Thursday, November 27, 2014

The price of Fox's secret


The Little Prince is sad. He has left his planet and the rose he cared for. Now on Earth, he is devastated to find there are thousands of roses, when he thought his was unique.
    He meets a strange, pretty animal that greets him from under an apple tree. It is a fox.
    The Little Prince asks the fox to play with him. Fox tells him, "I cannot play with you because I have not been tamed."
    The Little Prince does not know the meaning of this word "tamed".
    He has to ask three times before the fox tells him that "to be tamed" is "to establish ties."
    How is that done? It takes time, the fox instructs. If the Little Prince wishes to tame him, he must meet him in the meadow at a certain time every day and sit at a certain distance. Each day, the Little Prince may move a little closer. In this way, the fox is eventually tamed and is able to reveal the secret of life.


It's a lovely story, from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's beloved fable The Little Prince, known to most of us from childhood. The secret the fox is about to give is one of the great moments of clear and simple revelation in world literature. But he can only give it when he has been "tamed".
     Now it seems improbable that any fox would ask to be tamed in the sense of being house-broken or put on a leash or made to obey commands. The critical word "tamed" is a correct, but imperfect, translation of Saint-Exupéry's original term apprivoisé. In French, “to tame” an animal (or person) in the sense of making them submissive is dompter; to turn something wild into a domesticated being is domestiquer.
     Apprivoiser
has a different lilt. In early medieval French usage, it means to make something  less savage (but not domesticated), to make something alien more familiar. For the poet-prince Charles d’Orléans, apprivoiser is to make someone gentler, softer, more tractable. The fox tells the Little Prince that the way to bring this about is créer liens, to make links or ties.
      Synonyms for apprivoisier might include “to gentle” or “to befriend”. As the fox uses the word, it is about establishing the kind of connection that will make your relationship unique.  Once gentled (apprivoisé) the fox is no longer one of a thousand foxes that hunt chickens and are pursued by hunters; he is your special friend. Once a rose has befriended you, it is no longer one of a hundred thousand roses; it is your rose.
     “Here is my secret,” the fox, befriended, says to the Little Prince. “It is very simple. You can only see clearly with the heart. The essential is invisible to the eyes."
     Fox has two more secrets, all of them things that humans have forgotten.
    “It is the time you lost for the sake of the rose that made the rose so important.”
    Then, never to be forgotten: Tu deviens responsible pour toujours de ce que tu as apprivoisé. “You are responsible, forever, for everything you have gentled. You are responsible for your rose.”

I think of an old white oak, a tree that I know that knows me. Its image shines in my mind as the Little Prince’s rose shines in his. When I need to know whether other thoughts or visions are to be trusted, I sometimes let the oak rise and rustle in my inner senses, to confirm or caution.
    I think of the red-tailed hawk who dropped from the sky to guide me and, as I came to know, to do something more: to befriend me and, in its own wildness, to gentle me.
Elle m’a apprivoisé.    
    I think of how Death has come to me, over and over, in personal guise, sometimes as a Hindu god who speaks in the accent of an Oxbidge-educated maharajah. In gentling me, Death has found it amusing to play the gentleman. Now I see the brilliance of the French translators of The Dreamer’s Book of the Dead in devising the title Apprivoiser la Mort par le Rêve for my book. “To Gentle Death through Dreaming.”  

Available from Éditions AdA

Graphic: Watercolor by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry from Le Petit Prince

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Truth comes with goosebumps, now and then


It's a rule of skin, for me, that truth comes with goosebumps (or chicken skin, if you like). There is a science of shivers, which involves learning to recognize and respect what is going on when something exceptional is in the air and your body responds even before your mind can make sense of it.
    For the ancients, and in shamanic traditions, trembling for reasons other than cold or external danger has always been regarded as a sign of the advent of the numinous, the coming of gods or spirits. I recorded a recent dream that seemed to take me deep into this realm:


How to Know When the God is Present

I am explaining to a large group of students how to read the signs that announce the advent of the god Apollo at his oracle, and confirm that true messages will be delivered by his priestess. The sacrificial goat starts shaking from the hooves up when the holy water is poured over it. Everything in the environment begins to tremble as if stirred by an unseen wind. The priestess called Pythia, who has been drinking from the sacred spring, sees movement in the bowl of spring water she holds in her lap as she sits on the tripod. The laurel leaves on the branch in her other hand are shaking and murmuring.


