Sunday, July 15, 2012

When the bear eats cherries from the Tree of Life

Quand l'ours cueille et goûte avec plaisir les cerises à l'arbre de vie, avec délice, comme un enfant.

I chuckled and smacked my lips as I read these words, written in sky-blue ink on an index card. I attempted a translation:

"When the bear gathers and tastes with pleasure the cherries from the Tree of Life, with delight, like a child."

We were playing my coincidence card game, during my last workshop in southern France, in  a big, sunny room in a restored farm house in the Ardèche. In its simplest form, used as an impromptu oracle, the game works like this.

- Everyone in the group is asked to write something on one side of an index card. You write whatever comes to you: a memory, something you observed in the world around you, a summary of a dream, a thought that is in your mind.

- The cards are collected and turned into a deck. We are getting ready to play a card game. We have made a one-time deck that will now become a divination tool.

- Next, the players are asked to formulate a theme for guidance. To get this clear and simple, they are encouraged to fill in the blank in the following sentence: "I would like guidance on -----"

- Now the deck is shuffled and each player is invited to draw a card at random.

- When the players read what is written on their cards, they are invited to receive this as a response from the oracle to their questions. The message might be vague or ambiguous; that is how oracles stay in business long-term. If a player can't fathom the message, others might make some suggestions ("if it were my card").

When we play this game in my groups, I am often content to set a modest theme, like guidance on the week ahead, or on the workshop I am currently leading. My intention that day was simply, "I would like guidance on my next travels."
     I smiled again, remembering the taste of the early-ripe cherries I had been plucking from a tree in front of the farm house before breakfast.
    "I was watching you," laughed Emmanuelle, who identified herself as the author of the card I had drawn. "I saw the bear and the child in you."
     Lovely encouragement for the travels before me. I promised to feed and play with the bear and the child in me. 

For more on the coincidence card game, and other synchronicity games, please see The Three "Only" Things: Tapping the Power of Dreams, Coincidence and Imagination (New World Library)

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Dreaming each other's lives, across time

Over much of my life, I have seen - in waking dreams and dreams that awaken - an ancient man whose eyes are closed in meditation. He is of the East, but of the Near East rather than the Far East. He is not a yogi, or a lama. He may be a priest-king.
     I know he is dreaming my life. I wonder what will happen if he opens his eyes.
    Then I realize that, as I look at him, my eyes are also closed.

Odilon Redon, "The Silver Tiara" (1911)

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Sidewalk Book of Changes

Walking east with my dog on a city street in the early light, I pause to inspect some business cards spilled on the sidewalk. There is the logo of the ABC News network, and the name of a local anchor; I recognize her name because I recently saw her on TV. What's the message for the day? A news theme, perhaps.
    I am struck by the number of spilled cards: six. That is the number of lines in a hexagram of the I Ching, the Book of Changes. 

    Can I read the pattern of these cards like a hexagram delivered by the oracle of the world? A crazy idea, perhaps, but not altogether crazy, since the cards on the sidewalk form a distinct pattern: four up, two down. If I read the cards that are face down as yin or "belly" lines, and the the ones that are face up as yang lines, I have a pattern that is easy to recognize.
    It is the repetition of the trigram Li, or Fire, producing hexagram 30 in the sequence of the I Ching, which is itself called Li, Fire or Radiance, but also The Clinging. Whether I look at the pattern while facing east, which is how I first saw it, or facing west - as I saw it later, walking back from the park - the arrangement is the same. Fire above Fire. "That which is bright rises twice."

    At home, I pull out my personal workbook on the I Ching. This is a collection of the notes, commentaries and readings I've assembled over the years, rich in illustrations. It came fully together in the year when I taught a class on I Ching for Dreamers. We worked back into the primal, shamanic level of the Chinese oracle, drumming the patterns of the changing lines, watching like hawks to see what followed from each casting, and adjusting our associations with each phase of the Changes according to what the world revealed after it appeared.
    Themes suggested by the hexagram Li, I noted, include

Enlightenment. Shedding light on things. Sunny day. Brightness. Need to understand synergy and interdependence; fire has no definite form but "clings" to its fuel.

