Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Look for the secret wishes of your soul in your dreams as the year turns

Here's a game I am playing with my own dreams at this turning of the year. I am looking to see what they reveal about the secret wishes of the soul.
      That phrase is a translation of the ancient Iroquoian word ondinnonk, which I first heard from a Huron/Mohawk woman of power who called me in dreams. I call her Island Woman in my books. I learned from her that we need to look in dreams for clues to what the soul wants, what the heart yearns for, as opposed to the agendas of the everyday mind and the expectations other people lay on us. She told me, “Dreams that are wishes of the soul (when they are true dreams as well as wishes) can tell you that you need something you didn’t know you needed, or something you denied wanting because you felt ashamed for wanting it.”
     In her tradition, it is the duty of caring people to gather round a dreamer and help her to read the secret wishes of the soul and take action to honor those wishes. This goes to the heart of healing, because if we are not living from soul, our lives lose magic and vitality.
     Here is more of Island Woman's wisdom.Notice that in her vocabulary the dream world is the Real World and the physical world is the Shadow World.

There is limitless power and beauty and healing available to us in the dreamworlds. To keep body and soul together in the surface world – and to live from the purposes of the soul – we need to bring that dream energy through. This requires action in the Shadow World.
    The first part of that action may be speech, but not the chatter of idle birds or village gossips. The speech required is an act that brings something new into a world. Dreaming gives us the songs and the magic words that can bring something up from a soupy ocean of possibilities to take root in the earth. That is why real men and women of power are poets, singers, storytellers, performers. With skeins of song and dancing needles of magic words, they reweave the fabric of reality.
   When we do this, we know that we are entertaining the spirits: our own vital spirits, the spirits of the ancestors, the great ones who reach to us from beyond space and time, the ancient and shining ones.
   Nothing happens until it is dreamed. When we bring something good from the dreamworld into the surface world, we do the work of the Creator. We join in dancing a world into being, as Sky Woman danced on Turtle’s back.
   Through dreaming, we recover the knowledge of our sacred purpose that belonged to us before we came into our present bodies. Then we can begin to live from our sacred purpose and unite ourselves to the powers of creation. We can also begin to get in touch with other members of our soul families who live in other places and times. 
     Unless you dream, you’ll never be fully awake. In the Shadow World, we go around like sleepwalkers. In big dreams, we wake up.

Drawing of Island Woman by Robert Moss

For more of Island Woman's teachings about soul and dreaming please see my book Dreamways of the Iroquois: Honoring the Secret Wishes of the Soul 

Monday, December 30, 2019

Dreaming in the New Year

Whatever you do as the year turns, write in your journal! Write your dreams from the night, and your dreams of life for the coming year. Write, in particular, whatever you receive from dreams, synchronicity and spontaneous revelation over the last night of the Old Year and the first day of the New Year.
    If you were up all night partying - or the effect of your New Year's Eve reveling knocked your dreams out of memory - then record and work with the first dream that comes the following night, and whatever dreamlike symbols the world around you may give you.
    In Japan they make a special effort to catch and work with the very first dream of the new year. Many Japanese people pay close attention to Hatsuyume, the first dream of the New Year. It may come in the night of December 31-January 1 but - since many may be up late partying or suffering the after-effects - it may come in the following day or on the night of January 1-2.     

    In Japanese tradition, it is very auspicious to dream of three things in Hatsuyume: Mount Fuji, a hawk, or eggplants (aubergines). We don't have to puzzle long over why the highest mountain in Japan or a hawk - the seer of the sky - would be seen as propitious.Aubergine is more mysterious until we consider the Japanese love of puns and homophones, which comes very much into play in reading dreams. The Japanese word for eggplant is similar to the word that means “to accomplish” or “to fulfill”; both are transliterated as nasu.

In hopes of a lucky dream to kick off the New Year, some Japanese invoke the Shichifukujin or "Seven Lucky Gods" and may place a picture of them under the pillow. These may not be part of our belief system, but we have other sources of guidance and blessing available, and it is always appropriate to ask for help and blessing if we do it nicely!

 If you are ready to dream in the New Year, you could set the simple intention: 

Show me what the New Year will bring

Or give this a positive spin by couching your request to your dream makers the following way: 

Show me the best that life holds for me and those I love in the year ahead. 