Inside the dream, I felt educated pleasure in being able to explain these things clearly. I woke with a mild shiver of recognition, and a deep sense of satisfaction.

Dreams set us research assignments, and this one sent me back to the books, to refresh my memory on the practice of divination in the ancient world, especially at the famous Greek oracle of Delphi, where the priestess known as the Pythia, or Pythoness, was consulted by the rulers of cities and nations.
    Through the surviving sources, starting with Aeschylus' play The Eumenides, I confirmed my dream self's version of the operations of the Pythia. In preparing to become the oracle, she bathes in the sacred spring and invokes all the deities associated with Delphi by name, starting with Themis and Phoebe, daughters of the Earth goddess Gaia, and continuing through Zeus, Poseidon, Dionysus and Apollo, who she hopes will speak through her in the presence of a client. She makes burned offering of laurel leaves and barley meal on an altar of the temple. She enters the adyton (sacred chamber) and mounts the golden tripod chair.
    In one hand she holds a laurel branch, in the other a shallow bowl. She sits quietly until the laurel leaves start to quiver. The trembling seizes her hand, moves up her arm to her shoulders and chest. Her whole body starts shaking violently as it has been seized by giant hands. This is confirmation that the god is present and that his speaker is in the necessary state of enthousiasmos to deliver true messages.

The bit about the goats fascinated me. In Diodorus of Sicily's World History, I reviewed again the legend of the foundation of the oracle of Delphi. Long before the great temple was built, when the area was wilderness, a goat herder noticed that some of his animals were behaving strangely. They were shaking and throwing their heads back, croaking and bleating.
    The herder approached them and saw they were at a crack in the rock from which vapors were rising. When he peered down, a strange exaltation seized him. He started shaking too. Knowledge of many things streamed through him. His family, alarmed by his long absence, searched for him and found him under a tree. He began to tell people their secrets without being asked. He had become clairvoyant. News of the chasm and the power of the vapors spread far and wide, until those in authority determined that things should be put on a orderly business footing. A priestess of blameless life would be chosen as speaker for the oracle, and access to the adyton would be banned to everyone except her attendants.
    It would probably be mistaken to attribute the Pythia's powers of truth-seeing to suphurous vapors from the earth, or chewing laurel leaves, or any other chemical assistance. For one thing, recent archaeology suggests the historical oracle of Delphi operated at a different site from the place - called Likoreia - where the goats were set trembling by whatever was rising from a fissure in the earth.*

But there was something else to be learned and remembered about quivering goats. Ah yes, it has to do with divination by animal sacrifice, indirectly referred to my dream-lecturer self. Goats and sheep were the preferred animals used in extispicy, divination by the entrails, a practice common throughout the ancient world and held to be of high importance in establishing the divine will in relation to human decisions. The Mesopotamian baru, a specialist in these matters, held high rank. So did the Etruscan haruspex counselor to Greeks and Romans, under both the Republic and the Empire. The liver was the preferred organ for divination, because it was thought to be a vital seat of an aspect of soul, and a kind of anchor between the spiritual world and the world of the body.
     For the haruspex, the best liver for divination was one that had been just carved from the animal victim, still warm and quivering in the diviner's hand. The Hittites liked to observe the spasms of the dying animal as its organs were removed.

These tales of savage times say it again: truth comes with goosebumps. Personally, I can do without looking at animal livers. It's enough to notice those little - or large - shivers that come when something is going on beyond the range of ordinary perception. They are a part of what the bleep we know that we (often) don't know that we know.

* On the archaeology of Likoreia and Delphi, see the vivid account in Robert Temple, Oracles of the Dead (Destiny Books).

Image: The Pythia on her tripod at Delphi, with a phiale (shallow bowl) in one hand and a laurel branch (sacred to Apollo) in the other.


