Thursday, March 5, 2015

The need for dream archaeology

Marija Gimbutas, the great Lithuanian scholar of Old Europe and its Goddess traditions, declared with urgent clarity in The Civilization of the Goddess, her chef d'oeuvre:  “We must refocus our collective memory. The necessity of this has never been greater as we discover that the path of ‘progress’ is extinguishing the very conditions for life on earth."
    The new art and science of dream archaeology provides powerful tools for refocusing collective memory, exactly as the great Lithuanian scholar of the Goddess proposed.  I invented the term "dream archaeology".  It is the study of first and essential (arche) things with the aid of dreamwork and techniques of shamanic lucid dreaming. It is a discipline that enables us to access the living past, to enter into direct communication with the keepers of ancestral wisdom and heal the collective and cultural soul loss that is a feature of our age.
     The practice of dream archaeology involves reclaiming authentic knowledge of ancestral traditions, including those that may have been buried or suppressed in the course of history, through a combination of careful research and shamanic journeying across time and between dimensions. The dream archaeologist combines the skills of the shaman, the scholar and the detective.
      We let dreams set us assignments. Secrets of the past, of which the waking mind may know nothing or very little, come to us in dreams because we are ready for them, and because the ancestors speak to us in dreams. As dream archaeologists, we learn to work with such dreams, both through focused research and by learning the technique of dream reentry, which means making a shamanic journey through the doorway of a remembered dream to harvest more information, to deepen communication with the ancestors, and to travel beyond the maps.
      When we are already engaged in a line of research, we draw on the skills of shamanic lucid dreaming, as well as spontaneous gifts of the night, to find what cannot be located in ordinary ways, but can often be confirmed by subsequent dream-directed research. We are open to the phenomenon that Yeats, with poetic insight, called the “mingling of minds”. This means that when we give our best efforts and passion to our chosen work or study, we draw the support of intelligences beyond the everyday world, including those of past masters in the same field.
      After her death, Marija Gimbutas appeared to her friend and biographer Joan Marler in a powerful dream. Marija said fiercely, “You must remember us.” Joan understood that the great Lithuanian scholar of the Goddess was speaking from the realm of the ancestors, “a place of collective memory and wisdom”. She describes this encounter in an essay in From the Realm of the Ancestors, a magnificent Festchrift in honor of Marija that she edited.
     I have been privileged to lead several depth workshops in shamanic dreaming and dream archaeology in Lithuania. Each visit has been a grand adventure and a deepening encounter with the ancestors of the land. On my first visit to Marija’s native country, in the summer of 2004, 40 Lithuanians joined me at Nida to reclaim the arts of dreaming. With the aid of shamanic drumming, we made a group journey together through the gateway of an ancient oak, with the aim of establishing direct and authentic communication with the ancestors of the land.
     I found myself in direct contact with a priestess of Žemyna, the Earth Goddess. The priestess belonged to an earlier time, but seemed to speak from a place of amber light outside time. She instructed me in methods of healing and visioning involving the use of amber, and gave me symbols and words in old Lithuanian – a language previously unknown to me – that others in the workshop helped me translate.
     Wherever I go now, I find myself traveling in two worlds. From behind the curtains of ordinary perception, the ancestors are calling. I am reminded again and again that one of the gifts of dreaming is that it opens authentic connections to the ancestors, offering us the chance to heal the wounds of the past and to perform cultural soul retrieval.

Photo: leading a dream archaeology expedition at Kernave, Lithuania. Photo (c) Giedre Rein

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Indiana Jones leaves his jacket on the plane