Be as specific or as general as you like, but ask in a way that excites you and reflects your willingness to receive guidance and enter on new adventures.
     Don't forget that dreams require action! Your first action is to record anything you remember from your dreams and the drifty state of hypnagogia. Share it with a friend, if you can, using our Lightning Dreamwork process. Walk with your dream and see how what is going on around you may illuminate the dream and how your dream may illuminate your world.
    If you saw things in your dream you don't want to manifest in the year ahead, comb through the material with the eye of a detective, asking Who, What, When, Where, How? If you can clarify the details of the dream and identify where it may play out in coming events, you may be able to take appropriate action to avoid an event you don't want to live through in your physical life. You can also try to accomplish this by going back inside your dream, in a conscious reentry journey, to see whether you can change the script where it was playing. You may want to try writing the story of your dream so it comes to a happy ending. If those approaches feel artificial, however, that may be telling you that physical action is required to reshape the probable future for the better.
    If your first dream for the New Year is full of promise, then celebrate - but make it part of your celebration, once again, to take action to embody the energy and promise of the dream and to help it to take root in the world. Don't leave the old year without your journal, and don't enter the new year without your dreams. 
    May your New Year be filled with abounding joy, and may your best dreams come true!

Painting of Lucky Dream for the New Year:, with Mount Fuji, Falcon and Eggplants by Suzuki Harunobu (1725–1770)

Thanks to Rick Gned for information on Hatsuyume

The waters of dreams

In drugstore dream dictionaries we are told that water, as a dream symbol, is about emotions. Well, ye-es, it maybe, but what you find in your dream waters and what I find may be very different things. 
     As with any dream, a dream of water may be symbolic, literal, or an experience of a separate reality. I have dreamed, over decades now, of being able to travel to the sea floor without any breathing problems and of encountering a Mother of the Deep and various other characters who seem to embody the elemental powers of the ocean. I have dreamed of healing in sacred pools, and delight in mermaid coves, and the kind of inundation that brings fresh new growth bursting into the world.
     I have also noticed that some of our dreams of water may be both literal and symbolic. We dream of a tsunami or a hurricane - and that event turns out to be both a natural event that is played out in the world and a terrific emotional storm that blows up in our personal lives. 
     How water moves or fails to move in dreams is a very important source of guidance to me on the state of my body and my creative energy. Clogged pipes and logjams - in physical reality as well as in night dreams - alert me to the need to do some clearing and free up energy that needs to be in flow. 
     Water transforms, and it goes through its own transformations, from vapor to liquid to solid and back through the sequence. We come from the water, and our bodies are mostly composed of seawater. Our dreams may open us to the teachings of water: to flow rather than to push, to stream round an obstacle rather than charge it head on.
     The waters of dreams offer entry into a different element, sometimes a different universe. In the deep, we may receive deep healing or encounter sacred powers.
     In one of my workshops, a scientist from Virginia shared a wonderful dream in which he plunges deep into the ocean and then up into space, doing the butterfly stroke, repeating the motions until he is circling the planet. We didn't analyze this dream. We plunged into it and enjoyed its energy. With the dreamer's permission and the aid of shamanic drumming, our whole circle accompanied him back into his dream in a marvelous adventure in group lucid dreaming. Some of us met creatures of the deep beyond those chronicled in National Geographic, with mutual respect. Some joined dolphin pods. I enjoyed skimming the Pacific, in waters around my native Australia. 
     When I think of water, and the need for flow in any satisfying and creative life, I remember my favorite statement in the Negative Confessions that were made in the Halls of Osiris in an ancient Egyptian passage to the afterlife. In the presence of grim assessors, the traveling soul is required to swear that he or she has not committed various crimes and immoral acts. This is the affirmation I love best, as recorded in the so-called Egyptian Book of the Dead, whose literal title is The Book of Coming Forth by Day:

I have not obstructed water when it should flow.

I want to be able to say that on any day.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

What the old ones know about dreaming worlds

Some things I have learned through dreaming that wise ancestors of all traditions knew:

The doors of the Otherworld open from wherever you are.

The visible world is the skin of the invisible multiverse.

Souls can be lost or stolen.

True shamans can heal the body and call the soul home with story, song and poetic enchantments.

We are more than body and brain: we are mind and heart and spirit, and all need care and feeding.

Dreaming is traveling. You make visits and you receive visitations.

Dreams are a field of interaction between human and more-than-human.

By entering the portal of a dream, you can find your way to worlds of magic, healing and adventure, reclaim parts of your own vital soul that went missing – and meet the beloved of your soul.

Everything is alive and conscious and we are connected with all animate life.

The distance between the living and the dead is thinner than your eyelids.

The ancestors are talking, talking. We need to discern who and what is with us and which relations we need to heal, end or affirm.

Real magic is the art of bringing gifts from another world to this one. We do this when we go dreaming and bring back guidance and energy we embody in our lives, and when we wake up to the fact that the world around us will speak to us in the manner of dreams if we pay attention.

You don't need to go to sleep in order to dream. Dreaming is not fundamentally about what happens during sleep. It's about waking up to the deeper reality.

Your Big Story is hunting you. All you need do is place yourself where you are easy prey.

