Sunday, March 31, 2019

You don't give a lion a haircut

I spent the whole night, while my body slept, helping people to find and shape stories. With some, this meant helping them to find their voice, to speak in front of others, free of text, and to release their stories from the clutter of biography and explanation. First the adventure, later the discussion. With others, it meant getting the right words to line up together on a page. So many pages! Some beautiful creamy art paper, others veined like parchment, some ruled in composition books, others quite unruly.
    Some of the stories came from dreams. Some grew from the slightest wisp, the merest snippet from the night. Some were necklace stories, strung like bright beads on a string of incidents from the speaking land: the caw of that crow, the fall of that card, the vanity plate that read Camelot.
    Some were the work of literary privateers, given permission to steal a little from others. Some were inspired by shelf elves who arranged for a certain book to turn up or vanish at a creative moment.
   The unstoppable stories were the ones that had been seeking the teller for years, even a whole lifetime. I helped people shape these wild ones too, but only a little. You don’t give a haircut to a lion.

When I left my bed to walk my dog in the morning light, I felt deeply satisfied, the kind of satisfied when you have done a job that you chose to do as well as you can. Helping people find their best stories, and tell them so well that others want to hear them, is one of my greatest pleasures. And one of the greatest gifts of the Active Dreaming methods I have created is that we are forever encouraging each other to become both storytellers and story makers.

I will have the pleasure on embodying this dream at two beautiful physical locations where I am leading my 5-day residential retreat "Writing as a State of Conscious Dreaming" this year: at Mosswood Hollow near Seattle in May and at Ryzmburk near Česká Skalice in the Czech Republic in August.

photo: Path of Magic at Mosswood Hollow by RM

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Harriet Tubman, dream liberator, and an African shamanic dreaming tradition

When I was writing my book Dreaming True, I asked for guidance from the night on how to bring the gifts of dreaming to a broader audience in our society. I dreamed I was teaching the history of the Underground Railroad to a single African-American mother caring for her children in the projects. What is the connection?
    Harriet Tubman is an exemplar of how dreaming can contribute to liberating people and communities from an unjust order. This famous conductor of the Underground Railroad helped many escaping slaves to get to freedom in the years before the American Civil War. She used dreams and visions of maps to get parties of fugitive slaves across otherwise unknown terrain, even across a flooded river. I tell the story of Harriet Tubman as a dream tracker in my Secret History of Dreaming.
     In a shamanic journey, I once saw Harriet Tubman accompanied by guides of three kinds: a winged angelic being in white, a leopard and a West African forest spirit. Here I want to explore how West African traditions of shamanic dreaming may have contributed to her remarkable abilities.

     Franklin Sanborn, writing in 1863, described Harriet Tubman as “the grand-daughter of a slave imported from Africa” with “not a drop of white blood in her veins.”  In 1907, a reporter for the New York Herald plucked this from her memories: “The old mammies to whom she told dreams were wont to nod knowingly and say, ‘I reckon youse one o’ dem Shantees, chile.’ For they knew the tradition of the unconquerable Ashantee blood, which in a slave made him a thorn in the side of the planter or cane grower whose property he became.” 
     The “Ashantee”, or Ashanti, are a matrilineal people of the forests and highlands of Ghana, known in Harriet’s time as the Gold Coast. Recollections of gossip heard in childhood are not evidence that Harriet had Ashanti blood, but they suggest that the Ashanti were known where she grew up, and she was associated with them in people’s minds.
    The shipping records of the Chesapeake slave trade suggest that Harriet’s ancestors were brought to America from this part of West Africa. Nearly all of the slaves carried to Maryland ports came direct from Africa, and the vast majority came on big London vessels that picked up their cargoes along the Gold Coast or from Upper Guinea.
     Harriet said she inherited special gifts — including the ability to travel outside the body and to visit the future — from her father, who “could always predict the future” and “foretold the Mexican war”. Stronger than other girls, she spent a lot of time with Ben Ross in the timber gangs. In their quiet times in the woods, they may have revived something of the atmosphere of the Sacred Forest of the Ashanti, and the practice of West African dream trackers accustomed to operating outside the body, sometimes in the forms of animals.   
     We have an interesting source on Ashanti dreaming in Captain Robert S. Rattray, a British “government anthropologist” stationed in the Gold Coast before and after World War I. Rattray became a passionate student of the Ashanti, who called this Scot “Red Pepper” because of his blazing red hair. Though sometimes baffled by the mobility of consciousness among the West Africans he interviewed, he did his best to record Ashanti dream practices.

