Tuesday, September 28, 2021
From my travel journals, an adventure in shamanic lucid dreaming that demonstrates many of our core techniques: dream incubation, dream reentry, dreaming with the ancestors of the land, group shamanic journeying through the portal of a remembered dream.
I am very excited. We have found a way to access the ancient spirits of this land, both spirits of the First Peoples and spirits of nature. I may give everyone the assignment to go this hill and bring back their own message, by entering a cave or copying and inscription or even by imagining what message they would inscribe as a symbol if they belonged to the ancient ways of this land. Through all of this, a native elder watches over us, initially wary, wanting to check my intentions, then very willing for us to learn, at the price of respect and careful study and attunement. His voice is like the wind. His name is Rushing Wind.
we honor you, we remember you
At the base of the mountain, I find the entrance to a cave or tunnel. There is a fierce guardian figure, with a single eye, like a giant hairy cyclops. He is ordered back by a power – Rushing Wind, the elder from my dream – who asserts my right to enter. I realize that white wolf and mountain lion are with me, hawk overhead, and the energy of Island Woman, the dream shaman and Mother of the Wolf Clan who called me long ago. I am asked for my name, and I give one.
Soon I am carried through a network of passages and caves by rushing winds, until I am deep in a great cavern in the presence of a giant bear. He is not friendly at first, but accepts the bear in me.
I begin to inspect patterns on a cave wall. A light glows behind the stone until it looks like frosted glass. Then it becomes transparent, like a window. Now it is no barrier at all. I step through into a world of primal beauty and simplicity, where people are fishing and gathering fruits. They remind me of the people among whom I lived when I left my body at nine years of age. They welcome me, and I am full of joy to be with them.
They tell me, “We are always here.”
For the natives of this land, they are the Original People, ancestors of the ancestors.
Whatever is done in the surface world, they are here.
“When you get sick, you come here. When you get well, we send you back.”
There is a deep sense of belonging, of home.
“We are alive. We are here. The dead are alive. The living are dead.”
I am reluctant to leave, but I am drumming for the group and responsible for them. I leave the caves and walk the trail on the other side. I see my radiant double. I know that, if things go well, we can finally come together and walk together through the sun, which is right ahead, on this trail leading beyond the Mountain of Messages.
I have led many journeys to caves of the ancestors over the years, and provide a script for this kind of shamanic journey in Dreaming the Soul Back Home. The dream-guided Esalen group journey was especially thrilling not only because it seemed to open an authentic link to the First Peoples of the land where we were gathered but because - for me personally - it reopened contact with a world-behind-the-world I discovered during a near-death experience when I was nine years old.
Monday, September 27, 2021
"Look at the great round halo, fringed with the symbols of fire, within which the god is dancing. It stands for Nature, for the world of mass and energy. Within it, Shiva-Nataraja dances the dance of endless becoming and passing away. It is his lila, his cosmic play. Playing for the sake of playing, like a child. But this child is the Order of Things. His toys are galaxies, his playground is infinite space."
I am quoting from a beautiful description of a statue of
Shiva as Nataraja, Lord of the Dance, in Aldous Huxley's last novel, Island.
In cast metal Indian figures of Shiva Nataraja, the oldest of which date from the 10th century, he is shown with four arms, which evoke the four cardinal directions. Each hand holds a a symbolic object or makes a symbolic gesture, a mudra.
In the upper right hand is a drum shaped like an hourglass. It symbolizes the creation of worlds, which begin with sound. It is beating the patterns of making, and the rhythms of Shiva's dance as Kala, Lord of Time. In the shape of the drum - two interpenetrating triangles - we also see the union of dynamic opposites and of male and female, lingam and yoni. When they are separated, the universe ends.
In his upper left hand, Shiva holds fire,
understood here to be the destroyer of worlds. In Hindu mythology, our present
world will end in flame.
Shiva's lower right hand is raised and the palm is turned outwards. The gesture signifies: "Don't be afraid." The Sanskrit name for this mudra is abhaya, meaning "without fear".
Shiva's lower left hand points to his feet. What's going on down there? His right foots is planted on a horrible dwarf who is the embodiment of ignorance, envy and greed. The Lord of the Dance is stamping on this demon, breaking his back. But his finger is not pointing at the demon dwarf. It is pointing at his left foot, which he is raising high from the ground. That raised foot, lifted so high it seems to defy the law of gravity, symbolizes moksha, liberation from the cycle of birth and death and rebirth. The gesture of the pointing hand resembles the outstretched trunk of an elephant and evokes elephant-headed Ganesha, Shiva's son, the one who opens and closes the doors and paths of this world.
"For Nataraja it's all play," writes Huxley. "And the play is an end in itself, everlastingly purposeless. He dances because he dances, and the dancing is his maha-moksha, his infinite and eternal bliss."
"It’s dark because you are trying too hard. Lightly child, lightly. Learn to do everything lightly. Yes, feel lightly even though you’re feeling deeply. Just lightly let things happen and lightly cope with them. I was so preposterously serious in those days… Lightly, lightly – it’s the best advice ever given me…So throw away your baggage and go forward. There are quicksands all about you, sucking at your feet, trying to suck you down into fear and self-pity and despair. That’s why you must walk so lightly. Lightly my darling…"
Image: Shiva as Lord of the Dance. Bronze, Chola dynasty (10th century) from Tamil Nadu. Now in Los Angeles County Museum of Art:
Friday, September 24, 2021
The Neoplatonist philosopher Porphyry wrote a commentary on a scene in Homer's Odyssey that offers a remarkable allegory of the soul's comings and goings from embodiment in this world. A translation of Porphyry's text, new to the English language at that time, inspired William Blake to paint a picture full of codes for the awakening spirit.
