Sunday, July 26, 2009

Your Beloved is calling

I woke at 3:00 AM today from the following dream:

I am at a conference center where they are setting up for lunch in the huge dining area. I notice many loaves of Italian bread that seem to be freshly baked, placed on fresh white tablecloths. There's a gathering in process that includes a lot of men connected with the Church; some are priests or ministers. Also present is an entrepreneur who has made a lot of money developing an internet search engine.

I receive several messages, as I roam the place, that a Sufi poet has been calling. He wants to get through to a number of people who are here, but they have not been receiving his messages. I am planning to tell the search engine entrepreneur that he needs to develop a device that will alert people when a spiritual teacher is searching for them.

I go through the dining area to a men's room. Several of the ministers are washing up. I go into a stall for privacy and find writing inside the door. Instead of graffiti, it is a lovely poem about spiritual union. Go up to the rooftop. Your Beloved is calling.

I woke with a sense of delight, and recognition. I thought of Rumi, and also of his spiritual teacher, Shams of Tabriz. I went questing back through old journals, and found my chronicle of nocturnal encounters with figures that appeared to carry this tradition. The sequence began exactly 11 years ago. Let me share the start of this odyssey:

July 26-27, 1998, 4:00 AM
Travel Suggestions from Shams

I am lying on my back in bed. I have the sensation that I am floating between the worlds. I have the impression of fabric patterns, predominantly rust-reds, mauves and yellow-browns. A sense of presence grows. The suggestion comes: Rise from your body, and I will descend to you. I relax from physical focus, without separating from the body. With my inner eye, I see a handsome young man of "Persian" appearance, wearing modern clothes, an elegant lightweight suit and a shirt with a banded collar. He tells me his name is "Shams". He suggests I should travel to the realm of Hurqalya, for which I must cross Mount Qaf.
I hurried to research these names and found what I needed in the writings of Henry Corbin and translations of Suhrwawardi, the great visionary philosopher of medieval Persia. Hurqalya, I found, is the name of an "interworld" or imaginal realm in which visionary encounters between humans and the more-than-human take place and where powers beyond human understanding taken on forms than can be grasped and materialized in the world below. In a teaching story, Suhrawardi explains: "Mount Qaf surrounds the world and consists of eleven mountains." The crossing is hard. The way leads to the Moon and to the World Tree where the simurgh - the celestial bird -has its nest. At the end of the quest is the magical sword Balarak that releases the bird of the soul from its cage and the Spring of Life that offers regeneration and release from pain. To cross Mount Qaf, you must become your own spiritual teacher. "If you become Khidr [the guide of those who have no earthly guide] you can easily cross Mount Qaf." [1]

I slept again near dawn and dreamed:

At the Palace of the Wings of Sound

I am in a palace that is open to the winds, a place of soaring arches. It does not seem to stand on Earth, but among the stars. It is roofless, open to the night sky, which is dark yet light at the same time, shimmering in every particle. There are twelve spacious rooms in the palace. Each contains marvelous musical instruments, shaped like butterfly wings. Some have multiple wings or leaves. They resemble stringed harps, yet the harps are so fine as to be invisible. Cosmic winds blow celestial harmonies through these wings of sound. I marvel at the beauty of these harmonies.
I woke buoyant and happy. I dove deeper into studying Rumi and Suhrawardi. Then I dreamed

July 28, 1998 11:45PM
Teaching with the Aid of the Sufi Poets

I am now dressed as "Shams" appeared, in a lightweight jacket and a shirt with a banded collar. I have made a selection from the mystic poets, including Rumi, as teaching aids. The poems evoke processes of divine emanation and paths for human recollection and return to the sacred source. One of the Sufi poets appears to help me with my presentation.
After continuing my researches, I woke from my second cycle of sleep:
July 29, 1998 8:45 AM
The Search for Water
I am instructed in the work of three mystics, including Rumi, who wrote poetry and visionary narratives. My mentor explains that at the heart of all their work is the search for water. One of the works that is recited and explained to me is entitled "The Book of Water." The verses roll on and on. I am able to transcribe some of the lines after waking.

I now immersed myself in translations of Rumi's vast Diwan-i Shams-i Tabrizi. This great collection of poems was named for Shams, and fully a third of the individual poems within it are dedicated to him. Who is the Shams of the poet? He is the "immortal beloved" and the "enigmatic master". The name Shams means "sun". He is the sun that shines at midnight. He is the guide, the radiant double, the heavenly twin, the soul of the soul, the object and subject of the quest.

She said, "You know who has come."
My heart flew up in joy and placed a ladder at the intellect's edge.
It rushed up to the roof in its love...
Suddenly from the housetop it saw a world beyond our world,
an ocean in a jug, a heaven in a speck of dust.
Upon the roof sat a king wearing the clothes of a watchman...
His image travels from breast to breast explaining the Sultan of the heart

Go up to the rooftop, I read last night, on the inside of the door of the stall in a rest room. Your Beloved is calling. Any night, anywhere. Are you ready?

[1] Suhrawardi, "The Red Intellect" in W.M. Thackson, Jr (trans) The Mystical and Visionary Treatises of Suhrawardi London: Octagon Pres, 1982, 35-43.
[2] Rumi, Diwan 2730. Adapted from the translation by William C. Chittick in The Sufi Path of Love: The Spiritual Teachings of Rumi. Albany: SUNY Press, 1983, p. 140.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Dream reading and research assignments

Dreams set us research assignments. In my dream life, this often starts by picking up a word or phrase in a language I don't know - or know only imperfectly - but can nonetheless research. This may lead me deep into new territory, ranging from quantum mechanics to Islamic mysticism to the ethnography of New Guinea. Quite often, it is something I am reading in a dream that mobilizes me, after waking and writing my initial report, to follow up with focused research. I do a great deal of reading and writing in my dreams, as in my ordinary life. Sometimes, as I read in a dream, I hear a voice reading the text aloud, as if to help me imprint those pages in memory.