I have just strapped myself into my seat for my first flight home from Seattle on Southwest when a flight attendant calls for our attention.
    "Is anyone missing a brown leather jacket. Looks like it's worth a few hundred dollars. We'll start the bidding at five bucks."
    This inspires chuckles but no claimant.
    "Let me read the label and see if that rings a bell," the flight attendant carries on. "Raiders by Peter Botwright."
     I know that name. I sit very still in my seat, wondering whether he is on a plane with me, again. Nobody claims the jacket. I relax a little, but my mind is back in a scene from ten years ago, when I met Indiana Jones on a plane.
     The details are almost incredibly specific, and personal.
     Back then, I was playing with an idea for a thriller that would involve time travel and jumping between parallel universes. A key plot line would unfold in Churchill's time, and would involve a group of magicians with access to him. The whole thing would be fast-paced and humorous, with Indiana Jones touches.
    Before I set off for the airport one morning, I put a question to the world. I wrote it down like this: "Should I write a thriller with Indiana Jones elements, involving Churchill?"
    My game was to receive anything unusual the world gave me, during my trip, as a commentary on my theme.
    My first flight was uneventful. But when I located the departure gate for my connecting flight, reality tilted. There he was, at the counter. Indiana Jones, in full rig - hat and jacket and Sam Browne belt and boots. This was really too much.  
    I was almost ready to pretend I had not seen him - until he took the seat next to me on board the plane. I put down the book I was reading, a memoir by one of Churchill's bodyguards.
   "Do you have the whip?" I asked Indiana Jones.
   "I've got it at home," he responded. "Listen, this is the real thing. It's authentic."
   "What do you mean, authentic?"

   "This is the genuine-article Indiana Jones outfit, as worn in Raiders. It was made by Peter Botwright. He creates costumes for the movies. He's a former bodyguard of Winston Churchill. Here's his card."
     Not the same former Churchill bodyguard who wrote the book I was reading. But another rhyme,
    Did I get a response to the question I had put to the world? You bet. What astonished me was how specific the response proved to be. I got the feeling that a production crew behind the scenes had crafted and custom-tailored this special moment with Indiana Jones, dressed by Churchill's bodyguard, on the plane.
    Did I follow the message and write that reality-bending thriller? Not yet, though I do have some drafts and files.
    I am not feeling pressure about this today, since Indiana Jones was not actually on my flight last night. Still, he left a marker. I was here.

After recent grueling travels, I was not looking for new adventures in yesterday's journey. Instead, I received winks and hints and subtle magic. A priest who took the seat next to me gave me his drink vouchers. Truly, life is a dream.

Indiana Jones jacket created by Peter Botwright's Wested Leather Company

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

In-flight reading can bear strange fruit

Memo to self: consider your selection of in-flight reading very carefully, especially when it involves fantastic or darkly comic tales from Eastern Europe. You may find you are scripting corresponding travel experiences. This happened to me again last night, towards the end of a long trip home from two weeks of teaching in the Czech Republic and Estonia.
    At a news stand at Prague's Vaclav Havel airport, I was surprised and delighted to find a bilingual edition of the folktales of Karel Jaromir Erben. The title, Kytice, can be rendered as "Bouquet" or "Posy" in English. Erben's stories, written in verse, have held a special place in the Czech imagination since first publication in 1853, influencing Dvořák  and many other creative minds, but have been largely unavailable in English until now.The new edition, with translations by Susan Reynolds, had only just been published. I snatched it up with excitement. Not only am I trying to learn more about Czech culture, but reading bilingual editions of poetry is one of my favorite ways of studying a new language.
    I found myself embarked, in Erben's pages, on a strange and dark journey as I flew to Frankfurt and then, on another plane, to Newark airport.The atmosphere was deepened by the oddly compelling rhythms of Erben's verse, with its sorcerous repetitions.

