Wednesday, May 24, 2017

I am in my story

I am in my story.
I am wearing my hula girl socks
so I don’t forget my life is a vacation.
Blue smoke from a French cigarette
reassures me that this is a writing retreat.
Birds talk, trees whisper,
a garter snake writes letters on the path.
everything speaks to me here,
even a spam email inviting me
to become a collector of delinquent debts.

Overnight I was in other stories.
I cut a porthole between worlds.
I rode a sea monster with my fish spear in its neck.
I escaped being sprayed with samsara perfume.
I played hopscotch on a Paris street.
My new baby was born in a delivery room
full of printouts. The mother, flirting,
won’t show me my beautiful child yet;
she doesn’t want to spoil the surprise
when I see it whole and lovely, in gurgling delight.

I am in my story.
Every day is a holiday when you do what you love.

-         -  Mosswood Hollow, May 23, 2017

Sunday, May 14, 2017

"I come from inside you," says the Goddess

Our true spiritual teachers come looking for us in dreams, and they assume many guises. I thought this account of how a goddess with a famous name introduced herself to one woman dreamer would be a good story for Mother's Day.
    I'll call the dreamer Lin. She set an intention for the night: "I want to meet my spiritual teacher." Here is the dream that followed, as she reported it to me:

I go to the cemetery where my brother is buried. We meet and hug each other. It's very loving. He wants to come with me but I tell him I can't take him where I am going. 
     A great bear appears. Bear has been my friend, and I feel safe and protected., even when something weird happens.
      Something like smoke is coming out of my solar plexus. I look at it, trying to figure out what's going on. It takes the form of a woman, a kind of misty ghost. "Who are you?" I want to know. "Tell me your name."
      She says, "My name is Athena."
     "Get out of here. You can't be Athena. You can't be my guide, anyway. My guide can't come from inside me. You have to be separate."
     She corrects me. She says firmly, "I can come from inside you." I'm still disbelieving until she tells me to look down. I see my brother's tombstone. The inscription reads: To thine own self be true.

Asked how she felt afterwards, Lin said, "I was shocked awake." True spiritual teachers like to do that: to shock us awake. Asked to describe Athena, Lin said, "She is a goddess of wisdom."  She decided that the dream message was: "I can birth wisdom from inside myself, and I don't need to look outside myself for my guide."
     Lin's dream encounter was fresh and personal. She also felt grounded in family and ancestral traditions, blessed to have met both her deceased brother, and an animal guardian, and a goddess with a great name who was yet no stranger, given form by her own energy and imagination. Athena isn't known as a mother goddess but here she plays mother to a dreamer's understanding of where the truest spiritual teacher is to be found.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The call of Inanna and the first named author in history

daughter of the Moon
silken bud unfolding

riding out on your wild blue bull
through the Gate of Wonder.

I am riffing on a version of "Inanna and Ebih",  written by the high priestess of the Moon God at Ur around 2300 bce. The literal translation is in Betty De Shong Meador's brilliant Inanna, Lady of Largest Heart.
    I was excited to learn that Meador was called to the great Sumerian goddess Inanna by a dream . She dreamed she saw two fellow Jungian analysts – conservative, by-the-book types - being buried. Strange sticks with loops at the top were planted in the earth around their graves.
      At the time, Inanna was unknown to her and she made no association between the dream and the goddess.  Long after, in one of Erich Neumann’s books, she found a picture of the looped poles like the ones in her dream. She read that they are symbols of Inanna and the earliest way of writing her name in pictographs. They are reed posts. They may represent door posts, or the props for a curtain. In pictographs (see photo), reed pieces hanging down from the rings, sometimes look like women's hair, or ribbons.
     Why would doorposts made from reeds be a symbol for the Queen of Earth and Heaven? Doorposts of this kind could denote the passage to the storehouse,the place of fertility and abundance that are the gifts of the goddess in her beneficent mode. Doorposts could also denote the passage between the worlds. Inanna herself passed through a series of doorways in her famous Descent to the Underworld. So the reed doorposts - in a country with little timber or stone - could be the Mesopotamian version of the pylon gate in Egypt or the dolmen arch in Celtic lands.
     There is further significance in the reeds. In ancient Mesopotamia, dream incubation took place in reed huts.You would step between reed doorposts to dream with intention, maybe to dream yourself into a close encounter with the goddess herself. The marshes of southern Mesopotamia, full of reeds, offered a liminal dreamy landscape. Legend has it that Sargon of Akkad, the father of the priestess who wrote poems and hymns of Inanna was abandoned in a reed basket, sealed with pitch, on a river,  to be found by the gardener who raised him.  A baby from the reeds, long before Moses.
      Meador waxes poetic about the reed posts of Inanna as “insurgent flags”. In her words, “Inanna’s symbol standing tall on the graves was an image of strength and courage from a culture outside of and alien to patriarchal thinking... Inanna’s tall reed standards stand like insurgent flags amid the bastion of traditional beliefs that restrict women.” The meet-up between the old dream and new research into the mythic cycle of Inanna led the Jungian analyst to make a huge new leap in her work and understanding, into Goddess realms. "This new perspective propelled me onto my future path.” 
       As Meador studied the texts, she found Inanna's wild call for her chosen lover to plow her field. The goddess calls for Dumuzi, who is both the "wild bull" and the plowman:

My field needs hoeing
Dumuzi, I call you
It is you I want for prince. 

     Inanna is many, a great goddess who refuses all boundaries and limitations. For Meador, she is the Sumerian “personification of the whole of reality”. 

You wear the robes
of the old, old gods. 

     Meador discovered a soul friend in ancient Mesopotamia. She happens to be the first named author in all of human history. Her name is Enheduanna. The "en" in her name means "high priestess". She was the daughter of King Sargon of Akkad and high priestess of the moon god Nanna. She was also a poet of the first rank, and the most passionate of her poems were devoted to presenting Inanna in all her faces. She composed 42 temple hymns that have survived  and the "Exaltation of Inanna"(Nin-Me-Sar-Ra) infused with her passion for the goddess.
     It is really absurd that Enheduanna is relatively unknown. She is the first named author in world literature. She is a great poet. She is advancing a whole theology and philosophy that promotes the great Goddess as the one beyond the many. She writes with searing passion and eloquence about the many aspects of the self. The goddess she praises – in all her dark and light – is within her, and within the whole of nature and the whole cosmic order. Both contain multitudes.
     Meador writes that “in Enheduanna’s writing, we witness that moment when an individual is selected out of the mass of humanity into a new consciousness of self-definition and self-worth...Enheduanna begins to understand emotion as the graze of the goddess’ hand across a person’s soul. Image and emotion become the language of the goddess to the particular individual.”
    Called to the goddess and the ancient poet through the doorway of a dream. Goddesses and dead poets can make that happen. I know about this.

Quotes here are from Betty De Shong Meador, Inanna, Lady of Largest Heart: Poems of the Sumerian High Priestess Enheduanna. Published by University of Texas Press.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Confessions of a biphasic sleeper

