Thursday, September 12, 2019

In the Garden behind the Moon

The Garden Behind the Moon, by Howard Pyle, originally published in 1895, may be quite my favorite story for younger readers and for older readers who would like to recover the magical child within themselves.
    My friendly daimon of Luna concurs*. He especially approves of the fact that a beautiful but terrible entity “whom so many people know by a different name and are so afraid of” is called the Moon-Angel. Around his face, it is bright like sunlight. He “never brings something but he takes something away from him again” - and we come to learn that this is most often the soul of someone who has died. The Moon-Angel of the story is also called the Master Cobbler, which appears to reflect the preferences of an old cobbler in a fishing village who “knows less than nothing” and thereby more than those around him. We see the old cobbler pegging soles to uppers on his last. My daimon points out that there is a crafty allusion here to Sandalphon, the Sandal-Angel or Shoe-Angel who gives and takes away soul bodies for transits to and from the Moon.
   So to the story:
   A boy called David, who is not yet twelve, and is regarded as dreamy and simple (a “moon-calf”) by his peers, learns from the old cobbler that a moon-path opens across the sea a day or two after the moon is at its full. Close to shore, the first steps float in the tide as bars of light, slippery underfoot. But if you persist, the moon-path becomes a gravel road, and finally a broad shining field, until you get to the Moon.
    After an initial mishap, the boy gets to the Moon, where a man-in-the-Moon pulls him up a stair. From each window of the Moon house, he sees into different scenes, into the inside as well as the outside. He is set to polishing stars with lamb's wool, for nights when the Moon is waning. He earns a little break; he is allowed down a back stair into a lovely garden where he plays with other children. He has his time in the garden for three days every month, and falls in love with a little princess, but is then told that he cannot return to the garden because he is turning twelve, and will be too old.
     Now he is called to the Quest: to win his girl, he must find the Know All book in the Wonder Box that has been hidden since Eve and Adam (note the order) were driven form the garden. To do this, he must “go behind” the Moon-Angel, something that has almost never been done. When he confronts the Moon-Angel, we begin to feel his terror as well as his beauty. In effect the boy has to step THROUGH his form, through unbearable cold that transforms to unbearable heat. He bursts through a great iron door into the landscape of the Quest. He is no longer a boy; he has aged ten years.
    He finds his local guide - a woman in a red shift who cleans souls and leaves them out to dry. She tells him what he will need to do to capture the black winged horse that will take him to the Iron Castle of the Iron Man where the Wonder Box has long been locked up. He catches the black horse by the forelock (like Kairos - opportunity - time). It can no longer fly with a human on its back, but it can run fast. David manages to enter the Iron Castle, and steals the Wonder Box, and rediscovers the girl - escapes from the Iron Castle, and kills the Iron Man with a stone from the sea shore.
    David and his beloved return to the “brown world” on the moonpath, but find that the path branches to take each to their separate homes. So now there is another test, for the princess (she's a real one) to find her hero and for the Wonder Box she took from him to be opened with the key that he retained. A happy and triumphant ending, of course. In which the most interesting feature (as my daimon observes, pointing a finger up under his left eye) is that nobody knew that David was missing all the time he spent in the house of the Moon and the lands beyond it. And nobody in Princess Aurelia's kingdom knew she was gone either; they had merely found her, from birth, strangely mute and emotion-less. She's fully alive now that her soul has come home from the Garden Behind the Moon.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Dreaming with the People of Amber

Suvalkija district, Lithuania

I am out in the woods, in the rural part of western Lithuania where I am staying. I come to some wide, shallow steps, just packed earth with wood at the edges. I notice two snakeskins, tied in knots that resemble figures of 8, then a larger one, tied in a slightly more complex knot, on a higher step, and know these were left as signs and also that the snakes were not venomous.
    Now I see vivid, brightly colored scenes of ancient battles - of Teutonic Knights who invaded these lands, and Lithuanian Grand Dukes with their knights and men at arms, struggling against great odds to force them back. This living history unfolds into times where local people took to the forests and the mud to carry on their resistance against invaders. I see people who lived with wolves and bears and tried to call on their energies in the fight. I see huge mystery beasts in the woods that look like elephants and wonder whether these are the shades of extinct prehistoric creatures, or entities created by the country''s defenders in an effort to equalize a conflict through psychic means of attack.
    I wander deeper into the woods. I am conscious that sticky mud is everywhere, and getting deeper, just as I found it roaming fields and ancient hill forts the previous day. I come to the house of a ragana - a witch - on one of the sloppy forest trails. It is just a hut among the roots of a crooked tree. I see the face of the witch before she scuttles away into hiding. She has painted the upper part of her face, from the hairline to the cheekbones, chalk-white so it looks like part of a death's head, or perhaps a venomous spider. While she avoids me, nasty slithering things rise from the mud.
    I'm willing to fight her allies, if need be, and am glad to see that an enormous Bear is with me, as a bodyguard. Yet I'm thinking that the witch is merely defending herself; I have wandered into her territory, and she has reason to fear intruders. Instead of starting a fight, I call down Light, and a bright shaft of amber light immediately descends.
    I am happily surprised to find that it serves as a traction beam. It pulls me straight up into the air, far above the mud and the dark woods. I find myself inside what seems to be an egg-shaped amber the size of a spaceship, with female presences who remind me of ancient priestesses of this land I have met in previous dreams and journeys.
    The leader tells me, "You must understand that there are the Mud People and the Amber People, and here you belong to the People of Amber. Your duty - and that of those you train here - is to build bridges and wooden pathways so people can get across the mud safely. You must avoid allowing yourself to be sucked down into the mud. You must remember to call on the power of Light Amber to heal and to guide, and on the power of Dark Amber to remove the darkness."

