Thursday, May 28, 2009

Smell the synchronizing

This starts out about as mundane as you can get. I run out to the supermarket for essential supplies in between posting today's blog essay and returning to larger writing and editing assignments. I'm in the checkout aisle with my loaded cart, which includes two bags of French Roast coffee beans, which seem to dematerialize fast in my household. There are people ahead of me but the belt starts moving and I unload one item, then a second - at which point the checkout cashier in the next aisle calls out cheerily, "Sir? I can help you over here." My instinct is to stay where I am, but the person ahead of me looks like they will need some time and I don't want the smiling cashier in the next aisle to feel rebuffed. So I repack the items I have unloaded and gently coach the old boy behind me to move his cart back far enough to let me go round. At which point, the nice cashier in the next aisle is calling out "Sir? You may as well stay where you are" - because a woman has just pushed an overloaded cart into the spot intended for me.

There's really nothing to do except go forward at this point, since the old boy who let me out has taken my place in line for the first register. The woman in the second line is sweet. She offers to let me in ahead of her, but I can't accept. "It's fine. It's one of those silly little life situations that offer a teaching lesson."

She's curious. "What is the lesson?"

"I think the lesson is: trust your instinct and check on the situation without immediately going where people ask you to go, even when you know they mean you the best. And keep your sense of humor."

The checkout guy and the packer are following this. The packer - an elderly woman retiree working part-time - says, "Life is what you make it."

"You are a wise woman," I tell her.

The cashier, Nick, is the shift boss and he processes my groceries at flawless speed. When he hands me the receipt he says, "I comped you for one of those bags of coffee beans because you were so nice."

The one-liners I derive from this very small incident are also rules for navigating by coincidence:

- For every setback, look for a gift

- Always check other people's directions.

Eastern realms of enchantment

I am pursuing my research into Eastern realms of enchantment. This has taken me into the immense fantasy realm of a storytelling tradition that begins in Persia and flowers into its lushest growth in the Urdu language in northern India and Pakistan. The best of this material is only recently becoming available in English translation, thanks in part to a dream.

The translator, Urdu scholar and novelist Musharraf Ali Farooqi (who grew up on this stuff on hot afternoons in Hyderabad) dreamed he was visited by mythic creatures who came galloping right out of The Adventures of Amir Hamza, the name given to the main story cycle. In giving us the first accessible English translation of The Adventures of Amir Hamza (published by the Modern Library in a 900-page edition) Farooqi has made an enormous contribution to the common fund of world literature.

Turning these wonder tales into English was long thought to be an impossible task. They are the transitions of oral narratives, and you hear the voices of the many tellers, ranging from courtly Persian to bawdy, street vendors’ Hindustani. You get detail piled on detail. It won’t do to have an army ride into a city without naming a hundred kinds of weapons. In one passage we even get the itemization of seventy kinds of rice pilaf. The Urdu-language editors were quite unable to harmonize the variant plots of the numberless dastangos (storytellers) who contributed to these adventures. Yet Musharraf Farooqi has performed a marvel, serving a feast of delights as rich as the Arabian Nights and often absolutely fresh to the Western reader.

A Persian emperor sees his crown carried away by a crow that is killed by a hawk that restores it. The dream is interpreted by his vizier to foreshadow the coming of a hero, Amir Hamza, who will be born in Mecca. The vizier is despatched to Mecca to wait for the coming child (whose name is known to history as that of the martial uncle of the Prophet Muhammad). In the realm of fairies and jinn - the empire of Qaf - another royal dream of annunciation predicts the coming of the same Amir Hamza as the human champion who will overthrow a monstrous usurper.

What unfolds is a magnificent saga of danger, trickery and romance, in which raucous interludes of low comedy interweave with moments of mystical encounter. Every prince is accompanied by a "trickster" (ayyar) who uses disguise and deception and magical props in the neverending battles with sorcerers and demons. The trickster who accompanies the protagonist, Amar Ayyar, gains his bag of tricks through a dream on a holy mountain in which he meets the "prophets". He is given a zambil, a bag that is bigger inside than outside - so big it can contain a whole world.

In The Adventures of Amir Hamza we travel through a wondrous imaginal geography that includes contructed realities known as tilisms. These are realms of enchantment created by sorcerers. You may fall into one for various reasons and then find it very hard to get out.

Any world may prove to be a tilism, a realm of enchantment created by sorcerers in defiance of “the laws of God and of nature”. We learn a great deal more about the conditions of such realms in a giant offshoot of The Adventures of Amir Hamza, the immense fantasy epic known as the Tilism-e Hoshruba. The tilism of Hoshruba is the realm of Afrasiyab, the Emperor of Enchantment. Its geography is more various and complex than that of the ordinary world. There are tilisms within tilisms, nested worlds created by magic and imagination. Humans live in such places but do not see where they are. It is much easier to fall into a tilism than to get out.

The only way to pierce the veils of illusion and overthrow a tilism is to find the tablet that holds the secrets of the tilism, including the conditions for its destruction and the name of the person who will destroy it. The tablet could be concealed anywhere, often inside the tilism itself.

Musharraf Farooqi has just published the first volume of a projected 24-volume translation of Hoshruba: The Land and the Tilism (Urdu Project, 2009) - a heroic enterprise that draws my admiration, and expands our knowledge of the mythic imagination.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Of zephyrs and islands

I woke in the early hours today with just a wisp of a dream, the trace of a zephyr blowing through in the night. I recalled that in the dream, I am traveling to meet a French writer. We are coming from different places. One of his flights will take him from Monte Carlo to Mauritius. We have important things to explore together, some concerning Africa.

