Friday, April 28, 2017

Dreaming in Greeneland



When I first traveled to Paris as a foreign correspondent, early in the 1970s, the office secretary made a reservation for me at the St James Albany, which turned out to be twin hotels - very handsome Right Bank townhouses - separated by a quiet courtyard with a fountain and flagstones and flowerbeds and shade trees. It struck me that the courtyard between the twin hotels was a liminal space, ideal for intrigue and trespass of various kinds – for games involving lovers, or spies, even players from different worlds. 
     I later discovered, to my great delight, that Graham Greene had similar feelings and had made this location a part of Greeneland, the fictive world of his novels. He used the courtyard of the St James Albany as the setting for a hilarious scene in Travels with My Aunt in which two women, meeting by chance, discuss the lovers with whom they tryst in secret in each of the twin hotels - and then discover that their lovers are the same man when M. Dambreuse arrives with his wife and children.
     Graham Greene led many lives, but first and last he was a writer, with a professional writer’s discipline. Through his many intrigues, both personal and political, he managed to sit down almost every day from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. – on a veranda in Tahiti or a cottage in Brighton – and knock out his quota of 500 words, and he did this for seventy years, producing a steady stream of popular novels and essays.
     A crucial part of Greene’s practice was to write down his dreams. He started keeping a dream journal when he was sixteen. He often reported his dreams in letters to lovers and friends. Over the last twenty-five years of his life, he recorded his dreams with great faithfulness – though in fiendishly difficult handwriting – in notebooks that are now in an archive in Texas. His last literary project was to edit a selection of his dreams for a posthumous collection he titled A World of My Own.
     The interweaving of Greene’s dream life with his other lives makes a fascinating study, for which the primary source materials are unusually extensive.  We see how a man who chose to live on the dangerous edges of the world was able to create – richly and repeatedly – from the borderlands of dreaming. We can track many different modes in which a writer can create from dreams, from receiving the initial idea for a story, to solving a problem during sleep, to bridging a narrative gap, to dreaming deep into a character’s life.
     As a young boy, he had psychic dreams, often involving death by water, a prospect that terrified him. On the night the Titanic sank, when he was just seven, he dreamed of a shipwreck, with a man in oilskins bent double beside a companionway under the blow of a great wave. 
     He was miserable at school – nothing unusual in the lives of creative and sensitive individuals – and ran away when he was sixteen. This was highly embarrassing for the family, since Graham’s father was headmaster. They decided to send him to London to be psychoanalyzed, which was still a novel idea in 1920, especially for a teenage boy. The analyst selected, Kenneth Richmond, had no formal training; he was a writer with spiritualist leanings who followed an eclectic approach.
     While Greene was boarding with him in Lancaster Gate, Richmond instructed him to write down his dreams. In mid-morning sessions, Greene was expected to tell a dream and then give his associations to the key images while the analyst merely listened. When Greene did not recall a dream, he made something up. The whole experience – which he later described as the happiest six months of his life  – laid the foundation for Greene’s literary career by training him to write from dreams and invent stories. 
      Kenneth Richmond’s beautiful wife Zoe – about whom Greene had mildly erotic dreams – thought Graham was clairvoyant, “a natural medium”. While in Lancaster Gate, Greene dreamed of a ship going down in the Irish Sea. That same night, just after midnight, the Rowan sank in the Irish Sea
      In some of his precognitive or clairvoyant dreams, he found himself in the situation of one of the victims. Aged twenty-one, he dreamed of another shipboard disaster in which he was being ordered to jump overboard from an upper deck. He later read the news of a terrible wreck in a storm off the Yorkshire coast in which the captain ordered his men to jump into the violent sea, and all but two were drowned. Greene speculated that “on an occasion like this there must be terrific mental waves of terror, and my mind seems to be particularly attuned to the terror of drowning wave.”
     His youthful psychic ability to dream his way into someone else’s situation resembled his mature ability as a novelist to dream his way into his characters’ lives. He later observed that “sometimes identification with a character goes so far that one may dream his dream and not one’s own.” 
     Greene’s dreams were central to his writing. He said that two of his novels, It’s a Battlefield and The Honorary Consul, both started with dreams. He dreamed the plots and characters of entire short stories. When he was writing A Burnt-Out Case – which drew heavily on his diary of a trip to the Congo – Greene came to a point in the plot where he was stuck. Then the author dreamed as his character, Querry, and found he could insert his dream “without change” in the novel, “where it bridged a gap in the narrative which for days I had been unable to cross.” 
     Greene made it a habit to solve writing problems in his sleep, noting that it is not necessary to remember the content of a dream in order to receive a dream-inspired solution. “When an obstacle seems insurmountable, I read the day’s work before sleep…When I wake the obstacle has nearly always been removed: the solution is there and obvious – perhaps it came in a dream which I have forgotten.” 
      He harvested personal dreams and assigned them to characters in his novels. In a  dream reflecting his lifelong preoccupation with religion, he gave a lecture on the theme that God evolves, as well as man, and that behind their apparent duality, God and Satan are one. He later transferred this theory to a passage in The Honorary Consul where his character explains that God has a “night-side” as well as a “day-side”; the night-side will wither away (“like your communist state, Eduardo”) as God and man both evolve. 