You are here in this world on a mission

You had a life before you were conceived, and you’ll have a life after death.

You belong to a spiritual, as well as a biological family. You have counterparts in other times and in alternate realities, aspects of your larger, multidimensional self

Nothing happens until it is dreamed. Dreaming, whether you remember or not, you help to pluck definite events out of the quantum soup of possibility.

- from "Maxims of the Hidden Poet", a work in progress

"Eye in the Sky". Drawing by Robert Moss from a spontaneous vision in the hypnagogic zone.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Social dreaming on Christmas Eve

Dreams are social as well as individual, transpersonal as well as personal. We get out and about, we make visits and we receive visitations. Some of us are much more social in dreams than in regular life. This was my story overnight.

After a quiet Christmas Eve with family around the tree, I traveled far and wide and brought back detailed reports in three intermissions from adventures with people who are strangers to me in the ordinary world.

In the first excursion, I am at a British military hospital during World War I trying to persuade the brass that there are more humane and healing ways to approach "shell shock" than to send soldiers back to the front or discharge them as unfit. I become lucid, aware that I am in a different body, trying to find how to apply knowledge from my current life including psychological terms that are not understood in 1917. I am starting to get a hearing from British military doctors when I step out of this scene.

 In another dream, I travel between the Hamptons and a country estate, trying to help in an emotional drama that has a woman on the verge of suicide. Despite the raw grief and rage in the scene, I feel I am getting through. I am calm and detached when I leave the scene.

In a third dream, I am staying in a vast luxury apartment in Miami. Three Latina housekeepers come in while I am trying to take a shower and lay out a four-plate feast for me. They come with happy dogs – a big black Chow and a tiny long-haired dachshund - that race around.

None of this was cheery jingle bells stuff, or the starlight of the Magi, but I felt up rather than down after each episode. The dreams seemed entirely literal, real encounters in different times and places. I was glad to see that my dream self was trying to help where help was needed, in an earlier time and an alternate reality. I could be in that apartment in Miami in the future, but I think what is unfolding there belongs to a parallel life that does not require further attention from me from this side of the swing door between the worlds.

I am pretty sure the stories are continuing to play after I thought I had checked out. I don’t feel any work is required on this side, not even my frequent dream detective work of asking “Who? What? Where? When? Why?”

I could play the part of asking “What part of me?” is each character in each dream – the ramrod stiff colonel as opposed to the would-be healer or the wounded warrior, for example.That could be fun. but would not lay to rest my deep sense that the dream figures are more than aspects of myself or a cast assembled by my inner movie producers. They have their own lives.

I allow myself the gentle pleasure of recording three new travel reports in my journal, and then adding them to my digital folder on Social Dreams. This folder now contains thousands of personal entries. In many of them I meet people I later encounter in ordinary reality, often in a workshop or lecture setting. I lead a workshop in a dream, then give that workshop in regular life, and recognize people who took it with me already. Just as often, however, a social encounter in a dream remains in its own space, in an alternate reality or a parallel event track. First-hand data of this kind is a corrective to the misconception – still amazingly common among pundits on dream psychology - that whatever goes on in a dream is merely a part of the dreamer.

Journal drawing by Robert Moss

Sunday, December 22, 2019

The first Santa

In this holiday season, I received a cri de coeur from the mother of a young boy named James:

James just found out that his parents stuff his stockings each year instead of Santa Claus. He is crestfallen. I asked him if he remembered a story you told him about a real live, animal-loving "Santa" that lived long ago, and he did, but neither of us could conjure enough details to make a suitable retelling. Could you please give me a reference to find the story of this previous, real-life "Santa"? It just might save Christmas for a certain 5-year old boy who yearns to believe.

I remembered a conversation in which I suggested that the original Santa was a shaman of the Sami, a reindeer-herding people of Lapland, reputed to have the power to call up the winds and fly through the air, and that the reason his coat is red is that it was the flayed skin of a reindeer. I have seen Sami drums with images of a shaman flying through the three tiers of the shamanic cosmos on a sleigh pulled by reindeer.
    But while there is a rich ethnography on Sami shamanism, I could think of no source that would be suitable for a young boy. 
I was not enthused by the idea of introducing a small boy to the theory of certain enthusiasts for entheogens that Santa’s outfit is red and white to match the colors of a magic mushroom, amanita muscaria, that got him flying out of his skull. 
So I took on the assignment of writing my own version of the first Santa, addressed to a boy in danger of losing his belief in Christmas magic.