I was excited and intrigued. I knew very little about Mauritius, but it did not take me more than a few minutes googling to identify one most interesting French writer with strong ties to that island democracy between Africa and India. He is JMG Le Clézio, the 2008 Nobel Laureate for literature. (Monte Carlo, famed for its casino, could be a dream code for winning BIG.) His family has been connected to Mauritius since 1798, when one of his ancestors left France in order to avoid being compelled to cut his long hair - following the regulations of the French Revolutionary Army - and settled on the island. Le Clézio's novel The Prospector is set in Mauritius, and evokes the beauty of the island and the rich medley of different cultures and ethnicities - African, Indian, European.

I read Le Clézio's Nobel acceptance speech, a passionate defense of books and the power of storytelling, in which he goes deep into the roots of his own creative inspiration. He speaks in very personal ways about what drives him to write, since his boyhood productions, which included a tale told by a seagull and the biography of an imaginary king. These were encouraged by long hours of solitude, by a grandmother’s flair for telling long stories, always set in a forest – and her dictionaries, that took the place of story books.

I was excited to find a strong African connection, a possible clue to a key element in my dream. Le Clezio recalls that after he spend part of his childhood in Nigeria with his father, an English bush doctor, he emerged with a "second personality". He says this second self, “a daydreamer who was fascinated with reality at the same time” has stayed with him all his life. It has constituted "a contradictory dimension, a strangeness in myself that at times has been a source of suffering” – and, it seems, of creativity. “It has taken me the better part of my existence to understand the significance of this contradiction.”

I have long been fascinated by the sacred psychology of the Yoruba, a people of Nigeria, according to which each of us has a second self - a "double in heaven" - who watches us as we progress through the "marketplace" of this world. From one life to another (the Yoruba say) we swap places. I don't know whether this has anything to do with Le Clezio's experience of the "second personality" that emerged from a boyhood encounter with Africa, but clearly we are on fertile ground, for the creative mind and the life explorer. Other writers have written from a struggle with a second self, including Mark Twain, who described more than one form of the double and speculated about the operations of a "spiritualized self" that may travel independently from the regular personality. Mark Twain also visited Mauritius, and reported that opinions were divided as to whether Mauritius was modelled on paradise, or paradise was modelled on Mauritius.

Dreams set us research assignments, and my research on Mauritius and the French writer continues. Dreams also suggest directions and intineraries. I don't know whether I will buy a plane ticket to Mauritius to follow my dream, but I am thinking about it - and the swimmer in me is delighted by images of all those spectacular beaches.

The merest "wisp" of a dream can be a gift. That came out again in a conversation involving another island a few hours later this morning. I was recording a radio interview with Lovell Dyett, the veteran broadcaster for WBZ newsradio in Boston. He mentioned that his family is from the island of Montserrat in the Lesser Antilles, and that his aunt was renowned as a dreamer. If any issue came up, she would say, "I'll dream on that" - and the next day she generally had the solution. Lovell lamented that fact that despite his efforts to develop dream recall, he never seemed to remember his night dreams - except that on the morning of our interview, he remembered just a tiny part of a dream from the night before. I asked if he would share. "Someone was asking me for my phone number, and I gave it. It was my regular phone number. We checked that the numbers were right."

If it were my dream, I suggested, I would be open to the possibility that someone was trying to contact me. It might be someone I hadn't realize was available to communicate - someone like that long-deceased aunt from Montserrat who would make a fabulous mentor on dreams. "Or my mother," Lovell chipped in. I got shivers. I'm not sure whether they came when I was talking about Lovell's aunt, or when he mentioned his departed mother, but I know that for me truth comes with goosebumps.

In one vocabulary of dreaming (that of ancient Assyria) a word for dream literally means "zephyr". A dream or zephyr is a gentle breeze that can blow through a chink at your door, or in your mind, and bring you a message worth hearing.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Dreams get us through

I just did an interview on Wisconsin Public Radio in which the callers produced a fresh harvest of personal examples of how dreams help us to get through life.

A songwriter described how he has woken in the middle of the night with new songs playing in his mind. Sometimes they are complete, with words and music. Sometimes he has to work on them for a bit. He is in a long tradition of songwriters and composers who have plucked new pieces from their dreams. I was reminded on John Lennon's statement that "the best songs are the ones that come to you in the middle of the night and you have to get up and write them down so you can go back to sleep."

As we discussed diagnostic dreams, the host, Veronica Rueckert, recalled the case of a man who dreamed a rat was gnawing on his throat. Shaken by the dream, he sought medical assistance, and went from one physician to another until his throat cancer was detected and treatment began that he credited with saving his life.

David, an IT professional, recounted a situation in which his office was preparing to install a new system. The day before, his supervisor told him to go home and get some sleep. He took a nap and saw himself in a workaday situation. He saw and recognized the code he would be applying. Suddenly the screen in his dream went fuzzy and a voice said firmly, "NO. It should be like this." The code changed. When he went into the office the next day, he checked and found that the code they were working with was wrong. He made the necessary changes, as had been done in the dream. "Good thing you caught that," his supervisor told him. At this point, David explained that he had dreamed the correction. "Never heard of anything like that," the supervisor shook his head. "Maybe I should have my analysts do a lot more sleeping."

A woman caller spoke of a recurring dream theme whose full significance became clear to her only at the end of a long relationship. She dreamed again and again that her partner was missing. She couldn't find him or couldn't get through to him on the phone. Sometimes she felt he was hiding from her. By the time of the break-up, she had been compelled to recognize a long pattern of deception, and that in fundamental ways, her partner had been "missing" for much of the time they had been together. We discussed what is going on when a dream theme repeats over and over. I suggested that it's either because we need to get the message or because we need to take action on that message. We may have a notion what a recurring dream is about, but can't bring ourselves to do what is necessary - which would be very understandable if we dream our partner is missing. Like a helpful (and well-informed) friend who is looking out for us, the dream theme will come again and again until we do something about it.

