Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Dreams meet under lion's blue eyes at Amsterdam airport

Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam en route to Bucharest

I embarked on the long journey from my little home airport in upstate New York to Bucharest on Monday. Thanks to a flight cancellation, I was following a quite different itinerary than the one I had booked long ago. It would give me a layover at Amsterdam's Schiphol airport instead of at Paris Charles de Gaulle. The unexpected Amsterdam connection was tagged by delicious poetic synchronicity, as I noted in my last article in this space.
    So now my antennae are all quivering, because when your plans get screwed up, the Trickster comes into play. There is a kind of tilt to the day. Chance encounters may be fascinating, if you are open to them. You are aware that you are traveling paths that were not on your maps, beyond the settled lands of Planning and Calculation.
    I enjoy my conversations with the first fellow-travelers I meet. They are both men who love beer and have a seemingly endless supply of factoids about craft brewing, alcohol content, hops and more - and have clearly both looked in a beer mug or two when it was brown. I like beer, so I was happy to chime in with some preferences and stories of my own.
    The sharp edge of both conversations emerged through this froth. Both men had well-paid jobs that did more than pay the bills but seemed to leave them gasping for air. I expressed my view that the trick in life is to do what you love and let the universe find a way to support that. Soon we were talking about what this would mean, in practice, for each of these increasingly conscious travelers. I led them through what I call the Juggling Act.
   "List the things you most love - it's okay to include beer! - and picture yourself holding these things in your left hand. Now list the skills, resources and connections you have, and see yourself balancing these in your right hand."
   We talked about how to shuffle together these two sets, of love objects and skills. No immediate business plans or flashes of divine lightning came through, but the exercise is fun and engaging.
    Now my plane is coming down through grey sea-mists over Amsterdam, a city below sea level. I have arrived a few minutes early, but there is still no time to be lost getting across the vast, bustling airport to my new departure gate, D54. I find a crowd of travelers waiting at the gate for the security check. A pretty younger woman glances at my boarding pass. "You are Flying Blue Silver," she telle me. "You don't have to wait with us. You can go to the front."
    I tell her I'll stay where I am in the line. There's no rush. She's Romanian, I guess. Correct. She's going back to Cluj to continue her studies as a medical student. She loves to travel the world and she especially likes Amsterdam.
    The conversation quickly takes off. When she completes her medical training, she wants to be an oncologist. Soon we are talking about the role of imagery in healing cancer. The importance of imaginal healing is now well-recognized in oncology, the field she has chosen. "If you can help a cancer patient to see and sense and believe in an ally who can help them fight the disease inside their body, they do better." Under questioning, I explain that this is the kind of thing I train people to do.
    She wants to know about my trainings, and my books. I mention my book Active

Dreaming. She whips out her smartphone to find the American edition online. She wants to read in in English. She gasps when she sees the cover - a fierce lion door knocker that is really in your face, hinting that if you want to get to the good stuff, you need to brave up.
   "Last night, I dreamed of a lion with blue eyes and a white mane, in a swimming pool."
   I don't comment that I am have loved lions all my life and that I am a big cat who loves to swim. I do tell her that my working title for this book was The Place of the Lion, and that it contains my story of a big dream in which a lion advised me on how to approach life.
   I show her the cover of my spiritual memoir The Boy Who Died and Came Back, which has beautiful endorsements from two exceptional M.D.s who are helping us to remember and grow the spirit-body connection: Raymond Moody and Larry Dossey.
    Her eyes widen. "This conversation is a gift to me," she tells me. "I've been thinking a lot about death, and what happens after death." She explains that a good friend died, with his girlfriend, in the Malaysian Airlines plane that was shot down over eastern Ukraine. I ask if she has had a sense of his presence.
    "I've been dreaming of him almost every night."
    "How is he doing?"
    "He's fine. Last time I saw him, he was leading me up a ladder. I was behind him, and his girlfriend was behind me. The ladder was not an ordinary ladder. It was an oak tree. I don't know where we were going, but this felt important, and wonderful."
     I told her that the very first time I taught in Eastern Europe, I guided a group of fifty people to journey with the aid of shamanic drumming through the portal of an oak tree. For shamans, I explained, any tree can be a ladder between the worlds, an axis mundi. However, for many of us of European ancestry, the oak has special importance. Druids, for example, were called oak seers.
     Truth comes with boosebumps. Synchronicity is the spice of travel, and a way of knowing that you are on the right path even when the daily trivial mind might try to tell you that you are off schedule or off track.  

