Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Healing on the Night Shift

I am interested in those nights of dreaming from which we surface quite certain that we accomplished something valuable, with the sense that this was a real event, completed inside the dreamspace. Dreams of this kind do not require analysis, though we may look for verification in various ways - for example, by checking our subsequent state of health (in the case of a dream of healing) or observing incidents in the ordinary world that seem to follow from what was done in the dream.

In the ancient temples of dream healing, seekers came in hopes that a complete healing might be transacted during the night and (to judge by the Asklepian testimonies conveniently gathered in the Edelstein's massive compilation) many went home entirely satisfied. My friend Wanda Burch, author of She Who Dreams reports a recent personal experience of this kind. Troubled by a suspect mole that had appeared on the sole of one of her feet, she made an appointment for a medical inspection. Before going to the doctor, she asked for dream help. In her night dream, she saw a disembodied hand draw a line around the mole. In the morning, the mole had completely disappeared. Grateful but incredulous, she had to summon her husband to confirm that no trace was left.

My friend Louisa, a music lover, attends complete concerts in her dreams. On a recent night, she reports, "I dreamed of a grand gala performed by a superb orchestra, huge, Mahler-sized, with that distinct 'breath' that all great orchestras have. I was just a disembodied presence, but I could see and especially hear very well. The sound was direct and rounded, with distinct sound from each player, as though I was floating right above the stage."

I dream very frequently that I am conducting classes and giving lectures, as I do in waking life. Sometimes such dreams preview classes I subsequently lead in the ordinary world; sometimes they seem to be programs of the "Night School" sufficient unto themselves. I often hear from dreamers who claim they have attended some of these programs.

When I was writing my book Dreaming True I received an email from a very wise woman (a double PhD, inter alia) who had attended one of my waking-world courses at Esalen. She wanted to thank me for "the lecture you gave last night". I had given no such lecture in ordinary reality, but I had vague recollections of lecturing in my own dreams that night. My interest was piqued because she mentioned the "lucidity" with which I had summarized certain points, writing a list on a whiteboard. Since these points related directly to the book I was then working on, I asked her if she would be good enough to send me her notes form my lecture. She obliged, and I was able to incorporate the five points she had recorded from the lecture I had given in her dream, virtually unedited, in my book.

Sometimes the work of the night shift is emotional healing and the mending of relationships. I want to share a profound experience of this kind.

Many years ago, I felt that a powerful dream closed the book on a bitter conflict. For years before this dream, I had been locked in an ongoing battle with a man I then regarded as my worst enemy.

In the dream, I met him in a men's room. When he saw me, his features distorted and he inflated like a balloon, until he resembled a demonic entity more than a human.

Instead of doing battle, I looked at him calmly, reached deep into my heart, and said to him, from the heart, "I love you."

This sent him in whirling confusion. He deflated to regular size, and the darkness around him fell away. He went on shrinking until he resembled a pink and innocent baby.

I now bent over the sink and purged. When I inspected the clear bile I had heaved up, I saw it contained scores of rusty nails. I was astonished to realize that these had been inside me, and could now understand that they were the effect of the hateful thoughts and feelings that had been projected by my adversary.

I woke in wonderful spirits, feeling light and energized - and also that the old feud had now, really and truly, been ended.

I believe the work of that night shift was profound closure. My dream self, wiser and more generous that I may have been at that time in my life, was able to accomplish a healing that I doubt that my ordinary self could have undertaken then.. I did not encounter that old adversary again, either in regular life or in dreams, and he has since passed on. But I was able to think of him with compassion, remembering the sweet and innocent child that had been revealed, and I never again felt any harmful thoughts coming my way from him.

Photo by Suzette M. Rios-Scheurer

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Wild ride to the Sky Castle of the Sisterhood

I'm at a gentleman's club in London. I am there for some grand occasion. Hundreds of people in evening garb are gathering. I am very conscious that I am not at all dressed for the event. I am wearing summer shorts and sandals, and my hair is long and unkempt. Nobody comments directly on my appearance, but I feel I am getting some strange looks.

