Saturday, June 16, 2018

Look for the hidden hand behind synchronicity

Jung described the pairing or clustering of events through meaningful coincidence as an “acausal” phenomenon. Certainly, we do not observe causation in the play of coincidence in the way that we can say the kettle boiled because we turned on the burner. A characteristic of coincidence is that it does not have a visible cause.
But this does not mean that there is no cause for coincidence. "Beyond the accidental surface effects of this world sit - as of yore - the gods," Joseph Campbell declared.
Most human cultures, across most of recorded history, have believed that there is indeed a hidden hand at work in coincidence: that it is through the play of unusual or unexpected conjunctions, and natural phenomena, that gods or angels or animate forces of nature or other dimensions send messages to humans or actively intervene in our world. Let’s not shrug this off as a “primitive” idea it has worked, and continues to work, in highly practical ways. And let’s not classify this idea as a “metaphysical” belief.
The forces that cause meaningful coincidence may be quite physical. We miss this because we cannot observe their workings with our ordinary senses and our regular assumptions. These forces include our own thoughts and feelings, and those of others connected to us. They may include the powers that Jung called “archetypes” as long as we remember that in Jung’s mature thought the archetypes are not structures but “habitual currents of psychic energy” and “systems of readiness for action,” and that they are as much physical as psychic. The physical forces that play with us through coincidence may include our parallel selves in parallel universes, interacting with our world in constant and complex weavings through what quantum physics has taught us to call “interference” patterns, forever shifting the balance of probabilities for any specific outcome.
 Quantum physics shows us the universe as a dynamic web of connection. Subatomic particles are not separate “things”; they have meaning and identity only through their connections with everything else. Those connections do not depend on physical proximity or causation. Particles that have once been in contact with each other remain connected through all space and time.
 Quantum physics also confirms that when we go to the heart of physical reality, there is no separation between mind and matter. Subatomic particles exist in all possible states until they are observed at which point something definite emerges from the soup of possibilities.
 Inner and outer, subjective and objective, interweave and move together at quantum levels, on a human scale, and no doubt everywhere in the universe. We live in an energy field where everything resonates to a greater or lesser degree with everything else. The world we inhabit mirrors our thoughts and feelings, and vice versa.
 In the hidden order of reality, there is no distinction between mind and matter. The split between inner and outer subjective and objective that we experience in ordinary life is unknown in the deeper reality.
Richard Wilhelm’s account of  the Chinese rainmaker contains the essence of a worldview in which the human mind and the external world form a whole. A village has been without rain for weeks. The desperate villagers send for a rainmaker. When the old man arrives, he shuts himself up in the house provided for him, performing no ceremonies until the rains come. When asked how he brought the rain, he explains that when he arrived he noted a state of disharmony in himself, so he retired to compose himself. When he restored his own equilibrium, the rain came according to its natural pattern.
As we become more awake to what is going on, we may become personal magnets for coincidence, “strange attractors” that draw more and more interesting and unexpected encounters and events toward us. The brilliant analyst and classicist Marie-Louise von Franz, who knew both Jung and Pauli well, alluded to this: “The larger our consciousness is, and the more it develops, the more we get hold of certain aspects of the spirit of the unconscious, draw it into our own subjective sphere, and then call it our own psychic activity or our own spirit.”

Text adapted from The Three "Only" Things: Tapping the Power of Dreams, Coincidence and Imagination by Robert Moss.Published by New World Library

