Sunday, January 29, 2017

Swimming with sea turtles through the rainbow gate

Waimea Bay, Oahu

It’s raining. Leaning towers of cloud and mist rise from the gorge behind the beach. From the water’s edge, the ocean floor slants down sudden and deep. I slide into warm, gentle surf.
   I am delighted by a rainbow, that appears to be anchored half a mile away, to my left, by a rocky headland. The rainbow curves over the sea, opening a gateway – blue-green to begin with, brightening as the sun bursts through into the full, vivid spectrum.
   I want to swim under the rainbow. It looks like a gate to another dimension. I strike out strongly, beating my legs, towards the rainbow gate. When I raise my chin above the water to check on my progress, I find the rainbow is steadily receding into the distance. Everyone knows you can’t ever catch up with a rainbow, right?
   But now the sea turtles come. First a baby, then a whole pod. I swim among them, kicking hard to keep up. Sea turtles can be fast. And
We swim together to the place of the rainbow. Its brightness has gone, yet something of it seems to hang in the air. I see a beautiful soft blue-green arch above me.
I write sloppy haiku on the beach:

I want to go under
The rainbow’s ocean gate
Sea turtle takes me through


Comment: I plucked this account of dreaming IN the physical body from an old journal just now. It is my unedited account of the start of my birthday in Hawaii in 1998.


Friday, January 27, 2017

What part of you is the dreamer?


Edgar Cayce suggested distinguishing dreams that reflect the needs or wishes of the body, the mind and the spirit. 
     The great medieval Persian mystic Shahabuddin Suhrawardi was one of those who knew about this through direct experience.  From his visionary journeys in the alam al-mithal, or Imaginal Realm, he brought us geographies of many cities invisible to ordinary eyes and to dreamers operating only from lower centers of the self. Suhrawardi wrote, for example, of an "earth of visions" named Hurqalya. It is an interworld, located between the sensory world and an angelic realm beyond terrestrial forms.
     Hurqalya is roofed with shining convexities, plane within plane, like crystals that interpenetrate and turn into each other. It contains the Hall of the Masters, where beings who transcend human geometries consent to project themselves into shimmering stability of form to communicate with those who succeed in ascending to their level.
     Dreaming will get you on your way to such places of initiation, rapture and transformation. But you need to start by paying attention to who is at the controls when you embark on your dream flights.
     Suhrawardi 
 distinguished three distinct levels of dreaming. The importance and reliability of what is experienced in dreaming depends on what part of you gets you there..
    In clear dreams or “free revelation” [kashf] your soul [ruh] goes traveling beyond the body, or you receive a visitation. Your soul travels make take you to other realities, or into the future, “With the eye of the free soul, by the imagination, a person contemplates in dreams the state of things which is yet in the hidden.” In this condition, the dreamer can have accurate foreknowledge of future events, and true clairvoyance.
    “After separation from the body, the soul knows even of the small things heard and seen of this world.” In clear dreams, the dreamer becomes a time traveler or remote viewer. This is a practice that can be developed in waking states of altered consciousness, or mukashafa. Suhrawardi calls in evidence episodes from the early history of Islam to support this discussion. Thus the Prophet scouted out the progress of a caravan en route to Mecca through mukashafa. The Caliph Umar, from afar, scouted an ambush that had been laid for his general Sariya and sent his general a telepathic warning that was received.
      Suhrawardi's second category of dreams includes "symbolic dreams" and “fancied revelations” . Now its is the lower self, nafs, rather than the soul, ruh, that is in charge of what is seen and experienced. vision is cloaked by the “fancy garments” of appetite and desire. Landscapes traveled in such dreams are “the stages of lust.” Interpretation is required to separate a message from the fancy dress.
     The third and lowest category of dream experience in Suhrawardi's hierarchy is "pure fancy”. You have fallen so deep into appetency that “sensual thoughts” rule your dream body and you have zero chance of getting out of the slums and fleshpots of the lower astral. You are “veiled from considering the hidden world.”

Suhrawardi's master work was his immense Philosophy of Illumination. It's a difficult read in translation (I have tried both English and French versions) and is still most accessible through the books of Henry Corbin, the great French scholar of mystical Islam. Suhrawardi is known as Shaikh al-Ishraq, the Master of Illumination. He melded ancient Persian, Hermetic and Platonic traditions together with mystical Islam and encouraged his students to follow a path of direct experience of the sacred. He is also known as Shaikh al-Maqtul "the Murdered Master", because in 1191 he was executed on charges of heresy by the judicial killers of Sharia Islam, who feared this wise and peaceful man over the youthful heir to the Caliphate.


Source: I have based this simplified account on Suhrawardi's teachings about dreams on a useful early translation of some of his writings: H. Wilberforce Clarke (trans) Shahabuddin Suhrawardi, A Dervish Textbook ('Awariful-Ma'arif).

Image: The Mi'rāj (ascent of the Prophet) ascribed to Sultan Muhammad, c.1540. Watercolor and ink. In British Library.


Thursday, January 26, 2017

For the author of 1984, truth begins with a dream

We don't have to search far for the reasons why George Orwell's terrifying parable 1984 is currently a huge bestseller in the United States, Orwell depicts a totalitarian order in which those in power not only feed the captive population a constant diet of alternative facts, but seek to cage them in an alternative universe, where lies are truth and war is peace.
    It is timely to recall that the author of 1984 was awakened by a dream and that in the dark dystopian future of the novel resistance begins with a dream. Prior to his own dream in 1939, Orwell had been an uncritical supporter of Russia and its state ideology, impervious to the evidence that the ruler of Russia was a monster, murdering his own people and willing to do anything in pursuit of his aggrandisement. 

