Saturday, January 27, 2018

Hold the vision in your mind so you do not become lost

Long before Columbus, the Polynesians discovered and settled virtually every island group in the Pacific, creating a single sphere of cultural life that covered nearly 10 million square miles of the earth's surface. Polynesian sailors crossed the sea in open catamarans, made with tools of stone, bone and coral, their sails woven from pandanus. They sailed without maps, compasses or instruments.    
According to Polynesian tradition, the first human to see Easter Island was a dream traveler and the island was settled because a young king trusted the traveler’s story and acted upon it.     In a time of savage warfare among the Polynesian islanders, a priest named Hau Maka, who was also the royal tattooist, went scouting for a new home for his people. He flew across the ocean in a dream and saw Rapa Nui (Easter Island). On returning from his dream journey, he described the island and its location in great detail to his young chief, Hotu Matu’a.    
The king trusted Hau Maka’s dream. He gathered all of his people and ordered them to prepare for a long sea journey to a new land. The people set sail with everything they had. After two months, they reached Anakena Bay on Easter Island, and found it just as the king’s tattooist had described.     
Polynesians crossed more than 2,000 miles of the Pacific to find and settle Hawaii in the same way.     
Captain Cook saw the skills of the wayfinder when he took the Polynesian navigator Tupaia with him on a voyage of more than 13,000 km from Tahiti to New Zealand. Cook noted that at all times the wayfinder knew the exact direction of Tahiti.    It was hard for the outside world to understand or credit their extraordinary prowess as navigators until the Polynesian Voyaging Society launched a double-hulled catamaran, dubbed the Hokule'a (the Hawaiian name for Arcturus, the sacred star of Hawaii) in 1975, and Hawaiians crossed the seas the old-fashioned way.     
Nainoa Thompson and the organizers brought a master navigator, a wayfinder or waymaker, from Micronesia to train the crew. His name was Mau Piailug. He was born on a coral islet smaller than one square mile, in the Caroline islands. His father and his grandfather were wayfinders. They began his training by keeping him in a tidal pool for hours when he was an infant. When he became seasick on his first sea voyage, aged eight, they tide him to the back of the canoe by a rope and dragged him through open waters until the nausea passed. When he was fourteen, he tied his own testicles to the rigging of a canoe to become fully sensitive to the movements.    He learned to read the coming of a storm in a halo round the moon and in the movement of dolphins heading for sheltered waters.    
In preparing the crew of the Hokule'a for the voyage to Tahiti, he trained them to read wind and water, stars and birds, as he did. The master class took them deeper. On a point of land on Oahu, he had them spin until their senses were blurred and then tasked them to turn, eyes closed, in the direction of the island that was their destination.     When satisfied they were pointing the right way, he told them: "Go there. Be there with all of your senses." He wanted them to grow the destination so strong, in their minds and their inner senses, that they would bring the island towards them, Finally, he instructed them, "Hold the vision in your mind so you do not become lost."

Image: Hokule'a

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Your dreams give you myths to live by

I sense the iron inside my body, and I know that it is the dust of an exploding star. The iron in my body connects me with the supernova that created my galaxy, and as I move and stretch I feel the whole cosmology is alive in me. 

Our Lady of Guadalupe is leaving us. I see her starting to rise up off the sun-parched earth where her children in Mexico have been savagely abused. I am saddened to think that the cruelty and ignorance of humans may be losing us the support of higher powers.

I go to my special place in nature, by the white pines along the creek. For the first time ever,I find no solace here. I feel separate from nature, after separating myself from the hurry of people at the office. I try to imagine myself going deep inside the earth and finding refuge there, but today I can't manage that either. What has happened to divorce me from nature? Is it me, or is it all of us?

I am at a train station. I encounter an old woman with her daughter. Their heads are those of ravens. The old woman turns to me and her feathers turn white. The white-capped Raven Woman says to me, "Things are all happening too fast in your world. It's time to lift off. We'll come back at the right time." With this, she flutters up into the air. I realize that from her perspective it's possible to see far across time and space, beyond our present confusion.

I come to a living tree, There is the living face of a woman in the bark of the tree. The tendrils of her hair are like the serpents of Medusa. Now a great bull comes, stamping and snorting, magnificent and scary in his virile strength. As he stamps down, his hooves take root in the earth and little by little, he becomes part of the tree. I am amazed that the bull energy can be rooted and grounded like this. I want to plant this strength around me, in my life.

I am on the track of a part of myself that has been long buried in the ground. I feel the presence of a being that loves me, holding me by the shoulders, gently supporting me. The name of the woman that has been buried sounds like Michelle but is actually My-Shell, the part of me that had to hide and make itself small. I will dig as long and deep as it takes to bring her back to me.

