Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A seat at the bar

From my travel journal today:

I land at Washington's Dulles airport late, on a little prop plane that is not the one I was scheduled to take, after one of the bumpiest rides I have ever experienced outside a war zone. 
    I have time before my connecting flight to São Paulo, and I am starving. The only halfway decent sit-down restaurant on my concourse is jam-packed. But wait: a woman is getting up from the bar. A young man helps her to disentangle her luggage. I thank her for providing me with a seat at the right moment. "You'll enjoy this young man," she tells me.
    The young man at the bar is behaving oddly, hopping back and forth between the now vacant seat and the one he was sitting on. He finally decides I may have his previous seat. Clearly there is going to be some kind of engagement here. His baby-blue eyes float up out of a pale and desperate face. "I know you are an elder." 
    He asks me to guess his age. I do. Now he is almost beseeching. "What can you tell me about life?"
    "Never leave home without your sense of humor."
    "I know. But I get so intense, so aggressive. Like, if someone bumps the back of my seat -" he bumps the back of my seat to make his point ["-I want to get up and get in that guy's face."
     "I'll tell you something else I have learned about life," I remark after he hits the back of my seat a second time. "We always have the freedom to choose our attitude."
     He stops banging my seat. "Oh my God, you're right. It's amazing you just sit down next to me and say that."
     He pushes his face close to mine as if he needs to be petted. I am trying to think who he reminds me of. Got it. He resembles Smeagol, the Gollem in Lord of the Rings. The absence of hair on his head is the least notable point of resemblance.
     He wants something from me I can't yet fathom.
     But as he goes on talking, questioning, I begin to sense its shape. He talks about his military Virginia family, his estrangement from his dad. It is clear this has left a deep wound. My guess is that his father has not been able to accept that his son is gay.
     I tell him that, I too, come from a military family and that I was estranged from my father until three years before his death, when we became the best of friends. I tell the young man that if it were my life, I would make it my game to make all well with my dad while he is still in the world.
    "You're giving me goosebumps." He shows me. His whole arm is chicken skin.
    "Truth comes with goosebumps."   

    He is crying now. "You come into the bar, you take a seat, and you tell me the most important things I've ever been told."
     "Here's something else I've learned. The world speaks to us through coincidence and chance encounters. It's a kind of magic."
     "Is that what you are? A magician? You got me crying at the bar for chrissake."

    "Well that lady who gave me her seat did give you a good review."
    He wants to pay for my burger and beer. Of course I won't let him. He asks for a hug. I do give him that. 

    As usual, when plans get scrambled the Trickster comes into play. There is more than what we understand as chance going on on in chance encounters. And sometimes they take place for the benefit of someone else. 

Colette, the writer and the fountain pen

One of the tastiest offerings in a delightful collection of hors d'oeuvre by Colette * is the French writer's love letter to her fountain pens.
   She notes that she has seven pens, one for each day of the week. "My seven pens stand at the ready, all different, in a little faience pot. They take turns, each one having its particular task and merits."

    A skinny pen, frail and very sharp, is reserved for correcting proofs.
    "Plump, yellow as a chick, robust, with black edges, not much personality" - this one is her work horse, "good for long hauls."
    For difficult projects, she turns to a fancy pen, decked in silver, a memento of an amour with a Brazilian. "It's as capricious as a barometer, but soft to the touch, curve-friendly".
    The oldest looks its age. "It's made of mottled, old black mahogany; but this pen is a marvel, one of those helpers that a writer may find only two or three times in an entire career. Stocky, but at the same time flexible, with a wide nib, but capable of delicate strokes and not blinding the letter e, I have only known one to rival it, and that pen died in the line of duty."

I am clumsy with fountain pens, and no longer use one regularly, which has saved me from ruining any number of shirts with ink stains, and much frustration with jammed nibs. When my fingers are not on a keyboard, I generally prefer to write with a pencil, which is grand when it comes to revising drafts of poems and encourages me to add drawings to my dream reports.
    Yet Colette has my mind going back to some of my own adventures with fountain pens.
    More than a decade ago, I went to a popular bakery and catering establishment in eastern Connecticut to pick up lunch for a workshop group I was leading. When I took out a fountain pen to sign the credit card slip for the sandwiches, the man waiting behind me in line leaned forward and said, "You're a writer."
    "How did you know?"
    "Only writers use fountain pens."
    I wasn't quite sure about that, but I let things flow.
    Now the man with the idea about fountain pens wanted to know my name.
    When I told him, he clutched his heart. "Robert Frost!" he exclaimed. "I'm going to die!"
    I gently observed that Robert Frost had done that already.