    In his essay “My Country Right or Left” Orwell recalled the dream that changed his mind. He could hardly forget the timing. It was the night before the announcement of the Nazi-Soviet Pact, signed by foreign ministers Ribbentrop and Molotov in Moscow on August 23, 1939. Officially this was designated the Treaty of Non-Aggression between Germany and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Under this agreement, the dictators of Germany and Russia promised to leave each other free to practice aggression against anyone except themselves. This gave a green light for Hitler, who had already devoured Czechoslovakia, to invade Poland, bringing on World War II.
    On the eve of this cynical deal, Orwell dreamed that war had already begun. The dream shook him to his foundations.  He recalled in an essay titled "My Country Right or Left" that “It was one of those dreams which, whatever Freudian inner meaning they may have, do sometimes reveal to you the real state of your feelings." The dream made it clear to him that if war came he must be willing to support his own country and its democracy, even if he had perceived that system to be profoundly flawed."  Before the dream, he had been so wedded to the Russian line that he had called for the creation of
 an underground network to spread anti-war propaganda and undermine Britain's defenses if war started with Nazi Germany. Now, with the clarity of the dream, he knew he "would not sabotage or act against my own side, would support the war, would fight in it if possible.”
     In 1984,  Orwell’s protagonist, Winston Smith, is a dreamer, and resistance to Big Brother begins with a dream. Winston Smith dreams that as he walks in the dark, a man’s voice tells him that they will meet in “a place without darkness”. He trusts that voice and it sows the hope that there are others who oppose the Party.
    His first act of defiance is to start keeping a journal. He writes his private thoughts in a contraband notebook just out of view of the spy cameras of the Thought police that are built into the “telescreen” on the wall that spews out propaganda day and night and cannot be turned off.
     In the second dream reported in the novel, Winston finds himself in a place of freedom in nature, in a “rabbit-bitten” field where fish swim in green pools under the willows. In this “golden country”, a young woman throws off her clothes with magnificent abandon, defying the Party’s ban on love and passion. As he embraces her, Winston becomes a rebel, and knows rebellion is possible.
    In Orwell’s novel, both dreams are played out. The young woman from the second dream invites Winston to a tryst in the landscape of his golden country. As their love blossoms, she promises that whatever happens, “They can’t get inside you.”
    Alas, the way the earlier dream is manifested proves her wrong. Winston decides to confide his hopes of fighting the regime to a senior Party member he believes to be the voice in his dream. The “place without darkness” proves to be a torture cell where the lights are never turned off, where the prisoner’s mind is raped until he is ready to believe any lie he is told to repeat, and to betray everything he ever loved.
    We must make it our game to dream happier endings. Along the way, holding fast to our brightest dreams, recording them in our journals, and sharing our dreams with the right people in the right way, will keep us out of the clutches of the Ministry of Truth. As another great author, Dostoyevksky, taught us in Crime and Punishment. dreams of the night are often correctives to delusions of the day, 

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The Dream People Are Waiting for You

Around the mid-point of my life, I was awakened by a dream that changed everything.  
     I was embarking on the path that led me to become a dream teacher. I had practical concerns about paying the bills. I asked for a dream to guide me on a business plan. I was not happy with what immediately followed. In my dream, I found myself trying to drive down a street that was clogged by construction, where traffic was hopelessly jammed. I woke from the dream frustrated.  
    Remembering my intention to try to get some practical guidance, I tried to put myself back into the dream and find a way forward. I succeeded. Now fully lucid, I surveyed the scene, looking for a way through the traffic jam. Then I noticed something different in the scene. It was an amazing figure, flying over the broken street. I looked more closely and saw that this was an impossibly beautiful version of myself, a radiant double.
     He flew into the mouth of a kind of tunnel, going up a hillside above the city scene. I thought, How could I have forgotten I can fly? I flew after him, and came out in a lovely wooded setting. I was drawn to a large, simple building where people who lived close to the Earth were gathered in ceremony around a firepit. I was nervous that I might be intruding, but an elder made me welcome and showed me that they had a place for me in their circle. 
     I sang with them, I drummed with them. After a time, when the fire got friendly, I went and lay down at the center of the circle. One by one, the dream people came to me. They took red-hot glowing coals from the fire and placed them over my eyes, saying, "We do this to change your eyes, so you may see clearly."
     They placed hot coals over my ears, saying, "We do this to change your ears, so that you may hear clearly."
     They placed a red-hot coal on my tongue, saying, "We do this so that henceforth you will speak only truth."
     Then one of the dream people placed a glowing coal on my heart. I felt a stab of pain as it burned a way to my heart. I felt the fire within me rise from my heart to my throat. The dream people said, "We do this to open your heart and the passage from your heart to your throat, so that henceforth you will speak and act only from the heart."
     I rose from this thrilling lucid dream charged with energy and courage. I jumped in my car and drove to a lake in the woods. With my hand on my heart, I said to the wind and the lake and the trees and the red-tailed hawk that came knifing through the clouds, "Henceforth, I will speak and act only from the heart."

This is a dream that has stayed fresh in my mind across the years. On dark days, it gives me light and warmth. It resets my inner compass when I am confused about any decision. Following its direction, I found it possible to let go of old worries and ego agendas and pursue the path of a dream teacher - for which there was (at that time) no career track in our society - with confidence that the universe would provide, as it did. 
    I wish for you an awakening with similar power.


My new online course Active Dreaming: The Essential Training starts on Wednesday, January 25 and runs for 12 weeks. An extraordinary international community of dreamers has formed around my online courses. It is the best kind of intentional family, smart and creative, caring and compassionate. The dream people are waiting for you!