Unfortunately, I am rarely able to transcribe more than a few lines on waking. However, even a single phrase can hold an important clue. And when the traction of the dream is strong, I am sometimes able to go right back inside, review my dream reading material while fully conscious, and transcribe page after page with a pen and pad. Some of the pages I have brought back in this way have been published in my books, both fiction and nonfiction. This is an example of "writing as a state of conscious dreaming", the theme of a creative retreat I led recently and will lead again next year.

I am always bemused when I read in an academic study - and I've seen many such - that we don't read in our dreams. For as far back as I can remember, my dream life offers contrary evidence. I have the impression - though I can't say this for sure - that as an infant, I was learning to read in my dreams before I mastered the art in the nursery, which I did rather young. And hundreds of other dreamers have shared reports with me in which they are reading while in bed with the lights off.

Here's an example from the past week of reading in a dream and accepting a research assignment suggested by that dream:

2009 7.21 (rose at 5:00 AM)

Studying Ethnographers of New Guinea

I’ve been doing a lot of anthropological research. In the early morning, on a city sidewalk, I am reinforcing pencil notes already made in the margins of an article in a book with yellow highlighter. The article draws a contrast between Dutch, Anglo and French approaches to classifying customs and beliefs in indigenous societies. The author disses the writings of Levi Strauss but gives a favorable review of ethnographic fieldwork done in New Guinea when the western part was under Dutch administration.

A woman I recognize parks her car down the street. I buss her on the cheek and protest, in a teasing way, that we don’t see each other often enough. She has dark brown frizzy hair, and is wearing a gray cardigan over a simple dark print dress. She looks like an academic.

Feelings: Cheerful, curious.

Reality check: I often annotate books in pencil but would never in ordinary reality deface a book with a yellow marker! At the conference of the Association for the Study of Dreams in Hawaii in 1998, I met an Australian anthropologist (Michele Stephen) who had lived with a New Guinea tribe and written about their dream practices. As I recall, by her account, this tribe believes that dreams are journeys of a dream double or “hidden self” but is cautious about dream travel, believing that the double may be captured by sorcerers or malicious spirits and that damage caused to it can damage the physical body.

Action: I start by locating Michele Stephen’s book, A’aisa’s Gifts in my personal library. It's an excellent study of dream practices among the Mekeo based on her extensive fieldwork among that people, which included mastering their language and earning the confidence of female dream diviners and male sorcerers, or "men of sorrows".


The Mekeo of New Guinea are about as unlike the Senoi of Malaysia(at least as romanticized by Kilton Stewart and those who borrowed from him) as you can imagine. While the Senoi encourage dream sharing, the Mekeo are very guarded about their dreams, and did not mention them at all during Michele Stephen's initial fieldwork. This could say something about the difficult dynamic between indigenous peoples and Western anthropologists (there's a saying in the Pacific that “when the anthropologists arrive, the spirits leave”) but it also reflects the Mekeo belief that dream telling can make you vulnerable and that dreaming itself is a dangerous business.

Like other indigenous peoples, the Mekeo believe that dreaming is traveling. The lalauga or dream double journeys outside the body, and a dream report is a memory of its nocturnal adventures. This dream self goes ahead of the ordinary self, scouting out things that will come to pass in the future, which is why dreams are often called “omens”.

This dream double can get into trouble. Any injury it suffers will rebound on the physical body. Worse, it may not be able to come home to the body. The lalauga may be lured into the realm of underwater spirits. These spirits are great flirts and seducers but conduct their conquests into holding pens in their underwater villages, which used to be just thatched huts but are now – it seems – equipped with all the mod cons. The dream double can also fall prey to wild bush spirits and taken to their lodges among the high tree tops. Illness and lack of vitality are commonly diagnosed as signs that the dream double has been snared; the treatment is to engage the services of a powerful dreamer who can travel in the hidden reality to where the double is being held and bring it home to the body. For the Mekeo, dreaming is powerful, but it's dangerous. You'd better recruit some spirit allies, and you'd better learn how to look after yourself on those wild roads of the night.

I'm not enamored of the fear-ridden Mekeo model of dreaming, which is darkened by the widespread practice of sorcery and fear of the "men of sorrows." Still, it may be a corrective to the New Age-ish misconception that all dreams come in the service of health and wholeness. And it does reflect a key element in "paleolithic psychology" that we forget at our peril. We are not just body and mind, or body and soul. We have an energy double, or dream self (that Egypt called the ka ) that makes excursions beyond the body during life and survives it after death, with a different destiny from the higher spirit-self. These are matters I explore in some depth in my book Dreamgates.

I am only just embarked on the research assignment I was given by my dream self who was reading about the ethnography of New Guinea. The ethnographers recommended in my dream text lived and worked in an earlier era, in the days of Dutch New Guinea (which ceased to exist in 1962, when Indonesia took over what is now called West Irian). So now I'm reading W.H.R. Rivers, the pioneer British psychologist and anthropologist who regarded his studies of Melanesia as his greatest work and commented favorably on the work of early Dutch ethnographers reporting on New Guinea belief in "soul-substance" and a traveling dream soul. Rivers is best-known today for his work with "shell-shocked" soldiers during World War I, brought to life in the novels of Pat Barker and the movie version of Regeneration ("Behind the Lines") in which Jonathan Pryce plays Rivers.

