Thursday, December 26, 2013

Dream mirrors of the Self

One of the most important gifts of our dreams is that they put us in touch with more aspects of ourselves than we have recognized in  what Yeats called our “daily trivial minds.” Among these aspects is the famous Shadow, composed of parts of our selves we have repressed or denied (and tend to project on to others in regular life, till we awaken). But we encounter much more than the Shadow. We encounter a whole family of aspects of ourselves, and as we recognize them and bring them together we become much more than we were.
     We are given the opportunity to claim the imagination and energy of our inner children, the nature-knowing of the ancient shaman within us, the wisdom of the elder, the artist, poet, creator, entrepreneur, hero, dancer, athlete, astronaut inside.
      We also meet our conscience. We are introduced to parts of ourselves that have been broken and are in need of repair. We are given clues to parts of our selves that fled from this body and this life because the pain or shame was too great - or because our dominant personality wimped out on a big dream, settled for a little story and ceased to be any fun for a bright spirit to be around. When we discover such things, we are on the road to healing through soul recovery
       There is more. As we follow these roads, we may rise to a closer acquaintance with the Self beyond all the smaller selves. Call it the Higher Self. Perhaps we are the mirrors in which some part of it is reflected, when our lenses are clear enough.
       I remember a dream that mirrored the relationship between the little self and the Big Self. Here is a brief version:


I read in the local paper that an artist is working on a portrait of the Higher Self. Greatly excited, I lead a group to see it. The path spirals up to a studio like an open tower, guarded by magnificent sculpted beasts; great carnelians flash on the back of the stone lion.
     The artist is at work on a tremendous canvas. It rises as high as the tower, perhaps even above the table. At the bottom, he has painted a self-portrait. The figure stands within glowing bands of color. He is as small as a votive candle in proportion to the immensity of the Higher Self that rises above him, visible only as bands of energy that become subtler and subtler as I look up, until there seems to be nothing except a pristine and unblemished expanse of pearly light.
     It seems unlikely that this immense work can ever be finished. But I know, as I merge with the artist and take up the brush, that this is my life's work.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Warning from Ur: lose your dreams, lose your world

When we lose the dreaming, we may lose everything that matters. There is a haunting warning about this, echoing down across the millennia, from an ancient Sumerian text that gives voice to Ningal, the goddess-protector of Ur, who shared the central temple-palace complex with her consort Nanna, the god of the Moon. Ningal is speaking of the coming destruction of the city:

When I was grieving for that day of storm,
that day of storm, destined for me,
laid upon me, heavy with tears...
Dread of the storm's floodlike destruction
weighed on me,
and of a sudden on my couch at night,
upon my couch at night no dreams were granted me. [1]

Here the loss of dreams heralds the fall of the city and the loss of an empire.
     We can only grasp the full power of Ningal's terrible complaint when we understand her vital role, and that of the succession of high priestesses who embodied her, as dreamers and dream interpreters.
     In The Treasures of Darkness, Thorkild Jacobsen made a strong case that Ningal, like her mother Ningikuga, was a goddess of reeds as well as of the Moon. For the people of ancient Sumer, reeds defined a liminal environment, between the marshes and the dry land, symbolically a place of passage between states of consciousness and reality.
     Betty de Shong Meador writes in her wonderful book Inanna, Lady of Largest Heart: "Ningal wanders in that borderland between dry ground and the watery deep of the rivers or ocean. In that transitional space between solid consciousness and the muddy unconscious, dreams emerge. Ningal is the divine dream-spinner who roams the marsh in the moonlight of her husband and taps the fertile, imaginative play of figures in the darkness that make up dreams."
     The high priestess of the Moon god of Ur, Nanna, embodied the goddess Ningal in the annual rites of sacred union in which Nanna was embodied by the king. The hieros gamos was believed to renew the fertility of the land. From day to day, a no less vital function of the high priestess was to receive and pass on to the king and the people "Ningal's gifts of dreams". The phrase comes from the first author known by a personal name in all the world's literature: Enheduanna, poet, princess and high priestess of Nanna at Ur, whose wild and lovely poems evoking the Moon couple's daughter Inanna, Queen of Earth and Heaven, still arouse and unsettle us today.
     Scholars parsing the cuneiform texts from Sumer that have survived on baked clay tablets have found extensive evidence that dreams were greatly valued as oracles for both individuals, families and the whole polity. It was believed that the gods expressed their wishes and revealed the future through dreams. Special care was taken in incubating dreams on matters of great importance.  The dream seeker would lie down on a special couch - "the shining, fruitful couch" - to seek divine guidance, or seclude herself in a specially constructed reed hut.
    In her poem of exile, Enheduanna  grieves for a people bereft of the gift of dreams. The poet priestess laments

I cannot stretch my hands
from the pure sacred bed
I cannot unravel
Ningal's gifts of dreams
to anyone [2]

1. trans. Samuel Noah Kramer; in  Thorkild Jacobsen, TheTreasures of Darkness: A History of Mesopotamian Religion (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1976) 87.
2. trans. Betty De Shong Meador in Inanna, Lady of Largest Heart: Poems of the Sumerian High Priestess Enheduanna (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2001) 66.

Graphic: Alabaster disk showing Enheduanna, high priestess of the Moon god, in ceremony, Ur circa 2300 BCE. 

Friday, December 20, 2013

Dreaming expands our humanity: Report from Paris, 1944

Paris, August 1944 and December 2013

I'm in Paris in August 1944. People are hungry and torn between hope and despair. Allied armored columns are speeding towards the capital, according to the BBC and the underground newspapers passed hand to hand. The word from Free French General Leclerc is Tenez bon. Nous arrivons. "Hold on. We're coming."
    But not all the French are looking forward to the Liberation. I listen in on the frantic conversations of once-comfortable bourgeois merchants and functionaries who grew fatter by serving the Germans, and ordinary Parisians who obeyed Marshal Pétain's appeal to "collaborate" with the Militärverwaltung in Frankreich, the German Military Administration in France.
    I look in women who were kept as mistresses by German officers. Some have been living in luxury, in swank hotels, with running champagne and silk stockings. I watch them huddled together, talking about survival plans. They are terrified of what will be done to them when their protectors are gone. I watch some of them pleading with Hans or Otto, Don't leave us. Take us with you. A Wehrmacht colonel feels sympathy, but there's nothing he can do except to give his mistress his gold cigarette case. He has no idea what will happen to him, when Paris falls, as he knows it must. His comrades will simply dump the women they used and leave them to the mercies of their countrymen. Some will be stripped of their finery and their hair, beaten and shamed and used for rough sex.