Drawing: "We Do This To Open Your Heart" by Robert Moss

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Praise and serve the Mother


I am walking with the Mother
I am sailing on her skin
I become her child and lover
From the outside enter in

I will praise the sky above her
I will praise her in the deep
I am dreaming with the Mother
She awakens me from sleep

Walk lightly on the Mother
And let her grace unfold
Praise and serve the Mother
And re-enchant the world

Praise and serve the Mother
And re-enchant the world

This song is in my collection, Here, Everything Is Dreaming. The words came to me during a journey into a dream in which I was given the music but still needed the lyrics in order to gain entry to a realm of the Earth Mother through the roots of a World Tree. When I was able to retrieve and sing the song, I was welcomed into her realm and received blessing, healing and nourishment in her generous embrace. I was then guided to descend to a light-filled space deep beneath the Earth from which human issues can be understood and navigated from the heart. Praise and serve the Mother. She is rising again.

Drawing by RM

Saturday, January 21, 2017

SO WILD: A New Plan for Lucid Dreaming and Dream Incubation

I have come up with a new plan for dream incubation and lucid dream induction that suits our modern lives. It has worked like a charm in my own life and in the experiences of a groups with whom I have been testing it.
    We need to recognize that very often, when we first fall into bed, our most immediate need is to rest and restore the body. We may be overburdening ourselves and failing to satisfy that need when we set dream intentions or try to embark on lucid dreaming right away in the first period of bed time. It is actually fine to let the first cycle be "industrial sleep", allowing ourselves simply to restore and regenerate the body.
    Of course, spontaneous dreams will come during this phase, and may trigger lucidity as well as lively dream recall. So we want to be open to dream gifts during the first cycle of sleep. But we do not want turn the pursuit of dreams, or the quest for lucidity, into a job of work during this part of the night. We never want to turn the dream adventure into another of our chores, or stress ourselves by setting objectives that are unrealistic given the body's need for rest and restoration.

    The prime time for pursuing dream intentions and embarking on lucid dream odysseys is right after the first cycle of sleep. People's sleep patterns vary, but chances are you will awaken - and know you are awake - three or four hours after going to sleep. Maybe you need to go to the bathroom or have a glass of water. Fine, do it. Maybe you have dreams, or at any rate elements of dreams, from the first sleep cycle. Jot them down. Titles or key words may be enough.
    Maybe you want to putter around for an hour or two before going back to bed. That's fine, too, as long as you leave yourself time for more nocturnal adventures before you need to go out on the business of the day.
    Now: settle back in bed. Lie on your back, or on your right or left side, whichever position is most comfortable but do not lie on your stomach (unless you want to be seriously grounded). This is the time to set, or reaffirm, an intention for your dreams.
    If you have a dream with some juice from your first sleep cycle, you can make it your intention to reenter that dream, explore the dream space, and carry on with the adventure you were having before.
    You may find you are in a space where communication with an inner guide is possible. The most important spiritual dialogues of my life have unfolded here, in contact with wiser intelligences I have learned to trust.
    You may find that an inner light comes on, as bright as the sun would be. Once you resist the tendency to open your eyes and check whether someone turned on the lights, you may find that this rising of the inner light can carry into a state of greatly expanded awareness and creativity, where you can find solutions to previously intractable problems, and much more.
    Or you can simply lay yourself open to the images that will rise and fall on your inner screen in this liminal state between sleep and awake. Chances are that one of these will catch your attention and grow into a living scene that you can enter. This will be your portal for a lucid dream excursion if you set the intention to remain conscious you are dreaming as the action develops. The chances that you will fall into sleep without memories are reduced because you have already received your essential rest.
    I dreamed up an acronym for this simple approach:


      S=sleep
    O=open to experience
    W=wake
     I=intend
     L=lucid
     D=dreaming


SO-WILD, and it works!

We will be experimenting with this new technique in my next course for The Shift Network, "Active Dreaming: The Essential Training." Classes start on January 25.

