Thursday, September 29, 2016

How Muskrat came to Europe after helping to create the World

At the chateau of Dobříš in central Bohemia, it wasn't the massive rococo facade, glowing terracotta red in the sun, that seized my imagination.  Or the giant horses of the sun god Helios being watered in the sculptured fountain at the far end of the French garden behind the house. Or the statue of a lion eating a horse - a strange decorative feature for any backyard - or even the Venetian mirror, in a lady's bedroom, that is said to grant any wish you make when you look into it, as long as you can avoid looking at any other mirror for a whole year afterwards.    
    What grabbed me was the statue of a little muskrat behind a hedge. A muskrat, in Bohemia? I learned that it was the aristocratic owner of the chateau, Josef Colloredo-Mannsfeld, who first brought the muskrat to Europe, in 1905. He set muskrats breeding in a lake, and today they are found all over the continent and are regarded as an invasive pest in France.
    From my studies of early settlement and the fur trade in colonial America, I knew that the muskrat is indigenous to the New World. I did not know about the muskrat migration until now, or that the muskrat is known here by its Huron name, ondatra. Why my excitement? Well, the muskrat has a crucial role in the creation story, as told by the Huron (or Wendat) and the related Iroquois nations.
    The story is one of the great ones, a cosmogony that can even fire you up to remake your world. I give my own retelling in my book Dreamways of the Iroquois. In summary: First Woman falls from a world above and before our own. Call it Earth-in-the-Sky. She falls, or is pushed, through a hole that opens among the roots of the Tree of Life in her world.
    Now she is spinning and plummeting down in darkness towards a watery chaos. Something comes to break her fall. It is a flight of great blue herons. They spread their wings and carry her down gently like a magic carpet.
    Down below are animals that can live in water. They feel compassion for this strange being who is coming down from a lost world. They hold a conference to determine how they can help. Great Turtle offers his back as a place where Sky Woman can live. But more will be required: the substance from which she can shape a living environment.
    Some of the animals recall hearing that there was something like that at the bottom of the watery abyss, something tangible enough to use as starter dough for world creation. One by one, animal volunteers dive down to look for this. They all fail, until the muskrat makes the dive. Muskrat comes up nearly dead, but with a little mud between its paws.
    First Woman takes that mud, spreads it on Turtle's back and starts to dance. She turns counter-clockwise, the direction of expansion for her people. As she dances, a world is born. It is the world we are living in, here on Earth, and muskrat made it possible.
    I learned this story when I was called in my dreams and visions by an arendiwanen, a woman of power, who lived long ago in Northeast America. In my books, I call her Island Woman. She was born Huron, and in her conversations with me she uses words from her birth language as well as the Mohawk language, which she learned after she was captured and adopted by a Mohawk raiding party as a young child. She reminded me that in dreams we learn the secret wishes of the soul, and that it is the responsibility of good people in a decent society to gather round the dreamer and help her discern what the soul is seeking, and to honor those wishes.
    It was entirely unexpected, and thrilling, to feel her presence here, among the forests of Bohemia, at a castle with a history that reflects the tides of Central European history, dark and light.The original castle was rebuilt in rococo style for the German Mansfeld family in the eighteenth century. During World War II, the chateau was seized by the Nazis and became the seat for SS Oberst-Gruppenführer Karl Daluege, who acted as Reich Protector of Bohemia and Moravia after the assassination of Heydrich, ordered mass murders and was executed as a war criminal in 1946. After the war, the chateau was appropriated by the Czech government. Today, it is again in private hands.

    I look again at the statue of ondatra, and I hear the voice of Island Woman:

Through dreaming, we recover the knowledge of our sacred purpose that belonged to us before we came into our present bodies. Then we can begin to live from our sacred purpose and unite ourselves to the powers of creation. We can also begin to get in touch with other members of our soul families who live in other places and times.
     Unless you dream, you’ll never be fully awake. In the Shadow World, we go around like sleepwalkers. In big dreams, we wake up.

    I give thanks for an amazing discovery that suggests the secret of making worlds, and brings alive a connection with the spiritual guide who helped to put me on my path as a dream teacher.