Sviť měsíčku sviť,
ať mi šije niť

Glow, moon, glow,
That my thread may sow

sings Vodnik, the Water Goblin.
   One of the eeriest of the tales is "Willow" (Vrba). A man is happily married except that he notices that his wife literally sleeps like the dead. He can find no sign of life in her when she is lying in bed. Worried, he asks her to seek healing or try "words of power" (m
ocné slovo). 
She assures him she is fine; it is God's will she should be this way in the night. Doesn't he notice she is whole and well in the morning? Still worried, the husband goes to consult a crone (babka). She tells him that his wife's soul is held captive in a yellow branch of a willow tree. He goes to the tree and chops it down - and his wife falls dead "like a tree."
   I'm building my Czech word power a little (I love the verses about mocné slovo). This is not the cheeriest stuff, but it casts a curious spell, even partly filtered by translation. My first two flights are on time and I enjoy conversation with a woman historian whose theme is displaced persons in the twentieth century, a huge issue in the countries where I have been teaching, casting long shadows across the generations. I am fascinated to learn that she wrote a B.A. thesis on Gabriele d'Annunzio and Trieste; I read D'Annunzio when I was an undergraduate and have tentative plans to visit Trieste for the first time next year.
    Newark airport. I am held up at passport control for five minutes by a friendly agent who becomes very animated when I tell him I am a writer. "Can you help people get their stories together?" "Certainly. That's one of the main things I teach." He has a family story to tell, involving the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. Yes, I have a card.
    My final connecting flight is not announced on the first screen on the other side of Customs. I check online and see it is supposedly on time. So I board the Air Train to the A concourse where a larger Departures board says my flight has been cancelled. I check online again; "maintenance" problems. I see there is an earlier flight to my home airport which has been delayed. Maybe I have time to catch that. I run back to the Air Train and head for the C concourse, where I have to stand in an immense line at security, but still get to the boarding gate before the earlier flight has taken off. Nothing is moving here, and nothing is opening. The flight is oversold and there are many passengers standing by already. I get on the frequent flier hotline I have used successfully before but they can't help here; no alternative flights home for me tonight. They do not want to talk about helping with ground transportation.
    I head for the frequent fliers' lounge, and say to a couple of airline agents, "I know that at least one of you is a magician." This produces smiles and eager endeavors to help. Would I be willing to fly to Dulles the next day and catch a plane home from there? I don't think so. How about ground transportation? How about a train?
   One of the agents discovers I have time to get to New York Penn station and catch a train that will get me home before midnight. They will arrange a coupon to pay the Amtrak charge. This takes several phone calls. Finally it is agreed that someone named Alexandra will be at the Amtrak Tickets desk, "next to Dunkin Donuts" at the Newark airport station to exchange my coupon for an actual ticket. They are supposed to close at 7:00 p.m., but she'll wait until 7:30.
    "Thanks for the magic," I tell the lady who suggested the train.
    "I love talking to you. It feels like you are collecting stories for a book."
    "If you only knew." I tell her about The Three "Only" Things, which opens with five amazing adventures that begin with screwed-up flight plans. She writes down the title and whoops with delight when I add that I have just finished a book entirely about playing games with the signs and symbols and synchronicity of everyday life, with more of my air travel stories. Sidewalk Oracles. Coming in October.
     I get to Alexandra's desk next to Dunkin Donuts at 7:10 p.m. The desk is closed. An airport customer service attendant can't let me through to the platform without a ticket, but she does try to help me get my ticket from a kiosk. The machine refuses to acknowledge my coupon or concede that I have a reservation. We get an Amtrak agent on the phone who tells me that I do have a reservation and should try to get to NY Penn station. I'll be taking two trains - local transit to Newark Penn station, and then Amtrak to New York Penn station - and the conductors will "probably" let me through if I show my itinerary.
    I notice the strange rhyming of station names. My little odyssey now takes me up and down an uncountable number of broken escalators and an underground scramble between platforms, to a scene at Newark Penn where a train is just leaving. I call to a black woman conductor hanging from a door, "Is this the train to New York Penn?" She yells to the driver to stop the train. I show her my airline coupon. She shakes her head. "I have no idea what that is." She looks at my travel-worn face and says, "You better get on the train."
    New York Penn. Broken escalators, To the Amtrak ticket window where a stony-faced agent looks at my coupon and says, "We don't take none of those." I explain I was present when an airline representative arranged everything with an Amtrak agent (though not that she did a vanishing act from the desk beside Dunkin Donuts). He is not interested. If I want to get home, I have to pay for a train ticket.
    Fine. After five thousand miles and well over a thousand dollars in airfares, what is a train ticket?
    The trials of getting home are not over, however. I have twenty minutes before my train leaves and I join the line that has formed at Door 6, the usual portal for this Amtrak service. A man in a sports team windbreaker tells us, "You can't wait there. The line starts back there." He vanishes down the stairs that lead to New Jersey transit trains. The regulars in the line think he is kidding. "He's going to New Jersey. He's just jerking us around." They are not going to move. This is where they always wait for the train.
    The man who told us to move reappears, in some version of Amtrak uniform, and tells us again that we have to move. The regulars ignore him. Now a short, angry Amtrak woman agent appears and tells us to move. "Go to the back of the line," she adds. We look back. There is now a very long line behind us, with a gap between our positions and a sign - unreadable until we are close to it - that says that this is where lines for our platform are supposed to form.
    The people in my group are not willing to go to the back of the line. "We were here first." "We've been waiting for longer than anybody else." I gently lead us back to the larger group, on the officially sanctioned side of the unreadable sign. The passengers in the larger group move back to make space for us at the head of the line. They know we were there first.
    "That's no good," says the Amtrak woman. "You gotta do what you're told. You are going to the back of the line."
    I gently point out what is obvious; we were here first and the other passengers accept that. "You are going to the back of the line," the Amtrak woman repeats.
    Others in my group are now angry and defiant. "We are not going to the back of the line. "Hey, listen, ma'am, I'm an attorney -" That does it. The Amtrak woman calls a police officer. "They're not doing it," she says with an air of pure menace.
     Whatever the rights and wrongs of this, I am not going to miss my last chance of getting home tonight.
     I lead the retreat to the back of the line. "Welcome to New York," I comment.
     On board the train, our tickets are inspected by a conductor of the old school, 6'4'', 260 pounds, white hair and mustache. He booms a warm welcome to us all. Asked how he is, he responds, "I am grateful I'm still on this side of the grass."