As I surface from this mostly lucid dream, the moon shines bright in my face for a moment, like a spotlight. Then a cloud blows above the apple trees and mountain ash outside my window, and I lie back in the gentle dark, savoring my latest encounter with the "understory" of the Baltic country where I am traveling.

    I am staying at the country place of a "good witch" in the Suvalkija district in Lithuania. She invited me to learn practices of healing and divination handed down in her family from mother to daughter and never written down (until I took notes, with her permission). She made the invitation after she heard me speak words of ancient Lithuanian after a shamanic journey I led at a workshop she attended in Vilnius. During that journey, I met a
  priestess of Žemyna, the Earth goddess of Lithuania, who brought me inside a chamber like the inside of an egg-shaped amber, a smaller version of the space I was in last night. It glowed with golden light. The priestess instructed me that I could use a pocket size version of the amber egg as a place to see.
    The wood witch bu
rned amber in a ritual in her house the night before my new dream of the Amber People. In the morning, after hearing my dream, she continues my instruction. She demonstrates how to move light amber over the body in a spiraling motion to heal. Then she shows me how she uses a dark amber (also called "vampire amber" here when used in this way) in a different pattern to extract disease and "strangers" in the body.
     Over a breakfast of dark, nutty "grandmother's bread", homemade cheese and butter and coffee chewy with grounds, we talk about the significance of "Mud People" in the literal history of Lithuania, whose name means "Rain Country". Lithuania has no real natural borders. Its main defense against invaders and occupiers, across the centuries, has been the mud. When the cities fell to enemies, people "went into the mud".

I plucked this narrative from my journals of ten years ago because of dreams of amber being shared now in my dreaming community.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Our Most Potent Muse

Our most potent muse is our inner child.               
                 -   Stephen Nachmanovitch, Free Play

“The creative mind plays with the objects it loves,” said Carl Jung. An earnest man at one of my lectures once asked me to summarize what I consider essential practice. I said, “Remember to play.” He carefully wrote down those three words as if he was marking a schedule. I don't think he quite got the message.
       The child inside him
and in each of us knows. Like puppies or lion cubs or dolphins spinning silver lariats of bubbles, children play for the joy of playing. Young children are masters of imagination, since they know the magic of making things up. Our first and best teacher of conscious living is our inner child.
       But that inner child may have gone into hiding, under a glass dome or in a room in Grandma’s house, because of shame or abuse, ridicule or loneliness, because the world wasn’t safe or it wasn’t fun. If we have lost our dreams, if our imaginations are stuck in a groove, it’s because we have lost our inner child. To live as active dreamers in everyday life, we have to bring that child home. This requires a quest, a negotiation, and fulfillment of a promise.
       The quest will lead us down halls of memory to a place and time where our wonder-child went missing. We can embark on the quest as a guided journey (through an exercise at the end of this chapter) to a real place in the imaginal realm.
       The negotiation requires us to convince our child selves that we are safe and we are fun to be around. Fulfilling the promises we make will require us to remember to play without scheduling it.
       Play first, work later, the child that is with us will insist. The cautious, dutiful adult self will protest. But if we are to keep our inner child at home in our bodies and our lives, we’ll need to fulfill our promise to be fun as well as safe. If we play well enough, then before we quite know it we’ll fall in love with our work, because it will be our play.

Text adapted from Active Dreaming: Journeying beyond Self-Limitation to a Life of Wild Freedom by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library.

Art: "Children Dancing on the Strand" by AE (George Russell)

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Nine Keys to Living Consciously in the Multiverse

The only time is Now. All other times - past, present and parallel - can be accessed in this moment of Now, and may be changed for the better.