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Amsterdam rhymes

1. I hear from the airline that the middle flight in my three-part journey to Bucharest, starting tomorrow [Sept 29], has been cancelled. That flight was supposed to take me from Atlanta to Paris-Charles de Gaulle.

2. I have not been re-booked so I call an agent. The wait is long.

3. To pass time, I open my Facebook messages and find that a friend has sent me a link to a poem by David Whyte, “What to Remember When Waking”.  The poem counsels us to bring memories of a deeper world into this one and to recognize how the ego’s plans may be trumped by a deeper plan:

What you can plan
is too small
for you to live.

What you can live
will make plans
for the vitality
hidden in your sleep.

4. I love the poem, but I have read it many times and at least a dozen people have sent me links in the past. So I am in no haste to re-read it. However, I am struck by the graphic, a beautiful black-and-white photo of a canal in Amsterdam, apparently taken by the poet himself this month. I tell my Facebook friend, "I will look for an Amsterdam connection today."

5. The music on the phone stops. I have a human being on the phone, a very nice one, as it turns out, with a promising name: Angela. I tell her my situation and suggest we might want to look at rebooking my whole itinerary.

6. In about one minute, she has done the trick. My whole itinerary has been changed. The middle flight now takes me from Detroit to....AMSTERDAM.

There really is a logic of resemblances in life, and (as I was again reminded) we need to be in a state of good poetic health to read it and apply it.

The moment I wrote and posted this short narrative I received notification that I have been upgraded to First class for the first leg of the new itinerary. This stuff works.

Photo © David Whyte 
Early Morning Amsterdam September 2014

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Black Chow Named Bear

One of my personal superstitions is that a black dog in a friendly mood is a good sign for any day. I received confirmation just now, with a further tender ripple of synchronicity.

I am walking my little dog when a big furry black dog comes bounding along, unleashed. His head and chest are huge. When he rushes up to us, wanting to play, I see that he is very like a bear.
    “Bear!” his owner calls him.
    He’s a chow.
    A black dog named Bear, happy and off the leash – and of Chinese origin.
    Chows were kept as hunting and guard dogs in ancient China and Mongolia, and were considered good eating. Our use of the word “chow” for food probably originates from the edible dog, whose meat was available in Chinese restaurants until not that long ago.
    The Chinese piece offers an interesting sample of synchronicity: I had been working some Chinese elements into a draft chapter of a novel earlier that morning, and had returned to reading some Chinese classics. Just before walking my dog and meeting the chow, I had entered these thoughts from Chuang Tzu in my notebook:

How do I know that we who hate death are not lost children who have forgotten their way home?

And better still:

Fools think that they are awake.

Note: Shelf Elves among My Journals

I lifted the report above from my journal for January 4, 2007. I did not go looking for it; it came looking for me. I was reshelving binders and the typed page with the chow story came  fluttering out, into my hand.
    My favorite form of bibliomancy is to open an old journal at random and see what it gives me. Sometimes an old journal – or a shelf elf lurking nearby – chooses to speak to me before I consult it.
    This is also an example of how, when you decide to study synchronicity, the world gives you ever more experiences of it.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Anubis loses his right knee: A cautionary tale