I'm increasingly uncomfortable, and start wondering where I could change my clothes and how to get my hair under control. At this point, a mature and rather magnificent woman strides in. She's wearing a very stylish traveling coat and high boots. She signals to me that I am to come with her and indicates that we have more important things to do than dinner at the club.

Outside, I find she has two women companions, all very stylish but also clearly ready for important work; the threesome remind me a bit of the female operatives in old TV thriller's like "Charlie's Angels". Their vehicle is most unusual. When I first inspect it, I think I am looking at a pair of unicycles with pink tires. The tires are indeed pink, and the wheels do look like very large bicycle wheels. But they are part of a long vehicle that has some kind of trailer with interesting equipment behind. This could be quite a ride!

I woke from this dream a week ago, intrigued and entertained.

As is my practice, I ran a reality check on my dream content. I did belong to that club in London decades ago. Right now, I am going around in summer shorts and have let my hair get quite long (and have no thoughts of taming it until summer's end).

The theme of changing clothes for different audiences or purposes is a recurring one in my dreams. In waking life, I think I have given up suits and ties completely, though I can imagine getting into black tie for the right occasion.

I did not recognize the three dream women, but I do have wonderful women friends and helpers in my life and work, These three evoke magical realms of adventure and intrigue. The irruption of the first one into the male-dominated club felt almost like the intervention of the Threefold Goddess :-)

A vehicle with pink bicycles seems unlikely but you do see those three-wheeled rickshaw type things all over Europe as well as Asia now.

Right after this dream, I went off to the Omega Institute to lead a five-day adventure in Active Dreaming. I seized the opportunity to reenter the dream with two gifted women dreamers. Our shared conscious journey took us deep into multidimensional reality, with many mutually confirming experiences.

I found that I had twin dream selves in the dream - a Robert in an elegant suit who fitted in with the men at the Club, and the wild-haired Robert in shorts. Traveling in the carriage or "road train" with the wild women brought me to special locations I have visited in dreams and visions of long ago that are precincts of a Sisterhood that operates across space and time to restore feminine power and balance on Earth. One of these special places is a kind of world mountain, surmounted by a castle of the Sisterhood, that strongly resembles René Magritte's painting, The Castle of the Pyrenees.

I was given three Gaelic names for the three women. This sent me off on a research assignment, after we closed our day's sessions. The first name I recognized. It was Macha, an ancient name of a War goddess and also of the solitary woman in the list of the high kings of Ireland. Macha and her sisters are the three faces of the Morrigan, and they have figured in my dreams before, in both womanly and raven form. The second name was Senchas, which means Justice or Law, preserved by the bardic arts; in old Ireland, the correctness of a legal maxim or precedent was judged by the rightness of the poetry that carried it. It seemed that Senchas could also be a personal name. The third name was Imbolc and I thought I must have gotten this wrong, since that is the name of the great fire festival of Brigid, herself a Threefold Goddess, that heralds the end of winter. But I found that the root meaning of Imbolc is "mother's milk" (and specifically "sheep's milk") which would be a grand name for the nurturing and mothering aspect of the Triple Goddess.

René Magritte, Le château des Pyrénées (1959)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The "ghostly affinity" of human and animal

Carol recently posted a moving account in a comment on this blog of how she previewed the death of a beloved family dog and saw him living a happy new life in spirit, frisky as a puppy. She was able to share this dream with family members she visited on the day the dog passed on, and they all received comfort and the sense of blessing from this.

The famous Victorian writer H. Rider Haggard, author of King Solomon's Mines, She, and other grand tales of adventure, was also a psychic researcher and an active dreamer. He sent the Times of London a long letter recounting his own foreknowledge, through a dream, of the death of a dog he liked. Rider Haggard's most interesting account adds to the voluminous data bank of recorded instances of psychic dreaming. I trust that at some point the dossier will be so vast that those sleep researchers and academics who persist in dismissing the evidence for such phenomena as "anecdotal" will be obliged to recognize the facts of dreaming, as active dreamers have always known them:

On the night of Saturday, July 9 [1904], I went to bed about 12.30, and suffered from what I took to be a nightmare. I was awakened by my wife's voice calling to me from her own bed upon the other side of the room.

