Sunday, December 15, 2019

Send yourself a postcard from inside a dream

Our dream memories are often like postcards or snapshots from a journey. We have an image or two from an adventure that goes far beyond what we remember. You look at a postcard from your trip to Paris and there is so much it does not contain, starting with the smell of the morning coffee and croissants, though dwelling with the image may start to bring back more out of memory.
      Suppose we could consciously send ourselves postcards while we are still traveling in a dream country? Maybe that would help us to remember more of the dream excursion, and to home in on the most important elements in our waking mind.
      This interesting idea comes from Dr Haines Ely, the gifted and civilized host of the "Earth Mysteries" radio show on KVMR out of Nevada City, California. I enjoyed a very lively and agreeable hour's conversation on the show a few tears ago, when Haines mentioned that he is often lucid in his dreams, but found himself frequently frustrated because his dreams still tended to slip away when he got out of bed. He developed the practice of taking photographs inside his dreams, which he then mails to himself as postcards while he is still in a dream country. He does all of this meticulously, as you would do it in an ordinary situation: aim the camera, focus, click the shutter, print, write the address, stamp, put in a mailbox.
     Sometimes Haines finds that despite this recourse, his dreams still dissolve when he gets up in the morning. But then the postcard image will pop up on his inner screen later in the day, as if the mailman has just delivered it.
     Listening to Haines, I realized I have often done something like this in a less meticulous way. I find myself, recurringly, wanting to take a snapshot of something inside a dream so I can keep that image and show it to other people. I generally try to use my phone to do this,as in regular life. Sometimes my dream phone camera works, sometimes it does very strange things.
     In a dream soon after the radio show, I was being royally entertained by a talking head. It was the head of a New York publisher I used to know, long gone from this world, a lovely man with whom I used to have lunch in Murray Hill. The head was on the ground, nicely balanced on the gravel of a drive or courtyard, and my deceased friend was cracking us up with a series of wicked one-liners about politics and religion.
     I wanted to take his photograph to show to friends but before I could take the picture, I was whisked away onto a movie set. The film starred Clark Gable and Rita Hayworth, and I was right there with them when the soundtrack started playing "Some Enchanted Evening". I didn't send myself a postcard from inside this dream, but I may just possibly have managed to send myself a video clip.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

The Muslim scholar who identified dreams as a foundation of history

One of the history books that draws me back every few years is Ibn Khaldun's Muqaddimah - or "Introduction" - to world history. Writing in the 14th century, in the midst of constant war and turmoil between the rival Muslim dynasties of the Maghreb, he brought modern principles of evidence to the grand ambition of writing a universal history. Many scholars of historiography see him as the first true world historian.
     He was an evolutionist, in his way. He observed that every order of creation may evolve into one above it. For humanity, this would mean evolving to the condition of the angels – “angelity”. For now, only the prophets are at home in that realm.
     Ibn Khaldun wanted to understand the reasons for the rise and fall of different cultures, and identified cycles - or "returns" - throughout history.
      I see I am engaged in one of the "returns" of my own life. In 1967-1968, I considered writing my MA dissertation on the Muqaddimah, partly influenced by a Pakistani scholar of Ibn Khaldun who was at the School of Advanced Studies at the Australian National University. He thought I would find the Maghreb historian's approach refreshing. I even embarked on studying Arabic in this cause - but my wife of that era complained that I kept sounding like I was gargling or throwing up, so I switched my thesis topic to West African history.
    Though Ibn Khaldun’s project was often delayed or interrupted by needs of state (he was a minister and ambassador and occasionally a general for the dynasties of Tunis, Fez, and Andalusia) his Introduction is extraordinary, and an extraordinarily good read today. He begins with six essays defining the stage on which history is played out, covering (for example) the influence of climate and geographical features in human affairs, the human need for community, and the nature of group consciousness.
     His sixth essay is the most arresting and arousing. He explains how knowledge of the future, the realm of angels, and the Divine purpose become available through dreams and visions. He distinguishes the "true dream" (which requires no interpretation) from lesser dreams. Ibn Khaldun describes how in dreams the soul travels outside the body, remaining connected by a "thin vapor" whose seat is in the heart. He is very interesting on the theme of how dream experiences are reshaped into more conventional or familiar - and sometimes deceptive - imagery (in ordinary or "confused" dreams) as the dreamer returns.
     He defines the nature of the prophet, making it clear there have been many, though Muhammad is unique because he received and retained the vast and unique revelation that is the Koran. Ibn Khaldun reports that prophets, in the grip of revelation, can appear to lose control of their senses and feel overwhelmed - sometimes "choked", as Muhammad complained to Gabriel - by what is upon them. But unlike mediums or victims of possession, they retain their knowledge and bring it back with clarity, and that knowledge serves and sustains humanity and furthers its evolution.
     All this in laying the foundation for writing history! Today's historians should take note. I was partly inspired by this approach to write my ow Secret History of Dreaming,which reveals how dreams and visions have been a secret engine of history and evolution throughout the whole human odyssey on the planet.