Now I'm remembering a family connection. My father served, as an officer with the Australian commandos, against the Japanse invasion forces in Dutch New Guinea in World War II.
The photo is of Mafulu women in a mountainous area bordering on the Mekeo, from the work of an English solicitor-turned-anthropologist: Robert W. Williamson, The Mafulu: Mountain People of British New Guinea. London: Macmillan, 1912.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Bloggers in pyjamas

Today I enjoyed a lively conversation with Anne Hill on her "DreamTalk" radio show based in Occidental, California. A central theme was how we ceased to be a dreaming society and how we can grow a dreaming society again. I talked about how the advent of artificial lighting disrupted the natural cycle of sleep and wakefulness - and dreamtime and liminal states. In the old days, Westerners did not expect to lie down and sleep for seven or eight hours. They were used to having a "first sleep" and a "second sleep" and maybe a "third sleep" with intervals of reverie or wakefulness during which, inter alia, they might share dreams and thoughts with whoever was available in what was rarely a very private setting. The benefits of that, in terms of dream recall, dream sharing and community dreaming, can be observed in the case of the Andaman islanders, whose practices may have helped them get out of the way of the terrible Asian tsunami of December 2004, a case discussed in my Secret History of Dreaming.

I don't despair, not at all, about the prospects for reviving dream practice in our society as a whole. First off, in evolutionary terms we are still very much the same people as our ancestors who thought night was for more than dreamless, uninterrupted sleep. Second, with our Lightnng Dreamwork process, we at last have a quick, high-energy, fun way to share dreams and guide each other to take effective action to bring guidance and energy from the dreamworld into ordinary life that can work with just about anyone. Third, while technology may have interrupted our natural cycles of sleep and dreaming, there is a good chance that it will now give many of us the opportunity to reclaim a creative realtionship with the night.

Within our linked-in, worldwide webs, how many of us really need to work regular hours in an office in order to do our jobs and sustain an active working community? Pretty soon we'll be able to project our holographic doubles to attend meetings anywhere on the planet that has the appopriate screen. As more and more of us grab the opportunity - and develop the required discipline and drive - to work from home or in intentional settings, we can also practice developing discretionary and flexible hours. Sure, kids and other obligations will still necessitate schedules. But those of us some of the sniffy elite in the print media like to call "bloggers in pyjamas" will prove to be a wave of the future, the wave on which the dreaming society can rise again.

I confessed to Anne Hill, after she used that phrase on the show, that I am a "blogger in pyjamas - except that I don't wear pyjamas." Quick as a whip, she dubbed me, "a blogger in a robe".

Dr Rush looks in the Magic Mirror

Look at the logo of the American Psychiatric Association and you'll see that it features a portrait head of one Benjamin Rush MD (1745-1813), who has been called "the founder of American psychiatry". Dr Rush is a most interesting figure in the birth of the United States. An early abolitionist and agitator for independence from Britain, he encouraged Thomas Paine to write Common Sense and helped him to edit it. He was a doctor for the Continental Army, a member of the Continental Congress, and a signer of the Declaration of Independence. A recent biographer calls him "a Revolutionary gadfly".

He was medical adviser to the Lewis and Clark expedition, supplying those intrepid explorers with laxatives whose effect was so noisome they became known as "thunderclappers". The high mercury content of Dr Rush's "bilious pills" made it easy to track the exact path of the members of that famous expedition.

Ahead of his times in some ways, Dr Rush had quirky and - to us - almost absurdly outmoded views in his practice of medicine and his approach to mental illness. He advocated heavy blood-letting as a universal panacea. He insisted that mental disorders were the product of faulty blood circulation, and had mental patients strapped to a primitive centrifuge, a whirling chair of his invention, and spun around violently in the expectation that this would force their malady out of their skulls.

Dr Rush developed a very reductionist theory of dreams of a type that can still be heard, alas, in certain psychiatric and medical circles. He maintained that dreams were the side-effect of physiological processes, including sexual urges, and that dream content was nothing more than "incoherent ideas", trash from the night that could corrupt and derange judgment and memory.

This dismissive theory of dreams was entirely at odds with Dr Rush's lifelong practice as a dreamer. He made a faithful record of dreams, studied them as clues to the future, and regularly swapped dream reports with no less than John Adams, the second president of the United States. One of Dr Rush's dream reports influenced John Adams to mend his broken friendship with Thomas Jefferson and contained specific long-range precognition of the death of those two former presidents on the same day, a story I tell in my Secret History of Dreaming.

There was a deeper, fascinating and creative tension between Dr Rush's dream life and some of his waking attitudes and opinions. Over much of his life, Dr Rush had a tendency to try to control and lay down the law to those around him. Thus he prescribed a course of "proper reading" for his wife and advocated a diet of "controlled education" for the new American republic. In 1790, when he was 45, Dr Rush dreamed that he was watching an amazing individual up on the steeple of Christ Church in his home town of Philadelphia. The man on the steeple claimed to command the winds and the weather. To the amazement of the crowd, the weather wizard got the wind to shift direction. When he failed to bring the rain, however, he became agitated and dejected and an observer standing near Rush (in his dream) declared that he was certainly a "madman". At this point a flying figure appeared, like Mercury, and held up a banner in front of Dr Rush that announced, in Latin, "This story is about you."