At the end of the show, the host asked me to share a "big" dream of my own. How to pick one, out of so many? Yet I knew at once which dream I would tell, because earlier in the program - when asked to explain how dreaming can help to move us beyond hatred and war - I had quoted a phrase in the Mohawk Indian language. The phrase is tohsa sasa nikon'hren. It literally means, "Do not let your mind fall". We fall into Dark Times, in the traditional Mohawk cosmology, when we forget the higher world - the Earth-in-the-Sky - from which we come. Our ability to heal our enmities and grow as a life form depend on not-forgetting a higher source of wisdom and a higher order of reality. Dreaming is the main link between our ordinary minds and that higher spiritual plane, a way of not letting our minds fall.
So I told a watershed dream from my life some twenty years ago, in which I entered a space where a circle of people who lived very close to the earth were singing and drumming. I hestitated at the entrance of their longhouse, fearing I was intruding. But they welcomed me into a place they had waiting for me. At a certain point, I lay by the firepit, at the center of the circle. One by one, the dream people came to me. They took red-hot coals from the fire and placed them over my ears and my eyes, and on my tongue, and over my heart. They sang in their own language, which I could now understand: "We do this to open your ears, that you may hear clearly. We do this to open your eyes, that you may see clearly. We do this to open your mouth, so you will speak only truth. And we do this -" placing the coal over the heart "-so that henceforth you will speak and act only from the heart."
I did no analysis with that dream. Vitally energized, I jumped in my car and drove to a lake in a state park east of my home. I promised to the lake and the trees and the red-tailed hawk that came knifing through the clouds, "Henceforth I will speak and act only from the heart."
On the darkest days, a dream like this can be a hearthfire and a homing beacon. Charging us with the power of a deeper drama, inciting us not to let our minds fall - these may be the biggest ways that dreaming helps us through.

The desk in the mountains

I am walking from room to room in my house with books and papers, trying to find the right place to settle in order to embark on important new work. I realize the solution is very simple: I'll go back to my desk. It's a huge desk, but it's usually covered with stuff. When I sit down now, however, much of the surface is clear. I notice a little black Moleskine notebook that vanished many months ago.
     I feel extraordinarily comfortable, yet also ready for adventure, almost as if the desk is the control panel of a starship and we are about to take off. I look up and gasp with amazement and delight. In front of me, the wall of the room has vanished. I am looking into a marvelous vista of forested hills and mountains. Everything is green and verdant, full of the juice of spring. I am right there, in the midst of the mountains, as if my desk is on an overhang.

I woke from this dream this morning feeling wonderful, ready to plunge into new projects. But first, I needed to honor the dream on a literal level by clearing space on my desk. As I moved things around my writing Cave, I unearthed the little Moleskine notebook, and with it a box of "floppy" disks that had been missing for even longer, and had evaded my periodic - and sometimes urgent - archeological digs. The retrieval of the floppies was a great find, since they contain journal entries and story drafts I had not saved on my current hard drive or flash drive.
     Our dream adventures may be grand narrative roller coasters, or long-running sitcoms, or multi-storeyed houses of the psyche; some of my dream reports run for pages and pages of single-spaced type. Yet sometimes the most helpful dreams come through as a vignette, a fragment, or just a single word or phrase. Less can be more, in this as in other things. A simple image may provide a vital clue, and when it stands alone there is less risk of blurring the focus. If we want more, we can use even the tiniest fragment as a fisherman uses a rod, to reel in larger creatures from the dream sea. More than any specific content, the great gift of certain dreams is the energy they can convey. My dream of the desk in the mountains left me full of juice, ready to work and create - and even to clean up my office!
     I am reminded of an observation by my favorite writer on dreams before the modern era, who just happened to be a bishop of the early church. In his tractate "On dreams" (De insomniis), written on his estate in North Africa around 405, Synesius wrote that in dreams God makes us "fruitful with his own courage." Yes. Dreaming helps us to bear fruit, with vital strength from a deeper source.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Saving the woman at the glass door

In one of my advanced circles last night a woman recounted a dream in which she was menaced by men who were ringing doorbells on her street peddling something. She watched their activity through a glass door, and becamse very sure that what they were offering was bogus. When one of the men - who reminded her of a "hippie" - came to her door, she refused to open it. The lock wasn't properly secured. He came through the door and forced her into her living room. When he unzipped his pants, she realized he intended to rape her. She saw the face of the second hustler, with short, stubbly hair, behind him. She mobilized her will and her craft. She pulled on the zipper of her jeans yelling, "Just try it! I've been raped before and I have AIDS!" This was a lie, but it had the desired effect. Her attackers backed off in a hurry and fled the house. She proceeded to call the police with their descriptions.

She woke from this dream feeling completely detached. She described her mood as "nonchalant". She was puzzled as to how she could have so little affect after a dream involving so much danger.

As we discussed the dream, it became clear that nothing in the dream locale belonged to her regular life. The house with the glass door was nothing like her own house. The street and the neighborhood were completely unfamiliar, as were the men.

We asked, "Were you your present self?" She thought that she was, in terms of the way her mind worked. But she was unsure whether she was in her ordinary body.

I was struck by the dreamer's emotional detachment on surfacing from an experience charged with drama and danger. No racing pulse, not even a sense of relief or satisfaction over having outwitted the assailants.

When I find myself detached in this way, after a dream drama, I begin to suspect that the dream action does not involve my life situation, but may concern that of someone else.

My thoughts flew to this idea: Was it possible that the dreamer picked up a psychic distress signal from a woman under threat, in the house with the glass door? Could the dreamer have joined that joined that person, mentally, to help her deal with her attackers?

I believe such things are entirely possible, in the web of dreaming.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Art of Heronry

I am studying the art of heronry.

You are a master of patience.
You can wait on one leg,
A spearman poised and immobile,
Longer than I can wait on two (or three).
Your standing stillness cons the fish
Into disregarding you, as a dead branch
Or a boring relic from an old shipwreck.