Monday, November 24, 2014

The reindeer with shaman eyes that gives its life for its human


We derive the word shaman from the Tungus people of Siberia, now generally known as the Eveny or Evenki, which means "fast runners". I have been rereading an extraordinary book about the Evenki by anthropologist Piers Vitebsky, who lived with them and entered their culture, ecology and dreaming very deeply. The book is titled The Reindeer People: Living with Animals and Spirits in Siberia. It is beautifully written and offers a gift on every page.
    We learn, for example, how anomalies in the natural environment are immediately scanned for guidance on what is developing beyond the normal range of perception. The Evenki read the world around them as a book of clues. "If they noticed an untypical pattern, or a striking analogy between two forms that were otherwise unconnected, they took this as a pointer to something significant in reality itself." The behavior of animals, both in regular life and in dreams, is studied for clues as to what is happening at a distance in time or space. It is considered an especially bad omen if a wild animal comes inside a tent. A dream of a wounded reindeer might portend the illness or death of someone. Predictive dreams are especially likely towards morning, when the dreamer is half-awake. For focused guidance, for example on which way to go on a hunt, the Evenki still heat the shoulder-bones of reindeer over embers and find maps in the patterns of cracks. Vitebsky reports step-by-step instructions by a shaman hunter on how to get this right.
    I am greatly moved by the depth of soul connection between the traditionally shamanic Evenki and the reindeer - those they herd, and the wild ones they hunt. This extends to the bonding with individual reindeer who are chosen to defend the health and even the life of their humans. The reindeer given this role, in ritual bonding, is known as the kujjai. A Evenki may have a whole series of kujjai in the course of his or her life, as one after another gives its life to preserve that of the human. It is believed that the reindeer that takes on this role is a willing sacrifice.
    "Nearly everyone who lived on the land had a kujjai, a reindeer that was specially consecrated to protect its owner from harm. When you were threatened by danger, your kujjai placed itself in front of you and died in your place...You then had to consecrate another reindeer to maintain the same level of protection...Only a reindeer could sacrifice itself knowingly and intentionally."
    An Evenki reindeer herder told Vitebsky, "A kujjai is a very special kind of reindeer. Its

eyes aren't like an ordinary reindeer's. I can't really explain it. It's like a shaman's, I suppose - it's hypnotic."
    A kujjai can be consecrated by a shaman to protect someone at a distance. Vitebsky describes the simple ceremony by which a white reindeer was appointed to guard the life of his young daughter in England; he was to carry a photo of the kujjai back home with him.
    I have seen a deer give its life for a human, and I have painted the Deer hanging on the cross, its heart open, as the willing sacrifice. I find it fascinating that a people who live so close to the deer have made this a ritual of conscious mutual bonding, for life.
    I have read elsewhere, in Esther Jacobson's The Deer Goddess of Ancient Siberia, that in archaic hunting rituals the Evenki honored a form of the Antlered Goddess. Before a moose hunt, a shaman would go into the forest, to a sacred tree, to contact the female spirit of the land and ask for her help. She would sent the shaman a spirit ally that took the form of a giant cow moose or perhaps a giant woman with moose horns. The shaman would now rehearse a successful hunt with the help of his ally. The physical hunt that followed was believed to manifest what had already been accomplished on the spirit plane.


References:

Piers Vitebsky, The Reindeer People: Living with Animals and Spirits in Siberia. New York: Mariner Books/Houghton Mifflin, 2006.
Esther Jacobson, The Deer Goddess of Ancient Siberia: A Study in the Ecology of Belief. Leiden: E.J.Brill, 1993.

Graphic: Reindeer rider from a collection of Evenki folk tales published in Novosibirsk in 1971. 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

When the problem is getting down from the top


In my dreams, for as long as I can remember, a recurring problem is getting down from a height. In these dreams, I often have a great time getting to the top, and at the top. The challenge is to get down again!
    In last night's version, I ascended a height with sweeping views over Washington D.C., with two companions (both dream teachers). Up here, I could gather information on anything I wanted to know, the weather was fine and all was grand - until I realized that there was no obvious way down. We started looking for a safe way down, but could not find one.
    I consider calling to a policeman I can see across a ravine to seek help. Then I decide it would be better to call Superman. I have his mother's number. She is Ma Bell. When she answers, I ask "Is Clark available?" Not immediately, it seems, but she'll pass on a message.
    I inspect the near-vertical cliffs again, looking for places where there might be handholds and footholds. Not promising.