Dear James

I heard you found out that it wasn’t Santa who put the presents in your stocking, but people who live with you every day.
     I know this is a shocking discovery, and it would not be surprising if you felt cheated and confused.This is also a very big moment on your journey of growing up. Actually, it’s not big, it’s ENORMOUS.
     You have come to a fork in your road. If you let your feelings of disappointment and betrayal take you down the wrong path, you could very easily end up in the world of the Meanies who don’t believe in any kind of magic at all, and therefore never have any. Go the other way and you’ll come to know that, even if Mommy and Daddy filled the stocking, Santa is REAL. Not only is he real; he is MORE real than you could understand before you found out about the presents. 
     Let me explain.
     When a story is as important as Santa’s, lots of people will try to tell it their own way. So you’ll hear that Santa was a saint who traveled the world producing marvels and good works many centuries ago. Or that he was a winter king in a great northern forest. Meanies might tell you he was dreamed up by slick advertising men so they can sell more stuff. It’s often said that Santa lives at the North Pole with his elves. Most children I know, and some grown-ups, picture him flying through the sky with a team of reindeer. They are more right than all the rest.

      I am going to tell you the true and original story of Santa. Accept no substitutes.

Long ago and far away, where the sun shines all night on Midsummer’s Eve and never shows its face at Midwinter, a boy they called Dreamer lived with his family among the Reindeer People. They were a simple folk who lived on fish and the fruits of the earth, on reindeer milk and sometimes, in the hungry depths of winter, on reindeer meat. They followed the reindeer through the cycle of the seasons, forever in search of something to eat. They made tools and toys and holy statues out of reindeer bone, and when they danced around their fires, men and women both wore crowns of reindeer antlers.
     Dreamer was an awkward boy. He couldn’t run or move as fast on snow shoes as the others. He wasn’t very lucky at fishing, and he couldn’t lift the great tree-trunks they used for their winter games of log-tossing. They called him Dreamer because his mind always seemed to be wandering somewhere else. He loved the reindeer, and sometimes his mother would find him dreaming among them, arms wrapped in sleep around the belly of a reindeer cow.
     Even the wild reindeer approached him without fear. That was why, one hungry winter, his father made him go out with the hunters, to call the wild reindeer from the shadows of the evergreens. As a magnificent bull reindeer trotted towards him, the boy's father muttered, “Take him. He’s yours.” The boy trembled, with his father’s long bow in his hands, looking into the deep steady eyes of the reindeer.
     Impatient, his father threw his spear. Blood spurted from the great heart of the stag over the boy's chest. He dropped to his knees by the body of the reindeer, asking forgiveness. “We do this so our people may live.”
     His father punished him for his failure to take the kill by forcing him to skin the reindeer with his own knife, and carry the hide back to the village on his shoulders. Staggering under the weight, he wore the reindeer hide bloody side out, so he seemed to be wrapped in a bright red coat.
     That night, while the boy’s father and mother were snoring under their sleeping skins, he woke and looked up through the smoke hole into a field of stars. Through the field, a reindeer was racing on flying hooves. It swooped down through the smoke hole and stood over the boy, so close the steam from its nostrils entered him. He understood, without human words, what he was to do. He was to make a drum, using the hide he had carried back from the woods, binding it to the frame he would carve from an evergreen. He would use a piece of antler as a beater. An old one who lived alone in the woods would show him things he needed to know to make the drum right.
     I don’t know how much you know about drums. This was not the kind of drum you see at a concert, or in a marching band, or in a toy shop. It was the kind of drum you can ride. The boy did not know that until he made it, and learned to tap-tap-tap with his bone hammer until the winds changed and the air was filled with the sound of drumming hooves.
     Another night came, at the darkest time of the year, when the reindeer looked down through the smoke hole and the wind whispered, Tomorrow. The boy walked alone in the gray absence of dawn to the tree that had provided the frame of his drum. He made himself a nest among soft needles the reindeer had not touched.

     As soon as he touched the drum, the stag appeared, different from before. Now his back was covered by a scarlet saddlecloth. The boy understood what he was meant to do. He swung himself up, as someone else might get up on a horse. There was no bit or bridle; he just held on to the reindeer’s neck as he took off at a terrific pace, heading ever north across frozen marshes and ice floes, into a world of white. Ahead, he saw a huge glowing disk very low on the horizon. It seemed he was flying into the face of the moon.

    The boy found himself in the presence of an immense being that blazed with light. It was like looking at the moon, caught in the bare branches of a giant oak. The boy’s vision changed and he saw a woman more beautiful than anything he had ever imagined, a White Lady crowned with great glowing antlers. He knelt before the Reindeer Queen. She smiled a moon-bright smile and raised him up and held him to her breast like a mother.
     She told him, “Darker times are coming. You will need to become a man quickly, and more than a man, to help bring back the light. When the time comes, I will call you and show you what to do.”
     When the ice broke up, monsters appeared in the inlets where the Reindeer People went to fish. The monsters reared from the waters with the heads of leering dragons, then disgorged terrible iron-clad men bent on killing and plunder.
     The Iron Men stormed over the land. The boy's father, now headman of his village, gathered the herders and the older boys to defend their women and their tame reindeer. Fearing for his son’s life and contemptuous of his fighting skills, he ordered Dreamer to stay with the herd.
     When the din of battle sounded across the hill, and the boy's mother armed herself with a bone knife, the boy took his drum and sat among the reindeer, in the long grass. He tapped with the bone hammer until he felt himself stretch and stretch. Then he was flying with the reindeer, through the arctic rainbow to the palace of the Reindeer Queen.