You don’t need anyone to tell you
When the time is GO.
In that instant, you strike without delay,
Your purpose straight and swift and clean
As a stabbing spear, taking your prey.

I am relieved that even you
Have to work to get airborne,
Flapping and beating your great gray-blue wings.
When you are up, and stretch out your body,
You exhibit the whole history of flight.
You show yourself as the Feathered Serpent,
The one that grew wise enough
To make a home in another dimension.

I love the way you practice love.
You put on a gaudy show for your intended
Sprouting twin mating plumes.
When your gallantry prospers,
You are willing to work in intimate partnership.
I have seen you, ferrying twigs in your beak
To your mate in the frame of your nest in the trees.

High-flying bird of the heart,
I like your business arrangement
With the busy engineer of canals and dams;
Where the beaver builds, you build too.

Humans, who fly only in dreams and machines,
Know you as an ancient ally and exemplar.
You brought First Woman from the Earth in the Sky
Breaking her fall on wings spread like magic carpets
To dance a new Earth into being.

Egypt knows you, and the mystery of your rise
From the sexy serpent of Earth
To the master of air and of water.
Egypt calls you the ever living, the phoenix bird
Born again and again from the ashes of the old life,
Endlessly birthing your winged and shining self.

photo by Chris Harshaw

Monday, May 18, 2009

On floating and childish things

Whenever I go to Evanston, Illinois - where I was teaching an Active Dreaming workshop last weekend - I like to walk the path along Lake Michigan up to what I call the Northwestern Message Board. This is a grand jumble of cement slabs and boulders behind the Northwestern university campus that the kids have adorned with the colors of their imaginations. You feel young hearts beating, and hopes running high. While some of the painted messages are out of the Hallmarks greeting cards aisle - "I will love you forever", "True love never dies" - some, whether borrowed or original, are infused with freshness and wonder.

It was raining hard as I followed the lakeshore path under the hood of a light windbreaker, but my heart still leaped when I saw the first signal from the Message Board: "COUNT ME IN", painted on a slab in big bold letters. Following the path up onto a headland, behind a young girl wobbling along on a creaky purple bike, I found an old favorite. A student artist went to great trouble to produce a painting of a couple in a kitchen who are about to leave ordinary reality in a transport of romance. The girl in the picture is holding a bouquet and starting to rise into the air as her lover, his feet already well off the ground, lifts her to join him in a kiss. The artist has added the inscription: "Will You Float With Me?" If we notice an echo of Chagall's floating brides, it's more than an echo - the kitchen scene is borrowed from Chagall's 1915 painting "The Kiss". But I hope the anonymous copyist still got full marks from his girl for his lovely invitation, and that they are floating gloriously through life.

I sat down on a bench just above the floaters to have a longish cell phone conversation with the wonderful couple who produced my "Way of the Dreamer" DVD series. The theme: producing a new DVD program on "Dreaming with Children". As we warmed to the theme, I was delighted to notice - just beyond the floating couple - a slab with this message: "The reluctance to put away childish things may be a requirement of genius." The quote is a neat backhand swipe at Paul's injunction (in Corinthians 11:13) about the need for a man to "put away childish thingss." I read the message over the phone with gusto. It turned out, again, to be borrowed material - from journalist and writer Rebecca Pepper Sinkler.
C.S.Lewis played with Paul's famous Bible phrase a slightly different way, while conveying a similar message: “To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence. And in childhood and adolescence they are, in moderation, healthy symptoms. Young things ought to want to grow. But to carry on into middle life or even into early manhood this concern about being adult is a mark of really arrested development. When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”
I wondered what a man I had encountered the day before on the plane en route to Chicago's O'Hare airport would have made of this. As he tried to push through a crowded aisle, he said loudly, "Life is never easy, and it's never pleasant." I couldn't let this go. I looked up at him from my seat and said, "I do hope life gives you cause to change that opinion. Otherwise you may find that opinion walking ahead of you, giving you more and more reasons to believe it."
I walked further along the lakeshore path and found a message I'll bet wasn't borrowed: "Randy, you are more radiant than tungsten." I wonder where that led. What we encounter in life depends so much on what we can imagine. I am quite certain that if I go with the idea that I am "more radiant than tungsten" I will encounter - and attract - very different things on my life roads than if I insist on the mantra that life is "never easy and never pleasant".
In the Evanston workshop, a psychotherapist shared a dream in which she met two small people who had a planet to themselves, out among the stars. We were reminded of Saint-Exupéry's Little Prince. "Grown-ups never understand anything for themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them," we are reminded in that luminous book.
Drumming and dreaming and making up stories, we weren't afraid of "chidish things" during our weekend adventures. I led a journey to the Dream Library, where you can enter the world of any book or picture you like (including those that have not yet been seen in the world) or consult a master teacher. The assignment this time was to find and bring back "the story you most need to know and to tell." I was drawn to many stories, but then one asserted itself with a just-so-ness I could not resist. It begins like this:
I'm never afraid of the night, because Bear is with me. Sometimes he goes ahead when we travel. Sometimes he holds my hand. Sometimes he stays behind, but holds the end of a red cord he ties around my middle so he can pull me back in a hurry. Everyone needs a Bear.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Dreaming with Children

Luca had not yet turned four when he climbed into his mom's bed in the middle of the night and told her this exciting dream:
"I was running away from a huge T-Rex who was chasing me. Then I remembered, wait a minute, I LIKE T-Rex. So I turned around and told him 'Hey, You’re my favorite dinosaur!' And he picked me up so I could ride and then we went to the beach together."

In the morning, Luca asked his mother to write the dream down for him. He had observed his aunt Chele writing dreams in her own journal and thought this was a cool thing to do. When he turned four, his mom gave him a dream journal as one of his birthday gifts.

