Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Serial awakenings and the power of an 8 oz bottle of beer

 


The last flight of steps down from my top floor apartment would normally scare me. The wooden slats bounce underfoot and seem to be suspended in midair.There is no railing. However,I bounce down happily enough into a large atrium restaurant.
     I have been told they have 8 ounce bottles of beer here that are really powerful. I order one, and a plate of small sausages. I take my seat at a table in the middle of the space, where a server brings me my order. I have been typing my dreams on my phone, as is my custom. There were many active scenes, and I am glad I managed to catch them.
     The beer and sausages are delicious, though each was barely a nip. I think I'll repeat my order. At this moment, I realize I did not write my dreams where I will be able to find them when I go back to my bed. I am now quite lucid. I realize that I came out of some inner dream experience into this outer court - appropriately, it's rather like a food court - and that if I want to save anything before the bouncy steps and the punchy little bottle of beer, I had better get on it.
     I sit up in bed and grab my phone, postponing my bathroom visit. While typing a report in bed, I am still at the table in the dream restaurant. Carefully, I retrace my steps, up the bouncy ones, and then up regular stone or cement staircases to the apartment.
     What was I doing in this apartment, unknown to me in the ordinary world? The last thing I did before leaving was to arrange three divination decks - one at least was a tarot deck - I had designed and drawn atop a waist-high bookcase. I reached through a gauzy curtain to pull down a tall window behind the bookcase in case of rain 
      I remember vaguely doing test readings with my cards with other people,and exploring the city beyond this building. But for now,I am content to go forward with the story that will bring me to the 8 ounce bottle. I open the door of the apartment.It is dark on the landing. I hear a neighbor moving about. "I'm new here," I call. "Do you know where the light is?" She laughs. She doesn't. 
      I go back down the stairs. They are well lit by the time I get down to the bouncy steps. I recall I was going t get something to eat at a restaurant outside this complex, but was diverted by the 8 ounce beers.
      Now I recall a little of the city I started exploring in earlier scenes. 
The streets are full of amazingly decayed and ruined houses. Their pictures would make a marvelous book. Clearly a general disaster overtook the city - war or plague or inundation- yet each house has been ruined in its own way, and carries its own story. Formerly elegant townhouses are solitary islands among the rubble of buildings that fell around them. A once grand palazzo wears the face of a ruined duchess. I will come here again. But first I must finish this report.


The so-called false awakening is a common phenomenon. For many prolific dreamers, it involves the experience of writing something in your journal (or in my case on the phone) only to wake up to find that you were still dreaming when you did that. I would not call my experience from the early hours today a false awakening. Rather, it is as example of serial awakening.
     In a dream I become aware that I was dreaming when I recorded a dream report. I am now able to sustain awareness in both realities, typing my report with my physical fingers while still in the dream restaurant with my beer and sausages. At the same time, I am able to project myself back into earlier scenes in the dream sequence: to laying out the card decks and exploring the ruined city. I am missing a great deal, but I have leads for reentry expeditions..
     I am tickled by the lucidity trigger. The notion of "powerful" 8 ounce bottles of beer was insistent. It came into my mind repeatedly, when I entered the dream restaurant and when I realized I was dreaming. Something to seize and hold. Reality check: I am unlikely to order a half pint of beer in any container. I see that 8 oz cans are available, both of suds I would never touch (like American Budweiser) and of some high-octane craft brews that do pack a punch,with 7 to 10 per cent alcohol content as opposed to the 5 percent average for American beers.
    Perhaps the symbolism of the little bottle is telling me that less may be more and that small portions may be potent. Certainly I enjoyed bringing back small portions of a very active night when my dream self was out and about in many places, and the prompt to float the expression serial awakening. I may need to eat some sausages soon to honor the dream. Their taste is still on my palate: slightly spicy, like merguez.  And no doubt there is beer in my future.


Drawing from RM dream journal, September 29.2020

Monday, September 28, 2020

Those who die and come back

 


Who knows what happens after death?

Those who live there, those who have visited, those who have died and come back.


The Tibetan language has a word for those who have died and come back. The word is delog (pronounced "day-loak" with the stress on the first syllable). There is also the term nyin log, for one who dies and returns in one day.


Delog Dawa Drolma [d. 1941] recorded a detailed account of her travels in “realms of pure appearance” under the guidance of White Tara while her teenage body lay seemingly lifeless for five days. These higher realms, like the lower ones, are understood to be “the display of mind”. The pure realms are the display of enlightened awareness, while the bardo state and the six directions of rebirth are “the display of delusion and the projection of mind’s poisons.” [x]


In the presence of the Death lord Yama Dharmaraja, she sings (with Tara) a song:


If there is recognition, there is just this – one’s own mind.

If there is no recognition, there is the great wrathful lord of death [xi]


The Tibetan Library of Works and Archives in Dharamsala, India,  houses at least a dozen accounts of delogs.


