Saturday, July 31, 2010

When the world is your body

In one of my workshops, a woman I'll call Lara shared a dream titled “War”. She was very agitated and upset as she retold it.

I am on patrol with six women dressed in green uniforms. We are all riding motorcycles. The stars seem very close. I don’t want to look at them. I don’t know where we are to begin with, then I realize we are near my home town. Enemy missiles are coming in. Our people are firing missiles to stop them, but their aim is all wrong. I keep yelling to warn them they are missing their targets, but they don’t hear or don’t act. An enemy missile hits the place where I was born and I know it has been obliterated.

Lara connected this dream with a series of “end of the world” dreams, but found this one the scariest. In our early discussion of her dream, she did not tell us that she had been undergoing medical treatment and has been worried about her doctors. This came out only at the end of the process, and we did not ask for details.

After some hesitation, Lara agreed to my suggestion that she should try to go back inside her dream through our Dream Reentry technique. She also agreed to allow all the other dreams in the workshop - a circle of 35 - to make a group journey into her dreamspace, where we would support her and gather further information for her as dream trackers.

I asked her to set a clear intention for Dream Reentry. She stated that her intention was to “heal the dream” by preventing the enemy missiles from getting through. I then started drumming to give the group fuel and focus for the group expedition.

In her Dream Reentry, Lara made interesting discoveries. She found the dream cities full of “pink houses” that she had not seen or remembered before. The stars, once again, were ominously close and she did not want to look at them. She was unable to fulfill her intention to "heal the dream". Something more remained to be done.

In tracking for Lara, my first aim was to establish whether her dream related to a literal threat of war or terrorism. It soon became clear to me that it did not. I looked for the women in green that Lara had described and found they were wearing nurses’ hospital scrubs. These nurses are aware of alternative approaches and can help to temper the allopathic approach.

I called on my dream allies to support Lara and I saw the Bear come through and wrapped her in healing energy. It seemed to me that the world of Lara's dream was the world of her body, and that all the war was raging within her body. I saw the menacing stars as cancer cells, threatening to metastasize. The “pink houses” were Lara's cellular system. The missiles being fired off were her doctors’ efforts to come up with the right mix of chemicals to treat her condition. The threat of missing or misfiring reflected the danger that the doctors would get the treatment wrong.

I tried to assist Lara in her intention to “heal the dream”, experimenting with setting up shields. I saw the missile fired at her birthplace deflected so that it landed in the river and was washed out to the sea.

I had the strong feeling that Lara could work with her dream imagery in the direction of healing, that it might even be possible to re-weave the pattern of the stars.

When we shared travel reports at the end of the group journey, I was cautious in telling Lara what I had seen, not wanting to project any negative images or scenarios. "In my dream of your dream," I began, She accepted what I brought quickly and gratefully, telling us immediately that there was a very real danger that what her doctors were doing – or might try to do – would misfire. She resolved to carry the dream warning as an advisory and to look for help from the “warrior nurses”.

Other members of the group reported that in their own journeys, they had seen the Bear embrace Lara and surround her with its healing and protective energy.

This adventure in group dreaming brought into sharp focus the need to determine whether the world of our dreams is the world out there, or our personal world, or the world inside the body, in which dramas and battles are also playing out. Because dreams work and speak on many levels, an individual dream may relate to all three of these worlds, and to a world beyond the ones we know.

For a full explanation of Dream Reentry and tracking, core techniques of Active Dreaming, please read my books Conscious Dreaming and The Three "Only" Things: Tapping the Power of Dreams, Coincidence and Imagination.

Night battle via Future Invention Gallery

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The revolt of the imagination under the Soviets

“The world smelled of heated copper and wilted carnations.”

The Line (Putnam: A Marian Wood Book) a new novel by Russian-American writer Olga Grushin, is full of such marvelous word pictures, that excite the inner senses. Under the dead weight of Soviet bureaucracy, time congeals “like a vat of frozen concrete.”

The tuba-player who aches for release from this sterile environment dreams of a street that resembles one he knows, but opens into magic, where an old man looks at him with mirror eyes and “satin women play cheerful little songs on ripened grapes.”

I am awed by Olga Grushin’s ability to write so well in a second language. Like Joseph Conrad, while she uses her adopted language better than most native speakers, she gives a little spin to the words that makes them fresh.

