Saturday, June 24, 2017

The pause that refreshes and alluvial dream recall

You wake in bed and think you don't remember any dreams? Wait a moment. Allow for the pause that refreshes. It can reopen the curtain and take you from the stage set of regular life into the deeper theater of dreams.
   It happened again for me this morning. When I opened my eyes, my memory of the night was blank. I lost my dreams, I sighed, because writing my dreams in my journal and then walking with them for a while - seeing how the world illuminates them and how they illuminate the world - is my favorite way to start the day.
   I closed my eyes and lingered in bed. It didn't take more than two minutes before the dreams I thought I had lost came streaming back. There's nothing major going on in the dream travelogue I was able to record, but I had fun writing it down and reflecting on the behavior of my dream self and certain recurring themes that I recognized.
   I am sometimes in awe of my dream self. He has skills I haven't developed, he speaks languages I don't know, he jumps across time and between worlds with utter assurance, while fully conscious that he is operating in several realities simultaneously. Dream Robert last night, was no superhero. He gets lost trying to find the room where he is leading a workshop. His confusion grows as the city around him shifts from New York - specifically, Columbia University - to Paris and back again. One moment, he is asking French gendarmes for directions to "La Grande Salle des ConfĂ©rences"; the next, he approaches a man in Manhattan for similar help and accepts an invitation to go up to a strange apartment where television interviews in Arabic are about to be recorded.
   Last night's Dream Robert
 has supernormal powers but does not seem to recognize that he can do something useful with them. Walking down a city street, he starts to levitate. The feeling - I now remember it so vividly - is of being carried up by rapidly rising floodwaters. However, there is no water on the street. Other people on the sidewalk are not affected and appear not to notice that my dream double is floating thirty feet above their heads. He decides that he doesn't want to float away like a balloon so he wills himself to come down slowly - and finds himself squatting on a ledge fifteen feet above a high terrace. It does not occur to him that he can fly and he can't imagine any other way to get down than to risk the jump. He lets himself drop from the ledge. The different physics of his reality allow him to slide gently down, back against the wall, to make a safe and soft landing.
    I am drawn to compare the attitudes and behavior of my dream self with my waking self. Certainly, I can be lost and confused and torn between different places and situations. My dream self doesn't wake up to the fact that he is dreaming, in the sense that he could use his supernormal powers more consciously and effectively; he could fly (for example) to the venue he is trying to locate. My waking self sometimes fails to remember that waking life is also a dream and that reality may be far more malleable than most people allow for.

   Since I know that in dreams we travel into the possible future, scouting challenges and opportunities that lie ahead, I will hold certain elements - Columbia University, that splendid conference building in Paris, the Arabic television interviews - in mind as possible previews, and use them for navigation if they begin to manifest in ordinary reality.

Let me pursue my main theme: the pause that refreshes.

On another recent morning I woke up suddenly at 5:00 a.m. without dream recall. I moved gently around in the bed, possibly resuming sleep postures from the night, no less suddenly, that I had five vivid scenes from the dreams that had previously eluded me..
     I got up to write them down. I found I needed to pay close attention to the scene shifts. Sometimes we are too hasty in turning a series of dream experiences into a linear narrative. Transitions we can't explain may reflect that fact that we have moved from one reality to another. There are many levels of dreaming, and they may correspond to different orders of reality as well as different levels of consciousness.
     I wrote up the five scenes and gave them titles. I noted that they did not play out in a simple linear sequence. There were at least three distinct event tracks, converging and diverging, and that in my dream awareness I was sometimes in three different places at once. 
     Satisfied with my journaling, I went to take a shower. As  I reached for the shampoo, I recalled a further scene -  number 6 - from the dreams that I thought were gone when I first woke that day. In this scene, I decided to wash my hair because it felt gritty when I ran my hand through it under the shower. In the dream, my hair was black and curly, cut fairly short.
     In regular life, my hair has never been black and curly. It has been white for many years and before that it was brown. I seemed to be fully at home, in the dream, in the well-muscled body of the man with black curly hair. I wonder whether Curly has been thinking about dreams of his own in which he is in the body of an older guy with longish white hair. It's possible that I have been in Curly’s body and situation over many years, in what for me are dreams but for him is ordinary reality.