    I became lucid at this point. One of the triggers for lucidity - in dreams or waking life - is waking up to the fact that we are in a situation that has repeated, over and over. I considered my options, now fully aware that I was dreaming and could choose to do anything I liked inside the dream landscape. Could I simply jump off the edge and start flying? I had flown Superman-style in dreams and journeys many times. Couldn't I deploy the Superman power I had tried to call in before I became lucid?
    Nope, it wasn't that kind of a dream. More specifically, I was not in the kind of dream body that you can simply throw off a cliff. The dreamlands have their own integrity and solidity. You can fly in some, or shapeshift, but others operate by physical laws that are similar to those of the ordinary world - sometimes because they are physical environments that exist in future or parallel time. I have written about this situation before on this blog.
    In last night's dream, I was required to figure out the way down from the height. With the help of one of my companions (the other shrunk away from the edge, terrified of heights) I inspected and rejected several options for descending the steep cliffs on all sides. Eventually I found that a structure behind me on the hill contained an elevator in perfect working order that took us safely down. 
    I did not fail to note that recognizing the presence and need for a little "structure" may be a condition for getting grounded and bringing things down from an upper level of consciousness to where people live!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Dreaming the strange death of a Norman king


The year is 1100, and William II, called William Rufus (William the Red) is the second Norman king of England. He's a rapacious, rowdy, brawling character who has earned a lot of opposition, including that of the great scholar Anselm who is now Archbishop of Canterbury. The king has forced Anselm into exile.
    Anselm has a vision: the “saints of England” are applying to God to deal with the Norman thug on the throne. God summons Saint Alban into his presence and hands him a flaming arrow. And God says, “Behold the death of the man you complain of before me.” Saint Alban takes the arrow and says he will deliver it to “a wicked spirit”, so the arrow will be “an avenger of sins.” In Anselm’s vision, the arrow is thrown from the sky and comes down like a fiery comet.|
    At the same time, or soon afterwards, William Rufus was struck by an arrow while hunting in the New Forest; he died the same night.
    Before the news reached Anselm, the archbishop was already journeying back to his cathedral, confident that the arrow fired in his vision had actually reached its mark, flying from the realm of the Aevum (for the medieval imagination, this was the dimension between the world of time and the world of eternity) into the kingdom of England. He received word of the fatal hunting incident as he entered Canterbury.
     The story soon spread across Europe that the cleric Anselm had the power to destroy kings through his prayers and visions.
This account comes down to us from a chronicler known as Matthew of Westminster (also identified as Matthew of Paris). Modern scholarship suggests that the author may have stretched his facts more than a little. It appears that at the time of the king’s death, Anselm was in France – and did not return to his see until after five years of bargaining and jockeying with William II’s successor, Henry I.
      According to other chronicles, William II had his own premonitory dreams – in the most terrifying of which he saw blood spurting from his body until it darkened the sky.    
      It is fascinating that on the morning of his death, the king received a dream warning he took seriously. Robert FitzHammon brought William Rufus word that a monk had dreamed that he saw the king trying to bite off the legs of a figure of Christ on the cross. In the monk’sdream, the Christ figure came alive and smashed him to the ground. The king lay under Christ’s feet, belching fire and smoke from his mouth until the air was dark.
       The king was sufficiently rattled to order FitzHammon to give the monk a hundred shillings and “bid him dreame of better fortune to our person.” [Holinshed Chronicles 3:44] Holinshed reports that the king remained so troubled by the dream that he delayed going out to hunt until after lunch – at which he drank copiously – instead of riding out at dawn aswas his custom.


Sources: The vision of Anselm is in Matthew of Westminster, Flowers of History. The monk’s dream is in Holinshed’s Chronicles 3:4. See Frank Barlow, William Rufus (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1983) and C. Warren Hollister,  “The Strange Death of William Rufus”, in Speculum: A Journal of Medieval Studies. Vol 48, no.4 (October, 1973).

Image: Death of William Rufus, lithograph by Alphonse de Neuville, 1895


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Tarot for Dreamers: The Priestess gentles the Serpent


I often use synchronicity to get a second opinion on what is going on in a dream.
     Sometimes I do that with the help of tarot. Often all that is required is to pull a single card; sometimes I am moved to draw a series of cards corresponding to different scenes, characters or elements in a dream on which I would like some further insight.
     I never consign the meaning of a dream to what the cards reveal, because dreams are vastly deeper and more various than any set of 78 cards designed according to someone else's ideas. Nonetheless, what the cards show can be provocative and illuminating.
     I see many examples of this when I lead my Tarot for Dreamers workshops. Upon occasion, the tarot can even produce an ally to help a dreamer move through a stuck place or confront a terror, in dreams of the night and in passages of the day.