Recently I was given a magnificent new fountain pen that Romanian friends had had crafted and inscribed for me. I have been using it exclusively to write fair copies of new poems, including the one about the world tree that I posted here recently. One of the side benefits of using a fountain pen, I have learned, is that you may be mistaken for a great poet, even if only very briefly.

* Many thanks to SUNY Press for publishing Shipwrecked on a Traffic Island and Other Previously Untranslated Gems, translated by Zack Rogow and Renée Morel, in a lovely edition under its Excelsior imprint. Highly recommended.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Yggdrasil, a Place to Stand

The red fox stands beside the tree gate.
I’m never at ease when he shows himself,
but he is flanked by the black dog,
ever watchful and reliable, a true guardian,
and there seems to be no conflict between them.
This is new. I could take the open door
down through the roots of the world tree
but I am distracted by the frisky moves
of a squirrel that is running down the trunk.

He is as big as an elephant, perfectly in scale
with the tree that rises into the clouds
and could contain cities. His presence confirms
I am at the place where a shaman-god
hung for nine days and nine nights,
sacrificing himself to himself.

Rattling his nuts, the squirrel of mischief
plunges into the Lower World ahead of me.
He is playing his old game, Wake the Dragon.
Fire and stink rise from the roots of the tree.
Earth shudders. The squirrel snickers in gless.
Ratatosk, Ratatosk, Ratatosk.
Here he comes back again.
He scurries up the tree, all the way to the top,
telling tall tales to anger the heaven bird
that keeps watch over all the worlds.

Dragon rises. Branches of the world tree
creak and groan as the eagle shakes out its wings
and comes down, talons eager for battle.
Between them, on a ledge in the tree world,
I see a man in a grey robe, with a broad-brimmed
grey wizard’s hat. There are birds on his shoulders
and a great company of birds all around him.
Lightning is with him. His eyes flash, his hands
spark white fire from the air. His form is never still.
He is the ancient of days, he is the magic man,
he is the young deer prince, antlered and horny.

As the dragon rises to join battle with the heaven bird,
he catches it by the throat with his left hand. His body
twists and buckles as he struggles to hold this power
and raise it. It is pulling him down, tearing him apart,
until he lifts his right hand, palm downward, and the eagle
lands on his wrist as the falcon returns to the falconer.

The balance is  made. The powers of above and below
are joined and turning together, evenly matched.
This is how the game of the world goes on.
The man with lightning eyes is calling me.
Come. Stand where I stand. See what I see.

I am drawn to him as the sparks fly upwards.
On his edge between the worlds,
my body stretches beyond itself,
my mind cracks open like the squirrel’s nuts.
Ratatosk, Ratatosk. There is a role for mischief.
And I have found the right place to stand.

-          October 17, 2014

From a vision while leading a group shamanic journey through the Tree Gate at the Hameau de l’Etoile, near Montpellier. We danced on the mythic edge all week, and my dreams and visions - like those of many in our gifted circle - often turned on Greek themes. But on a certain day, I was hurled deep into an indelible scene that seemed to come from the Nordic imagination.

Art "L'arbre et la brume" (c) Annick Bougerolle

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Dream archaeology among the Dacians

From my Romanian journal

Sarmizegetusa Regia, ancient capital of the Dacians

There are deer in the forest. I track them behind closed eyelids. I count three, mostly hidden by evergreens, oaks and lindens. No, not deer. Men, armed for battle, setting an ambush on the steep wooded slopes above the valley where a little river gurgles along its rocky bed.
    I see their quarry. A Roman column, marching deep into the mountains to attack Samizegetusa, the capital of the Dacians. The sun glints on helmets, on shields, on body armor.
   Breaking from shelter, the Dacians are no longer deer, or men. They are wolves. A standard bearer holds up their war banner. It has the head of a wolf, and the body of a dragon. The wind sighs through the wolf's open mouth. Then it howls. All the Dacians are howling now. Some wear wolf pelts. They have prepared for this, raising their battle frenzy, willing themselves to become werewolves under sun or moon.
    They fall on the Romans, hacking through metal and flesh with their terrible sica, a big hand sickle. The Romans buckle and yield. The legionaries are terrified of these mountain savages, their killing tools and their killing frenzy. The wolf howls drown the Roman horns, as the centurions try to get their men into defensive positions. But there is no rout. Many Romans are down, but barked orders bring the survivors into tortoise formation. The legionaries, under their shields, present one great armored back, impervious to the wild men. Spears come through the chinks in the common armor. In the next moment, the Dacians are assailed on their flank by cavalry, Roman auxiliaries recruited in neighboring provinces. This is not a good day for the Dacians, though it began well.