Photo: Skylight at Mosswood Hollow by Oana Calin

Reading Machiavelli on another plane

Keeping a journal, every day, is a dreamer's version of "chop wood, carry water", essential in troubled times. Then there are the research assignments that dreams give us. This one leads to a time of deceit, treachery and fear in politics that may hold up a Renaissance mirror to our current discontents - and may hint at a way to gain some more perspective.
I'm often on airplanes in my dreams. I fly a lot in ordinary reality, and notice that some of these dreams are rehearsals for coming trips. But at least as often, it becomes clear that the plane involved is another plane of reality or consciousness. It was like that last night. The cabin of the airplane was vast and I could walk through it into other spaces - to a workshop locale, to pleasant wooden outhouses in a garden setting resembling the ones behind the Big Yurt at Esalen, to a study where I curled up with a translation of Machiavelli's History of Florence. In the dream, I found unexpected guidance in Machiavelli's history on how to get some perspective on events. Go back to a certain time, he advised, and picture yourself sliding out from that time and rising up to look at everything from a higher vantage point. The translation used the word "train" to describe this process, or the vehicle of consciousness required to do it. I puzzled over this as I turned the page in my dream. Surely there were no trains in the Medici era. Perhaps the original word used by Machiavelli was carro, which could mean a vehicle of various kinds. Still pondering the word "train", I receive the vivid image of Magritte's painting "Time Transfixed", in which a train engine emerges from a fireplace and hangs in midair, blowing smoke. Still in the dream, my questioning mind comes into play. Am I looking at The History of Florence, or at the same author's Discourses on Livy?
I wake and do my everyday practice, recording my dream. In troubled times, it is especially important to cleave to a practice that keeps us grounded yet also connected to soul. Writing in my journal - starting with what is with me from the night - is my essential practice, a dreamer's version of the old Zen precept Chop wood, carry water. Why Machiavelli? It's hard not to see the relevance of his reflections on power. Notoriously, Machiavelli penned a kind of Cliff's Notes for tyrants, titled The Prince. This explains with serpentine clarity how to gain and maintain power through deceit, treachery and fear. In an era of fake news and disinformation, Machiavelli has a very contemporary ring: "The prince who would accomplish great things must have learned how to deceive.” (Discourses II, 13). Forget the pursuit of the good. To this mind, "All men are bad, and will always, when they have free field,give loose to their evil inclinations." (Discourses I,3). In politics, successful tyrants recruit friends and allies according to the following calculations: "as a ladder to climb, a door to pass through, or a tool to maintain their grasp." (Discourses II,1). By giving us insight into the mind of those who live for power and money, Machiavelli is a useful study in any age. He also offers some essential cautions. After I woke, I found this in the book my dream led me to reopen: Wars begin when you will, but they do not end when you please. (History of Florence, III, 2) This deserves to be etched over the door of anyone who has power to put soldiers in harm's way. When I went to bed last night, I set the general intention: Show me what I need to see. It doesn't take much thought to notice that Machiavelli's take on politics might be something we need to see in the context of current events: a Renaissance mirror for our discontents. His major books were part of my syllabus in an honors course in Renaissance history eons ago. But there is that mystery piece, about a way to step into history and then step outside it, to understand things in a different way. Is there a passage that is anything like that in Machiavelli's writings? What I read in my dream could be an instance of cryptomnesia, which is what goes on when a forgotten memory surfaces that you initially think is new and original. Research will tell. Dreams set us research assignments, and I am forever ready to undertake them. I read a few chapters in the trade paperback edition of the History of Florence I've had since my undergrad days. I am soon bored with the narrative of endless wars and intrigues between princelings, mercenaries and crooked churchmen. I dip into the Discourses. More promising; I'll spend more time here. I'll be curious to see whether I was picking up, in a thought bubble in my dream, some of Machiavelli's private reflections and practice. It's a good guess that he did not really approve of the cold-blooded, utterly amoral views of the getting and keeping of power he expressed in The Prince; that while trying to curry favor with Lorenzo de' Medici he was snickering behind his gloved hand. He had been tortured and exiled from Florence by the Medici faction. Now trying to please his way back to a paid job in the city he loved, he could not speak truth to power but he could speak truth about power. Certainly there is a disjunction between the author of The Prince and the man who - as he told it in a letter to a friend - would return to his study after a morning in the woods and an afternoon hobnobbing with common folk, drop his clothes at the door, and put on special obes to enter a space where he could commune with ancient philosophers. The next part of my action plan is easy. I'll go back to watching a pretty good Netflix series on The Medicis, Machiavelli's on-again, of-again patrons. Because I know we are all time travelers in dreams, I'll experiment with that method for going back to a certain time and slipping out of it sideways, and then rising up to get a better view and maybe a platform for action to produce a better history.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Dreaming in scary times


Yes, these are scary times and this is a scary world. So what do you do, as an active dreamer?

1. Practice, practice, practice


That means catching your dreams whenever you can, and recording them in your journal. The world may seem to be going crazy, but you don't have to go crazy with it. Through dreams, your deeper self and sources of wisdom and healing beyond ordinary reality are seeking you. Be available.
    This applies to how you enter the day, as well as how you open to the night. As the Aborigines say, you live in the Speaking Land, and if you will only pay attention, you will receive guidance through special moments when you receive a nod, or a secret handshake, or a push-back from what is going on around you.


2. Be a dream ambassador


Learn our simple and powerful way of sharing dreams and life stories - the Lightning Dreamwork game - and practice it with anyone who has a dream or story to share. They will be amazed, and grateful, to discover that it is so easy to create a safe space to share these essential things, offer feedback and helpful suggestions on how to take action to embody guidance from a deeper reality, and have FUN - all in a few minutes.
   We can help each other in this way to hear the voice of soul, which is always speaking in dreams, and to hear the voice of conscience, which the hollow men, driven by power and greed, try to shut out. We may not be able to put soul and conscience back in the hollow men overnight, but we can sustain each other and grow light between us that will become a hearth fire and a guiding beacon on the darkest days, and will cast an ever-widening glow.


3. Set appropriate filters


If you find yourself afflicted by dreams that show you terrible things that may be happening, or may be going to happen, in the country or the world, choose what you are willing to handle. I do this, quite often, by setting the following intention for the night: 


Show me what I need to see.


    Let me say right away that in terms of your personal life, it may take some pluck to receive what may come as a result. Your dream producers may show you aspects of yourself or where you are headed that you would rather not contemplate.
    The larger issue here is: how much of developing dramas in the nation or the world do you really need to see? The answer will depend on how you are willing and able - or not - to use the dream-sourced information.
    We are connected to all that is human, and indeed to all animate life, so in the normal course of things we will intuit, especially in dreams (when the skeptic in the left brain lies dormant) coming events that affect all, whether we want to see them or not. For sanity and survival, it is important not to be open to taking on everything. We need to focus on receiving what we need to know and can apply in helpful ways. The content and the spectrum of information will depend on who we are and what we can do with it. A journalist or a social activist may want to know – and be primed to act upon – kinds of information that would simply depress and burden a dreamer in a different life situation.


4. Activist dreaming


So you don't want to remain passive in the face of developments that are threatening many things you hold dear and even the fabric of democracy and decent community. Then set careful intentions for the night, maybe along general lines, like this:


Show me how I can best contribute to peace and healing


Or along very specific lines, like:


How can I help sustain funding for the arts?


If you are an activist, you are part of a community, and you want to learn - if you don't know this already - how to practice community dreaming.