There's a story in this little sequence, which is so often the gift of misadventures in travel. There is a delicious phrase in Czech that applies, since the story begins with reading poetry. "That touches my poetic intestine (básnické střevo)." I hope to retrieve my suitcase today; it went on its own odyssey, without me. I will continue to reflect on the possible influence of where in-flight reading can take me.     
    A couple of years ago, I boarded a plane in Bucharest, bound for Warsaw, with Mircea Eliade's novelette  "With the Gypsy Girls" (LaȚigănci) as my flight companion. In Eliade's story, a man is drawn into a house of gypsies and never manages to return to ordinary reality. A bizarre series of flight cancellations and delays and missed communications followed, leaving me stranded overnight at Warsaw's Chopin airport, surrounded by the sprawled bodies of East Europeans without Schengen visas, draped over airport seats and even the display platforms for automobiles, like the victims of a mass disaster. On that strange night I wondered if I had been transported into one of Eliade's alternate realities.   
    I love new stories, but I confess that there are days - especially when 20 hours of travel is required - where I can probably live without a fresh one. However, my adventures with Czech literary companions are not over. I am planning to travel next time with Bohumil Hrabal. The film version of 
Postřižiny, his fictional memoir of growing up in a brewery town had me laughing till it hurt.  

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Flying dreams, spirit boats and inner voices

Tallinn, Estonia
I was met at Tallinn airport by a delightful five-year-old named Sophia whose mother told me that they go flying in dreams together. Then I found my hotel lobby filled with wonderful paintings by Estonian artist Reet Kalamees, whose exhibition has the theme "Flying in Dreams and Awake". This seemed like a very clear wing-brush from the universe.
    When I made contact with Reet, she told me that the exhibition was supposed to end before my workshop but was unexpectedly extended for a week-  so these magical pictures were there to inspire our frequent flyers during my weekend workshop - and that  she herself was coming to the workshop.
     The night before I opened the program, I wondered how and where I might go flying from my bed in a a hotel beside the Old Town Harbor. As I started drifting towards sleep, I realized I had taken to the air without noticing the transition. I was not flying in one of my usual modes, in some simulacrum of my regular body, swimming through the air or shooting off Superman-style, or on the wings of a bird, or traveling as a disembodied thought-form. Nor was I  in a plane, a spaceship or vimana.
     I was seated in a boat, a solid wooden boat of very old design. Seated in front of me were three figures wearing simple earth-colored, hooded garments. They were doing the work of navigating and making the vessel fly through the air. I could see the landscape of islands and forests quite clearly below us. I thought we must be sailing over Saaremaa and some of the smaller Estonian islands in the Baltic sea. We were close enough to the ground for me to see the excited faces of people who were turning from their usual occupations 
to snatch up gifts we were dropping to them from the flying boat. They were very happy for the gifts but appeared to be unable to see where they were coming from.
    At this point, I heard a voice say to me, "You have the support of the Heirs of Ars." I was not quite sure how to spell the last word.
    When I surfaced from this dream, in high excitement, 
I wondered if I had been drawn into a scene out of Estonian mythology and perhaps even into direct contact with ancient spirits of the land. This has happened to me often in my travels, and has inspired many ventures in dream archaeology, as described in The Boy Who Died and Came Back.
    What was the flying boat? Who were my companions? I thought of the spirit canoes of the Pacific Northwest, and wondered if there was a Baltic equivalent. Who were the Heirs of Ars? Had I gotten the last word right? It sounded like Ars, which is Latin for "art", but perhaps the spelling was different.
     When I met my Estonian translators, Robert and Piret, on Saturday morning, my first question was whether the word "Ars" has meaning in the Estonian language. "Aas - that is A-A-S," Robert corrected my spelling, "means Meadow or 
 Clearing."  Piret added, "If you are supported by the Heirs of Aas," it could mean that you have been welcomed by the fairies and the spirits of the land."
     After a wonderful morning of dreamplay, I lunched with Reet Kalamees, the painter of flying dreams, and we talked about different modes of dream flight. "With me, it is mostly will," Reet explained. "I feel myself pumping up, expanding my energy, and then I go straight up. I dream I am teaching these techniques to others." She told me that now that she met me she was sure that one of the paintings she had on display - of a blue man with angel wings - had been inspired by a dream encounter with me months before.

