Friday, February 26, 2010

Becoming the Caduceus

Kraken Rider
The drowned moon of the monster’s eye fills my sight
But I cannot lose track of the cruel beak below.
What you most fear is what you must do.
I twist to avoid its flailing tubes and hooks
And stabbing beak, and grapple with slimy pulp
Until I can swing up onto its back
And scissor my legs behind its bulbous head.
It thrashes and spins, and I struggle to hold on.
Then it plunges deep, and I see my life passing
Until I find I have gills and the scaled body
That can go as deep as the kraken takes me.
I will bend it to a purpose. I will ride the sea-beast
To fight the sea’s enemies, those who foul the waters
And poison the fish with the toxic waste of their greed.
My sea-father gallops across the whitecaps.
Laughing, he asks if I’ve had enough knightly adventure
For now. He wants me to follow the sea spray
To the land, to a snow-capped mountain
That belongs to him. I ride the kraken
to the shore where I am stripped of deepwater things
and emerge naked and golden to receive a new mount.
The winged horse carries me to Helicon,
To the unyielding block that must be opened by force
To release Hippocrene water of inspiration.
Hooves on Helicon
Harder. The hooves drive sparks from the rock.
The great wings beat the air, driving a warm wind
Across the snowy slopes of the mountain.
Again, the hooves come down. And again.
The rock groans and yields, releasing the jets
Of the secret spring. I am down on my knees,
Catching the water in my open mouth.
Shockingly cold and pure, it floods my senses
And a figure takes form before me, from the mist.
I know her as grey-eyed Clio, muse of History.
Her sister appears at my other side. I know she is
Sophrosyne, or Tempering. She is not on the roll-call
Of muses; she has come because I need her instruction.
Above my feminine guides, huge as the mountain,
Is their mother, Memory. Knowing is remembering.
I am here to help people remember the origin
And purpose of their lives. My sun-father shines
A blessing on the peak, twin ravens, black and white.
Living as Caduceus
Now the winged horse takes me to the temple mount
Where the snake woman waits for me, gripping
Her twin serpents by their necks, holding them out
Like six-shooters. With proud breasts and flashing eyes
She dares me to receive the power. I open my body
To her cold companions. They slip softly inside me,
Interweaving and rising. Now their coils are around me.
Their heads meet at my third eye and I see that
I am become a living caduceus. Powered by the goddess
I will now do the work of the god who mediates
Between humans and deities. He reveals himself
In the play of natural things, through pure synchronicity.
Now I have ridden the kraken, and drunk from
The Hippocrene spring, and conformed my body,
Inside and out, to the code of the double spiral,
I will speak and act from the best the Greeks know:
Gnothi seauton. Know yourself.
Sophrosyne. Tempering.
Ethos anthropoi daimon. Character is fate.
Anamnesis. Knowing is remembering.
The soul has the ability to conform to its character
The destiny that is allotted to it.

- Mosswood Hollow, February 26, 2010
Hooves on Helicon: By tradition, the Hippocrene spring was opened by the stamping hooves of Pegasus, the winged horse born of the blood of Medusa, and Mount Helicon is the domain of Poseidon, lord of the sea.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Images as energy carriers