Dr Rush got the message. The madman on the steeple was him. He was both observer and actor in his dream, which spoofed his waking attitudes and behaviors so outrageously that he could not fail to get the message: stop trying to control the elements. After this, people noticed a pleasant change in Dr Rush.

Another example of how Dr Rush's dreams held up a magic mirror to his life takes us deep into the American tragedy of slavery. In 1773, influenced by the gentle Quaker abolitionist Ebenezer Benezet and his own horrified observation of slave ships at the docks in Liverpool, the young Rush issued a passionate appeal to slave owners to free their slaves, offering the caution that those who failed to do so would be "registered" and processed in the "courts of heaven". Yet two years later, Dr Rush purchased a slave named William Grubber, in preparation for embarking on married life. Grubber was a remarkably loyal and helpful servant; Dr Rush wrote that the slave saved his life during a serious illness. Yet in 1788, when Dr Rush's abolitionist hero Benezet died, Grubber remained in servitude. Soon after that, Rush had a powerful dream that appears to have shaken him to his core. He dreamed that he visited a "Paradise of Negro Slaves" where black men ruled on where white men would go after death - and allowed only one white man, Benezet, to enter heaven. Rush published an account of this dream, anonymously, in the Columbian Magazine, and it inspired him to write out a formal statement promising to free his servant William Grubber. Somehow it took him a further six years to complete the manumission.

Once again, we see dreams serving as a vital corrective to the opinions and attitudes of the ego, holding up that magic mirror that shows us how we really look. The central role of dreaming in shaping the self-image and social attitudes of Dr Rush, John Adams and other key figures in the Revolutionary era in America is something that has yet to be acknowledged - let alone properly investigated - by most mainstream historians, though one trail-blazer in this field, Mechal Sobel, rightly observes that in this seminal age America was "a dream-infused culture" where "work with dreams proivded an important bridge into the modern period, helping people change their world-view and their selves". [1]
[1] Mechal Sobel, Teach Me Dreams: The Search for Self in the Revolutionary Era. Princeton and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000, p.4.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Carrying a soul portrait

While dreams may show us many aspects of ourselves and others, the most important aspect that can be revealed may be the bigger and truer Self. We heal and grow our relationships when we can recognize that Self within and around others, and help them to embody more of it. Sometimes, it is enough simply to carry the energy of a vision of another's person's soul identity and its beauty and allow that to work quiet magic.

I saw that happen once in a work situation. A woman manager was involved in a bruising daily battles with a tough labor union leader. She could hardly bear to be in the same room with this man, and their personal conflict was undermining the company and labor relations. Then she dreamed that she met the labor leader in an informal setting. He was utterly charming and introduced her to his sister, who was named "Charity."

She woke with completely different feelings about her workplace antagonist. Reflecting on the dream, she realized that if his sister was "Charity", his agenda might be much gentler and more compassionate that she had allowed herself to recognize. She did not have a card to send, and she did not tell the union guy the dream. She simply carried its energy when she went back to the negotiating table. By the end of the week, her relations with her former antagonist had been transformed; they were now on the best of terms and a difficult contract negotiation went through smoothly.
Thanks to Robin O'Neal for the beautiful image of the bird reflected in the water, one of a series she took at our recent Dream Teacher Training on the Connecticut shore. Some of Robin's seabird photos are now available as notecards from

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Early Shift at the Ice Cream Lab

Yesterday I read a very cool dream report by a gifted dreamer named Janet. In her dream, she is working in an ice cream lab, mixing up new flavors. Though she doesn't normally eat a lot of ice cream, in the dream she is delighted by how each batch she produces gets better and better, Finally, she is sampling a scrummy batch of pink ice cream. A friendly supervisor now appears and tells her that if she is willing to show up for the early shift for four days running, she'll get a free trip to "Brasil". Janet is excited by the prospect of an adventure in a country she's never visited, but hesitates when she realizes that the early shift is from 6:00 AM to 12:00 PM. She's not much of a morning person - and who will look after the kids?

I was really juiced by this dream report. For starters, "Brasil" (which the dreamer knew was spelled the Brazilian way) is a magic kingdom for me. I had big adventures in Brazil many years ago; the fantasy movie "Brazil" is a longtime favorite; and I recall that "Hy Brazil" is a magical island in the mists in the mythic geography of the old Celtic voyage tales, or immrama.

Then again, I've noticed that when I start to dream about food preparation, that's a sign that a creative project is cooking up. I was especially excited by the rules laid down by the friendly supervisor" in Janet's dream. Work the morning shift from 6 to 12 for just four days, and you're off.

I informed Janet right away that I intended to borrow her "friendly supervisor" and follow her rules. Starting today, I would make the commitment work the early shift, starting at 6:00 AM, to see what I could mix up of a novel I've been playing with - off and on - over several years. While on shift, I would stay OFF-line, letting office stuff, online courses I am leading, and other things wait until I had clocked out.

I stayed up rather late on Sunday night, reading a curious and engrossing novel called The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters. Nonetheless, I did not set the alarm, since I prefer to wake up naturally, and have succeeded in so doing for almost all of my adult life no matter what hour I need to get to an airport or - as in this case - to my desk. When I opened my eyes, this morning, I saw it was 5:45 AM. Perfect. Time to shower and dress, walk the dog, and journal my overnight dreams before getting on with the early shift. In my principal dream, I am staying at a hospital because my wife is having a baby. Delivery will take precisely four days. This would be a wickedly long period for a literal baby but it was abundantly clear that this was not the kind of baby that was coming through. It was a very happy and energizing dream, that introduced some wonderful characters and plot elements, and I woke with the sense of big things coming through.