We dream to wake up. Dreaming is not fundamentally about what happens during sleep. It is about waking up to a deeper order of reality. Dreaming is a discipline; to get really good at it requires practice, practice, practice.

Treasures are waiting for us in the Place Between Sleep and Awake. The easiest way to become a lucid or conscious dreamer is to spend more time in the twilight zone between waking and sleep, or between sleep and waking. Tinker Bell told Peter Pan to look for her in the Place between Sleep and Awake. This liminal state is a place of encounter with inner guides and transpersonal visitors. It is also a place of heightened psychic perception and creative breakthroughs, where it is easy to make connections that escape the daily mind.

We live in the Speaking Land, as the First Peoples of my native Australia say. Everything in the world around us is alive and conscious and will speak to us if we are paying attention. Navigating by synchronicity becomes very simple, even irresistible, when we stream into this mode of understanding.

To live well, we must practice death. We bring courage and clarity to life choices when we are aware that death is always with us, and that we should be ready to meet it any day.

We must feed and honor our animal spirits. A working connection with them gives us immense resources for self-healing.

We have a guide for our lives who is no stranger. He is always with us and does not judge us. This is the Self on a higher level. When we rise to the perspective of the Greater Self, we are able to make peace between different personality aspects, including our counterparts in other times and parallel realities.

We are at the center of all times. The dramas of lives being lived in other times and in parallel realities may be intensely relevant to understanding and navigating our current relationships and life issues. We can learn to reach into those other lives to share gifts and lessons. We can dialog with our own older and younger selves within our present lifetimes.

We must entertain the spirits, starting with our very own - the child self, the inner artist, the passionate teen, the animal spirits, the creative daimon.

Text adapted from The Boy Who Died and Came Back by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library.

Photo: Path in Transylvania by Robert Moss

Friday, September 6, 2019

Welcome to the Twilight Zone

The liminal state of hypnagogia, when you are drifting between sleep and awake, or between waking and sleep, is a marvelous launchpad for lucid dreaming. If you can train yourself to maintain a state of relaxed attention in this in-between state, you will notice that you may be receiving a whole menu of possibilities for lucid dream adventures. Images, faces, landscapes rise and fall. When you learn to hold one of them in focus, it may become the portal for a conscious journey.
    The Parade of Faces is a frequent phenomenon in this state. You may feel you are among a crowd of people, with faces and figures rushing by. Sometimes one may turn to look at you, which can be an interesting opportunity to enter a shared experience with another dream traveler you may or may not know in ordinary reality. Sometimes the images rising and falling before you look like a child’s sketches, or cartoons.    
    A frequent sighting for me, in this in-between state, is of what initially looks like the weave of a carpet or the mesh of a net. I have come to recognize this as a kind of border between states of reality and consciousness. With intention, I can part the strands and find myself in another order or reality.
    This liminal state, which I also call the twilight zone, is a good place to become aware of the ability to travel beyond the body. I often find myself lifting out of the body quite effortlessly in this state, without bumps and grinds. Sometimes, when tired, I simply rest half in and half out of my physical form. Sometimes I float up to the ceiling. In my second body, I may go through a series of simple kinesthetics before becoming airborne
    As I drift toward sleep in the twilight zone, I may notice that a second version of myself, in a different form, is waking up. One night, as I flirted with sleep, I became aware that I was lying back-to-back on the bed with a maned lion stirring from his nap as I slumbered. Quite often I go flying, like a bird, over a landscape, to places far away.
   The twilight zone of hypnagogia is a wonderful place to rendezvous with other beings and other intelligences. It is a state in which we often become aware of the psychic activity around us. We may receive visitors, and we will want to learn to screen and discern who we are letting into our space, because to be open to all comers is like opening your doors and windows in a city at night  and hanging out signs saying, “Party! Come on In! Everyone Welcome!”
    I frequently have inner dialogues in the twilight zone, with sources of knowledge I have come to trust. This is a time when I can often receive streams of counsel and information from inner guides. In Dreamgates, I record some of my conversations with the intelligence I decided to call “G2.” He carried the vocabulary and knowledge of a great Western Mystery order. I felt he was a transpersonal figure, though in no way alien to me. Many others have come to me in this liminal state. The most important of these inner guides is certainly no stranger; he is a self who observes and operates on a level of reality above the one I inhabit while living on this earth in a physical body.
    In the history of creative breakthroughs in every field, including science and technology, the hypnagogic state has been of vital importance. In this liminal zone, it is easy to make creative connections, which often involves linking things that seem to the routine mind to be unconnected. Many inventions and discoveries attributed to dreams by overhasty writers — like Kekulé’s discovery of the benzene ring — are actually gifts brought through from hypnagogia, to such an extent that I call this zone of consciousness “the solution state” in my Secret History of Dreaming.
     The place between sleep and awake can also be the very best place to go on with a dream or go back inside one. You may want to practice dream reentry to clarify information from a dream, or get to its full meaning, or continue a conversation with a dream character. You may need to reenter a dream because there are terrors to be overcome, or a mystery to be explored, or simply because you were having fun and adventure and would like to have more. Or because Tinker Bell is waiting for you.
     Often, I find different casts of characters waiting or popping up as I hover on the edge of sleep or linger in the twilight zone after waking. Sometimes, they appear to be quite literally on stage, or in the wings, waiting for me to show up in order to start or resume a play. More often, they seem to be characters in life dramas that are being played out in other times or in parallel worlds, dramas in which I have a lead role from which I may have been absent while attending to things in my default reality.