French anthropologist Francoise Pommaret did pioneer work in this field,  published as  Les revenants de l’au-dela dans le monde Tibetain. She traveled often to the Himalayan highlands and  discovered historical records of ten delogs from the 11th to the 20th century. She interviewed a delog in a village in Nepal and three in Bhutan Pommaret’s studies of  texts include a marvelously detailed story of a delog whose biography is based on a 17th-century manuscript.


Pommaret observes that "at first, the delogs may not realize that they are dead, when the spirit separates from the body, leaving it seeming like an animal in the delog’s clothing. As the disembodied spirit roams about the home, the delog may not understand why the rest of the family is acting so strangely and unresponsive to the delog’s efforts at communication."


A delog named Gling Bza’ chos skyid reported that she did not recognize her own body when she saw the family gathered round it in mourning:

 

"When I saw my own bed, there was the cadaver of a big pig covered with my clothing. My husband and my children and all the neighbors of the village arrived and began to cry. They began to prepare for a religious ceremony and I thought, “What are you doing?” But they did not see me and I felt abandoned. I did not think that I was dead."

 

When another delog met her spiritual guardian (yi dam), he said:

 

“Don’t you know that you are dead? Don’t show attachment to your body of illusion; lift your spirit towards the essence of things. Come where I will lead you”

 

Then she met terrifying minions of Yama shouting, “Execute!” but was protected by her yi dam and her mantra.


I would have found the term delog useful as a boy.When I was three, I was pronounced clinically dead from pneumonia in a Hobart hospital. When I revived, the doctors told my parents, with some embarrassment, "Your boy died and came back". I was again pronounced dead under the surgeon's knife during emergency appendectomy when I was nine. While out of my body, I seemed to live a whole lifetime in another world. I titled the memoir in which I describe these experiences The Boy Who Died and Came Back.





 

Sources:

Drolma, Delog Dawa, Delog: Journey to realms beyond death trans. Richard Patterson.  Junction City, CA: Padma Publishing, 1995.

Pommaret, Francoise, Les revenants de l’au-dela dans le monde Tibetain: Sources litteraires et tradition vivante  Paris: Editions du Centre National de le Recherche Scientifique, 1989



Art: Bhavachakra depicting the realms of existence within the grip of Death



 

 

 

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Rilke’s Swan Song

 


A swan moves on the water, 
 surrounded by itself, like a sliding picture.
 
 So at certain times the one you love

 is a moving space.


Doubled  like the swimming swan, your lover

 comes near to your troubled soul ....

 

 trembling, you project the double emotions

 of  joy and of doubt.

 

My free translation of one of Rilke's poems in French (Vergers No. 40)

 

Un cygne avance sur l'eau tout entouré

de lui-même, comme un glissant tableau;

 

ainsi à certains instants

un être que l'on aime est tout un espace mouvant.

 

Il se rapproche, doublé, comme ce cygne qui nage

sur notre âme troublée...

 

qui à cet être ajoute la tremblante image

de bonheur et de doute.



Photo by Tanty

Notes for the Road

 


To find yourself you must lose yourself.
The One you are seeking is not inside you.
You are inside the One.

To be present in every time
you must be fully here, now.
Now is the center of all times.

Here, now, you can step on and off
the trains to past and future
and travel on parallel lines.

To get to a place you do not know
you must go by a way you do not know.
Burn your maps to make beacons.

To wake up, you must dream.
Without dreams, you are a sleepwalker
who could join the ranks of the living dead.

There will be monsters, of course,
dark dwellers at every new threshold.
Without them, how could you be ready to pass?

In dealing with demons, you must learn
to choose the forms of your worst fears
and laugh at your creations.

If you wish to see marvels around you
you must carry marvels within.
A mirror can't show you what you don't bring.

The gates of the Otherworld open
from wherever you are. Don’t think
you have to drink jungle juice with anacondas.

Put your blade away, dragonslayer.
You only conquer the dragon when you raise it
and ride it and turn its energy towards Light.

Turn out the lights if you want to find the Light.
The visible is the skin of the invisible.
In the dark, it is easier to see with inner eyes.

Don’t list the Trickster among your demons.
He is your friend if you expect the unexpected
Everything interesting happens on the boundaries.

If you want to be fully alive, be ready to die.
How about now? You feel the cool breath
of Death on your neck. Give him some foreplay.

To find the One, don't spurn the many
Name only one God, and you’ll always end up with two.
Seek the nameless behind the forest of names.

Make your confessions on the road
not from behind a curtain. The hawk will hear you
and the rabbit, the lily and the stone.

Walk on the mythic edge. Let your life
become a stage for divine events.
Notice what neverending story is playing through you.

Look after your poetic health.
Notice what rhymes in a day, and a life.
Follow the logic of resemblances.