I loved her previous novel, The Dream Life of Sukhanov. Also set in the Soviet era, it brilliantly depicts the revolt of the imagination against the totalitarian project of total control over a subject population. The protagonist here is a promising Surrealist painter who betrays his ,use in order to get a fat paycheck and a big apartment and a chauffeured car while working as an art bureaucrat. His suppressed imagination comes after him, spawning dreamlike anomalies in his everyday world, until that world — and the false values it instilled in him — falls apart.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Healing at Hell's Gate

I'm glancing at a directory of "25 places with healing powers" at an excellent nurse practitioners' website. My eye slides over the familiar and over-touristed places (Stonehenge, Macchu Picchu etc) but pauses at "Hell's Gate." Now that's an intriguing name for a place of reputed healing!

I slip over to the Hells' Gate site and discover that this is a geothermal park in New Zealand, run by a Maori tribe, with the hottest waterfall in the Southern Hemisphere. It was given its name by George Bernard Shaw, the English playwright and wit, who - though an atheist - speculated that the steaming hot falls could be the gate to the Inferno. The Maori name for those falls is more original, and no less cautionary, than Hell's Gate: they are called O Te Mimi O Te Kakahi, which means The Urine of Kakahi, a legendary warrior who came here to heal his wounds, renew his energy and look into the future.

The hot pool of Hurutini derives its name from a more sinister story. Hurutini was a Maori princess who killed herself by throwing herself into the boiling waters after being shamed and abused by her husband, a local chief. The Maori name for the whole park - Tikitere, meaning Precious One - is derived from her mother's lament.

I can't vouch for the claimed benefits of the mud baths and hot sulphurous waters of this place. But I'm reminded of an undoubted place of ancient healing with close ties to the powers of the Underworld: the pool at Bethesda, where Jesus told the lame man to get up and walk. I write about the long association of Bethesda with deities of the Underworld, especially Serapis, in the chapter titled "The Angel That Troubles the Waters" in my Secret History of Dreaming.

Kahaki falls, Tikirere geothermal park, New Zealand

Monday, July 26, 2010

On a state of almost indescribable busy-ness

When people ask me, "How are you?" I am more and more inclined to include this truthful phrase in my answer: "I am almost indescribably busy."

Playing witness to myself, let me observe what I am doing here - and was doing long before I became fully aware I was doing it.

Since I am a writer and love to play with words, I cannot truthfully state that I am unable to describe how busy I am. I might say, that on my "day off" today, after leading three back-to-back workshops right after doing the Coast to Coast AM radio show live from 3-5 AM on Friday, I am:

- writing and editing a book that I must deliver before the end of August
- walking the dog
- working actively towards publication of two new works of fiction
- arranging publication of my first collection of poetry
- paying bills
- writing 4 articles for my two blogs (this one and my Dream Gates blog at Beliefnet)
- journaling
- buying groceries
- bringing myself back up to speed on my e-course for Spirituality & Health which has a global interactive forum that never sleeps
- playing travel agent and conference planner and hotel reservations clerk for several upcoming trips and programs
- fielding a few hundred email and FB messages
- doing my Synchronicity Walk, when I gather pop-up symbols and messages from the world around me
- reading several books at once
- having 8-9 conversations with the builders who are working on new steps for my house
- doing online research
- making sure I have at least one good deep uninterrupted conversation with my brilliant. deep-thinking daughter who is home for the summer
- getting ready to lead future seminars and trainings that sometimes require me to spend 12-14 contact hours a day with my students


The point is that once you start making an inventory of your busy-ness, you give up time and energy and can succeed in laying yourself and your unfortunate listeners flat. .

I will probably never inflict a list of this kind on myself, let alone readers or listeners, again.

Which leads me back to the virtue of being almost indescribably busy.

On any day but this - when I am breaking my general rule to deliver a cautionary tale - I could always tell you in how many ways I am busy, but I won't do it.

Haven't you noticed how people who aren't doing all that much can never seem to find time or energy to do just one thing more? By contrast, people who are truly busy can always manage to do one thing more - as long as they don't slow down to tell you how busy they are...

The bridge

I am the bridge between the tame land and the wild.
I was made by your hands but I am
the making and unmaking of your kind.

If you fear the crossing I narrow and heave..
If you seek to avoid what is on the other side
I will meet you halfway, in the form you most fear.