Luca's mom did the essential first thing that adults need to do with kids' dreams: she listened. Then she did the most important next thing: she helped her young child to do something fun with a dream, which in this case simply meant writing it down so the story would be a keeper. Then, inspired by Aunt Chele's example, Luca's mom provided him with the most special magic book a child can ever have - a book that is filled with the magic of his or her own dreams and imagination.

When it comes to dreaming, as Luca's dream of his favorite dinosaur reminds us, kids are the teachers. Very young children, especially live close to Dreamtime and are fully at home in the realms of imagination.

I am launching a new series of dream playshops for children (and also for families with kids) and I've been thinking about basic things grown-ups need to understand about helping kids with their dreams. Here is my working list:

Basics for Grown-Ups to Understand about Kids’ Dreams

1. Listen up! When a child wants to tell a dream, make room for that. Make some daily space for dream sharing. Listen to the stories and cherish them for their own sake.
2. Set up good dreaming by the right bedtime reading and storytelling and by helping to provide the child with a night ally. You can help a child weave a web of good dream intentions, by asking “What would you most like to do tonight?” Encourage children to sleep with a favorite stuffed animal (whether teddy bear or T-Rex) and make this a dream guardian.
3. Provide quick help with the scary stuff. If a child was scared by something in the night, recognize you are the ally the child needs right now. Do something right away to move out that negative energy. Get them to spit it out (literally) or draw a picture of what frightened them and tear it up as violently as possible. Then back to #1: listen up. And on to #4: practice an effective process that will help determine what kind of action the nightmare or the night terror might require.
4. Learn an effective dreamwork process. The core technique is a simplified version of the Lightning Dreamwork Game. When the child has told her story, ask good questions. Ask about feelings, about the color of the sky, and about exactly what T-Rex was doing. See if there’s something about the future. Say what you would think about this if this were your dream. While offering whatever help you can, you are going to empower your kid by acknowledging her as the final authority on her dreams, and to learn that something can be true even when other people don’t agree (or can’t see it at all). Always come up with something fun or helpful to do with this story. Open up the crayon box, call grandma, etc.
5. Help the child to keep a dream journal, and get this started as early as possible. With a very young child, you can help with the words while they do the pictures. When your child reaches the point where she closes the journal and says, “This is my secret book and you can’t read it any more” do not peak. Give her privacy, and let her choose when she'll let you look in that magic book.
6. Provide tools for creative expression. Let the dreams come alive through art, dance, theatre and games. Encourage children to draw or paint their dreams, or turn them into stories or performances. Gather friends and family for dream-inspired games and theatre. Puppets and stuffed animals can be great for acting out dreams. This can also be dress-up time. It’s such a release for kids to portray mom or dad or other grown-ups in their lives – be ready to be shocked!
7. Be ready to help construct effective action plans that may require adult help, starting with yours. For example, a scary dream or night terror may reflect something in the home environment that needs to be fixed. A child's dream may include a preview of a possible future event, or an encounter with a departed family member, that needs to be clarified and worked with.
8. As you listen to children's dreams, let your own inner child come alive and join in the play.
9. Keep it fun!
See "Starting the Day in Dreamland" (March 17, at this blog) for a glimpse of how fun dream-sharing with kids at the breakfast table by the Lightning Dreamwork process can be.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Dream travels through the tear duct

Pua a'e la ka uwahi o ka moe. "The smoke seen in a dream now rises." - Hawaiian proverb.

My conversation yesterday about the tears of a dying Hawaiian boy (see "A brain surgeon at home in nonlocal mind") prompted me to revisit traditional Hawaiian beliefs about what goes on in dreaming. In ancient Hawaiian understanding, while the body sleeps, the spirit slips out through the tear duct, called the lua'uhane, or "soul pit". Traveling in a "body of wind", the spirit or dream self may go great distances and have many adventures. These can be the source of vital guidance and healing.

In a classic ethnographic study, E.S. Craighill Handy presented an example of how this works. A Hawaiian mother was alarmed by the illness of her child. In a dream, she encountered a spirit being who instructed her to go to her cousin for help, telling her she would find this cousin in a house over which certain birds - plovers, or kolea - would be calling and circling. Waking, the mother could not identify this supposed cousin, and it was not the season for plovers. To her surprise, she found plovers flying in a circle over a house she had never previously noticed. The woman who met her at the door was expecting her, because she had dreamed of her visitor. She had a remedy for the sick child and she was healed. The women discovered they were indeed kin, most importantly in a spiritual sense, because the plover was the form taken by an aumakua they shared.

Hawaiian stories of dream travel often involve journeys into the possible future. One of the most famous is the dream prophecy of Moi, a powerful kahuna of Molokai whose chief was violently infatuated with a chiefess named Hina and had taken her from her home in Hilo by force. Moi's dream excursion showed him a great battle in which the chief and his army would be destroyed. He advised the chief that the disaster could be averted by sending Hina back to her home, which the chief angrily refused to do. Then Hina's sons raised a great force, caught the Molokai chief by surprise and slaughtered him and the best of his warriors. As a Hawaiian proverb goes, "the smoke seen in the dream now rose." In the case of dreams foreshadowing danger, the classic practice of the kahunas was to try to "sweeten the dream" (manalo ka moe), a charming way to describe taking action in an effort to avert an unwanted event. Moi could not manage this because the chief would not be swayed from his path.

There are problematic forms of dream travel, in Hawaiian tradition. Spend too much time in your dream body with a dream lover and you may start losing vitality in regular life. It may be that your dream lover is a being-other-than-human, like the shark god who pleasured a young Hawaiian woman every night, in one of the legends, until her side turned shark-belly white and she gave birth to a baby shark that was returned to the sea.

