Sunday, November 29, 2015

Breath Slippers are So Wild

It can be delicious to loiter with intent in that liminal zone that Tinker Bell recommended to Peter Pan: the place between sleep and awake.
   I love to do this in the morning when I don't have to rush off into the world right away, and and my dog allows me (when I am home) to delay his first walk for a bit. If I have the memory of a dream that intrigues me, I will stay with it, and let more of the adventure unfold.
   Sometimes I simply lay open to the rise and fall of images. When I make it my practice to remain an observer as the images come and go, I joke that I am doing horizontal meditation. But I am often poised to be more than an observer, by entering a scene that interests me and becoming a lucid traveler within its territory, and often beyond that.
   This morning, I woke early with the clear light of a chill autumn morning, dappled by the trees outside my house, slipping through the blinds. I remembered that I had been in London in my last dream, and decided to stay in bed, close to the dream scene, and see whether I could simply move back into it.
    Immediately the scene became vividly alive. All my senses were engaged as I walked towards an elegant restaurant under a colonnade, on my way to lunch. The area seemed very quiet. I wondered whether the restaurant was open. However, when I stepped inside with my companion, I saw that many of the tables were already occupied. I was slightly irritated when we were ushered to a table that was pushed right up against a smaller table where another couple were seated. It seemed quite impossible to have a private conversation under these circumstances.
     But my feelings changed as we started talking to the other couple. They were quite charming. The man was French, the woman English, and our conversation proceeded in alternate bursts of both languages. Another couple, at a table on the other side, joined in, in the same fashion. I was pleased to discover that my French was better, under these impromptu circumstances, than I usually give myself credit for. We talked about Montpellier, and the adventures I lead at a center near Montpellier,
    This was all entirely realistic. I can taste the butter served at the table, and feel the fizz of the sparkling water on my tongue. Soon I was traveling to various locations in London and Paris at the invitation of the new friends met at the table. I felt the joy of new friendship and of the meeting of minds as we discussed topics ranging from the Existentialists to how leaves change color in the fall.
    As I sped from one site to another, I noted that I was not using any obvious form of transportation other than my own two feet. I seemed to have developed the abilities of a human hovercraft. If I took a step, I would glide forward as far as it pleased me, across the English Channel, or from the Gare du Nord to Montparnasse. I had the impression - always at least vaguely aware that I had a body in the bed - that my giant steps were powered by my breath.
    I am wearing breath slippers! I laughed inwardly. This seemed all the more funny to me given the fact that I never wear ordinary slippers. I thought of Mercury with his winged sandals.

At no point did I try to control my experiences over the couple of hours I spent in this state. I did make it my intention - successfully - to look in on a special friend, and to walk again through the colonnade of lime (or linden) trees in the garden of the Palais Royal in Paris. However, for the most part I simply followed the flow of the encounters and opportunities that were presented to me, exercising choice without trying to control events by imposing any agenda - other than to relax and have fun.

I wrote here recently about a simple method for lucid dream induction that I call SO WILD. You go to Sleep, remaining Open to whatever may come. You Wake and then, when you are ready, you set an Intention to embark on Lucid Dreaming. We will be experimenting with this new technique in my next course for The Shift Network, "Active Dreaming: The Essential Training." Classes start on December 10.

Drawing by RM
Photo of trees at the Palais Royal by RM

Friday, November 27, 2015

The dreams are coming back

The dreams are coming back.
Slow down and feel their firefly glow.
Stay still and hear the rustle of their wings.
Open like a flower
and let them feed from your heart.
Don’t be afraid to remember
that your soul has wings
and you have a place to go flying.
The dreams are coming back.

Art: "He Sees" by Reet Kalamees.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Orenda and the practice of giving thanks

In  indigenous North American traditions, giving thanks is a practice for every day, not just an annual holiday. Here is a little of what I learned about this from the Onkwehonwe, or Iroquois.