"The Houses Are Watching". Photo of house in Sibiu, Romania by Robert Moss

Dreams are not on our case, they are on our side

Our dreams show us things we may prefer not to think about — which is a major reason why many of us slam that door shut on our dreams and try to keep it closed. Those things may include future life problems, or parts of ourselves we tend to ignore or repress, or the larger values and issues involved in a situation we are approaching from a limited point of view.
We may prefer not to think about these matters, but if they are in our dreams, it is because our wiser Self is telling us we need to think about them. When our dreams show us future problems, they are also offering tools to avoid or contain those problems — if we will only heed the messages and take appropriate action. When our dreams reveal aspects of ourselves we tend to deny, they invite us to reclaim the energy we waste in denial and to integrate and work with all the aspects of our energy. When dreams reflect the bigger issues involved in a current situation, they offer us an inner compass and a corrective to decisions driven by ego or other people’s expectations.
            When we see things in night dreams we don’t like, we need to pay careful attention, because we are being shown elements in our life situation that require understanding and action. The scarier the dream, the more urgent the need to receive its message and figure out what needs to be done.
          Here’s one of my personal mantras:
          Dreams are not on our case, they are on our side.
          We need to stop running away from what our dreams are showing us and learn to stand our ground and confront the issue or the monster in the space where it first presents itself. If we fail to resolve a challenge in our dreams then – as Jung discovered – it is likely to come after us in the waking world, perhaps with even more scary consequences. A nightmare, in my lexicon, isn’t just a scary dream; it is and interrupted or aborted dream. We tried to escape from the dream, leaving it broken and unresolved, because we were too frightened to deal with what confronted us.
         We want to learn to go back inside an interrupted dream of this kind, when we can muster the strength and resources to do that, and dream it onward to healing and resolution. We can do this through the Dream Reentry technique explained in my books The Three “Only” Things and Conscious Dreaming. We can write a satisfactory ending for the broken dream, which can be a fabulous exercise in creativity.
    We may find we’ve been running away from an advisory than can help save our job or our relationship, or can enable us to avoid a road accident or an illness. Sometime we find that what we’ve been running away from is our own power. When we manage to brave up and face the beast or the alien, we may discover that what was most alien to us was our own larger Self, or that the wild animal we feared is an invitation to move beyond self-limitation into a life of wild freedom.

The first part of this article is adapted from The Three “Only” Things: Tapping the Power of Dreams, Coincidence and Imagination. Published by New World Library

Photo: Lew Friedander, New York City, 2011

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

The Duke of Jin and the Shaman of the Mulberry Woods: Dreaming the Understory in Ancient China

In his dream, the Duke Jing of Jin, a powerful state in ancient China, is attacked by a demon with disheveled hair that streams to the ground. The demon beats its breast and leaps up, yelling, “You have murdered my descendants and I have called on the High God for justice!”
The monster breaks down the palace gate and bursts into the state room where the duke is sitting. When the duke flees into an inner chamber of the palace, the demon pursues him, again breaking down the door.
Waking in terror, the duke summoned the shaman (wu) of Sangtian, “who told him everything he had dreamed.” When the duke asked the shaman what the outcome would be, the wu predicted, “You will not taste the new wheat” – in other words, he would die before the next harvest.
After this, the duke became very ill, and asked for the services of Huan, a famous physician from a neighboring state. Before the doctor arrived, the Duke of Jin dreamed that his disease turned into two boys. He listened to them plotting to escape the doctor’s intervention by hiding themselves in spaces between his heart and his diaphragm and between his heart and his throat. When the doctor arrived and conducted his examination, he informed the duke that nothing could be done, because the disease had lodged in places he could not reach with medicine or by acupuncture – between the heart and the diaphragm and between the heart and the throat. The duke acknowledged that Huan was an honest and capable physician, and sent him away with rich rewards.
In the sixth month after the demonic dream, new wheat stood high in the fields. The Duke of Jin ordered his estate manager to have some cut and send it to his baker. Confident that he had survived the end predicted by the shaman who had seen and read his dream, the duke had the wu brought to him. He showed off the new wheat, then had the shaman put to death. The duke was just about to taste the wheat, when he felt his stomach about to explode. He rushed to the latrine, fell in, and died ignominiously.
It was learned afterwards that one of the servants who carried his body from the privy has dreamed in the early hours that he had carried the duke on his back up to heaven. The servant’s dream may have played out when he was buried alive with his master. [1]