   Graham Greene was a man of mystery who had much to hide, in his private life and in his engagement with the worlds of power and espionage. For him the great mystery, at the end, concerned what follows death. He thought – and dreamed – about this all his life. He was greatly affected by a series of dream encounters with his father after his death. 
   Greene had a disturbing dream that he might be extinguished after death through lack of belief. “I had been aware of people I had loved who called me to join them. But I had chosen, by my lack of belief, extinction. A great black cone like a candle extinguisher was to be dropped over my head.” 
     But he did not go out like that. He left sure of continuing life, ready for new travels, regretting only separation from the last woman to share his life, Yvonne Cloetta.
    A week before his death, knowing it was at hand, he said to Yvonne in the hospital at Vevey: “It may be an interesting experience; at last I shall know what lies on the other side of the fence.” 
Towards the end, he made this note in Yvonne’s “red book” of their conversations: “Perhaps in Paradise we are given the power to help the living. I picture Paradise as a place of activity. Sometimes I pray not for the dead friends but to dead friends, asking their help.” 
Yvonne recalls that “He worked every morning, as he always did, right up to the end, on his book of dreams.” Evidently he came to believe that through dreams (as one of his characters said in a different connection) “there was something in the warring crooked uncertain world he could trust beside himself.”






Adapted from The Secret History of Dreaming by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library.




Thursday, April 27, 2017

Everyday Angels and the Cosmic Costume Department

The well-known psychic Alice Bailey believed that both anonymous companions and other generic dream figures - the train conductor, the taxi driver, the telephone operator - may all be angels in disguise. Maybe you have noticed how such characters sometimes play the role of guardians or guides in your dreams. Here are a few cases from my own dream journals:

The telephone operator

In one dream, I found a message on my telephone answering machine from a troubled woman who had caused a good deal of confusion in my life. As I listened to the message, which was an appeal for a meeting, the voice of the operator came through. The operator explained that she did not want to let calls from this person come through because her intentions were harmful. In my dream, I was able to print out the message, which I then destroyed by putting it through a trash compactor. I often find that the telephone operator in my dreams helps me to screen communications on the inner planes. The telephone operator or switchboard also helps me to route calls to higher sources of guidance. This continues even though, in waking life, in the age of smart phones I rarely have any interaction with old-style telephone operators.

The immigration or customs official
'
Since I do a lot of traveling in this world, these figures frequently appear in waking life. In dreams, they often play a deeper role, although I never dismiss the possibility that I may be dreaming a future situation in regular life. In my dreams, customs officials may discuss whether I am dressed properly or carrying excess baggage and help me to get these things sorted out. Immigration officials play an even more interesting role. In one dream, for example, I noticed that the immigration official to whom I had to present myself at a foreign airport was reading a book on synchronicity. When I expressed interest, he led me into a back room, where several of his colleagues - dressed in blue, high-necked uniforms of a distinctively "French" design - discussed early research on the theme that had been conducted in French. This gave me useful and specific leads for research that found its way into books I proceeded to write.

The hotel manager

In another dream, I found myself in a hotel in a foreign country where a power problem was causing intermittent blackouts throughout a whole city. Then the hotel manager appeared. He was an immensely charming, confident, even radiant, man who assured me that everything could be put right. He proceeded to demonstrate. He increased the voltage on a generator, raising the energy flow to several times the maximum level shown on the gauge. Nothing blew up, and the lights in the city came back on. After this dream, I noticed a marked increase in my energy level and was able to complete a book project at record speed.
    The hotel manager often appears to me in dreams as the person responsible for the management and effective operation of the whole establishment - i.e., my whole psychospiritual condition. 


The maitre d' and the chef

The restaurant manager or maitre d' figures in my dreams as the person who oversees my social and eating habits. The dream chef plays a deeper role, on stage or backstage. He often represents my inner creator. In a turning point dream, both figures played shocking but very helpful roles. I was struggling at the time with a book project.
    I had contracted to write a thriller with a Russian theme, following the popular success of my earlier novel Moscow Rules but my heart wasn't in it. I did not want to repeat myself and was feeling a deep call to change the whole direction of my life and my writing. I turned to my dreams for help. I set the intention, on going to bed, to receive dream guidance on writing my new "Russian" thriller. I stepped into a dream that seemed promising. A huge banquet hall had been set up in my honor. I noted that the place settings included the finest china, and that the cutlery seemed to be made of silver and gold. But the maitre d' rushed up, wringing his hands. He tol me there was a problem in the kitchen. The master chef did not like my menu. He refused to cook any more stroganoff., If I insisted on a Russian entree, he would quit.
    I woke up chastened. I understood that - through the message from the unseen master chef - my creative spirit had given me clear guidance. I tore up a contract because of that dream, abandoning the Russian thriller for fresh literary adventures that led me to publish a series of historical novels involving Native American dream shamans, and eventually my nonfiction books on Active Dreaming.


The taxi driver

I learn a lot from taxi drivers in dreams, where they are quite as unpredictable as in New York City. When I turned to historical fiction, a cabdriver turned up in a splendid vintage car. I entered into a most rewarding conversation with him after the initial dream. Wide awake but still connected to the energy of the dream, I sat down with pen and pad and asked him a series of questions, carefully recording his responses. 

The elevator operator

This is someone who can help to transport you to higher levels. He may or may not hold the door open for you if you are running late, or expect a tip. In one of my dreams, an elevator operator waited for me patiently while I carried a dead relative who was in a bad way, groggy and disoriented, into an old-fashioned lift. When we had risen to a higher floor, the dead person vanished into a television set inside the lift

The doorman or security guard

At any important threshold, we may challenged to establish our right of entry, to show ID and perhaps to lay down things we are carrying that do not belong where we are going. In dreams, as in ordinary life, the doorman or security guard plays a vitally important role. We may come to recognize the many forms of the Gatekeeper, that archetypal entity that opens or closes our doors and paths in life and between the worlds.

I have come to think that there is a Cosmic Costume Department for spiritual guides. They appear to us in forms that we can perceive. I have given examples of guides appearing in everyday dress. They may put on much wilder outfits, including the forms of wild animals. Their purpose is to get our attention. Sometimes that requires reassuring camouflage; sometimes it requires shock tactics.