Practice real magic: Follow the passions of your soul
and bring gifts from the Otherworld into this one.
You’ll regret what you left undone –

the fence you wouldn’t jump, the dream you didn’t follow –
more than anything you did when your cool lover
stops licking your neck and takes you in his full embrace.


Photo: Path in Transylvania by RM





This poem appears at the end of my new book Growing Big Dreams

 

Monday, September 21, 2020

How Do You want Your Multiple Dreams? Split Screen, Nested, Quantum Leap?

RM journal drawing "Many Dream Screens"


I am asked, Can I be in two dreams at the same time? My instant response is, “Absolutely! You can be in two dreams or multiple dreams at the same time.”

This may happen every night. However, even the most ardent and prolific dream recallers may fail to notice what is going on. This is because, as we leave the dreamlands, our editing mind tends to shunt our memories onto a single track, giving us some kind of linear narrative. Stories are great, and so this can be a highly creative endeavor, giving us a story that has a beginning, a middle and an end, even if there are puzzling scene shifts and gaps.

It is fascinating to pause and look again at those sudden jumps and changes of scene and ask, Did I jump from one dream into another? And then, Is it possible that I was actually in two or more dreams at the same time?

By my experience and observation, just as consciousness is not confined to the body and brain, it is not restricted to one location in any reality. You can see this in ordinary life. On a warm afternoon, you are trying to follow a zoom conference while part of you has drifted off to a Caribbean island. You are not so far out there that you can’t cope when someone on the call speaks to you, and you may be aware, watching yourself, that your mind is in two places at once, or actually three, since that observing self comes into play as well.

In dreams, whether during sleep or in the fertile state of hypnagogia, we may find ourselves in several places at once, while looking over it all from a witness perspective. This can provide a marvelous opportunity -once we understand that dreaming can be horizontal meditation – to grow continuity of consciousness and our understanding of multidimensional reality.

Let’s look through the menu of multiple dreaming, starting with cases that may not be recognized and those in which experiences that may have happened simultaneously are pushed into a linear template.

How did I get here?

You are somewhere in a dream, and then you are somewhere quite different, with no recollection of how you got there. You open a door and you are on the ocean floor or out among the stars. You get in your car and suddenly you are on a mountain top with or without the car. You go to a party and then you are on a Viking longboat on a fjor where bearded Northmen are singing their way to Valhalla. These sudden jumps mauy lead you toask “How did I get here?” inside the dream – which may wake you up to the fact that you are in a dream reality. Or that question may come later,when you are trying to make sense of the content of the dream. Either way, these scene shifts may indicate that you moved from one dream (and even one world) to another.

 

False awakenings

You have probably had one, or many, of these. You think you have woken from a dream, only to find, when you wake back in your body on the bed later on, that you woke from one dream inside another dream. You may also recall nights when you fell asleep inside a dream and woke up in another dream. These are clear transitions between different levels of dreaming. Those who make a practice of keeping a dream journal often report, ruefully, that they were sure they had written down a dream only to find, on waking back in physical reality, that they did this in a dream state.

Nested dreams

As you grow your dream practice and your awareness of the multiplicity of dreams, you will notice more of these, and you will have a simple structure for catching and recording more of went on during the night. You now recognize that dreams may be nested inside each other like those Russian dolls. You go from an outer dream to an inner dream, and may return the same way. Sometimes the inner dreams seem to be deeper experiences. When I led a program on dreams for a local school district, a sixth grader told us, with absolute clarity as well as high excitement, how she traveled through seven dreams, nested inside each other, to a thrilling adventure in the time of the American Revolution, and then returned the same way.

Seesaw dreams

You are pulled back and forth between different dream situations. You may be participant or observer, or both, in each of these scenarios. You may have the impression that the action is playing simultaneously, in two or more locations. Seesaw dreams may evolve into split screen or side by side dreaming, and lead you to develop simultaneous perception. On the way to describing these modalities, let me share a personal experience of seesaw dreams that led to much more. I titled my journal report

MYSTERIES OF ULAN BATOR

RM journal drawing "Mongolian shaman warrior"


I am teaching at the Esalen Institute in California, and I have been given a bedroom overlooking the Pacific Ocean. As I lie in bed, I enjoy the sound of the breakers on the rocks below. I slip into a dream in which I am arriving at Ulan Bator in Mongolia. I have been invited to speak at a conference on shamanism, and members of a welcoming committee are thereto greet me with warm smiles.
     I rouse from the dream, delighting again in the sound of the waves. I briefly reflect that my dream could be a glimpse of a possible future, since I have received invitations to shamanic conferences in Mongolia in the past. My breathing follows the rhythms of the waves. I am back in the sea of dreams. I am in Mongolia again, but out in a wild landscape in an earlier era, the 1930s. I am involved in a grand Indiana Jones-style adventure involving a magical object the Nazis are seeking. 
     I stir from this dream, and again hear the waves. Was I watching a movie just then? No. I am pulled back into 1930s Mongolia by a force that seems as strong as a Pacific undertow. I am there,in a bitter winter, where mounted soldiers are drinking blood from their horse’s necks to survive. I am in a different body, and have dual consciousness within it, as Robert and as the man wh is trying to stop the Nazi tomb robbers. I know now what they are seeking. It is the spirit lance of Genghis Khan. People believe that this object has immense power, like a shamanic weapon of mass destruction. 
     While I am fully engaged in this drama,I am also aware of what is going on at the airport in a possible future. And I can hear, distinctly, the ocean sounds on a warm evening in California. The seesaw effect has changed. I am now aware of all three situations simultaneously, and have an overview of all of them. My focus on one situation will blur a little as I give full attention to one of the scenes, but my perception is never altogether lost.