Photo by Robert Moss

Thursday, December 12, 2019

A Brief History of Soul Flight

The science of dream travel is ancient: in the evolution of our species, it probably predates speech and may have helped to generate language. Dream travel has a fascinating pedigree.
In many human cultures the most profound insights into the nature of the divine and the fate of the soul after physical death have been attributed to ecstatic journeys beyond the body in waking dream or vision. 
    In most human cultures, the existence of other worlds inhabited by gods, daimons, and spirits of the departed has been accepted as simple fact, a fact of extraordinary importance. Visiting these other worlds was a top priority for our ancestors, as it still is wherever there is living spirituality. From the travel reports of the boldest and most successful journeyers between the worlds, mythologies and religions are born. Soul journeying was understood to be the key to orders of reality, hidden from the five physical senses, that are no less “real” than ordinary reality and may be more so.
     For the Jivaro people of South America, everyday life is regarded as “false.” “It is firmly believed the truth about causality is to be found by entering the supernatural world, or what the Jivaro view as the ‘real’ world, for they feel that the events which take place within it are the basis for many of the surface manifestation and mysteries of daily life.”
Among dreaming peoples, the reality of the soul journey and the objective, factual nature of the travelogues brought back are not in doubt. The travel reports will be compared with those of previous explorers.
    Shamans ride their drums to the Upper, Middle and Lower Worlds to gain access to sources of insight and healing, to commune with the spirits and rescue lost souls. Aboriginal spirit men journey to the Sky World, climbing a magic cord projected from their own energy bodies, at the solar plexus or the tip of the penis.
    Before compass and sextant, before charts, the great open-sea navigators guided their shipmates across the oceans by fine attunement to the patterns of waves and wind and stars and by the ability to scout ahead and consult a spiritual pilot through dream travel. Traditional navigators in the Indian Ocean reputedly had the power to travel ahead of their vessels in the form of seabirds or flying fish to set a safe course. The shipmakers and sea captains of the Bugis of Sulawesi — who once had a fearsome reputation as pirates — still journey to the spirits for guidance on the right trees and natural materials to use in the construction of their prahus as well as on their ocean crossings.
    The ancient Taoist masters were known as the feathered sages because of their reputed power of flight, which sometimes involved shape-shifting into the form of cranes.
In ancient Greece, shaman-philosophers were renowned for their ability to travel outside the body, appear in two or more locations at the same time, and commune with their colleagues. The Pythagoreans taught and practiced soul travel and believed that spiritual masters born centuries apart could communicate by this means.
    The ability to project consciousness beyond the physical body, to fold space-time, influence events at a distance, and project a double are all recognized siddhis — or special powers — of advanced spiritual practitioners in Eastern traditions. Vedic literature from India is full of vivid accounts of soul-flight by humans and beings-other-than-human. In the Mahabharata, the dream-soul, or suksma atman, is described as journeying outside the body while its owner sleeps. It knows pleasure and pain, just as in waking life. It travels on “fine roads” through zones that correspond to the senses, the wind, the ether, toward the higher realms of spirit.
    Shankaracharya, the ascetic exponent of Advaita Vedanta, practiced soul-flight and the projection of consciousness to another body. Challenged to a debate on sex — a subject of which he was woefully ignorant at the time — he is said to have left his body in a cave under the guard of his followers while he borrowed the body of a dying king, whose courtesans schooled him in all the arts of the Kama Sutra.
    Soul travel was well understood in the Sacred Earth traditions of Europe, from the earliest times until the murderous repression associated with the witch craze. One of the most fascinating accounts is Carlo Ginzburg’s The Night Battles, a monograph on the Benandanti, or “good-farers” of the Friuli region, who journeyed to defend the health of the community and the crops.
    Soul journeying is also central to Christian spirituality. In II Corinthians, Paul refers to his own soul journey when he speaks of “a man who was caught up into the third heaven, whether in the body or out of the body I know not.” Saint Columba, the founder of the great monastery at Iona, regularly traveled outside his body to scout developments at a distance.
Saint Anthony of Padua was renowned for his ability to travel outside the body and appear in two places at once. There are reports of him preaching in two churches at the same time.
    In Jewish tradition, the story of Elijah’s chariot of fire is the model for visionary ascent to higher realms. Among the Kabbalists, soul-flight to the higher planes was held to be the reward for long years of study and solitary meditation. A key element in Kabbalist meditation (hitboded) was the chanting and correct vibration of sacred texts. Rabbi Isaac Luria (1534–72) recited phrases from the Zohar over and over, as Eastern meditators use their mantras. He entered an altered state in which he received visitations from spiritual teachers — notably Elijah — and could travel freely outside the body, to visit “heavenly academies.”
    Soul-flight is not an art reserved for yogis, mystics, and shamans. The projection of consciousness by “remote viewing” or “ traveling clairvoyance” has been central to the history of warfare. Go back through the old battle sagas and you will find tales of warrior shamans who shape-shifted to spy out enemy positions. The druid MacRoth, in the Irish epic the Tain, performs this service for his royal patron, flying over the enemy ranks in the shape of a black warbird. Native American sorcerers were employed by both the French and the English to carry out similar scouts during the French and Indian War.
    One of the most famous soul journeyers in European history was the Swedish scientist Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772), the son of a Lutheran bishop. He was in his fifties when powerful visitations by the spirits transformed his life; he then embarked on repeated journeys into their realms. He encountered angels who escorted him on guided tours of many kinds of heavens and hells..
    It is not surprising that the dream explorer who coined the term lucid dreaming was another soul journeyer. Dr. Frederik van Eeden (1860–1932) was a Dutch writer, physician, and member of the British Society for Psychical Research (SPR). In 1913, he gave a lecture to the SPR in which he reported “lucid dreams” in which the dreamer retains the memory of his waking life, remained conscious, and could carry out “different acts of free volition.” He observed that the phenomenon of multiple consciousness and “double memory” — of both waking and dream events — “leads almost unavoidably to the conception of a dream-body.” He later wrote a novel, The Bride of Dreams, about dream travel outside the body.
    Frequent flier Robert Monroe asserted with reason that “a controlled out-of-body experience is the most efficient means we know to gather Knowns to create a Different Overview” — a new definition of reality.