I completed my first shift today. There was a fair amount of perspiration, as well as inspiration, involved. I expanded and mixed drafts and sketches from over quite a period of time, including journal notes I wrote during my recent creative writing retreat ("Writing as a State of Conscious Dreaming") when I had the high pleasure of watching a group of marvelously creative people play-act an unfinished scene from the novel in question, following my partial script and casting selections. We'll see whether I am anywhere closer to "Brasil" after four days on the early shift.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Switching with James Bond to Fight WWII

I am with a tall, attractive, elegantly dressed Asian or Eurasian woman. She is educated and charming, nearly as tall as I am in her heels. Her slender body is pleasingly full in the belly and chest because she is three months pregnant. She has left the father and will not be going back to him. I feel very protective of her.
We go to a movie together, then ride in an elevator with several Asian couples who talk to each other in their own language, probably Chinese. They look at us speculatively but don’t talk about us openly because the woman may understand them. I notice a movie poster in the elevator. It’s for a James Bond movie starring Roger Moore, who is shown wearing a white dinner jacket. The Asian woman says she loves James Bond films and I am delighted we agree that Roger Moore is our favorite James Bond.
The movie poster becomes a trailer. I am intrigued to see that this is a NEW James Bond movie, even though Roger Moore - who must be very old now if still alive - is in the lead role. There is an odd mirror effect as I watch the trailer. I realize I am now wearing a white dinner jacket identical to that of James Bond, and that the character in the trailer is no longer Roger Moore but a suave, younger version of myself - my double.
Now we are in a second movie theatre, watching the film. We don’t have tickets to this cinema but no one is checking. The action of the film - like the James Bond character - spills from the screen. We are now in an elegant club - the feel is of an earlier era - where things are changing fast because Britain has just declared war on Germany. It’s September 1939. Someone makes the announcement that woman are accepted in the club but are not welcome - apparently referring to the fact that things are now on a war footing.
A secret room in the middle of the building is revealed as paneled doors are slid back. It’s a war room from which operators are sending messages to agents and reports of troop movements are being tracked on maps. Operatives are being summoned to their wartime roles. A signal goes out to the “best agent” for the theatre of war that is now involved, the Low Countries. I see the name in block capitals: HOUL. I assume it is Dutch, and/or a cover name. It occurs to me that this may be the name (or code name) of the Asian woman.
Now we are traveling to the Netherlands on a plane that seems far too wide for a regular plane. A stewardess asks me if I want a drink, and I ask for a Dutch beer. She does not seem to speak English, so I specify “Heineken” or “Grolsch”, trying to roll the hard Dutch “G”. They don’t have either. I’m not interested when she proposes “Stella”. She indicates that the supply situation will improve when we meet the “train”. Train? What kind of plane are we on, anyway?

Feelings: Excited. Pleased I forced myself to get up at 3AM to record this, though my body was still very tired after much travel and teaching, and a couple of hours in the swimming pool.
Context: I recorded this dream in the midst of leading a creative writing retreat ("Writing as a State of Conscious Dreaming") last week. My intention before sleeping was to dream up a story.

Reality check: Some of the dream transits are familiar - stepping in and out of movies and movie theatres, as plane that seems to be wider than a cruise ship etc. Roger Moore is my favorite James Bond. I have visited Holland many times. I have many dreams of being involved in secret operations for the Allies during World War II, and lots of "time shift" dreams in which I seem to be moving backing and forth between two or more time frames, and/or operating in all of them simultaneously. I do like Dutch beer!
Follow-up: When I shared the dream in the writing retreat, a woman in the group recalled that in 1980, she had found herself riding in an elevator in New York City with Roger Moore.
Question: what is the "story" here?

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Midwives of a dreaming society