5. Community dreaming


We can dream as communities, and we can dream consciously, and no good intention is every wasted. A circle of thirty active dreamers, meeting with me in a special gathering after the U.S. presidential election, wanted to journey – with the help of shamanic drumming – five years into the possible future to see how things looked then, in our personal and family lives, in our dreaming community, and in the world. We were surprised and relieved to find that, at least for the United States, things had come out okay. The next president was a woman (not Hillary). There had been many scares and upheavals along the way, but we did not dwell on the details.

          Any future we can foresee is of course only a possible or probable future, and I draw only limited solace from that glimpse of a possible outcome.
    In my book Active Dreaming I give simple directions for community dreaming. This can be done by bringing a group together to journey on an agreed intention with the aid of shamanic drumming. It can also be done through dream incubation, which means that everyone in the group agrees to set an common intention for the night and then comes ready to share reports in the morning. 

  

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Meta-journaling: starter dough for the writer inside

On lazy days, when my creative daimon has given me time off and is not breathing fire down my neck, I fool around with old journals. I might take part of a dream report, marry it with another, and let them consort with a new idea that is skipping at the edge of my awareness. Suddenly I find I have a new story, or some pages for a new book. This almost never feels like work. When it catches the interest of the daimon and he is on me again, the play becomes the work that isn't work because it is the Work, what we are called to do. The practice can be called journaling from journals. Thoreau did this, and so did Jung. Thoreau journaled all the time. He wrote down his observations of nature, his thoughts and dreams, his notes on his constant reading. Most interesting, he journaled from his journals, picking over old volumes, plucking out promising bits and pieces, copying them out and marrying them up as fresh drafts. It became his habit (as biographer Robert D. Richardson Jr. reports in Henry Thoreau: A Life of the Mind) “to work back over his journals…to reengage old subjects in the light of new interests, to revise and recopy his own earlier journal work, measuring, weighing, culling and sorting his materials…taking up earlier threads, reweaving and combining them.”
Jung's Red Book is the magnificently illustrated journal he created from his "black book" diaries, which remain unpublished). I highly recommend the practice of journaling from journals. As you pull together threads and themes from multiple entries, you find you are making a personal dictionary of symbols and even unveiling the hidden logic of your life story. You'll discover that your journal is a data base in which you have gathered evidence of "supernormal" phenomena such as precognition, telepathy and mutual or interactive dreaming. As you notice recurring symbols and situations, you break loose from the dumb wheel of repetition and put yourself on a spiral path of growing awareness and self-evolution.      For any writer, as for Thoreau, it opens treasuries of material and above all it supports the writing habit. Playing around with old notes removes the terror of the blank page. When you dip into an old journal, you are never at a loss for a theme. The simple processes of selection, arrangement and retitling will fire the imagination. Before you know it, you’ll be in the midst of writing something new. If you have a writer or artist inside, you'll find that old journal entries can be great starter dough. As you push and pummel and play with their shapes, suddenly you find there are a dozen loaves, or a layer cake, on the rise in your creative oven. So: don't just write your morning pages. When you decide to make time for the practice, play with your pages from other mornings, mix and match, cut and paste. Your creative spirits will come closer, guiding your fingers, whispering in your ear.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Advice from Italo Calvino: Conjure the book you want to read

I am at my desk when a striking young Italian man, maybe in his late twenties, steps into the space. Dark-haired, nattily dressed in a beautiful suit with a contrasting vest. I know this is Italo Calvino. It does not occur to me that he is dead, because he is so vividly alive. Standing in front of me, on the other side of the desk, he tells me wants me to read something he has written about the afterlife.
    Waking, I start looking for the Calvino story. I own half a dozen of his books. Any of his Invisible Cities could be afterlife, as well as imaginal, locales. Clearly I must read the last part of Mr Palomar, in which the protagonist is "Learning to Be Dead". I chance upon a quote from his MarcovaldoChi ha l’occhio, trova quel che cerca anche a occhi chiusi. "He who has a sharp eye finds what he is looking for even with his eyes closed." Then it occurs to me that Calvino's literary production may not have ended with his death.     I can't find Mr Palomar in my personal library. But I find the text of "Learning to Be Dead" at an academic website. I am not enthused. It is about a man who performs thought experiments, seeking to number and name everything he chooses to bring into his field of perception: waves on the shore, the life in a patch of lawn and at last the state of being dead. "For Mr. Palomar being dead means resigning himself to remaining the same in a definitive state, which he can no longer hope to change."
    This leaves me cold. But on my computer screen, I find a message at the bottom of the last page of "Learning to be Dead":

This is a subliminal message. Go out and buy Mr. Palomar. Then learn how to be dead. Hurry.

     I comply. My favorite used bookstore is five doors from my house, a dire situation since its stock is constantly migrating to my overcrowded shelves. I find a copy of Mr Palomar, I also find Six Memos for the Next Millennium, the published edition of a series of lectures that Calvino never gave; he died before he could deliver them, leaving one of the texts unfinished. This is pure gold. In "Lightness", the first of the lectures I read:

Faced with the precarious existence of tribal life - drought, sickness, evil influences - the shaman responded by ridding his body of weight and flying to another world, another level of perception, where he could find the strength to change the face of reality.

and this:

Whenever humanity seems condemned to heaviness, I think I should fly like Perseus into a different space...The only hero able to cut off Medusa’s head is Perseus, who flies with winged sandals; Perseus, who does not turn his gaze upon the face of the Gorgon but only upon her image reflected in his bronze shield.

In the second of the lectures, titled "Quickness", he writes:

I dream of immense cosmologies, sagas and epics all reduced to the dimensions of an epigram.