Bright as the full moon, she told him, it was time to meet Brother Bear. The great bear rose up before him like a shaggy mountain. Dreamer wasn’t afraid, well, not as much as he might have been if the Reindeer Queen had not made the introductions.
     When Brother Bear opened his arms, the boy stepped forward and hugged him hard, though his arms could cover only a tiny part of the bear’s tremendous girth. When Brother Bear hugged him back, closing his mighty arms, Dreamer fell through the heart of the mountain, into the world of battle.
     The Iron Men were baying victory. What landed before them, making thunder in the earth, silenced their cries. Sword-arms and spear-arms ceased hacking and cutting, frozen in mid-thrust. Brother Bear towered between the Iron Men and the herders. He reached down and plucked the invaders from the field like toy soldiers. He tossed them back towards their dragon boats. The remnants of the Iron Men broke and fled, throwing down weapons and plates of armor to speed their escape. Rejoicing, Dreamer's father ran to bring his wife and son the good news. He found the boy sleeping under his drum, among the reindeer. He poked the boy with the toe of his boot. “Dreaming again, eh? Rouse yourself, boy! Come and see how we won the good fight.”
     As the boy struggled to his feet, very wobbly, the form of the great bear began to wobble too, fading to a thin mist, then gone.
     When she called him again, the Reindeer Queen told the boy, “When you are grown, you will be wide and strong and big-bellied, like Brother Bear. And all who see you will smile and be jolly, except men of evil hearts, who will flee before you.”
      So the boy grew to be a man, wide-bellied and jolly, fond of stuffing himself with summer berries and tracking the bees to the best honeypots in the trees. When he tapped on his drum and the reindeer came to take him flying now, they came as a whole team and he road in a sleigh that they pulled through the sky, since he was now too broad to ride on the back of a single animal. Whistling for favorable winds, he traveled far beyond the lands of the Reindeer People.
     His biggest journey began when he was old, in the eyes of men, and the Reindeer Queen called him to tell him that there was new star in the sky, and its light was coming to the Northlands.
     He flew to a place where the wisest of the wise were waiting for this star. He stood with them on top of a mountain, He saw the night sky open like a smoke hole to reveal the new star. Light came down from it like a pillar, and inside the pillar he saw the face of a radiant child that melted his heart.
     He wanted to lay gifts before the child, but he had nothing except his beating heart.
     “Drum for me from your heart,” the star-child told him. “Drum for the hearts of men, to help them open to give and share in peace on this night of the turning year.”

Santa has been doing that ever since. When he drums, hearts open like the roofs of houses, and shining gifts come pouring down.
     Whoever gives in a spirit of love and joy on this special night has Santa inside him, or her.
When Mommy and Daddy were stuffing your stocking, Santa was there with them.
     Now, I know that when you have seen something with your eyes it can be hard to believe a different thing unless you can see that with your eyes too.
      So I want you to know this.
      In a great museum in Europe there is a drum made of reindeer skin. On it is an old, old painting of a man flying through the sky on a sleigh pulled by reindeer. I’m not saying this is Santa’s drum. I think his drum is too lively to ever get caught and stuck in a museum. I am saying that whoever painted and used that drum knew how you make flying reindeer, and how you get down chimneys.

Etching of Sami shaman with magic drum by O.H. von Rode (1767). 

(c) Robert Moss. All rights reserved. 

Friday, December 20, 2019

On leaving a dream

When I leave a dream, I often feel that I step from one room into another. It's a "just so" feeling. I was there, and now I am here.
    When I exit a dream, I avoid saying "I woke up." That is such a boring way to end a dream narrative. And it's entirely possible that when I open my eyes in one reality, I have fallen asleep in another world that is no less real. When I finish recounting a dream adventure, I may say. "then I left that scene" or, “then I came back to my bedroom”.
     Sometimes the dream stays with me, and I am in both locations - the bedroom and that other room - in a state of dual consciousness after I come back to my body.