Text adapted from The Boy Who Died and Came Back: Adventures of a Dream Archaeologist in the Multiverse by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library.

Art: With Lion at the Night Cinema. Drawing by Robert Moss from adventures in the twilight state

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Acts of creation

To be creative is to bring something new, and valuable, into our lives and our world. You don’t have to be an Einstein or a Shakespeare to be creative. You need to play the best game you can, in whatever field is calling you, and come up with some new moves, and play so hard you don’t think of your game as just work (and may never want to retire from it).
What makes a world-class creative remains mysterious. But new research in neuroscience is telling us interesting things about how the association centers of the brain work when new ideas are coming through, confirming that one characteristic of creative people is that they make connections between things that other people don’t see as connected. Nancy Andreasen, a pioneer of brain imaging at the University of Iowa, found that in episodes of high creativity, multiple association cortices of the brain are communicating back and forth with each other - not to process sensory input, but in free conversation. Wild and novel connections are made, and from these – through the brain’s character as a self-organizing system – new creation emerges.
 Educational psychologists who try to rate creativity levels speak of a “fourth-grade slump”, when adult assumptions and formal training start to block kids’ natural ability to make things up. This suggests another key to creative living; we want to stay in touch or get in touch with the spontaneous creativity of our inner child, our master imagineer. 
Something important that creative people have in common is that they develop creative habits. For choreographer Twyla Tharp, these include “subtraction” – making a conscious effort to minimize distractions and make sufficient time and space available for a new project. For creativity researcher Keith Sawyer (a psychology professor at Washington University in St Louis) good creative habits include “working smart”, creating a daily rhythm that sets the right balance between hard work and “idle time” when the best ideas often jump out.
    For Columbia business professor William Duggan, creativity in business hinges on “opportunistic innovation”, the readiness to watch for unexpected opportunities and change your plans in order to cash in on them when they turn up.
Other habits of creative people:

- They find personal ways of getting “into the zone”.
- They are risk-takers. They are willing to make mistakes, and learn from them. They look at mistakes as experiments rather than failures.
 - Creative people are “prepared for good luck”; they view coincidences as homing beacons and turn accidents into inventions.
- They make room for creation – time and private space.
- They find a creative friend. This is a person who provides helpful feedback and supports their experiments.
- They persevere.

Creativity is not just the preserve of a lucky – or tormented – few. It’s a power we can all claim.

And here is what, for me, is the most important key to creativity. When we take on a creative project - and its element of risk - and step out of whatever box we have been in, we draw supporting powers, especially the power that the ancients called the genius or the daimon. Most people understand this intuitively, even though we may fumble for an agreed language to describe it.

