dream?" asked the blue butterfly girl, looking around the circle of animals she had invited to her tea party by the garden gate.
    "You dream so we can always be together," said Bear, without hesitation. "You dream so you will always have a friend. "
    "You dream so you can see," said Hawk. His golden eyes flashed.
    "You dream so you can learn to be brave like me," said Lion.
    "Nonsense," said Mr. Fox. "You dream so you can tell stories about me."
    "Grandfather," the girl looked into the tea water. "Why do we dream?"
    Grandfather Teller's voice bubbled like a pot about to boil. "You dream because humans are the animals that tell stories about all the others."

Drawing by Robert Moss

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Poets of consciousness

Poets, it’s said, are shamans of words. True shamans are poets of consciousness. Journeying into a deeper reality with the aid of sung and spoken poetry, they bring back energy and healing through poetic acts, shapeshifting physical systems. When we dream, we tap directly into the same creative source from which poets and shamans derive their gifts. When we create from our dreams, and enter dreamlike flow, we become poets and artists. When we act to bring the energy and imagery of dreams into physical reality, we become poets of consciousness and infuse our world with magic.
      In Birth of a Poet, William Everson raised a clamorous appeal for poets to reawaken to their shamanic calling: "O Poets! Shamans of the word! When will you recover the trance-like rhythms, the subliminal imagery, the haunting sense of possession, the powerful inflection and enunciation to effect the vision? Shamanize! Shamanize!" Across the centuries, many of our greatest poets have recognized their kinship with the shaman’s way of shifting awareness and shapeshifting reality. As his name in a spiritual order, Goethe chose the name of a legendary shaman of antiquity, Abaris, who came flying out of the Northern mists on an arrow from Apollo’s bow.
      Our earliest poets were shamans. Today as in the earliest times, true shamans are poets of consciousness who know the power of song and story to teach and to heal. They understand that through the play of words, sung or spoken, the magic of the Real World comes dancing into the surface world. The right words open pathways between the worlds. The poetry of consciousness delights the spirits. It draws the gods and goddesses who wish to live through us closer.
     Shamans use poetry, sung or spoken, to achieve ends that go deeper than our consensual world. They create poetic songs of power to invoke spiritual help; to journey into nonordinary reality; to open and maintain a space between the worlds where interaction between humans and multidimensional beings can take place and to bring energy and healing through to the body and the physical world.
     The South American paye takes flight with the help of "wing songs". These flight songs help him to borrow the wings of the kumalak bird [a kind of kite] that is a main ally of shamans.
     Among the Inuit, the strongest shamans are also the most gifted poets. One of the reasons their spirit helpers flock around them is that they are charmed and exhilarated by the angakok’s poetic improvisations. Inuit shamans have a language of their own, which is often impenetrable to other Eskimos. It is a language that is never still. It bubbles and eddies, opening a whirlpool way to the deep bosom of the Sea-goddess, or a cavernous passage into the hidden fires of Earth.
      My favorite Inuit shaman-word is the one for "dream". It looks like this: kubsaitigisak. It is pronounced "koov-sigh-teegee-shakk", with a little click at the back of the throat when you come to the final consonant. It means "what makes me dive in headfirst." Savor that for a moment, and all that flows with it. A dream, in Eskimo shaman-speech, is something that makes you dive in headfirst. Doesn’t this wondrously evoke the kinesthetic energy of dreaming, the sense of plunging into a deeper world? Doesn’t it also invite us to take the plunge, in the dream of life, and burst through the glass ceilings and paper barriers constructed by the daily trivial self?
     Shamans know further uses for poetry. They use song and poetic speech call the soul back home, into the bodies of those who have lost vital energy through pain or trauma or heartbreak. From their own journeys, they bring back poetic imagery that can help to shapeshift the body’s energy template in the direction of health. Mainstream Western physicians agree that the body believes in images and responds to them as if they are physical events. By bringing the right images through from the dreaming, the poets of consciousness explain dis-ease in ways that help the patient get well, and interact with the body and its immune system on multiple levels without invasive surgery.
    After attending healing sessions of Cuna shamans in Panama, French anthropologist Claude 
Lévi-Strauss explained how the poetry of consciousness is a healing art. "The shaman provides the sick...with a language, by means of which unexpressed, and otherwise inexpressible, psychic states can immediately be expressed. And it is the transition to this verbal expression which induces the release of the physiological process." Instead of giving an explanation of disease that leaves the sufferer powerless and "patient", the shaman explains disease through words and images that help the body get well - just as our dreams do. This is healing through dream transfer, a poetic act.
    Let's recall the Inuit wisdom that with the poetic act, the worlds are joined and the sacred beings come dancing through. An old Inuit woman on Little Diomede Island explained to a Danish anthropologist that powerful spirits - like the spirit of the whale - must be summoned by "fresh words". "Worn-out songs" should never be used when you are trying to call on important spirits.

Adapted from Dreamways of the Iroquois: Honoring theSecret Wishes of the Soul by Robert Moss. Published by Destiny Books

Art: "The Poet with the Birds" by Marc Chagall