Out in the midst of Long Island Sound, the lighthouse is winking on its island. On a soft Sunday evening, we start our week-long training for teachers of Active Dreaming by creating our own beacon, in the form of clear statements of intention.
     We are gathered in a circle in what used to be the living room of Phil Donahue’s beach house on the Connecticut shore. Generously, he donated SeaScape to his neighbors, the Sisters of Mercy who are our hosts for the week. When I first came here, there was a mural of two larger-than-life figures on the bow of a cruise ship. The man sported a monocle with his dinner jacket, and was hoisting a martini. The woman was in flapper attire, with a highball. We christened them “Scott” and “Zelda” and toasted them as our “spirit guides”. Some earnest people, since that time, must have been offended by the party people on the wall, because the wall has been repainted flat white. Still, there is plenty of spirit in the room tonight!
     When my turn comes to speak, I announce that my intention, in opening the sixth year of my dream teacher training, is as follows: “I am here to train and empower midwives who will help to birth a dreaming society in our time, in our world.”
     I look around the circle of eager, intelligent faces and know that I will not be disappointed. We have drawn wonderfully gifted and creative dreamers and healers from British Columbia and Colorado, from Rhode Island and Texas, from Minnesota and North Carolina.
     I am seized by the depth of my responsibility to them, to help to bring their gifts into full flower and to make sure that they will have the specific tools and skills required to apply our Active Dreaming techniques to different professional and community situations, and to adapt them to suit the language and style of different environments.
     We work and play very hard over the week that unfolds. Our dream midwives regale us with marvelous stories, fresh from their dreaming – of flying through the air on a purple sofa, of batting at a panther with a black patent leather pocket book, of being entered through the spine by the luminous energy of Quetzalcoatl, the Plumed Serpent. We journey to the astral realm of the Moon and back. We practice techniques of emotional and imaginal healing, and learn how to help others to read the sign language of the world and use dreams for self-diagnosis. We practice speaking to many different kinds of audiences about why dreaming matters in our personal lives, and to our kind. Our dreams and our journeys with the drum burst into dance and performance and moments of pure, unalloyed joy and laughter.
     All the while, at the edge of the bushes just outside the house, three red foxes prowl. The bunny rabbits all over the property seem remarkably unfazed, by foxes or humans. Only once do we see a fox with lunch in its mouth.
     As the work deepens, I picture two faces, beyond those in our circle, that remind me of my responsibility – and that of the dream school – to a deeper world and a possible future. I see the face and form of a young woman who seems to live several centuries ahead of our current time. I became aware of her many years ago, and I know that her life and work are connected with my own. She is a priestess and a scientist. She belongs to an order of women who are both scientists and spiritual leaders. Their work is to rebuild our world after a series of disasters brought on by the ignorance and violence of men. Active Dreaming, as we practice it, is absolutely central to their work, and they have succeeded in creating a dreaming society among those who follow their guidance. In this possible future world, sharing dreams by a process like Lightning Dreamwork is the first business of the day. Dreaming is part of every level of education. Dream diagnosis and healing through imagery are mainstream practice in medicine. No important policy decision is taken without consultation with the dream seers – those with proven ability to scout possible futures and produce reliable information – whose independence is zealously guarded.
     I hope that the Earth disasters that seem to have preceded the emergence of this particular dreaming society can be avoided. I also hope that dream teachers of the quality of the priestess-scientist in my visions will rise to the position she has assumed, to help heal our lives and our world.
     Today, as dream teachers, we can provide a safe and healing space where people from every walk of life find it possible to open their hearts and reclaim the vital energy of parts of themselves lost through trauma or heartbreak or refusing to follow the heart’s deepest desires. We can help each other to find True North, our life’s flawless compass, in the thinking of the heart, so much wiser than the calculations of the head – and to gather the energy and resources required to live the path with heart, the only path worth following.
     Huge numbers of people in our times are hungry for what we are offering, although rather few are aware (as yet) of what is on offer. As dream teachers, we are called to help people to find their own answers to the eternal questions – Who am I? Where do I come from? What is my life’s purpose? – by reclaiming the knowledge of soul and spirit that belonged to them before they came into their present bodies.
     In our week at SeaScape, I see another face that reminds me that this is all about soul,
and recovering the energy of soul. The face is that of a small boy, maybe two years old. It is a round, freckly face under a yellow sun hat of the kind we used to call a Sou’wester when I was growing up in Australia. He looks very much as I did, at that age. But this is not just a younger Robert. This is Dream Boy. He has a special box – it looks like a pirate’s treasure chest – that is full of dreams. If you are lucky, he will pluck the right dream from his box and send it to you.
     In an especially powerful journey with the drum, I see Dream Boy flying through the air on great shining wings, and I am filled with elation. All is well, when the magic that’s afoot is the magic of the child who at home in the worlds of dream and imagination and knows the power of making things up.
   At the end of our week of learning and adventure, I see our new flight of dream teachers seeming to walk on water, like the egret – and then winging away in all directions, like sea birds.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Tattoos, Bouncing Souls & the Mystery of Grace

Life rhymes. A case in point, from my journey home yesterday after leading a fabulously creative writing retreat ("Writing as a State of Conscious Dreaming") in the foothills of the Cascades:

My inflight reading is the new Charles de Lint novel, The Mystery of Grace. I have followed de Lint's writing over many years. He is a master of urban fantasy, whisking characters - and readers -from the world of bricks and asphalt into the dreamworld through "thin places" that open quite effortlessly. I remember being enchanted when, in one of his early novels, you step through the door of a house in The Glebe - a proper and pleasant neighborhood in Ottawa - into a magical forest. He melds Old World colors of faerie with Native American lore and slippery Coyote sorcery. Through the entertainment, there's a strong current of care for the soul. His typical protagonist is a waif-like young woman who has been badly bruised by life, gone through soul loss, and come back with gifts of magic and artistic vision.

The Mystery of Grace is de Lint's first novel set in the Southwest, and the Grace of the title is a young Hispanic woman whose passions include tattoos, customizing classic cars, and rock music - especially the retro types called rockabilly and surf guitar. She specializes in old Ford cars and one of her favorites ins the 1932 coupe. She gets a lot of respect at the auto shop where she works as one tough chica because of her body ink, which started with a tattoo of a saint on her shoulder, and winds down through a long FoMoCo (Ford Motor Company) logo scrolling down her leg. We meet her in the midst of a one-night stand on Halloween with a guy she picked up at a music hall. We grasp that much more than ordinary sex is going on; there's love and obsession in the air, and even the sense that this is a life or death matter. Then, during an intermission, Grace vanishes from the bathroom in her date's apartment as if she has never been there. Chapter by chapter, shifting from Grace's first-person perspective to an account of her one-night boyfriend's efforts to track her, we now enter deeper into the mystery of how a girl who was killed in a convenience store hold-up two weeks before Halloween could have physical sex with a stranger.

I can't tell you how the story plays out, not only because that would be a spoiler, but because I didn't get to finish the novel during my plane trip. My first flight, from Seattle to Chicago, was delayed for two hours while mechanics worked on an unspecified problem. When I got to O'Hare, I ran from the C concourse to the B gates to make my connection, arriving just minutes before the doors were closed. A man in a T-shirt that read "Bouncing Souls" boarded just after me. As he took the seat next to me, I noticed that his arms were covered in tattoos.