     This is what happened, in a memorable way, in a Tarot for Dreamers playshop I led at a site with the perfect name for such things: The Dragon's Egg, Mystic, Connecticut. A dreamer named Ann recounted a dream in which she was terrified by a giant snake.

The snake was enormous. It looked like a giant python. I was holding it by the neck, with my right hand. The huge, pale yellow head, lolled over my hand. I was trying to break its neck, but I couldn't. I woke up terrified.

In discussion, Ann revealed that she had been frightened by snakes in a series of dreams over many years. She was evidently uncomfortable talking about the latest snake dream now. Yet she told us that she had been inspired to do some research and had discovered that the snakes in the ancient temples of Asklepios, regarded as medicine allies of the god of dream healing, were pale yellow in color. Thus she was open to the suggestion that there might be a power in her dream that was waiting to be claimed - if she was ready to brave up to the giant snake and see what needed to be done with it.

     I suggested that she might want to pull a card from her tarot deck for guidance on this. She drew one of the keys: Trump II, the High Priestess. The Priestess card, for me, offers a path of initiation, a way of going beyond the veil into the heart of the Mysteries. In pathworking on the Qabalistic Tree of Life, the path of the High Priestess, running from Tiphareth to Kether across the abyss of Daath, is the longest and most challenging, requiring the journeyer to pass a series of tests and brave up to a series of challenges. I also thought of the snake priestesses of the ancient world, especially the famous statue from Crete, and of the Pythia, the priestess-seer of the oracle at Delphi whose name literally means The Pythoness.
     The entry of the High Priestess into our circle of dreamers prompted me to suggest a travel itinerary to Ann: to journey to the High Priestess and seek her blessing for a close-up encounter with the giant snake. "See yourself stepping through the border of the card, as through the frame of the door, to meet the Priestess. Seek her counsel and protection for a further journey, to the place of the python, to see what you need to do with it." We agreed that, with Ann's permission, all of the participants would travel with her, as family support.
     We shared powerful and mutually confirming experiences during the group journey, fueled and focused by my shamanic drumming. The most important and profound travel report came from Ann:

I found myself at once before the High Priestess. From her throne, four snakes darted forward and wrapped themselves around my arms and my legs. To my amazement, I felt neither fear nor revulsion. The Priestess told me that the easiest way for my to connect with the serpent power was to let the giant snake swallow me. Now I was facing it. I saw its great jaws open and I let it devour me. I felt myself traveling at amazing speed through a series of landscapes. Then everything turned inside out and the serpent was inside me. I felt it move through all of my energy centers in a zigzag path, clearing blockages, raising a terrific vital energy inside me. I have finally conquered my fear of snakes and I am ready to dance with the Serpent Power.

And she did. We were delighted to see her move into the midst of the circle with the sinuous grace of a snake dancer.

Note: "Qabalistic"? Yes: the Tarot system inherited from the magicians of the Golden Dawn is related to the Western "Qabalah" rather than to Kabbalah. A useful guide to the correspondences is Robert Wang's The Qabalistic Tarot.


Tarot for Dreamers workshops: My next one is at an even more magical location, Mosswood Hollow, in the wild woods east of Seattle, over the weekend of May 9-10, 2015.

Image: This unusual version of the Tarot Priestess is from the Navigators Tarot of the Mystic Sea.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Fox tales


When I announced a playshop titled "What The Fox Knows", devoted to appreciating the Trickster element in life, I was ready for that archetype to come into play, more abundantly than ever. I was not disappointed.
    Two days before I traveled to Mosswood Hollow, in the wild woods east of Seattle, to launch the workshop last weekend, I walked a hilly path at the Esalen Institute to open the afternoon session of a retreat I was leading there. I paused to watch a black cat crossing my path. Being a contrarian, I regard a black cat on my road as a positive sign. But this was not any black cat. It had a remarkable red bushy tail, the very semblance of a fox's brush. I felt, with delicious shivers, that a hybrid creature had slipped between the worlds to signal that the Fox was already in play.
    I recalled how, years earlier, leading a similar retreat at Esalen, I had spoken to the group about why Fox - even more than Coyote, or Raven, or Spider or Squirrel - is, for me, the quintessential form of the Trickster. The group seemed to be laughing harder than my humor could explain. "Look behind you!" someone shouted. I turned, and saw only coastal cypress and the Pacific Ocean beyond the cliff. I resumed my talk and someone yelled, "Look! He's back!" I turned again, and could not see what they were talking about. They had to explain to me that whenever I spoke of Fox, a fox stuck its head up, looking through the window at the group while my back was turned. The fox hid itself every time I turned to see. This happened three times. There's Fox for you.