Photos by RM

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Secrets of Flow: creative dreamers and shaman poets

Creativity comes most deeply and naturally when we enter a state of flow. This is evoked in the Tewa Pueblo word for creativity or art. The word is po-wa-ha. The three syllables literally mean “water-wind-breath”. The understanding is that creating is a process of connecting to a deep natural flow [and that art is a process, not a product]. Rina Swentzell, an architect and artist from Santa Clara Pueblo, explains that the Tewa do not have a separate word for art because they do not experience art as an activity separate from any other in life. Creativity is as close as breathing; it is the spirit of life moving effortlessly through its cycles.

Po-wa-ha, literally “water-wind-breath” is that energy that flows from everybody and everything – plants, stones…Creativity just begins to flow out of people. [It] breaks through limits and limitations and flows through from the very source of life. [1]

Dreams can help move us into creative flow, as poet William Everson observed:

The development of the dream-life is one of the best of all possible ways of getting you into the imaginative dimension from which true writing springs…There is no real creative process without mood. It is a losing of objectivity to another dimension, a further loss of self, and it is from this loss that all authentic work springs. It is not possible to create without losing your ego-consciousness. The great thing about the dream is that it takes us into that dimension of mood. Sometimes your finest poems come out of dreams, or out of your recording of a dream. [2] 

Creators and shamans both enter a state of conscious dreaming to do their work, and bring back gifts of magic and healing. In Birth of a Poet William Everson beautifully evoked the similarity between those who reenchant the world as poets and as shamanic dreamers:

In trance [the shaman] descends to the unconscious and like a grebe or cormorant swims underwater in search of the delivering images, the spirits…It is the talent and the genius of the shaman to control the conditions of the trance until the remedy is found and the cure effected. The artist must do the same thing…The shaman enters a trance-like condition in order to engage the archetypes of the collective unconscious and stabilize their awesome power, appease the demons, as it were. This is precisely the function of the poet today. For the poet, too, can only work through trance. [3]

    The connection between the shaman and the creator goes even deeper. The Inuit say that the spirits like “fresh words”. They want to be entertained. They are easily bored with humans who go on repeating old formulas and old ways. When we bring something fresh and new into the world, we entertain the spirits and delight our own creative genius, and our lives are infused with natural magic, confirmed by the play of synchronicity about us.
    I teach an unusual creative writing retreat called "Writing as a State of Conscious Dreaming" at a magical private retreat center in the green woods east of Seattle. But I have the pleasure of watching people move into creative flow in many other situations as they learn to start their day by drifting in the fertile space between sleep and awake, and then to bring fresh dreams to the breakfast table and take action to create with the fresh energy and imagery that is with them. 


1. Rina Swentzell and Sandra P. Edelman,  “The Butterfly Effect” El Palacio 1, vol 95 (Fall/Winter, 1989)
2.William Everson, Birth of a Poet: The Santa Cruz Meditations edited by Lee Bartlett, (Santa Barbara: Black Sparrow Press, 1982) 41
3. ibid 133.

Art: "Mandala de l'arbre" by Annick Bougerolle.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Forest singing to wake up the spirits

I am teaching in Estonia again. Here is a scene from my first visit, early in 2011.

Pärnamäe, Harju County, Estonia

The gate is a simple weathered beam, fastened to young birch trees to make an arch. I tap three times with the wooden beater hanging below.
    "Tere tulemast minu juurde," says the smiling, bear-like man standing in the midst of the grove. "Welcome to my roots."
     He helps me to see the tree-sisters around us. Lindens, where ancient Estonian women offered sacrifice for fertility and domestic harmony, still held to offer psychic protection and many forms of healing; "bee-trees" in summer. Mountain ash. Birth. A solitary oak whose trunk divides into three near the roots. The oak, so important to my ancestors, is a rarity in Estonia these days. Once called "peasant's iron," the oak was the preferred wood for ship's timbers and barrels and much else.
    The trees are leafless in this season. Spring fire comes late to the Baltic. We feel spirit stirring, however, as we drum and sing together. "My house is built on the wind," sings the big man. He smiles again, after many verses, and says, "Some of the big spirits are sleepy. We have to sing runo-songs for a long time, to wake them up."
     Later in spring, he will bring school groups and their teachers into the woods and the groves, and teach them - as he says - "that a fox is not as big as a horse" and thaty inspiration, in-spiriting, comes in communion with nature.
     What does he want for the people he re-connects with the animate world of the forests? "That you can speak to everything, including your own body. And your soul. You can say to your soul, May you be like a beautiful berry."
     His English is excellent, but the strangeness of that Estonian phrase requires further translation. "A berry is good. A berry is full of juice. A berry is whole," he tries to transplant the thought.