These notes lead me to make a few suggestions about improving dream recall and coming awake to the many levels of dreaming that may be relevant to you:

1. Make time for the pause that refreshes

If you think you have no dream recall, wait a bit. Maybe moving your body into positions it was in during sleep will bring back dreams you thought were gone. Dreams may come back in the shower, or the course of the day. Allowing for a pause before recall is especially important if you have awakened suddenly.

2. Pay attention to scene shifts in your dream reports

Don’t be too quick to turn a series of scenes into a linear narrative, especially when you don’t know how you got from one place to another. You may have stepped from one dream into another, which is to say, you may have changed worlds. In last night's dream (at least as I remember it) my dream self was blurry about scene shifts. More often, he is quite alert to their possible significance. When he is transported from one scene to another in an inexplicable way, he sometimes asks, "How did I get here?"

3. Be ready to ask "Who am I in this dream?"

You can find yourself in the situation and seemingly the body of another person, in your dreams. The reasons are varied. Maybe you have been drawn to share something of another person's experience and perspective, which can expand your humanity. Maybe you have entered the adventures of a parallel self or a counterpart personality in another time or another world. Whatever is going on, it's worth remembering to ask "Who am I in this dream?" and "Whose body am I in?"

4. Reach for the shampoo

Yesterday, as I stepped under the shower and reached for the shampoo, another dream I had lost came back.  I saw again, clearly, the face of a younger man with fine wavy hair cut in a distinctive fashion, fairly short up to the top of his ears, long and luxuriant above, fluttering in the breeze. He was in a fairly good three-piece suit, cut in the style of an earlier era, perhaps Edwardian. He had the style of a poet, but also of a member of the landed gentry. I think I can travel through that mental portrait, if so inclined, and meet him again, perhaps in the Ireland of an earlier time than mine.

Perhaps I can call this kind of thing alluvial dream recall. Alluvial gold comes from sifting through sediment left by rivers and streams. There is pure gold in the dreams that may come when you turn on the water, reach for the shampoo and sift through your hair.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

When we become a dreaming society

I have a dream: that we will again become a society of dreamers. In a dreaming culture, dreams are valued and celebrated. The first business of the day, for most people, is to share dreams – dreams from the night, and dreams of life - and seek to harvest their guidance. The community joins in manifesting the energy and insight of dreams in waking life. In a dreaming culture, nobody says, “It’s only a dream" or “In your dreams, mister.” It is understood that dreams are both wishes (“I have a dream”) and experiences of the soul.
    If dreams were honored throughout our society, our world would be different, and magical. Let me count the ways:

1. Dream Partners.
Personal relations will be richer, more intimate and creative. There will be less room for pretense and denial. Sharing dreams, we overcome the taboos that prevent us from expressing our real needs and feelings and open ourselves to those of others.

2. Family life and home entertainment.
“What did you dream?” is the first question asked around the table in a family of dreamers. In our dreaming culture, families everywhere will share dreams and harvest their gifts of story, mutual understanding and healing. Parents will listen to their children’s dreams and help them to confront and overcome nightmare terrors. Best of all, they will learn from their children, because kids are wonderful dreamers. This might be bad for TV ratings but it would bring back the precious arts of storytelling, helping us learn to tell our own story (a gift with almost limitless applications) and to recognize the larger story of our lives.

3. Dream Healing.
In our dreaming culture, dream groups will be a vital part of every clinic, hospital and treatment center and doctors will begin their patient interviews by asking about dreams as well as physical symptoms. Health costs will plummet, because when we listen to our dreams, we receive keys to self-healing. Dreams often alert us to possible health problems long before physical symptoms develop; by heeding those messages, we can sometimes avoid manifesting those symptoms. Dreams give us an impeccable nightly readout on our physical, emotional and spiritual health. When we do get ill, dreams are a factory of images that can help us to heal on every level.

4. The Care of Souls.
As a dreaming culture, we will remember that the causes of disease are spiritual as well as physical. We will use dreams to facilitate soul recovery. In dreams where we encounter a younger version of ourselves, or are drawn back to a scene from childhood, we are brought to recognize a deeper kind of energy loss, that shamans call soul loss. Through trauma or abuse, through addiction or great sadness, we can lose a part of our vital soul energy. So long as it is missing, we are not whole and the gap may be filled by sickness or addiction. Dreams show us what has become of our missing parts and when it is timely to call them home.

