Wednesday, August 28, 2013

An afternoon with Balzac in Manhattan

I have a great affection for Honoré de Balzac, one of the most prolific writers in literary history. I was delighted to meet him again on Monday, in front of the great picture windows overlooking the sculpture garden at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in midtown Manhattan.
    Balzac worked like a fiend. His books did not pour out of him all at once, but he gave them so much time and energy that they were obliged to come through. His daily pattern was to eat a light meal at 5;00 or 6:00 p.m., then sleep until midnight, when he would rise and immediately go to work. He wrote until dawn, fueled by countless cups of coffee. Once he was on a roll, he juts kept going. He thought nothing of writing for 15 hours at a stretch. He said that he sometimes worked for 48 hours with only three hours of rest somewhere in the middle.
     There was the more benign pressure of writing novels as serials that ran in the popular press. When you are under that kind of deadline, with the presses about to roll, you just have to deliver on time; you can’t wait on perfection. I remember this very well from my own days as a journalist.
     He was forever upping the pressure on himself to write. After he became a bestselling author, he squandered his money in ridiculous business ventures that left him broke. He fell for a scheme to process slagheaps left by the Romans in Sardinia. He blew away a lot more money trying to grow pineapples – unlikely to thrive in French weather – on a vast plantation in France.  
     His work habits and wild investments no doubt contributed to his early death. He died at 51, just five months after he married a woman who he first encountered in a letter signed "Anonymous", dispatched from Odessa, which criticized his novel La peau du chagrin but left him so intrigued that he tracked down the author and then courted her for fifteen years until her much older, rotten-rich husband was out of the way. That story would be worthy of a volume in his vast oeuvre, the Human Comedy.   
     Balzac is too little read in the Anglophone world today, but he has had many admirers, including Henry James and Freud, who chose  La peau de chagrin as his last read. 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". 
     The hero of Balzac's tale, 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, 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 accomplished. As Raphael pursues her and flings himself on her, the last scrap of shagreen vanishes and he dies. 
       For all the fantastical elements in Balzac's story, anyone who has read him 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.
     Balzac was a master in his literary depiction of the workings of passion and desire. He understood the fundamental unity of mind and matter, and that there is a law of spiritual gravitation as well as a law of physical gravitation. His view of reality — and his prodigious literary production — were driven by a vitalist belief in the power of will and imagination.
      His early novel Louis Lambert is a tale of the strange life of a young explorer in consciousness who is awakened by a precognitive dream to the fact that the world is much deeper than can be explained by reason and Newtonian physics. He comes to believe that man can become a creator by concentrating a whole reality — even an entire world — inside himself, re-visioning it, and then projecting the new image to fill his environment. But the protagonist comes unstuck and unhinged because he can’t ground his understanding in the physical world. 
      The Balzacian hero is a man of desire and imagination who must also ground his passions in the body, in healthy sex, in social engagement with the world — or else go mad.    Balzac's version of what becomes possible through exercising the passions of the soul is wonderful. Acts of mind, fueled by passion, abolish time and space. “To desire is immediately to be where one desires to be, instantaneously to be what one desires to be." Time is devoured by the moment; space is absorbed by the point. “For the man in such a state, distances and material objects do not exist, or are traversed by a life within us."  
     A person who carries a great desire is surrounded by a certain “atmosphere,” a “magnetic fluid” that moves in waves, like sound and light, and touches others. That person produces “a contagion of feelings.” Passion of this kind magnifies sensory abilities; we can see and hear and sense things vividly across distance.  Coincidences multiply around such a person, because things now happen through “sympathies which do not recognize the laws of space.”   
Thank you for this, and so much more, Honoré. I have dreamed of you several times. Once I dreamed I was walking with you, or like you, along a boulevard in Paris, happy to be alive and drinking the air after one of those long writing orgies. Dreams have pushed me to read several of your novels. I dreamed that, in an old curiosity shop, I found a copy of Les chouans. Waking, I rushed to my favorite used bookstore (dangerously close to my home) and found a copy of the Penguin translation in the stack of new arrivals. In another dream, I attended a performance based on a season in your life, when you managed to turn out page after page despite illness and fatigue. 
     And I must remember not to drink as much coffee as you did after midnight.
-
My comments on Balzac's novel Louis Lambert are adapted from my book The Three "Only" Things: Tapping the Power ofDreams, Coincidence and Imagination. Published by New World Library.