My Fox workshop was especially devoted to exploring how the Trickster can be our friend when we are willing to shift and improvise, but is our devil when we insist on sticking to plans and perpetuating old habits. Part of our study was how any setback in life can prove to be an opportunity if we are prepared to look for the door that may be opening when another door slams shut or refuses to open.
    A tall and beautiful redhead named Fiona joined us for the Fox workshop, bounding through the back door with sparkling confidence. Of Irish stock, now living in the Seattle area, she had decided to come only the day before, right after hearing about the workshop from a neighbor.   

      She did well in the journeying, to her surprise. A recurring theme for her became: interrupted life paths and parallel lives. Asked to seek the gift in a setback, she found the memory of  how she resented a friend who had caused her to miss a trip to Amsterdam she thought would be wonderful twenty-five years before, when she was 21. In her journey in the workshop, powered by shamanic drumming, she saw what that missed trip would have generated. “It was as vivid as a movie. If I had taken that trip, I would have met a Canadian man. I saw the two children we would have had together. And the fire that would have destroyed our sweet country home, and the deaths of the three people I would have loved most in the world. As the only one to escape, I would have lived with survivor guilt, clinging to a rotting shack and hard memories until I died. Wow, what a gift my friend messed up my trip all those years ago as my life has been such a blessing!"  
      On Saturday afternoon, she discovered she had lost the keys to her car and asked help in searching for them. Most people joined in, searching all the places she had been on the property, reaching behind sofa cushions, scouring the floor of the yurt and the paths. Four people went through her purse after she had searched it several times. In the evening, someone used their AAA card to call a professional to open her car. The assumption was that she had locked her keys in her car, which the owner of the AAA card confessed to having done four times herself. The Triple A man arrived after dark and popped the lock. The redhead’s keys were not in the car.
    She stayed at Mosswood overnight, thankful that at least she had put some things in her car on the outside chance she decided to stay overnight. She had a second car key at home, but did not know where to find that since she had recently moved.
    In the morning, another member of the workshop said that she had received a strong message, "Maybe you can't find the key until you know what you are supposed to unlock." This struck a chord with the Fiona who had made some breakthroughs in her thinking about relationships over the weekend, and especially in a conversation that had just happened moments ago at the breakfast table. Paul, our wonderful host at Mosswood Hollow, came to Fiona and said, “Let me check your purse again. Maybe you have a secret pocket.” Fiona and Paul looked again and found the car key that wasn't there before.
    Little doubt the Fox was in play, hiding something to effect certain changes. One thing Fiona noticed, during the time Fox hid her key, was that she had the active support of a whole community when she needed it, though (as she observed) it was typically outside her comfort level to ask and receive help.  It warmed her heart when she looked out of the bathroom window over the frosty landscape in the early morning and saw one of our workshops participants searching her car again.  “Oddly,” Fiona said afterwards, “I felt very calm throughout, with the  feeling that everything was happening just the way it should.” 

The theme of parallel lives, as in Fiona's glimpse of the alternate event track that would have started in Amsterdam, became a main preoccupation for our group.
    Becky asked for a dream to explore her parallel lives.
    At the Sunday breakfast table, she regaled us with a marvelous story. In her dream, she is met by "Mr Foxy", dressed like John Travolta. He tells he she must dance with him as the price of seeing what she wants to see. She is swept into a round of dirty dancing followed by tango.
    Then she is offered a choice of veils of different colors. Each veil will take her into a different reality. She chooses purple and is horrified to find herself facing the teeth of a barracuda the size of a shark in an underwater world. She next chooses white and finds herself in a desert watching pilgrims advancing towards a church or mosque. She does not belong here. She chooses gold and is greeted at a carriage by a slick character she distrusts before she checks his rear and sees a fox's tail protruding from under the flaps of his tuxedo coat. She is carried into scenes of a lush life.
     We had enormous fun offering feedback over breakfast. But a dream with this much life demands to be performed. So in the course of the day, we turned it into theater. Becky applauded, beaming, as the woman she had chosen to play her dream double was ground into dirty dancing by the foxiest man in the group. When it came time to check out Mr Slick, a prankster in the circle leaped up and pushed a large stuffed toy - a fox, of course - under the back of the player's sweater so the tail hung down.
     The bumper sticker was obvious, and irresistible. In appraising a man, Check Out His Tail.