- Great Hollow CT, July 25, 2010

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The badger and the poet

Thanks to American poet Jennifer Moxley, I've added a word to my vocabulary for what can go on inside and around the process of making poetry. The word, in French, is blaireau, and its literal translation is "badger", which immediately brings to mind that fierce and tenacious creature that lives under hedges and won't let go of something it has in its teeth and claws - which could be useful qualities in literary composition, if not overdone.
     But in the usage of the French poet Emmanuel Hocquart, as explained by Moxley in a postscript to her vividly aphoristic Fragments of a Broken Poetics, "badger" has a special and intriguing meaning:

"It is a way to designate those activities in D.I.Y. poetic circles of doing and making things that are not obviously valuable. The name badger" comes from an analogously useless activity: cutting off of all the hairs on a man's shaving brush (traditionally made of badger hair), and then, one by one, gluing them back on. In his book Ma haie [My Hedge], Hocquard has termed this method of poetry and bookmaking "la méthode Robinson" ("the Crusoe method")—that is, an activity, a result, or a concept, all of which look—to any outsider, non-poet type—"ridiculously useless," "private and solitary," and "outrageously speculative and experimental."*

Come to think of it, as I've been bringing together a collection of my own poetry and contemplating fonts and papers and graphic designs, I've had moments of crazy and random delight when the process has felt a little like pulling the hairs off the badger brush and then gluing them back on, though I doubt that this analogy that would have occurred to me spontaneously, outside a dream.

*Jennifer Moxley, "Fragments of a Broken Poetics" Chicago Review Spring 2010

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Dreaming by the Book

My in-flight reading on a recent 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 weekend, 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.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Goethe's colors

This year is the 200th anniversary of the publication of Goethe's Zür Farbenlehre (Theory of Colors) in 1810. Goethe was inordinately proud of his achievement in producing this vast tome. He stated “I am the only person in this century who has the right insight into the difficult science of colors...and that is what gives me the feeling that I have outstripped many.”

His sense of accomplishment was not misplaced. While Newton (for example) had viewed color perception as a physical phenomenon, the effect of light striking objects and entering our eyes, Goethe realized that it is also shaped by perception, which involves the way our brains process data. Goethe studied how colors produce somatic and emotional effects in the perceiver. His work on after-images, colored shadows and complementary colors was a major influence on artists and occultists. He anticipated Hering’s “opponent-color” theory, which is one basis of our modern understanding of the perception of colors.

The first plate of Zür Farbenlehre includes a color wheel and diagrams of distorted color perception. The landscape at the bottom depicts how a scene would look to someone who was blue-yellow color blind. Thanks to Tom Cheetham for alerting me to this.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Work as play, or, A Tale of Six Tea Bags

I love it when people turn work into play. Even better when they give themselves and others a lift by doing more, in an improvisational way, than could possibly be asked of them in a job.

Case in point, from a recent flight on Southwest:

The woman next to me asks the young male flight attendant for hot tea. He returns with a selection of six Stash tea bags as well as the standard-issue Earl Grey and chamomile.

"My goodness," my rowmate gasps. "I'm amazed that Southwest has such a wide selection."

"Oh, they're not standard issue," the flight attendant responds. "I just thought that passengers deserve a wider selection than Southwest supplies, so I bring these from the airline hotels where they put us up overnight."

I congratulated the flight attendant, with strong appreciation, for his initiative - and for turning his work into play. He responded by giving me a free drink. Full marks to him, and to Southwest for choosing its staff so well.

At the end of that flight, the fellow at the car rental desk asked if I was in his town on business or pleasure. "I don't make that distinction anywhere in my life," I told him. That is simple truth.

He cocked his head and asked, "Are you a writer?"

"That's a pretty good guess. How did you come up with that?"

"I was trying to think what kind of job you would have if your work was your play."

The Southwest flight attendant's performance with the tea bags suggests that the answer can be: ANY job.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Wrong plane, right conversation

En route to the West Coast to lead a new training for teachers of Active Dreaming, my first flight is delayed. I run from one end of Chicago's vast O'Hare airport to the other in hopes of making my connection. When I get to the gate at the end of the C concourse, the doors have just closed and the gate agent refuses, politely but implacably, to reopen them.

"But we have another flight leaving in thirty minutes," he says. "You might be able to get on it."

"On United? How can that be?"

"The other flight has been delayed over three hours."

Worth a try. I run to the other end of the C concourse to find a crowd of restless, edgy passengers massed around the departure gate. According to the board, there are over a dozen passengers on standby.

I study the airline agents at the gate. I pick the middle guy, who has added a touch of color and sartorial flair to his uniform.

"You are a magician," I inform him. "I know it will be your pleasure to magic up a seat fro me on this flight that does not exist."

He receives this calmly. "At the moment, the flight is fully booked. But check back when boarding is complete."

Fifteen minutes later, I am left alone with a bunch of hopeful standby passengers. The door is closing. Then a boarding pass is slipped into my hand. I get the last seat on the plane, the one that wasn't previously available.