Orenda is the power that is in everything and beyond everything. It clusters in certain things – in that tree, in that stone, in that person or gathering – and if you are sensitive you will feel its weight and its force.
     People come from another world – in the Iroquoian cosmogony, they call in Earth-in-the-Sky – and the origin and purpose for life here below is to be found in that Sky World. Tosa sasa ni’konren, they say. “Do not let your mind fall” from the memory of that other world where everything is directed and created by the power of thought, and everything lives in the glow of a great Tree of Light.
    The first person on Earth who was anything like a human came from that Sky World, after she fell – or was pushed – through a hole among the roots of its great tree. As she fell, she was caught on the wings of great blue herons, who carried her gently down to a chaos of water. Animals, diving into the black deep, found earth for her, so she could begin to make a world. Turtle offered its great back and First Woman danced a new world into being. Under her feet, a handful of soil became all the lands we live on.
     The memory of Earth-in-the-Sky in no way blurs the knowledge that orenda – which is power, spirit, energy, consciousness all at once – is in everything. In the way of the Onkwehonwe, the Real People (as the Iroquois call themselves) we must remember that our relations with our environment are entirely personal, and require appropriate manners. If you want to take something from the Earth, you must ask permission. The hunter asks the spirit of the deer for permission to take its life and wastes nothing from its body. I once watched a Mohawk medicine man gathering healing plants. He started by identifying the elder among a stand of the plants and speaking to this one, seeking permission. He offered a little pinch of native tobacco in return for the stalks he gathered for medicine.
      In this tradition, the best form of prayer is to give thanks for the gifts of life. In the long version of the Iroquois thanksgiving, you thank everything that supports your life, and as you do this you announce that you are talking to family.

      I give thanks to my brothers the Thunderers
      I give thanks to Grandmother Moon and to Elder Brother Sun

     In the Native American way, as Black Elk, the Lakota holy man, said, “the center of the world is wherever you are.” For him, that was Harney Peak. For you, it is wherever you are living or traveling. You may find a special place in your everyday world. It may be just a corner of the garden, or a bench under a tree in the park, or that lake where you walk the dog. The more you go there, and open both your inner and outer senses, the more you will find that orenda has gathered there for you.
     A woman who lives near the shore told me that she starts her day like this: “I go to the ocean in the morning at sunrise and put a hand in the water and say Good morning, thank you, I love you. I feel a response from this. The tide will suddenly surge up a little higher, hugging my feet, which is kind of cold in winter but wonderful in warmer weather. I talk to everything out loud like this.”
     The simple gesture of placing your hand in the sea, or on a tree, or on the earth, and expressing love and gratitude and recognition of the animate world around us is everyday church (as is dreamwork), good for us, and good for all our relations
     It is good to do something every day, in any landscape, to affirm life in all that is around us. This may be especially important on days when the world seems drab and flat and even the eyes of other people in the street look like windows in which the blinds have been drawn down. The Longhouse People (Iroquois) reminded me that the best kind of prayer is to give thanks to all our relations, to everything that supports life, and in doing so to give our support to them. When I lived at the farm, I began each day by greeting the ancient oak on the dirt road behind the house as the elder of that land.
    These days, it is often enough for me to say to sun and sky, whether on the sidewalk or in the park or by the sea

I give thanks for the morning
I give thanks for the day
I give thanks for the gifts and the challenges of this lifetime

Adapted from Sidewalk Oracles: Playing with Signs, Symbols and Synchronicity in Everyday Life by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library.

Photo by RM

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Birth of Athena

If you devour a mother goddess
make sure you have a loyal friend nearby
armed with the ax of the crescent moon.

It’s like this: the feminine power
you thought you could master
is going to stir and swell in you
until your whole being is a trembling womb
that can only open at the top
like a volcano rising from the ocean floor.
It will blow out your brains
unless your head is opened.

So keep a helper with the right tool handy
and be ready for the bright fury
with owl eyes and blazing mind
who will burst from your head fully armed
and love you to death, setting her spear
at the throat of your certainties. 

imageAthena fountain by Karl Donndorf, 1911. Stuttgart.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Directions for Travel through a Snail Shell

Which way is the direction of love?
Choose carefully before you turn the spiral key;

worlds within worlds are waiting.
The Blue Lady reminds you that to be great
you may need to become inconceivably small.

The sea snail gives you a pattern

you saw long ago in the eyes of a goddess.
An austere time lord who cannot be bribed

may explain it to you by drawing lines
in soft powder from a termite mound.

Turning and turning you enter a universe

where mountain spirits whisper like grasshoppers.
To follow the true direction of love

you must speak in the language of smells and tastes,
and make every nerve ending an organ of delight.