We operate in this spirit in our Active Dreaming approach to dreamwork, by asking our voyagers to turn their dreams and visions (which can be personal epics) into a one-liner, a bumper sticker, a post-it note, a snapper, an aphorism.
    Now I have a dozen Calvino books beside me in my reading corner. I am relishing his mastery of short forms. Some of his Invisible Cities appear and vanish in half a page, yet we are haunted by what we found there. I am studying Calvino's writing habits, since I suspect that his appearance in my night study may have been arranged by my dream producers to remind me to do more short forms - with short and shorter stories and essays, epics condensed in an epigram.
    I throb with recognition when I find Calvino saying this about how he writes:

 "I write fast but I have huge blank periods. It’s a bit like the story of the great Chinese artist—the emperor asked him to draw a crab, and the artist answered, I need ten years, a great house, and twenty servants. The ten years went by, and the emperor asked him for the drawing of the crab. I need another two years, he said. Then he asked for a further week. And finally he picked up his pen and drew the crab in a moment, with a single, rapid gesture." (Interview on The Art of Fiction for The Paris Review, no.130.)

Yes, I am known to work this way too.

    Now I have found Calvino's statement about how he came to change genres radically, creating the "fabulist" short novels that freed him from the mold of socialist realism. In an introduction to Our Ancestors, a volume that gathers his "heraldic trilogy". Calvino reports:

"I began doing what came most naturally to me – that is, following the memory of the things I had loved best since boyhood. Instead of making myself write the book I ought to write, the novel that was expected of me, I conjured up the book I myself would have liked to read, the sort by an unknown writer, from another age and another country, discovered in an attic."

He was able to conjure the extraordinary short novel titled The Cloven Viscount (Il visconte dimezzato). He wrote it in 30 days over the summer and early fall of 1951 and it was published the following year. He was 29, about the age he appeared to be in my dream.
     When Calvino or his eidolon popped up in my study in the favorite hour for both birth and death, he prompted me to remember some essential things about writing practice.
     An epic can be condensed in an epigram.
     Write when you're hot.
     Don't force yourself to write what you ought to write. Conjure the book you want to read.
     Grazie, Italo.
     


Art: (c) Eda Akaltun. From Eda's wonderful personal work based on Invisible Cities. Used with permission.

Monday, January 16, 2017

We must live into our own time



We must live into our own time.
The memories of the broken cord,
the nest emptied of its young,
the lost love, the knocking at the ribs,
at the midnight door, the starling silences
cannot help us here.

Yet their tremulous rising,
dropletted as from the dawn sea,
is almost more than we can bear
and enough to turn houses upside down,
break families and the destiny of a present life.
There is danger in knowing our other selves,
danger in remembering too much, too soon,
of what lay beyond the stiff portal of birth.

Yet life itself in its endless wheelings
through the blur of feathers, through wind and sun
brings us face to face with the Other -
face of desire, face of the heart’s highest longing,
face of red hatred, face of cold fear -
and we are called, backward or forward
(whose time prevails now?)
into another life, and the forking paths of soul.

- Lines about soul in the multiverse recorded on a napkin in an Irish pub, nearly quarter of a century ago. And they stir my heart again, and I feel connections with other dramas, in other times, stir with me.

photo by RM



Inviting in your genius


The Romans never described a person as a genius. They might say, "Apollonius has a genius" - i.e., a special relationship with a tutelary spirit. The word genius is related to gignere, which means to engender or "beget". It implies reproductive energy, the power of inseminating new life. The Romans called the marriage bed genialis lectus. As observed by Jungian analyst and classicist Marie-Louise von Franz, "this referred not only to sexual potency but also to the qualities that today we would call psychic vitality, temperament, resourcefulness and a lively imagination."
    In a well-bred Roman household, a statuette representing the personal genius of the father of the family usually stood near the hearth in the kitchen. It might be the figure of a young man, holding a horn of plenty or a phallus or a snake. The woman of the house was believe to have her own guardian spirit, or "Juno", who embodied the power of giving birth. In the Roman conception, each of us is born with a personal relationship with a spiritual patron, or genius, who is the source of creative energy.
    James Russell Lowell was close to this perception when he wrote: "Talent is that which is in a man's power; genius is that in whose power a man is."
    To live and work creatively, we need to make room for this energy. The Romans were on to something. To bring something new into the world is to give birth. We see this in the pregnancy dreams that are not about physical childbirth, but about something new that is borning inside us. We can feel it in our bodies in a period of creative gestation.
    When one of my books is ready to be born, I feel pregnant. I mean that in a quite literal sense. My appetites change. I develop odd cravings at strange hours. I forget to eat or sleep for days at a time, then walk out of a dinner party to crash or feed my face with something I wouldn't normally touch. I develop morning sickness. When my new baby is ready to come out, I can't stop the contractions, even though sometimes, like a woman I once heard screaming in a maternity ward, I want to yell, "This has to stop!" There is no dope, no epidural, no C-section available to dull the experience or shortcut the labor; whatever is in me has to come out the old-fashioned way. There is an equivalent to birthing in water: the blessed gift of going into a state of flow, in which I relax into the rhythms of what is fighting its way into the world.
     As Erich Neumann remarked, "Every human being is by nature creative. Yet one of the gravest and most menacing problems in our Western civilization arises from the fact that this civilization cuts man off from his natural creativity."
    To choose and act creatively, we must be able to put our commonplace selves, with their reliance on structures and schedules,on one side, and make room for the source energy of the begetter. Creative inspiration, as all artists and discoverers know, comes through spontaneous combustion between the waking mind and other levels of consciousness. "I know now," wrote Yeats, "that revelation is from the self, but from that age-old memoried self, that shares the elaborate shell of the mollusc and the child in the womb, that teaches the birds to make their nest; and that genius is a crisis that joins the buried self for certain moments to our daily trivial mind."
     You cannot program a creative breakthrough, but you can clear a space where it may come about. Dreamwork is a wonderful aid to the creative process, because the source of dream images and the source of creative inspiration are not separate. When you resolve to catch your dreams, you are telling your creative source, "I am available. I'm listening."
     When you record your dreams, you are developing the art of storytelling. You will discover your gifts as a writer, and if you are already a writer,you will find you have done your "warm-up" exercises almost effortlessly and are ready to go he distance. Best of all, through dreamwork you are constantly learning to approach challenges from new angles, in a spirit of play. The Romans believed that a person's genius rejoices in good living, in laughter, in healthy sex, in having fun. Forget to play, and you are not working with your genius, for whom play is the only thing in mortal affairs worth taking seriously.