 I spent the whole night like this, with pauses to record details.
     Clearly the night had given me research assignments. I had never heard if the spirit lance of Genghis Khan. I found Jack Weatherford’s biography of Genghis Khan, and there it was, on page one. I read that Genghis Khan is a godlike figure for some shamanic lineages in Mongolia and that his power was held to have been preserved in his spirit lance, adorned with black horsehair. The burial place of this magical object was kept secret in a forbidden zone in Inner Mongolia. In the 1930s, there was a race to find it. It vanished, reportedly after being carried to Ulan Bator by armed monks – it vanished.
      Oh yes. On my return home from California I received an invitation to a shamanic conference in Mongolia. I had too much going n in my calendar to accept, in ordinary realty. But since my dream self  went, maybe a parallel Robert did also.

 

Side by Side Dreams

You are involved with two dream situations and you can watch and participate in both at the same time. Sometimes this seems like you are walking on one side of a road or a wall, aware that a second self is on the other side. You have continuing perception of both, though your primary attention is likely to be with one or the other and may shift back and forth.

 

Split Screen Dreams

Now you and your dream producers are getting truly organized. You are looking a a divided screen, able two watch two dream movies simultaneously -or jump in and become the star of one or both productions. With practice, you may be able to use multiple screens. One night I found myself seated in front of multiple screens reminiscent of the array in a NASA control room. I observed six dreams playing on six screens, in each of which a dream Robert – perhaps also a parallel self -was doing different things. As remote observer, I could monitor the overall pattern and choose whether and when to engage more of my attention and energy. When I engaged as participant in a dream scenario, my senses came vividly alive. In the simultaneous dreams, I was mostly doing things that are ordinary for me like connecting with power animals or making a group journey on a magical school bus to an Imaginal City.

 

Superposition

While we seek to make linear narratives out of our dreams it is possible that many of them are organized by superposition. In quantum mechanics this means that "whenever the system is definitely in one state we can consider it as being partly in each of two or more states" (Paul Dirac). 

RM journal drawing, "Superposition"


For example: in the dream from which I made this sketch I was both (a) dressed in safari shirt and cream chinos and (b) looking for the same clothes on a bed while (a) I had the room to myself but (b) there were other people coming and going, leaving signs of much activity - a burning candle, a weird collection of Icelandic elves and trolls, both humorous and sorcerous, on a wide windowsill. The parallel states converged when a young man - one of a gay couple that had been using the room without intruding on me - showed me a strange cabinet carved with runes and magic sigils. Definitely some magic afoot.

I can’t resist including this note on a type of dream experience that involves dual awareness and may be triggered by a call from another time or place:

 

Quantum Leap Dreaming

You may remember the old television show "Quantum Leap", in which a scientist played by Scott Bakula cannons from one body to another in different situations because of an experiment in time travel gone awry. The episodes typically begin with him looking in a mirror and gasping "Oh boy" as he looks at a different face. He has to fix something in each situation in hopes of getting back to his own body in his own time - but is then shot into yet another person's situation. He has an erratic cigar-puffing guide, Al, who appears as a hologram visible only to him and consults an artificial intelligence, Ziggy, that gives the odds on the probable outcome of any move he makes in the bodies he occupies.
     I quite often experience a call to dream into another time or life situation, on some kind of assignment, as I was called to that adventure in 1930s Mongolia. The circumstances may be far less dramatic. In my story ”The Silent Lovers” in Mysterious Realities I seem to have been assigned to help a man who has just died and is lost and confused about his circumstances, back in the 1950s. I don't have Al or Ziggy available to help explain all these scenarios, though I do have another cigar-smoking humorist who turns up from time to time to remind me "It's about entertainment, kid."

 

Growing Simultaneous Perception and Comprehension

This, perhaps, becomes the heart of the practice I am sketching here. Dreaming is a great training ground. However, there are related fields of practice. Some of my own best workouts have come when leading and drumming for shamanic circles. I have to remain sufficiently in control of my physical body to sustain the steady beat of the drum. At the same time I must watch over the physical and psychic space. I will simultaneously make a shamanic journey of my own which may take me far away in the Lower, Upper or Middle Worlds. I may also look in on the journeys of individual members of the group to see whether they need support. And while all of this is going on, my witness self maintains an overview of the whole scene. On a really good day, this can feel like observing the scene from every point within the circumference of a sphere that encloses us all.