So now I am crammed into a middle seat at the back of the bus, but I'm cheeful because I have avoided arriving six hours late, via another city, on the alternative routing the airline had given me on my voicemail. A cheerful fellow on my left strikes up conversation. He's a salt-of-the-earth, American blue-collar guy. He's worked for 33 years for the same company, and they've been loyal and good to each other. He's sure of his pension five years from now. But he has a big life issue. How does a guy retire? He has friends who couldn't make the adjustment and died within six months of retirement.

"If it were my life," I tell him, "it would be a matter of putting together my strongest passions with the skill sets I've acquired."

He's not sure whether he can name his ruling passions. But an hour or so later, after we've discussed many aspects of his life, I am able to offer the following:

"Listening to you, I have heard about a guy who loves
- the water and scuba diving
- the perfect martini
- driving and travel
- being part of a large and affecionate family or community
- sharing and giving back
and who knows a lot about
- containing and putting out fires
- networking
- retraining to go into a different element."

I continue: "If you heard a list of passions and skills like this that applied to another person, what kind of work would you envision for him?"

He thinks about it. "Maybe running an old-style diner by the beach, in North Carolina?"

He says he'll think about it some more. He adds, "I feel more mobilized than I've felt in decades."

He asks me what I plan to do when I retire. My answer: "When you love your work and do it for its own sake, you never retire."

Friday, July 16, 2010

Pixel Pixies and Shelf Elves

Charles de Lint’s story “Pixel Pixies” in Tapping the Dream Tree (Tor) was inspired by a friend’s suggestion that spirits now live in the wires, even more than the trees, travel through the internet, take up residence in computers and “live on electricity and lord knows what else”.

In the story, a used bookstore owner finds her computer playing up. She can’t exit her browser, and can’t switch to another window – and can’t log off without losing important data she had been working on but has failed to save. When she tries switching to sites on the drop-down “Favorites” menus she is switched to totally unrelated sites. A striking fey woman comes in and suggests she should try turning her sweater inside out. What has she got to lose? The bookstore lady tries it, and the problem disappears. The fey lady says, “If you’re lucky, they’re still on the internet and didn’t follow you home.”

This sets us up for a wild, entertaining story in which mischievous, vandalizing pixies – who can appear either as tiny men or as dancing lights the size of “the mouth of a shot glass” – come spilling out of the computer screen. What is to be done? The fey lady – identified now as an “oak king’s daughter” – has the solution: the primal, pre-church version of Bell, Book and Candle. The ritual requires a book that has never been read – in this case, a book with uncut pages. The bookstore lady finds one in her locked cabinet of first editions. And it is:

The Trembling of the Veil by William Butler Yeats, number seventy-one of a thousand-copy edition privately printed by T. Werner Laurie, Ltd in 1922.

The uncut book is placed on the sidewalk and used to trap the pixies – who are finally driven back into the computer and flushed into cyberspace when the bookstore lady boots up.

Yeats observed (in the preface to a collection of fairy tales gathered by his friend Lady Gregory) that pixies and similar “wild creatures and green things” tend to “creep towards our light by little holes and crevices”. So why not the passage of a computer screen – or even an incoming email?

"Pixel Pixies" gave me delicious shivers when I first read it, because on that same night I had been writing about Yeats for my Dreamer's Book of the Dead and had decided to give the prologue to that book a title curiously similar to that of the uncut book in the story: "The Night When the Veil Thins." In my night study, I felt the workings of a shelf elf, more than that of pixel pixies.

Charles de Lint has gone on to write a larger-scale treatment of this theme in Spirits in the Wires, one of my favorites among his Newford novels, in which he has developed a Canadian mode of magical realism. But I am sure he has noticed that pixies keep up with human technology - when they are not ahead of it - so a title for today might be Spirits Go Wireless.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Ryan Hurd and the Archeology of Gratitude

Ryan Hurd has a charming and generous review of this blog at his Dream Studies website, an excellent clearing-house for information on the ever-expanding field of dream research. I am tickled by his description of my Active Dreaming adventures as "shamanic lucid dreams". We do indeed travel deep into realms of the shaman, and beyond "lucid dreaming" as it is understood in much of the literature, practicing shared and group dream travel, timefolding, shapeshifting and conscious exploration of the multiverse and the multidimensional self.

Ryan is, inter alia, an expert on the phenomenon of sleep paralysis, and offers practical guidance on how to deal with this problem as well as informed speculation about the factors the factors that may be involved - from poor sleep habits to psychic intrusion - in an excellent ebook, Sleep Paralysis, available from his site.