I have a little plastic figure of Anubis I like to carry around with me. Anubis is the canine-headed god of ancient Egypt who is most closely associated with dreaming and travel between the worlds. He's the one you want with you, in friendly mode, at the gates of the world-behind-the-world. In early Egypt, children were given figures of Anubis as guardians of the night and as encouragement to dream strong.
    The fact that my favorite Anubis talisman is just a $5 toy from the children's section of a museum shop tickles me, and brings a warm fuzzy sense of connection with both my Boy Roberts and the big black dog I loved fiercely. When his ears pricked up, he was a dead ringer for Anubis in his full canine form. After he was killed on the road, he returned to me again and again as an impeccable guide, in dreams and visions.
   Yesterday, noticing that Anubis was not on my desk, I went looking for him, and found him in the cargo pocket of the shorts I was wearing on a hot day, leading an adventure in "Dreaming Like an Egyptian" at Mosswood Hollow. When I placed the little figure at my right hand, next to my computer keyboard, I noticed that he was missing part of his right leg. It had broken off just above the knee. I felt even more affection for the little figure, remembering a beloved childhood story of a one-legged toy soldier ("The Steadfast Tin Soldier"). I did not dwell for long on the symbolism of the damage to the right leg, around the knee.
    In the afternoon, I was lugging a heavy burden down the stairs in my home. Since I suffered a knee injury six years ago, I take stairs very carefully, usually holding on to the railing. But the awkward load I was carrying required both hands. At the top of the lower staircase, I had a sudden, vivid vision of myself falling down the stairs. I brushed this aside, not wanting to step into an anxiety projection.
    I made it most of the way down the stairs when I fell, landing heavily on elbows and knees. Blood gushed from my right arm, just below the elbow, but the worst damage was to my right knee. This was the knee that I injured six years ago, when I managed to sever one of the muscles in the quad that holds the kneecap in place. I managed to avoid surgery, but I have needed to be very careful on slopes and stairs, especially going down.
    My knee creaked and complained, and was soon swollen to twice its regular size. Several Aleve tablets and icepacks later, the swelling had subsided and I could get around, limping a bit. I reflected on the fact that I was wearing the same Orvis polo shirt I was wearing on the day, six years before, when I first injured my right knee.
    I went online in the evening and saw that a friend who has taken my dream teacher training fell down stairs - on her face - about the same time.
    I picked up my Anubis figurine and touched the stump of its right leg. There really are things that like to happen together, as the Chinese say.
    Limping around the lake in the park with my little dog this morning, I think about lessons to be drawn. My fall down the stairs was eminently avoidable. I paid the price for failing to pay close enough attention to the kind of coincidence the ancients might have seen as a message from the realm of the gods, and then for confusing presentiment (my vision of the fall) with projection.
    A jogger passes me on the path around the lake. On the back of her tee-shirt is a spiral that forms a question mark. Another wink from the universe.

   To walk the spiral path in life is to notice each time you come to a choice or a situation that resembles one you have encountered before, and then apply what you can learn from the past experience to avoid repeating mistakes. I have seen, again and again, that the secret logic of our lives is revealed through resemblances. Yet I failed to apply the resemblance between Anubis' injury and my already wounded knee. I have experienced presentiment on hundreds of specific occasions, and have learned that my body often reacts to events before the events take place. Yet I brushed aside my vision of the fall.
    In the school of life lessons are repeated until we graduate from each class.
    For now, the fall day is as crisp as a Mackintosh apple just plucked from the tree. The sun is warm on my face, the breeze is cool in my hair, and my busted knee is working well enough to get me round the lake, though much more slowly than the runner with the spiral question mark.
    I'll be on the look out for the next spiral question that is put to me in life class. And I'll keep Anubis, missing his knee and his foreleg, closer to me than ever, to remind me not to fail to apply the logic of resemblances.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

The more you need to say, the more need to say it in fewer words

I am greatly in favor of aphorisms, those witty, pithy one-liners that distill something of the human condition. When I was a teenager, I picked up a copy of the Maxims of the Duc de la Rochefoucauld, and was delighted by the ice rapier wielded by this worldly seventeenth-century prince observing the foibles of his fellow-humans.

We are strong enough to endure the misfortunes of others.

Our virtues are often nothing more than our vices in disguise. 