When you are whole, you soul is a beautiful berry.

Still not sure I can take this in, until it hits me that this is Bear-talk. The Bear, lover of berries, would get it immediately.
    The man of the grove laughs when I make this observation, and mimes the action of the Bear eating berries. He grabs me in a powerful bear-hug and says, "Meel sa meeldid mulle. You come close to my soul."

Art: Albrecht Dürer, Three Linden Tree

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Dream beyond the body and discover worlds beyond the body

Wherever spirituality is alive, conscious dreaming is recognized as the most important source of instruction on the soul’s survival of death and its condition in the afterlife.
    Even St. Augustine – who had problems with dreams when he abandoned his lover for the church and decided that sex was disgusting – recommended paying the closest attention to dreams in which the dreamer is conscious he is outside his body. In a letter he wrote when he was working on The City of God, Augustine quoted the experience of one Gennadius, “a physician of Carthage”.
   In a dream, Gennadius encountered a radiant young man who led him to an otherworldly city where he heard singing “so exquisitely sweet as to surpass anything he had ever heard”. Waking, the doctor dismissed his experience as “only a dream”. His radiant visitor returned the following night and asked Gennadius whether he had been asleep or awake when they had met before.
   At this point, the doctor became aware that he was dreaming. When his guide asked him, “Where is your body now?” he became aware that he was also having an out-of-body experience. This was the preliminary to a teaching session in which he learned that the soul’s condition after death is similar to its condition in dreams, and he lost his doubts about life after life.
    The story of Gennadius finds echoes in the experiences of conscious dreamers today. In the wake of Raymond Moody's Life after Life (1975), there have been a flock of accounts of visionary journeys reported during "near-death experience" (NDE). It is not necessary to suffer life-threatening illness to make a conscious journey to explore the conditions of the soul after death.
    In a dream that was the gateway to many further explorations, I found myself in a large room where people in a circle were waiting for me. An electric blue fire burned in an alcove. A radiant guide indicated that I was to lead them through it. As we danced into the fire, my guide asked, "Where is your body?"
    Now aware that I was dreaming and out of the body, I was briefly tempted to rush back to check on the inert form on the bed. But I managed to stay with the dream and was shown a number of places of teaching for people who seemed to have passed on. At one of these teaching facilities, students of all ages joined their voices in songs of extraordinary beauty. The chorus of one of these songs stirs in me now:

What cannot be seen in the dream
cannot be seen in its glory

Behind the singers rose the buildings of a beautiful university. I have been able to visit this wonderful place of higher learning, meet some of its faculty, and audit some of its classes. For me it is the true Alma Mater, the school of Mother Soul.

Text adapted from Conscious Dreaming: A Spiritual Path for Everyday Life by Robert Moss. Published by Three Rivers Press.

Photo: Still from Nosso Lar (Astral City) a Brazilian film about the afterlife

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Dream an upgrade for your flight to Paradise