This savage tale of dreams and death comes from the earliest narrative history written in China, a collection of chronicles known as the Zuo zhuan that were composed between the fifth and fourth centuries BCE.
What is going on here?
According to one of the oldest commentaries, the demon that scares the duke is an angry ghost of unusual power. He is the ancestral chief of the Zhao clan, that the Duke of Jin utterly destroyed. His wild appearance and behavior are those expected, in those days, of a mourner at a funeral. [2]
The curse laid on Duke Jing by the vengeful spirit is confirmed by the shaman the duke summons. According to the narrative, the duke does not tell his dream to the shaman; the shaman tells the duke’s dream to him. In many ancient and indigenous cultures, the dream interpreter who is most respected is someone who is capable of entering your dreamspace and talking to you from his or her direct experience of your dream.  
    Something of this kind may be at play between the Chinese shaman and the Duke of Jin. But something more is suggested: that the shaman was inside the duke’s dream at the same time the duke was dreaming it. If this were the case, the shaman’s role becomes ambiguous. Is the wu neutral in this matter, and if not, whose side is he or she on?
Though shamans have personal names in many other sections of the Zuo zhuan, this one is identified only as “the wu of Sangtian”. The term wu is not gender-specific, but is more often used of women than men. “Sangtian”, a place-name in modern China, literally means, “Mulberry Woods”, in the sense of wildwoods rather than tame silk-producing groves. The descriptive phrase, in Chinese ears, implies that this shaman comes from a place beyond the borders of civilized order and may have a close connection with death, since mulberry wood was used for the topknot of corpses prepared for ceremonial burial. [3]
A prime function of the shaman, elsewhere in the Zuo zhuan, is to deal with intrusive ghosts by propitiating or exorcizing them. Thus Zichan, who is both a shaman and a Zheng minister, deals with the ghost of a vengeful nobleman by relocating it, explaining, “I provide the ghost with a place to return to.” [4] The shaman of the mulberry wood, however, is neither asked nor volunteers to relieve the Duke of Jin of the hostile spirit who has attacked him. The wu simply delivers a death sentence.
We may suppose it occurred to the duke that the shaman was in on a plot to remove him, by reinforcing his fears – in a sense, by pointing the bone – without giving him any chance to reshape the evil future he had dreamed.
In the second dream, the duke is able to see his disease, in the form of two boys who may represent the two Zhao officers he had recently executed. This part of the narrative reflects the understanding, in traditional Chinese medicine, that dreams may provide accurate diagnosis of what is going on inside the body and reveal causes of disease that may go beyond the grasp of Western allopathic approaches. When the doctor comes, he confirms the duke’s dream of where his disease has lodged, and that it is untreatable by the methods at the physician’s disposal.
The problem sounds like a case for shamanic treatment. But the shaman is not called. She is left out there, in the mulberry woods, until the duke dares to hope that he has survived the duration of the ancestral curse that has been laid on him. Then he calls in the shaman – to have her killed – and survives just long enough to see the curse fulfilled. He does not live to taste the new wheat.

Elsewhere in the Zuo zhuan, we learn that the way that dreams are shared and interpreted has a huge influence on what comes from them. As we talk about dreams, as when we talk about life, we are engaged in the making of meaning. We must be careful in choosing when we tell evil dreams, and to whom we tell them. The act of making an evil dream public could help to manifest an unwanted event, as when one ruler – who had kept a dream of his own death secret for three years – finally decided to tell it, and died immediately afterwards. On the other hand, telling an evil dream to the right person can sometimes help to tame or rescript the message it contains.
    There is a fascinating example in the eve-of-battle dream of another ruler of Jin, Duke Wen. He dreamed that he was grappling with the ruler of Chu, when his enemy threw him to the ground and started sucking out his brains. Duke Wen was terrified until his minister Hu Yan pronounced that the dream was highly auspicious. On his back, Duke Wen, was facing Heaven, while his adversary, bent over him, was face down in the posture of a man receiving punishment. Eating the brains evoked a Chinese proverb about what makes you soft. The minister insisted that Duke Wen’s “brains” would win over his enemy – and indeed, when the battle came, they did. [5]