I start my Sunday in Tallinn by playing the quick bibliomancy game I have recommended to my workshop group. I open a book at random and find myself looking at a section title that reads "Leaning to Trust Inner Voices."   
    At the breakfast buffet, I am joined by a woman from my group. Her name is Helle. I ask what it means in Estonian. It means "Voices."
    Helle says to me, before we have finished our first cups of coffee, "I want to ask you about whether we can trust inner voices in our dreams." She proceeds to give me an example of that deep inner voice that we learn to rely on. She was told, "Don't think you can heal people who are not ready to accept healing."
  We agree that this is simple, and very practical, wisdom.
    I talk about my own experiences with inner voices, and how we learn to practice discernment by trusting our feelings and seeing whether inner counsel and messaging proves to be reliable and helpful in our lives. I recall one of the most important messages I ever received from an inner voice was this: "Robert remember this world is not your prison. It is your playground." Wonderful counsel, especially on bleak and dreary days.
    We discuss ancestral voices. Wherever I go, I seem to hear voices from the land, speaking in the local language. When I pick up words, phrases and symbols in a language I do not know, this gives me great research assignments. When I am able to find a translation and a context for these words and symbols - taking me far beyond what I previously knew - this confirms for me that I am authentic contact with the local spirits.
     I recall the inner voice that told me the previous night, that the Heirs of Aas support me Then I remember that I still have to research the spirit boat I was riding in, above the earth, when I heard those words. I ask Helle if there is a tradition of spirit boats in this part of the world, perhaps analogous to the spirit canoes of the Pacific Northwest. She amazes and delights me when she tells me that she has 
seen Estonian shamans seated in a small wooden boat, drumming together for a group journey. 


    I can't resist sharing this sequence with the whole workshop group - over 120 people - when we start the Sunday session. More than a dozen excited Estonians proceeded to share their knowledge of Baltic and Northern traditions of spirit boats. One had trained with a Sami (Lapland) shaman who had people sit together, as if in a boat, for healing journeys and rituals. Another made the connection with Viking ship burials. Several people mentioned the remarkable boat of Kalevipoeg, the legendary giant who is the culture hero of the Estonian national epic. He had a magical boat, called Lennuk, which could sail through the air as well as on water. The modern Estonian translation of "Lennuk" is "plane", as in airplane. In our morning quick dream-into-art exercise, one of our Estonian dreamers had actually made a colored drawing of a boat of this kind before she heard my story.
   I am discovering again that the best entry ticket to an ancient tradition is the right dream, and that when you carry such a dream, synchronicity multiplies around you in magical ways.

