Tuesday, October 30, 2012

At the heart of the mosaic of the mended self

Morro das Pedras, Santa Catarina Island, Brazil

She set this intention for the night: "Help me to find and bring together all the parts of myself."
    All night long, it seemed she dreamed and re-dreamed the same scene.
    She is looking at a set of beautiful large tiles, covering a spacious area. One of them had been broken into many parts, of differing sizes and shapes. But it has been reassembled. You can see the cracks where the tile was broken. The earth shows through the cracks. Strangely, the effect is to make the mended tile very beautiful.
    Asked to describe the colors and patterns of the mended tile, she recalls that the colors were red and blue, white and yellow. One of the larger shards, pointing in to the center, was a long triangle. There was perhaps a pattern, reminiscent of the Mediterranean, but she can't visualize it clearly now.
    I suggest, in the midst of our circle of dreamers, that perhaps she'll be able to find the pattern if she chooses players to represent the different colors and shapes in the mended tile.
    She is delighted by this suggestion. She picks red and yellow people, white and blue, pieces of every size and shape. And a smiling, maternal woman to play the big triangle pointing to the center. She wants the actors to spread out on the floor and find how they fit together. We mustn't forget the earth that is showing through the cracks and providing a foundation. The dreamer chooses earth people.
    She claps her hands in delight as the living mosaic forms at the center of our space.
    The woman who is the triangle looks as if she is giving birth.
    We invite the dreamer to step into the center of the living mosaic of herself and see how everything looks and feels from there.
    She can see the whole pattern now. "I was borken and now I am whole. Amd what was broken and is now whole is more beautiful than the tiles that were never cracked."

I am constantly awed by the power of active dreaming to show us where the missing parts of ourselves can be found, and to help us bring them together, and by the power of spontaneous dream theater to bring all of this through, into embodied life, in joy and compassion and celebration.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Gabriel descending

Buşteni, Romania 

You can't see his brilliance in the sketch; his great wings of light swept our whole space, and charged us all. He came armored, in blue and gold, fanning the huge wings, when we asked for higher guidance and help to clear away shadows that beleaguered some of us, up here in the Bucegi Mountains, under the peak of Caraiman.
     I remembered how he came, unasked, when I was in the midst of a spiritual crisis 25 years ago, taking form as a winged being of light outside, on a sunny day, between the farmhouse where I was then living and the white oak tree where I had reached the decision to move here. He was so beautiful that I saw him as feminine rather than masculine, and wrote a song addressed to Gabrielle

My heart is a song that rises
It is the pure waterfall
that cleanses my paths
with tears of joy

"Gabrielle" is close to the Hebrew pronunciation of the angelic name.
     All three people of the Book - Jews, Christians and Muslims - know Gabriel, as a divine messenger and a patron of dreams and astral travel. In the Gospel of Luke, Gabriel is the one who tells Mary what will born into the world through her. In an old Celtic hymn he is called "the seer of the virgin".
     I know the angel is there, even when I forget to call on him.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Getting my wings out of the left luggage

Omega Institute, Rhinebeck N.Y

"Where is the rest of me?"
    I offered this question to the group at my Omega workshop as the theme for a high-octane meditation, fueled by shamanic drumming, during our first evening session. I then suggested that we put the scene to the night, before going to sleep, to see how our dream producers would respond.
    From the first moment I arrived at the Omega campus, walking in light rain over fallen and falling leaves, I felt my batteries recharging. I was back in the neighborhood where an ancient Native shaman, the mother of the Wolf clan of the Mohawk people, called me in dreams and visions 25 years ago, leading me to change my life and follow the path of a dream teacher.
    Here the trees and the animal spirits are intimate familiars. Hawk speaks to me, Bear comes to heal and protect, the Deer offers the gift of regeneration, White Wolf teaches me to gentle the wolf in man, and carries me to the heart of the Peacemaker.
    As I settled in bed in my cabin before midnight, I repeated the question I had given the group:

    Where is the rest of me?
    I slipped into this dream:

I am at an airport. A friendly agent shows me magical passes. They are simple, and powerful. One makes me think of the raking motion of a bear bringing his paws down, but there is no hint of violence in it. Another pass is a scooping motion.
    I find my way to an area where there is a great pile of left luggage.
    I find a suitcase that belongs to me in the heap, and open it to check the contents. I see fresh white linens inside the bag. Surprised, I unfold the linens and see that they are a pair of huge, shining white wings, like angel's wings. My heart is filled with joy.
    Below the wings, in the body of the suitcase, I see toys and games: a ball and bat, children's books, toy soldiers, art supplies a badminton racket. I am happy that the energy of my boy selves is here too.