Saturday, August 24, 2013

Vintage cars, dream bodies and time machines


The only type of automobile I was ever truly passionate about was the old British Jaguar. When I was living in England, I owned a Jaguar XJ6, circa 1970, that I was able to acquire very cheap. When I moved to the United States, I made the dreadful mistake of buying a similar Jaguar, the 1973 model, dirt-cheap, from a dealer in Manhattan. Needless to say, that one was a lemon. We called it the Beast, because whenever I stopped at an intersection, it would growl for forward action. However, its growls were heard less often than my moans, because it kept breaking down. 
     The only mechanic I could find who would consent to work on it on the eastern end of Long Island (I was living in Sag Harbor at the time) was a German named Uwe. Every time I brought the car in, or had it towed in, he would shout, "Once again you bring me this British piece of sh-t! Don't you know the English are no good at electrics? Why don't you get a good German car?"
    This is a prelude to some reflections on how the state of our cars, in our dreams, may reflect the state of our bodies. Of course, the dream car may be our physical car, or a symbol for something else, like a way of getting around in the world (a relationship, a job), or even an aspect of soul (the word "car" sounds like the Egyptian Ka, a soul vehicle that travels outside the body).
    Many years ago, I dreamed I was driving a racing green Jaguar XJ6 at high speed, over 100 mph. I was exhilarated, and turned a corner without touching the brakes. I seemed to have made the dangerous turn safely. But then everything stopped. A little dazed, I saw a man in a physician's white coat opening the hood of my car. Inside, instead of the engine, were a set of medical monitors. The car doctor took a look and said to me, gently but firmly, "This is a beautiful car, Robert. Drive it carefully. If you smash it up, you may not get one as good as this right away."
    Waking, I got the message: Slow down!
   
My experiences with the Beast and the German mechanic ended my love affair with Jaguars. I no longer dream of driving that make. I started dreaming, more than a decade ago, that I was driving a vintage Rolls Royce, circa 1950. I could hardly miss the fact that this was an analog for my body, since the Roller was pink. I smiled at the mirror that dream held up to the state of my body: larger and chunkier than it used to be, certainly  pink, but still (I hope) a class act.
    A few years after his death, my father appeared in a dream and handed me the keys to a car. He said, "I helped to give you this car, but how you drive it is up to you." That was nice.
    Now I am thinking about other car dreams. They include the rather literal dreams that rehearsed me for problems that lay ahead on the road (and helped me avoid possibly fatal accidents) and the adventures in which a special car becomes a time machine. I set off on some of my adventures in time travel in a snazzy 1930s touring car, or a recent-model zippy little yellow Mini Cooper.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Dream roads into parallel universes


A sunny, sloping street. People in bright, sunny clothes. I recognize a fair-haired woman with whom I had a passionate (though possibly unconsummated) love relationship when we were both in our late teens. She’s still very attractive, dressed in loose, flowing clothes. I try to guess the age of her slim, beautiful fair-haired daughter, who may be 9, 10 or 11. 
    When we catch each other’s eyes, there is absolutely no recognition on her part, not even when I identify myself by name and describe our encounters many years before. It hits me that she’s not feigning amnesia, and has not, in fact, forgotten. In her present reality, we have never met before.
    I become very excited at the realization that I am in an alternate reality, and comment on this to my companions. The fair-haired woman and her friends clearly think we’re weird.

Waking, I think of two fair-haired women on whom I had crushes in my late teens. Then I realize the woman in my dream is not either of them. She is, in fact, a stranger to me in my waking reality.
   The plot thickens.
   I am a stranger to this woman, in her reality (the one I visited in my dream).
   She is a stranger to me, in my waking reality.
   This suggests there is a third reality in which we know each other intimately.
   And perhaps any number of realities in which we are strangers to each other.

This report is from my journal for March 7, 2000, part of my overflowing file on dream experiences of alternate realities. When I re-entered the dream, I was able to get the woman's name. Thirteen years later, I have still not run into her, and am certainly not looking for her.
    During my conscious dream reentry, I had a conversation with a second dream character, a big man in a related scene who made it clear he was an aspect of myself. 

    I asked if I was actually involved with the woman in the dream.
    "You loved each other, and in some realities you still do."
     "Does she exist in my present reality?"
     "Oh, yes."
     "Will I encounter her as I did in the dream?"
     "It’s entirely possible."
     "Will I recognize her?"
     "Your soul will know her."