I woke from this dream feeling oppressed, in a hotel off the Boulevard Saint-Germain during a visit to Paris a few days ago. To clear my feelings, I trekked out to Montparnasse to visit the Memorial Maréchal Leclerc and the Museé Jean Moulin. I sat in a little theater with a wrap-around screen watching multiple images of Paris in the last days of the Occupation.
    I wondered why I had dreamed into the situation of the people I had viewed the previous night, people who had made unpleasant choices and were facing unpleasant consequences, people who would not be among those jostling to cheer the Americans and the Free French as they entered Paris. Maybe one of those women was kept in a room in my hotel, under the Occupation.
    It occurred to me, yet again, that one of the functions of dreaming is to expand our humanity. In a hotel bed in Paris, I traveled back across time into life situations of people who were compelled by history to make terrible choices. I was reminded that the typical Parisian during World War II was not a Resistance fighter but someone who was simply trying to survive, to put food on the table, to get through.
     I was in Paris in 1970, a year after Marcel Ophüls' tremendous four-hour documentary film  Le chagrin et la pitié ("The Sorrow and the Pity") was released. The film showed how collaboration was normal for most of the French under Vichy, and all the justifications for it beyond acceptance of military defeat. A government committee ruled that the film “destroyed the myths that the people of France still need”. More recently, French historian Patrick Buisson has claime, in a book with the provocative title, 1940-1945 Anneés  Erotiques (“1940-45 Erotic Years”), that a remarkable number of French women traded sexual favors with the Germans. He floats the idea - infuriating to many - that for some French women this amounted to a kind of sexual liberation. Photos from Nazi archives, like the one above, were displayed in a big exhibition in Paris showing what look like high times shared by Nazi officers and French girls, generating more rage and disgust.
    So perhaps I was dreaming not only into French lives in 1944, but into the continuing challenge, for the heirs of Occupation - in which everyone's family had a story - to come to terms with history. Mulling this, I recognize that those of us who are born and live in countries that have not suffered invasion and occupation in recent generations are truly privileged. It is a challenge to our empathy and imagination to grasp fully the history of other peoples.

    I recalled a Latin tag from my school days. Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto. It is from Terence (aka Publius Terentius Afer, writing around 170 BCE) and it means, "I am a human being, I consider nothing that is human alien to me."
   Dreaming, nothing that is human is truly alien to us.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Giving a glimpse of blue sky to a dying soldier in 1916

Hameau de l'Etoile, near Montpellier, France

"Today we are going to the Gallery of Time," I explain to the eager group of adventurers gathered in a restored stone farmhouse in the Midi.
    "This is a place where many have gone to explore their connections with personalities living in other times. It will appear to you like a very long, well-lit gallery filled with art and artifacts, furniture and clothing, jewelry and masks and weapons from many different cultures. You will be drawn to one of these. When you look at that picture, or try on that coat, or sit on that chaise longue, you will be instantly drawn into the time and place from which it comes. You will find yourself entering the experiences of someone who belongs to that time. You may feel yourself entering the mind of this person and settling into his or her body for a while.
    "You need to clarify all the details. Whose life have you entered. What exactly is going on?
    "You want to establish why you have been drawn to this person. How doe the dramas and issue of this life situation compare to your own? Are there lessons to be drawn?
     "Remember that the time is Now. You may be able to establish clear mental communication with the personality whose situation you have entered. You can initiate mental dialogue. You may find that there are ways in which you can help each other, at least to understand a trans-temporal drama."

I had already introduced them to the Gatekeeper, and given them a password. You don't get to the Gallery of Time - let alone what lies beyond it - without an invitation, and certain preparation. I am eager to see what today's travelers, all bright and eager and ready, would bring back from this new expedition to a place where I have conducted hundreds of voyagers over the years.
    "Put your bodies into correct position for the journey," I remind them. Soon they are stretched out comfortably on the mats, eyes covered by sleep shades or bandannas.
    I drum for the group, and travel with them. While watching over the group, both physically and psychically, I am ready to make a personal journey. I have a low boredom threshold and have learned that the mind can be fully active in several places - levels of consciousness and reality - at once.
    I watch our travelers salute the Gatekeeper, who takes forms adjusted to their own characters and experience.
    I am detained in my own journey by unexpected activity around the steps to the great building. An old friend, who handles security here, appears dressed like a gamekeeper, in tweeds with a shotgun over his arm. Men in similar garb, and some in British military uniforms of perhaps a century ago, are coming and going and keeping close watch on the perimeter. My friend is welcoming, and approving of my guests. But he wants me to understand that there is something urgent I must do, something to do with the military.

    I enter the Gallery and realize I am in a military section, with uniforms, helmets and weapons on display. My attention is captured by an officer’s leather belts – a Sam Browne belt that goes over the shoulder and a regular belt with a leather holster attached, and a heavy pistol inside.
    I strap these on.
Immediately I join the situation of a young British officer in the trenches in the thick of World War I His first name is Norman. He has not been having a good war. His commanding officer – not a bad fellow, Norman is eager to explain – considered him a coward for holding back when ordered to take his men out of shelter into the German machine gun fire. The colonel died doing just that.
    The year is 1916. This world of mud and blood is part of the Battle of the Somme.
    Norman can’t breathe. He is buried under a heap of dead and dying men. No one is coming to help. He is going to die like this, breath forced from his lungs.
    What he most wants now is a glimpse of blue sky and green hills.
     In my mind, I am driving on a curving road, over gently rolling hills. In part of myself, I am back in upstate New York circa 1987, on a road I often drove while living on a farm near Chatham. I am drinking the fresh air through the open window, delighting in the sweet beauty of the green rolling hills, the horses grazing, the glorious blue sky with a few fluffy fair weather clouds, all more vivid than I had previously remembered.
    “Thank you,” Norman groans. I am amazed to realize that, without knowing what I was doing, I have placed happy memories from my life in upstate New York a quarter century ago into the mind of a man who is dying in a trench in Europe in 1916.
     “I want to give you something,” Norman speaks in my mind. “I was good at drawing. I was a fair draftsman. I helped design an engine. That may be old hat to you, I know, but please use anything I can give.”
      Now I understand the military theme at the entrance to the Gallery of Time. I did not come here today to fulfill an agenda set by my current self, but to answer a call from almost a century ago. I am moved to tears by the thought that I may have been called, in the simple way, to give a dying soldier a glimpse of blue sky.