The Zuo shuan is a dutiful work of linear history, following events year by year according to strict chronology. Across its vast sweep, it is also a book of dreams. If we are willing to make an intellectual and imaginative leap into the collective mind it represents, we will find a way of looking at both dreams and history that is radically different from that of modern Western understanding, and is both fascinating and rewarding to explore.
     The ancient Chinese chroniclers not only record dreams and how they were interpreted; they use dreams (and other signs) to interpret the world, and reveal the understory behind human events. In the field of dreams, we can observe and sometimes take part in the interplay of humans and the more-than-human.


[1] My retelling of the story of the Duke of Jin is based on James Legge, The Ch’un T’sew with the Tso Chuen (Taipei: SMC, 1994) p.374, and a recent translation in Wai-yee Li, “Dreams of Interpretation in Early Chinese Historical and Philosophical Writings” in David Shulman and Guy G. Stroumsa (eds) Dream Cultures: Explorations in the Comparative History of Dreaming (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999) pp. 22-3.
[2] According to Du Yu’s commentary, the wu says, “a ghost is furious.” See Gilles Boileau, “Wu and Shaman”, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London Vol. 65 No.2 (2002) p. 366.
[3] Boileau, “Wu and Shaman” pp. 369-71.
[4] Wai-yee Li, “Dreams of Interpretation” p. 20.
[5] Ibid, p.26.

Image: Dancing women shamans. Black clay figures from the Zhou dynasty.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

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 was a turning point experience in my life, in which I reentered a frustrating dream and found myself guided to a hyper-awake, indelible encounter with my spiritual kin and my soul's purpose. It 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.

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

On making the most important book you'll ever read

When a lusty, ambitious young Scot named James Boswell first met Dr. Samuel Johnson, Johnson advised him to keep a journal of his life. Boswell responded that he was already journaling, recording "all sorts of little incidents." Dr Johnson said, "Sir, there is nothing too little for so little a creature as man."
    Indeed, there is nothing too little, or too great, for inclusion in a journal. If you are not already keeping one, I entreat you to start today. Write whatever is passing through your mind, or whatever catches your eye in the passing scene around you. If you remember your dreams, start with them. If you don't recall your dreams, start with whatever thoughts and feelings are first with you as you enter the day, or that interval between two sleeps the French used to call dorveille ("sleep-wake"), a liminal space when creative ideas often stream through.
    If you have any hopes of becoming a writer, you'll find that journaling is your daily workout that keeps your writing muscles limber. If you are already a writer, you may find that as you set things down just as they come, with no concern for editors, critics or consequences, you are releasing descriptive scenes, narrative solutions, characters - even entire first drafts - quite effortlessly. Some of the most productive writers have also been prodigious journal-keepers.
     Graham Greene started recording dreams when he was sixteen, after a breakdown in school. His journals from the last quarter-century of his life survive, in the all-but-unbreakable code of his difficult handwriting. First and last, he recorded his dreams, and they gave him plot solutions, character development, insights into the nature of reality that he attributed to some of his characters, and sometimes bridge scenes that could be troweled directly into a narrative. Best of all, journaling kept him going, enabling him to crank out his daily pages for publication no matter how many gins or how much cloak-and-dagger or illicit amour he had indulged in the night before.

    You don't have to be a writer to be a journaler, but journal-keeping will make you a writer anyway. In the pages of your journal, you will meet yourself, in all your aspects. As you keep a journal over the years, you'll notice the rhymes and loops or cycles in your life.
    Because I am leading teach workshops in Romania, I have been re-reading Mircea Eliade, the great Romanian-born historian of religions. Opening the last volume of his published journals, I found him reflecting during a visit to Amsterdam in 1974 on how a bitter setback to his hopes at the time he first visited that city nearly a quarter-century before had driven him to do his most enduring work. He had been hoping that his early autobiographical novel, published in English as Bengal Nights, would be a big commercial success, enabling him to live as a full-time novelist. Sales were disappointing. Had it been otherwise, "I would have devoted almost all my time to literature and relegated the history of religions to second place, even though Shamanism was at the time almost entirely drafted." The world would have gained a promising, and perhaps eventually first-class, novelist; but we might have lost the scholar who first made the study of shamanism academically respectable and proceeded to breathe vibrant life, as well as immense erudition, into the cross-cultural study of the human interaction with the sacred.

