Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Black dog sightings

In Praise of Black Dogs

I am in favor of personal superstitions.
Not the kind Granma mumbles
Or the stuff of fright-night moves
But the ones that grow on you
When you notice which incidents in a day
Are shadows cast by something ahead
And get to know which clues from the world
Are reliable road signs.

I think a black dog, if friendly,
Is always a good omen
And could be a god traveling in disguise.
Some days you don’t have to figure this out.
At the door of possibility on San Francisco Bay
A black dog crossed my path.
His walker, a ruddy man in a red pixie hat,
Told me the dog’s name is Pollo,
Short for Apollo.
I have a black dog of my own.
His name is Nubie, short for Anubis.
He lives on my dreams
And takes on many bodies in the world.


Black Dog sightings

When I arrived in St. Louis at the end of last week, I was met at the airport by a man with a black dog called Bear in the back of his car. I immediately sensed that all would go very well in the days of media interviews, lectures and workshops that lay ahead - because for me, a friendly black dog is always a good sign. Indeed, the St. Louis trip unfolded beautifully. In a building where Lincoln slept in 1847, I talked with a lively TV host, Carol Daniel, about how Harriet Tubman used the aerial maps from her dream visions to guide escaping slaves to freedom and how it's common for pregnant mothers to dream of giving birth to baby animals. Erin, the events person at Left Bank Books - a store renowned for supporting creative rebels, artists and dreamers - gave me one of the most eloquent introductions I have ever received, before an enthusiastic crowd of 75 people. In the weekend workshop in an arts building on Delmar, in the city's colorful Loop, we traveled deep into the imaginal realm and collected secret handshakes from the universe while feasting on spicy Thai food during the lunchbreaks.

I've noticed again and again over the years that in my life the appearance of a friendly black dog, especially under unsual circumstances, often presages something good. My feelings may be related to the fact that I shared my home for many years with a couple of big, sloppy black dogs; one of them returned to me in dreams, after his death, as an impeccable friend and guide.

In the midst of a rather difficult phone conversation with a powerful producer who had not quite been "sold" on doing a certain show with me, we were interrupted repeatedly by the barking of a dog. Finally I asked, "What kind of dog is that?" "It's a black lab," the producer explained. It turned out she was sitting a friend's dog for the day - a black dog. I knew in that instant that the conversation would turn out just fine. I proceeded to tell the producer a couple of stories about black dogs who have given me messages (a couple of these are in The Three "Only" Things) - and the producer did not waste another second before agreeing to put me on the show. "How soon can we book you?"

On my way home from leading another workshop, I stopped for essential groceries. When I came out of the supermarket, I noticed that the car parked beside me had a decal that read: "Black Labrador Taxi Service." Yes, the rest of the evening was just lovely.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Lightning Paths



The Lightning Paths
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Before lightning strikes
feeders unseen to the ordinary I
travel possible paths through the air
to find the right way to bolt to earth.
Before the secret green cells in the leaf
drink from its suncatchers, light walks
all paths through the protein scaffold.
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Scientists say that any road taken
collapses all possible paths.
In the leaf, in the air, in a human span
no road, perhaps, is entirely untaken.

If our lives are gardens of forking paths
what happens when we take one branch
with the definite body? Do possible selves
travel on along all the possible paths?
Can we meet each other?
Can the branching paths rejoin?

In default mode I departed a mental map
and followed a road I thought I had left
towards an old place. When I saw my error
I thought at least I was on familiar ground
on my ghost trail. I bulled across many lanes
to make an utterly wrong turn and did not see
I was speeding the wrong way on the Royal Road
until I met a familiar, a bull on a steakhouse sign.
It's not so easy to get back on a road you left.

To get my head around this
I'll go on a quantum walk tonight.
Like light in the leaf, like lightning's feeders,
we try all paths in our dreams.
When we are witness to ourselves
we can change the default mode
and weave the many roads into the right one.