We stand at the center of all times.
    There are places where it is easier to remember this, and to act on it. The Gallery of Time is one of them.
    When we are on to something as important as this, the world often helps us to hold on to it by producing a rhyme.
    The day after I entered the mind of a dying man in World War I, I ran into a man who had taken part in my workshop while waiting for a flight to Paris at Montpellier airport. He is from Sweden, and had proved himself to be an excellent travel companion in more than one reality over the three days of our adventure in "Time Travel and Reality Creation".  
     I described my visit to the dying man in World War I.
     My Swedish friend said, “World War I will end in 2018.”
     "I beg your pardon?"
     He repeated "World War I will end in 2018." He explained that this line is part of the promo for a TV series on World War I that is currently running in Sweden.

About Time

The Gallery of Time is part of a complex imaginal environment known as the House of Time. You will find a description of the House of Time and travel reports from earlier expeditions in my book Dreamgates. As is the nature of imaginal reality, every visit results in changes to the locale, which has deepened and grown enormously since 1998, when I published the first reports. To know more about what is possible here, there is no substitute for first-hand experience. 

Friday, December 6, 2013

Don't have a dream? Make something up

Almost every day, I am asked for guidance by people who have been missing their dreams. "How can I improve my dream recall?" one man asked. "I feel I've been missing the movies?"
    There are many remedies for dream amnesia that are worth a try. They start with making more room for dreams in your life. This means giving yourself time to wake up naturally, and staying in bed for a bit to see what images from the night may come back to you.
    You may want to experiment with personal rituals for dream incubation, which may be as simple as placing an image that speaks of your intention close to your bed or even under your pillow: a postcard of Paris, a beach stone, a photo of a loved one, a written statement about what you would like to dream. And then being ready to record whatever is in your mind whenever you stir from sleep.
     Whether you are a prolific dreamer or a dream amnesiac, you need to be kind to fragments. Maybe all you remember from the night is a sense of color, or a funny word, or a tiny cameo, or the song playing in your head as you woke. Don't blow these fragments a way. Your associations around them may be very revealing. You may be able to use a wisp from an otherwise forgotten dream like the end of a line, to pull back something much bigger that hid from the light of day.
    It will be of great help to you to remember that dreaming is not fundamentally about what happens during sleep. It is about waking up. And you don't have to go to sleep in order to dream. Many of the most important visionary experiences of my life have taken place in the twilight zone of hypnagogia, in "the Place Between Sleep and Awake". Look for the images and adventures you have been missing there, too.
    The world around you will speak to you in the manner of dreams, through the play of synchronicity and pop-up symbols in everyday life, if you will pay attention. And when we make more room for the play of meaningful coincidence, we sometimes manage to renew our connection with the dream source on the other side of the obvious world.
    Persistent cases of dream amnesia are often a symptom of the condition that shamans call soul loss. We are missing our dreams because we have lost a vital part of our soul, a younger self who is the dreamer. In my book Dreaming the Soul Back Home, I offer guidance on how to locate and bring back those lost boys and girls, with all their joy and energy and imagination.
    Having at least one trusted person with whom you can share dreams and personal stories in the right way on any day is a great incentive for dream recall, especially when you make a regular date to meet, whether in person or on the phone or through the shared dream of the internet.
    Even when dreams have flown, needing to bring something like a dream to the breakfast table, the coffee shop - or the workshop - is a tremendous spur to story making.
    In my workshops, I give people a standard homeplay assignment: Set an intention for the night and bring us juicy fresh material in the morning. I will often add this instruction: If you don't remember a dream, bring us a story of some kind, from any part of your life. If necessary, make something up.
    It is wonderful how this works, and grows the practice of imagination, which is at the beating heart of my work, as teacher and as creator.    

   I have long been inspired by the example of Graham Greene, who became one of England's most prolific and engaging novelists. At sixteen, he had a complete nervous breakdown. He ran away from the posh boys school where his father was headmaster, potentially a dreadful scandal. His family packed him off to London to seek a cure by living in the home of one of the first practicing psychoanalysts in Britain.
    Fortunately this proto-shrink had a relaxed and eclectic attitude. For almost three month, the main assignment he gave young Greene was this: Come to my study at 11:00 o'clock every morning and tell me a dream. When Graham did this, he was not given any interpretation; he was merely encouraged to make a series of free-form associations.
    There were days when the adolescent Greene had no dream recall, or no dreams he was willing to tell. On those days, he would make up a story and tell it as a dream. In this way, he gave him imagination a regular workout, and laid the foundation for his long and almost incredible life as a maker and teller of stories.
    So, if you don't have a dream, make something up, and share that in some way, if "only" with your journal. I put he "only" in quotes because your journal may be the very most important place for this kind of sharing.
    Similarly, if you are stumped by any other life situation, make something up.
    I once asked a group of dreamers in a week-long adventure I was leading at the Esalen Institute in California to make a shamanic journey, powered by drumming, with the aim of finding and bringing back a power song. Some people came back with ancient chants in various language. One traveler came back with "Yellow Submarine". A woman from the Midwest came back with a fresh song that became a kind of hymn to the imagination for many of our subsequent groups:

Make it up as you go along
Make it up as you go along
Make it up
Make it up
The way will show the way.

