Friday, November 16, 2018

The Scarab and the Fox: How Jung Navigated by Synchronicity

Jung’s life practice of paying attention to coincidence and symbolic popups in the world around us is a model of how to navigate by synchronicity.
    In his work with patients, he paid close attention to the interplay of dreams and signs from the world. He was encouraged to do this by his celebrated breakthrough work with a female patient who had been seriously blocked until she dreamed of a scarab, the dung beetle of the Nile Valley. Despite its lowly origins, the scarab was one of the most important Egyptian symbols of rebirth and transformation; it had been deified as Khepri and was placed over the heart of the soul traveler to guide journeys beyond the body and beyond death.
    As the woman discussed her dream with Jung, a flying beetle known as a rose chafer appeared at the window. It was the nearest match for the Egyptian scarab you could hope to find in Europe. Jung caught it and presented it to his patient, saying, "Here is your scarab." Her eyes widened in recognition. She experienced a sense of confirmation of her dream and the work she was doing with Jung that carried her to deep healing.
     When he saw patients in his house at Küsnacht, on Lake Zurich,, he liked to sit so that they both faced the garden, the poplars at the edge of the lake, and the water beyond, noticing what the world was saying.  He found significance in every shift in the environment — a sudden wind whipping up the lake water, the shape of a cloud, the cry of a bird.
     He was especially intrigued by how animals or birds sometimes seemed to participate in a human exchange.  On one occasion, he walked in his garden with a woman patient. As they wandered beyond the garden into light woods, she was talking about the first dream of her life that had major impact on her; she said it made an “everlasting” impression. “I am in my childhood home,” she recalled, “and a spectral fox is coming down the stairs.” She paused and put her hand on Jung’s arm, because at this moment a real fox trotted out of the trees, less than forty yards in front of them. The fox padded softly along the path in front of them for several minutes.  Jung noted that "the animal behaved as if it were a partner in the human situation.”
     Jung’s willingness to trust an unexpected incident — and accept it immediately as guidance for action — was evident in a meeting he had with Henry Fierz, who visited him in hopes of persuading him to support the publication of a manuscript by a recently deceased scientist. Jung had reservations about the book and opposed publication. The conversation became increasingly strained, and Jung looked at his watch, evidently getting ready to tell his guest he was out of time. Jung frowned when he saw the time.
     “What time did you come?” he demanded of his visitor.
     “At five o’clock, as agreed.”
     Jung’s frown deepened. He explained that his watch had just been repaired, and should be keeping impeccable time. But it showed 5:05, and surely Fierz had been with him for much longer. “What time do you have?”
    “Five thirty-five,” his visitor told him.
    “Since you have the right time and I have the wrong time,” Jung allowed, “I must think again.”
     He then changed his mind and supported publication of the book.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

The wall that is a gate

Down a spiral tunnel, surprisingly light. Rock paintings on the walls quiver into light. A cave lion stretches and runs, springing for the kill. Aurochs thunder past. Ahead is a solid wall, no way past or through. But wait, it holds shapes that were made by intent. Long bull horns, pairs of globular breasts. I have seen these before, in a reconstruction of Çatal Höyük, from a mysterious Goddess civilization of ancient Anatolia whose language we know only in dreaming.
     I grip the horns, cup my hands over the breasts, then try this again, holding a horn and a breast. The wall opens like a door and I am out on a hot dry plateau. Huge dark birds wheel and hover overhead. The tilting of their wings identifies them as vultures. They have come for the meal spread for them on a high wooden scaffolding. The chosen man lies on precious furs and fabrics. They will strip him to the bones and release his spirit from the flesh.
   I want to get closer to the mourners or celebrants who are gathered nearby. But the earth is shaking. A great black bull is charging at me. I do not freeze or flee because I know him. We danced long ago. His tremendous bulk is over me and we are joined. His potency and hot ardor stream through me. I am ready to serve and pleasure the Goddess and ready to be the willing sacrifice in due season. 

