Friday, April 30, 2010

Flying Books and Nights of Healing

Boulder, Colorado

I was at another of my favorite independent bookshops, the Boulder Bookstore, to talk up Dreamgates last night. As soon as I stepped across the threshold, the image of two nuzzling deer jumped out at me from a bookshelf devoted to staff picks. The deer are on the jacket of a new book by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, the author of a wonderful book about dogs, The Hidden Life of Dogs and a marvelous novel about an ancient people who live very close to animals, Reindeer Moon. The new one is The Hidden Life of Deer and - in the wake of extraordinary shared experiences of healing and transformation last weekend on a mountain where the Deer spirit is and has long been primary - I had to get it.
     I was reminded that it was in the Boulder Bookstore, many years ago, that a visitor from the Midwest looking for something else was struck in the third eye by my book Conscious Dreaming - flying off a shelf for no apparent reason - soon after its publication in 1996. He bought the book, got in touch with me, and arranged to host my first Active Dreaming workshop in Madison, Wisconsin. There are magic bookstores, and flying books.
    We drew a lively crowd for my talk and afterwards a woman in line at the booksigning asked if she could tell me a dream. When the line had thinned a little, and I could give her full attention, she told me: "I dreamed I was on the beach with my ex, though we divorced 20 years ago. He was flicking sand and grit at me from a towel, like a bullying brat. After a while I stood up to him. I grabbed the towel away from him and told him I wouldn't put up with this any more, Everything was going to change. After that he morphed into Bill Cosby, looking sweet and a little sheepish. I woke up feeling really good."
   The story got better. The dream was confirmed by a coincidence: "The following night I turned on the Larry King show on TV. The guest was Bill Cosby. He was talking about bullying and how to stop it."
    We agreed this felt like a wink from the universe. The dreamer was sure that profound work of emotional clearing and healing was accomplished on the "night shift". Many other dreamers - including this one - had have deep experiences of emotional healing similar to that of stopping the bully. The ancients knew that extraordinary healing, on many levels, becomes available in the night, and they made a practice of preparing for that and asking for it nicely. The shrinks we've been discussing in the comments on my last post ("From brainless to mindless?") would do well to invest some time in learning about this.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

From brainless to mindless?

Leon Eisenberg, a pioneer in psychopharmacology at Harvard, observed that “in the first half of the 20th century, American psychiatry was virtually ‘brainless.’ . . . In the second half of the 20th century, psychiatry became virtually ‘mindless.’ ” The brainless period, in his view, was the when psychiatry centered on psychoanalysis; the mindless period, is our current state of affairs, where pills are offered more often than therapy.

Unhinged: the Trouble With Psychiatry by Daniel Carlat M.D. is the partial confessional of a pill-pusher. With admirable candor, Carlat, a psychopharmacologist who is now a professor at Tufts University School of Medicine, describes many years in which a typical client session consisted of deciding - through rapid-fire questioning over 15 minutes - which of the labels from DSM-IV, the manual of American psychiatry, best applied to a patient, and then writing a prescription for the drugs recommended for that condition. "Psychiatry, for me and many of my colleagues, had become a process of corralling patients’ symptoms into labels and finding a drug to match."
While drugs relieved the symptoms of depression in 40 percent of patients, he notes that placebos lift depression in nearly as many - 30 percent. Carlat came to realize that he knew almost nothing about most of his patients. He was shocked into starting to look at his patients as moe than DSM tags when one of them asked him whether it was possible that her childhood experiences had something to do with her current mental and emotional suffering. Carlat's recommendations are modest: let's have some talk, as well as the pills. Let's try to put the patient's symptoms in a context and offer some emotional support and help with problem-solving.
Carlat brings out something we need to know, in the thick of the current debate over health insurance options. "Insurance companies typically encourage short medication visits by paying nearly as much for a 20-minute medication visit as for 50 minutes of therapy." For both the insurance companies and uninformed patients, quick-fix meds may seem preferable to a series of therapy sessions. But as Carlat came to appreciate, "the majority of patients need more."
Medication may be essential to contain a crisis situation, threatening suicide or a psychotic outbreak. But the reflexive move to suppress the symptoms of dis-ease by medication misses a vital avenue of healing. Through the creative imagination, we can work with any image - even the most terrifying - towards wholeness and integration. When we reach for a bottle of pills to drive a troubled person's images (be they fantasies, dreams or nightmares) out of their conscious minds, we may be smothering their own source of authentic healing. Through the practice of Active Dreaming, we learn to go into the forests of the mind and confront and resolve whatever terrors wait for us there. We discover that very often the deepest healing comes through the wound. Therapists can learn to use these techniques to guide others to safe clearings. But that will require more than 15 minutes and a prescription pad.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Catnaps are better when you dream