Very early this morning, at an hour many would call the middle of the night, I came back to the body in my bed from an excursion. In my dream I was at an airport where a woman from an Islamic country needed my help to find a place where she could get halal camel meat.
     This felt like an entirely literal experience, taking place in an alternate reality. I do not rule out the possibility that I will meet that woman at an airport in the future, since I often return from a dream with  memories of the future.
    My ability to help her will be greater now that I have consulted Auntie Google about halal camel meat. I now understand that camel meat is not only halal ("allowed") for Muslims but is available in restaurants and butcher shops all over the Middle East and Central Asia. I will also reflect on the possible symbolism here. It may have something to do with taking on the strength to cross a desert while carrying your own water - quite relevant for a writer embarking on a new book project. A dream adventure can be literal, symbolic and an experience of another reality all at once.
     My gentle return from my dream outing allowed me to see the airport - a very modern one, with sweeping architectural features I did not recognize, and the strong, dark features of the woman (no headscarf, I confirmed) - as I made a note.

Other times, however, I don't so much come back from a dream as fall out of it, in a mode reminiscent of the David Bowie character in The Man Who Fell to Earth. One night I fell back into my body so hard that I thought that I had broken the bed. I made a drawing of that bumpy return. Coming back so hard and fast cost me the memories of where I had just been.

Journal drawing: "Man Who Fell to Earth" by Robert Moss

Thursday, December 19, 2019

A solstice poem

Eyes of the Goddess

From a journey to Newgrange

The poet waits for me in his countryman’s cape
And shows me the map in the gateway stone:
Twin spirals to get you in, and out, of the place of bone;
Wave paths to swim you from shadow to dreamscape;
A stairway of stars for when you are done with earthing.
I am here to practice the art of rebirthing.

She calls me, into the belly of the land that is She.
But I play, like the poet, with the shapes of time:
I am a swimming swan on the River Boyne;
I am a salmon, full with the knowing of the hazel tree;
I wander with Angus, and know the girl I have visioned
in gold at the throat of a white swan, beating pinions.

Drawn by the old perfume of burned bones, I go down
and doze until solstice fire, bright and bountiful
quickens me for the return of the Lady, lithe and beautiful
In the form she has taken, flowing as liquid bronze.
Her face is veiled, so the man-boy called to her side
like the red deer in season will not die in her eyes.

I see beyond the veil, for I come from the Other.
Oh, I yearn for the smell of earth and the kiss of rain!
I leap with her on the hallowed bed, coming again.
She knows the deer-king, as I am child and lover
Her eyes are spiral paths; the gyre of creation whirls
And sends me in green beauty to marry the worlds.

This poem is included in my collection Here, Everything Is Dreaming: Poems and Stories. Published by Excelsior Editions/SUNY Press.

photo: Spirals on the kerb stone at Newgrange

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Dreaming with Robin Williams

Sarah Sera Sera is a wildly creative and entertaining dream teacher, performance artist and storyteller in the Portland,Oregon area. Her flair for comedy is such that it is not surprising that she attracted a dream mentor and playmate with the face and personality of Robin  Williams. When I gave an advanced group the assignment of selecting nine dreams that had made a mark in their lives and weaving a story from them, Sarah selected nine of her dreams of Robin Williams. She then produced a wonderfully funny script that I hope will be performed on stage. You can read the full narrative if you follow the link at the end of this delightful guest blog I asked Sarah to write, with Robin, to introduce their oneiric relations. She just messaged me that Robin says “Feel free to give her writing assignments as you find entertaining. But she is unlikely to follow the rules.”