"The ability to generate images and relate to them is a measure of mental health." I would love to see that thought on the wall of every therapist, physician and healthcare practitioner. It is simple, sharp-edged truth. It comes from an important new book by Yoram Kaufmann titled The Way of the Image. [1] Here's more of what we need to know, and to make an integral part of healing:
One could construct a nosology [2] of psychology based on the facility with which a person is able to let images bubble up from their unconscious. In true depression, for instance, there is marked constriction of the ability to produce images. Obsession, or addiction, can be seen as a fixation on one image (or set of images), as the bulimic is fixated on the image of the thin body, or the fetishist is fixated on the high-heeled shoe. Boredom, which is an attentuated form of depression, is also a temporary suspension of the spontaneity of images. This ability is so vital to us that its blockage can lead to suicide.
In his respected career as a psychoanalyst, Kaufmann devoted himself to helping to release the energy and objective meaning of images. He views images as energy delivery systems. The more we learn from current research in mind-body medicine about the power of imagery to bring us down or make us well, the easier we'll find it to agree that our task, in the presence of an image, is to help the energy carrier do its rightful work. For Kaufmann, this requires getting to the meaning of an image, not by "interpreting" it to mean something other than what it is, but by "translating" it so it can operate in the contexts where it is needed.-
Kaufmann takes a "just so" view of the images produced in dreams. "The image is not there to hide anything, but to reveal, to bring to light." True to Jung, he counsels against the "classic" Freudian method of encouraging the patient to embark on lengthy free association, noting that this can lead far from the specific and fresh-minted truth of an image, into thickets of self-masking and evasion. The trick is to let the image reveal itself. This requires us to be faithful to the material. Let's start by assuming that a dream image means what it says. Instead of looking for hidden meanings, let's check out the objective facts about that image.
Kaufmann's practice is to look at dreams on both the "object" and the "subject" level. The "object", or interpersonal, level, treats all dream figures and situations as referring to actual people, objects and events in the dreamer's life. When dreams are viewed on the "subject" level, all the elements are treated as "partial inner aspects" of the dreamer. Kaufmann offers the salutary advice that "as a matter of clinical practice, it is dangerous to bypass immediately the object level and shoot for the subject level" as if external reality does not exist.
David Rottman, who is Kaufmann's publisher as well as the president of the C.G. Jung Foundation of New York, gives a wonderful example of the practice of the "orientational" approach. Someone dreams that his boss is a skunk. We might think we know what that dream is saying, that the boss is a stinker. But notice what happens when we do a little research and discover that, contrary to his reputation, the skunk isn't a willing stinker. Before he lets off his odor bomb, he'll give warning signals that you shouldn't bother him, like growling and tail-twitching. Once we've learned this useful information about the skunk, maybe we can apply it to the dreamer's job situation and come up with a very practical application. The action statement to be derived might be: watch out for warning signs from the boss to avoid a big stink.

As in this example, studying the objective dimension of an image - what Kaufmann terms the "orient" - is central to this approach, which requires more than study, because every dream is a call to action. I would love to see both analysts and dreamworkers everywhere orient to the objective meaning of images in this way. We stand to gain immensely by following the specific clues in a dream, in the manner of sensitive detectives, rather than muddying the evidence or trampling it down under standard-issue analytical boots.
Following the "orient" of what lives in the physical world, whether a skunk's warning display or the structure of a piano, is fairly straightforward - if we remember to look beyond our first associations. But does this method also apply to the creatures of psychic reality, to dragons or angels? Kaufmann insists that it does, and gives an example in an essay on angels. A woman patient gives a one-line dream report, describing an angel hovering between earth and sky. Those who know the meaning of the word angelos might observe that there is an important "messenger" in the dream. But Kaufmann wants us to go further, by recalling, to begin with, that when we look at the attributes of angels, we find that they tend to govern specific territories, and represent laws and patterns of energy that precede us. It's helpful, of course, to know what angel is in play. I often refer to the Library Angel, that excellent spirit that makes books turn up in unexpected and significant ways, but I learned from Kaufmann than in Hebrew the Library Angel has a name: Harahel.
Perhaps it's his influence that is orienting me to think about applying the Kaufmann approach to words that he and his publisher use. The English word "orient" derives - a long way back - from the Latin orientum, the East in the sense of the place of the rising light. To orient or seek orientation is to get our bearings, turning back towards the place of light. Though Kaufmann's usage of the word is idiosyncratic, it does relate to finding the right direction and turning towards the light. The name of his publisher, Zahav, means "gold" in Hebrew, and I think there is gold in this book.
I am struck by the depth of love and respect Yoram Kaufmann inspired among fellow-analysts I respect, especially in the Jungian community. He was born in the land of Israel before it became a state; he died last summer. He liked to say that though he could not speak with authority about reincarnation as rebirth in a different body, he did believe in the possibility that we can reincarnate ourselves within our present lifetimes, and I agree with that profoundly.

1. Yoram Kaufmann, The Way of the Image: The Orientational Approach to the Psyche (New York: Zahav Books, 2009) may be ordered direct from the publisher: The website also contains a biography of Yoram Kaufmann, testimonials, and a radio interview with David Rottman on his work.
2. "Nosology" relates to a field of medical science every patient, as well as every doctor, needs to examine closely: the classification of diseases. (Nosos is the Greek word for "disease"). Diseases are classified by their cause (etiology), their supposed origin (pathogenesis), by their symptoms or by the name of the organ affected. We often hear of complaints that are named after a person who suffered from a certain set of symptoms whose origin and cause is not understood - and whose treatment may be equally uncertain. One of the gifts of dreaming and active imagination is that we are given fresh ways of seeing and naming our dis-eases. Kaufmann's suggestion that we construct a nosology based on the patient's relationship with images is inspired.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Lady of I Ching