- Mountain View, California, January 18, 2009
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Comment: Suncatchers and Quantum Beating
Recent research at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory suggests that the marvelous speed and efficiency with which green plants transfer solar energy from surface receptors to molecular centers that convert it into chemical energy is the result of a process of "quantum beating". In the presence of light, oscillations are triggered in the plant that explore all possible paths between receptor and converter simultaneously and reversibly (meaning they can retreat without penalty from a wrong path). These many wavelike probes collapse into a single movement, observible only through electronic spectroscopy that can measure events in femtoseconds (millionths of a billionth of a second). A report on the Berkeley Lab findings was published by Graham Fleming et al in the April 12, 2007 issue of Nature.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Dreaming of Obama

Since Barack Obama is a dreamer and embodies a tremendous change in American and world history, it is not surprising that dreamers everywhere are dreaming of him. I have received many hundreds of dream reports invoving Obama, from early in the primary season onward. They come from participants in my workshops, members of my online courses, and the constant stream of email that flows in.

In a significant number of these dreams, Obama is receiving a blessing from an ancestral figure or an elder statesman who has passed on. In one of my own dreams the weekend after the election, for example, I saw Obama held like a (very capable) child in the arms of a giant seated figure of Lincoln - like the statue of the Lincoln Memorial but alive and alert. In another of my dreams, three weeks after the election, Mahatma Gandhi spoke delivered a eulogy of Obama as a peacemaker for the world at a huge rally, possibly the inauguration. I was moved to tears by Gandhi's account of what Obama means for world peace, and in the context of the black experience in America; he used the word "negritude" repeatedly.

Especially in the runup to the U.S election on November 4th, there was an "educational" quality of many of the dreams - in the sense either that the dreamers are learning about Obama, or that they are learning about what needs to be done under his administration. Thus a Midwest mother living in a quite conservative environment (who initially had some sympathy for Sarah Palin as a "working mother" and even dreamed of helping Palin manage her household) dreamed she was set three essay questions involving Obama, and when she completed the assignment, she felt very positive towards him. Another dreamer, raised Ctaholic, dreamed that a beautiful young black boy led her by the hand inside Obama's church, where she was able to observe Barack with his family and was deeply moved by the strong sense of family that pervaded the church. In the wake of the Jeremiah Wright affair, the message that came through was, "There's no problem with Obama's church."


Some of the Obama dreams seem to be prospecting what the new administration will or might do to fix the immense challenges it is inheriting. A woman married to a small business owner asked for dream guidance on how Obama could fix the economy. She dreamed she was traveling all over the map - in planes, convertibles and stretch limos - with a friend who is notorious for practicing "retail therapy", wildly shopping, buying anything they felt like. "Retail therapy" may be just what the country needs!

Other dreams seem to foreshadow the effects of printing money. The $5 had replaced the $1 in another woman's dream, and had an odd shape - the dreamer didn't mind because the bill looked "fabulous".


Two weeks after the election, Caroline dreamed she saw two political cartoons of Obama. The first cartoon, from early in his administration, showed a very small, tightly drawn Obama. The second, later cartoon depicted him as a much bigger person, and the feeling of the drawing was more expansive and loose.Obama wasn't in the second dream but its themes of sharing power and trust seem relevant. In a second dream, drawing on Obama's example, Caroline was bringing a new approach to teamwork into her workplace: "I told my boss and co-workers that the concept of management is outdated and we should work as a team and share power. "Each of us can take turns answering questions from the public for a week at a time. Everyone is shocked; it seems my suggestion is treasonous. My boss says my plan won't work because people who call want to talk to a person with power. I say we can explain that we all share the power equally. Callers who are unhappy with the arrangement are welcome to phone back the following week - the caller will get a different person but she'll still have the same power as everyone else. "

The day after the election, Christine, a clothing designer, dreamed that Michelle Obama had gone into her business, presenting a new line of clothing. "It had balanced colors, baby pinks, baby blues and a floral print of both colors. It was very pretty." The dreamer was examining the line, as a buyer, and was troubled to find a stained and damaged garment at the bottom, and was troubled - as she woke - with the thought that there was a "stain" that wouldn't come out.