"That's an interesting coincidence," I struck up conversation. "I'm reading a novel with a character who sports a lot of tattoos. She's a gearhead, into hot-rodding and customizing old cars. Is that one of your interests too?"

"Kinda goes with the territory. I've got a collection of old cars, including a 1932 Ford coupe. The first tattoo I got - it's on my back - is the old Ford V-8 symbol."

"Are you also into rock?"

"Oh, yeah. I used to play guitar in a band."

"What's Bouncing Souls?"

"It's a friend's band. Plays punk rock."

Mark proves to be a very interesting man. He's a stunt driver, making good money helping to stage those edge-of-your-seat car chase scenes in some popular recent thrillers. The union, as in the Screen Actors Guild, makes sure you get good bonuses when you do "bumps". He says he's only been injured once, when he hit his elbow. I look at the elbow nearest me. It's adorned with a very realistic image of a roulette wheel. A good choice for a guy who takes risks at the wheel.

I'm struck by the parallels between Mark's life and ink and the Charles de Lint character. The Mystery of Grace, as I said, is de Lint's first novel set in the Southwest. Mark started his recent travels in LA and would like to live in the Southwest. I feel almost as if something in the novel stood up and walked out of the pages, not a terribly unusual phenomemon in the imaginal world of Charles de Lint. He could have titled his fictional account of interplay between the living and the dead "Bouncing Souls", like the band and the T-shirt.
As the plane lands, neither the tattooed guy nor I are overly optimistic that our bags will have kept up with us, given the mad scramble to make our connections. But as we rise from our seats, I am cheered by the sight of a friendly black dog - a service dog with the most beautiful harness - standing in the row ahead of us. He had been invisible throughout the whole flight.
"I have this thing about black dogs," I inform my rowmate. "A friendly black dog, especially in an unlikely place, is a sign for me that things will go well. It's one of my personal omens."
When we got down to baggage claim, our suitcases came rolling out on the carousel with the others, no problem, of course. I'm reminded that in Tibetan, the word lu means both "bag" and the body you leave behind when you die. I guess that, bags in hand, we are still in the realm of the living. If you are traveling with Charles de Lint's characters - who carry places they know with them to the other side - it can take a while to be sure.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Mysteries of Merwin

The great castle-city of Merwin stands in the desert. It is a chambered city of sandstone and marble. Its clean, curving alleys open from each other, through ribbed arches. At certain times the streets seem entirely empty. I learn from a blind storyteller who sits enthroned above piles of coffee sacks that it is necessary to watch out for three kinds of beings that are dangerous in this otherwise peaceful city. Two of these appear human; the other has never been seen by anyone who survived its assault.
There are poisoners who can shoot their venomous thoughts, like darts, into the mind and body of their victims. There are shadow creepers whose shadows move with them but have different shapes and are not projected by the sun. These unnatural shadows shun the light, scuttling or slithering from one dark hole or crevice to the next. A creeper may have a dozen or more. They tire easily, and are drained when they are used in an attack, but re-grow their power when allowed to coil and congeal in the dark places. Typically, a creeper fires his shadows at the mouth and nostrils of his victim. They shut off the voice and steal the breath. Entering the body, they may spread the spores of madness.

The Equinoctial Gallavanders are the most deadly of the darker residents of Merwin. “I pray that I may never see them, for no man sees them and lives,” said the storyteller.

My skepticism is roused by the improbable name. “If no one has seen an Equinoctial Gallavander,” I demand, “how do you know they exist?”

“We hear them. Listen in the night for the crunching of bones. The gallavanders consume humans like chicken wings, leaving only the bones.”


I am wearing a green suit that has been loaned to me. I am surprised that it fits very well, since the man who gave it to me is a head shorter than me. I am setting out to explore the strange city of Merwin. It would be best to start by finding the blind storyteller, whose vision seems clear. On my way, I catch a glimpse of a train. This is unexpected, and seems to offer the chance of taking a tour of the whole locale.

The train is pulled by a green steam engine. As it puffs away, it sends up perfect little clouds of smoke. I walk briskly towards it, down a narrow street. The sand-colored street is very clean and entirely deserted. It ends at a high wall. I cannot see over the wall, and its surface is very smooth, quite impossible to scale. I turn left and walk along the wall, hoping that this will lead me to a train station or at least a railroad crossing. My path ends in a much higher wall, like that of an old warehouse.

I turn back towards my starting point. Far away, I see another train, with a blue engine. Maybe this is the way I need to go. I hurry towards the second train. Again, the streets are oddly silent and deserted. Again, my path ends at a wall. This wall seems to be part of the ramparts of the castle, with a sheer drop of hundred of feet to the plain below. I cannot see the tracks, but in the distance I see a great bald massif rising from the desert, with great dark birds titling and circling overhead.