Her face glows in the dark of my bedroom like a yellow moon. The lovely young Chinese woman is studying me intently. She is as near as the foot of my bed. Her eyes are both very dark and very bright, her hair is lustrous black, cut neatly at shoulder length to produce a helmet effect. She is wearing a yellow tunic dress, and I remember that in China yellow is the color of Earth.
She communicates her intention: to teach me the real I Ching. As I look in her eyes I see they are like 8-balls, in constant rhythmic motion, displaying the eight trigrams that compose the essence of the Book of Changes, marrying in pairs to make the 64 hexagrams.
If this is a Lady of Earth, of the receptive power of K'un, where is her consort? I see him now, wearing a robe of deep blue silk, embroidered with what may be bronze dragons. He is a Lord of Sky, and I know he personifies Ch'ien, the Heaven of the Changes. His lower body moves, indistinctly, like that of a great serpent-dragon, its coils turning like a mobius strip. I sense that his lower body interweaves with that of the Lady.
I recall that according to tradition, the trigrams were invented by the dragon emperor Fu Xi, drawing knowledge from Heaven, and that in certain Taoist temples Fu Xi and his consort Nuwa are depicted together. Their upper bodies are human; their lower bodies are those of serpent-dragons, intertwined. Awed by the energy presence of these ancient beings in my space, I am also embarrassed by my faulty memory of the Changes. I try to rehearse the names and forms of the eight trigrams in my mind. The primal pair: Heaven and Earth, Ch'ien and K'un. Fire and Water, Li and Kan. Lake and Mountain, Tui and Ken. Wind and Thunder, Sun and Chen. Do I have that right?

Not that way. The code of Thunder flares in the Lady's changing eyes. Her fierce intent interrupts my effort to recite the list of the trigrams. Like this. Her eyes change again. I see a green mountain rising in a soft mist. There is a gentle lake at its summit, and around the peak a perfect cloud ring. Lake on the Mountain. I struggle to remember the name and the attributions of the corresponding hexagram. Something to do with lovers, newlyweds, attraction.
Not like that. She is opening a different way of seeing and reading the code of the Changes. I relax into the embrace of Earth, and soon find myself in a different scene.

I am on top of a very tall and steep hill, with warriors dressed in skins and armed with bows and spears. There is an intense feeling of being alive up here. The wind is fresh and brisk, lifting my hair, fluttering a loose fringe. We may have a battle to fight, but our spirits are high, our defensive position is very strong, and we can see whatever is coming at us from far away. This hill fort has a commanding view. I can see across great vistas in all directions.

Access to our hill fort is via a wooden ladder that goes up the hillside for hundreds of feet. It can be pulled up to deny access to strangers. My lieutenant is so agile I doubt that he needs a ladder. Laughing, he sways his body over the edge of the drop until his back is almost horizontal. This defies human physiology. Maybe he has feet that can grip like fists. Respecting my human limitations, I take a step back from the brink, then smile at myself because the body I am using here can do things the body I left in bed can't manage.
Remembering that my regular body is in a bed in a snowy northern town, I recollect my encounter with the Lady who told me she would teach me the real I Ching. Am I inside one of the hexagrams? If so, which one? My guess would be the 20th hexagram, which is called Guan, or Watching. Wind over the Earth.
The wind blows over the earth.
This is the image of Watching.
In this way ancient kings
looked across the four drections
observed the people
and gave them instruction.
I hang over the precipice, studying the ladder. Despite its great height, it has only six rungs. Now I recall that ascending the Watchtower whose shape is concealed and revealed in the lines of the 20th hexagram is a journey of six steps. Few can manage these six steps in the course of a lifetime. On the first step, we see as an un-wise child; we notice only what relates to our cravings and fears. On the second step. we see like a nervous homebody peering out through a slit in a wall; protected by structure, we see little beyond it. On the third step, we look in a mirror and begin to observe ourselves, and what we have done and not done on our life journeys. On the fouth step, like lookouts, we can see across the land and provide news and warnings for our communities. On the fifth step, we return to self-observation, looking harder and deeper at our true slves. If we make it to the sixth and final step, we can see the whole. We can look at ourselves from a witness perspective. We no longer look from the ego, but from the greater Self.
Again, I see the changing eyes, with the turning codes, and sense the movement of the dragon coils in their mobius dance. I have read thirty books on I Ching, and made my own guide to the hexagrams, giving personal names to each one and noting incidents that followed a particular reading on a certain date. I once taught a course titled "I Ching for Dreamers" in which we drummed the patterns of broken and unbroken lines, inspired by the most ancient, fragmentary text of the Book of Changes, found in a lacquer hamper in the tomb of a lord at Mawangdui as recently as 1973, where it is written that "the sages drummed the movements of all under Heaven" into the oracle. [1] However, I consider myself a rank amateur in this area, and would not trust my ability to read the Changes until I have internalized the 64 hexagrams and the changing lines without the need to look anything up. In Chinese tradition such mastery requires either a lifetime of training, memorizing and practice, or the direct inspiration of past masters, or both.
The shining eyes give me Heaven under Earth, the desirable placement since this means the primal pair are coming together. Maybe I can aspire to know a little more of the Changes in the years that remain to me. Maybe, with the Yellow Lady and the Blue Lord as gatekeepers, I will lead others on a journey through the cycles, to climb the ladder of six steps to the Watchtower.
[1] Edward L. Shaughnessy, I Ching, The Classic of Changes: The First English Translation of the Newly Discoevred Second-Century B.C. Mawangdui Texts (New York: Ballantine, 1997) 203.
Stories should speak for themselves. But for those who want to know more about the practice of dreaming, I'll note that the visitation by the Lady of I Ching was a just-so experience, that began when I closed my eyes around 1:00 AM on Sunday, February 7, in a hotel room near Buffalo, New York. I was in what I now like to call the "wakedream" state; in liminal states of hypnagogia we are especially receptive to visitations. When I drifted towards sleep, I was transported, quite spontaneously, into the dream scene I associate with the Watchtower.
--- Over several years, I compiled a personal book of I Ching, not intended for publication, and I confess that I consulted this after these visionary experiences to check some of my memories and perceptions.
The graphic is a Tang dynasty image of the dragon emperor Fu Xi and his consort Nuwa.