I confess that I am a biphasic and sometimes a polyphasic sleeper. I have never really tried to sleep for six or more hours at a stretch, the widely recommended mode in our predominantly monophasic sleeping culture. Typically, I sleep (or at least lie dormant) for two distinct periods of four hours and two hours in a 24-hour cycle. Depending on my travels and other factors, the shorter sleep phase may be an afternoon nap before a longer night sleep or a morning lie-in following it. I do not suffer insomnia because I don't try to sleep unless I feel like it. I almost never need an alarm clock or a wake-up call. Traveling between time zones does not bother me. In any time zone, I am nearly always awake between 3:00 and 4:00 a.m., one of my favorite hours. I am told this is the time, actuarially, when more people die and more are born than in any other hour in the cycle of 24.
When resting in bed, I spend as much time as possible in a half-sleep or half-wake state, in the hypnagogic zone (approaching sleep) or the hypnopompic zone (after sleep). This liminal state of consciousness is immensely fertile. It presents spontaneous images that can be the portals for lucid dream adventures. It opens psychic perception and is a place of encounter with inner guides. It is a state in which we hatch new ideas and creative connections. My approach to sleep and dreaming may seem exotic to many in a society that is suffering serious dream deprivation and in general does not reward its members for recalling and sharing dreams. However my habits would be recognized and approved by most of our ancestors, cross-culturally.
For hundreds of thousands of years, humans thought that what the pushers of sleep meds promise – an uninterrupted night of seven or eight hours’ sleep – was an unnatural and undesirable thing. Experiments by a team led by Dr Thomas Wehr at the National Institutes of Mental Health in Bethesda have supplied compelling evidence of how our technology has ripped us from our natural cycle. Deprived of artificial lighting for several weeks, the typical subject evolved the following pattern: lying awake in bed for an hour or two, then four hours sleep, then 2-3 hours of “non-anxious wakefulness” followed by a second sleep before waking for the day's activities. One of the most exciting findings in Wehr’s study involved the endocrinology of the night watch. The interval between first sleep and second sleep is characterized by elevated levels of prolactin, a pituitary hormone best-known for helping hens to brood contentedly above their eggs for long periods. Wehr concluded that the night watch can produce benign states of altered consciousness not unlike meditation. [1} Wehr and his team put their subjects on the Paleolithic plan, without alternatives to electrical light such as candles or fire or oil lamps. The Paleolithic two-sleeps cycle wasn’t only a stone age phenomenon; it was characteristic of how people spent their nights until gas lighting and then electricity became widespread. A seventeenth century Scottish legal deposition describes a weaver as “haveing gotten his first sleip and awaiking furth thairof.” Sleep historian Roger Ekirch says that “until the modern era, up to an hour or more of quiet wakefulness midway through the night interrupted the rest of most Western Europeans” - and presumably most other people - so that “consolidated sleep, such as we today experience, is unnatural.” [2] This may help to explain the extent to which so many  in our urbanized society are out of nature and out of touch with dreaming. “Segmented sleep” was the norm for our ancestors until quite recently, as it remains for some indigenous peoples today. Like Virgil and Nathaniel Hawthorne, the Tiv of central Nigeria speak of “first sleep” and “second sleep”. They wake at any time during the night and will talk to anyone in the hut who is also awake - often about their dreams.[3] Most interesting, the state “twixt sleepe and wake” that the French called dorveille was widely regarded as an excellent time to birth new ideas. In 1769, the artful London tradesman Christopher Pinchbeck advertised a device called a “Nocturnal Remembrancer”, a parchment tablet inside a box with a slit to guide the writing hand in the dark to enable “philosophers, statesmen, poets, divines and every person of genius, business or reflection” to secure the “flights and thoughts which so frequently occur in the course of a meditating, wakeful night.” Biphasic or polyphasic sleep might help us to recover the "perceptual diversity" that anthropologist and economic development specialist Tara Lumpkin observes is woefully lacking in contemporary mainstream Western cultures. "When a culture restrains perceptual diversity, that same culture reduces human adapatibility, which, in turn, leads to human beings living unsustainably...Coming from developed Western cultures, which highly value monophasic consciousness and the scientific method, we may not even be aware of what we are losing. It is altered states of consciousness, which speak through symbols and intuition such as dreaming, imagining and meditating, that often allow us to grasp the whole in a way that the scientific method can never provide."[4]
    Modern culture, through the suppression of natural circadian cycles and a disregard of dreaming, may have fulfilled for many Thomas Middleton's complaint that we have rendered ourselves “disanulled of our first sleep, and cheated of our dreams and fantasies.” [5]

Perhaps you, too, will find it helpful to wake up to the fact that it's okay to be awake in the middle of the night. While sleep deprivation can be a serious problem, we do better when we stop confusing being awake in the middle of the night with "insomnia" and learn to have fun when the rest of the world is sleeping (and thinks we should be asleep). And then, whenever possible, plunge back into dreaming.

1. Nathalie Angier, "Modern Life Suppresses Ancient Body Rhythms", New York Times, March 14, 1995.
2. A. Roger Ekirch, "Sleep We Have Lost: Pre-Industrial Slumber in the British Isles", American Historical Review 106, no. 2 (April 2001) 343-386.
3. Paul Bohannon, "Concepts of Time among the Tiv of Nigeria", Southwestern Journal of Anthropology, no. 9 (Autumn, 1953) 253.
Tara W. Lumpkin, "Perceptual Diversity: Is Polyphasic Consciousness Necessary for Global Survival?" in Anthropology of Consciousness 12 (1-2) 37-70. 

5. Thomas Middleton, "The Black Book", in The Works of Thomas Middleton ed. A.H. Bullen (New York: AMS Press, 1964) 8:14

Art: Henri Rousseau, "The Dream" (1910)