Parts of this article are adapted from "Dream Guides and Guardian Angels", chapter 8 of Conscious Dreaming: A Spiritual Path for Everyday Life by Robert Moss. Published by Three Rivers Press.

Image: Makeup Room at the National Theatre, London.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Dreaming for soul and survival, from the Paleolithic to our times


Most human societies have valued dreams and the dreamers for three principal reasons. They have recognized that in dreams we see the future, and this can help whole communities as well as individuals to make better choices. They have understood that dreams give us a direct line to the sacred, to the God/Goddess we can talk to, to the ancestors, to the animate spirits of Nature. And they have grasped that dreaming can be very good medicine. Dreams diagnose problems before they present symptoms; they offer imagery for self-healing; and they show us the state of the soul and can help us retrieve parts of our vital energy that may have gone missing through what shamans call “soul-loss”.
     In Western society, dreams are undervalued by those the English call the “talking classes”, especially in academe and the media. Yet we all dream, so this is common property. Ever the hardhead who says “I don’t dream” is only saying “I don’t remember” or “I don’t care to remember”. And when life is tough or he is going through a big life transition, his head may be cracked open by a big dream that will expand his understanding and maybe give him sources and resources not otherwise available.  One of the most common types of “big dreams” that can accomplish that is a visitation by a dead family member or loved one.
     All ancient and indigenous peoples that I have encountered, in my studies as an independent scholar and in my travels in many realities, understand that the dream world is a real world, maybe more real than the regular world of our consensual everyday hallucinations. When I told an elder of the Longhouse People, or Iroquois, about my dreams of a Mohawk/Huron  arendiwanen,  or “woman of power”, who walked this earth three centuries ago, he told me “you made some visits and you received some visitations.” There you have a central understanding, forgotten or ignored in much of Western psychology: dreaming is traveling.
     In dreams, soul or consciousness gets around, far beyond the body. In dreams, we may also receive visitations. The very words for “dream” in many cultures reflects this insight. In the language of the Makiritare, a shamanic dreaming people of Venezuela, the word for “dream” is adekato, which literally means “a journey of the soul.”
     Look at what is painted on the walls of the Paleolithic caves and you have evidence of the central importance of dreaming from as far back in the human odyssey as we can trace. The images are portals into a deeper reality, not simply hunting or fertility magic, but ways of connecting with the spirits, of calling through power, and of traveling between dimensions.
     On the most practical level, dreaming has always been a key part of our human survival kit. When we were little better than naked apes, without good weapons, dreaming helped save us from becoming breakfast for leathery raptors or saber-toothed tigers, by enabling us to scan our environment, across space and time, and identify possible dangers.
     We want to learn to meld ways of dreaming and healing that  our ancestors knew with the best of science and scholarship today. The methods of Active Dreaming that I teach and practice are not a "New Age" approach, but the revival of ancient wisdom, adapted to our contemporary lives, and providing essential tools to get us through life's challenges and find and fulfill our bigger and braver stories.

Art: the "Panel of the Lions" in the Grotte Chauvet in southern France.

My new online course "Dreaming into the Dreamtime" draws on the wisdom and practice of seven world traditions; classes start on May 3.


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Amnesia and Anamnesis: The Journey of the Forgetful Envoy


Life is a process of remembering and forgetting, forgetting and remembering.
    The theme of the forgotten mission is beautifully conveyed by the “Hymn of the Soul” in the gnostic Acts of Thomas. The hero is sent from the East into Egypt in search of the Pearl beyond price, which may be his own Higher Self. Drugged by the food and drink of the country where he now finds himself, he forgets who he is. From the distant land from which he has come, the king and queen and “all the princes of Parthia” send a message to awaken him to the memory of who and what he is and recall him to his forgotten mission.
    The same theme resonates, in modern dress, in Doris Lessing’s allegorical novel Shikasta. An envoy is sent to Earth from a higher civilization in a distant galaxy. To reach his destination, he must pass through a vast waiting area, a plane of mists and illusions, where souls wander between incarnations. On Earth, the envoy succumbs to the miasmal conditions; he forgets who he is and why he has come. An new envoy must be sent to remind him.
    Does the story sound familiar? It could be yours. It has certainly been mine.
    One of my favorite literary versions is Herman Hesse's novella The Journey to the East.  In a time of social collapse, when "there was a readiness to believe in things beyond reality", the narrator joins a pilgrimage to the East under the guidance of a mysterious order described only as the League. He journeys far in search of his spiritual home and regains the knowledge of essential things, such as his purpose for living. However, when he returns to his former environment, he loses his journals and souvenirs and begins to doubt whether his experiences were real. People around him don't believe his accounts. Soon he succumbs to their skepticism. He wonders whether the League itself is only a figment of his imagination.
    But the League has not forgotten him. He is one of its own. He is invited to read his personal file in the League archives. He discovers that four centuries earlier, in another lifetime, he also belonged to the League. He is ashamed. How could he possibly have forgotten this? In a secret alcove, he is permitted to draw back a veil and makes his most extraordinary discovery. It is a small statue that proves to be two figures in one, joined back to back. One of the figures is the traveler himself. In the other, he recognizes the features of the guide who led him on his journey to the East.
    As he studies the twinned figures, amazed, the statue comes to life. His own image melts and flows into that of the guide. It seems that, when fusion is complete, his ordinary self will be absorbed into the larger identity of the guide, the form of a Higher Self.
    Like Hesse's League, our true spiritual teachers do not forget. When we open ourselves to the possibility of remembering who we are and what we might become, they communicate clearly. To receive their knowledge — and recover the knowledge that belonged to us before we came through the tunnel of the birth canal — we must be in a corresponding state of consciousness. As Anaïs Nin remarked, “We do not see things as they are; we see them as we are.”
    Ordinary consciousness is a candle bobbing on a dark river, casting an inconstant circle of light across the water, in which an occasional creature from the deep can be glimpsed indistinctly. The river is vast, flowing into a boundless ocean. This is the sea of the greater Self. We cannot see it by the light of our daily trivial mind, which scarcely combs back the darkness.
    When I was a lonely adolescent in Australia, an inner guide who appeared to me in the form of a radiant young man from the eastern end of the Mediterranean reminded me that the knowledge that matters comes to us through anamnesis. The word literally means "remembering", the antithesis of amnesia. For Plato and the neo-Platonists, it means remembering the knowledge of mind and spirit that belongs to us on a higher plane, knowledge to which we had access before we came into our present bodies.
    Humans are forgetful animals. We forget and remember, remember and forget. Yet our true spiritual teachers stalk us in dreams and speak to us in liminal states of consciousness when we turn off our routine soundtrack and can hear a deeper voice. 