Guest blog by Sara Sera Sera
I turned on my computer and started an email to Robert Moss. It’s 5:30 AM. OMG, why am I up and writing to Robert Moss at 5:30 AM?
In my mind's eye, the archetype expressed most recently and accurately by the late, great, Robin Williams appears in midair to my right.
“You okay, kid?” Robin asks.
I’m glad he’s wearing a festive long winter hat. I smile. He’s in a four poster bed in midair in my apartment. Don’t worry, it’s not creepy. He’s also wearing an old time white nightshirt.
I sink under my weighted blanket. “My chest hurts, my friend. It feels like I’ve been stabbed repeatedly.”
Robin lifts a candle. He is using the base of a candle holder I remember from my father’s family cabin when I was little. “Nice touch,” I think.
Robin shines the candle light on my bed to look at me. He yawns largely. I can see something is very awry about his hat, but the light isn’t bright enough for me to make out what’s off.
“What were you dreaming?” He asks.
I pick up my cell phone. I look at the notes to see what I’ve written.
“In my dream, I dance where comedy meets with tragedy. I see the storyline glimmering upon the surface of waters, and when I see the specific fragment I would like to know, I stretch out my hand and lift the glimmering gold line. The line wraps around my arm and I gather the song from inside the fragment and become that song.”
Robin blinks at me. He twists his face in a strange expression, slightly dazed.
“I’m going to need a lot of coffee for that one,” he says. “Is it time to get up? I guess I’m up now.”
I don’t move, it’s still not even 6am yet.
“OK. I request paid assistants from the universe,” I reply.
“What do you think I am?” Robin asks. “You think the universe sends me to just anybody?”
“Yes,” I say. “And now that I’ve begun to channel you, you once again get to bring new life to people in new ways. So, yes, I do think anyone can invoke you. But… I get to be your favorite story teller for the next little bit of our journey.” I wink at him.
Robin must have got bored with my monologue, he is looking at a room service menu. I don’t know where he gets these ideas, I don’t have room service here. Oh wait – that’s genius. I’ll put in a request to the universe. The universe loves me. “Excellent idea, my friend! Ahem… Universe? I want room service options, here, on site.”
Robin looks at me over his reading glasses. “You could easily make your own coffee and flavor it with good intentions”.
Robin chuckles. Now he’s reading a newspaper. I’m glad he keeps the old school traditions alive. Its so nostalgic to read a paper.
“Alright. What are you planning to work on before you make coffee?” Robin asks.
“I haven’t committed to getting up yet.” But now I’m thinking about coffee and that may be the best course of action. Robin is a wise guide after all.
“Alexa,” I say, and stop short. I just heard a dolphin squeak when I said Alexa. Oh that’s right, I have a bad cold. Perhaps that’s the explanation for why my chest feels like I’ve been repeatedly stabbed.
I try again, pressing on thru the inhuman squeaking that should be my voice. “Alexa, play Xanadu Soundtrack.”
Robin groans and falls back on his bed holding a pillow tightly over his head.
Olivia begins to sing, “Come take my hand, you should know me, I’ve always been in your mind… You know I will be kind, I’ll be guiding you.”
“How does this replace your other submission, ‘9 dreams and Robin Williams’?” Robin asks.
Olivia continues singing over Robin as if she doesn’t know he is speaking. “Building your dream, has to start now, there’s no other road to take.”
“Simple. I’ll post that essay on “I Am Always Dreaming”. This is submission becomes a teaser. It’s long enough to intrigue the fans of your school in Anamnesis and the department of “Comedy from Tragedy”, but it’s not so long that people pare inspired to send ‘TL;DNR’ comments to Robert. I’m polite that way.” I pause as I feel a wave of déjà vu, and realize it’s actually déjà reve. “I think I’ve dreamt this conversation before.”
“You have to believe we are magic…” Olivia is on a roll and unstopable! I start to sing along, but quickly stop when I realize the voice of the dolphins isn’t fond of singing in English.
But Olivia didn’t stop. When I recover from my coughing fit, I hear her sing, “I’ll bring all your dreams alive, for you.”
Read the original “9 dreams and Robin Williams” over at https://iamalwaysdreaming.com/blog/f/9-dreams-and-robin-williams.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Scientists in the Solution State

Great scientists often solve problems in their sleep. It is well-known that Descartes had some interesting dreams, but his work as a whole may have gained more from the “creative mood” in which he often found himself during a relaxed state after sleep. Carl Gauss said he often had his best insights immediately after awakening. John Appold, the inventor of a centrifugal pump, worked out the following routine: when faced with a problem, he would go over and over the elements in his head before going to sleep, programming his mind for the night. He generally found that he had the solution first thing in the morning. 

Famously, Einstein woke up on a spring morning in 1905 with the elements of the special relativity theory in his head. He had talked to a friend the previous evening about his keen sense that he was on the edge of a tremendous breakthrough, but was not yet sure what it was; the pieces came together in the secret laboratory of the night.    

The role of dreaming in the history of scientific creativity is both underrated and overrated. Exaggerated claims have been made for the inspirational power of sleep dreams in scientific discovery, and when these have been exploded, the reductionists have not been slow to pounce. For example, dream enthusiasts have often suggested that Einstein and Niels Bohr made their breakthroughs in dreams but (as far as I am aware) there is no evidence that either of them was inspired by specific content from sleep dreams. 

However, when we do deeper research into the history of scientific discovery across time, we find evidence of something far more interesting. Many of our greatest scientists have been dreamers in a more expansive sense. Above all, they have known how to enter into a fluid state of consciousness — a solution state - where unlikely connections can be made that escape the workaday mind, and where the shapes of what was formerly inexpressible rise from the depth like creatures from the ocean bed.

     To illustrate these statements, let’s study the case of one of the most famous — and problematic - “dreams” in the history of science. This is the dream of a snake biting its tail that revealed the shape of the benzene ring to German chemist August Kekulé (1829-1896). You’ll find it mentioned in almost any book that contains stories about dreams and creativity. But was it a sleep dream, or an image that came in a lightly altered state of consciousness. 