Still unrecognized by many analysts, the most interesting dreams are often experiences of alternate realities. And Active Dreaming, as a conscious practice, is our best way to gain experiential understanding of parallel universes.

 René Magritte, "Le mal du pays" (1940)

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Making creative friends

In life's transitions, one of our greatest assets is a creative friend, the kind of friend who supports us through change, encourages the best in us, and can speak truth without bringing us down. Where do you find such a friend, if you don't have one? Maybe one is waiting for you today. Here's how I once helped turn a room full of strangers into potential creative friends.

I was leading an evening program titled “Key Habits of Creative People”. We made a fabulous beginning, in the course of which I helped people to visualize a creative project they could bring through in any area of their lives. As I guided them to turn their visions into affirmations and practical action steps, I encouraged them to check in with their bodies to make sure that their bodies believed them (the necessary antidote to all that New Age misdirection on the "law of attraction").
     I had planned to open the second part of the class, after the break, by introducing the idea of the “creative friend” - the person who supports you through change and offers you the right kind of feedback. When I was glommed onto by a very needy woman during the break, I made up a new game in that cause - out of sheer desperation. The needy woman complained she wasn't “connected”, didn't know any creative people etc.
     “Look around you,” I suggested. “There are forty people here who have come to learn how to be more creative and are seeking creative friends. Go introduce yourself to one of them - a stranger - before the end of the break. Do this with two statements.
   “First, tell them something about your regular life. For example, ‘I’m Jill, I’m a software designer, I live in Saratoga, I’m a single mother and I ride horses every other weekend.’
   “Second, make a statement about your creative project. Put it in the present tense and make it entirely affirmative. Say it so anyone hearing you might be inspired to help. ‘I’m writing children’s stories and I’m always looking for new ideas.’ Or: ‘I'm redecorating a barn where I’m going to paint and hold weekend retreats.’ Or: ‘I'm working on improving my cooking or my golf game.’”
    She looked scared for a moment, and when she gathered up her stuff I wondered if she was going to quit the room. Instead, she marched over to the cutest guy in the room, sat down next to him and proceeded to introduce herself exactly as suggested. It turned out he had exactly the resources she needed to pursue her current creative project; they exchanged coordinates and promised to stay in touch.
    When we started up again, I had everyone introduce themselves to a stranger in the group by the same protocol. The listeners were prepped to offer immediate positive feedback and, if appropriate, to suggest tools and resources. The effect was GRRRREAT! Several people said they felt they had literally been “blessed.’

Photo: Magic Mountain family (c) Robert Moss


Wednesday, August 21, 2013

We must live into our own time


Lines written on a napkin in an Irish pub in New York City in 1994:

We must live into our own time.
The memories of the broken cord,
the nest emptied of its young,
the lost love, the knocking at the ribs
at the midnight door, the starling silences
cannot help us here.

Yet their tremulous rising,
dropletted as from the dawn sea,
is almost more than we can bear
and enough to turn houses upside down,
break families and the destiny of a present life.

There is danger in knowing our other selves,
danger in remembering too much, too soon,
of what lay beyond the stiff portal of birth.
Yet life itself in its endless wheelings
through the blur of feathers, through wind and sun
brings us face to face with the Other -
face of desire, face of the heart’s highest longing,
face of red hatred, face of cold fear -
and we are called, backward or forward
(whose time prevails now?)
into another life, and the forking paths of soul.

For commentary, I will simply add these lines from my Dreamer's Book of the Dead, written a decade later: 

During our lives on Earth we can become overwhelmed by memories of another life, perhaps a life involving dramas with previous versions of people we know in our present time - to the point where we can forget to live the life we have been given now. We can also become prisoners of simplistic determinism, telling each other that we and others are fated to live out certain experiences and endure various sufferings because of mistakes we made or obligations that were laid on us in a past life experience. We can only respond to these things well if we rise to the understanding that the moment of power is always now.