Resources: I offer many games and tricks that will help you to break a dream drought in my book Active Dreaming. I tell the full story of dreaming in Greeneland in The Secret History of Dreaming. I lead many playshops around the world where the practice of imagination is the heart of what we do; please see the events calendar at my website.

Image: René Magritte, "The Lovers"

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The shamans who interest me

The shamans who interest me are world-class dreamers who can travel between different worlds in the multiverse at will.
    They know the roads of the afterlife because they have died and come back. They walk with Death at their left shoulder, as an ally, not a dread.
 know where to find lost souls and how to guide them to where they belong, in one world or another.
    They travel in the company of animal spirits, and can borrow their senses and use their forms.
    They are time travelers who can scout out the future, repair the past and heal ancestral karma.
    They are poets of consciousness who entertain the spirits by bringing them fresh words. They heal body and mind and re-enchant the world by telling better stories about them.

Drawing: "Making Songline" (c) Robert Moss

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Shamans of the breakfast table

If I am going to sit down with people at the breakfast table, I want (1) dreams (2) coffee (3) bacon when I am in the United States. In France I want (1) dreams (2) coffee (3) fresh baguette or croissants. In Turkey I want (1) dreams (2) a glass of tea (3) fresh fruit and olives. In England I want (1) dreams (2) a pot of English Breakfast tea (3) crumpets. In Scotland I want (1) dreams (2) a mug of black tea (3) oatmeal with sea salt. In Brazil I want (1) dreams (2) cafezinho (3) tropical fruit.
    You'll notice my top priority remains constant. The dreams are essential. The rest of the breakfast menu is optional. Here's why:

True shamans are dreamers. They are typically called to their vocation in dreams, and dreaming strong - traveling in lucid dreams to help souls find their way, to diagnose and treat illness, and to scout out the future - is the core of their practice. Anyone who dreams, as the Kagwahiv, an Amazonian dreaming people say, is "a little bit shaman", so we stand on the brink of claiming this power when we remember our dreams and start to develop the practice of working with dreams and traveling with intention into the dreamspace.
     Once we are catching dreams, we need to develop a way of sharing them with others that is mutually empowering and brings energy and juice from the dream world into everyday life. I have developed a simple method for dream sharing that makes it fun and safe to share dreams with just about anyone, anytime, at the breakfast table or at the workplace or even in the line at the grocery store checkout.
     I call this Lightning Dreamwork, because it is meant to be fast as a lightning bolt, and to focus and harness energy. The method is not meant to preempt many other things we may want to do with a dream. Some dreams require tending over time, or remaining alert to how waking events may slowly catch up with a dream and reveal its meaning. Some call for a conscious journey back inside the space of the dream, or performance, or creative expression, or sustained research and inquiry.
     What Lightning Dreamwork provides is a way of dream sharing that can reach temporary closure in just five or ten minutes, exploding any alibi that we don't have time for this. This approach also offers clear guard rails that insure that we will not intrude on each other's privacy and will never presume to tell another person what his or her dreams mean. Dreams belong to the dreamer, and even if we are gifted therapists or infallible psychics, it is never permissible to take another person's power away by telling them what their dreams or their lives mean.
     Once you have mastered and internalized the four steps of the Lightning Dreamwork process, you are ready to play dream guide and dream ambassador, opening a space of power and healing and fabulous adventure for others.

Here's what you do with your dreams at the breakfast table, or anywhere else you choose to
share, in four easy steps:

1. Get the dreamer to tell the dream as a story, as simply and clearly as possible. Encourage the dreamer to leave out the background (no autobiography) and avoid any attempts at interpretation, and to tell, rather than read, the dream report. In this way, we encourage each other to reclaim our gifts as storytellers. This is hugely important life training. Once we have learned to tell our dreams well in this way, we are primed to tell whatever stories we may need to communicate with others.

2. Ask a few essential questions. The first question to ask, of any dream, is what did you feel, immediately on waking? First feelings are instant guides to whether the dream is negative or positive, and often to whether it needs to be viewed literally or symbolically, or as an experience in a separate reality. We also want to do a reality check, asking what the dreamer recognizes from the dream in the rest of her life - including from other dreams, since dreams often run in series. We need to ask whether anything in the dream could manifest in some way in the future, since our dreams are forever rehearsing us for future events.

3. We can now say to the dreamer, "If this were my dream, I would think about such-and-such." In offering feedback according to this protocol, we can say just about anything we like. Notice that as we do this, we are owning our projections: that we are speaking from our own experience and point of view, not purporting to be experts. We may be a thousand miles removed from the dreamer's own felt sense of the dream, but this can be helpful in assisting the dreamer to home in on what the dream means for her.

4. Last, we guide the dreamer to bring home the bacon by coming up with an action plan: a way of honoring the dream, applying its guidance, and harnessing its energy. The action plan may range from researching an odd phrase or location featured in the dream, to eating (or giving up) a certain food, to creative expression, to dream reentry, which means revisiting the dream, in a conscious journey, to solve a mystery or move beyond a fear or enjoy more of the adventure.

Resources: I explain the Lightning Dreamwork process in depth in my books TheThree "Only" Things and ActiveDreaming. You can watch the game played by a lively circle of active dreamers in my DVD series The Way of the Dreamer. It gives us a way to practice dreamwork as everyday therapy and everyday church that brings juice to any day and grows deep friendships. I believe it is a vital tool for rebirthing a dreaming society, in our time, in our world.

Breakfast photos (c) Robert Moss

Monday, December 2, 2013

Why we dream

"Why do we dream?" asked the blue butterfly girl, looking around the circle of animals she had invited to her tea party by the garden gate.
    "You dream so we can always be together," said Bear, without hesitation. "You dream so you will always have a friend. "
    "You dream so you can see," said Hawk. His golden eyes flashed.
    "You dream so you can learn to be brave like me," said Lion.
    "Nonsense," said Mr. Fox. "You dream so you can tell stories about me."
    "Grandfather," the girl looked into the tea water. "Why do we dream?"
    Grandfather Teller's voice bubbled like a pot about to boil. "You dream because humans are the animals that tell stories about all the others."