In a lighter moment in an otherwise very sober guide to the bardos of life, death and after, Dzogchen Ponlop suggests that through the right practices, we can earn an upgrade on our ride to the afterlife. He writes in Mind beyond Death that “the way we make any journey depends on the type of ticket we have…We may even have collected mileage points. We may be eligible for an upgrade to first class." He allows that advanced dreamers may have earned sky priority, and direct access to the "pure lands", including the realm created by the buddha Amitabha. If you have traveled this way before, and your heart wants to go there again, you may be able to project your consciousness there at the moment of death by "pure realm phowa." Another reason to deepen the practice of dreaming. Here's the key passage:
“Pure realm phowa is connected to the practice of dream yoga. It involves directly transferring out consciousness at the time of death to one of the Buddha realms, such as the pure land of Amitabha or Akshobya, or to any of the sacred realms of the dakas, dakinis or bodhisattvas. "The capacity to effect such a transference is developed through training in dream yoga. In that practice, not only do we learn to recognize the dream state, but also we develop the skill to transform our dream appearances. When we have developed that degree of control over our minds, then we can travel in our dreams to any Buddha field we wish. "According to these teachings, if we can exercise that kind of power in our dreams, then we will be able to exercise the same power in this bardo [the Bardo of Dying]. We can use our understanding and experience of dream yoga to spontaneously transport ourselves to any sacred realm with which we have a heart connection. For example, you do not have to be a realized being in order to take birth in Amitabha’s pure land. Ordinary beings with a strong aspiration and good accumulation of merit can also take birth there. If we can achieve such a positive situation then we will have the optimum conditions to continue our spiritual training. Our practice will be supported by the blessings of buddhas and boidhisattvas."
A few notes: 1. Phowa (literally "transference" or "ejection") is the art of projection of consciousness from the body to another state at the moment of death. Dzogchen Ponlop offers a brief introduction to five modalities, including deity phowa in which the practitioner seeks to merge with a yidam or god-form. 2. "Pure lands" or "buddha-fields"  (Sanskrit buddhaketra) are especially important in East Asian Mahayana Buddhism. When we study the accounts of how such realms are created through the will, merit and imagination of superior beings, we may have an Eastern model for reality creation in the imaginal realm. 3. In our Active Dreaming approach, we do not use the symbols, postures, mantras or guru devotion of dream yoga as practiced in Tibetan Buddhist lineages and others, though we respect these. However, Active Dreaming, like dream yoga is a discipline that requires practice, practice, practice. Like yoga, Active Dreaming is a science of consciousness. It trains you to raise your awareness, play witness to yourself, go beyond consensual hallucinations, and enter the limitless field of nonlocal mind. It will certainly earn you frequent flyer miles, and maybe even premier status for the Big journey. Art: The famous Thaima Mandala, woven in Japan in the 8th century, showing the "pure land" of Amitabha, who appears as a giant figure at the center, projecting new features of this realm through the remarkable light emanation above his head.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Finding solutions in the place between sleep and awake

As I lay in bed early on a rainy Saturday morning, it occurred to me that the drifty state after waking can sometimes be - quite literally - the Solution State.
     I did not initially have narrative dream recall. Instead, I found that my mental field was like an ocean of clean, translucent oil, in which many images and ideas were floating and bobbing. I could reach around and choose some of them to mix and match, and to bring into clear resolution. As I did this, I was given very clear solutions to a number of specific problems and imagery sequences I could now develop - or allow to develop - into dream movies with plotlines.
      It struck me that this kind of experience takes place in a kind of dream matrix that could be called a Solution in the sense that many elements and possibilities are suspended in it - and that creative people have the ability, in that state of relaxed attention (or attentive relaxation) of entering the Solution State to bring through solutions.
     In The Secret History of Dreaming,, I describe how in many fields - most notably in the history of scientific breakthroughs - the Solution State has been the vital place of creation.  Many of our greatest scientists have been dreamers in a more expansive sense. Above all, they have known how to enter into a fluid state of consciousness where unlikely connections can be made that escape the workaday mind, and where the shapes of what was formerly inexpressible rise from the depth like creatures from the ocean bed.
    One of the most famous – and problematic - “dreams” in the history of science involves the dream of a snake biting its tail. It was this vision that revealed the shape of the benzene ring to German chemist August Kekulé (1829-1896). You’ll find it mentioned in almost any book that contains stories about dreams and creativity. But was it a sleep dream, or an image that came in a lightly altered state of consciousness?
     Kekulé wrote a personal account, reconstructing an extempore speech he gave at the 1890 Benzolfest many years after his visions. Study this closely, and check the meaning of the German words, and you’ll find that his dreamy perception of the “dance” of chemical elements was not a one-off affair. He described a similar experience seven years before the snake dream that gave rise to his theory of chemical structures. He made it clear that in years between the two visions he had developed a practice of seeing or thinking in visual imagery.
     In his mid-20s, when he was living near Clapham Common in London, Kekulé spent a long summer evening sharing his ideas with a friend and fellow chemist who lived in Islington, on the other side of the city. Riding home on the last bus, Kekulé drifted into a reverie (Traumerei) in which he saw atoms “gamboling” and dancing and forming combinations. He understood, when he analyzed their motions, that he had been given clear insights into chemical structures. 
    Up to this time, he had been unable to grasp the nature of their motion. “Now, however, I saw how, frequently, two smaller atoms united to form a pair; how a larger one embraced the two smaller ones…while the whole kept whirling in a giddy dance. I saw how the larger ones formed a chain, dragging the smaller ones after them but only at the end of the chain.” He stayed up late that night sketching these “dream forms”. This was the origin of his theory of carbon bonding in chemical structures.
     We see three conditions for creativity at work in this incident: (a) immersion in a subject, (b) sharing a developing idea with the right friend, and (c) drifting or relaxing into a flow state, from which the “Eureka” moment arises spontaneously..
    Seven years later, a dream or reverie during an evening nap showed Kekulé the chemical structure of the benzene ring. He was now a professor in Ghent in Belgium. Dozing by the fire in his darkened study, he again saw atoms “gamboling before my eyes.” Now his inner sight “rendered more acute by repeated visions of the kind, could  distinguish larger structures of manifold conformation: long rows, sometimes more closely fitted together all twining and twisting in snake-like motion.”
    Then he was startled to see one of the “snakes” seize hold of its own tail, and whirl “mockingly” before him. He was jolted out of his languorous state, “as if by a lightning bolt.” The image of the whirling snake gave the chemist the clue to the structure of the benzene ring. He spent most of the night that followed working this up until he had shaped his theory.
     Kekulé had become practiced in receiving and developing helpful images in this way. When he described the roots of his scientific creativity in the Benzolfest in his honor in 1890, Kekulé told his audience, “Let us learn to dream, gentlemen, then perhaps we shall find the truth.” He added the salutary caution, “But let us beware of publishing our dreams till they have been tested by the waking understanding.”
      The images that came to Kekulé would have been meaningless, in terms of chemistry, to someone who did not have a scientific mind that had long been working on the problems whose solutions they revealed. The imagery might have sent an artist off to paint, or sent someone with an interest in myth off to study the symbol of the Ouroboros in the ancient world and in alchemy.
     When Kekulé urged his audience to “dream”, he was surely not talking exclusively, or primarily, about what happens in sleep. He was talking about developing the ability to enter a state of relaxed attention in which ideas take form and interact as images.
     The base camp for this kind of operation, let us note, was the liminal state of hypnagogia. In a movie of Peter Pan, Tinker Bell tells Peter, "Look for me in the place between sleep and awake. There you will always find me." The fairy's advice was correct. This is the place where we find magic of many kinds, including the magic or creative breakthroughs and scientific discoveries.

