Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Trees of Belonging

We can learn from Aboriginal tradition that our lives may follow dreaming tracks. A well-known word for this is songline. We know the word from what we have been told of Aboriginal tradition by travelers like Bruce Chatwin. The word is used to describe the dreamways of the land, as sensed by those who are fully attuned to the land and its Dreamings. It is said that those who can hear the inner songs of the land can cross a thousand miles of desert without maps.
Following songlines they acquired through tuning in to the inner voices of the land, Aborigines crossed the Australian continent, walking from waterhole to waterhole, from ghost gum to ghost gum, from a place of the sand goanna a kind of lizard, to the place of the honey ant.
When they follow those trails, they’re aware that everywhere they stop is the place of a Dreaming with a great big capital D. A place of spirit, a place of engagement with the speaking land.
A songline, in the life of an individual, has an expanded meaning for me. It is a path in life on which our soul's trajectory meets the spirits of the land, perhaps in many landscapes.Maybe we can construct personal songlines, road maps for our life journeys in which our soul odysseys correlate with the land and the lands we have traveled or lived in.
How can this best be accomplished? The trees might hold the answer. As I look over my own life, I find that nearness to certain trees, more than anything else, provides the score for my songlines.
For much of my life I have felt like my fellow-Australian poet Christopher Brennan, like "the wanderer of all the ways of all the worlds". Yet wherever I have wandered, certain trees have given me grounding and connection with the animate world around me.
I want to name some of my own Trees of Belonging, and honor them.
I am six years old, walking home from school in Queensland, through a sun shower. The casuarinas, called she oaks, whisper to me. They tell me I will be very ill again, but I will recover. When the crisis comes, the eucalyptus helps me to breathe. When I am made to sit with my head over the steam of an inhalation bowl, a frisky little tree man no one else can see makes me laugh. Decades later, across an ocean, he calls on me when my nose gets stopped up or a cough goes down into my chest and my room is filled with the scent of eucalyptus though there are no gum trees anywhere near.
The beech wood that welcomed me to England and the hazel and rowan that called to me on an ancestral land in Scotland.
The old white oak that made me leaves cities to live close to the land on the edge of Mohawk country.
The maple that held memories of an ancient shaman. The poplar that opened a vision gate in the Smoky Mountains.
The Moreton Bay fig that welcomed me back to my native Australia when I had been too long away.
The yew in an English churchyard that gave me a bridge to dear friends on the Other Side. The lovely silver birch. A splendid ash standing tall by an ancient field of battle in the heart of Europe. The apple that can open the way to the Otherworld on any day.
The redwood. cored by fire, still standing tall and producing new leaves in a forest near the Pacific in Big Sur .California
The Great Stump in a red cedar forest in the Cascades, with new trees rising from it, promising birth from death and the power of regeneration.
The three-trunked red cedar that has been our Council Tree for many creative and shamanic gatherings at magical Mosswood Hollow,near Seattle.
In these shut-down times, on my regular walk around a lake in a park in a small Northeast American city, I salute the weeping willow who greets me with quiet grace and softly caress her streaming green hair.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Make a Dream Your Portal for Adventure Travel and Healing