Adapted from Conscious Dreaming by Robert Moss. Published by Three Rivers Press



Image: Winged genius from mural in a Roman villa at Boscoreale, near Pompeii, late 1st century, now in the Louvre.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The lion who fell from the moon

Impressions, momentary and vivid, would wash over him: a potter’s vermilion glaze; the sky-vault filled with stars that were also gods; the moon, from which a lion had fallen….

My chills of recognition make me pause, just three lines into a story by Jorge Luis Borges, one of the essential writers, opening worlds of wonder and doorways into the Universal Library in a few pages. Borges named this one after himself: “The Maker”, El Hacedor.
     Previous translators squirmed at the title “The Maker”. They thought people might confuse it with Our Maker; they feared leaving sulphurous traces of a heresiarch. So they considered and sometimes used “The Poet”, “The Artificer”, “Il Fabbro”. But Borges chose the English himself. And yes, he meant maker of worlds.
     The maker wrote this as he was nearing blindness in the vast library in Buenos Aires with whose flying books he had made love and married and danced the tango and fought with knives inside his mind. I can think of no one, not even Jung, who has housed so many books in his head and incited so much action between them. Borges was now engaged in constructing a total library in the imaginal realm, his version of paradise. Never a tame library, but one where wild things are.


the moon, from which a lion had fallen….

    I am seized again with wild familiarity, the hot breath at my neck, claws at my kidneys.
    Borges’ line has a rhyming cousin, short, stocky and flat-faced, wearing a robe of skins hung with bronze mirrors. I know where find it.  I keep it locked behind glass doors, along with the Red Book, the Golden Bough and other books that are restive that like to flap about and  prowl in the night.
     Sometimes the doors rattle and the key turns itself but today, things are quiet and I must fetch the book myself. It was published in Oxford five years after Borges died, so he could not have known it but might have known some of its sources. Its words are spun from conversations with shamans and elders of the Daur Mongols, lovers of horses, fermented mare’s milk, and drums that they ride to other worlds.
     Like Borges, these shamans are forever talking about tigers and lions. While Borges tried to make dreamtigers and was never quite satisfied, around Hailar or the Nomin River it’s not hard. Lie by the water watching butterflies and a tiger twice as long as you may come for you, as it would come for a tethered goat.
     Out here the lion may demand a deeper seeing, since you won’t see lions in Daur country with your ordinary eyes.
     The Oxford anthropologist asks a Daur shaman, Urgunge Onon, about this. He speaks from the tellings, which is how his people describe their traditional knowledge. Anthropologists may know about shamanism but the people who practice it in the old ways don’t have any “isms” in their vocabulary.
      Urgunge says, “Wild animals of the forest have two kings [khan], the tiger [tasaga] and the lion [arsalang].
      “Lion?” The anthropologist is amazed. “But you don’t have lions in Manchuria.”
      “They will be thinking of …er..what is it in English? Leopard. Leopard is just like lion, is that right?”
      “But you don’t have leopards either.”
      “No, that is true. So the conclusion is: in reality the khan of animals is the tiger; in imagination the khan is also the lion, even if we do not have lions in Mongolia. Everybody knows the story of the lion who jumped to catch the moon, then it died, you see. This is definitely the lion. The tiger never did that.”

The lion who fell from the moon did not really die, of course.
      Some nights, coming in or out of sleep, I feel him lying with me on the bed, back to back.


The night after I posted th
is, I dreamed of lions in a place of soul recovery. In a huge cavern, divided by an underground river, a wise elder is preparing people to make the crossing and meet the lions who are waiting from them, one for each. From this side the lions look no bigger than kittens. They may look different close up. I know that those who find the courage to meet their lions will be transformed. The courage of the lion and its power to make itself heard will live in them.


Books referenced 

"The Maker" in Jorge Luis Borges, Collected Fictions, translated by Andrew Hurley (New York: Penguin Books, 1998).292
Shamans and Elders: Experience, Knowledge and Power among the Daur Mongols  by Caroline Humphrey with Urgunge Onon (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996).

Art: Douanier Rousseau, "Sleeping Gypsy".

Saturday, January 14, 2017

WOW


I am often amazed but rarely surprised. I have been in the habit of saying this when a dream plays out in regular life, or things come together through "incredible coincidence". Now I'm looking at the pedigrees of both words.
    "Surprised" has military origins. In old Anglo-French usage, it means to be "attacked unexpectedly", to be seized, invaded or overpowered. Only later does it take on the gentler meaning of being startled by something unexpected.
     What about "amazed"? In the older sense, it is to be "stupefied", "bewildered", or even "made crazy'; it's related to "maze".
     Hmm, maybe I'll go over to just saying, "Wow". That has a fine Scottish pedigree (first recorded in 1510) and shakes its kilt everywhere in the United States, where I live.

Where soul was kept safe


Roused by birdsong in the soft Cascades morning:
Western tanagers, small glories of red and gold
in this green world. Soul birds, sized for the heart.
or to sing of what is past or passing or to come.

Where was I, just now, in my second body?
Out in a hot desert of snakes, in another skin.
A big man praised me for going out and returning
but I think the soul birds sang me back here

So: After the dragon gave a girl the six of hearts
and the Daughter of Wind blew us clean
we found, by objective chance, the universal key
that opens every high school locker.