I saw this scene, vividly, while lying in bed in the early morning before driving with friends from a lodge in the Orastie mountains to the ancient Dacian capital of Sarmizegetusa.
    I came to the sacred city of the Dacians with other images, and memories. I had dreamed two nights before of a bracelet of wires wrapped like electric cable that could be used for communication as well as decoration. Before my morning vision of battle, I dreamed of a mysterious archaeological find, of something that looked like a simple boat, or canoe, hollowed from bone or wood, that seemed to be a vehicle for transporting souls after death. I carried the memory of a tremendous group journey during my last visit to Romania, a year ago, when we opened a portal to an ancient Temple of Light associated with the mysterious shaman-god of the Dacians, Zalmoxis. I had distant recollections of Mircea Eliade's short book titled Zalmoxis, the Vanishing God.
Yet I came to Sarmizegetusa without expectations. Sometimes the stones speak, sometimes they are silent.
      My first glimpse of the sacred precinct, through the trees, was of the remains of the oldest, limestone temple. 

Rounding the edge of the hollow ground, I sat on a bench and let myself slip across the centuries into scenes of  another time. I was surprised to find myself briefly joining the perspective of a Roman officer named Marius, who had served the emperor Trajan since his time in Spain. This Marius had been tasked by the emperor to report, after the fall of Sarmizegetusa, on the religious practices of the Dacians and on how they managed to maintain speedy communications in such a broken country of foresta nd mountains.
     This was interesting, but not what I had come for. A small group of tourists disappeared. My Romanian friends and I had the site to ourselves, and tolerant custodians allowed me to drum by a wonderful tree, turned golden in the early fall. I instantly saw a she-wolf. I found myself in the presence of an ancient woman of power, a priestess and leader of the wolf people, and a man in a bear skin leading corresponding rituals for the people of the bear. It seemed that three animals were of special importance to the Dacians - the wolf, the bear and eagle - and that they had a clan system in which each clan had special powers and functions. The bear clan had special responsibilities for medicine, and carried the aegis of Zalmoxis. The wolf clan produced fierce warriors, yet its leader, the alpha, was female.
     But where was the Temple of Light, and those fountains of healing colors?
     The clue that we may not have missed it completely was in a strange photograph taken by my friend Ana Maria Stefanescu. That fountain is no ordinary trick of refracted sunlight.

Two days later, at the National History Museum in Bucharest, I paused at the statue on the steps, of Trajan gripping the Dacian she-wolf. 

Inside, I tracked my dreams and impressions among reliefs reproduced from the infamous column of Trajan in Rome, a giant monument devoted to the emperor's conquest of the Dacians. I found Romans apparently raising a "tortoise" with their shields. 

Other reliefs depict Roman auxiliary cavalry drawn from many provinces of the empire. There are even two scenes of Moorish cavalry fighting for the Romans against the Dacians, who were contending with an empire encompassing much of the known world. I was drawn to one of the few reliefs depicting a woman. It shows a Dacian "priestess" being yielded to Trajan. She is tentatively identified as the sister of the Dacian king, Decebalus, who was  driven to suicide by the Romans.

In the treasury at the museum, I found gold bracelets like the one in my dream. Can they really have played some role in communication?

A little checking confirmed that Trajan served as legate in Spain, in the Roman province of Hispania Narbonnensis. Could I really have picked up a mental trace of a literate Roman officer who had served him there and continued as a confidant and adviser?
    Plenty of leads for further dream archaeology. Meanwhile, I learned at the museum that fresh excavation at Sarmizegetusa has been authorized, so there may be new finds to be considered, surviving the Roman efforts to destroy all traces of a great and - to moderns - quite mysterious ancient civilization.

Photo of RM with fountain of light by Ana Maria Stefanescu. All other photos (c) Robert Moss

Saturday, October 4, 2014

The bridge becomes a fire, the fire becomes a bridge

From my Romanian Journal

Plaiul Foii, Bucegi Mountains, Romania

Wednesday, October 1

Our charming host at the villa in a fold of the wild Bucegi mountains where I am leading a four day adventure in Active Dreaming greets me with a thimble of palinka. He guides me upstairs and says, "Choose any room you want." I put my bag down in a spacious room with a terrace overlooking the mountains. "I wouldn't choose this side of the house if you like it quiet," he cautions.
     Really? In the last twenty miles of the drive on a bumpy dirt road we passed only a few cars and an equal number of horse-drawn carts.   
    "It's the dogs," my host explains. "Sometimes they bark all night because the bears come close on this side of the house."
    "What about the other side?"
    "There are bears, but no dogs."
    I decide I'll settle for the side with bears but no dogs to bark at them. Later I go to meet the bear-sized dogs that are our border guards.

