Thursday, September 26, 2013

Better for your engine to blow on the ground than in the air (and the reward may be sex with the Infinite)

En route to Istanbul

The four-hour wait at Newark airport for my second flight to Istanbul, the long one, was not so bad. The educated, quietly humorous man from Galway on the seat next to me at the airport bar had a fine way with words. He described someone who gave fake smiles as "looking like he had a coat hanger stuck in his mouth."
    We boarded the 767 on time and I was delighted to find that I had more legroom than I had ever enjoyed on a plane, even in first-class. I helped the woman who took the seat next to me with her bag, and commented on our luck. But her mind was somewhere else. She started complaining that she could not see the screen where she could watch her personal choice of movies, and this was not okay. "I paid for this seat," she snapped at an airline person, 'and I can't get through the flight without movies."
    She calmed a little when she was shown how to extract the screen that had been fitted into the arm of her seat. It seemed that our legroom was due to the fact that we were seated in what was once an exit row. The exit was gone, but not the other features - no fold-down table, but all that space.
    I could not resist teasing my rowmate a little over losing her cool when in fact the world and those around her were treating her notably well. She spoke of the stress she'd been under. I gently observed that the universe responds to the attitudes we project, so we want to check those attitudes and choose where we put our energy. I said, "This is one of the things I help people to see." She turned a bit chilly, but a few minutes later she asked me to explain what I do. I told her, "I help people to be choosers in life." She allowed that she basically agreed with what I had said about choosing our attitudes; she practiced meditation and had studied with Zen teachers and others.
    "Our personal truth," I said, "is what we remember and act upon."
    She readily agreed. She was now eager to talk about everything from our favorite books to how she could improve her dream recall, to methods of conflict resolution, about which she proved to be highly knowledgeable. I started to look forward to an interesting conversation.
    Our big plane taxied down the runway. Then there was a pop like the cork coming out of a bottle of champagne, except that this was no cause for celebration. The lights went out, the AC died, and the plane came to a total and silent stop on the tarmac.
    As the heat rose and the cabin turned into a sweat lodge, there was precious little information. We were finally informed that the auxiliary engine had crashed. It controls all the electrics on the plane, including AC and ignition. Maintenance were coming to make a report. They would have the plane towed back to the gate where they could hook up some power and give us back lights and AC. My rowmate was resourceful. She used a miniature flashlight to get to and from the restroom without incident.
    Next problem. When we were pulled up to the jetway, it was found that it wasn't working properly. So, no lights and no AC. They brought up a truck to deliver AC, but all that produced was the warm heavy air that makes you feel you are under damp laundry.
    By the time I had lost two pounds in sweat, they told us we would have to deplane because the auxiliary engine could not be fixed that night. As we disembarked, I heard this exchange between two airline personnel, "What are they going to do now?" "No idea." Not confidence raising.
    As we milled around in the gate area, waiting to see whether we would be given another plane or be re-booked and made to stay in airline motels overnight, a fellow from my flight started talking loudly about how we would not be able to leave because of FAA "time out" regulations, which limit the number of hours airline crew can work. "Excuse me," I hailed him. "Could you put all that eloquence and imagination into talking about how magic will happen and we will get another plane tonight?"
    He turned out to be a sport. After only a moment's reflection, he declared vehemently, "They are doing magic. They got us a new plane and we will take off tonight."
     He shrugged, not sure about what he had just done. Then he rushed back to the boarding gate to check. He shouted, jubilantly, "They did it! They've announced we will now depart at 9:45."
    "You did it," I said. "You are a magician. You just changed the world."
    There were a few more cliffhangers. They got us boarded just before the time window closed. Now my previous rowmate and I were back in what appeared to be the same seats, the ones with impossible legroom. The new 767 seemed identical to the one we were on before. Had we simply jumped event tracks?
    Our conversation quickly became rich and often wildly funny and deeper than the ordinary world. We talked about magical realist fiction, about how the Ottomans gave sanctuary to the Marranos when they were expelled from Spain, about soul loss and the shaman Rx for it. My rowmate turned out to be a very smart and gifted woman, doing good work all over the map to resolve conflict and promote community healing. She had explored many paths in consciousness. Her Jewish tradition had led her to study with rabbis, like David Cooper and Zalman Schacter-Shalomi, who have explored Eastern and mystical paths and sought to marry the findings of neuroscience to the understanding of how the mind works to interpret larger realities.
     I found myself marshaling my own (limited) knowledge of Kabbalah and Judaic mysticism. We were soon talking about Schachter-Shalomi's "Dream Assembly", stories of the Baal Shem Tov, of Abulafia and Aryeh Kaplan. She spoke with passion and knowledge about the importance of toning in Jewish mystical practice, and did not stop there. She started toning the YHVH, which is not only the Hebrew name for God but - in some versions of Kabbalistic tradition - the secret code of the universe, the key to making or unmaking worlds.
   "Hold on," I half-joked. "You don't want to un-make the world by mistake."