photo (c) Robert Moss

Monday, August 19, 2013

If You Don't Have Boundaries, You Won't Respect Those of Others

Unless something goes wrong, you don't have a story. So, since I had very smooth travel home from Grand Rapids today, there is not much of a story to tell. One little case of world-as-mirror I found interesting. A woman in the departure lobby was talking so loudly and copiously on her cell phone that she was intrusive on people (including me) far away, and I thought, "This is someone who doesn't respect other people's boundaries."
      Boarding our little Embraer 50-seat plane, she had a meltdown, screaming at the flight attendant, "I can't do this! I'm claustrophobic" because other people were close to her in the aisle. They let her wait just outside the door until everyone else was on board. It occurred to me that she doesn't recognize other people's boundaries because she lacks healthy boundaries of her own.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Luck of the Irish when events got fuzzy round the edges

Grand Rapids, Michigan

A physicist friend of mine likes to talk about a Stutter Effect in life, when it seems that events pause and repeat and hesitate and dawdle and seem less than fully determined. This kind of Stutter Effect sometimes brings us awake to the fact that physical events are fuzzy around the edges, stammering on the edge of going off on another track, in a parallel reality where things happen differently.
    My travel to Grand Rapids on Friday was a stuttering sequence. At my home airport, and later on the plane, public announcements were hesitant, often stopping in mid-sentence, then repeated. Content of announcements would change radically without explanation. Flight 4734 is departing for...for Cleveland at 9:05....Flight....4734 is departing...departing for Newark...Newark at 9:05.
    Though the airport seemed deserted from the outside, inside is a mob scene, especially at the security check, where only one channel is open as compared with the normal three, or four. After snaking all the way up the line, I ask the TSA lady who checks my drivers license whether they are understaffed because of the sequester. "It's a strange day," she says. "People keep disappearing. I don't know why we don't have enough staff. You could ask a supervisor."
     My main priority now, of course, is to get to my departure gate before my plane takes off. I take off my shoes and put them on the conveyor bet to go through the X-ray machine. I take my laptop out of my carry-on bag, put it in a bin, and set these on the conveyor belt too. My shoes go through, but then the action is paused. The same TSA lady asks me to wait with my carry-ons. "We are changing crews and you don't want to lose track of where your stuff is." I point out that my shoes are already on the other side. She is indifferent to this. I am left waiting, shoeless, for more than five minutes, standing with my bags. I am thinking about the dreamlike symbolism. Shoes, in my dreams, often speak of the soul. Bags sometimes speak of what is left behind or needs to be left behind. Hmmm. My shoes are on the other side, while I am left behind with my bags. Which reality am I in?
    I finally get the signal to push my bags towards the machine. I go through the body scan and now I must hurry to get to the departure gate by boarding time. In the lounge, there are more of those stuttering, mutual contradictory announcements. When my first flight to Cleveland takes off,  we are already 40 minutes late. Not promising, since the schedules layover time before my second flight to Grand Rapids is just 46 minutes.
    On board the plane, there are more interrupted, stammering, contradictory announcements. It feels like nothing in our itinerary is fixed in time or space. I am reminded of Yoda: The future is always in motion. So is now.
     There's a memory of Ireland in the speech of our flight attendant, Bernadette. When she brings me some Bloody Mary mix, we compare accents and I speak to her, philosophically, about my rather slight chances of making my connection if we are landing at Cleveland airport 6 minutes before it is due to take off. She brightens. "This plane could be going on to Grand Rapids! Sometimes we do." Really? Then why do I have a second boarding pass? I pull it out. No luck. I'm booked on a second plane, and a second puddle-jumper company, for my connection. "I'll talk to the pilot," says Bernadette. "I'll let you know if your connection at Cleveland is also delayed."
     No word comes. Now we are descending. Bernadette announces that our plane will turn around at Cleveland and go to Buffalo. No wait. The plane will go to...to...Charlotte.  Not to Grand Rapids? I feel that reality stutter. Suppose I could just shift to an alternate event track where this plane could take me to my destination instead of leaving me stranded at Cleveland airport for who knows how many hours?
    Probably not a good plan. Jump one event track and you might have to face all manner of fallout.
    We are on the ground. Before the door opens, Bernadette makes sure I am poised to get out first. Other passengers are obliging.
    "May the luck of the Irish be with you," says Bernadette.
    We have arrived at gate 14. The gate for my next flight is 17, right next door. Someone from the airline is waiting to walk me up the ramp and show me just where it is. At gate 17, another airline official beckons me on? It seems they have held the plane for me. The flight attendant steers me to a different seat than the one on my boarding pass. As I buckle my seat belt, I see it is departure time, to the minute. My checked bag won't make it, of course. But wait. We sit on the tarmac for six minutes. Then I see yet another airline person running towards our plane with my suitcase, unmistakable because of its huge light blue leather name tag.
    When we take off, I realize I know the soft-faced man with a goatee and long sideburns who is seated in the row in front of me. I know the sequence of places he will discuss with the man next to him - Lake Havassu, San Diego, Asheville, Kalamazoo. I have been in the seat before, no doubt in a dream. The strong sense of deja vu tells me that things are going fine. Reality, for now, is settling down into a more definite sequence. But I'll keep in mind that events are not only fuzzy but can get crazy round the edges. 