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Who is the dreamer?

We travel, in this world and in others, in the direction of our interests and desires, and we see what is around us through our personal lens.
    Swedenborg, one of the great astral travelers, observed that this determines our experience of the afterlife. He wrote in Heaven and Hell about how the light of heaven was a consuming and terrible fire to those who wanted to go somewhere else.
    This is highly relevant to how we understand what goes on in our dreams. The famous American psychic Edgar Cayce suggested that we need to discern whether a certain dream reflects the needs or wishes of the body, the mind or the spirit.
    Our dreams are often excursions, in which we travel beyond the physical body in a subtle vehicle, guided by whatever part of the self is in control.

    Let's turn to another of the world's great astral travelers, the Persian mystic philosopher Shahabuddin Suhrawardi, whose followers called him Shaykh al-Ishraq, the Leader of Illumination. He distinguished different levels of dreaming – with corresponding degrees of importance and reliability – according to which aspect of the self is the prime experiencer.
     Clear dreams or “free revelation” [kashf] are experiences of soul [ruh] traveling beyond the body, or having clear communication with a visitor. The territory visited may be a separate reality or a situation in the future. “With the eye of the free soul, by the imagination, a person contemplates in dreams the state of things which is yet in the hidden.”
     In this condition, the dreamer can have accurate foreknowledge of future events, and true clairvoyance. “After separation from the body, the soul knows even of the small things heard and seen of this world.” In clear dreams, the dreamer becomes a remote viewer.
     This is a practice that can be developed in waking states of altered consciousness, or mukashafa. The Prophet Muhammad scouted out the progress of a caravan en route to Mecca in this way. The Caliph Umar, from afar, scouted an ambush that had been laid for his general Sariya (and sent his general a telepathic warning that was received).
     The second of Suhrawardi's categories is symbolic dreams or “fancied revelations”. These he defines as dreams in which the lower self [nafs] is dominant. Clear vision is cloaked by the “fancy garments” of appetite and desire. Landscapes traveled in such dreams are “the stages of lust.” Interpretation is required to separate a message from the fancy dress.
     Suhrawardi's lowest category is dreams of  “pure fancy”. These unfold when “sensual thoughts” take over completely and higher consciousness [ruh] is “veiled from considering the hidden world.”

Then there are the dreams in which we seem to join or rejoin another personality, in another body, in a different reality or a very different version of our present world. I have just been reading the travel reports of a prolific dreamer who has found herself entering the perspective, the life experience and seemingly the bodies of different animals, including a small terrier dog and a very large polar bear.
     These experiences seem to me entirely plausible, and possibly quite similar to the dreaming of many of our ancestors, and of indigenous people who remain rooted in the old ways. This dreamer loves animals and lives close to the natural world, so it seems likely that the animal-lover in her, and the part of her that not only identifies with animals but is willing to learn from them, takes charge during these adventures. Typically, she retains dual awareness, of her human self with its current life situation and memories, and of the animal self she joins.
Here's a question to ask when you come back from a dream excursion: who was the dreamer?

Translations of Suhrawardi are from H. Wilberforce (ed. and trans.) A Dervish Textbook ('Awariful-Ma'arif) London: Octagon Press, 1990. For more on Suhrawardi, see The Secret History of Dreaming.

Photo:  Beyoğlu mirrors (c) Robert Moss

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Mysteries of Madison and Flying Books

I first went to Madison, Wisconsin because I met a stranger on the wrong seat on the wrong plane. I was en route to Boise, Idaho that day. I missed my connection at O'Hare airport and was put on another plane with an entirely different itinerary. When I took my seat, people on board started swapping seats. An attractive, mature woman took the place of the man who had been sitting next to me. By this stage my antennae were twitching because when our plans get screwed up, the Trickster comes into play.
    My new rowmate turned out to be a fellow-writer, who wrote popular romances under a pseudonym. She noticed that I was carrying a copy of my just-published book, Conscious Dreaming. I surrendered it and she was soon engrossed.
    Having lost my conversation partner to my own book, I glanced up at the screen to see what in-flight movie was playing. I saw a silly dog with fake antlers dressed up for some holiday photo shoot. I held my breath because in the previous night's dreams, I had seen a silly dog with fake antlers. In my dream, the dog ran out on the road and was killed. He was magically revived by a bizarre character who did not conform to any social norms. As the in-flight movie continued to play, I realized that I had previewed the whole thing in my dream. The silly dog was killed on screen, and was magically revived by a bizarre character who happened to be the Archangel Michael, as portrayed by Jon Travolta in the movie of that name.
    My rowmate was now talking to me again. She was very excited by the suggestions in my book about how to approach writing as a state of conscious dreaming, and all the creative games I suggested for writers to play. "Would you be willing to teach in Madison, Wisconsin?" she asked. I said I might come if people asked me nicely. She told me that Madison was her home town and that she had connections at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She volunteered to try to get me invited as a keynote presenter at next year's summer Writers Institute at UW-Madison.


She delivered. The following summer, I went to Madison for the first time. Madison is a great city, full of creative people and original thinkers and bike riders. It is also deep in Cheesehead territory. The writers took me out to dinner at a fine Italian restaurant. The server who brought our drinks asked, "Would you like some cheese with that?" Why, sure. He returned with a one-pound brick of Wisconsin cheddar that he plunked in the center of the table. A pound of cheese between four people, before the appetizers. While I marveled at this, the server returned to ask, "Would you like some cheese curds with that?"   
    I enjoyed teaching for the Writers Institute. Confronted with 300 people, some of whom were nursing blocks bigger than the biggest cheese in the state (over 5,000 pounds), I had the whole group chant three words, over and over. "Wind-water-breath". A translation of the Pueblo Indian word for creativity.
   At breakfast in the below-ground restaurant in the college motel, I stepped into an alternate universe. I was surrounded by sports pennants, photos of football teams and football stars, and other sports memorabilia. I was gripped by creeping dread that through some quantum slippage I was now in a parallel reality where people who were not dedicated to American football would be hunted down and put in a corrective facility.
    I was mulling this when the elderly man at the next table raised his eyes above his newspapers. He studied me for a moment, then said very slowly, "Would you like the sports page?" 

