Sunday, May 31, 2015

When the bull was my healer

Saintes Maries de la Mer, May 31, 2015

It's a glorious sunny day in Provence. I am driving with a friend across the flatlands and rice fields of the Camargue. The lunar horns of the black bulls rise from the high grass. We are going to Saintes Maries de la Mer. The plural forms are not a typo. This seaside town in the  Département du Gard is named for two Maries who are counted among the first apostles of Christ: his aunt and the mother of James and John (called Salome). According to legend they made their escape to Provence by boat around the year 46. The walls of their church include extraordinary votive paintings showing how their intercession saved people from fatal accidents and storms at sea and life-threatening illnesses. In some of the paintings, they float in midair, above the sleeping forms of dreamers.
    I pause for tapas at a cafe near the beach, in front of a magnificent statue of the black bull of the Camargue. My friend captures us together. As I munch tapinade on crostini, and slices of saucisson de taureau, I recall a time when the bull was a central figure in self-healing.
    I am returning to Barcelona, where this episode unfolded, next weekend, to lead a workshop on Active Dreaming. Between now and then, I am leading a training in imaginal healing in southern France. After these adventures, I will launch a new online course on the practice of imagination for The Shift Network.
    So I inspired to re-pots my horns-and-all narrative of how the bull became my healer in a crisis of illness in Barcelona nearly two years ago. This provides a very personal answer to the question: how can we use images in healing?

Barcelona, Spain, February 13, 2013

There are occasional penalties for living and traveling as I do. Sunday before last, I flew back from Hawaii to the frozen Northeast, a journey of almost 20 hours including a redeye overnight flight. I enjoyed three days at home, in temperatures nearly 70 degrees F below where I had come from, then caught another series of planes, including another redeye, to Frankfurt, arriving for breakfast last Friday. The temperature here was only 60 degrees F lower than in Hawaii. No problem, then, in walking around the part of the city where I was staying for three hours in a light coat, under slightly heavier snow.
    As we entered the weekend, I noticed I had major symptoms of oncoming cold or flu. I tried to drive these away by eating like a bear at breakfast and dinner, and did not let my condition interfere with the workshop, where we had a royally good time. But, with my nasal passages largely blocked, I found it hard to get more than two hours sleep at night. No problem, I told myself. I had already planned to spend a few days in Barcelona between Frankfurt and my next depth workshop in Utrecht next weekend, exploring Gaudi territory and hopefully enjoying a little sun and sea.
    Fast-forward to 3:30 a.m. today. I am hunched over the sink in the bathroom, my chest screaming with pain when I cough, and a slosh of stuff I don't want to look at heaving from me to the drain. I don't get colds or flu, I have told myself for years. But this is moving very fast, towards bronchitis and possibly pneumonia. I recall, without cheer, how fast that happened when I was a boy, and suffered life-threatening bouts of double pneumonia twelve times over eight years, between the ages of three and eleven. I thought I had put all that behind me, and found a way to show up in this body on a reliable basis, at least on most days.
    I'll need to find a doctor, I realize. Or at least see if a local pharmacy would sell me some powerful antibiotics without the formality of a prescription. Back to bed, my chest aching. At least, with this sudden and serious descent of my condition down through the respiratory system, I could breathe a little through the nose.
    I lie on my back, finding some slight comfort in the surprising quiet of this part of Eixample  (the Gaudi-era section of Barcelona outside the Old City), hoping for at least a little rest. I continue to be gripped by a sense that my condition is serious, and could get very much worse. Okay, I tell myself. Try your own stuff. Start by asking for help, and ask the right way.
    It took me some thinking before I got the words of my petition right. Speaking to the Universal Healer, I said, "I ask for the health my body requires to serve the purposes of the soul." Wait, let's be more specific. "I ask for the health my body requires to serve my purposes as teacher, creator, writer, healer and father." From somewhere in the depths, I sensed approval.
    Then a power rushed into me, entering me from behind, around the kidneys. Its wild rush and its potency reminded me of the bull, and I recalled my encounter, walking the city on Tuesday morning, with the thinking bull of the Rambla de Catalunya. I felt this huge, bull-like energy spreading all through me and expanding my energy field and my sense of my physical size and strength.
    I now felt another stream of energy, rising like a great serpent from the Earth, up through the soles of my feet, and through all of my energy centers.. And  yet another stream, a tremendous flood of light washing  down through my crown to join the others in dynamic, confluent movement.    