For Porphyry the Cave of the Nymphs is a “harbor of the soul”, a waystation between the worlds. Porphyry insisted that nous (mind, spirit) is never contained in the body, but only “acts in it” through affinity or gravitation. An affinity for what is moist and humid brings souls back into incarnation; a tendency towards what is dry and light and fiery carries the soul into the realms of the immortals. In the Cave of the Nymphs, Naiads (spirits of fresh waters and fountains) weave “moist envelopes” – “purple tissues” – on stone, and bees deposit their honey in stone urns. Images of taking on flesh, of coming into generation.
The word-picture fascinated
William Blake, who gave it visual form in a watercolor painting found only in
1947 in the clutter atop a cabinet in a stately home in
Kathleen Raine discusses Blake's imagery in an essay in her book Blake and Antiquity. She finds ithat even with self-taught, self-driven Blake, it is true (as Yeats declared) that poetry is “the traditional expression of certain heroic and religious themes, passed on from age to age, modified by individual genius, but never abandoned.”
In 1947 a stately home in
Neoplatonism may be compared to an underground river that flows through European history, sending up, from time to time, springs and fountains; and wherever its fertilizing stream emerges, there imaginative thought revives, and we have a period of great art and poetry. 
Blake was a contemporary of Thomas Taylor, who brought the
Neoplatonists into the English language (and was often ridiculed for it).
Blake's picture gives s nymphs, weavers at a loom, a sea-god, souls entering incarnation, bright spirits reborn - perpetual cycle of the descent and ascent of souls between an eternal and a temporal world.
In Mystery traditions, the voyage of Odysseus in its entirety was read as the type
of such a journey of soul. The sea, in constant flux, is the world. The watery
Blake incorporates the image of Odysseus throwing something out to sea, his face averted. This borrows an image from Book V of the Odyssey where the hero is washed up on the Phaeacian shore. Odysseus is the soul survivor of the wreck of his ship; the goddess Ino takes pity on him and lends him her girdle, urging him to swim to shore. When he lands he must throw her girdle back to her, turning his face away. In Blake’s painting, the hero has thrown the girdle; the goddess has caught it, and she is dissolving back into a spiral of radiant cloud.
Athena stands behind Odysseus, a figure of Divine Wisdom, pointing to the shining realm of the sun.
Things to look for in Blake's painting:
The source of life in the underground river or spring.
The dry and the moist. Heraclitus sas “a dry soul is the wisest” although “moisture appears delightful to souls”.
Womb and tomb: Birth into the cave is a death from eternity. The Cave of the Nymphs is the womb through which humans are born into the physical world.
Bowls and urns: Blake shows them carried like water pots on the heads of winged nymphs in the depths of the cave.
Bees: These winged nymphs are Porphyry’s bees, winged souls about to descend into the cave of the world through womb-like vessels.
Weavers: Blake has borrowed from his own Daughters of Albion, who ply their shuttles to bind immortals into mortal bodies. In Homer, there are marble looms and purple garments. Porphyry’s gloss is that “the formation of the flesh is on or about the bones, which in the bodies of animals resemble stones.” There is a hint of cruelty in the faces of the weavers.
The child enmeshed: To the right of the looms, in Blake’s image, a little girl is enmeshed in what the nymphs are weaving – she is being woven into a body.
The tubs: borrowed from Porphyry (who in turn borrowed from the Gorgias and Hesiod): the tub or bucket of the evolved, temperate and “dry” soul that is intact and can hold its contents, and the one of the person ruled by passion that is pierced and spills everywhere. Seen in two figures in the right foreground of Blake’s painting: a resolute woman turns her back on the swirl and climbs the steps, holding a bucket in her right hand while her left is raised towards the heavenly world. She is opposed by the nymphs. Close to her, a “moist soul” lolls half-immersed in a tub which lies on its side, forever spilling and unfilled even as water streams into it; she looks happy but she disgusts Blake, because she is caught in the “deadly sleep” of physical life and is on her downward journey.
The river’s mouth: the lowest stage of descent into matter
in Blake’s painting. Here he introduces Fates who control the entry of souls
The sleeping sun god – when this world wakes, the other world sleeps.
1. Kathleen Raine, "The Cave of the Nymphs" in Raine, Blake and Antiquity: The A.E. Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts (Princeton N.J.: Bollingen, 1977) 4
William Blake, "Sea of Space and Time" (1821)
William Blake, "Sea of Space and Time" (1821)
Wednesday, September 22, 2021
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.
Art: Book Tree by a 10-year-old Romanian boy
Saturday, September 18, 2021
Through dreaming, we have access to a source that is infinitely wiser and deeper than the everyday ego, and we want to be available to that source. I am in favor of learning to choose where we go and what we do in dreams, as in waking life, but that requires discernment, not the fantasy of control.
Wednesday, September 15, 2021
At the Stag Tree
I am the antlered one.
I raise living bones
as taproots into the sky
to draw down the strength of heaven.
I am sure-footed, potent,
a warrior in love,
with power to read the land,
to see behind me and around me.
I grow my own crown, royal,
magnificent, and have the wisdom
to give up its burden
when the year grows old.
I come here, to the hickory,
to rub out my royalty,
to drop the burden of my crown
and grow again, stronger than before.
- lines composed in an exercise to become Animal Speakers in my "Writing as a State of Conscious Dreaming" retreat in the green fairyland of northern Bohemia