Part of this text is adapted from chapter 14, "Soul Remembering" in Dreamgates: Exploring the Worlds of Soul, Imagination and Life beyond Death by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library.



Art: "Song of Shambhala" by Nicholas Roerich

Spiritual gravitation


"Man attracts spirits according to his own temperament," as William Butler Yeats observed. To "the sanguine, the spirits of fire, and the lymphatic, those of watery nature, and those of a mixed nature, mixed spirits." While observing that like attracts like, Yeats was also fascinated by the way that opposites may be drawn together, to complement and complete each other, and to spark that creative friction that brings new things into being.  
    Yeats' friend, the Celtic visionary artist George William Russell (whose pen name was "AE") defined the key principle at work here as "spiritual gravitation", and described how it spills over into the play of synchronicity or objective chance. 
 
Your own will come to you. 
 
AE summarized the law of spiritual gravitation in this single thrilling phrase. In his beautiful little book The Candle of Vision he explains
 
I found that every intense imagination, every new adventure of the intellect endowed with magnetic power to attract to it its own kin. Will and desire were as the enchanter's wand of fable, and they drew to themselves their own affinities. ..One person after another emerged out of the mass, betraying their close affinity to my moods as they were engendered. 
 
     In our lives, this plays out through chance encounters, through the dreamlike symbolism of daily events, when we turn up the right message in a book opened at random or left open by someone else on a library table. If the passions of our souls are strong enough, they may draw "lifelong comrades".
     In The Candle of Vision, AE gave a personal example. When he first attempted to write verse, he immediately met a new friend, a dreaming boy "whose voice was soon to be the most beautiful voice in Irish literature" This was William Butler Yeats. "The concurrence of our personalities seemed mysterious and controlled by some law of spiritual gravitation." 
     In his later life, AE found a soul companion in the Australian writer P.L.Travers, the author of Mary Poppins and also a deep student of the Western Mysteries and a world-class mythographer. AE wrote to her about a further aspect of spiritual gravitation: "I feel I belong to a spiritual clan whose members are scattered all over the world and these are my kinsmen."
 
"Bathers" by George William Russell (1867-1935) 

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Dreaming with the departed

Many people in our society are hungry for confirmation that communication with the departed is not “weird” or “unnatural”, let alone impossible, and that it is possible to extend love and forgiveness and healing across the apparent barrier of death. We encounter our departed, especially in dreams, because they are still around (sometimes because they have unfinished business or are not actually aware they are dead); or because they come visiting; or because we travel, in dreams or visions, into astral realms where the departed are entirely at home.
    It’s not just that we dream of the dead; our departed are dreaming of us, and trying to reach us through dreams. Sometimes our departed return as counselors or “family angels”, as my father returned to me, many times, in the year after his death in Australia in 1987, with loving messages and practical guidance for the family. Sometimes our departed need us to play guides, because they are confused or stuck between the worlds, clinging to old appetites and attachments – which can be extremely unhealthy for the living, who may pick up the feelings and addictions and even the past physical symptoms of the dead.
    One of the cruelest things that mainstream Western culture has done is to suggest that communication with the departed is either impossible or unnatural.  There is nothing spooky or “supernatural” involved, though these experiences take us into realms beyond physical reality. It is especially easy to meet our departed in dreams for three reasons:                                                                                                                                 
Our Departed are Still With Us

Quite frequently dreams reveal that the departed are present because, quite simply, they never left. The departed may linger because they have unfinished business, or wish to act as guide and protector to the family, or are attached to people and places they loved in waking life, and this may be a perfectly happy situation for a year or two.
    But there comes a time when our departed need to move on, for their own growth, and so they do not become a psychic burden to the living. After death, we continue to be driven by our ruling interests, appetites and addictions. Some of those who have died but not truly “passed on” continue to try to feed their cravings via the living.  When the departed remain earthbound, the effects are unhealthy both for those who have died and those among the living to whom they are connected. 
    When the dead are enmeshed with the living, the result is mutual confusion, loss of energy, and the transfer of addictions, obsessions and even physical ailments from the departed to the person whose energy field he or she is sharing.
    Helping the departed may involve a loving dialogue, a simple ritual of honoring and farewell, and invoking spiritual helpers. As we become active dreamers, familiar with the geography of the afterlife, we may find we are called on to provide personal escort services and help to instruct some of our departed on their options on the other side. William Butler Yeats noted, with a poet’s insight, that “the living can assist the imaginations of the dead”.