 

 

 

Monday, September 14, 2020

Who was the dreamer?


We travel, in this world and in others, in the direction of our interests and desires, and we see what is around us through our personal lens.

Swedenborg, one of the great astral travelers, observed that this determines our experience of the afterlife. He wrote in Heaven and Hell about how the light of heaven was a consuming and terrible fire to those who wanted to go somewhere else.
This is highly relevant to how we understand what goes on in our dreams. The famous American psychic Edgar Cayce suggested that we need to discern whether a certain dream reflects the needs or wishes of the body, the mind or the spirit.
Our dreams are often excursions, in which we travel beyond the physical body in a subtle vehicle, guided by whatever part of the self is in control.
Let's turn to another of the world's great astral travelers, the Persian mystic philosopher Shahabuddin Suhrawardi, whose followers called him Shaykh al-Ishraq, the Leader of Illumination. He distinguished different levels of dreaming – with corresponding degrees of importance and reliability – according to which aspect of the self is the prime experiencer.
Clear dreams or “free revelation” [kashf] are experiences of soul [ruh] traveling beyond the body, or having clear communication with a visitor. The territory visited may be a separate reality or a situation in the future. “With the eye of the free soul, by the imagination, a person contemplates in dreams the state of things which is yet in the hidden.”
In this condition, the dreamer can have accurate foreknowledge of future events, and true clairvoyance. “After separation from the body, the soul knows even of the small things heard and seen of this world.” In clear dreams, the dreamer becomes a remote viewer.
This is a practice that can be developed in waking states of altered consciousness, or mukashafa. The Prophet Muhammad scouted out the progress of a caravan en route to Mecca in this way. The Caliph Umar, from afar, scouted an ambush that had been laid for his general Sariya (and sent his general a telepathic warning that was received).
The second of Suhrawardi's categories is symbolic dreams or “fancied revelations”. These he defines as dreams in which the lower self [nafs] is dominant. Clear vision is cloaked by the “fancy garments” of appetite and desire. Landscapes traveled in such dreams are “the stages of lust.” Interpretation is required to separate a message from the fancy dress.
Suhrawardi's lowest category is dreams of “pure fancy”. These unfold when “sensual thoughts” take over completely and higher consciousness [ruh] is “veiled from considering the hidden world.”

Then there are the dreams in which we seem to join or rejoin another personality, in another body, in a different reality or a very different version of our present world. I have just been reading the travel reports of a prolific dreamer who has found herself entering the perspective, the life experience and seemingly the bodies of different animals, including a small terrier dog and a very large polar bear.
These experiences seem to me entirely plausible, and possibly quite similar to the dreaming of many of our ancestors, and of indigenous people who remain rooted in the old ways. This dreamer loves animals and lives close to the natural world, so it seems likely that the animal-lover in her, and the part of her that not only identifies with animals but is willing to learn from them, takes charge during these adventures. Typically, she retains dual awareness, of her human self with its current life situation and memories, and of the animal self she joins.

Here's a question to ask when you come back from a dream excursion: who was the dreamer?
Translations of Suhrawardi are from H. Wilberforce (ed. and trans.) A Dervish Textbook ('Awariful-Ma'arif) London: Octagon Press, 1990. For more on Suhrawardi, see The Secret History of Dreaming.
Art: "Guardian of the Kingdoms of God". Persian school, 16th century.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Mark Twain's terrible memories of the future