One psychologist describes sleep paralysis with vivid imagery as "bound lucidity." Its common name may be a misnomer, since it is a phenomenon associated with the hypnagogic zone and/or the waking state rather than with sleep. In terms of physiology, what happens is that a switch malfunctions inside us so that muscle groups that need to shut down during REM states (so we don't try to act out our dreams physically) stay shut down when we are awake and want to move our bodies. Some people find this quite terrifying ans see horrible apparitions menacing them. I experienced this in my teens, but only rarely in adult life - in a time of immense psychospiritual activity analogous to Jung's "confrontation with the unconscious."

I found the best recourse was to stay calm, remember that spiritual help and protection is always available when we ask, practice a little conscious breathing and try, very gently, to flutter an eyelid or move a toe or finger. Ryan offers similar practical counsel. My only issue with his approach is that he suggests that part of the fix is to adopt a regular sleep cycle, something I have never done and don't intend to do now.

Ryan reviewed this blog before I launched my new Dream Gates blog over at Beliefnet. My intention is to post very actively on both blogs on parallel tracks. On this blog, I'll post more reports of first-hand adventures in the multiverse, and stories, essays and poems of and from the Imaginal Realm. My Dream Gates blog has already taken shape as a fun teaching vehicle that will help to bring core techniques of Active Dreaming, inspirational and instructive stories from the lives of contemporary and historical dreamers, to a much broader audience, and so contribute to the rebirth of a dreaming society. It's time! I'll welcome active discussion on both blogs.

Floating dream image by hi_jme via the Dream Studies website.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Dreams belong to the dreamers

I had the pleasure this week of talking to Henry Reed, one of the pioneers of the American dreamwork movement. "Forget psychology," said this PhD in psychology with winning bluntness. "Dreams belong to the dreamers, and dreaming is an experience, not a text or a theory. Dreams are natural experiences, and there are natural ways to honor and unfold them."

I asked Henry to describe how he was drawn to dreaming and dreamwork, and he recalled a time back in the late 1960s when he was a postgrad student in psychology and estranged from his dreams. He was greatly impressed by a friend who not only dreamed a lot, but was able to follow his dreams on interesting paths of manifestation. The friend dreamed he was living in a big, beautiful house in Santa Monica, and the dream led him to a wealthy couple who were willing to rent him that dream house cheap if he worked on fixing it up. When Henry asked him, "How did you learn to dream like that?" he spoke of the work of the psychic Edgar Cayce, who received messages in his sleep and taught the importance of dreams.

Henry made it his intention to start remembering and using his dreams, but it took him several months before he managed to catch even a broken fragment from the night. He was drinking hard at the time, he recalled with candor. Then one morning, after waking, he remembered he had seen a flying goat. He was able to use that surreal image, and his excitement about it, to pull back more of a dream in which he was with a wise old man in a rural location. There was also a drunk in the scene, and the evidence of his drinking and poor diet - an empty wine bottle, a crumpled potato chip bag and mayonnaise - were littered around. Coming out of his impromptu dream reentry, Henry felt a keen desire to be more like the wise old man, and less like the drunk he recognized as a version of himself.

Several decades after that dream, living on a rural property in the mountains of Virginia where he raises goats, Henry saw his dream enacted when a goat - leaping over a gorge - appeared to be flying. And he has come to look somewhat like the wise old man in his dream (see his drawing from that dream) that he agreed might have been his future self, looking in on his student self, to help pull him through.

Working with Edgar Cayce's Association for Research and Enlightenment (A.R.E.) Henry conducted many experiments in group dreamwork, starting in the 1970s. He improvised and revived rituals for dream incubation and dream sharing, and a "dream helper ceremony" in which a group of dreamers were encouraged to dream on behalf of one of their number.

More recently, Henry has encouraged a form of "memory divination". I recall experiencing this, under his guidance, in a workshop at a conference of the Association for the Study of Dreams in Oakland in the late 1990s. Henry invited us to sit with a partner and notice what personal life memory rose into our consciousness in the presence of that other person. Then we would swap dreams and see how our personal memories might illuminate the other's dreams. I use a stripped-down version of this approach in intuition games in which I simply have partners notice what life memory of their own comes to mind in the presence of the other. This tends to confirm that we know more about each other - perhaps through our overlapping energy fields - than we consciously realize.

Henry Reed has collected many of his essays and papers in Dream Medicine, from which I'll give some of my favorite quotes:

"It is difficult to continue to recall dreams if you do nothing with them."

"Dreams...have healing power; but that power is, believe it or not, independent of our ability to understand them."

"Perhaps the most significant development concerning dreams in the latter decades of the twentieth century is returning them to their rightful owner, the dreamer."

The final quote is the best:

"Our culture is opening to public discourse on another dimension of reality until such time as we can consensually inhabit non-material realms of experience."