- from my experiences in a group shamanic journey for power animals led by a gifted student teacher in my recent training for teachers of Active Dreaming in Prague. What happened at the cave wall - and through it - was quite unexpected and had the authenticity that comes with a shock of revelation. I have been given an assignment for dream archaeology.

Image: Reconstruction of a mural in a shrine at Çatal Höyük excavated by James Mellaart.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

A dream guides Jung to make his approach more accessible

Near the end of his life, Jung finally managed to put his best and most original ideas in a form that was simple enough to reach a general audience, without diluting or dumbing anything down. He might not have done this except for a dream. After watching Jung's very human interviews with John Freeman for the BBC in 1959, the publisher of Aldus Books had a bright idea: why not ask Jung to write a book for a general audience? 

Jung's answer, when approached by Freeman, was a flat No. He was now in his 80s, and did not want to take the time that remained to him for this. Then Jung dreamed that he was standing in a public place and lecturing to a multitude of people who were not only listening with rapt attention but understood what he was saying. The dream changed his mind. 

Jung had said in Memories, Dreams, Reflections, "All day long I have exciting ideas and thoughts. But I take up in my work only those to which my dreams direct me." Now he proved this, again, by embarking on the book that was published (after his death) as Man and His Symbols. He conceived it a collaborative effort and invited trusted colleagues like Marie-Louise von Franz to contribute chapters. 

His personal contribution was a long essay titled "Approaching the Unconscious" . The essay is, first and last, about dreams. He completed it just ten days before the start of his final illness, so this work may be called his last testament. It testifies, above all, to the primary importance of dreams in Jung's psychology and in his vision of human nature and evolution. Jung makes this ringing statement: "It is an age-old fact that God speaks, chiefly, through dreams and visions." 

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Dreams may be secret wishes of the soul

Dreams are experiences of the soul, and they can recall us to the soul’s purpose, as opposed to the petty agendas of the ego. This understanding is central to the practice of dream healing among many ancient and indigenous peoples.
   When I moved to upstate New York in the mid-1980s, I started dreaming in a language I did not know, which proved to be an archaic form of the Mohawk Indian language, laced with Huron. I studied Mohawk to decipher my dreams, but the meaning of one curious word eluded me. I recorded it as ondinnonk. I eventually found the meaning of this word in reports by a Jesuit who had lived among the Hurons in the early 1600s. 
    I will share some brief excerpts from Father Paul Ragueneau’s explanation, since it opens out an ancient approach to dreaming and healing and the responsibilities of the community to both that suggests rich possibilities for Active Dreaming in our own times.
   Reporting from the Jesuit mission to the Hurons in the winter of 1647-8, Father Ragueneau wrote:

In addition to conscious desires that arise from a previous knowledge of something we suppose to be good, the Hurons believe that our souls have other desires, which are, as it were, both natural and hidden... They believe that our soul makes these natural desires known to us through dreams, which are its language. When these desires are accomplished, it is satisfied. But if, on the contrary, it is not granted what it desires, it becomes angry; not only does it fail to bring the body the health and well-being it might [otherwise] have wished to bring, but often it even revolts against the body, causing various diseases and even death…Most of the Hurons are very careful to pay attention to their dreams, and to provide the soul with what it has represented to them during their sleep…They call this Ondinnonk, a secret desire of the soul expressed by a dream

Among this dreaming people, satisfying the secret wishes of the soul is the key to healing It is the task of the community to listen attentively to dreams, to help the dreamer identify the soul’s purpose as revealed in dreams, and to take creative and decisive action to honor and act on the dream. This may involve community theatre and performance, parties and gift-giving, making talismans or embarking on a journey or honoring the ancestors.
    Father Ragueneau continued: “They believe the soul is pleased when it sees us take action to celebrate a favorable dream, and will move faster to help us manifest it. If we fail to honor a favorable dream, they think this can prevent the dream from being fulfilled, as if the angry soul revokes its promise.” 
   In the practice of the First Peoples of Northeast America, as in our contemporary lives, dreams bring us healing by connecting us with the purposes and the energy of soul.