Pictures: Top and bottom, oil paintings by Reet Kalamees inspired by dreams of flight; middle, "Lennuk" by Nikolai Triik (1910)

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Lift the veil of darkness


The phrase "the long dark night of the soul" has been so over-used since St. John of the Cross made it the theme of a mystical poem that Douglas Adams spoofed it, hilariously, as The Long Dark Teatime of the Soul. Yet all of us have known nights, even years, of despair and bitter isolation, when we have felt the absence of light and hope and life purpose.
    I have noticed something very interesting in some crises of this type. It is not merely the absence of light; it is the sense that something has veiled or cloaked the light. The effect is to shroud the sufferer in pain and darkness, breaking the connection between the individual and any Higher Self or source of spiritual succor and guidance.
   The energy "shrouds" can feel like old toffee or used chewing gum or very palpably like the winding-cloths of the dead. They may be woven with threads from the despair and confusion of others, and bound tight by self-defeating emotions in the sufferer. When tightly bound and deeply shrouded, it may be all but impossible for the one caught by unrelieved darkness to understand his or her condition, let alone to move beyond it. I have seen dead people in this condition, when they have been unable to step out of the dense energy shell that survives death. Sometimes their condition afflicts the living.
    When I observe symptoms of this kind, in myself or others, and have sufficient clarity to take action to rise above them, I often use words of power that I borrowed from Sohrawardi, the great medieval Persian mystic. They are a simple version of his cry to the Beloved of the Soul, beautifully described by Sufis as the Soul of the Soul and the Gabriel of My Being. This is the guide who never leaves us, and does not judge us, but whose presence is denied to us when we turn away or - worse - allow ourselves to be cloaked in that sterile dark.
    In my workshop in Prague last weekend, I shared the words with the whole group, and invited those who liked them to join in making them a chant. 

Lift the veils of darkness from my heart
Show me the radiance of your dazzling face

The words, coming from more than fifty voices, were beautiful. The impact - to judge by many stories shared with me later - was deep and transforming. We opened our hearts, and let our hearts' yearning for love and light power group shamanic journeys we proceeded to make to find clear direction for our life journeys beyond the weekend adventure we shared.
   I am not one of those who demonizes the dark. Our lives are composed of light and dark, and the creative interplay is essential. I am speaking of our need to break free from the sterile dark. We can also do that with humor. I reminded the Czechs, as a Czech friend had reminded me, of a children's game called Temno, which means "Darkness". A kid pulls down his woolen cap over his eyes and shouts "Temno!" Then he can pull it up again. * We need to remember that trick. We can roll back the dark and play happier games.

 I am learning that there are currents within currents in all things Czech and that deep dark rivers flow below that extraordinary Czech humor, in its many modes. Temno is also the title of an historical novel by Alois Jirásek, first published in 1913, describing the savagery of the Counter-Reformation in Bohemia. 

Photo: Catching my Shadow in Kafka Country.