Obama's Dream: The graphic is a drawing by Valerie McCarney inspired by Obama's dream of encountering a giant in the African forest. This is one of two big dreams Obama included in his memoir Dreams from My Father. The seond is a dream in which Barack met his father in a jail cell a year after his father's death. There was love and reconciliation between the son and the father who had been absent from most of his life, but when Barack offered to get his father out of jail, his dad wasn't ready to be released. The dream is an important reminder that healing of family wounds is possible across the apparent barrier of death, and it is encouraging to know that the new President of the United States is not afraid to talk openly about his personal experiences in this area.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Waking the sleeping king


I was reading a version of one of Madame d'Aulnoy's fairy stories, "The Blue Bird" and was struck by a part near the end where, after incredible trials and transformations, the abused princess, disguised as a beggar girl, manages to gain access to the Echo Chamber in the castle of King Charming, who loves her as she loves him but believes her lost. What is said in the Echo Chamber can be heard distinctly in the royal bedchamber above. The princess wails her story of love and loss, assuming it will awaken the king to the fact that she is alive and available and recall him to the pledges they exchanged.
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But night after night, the king fails to hear. The princess has used up nearly all of the magic a good witch gave her - which has enabled her to buy entry to the Echo Chamber - before she learns that the king does not hear her because he takes a sleeping-draught every night. She manages to bribe a page to withhold the sleeping potion. Awake in the night, the king hears her love pleas, goes in search of her, and they are united.

A much more relevant story for our times than the theme of the sleeping princess. Here the woman has to wake up the man, as is much more often the case. How many "sleeping kings" do we know? How many forms do their "sleeping draughts" take? Whenever you run into a guy who has lost touch with his dreams, who may even say, "I don't dream", remember you may be dealing with a sleeping king, and you may be called on to play the role of the Awakener.

The very adult message in this story made me want to know more about the author. Where did her clarity of perception, amongst all the fantasy and finery (and raw horror, too) come from? The story of the author of "The Blue Bird" is fascinating, and takes us into the raw depth of lived experience from which the pre-Disney and pre-Victorian fairytales come - in this case, not from peasant folklore but from the no less brutal life dramas of France's real-life princesses.
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At age fifteen, Marie-Catherine le Jumel de Barneville was kidnapped from a convent school and raped under the pretext of an arranged marriage - the polite name for an arrangement by which her father sold her to a rich and depraved aristocrat three times her age. The Baron d'Aulnoy was odious, a heavy drinker and gambler with very unpleasant sexual penchants. Three years into the marriage, it looked like Marie-Catherine had found a way out of her cage when her husband was arrested on charges of high treason against the king. However, under torture two of the accusers confessed that they had invented the treason charges because they were Marie-Catherine's secret lovers.
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The baroness had to flee to Spain, where she restored herself to royal favor - over many years - by functioning as a secret agent for the French. The fantasy writer and editor Terri Windling discusses Madame d'Aulnoy's story in a marvelous book on fairtytales and survivors titled The Armless Maiden and in an essay, “Les Contes des Fées: The Literary Fairy Tales of France”, that is available online.

We derive the term “fairytale” from this extraordinary survivor, Marie-Catherine d'Aulnoy.. She titled her first collection, published in 1697, Les Contes des Fées. She spun her tales for adults, rather than children, in her seventeenth-century salon, in fashionable colloquial style, as reflected in the subtitle of her second collection, Les Fées à la Mode. Hers is a true-life story of spinning soiled hay into gold.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The White Queen Gambit


I am intrigued by the many ways in which we know things, through our inner senses and through the instinctual wisdom of the body, before we have conscious knowledge of those things. I've learned to play close attention to what used to be called "presentiment", which means having the feelings and sensations an event might trigger before the event takes place. I think of this as the White Queen Gambit. Maybe you remember how in Alice in Wonderland the White Queen squeals before she pricks her finger. When she actually pricks her finger, she doesn't need to scream because she's done that already.

I present a rather dramatic personal example of an experience of “anticipatory symptoms” of this kind - in a doctor's office - in an article at my website you can find in the September 2008 section of the archives. I'll share a less spectacular example from a recent filming session, when it seems I experienced the discomfort and irritation an incident might have triggered before the incident took place:

Losing the Lapel Mike
A young documentary producer and a cameraman arrive to shoot an interview with me that they will use in the trailer for a film they are making on the dreams of exceptional blind kids .It’s a good cause, and I’m happy to donate my time. I’m looking forward to meeting the kids and seeing their dream journals at a later stage of the production.