Thursday, October 2

1. When I first taught in the Bucegi mountains, I found myself here on the day of the Archangels Michael and Gabriel, who are celebrated together in these parts. I attended part of an Orthodox service in their honor at the church of the Caraiman monastery (founded because of a dream) opposite the villa where we gathered that time.
2. Yesterday, before leaving Bucharest, I visited the church of the Archangels Michael and Gabriel in Mircea Eliade's old neighborhood, on Strada Mantuleasa. The church was closed or open (depending on your point of view) because of a funeral.
3. The last two people to arrive for my current workshop, at a new site in the same mountains, were friends named Michael and Gabriel.


The first dream title shared when I opened the workshop was:
The ancestors are here and they tell me, "We come to warm our hands at the fire in you."
How could it start better than this?

Friday, October 3

I watch a cat drink from the running stream in front of the house. Strange, wild and beautiful.

Stranger still is the change in the bridge. Yesterday it had gates and railings. Today these have gone. I am told  they will be used on the fires. This may be evidence of the shift to a parallel universe. It is certainly confirmation that I am living in a synchronicity poem.

"I am back in the playground where I played hopscotch and hide-and-seek when I was a little girl. I see soap bubbles coming down. Each one contains a little angel with a message for me, about healing and forgiveness. When the angels speak, I know how to resolve a conflict with a friend, and how to reclaim my health."

- my favorite dream from this morning's dream sharing in my Romanian workshop. Far too good for analysis. We turned it into theater. Wonderful to watch adults playing hopscotch again, and to see those angels coming down, each in the arms of a human soap bubble, and working their magic. Yes, we'll be blowing bubbles as soon as we lay in a supply.


We ask to have a fire built for a ritual of cleansing in the evening. The wood used is from the bridge. The bridge becomes a fire, the fire becomes a bridge.

Saturday, October 4

Her intention was simply to remember dreams, because they had gone missing. She woke in the middle of the night and said, "Sh-t, I've got nothing." Then she saw that her red cat was on the bed, which wasn't possible in physical reality because the cat was at her home hundreds of miles away. The cat tried to say in human words, "You're dreaming."
Immediately she was transported into a wild jungle full of animal life. Strangely, the animals were contributing their gifts to "bags" projected by the plants. From one of these bags, endowed with the powers of many animals, and of the plant devas, a new human form emerged, full of spirit and understanding.
- I was privileged to hear this dream at the breakfast table this morning. Again, we wasted no time in analysis. We agreed that the dreamer would supply her red cat with suitable treats when she goes home, carry a cat talisman, and accept the cat as an oneiropomp, a guide into dreaming. Then we embodied the energy of the dream - to the delight of the whole circle - in dream theater.


At last we have soap bubbles. We give them to the young woman who dreamed that angels came down in bubbles. She leaps gleefully around the room, waving the wand. And it is raining angels.

All photos (c) Robert Moss

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Dreams meet under lion's blue eyes at Amsterdam airport

Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam en route to Bucharest

I embarked on the long journey from my little home airport in upstate New York to Bucharest on Monday. Thanks to a flight cancellation, I was following a quite different itinerary than the one I had booked long ago. It would give me a layover at Amsterdam's Schiphol airport instead of at Paris Charles de Gaulle. The unexpected Amsterdam connection was tagged by delicious poetic synchronicity, as I noted in my last article in this space.
    So now my antennae are all quivering, because when your plans get screwed up, the Trickster comes into play. There is a kind of tilt to the day. Chance encounters may be fascinating, if you are open to them. You are aware that you are traveling paths that were not on your maps, beyond the settled lands of Planning and Calculation.
    I enjoy my conversations with the first fellow-travelers I meet. They are both men who love beer and have a seemingly endless supply of factoids about craft brewing, alcohol content, hops and more - and have clearly both looked in a beer mug or two when it was brown. I like beer, so I was happy to chime in with some preferences and stories of my own.
    The sharp edge of both conversations emerged through this froth. Both men had well-paid jobs that did more than pay the bills but seemed to leave them gasping for air. I expressed my view that the trick in life is to do what you love and let the universe find a way to support that. Soon we were talking about what this would mean, in practice, for each of these increasingly conscious travelers. I led them through what I call the Juggling Act.
   "List the things you most love - it's okay to include beer! - and picture yourself holding these things in your left hand. Now list the skills, resources and connections you have, and see yourself balancing these in your right hand."
   We talked about how to shuffle together these two sets, of love objects and skills. No immediate business plans or flashes of divine lightning came through, but the exercise is fun and engaging.
    Now my plane is coming down through grey sea-mists over Amsterdam, a city below sea level. I have arrived a few minutes early, but there is still no time to be lost getting across the vast, bustling airport to my new departure gate, D54. I find a crowd of travelers waiting at the gate for the security check. A pretty younger woman glances at my boarding pass. "You are Flying Blue Silver," she telle me. "You don't have to wait with us. You can go to the front."
    I tell her I'll stay where I am in the line. There's no rush. She's Romanian, I guess. Correct. She's going back to Cluj to continue her studies as a medical student. She loves to travel the world and she especially likes Amsterdam.
    The conversation quickly takes off. When she completes her medical training, she wants to be an oncologist. Soon we are talking about the role of imagery in healing cancer. The importance of imaginal healing is now well-recognized in oncology, the field she has chosen. "If you can help a cancer patient to see and sense and believe in an ally who can help them fight the disease inside their body, they do better." Under questioning, I explain that this is the kind of thing I train people to do.
    She wants to know about my trainings, and my books. I mention my book Active