Photo by RM: Creative soles at the Bloom School in Sarajevo

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Unwritten story

I wanted a story and I have one, a perfect miniature narrative recorded in my travel journal in what I hope will be legible writing, complete with title. I am pleased I have fulfilled two of the assignments I set for my writing class: to write at least one page of their journal and harvest at least one page of something sufficiently polished to be presented to the group. I have both, in a single journal report.
    I glance at my watch on the bedside table. 3:00 a.m. I am usually awake at this time. The hour between 3 and 4 in the morning is possibly my favorite in the daily cycle. The world is quiet, reality seems fluid and malleable. The veils to other realms are thinned. I go to the bathroom then pause at a window to look up at the stars. Perhaps I will put a blanket over my shoulders and go out on the porch to talk to them. But first I want to savor the story I brought back from my dreams.
    Funny, my travel journal is not where I set it down. It is still in the bag I have been carrying to my writing class. I don’t remember putting it away but I am glad to see that I made sure I would be ready to share with the class. Don’t trust a teacher who does not do his own assignments, and make sure he produces evidence of that!
    I open the journal to the page bookmarked by a red ribbon. I see a drawing of a tree with two trunks, one that I visited on a lunchtime walk the previous day. A silver birch, related to the paper birches that grow beside the evergreens in the wood near my home. They provided a medium for the sacred stories of the First Peoples of that country, maps with pictographs of the soul’s journey and its interaction with the spirits of animals and ancestors and greater powers. The twin trunks of the tree I met yesterday rise towards the sky like the legs of a diver who has plunged into the earth. There is the impression  that the tree is rooted in heaven, like the Tree of Life of the Kabbalists and the tree bridge to the World Up Top of the Aboriginal spirit men. The gap between the trunks is surely a portal. I stepped through it, in my imagination, when I drummed for a journey the previous day.
    But this is yesterday’s story. I turn the page. The next page in my journal is blank. This is not so unusual. I often leave a page empty to receive later musings and sketches and notes on what follows a dream or vision. I leaf forward. The next page is blank, and the next. There is nothing in my journal after the sketch of the birch tree with two trunks.
    Perhaps I was confused, and actually wrote my story in the workaday notebook I carry as well as my beautifully bound journal. No, it’s not there. Or maybe I roused myself to do what I must always do at some point: to enter report on a digital data base, on the small screen of my mobile phone or the petite screen of my laptop. I fire up both. I check and recheck. There is no entry from the night.
    I wrote a story but left it in another reality, in an outer courtyard of dreaming around the inner courtyard where a dream adventure gave me the narrative. I fulfilled my intention to write from a dream after a false awakening, in a world that was not my current physical reality.
     Can I step back into that world, and bring back the missing story?
     I lie in bed, on my back, willing myself back in the dream where I wrote in my journal. My inner screen comes on but it shows me random things: patterns and odd objects and unfamiliar faces. Nothing solid.
     Can I at least bring back the title of my story?
     It comes at once.
     I close my eyes, then open them to make sure I wrote the words this time in a place where I can hold on to them. Yes, I have my title.
     Unwritten Story.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Soul sleep and wild goatfish dreams

How much a culture understands of the practice of dreaming is reflected in the variety and specificity of the terms it uses for different types of dream experience. The Hawaiian language contains a rich vocabulary for dreaming that makes a delightful study. 

A general word for dreams in Hawaiian is moe'uhane, generally translated as "soul sleep" but better understood as "night experiences of the soul", since for traditional Hawaiians, dreaming is very much about traveling. The soul makes excursions during sleep. It slips out of the regular body, often through the tear duct, described as the "soul pit" and travels in a "body of wind". 

During sleep the dreamer also receives visitations from gods (akua) and ancestral guardian spirits (aumakua) who may take the form of a bird or a fish or a plant. 

Like all practical dreamers, the Hawaiians recognize that there are big dreams and little dreams. You don't want to pay too much attention to a "wild goatfish dream" (moe weke pahulu), which is caused by something you ate or how fast you ate it. The colorful term is derived from popular belief that eating the heads of goatfish - at other times a delicacy - in the wrong season, when bad winds are blowing, causes sickness and troubling but meaningless dreams. 

On the other hand, you want to recognize that a dream may contain the memory of a trip into the future that can give you information of the highest practical importance. Especially helpful is the "straight-up" dream (moe pi'i pololei) that is clear and requires no interpretation. There are "wishing" dreams (moemoea) that show you something you are pining for, which may or may not be attainable in ordinary reality. There are "revelations of the night" (ho'ike na ka po) that carry the power of prophecy. 

A most interesting category of Hawaiian dreams are those - believed to be gifts of the guardian ancestral spirits - that are given to promote the healing of relations within a family or community. Dreams are also given by the aumakua to promote personal healing. The ancestral spirits deliver "night names" (inoa po) for babies that are on the way, and cautionary tales are told of misfortune that comes when the parents ignore a baby name delivered in a dream. 

The Hawaiians pay special attention to visions that come on the cusp between sleep and waking (hihi'o) believing that these are especially likely to contain clear communication from the spirits and "straight up" glimpses of things that will unfold. In our dream travels, we may be united with a "dream husband" (kane o ka po) or a "dream wife" (wahine o ka po). This can be pleasurable and even compelling, but Hawaiian lore teaches caution. Spend too much time outside your regular body in your "body of wind" and the physical organism may start to weaken and languish. You also want to be alert to deceivers who may take on the form of alluring sexual partners but are actually something else, like tricky mo'o, a kind of water imp. We want to bring energy from our juiciest dreams into embodied life and not leave it out there. 

A favorite Hawaiian legend tells how a goddess accomplished this. Pele, on her volcanic island, was stirred by rhythmic drumming from far off. She left her body in her lava bed, charging her attendants not to rouse her for three days on any account. She traveled far in her "body of wind" and finally found the source of the magical drumming is a luau being held by a handsome prince. The goddess and the prince fell for each other and spent three days making love before Pele returned to the body she had left in her lava bed. Being a goddess, she was then able to arrange for her prince to be transported to the Big Island to live with her as her consort. Humans may find this kind of transfer harder to effect, but it's always worth a try! 