     I look again at the Chinese ideogram for Li. There are two figures. The one on the right is called zhui and may be seen as a golden bird, a bird with sun-bright feathers. The figure on the left is more mysterious, and - for traditional Chinese readers of the oracle - is sometimes seen as ominous. It could be a very ancient bird or animal, or a demon; it could be holding a net to catch the sun bird.
    All in all, I like Fire as a pattern for today. Yet I remember that tomorrow I am traveling to Boulder, where fire has not been a pleasant theme in recent weeks. A "net" to contain a fire could be good.
    Every morning in the city, I am alert for a fresh message from the Sidewalk Oracle. I'll watch to see what happens next, since the oracle spoke in the language of the Book of Changes. It's fun reading what turns up in everyday life - in the woods or in a gritty urban neighborhood - as a language of signs and symbols. Playing games like the one I've just played here is a way of growing the power to notice what rhymes in a day; it helps maintain what Baudelaire described, with a poet's clarity, as a necessary state of "poetic health".

Monday, July 9, 2012

Beyond Lucid Dreaming on the air July 10th

My next "Way of the Dreamer" show on  is LIVE on Tuesday July 10th from 9:00-10:00 am Pacific time, which is 12:00-1:00 pm Eastern. This is the show where we learn to reclaim the power of dreams, coincidence and imagination as sources of energy,healing and guidance in our lives 

My guest for this show is dream researcher Ryan Hurd, who has made a special study of lucid dreaming and has published an excellent book on Sleep Paralysis distinguished by his suggestion that if you experience this phenomenon and can avoid panicking and relax and stay with it, you may find it is the portal to remarkable discoveries. I know this to be true, and commented on his approach in an earlier article.
     Ryan has recently produced a manual for lucid dreamers titled Lucid Immersion Guidebook and available for download. Ryan edits a lively blog, the Dream Studies Portal, and is contributor to and a board member of the International Association for the Study of Dreams.   
     Themes we'll explore:
  • Why you don't have to work hard to enter a state of lucid dreaming
  • How to become more conscious in dreams and waking life
  • Why lucid dreaming is not the same thing as dream control
  • How lucid dreaming can increase emotional intelligence and heal old wounds
  • the nature of sleep paralysis and how to overcome night terrors
  • how ancient Asklepian practices can translate into powerful dreaming and dream healing today
You can access my radio show archive and download or listen to previous shows here.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Wearing seal skin

I've kept her in the dark places for too long, 
the part of me that is the shapeshifter, 
at home in deep water and deep earth, 
the me who can survive in different elements.
She brings light from the dark; 

her eye sees beyond my own vision.

Her skin is thicker than mine, and tougher.
She can't be touched by malicious tongues
or pierced by pricks of envy.
I am going to wear her skin.
I am going to plunge with her into the deep places
and gorge myself on fish.

Now we are one I will never rest content
with a single form or a single element.
I seal this bargain with myself:

I promise to use all of me
and dive and live juicy and point my nose

to the sun, always to the sun.


Friday, July 6, 2012

The medieval inn between the worlds

My overnight travels take me to many places, across time and across dimensions. Before docking back in my default reality, in North American in 2012, I am given an overview of the geography involved. 
    While I hover in space, a giant screen or wall slides back, revealing hundreds of compartments, each one containing a locale I have visited, or will visit. I am reminded of looking into a doll's house when the back is opened, except that what is before me is vastly bigger and more complex. I realize I am being shown things in the way that a visitor from a higher dimension might see the world of ordinary human experience; to such a being, everything in our world would be an open book.
    I am drawn to one of the "compartments". When I enter this locale, I find myself in a pleasant medieval inn. There is a slight Disneyland feel to this environment; everything seems implausibly fresh and neat.
    I find the inn keeper, or châtelain. He has a love for the Middle Ages, but is not a medieval figure at all. His job is to maintain a kind of interdimensional safe house, a place where far travelers can pause for rest and refreshment between journeys to other places. He does not insist that all his visitors should adopt his neo-medieval style, but I notice that I am now wearing a doublet and hose.

- from last night's dreams. 