You must create the door and the keyhole
to fit the spiral key you now turn the other way.
Aphrodite was born on a half shell.
You must do better. You must play the shell game

in the foam of worlds in the making.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Where I want to be in my dreams

I am in favor of setting intentions for dreams of the night. Sometimes I will simply say, to my dream producers, "Show me what I need to see."
   Sometimes I will set a specific intention for help or guidance. This might be general: "I open myself to the power of healing" or "I open myself to my creative source." It might be quite specific: "i would like guidance on publishing my new book" or "I would like to know how to handle the meeting next week".
    I might set the intention to go on an adventure or to rendezvous with a friend, or a group of friends, by common agreement. Dreaming is social as well as individual, and it can be wonderful fun sharing dream memories after a night when you made it your aim to meet others at a certain place. The best locales for a dream rendezvous, I find, are those that you have already discovered in the dreamlands - that magic library, that cottage with the blue door, that apple orchard, that cove where mermaids sing.
    When you set a specific intention for dream guidance, be ready to be surprised. You may find it hard, at first, to make a connection between the dream you recall and the intention you set. this may be because you have lost the best part of your dreams. It could be because the source of your dreams - which is wiser than the ordinary mind - may be unimpressed with your theme and is sending you something it considers more important for you to consider.
    However, I find it is always a helpful and creative exercise to try to make connections between the dream and the prior intention. This may require a lot of imagination and some element of detective work. The exercise may prosper faster when you draw on the imaginations of others, offering you feedback according to the "if it were my dream protocol".
    Sometimes the nature of the guide who appears in dreams is startling.
    When I was writing my first book on dreaming, I set the intention, "Show me how to bring the gifts of dreaming to many more people in our society." In my dream, I found myself under a huge circus tent. In the center was a character in a loud plaid suit, with a hat, smoking a big cigar. He performed impossibe acrobatics, leaping to the top of the tent, spinning fast in midair as he came down. Then he leaped into the bleachers and started smooching and cuddling an attractive blonde. I knew his name was "Marty", pronounced New York style.
    Now lucid in the dream, remembering my intention, I said to myself, This is my guide?
    Marty leered at me and gave me a horrible wink. Then he said, round the edge of his stogie, "It's about entertainment, kid. It's about entertainment."
     I came from this dream laughing. Marty may not have been the most evolved spiritual guide, but he was the counselor I needed. I kept his advice in mind as I completed the book that was published as Conscious Dreaming, and I have kept it in mind ever since.

Recently, in developing my practice and teaching of lucid dreaming, I have been experimenting with setting intentions in a rather different way.
    I let my body rest for the first cycle of "industrial sleep", when the body is most in need of sleep and repair . Then, when I stir from sleep in the middle of the night, I relax and compose a mental statement about where I want to be in my dream experiences.  

    If I feel in need of healing, I might say, "I am in a place of healing."
    If I want creative inspiration, I might say, "I am in a place of creativity."
    Around 3:00 this morning, in the liminal state between sleep and awake, with the soft patter of rain in the redwoods outside my window in California, I composed the following statement: I am living the life I am meant to live.

     I found myself in a thrilling  but gentle and caring adventure. I was given an assignment by higher authorities to save a woman's life. She was bent on self-destruction, and I was to play the role of the undeclared guide who would reawaken her to all the reasons she had for living.
    My assignment required me to get on a plane to Tegucigalpa. My seat had been reserved next to the woman who was bent on suicide. I would appear to be a charming stranger, meat by chance.
     I threw myself into the role with gusto. Soon the woman was coming alive again, swimming and diving in glorious blue waters, enjoying music and an excellent dinner.
     I came from the dream thinking, Yes, this is part of the life I am meant to live.

Drawing by RM

Thursday, November 12, 2015

With the fairies

In the liminal state between sleep and awake, in the gray hour before dawn, I dress for a visit to Faerie. I give myself a splendid body, young and strong, the broad shoulders and narrow waist worthy of a Minoan bull dancer. I give myself a simple crown, a band of gold around the hairline with a glowing blue jewel suspended from it to hang over the third eye. I place a torque around the neck. I add a cape and kilt, and a wand, worn like a sword when not in use.
    Grand adventures unfold.
    When I go up to the lodge for breakfast, a woman from my workshop can't wait to tell me about something she saw in that pre-dawn hour."Robert! I saw you in a dream before dawn. You appeared in a small TV screen in the midst of my other dream. You were dressed as a fairy king, with a crown with a blue star and a wand."
     I guess the weave of dreaming between members of a community of dreamers glows brighter when you add a little fairy dust.
     This thought was confirmed in the first session of my workshop that morning. An older man new to my work returned from a group journey and reported to me, joyously, "I met a sylvan nymph! She led me on a path of adventure in Faerie realms."

Photo: Elven Oak in Kensington Gardens by RM

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

"You can go back to your dream now," she said

Esalen Institute, Big Sur, California

In the middle of the night, I stirred awake, then let myself relax into the drifty, liminal state between sleep and awake. Soon I was traveling in a lucid dream, roaming night landscapes.
   I set purpose and direction by repeating to myself, I am in a place of healing and creation.