However, I become extremely uncomfortable as they set up for filming. I’m in my own living room, but I feel very awkward and resistant to the whole process. I don’t want to wear the lapel microphone and protest that surely it’s not necessary since the producer’s voice is not going to be recorded. I'm testy and feel like ripping the lapel mike off, even though I've worn these things hundreds of times. I actually stop the filming soon after we have started, and have little of my usual fluency when we resume.
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After we are done, the cameraman discovers that his audio equipment failed. Though I am pressed for time, I become entirely calm and relaxed, while he tries to figure out the problem, muttering to himself and then calling his boss. He eventually establishes that it was the lapel mike that didn’t work. We’ll have to re-record using the distance mike. This is all fine with me, and the new interview flows much better. I didn’t need to be irritated or uncomfortable over the audio failure now because I responded to the incident before it happened.

It seems that the body, or the energy field around it, has intricate antennae that are constantly scanning for changes that will affect it. Most of us know about this from everyday experience. You have a “gut feeling” about something. You feel a sense of dread or elation, a lifting of the heart or a churning in the stomach that has no evident explanation until a subsequent event takes place that would cause such physical reactions. When the event catches up with the anticipatory symptoms, you and your body may be quite calm and detached – because you’ve done the screaming or the hyperventilating already.

Scientific research into this phenomenon, sometimes described as “time-reversed interference”, has been going on since the 1990s, as I reported in my book Dreaming True. Tests conducted at the University of Nevada involved showing subjects a series of photographs on a screen that were calculated to produce vividly contrasting somatic reactions, read by scanning heartbeat, perspiration, and so on. A photo of a peaceful rustic scene might be followed by hard porno or a picture of a gruesome crime scene. It was established than in many cases test subjects had the physical reactions a certain picture would be expected to produce moments before the image came up on the screen.

I suspect we'll all do better if we let our bodies tell us what’s going down. This is a case of “what the bleep we know” that we don’t usually know that we know.

The Kelsey interview


I get a lot of requests for interviews, especially when I am in the thick of a book tour like the one that is just beginning for my new book The Secret History of Dreaming. A recent interview I especially enjoyed was with a 14-year-old student called Kelsey, whose teacher suggested she should ask me to respond to her questions for a school project on dreams after she told him she had read Conscious Dreaming and had started keeping a journal. Here's part of the Kelsey interview:


What was your childhood like and how did it influence you as a person?
I pretty sick as a boy, and that meant I spent a lot of time by myself, in the realm of dreams and imagination, making up stories and talking to invisible companions. I survived crises of illness that would now be called near-death experiences. They taught me that there are real worlds beyond the physical plane. An Aboriginal boy I met in Queensland when I was quite young was the first person to confirm and validate my experiences. I was an “Army brat” – my father was a career Army officer, and I went to eight different schools – and the steady center of my life through all these changes was the Dreaming.

How many different jobs have you had and what were some of them?
My work has always centered on writing and telling stories, and teaching other people how to do that. I started writing for newspapers when I was an undergraduate. My first full-time job was as Lecturer in Ancient History at the Australian National University. I became a full-time journalist after that and traveled to many countries as a foreign correspondent. After the success of my first fiction in 1980, I was able to live as a full-time writer. I have been self-employed ever since and have had the luxury of immersing myself in whatever I am called to study as an independent scholar. Since the early 1990s, I have been a dream teacher, a role for which there is no “career track” in our culture – though I hope my work will help to change that!

How many total books have you ever written and how many of them are based on dreams that you’ve had in the past or have factual information about dreams in them?
I have published 19 books under my own name (and several under other names). Nine of them are novels (including my "New York trilogy", Fire Along the Sky, The Firekeeper and The Interpreter). Seven, including Conscious Dreaming and the new one, The Secret History of Dreaming are devoted to dreams and imagination, which is also the theme of my audio series Dream Gates and my DVD series The Way of the Dreamer. ALL of my books have been guided by my own dreams, and the play of coincidence has influenced when and how some of them have been published.