My second visit to Madison came about because that same book, Conscious Dreaming, introduced itself to another stranger without need of my presence. A well-known shamanic teacher, resident in Madison, was traveling in another state. He visited a bookshop, looking for something else, and a copy of Conscious Dreaming flew off a shelf and hit him over the third eye. He had never heard of the author, but he bought the book. When he read it, he decided that he needed to invite me to Madison to lead a workshop on Shamanic Dreaming.
    Sometimes it's hard not to notice that forces behind the curtain walls of our ordinary perception are at play in coincidence and chance encounters. As for my flying book, well, that could be the work of shelf elves. Yet again, there are flying books, the kind that need to be placed in a bird cage or laid under heavy weights on a table to stop them flapping about of their own accord.
     I know that Conscious Dreaming is one of those books. Besides the bookstore incidents, I have heard dozens of reports of how the figures on the cover have come winging into people's dreams before they were aware of the book in ordinary reality. A copy of the first printing is at my left hand. I am going to put a fat, heavy scholarly tome on top of it before I walk the dog, just to make sure it does not go off on its own

I'll be in Madison again in April 2014, launching my new book The Boy Who Died and Came Back at Unity Church on Friday April 4 and leading a 2-day adventure in Celtic dreaming at a dream location in rolling horse country just outside town on April 5-6. Details here. 

Friday, November 29, 2013

The White Goddess and the habit of coincidence

The White Goddess is a "queer" and difficult book, as the author, the poet and novelist Robert Graves, cautions his readers in a foreword. The subtitle in itself may scare away some readers: A historical grammar of poetic myth. Yet it is a book I find myself returning to, again and again, over the years - though since I was a teen I have never been mad enough to try to read it from front to back.
     The whole book is a celebration of the Goddess, as she may have been worshiped in matrifocal Old Europe, and other places, before the advent of patriarchal gods installed by patriarchal men. The material came to Graves, and came through him, in a marvelous flow; he dashed off the first draft (then titled The Roebuck in the Thicket) in just three weeks. Specialists will carp at his prodigious but errant scholarship, which is guided by rhyme and resemblance rather than any logical ordering. Few who are learned in the languages and customs of the Celts, in his day or ours, will accept him as an irreproachable source on the Battle of the Trees or the Matter of Britain.
     Yet it is impossible not to thrill to the passion of a poet who proclaims that the business of poetry is to serve the Three-fold Muse, and restore the Goddess, and gives us the most rousing and transfiguring (if not the most literal) version of the Song of Amergin that has ever been sung in English.

I am a stag: of seven tines,
I am a flood: across a plain,
I am a wind: on a deep lake,
I am a tear: the Sun lets fall,
I am a hawk: above the cliff,
I am a thorn: beneath the nail,
I am a wonder: among flowers,
I am a wizard: who but I
sets the cool head aflame with smoke?

In writing The White Goddess, as in other inspired work. Graves was certain that he was not alone in his creative space. In addition to what stirred in his imagination, he noticed objects in his physical environment showed up in ways that suggested a hidden hand, from the realm of the Goddess. In a postscript he added to The White Goddess in 1960, he recounted that when he started on the first draft of that book

I had in my work-room several small West African brass objects - bought from a London dealer - gold-dust weights, mostly in the shape of animals, among them a humpback playing a flute. I also had a small brass-box with a lid, intended (so the dealer told me) to contain gold dust. I kept the humpback seated on the box. In fact, he is still seated there; but I knew nothing about him, or about the design on the box-lid until ten years had gone by. The I learned that the humpback was a herald in the service of the Queen-mother of some Akan State; and that every reigning Queen-Mother (and there are a few reigning even today) claims to be an incarnation of the Triple Moon Goddess Ngame. The design of the box-lid, a spiral, connected by a single stroke to the rectangular frame enclosing it - the frame having nine teeth on either side means: ‘None greater in the universe than the Triple Goddess Ngame!’ These gold weights and the box were made before the British seizure of the Gold Coast, by craftsmen subservient to the Goddess, and regarded as highly magical.

When he learned the meaning of these African objects, Graves suspected that an African version of the Moon Goddess had played a part in his inspiration. The story deepened after World War II, when he returned to work on his manuscript. He was now writing about the sacred king, first the consort and then the sacrificial victim of the Goddess in certain traditions. Now a collector named Georg Schwartz bequeathed to Graves "five or six more Akan gold-weights, among them a mummy-like figurine with one large eye." Graves was able to have this strange figure identified as the Akan king's okrafo priest, who in later times served as a surrogate victim, in place of the king. "The okrafo figurine lay beside the herald on the gold box, while I wrote about the Goddess's victims."
     After publication of the first edition of The White Goddess, "a Barcelona antiquary" invited Graves to choose a stone from a selection of Roman gems. Among them was "a stranger", a banded carnelian seal from an earlier culture, engraved with a stag galloping towards a thicket with a crescent moon on his flank - the very image that had given the poet his original title, The Roebuck in the Thicket.
     "Chains of more-than-coincidence occur so often in my life," Graves observed, "that, if I am forbidden to call them supernatural hauntings, let me call them a habit." He hastens to add that he's not keen on the word "supernatural", since he finds patterns of "more-than-coincidence" entirely natural, though escaping the explanations of science.
     Call them a habit. I like that very much. Meaningful coincidences or correspondences do multiply when we are charged with passion, and in forward movement on the roads of life and creation, Goddess knows.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Before you push too hard, check whether you are at the right door