These are summaries, in exact sequence, of dreams and visions that were shared one evening by members of an active dreaming circle that I lead in my home neighborhood. Not only does each report have mythic power; it is possible to read the whole sequence as a single mythic narrative.
     It starts (where else?) with the creation of our world. It dramatizes the perennial danger of the Dark Times that come when human behavior forfeits the support of higher powers and estranges us from the Earth. It introduces uncanny guides and living symbols: the woman who becomes White Raven, the bull (primal power of the ancients, consort of the goddess and preferred form of the gods) who becomes a tree. It brings the story home to us in the invitation to a personal quest for soul recovery, to bring out of the Earth what has been kept safe there through a time of trouble and trauma.
    Australian Aborigines say that the Big stories are hunting the right people to tell them, like predators stalking in the bush. The trick is to put ourselves in a place where the Big stories can find us. We see from the reports I have quoted above that our dreams provide that place, if we show up and remember.

Image by French artist and dream teacher Véronique Barek-Deligny 

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Great Mother Bear

You feel her under your feet.
You enter her realm through the roots
of the tree that knows you.
She is endlessly nurturing, fertile and abundant.
She will nurse you and heal you as she cares for her cubs.
You can call on her blessing at any time,
once you have found the courage to enter her embrace.

She calms the mad warrior in men.
She strips the berserkers of old skins.
Serve her, and you join the army of the Great Mother
whose purpose is to protect, not destroy.
She will defend you, even from yourself. 

When you call back your lost children,
she will hold you together in her vast embrace
until you are one, and whole.
When you reach across the jagged rifts in your family
to forgive and make well, you feel her rolling pleasure.

Art by Tracy Cunningham. In author's collection.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Plutarch in the Light of the Moon

For Plutarch (c 50-120 AD), the realm of the Moon assumes huge importance as the residence or way station for some (though by no means all) spirits of the departed, and the base for a variety of daimons (many of them formerly humans) who take a close interest in Earth affairs.
Plutarch knew what he was talking about. He was not only a marvelous historian and philosopher, but a Mystery initiate, who spent his last thirty years as a priest at Delphi, communing with the gods and traveling between the worlds. He traveled in Egypt and wrote a treatise on Isis and Osiris that has a continuing influence on our understanding of ancient Egyptian religion.
He knew the importance of dreams. He wrote in his essay "Amatorius" that “Since [the soul’s] arrival in the world, it is by means of dreams that it joyfully greets and gazes upon that which is most beautiful and most divine.”
In hies essay "On the Divine Vengeance" Plutarch describes a journey to a locale in the sphere of Luna where three daimons sitting together in the shape of a triangle are mixing dreams in a cosmic krater (or mixing-bowl). Different streams flow into it, one “whiter than sea foam” another “the violet of the rainbow”. The lighter and whiter the dream that is mixed up, the more true it will be. “This is the source from which dreams derive.”
The source of this account is an ancient NDE. A dissolute man of Soli who is told by an oracle that he will do much better when he dies. Soon after he falls from a height and is believed to be dead until he revives at his burial place three days later
Plutarch explains how after death spirits that are able to rise beyond the lower astral plane may enjoy a pleasurable afterlife in the realm of the Moon. They may live on there for a great length of Earth time, or graduate to existence on a higher plane, leaving their astral bodies behind. Or they may become Moon-based daimons, closely engaged with human affairs, playing far-from-infallible guides to people in the physical world.
In a most remarkable tract titled" Concerning the Face that Appears in the Orb of the Moon" Plutarch gives a comprehensive account of the role of the Moon in relation to the soul history of humans. The Moon is here described as the portal through which spirits travel on their way to birth on Earth, and to which they ascend, if they pass certain tests, after physical death. Some of these spirits of the departed may be promoted to the status of daimons, with permission to interact with the living.
"Not forever do the spirits tarry upon the moon; they descend to take charge of oracles; they attend and participate in the highest of mystic rituals; they act as warders against misdeeds and chastisers of them, and they flash forth as saviors manifest in war and on the sea." [1]
These spirits of the Moon, far from omniscient or infallible, are on probation.If they act unfairly, giving in to wrath or envy, they are cast out and again confined in human bodies on earth.
Plutarch shakes up our mythic geography when he tells us that Earth is the realm of Demeter, the Moon of Persephone, and everything between Earth and Moon is the realm of Hades. Entry by the departed into the realm of Luna requires the ability to travel beyond the temptations, fears and distractions of the lower astral (Hades) and go through a clean-up, effected by “scrubbers” (maybe resembling scarab beetles).
In summary, this ancient shaman-philosopher confirms that It is in the realm of Luna that spirits take on and take off the astral body before birth and after death. And that the Moon, as an astral realm, is the base for a large population of daimons (many formerly human) who have a close engagement with human affairs.
[1] Plutarch, De facie quae in orbe lunae apparet [“Concerning the Face which appears in the Orb of the Moon”] in Moralia XII trans Harold Cherniss and William Helmbold
Image: Detail of the Moon from Donato Creti, "Astronomical Observations" (1711) in the Vatican Museum

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Nine Keys to Helping Kids with Their Dreams

Here's what we need to know about listening to children's dreams and supporting their imaginations: 

1. Listen up!

When a child wants to tell a dream, make room for that. Make some daily space for dream sharing. Listen to the stories and cherish them for their own sake.