Great humor often sparkles on the surface of a dark tide of challenge or tragedy. Mark Twain, still America's most beloved humorist, was stricken by many terrible events in his life and that of his family - the loss of a beloved brother and later his favorite daughter, the loss of all his money late in life, forcing him to start over - yet generally managed to come back laughing, and making the rest of us laugh.
    His ability to laugh his way through did not mean numbing himself to tragedy. Sam Clemens (who adopted the pen name Mark Twain) dreamed the death of his younger brother Henry before it took place, in exact detail, and this haunted him for the rest of his life..
     Sam and Henry were set to embark together on the riverboat Pennsylvania, Sam as apprentice pilot, Henry as a  lowly “mud clerk”, given food and sleeping space in return for helping out at places on the river where there were no proper landing sites. The night before they sailed, Sam dreamed  he saw Henry as a corpse, laid out in a metal casket, dressed in one of his older brother’s suits, with a huge bouquet of white roses on his chest and a single red rose at the center.
     Sam woke grief-stricken, convinced this had actually happened and that Henry was laid out in the next room. He could not collect himself, or convince himself that the dream was not “real” until he had walked around outside. He had walked a whole block, he recalled, “before it suddenly flashed on me that there was nothing real about this – it was only a dream.”
     Family members urged him to dismiss his terrible dream; after all, it was “only a dream”. Though the force of his feelings told him something else, Sam agreed to try to put the dream out of his mind.
     The tragedy began to unfold soon after the two young men boarded the Pennsylvania. The pilot of the Pennsylvania, William Brown, was an autocrat with a violent temper with whom Sam was soon scrapping. During the voyage downriver, Sam got into a full-blown fight with him. The captain sided with Sam, and said they would find a new pilot when they got to New Orleans. But a new pilot could not be found and since Sam and Brown could not coexist on the same boat, Sam was transferred to another vessel, leaving Henry on the Pennsylvania, which started the upriver journey fist. Just before they parted company, Sam and Henry discussed how they would act in the event of a riverboat disaster such as a boiler explosion, which was a common occurrence.
      The Pennsylvania’s boiler exploded in a hell of steam and fire, in the way they had discussed.  Badly burned, Henry survived for a few days, to die in Memphis, where the injured were carried. His handsome face was untouched, and the kindly lady volunteers were so moved by his beauty and innocence that they gave him the best casket, a metal box.
     When Sam entered the “dead-room” of the Memphis Exchange on June 21, 1858, he was horrified to see the enactment of his dream: his dead brother laid out in a metal casket in a borrowed suit. Only one element was missing: the floral bouquet. As Sam watched and mourned, a lady came in with a bouquet of white roses with a single red one at the center and laid it on Henry’s chest.
    Mark Twain kept telling and retelling the circumstances of Henry’s death, in his mind and in his writing, for the rest of his life. He was one of the first to join the Society for Psychical Research after it was founded in London in 1882 in the hope that its investigators could help him understand the workings of dream precognition. He could never escape the thought that – had he only known how to use the information from his dream – he might have been able to prevent Henry’s death.

When I described this episode in a lecture, someone asked, "What's the use of dreaming the future if you can't do anything about it?"       
    My response: any future we can foresee, whether in dreams or though intuition or careful analysis, is a possible future. We may be able to change the odds on the manifestation of a future event, reducing the likelihood that something unwanted will happen, or improving our chances of securing a happy outcome.
     Our ability to dream the future is part of our basic survival kit, part of what kept us alive when we were little more than naked apes without good weapons, trying to fend off leathery raptors or saber-toothed tigers. In our Active Dreaming approach, we use these key methods to work with dreams of the future in order to make better choices and shape the future for the better:

1. Run a reality check on all dream material
Ask, of any and all dream material: Is it remotely possible that something going on in this dream could manifest in the future, literally or symbolically (or both)?

2. Practice dream reentry to clarify and expand the available information
If you can get your head back inside the dream, you may be able to get clarity on the when, where, how and who of a possible future event. If you think of a dream as a place you have been, it's not too hard to understand that because you have been to that place, you might be able to go there again. When you succeed in reentering a dream space, you are not confined to your first memories of the dream on waking, which may have been muddled and fragmentary. You can enter other, related scenes and bring back much more data.

3. Make a practical action plan to use your dream guidance
If you now feel sure that your dream revealed a possible future, you want to  to take definite and appropriate action to head off an undesirable future event, or to bring through possible good fortune. The action plan may range from getting a health checkup to being extra cautious at a certain road intersection, to checking up on your financial planner, to sharing dream information with another person to whom it may relate.
    Some cultures teach rituals for containing or taming an unwanted future. I am intrigued by an apotropaic ritual in traditional Iroquoian society, which consisted of play-acting parts of an evil future, foreseen in a dream, in the hope that the partial fulfillment of the dream in the performance would satisfy whatever was at work in the secret order of events, so that the full evil portended by the dream would no longer have to be play out. I have written about this in Dreamways of the Iroquois. Bizarre though it may sound, I have seen this method work.

Back to Mark Twain, and his terrible dream of Henry laid out in a casket, with the bouquet of roses on his chest. Could the methods described above have enabled Sam Clemens to help his brother to escape the "dead room" in Memphis? Of course, we cannot know. But I feel quite certain that Mark Twain would have been willing to give the Active Dreaming methods summarized above a better-than-college try, had he known about them. 
    Had he not allowed his family to talk him into dismissing his dream as "only a dream", careful analysis might have drawn him to think about possible scenarios for death along the river, of which the most likely for someone working on a riverboat, in those days, was a boiler explosion of the kind that caused Henry's death.
    Through dream reentry, Mark Twain might have been able to establish how the death scene came about, and might then have been able to take action by counseling his brother not to travel, separated from him, on the return voyage upriver with the rage-filled pilot.
     Mark Twain paid close attention to dreams and coincidence throughout his life and was keenly interested in improving his practice. In my Secret History of Dreaming, I describe how he returned, in his later fiction, to his regrets that he had not gone ahead and staged a kind of dream theater at home to help his beloved daughter Suzy lift the oppression of dreams in which she was being pursued and eaten by bears, dreams that may have portended her tragic death from illness but could also have been the key to healing had they been fully heard and acted upon.