In a difficult passage in my life, I was hell-bent on pursuing a certain project that I calculated would pay my bills and give me some room for creative expression. But every time I tried to push forward, I found myself blocked. Something inside me resisted my ambitions, and the world seemed to rebuff me at every turning.
    Despondent, I sat down and tried to make sense of my situation.
    Suddenly, I had a clear vision of myself from a witness perspective.
    I saw myself beating on a heavy wooden door, studded with metal, banging my fists until my knuckles were raw and bloody. I saw myself pausing to take a few rasping breaths, seemingly exhausted, before pounding again on the door that would not open.
    Okay, that's how it is. Like many night dreams, my spontaneous vision was holding up a magic mirror to my actions and attitudes. Was that all?
    I felt a prickling sensation at the back of my neck. I found myself drawn from my observer position into the scene, which was more alive to me now than the family room where I was sitting. My second self was still beating his fists uselessly on the unyielding door. But the prickling sensation was guiding me to turn around and look at something invisible to him. I turned to my right, and saw an elegant, mysterious figure beckoning me with a crooked finger. There was a Trickster quality about him. He was standing in a beautiful archway. Behind him a winding path led up a slope among flowering trees into a landscape of beauty and abundance. I felt that everything I was seeking in life was through that arch.
    The Gatekeeper waited for me to grasp what he was showing me.
    My vision and understanding were still far from complete.
    If all this bright promise was waiting for me, through an open door, what was I doing beating myself bloody at the door that would not yield?

  I turned to study again the situation of the Robert who was beating on the door. I discovered two things. While with one hand the Gatekeeper was beckoning me through the open gate of possibility, with his other hand he was holding that heavy, metal-studded door shut. The real shocker was that I could now see what was behind the door I had been desperate to open. The space behind it looked like a jail cell. I had been exhausting myself in an effort to put myself in a place of confinement.
    This powerful vision led me to make some radical life choices. I abandoned the project on which I had been working for months. Little by little, I found myself on the path between the flowering trees, in a world of ever-burgeoning creative possibility.
    The vision helped me to gain clarity on some rules for conscious living that work for me:

1. When one door closes, or won't open, look for the door that opens onto better things.

2. Before you push too hard, check whether you are at the right door.

3. Recognize that there is a Gatekeeper in life who opens and closes doors, and be ready to honor him (or her) and pay the price of entry, which may simply be a clear eye and an open heart.

Oh, there is one more. 

4. As long as you stand in your own way, you will find the world stands in your way.

I confess that #4 is borrowed from Ralph Waldo Emerson, my favorite homespun American philosopher. The original version is: "As long as a man stands in his own way, everything seems to be in his way."

Photos (c) Robert Moss. Doors at the Albright Knox Museum in Buffalo, NY, Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, at the Basilica of St. Peter and St. Paul, Vyšehrad, Prague, and at the exit from the harem at the Topkapi Palace, Istanbul.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The dream people are waiting for you

You are on the road of your ordinary life, maybe on the morning commute, by car or subway or on foot. Things are not moving swiftly or smoothly. You are worried you’ll be late. Now it seems you may not be able to get through at all, on your familiar route, because there is a major obstruction ahead. The way is torn up, or blocked. Hard to see whether this is because of new construction or an accident.
     Weary and frustrated, you notice an amazing being, slipping with a dancer’s grace between the stopped cars or people. There is something familiar about this figure. As it approaches the mouth of a tunnel, you realize, incredulous, that this figure is you – that is to say, an amazingly supple and youthful version of you, radiant in its beauty. The figure proceeds to fly up the tunnel, which leads upward. How can this be? Oh, that’s right. You must be dreaming. Wait – if you are dreaming, you can fly too. How could you ever forget?
    Now you are flying up the tunnel, exhilarated by the speed and your freedom from the clogged traffic you have left behind.
    You come out in a high, fresh place in the woods. A clean, sweet wind lifts your hair and shows you your way. You come to a meeting space, a lodge among the trees constructed from what the forest gives willingly. A great circle is gathered on the dirt floor, around a fire. The people here live very close to the Earth. The firelight reddens their skin as they sing and drum together. You stand, hesitant, in the door of the lodge, not wishing to intrude.
    But an elder rises from the circle and indicates that you are welcome, and that the dream people have a place waiting for you. You sit with them. You sing with them. You feel the depth and comfort of being welcomed home.
    After a good long time, when the fire is gentle, you rise from your place and move to the center of the space. You bow to the fire, and stretch out on the ground next to it.
     One by one, the dream people approach you. One of them takes glowing coals from the fire and places them over your eyes, saying, “We do this to open your eyes, so that you may see clearly.”
     Another places glowing coals over your ears, and sings, “We do this to open your ears, so you may hear clearly.”
     One places a hot coal on your mouth, saying, “We do this to open your mouth, so that henceforth you will speak only truth.”
     The wisest of the wise places a red-hot coal on your heart, and you feel it sear a passage through your body. The wise one sings, “We do this to open your heart, and to open the passage between your heart and your mouth, so that henceforth you will speak and act only from the heart.”
     When you rise from your place by the fire, you are not the same. You go out among the trees, and you promise to the wood and the wind and the stars, “Henceforth, I will speak and act only from the heart.”

"Opening the Heart" (c) Robert Moss

Friday, November 22, 2013

The dead are alive in our dreams

There I go again. I am with someone who was very close to me, many years ago. We are holding a dinner party together, and I am proud of the elegant dining set I purchased. The table can seat twenty people quite comfortably, and cheerful guests are taking their seats.
    I want to tell the group how I came to buy this table. I ask if anyone knows the story.
    Patricia Garfield, a famous dream author, raises her hand, turning from her place at the table.
    I am going to tell my story anyway. It involves a visit to a "cheap" Sotheby's auction in London, not one of the grand auctions. My purchase of this table marked a turning point in my life. I now believe that without the table - and its promise of engagement with large, convivial groups in a social setting - my life would have taken a different course, and I would not have remained close to the woman who is responsible for tonight's party.
    When I step outside the house for a moment, into bright sunlight, I realize that in the reality where my body is asleep in bed, the woman I am with is dead. She died many years ago.
    So I am in a dream.
    I look back at the house. It is a row house in London, like houses I lived in long ago. The scene is entirely real, and solid - the portly taxi pulling up near the steps, the couple with a baby in a perambulator, the sounds from the house.
    Is the Robert in bed in upstate New York dreaming me, or am I dreaming him?
    I am in a place where someone who died in one world is alive in another.
    This feels less like an afterlife situation than like a parallel reality, an alternate world, where she is alive and I made radically different life choices.