For more on the history of scientific breakthroughs in the "solution state", please see The Secret History of Dreaming.

Graphic: Ouroboros in a drawing in a 1478 copy of an early medieval treatise on alchemy attributed to Synesius.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Eagle woman takes me to the airport

Boulder-Denver, Colorado

"You have plenty of seats to choose from. It's just you and me," says the cheery female driver of the big green bus that comes to take me from my hotel near Boulder Creek to the Denver airport.
    I sit upfront, and conversation starts right away.
    "Were you in Boulder for work?" she asks.
    I laugh. "You could say that. But my work is so much fun I don't think of it as work in the ordinary sense."
    "What kind of work do you do?"
    "I teach people how to dream, and how to use their dreams to lead better lives."
    "Wow! That sounds like a great job." She adds, after a moment's thought, "I have a dream that's been with me for years. I don't know what it means but it keeps coming back into my mind. It always makes me feel happy. Do you want to hear it?"
    "A happy dream? Sure."
    "In my dream, I was up in the mountains. Everything felt crisp and clear, wonderful. I sat down on a rock next to a stream, the way ladies used to sit side-saddle. I looked down in the water. The creek was so clear. I saw two eggs on the creek bed, and I knew they were eagle eggs. As I watched, the eagles started to hatch. Two fluffy little eaglets came out. They were still underwater, but they were fine."
     "How did you feel?"
     "I felt happy. I felt blessed. I felt I had received a secret, and a blessing."
     "Indigenous people who have kept their traditions of dreaming would probably say that you had received an invitation to receive the power of the eagle. If it were my dream, I would want to bring the qualities of the eagle - keen vision, the ability to fly high and see life situations from other angles and higher perspectives - into my life. I would think that the power of eagle is hatching within me."
     "That's good. I am Navajo, and I watch out for bald eagles. Last week I had one flying right next to the bus. The passengers were amazed. They said they had never seen an eagle that close.
     "My aunt is traditional Navajo. She told me she was out tending sheep and she found an eagle feather on her path. It was standing straight up in the ground. She spoke words of prayer over it. She took it home and now it's part of her power."
     "A dream of power is a rare and wonderful thing," I observed. "It can come to us in the night or in the day, and it does not require analysis or interpretation. It asks to be cherished, and recalled, and to lend its energy to our lives and sometimes to be shared with others." I told her how my life has been guided by encounters with the red-tailed hawk, in the natural world and in visionary reality.
     She pointed out a solitary tree in the landscape. There were two bald eagles up in the high branches. "I always check that tree. If the eagles are there, I know things are going well on that day."