Now a strong vision rose spontaneously, showing me how my body had been invaded and how its defenders were now moving with decision to trap them and destroy the invaders. The scene resembled the barbican of a medieval castle. The barbican was the space between an outer and an inner gate, in front of the main castle walls. It was designed as a death trap for attackers who managed to break through the outer gate. Once invaders got inside the barbican, the defenders could seal the outer gate, leaving the inner gate closed, and then massacre the intruding force by firing arrows into it through slits in the inner walls and sometimes in a roof structure overhead. Hurling down stones and pouring boiling oil over the invaders were also popular defense stratagems.
     I watched with delight as the defenders of my immune system dealt with my body's invaders.Now I could see the brilliance of allowing them through the outer gate, into the death trap. I watched the mass execution of the germs directed by a lord wearing the silver antlers of a stag on his helm. As the attack faltered and the grisly germ-warriors died, I saw a giant of my cause, wearing the horns of a bull, wading among my body's enemies, finishing them off with his great ax.
     I leaped from the bed, absolutely certain that my battle had been won. I went to the bathroom and coughed. No pain. The phlegm that came out was now brown, not green or yellow. I was expelling the corpses of the illness army. I felt vastly restored.
     When I returned to bed and scanned my condition, I was delighted to see that the defense forces were now scouring out the space of the barbican. Finally the bull-knight summoned women in long white dresses to finish the cleaning, checking that no marks appeared on their fine white linen.
     I am quite sure I am good to go.

I readily concede that my methods of imaginal self-healing may not work for everyone. And there is really no need to send me lists of remedies and preventives for my future use. I have known since boyhood that my body believes the images I allow in, and I most certainly know that we all do better when we remember to ask for help in the right way.

Photos: (1)  RM with black bull of the Camargue in Saintes Maries de la Mer on May 31, 2015 (2) RM with thinking bull on the Rambla de Catalunya in February 2013 

My new course for The Shift Network is titled "Dreaming Wide Awake: Tapping into the World-Creating Power of Your Imagination". It starts on June 11 and runs for seven weeks. Recordings and transcripts are provided for all classes. 

Friday, May 15, 2015

How she made death a birthday party in the room next door

Artist, dream teacher and hospice volunteer Valerie McCarney helps the dying to prepare for the journey into the next life by remembering and sharing their dreams. I asked her to write a guest blog about her moving experience of helping an elderly woman in hospice care to follow the road of dreams to a birthday celebration in a "room next door".

Guest blog by Valerie McCarney

As a hospice volunteer, I have been blessed to be there when people transition from this world to the next.
     Such is the case of a wonderful woman who died last week. I will call her B.  She was 94 and sharp as a tack with a great sense of humor and a love of laughter. We had the most wonderful conversations over these past months.
     Her daughter usually went south for the winter but did not want to go this year because her mom was so sick. But B would not let her stay. I will be fine, she said. I have plenty of other people caring for me. Her daughter called her every day. B was happy that her daughter was off having fun and living her life.
     Her daughter came back two weeks ago. I thought when I went to see B, she would be ecstatic because her daughter was home. That was not the case. She was very anxious. I asked her why and she said, "I prayed every day that I would not die until she came home. Now she is home and I am going to die. I lie in bed and wait for my heart to stop." So we talked and she eventually calmed down. Then she started to talk of the dreams.
     She was having many dreams that frightened her.  I told her about others who have had similar dreams and how they were gifts. I told B, "The people that love you are here and will help you make the journey."
     The hospice chaplain visited her and reconfirmed how common these dreams were for people. I knew her faith was strong because of the worn Bible next to her bed.  I think the chaplain’s reconfirmation of the importance of these dreams helped her open up. She said, "I pray for contentment to meet what is happening without fear."
     Over the last two weeks of her life, we talked about her dreams. She told me of being in rooms with people she had known in may periods of her life. She was surprised to find that now they were all in the same room. She walked around looking at them. She noticed they were all surrounded by shimmering light.
    She saw her husband and her parents. Their appearance had changed. They all looked to be the same age, and they all looked good. She was really enjoying her dreams. She started to say "I think dying must be like going into another room.  You are still there, only people can’t see you!" Another time she said, "Maybe death  is like a boat going over the horizon."
   She said that sometimes in dreams she was holding a rope and knew that when she dropped it she would die. I suggested that she might fly up like a balloon when she let go. She liked that. 
     Then one day she saw someone very special. He was floating and looked like a tiny angel without wings. It was her firstborn son, who only lived four hours.  This dream helped her the most. She had never forgotten him and remembered his birthday every year. Had he lived, he would have been 72 on May 9.  She announced, "I think this year I will celebrate his birthday with him for the first time."
    She did exactly what she said she would do.,  B died on May 9.
    I think when she opened the door to her dreams and allowed herself to step in all her fears left. She found peace and contentment.
    I came home filled with thoughts of her and all we talked about over the past weeks. I went directly to my studio to work out my own grief.  I do a technique I call Expressive art, where I pick two colors, put on music and with each hand scribble on a huge sheet of paper hung on a wall.  I scribble with my eyes closed until it feels right to stop. Then as a child would do looking at the clouds, I pick out the images I see.
    B’s face was right there so I darkened those lines, a man in a boat, the sea, a Cheshire cat with a fish in its mouth, her son swimming towards her and a bird.  From our conversations I knew each image was there because we had talked of them. I used metallic paint for the shimmering light she described.
    I sat back after I was finished and could almost see the boatman bringing her home. I wrote this poem.