I dreamed that a black retriever dog, a most amiable and intelligent beast named Bob, which was the property of my eldest daughter, was lying on its side among brushwood, or rough growth of some sort, by water. In my vision the dog was trying to speak to me in words, and, failing, transmitted to my mind in an undefined fashion the knowledge that it was dying. Then everything vanished, and I woke to hear my wife asking me why on earth I was making those horrible and weird noises. I replied that I had had a nightmare about a fearful struggle, and that I had dreamed that old Bob was in a dreadful way, and was trying to talk to me and to tell me about it.

On the Sunday morning Mrs. Rider Haggard told the tale at breakfast, and I repeated my story in a few words. Thinking that the whole thing was nothing more than a disagreeable dream, I made no inquiries about the dog and never learned even that it was missing until that Sunday night, when my little girl, who was in the habit of feeding it, told me so. At breakfast-time, I may add, nobody knew that it was gone, as it had been seen late on the previous evening. Then I remembered my dream, and the following day inquiries were set on foot.

To be brief, on the morning of Thursday, the 14th, my servant, Charles Bedingfield, and I discovered the body of the dog floating in the Waveney against a weir about a mile and a quarter away. On Friday, the 15th, I was going into Bungay when at the level crossing on the Bungay road I was hailed by two plate-layers, who are named respectively George Arterton and Harry Alger. These men informed me that the dog had been killed by a train, and took me on a trolly down to a certain open-work bridge which crosses the water between Ditchingham and Bungay, where they showed me evidence of its death.

This is the sum of their evidence: It appears that about 7 o'clock upon the Monday morning, very shortly after the first train had passed, in the course of his duties Harry Alger was on the bridge, where he found a dog's collar torn off and broken by the engine (since produced and positively identified as that worn by Bob), coagulated blood, and bits of flesh, of which remnants he cleaned the rails. On search also I personally found portions of black hair from the coat of a dog. On the Monday afternoon and subsequently his mate saw the body of the dog floating in the water beneath the bridge, whence it drifted down to the weir, it having risen with the natural expansion of gases, such as, in this hot weather, might be expected to occur within about forty hours of death. It would seem that the animal must have been killed by an excursion train that left Ditchingham at 10.25 on Saturday night, returning empty from Harlestone a little after 11. This was the last train which ran that night. No trains run on Sunday, and it is practically certain that it cannot have been killed on the Monday morning, for then the blood would have been still fluid. Further, if it was living, the dog would almost certainly have come home during Sunday, and its body would not have risen so quickly from the bottom of the river, or presented the appearance it did on Thursday morning.

From traces left upon the piers of the bridge it appeared that the animal was knocked or carried along some yards by the train and fell into the brink of the water where reeds grow. Here, if it were still living--and, although the veterinary thinks that death was practically instantaneous, its life may perhaps have lingered for a few minutes--it must have suffocated and sunk, undergoing, I imagine, much the same sensations as I did in my dream, and in very similar surroundings to those that I saw therein--namely, amongst a scrubby growth at the edge of water.

I am forced to conclude that the dog Bob, between whom and myself there existed a mutual attachment, either at the moment of his death, if his existence can conceivably have been prolonged till after one in the morning, or, as seems more probable, about three hours after that event, did succeed in calling my attention to its actual or recent plight by placing whatever portion of my being is capable of receiving such impulses when enchained by sleep, into its own terrible position.

On the remarkable issues opened up by this occurrence I cannot venture to speak further than to say that--although it is dangerous to generalise from a particular instance, however striking and well supported by evidence, which is so rarely obtainable in such obscure cases--it does seem to suggest that there is a more intimate ghostly connection between all members of the animal world, including man, than has hitherto been believed, at any rate by Western peoples; that they may be, in short, all of them different manifestations of some central, informing life, though inhabiting the universe in such various shapes.