I woke from this dream excursion feeling calm and reflective, saddened by memories of the loss of a wonderful woman who died tragically young, cheered by the idea that she may be enjoying a happy life in another reality, and maybe in many alternate realities.
    It's a common, perhaps even universal experience to find that the dead are alive in our dreams.
    Often an encounter with the dead, in a dream, becomes a prompt to dream lucidity. As we begin to realize that someone we are with has died (in our default reality), an inner voice may say, I am dreaming. 
    The presence of Patricia Garfield*, the dream author, may have been a prompt to the Robert at that dinner table to say to himself, I am dreaming.   
    There are things of huge importance afoot.
     Encounters with the dead, especially in dreams, have been a primary source of human knowledge of the afterlife throughout the whole odyssey of our kind on the planet. More than this, we may come to understand that in dreams and visions, we are at home in the realities where those who died in this world are at home. We don't need to puzzle over what happens in the afterlife once we realize that we are already in it.
     As I write this, I am back in a world that I know is real through the evidence of my

senses. My left instep hurts a bit, the legacy of excessive hill walking in recent travels. I hear the Bluetooth-ed mailman talking to unseen persons as he walks the street.I sense my fierce bad kitten trying to sneak into my study to turn it into a toy room.
     Yet my senses were no less alive when I was welcoming guests at the enormous dining table. I could smell the aromas of cooking from the kitchen, and of the flower arrangements on the table. I could feel sun on my face when I stepped outside.
    I muse over the many ways in which the Robert who is at home in that scene is different from my present self. He is highly social, very willing to entertain twenty or more people in his own home. By contrast, the Robert who is writing now is fiercely private at home and avoids social scenes, except in the context of his chosen work. (I often sit down to dinner with twenty people when I am leading residential retreats.)
      Yes, the dinner scene where someone dead was alive is a dream. And it is entirely real. Like life. Here and there, now and then.
The experience of parallel worlds and alternate realities is probably the most important feature of my dreaming, and has been as far back as I can remember.

*Patricia Garfield's book Creative Dreaming marked a watershed in our understanding and discussion of what goes on in dreaming. Before I met her, and before I started leading public classes around 1990, I dreamed that there was tremendous excitement in the small city where I was living because Patricia Garfield had moved to town and was teaching people about the importance of dreams. When I shared the dream with a friend, she shot me between the eyes by saying "YOU are the famous author who moved to this town and you are the one who should lead dream classes." (We did not yet use the "if it were my dream" protocol!) The next day, I received a call from a local arts center asking if I would lead some classes. They had creative writing classes in mind but were thrilled when I proposed dream classes - because of my dream of Patricia Garfield and my conversation about it. I enjoyed telling Patricia this story when I met her for the first time, 20 years ago. It is in my new book, The Boy Who Died and Came Back.

I have written at length about dream encounters with the dead, and dream travels in worlds where the dead are alive, in several of my books, especially Conscious Dreaming, Dreamgates and The Dreamer's Book of the Dead

Photos of tombstone at Vyšehrad  (c) Robert Moss

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Celtic songs of shapeshifting

Mosswood Hollow, Duvall, Washington

A great and distinctive mode of Celtic poetry is the song of shapeshifting. A famous example is the Song of Amergin, in which the bard of the Milesians lays claim to the land of Ireland by singing of his many selves and his identity with many forms of animate life.  In Robert Graves' version in The White Goddess, it begins

I am a stag: of seven tines,
I am a flood: across a plain,
I am a wind: on a deep lake,
I am a tear: the Sun lets fall.

    In this spirit, I felt that the best way to honor and gather the deep experiences we shared in a recent group journey into Celtic Dreaming would be to give everyone the creative assignment of writing a personal song of shapeshifting. The offerings came after we had traveled deep and far together on the borders of Faerie, in the realms of the ancestors, on the track of the Antlered Goddess, in the flow of Sequana, to Merlin's enchanted apple orchard.
    In our closing session, a superior ceilidh in a great yurt in the greenwoods of the Cascades, I asked everyone to write their poems on index cards. The cards were then shuffled and then dealt at random. Each person read the poem that they drew, before the author was identified. In this way, we were able to take in another's imagination deeply, while all of us grew a deepening awareness of our connection with the whole web of life, with the hawk on the hill, with the cherry blossom, with the bones of the earth, with the dragon.

Susan wrote:

I am the child who plays in the branches of the oak tree
I am the woman the gray whale sees
I am she the Sea Kings sought to teach me their song
I am the motherless daughter whose love heals and protects
When I dance, cherry blossoms trickle from my fingertips.

Nancy Eister wrote:

I am the white mare rolling on my back
in a grassy field gleaming in the hot sun

I am the blades of green grass bearing the mare's weight
then springing back, with the joy of her steamy breath

I am the white bones beneath the soil:
ancestors, animals, antlers.

And the white stones on the hill, stacked just so
five thousand years ago to capture the winter sun's illumination

I am the Sun behind the sun, whose rays transmute
bone and stone into liquid light

I lift the eagle aloft, and the gull
I warm the seed's dream of springing up
through the soil as grass for the white mare.

I am the moon goddess casting a silver net over this night
I am the brooding black raven asleep in the dark wood
I am the dreamer and the fox who guards the dreamer 
I am the windswept plain where lost dreams can be found
I am the bone songs of my ancestors playing on the wind
I am the heart of the ancient sycamore crumbling into dust
I am green leaves capturing rays of sunlight as they fall
I am the lone crane, standing watch near the shore
I am the jumping salmon crane silently waits for
I am the dance of flickering flame consuming it all
I am Phoenix reborn from the ash of what came before.

My workshop "Return of the Ancient Deer: A Journey into Celtic Dreaming" will be held again in Madison, Wisconsin, over the weekend of April 5-6, 2014. Expect poetry, and dragons (of course).
"The King's Dolmen", oil crayons (c) Robert Moss