Thursday, February 12, 2015

When sidewalk tarot gives you a card you don't want


One of my everyday games is to look at whatever turns up in the street as a tarot card being played to me by the world. Sometimes I have a question in my mind. Most often I am simply open to what the world gives me. Anything may count as a card in sidewalk tarot. Sometimes you feel you are getting a specific message. Sometimes the game is more about recognizing patterns of connection.
    While a tarot deck has 78 cards, the number of cards the world can give you is limitless. The cards in a deck are numbered and ordered in suits and kinds - number cards, court cards, major arcana. You can look up their meanings in a book. Cards in sidewalk tarot - unless they are literally spilled cards from a deck - do not have assigned places in a system, and you'll have to figure out meanings and connections for yourself. This makes the game very interesting indeed.
    When you play sidewalk tarot, as with a tarot deck, you may not like the card you draw. Let me tell you how that worked out for me on Tuesday, in the midst of one of my odysseys of airline story.
    Prequel: I was due to leave on Monday on the first leg of a long journey to Prague, where I am teaching at Maitrea this week. This gave me a very definite deadline for delivery of my new book, Sidewalk Oracles: Playing with Signs, Symbols and Synchronicity in Everyday Life. I made my deadline, sending the book to my editor before dawn on Monday. A few hours later, I learned that my flight had been cancelled, due to snow storms in the Northeast, where I live.
     I got on the phone and managed to rebook my flights. I was now scheduled to leave 24 hours later, on Tuesday on a revised itinerary. I would travel via Washington's Dulles airport, as before, but would go on to Prague via Munich instead of Brussels. I was not enthralled by the historical echo in "going on to Prague via Munich", but I was grateful to have snagged the last available seat and resigned myself to enjoying a snow day befor taking off.
     On Tuesday morning, I took care of a few chores, and walked to the bank. Walking back, I came upon an upturned shopping cart, directly in my path. Uh-oh.
     I noted that it was a cart from Price Chopper. Put that together with the fact that I was returning from the bank, and I had little doubt that the upturned cart might be connected to a possible tumble in my modest "shopping cart" of investments. When I got home and checked stock market prices, I saw that this was correct. A stock that I owned had taken a major tumble.
    I was uneasily conscious that when we talk about something upsetting an apple cart we might be talking about any kind of plan or situation at all. I hoped that the cautionary message in the spilled cart would not relate to my travels - or anything else - in addition to the investment spill.
    My first flight on Tuesday got to Dulles a couple of minutes early. So far so good. We boarded on time, and seemed to be taking off on time when suddenly the plane halted its run along the tarmac. Monitors went dead, reading lights went out. Electrical problems, we were told. An hour later, we were told that everything was "fixed" and we were airborne. We were somewhere east of Boston, heading towards open water, when the plane turned around. The captain informed us that the electrical problems had not been fixed after all. We had bee re-routed to a different airport, Newark, and he would let us know what would happen next when we go there.
     Relatively good news on the ground. They had found us another plane. While we waited at the departure gate in Newark for re-boarding, I struck up a delightful conversation with an academic who agreed with me that the trick in life is to find your pleasure in your work so you never have to distinguish them. He also proved to be a considerable expert on German beers.
    We out on the runway again five hours after our original scheduled departure. We set on that runway at Newark for ninety minutes. We were given no information for nearly all that time. Eventually the captain said something incomprehensible about a "passenger discrepancy." A couple of irate passengers confronted flight attendants who had no more information than we did.
    I had a row to myself, and diverted myself with my in-flight reading,
Jaroslav Hašek's grand comic novel The Good Soldier Švejk,, an immense, rambling satire about the incompetence of those in authority and a mode of passive resistance through irony, feigned idiocy and parody. I decided after ninety minutes that the Švejk approach could not go on indefinitely, or else we might never take off on that plane just as Hašek never finished his novel.
   So I went to the forward galley and had a quiet word with the flight attendants. They were very good people, as frustrated as we passengers were with the lack of communication from the cabin and the authorities at the airport. One of the flight attendants decided to take action. She leaped into it, clarifying that the "passenger discrepancy" involved a triviality - a baby car seat occupting a vacant passenger seat. Now she was on the phone to the boss, laying out crisply and briskly what was wrong about holding up the flight over such a minor issue, and what was especially wrong about leaving everyone outside the pilots'cabin in the dark.
     Two minutes later, the captain told us we were on our way, number three for takeoff.
    "Congratulations," I told the feisty flight attendant. "You did it."
    "It was probably just a coincidence."
    "It is very rare, in my experience, for anything to be just a coincidence."
    I explained that I had delivered a new book that is all about coincidence the previous day, and that my book The Three "Only" Things opens with an account of five chance encounters on airplane trips. After cabin service, when the lights were dimmed, the flight attendant curled up for a bit with the copy of The Three "Only" Things that I loaned her.
    As we disembarked at Munich, over six hours late, she promised, "I will never say, 'It's only a coincidence' again."

    At Munich airport, when I was getting a new boarding card for my new connection to Prague, a Lufthansa agent told me he knew all about the history of my flight from Dulled, which was the talk of the ground crew. "You know," he said, "when something goes as wrong as that, you always have a story."
    "Thank you for saying that. I agree completely. It's one of my keys to survival.

This is why Upset Shopping Cart enters my personal guide to sidewalk tarot as a challenging card. The sequence of upsets reminds me that for every challenge there is an opportunity, at least the opportunity to make a new story.