I love it when the guys in white coats come up with data confirming what dreamers and creators already know, and it's even better when a savvy reporter carries the story through the major media. The news from a recent study published in Current Biology and reported on CNN is that our ability to process and store information is greatly enhanced when we take an afternoon nap, and is ten times better when we dream during that nap.

"When you dream, your brain is trying to look at connections that you might not think of or notice when awake," suggests the lead author of the study, Robert Stickgold, the director of the Center for Sleep and Cognition at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, in Boston, Massachusetts. "In the dream, the brain tries to figure out what's important and what it should keep or dump because it's of no value."

For the study, Stickgold's team directed 99 college students to memorize a complex maze they were shown on a computer screen. The researchers then placed the students inside a virtual, 3-D version of the maze and asked them to navigate to another spot within it. After taking this test a few times, half the participants took a 90-minute nap while the other half remained awake.

When the students were given the same test five hours later, those who had taken a nap did notably better than those who had stayed awake. The more interesting finding is that the nappers who dreamed about the maze performed ten times better than the nap-takers who didn't dream (or didn't remember dreaming). Many of the dreamers had not done too well in the initial test, which may have given their dreaming minds a spur to work on it until they got it right.
The results of this study would be no surprise to many creative people, at any point in history. So next time you have a tough assignment, take a nap - and catch your dreams as you come out of it.

Source: “Naps boost memory, but only if you dream” by Denise Mann. Reported by CNN April 23, 2010.

Monday, April 26, 2010

To the Deer of the Mountain

Gore Mountain, New York
Over the past weekend, I shared extraordinary experiences of healing and transformation with a group of frequent flyers on a mountain in the Adirondacks where I have been leading very special gatherings in the spring and fall over fourteen years. This is a place where the Deer energy is very strong. In our very first gathering, as described in my book Dreamgates, the Deer spirit became available for healing for a woman who had been told she had an incurable disease. What unfolded last weekend was even more remarkable and I hope to write about it at the right time.
At the beginning and at the end of our retreat, in a circle of joined hands and streaming energy, I found myself impelled to recite a poem that I wrote many years ago to celebrate the Deer of this mountain. I want to share this now:
To the Deer of the Mountain
Deepheart, mountain guardian
who harries the hunter
and knows what belongs to us
and what does not,
give us your speed,
your ability to read the land,
to see what is behind us and around us.
May we grow with the seasons
into your branching wisdom
putting up antlers as taproots into the sky
to draw down the power of heaven,
reaching into the wounded places
to heal and make whole,
walking as living candelabra,
crowned with light,
crowning each other with light.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Dreaming at Malaprops

Asheville, North Carolina
"I'm a dreamer," Emoke B'racz, the owner of Malaprops bookstore in Asheville, greets me when I slip through the door behind the three wild sculpted ladies on the sidewalk. I respond that it seems to me that everyone who has the passion and fortitude to run an independent bookstore in current economic conditions is a dreamer. "Maybe so," she agrees, "but I learned to dream with my grandmother in a village in Hungary. She learned from her grandmother. And we've dreamed together long-distance." She recounts, with a wistful smile, a dream from many years ago in which she was trying to find her grandmother and give her a bathrobe. She had a great sense of blessing and relief when she succeeded. Later she learned that at the time of her dream, her grandmother had been in a hospital and was feared to be close to death. After the dream, she recovered and was allowed to return home.