   I floated, more than walked, to a set of massive stone steps going down to a sandy beach, where waves broke gently against the shore. At the base of the steps, I felt I needed to turn left. I found that there were people here. Some were gathered in front of a vendor's stall, set up in a niche between the pillars of the carriageway above us.  
   Curious objects were on the vendor's table: tall, cylindrical pottery vases.They were brown in color with a design that resembled the weave of basketry, perhaps two or three feet high. I wondered if they were urns for ashes of the dead, or vessels for votive offerings. I looked again at the structure around and above the stall. I realized it was the remains of a Roman aqueduct.
   "Robert." I heard my voice, spoken in a flutelike woman's voice.
   I turned to try to find the speaker. She appeared to me first in drifting robes, like a woman of the desert. I had a glimpse of her in modern, smart casual clothes, cashmere sweater and skirt. She slipped away, looking over her shoulder to make sure I followed.
    In the peak scene, she was holding me and bouncing me like a baby, at the head of a happy conga line of dancers. I felt nourished and joyful.
    She told me, "You can go back to your dream now."
    I found this shocking, and thrilling.
    I thought I was in a lucid dream. She seemed to be telling me I had moved beyond dream states into a separate reality.
As I traveled back to my resting body in the bed, in a physical reality between the Pacific Ocean and the redwood forest, I tried to hold the scenes from my adventure in my mind. Some escaped me, but what remained gave me several interesting leads. I need to search for pottery vases like the ones in my dream. I need to think about whether the location with the Roman aqueduct could be one of the places where I currently travel - like Montpellier in Languedoc - or a place where I will go in the future, or a place in another reality. I will remain open to further contact with the mysterious woman who gave me healing and led me to question, yet again, the nature of dreaming and of reality.
     I will add last night's experience to my long list of examples of how a figure in a lucid dream may alert us to the fact that a dream is rarely "only" a dream and may be a full experience of a world beyond the ordinary senses.
Photo: Garden Goddess at Esalen by RM. The woman in my lucid dream did not look like this version of the goddess, but something of the divine mother trails about her.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

How shamans dreamed the thunderbird into being

This is how it was, says an elder of the First Peoples. There were forces much more powerful than humans that humans did not understand and could not control. Like thunder and lightning. People were terrified of the sound of the thunder and the flash of fire from above. What could they do to make this less wild, less overwhelming?
    The shamans dreamed on it. They dreamed that thunder and lightning could take a form humans could recognize and deal with. The form was still scary, but it had a shape and a personality that could be seen and with which conversation was possible.
    The shamans dreamed that thunder took the form of a giant eagle. It had to have wings because it came from the sky. The eagle was the right bird because it is a fierce, high-flying predator that can seize other birds in mid-air. All the winged ones respect it.
    When the shamans dreamed the Thunderbird into being, things changed. Now people could talk to the elemental powers of thunder and lightning as relations that had a name and a shape.

They made this thunder into a being that took the form of an eagle and called it a thunderbird. Then they could begin to be familiar with it and use it as a friend or a partner. Through their dream they were able to control this thunderbird and use it when they wanted to. The highest level a shaman could reach was when he could control the the thunder, when he could form it into a thunderbird so he could use this power from thunder and lightning. He wanted to form this energy into a being, a bird - something he could handle here on Earth. They didn't use any substance to harness this power. Instead, they formed it in their minds. [1]

The quotation is from a book by Louis Bird, an extraordinary storyteller of the Swampy Cree, or Omushkego, of northern Canada, recalling the traditions of the mitewiwin, the shamans of his people.
    His account is marvelously provocative, goading us to think about all the ways humans and beings other-than-human may have agreed to converse with each other, in an animate universe where everything is alive and conscious.
    I was once swimming in a lake when thunderheads came rolling over the scene. Everyone left the water except me. I wanted to go on swimming as long as possible, because my body loves it. Then a great humanoid figure took shape among the clouds, blacker than the rest except for the two patches of light that seemed to be eyes glaring down at me out of an angry, commanding face. I got out of the water pronto. Now that felt like a personal encounter with an elemental power.
    Louis Bird describes how the training of a shaman of his people, from the earliest age possible, emphasized learning to "solidify" - to give shape to - elemental forces in order to manage relations with them, and how this art was mastered through "dream quests". 