What got you most interested in the study of dreams?
My own experience as a dreamer! I’ve been keeping a dream journal, off and on since I was a teen, and with passionate dedication for the past 20 years. Dreaming is not a spectator sport, and the only real “experts” on dreams are people who do a lot of dreaming!

Why do you think that dreams are so significant?
(1) We solve problems in our sleep
(2) Dreams coach us for future challenges and opportunities
(3) Dreams show us what the body needs to stay well – and get well
(4) Dreams hold up a “magic mirror” to our current actions and attitudes, helping us to take an objective look at ourselves and make wiser choices
(5) Dreams are a creative studio where we develop new ideas – as inventors, scientists, writers and world-changers have always done.

What would you say is most significant about dreams?

Dreams put us in touch with our bigger story and our larger purpose.

What have dreams done for you in the past and how have they influenced your life?

Early warning dreams have saved me from death in road accidents at least three times. When I was a kid, I used to dream exam questions before I took the exams – which really helped me prep! On a more fundamental level, dreams have guided every major transition in my life. My dreams of my father, after his death in 1987, deepened my understanding of what really matters in life, as did my dreams of an ancient Iroquois medicine woman. Dreams have been a major source of creative inspiration for me, again and again.

What exactly is conscious dreaming and how is it different from normal every night dreaming?
Conscious dreaming involves (1) learning to enter the dream state consciously and retaining consciousness within it; (2) learning to go back inside the dreamspace – through the practice I call dream reentry – to seek resolution or healing, or more information of fun; and (3) becoming more conscious of the many gifts of dreaming and the many ways we can share them.

What is a shaman and how are they connected to you personally?
In the Mohawk language (which I was inspired to study because of my dreams) the word for shaman is atetshnets (“ah-dzed-zots”) which means “one who dreams”. The word also means “doctor” or “healer.” For me, the true shaman is a very powerful and prolific dreamer – one who is able to make conscious dream journeys to heal, to guide souls into the afterlife, and to bring back information about the possible future to help his or her community.

What should we never say about dreams and why?
We should never say, “I don’t dream”. All that means is, “I don’t remember”. And we should be very careful about saying “It’s only a dream” – since a dream can be a fabulous source of guidance, energy and healing.

Who were your biggest role models/inspirations on your way to becoming a conscious dreamer as a child and an adult?

My most important guides appeared to me in my dreams and visions. They included well-known figures such as the poet William Butler Yeats and the analytical psychologist C.G.Jung who were both world-class dreamers; I devoured their books when I was still in school. As mentioned, when I was a very young boy, an Aboriginal friend was one of the first persons to confirm to me that it isn't "weird" to dream the future, or to talk to "dead" people in your dreams, or to go to a special place in the dreamworld where you can receive healing.

How did you learn the dreaming techniques that you describe in your books?
Practice, practice, practice! I have not only been journaling my dreams for many years; I have been sharing dreams and embarking on shared dream adventures with friends and students.

Do you personally practice any of the techniques described in your books?
I practice ALL the techniques described in my books! These are original techniques that have grown from my personal practice and teaching. The Lightning Dreamwork technique – described in my book The Three “Only” Things – is especially important because it gives us a fun way to share a dream, receive helpful feedback and be guided to take creative ACTION that we can do in just five minutes a day. In the process of doing this, we claim our power – and help others claim their power – as storytellers and communicators.

Are you in the process of writing a new book?
I have several books in the works, fiction as well as nonfiction. The protagonist of one of the novels is a boy who goes to a dream school in nonordinary reality. Unlike Harry Potter, he is able to use what he learns to change the world of the “Muggles” for the better….

Is there anything else that you would like to say?
May your best dreams come true – and may you remember them!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Dreaming parallel worlds


I’ve long been fascinated by dream experiences of parallel lives. These can take many forms. We find ourselves in the situation of a person living in a different time. We seem to be enjoying - or not enjoying - a continuous life in another reality. We slip into the perspective and apparently the bodies of other people (including even members of other species) who may be living in our present world, but are not ourselves.