Dreaming. She whips out her smartphone to find the American edition online. She wants to read in in English. She gasps when she sees the cover - a fierce lion door knocker that is really in your face, hinting that if you want to get to the good stuff, you need to brave up.
   "Last night, I dreamed of a lion with blue eyes and a white mane, in a swimming pool."
   I don't comment that I am have loved lions all my life and that I am a big cat who loves to swim. I do tell her that my working title for this book was The Place of the Lion, and that it contains my story of a big dream in which a lion advised me on how to approach life.
   I show her the cover of my spiritual memoir The Boy Who Died and Came Back, which has beautiful endorsements from two exceptional M.D.s who are helping us to remember and grow the spirit-body connection: Raymond Moody and Larry Dossey.
    Her eyes widen. "This conversation is a gift to me," she tells me. "I've been thinking a lot about death, and what happens after death." She explains that a good friend died, with his girlfriend, in the Malaysian Airlines plane that was shot down over eastern Ukraine. I ask if she has had a sense of his presence.
    "I've been dreaming of him almost every night."
    "How is he doing?"
    "He's fine. Last time I saw him, he was leading me up a ladder. I was behind him, and his girlfriend was behind me. The ladder was not an ordinary ladder. It was an oak tree. I don't know where we were going, but this felt important, and wonderful."
     I told her that the very first time I taught in Eastern Europe, I guided a group of fifty people to journey with the aid of shamanic drumming through the portal of an oak tree. For shamans, I explained, any tree can be a ladder between the worlds, an axis mundi. However, for many of us of European ancestry, the oak has special importance. Druids, for example, were called oak seers.
     Truth comes with boosebumps. Synchronicity is the spice of travel, and a way of knowing that you are on the right path even when the daily trivial mind might try to tell you that you are off schedule or off track.  

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Amsterdam rhymes

1. I hear from the airline that the middle flight in my three-part journey to Bucharest, starting tomorrow [Sept 29], has been cancelled. That flight was supposed to take me from Atlanta to Paris-Charles de Gaulle.

2. I have not been re-booked so I call an agent. The wait is long.

3. To pass time, I open my Facebook messages and find that a friend has sent me a link to a poem by David Whyte, “What to Remember When Waking”.  The poem counsels us to bring memories of a deeper world into this one and to recognize how the ego’s plans may be trumped by a deeper plan:

What you can plan
is too small
for you to live.

What you can live
will make plans
for the vitality
hidden in your sleep.

4. I love the poem, but I have read it many times and at least a dozen people have sent me links in the past. So I am in no haste to re-read it. However, I am struck by the graphic, a beautiful black-and-white photo of a canal in Amsterdam, apparently taken by the poet himself this month. I tell my Facebook friend, "I will look for an Amsterdam connection today."

5. The music on the phone stops. I have a human being on the phone, a very nice one, as it turns out, with a promising name: Angela. I tell her my situation and suggest we might want to look at rebooking my whole itinerary.

6. In about one minute, she has done the trick. My whole itinerary has been changed. The middle flight now takes me from Detroit to....AMSTERDAM.

There really is a logic of resemblances in life, and (as I was again reminded) we need to be in a state of good poetic health to read it and apply it.

The moment I wrote and posted this short narrative I received notification that I have been upgraded to First class for the first leg of the new itinerary. This stuff works.

Photo © David Whyte 
Early Morning Amsterdam September 2014