Our Departed Come Calling

Most people who remember dreams can recall one in which someone on the other side made a phone call, sent a letter, or simply turned up at the door or the bedside. Our departed return to us in dreams for all the reasons they might have called on us in physical life – including the simple desire to tell us how they are doing and see how we are coping - and for larger reasons: to bring emotional healing, to bring us helpful information, to instruct us on life beyond death and the reality of worlds beyond the physical.
    Our departed may come visiting to offer or receive forgiveness. They may come to show us how they are doing on the other side.
    Our deceased friends and loved ones may appear in our dreams because they are trying to understand the fuller story of the life they have left. Yeats, with poetic clarity, called this stage in the afterlife transitions the "Dreaming Back."
    Our departed can be excellent psychic advisers when they achieve clarity on the other side and are aware that they are not confined to the rules of space and time.    Our departed may come as health advisers and family counselors.   They may visit us in dreams to help us prepare for our own deaths and reassure us that we have friends on the other side. 

In dreams, we travel to realms of the departed 

In our dreams, we are released from the laws of physical reality, and travel into other dimensions, including environments where the departed may be living. Through dreams of this kind, we can begin to develop a personal geography of the afterlife, which will be vastly enriched when we learn the art of conscious dream travel.
    In my workshops,  I often invite participants to focus on a dream or memory of a departed person and make it their intention to journey – with the help of shamanic drumming – to seek timely and helpful communication with that person and to learn about the environment where that person is now living.

Such visits and visitations have been a primary source, across the ages, for the widespread belief that consciousness survives the death of the physical body. This is too important a subject for us to rely on hand-me-down knowledge or blind faith. We want first-hand experience, and this is most readily available through dreaming. We will find that the realms of the departed may be no more distant from us than the width of our eyelids.





For much more on this subject please see The Dreamer's Book of the Dead by Robert Moss. Published by Destiny Books.

photo (c) Robert Moss

Monday, April 24, 2017

Dare to be afraid


Dare to be afraid.          
You're already in the underworld.
You are more dead now than you'll be
when you wake up in another world
and remember what it was all about
and how you might have used that knowledge.


Check in on the lives you are living now
in worlds where you never left your  lover
or met him ten years sooner 
or crossed that bridge that scared you
or went to Paris to make art.

You are on your way to a Customs booth
where your regrets will be weighed
against a feather  Travel light.
If you regret a life unlived grab from it
what you can before you face the scales.

Round up the usual dead artists.
Courage is not the absence of fear
but fear conquered by something stronger.
Feed the tiger even if that means becoming food.
Dare to be afraid.

- Gore Mountain April 23, 2017

Tiger mask by RM

Sunday, April 23, 2017

The dream questioner in ancient Mesopotamia


Our earliest records of the work of a dream interpreter come from ancient Mesopotamia. Here the person you asked for help with your dream was called the “questioner”. On clay tablets from Assur and Nineveh, the “questioner” is usually a woman. The title suggests that she will put questions to the dreamer, but also, more fundamentally, to the dream itself.
     Who or what was speaking in the dream? Is the dreamer’s recollection reliable? Where did the dream experience take place? What part of the dreamer — a higher part of soul or a lower one — was active in the dream? Is the female entity “as high as the sky and as wide as the earth” who appeared to that young man in Kish truly the great goddess?  What was the context of the dream? For example, was the dreamer sleeping in a special hut, built from reeds, that was used for dream incubation after ritual purification? Or was he sleeping off a bender?
   
    A Mesopotamian term for an obscure or mysterious dream is “a closed archive basket of the gods”. Picture a woven basket used for carrying a set of clay tablets. The role of the questioner is to lift the lid and help read what is in there. One technique she might use in doing this, suggests cuneiform decoder Scott Noegel, is to record the dream and look for visual as well as auditory puns in the patterns that emerge as she scores the clay with a reed or wooden stylus. That image, from five thousand years ago, seems strangely modern: the dream as text, the dream reader looking and listening for puns.
   
    But we are in a different world from modern analysts. Literacy is still a rare skill, and the questioner will use the magic of writing. But she will bring other tools to bear. She may seek a second opinion through one of many systems of divination, which range from reading the stars to examining the entrails of a sacrificial animal to noticing what is coming into view in the landscape in a given moment — the cry of the boatman, the wind bending the reeds.
    In
 Mesopotamia, as in most human cultures, dreaming was understood to be close kin to divination. The famous Assyrian dream book in the library of King Ashurbanipal — brought to Nineveh in 647 bce from the house of an exorcist of Nippur — was filed with the omen tablets, the largest category in the royal collection. Among ordinary folk as well as in royal palaces, across most of history, dreamwork has never been separated from other ways of reading the sign language of life.   
    In
 Ur or Uruk, the questioner may decide to go beyond the dreamer’s imperfect recollection of a dream into the fuller dream experience, by transporting herself to the place where the dream action unfolded and asking questions inside that space. What would that mean? There's a clue in a tablet that describes the questioner as “one who lies at a person's head.” An Oxford scholar suggests “the method was to lie beside the sleeper in the hope of intercepting or sharing the dream as it entered his head”.
     We have a hint here that ancient dream specialists may have used a core technique of Active Dreaming that we call tracking. With permission, a practiced dreamer can make a shamanic journey through the portal of another person's dream to bring back a clear account of what is going on in the dreamspace, to solve a mystery or resolve a problem.


Text adapted from The Secret History of Dreaming by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library.

Image: Gypsum statuette from Mesopotamia c 2400 bce.

In my next online course for The Shift Network, "
Dreaming into the Dreamtime", we harvest wisdom and practice from seven world traditions of dreaming. Classes start on May 3.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Active Dreaming to rescue soul and community in scary times

I received this message from a friend:

"Robert; I am experiencing soul loss after the last presidential election...are you? I am working on it."