Friday, February 5, 2010

The cure for Avatar blues

Avatar depression, they're calling it in the British press. You've been transported to this vivid world of beauty and terror, of floating mountains and dragon-riders and faerie-like blue people who are intimately connected to everything in nature - and now you're back in your own grey world fighting your way through the morning traffic to spend the day in a cubie, and you'd like to check out and live with the Na'vi.

The cure for the Avatar blues begins with the story of the film-maker and takes hold when we wake up to the fact that our own blue world is accessible any night, without 3-D glasses and big screens. Visionary director James Cameron is a dreamer, and his great movie breakthroughs begin with dreams. Back in the early 1980s, working in Rome on the editing of a forgettable flick (Piranha II: The Spawning) he dreamed of a robotic skeleton rising from a massive explosion. From the dream vision he wrote a treatment. When it was turned down by studio after studio that did not want to hire an unknown director, he turned the treatment into a full-fledged screenplay, and persisted in knocking on doors until he found a film company that was willing to hire him as director. That robotic skeleton became The Terminator, a great film produced for little money that continues to make plenty.

In the early 1990s, James Cameron dreamed of the world he named Pandora. He wrote a treatment for Avatar in 1995. But the technology for bringing his vision to the screen did not then exist. Fourteen years later, the technology existed to bring a world he had "seen" to screens through which viewers could enter it. Cameron and his team say that Avatar is not just a movie, it's a universe, and having traveled into that world (with my 3-D glasses) I'm willing to say that they are correct.

It's a great universe, and once you have seen the Tree of Souls and the beautiful ritual performed under it, you may well long to be there, with a community connected to each other and the universal Mother as the Na'vi seem to be. However, the world of Avatar - described by some of Cameron's crew as Planet Jim - is not a unique world, not at all. Each of us has direct access to a world of wonder, any night of the year, and we don't need theatre tickets, let alone a multi-million dollar production budget.

How does Jake Scully, the human hero of Avatar enter the world of the Na'vi? He enters an incubation chamber called the Link. It looks somewhat like a padded casket and very much like a bed. When he falls asleep in this sleeping space, he awakens in the long, elegantly muscled body of an "avatar", a term used here to describe a hybrid body that marries human and Na'vi DNA. He can do things in this blue body that humans cannot do; he can even become a "made man" among a different species. When he is awakened in his human body, his avatar body loses consciousness and falls down. For most of the movie, he is two beings. When one sleeps, the other wakes.

Doesn't this sound familiar? When we sleep, a second self awakens in dreams. This second self may occupy a quite different body than the one that is lying in the bed. It may have adventures in other worlds, or in other time periods. With practice, we can learn to maintain continuity of consciousness, so we are aware of both bodies and both realities - and perhaps also maintain a witness perspective, watching over both - through our comings and goings.