   "Oh, this is such great stuff. You do this for long enough, and it's like having sex with the Infinite."
    She started toning again. It was now 1:30 a.m. back on the East Coast. A woman on the far side of the cabin yelled across the sleepers nested under their airline blankets. "Stop the talking over there! It's enough already."
    I have never heard anyone yell across an airplane for people to stop talking. I noted the distinctively Yiddish turn of phrase, "enough, already." Now whispering with my rowmate, I speculated that the protester had been mobilized by the content, more than the volume of our conversation. "Maybe she has a point. This is high-explosive stuff. We don't want to blow up anything else tonight."
    Then I was struck by an amazing life rhyme, echoing across 17 years. At the end of 1996, I entered a series of extraordinary inner dialogues and visionary travels with a guide who started talking to me in the liminal state between waking and sleep. In my book Dreamgates, where I record some of these episodes, I call him, half-jokingly, "G2". He seemed to speak with profound knowledge of a Western Mystery Order that incorporated some elements of Kabbalah. He introduced himself by telling me that we needed to begin our study sessions with the correct toning of the Tetragrammaton - an esoteric name for the four letters YHVH - including the hidden vowels. 

I have had great conversations through "chance" encounters on planes, often mediated by screw-ups like lost connections. I opened my book The Three "Only" Things with five narratives of this kind. The conversation on my redeye flight to Istanbul is up there with the greatest of these encounters. How often have you heard someone tone the YHVH and talk about "sex with the Infinite" on a plane?
    Now I am thinking about time loops and reverse causation. Did the engine crash because of what happened later? Now that would be an interesting story idea.

Taksim street car (c) Robert Moss

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

I dreamed I woke up

I dreamed I woke up.
In this waking life my thoughts
are agate points and deep lagoons
that make ancient cities and heroes
and bust dakinis out of lunch boxes.

Everything is alive when I am awake.
I remember to swim in air
and fly in water, and ride moon-tigers
to the Moon Cafe, and the light in my head
is the light of the blue-white star.

- from my poem "I Dreamed I Woke Up" in my collection Here, Everything is Dreaming.

Are we asleep in regular life and awake in the dream world? Sometimes it feels like that, and I play with the fluctuations in our sense of reality in “I Dreamed I Woke Up”.
     When I close my eyes, I often have the sense of waking in another landscape, among people who may have been waiting for me. Then there is that phenomenon of “false awakening”. Within a dream, you sleep and wake up, to find later that you were in another level of the dream, not yet back in the body in the bed. Such experiences mark transits from outer to inner courtyards of dreaming, and when we learn to recognize what is going on, this deepens our practice of conscious dreaming.

"Return from Earth Mountain". Oil crayons. (c) Robert Moss

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Andrew Lang on the best dream stories