I responded:

Our everyday practice of Active Dreaming has become absolutely essential. I do the dreamer's equivalent of "chop wood, carry water" every day, and I recommend this for all dreamers. Write in your journal, the secret book of your soul. 
    Find someone with whom to share dreams and life stories by our
 Lightning Dreamwork process. Seek or create a circle of active dreamers, raising vital energy and helping each other to remember and act upon the secret wishes of the soul.
    Dream with the Speaking Land, conscious that you walk everywhere in a forest of living symbols. Hug a tree, renew your connection with the elemental powers.
    Remember that your dreams and the play of synchronicity give you sources and resources beyond the obvious. Keep your direct line to the sacred and the God/Goddess you can talk to open.
    Find a way, every day, to entertain your spirits and make a playground rather than a prison in this world. Never forget that in any situation you have the freedom to choose your attitude, and that this can change everything. Choose the day.

My book Active Dreaming contains much guidance on dreaming with and for communities. It explains how to create and maintain an Active Dreaming circle, and how Lightning Dreamwork, as group practice, is a model for enlightened community leadership, as each participant takes turns to play the role of speaker and guide.
    Community, as Peter Block defines it in a provocative  book, is about the experience of belonging. To belong is to feel at home, to know you are among family or friends. When something belongs to you, you are an owner; you have a stake in something. Playing with the word, Block notes that belonging evokes longing to be - to come fully alive, to embody fully a deeper purpose in life.
     The model leader in this kind of community  is one who can bring the right people together in the right way, name the right questions for group exploration ("what can we create together?") and listen as others find their voice and their power. Such things are best done in small groups, which Block promotes as the best agents of transformation.
     Groups that share dreams the right way are now at the vanguard in developing the kind of social space that Block advocates. Dream groups are typically small (six to twelve people) and establish a different kind of space, and a deep sense of belonging to an intentional community. They are circles in which each member receives the gift of deep listening, the chance to play leader or teacher, and the opportunity to tell their life stories and re-vision those stories.
     In Active Dreaming circles, we recognize the need for strong leadership to provide the structure and dynamic within which extraordinary group experiences can be shared. This includes selecting and defining a safe and protected physical space. It means gently insisting on time limits (dreamers can get things done on time), building and maintaining circle energy and keeping everything moving for the two or three hours of a typical session, and making sure that everyone feels at home and that everyone's voice is heard.
    Part of the leader's job in an Active Dreaming circle is to ensure that a lively alternation of discussion, movement and conscious group dream travel keeps everyone alert and engaged.     
    Above all, the leader will enforce simple rules that ensure that no one present - least of all the leader herself - will try to claim authority over anyone else's dreams or life story. We are only permitted to comment on each other's material by saying "if it were my dream" or "if it were my life." In this way, we offer associations and suggestions while encouraging the dreamer to claim the power of her own dreams - and to take the necessary action to embody their energy and guidance in the world. Finally, the leader of an Active Dreaming will give her power away repeatedly by inviting others to take charge in leading the processes.
      In these ways, we fulfill Block's definition of the mode of leadership required to restore and re-story our communities: "Perhaps the real task of leadership is to confront people with their freedom."

Quotes from Peter Block are from his book, Community: The Structure of Belonging (San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers)

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Laughter is a life preserver


I received a distress call from a mother who was worried that her adult daughter was despairing of life. She felt her daughter might be getting ready to check out, not in the sense of self-destruction but in the sense of giving up the game and welcoming a "death door" - an opportunity to check out early - if she found one opening,
    The mother asked, "How do we help those we love not to welcome death's door prematurely?"
    I shared  what I've found to be practical truth. To help others - and ourselves - choose not to take one of those "death doors", it's vital to identify what makes each of us lighten up and want to stay on this good earth, and to do as much of that as we possibly can. No judgment. The answer might be sex or chocolate or French fries or tree-hugging or a walk on the beach. It might be a kitten rubbing itself against your leg, or a puppy running after a squirrel.
    We want whatever gets us to laugh and start to play life as a game again. Laughter is a sovereign healer and life preserver.
     I was reminded of this in the early hours when my youngest daughter - a night owl like her dad - asked me to watch "The World's Worst Cooks" with her on the Food Network. We both snorted and guffawed as we watched the chefs in charge selecting the absolute worst cooks from a long lineup of kitchen wreckers nominated by their families. One of the guys who won a chance to go to culinary boot camp produced his best dish - a can of Campbell's tomato soup tossed in a saucepan and topped with pre-grated cheese from a plastic pack. We laughed until tears were rolling down our cheeks.
    Laughter that convulsively rich and life-renewing doesn't come from stand-up comics and hand-me down jokes. It comes out of the deep organic humus of life, out of spontaneous play.
     Sometimes this kind of laughter rises up out from a chasm of pain and grief, even tragedy, and brings healing.
     Remember the story of Amaterasu, the goddess of the sun (no less) in the Japanese myth, who withdraws her light from the world and secludes herself deep in the Netherworld after being shamed and abused? The first thing that persuades her to start coming back towards the surface world - which is withering without her - is raw, bawdy humor.
     Medical science backs up the myth. Studies show that laughter reduces the level of stress hormones like cortisol in the body, while raising levels of health-enhancing endorphins. Laughter increases the number of antibody-producing cells and boosts the power of the T cells. This tones up the immune system and reduces the physical impact of stress. A good belly laugh is truly an inner workout: it exercises the diaphragm, contracts the abs and works on the shoulders, leaving muscle groups more relaxed. It strengthens the heart.
     Laughter has the power to cleanse and to heal. And it's contagious. It's hard not to catch the spirit of laughter that arises from the joy of life.
     So - quick - check your memory bank as you ask what brings out a good belly laugh in you? Better still, what makes you laugh till you can hardly breathe? Take those memories and play them as your inner version of Funniest Home Videos. Maybe you actually have some of those scenes on video, so you can laugh along as you replay them on your monitor.
     I may regret this, but I am going to insert a video that is, literally, in my collection of Funniest Personal Videos. In the closing session of one of my trainings, someone caught me doubling up with laughter, temporarily unable to get through reading the comic first verse of a poem I had composed that day. The title of the poem is "Women Dream Dreams that Would Terrify Men."
     When you laugh hard enough to come up gasping, you'll find that as you suck in air you are also drinking, pure and undiluted, the life force.