James Cameron found his jungle world of blue people in a dream. We discover our own worlds in our own dreams, and some of them are no less thrilling and beautiful. We can learn, as active dreamers, to make return journeys to these worlds, and carry on adventures over years, even a whole lifetime. Since we have purposes to serve in our regular lives, we don't want to become entirely lost (or found) in these alternate worlds, or to succumb to those post-Avatar blues by letting their magic float loose and disconnected from the ordinary world. Let's notice that James Cameron not only dreamed Planet Jim; he brought it through, which required practical vision and perseverance. Let's find our own creative ways to bring some magic from our dream worlds into our day lives.

Taking this on myself, I'm thinking now about how to honor all the dreams I've recorded, over many decades now, in which I am called on, sometimes as a matter of life-and-death, to rouse a sleeping king. While a tremendous battle rages around him, he is torpid. When my dream self merges with his dozing form, he bestirs himself and rallies his people to do what is required. I guess I've just given myself another writing assignment,

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

A mythic view of what drives men to war

Sometimes it so happens in this material world that great personalities, even great devotees, can also be controlled by the asuras.

- Srimad-Bhagavatam 7:4:14

Myth, it's been said, is what never happened but is going on all the time. In he collective dreams of humanity, an ancient myth may cast light on the forces at work behind the surface of events in our world. The great Hindu epic known as the Mahabharata, supposedly dictated by the seer Vyasa to the scribe Ganapati in the time when gods and humans were in daily communication, relates the actions of humans to forces at play in the larger reality. Its account of how a race of Asuras (demonic entities) instigated a war makes compelling and disturbing reading today.

A Danava Plan to Possess Human War Leaders

In Vedic literature, the Danavas are a race of Asuras engaged in constant warfare with the gods, and forever interfering in the affairs of humans. They are sometimes identified with pre-Aryan peoples of the subcontinent. In the Vedas, they defeat the gods and the gods turn to great rishis – celestial seers – to “burn” their armies and consign them to an underworld beneath the oceans.
    In the Mahabharata the account of the abduction of King Duryodhana reveals certain modes of inhuman interference in human conflicts. Duryodhana, mortified that he was freed from captivity (among the Gandharvas) by his mortal enemy Arjuna, has decided to fast until death. This does not suit the agenda of the Danavas, who want to foment war between rival dynasties.
    By chanting magic words (mantras) the Danavas manifest a demonic female, known as a Kriya. She is described as “a wondrous woman with a gaping mouth”. She goes to Duryodhana, enchants him, and then carries him to the netherworld by means of “mystical travel”, for which the Sanskrit terms are mano-java (in which the body is transferred by mental action, moving on “the wind of the mind”) and vihayasa, which involves the ability to move bodies or objects through matter.
    Among the Danavas, the king is informed that his birth and his unusual powers were arranged by them as part of their plan for the world. He can’t take himself out of the game, because it is their game. The Danavas explain that Duryodhana and his clan will triumph in the coming battle with the Pandus because their warriors will be possessed by demons and given demonic strength:

The other Asuras will take possession of Bhishma, Drona, Kripa and the others; and possessed by them they will fight your enemies ruthlessly. When they engage in battle, best of the Kurus, they will give no quarter to either sons or brothers, parents or relatives, students or kinsmen, the young or the old. 

    Pitiless, possessed by the Danavas, their inner souls overwhelmed, they will battle their relations and cast all love far off. Gleefully, their minds darkened, the tiger-like men, befuddled with ignorance by a fate set by the Ordainer, will say to one another that – ‘ you will not escape from me with your life! ‘ Standing firm in their manly might in the unleashing of manifold weapons, best of the Kurus, they will boastfully perpetrate a holocaust.’

- J.A.B. van Buitenen (trans) The Mahabharata Books 2 &3 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1975) p.692.

Duryodhana is now returned by Kriya to the place from which he was taken. After she leaves, he decides it was all a dream. He is left with the thought: “I shall vanquish the Pandus in battle.” The Danavas have instigated a war.

It would be comforting to dismiss this report as fantasy from demon-haunted primitives, but the transactions here do not seem remote from the recent history of warfare and terror.

Afterword: One people’s gods may be another people’s demons. The Danavas take their name from a feminine entity known as Danu. So do the Tuatha de Danaan, “The People of Danu”, in Ireland. Danu is the mother of demons in India, but in Ireland she is the great goddess

Graphic: Duryodhana ready for war