2. Invite good dreams

Pick the right bedtime reading or better still, tell stories. Help your child to weave a web of good dream intentions for the night - for example, by asking "What would you most like to do tonight?" Encourage children to sleep with a favorite stuffed animal (whether teddy bear or T-Rex) and make this a dream guardian.

3. Provide immediate help with the scary stuff

If your child was scared by something in the night, recognize you are the ally the child needs right now. Do something right away to move out that negative energy. Get a frightened child to spit it out (literally) or draw a picture of what scared her and tear it up as violently as possible.

4. Ask good questions.

When the child has told her story, ask good questions. Ask about feelings, about the color of the sky, and about exactly what T-Rex was doing. See if there's something about the future. Say what you would think about this if this were your dream. Always come up with something fun or helpful to do with this story. Open up the crayon box, call grandma, etc.

5. Help the child to keep a dream journal

Get this started as early as possible. With a very young child, you can help with the words while they do the pictures. When your child reaches the point where she closes the journal and says, “This is my secret book and you can't read it any more” do not peek. Give her privacy, and let her choose when she'll let you look in that magic book.

6. Provide tools for creative expression.

Encourage the child to bring dreams come alive through art, dance, theater and games, and to draw or paint dreams. Gather friends and family for dream-inspired games and performance. Puppets and stuffed animals can be great for acting out dreams. This can also be dress-up time. It's such a release for kids to portray mom or dad or other grown-ups in their lives - be ready to be shocked!

7. Help construct effective action plans

Dreams can show us things that require further action - for example, to avoid an unhappy future event that was previewed in the dream, or to put something right in a family situation. A child will probably need adult help with such things, starting with your help. This will require you to learn more about dreaming and dreamwork, as you are doing now.

 8. Let your own inner child out to play

As you listen to children's dreams, let the wonderful child dreamer inside you come out and join in the play.

9. Keep it fun!

When you get the hang of this, you'll find it's about the best home entertainment you can enjoy.

Notice two things that are not on this list, but would be at the very top of a list of what not to do with a child’s dreams: 

1. Never say to a child "It's only a dream". Children know that dreams are for real and that scary stuff that comes out in dreams needs to be resolved, not dismissed.

2. Do NOT interpret a child's dreams. You’re not the expert here; the child is.

Text adapted from Active Dreaming by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library.

Drawing by Robert Moss

Friday, January 12, 2018

Arnold Toynbee, Time Traveler

The once immensely popular historian Arnold Toynbee aspired to write a universal history, and in his 12-volume work A Study of History he traced the rise, flowering and decline of human civilization. Few generalists have equaled his breadth of scholarship and his ability to synthesize, although academic specialists have poked many holes in his work.
    It's intriguing that Toynbee reported that in the course of his researches he became a time traveler, finding himself deeply engaged in dramas of different eras. He describes being "carried down in a 'Time pocket'" and experiencing "the local annihilation of Time" in Volume X of A Study of History. His revelations come in Section XIII. “The Inspirations of Historians” part E. “The Quest for a Meaning Behind the Facts of History”. 

A tenuous long-distance commerce exclusively on the intellectual plane is an historian's normal relation to the objects of his study; yet there are moments in his mental life -- moments as memorable as they are rare -- in which temporal and spatial barriers fall and psychic distance is annihilated; and in such moments of inspiration the historian finds himself transformed in a flash from a remote spectator into an immediate participant, as the dry bones take flesh and quicken into life.

He describes how, mulling over some dry research – a précis of one of the lost books of Livy’s History – he was hurled into intimate engagement with a war between Rome and confederate Italian states. He was “transported, in a flash, across the gulf of Time and Space from Oxford in A.D. 1911 to Teanum in 80 B.C., to find himself in a back yard on a dark night witnessing a personal tragedy that was more bitter than the defeat of any public cause” – to witness the fate of Mutilus, a proscribed confederate leader denied sanctuary at his home by how own wife, who takes his own life by the sword.
    His experiences of mental transport across time quicken as he travels to ancient sites – and enters the perspective of Philip of Macedon, checking his battle lines, or is present to a roaring crowd at Ephesus, or falls again into “the deep trough of Time” after climbing to a ruined citadel in Laconia.
    Then in London, soon after the Great War, walking by Victoria Station, he is seized with the universal movement of Time streaming through him and around him:

"In London in the southern section of the Buckingham Palace Road, walking southward along the pavement skirting the west wall of Victoria Station, the writer, once, one afternoon not long after the end of the First World War -- he had failed to record the exact date -- had found himself in communion, not just with this or that episode in History, but with all that had been, and was, and was to come.
     "In that instant he was directly aware of the passage of History gently flowing through him in a mighty current, and of his own life welling like a wave in the flow of this vast tide. The experience lasted long enough for him to take visual note of the Edwardian red brick surface and white stone facings of the station wall gliding past him on his left, and to wonder -- half amazed and half amused -- why this incongruously prosaic scene should have been the physical setting of a mental illumination. An instant later, the communion had ceased, and the dreamer was back again in the every-day cockney world which was his native social milieu and of which the Edwardian station wall was a characteristic period piece."

His ability to be present to the rise and fall of civilizations led Toynbee to make some observations that have uncomfortable contemporary relevance:

"Civilizations die from suicide, not by murder."

My favorite Toynbee quote, deeply prescient (he died in 1975) and unsettling in the midst of the current chaotic period in American politics, is this:

"Of the twenty-two civilizations that have appeared in history, nineteen of them collapsed when they reached the moral state the United States is in now."

Due diligence: though this statement is widely circulated, I have been unable to nail down a source in Toynbee's published works. Perhaps we can practice "mental transport" across time or dimensions to see whether he will claim the statement, and whether he wants to add to it in the context of what has unfolded since his death.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Dreaming with the Fast-Flowing Goddess

At the shrine of Sequana, at the source of the River Seine in the Dijon area of France, ancient Celts came to seek healing dreams in the sacred night. Cloaked pilgrims journeyed with their offerings, which included models of the organs that needed healing, carved from oak or stone. They bathed in the sacred spring, prayed to the goddess, and placed their offerings beside a sacred pool. They entered a long portico or dormitory, hoping that in the night - during sleep or in the twilight state between sleeping and waking that the ancients knew is especially propitious for contact with the more-than-human - the goddess Sequana or her emissary would appear to them.
    No magical power, other than simple cleansing, was attributed to the spring itself, but the waters were regarded as a source of creative flow, and as a portal to the Otherworld and its powers.
    We know the name Sequana from nine inscriptions found in the area. It has been suggested that it means "The Fast-Flowing One". Sequana is the goddess of the River Seine, which flows through Paris, and (according to Strabo) was the patron of the Sequanae, a Gaulish tribe in this region. Her special companion animal is the duck, and in a statue now in the Musée archéologique  de Dijon, a crowned Sequana is depicted riding in a duck-headed boat.
      Only the foundations of the healing shrine of Sequana at her spring, the Fontes Sequanae, survive, but we can glean a great deal about the ancient practice of dream incubation for healing from the contents of two pottery vessels discovered at the site. One contains more than a hundred  carved effigies of eyes, breasts, limbs, heads and internal organs. A second vessel contained more than 800 similar carvings. Pilgrims who needed healing for the parts represented ascended a series of terraces, pausing perhaps to drink from streams and cisterns containing the sacred waters, before reaching the main sanctuary and being admitted to the place of sacred sleep. Grateful travelers paid for inscriptions at the site thanking Sequana for gifts of healing, evidence that we have here a Celtic parallel to the practice of Asklepian dream healing in the ancient Mediterranean.
     What happened to this great precinct of dream healing in the realm of the Goddess when the Church arrived? One guess. The site was appropriated by the Church and re-dedicated to an invented male saint, St Sequanus.
     In reviving the memory of the "Fast-Flowing" Goddess, as we do in my Celtic-themed workshops and gatherings, we step towards cultural soul recovery - and remember a healing practice that can transform our lives.

Image: statue of Sequana in a duck-headed boat in the Musée archéologique  de Dijon.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Deep play with the most important book you'll ever write

Your journal, kept over time, will become many things: your personal encyclopedia of symbols, your data log for experiences of supernormal phenomena like precognition, telepathy and synchronicity, your stealth writing course, a sanctuary and place of healing, a sacred space where you dialogue with your Self.  
     Journaling is a practice, and as in any true practice, you have to earn the right of admission to the more advanced levels. In
this article, you'll find wonderful games you can play with your journal any day, at any level of practice.  Now I am going to offer six deeper games to play with your journal when you’ve been keeping it for a while and have gotten into the practice of looking over "old" material that may prove to be highly relevant to your current life. I doubt that you'll understand all that your journal will be for you until you've been keeping one, with dedication, for at least five years. However, the time is always Now, and if you are ready to play, jump in!