The elements - the atmosphere, the air, and the water - can be dangerous. One must understand how to deal with them. In his dream quest, one had to develop the ability to solidify elements that are not yet solid. For example, there are times when the wind is very destructive - it can kill you. And so some people dreamed of the north wind and the north direction as a very powerful being. A dreamer on his dream quest had to visualize the north as a being, a human form, so he can speak to it and come into its favor, so he could use it during his lifetime if possible. It could help him and be kind to him during his lifetime. [2]

I know how this works too. When I was living at the farm, a fire caused by a neighbor's effort to burn trash in big kerosene drums came raging over the hill on the south side of my property and soon claimed twenty acres of tall dead grass. Pushed by a strong south wind, the fire raced to the edge of the drive in front of my house. I had called the fire department, but there was no help in sight, and I had only a garden hose and a bucket, facing what was now a major wildfire. I was ready to jump in my car with my dogs and the unfinished typescript of my new book, when I remembered that it never hurts to ask for help.
     I walked to the western edge of the fire and did just that. I asked the elements for help.
     The wind shifted in an instant. Now it was blowing hard from the west instead of the south. It drove the fire towards the main road, and dry spruce and pine made the noise of popping firecrackers as the flames took them.
     The local fire chief turned up ten minutes later. He told me, "We didn't save your house."
     "I noticed that," I told him.
     "Your house ought to be on fire. You must have some powerful protection."
     What do you say about an episode like that? I said thank you. [3]


1. Louis Bird, The Spirit Lives in the Mind: Omushkego Stories, Lives and Dreams.  (Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2007) 85
2. ibid, 92.
3. I write about these and other personal encounters with elemental powers, especially lightning, in Conscious Dreaming and The Boy Who Died and Came Back.

Images (1) Painted skin representing thunderbird from the Great Lakes, 18th century. Now in the Musée du quai Branly, Paris. (2) Louis Bird in 2002, from The Spirit Lives in the Mind.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

A seat in the fox's pub

From my travel journal:

I land at Washington's Dulles airport late, on a little prop plane that is not the one I was scheduled to take, after one of the bumpiest rides I have ever experienced outside a war zone. 
    I have time before my connecting flight, and I am starving. The only halfway decent sit-down restaurant on my concourse is jam-packed. But wait: a woman is getting up from the bar. A young man helps her to disentangle her luggage. I thank her for providing me with a seat at the right moment. "You'll enjoy this young man," she tells me.
    The young man at the bar is behaving oddly, hopping back and forth between the now vacant seat and the one he was sitting on. He finally decides I may have his previous seat. Clearly there is going to be some kind of engagement here. His baby-blue eyes float up out of a pale and desperate face. "I know you are an elder." 
    He asks me to guess his age. I do. Now he is almost beseeching. "What can you tell me about life?"
    "Never leave home without your sense of humor."
    "I know. But I get so intense, so aggressive. Like, if someone bumps the back of my seat -" he bumps the back of my seat to make his point ["-I want to get up and get in that guy's face."
     "I'll tell you something else I have learned about life," I remark after he hits the back of my seat a second time. "We always have the freedom to choose our attitude."
     He stops banging my seat. "Oh my God, you're right. It's amazing you just sit down next to me and say that."
     He pushes his face close to mine as if he needs to be petted. I am trying to think who he reminds me of. Got it. He resembles Smeagol, the Gollem in Lord of the Rings. The absence of hair on his head is the least notable point of resemblance.
     He wants something from me I can't yet fathom.
     But as he goes on talking, questioning, I begin to sense its shape. He talks about his military Virginia family, his estrangement from his dad. It is clear this has left a deep wound. My guess is that his father has not been able to accept that his son is gay.
     I tell him that, I too, come from a military family and that I was estranged from my father until three years before his death, when we became the best of friends. I tell the young man that if it were my life, I would make it my game to make all well with my dad while he is still in the world.
    "You're giving me goosebumps." He shows me. His whole arm is chicken skin.
    "Truth comes with goosebumps."   

    He is crying now. "You come into the bar, you take a seat, and you tell me the most important things I've ever been told. I asked for an elder, and you came."
     "Here's something else I've learned. The world speaks to us through coincidence and chance encounters. It's a kind of magic."
     "Is that what you are? A magician? You got me crying at the bar for chrissake."

    "Well that lady who gave me her seat did give you a good review."
    He wants to pay for my burger and beer. Of course I won't let him. He asks for a hug. I do give him that. 

    As usual, when plans get scrambled the Trickster comes into play. There is more than what we understand as chance going on on in chance encounters. And sometimes they take place for the benefit of someone else. 


Mr Fox wants me to add that this scene was played out in a pub called The Firkin and Fox. Of course.

A version of this story appears in my new book Sidewalk Oracles: Playing with Signs, Symbols and Synchronicity. Published by New World Library.