Andrew Lang (1844-1922), a prolific Scots author best-known for his popular "color" books of fairy stories, wrote a book on dreams that is one of my favorites. Titled The Book of Dreams and Ghosts, it was first published in 1897. Lang affected a cool skepticism towards this subject material, which allows him to slide readers cunningly into the deep end, as he recounts case after case of timefolding and interdimensional travel in dreams, based on research ranging from Classical literature to Highland folklore and reports from his neighbors.
    As a consummate storyteller, Lang was always alert for the story value of his material. He raises the question: Which dreams make the best stories? He concludes that the dreams that make the best stories are those that reveal the “unknown past”, “the unknown present” and the “unknown future”. In other words, he especially likes dreams that reveal episodes in regular life that were previously unknown but can be subsequently verified. If we dreamed of being present in "an unchronicled scene" at the court of a long-dead queen, and a document confirming what we witnessed were later discovered, "then there is matter for a good dream-story."
    "Perhaps nothing, not even a ghost, is so staggering to the powers of belief as a well-authenticated dream which strikes the bull's eye of facts not known to the dreamer nor capable of being guessed by him...What we need is a dream or vision of the unknown past, corroborated by a document not known to exist at the time when the vision took place and was recorded."
    Here Lang describes a core element in the discipline I call dream archaeology, of whose findings I give many examples in my own books, including Dreaming the Soul Back Home and the forthcoming The Boy Who Died and Came Back.
     Lang's references to his own dream life, though modest and brief, suggest he had experiential insight into his subject and that he believed he was a time traveler in his dreams: “In dreams, we see the events of the past. I have been at Culloden fight and at the siege of Troy."
     He understood that dreaming is social as well as individual, and that we meet others in our dreams and may find we have memories of these encounters. He made a collection of reports of shared dreams (and used that term for them) including the following:

- Five members of the Ogilvie family, in different locations dream that a family dog – a poodle called Fanti – goes mad. Subsequently, the poodle lives on, sane and harmless, for the rest of his natural life. Lang leaves us to speculate on whether the dog's fate was changed when one of the dreamer's took action in his dream, throwing the poodle into the fire.

- Three members of the Swithinbanks family (father and two sons) dream the mother’s death on the same night and discover in the morning that indeed she died that night,

Lang gives several examples of dream tracking (my term) in which dreams reveal the location of lost objects.

- a lawyer dreams that a check he has lost is curled around a street railing (he dropped it when he went out to post letters)
- a girl in Lang’s family dreams that the missing ducks’ eggs were at a place in a certain field, where they proved to be
- an Irish lady dreams a lost key was lying at the root of a certain tree, where it is subsequently found.

He allows that in such cases, the dreaming mind may simply be putting half-observed data together better than its waking counterpart. But he also tips us a huge wink that dreamers may see such things because while the body sleeps, the dream self is out and about a-roving.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Nobody expects the Battle of Britain

Vancouver, B.C.

"NOBODY expects the Spanish Inquisition!" they shouted in old episodes of Monty Python, as a crew in inquisitorial drag, headed by Michael Palin, irrupted into a scene.
    My cry last Saturday was "Nobody expects a Korean rock concert!" I was leading a workshop in the Pavilion in Vancouver's Stanley Park. Nobody had told us that a Korean rock concert - "Feel Korea!" - would be setting up and rehearsing right outside our windows. The noise was ear-splitting and by the end of the morning at least a thousand Korean kids were in the gardens. I drummed for a lot of journeys that day, and projected my voice so I could be heard above the din outside. Nobody in our group seemed to be overly distracted by the Korean rock, but I left with a terrible headache which only receded after a couple of drinks and a walk in the misty gloaming on Kitsilano beach.
     We had drawn solace from the assurance that Sunday, at least, would be quiet. But when we arrived, an events organizer, after briefly apologizing for the clash with the Koreans, informed us that unfortunately, we would have to contend with low-flying planes. "You're joking!" my coordinator said. No joke. Today, they were doing the Battle of Britain - a parade and celebration complete with marching bands, bagpipes and a fly-by.
    NOBODY expects the Battle of Britain. At least not in 2013 in a Vancouver Park.
    It was easier for me to keep my sense of humor during the Battle of Britain than during the Korean rock. The drilling feet of Canadian Air cadets, the pipes and drumrolls and choruses of "O Canada!" were sweet birdsong compared with the previous day's cacophony. And I could feel the story value in what was developing.
    A thunderstorm in the middle of the day prevented the planned fly-by, and drove those of us who had chosen to lunch on the terrace at Stanley's Bar and Grill to huddle under umbrellas. The amazing patience and good humor of the group continued. Our work together was rich and deep, the dream theater was wonderful fun, and at the end of the day several people told me that they would not have known anything was going on outside had they not gone out of our meeting room for the lunch break.
    Nobody expects the Battle of Britain.
    As people often say about my travelogues, you can't make this stuff up. What we can do, and are required to do,  is to make up our responses as we go along. I cleave to one of my survival rules: if there is story value, I'll put up with just about anything. It is often true that if nothing goes wrong, you don't have much of a story.