1. Bibliomancy

“Bibliomancy” is the fancy name for opening a book at random to get guidance on a theme, or simply the quality and content of the day. In Western countries, over the centuries, the Bible has been the hand-down favorite as a book oracle. Abraham Lincoln used to open his family Bible – the one on which Barack Obama took his oath of office – to get a message for the day or a second opinion on the meaning of a dream.
    I enjoy doing bibliomancy with my old journals. One Christmas Eve, after learning that a friend had developed a serious illness and was having other major troubles in her life, I reached blindly into a shelf of 30+ old travel journals, grabbed one without looking at the date, and opened it at random, I found myself looking at a short dream report from  five years before. The dream was about my friend. It stated that she had “accepted Purgatory for a year. This Purgatory is a room in her home that opens into the same realm.” I shared this report with my friend, and we began to work with the meaning of “acceptance” and of “Purgatory”. Our mutual exploration provided assurance that “this too shall pass” and that a year in “Purgatory” would result in healing and new growth, as proved to be the case.

2. Compare Your Dream Self to Your Waking Self

Are you running away from something in your dreams? Ask yourself when you tend to run away from something – a person, an issue, a necessary conversation – in regular life.
Does your dream self have supernormal powers? Can she fly, or knock villains down like ninepins? If so, then ask yourself where you might be able to draw on her courage and powers in the rest of your life.
Comparing the behavior of the dream self and the waking self is highly instructive. We may also find that bringing gifts and qualities from one realm into the other can be tremendously healing and empowering. My waking self may be able to bring courage – the determination to brave up to a challenge – to a dream self that is frightened or frozen.
My dream self who is fluent in another language, or can breathe underwater, may be able to give me the power to expand my vocabulary of understanding, or to operate with ease in a new environment.

3. Dialogue with your other selves

Sit down with your journal and imagine yourself talking to a character from one of your dreams. Since everything is alive in dreams, you can call anything from a dream – a horse, a house, an 18-wheeler – to talk to you. You can call up every character and element from a dream to explain themselves in turn, if you like.
Start out with a question like, “Who are you?” Or: “What are you doing in my dream?”
Move onto a question like “What can you tell me?”
Be ready to be surprised! You may find you are interviewing sides of yourself you never knew were part of your family of personality aspects. You may find you are talking to a departed loved one, or an ancestor, or the guy who owned the house fifty years ago. You may even encounter a dream character who tells you, “I am dreaming you. You are in my dream.”

4. Reopen your cold case files

Dreams give us clues that require sleuthing, but sometimes our best attempts to follow up these leads don't get far and we move on to other things, leaving a mounting pile of "cold case" files. I pick up a lot of unfamiliar names, foreign words, and curious phrases in dreams and - especially - in the twilight state of hypnagogia, and I have found it extraordinarily revealing to track these verbal clues. In the era of googling, this is much easier than it was over most of the decades I've been keeping a journal, so I am now reopening dream files I had closed and making some exciting discoveries. One of those funny words, from a 1994 dream, has led me to an archeological site in Nigeria where the human remains date from 10,000 BCE. Another is guiding me, in the most practical way, on professional decisions I'll be making over the next couple of months.
   Be open to discovering that an event in an "old" dream is starting to manifest only now - months or years later - and be ready (beyond the "wow" response) to harvesting guidance from the old report on the current situation. When you see a match-up between an "old" dream and a later event, forage around the individual report; look at other dreams from around the same time and see if there are further clues there to the new situation

5. Let out the artist inside you

I often type my journal reports directly into a computer, to save the time required for transcription from a manuscript version, and to get round the problem of finding it hard to decipher my own handwriting. When I write by hand, however, I find there’s an artist in me who wants to come bursting through. Suddenly the pages facing my text reports are filled with drawings that may then demand to be colored in or painted. Some of these drawings occupy successive panels like pages from a graphic novel. The famous movie director Fellini, who started out as a cartoonist, kept dream journals that are primarily visual.
    Many dream journalers find they have a poet inside. Or a songwriter. Sometimes a whole poem or song is delivered, complete and intact, within  a dream, or in that fluid in-between zone of sleepwake, dorveille. Some dream reports turn into poems rather effortlessly, with a little editing. Every dream contains a story; some want to be stories in the fuller and finished sense, and journaling will get you there.

6. Journal from Journals

Thoreau journaled all the time. He wrote down his observations of nature, his thoughts and dreams, his notes on his constant reading. Most interesting, he journaled from his journals, picking over old volumes, plucking out promising bits and pieces, copying them out and marrying them up as fresh drafts. It became his habit “to work back over his journals…to reengage old subjects in the light of new interests, to revise and recopy his own earlier journal work, measuring, weighing, culling and sorting his materials…taking up earlier threads, reweaving and combining them.”
I can’t recommend this practice too highly. For any writer, as for Thoreau, it opens treasuries of material and above all it supports the writing habit. Playing around with old notes removes the terror of the blank page. When you dip into an old journal, you are never at a loss for a theme. The simple processes of selection, arrangement and retitling will fire the imagination. Before you know it, you’ll be in the midst of writing something new. 