     When we arrived at the airport, I asked her Navajo name. She told me, and then gave me its meaning. "Happy person." Happy indeed.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Heart of oak

I am oak
I draw the lightning
  and survive the lightning
I am the heart of the strong
I hold onto my leaves
  longer than others
I am a bridge between the worlds
I am the memory of the ancestors
I call you again

Image: Tamme-lauri oak in Estonia. By Abrget47j via Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Entertain your creative genius

The Romans never described a person as a genius. They might say, "Apollonius has a genius" - i.e., a special relationship with a tutelary spirit. The word genius is related to gignere, which means to engender or "beget". It implies reproductive energy, the power of inseminating new life. The Romans called the marriage bed genialis lectus. As observed by Jungian analyst and classicist Marie-Louise von Franz, "this referred not only to sexual potency but also to the qualities that today we would call psychic vitality, temperament, resourcefulness and a lively imagination." 
    In a well-bred Roman household, a statuette representing the personal genius of the father of the family usually stood near the hearth in the kitchen. It might be the figure of a young man, holding a horn of plenty or a phallus or a snake. The woman of the house was believe to have her own guardian spirit, or "Juno", who embodied the power of giving birth. In the Roman conception, each of us is born with a personal relationship with a spiritual patron, or genius, who is the source of creative energy.
    James Russell Lowell was close to this perception when he wrote: "Talent is that which is in a man's power; genius is that in whose power a man is."
    To live and work creatively, we need to make room for this energy. The Romans were on to something. To bring something new into the world is to give birth. We see this in the pregnancy dreams that are not about physical childbirth, but about something new that is borning inside us. We can feel it in our bodies in a period of creative gestation.
    When one of my books is ready to be born, I feel pregnant. I mean that in a quite literal sense. My appetites change. I develop odd cravings at strange hours. I forget to eat or sleep for days at a time, then walk out of a dinner party to crash or feed my face with something I wouldn't normally touch. I develop morning sickness. When my new baby is ready to come out, I can't stop the contractions, even though sometimes, like a woman I once heard screaming in a maternity ward, I want to yell, "This has to stop!" There is no dope, no epidural, no C-section available to dull the experience or shortcut the labor; whatever is in me has to come out the old-fashioned way. There is an equivalent to birthing in water: the blessed gift of going into a state of flow, in which I relax into the rhythms of what is fighting its way into the world.
     As Erich Neumann remarked, "Every human being is by nature creative. Yet one of the gravest and most menacing problems in our Western civilization arises from the fact that this civilization cuts man off from his natural creativity."
    To choose and act creatively, we must be able to put our commonplace selves, with their reliance on structures and schedules,on one side, and make room for the source energy of the begetter. Creative inspiration, as all artists and discoverers know, comes through spontaneous combustion between the waking mind and other levels of consciousness. "I know now," wrote Yeats, "that revelation is from the self, but from that age-old memoried self, that shares the elaborate shell of the mollusc and the child in the womb, that teaches the birds to make their nest; and that genius is a crisis that joins the buried self for certain moments to our daily trivial mind."
     You cannot program a creative breakthrough, but you can clear a space where it may come about. Dreamwork is a wonderful aid to the creative process, because the source of dream images and the source of creative inspiration are not separate. When you resolve to catch your dreams, you are telling your creative source, "I am available. I'm listening." When you record your dreams, you are developing the art of storytelling. You will discover your gifts as a writer, and if you are already a writer,you will find you have done your "warm-up" exercises almost effortlessly and are ready to go he distance. Best of all, through dreamwork you are constantly learning to approach challenges from new angles, in a spirit of play. 
     The Romans believed that a person's genius rejoices in good living, in laughter, in healthy sex, in having fun. Forget to play, and you are not working with your genius, for whom play is the only thing in mortal affairs worth taking seriously.