    Synesius of Cyrene, a heterodox bishop in North Africa around 400, counseled in a wonderful essay On Dreams that we should keep twin journals: a journal of the night and a journal of the day. In the night journal, we would record dreams as the products of a "personal oracle" and a direct line to the God we can talk to. In the day journal, we would track the signs and synchronicities through which the world around us is constantly speaking in a symbolic code. "All things are signs appearing through all things. They are brothers in a single living creature, the cosmos." The sage is one who "understands the relationship of the parts of the universe" - and we deepend and focus that understanding by recording signs in our day journal.
    Partly because I keep unusual hours, and am often embarked on my best creative work long before dawn, I don't separate my night journal from my day journal. All the material goes into one book - a leather-bound travel journal, when I am on the road. I try to type up my entries before my handwriting (as difficult as Greene's) becomes illegible and put the printouts in big ringback binders. I save each entry with a date and a title in my data files, so I automatically have a running index.
    Here are some games I enjoy playing with my journals that you may want to play too:


"Bibliomancy" is the fancy name for opening a book at random to get guidance on a theme, or simply the quality and content of the day. I often use old journals in this way. For example, one Christmas Eve, after learning that a friend had developed a serious illness and was having other major troubles in her life, I reached blindly into a shelf of 30+ old travel journals, grabbed one without looking at the date, and opened it at random, I found myself looking at a short dream report from December 2003, just over five years before. The dream was about my friend. It stated that she had "accepted Purgatory for a year. This Purgatory is a room in her home that opens into the same realm." I shared this report with my friend, and we began to work with the meaning of "acceptance" and of "Purgatory". I also shared other reports in that old journal on tbe page before and after the "Purgatory" entry, since I have often noticed that when events start to catch up with an "old" dream, other "old" material around that dream can prove timely and helpful. The neighboring entry in that old journal involved ways of delivering spiritual nourishment, which we found highly relevant.


Tracking how symbols feature and evolve in your dreams and your experience of the world around you will give you your own encyclopedia of symbols, better than any of those dream dictionaries, because the snake or the train in your dream is yours not theirs. While it may open into the archetypal data banks of the collective unconscious, or super-conscious, those links are for you to explore and not to receive on a hand-me-down plan.


When I was an undergraduate, writing book reviews for a local newpaper, I was fortunate to be assigned one of the first English-language editions of the Carnets of Albert Camus. I was struck by how the great French writer was fired up by the quotes he recorded from his eclectic reading. Etched in my memory is a grim exchange in the Carnets from a Russian source. Avvakum, an archpriest, and his wife, are trudging through a frozen waste. The wife asks, "How far must we journey?" "Until death, daughter of Mark." "Then, son of Peter, we must hurry on."
    My own journals are peppered with quotes from all over, from sources celebrate an utterly obscure, ranging from the message I may have spotted in the first vanity plate I saw on a certain morning (BCRE8V) to a spell from the Egyptian Book of the Dead or a "snapper" from Mark Twain.


If we are privileged to have access to young children, one of the greatest gifts we can give them - and in the process, ourselves - is to encourage them to record dreams and stories in a boom that will become a journal. I did this with my own daughters. When they were very young, they would do the pictures and I would write the words for them. They took over more and more of the writing, as they got older, until, at age nine, they were keeping their journals by themselves and for themselves. Then the same thing happened in each case. They said to me, in effect: "That's it, Dad. This is my secret book and you can't read it anymore."
   Now that's a journal. The secret book of your self and your soul, not to be shared with anyone without permission, which should not be given lightly.