Text adapted from Dreamgates: Exploring the Worlds of Soul, Imagination and Life beyond Death by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library.

Drawing: "Storm Bird Carries Me Home" by Robert Moss

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

From the Place between Sleep and Awake

Quite tired after recent travels and exertions, I spent many more hours than usual in bed. The Parade of Faces appeared almost whenever I closed my eyes: face after face of strangers, popping up one by one, or in crowds. I knew that some of these people were “dead”, while others were fellow dream travelers. Some of the street scenes were ones I may encounter in the future. Most of the strangers seemed unaware of my presence, but a few looked at me directly.
    I drifted in and out of dreams, often lucid, in which I found myself in two dozen social situations I remember with people I don't know in ordinary reality, though some of the locales are familiar - the Mermaid Cove, the Winter Cave of the Dreaming Bear, the scholar city of Anamnesis, London in World War II, various lecture halls - are familiar from other dreams and journeys. I tried not to control any of this, just to stay present to scenes that intrigued me. The traveling self may be in many more places in the multiverse than we are aware of in the everyday mind.

Note on Recording Practice

I make a practice of keeping a log of HG (hypnagogic) experiences as well as of dreams and experiences of synchronicity. My feelings will guide me on what details matter, and I certainly do not attempt to record everything I remember from dreams and liminal states, just as I don't write down what I ate for breakfast after waking or how many times my dog relieved himself in the park. A map as big as a country is no longer a map, as in the Borges story.
    In any event, there are obvious limits to how much even the most dedicated dream journal-keeper can bring back from a night in the multiverse. No doubt everything is recorded somewhere - more likely in nonlocal mind than the basement of the personal subconscious - but since we can't yet Google our dreams, it is essential (and can be wonderful creative fun) to develop searchable logs over time. They become the most important scientific data (in the sense of state-specific science, adequate to the field under investigation) in this area that we will ever attain. 
    On some days, my inner guidance is to write down whatever I remember as soon as possible, and let further writing and pattern recognition emerge as I do that. This works really well when I start by drawing something from the dream. On other days, my guidance is to forego journaling altogether in favor of simply writing with the energy and elements my dreams and HG experiences have given me.
    Some of the things that happen in Dreamland and stay in Dreamland have enduring effects even when we are amnesiac about what happened. 

Drawing: "Faces at the Threshold" by Robert Moss

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

The Moon and the numen

I come again,in a thick bilingual edition of Jorge Luis Borges' Selected Poems, to his long ode to the Moon where he explains why it will always escape the nets of the poets. I am thrilled again by this verse:

Siempre se pierde lo esencial. Es una
Ley de toda palabra sobre el numen.
No la sabrá eludir este resumen
De mi large comercia con la luna. 