Fox-tailed cat photo (c) Robert Moss


Saturday, November 15, 2014

The unexpected guest at the door



The best-loved of the Sufi poets, Jalaluddin Rumi, helped inspire a game I have improvised for my workshops, and I want to share the game here. The purpose is to take a close look at some of the moods and feelings that turn up at our door, like unwanted guests and distract us from what we are trying to do and can even crush the joy and the juice out of us. "Negative" feelings that surprise us may range from impatience or anxiety to rage or fear or guilt. Yet we can also be diverted or swamped by feelings that have a better reputation - like empathy or pity - if we can't contain or channel them.
-    Rumi gave the general idea in a poem titled "The Guest House". Here I am borrowing from the fluid version rendered by Coleman Barks. In Rumi's poem, each of us is like a guest house where visitors are turning up at all hours, and we need to be ready to receive them in appropriate ways. These visitors are moods and feelings.
-
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness
comes as an unexpected visitor.
-
Rumi's counsel is to "treat each guest honorably. He or she may be clearing you out for some new delight."
-    So, the game goes like this: Imagine yourself at the door of your house - your actual house, or the house you would like to live in. Either way, this is also a guest house where visitors can appear at any time. Now picture that a feeling that challenges you is at your door. You are going to open the door, and NAME that feeling, and inspect it in the animate or personified form in which it presents itself.
-   Next and most important, you are going to figure out what you want to do with this visitor. Just sending it away is unlikely to work; the feelings you deny will find ways to haunt you and steal your energy. On the other hand, with certain feelings - especially certain forms of fear, the mind-killer - the best strategy (contrary to Rumi) may not be to bring them right inside the house, but rather to set them in a kind of "holding area" and call in help to deal with them.
-    The first time I played this game, in one of my circles, I met Impatience as the visitor at the door. He looked like a young, overstuffed, pompous version of myself in a power suit, so full of himself he really thought the world should make way for him every time he wanted something. I didn't care for him at all, but I made it my game to show him into a comfortable den, get him to take off his coat and loosen his collar, and loaded him up with good books and good movies on DVD and encouraged him to enjoy everything that was available to him while he relaxed and allowed the events he was waiting upon to unfold naturally.
-   A woman in that group met Empathy at the door. Empathy looked like Kwan Yin, but her form was entirely composed of water. The challenge was to engage with her without being swamped with emotion to the point of drowning. During our journey (aided by drumming) the woman succeeded in finding effective containment and channels for all that water of emotion.
-   Other players have met and named a host of personal demons, including the "noonday demons" of Depression and Despair. Among the host: Anxiety, Guilt, Remorse, Anger, Self-Pity, Sorrow, Self-Importance, Resentment, and The Dominator (note the dominant definite article). In handling such unwanted guests, the guest house managers have followed various strategies. One player filled her house with music to soothe and cheer Remorse. Another met a strung-out Anxiety at the door and got him washed and cleaned under the shower and comfy in a fluffy robe. Sometimes other residents of the guest house came forward to help, Joy overwhelming Fear or Grief.
-    In the games so far, I have not yet heard anyone, except myself, name one of the trickiest demons, the one the desert fathers called Acedia ("ah-SEE-dee-yah"). This is the most deadly of the tribe of noonday demons, a dry dementor that sucks the juice and joy out of everything. Acedia is the demon of Not-Caring. He is so tricky that at one point he succeeded in getting the learned editors of the Oxford English Dictionary to declare him "obsolete" while sniggering behind his cupped hand, "I'll be baaaack." Next time he shows up at my door, I'll see how he needs to be handled and will report back - assuming I succeed and therefore still care :-)
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Want to play this game? Picture the feeling that is your unwanted visitor at the door. Name it and visualize it. Then write up your report and decide how you need to handle this visitor in your life.
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Thursday, November 6, 2014