A general word for dreams in Hawaiian is moe'uhane, generally translated as “soul sleep” but better understood as “experiences of the soul while the body sleeps". In the recognition that dreaming is traveling, Hawaiian dream lore closely resembles that of most indigenous cultures. It would be interesting to explore how many dreamers and dreaming cultures have experienced soul travel through the tear duct. The preferred transit portal for many Australian Aborigines is the area of the tjurni in the lower abdomen or sacral center; Aboriginal "spirit men" speak of projecting and climbing a "rope" that rises from the penis. For the magoi of the ancient Hellenic world, the spirit departed and returned to the body through the mouth (like Aristeas in raven form) or the fontanel (like Apollonius). For Egypt - as for many other practitioners - a preferred travel gate and base of psychic operations is the "third eye" or vision center. Shamans often experience projecting an energy form from the solar plexus. For many experimenters in astral projection or conscious dream travel, there is the "full body lift" in which a second energy body seems to emerge - by rising or rolling out - along the whole length of the physical body.
Let's note that as practical dreamers, the Hawaiians recognize that there are big dreams and little dreams. While a big dream may be a spirit journey or a visitation by spirit powers. you don’t want to pay too much attention to a “wild goatfish dream”(moe weke pahulu), which is caused by something you ate or how fast you ate it. The “straight-up” dream (moe pi’i pololei) is clear and speaks for itself, requiring no interpretation, but there are also “wishing” dreams (moemoea) that show you something you are pining for, which may or may not be attainable in ordinary reality. There are “revelations of the night” (ho’ike na ka po) that carry the power of prophecy. And there are dreams that are plain "crazy"(pupule), products of the dreamer's inner chaos and confusion, and worth no attention at all.

Sources: The story of the Hawaiian mother who found the house of circling plovers is in E.S. Craighill Handy, The Polynesian Family System in Ka'u, Hawai'i (Rutland, Vermont: Charles E. Tuttle, 1958). There is a trove of dream material in Martha Beckwith’s indispensable Hawaiian Mythology. I highly recommend a wonderfully accessible book by Caren Loebel-Fried, Hawaiian Legends of Dreams (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2005).

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A brain surgeon at home in nonlocal mind

A Vietnamese woman has a lemon-sized malignant tumor, ruled inoperable because of its location in the corpus collosum that connects the two hemispheres of the brain. Neurosurgeon Dr John L. ("Jack") Turner watches as seven Buddhist monks in brightly colored robes gather in her hospital room, apparently to pray over her. A mutual friend, a Zen priest, explains that the monks have come to do more than pray. They have come to escort her on a journey, a "guided meditation". She is required to travel through seven hell worlds and to see her possible future as a "hungry ghost", which will be her karmic destiny unless she can release a deep hatred she has harbored inside her for many years. This hate is focussed on another woman. She has neither expressed it not moved beyond it. Held in her body, it has helped to generate her illness. Held in her soul, it will guarantee a hellish afterlife. The Vietnamese woman is so deeply shocked by what she learns that she at last finds it possible to admit and release the hateful thoughts she has carried with her for so long. Five weeks later, her doctors are stunned to find there is no trace of her tumor.

This is one of the memorable stories of mind-body healing in Dr Turner's book Medicine, Miracles & Manifestations (New Page/Career Press, 2009). Jack is a neurosurgeon who is at home in the world of the nonlocal mind as well as the brain, and has been engaged in a quest to know and explain the multiverse and draw on multi-dimensional sources of healing over many years. I interviewed him on my radio show today and was delighted by his gifts as a raconteur as well as a dedicated healer and explorer of consciousness. Jack was speaking on the phone from Hilo, where he has practiced since he arrived from the Midwest as the first neurosurgeon on the Big Island in 1981.

One of the first cases that was presented to him involved a Hawaiian teenager, Jordan Kalapana, who suffered terrible head trauma when he was thrown from his dirt bike into a guy wire. After surgery, he was unable to breathe unassisted and appeared to be brain dead. The family could not agree on whether to cut off life support. Dr Turner dreamed that he visited Jordan's bed in the ICU and noticed a tear flowing from the corner of his eye. Then, in the dream, the boy triggered the respirator and demonstrated that he could breathe by himself.

When he went to the hospital in the morning, Jack learned that the boy had taken a single breath and noticed a tear at the corner of his eye. He wondered whether a miraculous recovery was possible. It wasn't. Two days later the family agreed to end life support.

Then Dr Turner received a visit from the boy's father who had just arrived from the mainland. "I understand that Jordan paid you a visit." Jack did not grasp this until the father made it clear that by "visit" he was referring to the dream. When Jack expressed his sorrow over the boy's death, the father interrupted to say that in the Hawaiian way of understanding, his son had appeared to the surgeon in his dream to make it plain he did not want his life to be artificially prolonged by a machine; he wanted to live and breathe free.

In his book, Dr Turner recalls “Jordan Kalapana’s passing jump-started my search for the meaning of illness, life and death.” As I thought about Jordan's tears - in the dream and in the ICU - I reflected that in the Hawaiian conception, the soul travels outside the body through the tear duct, which is known as the "soul pit".

Another memorable dream story in Turner's book involves a friend, Rosemary Clark, who had made a deep study of ancient Egypt. She had loaned Jack a copy of The Temple in Man by R.A. Schwaller de Lubicz, which unfolds the theory that the layout of a temple at Luxor corresponds, quite precisely, to the anatomy of the body and brain. After developing ptosis (a drooping of the eyelid) and pain and pressure above the eye, Rosemary underwent a series of medical tests. In the course of these, she asked Jack to return her copy of The Temple in Man. Later, she explained why.