Artist Caren Loebel-Fried has produced a beautiful book, Hawaiian Legends of Dreams (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press), illustrated with the author's own lively woodcuts. She draws on excellent research among the papers of Martha Beckwith (author of the indispensable classic Hawaiian Mythology) and E.S. Craighill Handy in the Bishop Museum. Loebel-Fried's retelling of Pele's dream journey to Lohi'au and of the dream that led to the discovery of the hidden spring of Punahou, under a hala (pandanus) tree are especially engaging and instructive. The famous Punahou school in Honolulu stands at the site of that secret spring, and the school seal includes the image of a hala tree with a spring of fresh water flowing beneath it. 

Art: "The Dream of Pele" by Caren Loebel-Fried. The artist generously gave permission for us to use this woodcut for the cover of my poetry collection Here, Everything Is Dreaming, which contains a poem inspired by Hawaiian traditions of dreaming.

The Walking Dead on Wall Street

Synchronicity can deliver a very clear message about a situation and yet its play can be so over-the-top that it's hard to accept what has just been delivered.  In the current season of market and political volatility, my mind returns to an incident that gave me a clear preview of the last big financial crash but was so outrageously inexplicable that I failed to act on it.

The Wednesday before the collapse of Lehman Brothers, which set off the financial crash of 2008, I was driving to an evening class I lead for advanced students. I had the car radio tuned to the local National Public Radio station. It was broadcasting the "Marketplace" program, a business report I don't often monitor.
    Halfway through the show, the announcer said. "Now we'll do the numbers", meaning that they would give a summary of activity on the stock exchanges.
    What followed was unexpected, inexplicable, and certainly never explained on that station.
    Instead of a wrap-up of what had happened on Wall Street, I found myself listening to a complex skit. The plot involved mad scientists who were mass-producing zombies in the swamps of Louisiana, to make a fortune for a corporation that planned to market a new product called Zom-Be-Gone in supermarkets all over America.
    This was mildly entertaining, but by the time it was done, I was still waiting to hear the market summary. The program ended with no explanation as to why its time had been claimed by the walking dead.
    Bemused, I shared this incident with my circle of dreamers. I speculated that it was telling me that Wall Street had been taken over by zombies. If that was the case, then what action should I take? Should I sell the modest investments in my retirement portfolio?
    By my own logic - as someone who habitually navigates by synchronicity - the message was quiet clear: Sell all stocks. Do it now.
    But even I was unready to take such a radical step on account of one bizarre episode of a radio program. By the beginning of the following week, it became abundantly clear that I would have done well to have followed the logic of synchronicity. By the end of that week, the value of the stocks I owned had sunk to 50 percent or less of what I had paid for them.
   I did not panic. I was buoyed by a dream in which I was driving a high-performance car that took a nose-dive, barreling down a one-lane road where a turn was impossible in a near-vertical descent - until things finally leveled out and I came to a gentle rolling stop in what looked like a fabulous duty-free area at an airport. This encouraged me to stay in the market, and things eventually recovered.

Photo: Opening of "White Zombie" at the Dominion Theatre in London in 1932.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Check Your Inner Soundtrack