Dreams are real experiences and a fully remembered dream is its own interpretation. The meaning of a dream is inside the dream itself. We release it by learning to go back inside our dreams in a relaxed state. By learning how to reenter dreams, you will develop the ability to clarify messages about future events, resume contact with inner teachers, and resolve unfinished business. Through this method, you will place yourself in closer attunement with the creative source from which dream images flow.      
     As a natural side benefit, you will probably also find that you are increasingly able to embark on conscious dream journeys from a waking state, and retain awareness that you are dreaming as you move deeper into the dreamscape. You may indeed discover that dream reentry is a royal road to lucid dreaming: you start out lucid and stay that way.
    To understand this process, we need to get one thing clear: the dream you remember is not the dream itself. By the time you are fully awake, you have forgotten 90 percent, if not more, of your nocturnal adventures. A partner's love bite, a ruckus in the street, a child tickling your toes, the need to get to the office, can shoo away most of your remaining memories.By the time the editor in your waking mind has finished processing and tagging the scraps that are left, your dream memories may be quite remote from the dreams themselves. At best, they are souvenirs from a journey.
    Suppose you fly down to Rio and bring home a few snapshots of Sugarloaf Mountain and bathers in string bikinis on Copacabana beach. How much of your adventure is contained in the photos? Do they carry the smell of palm oil, the bittersweet tang of batida de limão, the slap of a tropical rainshower? Or the drama at Customs, the rippling laughter of the girls in the samba school, the dance of your nerve endings when you entered (or renewed) a romance that woke up all your senses? Of course not. However, as you study the pictures, you may find yourself sliding back into the fuller experience.
    Dream memories are like this. Even as snapshots, they are often unsatisfactory: out of focus, with key characters missing their faces, subject to multiple exposures and mess-ups in the dark room. But with practice, you can learn to use these blurred images as windows through which you can reenter your dreams, continue the adventure and bring back valuable gifts.
    Dream reentry requires two things: your ability to focus clearly on a remembered scene from your dream, and your ability to relax, screen out distractions, and allow your consciousness to flow back inside that scene.If there are scary things inside the dream you are nervous about confronting, or if you have difficulty relaxing into a flow of imagery, you may find dream reentry easier if you have a partner to talk you through the process, or the support of a whole circle.
    Shamanic drumming is an especially powerful tool for dream reentry, providing fuel and focus for the journey. Drumming enhances the possibility that you can invite a partner to enter your dream space with you to act as your ally and search for information you may have missed. I have made my own recording of shamanic drumming for dream reentry, "Wings for the Journey”.


  • You want to have more fun
  • You need to move beyond fear and nightmare terrors
  • You need to clarify the meaning of the dream – for example, to determine whether it is literal, symbolic or the experience of a separate reality
  • You need specific information from the dream – for example, the exact time and place of a possible future event, or the full text of something you saw in a book or an inscription.
  • You want to talk to someone inside the dream.
  • You want to claim a relationship with a spiritual ally who appeared in the dream
  • You want to try to change something in the dream.
  • You want to bring through healing
  • You want to get in touch with a part of yourself you encountered in the dream
  • You want to enter creative flow and create with dream energy
  • You want to use your dreams as portals to the larger reality.


The Realtor's familiar slogan applies to the technique of dream reentry as well as to the property game. The easiest way for you to go back inside a dream is to hold your focus on the dream location. Your initial memories may be fuzzy but a single landmark - even a single shape or color - may be sufficient to enable you to shift your consciousness into a vivid and complex scene.
    Be open to possibility! The geography of the dreamworld is not that of MapQuest. In dreams, you may find yourself in familiar locales, including places from your past - Grandma's house, or your childhood home - that may or may not have changed. You may visit unfamiliar but realistic locations, often clues that your dream contains precognitive or other psychic material.
    Your dream location may prove to be in a parallel world where one of your parallel selves is leading a continuous life.  You may find yourself in scenes from a different historical epoch (past or future), in a mermaid cove or in lands where the dead are alive. You may fall into an astral slum or rise to cities or schools or palaces in the Imaginal Realm, where human imagination, in concert with higher intelligence, generates worlds. 
    One of the purposes of dream reentry is establish where in the worlds you are. The typical dreamer, after waking, has no more idea where he spent the night than an amnesiac drunk.


The best time to reenter a dream is often immediately after you have come out of it. By snuggling down in bed and rehearsing the postures of sleep, you may be able to slid back inside the dream space in a gentle and natural way. But you work schedule may not allow you to do this. And if your dream contains deeply disturbing material, you may need to wait until you have the resolution and resources to face that challenge on its own ground - which you will probably find is the sovereign remedy for nightmare terrors and frustrating dreams.
    There is no such thing as an "old" dream when it comes to choosing the portal for dream reentry. What matters is that the image that you choose should have real energy for you. I have seen people who had been missing their dreams for thirty years take the last dream they remembered - sometimes from childhood - and use it as the portal for a lucid shamanic journey, powered by drumming, with stunning results. The gifts sometimes extend to soul recovery, to bringing home the beautiful young dreamer who checked out of a life when the world got too cold and cruel, leaving the adult bereft of dreams. 


Afternote: The bit about flying down to Rio dates this piece as pre-pandemic. It also prompts me to note that one of the gifts of dreaming in our current crazy times is that we can travel without leaving home, and then return to that place as often as we like.

Part of this text is adapted from Conscious Dreaming by Robert Moss. Published by Three Rivers Press.


