Friday, March 21, 2014

Ready to Be Hanged




I was laughing when I came out of my dream around 3:00 a.m. this morning. Two hours later, I am still grinning from ear to ear.
    If you read my dream report solely for content, you might have a hard time finding anything to laugh about. In the dream, in a seedy-genteel seaside town, I am sentenced to be hanged for a mysterious crime. I am tried in absentia, and a couple of young, incompetent lawyers inform me that I have been sentenced although the judge was not persuaded that there was any evidence that I even knew the alleged victim. Instead of pressing for a mistrial or an appeal, I accept my fate. I sit down to write letters to loved ones, but my pen is drippy, spoiling the pages, and I'm having a hard time remembering my home address. I am not in custody, but as the hour of my hanging approaches, a policeman with a red beard is watching me closely.
    I titled my dream report, "Ready to Be Hanged!" If you read the full report for content alone, you might cast yourself down into a state of Kafkaesque gloom. But my first feelings, rising from the dream, were utterly different - and first feelings are always the best guidance on what is going on in a dream and what needs to be done with it.
    Why was I laughing? Because I recognized that the complete passivity and indifference of my dream self as he neared the hour of his hanging was a superb, mocking dramatization of how I can be in my waking reality in a sluggish period between bursts of creative passion and activity. I reveled in how my dream producers, yet again, were stirring me to action by 
holding up a fun house mirror to my behavior and attitudes in ordinary reality.
     I welcomed the presence of the Hangman, just off-stage, coming closer. Why? Because the Hangman, for me, is Death, and I notice I am always clearer, bolder and more proactive about life when I feel Death close to me. Death has many faces.  Death the Hangman has one face, in particular, for me, that is recognized by millions of people in the Hindu world. Yama, the Hindu death lord, likes to take souls out of bodies with a noose. I have had some memorable encounters with him over the years, and I always feel more alive when I feel him near.
      Once, on an Amtrak train headed along the Hudson River to New York City, I played a little game of clairvoyance I enjoy. I closed my eyes and tried to see the landscape beside the tracks with inner sight. Then I opened my eyes and checked my accuracy. I did this several times, giving myself an A- for accuracy. Then, with eyes closed, I saw a figure dressed all in black, with a broad-brimmed black hat, swinging a lasso, like Tom Mix. Really? I opened my eyes. Nope. No man in black with a lasso in ordinary reality. I closed my eyes, opening my inner senses more fully, and the figure was right there, beside me on the train.
     "Who are you?" I began a silent dialog.
     "I am Yama, my dear."
     "Why are you dressed like that?"
     "I adapt to circumstances."
     "I really want to talk to you."
     "I know you do, my dear, but we can only talk if you let me place my noose around your neck."
     There, on the train, I had cold shivers when I agreed to let the death lord place his noose around my neck. I was relieved when he let the rope lie lightly against my collarbones. But our conversation never lost its edge over the next twenty minutes, before the train stopped at Poughkeepsie. Surrounded by state bureaucrats on their laptops and cell phones, with his noose around my neck, I spoke with Yama about life and death and things to come in this world as the result of the play of forces invisible to most humans.
      On another occasion, it was the noose itself that spoke for Yama. 
Here's how I tell that story in The Boy Who Died and Came Back:

It’s my first time in Hawaii. I am on the wilder north shore of Oahu, swimming every morning in Waimea Bay, among sea turtles, reveling in sun and sand and sea. My time here is a waking dream. I can feel the fresh and vivid life of these islands, the gift of fire under water, of the eruption of submarine volcanoes. I can feel everything in the landscape borning and dying at the same time.
    I am scheduled to lead an edgy workshop at a conference of the Association for the Study of Dreams. The dream researchers, shrinks and artists are gathered in an unlikely venue, the Mormon stronghold of Brigham Young University, where caffeine and alcohol are banned and men and women are supposed to be locked up in their dorms by 9 p.m.(naturally, I am staying off-site). The theme of my workshop is “Active Dreaming for Death and Dying.” I am planning to take people on a journey to the Other Side, with the help of shamanic drumming and focused intention. I would like to introduce them to their personal Death, and get them ready to help others prepare for the big journey from which they will not return to their bodies. All in two hours, in a Mormon college auditorium.
    I am having doubts about whether I should stick to the agenda I have set. Off-campus, our dreamers have been relaxing with mai tais and longneck beers, and it’s party time every night. Maybe my Death theme is a little too grim for this crowd, in holiday mood. I could shift focus and simply lead some of my popular exercises, guiding people to enter each other’s dreams, meet the animal spirits and instantly become psychic sleuths and shamanic trackers.
     I am thinking about this as I run back into the ocean for a quick dip before my afternoon program. Washing in towards me, carried by a wave, is a black noose. I catch it. The noose is black fishermen’s rope. I am quite sure it is a direct comment on my plans for the afternoon. Yama, the Hindu death lord, pulls the soul out of the body with a noose. He is one of the Death figures I know well, and once, in a vision, he required me to let him put his black noose around my neck before he would speak to me. I drop any idea of revising my original plan. I walk into the auditorium, crowded with hundreds of people, swinging the noose, and announce to the group that Yama is ready to receive us. 