For more on Mark Twain's dreams and his study of coincidence and what he called "mental telegraphy," please read the chapter titled "Mark Twain's Rhyming Life" in my Secret History of Dreaming, published by New World Library.


Image: Steamboat explosion (in this case the SS Sultana) on the Mississippi River, from Harper's Weekly (1865)


Thursday, September 10, 2020

All poetry comes from flooding



All poetry comes from flooding

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


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


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

to call the whales and please the Sea Mother.

I think of you, who bring a surge of desire
that must take form beyond our joy
breaking wave upon wave from 

inner islands into a larger world.

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

The Art of Memory

 


Dreaming, waking or in between

in any part of the multiverse

in any body, in any life

you are invited to play

a memory game.

Whatever world you are in

the trick is to remember

the other worlds you inhabit

where you are dead and more alive

and the self that is dreaming you


- "The Art of Memory". Poem and photo by Robert Moss

 

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Rilke's angels

He hears the voice in a howling wind on a cliff path above the Adriatic, and it gives him the first line of what becomes the Duino Elegies. 

Wer, wenn ich schriee, hörte mich denn aus der Engel Ordnungen?

Who, among the orders of angels, would hear me if I cried out?

He warns at the end of the first verse that “every angel is terrifying”. He picks up that refrain at the start of the second elegy, where he calls the angels “almost deadly birds of the soul”.  He gives a longing glance at the gentler appearance of the angel in the apocryphal Book of Tobit, as a gentle, very human guide who escorted the boy Tobias along the road 

Where are the days of Tobias,
when one of your most radiant stood at that simple doorway,
 dressed for travel and no longer frightening…?”
[1]

The author is Rainer Maria Rilke, who was born in Prague and is recognized as one of the greatest poets in the German language. His imagination was angel-struck, from his early poem about the angel of the sundial at Chartres to his ghost writing for the Angel of Death in the last lines he ever wrote. His angels rarely have much in common with the familiar figures of Jewish and Christian angelology. He told  Witold Hulewicz, his Polish translator, that he was more drawn to the angels of Islam. [2]

Before he arrived at Duino Castle, near Trieste, in 1912 as the guest of the Princess Maria von Thurn und Taxis, Rilke had wandered Andalusia with a Koran and a copy of a French biography of Muhammad in his book bag  He wrote a poem about Muhammad’s summoning.

The 96th sura of the Quran (“Recitation”) corresponds to the night of January 12, 611, when Gabriel first appeared to Muhammad – who was sleeping in a cave in Hira -and ordered him to read. In the hadith Muhammad is roused by a blinding light. When his eyes adjust he is terrified by a radiant figure that spans the whole distance between heaven and earth. The angel lifts him by his hair (he feels no pain) and speaks to him in a voice that fills him with fear. In the name of the creator, the angel hands him a scroll and orders him to read. Muhammad protests that he cannot read.In some versions,the contents of the book enter his heart and three years later, on the orders of the angel, he starts to deliver them to others. 

When Muhammad reads, in Rilke’s elaboration,the angel submits.and bows to him.

The Angel bowed its head
before him, one from thenceforth who had read:
who knew, and carried out, and who decreed.
[3]

From the birth of the Duino Elegies in the storm above the Adriatic, it took Rilke ten years to complete all ten, after the trauma of the Great War, in what he called a thunderstorm of the mind. Often, in these lovely, wild and mysterious verses,we fell the aching distance between the human condition and the untouchable beauty of the angelic realm. In a letter to his Polish translator Rilke explained that "the angel of the Elegies is that being that vouches for [our] being able to recognize a higher level of reality in [the realm of the] invisible than in the visible.” 

“You are the bird whose wings came/when I wakened in the night and called.”  This is how Rilke addressed the Guardian Angel (Der Schutzengel) in a poem with that title.

What shall I call you? Look, my lips are lame.
You are the beginning that gushes forth,
I am the slow and fearful Amen
that timidly concludes your beauty.
You have often snatched me out of dark rest
when sleep seemed like a grave to me
and like getting lost and fleeing, -
then you raised me out of heart-darknesses
and tried to hoist me onto all towers
like scarlet flags and bunting.
[4]

In the last lines Rilke composed, in the unfinished poem that begins Komm du, du letzter ("Come on you, you last") the poet gives voice to an angel. This time it is Azrael, the Angel of Death. 

As I burned in spirit, I burn in you.
The wood that blazes held back for so long has aged;
now I feed it and burn i
n you. 
[5]

Rilke gave us a gentler version of human-angelic interaction in one of the many poems he composed in French. 