Art: "Path of Honey", RM journal drawing

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Songs from the place between sleep and awake

You can tell how actively a culture is engaged in dreaming by the words they use for "dream" and the varieties of dreaming. The Yanyuwa of Australia's Northern Territory have several words for dreams and dreaming, making important distinctions between different types of experience. Almirr is the term for a personal dream. Almirrngantharra is “seeing into the dream”, a dream of consequence that may reveal the future; it will be shared with close relations and tracked through unfolding events
 is “seeing into the spirit realm” in an altered state in which you are “deaf” on the physical plane.It is a higher state of consciousness and it is entered in the space between wakefulness and sleep. 
This liminal state is viewed in many Aboriginal traditions as a privileged place of encounter with ancestral spirit. The Yanyuwa prize "dream state songs". These are given to them during encounters with the spirits in this state of consciousness beyond both ordinary dreams and prophetic dreams.
    A person who enters the higher dreaming finds that boundaries between humans and spirit realms are fluid. The Yanyuwa say that a person in this state has “left the world” and is “deaf” to it. Through contact with ancestral spirits in this state, new songs are created. They are regarded as exceptionally powerful. 
    A mermaid song may rise from the deep in this way, and become part of sacred ceremony. Through dream songs, the relationship between humans and the spirit world is maintained and refreshed.


Source: Elizabeth Mackinlay and J.J. Bradley, “Many songs, many voices, and many dialogues: A conversation about Yanyuwa performance practice in a remote Aboriginal community” (2003) in Rural Society, vol. 13, pp. 228– 243



Monday, June 29, 2020

Making Songlines

A song is bursting from me. I sit on a rise overlooking the coast, and sing the first couplet:

We are singing till we're flying

We are flying till we're swimming

Two more lines come to complete the verse:

We are swimming till we're traveling

into the Land

Another verse comes in an easy flow

We are sleeping till we're dreaming

We are dreaming for awakening

We're awakening for our homecoming

into the Land

A woman singer-songwriter is beside me now, carrying the melody in her lovely voice, laughing with me as I experiment with additional lines.

We are laughing till we're bouncing
We are bouncing till we're flying

I know what this is. It's a wing song, a journey song. I am excited to think that I can share it with the people who join me for adventures in the dreamtime and in the dream of everyday life.
    I know what the Land of the song is. It is a happy Otherworld, a land of heart's desire. And the song can help to take us there. We are making songlines.

I rise from by bed bursting with energy after less than three hours sleep, eager to record the song, to share it, and make art with it. I grab oil crayons and create the picture I call, "Making Songlines".


I found this report, dated April 22, 2013, in an old journal while preparing for a class I will lead in my current online course this week titled "Dreaming Songlines". My intention is to help participants  make soul maps of their life journeys, correlated to the physical places where they have experienced a powerful awakening or sense of belonging. We will be open to finding our own dream songs. In many traditional dreaming societies, a song birthed by a dream is a precious gift: a way to call on the spirits, to take off on shamanic journeys, and to follow the path of soul in this world and other worlds.

It is not too late to register for my current online video course, Adventures for Healing in the Dreamtime, in which we harvest insights and practices from twelve world traditions of dreaming. The full menu is here:  https://shiftnetwork.isrefer.com/go/ahdRM/mossdreams/

Art: Robert Moss, "Making Songlines"


Friday, June 26, 2020

In praise of Bear medicine

The Bear is the great medicine animal of North America and in Native tradition, the most powerful healers are those called by the Bear in dreams and visions. In ancient Europe, the Bear was the king of beasts, and there was a sacred kinship between bears and humans that we can trace from Paleolithic times.
     From caves, in southern France we have evidence that the oldest religious ceremonies conducted by humans may have centered on honoring the Bear.  In ancient Attica, girls danced in bearskins in honor of the goddess Artemis as the She-Bear, in rites of passage into womanhood. In northern Europe, warriors put on bear shirts in order to claim the fighting power of the bear. For the Lakota, who have many ways of approaching the sacred, the most powerful healers are said to be members of the Bear Dreamers Society, called to practice by the Bear spirit in direct encounters in dreams and visions.
    Most of us no longer live close to the bear in nature, but bears still appear in our dreams and we can find our way, as shamanic journeyers, to realms of the Medicine Bear and the Great Earth Mother. I was called to follow the path of a dream teacher and healer when I was required to reenter dreams in which a giant bear frightened me by coming inside my house.. When I found the courage to face the Bear and step into its embrace, I discovered that the Bear and I are joined at the heart by something like a thick umbilical, pumping life energy back and forth between us. The Bear told me it would show me what I need to heal and what others need to be healed. This promise has been fulfilled, again and again. I don’t hesitate to say that I owe my life to Bear medicine.
     In that early, primal encounter I thought of the Bear as male. Three decades later, I identify with Great Mother Bear, as nurturer and fierce protector. When I have been ill, Bear has often come spontaneously to doctor me, sometimes by opening my body and cleansing and renewing organs before replacing them. I have seen Great Mother Bear help people, again and again, to reclaim parts of heir vital soul energy that went missing in childhood when the world seemed to cold or too cruel. Our inner child often seems to trust the Bear more than the adult self.
     I wrote this poem to honor and celebrate Bear medicine:

Great Mother Bear

You feel her under your feet.
You enter her realm through the roots
of the tree that knows you.
She is endlessly nurturing, fertile and abundant.

She will nurse you and heal you as she cares for her cubs.
You can call on her blessing at any time,
once you have found the courage to enter her embrace.

She calms the mad warrior in men.
She strips the berserkers of old skins.
Serve her, and you join the army of the Great Mother
whose purpose is to protect, not destroy.
She will defend you, even from yourself. 

When you call back your lost children,
she will hold you together in her vast embrace
 until you are one, and whole.
When you reach across the jagged rifts in your family
to forgive and make well, you feel her rolling pleasure.

Art: "Dancing with the Bear" by Robert Moss

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

The Ganesh Splash

Just for fun, from an old journal:

A woman reported a dream in which she watches three elephants bowing to me with deep reverence. Then they rise up and splash me copiously with water sprayed from their trunks. She has the feeling that this is to make sure I don't get puffed up over the honor they have given me. In her dream, I welcome this with laughter and joy.

I chuckled when I read this account, and also felt that little tingle that comes when life rhymes. About the same time she sending me her dream, I was spraying members of a workshop circle in Connecticut with salted water, my favorite psychic cleansing agent. Having given them their shower, I proceeded to splash myself with water from the same vessel.

There was another rhyme. That same morning, I shared or reported three unlikely and mildly embarrassing screw-ups in front of the group, of the kind that made it entertainingly clear that the leader was far from infallible.     

I felt confirmation, when I read the dream report, that I had received a trunk call from Ganesh, the elephant-headed form of the Gatekeeper beloved and honored in India. From now on, I think I'll add the term "Ganesh Splash" to my personal lexicon of the modes of meaningful coincidence. 

Ganesh Splash: An unlikely and mild embarrassment that prevents you from taking yourself too seriously (or allowing yourself to be guru-ized by others), produced with love and laughter.


Sunday, June 14, 2020

On the Enjoyment of Unpleasant Places

When he was 24, after spending several cold, wet weeks in Wick in Caithness in northern Scotland, Robert Louis Stevenson wrote an article “On the Enjoyment of Unpleasant Places”. He observed that “We see places through our humors as through differently colored glasses.” He declared that we can choose to find beauty in an “unsightly” place and when that’s too hard, “we may still embellish a place with some attraction of romance.”
     He used his imagination to bring color and drama to dull days and drab landscapes. He pictured heroes and villains behind a hedgerow and conjured the figure of Dick Turpin in “many an English lane”.  He wrote, “I have often been tempted to put forth the paradox that any place is good enough to live a life in, while it is only in a few, and those highly favored, that we can spend a few hours agreeably. For, if we only stay long enough we become at home in the neighborhood.”
    He recalls a moment of calm by the sea when a couplet in French into his mind

Mon coeur est un luth suspendu,
Sitot qu’on le touche, il resonne

"My heart is a hanging lute
As soon as it's touched, it responds"

The couplet is from “le Refus” by Pierre -Jean de Béranger.  Edgar Allan Poe borrowed it, changing mon to son,  as his epigraph for "The Fall of the House of Usher". 

RLS concludes that wherever you are, if you look for something to “please and pacify” you in the right spirit, you will find it.  This early essay seems to me to be well worth pondering in our strange times of pandemic, inside or outside,masked or unmasked.

“On the Enjoyment of Unpleasant Places” is reprinted in June Skinner Sawyers (ed) Dreams of Elsewhere: The Selected Travel Writings of Robert Louis Stevenson (Glasgow: The In Pinn, 2002).

Postcard: Wick, Caithness, a couple of generations after RLS' sojourn