I woke fully charged with vital, bounding energy. On my walk to the dining room, my first three observations keyed me to think about another, ancestral, aspect to the question, Where is the rest of me? The mist lay deep over the green campus, and I thought about how, for my Celtic ancestors, the mist was a preferred portal to the Otherworld. In the mist, I now saw a man striding along in a kilt, and felt the Scot in me stirring. In the dining hall, the first food I saw on offer at the buffet was steel-cut oatmeal, a favorite of my Celtic ancestors. I carried it out onto the deck and ate it, with sea salt, as I watched the sun slowly parting the mist.
     This was a perfect cure for the fatigue and temporary soul-loss occasioned by my grueling recent travel experiences, including those described in my recent post, "The Ghost at Chopin Airport." As I rose from my dreams this morning, my inner soundtrack was playing "In the Arms of the Angel".

Friday, October 19, 2012

The ghost at Chopin airport

Frederic Chopin airport, Warsaw, October 11-12

I know everyone in the crowd at the Polish Airlines service desk at Warsaw's Chopin airport: the tub-shaped, jowly man in the orange T-shirt with a Coca-Cola label, just in from Kiev; the shaven-headed Russian with pale bad eyes; the busty Ukrainian woman who got too much attention from the Polish guards at the security check, the petite Ottawa lawyer with her Romanian mother who lends me her cell phone, the friendly Canadians hoping to get home to Toronto tonight. I have been with all these people before. We are all in the same jam, waiting to find out how we will get to our destinations since our flight to Toronto was cancelled without explanation.
     Wait a minute. If I know all these people, that means I must have dreamed this scene even if I forgot the dream before waking events caught up with it. Can I pull something back from the forgotten dream that could help me navigate this situation? Help is needed, because the clerks at the LOT service counter are moving at geological speed. The sun will be down very soon, and it looks like no one is getting out of Warsaw today.
     The long wait and lack of announcements are making a tall man in a red-and-white Canadian football jacket quite agitated. "I am Polish!" he exclaims. "Though I have lived in Canada for over twenty years. I apologize to everyone for how Polish Airlines is handling this!" He demands to see a supervisor. His color is dangerously high, a real hypertensive sunburn. He declares that he doesn't want to have a heart attack so he'll take a break from the line to have a smoke and a Stolichnaya.
     I know him too. And now it dawns on me that I have retained something of the dream in which he (and perhaps all the others) appeared. I told this dream to my Romanian friend, Ana Maria, over breakfast in Bucharest early that same day, before boarding my flight to Warsaw. In my dream, I met "Zbigniew Brzezinski", dressed in what I thought was a red-and-white "folkloric" outfit. He talked about taking low-dose aspirin for heart health. He urged me to go on an assignment to Washington, D.C. I could not understand, on waking, why I had dreamed of Brzezinski, a Polish-American in the Carter Administration and an expert on foreign policy, or why he was giving me a D.C. assignment. Now it seems that "Brzezinski" was a tag applied by my inner editor to a figure who is not Polish-American but Polish-Canadian, and whose "folkloric" garb is a football jacket.
     I am still mulling this when I finally get to the counter and am handed a new itinerary. I have been re-booked on a LOT flight to Frankfurt at 6:30 a.m., in order to catch an Air Canada flight to Toronto, where I will pick up the same final flight to my little home airport that was in my original itinerary. Traveling home to Albany, N.Y. via Toronto looks crazier than it did when I made my original arrangements. Going from Bucharest to Warsaw to Toronto on Polish Airlines was a relatively cheap option; there was a long overnight layover before I could catch my final flight to Albany, but I had planned to rest up at a nice Toronto airport hotel and get home fresh. There is something troubling about the new plan,  but I decide to go with it.