The Japanese myth of Amaterasu the Sun Goddess is one of the great healing stories of humanity. I retell it in my book The Three "Only" Things: Tapping the Power of Dreams, Coincidence and Imagination. The text of my poem "Women Dream Dreams That Would Terrify Men" that produced uncontrollable laughter is in Here, Everything Is Dreaming.

Photo of Mongolian child and camel by Han Chengli.

Monday, April 17, 2017

For soul growing, learn from the Big O

Do you remember The Missing Piece Meets the Big O, Shel Silverstein's delightful parable for kids of all ages? My youngest daughter (now in her twenties) told me that it was the best story we read together when she was very young.     
    I woke from an evening nap  in which a sidekick to some Mr Big told me that I needed to "get" the missing piece. I could hardly ignore the double prompt so I went to my daughter's room and borrowed her copy of the Shel Silverstein story (with her permission, of course).
    With the aid of wickedly simple line drawings, we follow the adventures and travails of what looks like a slice of pie. It's trying to find a hole it can fit, and tries varies orifices that turn up, in characters it encounters.
    Eventually it finds what seems to be Mr Right. He looks like a pie missing a wedge, and the missing piece slips into the hole and the fit seems perfect. But then the missing piece starts to grow, and grow, until its host complains, "I didn't know you were going to grow." The missing piece is ejected, and the one with the hole lumbers away, caterwauling, "I'm looking for my missin' piece, one that won't increase."
    We come to the denouement of the story. A character comes along who is different from the rest. He is not one of the hungry ones, or the shy ones, and there is no hole in him at all. He is the Big O. 
    The missing piece would love to join him, but there is no place where she could fit. Can't she at least travel on his back as he rolls along? Nope, The Big O is not going to carry her. "But perhaps you can roll by yourself," he tells her. She is incredulous. How can she roll on her sharp corners? Corners wear off, says the Big O, and shapes change.
    The missing piece just sits for a long time, despondent, when the Big O rolls away. Then very slowly she hauls herself up, and flops over. And does it again. And her edges start to wear off, and she is bumping instead of flopping, then bouncing instead of bumping, until at last, she is rolling.
    There is a terrific teaching in this simple tale. It's all about soul, and soul-making. All those creatures with holes in them evoke the soul-loss any one of us is likely to suffer in the course of a life, through pain or shame or disappointment. The hunger this creates can't be filled authentically by something that is not our own.
    Nor can we find our way in life by trying to fill a gap in another person, or a niche in a social or work environment, or by just sitting around waiting for something to happen. We need to pick ourselves up and - unaccustomed though this may be - start moving according to our own inner lights. And let the road smooth out our sharp edges and put curves in our linear thinking.
    Instead of trying to fit a hole, we want to become whole. To be pals with the Big O, you have to become your own Big O.



Sunday, April 16, 2017

Seeking the innermost dream


I am intrigued by nights in which we slip from one dream into another, as if moving from an outer to an inner courtyard. Sometimes the shift is marked by the experience of falling asleep and waking up inside the dream state. Waking from an inner dream, not yet fully aware that we are still in outer dream (but not yet in the outermost dream of physical reality) we record or talk about what we just experienced in that deeper place. 
     In one of the big, life-changing dream adventures of my life, I woke from a dream in which a sea eagle, an aquatic raptor native to northern Australia, my native country, and to northern Scotland, the country of my paternal ancestors, flew me across an ocean to a profound experience of contact with Aboriginal elders and their Dreaming.
      In high excitement, I proceeded to recount the dream to a gathering of dream researchers at a conference of the International Association for the Study of Dreams. I noticed, as I spoke, that the lecture theater we were in was too formal and structured for my taste, with desks bolted to the floor in steep banks. I did not notice, until I woke again in my body in the bed, that I was still dreaming.
     There was a double follow-up to that dream sequence. First, I checked with the IASD on the venue for a presentation I was to make at a forthcoming conference and found that I had been assigned a lecture theater very similar to the one in the outer dream; thanks to my dream advisory, I was able to have the venue changed to a more informal space more suited to dream experiencers. Second, on a visit to Australia I had not planned at the time of the dream, I found myself in contact with Aboriginal elders who confirmed things I had seen in the inner dream, and opened sacred space to me because I came to them with the right dream.
     Experiences of this kind can awaken us to the important fact that there are many levels of dreaming. As we develop the practices of Active Dreaming, including the ability to embark on conscious dream travels and to attain and maintain lucidity during our nocturnal excursions, we will learn that we can go with intention to successive levels of dreaming. Our design then becomes to bring back more from the innermost dreams, where the greatest treasures are to be found, but may be lost to memory as our dream selves wend their way back to the surface.
    In a program I led for sixth-graders, we were all seized with admiration for a lovely young girl who narrated a night in which she passed through seven successive dreams, nested inside each other, until she found herself in an epic of love and danger in the time of the American Revolution - and then traveled back, level by level, through the outer courts of dreaming, with exact and vivid memories of the whole adventure.
     Part of our practice, as active dream travelers, is to learn to recognize personal markers that we are moving from one level of dreaming to another. Some dreamers have familiar places of transit; favorites include a locker room (a place of changing, when we think about it), a bathroom, an Eastern restaurant, grandma's house. Some of us have the frequent experience of going up or down successive levels in a building with many floors, or an elevator that works rather differently from a regular lift.
     Shifts from color to black and white and back again may denote transits between different levels of dreaming as well as different locales. Taking off or putting on clothes, or changing vehicles, may be another marker of switching levels. To get to higher levels, we may need to move beyond the astral body (in which we engage in many of our dream adventures) to a more subtle vehicle.
     The problem of the "false awakening", in which we wake from a dream only to find - when we wake again in the physical body - is an intriguing one. I explored it one evening in a class in which I suggested that although I could not prove whether or not I was dreaming at that moment, I might be able to establish whether I was in a physical body.
     To dramatize this point, I took the candle from the center of the circle and dribbled hot wax onto the web between the thumb and forefinger of my left hand. As I felt the pain, I announced to the group, "I think I have established that whether or not I am dreaming, I am in a physical body right now." Then I woke up in my bed. I felt the residue of the heat and pain in my left hand, a dream hangover effect that is sometimes called astral repercussion.
     Growing consciousness and discernment about these things is a matter of practice, practice, practice. The reward is to become a more conscious citizen of the multiverse, awake to the fact that our ordinary lives are related to grander stories being played out, right now, in other orders of reality, able to draw from this the will to choose how we navigate life on all levels.