Monday, February 9, 2015

The Synchron-O-city beast

Shhhh. If you're quiet for a moment, you'll hear him snuffling and padding around the room. Most grown-ups can't hear him or see him because they are too busy. Whatever age you are, you don't want to miss him. When he's around, things happen differently. You can finish something before you started it, which is really cool when it comes to doing chores.
     He is, of course, the Synchron-O-city Beast. I shall tell you exactly how he got his name and his shape. There was once a very clever professor in Switzerland who woke up noticing what you and I know but most grown-ups forget: coincidence matters, terribly. But it was very hard for him to explain this to respectable adults in a country of bankers and cuckoo-clocks, so he made up a word that sounded scientific. 
     The word was "synchronicity", which he defined as "an acausal connecting principle." He was talking about meaningful coincidence. You and I know that coincidence always means something. It's through coincidence that we discover that the world inside us and the world outside us aren't really separate. It's through coincidence that we discover the secret doors to the world-behind-the-world that open in our dreams but often seem to be bricked over in the daytime, as if they were never there. Through coincidence, we discover that there are players involved in our games of life who live on the other side of the curtain between the worlds, but can reach through that curtain to move a piece on the board, or tickle us, or muss our hair.
     The Swiss professor got serious people - the sort who would never listen to talk of "coincidence" - to sit through his lectures when he substituted the word "synchronicity." He also go them to listen because he told good stories about how synchronicity worked in his own life, about how a solid cabinet cracked with a loud BANG when he was getting into an argument with his own teacher, or how a fox appeared on a path when he was talking to a lady about a dream of a fox.
     I have never liked the word "synchronicity" as much as that good old word "coincidence". But alas, "coincidence" has been horribly ad-justedand only-fied by all the people who have long been in the habit of saying, "just coincidence" or "only coincidence". It has even been not-ified by people who insist "it's not coincidence" when they really mean that it is, but it's something real and important and meaningful, and they don't understand (because of the bad talk they've learned) that coincidence is all of those things.
    So I've been using the word "synchronicity" in my own classes. But in one of those classes, there was a sweet lady artist who could never say it quite right. It always came out "synchron-O-city" with a great big O where an I should be. I thought this was rather cute, and couldn't bear to correct her. So, month after month, following her homeplay assignments, she would bring us tales of synchron-O-city, to our smiling delight.
    One evening there was a newcomer in the class, a serious person and a stickler for accuracy in everything that can be looked up.
    "I have another synchron-O-city to tell," said the lady artist, eager to share.
    "You mean synchon-I-city," said the newcomer. "You should get it right."
    Crestfallen, the artist tried to correct herself, but faltered.
    I quickly intervened. "Please don't ever change the way you say that word," I implored the artist. "Every time you say it, I sense a soft snuffly animal - the Synchron-O-city Beast - coming into the room."
    I paused. In that moment, I believe we all heard and sensed something like a plush baby rhino, snuffling and snorting. The first peoples of the country where I grew up, Down Under, say that to name something is to bring it into the world. The Synchron-O-city Beast is now alive and ever so busy in this world.
    I can prove this because a writer named Maureen has just reported a most delightful dream in which she is one of a team of counselors helping me to run a camp for children where we supervise sleepover parties and dream together. Padding and snuffling all over the magical house in the woods where we are gathered is a creature she describes as a "baby rhino", soft and cuddly. 
     I don't think Maureen ever heard of the Synchron-O-city Beast from me, at least not in an ordinary way. The Synchron-O-city Beast just went ahead and introduced himself. I hope they are feeding him well in Maureen's dream camp. He thrives on giggles and slips of the tongue. He likes to exercise by shredding the curtain of solemn people's expectations, and butting holes into Outland and Fairyland and other lands big enough to be doorways for anyone with a child's sense of wonder.

An expanded version of this little essay appears in my book Active Dreaming: Journeying beyond Self-Limitation to a Life of Wild Freedom, published by New World Library.
I first posted this blog five years ago. I am re-posting it now because someone just wished me "congadulation" on completing a new book in a Facebook post. That parapraxis or lapsus digiti is another unintended neologism that may be a keeper. In it we hear a happy conga line, and then the rest of the story is dilation, adulation, graduation, or.....? And then in my last blog I described why I have given up trying to play spelling cop for the many people who put an E in "lightning" when writing about the Lightning Dreamwork method I invented. Life rhymes, and something interesting is often showing through the slips.