    Kekulé wrote a personal account, reconstructing an extempore speech he gave at the 1890 Benzolfest many years after his visions. Study this closely, and check the meaning of the German words, and you’ll find that his dreamy perception of the “dance” of chemical elements was not a one-off affair. He described a similar experience seven years before the snake dream that gave rise to his theory of chemical structures. He made it clear that in years between the two visions he had developed a practice of seeing or thinking in visual imagery.

     In his mid-20s, when he was living near Clapham Common in London, Kekulé spent a long summer evening sharing his ideas with a friend and fellow chemist who lived in Islington, on the other side of the city. Riding home on the last bus, Kekulé drifted into a reverie (Traumerei) in which he saw atoms “gamboling” and dancing and forming combinations. He understood, when he analyzed their motions, that he had been given clear insights into chemical structures. Up to this time, he had been unable to grasp the nature of their motion. 

“Now, however, I saw how, frequently, two smaller atoms united to form a pair; how a larger one embraced the two smaller ones…while the whole kept whirling in a giddy dance. I saw how the larger ones formed a chain, dragging the smaller ones after them but only at the end of the chain.” He stayed up late that night sketching these “dream forms”. This was the origin of his theory of carbon bonding in chemical structures.

     We see three conditions for creativity at work in this incident: (a) immersion in a subject, (b) sharing a developing idea with the right friend, and (c) drifting or relaxing into a flow state, from which the “Eureka” moment arises spontaneously.

Seven years later, a dream or reverie during an evening nap showed Kekulé the chemical structure of the benzene ring. He was now a professor in Ghent in Belgium. Dozing by the fire in his darkened study, he again saw atoms “gamboling before my eyes.” Now his inner sight “rendered more acute by repeated visions of the kind, could distinguish larger structures of manifold conformation: long rows, sometimes more closely fitted together all twining and twisting in snake-like motion.” Then he was startled to see one of the “snakes” seize hold of its own tail, and whirl “mockingly” before him. He was jolted out of his languorous state, “as if by a lightning bolt.” The image of the whirling snake gave the chemist the clue to the structure of the benzene ring. He spent most of the night that followed working this up until he had shaped his theory.

Kekulé had become practiced in receiving and developing helpful images in this way. When he described the roots of his scientific creativity in the Benzolfest in his honor in 1890, Kekulé told his audience, “Let us learn to dream, gentlemen, then perhaps we shall find the truth.” He added the salutary caution, “But let us beware of publishing our dreams till they have been tested by the waking understanding.” 

 The images that came to Kekulé would have been meaningless, in terms of chemistry, to someone who did not have a scientific mind that had long been working on the problems whose solutions they revealed. The imagery might have sent an artist off to paint, or sent someone with an interest in myth off to study the symbol of the Ouroboros in the ancient world and in alchemy.

     When Kekulé urged his audience to “dream”, he was surely not talking exclusively, or primarily, about what happens in sleep. He was talking about developing the ability to enter a state of relaxed attention in which ideas take form and interact as images.

    It is always exciting to know the specific ways in which a creative mind enters that imaginal space. In the 1850s, people did not travel in motorized buses. The public conveyance that carried Kekulé home to Clapham, was a horse-drawn omnibus. The clatter of the hooves and the jangle of the harness and the rocking motion of the box carriage provided the soundtrack and the rhythm for Kekulé’s breakthrough. 

    It is likely that other creative minds of his period were helped by the rhythms of a contemporary mode of transportation? For the French mathematician Jules-Henri Poincaré, it was enough to put his foot on the step of a horse-drawn omnibus. In his beautiful essay on “Mathematical Creation” Poincaré recalled that he had come to a stuck point in his efforts to formulate a new mathematical construct, when he agreed to travel to Coutances to join friends on a hike. Inspiration struck as he started to board an omnibus. “At the moment when I put my foot on the step the idea came to me, without anything in my former thoughts seeming to have paved the way for it.” When he went home to Caen, Poincaré wrote up his theory of “Fuchsian functions” directly from this moment of insight. 

    Poincaré also received direct guidance from his night dreams. After several unsuccessful attempts to perfect an equation he had been working on, Poincaré dreamed he was giving a lecture to students on problem and wrote the equation on the blackboard to make everything clear. After waking, Poincaré was able to hold the image of what he had chalked on the board, wrote down the equation — and found he had his solution.

The Russian physicist Arkady Migdal described creativity as an intermediate state “where consciousness and unconsciousness mix, when conscious reasoning continues in sleep, and subconscious work is done in waking”. The place of creative breakthroughs, in the history of science as in other fields, has often been the liminal state between sleep and awake. I have come to think of this intermediate zone of consciousness as a solution state. 


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

"Cloudladder" is a "photoallegory" by Hungarian artist 
Sarolta Ban.