The matter, however, is one for the consideration of learned people who have made a study of these mysterious questions. I will only add that I ask you to publish the annexed documents with this letter, as they constitute the written testimony at present available to the accuracy of what I state. Further, I may say that I shall welcome any investigation by competent persons.

I am, your obedient servant, H. Rider Haggard. [published by The Times on July 21, 1904]

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Appliance ghosts and the demon pool cleaner

In Maryland to lead a playshop on the Power of Story, I am staying in a Georgian colonial manse that is now a B&B, not for the charm of the place (which is great, though challenged by the encroachment of nearby McMansions) but for the wonderful stone-bordered pool behind the house. I am told that Longwood Manor was built in 1827for Thomas Moore, a gentleman farmer who entertained Jefferson and invented the refrigerator. I'm surprised by the idea that refrigerators were available in Jefferson's lifetime, but merely file that datum away until later.

After a long swim and dinner, I sit out by the pool, serenaded by cicadas and frogs. Bruce, the owner of the B&B, comes to join me. I am steeled to hear stories of stately Southern ghosts, but when I ask him if people report seeing the shade of Jefferson, he says, "Nothing like that. But there was an episode with my wife's deceased mother and the appliances." He explains that long ago in the Midwest, his mother-in-law worked as a demonstrator, showing people the virtues of washing machines and dryers when these were still novelties. She visited Longwoond Maor after Bruce and his wife bought it. Then, on the anniversary of her death, Bruce and his wife were both startled when the dryer in the laundry room turned on, twice, without benefit of human hand.

While Bruce talked, I watched the curious behavior of another appliance, the heavy-duty pool cleaner that was rushing back and forth in the water. It looked like a strange hybrid sea-creature with big flat eyes, a squirter like a goeey-duck (geoduc) clam, and a tail. It coiled itself up like a sea-snake getting ready to strike, then streaked across the pool. It seemed to be attacking a lamp that was set on the rim of the pool at the far end. It raised up, and squirted alternately from its tail and that gooey-duck pecker. It plunged deep into shaowed waters, then shot up, part-way out of the pool, high enough to give the lamp a good whack that knocked it over.

"I think your pool vacuum is either a sea-monster, or possessed," I remarked to Bruce, who chuckled.

"We call him Wally. He has it in for the pool light at that end. He knocked it out of its socket. That's why it's on the rim. Wally will come and get me in a moment."

Sure enough, now its name had been mentioned, the pool cleaner left off attacking the lamp. It coiled and sprang, racing towards our end of the pool, flicked up its tail and sprayed Bruce.

When Bruce went into the house, I tried to get a photo of Wally in action. The pool cleaner was darn difficult to catch. Every time I got a good angle, it managed to throw me off by squirting from its pecker or spraying me from its tail.

In the morning, I read up on the inventor of the refrigerator for whom the house had been built. I discovered that what he actually invented was an icebox, a cedar box insulated with rabbit fur and sheathed in metal, which he designed in order to keep the butter from his cows firm on the wagon road from Brookeville to Washington. I examined a photocopy of a letter from Thomas Moore to Jefferson in which he respectfully invited the President to "examine the condition of butter in the newly invented refrigeratory [sic]." Moore got a patent for his "refrigerator", but this soon became worthless when the icebox was rendered obsolete by appliances with motors.

Moore probably never thought of trying to trademark the word "refrigerator", if such defense of intellectual property available in his day. If he had trademarked the name, then presumably he and his descendants would have received some remuneration every time a manufacturer used it to describe a product. Maybe through the squirts of the pool demon, the dead refrigerator guy is signaling he is pissed that he didn't get paid his due.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Brushing the cliché dust off Thoreau

I am reminded by a friend on Facebook of a quote from Henry David Thoreau: ‎”Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.”

This quote is hardly obscure; there’s a whole industry devoted to reproducing it on T-shirts, aprons, posters, bangles and fridge magnets. Maybe you have it on a coffee mug, as I do.