As you tend your secret book over time, you'll discover more, and more will discover you.  You'll find yourself straying off the tame and settled territory of the everyday mind, into the wilder borders of imagination, where the Big story of your life can find you. You may discover, as I have done, that your journal is the most important book you will ever write, and quite possibly the most important book you will ever read.

Adapted from Active Dreaming by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Calling the Deer

Deepheart, mountain guardian
who harries the hunter
and knows what belongs to us
and what does not,
give us your speed,
your ability to read the land,
to see what is behind us and around us.
May we grow with the seasons
into your branching wisdom
putting up antlers as taproots into the sky
to draw down the power of heaven,
reaching into the wounded places
to heal and make whole,
walking as living candelabra,
crowned with light,
crowning each other with light.

I wrote this invocation many years ago, on a mountain in the Northeast where I lead advanced gatherings of shamanic dreamers. It is a very special place, where we draw on the deep fires of Earth, and the spirits of the land, and where the healing energy of the Deer is very strong. 

Art by Annick Bougerolle

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Dream sharing in Auschwitz

Sharing dreams was a vital community ritual for Polish prisoners at the notorious Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz, originally designed for Poles, later expanded to facilitate the mass murder of hundreds of thousands of Jews, Gypsies and nationals of other countries. In 1973, under communism, an attempt was made to interview Polish survivors and collect accounts of their dreams during their time in the camp. A questionnaire was sent to former inmates and 147 responded.
   One of the fascinating things to emerge from this research was that dream sharing - and the effort to interpret each other's dreams - was central to the life of many Polish inmates, providing a precious sense of community, hope of survival and other therapeutic benefits under terrifying conditions.
    One survivor reported, "Every morning we would start the day by sharing and interpreting the dreams we had during the night." Another former inmate said that "Dreams and fortunes were an inexhaustible source of daily conversation" - reflecting how dreams were examined for clues to an otherwise unknown future.
    This important material has taken a long time to seep out, finally in English translation, to the world community. We now have an important summary by Polish scholar Wojciech Owczarski in the latest issue of Dreaming, the magazine of the International Association for the Study of Dreams.
   Owczarski contends that in general Polish society undervalues dreams. "Polish people hardly pay attention to dreams and and hardly pay attention to dreams and hardly believe in their diagnostic, healing, or problem-solving powers." I am sorry he has not met some of the wonderful Polish dreamers, including two who are now teachers of Active Dreaming, who have come to my workshops. However, if Owczarski is nonetheless substantially correct about a prevailing social attitude across many generations, the phenomenon of enthusiastic dream sharing in the concentration camp becomes even more fascinating.
    It seems there was no agreed method of interpretation of dreams among the Auschwitz inmates. You told a dream to your fellows and they came up with whatever occurred to them, which might be influenced by a folk belief, a half-remembered dictionary of dreams, or gut feelings and personal associations. Some individuals who proved to be good at dream reading received favors from the others. A survivor reported that "Those who believed in their powers were willing to part with their last slice of bread just to hear a prophecy."
     However in his book 
Sny obozowe w pamięci ocalałych z Auschwitz,  published in Poland in 2016, another scholar, Piotr M. A. Cywiński, suggests that the inmates did approach an informal consensus on the meaning of a long list of dream symbols, in effect an oral "dream book" of the camp. The list of symbols and their interpretation included these:

To put on shoes = to be moved for interrogation or another holding area
To look into a mirror = to be interrogated

To cook meat = to be beaten under interrogation
To smoke a cigarette = to be released from prison
To hear a shot = a letter from home

     It was agreed among survivors that one of the benefits of dream sharing was hope that they would make it through. Though not all the dreams shared received positive feedback, there was a bias towards hope and as one inmate recalled, the dream readers "lit flickers of hope in the hopeless spiritual desert, in our dying hearts." Good predictions, said another, "distracted the prisoner's imagination away from the camp" and seeded hope of a happy outcome after all the pain and fear.
     Dream sharing in the camp gave inmates a way to be heard, and to hear each other, building bonds of sympathy - and also a little fairly benign competition, to tell the most entertaining story or offer the most accurate interpretation. Being present to each other in these exchanges may have been more important than the content of specific reports. "Being emotionally engaged in dream sharing," Owczarski concludes, "the inmates built a community based on close relationships."
    Sadly, it seems that habits of regular dream recall and dream sharing did not survive the camps, at least as far as former inmates were willing to admit in response to questions put to them under the aegis of a totalitarian government. One female survivor said, "Fortune telling and dream interpretations were the most important aspect of our camp lives." However, "I have stopped interpreting dreams after my return because I no longer have any."
    Despite this disappointing sequel, we find confirmation in the story of the sharing that went on at Auschwitz that dreamwork, 
as a social as well as individual activity, is crucial to our human ability to survive and to thrive. This is an important chapter in the history of dreaming.