The night before a scheduled angiogram, she dreamed she heard Dr Turner say to her, "Rosemary, it's in the transept of the temple." When she consulted Schwaller de Lubicz's book, she confirmed that in the sacred geography he attributes to the Luxor temple, the transept corresponds to the area of the brain known as the cavernous sinus, which contains the internal carotid artery and a venous plexus. When she met the team that was preparing for the angiogram, Rosemary announced that she knew the location of the aneurysm that was presumed to be responsible for her problems: in the cavernous sinus. The reaction was basically, "Yeah, right" - until the angiogram revealed a giant aneurysim right inside her carvernous sinus. This is a most interesting example of how dreams can provide exact diagnosis of physical conditions - and will present the information in a vocabulary adapted to our understanding. While the phrase "transept of the temple" might be incomprehensible to many dreamers, it spoke to Rosemary in a symbolic language in which she was deeply versed.

I finished Jack Turner's book expecting another chapter, and another - not because the book feels incomplete, but because it is clearly the work of a man who regards life as an ongoing adventure in learning and discovery. He writes with candor of experiments that failed (with Eckankar and Hemi-Synch) and some that many will find controversial (channeling light energy for healing from the deceased Japanese guru Mokichi Okada). What comes shining through is the author's humanity and humility - truly a great quality in a brain surgeon! - his hunger for meaning in life, death and illness, and the generosity of spirit with which he encourages all of us to be open to a universal power of healing, and the healer within.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Anxiety dreams and dream rehearsals

Since his debut, Luciano Pavarotti had a recurring dream: that he was still in his dressing room, in his underwear, when he heard the orchestra playing the music that introduced a big aria he was supposed to be ready to sing on stage. Waking events eventually caught up with the dream. In Paris, preparing to perform in Tosca, Pavarotti found himself in the same situation as he was in the dream, still in his underwear as the orchestra played the lead-in to his aria. The concert team had neglected to tell him that the opera was starting at 7:30 pm instead of the more usual 8:00 pm.

This incident encourages us to pause before tagging a certain type of recurring dream motif as an "anxiety dream" and putting it away in a box. An "anxiety dream" may be a rehearsal for a future situation in the dreamer's life. It may also be a rather exact preview of an event that will or will not come to pass, depending on the dreamer's ability to clarify and use the information contained in the dream. Let's remember, in looking at any dream, that the dream self is forever traveling ahead of the waking self, scouting the ways.

There are specific types of "anxiety" dream - or dream rehearsals - related to the nature of our work and life activities. If you travel a lot, you are likely to remember lots of dreams that feature problems with bags, or at check-points. Since I have a rather active events calendar, I notice that my dreams often rehearse me for lecture, conference and workshop situations. I've dreamed repeatedly of arriving on stage only to find that I have to speak on a theme or play a role that is quite different from the one that I have prepared. Such dreams are usually a great prompt to expect the unexpected and be ready to wing it.

Recently, I've been coached by the situation of my dream self in a dream in which I had to come down from a mountain to give a lecture and then pull my thoughts together in order to give a presentation that would match the interests of a specific audience.

Sometimes "performance anxiety" dreams prompt me to check the physical environment in which I will be speaking. Once I dreamed an audience could not hear me because of an incredibly noisy fan. This led me to check out the college auditorium involved (which I had never previously visited). So I was able to discover ahead of the event that a problem with the A/C system in the room would have produced the literal fulfillment of the dream, unless we were prepared to sweat in stifling heat on a midsummer day. Thanks to the dream alert, I was able to have the event switched to another space. On another occasion, I dreamed that 47 people had registered for an evening workshop I was giving at an arts center, and that among the crowd was a man who was trying to record the presentation without permission. I was uncertain about the literal-ness of this dream, because I had set a limit of 35 for participants in the corresponding event at an arts center. When I arrived on the evening of the workshop, I was informed that we had a full house, plus 12 on a waiting list, giving that dream figure of 47. Coached by my dream, I was now hyper-alert for someone with a concealed recorder, and was soon able to identify a younger man who was quite embarrassed when I confronted him and made him switch off his machine.

There are more generic motifs in "anxiety dreams" that seem to be near-universal. Who has never dreamed of being naked, or partly exposed, in public? When this theme comes up (in my own dreams or in dreams that are shared with me) one of my first questions is: What was the response of other people in the dream? Were they okay with me exposing myself? Did they even notice? If they didn't mind or didn't notice, the dream might be rehearsing me for a situation in which I will choose to reveal more of myself than I may have been in the habit of doing.

"Back in school" is another of those near-universal dream themes. If I find myself back in school - maybe needing to get to class or get ready for a test - I will ask myself where, in my waking life, am I facing a new learning assignment and a new challenge, and what do I need to study or re-learn in order to graduate this time.
Even when the content of an "anxiety" dream seems symbolic rather than literal, it is worth pausing to check for anything that might link the dream to a developing situation in ordinary life and so provide specific navigational guidance.

Pavarotti talks about life catching up with his dream of being unready for a stage appearance at

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Escape fantasies, and others

By a hotel pool on the East side of Seattle, I am in an embodied dream. On the last day of April, the sun is shining - in Seattle! - and I have had the pool to myself for the past two hours, swimming laps, for which my body is always grateful. As I dry off in the sun, I am talking on the phone to a feature writer who is researching a magazine article on "escape fantasies" in times of stress.

"I'm in favor of them," I get right to the point. "The latest findings in psychoneuroimmunology are confirming that our body believes our thoughts and feelings. It seems the body can't actually tell the difference between a physical event and an event that is strongly imagined. If we can slip into the right kind of fantasy, we not only take a break from current worries, but can send messages to the pharmaceuticals factory inside each one of us that will produce feel-good chemicals and natural uppers instead of the stressor cytokines that wreck our immune systems and bring us down."