5. Dream Incubation.
In a dreaming culture, we will remember to “sleep on it,” asking dreams for creative guidance on school assignments, work projects, relationships and whatever challenges are looming in waking life. When we seek dream guidance, we must be ready for answers that go beyond our questions, because the dream source is infinitely deeper and wiser than what Yeats called the “daily trivial mind.”

6. Using Dream Radar.
Dreaming, we routinely fold time and space and scout far into the future. As a dreaming culture, we will work with dream precognition on a daily basis -- and develop strategies to revise the possible futures foreseen in dreams for the benefit of ourselves and others.

7. Building Communities.
When we share dreams with others, we recognize something of ourselves in their experiences. This helps us to move beyond prejudice and build heart-centered communities.

8. The Art of Dying.
The path of the soul after death, say the Plains Indians, is the same as the path of the soul in dreams -- except that after physical death, we won’t come back to the same body. Dreamwork is a vital tool in helping the dying to prepare for the conditions of the afterlife.

9. Walking the Path of Soul.
The greatest gift of dreaming is that it facilitates an encounter between the little self and the big Self. Active dreaming is a vital form of soul remembering: of reclaiming knowledge that belonged to us, on the levels of soul and spirit, before we entered this life experience. So much of the harm we do to ourselves and others stems from the fact that we have forgotten who we are and what we are meant to become. Dreaming, we remember, and encounter authentic spiritual guides who will help us on our paths.

The Dreamer's School of Soul

In the cause of assisting the rebirth of a dreaming society, I am launching a new online training called The Dreamer's School of SoulOver seven months, you'll be traveling in the company of spirited and creative dreamers from all over the world map who will support your soul odysseys. Take a look at what's waiting for you in the Dream Clinic, Flight School, the Faculties of Divination and Kairomancy, of Co-Creation and Dream Archaeology, the House of Healing and more

Photo: Active dreamers in a workshop in Romania led by dream teacher Ana Maria Stefanescu.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

A Mirror for the Sun Goddess

At the solstice, a story from Japan about the sun goddess. In Japan, as in many world cultures, the sun is feminine. The tale is a profound teaching story about soul loss and soul recovery comes from Japan. It is a mythic tale of Amaterasu Omikami, the Japanese sun goddess, and it offers a wonderful script for soul healing. Perhaps you can find yourself - and more of your soul - inside it.
     The beloved sun goddess Amaterasu is shamed and abused by a raging male, her stormy brother/consort Susanowo, who is a hero when is comes to fighting monsters but is no hero in the family home. They have had children together, born magically from gifts they have given each other – three girls from Susanowo’s sword and five boys from the jewels of Amaterasu.
     But Susanowo plays spoiler, smearing excrement where Amaterasu made fertile fields and crops, throwing a horse that is sacred to the goddess into the midst of her intimate weaving circle, and so on. The storm god’s violence reaches the point where Amaterasu takes refuge in a rock cave. And the light goes from the world.
      In her dark cavern the once radiant goddess sits brooding on the past, sinking deeper and deeper into feelings of guilt and shame. Maybe she starts telling herself that what has happened is somehow her fault, that she failed her consort in some important way, that she failed to give what was needed. In the depths, she has lost her inner light, while the world has lost her radiance. The myriad gods and goddesses are desperate to call the sun back.
     They try many ruses to lure Amaterasu out of the dark cave. They call on a wise god, whose name means Keeper of Thoughts, to advise them. He usually keeps his best ideas to himself, but the cold and darkness in the world have got him worried too. So he counsels the gods to gather all the roosters than can be relied to crow at dawn. He tells the gods to hang a mirror with strands of jewels on the branches of a Sakaki tree at the entrance of Amaterasu’s cave. The gods do this, decorating the tree with bright cloth banners, without fully understanding the plan. The cocks crow, the gods whoop and howl. And Amaterasu stays in her cave.
      Now one of her sister goddesses, Uzume, comes up with a plan of her own. Uzume is the goddess of mirth and revelry. She is also called the Great Persuader and the Heavenly Alarming Woman. Now we see why. Uzume overturns a tub near the mouth of the rock cave, strips off her clothes like a professional, and moves into a wild, sexy dance that has the gods laughing and bellowing with delight. Amaterasu is curious. Why is everyone having so much fun? She approaches the mouth of her cave and demands to know what is going on. Uzume calls back to her, “We’ve found you the perfect lover. Come and see.”
     Suspicious, Amaterasu peeks around the edge of the boulder she placed at the cave mouth to shut out the world. And she is awed and fascinated to see a figure of radiant beauty looking back at her. She is drawn, irresistibly, to this beauty, and comes up out of the darkness – to discover that the radiant being is her own beautiful self, reflected in the mirror the gods have hung in a tree near the cave. Now the god of Strength rushes out and holds Amaterasu, gently but firmly, to restrain her from going back into the dark. Another god places a magic rope across the entrance to the cave.
    Gods of passion and delight lead Amaterasu back into the assembly of the gods, and her light returns to the world. This is a marvelous collective dream of how soul recovery and soul healing become possible when we help each other to look in the mirror of the greater Self.
     Mirrors hang in the temples of Amaterasu today, to remind us to look for the goddess or god in ourselves. When we locate the drama of Amaterasu in our own lives, we begin to make a mirror for the radiance of the larger Self that can help to bring us, and those we love, up from the dark places.
     In some of my workshops, we have taken the story of Amaterasu's descent to the Underworld and turned it into a shamanic theater of soul recovery, with amazing results. However, the unfortunate cast as Susanowo must be depossessed of his role, and then welcomed back into the circle as a "new man", healed and enlightened. This can be profoundly healing too.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