For more on the levels of dreaming and the subtle bodies, please see my book Dreamgates: Exploring the Worlds of Soul, Imagination and Life Beyond Death (New World Library).



Art: René Magritte, "The Human Condition II" (1935)

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Revolt of the Imagination: Narrative Lessons from Olga Grushin

A Russian-American writer, Olga Grushin, brilliantly depicts the revolt of the imagination under a totalitarian system in her novel The Dream Life of Sukhanov. The protagonist is a promising Surrealist painter who buries his art 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.
       Olga Grushin is a wonderful writer whose narrative devices merit close study. She uses shifts in tense and person to mark the transits between current experience in a narrative and things remembered or entered in imagination. In the protagonist’s present, the action is narrated in the third person and the past tense. When he is drawn back into memories, the narration is first person and present tense. The past is more present and more intimate than the present. When his dreams begin to take over his unsettled present reality, we shift to first person and past tense; the dream world is becoming the real world.
      Another effective Grushin device: pictures come alive and spill over into the world. A figure in a brown coat from Dali turns up as a character in Moscow, both frustrator and liberator. A face reflected in a window in an early canvas turns out to be the face of the woman he will love and marry, unknown when he made the painting.



Friday, April 14, 2017

Cracked or Creative: Speaking of Coincidence.

Coincidences are homing beacons. They are secret handshakes from the universe. They are extraordinary sources of guidance and direction.
     The great psychologist Carl Jung lived by coincidence. and achieved a profound understanding that through the study of coincidence we will come to grasp that there is no real separation between mind and matter at any level of reality — a finding confirmed by the best of our physicists. He taught that the incidents of our lives and the patterns of our world are connected by meaning, and that meaningful coincidence may guide us to the hidden order of events.
     Jung was so fed up with the reflexive dismissal of coincidence as only coincidence that he labored heroically to give us a new vocabulary with which to describe both the phenomenon and its character. He coined the word “synchronicity” and it has since achieved wide circulation. The term is unsatisfactory. It refers to things happening at the same time, but an interesting run of coincidence can play out over a longer period.
     But “synchronicity” sounds scientific and respectable, and I often use it to get round the difficulty of talking about these things in a state of semantic confusion where we routinely dismiss things as “only” coincidence, or insist that an incident “wasn’t”  coincidence” when what we mean that it was coincidence, and it was important.
      Coincidence multiplies when our thoughts and feelings are strong and focused enough to set up a magnetic field. Roberto Calasso describes how this works in the life of writers in his recent book La Folie Baudelaire:  “The writing of a book gets under way when the writer discovers that he is magnetized in a certain direction…Then everything he comes across – even a poster or a sign or a newspaper headline or words heard by chance in a café or in a dream – is deposited in a protected area like material waiting to be elaborated.” This has been my experience when engaged in bringing through a book. The world gives me story after story, lead after lead, and the shelf elves became hyperactive.
     The idea that coincidences are important is troubling to some in the psychiatric community. ”Ideas of reference” – referring to the delusion that everything perceived in the outer world relates to the individual perceiving – are defined as a symptom of psychotic illnesses including schizophrenia. Determined not to be overawed by Jung’s learned borrowings from Greek, a Swiss psychiatrist named Klaus Conrad made up the word “apophenia” to describe a psychotic condition he defined as the “unmotivated seeing of connections” accompanied by a “specific experience of an abnormal meaningfulness.”
      Conrad’s Greek was not as good as Jung’s. The word he wanted is apophrenia, which means “away from the mind.” But he left out the “r” in the Greek stem phrēn, so his coinage — meant to categorize a kind of nonsense — is itself nonsense. The mislabeled condition (mentioned in the title of a rock song and in William Gibson’s novel Pattern Recognition) is a disorder of compulsive pattern recognition that produces paranoid fantasies.
     There are people who find meaning and inspiration in the cracks on a wall, and people who are simply cracked. The difference between them may be as extreme as that between Leonardo da Vinci (who urged his apprentices to study cracks in the walls) and the nut portrayed by Mel Gibson in Conspiracy Theory. When we navigate by coincidence, we move effortlessly into creative flow. When we project our delusions onto the world around us, we put ourselves in a place of blockage and pain. It is the release or constriction of creative flow that will tell us whether we are on the right track (though let’s note that the release may involve a necessary redirection of flow).


- Adapted from The Three “Only” Things: Tapping the Power of Dreams, Coincidence and Imagination by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library. This book is now available in French, Spanish, Swedish, German, Russian, Lithuanian, Turkish, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean editions.