As we talk, I reflect on how the word "fantasy" has been twisted and diminished over the centuries. In the original Greek phantasia means a vision, or a "making visible". For the medieval scholastics, fantasy meant "the mental apprehension of an object of perception" - in other words, the way the mind grasps and comes into connection with the external universe. This is quite the opposite of the modern use of the term to mean idle fancy, hallucination, or caprice.

We think of fantasy as carrying us off into other worlds (as great fantasy novels and fantasy epics, or a really good juicy daydream can do). Yet ironically, without fantasy (in its original and medieval senses) we can't encounter the everyday world. I'll let quantum scientist David Deutsch, the author of The Fabric of Reality, explain why. Notice that what the Schoolmen called fantasy he calls virtual-reality rendering: "What we experience directly is a virtual-reality rendering, conveniently generated for us by our unconscious minds from sensory data plus complex inborn and acquired theories about how to interpret them...Every last scrap of our external experience is of virtual reality...Biologically speaking, the virtual-reality rendering of their environment is the characteristic means by which human beings survive."

As I tried to explain to the writer on the phone, there is more. What takes place in the imagination has a way of taking root in our lives and our worlds. This is at the heart of the ancient Polynesian art of navigation, the kind of navigation that gets you across two thousand miles of uncharted waters. It's called Waymaking. You learn the patterns of wind and water, but you learn - above all - to transport yourself to your destination and be there with all of your senses, so you can taste it and touch and smell it. When you can do that, they say, you are better than halfway there. Your act of imagination - of directed fantasy - draws your destination towards you.

I am thinking now of a woman I met on a plane, who was returning to Winnipeg after spending two weeks with a friend in upstate New York. Prior to her vacation, she had reduced her life to ground zero. She had quit her job, divorced her husband, sold her house, put her things in storage - and was now feeling queasy, facing the need to start making a wholly new life. I gently asked her to try to imagine where she wanted to be five years out. She talked of wanting to found a kind of half-way house for women who were trying to start over. I encouraged her to see the building, and inhabit it with all of her senses. The image came right away; she started describing it down to the alley with the trash bins. Soon she was picturing the volunteers and part-time workers who would be helping her, and making a mental list of who to call when she got back to Winnipeg. One of those people was a good cook and her nostrils quivered as she smelled fresh baking. By the time our plane landed, we both could see and feel her success in fulfilling a "fantasy" she had grown rich and deep and strong, strapped into a seat beside the wing.

When I finished my "fantasy" interview, I considered jumping back in the pool rather than washing my hair before I kept a lunch date. I noticed at that moment that a couple of green-headed ducks had taken my place in the pool while I was on the phone. I took that as a humorous message from the universe to get under the shower and wash my hair unless I wanted to be a green-headed duck (since white hair like mine can be dyed by chlorine rather fast). In a Thai restaurant that evening, after I gave a talk at East-West in Seattle, a cute server noted that my embodied fantasy at the pool had come at a price. "People don't usually tan in Seattle," she said. She then held her vermilion nails against my cheek and said, "But you are the color of my nail polish."

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Social dreaming

The idea (prevalent in Western psychology, when it values dreams at all) that dreams are primarily products of the personal subconscious would puzzle dreamers in most ancient and indigenous cultures, for whom the most interesting dreams are social and transpersonal. Certainly dreams surface a great amount of material from our personal psyches, which is why it is often productive to ask the question, of any and every element in a dream, "What part of me does that represent?"

Yet our dreams often take us far beyond the boundaries of the personal unconscious. In dreams, we make journeys and we receive visitations. Some of us are far more social in our dreams than in regular life. So when we think about what happened in a dream, it may be more relevant to ask "Who was I with?" and "Where did I go last night?" than "What part of me?" was involved.

I am thinking about social dreaming - a phrase I would like to see in our vocabulary - because my friend Wanda Burch just shared a delightful example of a dream experience she shared with her husband. Their dream recall was triggered by a TV commercial that offered a potted orchid as a gift for buyers of a certain product. Wanda said to her husband Ron: "I was in a room - I don't recall where I was or how I got there - but I know I was with two people and one of them was you. I don't know where we were going but I looked to the left and there were large yellow orchids on a table and then I looked to the end of this long room -"

Looking startled Ron finished her statement "- and there was a single arching grey orchid, more stunning in its placement than the yellow ones."

"Yes," Wanda confirmed, "and it was displayed like an old Japanese painting, slightly to the right -"
"- of a chair," Ron again filled in the blank.

In almost identical speech, they both added, "with filtered light coming through the slats of some sort of dark wooden blind or window covering."

They could not identify the third person in the dream, someone who had a magic touch with orchids. But they shared the most vivid and precise recollection of a space they had entered only in dreaming.

I like this account for its everyday simplicity. I know that Wanda is no slouch at social dreaming because she has often participated in dream adventures with me, in which the locales have ranged from conference venues and vacation homes to far-flung countries and imaginal realms. Wanda was present, as an observer, in one of the most important dreams of my life, and her exact account of what took place around a certain purple fire, in a circle of ancient warrior chiefs, was vital confirmation for me of the objective reality of that experience.

In my Active Dreaming workshops, I often guide participants on adventures in social dreaming that are conscious and intentional. Last weekend, for example, we went on a group journey - powered and focused by shamanic drumming - to a fascinating location in the imaginal realm that I call the House of Time, which offers many portals for time travel, the investigation of past and future life experiences, and a library where master teachers sometimes make themselves available. I give directions for this journey in my Dream Gates CD series and also in Dreamgates the book (which contains material beyond the audio series). In the workshops we also learn to travel inside each other's dreamspace as dream trackers.

What the shared orchid dream brings home is just how natural the experience of social dreaming may be. Since in dreaming we are not confined to the body or the rules of Newtonian physics, why would it be strange for us to share experiences, according to our interests and our passions, with those who are connected with us? Of course, in dreaming we may discover that we belong to an extended family vastly greater than our regular family, whose members are not confined to one world or one time!