Thoreau’s words are brilliant practical advice for conscious living, but only if we can brush off the cliché dust that settles when something is quoted so often that it loses its punch.

So try this, right now, with the words in front of you. Say them out loud. Now make them your own, by saying something like, “I go confidently in the direction of my dreams. I am living the life I’ve imagined.”

Are you feeling some forward movement? It requires a next step. You now want to decide on one thing you’ll do today (or tonight) to act on what is now your living, personal affirmation that you are following your dreams (present tense) and you are living the life you've imagined. Don't be vague and for goodness sake, don't try to be spiritually correct. You'll do one thing to get a great life plan working. Could be as simple as filling that Thorea mug with another jolt of java to make sure you're wired for some fabulous problem-solving or creative effort - or some chamomile tea to make you sweet and mellow.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Friday 13th, anyone?

Quick -
repeat after me paraskevidekatriaphobia. This is the learned name for fear of Friday 13th. It doesn't trip off the tongue quite as lightly as triskaidekaphobia, which means fear of the number 13. The longer tongue-twister is derived from the Greek words for "Friday" (Παρασκευή), "thirteen" (δεκατρείς), and "fear" (φοβία, from φόβος). But don't blame the ancient Greeks, The term was made up just a century ago, when scientists and psychologists still knew Greek and Latin.

If you're nervous about Friday 13th, here's my suggested remedy. Try to memorize and repeat 13 times (without looking) the word paraskevidekatriaphobia. By the time you get this right, Friday 13th will be over.

Friday 13th has generally been a lucky day for me, but then I'm a contrarian. As a student of practical superstitions, I'd be interested in your experiences of Friday 13th, in the past and on the morrow.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Chagrin: Freud's final reading

He always loved to read, and is steeped in literature, philosophy and archaeology. Now this last joy is to be taken from him.
    He has lost the city that was his home for 78 years, his clients, his power to write, even the love of his dog, who recoils from the stink of the rotting bone in his face. It is agony for him to eat and hard for him to speak. Even to smoke another of his beloved cigars - the source of the oral cancer that is killing him, but also his solace and (he has always insisted) the companions of his thought process - he sometimes has to hold his jaws open with a clothespeg. His devoted daughter helps him from time to time to remove the "monster", the huge metal prosthesis that has replaced a great chunk of his jaw and palate on the right side; it can take thirty minutes to re-insert it. They have found yet another malignant tumor inside his face and it is eating a hole through the flesh. It's too close to the eye and the brain for further surgery.
   In the world beyond the house in London where he knows he has come to die, a nightmare has spilled out of the darkest basements of the collective psyche and threatens to consume the world. For decades he has worked to diagnose the human craving for authority. He saw the logic of a Hitler arising as an externalized superego, and even described the phenomenon as "inevitable" given the condition of men's self-understanding. Nonetheless, he was stunned by the fierce joy with which his fellow-Austrians fell at the feet of the man-beast with the funny moustache who removes the agony of choice from all who will obey him, while licensing their blackest instincts.
    Around him in London, the English he so greatly admires are jittery as they pass out gas masks and dig trenches in the parks, talking of how Hitler's bombers will turn the world's greatest city into a mega-Guernica. And he is losing the strength and the vision even to keep turning the pages of a book. He chooses, as the last book he will ever read, La peau de chagrin, the novel that made Balzac famous. The title has been translated as "The Magic Skin" or "The Wild Ass's Skin." It has a double meaning in French that escapes these clumsy translations. Chagrin (as in English) means sorrow or disappointment, often resulting from failure; it also means the rough, untanned hide from the rump of a horse or wild ass once often used for binding books. In English, this kind of leather is called "shagreen".
    Anyway, the hero of Balzac's tale - a character named Raphael - is a penurious scribbler who has decided to kill himself after losing his last money, when he stumbles into a curiosity shop that seems to contain the emblems of a whole world, like a kind of 3-dimensional Tarot deck. The owner shows Raphael a piece of shagreen with magic properties. The young writer can have this for nothing and the skin - covered with indistinct Eastern spells - will grant his every wish. But he would be well-advised not to use it.
    The skeptical writer decides to give it a try. What does he have to lose? He's already bent on death. He rubs the skin and wishes for a revel worthy of a dissolute king. Instantly we are transported by Balzac's muscular prose into a scene of wild orgy and banqueting. The catch (and there has to be a catch in wishcraft involving lower powers) is that every time Raphael makes a wish, the skin shrinks and when it does so, he loses some of his own life-force. Eventually, having wished himself wealth and fame, he is desperately using his money to try to obtain a medical treatment that will reverse the process that is turning him into a shrunken, grotesque little old man.
    He tries to stop wishing for everything, ordering his servants to provide him with everything he thinks he could desire at appointed times. The plan is overthrown in a scene with a beautiful woman for whom he feels passionate love. She flees from him, bent on killing herself to stop him destroying himself by wishing for her. Exactly the opposite is accomplishes. As Raphael pursues her and flings himself on her, the last scrap of shagreen vanishes and he dies.
    The summary brings out the fantastical elements in Balzac's story, but anyone who has read Balzac will know that its great success lies in what was more fantastic than fantasy in all his writing: his power of vividly realistic description. The reader is spared no detail of Raphael's decline into an ugly, shriveled wreck. 
    It is impossible not to be moved by the picture of Freud, himself now a shriveled invalid, following this page by page. When he finished, he told his doctor, Max Schur, that it was the right book for him, because it was about "shrinkage and starvation", his lot. That same day, he gave his doctor the nod to give him huge doses of morphine that hastened his death. This non-religious Jew whose last work, Moses and Monotheism, boasted that it wss going to deprive the Jews of their defining hero (and this at a moment when the swastikas shadowed all of Europe) died on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, in 1939.
    He wanted to "die in harness, like King Macbeth", and very nearly succeeded. I respect his stoicism and absolute dedication to his life's work. I am also curious to know whether, looking back from the Other Side, Freud has experienced chagrin for his persistent denial, through his long career, of the reality of spirit and its survival of physical death. And whether he has made up with Jung now that certain essential things are much clearer.