Source: Wojciech Owczarski, "The Ritual of Dream Interpretation in the Auschwitz Concentration Camp" in Dreaming volume 27, number 4 (December 2017)

Of related interest: Growing a Dream of a Better World, Even in Auschwitz.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Make dream sharing a daily social activity

One of the main reasons so many in our society are suffering from a dream drought is that we are not encouraged to share dreams and often don't find the experience rewarding when we do so. The simple four-step Lightning Dreamwork process, which I invented in 2000, gives us a way of sharing dreams that is fun and fast and orients us to give helpful, non-intrusive feedback and guide each other towards action to embody the creative and healing energy of dreams and apply their guidance. Once you have mastered and internalized this technique, you can do it just about anywhere, with just about anyone.
    If you are playing dream helper, you need to lead the person who is sharing with you through these four simple steps:

1. Get the story, with a title
Encourage the person sharing to tell their experience as simply and clearly as possible, avoiding too much autobiography or self-interpretation. We claim real power when we learn to tell our stories so that others want to hear us, and sharing dream reports this way is wonderful practice. A story needs a title, and so much from a dream pops into focus and perspective when we give it one.

2. Ask three essential questions
The first is about feelings, especially first feelings after the dream, which are the first and often the best indicators of whether the material is urgent or not, negative or positive, personal or less so. The second question is the reality check and it has two aspects. Ask what the dreamer recognizes from the dream in the rest of their life (including the life of imagination) and also whether it is possible the the dream will manifest in the future in some way, literally or symbolically. Next, ask the dreamer: What do you want to know?

3. Play the "If it were my dream" game
Now you are ready to offer feedback. It's very important that you should do this the right way. Your purpose is not to presume to tell another person what their dream (or their life) means. Your role is ti help the dreamer become author of meaning for their own dream, and their own life. You are free to offer any associations you like - including episodes from your own dreams and your own life that come to mind in the presence of the new dream that is being shared. You can take a Freudian view, or a Jungian view, or a transpersonal or shamanic view. However, you will offer your feedback by saying "if it were my dream", owning your own projections. 

4. Get an action plan
Dreams require action! If we don't do something with our dreams we do not dream well. The appropriate action may range from shamanic shopping - getting the red shoes or the stuffed giraffe featured in a dream - to doing prep for the job interview rehearsed in a dream, to writing, drawing or crafting from a dream, to going back inside a dream (through the dream reentry technique) to gather more information and possibly dream the dream onward to healing and resolution. A dream may of course require much tending. You may find yourself walking with a certain dream for days or years before it yields all of its meaning in the light of subsequent events and discoveries. However, the time is always Now, and it's good to do something with a dream right away. For temporary closure in dream sharing, you can ask the dreamer to come up with a bumper sticker, a slogan or banner that harvests something from the dream as a forward-moving statement.

But what do you do if you are dealing with a person - maybe yourself - who maintains that they don't remember dreams, from the night before or from the last three decades? You can start by suggesting, gently but firmly, that it's simply not true that they have nothing from the night. Their dreams may have left a wisp or a crumb, a sense of color, a snatch of a song. Even when no content whatsoever is recalled, there are thoughts, feelings, sensations that linger. We all have dream hangovers even when we don't recall what caused them. Such elements may give you the seeds of a conversation in which you'll find yourself playing the Lightning game.
    Another approach with the dream amnesiac is to ask them to pull up the last dream they remember, maybe from many years before, even as far back as early childhood, when something may have scared them so much in the night that - in the absence of adult support and understanding - they scared their dreams away. Recalling, tending and reentering an "old" dream of this kind can amount to trans-temporal healing, and result in soul recovery: the recovery of the magical child, the beautiful bright dreamer who went missing from a life when the world seemed too scary.
     Of course, even prolific dream recallers have dry spells. When I sit down to breakfast with a circle of dreamers, as is often the case at residential retreats, people are made to realize, very quickly, that a story is expected of them. Saying "I got nuttin" is just not acceptable. If you do not have a dream, you can bring a story anyway - from your life memories or your imagination.
     I think of Graham Greene, who became one of England's best-loved and most prolific novelists and literary entertainers. His appetite for dreams and stories was trained over the three months he was required to spend, at age 16, in the home of one of the first shrinks in London. Graham had suffered a nervous breakdown at the fancy boys' school where his father was headmaster, and had to be removed from view while he recovered. His treatment was simply this: the shrink required Graham to appear in his study at 11 a.m. every day, ready to deliver a dream report. There were days when Graham did not remember a dream, so he developed the ruse of making something up that sounded like a dream. So he acquired the gift of story, which can be the gift of making worlds.
     So we come to my plea for action, the kind of action through which we contribute to the rebirth of a dreaming society, person by person.
     Make it your practice to find someone with whom you can share a dream or story by our Lightning process every day. If you can't do this face to face, do it by phone, by Skype, by email or text, or within a private social media forum like the "secret" Facebook pages where members of my trainings and online courses are having the best time sharing dreams and life experiences.
     Your dreams are social as well as individual, personal as well as transpersonal. When you make sharing dreams a regular social activity, you'll find you bring joy and juice to any day, grow wonderful deepening friendships, and harvest essential guidance for soul and survival, for navigating your life roads in this world and the many worlds.