Monday, May 1, 2017

Death of an Oracle and the Oracle that Never Dies

The Sibylline Books were the oldest and most respected oracle of the Romans. According to legend, the original set – in Greek hexameter – were sold to an ancient king of Rome by a wise woman, or sibyl, from the region of Troy. They were replaced several times. Under the Empire, they were moved from the Temple of Jupiter on the Capitoline Hill in Rome to a vault under the temple of Apollo on the Palatine Hill. An august college of secular priests, whose members had typically held high state office, were entrusted with pulling verses from the collection –as you might pull Tarot cards from a deck – to perform a reading. 
     The Sibylline Books were most often consulted to get a second opinion on an anomalous event, like the flooding of the Tiber or the birth of a two-headed ram, but also to elicit the will of the gods on important undertakings and to receive guidance on what measures the state might need to take to propitiate the powers above.
      In 405, the master of Rome was a half-barbarian general named Stilicho who had been fighting a series of savage battles against Alaric and the Goths; Stilicho usually won, but at ruinous price, and without clear resolution. He did not like his ratings from the Sibylline Books, which hinted that he was out of favor with the gods. He did what other men of power have done when they disliked the opinions of diviners and dreamers; he tried to shut them down, in this case by ordering the destruction of the Sybilline Books. Though the Empire was now officially Christian, the culture of Rome was still deeply pagan, and this was widely viewed as an outrageous act of blasphemy that would bring punishment from the old gods. 
     Soon news reached Rome that barbarian hordes had crossed the Rhine, heading for Italy. A cabal of disgruntled officers overthrew Stilicho; in 408, he was beheaded.. Two years later the Goths sacked Rome. There were many pagans who muttered, I told you so.
    Around the same time that Stilicho was destroying the great oracle at Rome, across the Mediterranean, in Cyrene in what is now Libya, a philosopher of noble blood named Synesius – soon to be made a bishop of the Church – completed a treatise On Dreams that argues, from a wealth of personal experience, that dreams are our private oracle and we should never allow anyone to interfere with it.
    This oracle is the birthright of every human, regardless of class or condition, and it travels with every dreamer. All that is required to consult it is to lay your head on a pillow – though the results you get will have a lot to do with how you live your life and how you cleanse (or fail to cleanse) your perception.

If we stay at home, the dream oracle stays with us; if we go abroad she accompanies us; she is with us on the field of battle, she is at our side in the city; she labors with us in the fields and barters with us in the market place. The laws of a malicious government cannot stop her. A tyrant cannot prevent us from dreaming, unless he banishes sleep from his kingdom. [The dream oracle] repudiates neither race, nor age, nor condition, nor calling. This zealous prophetess, this wise counselor, is present to everyone, everywhere.

We can choose to ignore this oracle, at our cost, but it can never be destroyed.
    I consider Synesius' treatise on dreams to be the best book on the subject before very recent times. He describes how healing, creative inspiration, and exact information on developments remote from us in time or space are all available in dreaming. He insists that dreaming is the birthright of every human, regardless of circumstances, gender or ethnicity. He instructs that we must learn to interpret our own dreams and not give our power away by turning to others to do this. 

It would be shameful for those who have lived ten years beyond adolescence to stand in need of any other diviner, shameful that they should not have accumulated an abundant store of technical principles

He explains that we want to keep "books of night and day" recording not only dreams but signs and symbols in everyday life. We will confirm that “all things are signs appearing through all things”
    We may find in his situation a distant mirror for our own times. Wherever he looked, darkness was rising. Both halves of the divided Roman Empire were falling into chaos and civil war. Rome, the world city, was sacked for the first time in eight hundred years. He had to lead neighbors and retainers to fight off marauding bands that attacked his city and his country estate. During his three-year embassy to Constantinople, he found himself in a snake pit of intrigue, with lynch mobs and brutal mercenaries in the street (and wrote a roman à clef about it).
     Synesius recognized and taught, with clarity and eloquence, that in scary times dreaming can get us through, by preparing us for what lies ahead, by giving us a direct line to sacred powers and by connecting us to the soul's purpose. To practice dream divination, Synesius insisted, is also to "uplift the soul." He wrote that "We ought to seek this branch of knowledge before all else; for it comes from us, is within us, and is the special possession of the soul of each one of us."
    He invited us to lift our spirits and our imaginations in the worst of times, by remembering that the soul has wings.

There is nothing that forbids the sleeper from rising from earth and soaring above eagles, to reach a point above the loftiest spheres themselves. He may look down on the earth from far above, and explore lands that are not visible even from the moon. It is in the power of the dreamer to converse with the stars and to meet the hidden powers of the universe.

Quotations are from the Augustine Fitzgerald (trans) Essays and Hymns of Synesius of Cyrene  (1930). Read more about the "bishop of dreams" in The Secret History of Dreaming.

Art: Sack of Rome by the Visigoths by J.N.Silvestre (1890)