Graphic: a medieval pub in Nottingham, England, called Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Strand of Imagination

We agree to meet at the Strand, the venerable, vast and lively bookstore at the corner of Broadway and East 12th Street in Manhattan. The area used to be called Book Row, but of all the bookshops that flourished here around the time the Strand opened its doors in 1927, this is the sole survivor. It has remained a family business, ownership descending through the progeny of Ben Bass, the founder. In the time when the Strand boasted that it contained eight miles of books, a wag stated that the eight miles of New York worth preserving were inside its walls. The bookstore has grown since; it now boasts no less than 18 miles of books.
    In the year I lived in Manhattan, my arms were often sore from toting big shopping bags of twice-sold tales from the Strand up to my modest apartment in Yorkville. On flying visits to the city since, I have often failed to ration my book-buying at the Strand sufficiently to pass the weight inspection for suitcases at airports. Besides the expected and unexpected treasures in all the cases of old books, the Strand is the place to get a new book at half price. The velocity at which review copies pour into the store makes it hard to believe that many of those reviewers even opened their copies before generating a little extra income.
    The Strand has long been, for me, one of those magic bookshops where the shelf elves produce exactly the right book to guide or redirect a creative intent. When I was writing a chapter of a novella in which W.B.Yeats is at home in his rooms in the Woburn Buildings, off Tavistock Square, circa 1900, my youngest daughter - who did not know about my project - visited the rare book room at the Strand and brought me back a rare prize, a memoir of Yeats by John Masefield in which the English poet evokes beautifully the experience of visiting the Irish poet in that London apartment.
    The Strand has a place in my imaginal geography, as well as my physical rambles. I go there in night dreams, and in wide-awake shamanic journeys to places in the imaginal realm, a world of true imagination beyond the physical (but not the inner) senses where we can access wise teachers and extraordinary places of healing, initiation and higher learning.
     When I was writing about Harriet Tubman, who used her dreams and visions to guide escaping slaves to freedom on the Underground Railroad before the American Civil War, I found myself roaming the Strand in the middle of the night in my astral body, in that wondrously fluid state of consciousness that sleep researchers call hypnagogia and I prefer to call the twilight zone. Down in the basement, I met Harriet Tubman, wearing a hat pulled down over her forehead and a shapeless coat. She showed me that her skills as a tracker and guide owed a great deal to the shamanic ways of the Ashante, her father's people, and especially to the leopard, the favorite animal spirit of West African shamans and shapeshifters. I used the insights I gained in the basement of the Strand that night in my chapter on Tubman in The Secret History of Dreaming.
    I shared this "old" dream with the participants in a shamanic dreaming workshop I led at the New York Open Center last weekend. There was great excitement when I suggested that all of us could use the Strand as a portal for an adventure in the imaginal realm, with the aim of contacting master teachers or practitioners in whatever fields most interested us. Most people in the workshop knew the Strand.
    I explained that we could use our memories of the physical bookstore in order to enter a space beyond it. We might find that by opening any book, we could enter the world it contained. We might discover that a bookshop in Manhattan could become the gateway to a Secret Library, where all knowledge is accessible.
    When I was sure that everyone had been seized by the intention to explore, and the workshop participants had placed their bodies in comfortable positions for journeying, I used my gee-whiz technology - a single-headed frame drum - to provide fuel and focus for our group adventure. I always journey for myself while drumming for the group; I immediately found myself at the corner of Broadway and 
12th. After a cursory look at the sale items in the stalls on the sidewalk, I headed into the store. I noticed a memorial display for Maurice Sendak, and paused to check the prices of recycled review copies of a few novels I had recently purchased: Carlos Ruiz Zafón's The Prisoner of Heaven, Alan Furst's Mission to Paris, Joseph Kanon's Istanbul Passage.
    I took the stairs to the basement and found Graham Greene waiting for me there. I have talked to that grand English novelist and entertainer (or the part of myself that relishes him) before, and he has given me excellent advice on the practice of writing, advice I have not always followed. Greene was a consummate professional, able to sit down and crank out his 750 words a day however many drinks he had shared with a Soviet agent, a whisky priest, or a bevy of filles de joie the night before. I wondered if he would nudge me towards trying my hand again at a tale of intrigue; in a former life, back in the 1980s, I published a series of popular spy novels. Ah, something more interesting. Greene offered me some tips on writing a memoir. I shall re-read his own autobiographical works, especially A Sort of Life and Ways of Escape.
    Behind Greene, among the stacks, I saw a dark-haired young fellow in a trenchcoat. Who was that? It gave me a shiver to realize I was looking at a much younger version of myself, the 1980s thriller writer, seen now very much as he appeared on the dust jacket of a couple of my early novels. I did not engage with him directly.
    I went to the right, down book-lined passages, and met other figures, including a magical child with a treasure chest full of stories for children that I might yet write. As I continued drumming, I found myself in a passage where books rose to the ceiling. The passage turned and turned in a spiral until - poof - I came out in a space where the first thing I saw was a spray of black feathers, and the black embroidered hem of a long woman's dress.
    I found myself in the presence of a gloriously over-the-top lady of a certain age, still desirable and very sure of her place in a social and literary world she had made for herself. She was dressed all in black, with a black feather boa and a magnificent dress with plunging decolletage. She gave me her pen name and allowed me a glimpse of her life. Her admirers include American tycoons and European counts; she allows only a very select few to share her intimate favors. There are those in high places who rely on her as a psychic medium; it is her special pleasure to connect people with their past lives. Out of this life, she has written a wildly successful series of romps that blend the metaphysical with the bodice-ripper and the policier.
I was astonished, though not altogether surprised, to realize that I knew this lady writer. At the end of the 1980s, when I had abandoned the commercial path, I found myself held up for a long time at a customs inspection. While I submitted to questions and inspections, I noticed a flamboyant woman in furs breezing past complaint officials at a parallel checkpoint; they whisked her Louis Vuitton bags through, uninspected. The lady in furs turned to me and blew me a kiss. She called to me, "Maybe we'll meet again."
    That was, of course, a dream. When I thought about it at the time, I chuckled, realizing that I had caught a glimpse of my inner Happy Hooker, the part of me that had been willing to put out my work for a price. Here she was again, in a black feather boa. Why?
   Write in my voice, said my Happy Hooker. Write in my name, if you like. You can still write about the things that matter to you, while you give people even more fun.
    Hmm. I'll need to think about that.
    When I sounded the recall with the drum, our intrepid dream travelers brought back a marvelous set of personal reports, featuring encounters with dead poets and master chefs, with a children's writer and a Neoplatonist philosopher, with Chekhov and with Virginia Woolf. Wonderful what one can find, in the Strand of imagination.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Presence of the hawk