For much more on the Lightning Dreamwork game, see my book Active Dreaming. For the application of this process to experiences from everyday life, see Sidewalk Oracles. On trans-temporal healing with the child self, see Dreaming the Soul Back Home. For a full account of Graham Greene's dream life, see The Secret History of Dreaming.

Photo by RM:  "A wonderful nine-yer-old dreamer shares a dream with our dreaming family on Gore Mountain".

Monday, January 1, 2018

When dreams are color-coded

What are the colors of your dreams? Our dreams are typically many-colored, though some may be black-and-white, or the sepia of old photographs, or the gray of a wintry day. We may say that there is a dominant color when we look over a long period, even a lifetime, of dreaming.
    However, what I am thinking about now is how a certain color may be the stamp of an individual dream. It may pop up like the color red in "The Gift". It may not be a generic red or blue, but a specific shade for which we may have to seek an exact description. I might say that the dominant color of my dreams over much of my life is blue, but when I think about a specific dream from this weekend, in which a train brought me to an amazing series of grottos on the way to Transylvania, I would say that its color is that of old bricks - the bricks of a fireplace, slightly blackened, with moving patterns of light and shadow as if unseen flames are darting and flickering.
    Almost all of us dream in full color, sometimes across a greater spectrum and with greater vividness than in ordinary life. I have sepia dreams, and have learned to recognize that very often they are taking me into an earlier historical period and often into the dreams and situations of other people who lived in those times. When I dream in black and white, it's usually because I am in a night landscape or darkened space, or watching a black and white movie - or going through places of transition between scenes full of color in a personal bardo experience.
    Right now I am interested in developing the game of color-coding dreams. This won't work for many dreams, and may fail to do justice to complex reports. Still, I'm finding it fun and perhaps you will too. In another weekend dream, I watched boats coming and going in all directions from a circular ferry terminal. The dream was full of colors but they were muted because the scene was playing before dawn, under a cloudy sky. But I would say that its dominant color was deep sea green.|
    Sometimes a color from a dream stays with us because it is associated with a certain animal or striking element. You went through that green door, and everything changed. You were wearing a color you wouldn't normally wear in ordinary life. You met a blue sheep or a blue man. You rode a red horse, or cavorted with a red lion. Your rescuer got you out of a Land of the Dead, driving a yellow cab.
    Sometimes the importance of a certain color in a dream is right in your face, something you can’t miss unless you go amnesiac about the whole experince. I was instructed in one dream that I should eat more “orange foods”, which turned out to be good dietary advice. In a dream of a different kind, I learned that Zeus – yes, Zeus – is making a comeback. There was tremendous excitement. The ground itself was shaking. The friends of Zeus were putting on the color orange. They would keep their allegiance secret, wearing outer garments over their orange blouses and tee-shirts, until the old god arrived – at which point, they would show their true color, orange.
    On this New Year’s Day, there is no doubt about the color of the first dream I recorded. I woke at 4:30 a.m. and it was bitterly cold outside, -8F, which translates into precisely -22.2222C. However, my dream was warm and comforting. I was helping to make vast quantities of excellent oatmeal porridge, enough to feed hundreds or thousands of people. Better still, I was given the recipe. I loved the idea that I was given a way to nourish many people, while staying warm inside on a frigid winter day.
    So what do you do when a strong sense of color stays with you from a dream? Trust your feelings, for starters. If you feel good about the dream, maybe you want to stay close to that color - wear it, draw from it, write from it, eat corresponding foods (if available), get by the fire, or into the water. You can sing, compose, dance with that color, with a rhapsody in blue, a tango in crimson, a waltz in apricot, a sonata in teal. You can go about your day wearing invisible glasses tinted in that shade. You can journey, as a conscious dreamer into an azurite or fern-green or tiger's eye world where your traveling self may already be at home, and your magical child surely is.

Image: Michael Maggs via Wikipedia Commons