When life deals you a tough hand, you'll find that as you write your journal, you are practicing spontaneous self-therapy. You may be able to write your way through whatever ails you. There's a great release, perhaps a catharsis, in saying what you need to say in the safe space your journal provides. When you see and state things as they are, you already begin to change them. Keep your hand moving, and you may manifest the power to re-name and re-vision symptoms, challenges and difficult situations in the direction of resolution and healing.
    As you keep your secret book, you'll discover more, and more will discover you. You'll find yourself straying off the tame and settled developments of the everyday mind, into the wilder borders of imagination, where the Big story of your life can find you.

For more games to play with your journal, please see my book Active Dreaming. For a template for keeping a dream journal, please see chapter 7 of my book Dreaming True.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

False awakenings and real dreams

Have you experienced a false awakening? You wake from a dream, perhaps to write the dream down - and then wake again, to find there is nothing in your journal because you were writing in another dream. In the lucid dreaming literature, false awakenings are often called "pre-lucid" experiences, with the implication that they may be failed lucid dreams because the dreamer failed to become aware that he or she was dreaming. There are bigger things going on. In dreams, we awaken to other orders of reality. When we wake up in our regular bodies, we may have fallen asleep in another world. Sometimes, lying in the drifty state near sleep, I sense that as I grow drowsy, a second self, back to back with me on the bed, is stirring awake, ready to prowl. I'm intrigued by nights in which we slip from one dream into another, as if moving from an outer to an inner courtyard. Sometimes the shift is marked by the experience of falling asleep in one dream and waking up inside another. Or, coming back from an inner dream, we awaken inside an outer dream. When we mistake the outer dream for external reality, we talk of a "false awakening". In one of the big, life-changing dream adventures of my life, I woke from a dream in which a sea eagle, an aquatic raptor native to northern Australia, my native country, and to northern Scotland, the country of my paternal ancestors, flew me across an ocean to a profound experience of contact with Aboriginal elders and their Dreamings. In high excitement, I proceeded to recount the dream to a gathering of dream researchers at a conference of the Association for the Study of Dreams (as it was then called). I noticed, as I spoke, that the lecture theater we were in was too formal and structured for my taste, with desks bolted to the floor in steep banks. I did not notice, until I woke again in my body in the bed, that I was still dreaming. There was a double follow-up to that dream sequence. First, I checked with the ASD on the venue for a presentation I was to make at a forthcoming conference and found that I had been assigned a lecture theater very similar to the one in the outer dream; thanks to my dream advisory, I was able to have the venue changed to a more informal space more suited to dream experiencers. Second, on a visit to Australia I had not planned at the time of the dream, I found myself in contact with Aboriginal elders who confirmed things I had seen in the inner dream, and opened sacred space to me because I came to them with the right dream. Experiences of this kind can awaken us to the important fact that there are many levels of dreaming. As we develop the practices of Active Dreaming, including the ability to embark on conscious dream travels and to attain and maintain lucidity during our nocturnal excursions, we will learn that we can go with intention to successive levels of dreaming. Our design then becomes to bring back more from the innermost dreams, where the greatest treasures are to be found, but may be lost to memory as our dream selves wend their way back to the surface. In a program I led for sixth-graders, we were all seized with admiration for a lovely young girl who narrated a night in which she passed through seven successive dreams, nested inside each other, until she found herself in an epic of love and danger in the time of the American Revolution -and then traveled back, level by level, through the outer courts of dreaming, with exact and vivid memories of the whole adventure.
Part of our practice, as active dream travelers, is to learn to recognize personal markers that we are moving from one level of dreaming to another. Some dreamers have familiar places of transit; favorites include a locker room (a place of changing, when we think about it), a bathroom, an Eastern restaurant, grandma's house. Some of us have the frequent experience of going up or down successive levels in a building with many floors, or an elevator that works rather differently from a regular lift. Shifts from color to black and white and back again may denote transits between different levels of dreaming as well as different locales. Taking off or putting on clothes, or changing vehicles, may be another marker of switching levels. To get to higher levels, we may need to move beyond the astral body (in which we engage in many of our dream adventures) to a more subtle vehicle.    When you monitor jumps from one dream scene to another and get into the habit of asking "How did I get here?" in the dream as well as after it, you are on your way to becoming a traveler who can move fluidly from one level of dreaming to another. 
Back to the issue of the "false awakening", in which we wake from a dream only to find - when we wake again in the physical body - that we were still dreaming. In an evening in a class, I suggested that although I could not prove whether or not I was dreaming at that moment, I might be able to establish whether I was in a physical body. To dramatize this point, I took the candle from the center of the circle and dribbled hot wax onto the web between the thumb and forefinger of my left hand. As I felt the pain, I announced to the group, "I think I have established that whether or not I am dreaming, I am in a physical body right now." Then I woke up in my bed. I felt the residue of the heat and pain in my left hand, a dream hangover effect that is sometimes called astral repercussion. Growing consciousness and discernment about these things is a matter of practice, practice, practice. The reward is to become a more conscious citizen of the multiverse, awake to the fact that our ordinary lives are related to grander stories being played out, right now, in other orders of reality, able to draw from this the will to choose how we navigate life on all levels.