I have taken the red-tailed hawk out of my drum bag. He's a stuffed toy, but when I squeeze him he delivers an excellent recording of the hawk's skirling cry, Keeyrrrrr. When I want to save my vocal chords, I squeeze him instead of attempting to mimic the cry myself. I also use him to appeal to the child selves of participants in my workshops, and to encourage them to connect with the bird tribes - and remember they can fly - for shamanic dream journeying.
    I am sitting on the floor of a workshop space with some of the participants. Nearest to me are a young Asian man and woman. I am delighted to see that the idea of the hawk has come fully alive for them. Each of them now has a living red-tailed hawk. They handle their birds gently, though they are clearly very excited. Equally gently, I rub my toy hawk against the live birds. This is so good, so happy. My toy hawk - should I now call it a hawk fetish? - is bringing living hawks to those who are learning to fly.

I wake from this dream into the golden morning light with the sense that there are hawks in my house. I can feel the stir in the air where they passed. I track, with my inner sight, into the upstairs library, illuminated by a large skylight. I sense the hawks flying up, through the skylight, into the clear blue sky.
    I am always open to friendly visitations from the red-tailed hawk. I moved to a farm in upstate New York after a hawk dropped a feather between my knees when I was sitting under an old white oak behind the house wondering whether to make the move. Later the hawk appeared to wing the lucid dream journeys in which I met the ancient Native shaman, called Island Woman in my books, who taught me that dreaming is the key to soul healing. When I was engaged in writing my new book, Dreaming the Soul Back Home, hawk came to me, batting my arm with its wing while I was drumming for a circle, to carry me to a place of vision where I could renew my contact with Island Woman and her indigenous tradition of seeing and healing.
    Hawk brings the gift of vision. Look at the skull of a red-tailed hawk and you will find that half the space is reserved for the eyeballs. Like all the high-flying birds, it also brings the gift of being able to see what is going on down on the ground from a higher perspective and from different angles. And, at least for me, it is second to none as a mode of transportation.
    Tekateweiarikhtha, as Island Woman taught me to say in the Mohawk language. "I take off now beating my wings."