Henry and I agreed that, for both of us, this is the heart of the matter.

Henry's dream of a flying goat led him to kick the sauce. Ironically, a flying goat is also on the label of an excellent pinot noir.

My interview with Henry Reed will air on my "Way of the Dreamer" radio show at 12:00 noon Eastern on July 13, and can be accessed via the show archive after that time.

Monday, July 5, 2010

In Gardens of Imagination at McGill

A conversation that started with my article about Henry Corbin, the great French scholar of l'imaginaire inspires me to post this account from my 2006 journal of a charming sequence that unfolded at McGill University in Montreal, when I accompanied my youngest daughter there on a college tour:

I have to skip part of the tour of McGill to fix a parking problem. When I come back, I find I have time to explore a small corner of the campus by myself. I decide to check out the Arts Building, and then the Leacock Building, where the anthropology department is housed on the seventh floor. I'm planning to go up, but the elevators aren't running and the atmosphere in the lobby is already oppressively warm and stuffy and fly-blown. I'm drawn outside, to a high breezy terrace and across it, towards a handsome church-like building. I am intrigued by a discreet sign that announces that this is the home of the Islamic Studies Library.

I stroll in. The man at the desk looks up out of china-blue eyes.

"My daughter's on a tour of McGill. I thought I'd just snoop around. Mind if I take a look?"

"Go right ahead. You may want to start with the Round Room. Left, then right. It's quite beautiful."

The library is deserted apart from a few staffers and a couple of researchers in cubicles. I walk between open stacks. Most of the titles are in Arabic or Farsi. The "Round Room" is, indeed, magical - a two-level room with books stacked on the mezzanine as well as the ground floor, with divans set in bay windows, and in the center an array of books on gardens - Arab gardens, Persian gardens, the garden as a metaphor for paradise in Islamic traditions - on a round table. Our word "paradise", I am reminded, is derived from the Old Persian pairidaeza, whose original meaning is "walled garden".

I stroll back, glancing at titles and categories, wondering where I might find the works of those princely explorers of the imagination, Suhrawardi and Ibn 'Arabi.

A man is just closing up his laptop, rising from a table where he has evidently been doing research.

"The Round Room is beautiful," I remark.

"Oh yes, it is. It's an Octagon, actually. The whole place used to be part of the Presbyterian College of Montreal."

"Do you teach here?"

"I've just finished my PhD."

"What is the theme of your dissertation?"

"Arab historiography."

"Ibn Khaldun?"

"You know Ibn Khaldun?"

I explain that when I was casting around for a theme for my postgraduate work in history at the Australian National University, a Pakistani research professor introduced me to Ibn Khaldun, and I spent long nights poring over the available translations of his Muqaddimah , or "Introduction", to world history. Writing in the 14th century, in the midst of constant war and turmoil, Ibn Khaldun brought modern principles of evidence to the grand ambition of writing a universal history. He regarded dreams and visions as essential to the making of history as climate and geography. He explained how knowledge of the future, the realm of angels, and the Divine purpose become available through dreams and visions, and how in true dreams the soul travels outside the body.

"I nearly made Ibn Khaldun the subject of my PhD dissertation," I tell my new acquaintance. "But life called me a different way."

The new Ph.D. introduces himself as Sami; he's from Lebanon. We are soon engaged in lively conversation.

I express my interest in Suhrawardi. Sami is astonished. He gropes for a phrase in English to describe the Persian philosopher of Light. I offer his Arabic title, Shaikh al-Ishraq. Sami's face is a mixture of delight and incredulity.

For the next half-hour, postponing his appointment outside the library, he makes himself my guide, introducing me to the Acting Librarian, an Armenian woman from Iraq, and the stacks. I leaf through French editions of Henry Corbin, including his translations of Suhrawardi.

It only occurs to me later that this library is a very special one, supposedly closed to all but accredited scholars, and that its custodians are likely to be especially careful about letting strangers wander around under today's jittery circumstances.

The incident seemed like a fresh call to follow the roads to the Imaginal Realm, and to soul remembering, that opened in my encounters with the Princes of the East, and led to me writing sections on Suhrawardi, Ibn 'Arabi and Ibn Khaldun in my Secret History of Dreaming.

The books on gardens on display in the Round Room came to mind that evening, when I led a dream workshop in which a woman shared a dream of a numinous meeting under a tree in a magical garden. This inspired me to lead a group journey, an exercise in shamanic lucid dreaming, in which the agreed assignment was for all participants to travel to a garden of the imagination and locate their special tree.

"Glimpse of Paradise", ceramic tile, by Armenian artist Marie Balian.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Who is doing the dreaming?