François VI, Duc de la Rochefoucauld (1613-1680)

Of course, I loved Oscar Wilde's waggish tongue, despite being made to play Ernest (when I wanted to play Algernon) two years running in my boys' school production of The Importance of Being Earnest. In period attire, as Jack Worthing ("Ernest") I apologized to the boy playing Gwendolen for not being more wicked:

Jack: Gwendolen, it is a terrible thing for a man to find out suddenly that all his life he has been speaking nothing but the truth. Can you forgive me?

Gwendolen: I can. For I feel that you are sure to change.

Before I got to university, I discovered another French master of the one-liner, Nicolas Chamfort, a handsome charmer whose robust view of life  and jovial self-mockery contrasted with his messy suicide in the throes of the French Revolution, in which he was successively a Jacobin and an anti-Jacobin.

A day without laughter is a day wasted. 

Contemplation often makes life miserable. We should act more, think less, and stop watching ourselves live.

Public opinion is the worst of all opinions.

If it wasn't for me, I'd do brilliantly. 

-          -  Nicolas Chamfort (1741-1794) 

Then I found Mark Twain, and was enchanted by his endless repertoire of punch-lines and snappers, which I often find myself quoting in public talks.

I don't want to hear about the Moon from someone who has not been there.

Choose Heaven for the climate, Hell for the company.

- Mark Twain 

Mark Twain was great one for keeping a notebook. He carried one everywhere, and you can see the gestation of many of his best ideas - and first drafts of his one-liners - in the collected editions that I now keep in my library.
    If you want to enhance your ability to deliver fresh one-liners, keep a journal. Jot down your thoughts, your observations, the odd phrase overheard in the street, a line that jumps out of a book. Develop the practice of writing a one-liner, a bumper-sticker or snapper, to distill the message of a dream or the quality of an incident, or a day.
    For confirmation that the journal-er is on the way to becoming an aphorist, consider the practice of the  case of the German polymath Georg Cristoph Lichtenberg, a contemporary of Chamfort.  
    Lichtenberg  journaled thoughts, observations and witticisms, starting in his student years, in notebooks that he called his Waste Books (Sudelb cher). He borrowed this term from the English accounting houses of his day. For English bookkeepers, a “waste book” was a temporary register of transactions, jotted down in rough form before being entered in meticulous copperplate in a formal account book. I like the throwaway quality of the term. It encourages us to get down the scraps and the rough sketches, without concern for form or structure or even spelling
   Here are a few of the choicest entries from Lichtenberg's vast collection of snappers and astonishers (as Mark Twain might have called them):

A person reveals his character by nothing so clearly as the joke he resents. 

The most dangerous of all falsehoods is a slightly distorted truth. 

I forget most of what I read, just as I do most of what I have eaten, but I know that both contribute no less to the conservation of my mind and my body on that account. 

Everyone is a genius at least once a year.  The real geniuses simply have their bright ideas closer together.

- Georg Christoph Lichtenberg (1742-1799)

Follow Lichtenberg's practice of keeping a "waste book" - a journal where you write without concern for the consequences - and you'll find you have your one-liners closer together.
   My aphorism from all of this:

The more you need to say, the more need to say it in fewer words.

For the word-sleuths:

The word "aphorism" is derived from the Greek ἀφορισμός aphorismos, meaning "delimitation" or "definition". To qualify as an aphorism, a statement must be fresh, concise and memorable. The terms was first used for the Aphorisms of Hippocrates, in which the famous first sentence is a specimen of the genre: "Life is short, art long, opportunity fleeting, experience deceptive, judgment difficult." The whole quote continues: "The physician must not only be prepared to do what is right himself, but also to make the patient, the attendants, and externals cooperate."

Art: Portrait of  François VI, Duc de la Rochefoucauld by Théodore Chassériau. Public domain. 

Friday, September 12, 2014

Here myths spill into the day

Mosswood dreaming

Here, if you tread very softly among the cedars
you may hear the low midday snores
of the soft secret race of big-footed beings
who grow pink hibiscus in their dreams.

You can’t miss the tree that is the portal
to the three worlds because it is more real
than the others. This is your One Tree,
that knows you before you know it.