Quotations from Ragueneau's report are from The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents ed. Reuben Gold Thwaites (Cleveland: Burrow Brothers, 1896-1901) volume 33, pages 191-5.

For much more on ondinnonk and the practices inspired by the understanding that dreams may reveal secret wishes of the soul, see my book Dreamways of the Iroquois: Honoring the Secret Wishes of the Soul (Rochester VT: Destiny Books, 2004).

Art: My drawing of the Huron-Mohawk arendiwanen ("woman of power") who called me in dreams and gave me the word ondinnonk and with it a powerful approach to dreaming and healing that helped shape my own teaching and practice.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Lady of Changes

Her face glows in the dark of my bedroom like a yellow moon. The lovely young Chinese woman is studying me intently. She is as near as the foot of my bed. Her eyes are both very dark and very bright, her hair is lustrous black, cut neatly at shoulder length to produce a helmet effect. She is wearing a yellow tunic dress, and I remember that in China yellow is the color of Earth.=
    She communicates her intention: to teach me the real I Ching. As I look in her eyes I see they are like 8-balls, in constant rhythmic motion, displaying the eight trigrams that compose the essence of the Book of Changes, marrying in pairs to make the 64 hexagrams.
     If this is a Lady of Earth, of the receptive power of K'un, where is her consort? I see him now, wearing a robe of deep blue silk, embroidered with what may be bronze dragons. He is a Lord of Sky, and I know he personifies Ch'ien, the Heaven of the Changes. His lower body moves, indistinctly, like that of a great serpent-dragon, its coils turning like a mobius strip. I sense that his lower body interweaves with that of the Lady.
     I recall that according to tradition, the trigrams were invented by the dragon emperor Fu Xi, drawing knowledge from Heaven, and that in certain Taoist temples Fuxi and his consort Nuwa are depicted together. Their upper bodies are human; their lower bodies are those of serpent-dragons, intertwined. Awed by the energy presence of these ancient beings in my space, I am also embarrassed by my faulty memory of the Changes. I try to rehearse the names and forms of the eight trigrams in my mind. The primal pair: Heaven and Earth, Ch'ien and K'un. Fire and Water, Li and Kan. Lake and Mountain, Tui and Ken. Wind and Thunder, Sun and Chen. Do I have that right?
    Not that way. The code of Thunder flares in the Lady's changing eyes. Her fierce intent interrupts my effort to recite the list of the trigrams. Like this. Her eyes change again. I see a green mountain rising in a soft mist. There is a gentle lake at its summit, and around the peak a perfect cloud ring. Lake on the Mountain. I struggle to remember the name and the attributions of the corresponding hexagram. Something to do with lovers, newlyweds, attraction.
     Not like that. She is opening a different way of seeing and reading the code of the Changes. I relax into the embrace of Earth, and soon find myself in a different scene.
     I am on top of a very tall and steep hill, with warriors dressed in skins and armed with bows and spears. There is an intense feeling of being alive up here. The wind is fresh and brisk, lifting my hair, fluttering a loose fringe. We may have a battle to fight, but our spirits are high, our defensive position is very strong, and we can see whatever is coming at us from far away. This hill fort has a commanding view. I can see across great vistas in all directions.
     Access to our hill fort is via a wooden ladder that goes up the hillside for hundreds of feet. It can be pulled up to deny access to strangers. My lieutenant is so agile I doubt that he needs a ladder. Laughing, he sways his body over the edge of the drop until his back is almost horizontal. This defies human physiology. Maybe he has feet that can grip like fists. Respecting my human limitations, I take a step back from the brink, then smile at myself because the body I am using here can do things the body I left in bed can't manage.
     Remembering that my regular body is in a bed in a snowy town in western New York, I recollect my encounter with the Lady who told me she would teach me the real I Ching. Am I inside one of the hexagrams? If so, which one? My guess would be the 20th hexagram, which is called Guan, or Watching. Wind over the Earth.
The wind blows over the earth.
This is the image of Watching.
In this way ancient kings
looked across the four directions
observed the people
and gave them instruction.
     I hang over the precipice, studying the ladder. Despite its great height, it has only six rungs. Now I recall that ascending the Watchtower whose shape is concealed and revealed in the lines of the 20th hexagram is a journey of six steps. Few can manage these six steps in the course of a lifetime. On the first step, we see as an un-wise child; we notice only what relates to our cravings and fears. On the second step. we see like a nervous homebody peering out through a slit in a wall; protected by structure, we see little beyond it. On the third step, we look in a mirror and begin to observe ourselves, and what we have done and not done on our life journeys. On the fourth step, like lookouts, we can see across the land and provide news and warnings for our communities. On the fifth step, we return to self-observation, looking harder and deeper at our true selves. If we make it to the sixth and final step, we can see the whole. We can look at ourselves from a witness perspective. We no longer look from the ego, but from the greater Self.
     Again, I see the changing eyes, with the turning codes, and sense the movement of the dragon coils in their mobius dance. I have read thirty books on I Ching, and made my own guide to the hexagrams, giving personal names to each one and noting incidents that followed a particular reading on a certain date. I once taught a course titled "I Ching for Dreamers" in which we drummed the patterns of broken and unbroken lines, inspired by the most ancient, fragmentary text of the Book of Changes, found in a lacquer hamper in the tomb of a lord at Mawangdui as recently as 1973, where it is written that "the sages drummed the movements of all under Heaven" into the oracle. 
    However, I consider myself a rank amateur in this area, and would not trust my ability to read the Changes until I have internalized the 64 hexagrams and the changing lines without the need to look anything up. In Chinese tradition such mastery requires either a lifetime of training, memorizing and practice, or the direct inspiration of past masters, or both.
    The shining eyes give me Heaven under Earth, the desirable placement since this means the primal pair are coming together. Maybe I can aspire to know a little more of the Changes in the years that remain to me. Maybe, with the Yellow Lady and the Blue Lord as gatekeepers, I will lead others on a journey through the cycles, to climb the ladder of six steps to the Watchtower.