The parallel life experiences that intrigue me most are those in which we seem to find ourselves traveling - in an alternate reality - along paths we abandoned in this lifetime, because of choices we made. Contemporary science speculates about the existence of (possibly infinite) parallel universes. In our dreams, we have the ability to gain experiential knowledge of this fascinating field.

In my own dreams, I quite frequently find myself living in a city or a country where I used to live, doing the things I might well be doing had I stayed in a former line of work and a certain life situation. In these dreams, I am my current age, but my life has followed a different track from the one I have taken in my waking reality. Sometimes it seems I have joined a parallel self who has been following a path I abandoned – through my life choices – twenty or even thirty years ago. There is a “just-so” feeling about these dreams. I return from them thinking, “Well, that’s how things might be if I had made a different choice.” Sometimes I’m quite relieved that I made the choices I did; sometimes I feel a little tristesse for something or someone left on the “ghost trail” I’ve seen in my dream ; but most often my feelings are entirely non-judgmental.

This theme is nicely explored in a novel titled The Post-Birthday World, by Lionel Shriver. Through alternating chapters, we follow alternate event tracks in the life of the heroine, depending on whether she did or did not kiss a man other than her partner on the night of his birthday. That night, her world split. We follow her double life, through those alternating chapters, and the dual narrative is beautifully wrought. At the end of the twin tellings, it's hard to make a value judgment between the alternate life paths. You can't really say that one is better or worse than the other; they are simply different.

Through a chance encounter that was the product of a missed airline connection, I once met a woman who told me she was living a double life of this kind every night (or every day, depending on your perspective). Every night, she went home to her husband at their comfortable house on an island off the North Carolina coast. They might go to their favorite restaurant, or to the mall or the country club. In the morning, they went off on their separate ways to work. The shocker was this. The man she went to every night in her dreams was a different husband, in a different house in a different island. "Whenever I close my eyes," as she told it, "I'm in a different world. It's the same as this world, but everything is different."

Under the Many-Worlds hypothesis now widely entertained by physicists, it’s possible that every choice we make results in the creation of two or more new universes. In Parallel Universes theoretical physicist Michio Kaku suggests that another universe may be floating just a millimeter away on a "brane" (membrane) parallel to our own. He explains that we can't see inside it because it exists in hyperspace, beyond the four dimensions of our everyday reality. But in fact, we can and do go there - in dreaming and in the imagination.

Second only to draming, imaginative fiction is our best mentor on these matters. In Borges' 1941 novella "The Garden of Forking Paths" a sinologist discovers a manuscript by a Chinese writer where the same tale is recounted in several ways, often contradictory. Time is conceived here as a "garden of forking paths", where things happen in parallel in infinitely branching ways. Borges conveys how all possible outcomes of a given event may take place simultaneously, each one opening a new array of possibilities.

It's fascinating to speculate on what may happen if parallel selves, and their parallel worlds, bump up against each other. Could we combine the gifts of different life experiences, or would we compete with each other? One approach to this theme is a creaky old Roger Moore movie titled "The Man Who Haunted Himself", hilarious to watch now because of its silly, jingly circa-1970 musical score. An arrogant, power-mad, womanizing s.o.b. finds enlightenment, and becomes softer and kinder to the point where his family, his office and his girlfriend can't figure him out. When his other self - the s.o.b. in the Savile Row pinstripes - turns up, everyone accepts him as the true Roger Moore character, and Mr. Softer and Kinder is shut out of his home and his office.

All the questions raised here apply to our collective world as well as our personal one. Just beside us, perhaps, is a parallel world - or a thousand of them - in which there is no war in Iraq, or no 9/11. And parallel worlds where there is still a Soviet Union or where (as in the Phlip K. Dick novel The Man in the High Castle) the Axis won World War II and a Japanese commandant rules California. In another parallel world, we have evolved to the level of a Type III Kardashev civilization, with colonies established all over our home galaxy and the technology to tap the energy of a billion stars.

Before Earth's ecosphere ceases to support life, Michio Kaku conjectures, we may have learned how to transport ourselves to a parallel world in the multiverse. Or maybe (as some scientists believe th Big Bang came about) everything will end and begin again through the collision of parallel "branes".

Forking paths, dividing - and sometimes converging. To know more, let's go dream on it.