A practical psychology of dream experience needs to raise the question: which part of the dreamer is doing the dreaming? The psychic Edgar Cayce suggested distinguishing dreams that reflect the needs or wishes of the body, the mind and the spirit. But the issue involves more than needs and wishes. In dreaming, we get out there. The question is: who is the dream traveler?

In keeping with my recent theme of Eastern approaches to the Imaginal Realm, I want to note that the great Persian Sufi philosopher, Suhrawardi, offers a very clear experiential psychology of dream travel. He distinguished different levels of dreaming – with corresponding degrees of importance and reliability – according to which aspect of self is the traveler.

(1) Clear dreams or “free revelation” [kashf] are experiences of soul [ruh] traveling beyond the body, or having clear communication with a visitor. The territory visited may be a separate reality or a situation in the future. “With the eye of the free soul, by the imagination, a person contemplates in dreams the state of things which is yet in the hidden.” In this condition, the dreamer can have accurate foreknowledge of future events, and true clairvoyance. “After separation from the body, the soul knows even of the small things heard and seen of this world.”

In clear dreams, the dreamer becomes a remote viewer. This is a practice that can be developed in waking states of altered consciousness, or mukashafa. The Prophet Muhammad scouted out the progress of a caravan en route to Mecca in this way. The Caliph Umar, from afar, scouted an ambush that had been laid for his general Sariya (and sent his general a telepathic warning that was received).

(2) Symbolic dreams or “fancied revelations” are dreams in which the lower self [nafs] is dominant. Clear vision is cloaked by the “fancy garments” of appetite and desire. Landscapes traveled in such dreams are “the stages of lust.” Interpretation is required to separate a message from the fancy dress.

(3)“Pure fancy” is when “sensual thoughts” take over completely and higher consciousness [ruh] is “veiled from considering the hidden world.”

Source: H. Wilberforce Clarke (trans.) A Dervish Textbook - Kashani's Recension of Suhrawardi's Gifts : from the 'Awarifu-l-Ma'arif (London: Octagon Books, 1980).

Friday, July 2, 2010

Night poems


You see a flash of blue in the air at midnight,
that blue, the blue of a kingfisher's wings,
and you take flight from the seen to the unseen.
Poor strategy: the unseen is my home.
You hide from me where I live.


When you thought the fire was out
flame leaps from the heart of the wood
so strong you're surprised it is safely contained
in what you expected to be a cold hearth.
There is no smoke detector to warn you
if it were burning out of control.
Know this: tended or untended, the fire lives.
It will consume you. As fire lives in wood
I live in you.

A night with the Princes of the East

The Assignment

An old friend has asked me to lunch with a pair of foreigners, a man and a woman who are Persian or Near Eastern. We go to a restaurant where he disappears to converse with staff in the background. I join the foreign couple at a table. We seem to be the only patrons in the restaurant, which is either windowless or has the windows heavily draped. the decor is expensive but anonymous, generic hotel or airport lounge style.
     The first phase of the conversation is guarded and superficial. I decide I'm ready to go, having discharged my personal obligation.
     My friend approaches me, highly agitated, as I prepare to leave. He gestures at a set of handwritten notes and a typed memo that he slipped to me earlier but I haven't bothered to read. These papers, especially the handwritten notes, make it plain that the people I am lunching with are top priority. It is vitally important for me to pursue the conversation and draw them out, so that their words can be captured on tape. I have been picked to pursue this opportunity because the couple trust me.
     I yield, lingering at the table to drain glass after glass of cheap armagnac. The man matches me, glass for glass, with cognac. The mood is increasingly jolly and intimate. I can only guess at the size of the bill for all these drinks, but I plan to present the bill to my friend. The waiter, an oily Levantine type, seems to be in on the plot. He refers to us as "Excellencies" and "Your Highnesses." It seems the "assignment" will be completed by the end of our session, which looks likely to continue for the rest of the afternoon.
     I woke from this dream in a pool of moonlight, lying on a bed in a cabin in the Hero Islands on Lake Champlain. I was excited and intensely curious, wanting to know much more about the message I was supposed to record. I needed to go back into the dream, and made it my intention tod do this, lying on my back on the bed. I kept a pad and paper close to my hand. ff I succeeded in resuming my conversation with the mysterious strangers, I was determined not to forget my assignment to record the proceedings.