Monday, September 9, 2013

Life mimes: creating a way when there is no way

"So we arrived in the Old World full of hope," she told me. "It was our honeymoon year and we planned to spend it touring all over Europe. We didn't have money but we had our creative gifts. What we were really good at was designing and making jewelry. We had brought a big suitcase full of our pieces, and I knew people would be wild for more when they saw how original and lively they were.
    "That first night in Barcelona, we were robbed of everything. Money, passports, and all the jewelry. While we waited for the embassy to get us new papers, we didn't know how we were going to eat.
    "Then I remembered a television show that was all the rage in Brazil, where we come from. It showed mimes made up as clowns who follow people in the streets, imitating their body language, until they get a handout.
    "I told my husband, We can do that.
    "He wasn't so sure, but I said, What do we have to lose?
    "We got some clown makeup and clownish rags and we took to the streets, copying people's walks and how they gesture while talking on their cell phones or look at girls or pat each other's bottoms. We drove people crazy - crazy enough for them to drop pretty big tips, pretty fast.
    "We lived like that, as mimes on Las Ramblas, for three months. I guess I knew after that that when life throws me a punch, I'll always figure out how to roll with it."

- Recently I asked members of one of my playshops to come up with a memory of a moment of power and healing from their own lives. This was my favorite story shared that day. No small achievement, to live as a mime for three months in Barcelona, a city famed for its mimes. The photo is of a mime I observed in frnt of Gaudi's unfinished cathedral in Barcelona last February.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

I'll read it in my dreams

I am always surprised when people tell me that they cannot read in dreams. They may look at text or inscriptions, but then find that they cannot stabilize or recall what they were viewing. There are research studies supporting the notion that reading is not an oneiric ability.
    Such reports and studies bemuse me, because I read even more in dreams than in regular life, and often manage to bring back a good deal. Sometimes I am assisted by an inner voice that speaks the words as I read them. To recover more than a few scraps of a text, I am often required to go back inside a dream and re-read the whole thing. I typically do this in a state of relaxed attention, lying on the bed with a pad and pencil in hand, jotting down what I read as I go through the pages or panels in a state of conscious or lucid dreaming.
    I have difficulty with languages that I do not know, or do not know well, but again that inner voice is there to assist me. Once I read a ribbon-like scroll in Hebrew and was given the inner translation:

Fear is falling down, awe is standing up, in the presence of the powers.

I read this dream text in the midst of one of my shamanic retreats. A member of the gathering, who is both a physician and a Kabbalist, explained to me, when he heard my report, that in Hebrew the word yira [יראה] can mean either "fear" or "awe".
    Similarly, an inner voice will translate walls of hieroglyphs, tablets in cuneiform, parchments in Latin or Old English.
   The most profound spiritual dialogue of my life began when I re-entered a dream from which I had awakened, in cool moonlight, in a cabin by a lake in Vermont. In the dream, I had been lunching with a mysterious and elegant couple. As I left the scene, an old friend rushed up to remind me that I needed to record everything, and should look inside a large manila envelope for instructions.
   Lying on my bed, I sent my second self back into the restaurant. I opened the envelope and read a newsapaper cutting that announced that "The Prince and Princess of Fars Are Traveling Abroad". With the clipping was a list of 20 questions I was supposed to put to these visitors from the land of Rumi and Suhrawardi.
   I sat my second self down at the table and read the questions one by one. They were all about soul and its peregrinations. "What is the nature of exile?" I read. Next question: "What are the conditions for return?" The answers fill many pages of my journal.
    On another occasion, I dreamed I had received a telegram from my favorite dead professor. I brought back a couple of sentences. These were enough to take me back inside the dream, in my dream reentry, to capture the rest. The full contents of the telegram gave me beautiful postmortem reflections in a familiar voice on afterlife possibilities and the connections between personalities living in different times.
    Sometimes, in dreams, I read books by authors I know. Some of these are books that have been published in the regular world; others appear to be books that exist in another reality. I especially enjoy reading books of my own that I have not yet completed, or even embarked on, in ordinary reality. It's a grand trick for a writer, to be able to bring through pages of a book that already exists, in the Dream Library, and turn it into something that others can read, in the ordinary world.