    The sign on Cherry Street in downtown Grand Rapids says "AMERICAN REALITY - OPEN DURING CONSTRUCTION." Oh, wait, maybe that's American "Realty", a real estate office. But a point was made. The server who brings my lunch at the Green Well is wearing a tee-shirt that says, "The Bird Made Me Do It." When I ask, "What bird is that?" I am told, "You can make it any bird you want it to be." 
    The best coffee I have in town the next day is in a place whose OPEN sign is upside down. I have to get out of the hotel pool when an elephantine Midwest family does cannonballs and empties all of the water.
     When I sit down in my room to write, fire alarms go off above my ear and in every room. In the hotel bar after dinner that night, a bat starts dive bombing the customers while a staffer tries to drive it away with a cushion.
    Reality, open during construction.



Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Remember 398.2 when a library beast says that fairies aren't real


"If you believe," he shouted to them, "clap your hands; don't let Tink die."
    Many clapped.
    Some didn't.
    A few beasts hissed.

- from Chapter 13: Do You Believe In Fairies? in Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie


For the category of "beasts that hissed", I nominate the library person who told the young daughter of a friend of mine, yesterday, "You won't find books about fairies in nonfiction because fairies aren't real."
    My friend described this beast as a "librarian". However, a true librarian I know can't believe that any real librarian could have made such a statement. Why? Because besides being mean-spirited it is just plain wrong.
    Any trained librarian ought to know that under the Dewey system, fairytales are to be found under call # 398.2, which is NONFICTION
. You might be sitting at a librarian's desk, but if you don't know that, you are not a librarian.
     There are other things any good librarian would know, starting with the fact that there is a whole library of intriguing nonfiction books about fairytales (not forgetting that fairytales are themselves nonfiction!) In the English language, it starts with Robert Kirk's amazing Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns and Fairies, written by an Anglican minister in Scotland in 1691. The list extends through W.B.Yeats' commentaries in his anthology of Irish Fairytales and Folklore, W.B. Evans-Wentz's remarkable The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries, replete with the narratives of the old ones from the Isle of Man to Brittany, through the investigations of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the scholarship of Katharine Briggs, the archetypal inquiries of Marie-Louise von Franz, and the spirited mythic work of John and Caitlin Matthews.
     A good librarian would also know how fairytales have fired the imagination of tremendous creative writers. C.S.Lewis declared that George MacDonald was his "master" and that MacDonald's Phantastes: A Farie Romance "baptized" his imagination. The beloved Color Fairy Books collected by Scottish scholar and folklorist Andrew Lang have fueled the imaginations of thousands of writers as well as millions of children.
     My friend's daughter went home in tears after the hissing beast in her library told her that fairies aren't real. What to do? I suggested she should be sure to carry that Dewey call # with her as a charm next time she goes to that library. 398.2.
    We might all make a wish that any bright spirit who is available should help to rescue the child in that library person who has been locked up in some Land of Lost Girls and Boys, and let her back into her mind and heart and imagination.
    Oh, yes. And any time some hissing beast tells us that fairies aren't real, we must clap our hands immediately.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Do cats dream of tigers?

We adopted a four-month-old kitten from the shelter last weekend. The general view is that he is a Norwegian forest cat, or at least has some of that in his genes. He is very handsome, with tufted ears, white socks, tiger stripes on his legs, ocelot spots on his body, and a great black stripe down his back, culminating in a long bushy tail, that knowing cat lovers tell me is called a "panache."
     I was playing with the kitten in the middle of the night. When I went back to bed in the early hours and closed my eyes, I found myself looking, very vividly and clearly, into his eyes. 