A nod to neuroscience: Like lucid dreams and vivid dreams in general, false awakenings seem to be most common in the early morning. Those who link states of consciousness to brain functioning would note that this is when there is an increase in subcortical activity associated with the circadian cycle.

Art: Salvador Dali, Figura asomada a la ventana (1925). Beyond the girl is the bay of Cadaqués in Catalonia, where Dali summered. Garcia Lorca, who also stayed here, said that life in Cadaqués was like a dream.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Ganesha’s Tusk

As many as are the aeons, so are the ways in which Ganesha's story is told.
      - Shiva Purana

How do you get a god to write down your stories?
   It is said, Lord Ganesha, that you agreed to take dictation from the sage Vyasa after he set his mind on you in deep meditation.
   Did you agree because you knew that what was coming was a thing of epic proportions? Or did you suppose it would be something short, a poem to pleasure a goddess floating in a lotus pool?
   Were you persuaded because the declared aim of the Mahabharata is to turn human minds away from war, to demoralize demons and soothe angry nagas? Or were you eager to binge on action movies, with the clash of armor, the delight of rounded dancing bodies, the tricks of war magicians?
    When we think of inspired writing, we picture the human with pen or laptop as the one with the tiring fingers and aching buttocks, and the god – or muse – as a refined being fluttering overhead, whispering lines.
    Here the situation is reversed. The human inspires, the god takes it down.
    There was a deal, and a deception.
    You made it your condition that Vyasa must never pause in his recitation. He must deliver the whole epic, verse by verse, all the way to the end. No room for hesitation or contemplation or even a snack or a pit stop.
    He agreed, but then he tricked you. He requested that you should only record his lines when you had grasped their meaning. Being a god, you thought this was a meaningless condition; how could you fail to understand the mouthings of a mortal?
     Vyasa was subtle. When he needed a break, he gave you verses so exquisitely complex and opaque that you had to stay your hand until you figured them out. Sometimes this required you to survey a hundred worlds in the knots of Indra’s net.
     So Vyasa never lost his thread.
     He went on so long that your tools were exhausted.. When the last feather pen snapped in your fist, he was still singing the doings of gods and demons, ascetic kings and lascivious maidens. You kept your side of the deal. You broke off a tusk to write down the last lines.
     So tell me, Ganesha. How do I call a god to write my story? Must I allow my hand to be your hand? Must I sacrifice something as precious as your ivory tusk to complete the work?
     I bring you sweet cakes and ripe fruits. They say your mother Parvati molded your body from sandalwood paste. I am dabbing sandalwood oil over my collarbones, and at my third eye. If I become you, Divine Scribe, then whose mind will dictate what I record with my hand?

Image: Bronze Ganesha holding his tusk in RM private collection