Source: I have drawn some of my facts from an excellent recent study of Freud's last years by Mark Edmundson, The Death of Sigmund Freud (New York: Bloomsbury, 2007)

Statue of Freud in front of the Tavistock Clinic, near his last home in London. Photo by Mike Peel

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

In praise of used bookstores

I confess: I am passionately addicted to used bookstores. I am a reluctant shopper under most circumstances, but I'll pull your arm out of its socket if you try to restrain me from going inside a store that offers old books. I find that the benign shelf elf that Arthur Koestler dubbed the Library Angel comes instantly into play when I enter a used bookstore, placing volumes I wasn't looking for - but fulfill a dream, or set the right course for new exploration - exactly where I can't miss them.

On vacation in the Champlain Islands in Vermont this week, I just had to make a run down to Burlington (on a wild, windy day when swimming conditions in the lake weren't optimal) to one of my regional favorites, The Crow. I left with only nine new/old books, which is very moderate for me. One of them was The Death of Freud, a moving study of Freud's last two years that includes an indelible account of the Gestapo calling at the great psychiatrist's apartment on Bergasse ("Hill Street") in Vienna in the immediate aftermath of the Anschluss, Hitler's annexation of Austria in March, 1938. Up to this moment - when the Nazis took his daughter Anna away for questioning - Freud did not appear to grasp that he would need to leave Vienna. Yet he told Arthur Koestler afterward, in the relative safety of London, that the spilling over of the Nazi nightmare from the darkest basements of the unconscious into the world was not surprising but "inevitable".