     The waiting game goes on and on, with more glacial lines, at other desks, for hotel vouchers, taxi vouchers, food vouchers. Here comes "Brzezinski" again, declaring there is no point now - it's already 9:00 p.m. - in going to a hotel. He will stay at the airport overnight. This sounds rational to me, and after all it is a dream character speaking. So I spurn the hotel offer, re-check my bag, and stay up all night at Chopin airport.
     One by one, the metal grilles come down at the duty-free stores and the restaurant chairs are stacked on the tables. I run into a store just before it is sealed for the night and buy myself water and toothpaste.
     And Chopin airport becomes limbo. People who are stuck in transit because they don’t have documents that allow them to enter Poland are stretched out on seats, on display stands, or looping round and round in front of the deserted departure gates.

   By 2:00 a.m., I have the crawling sensation that I am in a dark and fantastic tale, like the one I just read on the plane. Before I left Romania, my friend took me on a quick tour of used bookstores in downtown Bucharest, in search of English language editions of the fiction of Mircea Eliade, the great scholar of religion and shamanism who also wrote superior novels and tales of fantasy. I found an old collection of Romanian Fantastic Tales published in Bucharest in 1981 that includes Eliade's wondrously creepy story "Gypsies". It's about a man who strays from his regular travel schedule, is lured into a house of witches, and finds himself lost in a nest of separate realities from which he is unable to return to the time or the people he previously knew; he may or may not be dead in his regular world.
    By 4:00 a.m, the airport restaurants have reopened, and I breakfast on strong coffee, and warm rolls. I get on the 6:30 a.m. flight without incident, climb over an immensely fat man to my window seat, and watch the drifting fog as we taxi out onto the runway. Where everything stops. In cracked English, over a crackling intercom, the pilot announces that the authorities have closed the airport due to the fog. Forty-five minutes later, Toronto-bound passengers are asked to leave the plane; they'll be given another flight option since they will miss their connection. I am about to join the rush to the door when I remember that I'm not actually going to Toronto. I'm going to Albany. I check with the crew that my bag will stay on the plane. "Everything fine. Your bag stay in Warsaw." "No, my bag goes with me to Frankfurt."
    We get to Frankfurt three hours late, and my heart sinks at the idea of having to stand in line at another LOT desk. I look out at a sea of people and vast banks of airline desks, without a ticket, boarding pass or a working itinerary, just a baggage claim check. Where is the dream guidance I need?
     I hear a dog barking. A familiar bark. He sounds just like my little schnauzer. I track the bark to a crate where a schnauzer is challenging the outside world while his owner is doing the paperwork required to have him approved for air transport. The sign at the desk reads "Additional Services" and it is a United desk.
     I suddenly understand what "Brzezinski" was telling me in my dream. I need to go home via Washington D.C., not Toronto. Dulles is a United hub, and I often change planes there traveling to and from my home airport.
     When I get my turn at the Additional Services desk, the German clerk is quite helpful. Yes, United has a flight to Washington D.C., leaving at 5:00 p.m. that will allow me to make a connection that will get me home tonight. But my ticket has been written to LOT and I will need to persuade them to let me switch airlines. It takes a real scout to find the obscure LOT desk at that immense airport. I don't have immediate confidence in the Polish Airlines clerk because she types like me, with two fingers, and is still bent on sending me to Toronto. But when I give her details of the 5:00 p.m. flight to Washington D.C., she arranges the change, and gives me a voucher that buys me a pretty good wiener schnitzel as I wait at an airport bistro.
    Oh yes, when Ana Maria and I swapped dreams in Bucharest, the previous morning, she told me she had dreamed that I was delayed for six hours at airports. That proved to be a significant under-estimate, but was certainly an example of how we dream the future for others as well as ourselves.