Oracles have their own life, and can call you even when you are not calling on them. I took up the study of I Ching because Einstein met me at a Chinese gate and instructed me that the Chinese oracle is the best working model of the universe that is generally accessible. Months later, on a snowy night in a motel in western New York, the oracle came alive for me. Jung knew something of this. He wrote that “One could even define the I Ching oracle as an experiential dream, just as one can define a dream as an experiment of a four-dimensional nature.” (Letter to the Rev. W.P. Witcutt, August 24, 1960). The Mawangdui text quoted here follows the translation by  Edward L. Shaughnessy, I Ching, The Classic of Changes: The First English Translation of the Newly Discovered Second-Century B.C. Mawangdui Texts (New York: Ballantine, 1997) 203.

Adapted from Mysterious Realities: A Dream Traveler's Tales from the Imaginal Realm by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library.

Image at the top: ancient painting of Nuwa and Fuxi

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Punch a Hole in the World: Listening to Children's Dreams

Young children know how to go to Magic Kingdoms without paying for tickets, because they are at home in the imagination and live close to their dreams. When she was very young, my daughter Sophie had adventures in a special place called Teddy Bear Land, where she met a special friend. I loved hearing about these travels, and encouraged her to make drawings and spin further stories from them.

One day Sophie sat down beside me and asked with great earnestness, "Daddy, would you like to know how I get to Teddy Bear Land?"

 "I'd love to."

 "Sometimes I take the Sun Gate. Sometimes I take the Moon Gate. Sometimes I take the Tree Gate. Sometimes I take the Rainbow Bridge. And sometimes I just punch a hole in the world."

I've never heard anyone say it better. To live the larger life. we need to punch a hole in the world. This is what dreaming - sleeping or waking or hyper-awake - is really all about. On our roads to adulthood, we sometimes forget how to do it, just as older children in the Chronicles of Narnia cease to be able to see Aslan as they approach adolescence and become more and more burdened by the reality definitions of the grown-ups around them.