    Ah, now I can dream like the cat, I thought. Or with the
cat, using his eyes as the portal. I gave it a try, and came out in a forest of tigers. This was not a new locale for me, but I was surprised by how I came upon it this time..
    It's been said that all cats belong to the Tribe of Tiger. 
   "For I will consider my cat Jeoffrey," wrote the eighteenth-century English poet
Christopher Smart. "For he is of the tribe of tiger."
    Do cats also dream of tigers? 

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Telling a dream inside a dream

I love the wild beach. Water, wind and light stream together. This calls for Turner's brush. I run in and out of the water with two lovely younger women who have trained with me.
    I feel myself being gently pulled out of the dream, but I want to stay with it, enjoying its energy and trying to hold every detail: the island across the waves, the buildings on the rise above the sand dunes, the palms swaying in the wind. Is this the beach in Brazil where I'll be leading a workshop later this month? It is very like it.
    I let the scene go and proceed to describe it to the women who were with me in the dream. One of them needs some counsel for a friend who is going through a painful life passage. The other wants to explore some marketing ideas we began to discuss in the beach dream.
    I stretch, and open my eyes, and sit up in bed. I am now in a spacious, pleasant room where more than a dozen happy people are gathered around the walls. They seem to have been waiting for me to wake up. They are all students of mine, and all but two are women. I joke that it is my good fortune in life to go everywhere surrounded by beautiful women. We are in the midst of a retreat I am leading. Our laughter is interrupted by a matronly figure, the manager of the place, who comes through a door to my right I had not noticed before to remind us that checkout time is 12 noon.
    Oh, very well. I go out through the door she used to get my stuff together. I go outside the house, and now seem to be in a different country. I overhear part of the conversation of friends 

in that country and get a picture of a certain situation that may be useful. I leave them to it and go back inside the house. Funny, I can't seem to return to my room the way that I left it. The layout of this house is rather unusual. When I stepped outside, I was in another country. When I go back in, I am not where I was before.

I rose from this dream this morning, in my regular bed, in excellent spirits. I amused myself by counting the number of dream scenes that opened from each other here. There was (1) the scene on the wild beach (2) the scene where I am discussing this with the two women who were with me on the beach; (3) the bedroom with the party crowd; and (4) the outside scene where I listen to the conversation of people from yet another country, apparently in that country.
    I smiled at a very familiar motif. Remembering a dream inside a dream is a common experience for me. So is telling a dream inside another dream. This sometimes triggers dream lucidity in the narrow sense of becoming aware that you are dreaming inside a dream. Sometimes it brings the ability to navigate and draw knowledge from multiple realities in whatever state of reality and consciousness we happen to be in.
    Back in 1994, I dreamed that a sea eagle was wrestling with me on a beach for possession of the Australian hat I used to wear in those days. The struggle felt altogether physical. I reported the dream to a large audience in an auditorium at a conference of the Association for the Study of Dreams (ASD). Then I woke up in my bed, several months before that conference took place. The tussle with the sea eagle helped to prepare me for a very important life transition that was going to require my return to Australia. The scene where I told the dream, within a second dream, had more than entertainment value (though I never underrate that).
     When I recorded the dream, I noted that I was speaking in an auditorium with chairs bolted to the floor in tilted rows under sterile lightning. This was quite the wrong environment for the workshop I had agreed to lead at the ASD conference, in which I planned to have people choose partners and journey together with the aid shamanic drumming. I called one of the ASD organizers and learned than the scheduled location for my workshop was identical to the auditorium in my dream. It was now time to tell the dream in which I was telling a dream to someone in the dream of waking life. By doing that, I was able to have my workshop venue changed to a dreamier space.


I opened an old journal at random to find another example of telling a dream inside a dream. I immediately came upon this report, recorded on November 17, 1995:


I am being piloted by an elderly professor in a small seaplane over a mountain range. As we dip low, over the reddish peaks, I remark that this reminds me of a dream in which I was flying in a similar plane over a cordillera, and how this kind of plane has always appealed to my sense of romance and adventure. We swoop low over a body of water. The sensations of flight and movement are wonderfully vivid. “This is like a dream!” I exclaim in delight.
    It's like a dream because it is a dream. Like life.

To go through a succession of dreams-within-dreams may be to transit multiple levels of reality. It may be the innermost dream, accessed through many courtyards of outer dreams, that corresponds to the deepest level of reality. We talk of "false awakenings" when we dream we woke up, only to find later that we were still asleep in the physical world. This was my condition in the room of the happy dreamers in scene (3) last night. But wait a bit. Am I sure - are you sure - that getting up today was not a false awakening? 