The Prince and Princess of Fars

I focus on the restaurant as my portal for dream reentry.. The name of the restaurant is "The Golden Cage" or "The Golden Bowl". I confirm that the restaurant, though spacious, is tightly sealed - no views of the outside.
     I try to examine the papers my friend gave me. I find there are three documents, in a large manila envelope: handwritten notes, on several smallish pieces of high-quality bond; a typed memo; and a clipping from a newspaper. The newspaper is the Tehran Times. The headline describes a visit by "The Prince and Princess of Fars."
     I need to talk to them.
     The man shows himself. He is pleasant-looking, clean-shaven, with an oval face, black hair combed straight with the slightest suggestion of sideburns, large dark brown eyes, immaculately dressed. The woman's features, by contrast, are indistinct. She is veiled, not in Islamic style but in "High Priestess" mode of the Tarot trump.
     The man is the Shams of my previous encounter. He is wearing a beautiful grey-blue shirt with a narrow white banded collar under his tailored suit. He says I may know the veiled princess as Fatima. He urges me to study the typed sheet my friend gave me. I review the paper, and find it contains a list of 20 questions. The first questions give me shivers:

1. What is the nature of exile?
2. What are the conditions for the return?

As I record the questions on my pad, Shams, gives me his responses, for the record:

1. What is the nature of Exile?

To be an exile is to be separated unwillingly from your homeland. This is the condition of the soul when it comes into the body. It is the condition of the higher man when he is separated from his Higher Self.

2. What are the conditions for Return?

The return requires courage, the willingness to deny the ways of the world. It is always a journey to the Mountain. It requires cutting the cord of attachment to worldly things.
There are many tests and obstacles along the way, also distractions and temptations. But Home reaches out to guide the returning exile. There is always a guide. The appearances of the guide are almost always unexpected. The face may be that of a familiar friend, or a stranger.

3. What is the Source?

The Source is the bottomless well of remembering. You may see it as a passage or a bore-hole, leading to inexhaustible reserves. Do not confuse the bore-hole with what lies beyond it. From a certain viewpoint, the bore-hole is also the birth canal. You may learn to swim back, into the Water of life, into the womb of the Ancient Mother.

4. Who is the Guide?

The guide is the emissary of the level of Intelligence - the level of the Real - that you are able to work with at this time. The guide takes the form you are ready to recognize.

5. What is the Kingdom?

The kingdom is this world. But a true crown is earned only through the blessing of the Other World. the true crown is Xvarnah.

6. Is there eternal conflict between good and evil?

There are competing forces in the cosmos. Humans interact with the battles and struggles of races beyond the human. The conflicts of this world are related to those of subtler kingdoms.
In dealing with problems of good and evil, humans must know that
- In the universe, humans interact and have intercourse with beings other-than-human that are friendly, neutral, hostile or inimical to men.
- Demons are real, often generated by human thought and emotion. The Sphere of the Moon is the principal center of demonic interaction and interference with humans.
- There are "criminal souls".
- The principle of "active evil" is also a real phenomenon.
- In the world of duality, it is necessary to take sides (witness 1939). Embodied beings, in a world of duality, cannot evade this choice.

7. What is the work of the Invisible Schools?

You are born (which is to say, re-born) within a spiritual tradition or lineage. You are called in dreams and visionary states to resume contact with teachers of your Order. You may be invited to attend other schools but you are born with one primary connection.

8. What are the conditions for soul travel?

The keys to the practice are in meditation, concentration, the presence of the guide, courage for the journey. Also a trustworthy map and a password. Above all, the traveler's robe.
It is not only a matter of leaving the physical body, but of putting on the heavenly body.
This has to be earned, to be grown (or rather, re-grown).
     The celestial body, the true Body of Light, is required for the high experience of soul travel.

I broke contact for a moment to tiptoe into the bathroom. When I returned, I was given some personal information, and was then able to return to the questions. The ninth question involved the nature of the soul. We got through 13 of the 20 questions, but the quality of my reception began to waver, and we agreed to reserve the completion of the dialogue for another time. I dated my journal report as I always do. August 1, 1998.
     I pulled on shirt and shorts and walked down to the lake. In the twilight before dawn, I lay out on the floating dock and watched the changing light on the lake. A silver streak near the horizon gradually increased in size. A rosy blush spread over it, cloudlike against the silver, until the water looked more like the sky than the sky itself. A field of bright, clear blue, shaped like an elongated triangle, emerged within the rosy "clouds". I seemed to be looking into a lake in the sky, into an Otherworld landscape. Fish broke the surface. The black silhouettes of nightbirds and early fishers glided above the lake, to plunge after fish. I saw a kingfisher, mighty in head and chest, take possession of the far shore.

The river in the Imaginal Realm is from a manuscript in the Turkish Museum in Istanbul, an anthology of Persian poets published in Shiraz in 1398. It is reproduced in Henry Corbin's Spiritual Body & Celestial Earth