When reading changes the way we see

My in-flight reading on a trip to California included Dreaming by the Book by Elaine Scarry, a professor of aesthetics at Harvard. It’s an inquiry into the magic of narrative and poetry that draws the reader into a vivid multisensory experience through the agency of little black marks on a white page. For example, she analyzes how certain writers conjure belief in the solidity of a wall by streaming fleeting or filmy shapes across it. Locke says that in the everyday operations of perception, the notion of solidity “hinders our further sinking downward” – so we are confident of the floor or sidewalk we are walking on.
   Some kinds of reading alter the way we see. I looked out the window of my taxiing plane and saw the sun hammer the window of a control tower into a shaman's bronze mirror, flashing light. As the plane came down, its shadow ran beneath us on the tarmac far below, tiny at first but growing fast as we dropped. We flew into our shadow, like lovers rushing into each other's embrace. When we paused for breath, the shadow of our wing erased the yellow line on the landing strip. Beyond the shadow, there were no boundaries.
    On the edge of San Francisco Bay that Saturday morning, the legacy of the storm erased solid ground and constructed buildings in the sky. Great puddles of water, shallow but wide and silver-bright, lay on the cement of the Fort Mason docks. They opened windows into a mirror world. Brick by brick, the buildings were meticulously reconstructed, rising towards scudding clouds in a blue sky far below. I was walking at the edge of a limitless drop. One inch to the right, and I would be falling into the sky.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Stories are hunting us

I hear them at night, sometimes, east of the Well of Memory, west of the Mountains of Desire. They talk like herons after dark, like bears rousted from sleep, like wind tunnels, like alien phone sex, like broken gutters, but mostly like a storytelling of crows. When the Moon gets old, I send my shadow to listen.
    “Back off!” says a story that might be a griffin to one of the hungry ones. “He’s mine!”
    “But I’m starving.” The smaller, snaggle-toothed story is drooling.
    “Go snack on something your own size,” says the bigger story. “This is my ride.”
    There is pushing and scuffling, and bad talk from tall tales.
    Stories are hunting the people who will tell them. Do you hear them? If you are lucky, the one that gets you will have some real teeth.