The station is underground. This comes to me in a flash, but does not give me the directions I need. I understand that the trains of Merwin do not run in the normal way, not at all. Perhaps I will investigate further on my next visit. For now, the puffing engines behind the walls linger in memory like the trains of a de Chirico painting, tauntingly visible yet forever remote.
I find myself once again inside the castle-city of Merwin. As with previous visits, I cannot recall how I came here. I have no memory of passing through the gates, or climbing up from the underground railroad I am certain is under the city, though I have yet to locate an entrance. Have I been teleported here, and if so why? Is a court card in play? If I was called here by someone or something inside the city, they have yet to show themselves or reveal their agenda.
I check myself. I am wearing a linen suit that is familiar, but the leather sandals are not. The body seems to be its usual shape, but it is lighter. The skin of my feet looks darker than usual, but perhaps that is the effect of the darkness that now prevails in the city. The streets are lit by a kind of moonglow - though I see no moon - but above the sky is very black.
I come upon a convention of great black birds. I would call them a murder of crows, except that when hand carts arrive, pulled by men in sand-colored robes, I see that the birds are much larger than crows. They are almost as tall as the men. The faces of the men are concealed by their head-cloths. In silence, they dump human bodies from the carts. Some of the bodies twitch, as if they belong to people who are not quite dead. I understand this is the method for disposing of the bodies of the dead in Merwin. The pickers are fast and meticulous, stripping the bones of all that decays.
I notice now that the great black birds are eyeless, though when one turns its head towards me I have the impression of something glinting among the feathers at the place of the third eye. I think this is a charm, with raised lettering in a cursive script that may be Arabic or something older. Maybe it is a control device.
ADVENTURES IN STORYTOWN: These are unedited journal reports. #1 is a dream in the early hours of July 2 ; #2 and #3 are experiences in a half-dream state after waking on July 3 and July 4. My feelings, after the initial dream, were of pure delight, despite the weird monsters described by the blind storyteller. Some dreams are adventures in Storytown, and all that we want or need to do with them is to bring through more of the story.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Nachos & dreams

I had a grand time at the recent conference of the International Association for the Study of Dreams (IASD) in Chicago. IASD brings together dream researchers and enthusiasts for dreams from across the whole spectrum, from clinical psychiatrists to artists and shamanic healers. Stan Krippner, professor of psychology at Saybrook Institute and for decades a pioneer and generous patron of research into shamanism and ESP, gave a splendid account of why everyone who dreams "partakes of shamanism", drawing on his personal experiences in the worlds of indigenous dreamers.
Patricia Garfield, who blazed a trail for dream creators with her watershed book Creative Dreaming back in the 1970s, gave a wonderful account of dreaming in the life of a moviemaker. Fellini was a cartoonist before he became a film director, and his copious dream journals - the published edition weighs 7 pounds - look like a vast graphic novel. When he was struggling to make his movie "8 1/2", and deeply disaffected from the project, Picasso appeared as a dream guide to push him forward. The dream Picasso started by whipping up a 12-egg omelette for the director. Later in the drteam, Fellini found himself far out on a dark and stormy sea. He wanted to turn back, but then Picasso's bald pate rose from the deep, and Picasso shouted, "No! Go further out!" This Fellini proceeded to do, producing one of his best-loved films.

IASD had set the theme of "Earth Dreaming" for this year's conference, and this was honored in many presentations that drew from indigenous and ancestral traditions. Valley Reed - who had flown to Chicago the same day she graduated from the first level of my own Dream Teacher Training, at a lovely retreat center on the Connecticut shore - captivated her audience by recounting a series of personal dreams in which she seemed to be in deep connection with Earth energies. I spoke about my own experiences with the red-tailed hawk, starting from the moment when a hawk's spiral dive - and the wing feather it dropped between my legs - inspired me to purchase the land where I started dreaming of an ancient Native woman shaman, and found the courage to embark on the path of a dream teacher.

One of my favorite encounters at the conference involved someone who was not officially part of it. When I arrived at the conference hotel near lunchtime last Saturday, my first date was with the pool. That's my deal with my body: whenever I travel, I spend as much time swimming as I can manage. The hotel's outdoor pool was large, and often I had it to myself, so I was able to swim in neverending loops or double spirals. I swam like this for two hours before I found my way to registration. Having skipped lunch, I was hungry after the first afternoon panels, so I went to the bar for a snack and a glass of Goose Island beer.

The Mexican bartender wanted to know about the conference. "What do you do with dreams?" I explained that conference presenters had many different approaches, but for me - as for most human cultures, as far back as we can track - one of the important things to do with dreams is to look for clues to the possible future.

"I do that," said the bartender. "When I see turbulent water in a dream - like dirty water, or flooding - I watch out for trouble ahead. When I see calm water, I know things will go well."

"Did you discuss dreams in your family?"

"Always," he nodded. "My grandmother was a very big dreamer. She comes to me in my dreams now she's passed on. When that happens, I pay attention, because I know it's important. My mother is a dreamer too. She had two boys and two girls. Before my brother was born, she dreamed of an airplane. When she dreamed of an airplane again, before I was born, she knew I would be a boy too, because she figured out that in her dreams, a plane meant a boy. Before she gave birth to my two sisters, she dreamed of cakes. So she knew they would be girls. I guess it wasn't so hard to figure out that a cake would mean a girl."

I smiled at this account of how a Mexican woman had constructed her personal dictionary of dream symbols from her own experience, incomparably better than any of those dream dictionaries on sale in the stores.

I went back for another beer later in the conference. The bartender was eager to continue the conversation. "Do you ever have that experience of doing something in a dream you'd like to go on doing, except you're waking up?"


"Well, I've figured out how to handle that. I like to eat cake. So I'll be eating cake, and starting to wake up. But I force myself to stay in the dream until I've finished eating the cake."

That's a great technique - learning to stay with the dream when there is something you want to continue doing, which could be even more delightful than finishing your favorite cake. I was struck, once again, by how much "ordinary" people know about dreams that sometimes escapes those the Brits call the "talking classes." The man from Mexico City, serving nachos and beer, knew that we dream the future, and have dream communication with the departed, and can go on with a dream, if we make that intention. Very good things to know, and to live by.