All of us left something in those school lockers.
Dirty socks, old secrets, movie star idols, fright masks,
yearbooks, catcher's gloves, tampons, first loves,
shame we couldn't tell, sneakers, soles we forgot.

Here, take the key. It can open any locker
but in your hand it will open only the locket of your heart.
Follow your footprints backwards. No, the other ones,
the tracks of your night-traveling self

who crosses time, forwards, backwards or sideways,
as you cross a parking lot. He knows - she knows -
what you need to bring back from the place
where soul you've been missing has been kept safe.


drawing by RM

The Journey to the High School Locker

Poems should not be explained but sometimes it may be appropriate to speak of origins and context. This poem streamed from a deep experience of group shamanic journeying in the cause of soul recovery in one of my workshops at a lovely private retreat center in the foothills of the Cascades.
    In a dream that was shared, one of our participants found herself back in high school, at her present age, looking for something precious she had left in a locker. We agreed that we would support her, as family, as she reentered the dream - with the help of shamanic drumming - with the intention of finding the key to the locker and recovering whatever was waiting for her there. We also agreed that all of us would be free to visit our own version of the school locker and claim whatever was there for us.
    The result was beautiful and rich soul recovery healing, for the original dreamer and for many others: bringing home the energy of that teen self who locked herself away when life was too painful, as a survival mechanism. Once again, dream recovery can be soul recovery.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Of Friday 13th, practical superstitions, and the other kind

Quick, repeat after me the following word: paraskevidekatriaphobia. This is the learned name for fear of Friday 13th. It doesn't trip off the tongue quite as lightly as triskaidekaphobia, which means fear of the number 13.
    The longer tongue-twister is derived from the Greek words for "Friday", "thirteen", and "fear". But don't blame the ancient Greeks, The term was made up just a century ago, when scientists and psychologists still knew Greek and Latin.
     If you're nervous about Friday 13th, here's my suggested remedy. Try to memorize and repeat 13 times (without looking) the word paraskevidekatriaphobia. By the time you get this right, Friday 13th will be over.
     Friday 13th is one of my favorite days in the calendar, but then I think black cats on my path are a good sign. I am in favor of personal and practical superstitions, ones that are road-tested rather than received as hand-me-downs.  I know that for me, for example, a red-tailed hawk is a reliable messenger and that if it is flying my way or feeding well, things will go well that day.  Friday 13th has been a lucky day for me in the past. But if things  turn out otherwise, I am ready to revise my opinion; I want oracles that deliver.
    It's worth recalling that the Latin word superstitionem  literally means "a standing over." The stem, superstare, means to  "stand over" or "survive." There is a clue here, that in the original sense, superstition might be a survival mechanism. It is an etymological mystery how this root meaning evolves into the modern sense of  “irrational belief”.
    Practical superstitions include personal omens that are road-tested. You can rely on them because you have observed many times that (for example) something good or bad follows an encounter with a friendly black dog, or a red-tailed hawk, or a singing mailman.
    You may notice that some old superstitions and nostrums work for you, maybe because that unseen hand that makes things appear and disappear in the world around us chooses to work with your vocabulary of understanding. This is exactly what goes on in dreams and visions. Our dream producers, and greater powers, give us pictures and puns, dramas and deceptions, according to how we are able to perceive and receive.
     In my book Sidewalk Oracles I offer the following guidance on developing a list of personal omens that work for you:


1.Start by checking on superstitions you may have inherited or picked up from others. For example, that walking under a ladder or having a black cat walk in front or you is bad luck, or that having a bird poop on your head or your car might mean money is coming. Have any of these supposed omens worked for you the way they are supposed to? If so, keep them on your personal list of practical omens. If not, scratch them.


2. Check recurring images or incidents that catch your attention. Some people have strong feelings about numbers, both a repeated digit in one number (11:11, 2.22 etc) and the recurrence of a certain number in many different places and situations in a finite time period. 


3. Keep track of what happens after sightings of this kind. Does a certain kind of incident follow? Does the day turn out well, or badly? Does the repeated number or similar sighting seem only to be saying: Listen up, pay attention.


4. Make a short list of your personal omens, the ones that seem to work, and pay attention to what follows your next sightings.



Don't let superstition wreck the rug

Let's note that superstition isn’t practical if you just get spooked. Here's a cautionary tale, from the life of a great writer. Victor Hugo did not like the number thirteen, especially after what happened to him and his family in what he called “The Terrible Year”, 1871. He left Paris on February 13th and found himself with thirteen people in a carriage on the train. When he got to Bordeaux, the address of the apartment where his son Charles and his daughter were lodged was 13, Rue de la Corse. In the morning, the bill for the family breakfast at a restaurant was 13 francs. Not long after, his son died, at age 44, of a massive heart attack.

     So we might say that Hugo had reason for fear of the number thirteen, for which the scholarly name, as you now remember, is triskadeiphobia. But the superstition later proved impractical, or at least to have an expiration date. When Hugo moved back to Paris, to a splendid apartment on the Rue de Clichy in Paris (number 11) that became a famous address, the number of the guests for dinner one evening was thirteen. This would not do. So a cab driver was invited to join the party. No doubt unused to all the rich food and drink, the cab driver spoiled the scene by throwing up copiously on an expensive carpet. 



Kaspar the 14th dinner guest


The photo above is of Kaspar, the celebrated black cat of the Savoy Hotel in London. If a dinner party at the hotel turns out to be 13 in number, and there is uneasiness about that, Kaspar is seated at the table as the fourteenth guest and served each course at the same time as the other guests.





Text partly adapted from Sidewalk Oracles: Playing with Signs, Symbols and Synchronicity in Everyday Life by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library.