In Alan S. Trueblood’s translation this becomes:

The essential thing is what we always miss.
From this law no one will be immune
nor will this account be an exception,
of my protracted dealings with the Moon. [1]

I am not satisfied with the translation. It vanishes the critical word"numen", leaving not even a synonym,  thus fulfilling Borges’ law! And how essential this word “numen” is. It is indeed quite central to our understanding within Western tradition of the interplay of the sacred and the profane. Partly inspired by Rudolf Otto, Jung and Eliade both sought to trace the operations of synchronicity through the game of hide-and-seek played by the numinous.
    The word numen, naturally, comes from the Romans. It is used to mean the presence or the will of a sacred power. Cicero uses the term to signify the "active power" of a god. De divinatione 1.20  Ovid has  Numen inest (Fasti (III, 296)  meaning “there is a god (or spirit) here.” Its literal meaning is a “nod”, or “given the nod”.
    Nil sine numine is the state motto of Colorado. “Not without the numen”. It derives from Virgil: non haec sine numine devum eveniunt (“these things do not come to pass without the will of Heaven”) from Aeneid(II, 777).
    So, back to the Borges verse. Try this:

We always lose the essential when we try
to find words to describe sacred power.
I don’t know how to escape this law
in reporting my long engagement with the moon.

And on to Rudolf Otto, who belied his Prussian appearance – Kaiser moustache, high-collared tunic, ramrod bearing – as a deep student of mystical experience. 
He insists (as I am doing in my account of the experience of synchronicity) that you cannot be taught the concept of the numinous; you must feel it. He writes in  The Idea of the Holy that the numen “cannot, strictly speaking, be taught, it can only be evoked, awakened in the mid; as everything that comes ‘of the spirit’ must be awakened.”  “It cannot be ‘taught’, it must be ‘awakened’ from the spirit….In religion there is very much that can be taught…What is incapable of being so handed down is this numinous basis and background of religion, which can only be induced, incited, and aroused.” We require “a penetrative imaginative sympathy.” [2]
    His effort is to convey “the feeling which remains when the concept fails, and to introduce a terminology which is not any the more loose or indeterminate for have necessarily to make use of symbols.” He adds, The numinous is felt as objective and outside the self” 
    The feeling is of mystery edged with shudders. Mysterium tremendum. Feelings may span the spectrum from a gentle tide, through sudden eruption with spasms and convulsions, to “the strangest excitements” to “wild and demonic forms” to “hushed, trembling and speechless humility of the creature in the presence of – whom or what? In the presence of that which is a mystery inexpressible and above all creatures.”
    Sophocles wrote of the experience of awe in the presence of the numen in Antigone, in a line which Otto renders as

Much there is that is weird; but nought is weirder than man. 40

He also quotes Goethe’s Faust (Part II, Act 1, scene v):

Das Schaudern ist der Menschheit bestes Teil,
Wie auch die Welt ihm das Gefühl verteuere,
Ergriffen fuhlt tief das Ungeheuere.

Awe is the best of man; however the world’s
misprizing of the feeling would prevent us,
Deeply we feel, once gripped, the weird Portentous.

My free rendition:

Shuddering is the best part of being human
though the world can stifle our feelings
we are gripped in our depths by something vast and uncanny

1. Jorge Luis Borges, Selected Poems ed. Alexander Coleman (New York: Penguin Books, 2000) 108
2. Ruldolf Otto, The Idea of the Holy: An Inquiry into the Non-Rational Factor in the Idea of the Divine and Its Relation to the Rational. Translated by John W, Harvey. (London: Oxford University Press, 1952) 60.

Drawing: "Moon at the Foot of My Bed" by Robert Moss

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Thanks giving is for every day

In the indigenous North American way, giving thanks is a practice for every day, not just for an annual holiday. Here is a little of what I learned after I was called in dreams by an ancient woman of power to study the traditions of the Haudenosaunee, or Iroquois.