Friday, September 6, 2013

How you know you're in Wonderland

Florianopolis, Brazil

On my first night in Florianopolis, after surviving 48 hours of grueling travel and going straight on to lead a workshop, I was greeted on my way to my room by a white rabbit, running in front of me across a grassy courtyard. "Alice in Wonderland!" cried a young Brazilian in my workshop group.
    In the morning, I learned that the white rabbit belongs to a hotel employee, is female, and comes when he whistles. It struck me that this white rabbit is better than the one who is worried about getting late in Alice's story. As in that wonderful tale, its appearance tells you that you are in Wonderland, well and truly down the bunny hole. 
But in this case Wonderland is available on demand. All you need to is whistle. 
    I whistled a lot in my Floripa workshop. Every time I wanted the group to come together again for an excellent new adventure in nonordinary reality.
    The rabbit posed while I took her photograph. When I was leaving the hotel on Wednesday, on my long journey home, she came running through the reception, into the cafe where I was waiting for my ride, to bid me farewell. When I whistled, she paused to let me take her farewell photo.


Mythic trouble on the Boat of Ra

En route to Sao Paulo

"Please close your window shade, sir. The sun will be too bright."
    "But I want to see the rising of the sun. It's glorious."
    "We can't let the sun rise yet."
    I feel a shiver of recognition. This is what happens, again and again, to Ra on his long journey through the Netherworld. Again and again, doors are closed against the rising of the sun, and monsters gather to oppose the renewal of spirit.
    I glance at the dozing and drooling passengers around me in the darkened cabin of the airplane, and decide to comply with the flight attendant's request. But when he has gone down the aisle, I reopen my shade just a chink, so as not to miss altogether the return of the sun's light.
    And I murmur under my breath the syllables from an old life, in another land, that evoke the unmanifest power of creation and its manifestation in the disk of the sun.

This vignette is from my long journey to Brazil last week. It took me 48 hours to get to Florianopolis from my local airport. This trip involved three complete changes of flight itineraries, multiple security screenings, an unexpected night in an airport motel worthy of "American Psycho" and three days - after my arrival - without my suitcase.
    I felt I had gone through many of the passages and ordeals of the Egyptian journey through the Netherworld depicted in funerary texts like the Book of Gates and the Amduat (Book of the Hidden Chamber).
    I recognized that I may have asked for mythic trouble in this realm, since at the start of last week, I returned to close study of those ancient Egyptian travelogues. This inspired me to add a few pages to my new book on 
my "far memories" of Egyptian lives and group shamanic journeys I have led on an Egyptian time road to the stars. I completed and delivered the book a few hours before boarding my first plane.

My life has a mythic edge, which means I am always prone to getting into some mythic trouble. This is an old, old pattern. Surface events move in tandem with the deep undercurrents of the mythic realm. Maybe all of us will come more awake and alive in the multiverse if we pay attention to what myth is playing out, or seeking to irrupt, into our current lives.
    The night my suitcase finally caught up with me at a hotel on a wild Atlantic beach on Santa Catarina island, I noticed, for the first time, the image above the door to the hotel reception.

I discussed all of this with a charming Brazilian couple at an Azorean fish restaurant in Ribeirão da Ilha on a night of driving rain. I had not met the husband before. I was struck by his T-shirt, which had the image of the frame of a wooden horse and the words: "Troia: An Anatolian City." He told me his mother had brought it back from a visit to the ancient site of Troy last year. I will be in Anatolia, near the ancient site of Troy, at the end of this month. Sometimes the mythic forces at play behind the curtain of our ordinary perception reach through and hold up a storyboard. 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Time is pleated

Like the pants I prefer, time for me is pleated, not flat.
    A pleat is made when fabric is doubled back upon itself, and secured in place. A much greater length of fabric may be involved than is visible. In a knife pleat, the standard ratio of fabric to finished pleat is 3:1. So three inches of fabric will make one inch of pleat.
    So it seems to me that the fabric of time is gathered or bunched. As in garments, this allows room for movement and expansion.
    It also means that what is visible conceals the gathering of the fabric of many times - the dramas of many lives - into the current time line. We seem to be on a certain event track, running more or less straight. But behind it, there is the gathering, and the ratio of the hidden weaving of time to the visible time line may be much, much higher than 3:1.