When we listen, truly listen, to very young children, we start to remember that the distance between us and the Magic Kingdoms is no wider than the edge of a sleep mask. True listening requires us to pay attention; to attend, in its root meaning in the Latin, is to stretch ourselves, which requires us to expand our vocabulary of understanding. We owe nothing less to the young children in our lives. When we do this, we discover that they can be our very best teachers on how to dream and what dreaming can be.

Here's what we need to know about listening to children's dreams and supporting their imaginations:

1. Listen up! When a child wants to tell a dream, make room for that. Make some daily space for dream sharing. Listen to the stories and cherish them for their own sake.

2. Invite good dreams Pick the right bedtime reading or better still, tell stories. Help your child to weave a web of good dream intentions for the night - for example, by asking "What would you most like to do tonight?" Encourage children to sleep with a favorite stuffed animal (whether teddy bear or T-Rex) and make this a dream guardian.

3. Provide immediate help with the scary stuff If your child was scared by something in the night, recognize you are the ally the child needs right now. Do something right away to move out that negative energy. Get a frightened child to spit it out (literally) or draw a picture of what scared her and tear it up as violently as possible.

4. Ask good questions. When the child has told her story, ask good questions. Ask about feelings, about the color of the sky, and about exactly what T-Rex was doing. See if there's something about the future. Say what you would think about this if this were your dream. Always come up with something fun or helpful to do with this story. Open up the crayon box, call grandma, etc.

5. Help the child to keep a dream journal. Get this started as early as possible. With a very young child, you can help with the words while they do the pictures. When your child reaches the point where she closes the journal and says, "This is my secret book and you can't read it any more" do not peek. Give her privacy, and let her choose when she'll let you look in that magic book.

6. Provide tools for creative expression. Encourage the child to bring dreams come alive through art, dance, theater and games, and to draw or paint dreams. Gather friends and family for dream-inspired games and performance. Puppets and stuffed animals can be great for acting out dreams. This can also be dress-up time. It's such a release for kids to portray mom or dad or other grown-ups in their lives - be ready to be shocked!

7. Help construct effective action plans Dreams can show us things that require further action - for example, to avoid an unhappy future event that was previewed in the dream, or to put something right in a family situation. A child will probably need adult help with such things, starting with your help. may require adult help, starting with yours. This will eventually require you to learn more about dreaming and dreamwork (hint: you can start with my books).

 8. Let your own inner child out to play As you listen to children's dreams, let the wonderful child dreamer inside you come out and join in the play.

9. Keep it fun! When you get the hang of this, you'll find it's about the best home entertainment you can enjoy.

Notice two things that are not on this list, but would be at the very top of a list of what NOT to do with your children's dreams:
1. NEVER say to a child "It's only a dream". Children know that dreams are for real and that scary stuff that comes out in dreams needs to be resolved, not dismissed.
2. DON'T INTERPRET a child's dreams.You are not the expert here; the child is.

Text adapted from Active Dreaming by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library.

Art: Book Tree by a 10-year-old Romanian boy

Friday, October 26, 2018

Woolly Yarn from the Bardo of Air Travel

"I have a story for you," says the lady next to me on the plane, before I have asked for one. I am on the first leg of a trip to California and open, as always, to receiving stories from strangers.
   "Last Saturday was my birthday," he tells me. "I was at the Dutchess County Sheep and Wool Festival, where I volunteer to sell fleeces. A lady at a food stand had ordered her coffee and bagels and had her card ready to pay when she was told they only take cash. She was going to leave her breakfast when I told her I was going to pay for it. It's my birthday and I'll do what I want to."
    "What a lovely thing to do."
    "There's a follow up. Later I was admiring an extraordinary necklace a woman was wearing. I told her it might be the most beautiful necklace I had ever seen. She told me she is a jewelry designer and made it herself. I asked what she would charge if it were for sale. She whipped off the necklace and handed it to me. No charge, she said. Just like that."
     "Wow. You are a poster girl for the old adage that what goes around comes around. "

I am hopeful about any trip that starts with a fresh story from a previous stranger in the Bardo of Air Travel. This was an especially lovely one. I was not disappointed by how the day unfolded.