Drawing by Robert Moss

The mingling of minds and the creative daimon

When we are passionately engaged in a creative venture - love, art or something else that is really worthwhile - we draw support from other minds and other beings, seen and unseen.
    According to the direction of our will and desire, and the depth of our work, those minds may include masters from other times and other beings
   We draw greater support the greater the challenges involved in our venture. Great spirits love great challenges.
   Whether we are aware of it or not, all our life choices are witnessed by the larger self that Yeats called the daimon. The daimon lends or withholds its immense energy from our lives according to whether we choose the big agenda or the little one. The daimon is bored by our everyday vacillations and compromises and detests us when we choose against the grand passion and the Life Work, the soul's purpose.
    The daimon loves us best, Yeats observed, when we choose to attempt “the hardest thing among those not impossible.” Jung put it even more bluntly in Memories, Dreams, Reflections“A creative person has little power over his own life. He is not free. He is captive and driven by his daimon.”
     In an important and difficult essay, Yeats suggests that we can develop a co-creative relationships with minds operating in other times or other dimensions. He gave this essay a Latin title borrowed from Virgil, Per Amica Silentia Lunae ("Through the Friendly Silence of the Moon"). Here he describes how, when he was passionately engaged in certain esoteric studies - of alchemy, of Kabbalah - previously unknown resources were given to him as if by hidden hands. When he speaks of "fellow-scholars" (in the first line of the excerpt) he is talking about minds he felt reaching to him across time, from other dimensions, called by mutual affinity.

I had fellow-scholars, and now it was I and now they who made some discovery. Before the mind’s eye, whether in sleep or waking, came images that one was to discover presently in some book one had never read, and after looking in vain for explanation to the current theory of forgotten personal memory, I came to believe in a Great Memory passing on from generation to generation.
   But that was not enough, for these images showed intention and choice. They had a relation to what one knew and yet were an extension of one’s knowledge. If no mind was there, why should I suddenly come upon salt and antimony, upon the liquefaction of gold, as they were understood by the alchemists, or upon some detail of cabbalistic symbolism verified at last by a learned scholar from his never-published manuscripts, and who can have put it together so ingeniously?...
   The thought was again and again before me that this study had created a contact or mingling with minds who had followed a like study in some other age, and that these minds still saw and thought and chose. 

– W.B.Yeats, Per Amica Silentia Lunae in Mythologies (New York: Macmillan, 1959) 345-6.

Picture: "Yeats in the Magic Cottage" by Robert Moss

Sunday, June 18, 2017

How to know when the god is present

I am explaining to a large group of students how to read the signs that announce the advent of the god Apollo at his oracle, and confirm that true messages will be delivered by his priestess.
    We are inside the scene. We feel the coming of the god right now. The sacrificial goat starts shaking from the hooves up when the holy water is poured over it. Everything in the environment begins to tremble as if stirred by an unseen wind.
    The priestess called Pythia, who has been drinking from the sacred spring, sees movement in the bowl of spring water she holds in her lap as she sits on the tripod among the fumes rising from the deep chasm.

Inside the dream, I feel educated pleasure. Some awe, but no fear. When I leave the dream, I have a deep sense of satisfaction. Also the strong feeling I have been in an entirely real situation, in another time and/or a separate reality.

Dreams set us assignments. It is agreeable for the ancient history professor in me to reopen books about the oracle of Apollo at Delphi. I am reminded that in preparing to become the oracle, the Pythia bathes in the sacred spring. She inhales pungent incense. She invokes all the deities associated with Delphi by name, starting with Themis and Phoebe, daughters of the Earth goddess Gaia, and continuing through Zeus, Poseidon, Dionysus and Apollo, who she hopes will speak through her.
   She makes burned offering of laurel leaves and barley meal on an altar of the temple. She enters the adyton (sacred chamber) and mounts the golden tripod that serves as her throne. In one hand she holds a laurel branch, in the other a shallow bowl.
   She sits quietly until the laurel leaves start to quiver. The trembling seizes her hand, moves up her arm to her shoulders and chest. Her whole body starts shaking violently as if it has been seized by giant hands. This is confirmation that the god is present and that his speaker is in the necessary state of enthousiasmos to deliver true messages. 

    The philosopher-historian Plutarch, also a priest of Apollo, wrote that at Delphi the god makes his thoughts known “through the associated medium of a mortal body and a soul that is unable to keep quiet, or, as it yields itself to the One that moves it, to remain of itself unmoved and tranquil, but, as though tossed amid billows and enmeshed in the stirrings and emotions within itself, it makes itself more and more restless.” [Plutarch, de pythiae oraculis in Moralia V]

    So the saying that truth comes with goosebumps comes with a mythic pedigree. I may have forgotten that, but my dream self clearly did not. Once again, I find myself racing to catch up with him.

Art: John William Waterhouse