When hungry spiders dressed as magic mushrooms
come skittering over your bed
you forget to be scared because you are hungrier
that they are. You gobble them up fast
and burp out webs of shining possibility

You stand before the bathroom mirror
squeezing toothpaste from the tube
and a giant boa rises to rhyme with you
wrapping itself round the tube of your body
squeezing your old dead stuff out.

You see that people have fire slumbering
in their bellies even when they are cold
and muddled and living on ashes
and you make it your pleasure
to turn on the pilot light of their souls.

Here you can walk through wild orchards
to a wild shore where the hard spray
off the whitecaps rouses every nerve ending.
You pick your way, barefoot, over the rocks
to the tide pool where the great sea turtle,
teacher of the deep, resumes your lessons
in going deep, and wearing armor
on your back that leaves your soft bits exposed
so you can’t hide from life in a hard shell
but must always be ready to fight or move fast.

Here you remember the power of naming.
You find the words that heal bodies,
pleasure spirits, and make worlds.
When you ask, “Where’s the rest of me?”
you create a conga line where you are joined
by the belly dancer and the golden child,
the red horse and the crocodile,
by Bigfoot,  the Empress and the Fool.

Here when you let love spill through your eyes
every blade of grass is in love with you.
You lie in the creek bed like a pebble
and the water rounds your hard edges.
In pilgrim hands you are carried to a stony place
to make an offering to mountain spirits.
You rest in a cairn for a thousand years
until you spread wings and fly to your truest lover.
You let the earth have you, under the warm sun.

The fire has been built for you.
You become cinnamon.
Rising again, you spread yourself.
As aurora, you color the world.

Here myths spill into the day
like ripe fruit falling into your hand.
The salmon that made Finn the first shaman
leaps from the deep pool of dreams
stuffed with the hazelnuts of wisdom
and explodes on your palate
and feeds the whole company
in a miracle of filberts and fishes.

- Mosswood Hollow, September 12, 2014

Photo by Nance Thacker

Thursday, September 11, 2014

A shamanic dinner designed by a dream

A dream followed by a shamanic journey generated a new dish worthy of the first Irish shaman.The most magical food story from Mosswood Hollow so far (and there have been many).

1. A French dreamer named Paulette in my current Imaginal Healing training shares a dream in which a red-tailed hawk takes her to meet an indigenous elder who is fishing for salmon.

2. She and I agree we will travel through the portal of this dream together, meet the elder and (if permitted) taste the salmon, in a shamanic journey.

3. The journey is a fabulous success. We meet the elder, discover the healing gifts of the pool, are permitted to partake of the salmon - and then find the way open to even deeper discoveries involving connections to several ancient traditions.

4. We both have a very tactile, gustatory experience when we eat the salmon, inside our shared vision. Very specifically, we both taste hazelnuts as well as the fish. For me, it seems that mashed hazelnuts are inside the salmon. The combined flavors are delicious.

5. When we share journey reports at the end of my drumming for the group, I recall that in Celtic folklore the first Irish shaman, Finn, gains his powers by tasting salmon that has swallowed hazelnuts from the Tree of Wisdom overhanging the River Boyne.

6, During the break, I talk to Sandie (Sandra Grumman) the Kitchen Goddess and co-owner of Mosswood Hollow.

     "Do you have some hazelnuts?"
      "Are you planning to cook salmon anytime soon?"
       I tell her the shared dream. She immediately says, "I'll put hazelnuts in the salad to accompany the salmon." 
      This sounds great, but I speak about my vivid sense - the taste is still in my mouth - that the hazelnuts are inside the salmon. Sandie does not skip a beat. "I'll put hazelnuts in the stuffing for the salmon." At three hours' notice, Sandie proceeded to create and serve a new dish to 33 eager dreamers.

7. Eh voilà! Saumon farci aux noisettes. Salmon stuffed with hazelnuts. True shaman food. A dinner designed by a dream, with the help of the most creative chef I know. Salmon à la Paulette, for short. Merci!