From “Vergers”(Orchards)

3

Reste tranquille, si soudain
l’Ange à sa table se décide:
efface doucement les quelques rides
qui fait la nappe sous ton pain.

Tu offriras ta rude nourriture,
pour qu’il en goûte à son tour,
et qu’il soulève à la lèvre pure
un simple verre de tous les jours.

3

Stay still, if the Angel
suddenly chooses your table;
gently smooth those few wrinkles
in the cloth beneath your bread.

Then offer him your own rough food
so that he can have his turn to taste,
so that he can raise to that pure lip
a simple, common glass
.[6]

The hint that an everyday angel may sit down at our table brings shivers of recognition and hope. In these lockdown times, it's good to know we may have visitors who don't need to enter by the door or come masked. Also helpful to have guidance on the correct table manners to observe when the angel calls.


References

1. Rilke, Duino Elegies II trans. Stephen Mitchell
2. 1925 letter to Witold Hulewicz quoted in 
Karen J. Campbell, “Rilke's Duino Angels and the Angels of Islam” Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics No. 23, Literature and the Sacred (2003) 191-211.
3.  Rilke, "Muhammad's Summoning", translated by Leonard Cottrell. https://dailypoetry.me/rilke/mohammeds-summoning/ 
4. Rilke, "The Guardian Angel" in  in The Book of Images translated by Edward Snow.
5. Adapted from an unsigned translation of “Komm du” published in the Times Literary Supplement in December 1975 accompanying an essay on Rilke by Walter Kaufmann, who is presumed to be the translator.
6. from "Vergers" (Orchards) trans. A. Poulin, Jr,, in Rilke, The Complete French Poems.

Image: Duino Castle,near Trieste, where Rilke composed the first of his Duino Elegies in 1912.






Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Why dreams set us puzzles


Artemidorus of Daldis, the most famous dream interpreter of the Greco-Roman world, is of perennial relevance. While his examples of dream content and the lives of the dreamers are of his time (the second century) his insights about how to look at dreams and dreamers often speak to us today. He wrote many books of which the soul survivor is The Interpretation of Dreams (Oneirocritica).Freud borrowed the title nearly two millennia later but I would pick the original over the later effort any time.
     Artemidorus wrote about many aspects of dreaming in other books that are now lost to us. In the Oneirocritica, his dreams in dreams that reveal the future, especially in those that do this through allegory rather than by literal depiction of possible scenes and events. Allegorical dreams are “those which signify one thing by means of another.”
     He gives us a powerful reason for looking for clues to the future in our dreams when he asserts that "the mind predicts everything that will happen in the future.” He gives several examples of precognitive dreams that presented future events in an entirely literal way. A man dreams of a shipwreck and then his boat is wrecked and he narrowly avoids drowning, as in the dream. Another dreams he is wounded in the shoulder by a friend in a hunting accident, and again the dream is played out exactly.
     If it is possible to dream the future with this kind of clarity, why do we need allegories? Artemidorus gives two reasons. The first is that we may lack the experience to understand a future event perceived in a dream – for example, because we have not yet encountered a person or situation that features in the dream. By setting us a puzzle to figure out, the “allegorical” dream gives us a rational way to access what the larger mind knows about things to come. Second, a hyped-up dream production can bring an emotional charge that leads to action; “it is the nature of the oneiros to awaken and excite the soul by inducing active undertakings.”
     Artemidorus tells us that while the gods who may be dream senders do not lie, they like to speak in riddles. This is because “they are wiser than we and do not wish us to accept anything without a thorough examination”. He gives the example of a man who dreamed the god Pan told him that his wife would poison him via his best friend. It was the relationship that was poisoned, when the wife proceeded to have an affair with the friend.
    Artemidorus recognized that every dream may be unique. The snake in your dream is not the same as the snake in mine. To read the meaning of a dream symbol correctly, you must know the dreamer’s identity, position in life, habits and medical condition. “You must examine closely the habits of men before the dream….you must inquire carefully into them.” Suppose you dream you are made of silver or gold. If you are a slave, this means you’ll be sold; if you are poor, you’ll become rich; if you’re already rich, you’ll be the victim of plots because everyone will be out to get your money. You must also question the dreamer’s feelings about a dream.
    Artemidorus observes that we dream the future for others as well as ourselves. Sometimes we receive a dream message for someone else. “Many dreams come true for those whose characters are similar to the dreamer’s and for his relatives and namesakes.”
    Artemidorus gives the example of a woman who dreamed she was married to a man who was not her husband. He observed that work with this dream could proceed in several directions, including exploring the possibility that it warned of death; “marriage and death signify each other because the circumstances surrounding a marriage and a funeral are similar.” This association, it turned out, was on the right track, but it was the dreamer’s sister, not the dreamer herself, who “married death” after the dream.   


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


Photo: Library of Celsus at Ephesus,where Artemidorus lived and read dreams for most of his life.