Emoke's mother named her after the favorite concubine of Attila the Hun, and she has wonderful fight in her. When she came to Asheville in the early 1980s and opened Malaprops on downtown Hayward Street, there wasn't much going on around the store. Emoke's vision coincided with a cultural and economic resurgence in this lovely little city nestled among the mountains.

We had a large and lively turnout for my talk at Malaprops that night. When someone asked about how to break a dream drought, I was able to recall an incident from my first visit to Asheville, back in 1997. I gave a lecture at the local campus of the University of North Carolina. Afterwards, a distinguished professor in his mid-60s approached me and said graciously, "You are a wonderful speaker. I could listen to you all night. However, I have no direct evidence that I can trust anything you say because I have never remembered a dream in my life. So I have no personal proof that dreaming exists."

"That changed tonight," I told him. "You spent the evening with more than a hundred people who are all passionate about dreams. This kind of enthusiasm is viral. It's gotten into you and tonight you'll go home and dream up a storm."

The professor left with his eyebrows crawling toward his hairline. But in the morning, he reappeared at the door of my workshop. "I've got money," he cried, waving a check. "You have to let me in. I don't know how you did it, but I had a doozy of a dream last night and I've got to share it." That workshop was fully booked, but of course we magicked up space for the professor who had remembered a dream for the first time in his life.

I asked him to tell us his dream, like a story, and he took us on a magic mystery tour that began with the professor riding in the back of a long black limousine driven by a chauffeur named Spirit. They stop for gas at a service station where he recognizes everyone he knows who has died. They proceed to a strange multi-level building that proves to be a ferry boat with a mysterious pilot on top that is preparing for a crossing.

This was all too rich for us to sit around merely analyzing it. "Let's turn it into dream theatre," I proposed. The professor, naturally, had no idea what this meant. I explained that I would help him to cast the members of our workshop in the roles of every character and element in his dream - including the gas pumps and trash bins at the service station, the wheels of the limo, and the "beefy" friend who had died. Soon the man who had never recollected a dream was watching with delight as 45 workshop participants brought his dream alive, in every detail, all around him. He got to interview his dream characters, and clarified the nature of the crossing and the way in which the dream might be preparing him - in a generous and inspiriting way - for a big journey that lay in his future, into life beyond this life. The whole experience filled him with courage and joy. He wrote to me afterwards that this was one of the greatest experiences of his life.

Cheered by this tale, the person who had complained of a dream drought at Malaprops left - with a couple of my signed books in hand - promising to ask for a juicy dream that night. I know she succeeded, since she turned up at my subsequent workshop, eager to tell the dream that had come.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

A (very) adult Pippi Longstocking

I rarely read crime novels, but I've made an exception for the "Millennium" trilogy by Swedish author Stieg Larsson. I got the first one - The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - to see what all the excitement was about, and because I thought its characters and settings might be good preparation for my first visit to Sweden last month. Initially dismayed by the proliferation of detail on the genealogy of a complex industrial dynasty with skeletons in every closet, I was hooked when Larsson slipped a remarkable heroine in through a side door. Lisbeth Salander is a tiny tattooed Goth type mistaken for a homeless kid, a low-rent hooker and a psychotic retard. Though lacking in social graces, Salander is a world-class investigator with a photographic memory, the problem-solving skills of a math prodigy, and the martial arts prowess to leave a gang of local Hell's Angels in the dirt. With brain and fists and hacking skills and tasers, she fights men who hate and abuse women until you want to get up and cheer.
As I eagerly followed this fiery waif through her further adventures in The Girl who Played with Fire (in which she takes on white slavers in edgy alliance with the author's journalistic alter ego Mikael Blomkvist) it hit me that Larsson has produced a Pippi Longstocking ("the strongest girl in the world") for mature audiences. There are in-your-face clues scattered throughout Larsson's books, including a cover name Salander borrows from the name of Pippi's house in the woods (Villekulla Cottage). When I visited Stockholm, I discovered that Salander's fictional address on Lundagatan is just down the street from the actual home of Pippi's creator, Astrid Lindgren, overlooking the park that now bears Astrid's name.
The Girl who Played with Fire is so much better than The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - the plot more tightly woven, the characters more deeply and sharply defined - that I couldn't wait for the US edition of the third novel in the trilogy (The Girl who Kicked the Hornet's Nest) to be published so I'm now reading the UK edition, which I had shipped from across the big pond.