Text adapted from
 Conscious Dreaming: A Spiritual Path for Everyday Life by Robert Moss. Published by Three Rivers Press.

Winged genius in a fresco from the  villa of Publius Fannius Synistor, Boscoreale, Campania, 1st century BCE.

"Wakeful ecstasies": Swedenborg's method for exploring the afterlife

Emanuel  Swedenborg (1688–1772) was the son of a Lutheran bishop attached to the Swedish court. Living at the dawn of modern science, he mastered all the sciences of his day. He was driven by a passion for knowledge. He became fluent in nine languages. He made his own telescope and produces designs for a submarine and an airplane. He published a whole library of scientific treatises on subjects ranging from algebra to fossils, from hematology to the brain. In the words of one of his biographers, “he exhausted all the known sciences after founding several of them.”
     Then he brought his towering intellect and his experiential approach to the study of the unseen. He was called to the new work by his dreams. In his fifties, he began keeping a dream journal in which he was wholly frank about erotic dreams as well as spiritual adventures. In twilight states, between sleep and waking, he found himself being drawn into experience of a deeper reality. Surfacing from sleep, he found himself entering “wakeful ecstasies.”

I lay awake, but as if in a vision; I could open my eyes and be awake if I wanted to, but yet I was in the spirit — there was an inward and sensible joy through my whole body.

In the city of Delft, on the night of April 6, 1744, Swedenborg experienced the vision that transformed his life and work. Retiring early, he wrestled with an entity he described as the Tempter. After his struggles, he heard a noise under his bed, which he interpreted as the departure of this dark being.
     He started shivering uncontrollably.  He was at last able to snatch a few hours’ sleep. Then:

I trembled violently from head to foot and there was a great sound as of many storms colliding, which shook me and threw me on my face. In the moment I was thrown down I was fully awake and saw how I was thrown down.

Terrified by this wholly vivid experience of being propelled outside his physical body, Swedenborg prayed for help. As he held up his folded hands — the hands of his subtle body — “a hand came which clasped mine hard.” He found himself in the presence of a radiant being he took to be Christ.

I saw him face-to-face….He spoke to me and asked if I had a certificate of health. I answered, “Lord thou knowest that better than I.” He said, “Well, then act.”

Afterward, Swedenborg found himself traveling far and deep into nonordinary reality in a state that was “neither sleep nor wakefulness.” He conversed and interacted with beings in the spirit would “the same as with my familiars here on earth, and this almost continuously.”He conversed with dead people “of all classes,” including many people he had known during their physical lives. They gave him information he was able to verify and put to use.
    These encounters gave him a firsthand understanding of the conditions of the afterlife. Previously, his religious faith had convinced him that the spirit survives physical death. Now he could begin to study how it survives.
      He gained important insights from encounters with departed people he had known before their deaths. He discovered that dead people are frequently confused about their situation because they cannot distinguish between the physical body and the subtle body. During the funeral of Christopher Polhem, one of his former teachers, Polhem “came through” to Swedenborg, “asking why he was buried when he was still alive.” The dead man was puzzled by the fact that, while the priest sermonized about the resurrection of the dead at the Last Judgment, “he was still alive” and “sensible of being in a body.”
     Swedenborg’s observation of the condition of other spirits in the afterlife led him to formulate the important observation that “when a man dies, his soul does not divest itself of its peculiarities.” He observed the condition of the executed nobleman Eric Brahe and reported that two days after his death “he began to return to his former state of life, which was to love worldly things, and after three days he became just as he was previously in the world.”
     The departed follow the path of their desire and understanding. In his soul journeys, Swedenborg tracked them into many regions in the Otherworld. He encountered an angelic guide who told him that the “other members of his society” were appalled by the “crass ignorance” of the real conditions of the afterlife that prevailed among Westerners even after they took up residence in the spirit world.      
      Swedenborg’s mentor told him that “angels” of his rank are instructed to gather newly arrived spirits, find out their ideas about heavenly joy — and give them what they desire. “You know that everyone that has desired heaven…is introduced after death into those particular joys which he had imagined.”
      For example, there is a heaven for big talkers and another for big eaters. There is a paradise for those who believe the promise that they will rule with Christ forever; they see themselves enthroned as kings and princes. If you think of heaven as a beautiful garden, you get to smell the roses. But in all cases, according to Swedenborg’s mentor, you will be bored to distraction within two days.
    Now that you are ready to move beyond your expectations, the guide assigned to you can begin to instruct you on further possibilities. By one means or another, you will learn that happiness requires “doing something that us useful to ourselves and others.” Swedenborg’s angel explains that heaven is not a fixed environment or program of events, but a state that corresponds to — or is actually created by — the spiritual condition of its inhabitants.
     The local clergy were not enthusiastic about Swedenborg’s road maps, or the fact that his example might encourage others to go exploring for themselves. Inflamed by Swedenborg’s observation that few priests (“that order of which very few are saved”) seemed to prosper on the other side, a Swedish minister plotted to have him judged insane and committed to a lunatic asylum.
      Swedenborg’s geography of the afterlife was the gift of experience, which invited us to go beyond his maps, just as he went beyond the maps of previous explorers. His basic travel techniques will be recognized by active dreamers. They include:

Deep relaxation: He would close his eyes, focus his attention on a single theme or target, and slow his breath. He first practiced this approach, especially breath control, in childhood during morning and evening prayers. He spoke of the “passive potency” of his meditation practice. The heart of it was to “withdraw the mind from terms and ideas that are broken, limited, and material.”

Experiment in the twilight zone: The half-dream state on the cusp between sleep and waking was Swedenborg’s favorite launchpad. He described this state as “the sweetest of all, for heaven then operates into [the] rational mind in the utmost tranquility.” He worked with both spontaneous and familiar photisms. For example, he writes of an “affirming flame” that would appear on his inner screen at the start of a journey or in the midst of a writing binge, reassuring him that conditions were favorable and that he was on the right track.

Soul journeying: Swedenborg developed a fluid ability to shift consciousness and travel beyond the physical plane. “When I am alone my soul as it were out of the body and in the other world; in all respects I am in a visible manner there as I am here.”

Night and day, he lived and worked as an active dreamer. His banker friend Robsahm observed that Swedenborg “worked without much regard to the distinction of day and night. Swedenborg himself noted, “When I am sleepy, I got to bed.” He kept a fire going at all times, drank large quantities of coffee with a huge amount of sugar. His dress at home was a robe in summer, a reindeer coat in winter.
     Across the centuries, his words echo as a clarion call to new generations of explorers who refuse to settle their accounts with possibility and just do it:

I am well aware that many will say that no one can possibly speak with spirits and angels so long as he lives in the body; and many will say that it is all fancy, others that I relate such things in order to gain credence, and others will make other objections. But by all this I am not deterred, for I have seen, I have heard, I have felt.

Text adapted from Dreamgates; Exploring the Worlds of Soul, Imagination and Life beyond Death by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library.

Graphic: Knight playing chess with Death in Ingmar Bergman's wonderful film "The Seventh Seal". Bergman was strongly influenced by Swedenborg.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

When you feel you're a character in a novel someone else is writing

Do you ever have the feeling you are a character in a novel someone else is writing? The crazy-brilliant collector of anomalies, Charles Fort, offered the suggestion "that Momus is imagining us for the amusement of the gods, often with such success that some of us seem almost alive – like characters in something a novelist is writing; which often to considerable degree take their affairs away from the novelist." For those who have forgotten their Greek myths: Momus is the god of mockery and satire who was kicked out of Olympus because the other gods couldn't stand his savage humor. The quote is from Fort's The Book of the Damned. Its contents are less sinister, but possibly more weird, than the title suggests. By "damned", he was referring - with Momus-like mockery - to facts and ideas excluded from discussion by conventional thinking and mainstream science, like fish falling from the sky. The trick is, of course, to become authors - or at least co-authors - of our own life stories, and determine what genre we wish to inhabit. When I write fiction, I know that it is for real when a character comes alive and tries to run off with the story. In life, I sometimes feel like one of those runaway characters. Right now I am very curious to know who came up with the initial plot. In other words, I am a character in search of his author. There is a serious risk for a character who embarks on this quest. The author may have given up on you or forgotten your existence. Once contact is made, your author may decide you to write you out of his story and put Finis on your current life page. So my assignment grows. As a novelist, I create characters. As a character, I must play a larger game. I must seek to create, or at least re-create, my author.
images: Top: Momus as the tarot Fool in an eighteenth-century deck. Bottom: writing desk at Thoor Ballylee. Photo by RM