Orenda is the power that is in everything and beyond everything. It clusters in certain things – in that tree, in that stone, in that person or gathering – and if you are sensitive you will feel its weight and its force.
    People come from another world – in the Iroquoian cosmogony, they call it Earth-in-the-Sky – and the origin and purpose for life here below is to be found in that Sky World. Tosa sasa ni’konren, they say. “Do not let your mind fall” from the memory of that other world where everything is directed and created by the power of thought, and everything lives in the glow of a great Tree of Light.
    The first person on Earth who was anything like a human came from that Sky World, after she fell – or was pushed – through a hole among the roots of its great tree. As she fell, she was caught on the wings of great blue herons, who carried her gently down to a chaos of water. Animals, diving into the black deep, found earth for her, so she could begin to make a world. Turtle offered its great back and First Woman danced a new world into being. Under her feet, a handful of soil became all the lands we live on.
    The memory of Earth-in-the-Sky in no way blurs the knowledge that orenda – which is power, spirit, energy, consciousness all at once – is in everything. In the way of the Onkwehonwe, the Real People (as the Iroquois call themselves) we must remember that our relations with our environment are entirely personal, and require appropriate manners.
    If you want to take something from the Earth, you must ask permission. The hunter asks the spirit of the deer for permission to take its life and wastes nothing from its body. I once watched a Mohawk medicine man gathering healing plants. He started by identifying the elder among a stand of the plants and speaking to this one, seeking permission. He offered a little pinch of native tobacco in return for the stalks he gathered for medicine.
    In this tradition, the best form of prayer is to give thanks for the gifts of life. In the long version of the Iroquois thanksgiving, you thank everything that supports your life, and as you do this you announce that you are talking to family.

I give thanks to my brothers the Thunderers
I give thanks to Grandmother Moon and to Elder Brother Sun

In the Native American way, as Black Elk, the Lakota holy man, said, “the center of the world is wherever you are.” For him, that was Harney Peak. For you, it is wherever you are living or traveling. You may find a special place in your everyday world. It may be just a corner of the garden, or a bench under a tree in the park, or that lake where you walk the dog. The more you go there, and open both your inner and outer senses, the more you will find that orenda has gathered there for you.
     A woman who lives near the shore told me that she starts her day like this: “I go to the ocean in the morning at sunrise and put a hand in the water and say Good morning, thank you, I love you. I feel a response from this. The tide will suddenly surge up a little higher, hugging my feet, which is kind of cold in winter but wonderful in warmer weather. I talk to everything out loud like this.”
     The simple gesture of placing your hand in the sea, or on a tree, or on the earth, and expressing love and gratitude and recognition of the animate world around us is everyday church (as is dreamwork), good for us, and good for all our relations
    It is good to do something every day, in any landscape, to affirm life in all that is around us. This may be especially important on days when the world seems drab and flat and even the eyes of other people in the street look like windows in which the blinds have been drawn down. The Longhouse People (Iroquois) reminded me that the best kind of prayer is to give thanks to all our relations, to everything that supports life, and in doing so to give our support to them. When I lived on a rural property, I began each day by greeting the ancient oak on the dirt road behind the house as the elder of that land.
    These days, it is often enough for me to say to sun and sky, whether on the sidewalk or in the park or by the sea

I give thanks for the morning
I give thanks for the day
I give thanks for the gifts
    and the challenges of this lifetime

For more on indigenous tradition, please read my book Dreamways of the Iroquois. For more on everyday practice, please see my book Sidewalk Oracles: Playing with Signs, Symbols and Synchronicity in Everyday Life.

Monday, November 18, 2019

In the Cave of the Dreaming Bear

Some nights, at the edge of sleep. I picture myself approaching the roots of a great tree – the oak that once called me to a country home, or a beech, or an ash – singing the chorus of the song that was given to me as a key to a place of regeneration and creation.

Praise and serve the Mother
and let her grace unfold
Praise and serve the mother
and reenchant the world

An opening appears for me among the roots, and I go down into the breathing dark of a warm and cozy space. I snuggle with a family of bears. We are family. I am welcome.
    Then I am called into the embrace of a primal form of Earth Mother, and am nourished and loved and replenished.
    I can now go down to a cave deep in the world of the tree. It is light-filled and full of creative tools and toys, especially art supplies. There is a long wooden pointer there. It points unerringly, like a huge compass needle, in the direction I need to take. Sighting along it, or with it, I can see scenes of possible and desirable futures in the outer world.
    I can go from here along paths where other adventures await. I may start following the flow of an underground river to a waterfall, where I can enter a place of the ancestors by going through and under the falls, or leap up over the falls into a different kind of experience.
    I can picture myself rising up through the tree, as through a library from a Borgesian dream, with countless levels filled with bookcases and galleries. I can make it my intention to read in these books and bring back a few pages in the morning.
     I always hope that the pages I’ll bring back will be from books of my own that are not yet written or published in this world, but can be.

I am launching my new online video course.The School of Imaginal Healing, for The Shift Network this week by leading a journey to the Cave of the Dreaming Bear.

Art by Tracy Cunningham