The publishing history of a trilogy that has now sold over 25 million copies is as strange as anything in the novels. Stieg Larsson died of a huge heart attack, aged only 50, in 2004. He had received death threats from neo-Nazi groups he had made it his business, as a journalist, to expose, and was mixed up in extreme-left politics, so naturally conspiracy theories have flourished, though no evidence of foul play had turned up. He had completed three novels out of a projected series of ten when he died, but had only recently made contact with a Swedish publisher. He said he wrote when he couldn't sleep and to get his mind off his worries. Everything about him is now contested except the success of his fiction. A Swedish biographer who claims to have known him well maintains that he couldn't be the author of the novels because he was a lousy writer, a claim angrily rejected by Larsson's legions of admirers. Larsson's long-term girlfriend has been denied any share in his estate because he left no valid will.
PS: Halfway through The Girl who Kicked the Hornet's Nest anyone who has managed to miss the Pippi Longstocking connection will finally "get" it.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

No time for Whoopi

As I approach the bank tellers in a local branch, one is saying to another: "What did Whoopi say? 'He's stuck somewhere...stuck between the somethings?''"
"I don't have time for no whoopee," says a blue-collar customer doing some routine business at the far left end of the counter. "I gotta work."
"You got no soul," his teller informs him.
"Are you talking about Whoopi Goldberg?" I ask the first teller.
"Sure am."
"In the movie Ghost." I make a flying guess.
"That's it."
"Where she says that someone is stuck between the worlds."
"Hear that?" she calls to the other tellers. "Whoopi says he's stuck between the worlds."
"Like you, Stan," the teller at the end challenges the customer who doesn't have time for no Whoopi. He looks foggy, but concerned.
"Stan," she pursues him. "Where is your soul?"
"I dunno." He turns a shade paler. "I guess I'm kinda hoping it's still in my body."
As I finish my business, I congratulate everyone at the bank counter. "This has been grand entertainment. Not what you generally hear in a bank."
"You never know what a day may bring," says the middle teller, silent until now.
"Ain't that the truth," says my teller. "You might even get kicked out of that stuck-between place into another world."
"Stan," his teller isn't done with him. Her Whoopi impression is pitch-perfect. "You in danger, boy."