Shaman as dreamer: talking with Sandra Ingerman


Sandra Ingerman is one of the most authentic and important shamanic teachers and practitioners I know, and one of those who has done most to instruct us on why soul leaves the body and what we may need to do to get it back and keep it home. I traveled to the Boston area back in 1991, soon after her seminal Soul Retrieval was published, to attend one of her workshops. I felt immediate trust; here was a person without masks, a person of integrity wholly devoted to her calling. I was also delighted to meet a dreamer. Sandra spoke of how dreams had guided her own life, and suggested that workshop participants should ask for dreams on the first night in preparation for performing and receiving soul retrieval the next day. 
      When I visited Sandra in Santa Fe after that workshop, she talked about a dream in which she had received profound healing. In chronic pain because of a condition no treatment had cured, she prayed for a healing dream. It did not come overnight. She renewed her prayer, night after night, for more than a month. At last she dreamed that a Native American man emerged from behind the sofa in her living room, holding a translucent blue rattle. He pointed the rattle at the part of her body where she was in pain. He shook the rattle over that place until the pain in her dream body was gone. When she woke from the dream, the pain in her physical body had also gone. When I recalled this episode to Sandra recently, she told me she had remained free of pain. One of the lessons of that experience, we agreed, is the need for persistence. If you don’t get what you are asking for overnight, try again, and again.
      A dream provided the spur for Sandra to write her second book, Welcome Home, which is about what we need to do to keep soul in the body after we have done some deep work. A message repeated in dreams over several years insisted on a basic requirement for healing: “The success of any healing is the ability of the client to receive the healing.” She “really got it,” she reports, when she was able to feel fully, in the dream state, what it is like to receive healing energy” on a cellular level.
      After her first visit to Egypt, a being from the collective mind of ancient Egypt followed her home. He was Anubis, familiar to every child who has ever been in the Egyptian room of a museum as a figure with the head of a dog or jackal. For ancient Egyptians (and those who find themselves connected to this tradition) Anubis is a great Gatekeeper, an opener of the ways between the worlds, and a patron of dreaming and astral travel. 
      In a dream, Anubis introduced himself to Sandra as “the god that guards the levels between the worlds”. He instructed Sandra that there was a missing piece in her work: the missing key was” transfiguration”. Though students of the New Testament (and Harry Potter fans) will be familiar with the word, Sandra did not recall having heard it before the dream. The prompt from her dream Anubis led her to discover that transfiguration means shapeshifting on levels beyond her prior shamanic practice. It means the practice of raising and projecting light, as Jesus infused his disciples with light.
      Sandra Ingerman’s 1997 novel, A Fall to Grace, unfolds as a series of dreams within dreams. The protagonist leaves her body on an operating table under anesthesia and travels through various portals to many locales in nonordinary reality, meeting a series of guides, tests and initiations.  The opening scene of the novel was delivered to Sandra in a conscious dream.
     As she recalls, “I was suffering from a terrible flu. I decided to go to bed in my home in Santa Fe and stay there for a few days until I had to get in the car to drive to Boulder to lead a workshop at the end of that week. I was burning up with fever, a man appeared to me and told me to start the book with my character in the O.R. about to have surgery for cancer, a disease I never had myself. Then an earthquake knocks out power to the hospital, while my character is thrown into other worlds. The man said, Now get up and write it down. I didn’t want to get up. I was sick, But he kept at me till I got up and wrote the scene. Then I had my first three pages.”
      As Sandra follows her way, as soul healer, champion of Earth and as dreamer, her work has deepened and expanded. She has dedicated herself to helping to transmute the toxic energies in our lives and our world. She has pledged herself to bringing light to those around her. In her personal creation myth, “the light created humans to play” and gave them a great gift: “the opportunity for spirit to have a body.”  When we remember this, and embody it, we will cease to cause harm to ourselves and others.
      While Sandra wrote in Soul Retrieval twenty years ago that soul retrieval is “not a self-help technique” she has noticed that, more and more, people are finding self-help in this area anyway, through their dreams, both in dreams that they ask for and dreams that come anyway. “People are retrieving vital essence in dreams, and the energy is with them afterwards, so the process is complete.”
      This has been my own experience, in teaching the arts of active dreaming over the same period Sandra has been teaching soul retrieval and growing her Medicine for the Earth. She observes, “The veils between the worlds are getting thinner as we evolve consciously. When your psyche is rising, your dream world is going to respond. As you set the intention of being healed, your dreaming evolves and what needs to be retrieved is accomplished, in dreaming.”

Text adapted from Dreaming the Soul Back Home: Shamanic Dreaming for Healing and Becoming Whole by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library.