Thursday, October 18, 2012

One calamity is better than a thousand counsels

Bir müsibet bin nasihatten iyidir. “One calamity is better than a thousand counsels". I learned this Turkish proverb during my recent travels in Anatolia. It seems to me to be an excellent maxim for life, and one that has personal bite, in the context of some of my recent adventures and misadventures, the full recounting of which I'll reserve for a future book.
     We derive the English word "calamity" from the Latin 
calamitas, meaning "damage, loss, failure, disaster, adversity, misfortune." 
     The Turkish proverb has double meaning. Faced with a calamity, we are out of the realm of words and abstract concepts, down in the chop and rawness of physical events. Even as we struggle to get through the crisis, what life is throwing at us requires us to think about how we need to act and behave in order not to get ourselves into a similar situation, or to get around it if it is brought upon us by others.
     Again, in the face of real calamity, ordinary time stops and ordinary calculations fly out the window. We may need to move at light speed, or alternatively, be content to subsist for a while in a state of suspended animation. We can't go by the clock or the book, the way we did before. This can give a curious and salutary sense of permission even when we suspect we are being punished: permission to stand outside and above the regular round of appointments and duties and requirements.
    It's been said that illness is the Western form of meditation. Calamity may be a universal gateway to transformation, if we are able to recognize the educational opportunity, seize it, and break through rather than break down.

Photo: Getting a little too close to Medusa in Anatolia

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Escaping the fox's curse in the mountains of Romania

Bucegi Mountains, Romania

On the first day in the mountains of Romania, we set off to see the Sphinx of Bucegi, a celebrated natural rock formation regarded as a major energy spot, near a cave associated with an ancient shaman-god of the Dacians and the mystical White Wolf said to watch over this land.
    We walked through the woods from the pleasant pensiune we had booked for my workshop, facing the Caramain monastery, whose construction was inspired by a priest who dreamed of a church that needed to be built round a fir tree at this site. We intended to ride up the mountain to the Sphinx by cable car, but a road cowboy with a four-wheel drive persuaded us to hire him. This proved to be the wildest ride of my life, up a steep narrow road with hairpin bends and no railings at the edge of dizzying cliffs. The road was often partly blocked by construction or landslides, and we often encountered cars and trucks rushing down in the middle of the road as if bent on a head-on collision.
    The road cowboy drove as if possessed, but I assumed this was local custom and he knew what he was doing. I could not follow his conversation with my Romanian friends, but I was struck by his hand-waving animation as he recounted a story at a point where the road was only dirt and craters and lumps of rock. Soon after, the driver made a wild swerve to the right to get round a protruding boulder, taking us to the edge of the cliff - and then part-way over. We were now stuck in the dirt, hanging over the cliff as the driver gunned the car back and forth, succeeding only in getting us deeper into the dirt, while the jeep leaned, little by little, further over the cliff.
    "Time to get out of the car," I said gently.
    We left the driver with the vehicle, phoning for help, and walked for twenty minutes down the winding road to a cabine - a rustic inn and restaurant - to recover with Ursus beer and spicy sausages. On the walk, my friends told me that just before he nearly took us all over the cliff, the driver had been boasting about how he had killed a fox on that section of mountain road, and then decapitated the fox to mount its head on a wall as a trophy. 

    It seemed we had traveled that day with a man under a fox's curse. Through it all, I felt oddly detached, and never in real danger, as if we had been under the protection of an unseen hand. Perhaps it was the man who had taken the fox's head who was under the real danger on that high and stony road.

Photo: Surviving the fox's curse on the demon driver

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Wanda Burch on Healing Soldier's Heart

Wanda Burch is one of those who is working to heal our wounded warriors. For the past three years, she had been leading healing retreats for women veterans of America's wars, using the core techniques of Active Dreaming. She reports notable success in using the dream reentry technique to guide veterans back through the dark forests of recurring nightmares to a place of healing and resolution.
     In today's conversation on my radio show, Wanda gives moving examples of using both dream reentry and dream theater - my favorite element in all of my workshops - to help heal our soldiers' broken hearts. There is a template here for others to follow. Wanda is an adept of our Active Dreaming techniques, and in some cases was present at their creation. I have shared dreams with her for a quarter century, and she describes the development of our dreaming friendship in her book She Who Dreams, an inspiring personal account of her healing and recovery from breast cancer with the help of Active Dreaming. She has completed my three-year training for teachers of Active Dreaming.
    In today's radio show, Wanda also discusses her research into the dreams of soldiers during the American Civil War, and explains why in that era what is now diagnosed as PTSD was described as "soldier's heart". She is writing a book on this subject, and I believe this will be a significant contribution to making the Secret History of Dreaming less secret. In our conversation, Wanda recalls how she was drawn to her Civil War there after discovering a letter from a Georgia soldier named Henry Graves in which he not only describes a vivid astral dream adventure but insists on the vital importance of dreams and imagination in getting soldiers through the traumas of war.
     The key section of Henry Graves' letter, written to an aunt from Petersburg, Virginia, on August 7, 1862, reads as follows:

"Standing with a spade in my hand on top of a big bank of red clay or with a mattock in a deep broad ditch, I would, in order to pass off time, imagine myself at home with my coat off, sitting out in the east end of the piazza at home, enjoying the cool breeze that almost always is blowing fresh through there, with a basket of peaches at my side and all the homefolk around. This is the way I employ myself when I get into an unpleasant place, and, by this means, the time passes much more swiftly and pleasantly.
    "I don’t know what poor mortals and especially soldier mortals would do if they were not blessed with the gift of imagination and the pictures of hope. There are, besides these two angels of mercy, others fully as welcome and kind, which now and then visit the poor soldier.
     "Night dreams, for instance, are as a general thing much more vivid than day dreams. The sweetest dream I have had for many a day past I had the other night, sleeping on the top of a fence with a rail, not remarkably flat or broad, for my couch and my gun barrel for my pillow (an iron pillow can hardly be called a “downy” one, do you think?).  My dream, of course, had a “goddess,” a sweet little, hazel-eyed girl who lives away down in Georgia and for whom I feel a “very tender feeling” was by my side, my arm was around her waist and her head on my shoulder, and her soft cheek laid most lovingly against mine (the idea of a soft girl cheek laid against my rough, sun burnt, bearded jaw!) and tender words of love were coming from hearts full of love, when alas! alas! The cracking of a stick near by, by an approaching foot, caused me to spring from the embrace of my darling to grasp the cold steel of my gun barrel and from the gentle accents of love to cry out the rough challenge, “Who goes there?” and, instead of the warm breath of the little girl which I had felt on my cheek but a moment before, I wiped from my face the cold night dew and with half a groan I turned me to my rail again."

You can listen to my conversation with Wanda Burch live today at 12:00 pm Eastern (9:00 am Pacific) at healthylife.net, or download from my archive.

Monday, October 1, 2012

When Owl gave Jeffery Eugenides the breath of creation

Jeffery Eugenides' novel Middlesex is a triumph of creative empathy. It accomplishes what the best novels do, which is to expand our humanity by transporting us inside the lives and perspectives of others. It also shows us how we can do this for ourselves, by using active imagination to enter the lives of ancestors or the body of a person of a different gender, even a gender not commonly recognized.
     So I was delighted, though not surprised, to read Eugenides' revelation in a recent article that it was a dream, simple but shockingly direct and numinous, that gave him the power to finish Middlesex. He was living in Berlin at the time, struggling to keep food on the table through a modest fellowship, often sleep-deprived because of an infant child, drinking a good deal of German beer in an effort to loosen up.
     He was seized by a dream. His entire dream report reads as follows:

An owl, descended out of nowhere, seized me in its talons and blew into my mouth a single breath tasting of blood. 

The one-sentence report describes a dream that lasted (he says) all of four or five seconds. Yet he sensed that the owl's visitation "originated not from my mind at all but from a source outside of me". The owl was gigantic, "and not particularly realistic". Its plumage reminded him of paintings by Klimt, with lozenges of color running up and down the wings and over the  breast, and "a large helmeted ceremonial head". The owl's eyes were fierce and bright yellow. When the owl dipped its beak to Eugenides' lips, he opened his mouth, unresisting. The owl exhaled one long forceful breath. With a whoosh, his lungs inflated. This inspiration had a taste: "the mineral, meaty flavor of a predatory diet". 
    The writer awakened with the deep knowing that a power had been conveyed to him from a greater source: "the great Owl in the Sky had taken a personal interest in me and my book. The owl had come to give me the power to write."

GraphicRené Magritte, "The Companions of Fear" (1926)