Like Nachiketas in the Katha Upanishad, I have found Yama to be a tremendous teacher. I have also encountered him as a very tough negotiator, just short of implacable.  I wrote a poem for Yama after a later interview, in which the topic was the price for allowing a certain life to continue:

Yama, we know each other.
You consented to speak with me
in the cultured voice of a maharajah
who plays polo with heads
though you would only answer my questions
when I agreed to let you place your noose
around my neck. I have seen you
in a business suit, in a robe of flame,

and in the black Tom Mix outfit
of a cowboy swinging a lasso.


     I recognize that I have my own contract with Death, and that there are things I need to do - and especially to write - before I am truly Ready for the Hangman. I love the way a dream can bring us more fully awake. Like the greatest teachers, dreams sometimes accomplish that by shock and humor. That was the gift of my dream last night.

The Hawaii story in this article is adapted from The Boy Who Died and Came Back: Adventures of a Dream Archaeologist in the Multiverse by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library.

Drawing: Yama Adapts to Circumstances (c) Robert Moss

6 comments:

Worldbridger said...

Path 35 of the Galactic Tree of Life: Death electrifies Self-Generation.

nina said...

There is an account from a Shaolin monastery which shows that even in a "real" life accepting our death can bring unexpected results. The story goes that a young Zen-monk was entitled to hand over an important letter. On his way he had to cross a bridge where an experienced samurai waited. He made a vow to challenge one hundred men who walked over the bridge. The samurai killed ninety-nine men on the spot and our monk was the next in line. He was allowed to deliver the letter but of course he had to promise to return and fight.
After completing his duty, the monk immediately seeked his master out to take a final leave from him. He never held a sword in his hand and was sure he would be killed.The master told him: "You will die because you have no chance to win. However, I will teach you the best way of dying. Raise a sword over your head, close your eyes and wait. When you feel something cold on the top of your head, it is the death. In that moment, let your arms and everything what you believe to possess drop. That´s all."
Back on the bridge, the monk did everything he was told. Lifted his sword with both hands over his head, shut his eyes and waited motionlessly. The samurai got puzzled by monk´s stillness and came to believe he was standing in front of an accomplished master and a great warrior. In the meantime, the monk forgot the samurai completely, thoroughly focusing on his master´s advice to die with dignity. In the end the samurai lost his his nerve and begged the monk not to kill him.
Without any skill in martial arts and with a full acceptance of his nearing death the young monk was able to defeat his opponent. But I think, in fact, it was his own fear of death he had to conquer first. Then as a result, he became invincible for all challengers.

Naomi said...

I love your drawing, Robert It's full of action, great line quality. Your illustrations in the Boy who came back are very nice too. Loved the one of the lion on a ledge looking down on you as you climb a rope. The facial expressions on both are very alive.

Luis D said...

Mr. Moss,

Isn't all this just yours and our imagination?
Because after death, there has been NO ONE who has conquered and returned from it, aside from religious characters, am I wrong?

Luis D. Rey from NYC

Paul Newman said...

Thank you for your post, Robert - and your comment nina. Life is very short and there's no time for fussing and fighting, my friends.

Infinitas08 said...

@Luis D: There are lots of NDEs (beside those on YouTube): http://www.nderf.org/NDERF/NDE_Archives/archives_2nd_half_2007_pt2.htm (just as an example) which are not of a religious character.
Wish you the best