Do you check your inner soundtrack, as you wake and at other times during the day? Do you notice how this can set the mood for the day, for good or otherwise? Do certain songs, popping up in your mind, connect you to certain people, life themes or memories? Do you find you sometimes need to change what's playing inside your head?
    This is a very effective way of checking your attitude, including thoughts and feelings you may be carrying that have not risen to your full awareness but may condition or even control what you will encounter in the course of the day. You know, don't you, that your attitude walks ahead of you, helping to generate events and encounters around the next corner.This is because you are magnetic. Unfortunately, however, you are often less than fully conscious of what you attract and repel -until and unless you look back carefully on a certain episode and begin to discern its hidden logic.
    Checking your inner soundtrack is an easy way to check your attitude. I do this 
several times a day. It might start effortlessly because I wake with a snatch of a song in my head. This is may carry a mood from a dream, or part of the soundtrack of a dream movie, or may anticipate the mood of the day. It may connect me to people or places at a distance, or a certain period of my life. 
      When I am lucky, a song from the night may be an original composition. I will then spring into action to try to record it before it is gone. Like the dreamers of many indigenous traditions, I know that a dream-inspired song is one of the great gifts of dreaming. It can be a way to bring through energy and spirit from a deeper place. It can be a wing song that will help you travel from the ordinary world into real worlds beyond it.     
      A Texas woman told me,  “I wake up with different music every day. Today I woke up with "Shake it Off" by Taylor Swift. In the dream I was watching a sad news story on television. I have not heard that song in a long time. I took it as a message to keep a good attitude during the day, focus my attention on positive things and shake off the bad stuff coming though the TV.”      
     A Vancouver dreamer said, “Today I accept the song that was with me when I woke and I will let it play all day. ‘Calling All Angels’.”     
     The song on your inner soundtrack may connect you to another person in your life, maybe someone at a distance. A friend told me that a song she used to sing for her son when he was very small will still pop into her head when he is thinking of her and getting ready to call her or visit her. The song is “He’s Got the Whole World In His Hands.” She smiles when it starts playing on her inner soundtrack, remembering the joy of slapping hands with her little boy as he tried to reproduce the words.     
    When you check your inner soundtrack, don’t just listen to the music, find the words that may or may not come with a tune. Check for voices from the past that may be cheering you on or bringing you down. Catch yourself when you start going over and over old histories of failure or regret, belittling yourself, telling yourself what’s wrong with you in a way that cannot help you to be right. You may notice that an inner voice has been repeating things like, “I’m such an idiot” or, “I’m in so much pain” or “I’ll never be able to face that crowd, or that person”.      
     Your inner soundtrack may include a whole chorus of voices of people who have lifted you up or pulled you down. Don’t let all of them speak! Choose the ones you are willing to hear.         Above all, check your personal mantras. These are codes for connection and manifestation. These are the magic words that can deform your life or open up avenues of bright possibility. You may have borrowed some of your personal mantras from a spiritual teacher, or a favorite book, or one of those oh-so-cute boxes in your Facebook newsfeed. 
    I have nothing against feel-good affirmations and statements of spiritual correctness, as long as they work. This means that they come to mind when you need them, when you need to respond to a challenge or make a choice at a crossroads. It means that they are playing on your inner soundtrack before you hit a select button.     
    When you check your inner soundtrack, you may find that your personal mantras include:     
    “I’m sick.”     
    “I’m fat.”     
    “I’ll never meet the right guy.”    
    “I’ll never have enough money.”    
     There’s no need for me to expand the list. You want to make your own. When you detect a negative mantra of this kind on your inner playlist, you can try to delete it, but may find that it comes back. You can try to override it with happy tunes and feel-good affirmations. I find that sometimes the best tactic is not to try to cancel a long-playing blues number right away, but to trip lightly around it, saying and singing better numbers.     
     Walking my dog in the park one morning, I checked my inner soundtrack and found I was engaged in making an inventory of the complaints in my aging body, all featuring pain. The pain in my dodgy knee, the pain in my shoulder, the pain of inflammation in one of my toes, the possible beginnings of a sore throat.     
     I hit my inner pause button. I did not try to deny that my body was expressing these complaints, and might need to be acknowledged. We don’t want to push away what may be part of our body wisdom, or — in my case — my body crying out for a little TLC. All I did was shift my attention to the dappled light among the beech trees, the gentle breeze stirring the surface of the lake and playing with my hair, the happiness of my little dog as he nosed after new smells and the nether parts of other dogs. And I said to the wind and the sun and the trees, “Thank you. Thank you for the gift of this day, for being able to walk among trees, by water, with a dog who loves me no matter what. Thank you for the gifts and the challenges of this lifetime.”     
    The best answer to inner naysayers and whiners may be to say to the universe: Thank you. 

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

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Dream Growing in Auschwitz

Every human being has the freedom to change at any instant.
- Viktor Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning

He has been reduced to a number tattooed on his arm. His ability to survive until tomorrow depends on being able to dig stones for a long day without collapsing from malnutrition and fatigue, and on being able to get a few peas at the bottom of a bowl of soup, and at not falling foul of one of the SS guards or the no less brutal Capos, fellow-prisoners selected to act as wardens and help select who will be sent to the "bathhouse" that leads to the crematorium. He reaches into the storehouse of memory for images that can help him to live. He cherishes little things from the life that has been taken from him, like taking a bus ride, or turning on the lights in his apartment, or finding real food in the kitchen. Most of all, he cherishes the image of his wife. He doesn't know whether she is still alive, but the great love between them is real, and helps to sustain him.
    When he can get scraps of paper, he tries to reconstruct the book manuscript that was torn from him by a Capo when he came here. He dreams of seeing it published. In the indeterminate state of a death camp prisoner, with no way of knowing whether he will live or die within the next hour, he chooses to grow a vision of the future in his mind. It is an extraordinary vision, and it takes a terrific act of will for him to turn his mind from his bleeding feet and aching stomach to inhabit a future that very few could begin to imagine. The emaciated prisoner of Auschwitz transports himself to a warm and comfortable lecture room, in a civilized time and place in which the horrors of World War II lie in the past. The speaker is the prisoner himself, Dr Viktor Frankl. From the platform, he surveys an attentive audience, seated on handsomely upholstered chairs. His topic? The psychology of the concentration camp.
-   After his release from Auschwitz and the fall of the Third Reich, Viktor Frankl recalled the effect of this remarkable exercise in active imagination. "All that oppressed me in that moment became objective, seen and described from the remote viewpoint of science. By this method I succeeded somehow in rising above the situation, above the sufferings of the moment, and I observed them as if they were already of the past. Both I and my troubles became the object of an interesting psychoscientific study undertaken by myself." [1]
-   This is a stellar example of the power of dream growing - of developing a creative vision powerful enough to carry you beyond adversity. Inside one of the worst of history's nightmares, Viktor Frankl reclaimed the identity and the future that had been torn from him. He not only saw himself surviving the death camps; he saw himself emerging to found a new approach to psychology on what he had learned from them. In doing this, he stepped outside and above his appalling circumstances to adopt the perspective of a witness and a scientist. He transported himself to a future time in which the hideous collective nightmare was in the past. In doing this, he succeeded in escaping, mentally, from the camp. But he did more: he reached for a possible future so powerfully that it seems than an answering force helped to pull him towards it.
-  Whatever the pain and adversity of our lives, we can all take heart from Viktor Frankl's tremendous example. Even when all other freedoms are denied to us - he later insisted - we can never lose one final freedom, the freedom to choose our attitude. We can choose to give up, or to struggle on. We can choose to find meaning in our suffering, or to pronounce our world unfair and meaningless (as too many people do under circumstances that look quite comfortable to most of the world's poor, let alone a death camp inmate). It is our choice. If we choose to believe that we have no choice, we are still making a choice. If Viktor Frankl could say yes to life in Auschwitz, and find meaning in what life threw at him, even there, who are we to go about with the misery-guts attitude that life is unfair, or meaningless?
-   Frankl founded the method he called logotherapy, sometimes described as the third of the great Viennese schools of psychology (after Freud and Adler). As the name suggests, this is therapy based on the need for logos or meaning. The central thesis is that many of our ailments are noögenic - that is to say, they have their origin in the realm of noös, or mind, rather than in the psyche as observed by psychiatrists, or the body as diagnosed by physicians. The human animal needs meaning as well as food and air and sex and water. The sense that life is meaningless is at the root of a great deal of depression, aggression and addiction, which can only be addressed by a restoration of the sense that life is meaning-full.
-   How do we find meaning in our lives? We find it in work, especially through creative action. We find it as we engage in the world, and with other people. We find it - Frankl insisted over and over - in the attitude we adopt in the face of unavaoidable suffering.
    Let me add that we also find meaning through our engagement with our dreams. Our dreams, and the powers that speak to us in dreams, are forever inviting us to reclaim the knowledge of who we are, why we are here, and what our purpose is in our current life experience.
-  I read Man's Search for Meaning when I was a student. I've read it four times since, and I expect I'll read it again. It offers perennial wisdom. Frankl deploys several of my favorite quotes that are relevant to his theme.
-   From Nietzsche, he borrows this celebrated and telling truth: "He who has a why to live can cope with almost any how."
    From Dostoyevsky, this: "My only fear in life is of not being worthy of my suffering."
    From Spinoza: "Suffering ceases to be suffering as soon as we produce a clear and precise picture of it."
    And then he quotes the Viennese writer, Arthur Schnitzler, a contemporary of Freud and author, inter alia, of a novella titled "A Dream Story". Schnitzler maintained that there are really only three virtues, which he itemized as follows: objectivity, courage, and the sense of responsibility. An interesting choice for a poet.
     We saw something of the merit of "objectivity" in the way Frankl was able to take himself out of his situation in the death camp and look down - and back - from the viewpoint of a scientific observer. Courage, certainly, is a fundamental virtue. It is not the absence of fear; that could be psychosis or reckless stupidity. Courage is fear conquered by something stronger than fear, by love, or belief, or duty, or a cause. The sense of responsibility - of being responsible for our own lives, first and last, and for exercising our power to choose our responses to whatever life gives us - is clearly of vital importance in a life that meets the existential challenge:

Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather he must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible. [2]

Not a bad exercise, in our own quest for meaning, to name the three virtues that count for most in our own experience. Whatever selection we make, for me, as for Frankl (thinking of his beloved wife in the death camp) the fundament of all is love. This is what makes us human, and sustains us daily, even when we dare not say its name.

[1] Viktor Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning (New York: Pocket Books, 1985) p.95.
[2] ibid p.131.