Image: Mystery Island seen from Praia Morro das Pedras (c) Robert Moss

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Birth of Athena




If you devour a mother goddess
make sure you have a loyal friend nearby
armed with the ax of the crescent moon.
It’s like this: the feminine power
you thought you could master
is going to stir and swell in you
until your whole being is a trembling womb
that can only open at the top
like a volcano rising from the ocean floor.
It will blow out your brains
unless your head is opened.
So keep a helper with the right tool handy
and be ready for the bright fury
with owl eyes and blazing mind
who will burst from your head fully armed
and love you to death, setting her spear
at the throat of your certainties. 


Image: Birth of Athena from the head of Zeus. Archaic, c 550 bce. That's Hephaistos with the ax. According to Hesiod's Theogony, Zeus swallowed his first wife, the oceanic Metis (of "wise counsel") because of a prophecy that his children by her would usurp his throne. This only hints at a more primal creation story, from a time before the Greeks confined the gods to statuesque humanoid forms. Go dream on it.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Mad love and objective chance


Coincidence multiplies when we pay attention, above all when we are charged with certain energies and moving outside the grooves of familiar routines and mindsets. André Breton, the French Surrealist, called coincidence “objective chance”. In his amazing narrative Amour fou (“Mad Love”) Breton shows us the state of mind, and the pattern of behavior, that turns us into walking synchronicity magnets.
     What required is the kind of openness to the unexpected the French call disponibilité and, beyond this the choice of “lyric behavior”: the willingness to give oneself to the “dazzling revenge” of the imagination on a world of stubborn facts.
      Breton describes how two people joined by passion or strong interest become a powerful double attractor for coincidence. "I would be tempted to say that two people walking near each other constitute a single influencing body, primed." He compares this phenomenon to "those sudden atmospheric condensations which make conductors out of regions that were not before, producing flashes of lightning." The “single influencing body” is formed when he is traveling with his lover, but also when he is walking around the flea market with the sculptor Giacometti.
     The sculptor is thinking about the undefined face of a woman in his current piece, and finds a strange mask that speaks to his need. Breton has harbored an odd desire to possess an ashtray shaped like a woman's high-heeled shoe, and finds a curious spoon in same shape. In the chance discovery of these trouvailles (found objects) we sense the hand of an unseen player behind the scenes.
      Breton writes about how, if we pay attention, we may notice not only that life rhymes but that it can follow a poetic mode of composition. He describes how all the elements in a poem he write in 1923 manifested on a "Night of the Sunflower" in Les Halles eleven years later, as if the poem was taking root in the world.
      Mad Love is a paean to the magic that comes when we go about the world charged with love and desire, magnetically drawing people and events to us in novel ways. Breton does pause to reflect on what happens when passion is thwarted by worldly circumstances; “Indeed passion, with its magnificent wild eyes, must suffer at having to mix in the human struggle”.

It is always with surprise and fright that I have seen...harmless complaints...grow more acute. They hone themselves on the stone of silence, abrupt and unbreakable by anything at all, quite like absence and death. Overhead, between the lovers, flies a rain of poisoned arrows, soon so thick as to prevent any exchange of glances. Then, hastily, hateful egotism walls itself into a windowless tower. The attraction is broken; even the loveliness of the beloved face goes into hiding; a wind of ashes sweeps everything away; the pursuit of life is compromised.

And if objective chance is still operating, its operations will be chancy, for we attract or repel different things according to the emotions and attitudes that live in us. ....

Image: André Breton by Max Ernst

Thursday, August 1, 2013

All poetry comes from flooding

All poetry comes from flooding.
They say this in a desert tribe
that values poets above all others
and knows what the Celt in my blood knows.
I hear this as I listen to the waves crash
against the lake shore in a northern land
that does not thirst for water.


I remember lying in a house of darkness
with a stone wheel on my belly
waiting for the words of new songs 
to rise with unstoppable power
bursting the dams of calculation.


I think of the Inuit who flames like candle
and sees through the obvious world
with shaman light, the one who told me
how his people would lie in the big house
in the dark waiting for fresh words to burst

to call the whales and please the Sea Mother.

I think of you, who bring a surge of desire

that must take form beyond our joy
breaking wave upon wave from 
inner islands into a larger world.

North Hero Island, Lughnasadh 2013