You knew this would happen once she came home
You waited for her even though the dream people were reaching out
Nervously, you read “ the bird is not anxious, he trusts in the lord”
Listening for your heart to stop
You pray for contentment.

Peace arrives in the hands of your infant son
As your body like a clock winds down
You step onto the boat
The boat that is waiting to take you home.

Text and art (c) Valerie McCarney

The Stand

The erotic scent of wood’s decay and earth after rain
fills the primal stand of giant poplars, oaks and elms
and I know I have been coming here always.
The golden one parts the forest as a wing of light.
The dark one pushes through as a ruthless red boar.
They come without armies, without banners
though legions have bled for them, and empires died.
They meet as She who watches loves them best:
as lithe young men in their prime of manhood,
as antlered kings in the fierce season, fighting to possess.

There has never been peace between them,
only a balance that shifts and spills, never still or sure.
They battle now with the arms of the forest,
wielding uprooted trees as spears, as clubs.
The trees groan and sway, taking sides.
The golden one finds the opening for the killing blow
but stays his hand. From his hesitation, the dark king
gains boldness and vigor, and drives a rowan
deep into his brother’s side. Wounded and waning,
the light king drags himself to the mothering oak
and darkness swallows the sun. The dark one
raises a cry that calls hungry ghosts to the feast.
But something restrains him from the final act.
It can only be Her voice, walking through his mind.

If either wins, the game is over.
Without contraries, nothing is created.
It is through your unending battleand its lack of resolution
that the game goes on.

The dark one brings a gift to the wounded king.
A flock of seven black sheep. One of them gags
and vomits up a glowing blue egg.
With his last strength, the light twin palms the gift
and his body is suffused with healing light.
He rises, intact, ready to renew the battle

here, or anywhere that is world.

"The Stand" is included in my collection Here, Everything Is Dreaming: Poems and Stories published by Excelsior Editions.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

When her dead ex-husband warned she was walking in his shoes

A guest blog by Deborah Dutilh on her remarkable personal experience of life-saving dream diagnosis facilitated by a deceased loved one.