I'm hesitant to make a list of my favorite used bookshops, because memory is fallible, and I know I'll leave out some of the best. But I'll make a start here, confining myself (for now) to the United States, and will welcome additional suggestions from book-lovers who are following this blog:

Copperfields in Sebastopol, California (with companion new and old bookstores)

Powell's in Portland, Oregon (though I confess the "city of books" downtown scares me in its immensity; I prefer the more human-scaled Powell's on Hawthorne, where I frequently give readings and book-signings)

Twice-Sold-Tales in Seattle (especially the branch at the foot of Queen Anne Hill, where a well-fed cat is often dozing by the cash register)

Easton's in Mount Vernon, Washington (great selection of literature, history, anthropology, mythology)

The Librarium in East Chatham, New York (full of mythic literature)

G.J. Askins in New Lebanon, New York (where I acquired full sets of Conrad, The Golden Bough and - wonder of wonders - the 73 volumes of the Jesuit Relations, containing the reports of blackrobe missionaries from the time of first contact with Northeast Indians)

Dove & Hudson in Albany, New York (0ne of my current "magic bookshops", where I expect the shelf elves to be lively)

The Book Barn in Latham, New York (terrific values, best for popular titles but also a place for discovering the unexpected)

The Strand in New York City (though I am sometimes disturbed that the recipients of review copies recycle them here without seeming to draw breath).

Yellow House Books in Great Barrington, Massachusetts (great for psychology, mythology and children's books)

Barely Used Books in Mystic, Connecticut (shelf elves very active, during my visits, producing - for example - a book of bawdy Scottish ballads at the precise moment I was humming "Oh you take the high road/and I'll take the low road..")

The Frugal Muse in Madison, Wisconsin (I would give it first prize for the best bookstore name that has come to my attention except that I have to award that to Malaprops in Asheville, NC, one of the truly great independents)

To be continued...

Monday, August 2, 2010

Huntsman's coat in the water

I plunge into the waters of the lake and swim with delight. After a while I see something red on the lake floor. Curious, I dive down to check it out. I find a beautifully tailored huntsman's coat, the kind the English call a "pink" coat but is actually bright crimson. It is streaming with the water, apparently suspended a little off the bottom.

I am thrilled with excitement and a kind of fierce joy. I know that this is a sign from the great Huntsman, Death, announcing his nearness and allowing time to get everything together in order to meet him and depart the ordinary world well. When he appears in his own coat, it will be time to go. I remember (becoming conscious inside the dream) earlier dreams and dream reentries in which I discovered and revisited a classy pub named the Huntsman's Arms, located just on the other side of mortal life.

I surface from this dream as if swimming up from the depths of the lake. My feelings, as in the dreams, are excitement and fierce joy.

I reflect that I've felt an intimacy with Death for much of my life, and have encountered a personal Death in many guises.

In an earlier dream from last night I was called to be present at the death of an elderly society lady otherwise unknown to me. I seemed to be cast in the role of a gentle death messenger, a Huntsman's assistant. Seeing the fear of imminent deatb in her eyes, I grazed her lips softly with a dry kiss, like the brush of a butterfly's wing. Then she passed on to her new life journey.

Yeats spoke of Death as a Huntsman, even on his gravestone. The scene of the Huntsman's Arms that I remembered in last night's dream of the hunter's red coat is one that has become strongly planted in my imaginal geography. The wall paintings in the tap room - where I have found friends who have passed on, and their friends, engaged in genial and philosophical banter - are not the typical hunt country prints in which the fox is the quarry. A portrait that may be an image of the Huntsman himself shows an immaculately tailored figure with the head of a red fox.

I don't know whether the red coat in the water is one I am meant to wear myself, or the garment of the one who will come to take me, at the appointed time.

My philosophy is to try to make sure that any day is "a good day to die".

A natural death in water is something I've contemplated, especially when I have asked groups - in my fierce and beautiful workshops on "Making Death Your Ally" - to imagine themselves at the moment of physical death - with Death a palpable presence. I'm currently on vacation in the Champlain Islands of Vermont, swimming a few miles every day in the lake. But the water is choppy this morning. So instead of heading straight for the water, I have lingered in an Adirondack chair to write of the Huntsman. This may of course be the Huntsman's effect on the day.