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Dreamers of the Day

My in-flight reading for my trip back to the East Coast from California yesterday was a recent novel by Mary Doria Russell, Dreamers of the Day. She borrows her title from a much-quoted passage in T.E.Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom: “All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity; but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dream with open eyes, to make it possible.”
     -Lawrence of Arabia ("Neddy" Lawrence) is a major character in Dreamers of the Day, along with other historical figures including Winston Churchill and his wife Clementine, Lady Gertrude Bell, and other Brits involved in Middle East treaty-making in Egypt in 1921, which gave us Iraq and - distantly - the agonies of the current war. The author's brilliant device is to make a hitherto diffident Midwest 40-ish spinster, who has decided to give life a whirl after losing everyone near to her in the great influenza pandemic, her camera eye on all these intrigues.=
    There is wonderful writing, like this glimpse of the dust along the Nile: "Dust rises at every step, fine as flour. It is dried river silt, all that dust. Add water, and the soil is so ferile that you could plant a pencil and harvest a book."
-   Mary Doria Russell is nothing if not ambitious in her literary designs. In her first novel, The Sparrow, she tracked the first human space mission to visit an inhabited planet other than our own. The key character, a Jesuit, is inspired by the brilliant Jesuits, like Father Jean-Fran├žois Lafitau, who founded the modern science of anthropology in the 17th century through their close study of the customs of native tribes in north-eastern America. The shocker is that on the planet that has been discovered, there are two intelligent, humanoid and sympathetic species - one of which eats the others. The predators are also the poets.
-   The intended shocker in Dreamers of the Day is that the narrator, the Cleveland spinster Agnes Shanklin, turns out to be reminiscing from the Other Side, where she is hanging out with great men from the more distant past who visited Egypt and returned there, at least for a time: Napoleon, General George McClellan, even St Francis. What they have in common, it seems, is that they all drunk from the Nile - Agnes by falling in it from a fishing skiff. While I'm always interested in depictions of afterlife locales, this one doesn't work for me. And the fact that the narrator is dead is telegraphed much too far in advance, losing any surprise factor.
-    But I enjoyed the long view of the origins of our ruinously misguided adventure in a country that should never have been invented, the deft handling of the mystery of Lawrence's complex identity and of Agnes' belated affair (with a charming German Jewish spy who inserts himself into her life by walking her sausage dog) and the fine gossipy treatment of the doings of the great and often mistaken, including the discomforts of travel with Winston, especially on the camel ride that produced a famous photograph in front of the Sphinx.
-    At the end of the novel, the author probes the meaning of her title. "A dreamer of the day is dangerous when he believes that others are less: less than their own best selves and certainly less than he is." She goes on (in Agnes' voice): "A true prophet sees others, not himself. He helps them define their own half-formed dreams, and puts himself at their service. He is not diminished as they become more."
-    Plain good sense, from a novelist who constantly reaches through fiction to seek truths about our human condition; what challenges it and what sustains it.

Friday, April 9, 2010

A book to live...or

Sonoma, California
Sometimes you can judge a book by its cover. The new edition of my book Dreamgates has a beautiful cover, designed by Tracy Cunningham, that makes you want to step inside it. Flying to California this week to talk about Dreamgates at a series of fine independent bookstores that are bravely weathering current conditions - Book Passage in Corte Madera, Readers Books in Sonoma, Copperfields in Sebastopol - I saw the cover work its magic.

Like all well-trained authors, I had a copy of my new book with me along with my in-flight reading. A young woman - an editorial assistant in her 20s - sitting next to me on the first flight caught sight of the gorgeous cover and asked if she could have a look at it. She went straight to the last pages of Dreamgates, where I tell the story of a weave of dreams and synchronicity that guided me on how to publish my first book on dreaming (Conscious Dreaming) and led me, a year after a crucial guiding dream, to a scene in the Embarcadero cinema in San Francisco where that dream unfolded, in ordinary reality, in front of my eyes. My rowmate exclaimed, shiny-eyed, "I want to live like this." She proceeded to devour as much of the book as she could before we landed.

On the second flight (Chicago-Oakland) my rowmate was a feisty lady aged 75 who's lived for 20 years in Carmel, California. She, too, asked to see the book with the gorgeous cover. She opened it at random to a section that explores the idea that we can "design a home in the afterlife". This didn't faze her one bit. "I've put all this time and effort into making myself a perfect home in Carmel," she said. "I'm 75 and I guess it may be time for me to start looking seriously into real estate options on the Other Side." She leafed through a section of Dreamgates about visiting our departed loved ones in their present environments, not only to have timely and helpful communication, but to gain first-hand knowledge of conditions in the afterlife. She told me, "I'd love to see what my husband's been up to since he died thirteen years ago. You mean this book can teach me how to do that?" I showed her the section in Dreamgates that contains simple and practical instructions for making a conscious dream journey to meet a loved one on the Other Side. She announced she would get the book and give this a try. She added, patting the book, "I think I want to die like this."