My ex-husband, Jean-François, died from brain cancer in February 2011. And then he came back.
    When he visited me in a dream on August 22, 2013, I wondered if I should be worried or not. In spite of our divorce, we still cared for each other and said we’d always be connected through our children.
     In this dream, Jean-François visits and gives me a picture of a playful seal that he’s drawn. We’re walking along the beach, hand in hand. I’m wearing his hiking boots, the worn leather ones with sturdy thick soles and long red laces wound around my ankles a few times. Then suddenly we’re inside a big store like Target, driving his car down the aisles, looking for an exit.
     I woke up feeling anxious and not liking the meaning of this dream at all! I know the seal represents our pact of being connected. Does walking in his shoes mean I have a health issue, too? Do those long red shoelaces symbolize our forever entwined souls? What does the future hold in store for me? Will I need to be shopping around for solutions?
     Of course not! I don’t have any health issues. I’m in perfect health, I try to convince myself.
     When we don’t want to face the fear of what our dreams might mean, it’s easy for our inner critic to step in with a different interpretation to protect us from what our intuition is telling us.
     Upon awakening, mine tells me, “Of course you don’t have a brain tumor! But, you know how hard you’ve struggled with building your business now? Well, you could have supported him more when he was building his business, I don’t know, 25 or 30 years ago! Remember you said you’d work while he built his business, but after years of still no money coming in, you were getting fed up, you started to really resent it all. C’mon admit it! You should be feeling guilty about that!! “
      “So there you have it! Guilt beats having a brain tumor, doesn’t it,” he concludes. Without any symptoms at this point, this could be plausible, but my intuition knew better. I had no choice but to wait and see.
      On September 14 I got a massive migraine that landed me in Urgent Care. Headaches can have so many causes that the doctors weren’t concerned. They sent me home with pain meds and instructions to rest and drink plenty of fluids. Once again my intuition did not agree.
      Then, September 18, I had another very clear dream that I was at my own life celebration, invisible and easily physically passing through the guests who were telling stories about me and how courageous I was! This dream confirmed that indeed, I had something terribly wrong.
       I saw my doctor that very day. He listened intently when I told him about the recent dreams and what my intuition was telling me. The dates were lining up ironically, too. I had my headache on September 14, exactly 4 years to the day, after Jean-Francois had his seizure. My unusual headache had my sons concerned, too. We’d already been through this once with their dad. We all needed peace of mind.
       “Doctor,” I asked, “do you believe in the power of our dreams to predict illness?”
       Fortunately, he did and referred me to a neurologist to request an MRI to rule out anything serious. Still, I’m functioning perfectly and my only symptoms are three migraines and two very clear dreams that needed little expertise to interpret. No one is overly concerned, yet.
      Six weeks later, to everyone’s great surprise, the MRI showed a tumor the size of an apricot on the surface of my right temporal lobe. I was immediately admitted to hospital and scheduled for brain surgery, two days later, the day Jean-François would have been 60. I was released two days later on my 60th birthday.
      Thanks to my intuition, dreams and doctors who believed me, my life was saved with early detection. The diagnosis, glioblastoma multiforme, is the most common, deadliest and highest grade tumor. There’s no cure and it’s recurring. Sadly, 8 out of 10 patients will die from this tumor. Fortunately, in spite of the dismal statistics, there are more and more long term survivors. I plan on being among them.
       It took me quite a while to embrace the surrealism of my new “normal.” I am convinced that all the dream work done over the years, my belief in soul recovery and the power of our dreams saved my life with early detection before any diagnosable symptoms. I was also very blessed to have doctors who believed my dreams and intuition.
       Since I did soul retrieval with Robert Moss, Jean-François has visited me in dreams several times to reassure me that all is well. He always tells me he won’t let our sons be without both of us. I believe this implicitly, that his soul is with me, along with Panther, my spirit guide, symbol of death and rebirth.

Deborah Dutilh began studying her dreams in France over 15 years ago with a Jungian mentor. She has attended workshops with Robert Moss and is part of a weekly dream group in Los Angeles. She is a theatre artist sharing her story in a one-woman show called “Into The Panther’s Cage.”

Friday, May 1, 2015

The faery of the avocado tree

Esalen Institute, Big Sur, California

The mist from the sea has been burned away by the early sun. I am walking the path through the gardens at Esalen, apple in hand, among red and gold poppies. I pass the pond where a little water snake is swimming, and the easel of an artist who has almost captured bright blue wildflowers.
    At the crest of the gentle slope, I hear a voice singing from inside a tree,

In the avocado tree

That is where you'll find me.

    I look for the source of the lovely song. I see a lithe, olive-skinned girl with long ringlets.
    "Thank you," I call to her. "That is a beautiful kledon to start any day." I explain that a kledon is a sound, sometimes a song or a snatch of conversation, coming out of silence or undifferentiated noise. A most important oracle for the ancient Greeks, and one I value highly.
     "Come into the tree," she invites me.
     I step under the mantle of broad green leaves.
     "Would you like some avocados?"
     "I would love some." 
     She shinnies high up the trunk and out along the branches with simian grace , dropping grenades of green joy around me. 

       Now she is hanging upside down like a fruit bat, singing and inviting me to take all I want. I take only one, but later she finds me on the terrace outside the dining hall and tells me she wants me to take more. She brings me three more green avocados, and lays them on the table next to my black dog. A wonderful start for any day.