I felt charmed and blessed that in chance encounters on two planes on launch day, Dreamgates was judged a good book to live - or die - by. That seemed to cover a lot.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Attitude Indicators and other clues to the future

Virginia Beach

At the workshop I've been leading at A.R.E. (the Edgar Cayce organization) a nice man named Dan comes up to talk to me about ways in which he finds dreams coaching him for the future. "I'm a private pilot," he explains. "Though I haven't flown in the ordinary way in years, in my dreams I'm often airborne. In a bunch of my dreams, a voice tells me I need to check my attitude indicator."
I thought I had misheard him. Did he mean to say, altitude indicator? Nope. "The first time I was told to check my attitude indicator, I saw that the gauge was really wacky, showing I was up and down and all over the place. The next day, at my work, a supervisor told me he didn't like my attitude. Since then, I'm glad to check my attitude indicator on my dream plane and make adjustments in my regular life when indicated."
I like the way Dan's dream producers borrowed the cockpit scene with which he was thoroughly familiar to introduce an oneiric technology for self-scanning that helps him to navigate situations that lie ahead. Dan went on to explain that the behavior of his dream compass also gives him course correction. "I might be trying to follow a bearing of NNW. Then my compass swings to SSE, and when I try to reset my course, the compass swings back again. That tells me when I need to change my direction in my regular life."
Ways in which dreams help us navigate the future have been an important theme at the conference. I recounted a tiny dream of my own from the night before I flew to Norfolk, Virginia, en route to Virginia Beach. In my dream:
I look at two hairbrushes lying next to each other. Their bristles face each other; the handles extend in opposite directions. Both are the size and shape of my regular hairbrushes, but one seems to have lost its color. The handle and backing of the brush look almost transparent.
I woke with a sense of mild surprise. In waking reality, I have two hairbrushes the same shape and size as those in the dream. One lives in my suitcase; the other on my bedroom dresser. I make a point of leaving one at home when I travel.
Because of the dream, I checked on the status of my travel brush which I had moved to a new suitcase purchased a few days before. To my surprise, I could not find the brush. I prolonged my search, again because of the dream, wanting to avoid the two hairbrushes scenario by not bringing down my "bedroom brush" before I had made the most thorough check. Finally satisfied my suitcase brush was nowhere to be found in the bag, I brought down the house brush and set off with that on my trip
When I got to my hotel in Virginia Beach, I found the TSA had inspected my bag. No doubt thanks to their probing hands, the missing hairbrush had now rematerialized - lying bristle to bristle against the other hairbrush, exactly as in the dream. Maybe the "transparency" of this brush in the dream was a clue that it would go missing for a while.
I shared this absurdly trivial report to my audience at the conference - and am sharing it here - as a reminder of a feature of dreaming we never want to ignore or minimize: dreams are constantly giving us glmpses of the future. If we can dream something as insignificant as the future situation of a couple of hair brushes, surely we can dream more important events that lie in the future - as we do, all the time, even when many persist in not paying attention.
Many are first awakened to the reality of dream precognition by a dream fulfilled in a future event that is either quite trivial (hence harmless and often humorous) or tragic (with a depth and darkness of feeling it's hard to ignore). Through practice, we come to realize that we are dreaming the future all the time. Our dream selves are forever traveling ahead of us, scouting the ways. Our engagement with the future in dreams is not confined to precognition, in which we see things we couldn't ordinarily know ahead of time. More interesting than seeing the future that will happen is seeing into possible futures that can be influenced for the better once we learn to read our dream information correctly and apply the insights to make better choices. This is the theme of my book Dreaming True.
Along the way to making full use of our dream radar, we want to get into the habit of asking of any dream material: is it remotely possible that this could play out in some way in the future, literally or symbolically? It's helpful to look for personal markers that flag the likelihood that a certain dream relates to a possible future event. The literal, even mundane or humdrum, quality of a certain dream, can point to a literal, workaday future situation. A media motif, such as seeing or reading the news, may suggest "breaking news" from the dream place. A "pop-up" - content that feels like an insert in the midst of a dream sequence - may often be a marker of either breaking news or telepathy, or both. I give a recent example involving a "pop-up" that guided my travels to Sweden in my blog post "At the Sign of the Dodgy Fish" (March 11).
I greatly like Dan's attitude indicator; maybe we can all learn to look in the cockpit of dreams for similar devices that will give us reliable navigational guidance on how we are flying and where we are headed in our lives.