    “To the Ashanti mind,” Rattray explains, “dreams are caused either by the visitations of denizens of the spirit world, or by spirits, i.e. volatile souls of persons still alive, or by the journeyings of one’s own soul during the hours of sleep.” In the Ashanti language, “to dream” is 
so dae, which literally means “to arrive at a place during sleep” — implying travel.
     For the Ashanti, dream incidents are real events. If you sleep with another man’s wife, for example, you are held to be guilty of adultery and may be punished for it.
    Flying is a common experience in Ashanti dreams. “If you dream that you have been carried up to the sky…and that you have returned to the ground…that means long life.” This certainly held true for Harriet Tubman, who lived to be at least ninety-one. 
    Rattray describes an Ashanti practice for disposing of a “bad” dream by confiding it in a whisper to the village rubbish dump, which may also be the communal latrine.
    One of Rattray’s informants described how his dead brother guided him on the hunt. “I often dream of my brother who was a hunter, and he shows me where to go. Any antelope I kill, I give him a piece with some water.” The same man’s dead uncle gave him dream prescriptions. When a child was ill in the house, his deceased uncle showed him some leaves to administer as part of the medicine; “I did so and the child recovered.”
    Ashanti hunters and trackers walked very close to their guardian animals. Shifting into the energy body of a leopard, or a nocturnal antelope, or a fish eagle, they traveled ahead of themselves to scout the land and find the game, or the place where an enemy force was advancing.

    The Ashanti believed, like other indigenous peoples, that if you are not in touch with your dreams, you are not in touch with your soul. “If one does not dream for eighty days, it means that one will become mad.”   
    On big questions, they sought a second opinion through divination. A typical method was for the diviner to shake a set of symbolic objects — stones and bones, a hairball, a root, a seed pod, a snail shell — from a skin bag. The diviner grasped the forked end of a stick, while the client held the other end, tipped with metal. In their hands, the wand quivered and pointed at one object after another, making a story that was then read by the diviner.
    How much of this traveled to Maryland with Tubman’s ancestors? Maybe far more than has been generally understood. West Africans brought forcibly to North America did not lose their identity and traditional practices overnight. Recent archaeology shows the survival of key elements of West African culture under slavery in North America: in the miniature boats and other items placed in graves, in collections of “anomalous artifacts” that may have come from diviner’s bags  And in the 1820s, when Minty Ross (as Harriet was then known) was growing up, the Christianization of African slaves had barely begun.

Text adapted from The Secret History of Dreaming by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library. Source notes for quotes and facts here are in the book.

Drawing by RM from a shamanic journey in which Harriet Tubman appeared in the company of a leopard and an African forest spirit.

Photo of Harriet Tubman: This recently discovered photograph, believed to have been taken in the 1860s, is now on display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture,

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Why the dead come calling

In dreams, the departed come calling. They call us on the phone, they email, they show up at the door, they appear right inside our bedrooms, or meet us in a familiar or unfamiliar space. Let's look at some of the main reasons for these visitations.

The Dead Come to Seek or Extend Forgiveness
One of the most important things we need to understand in our relations with the deceased is that healing and forgiveness are possible across the apparent barrier of death. This can be the key for people on both sides to heal and get on with their growing.

It sometimes seems as if one of the assignments our departed set for themselves - or have prescribed for them by their coaches and counselors on the Other Side - is to reach back to survivors not only to seek forgiveness and closure but to achieve understanding and balancing. When this succeeds, it can break the family curse of abusive or destructive behaviors passed on from generation to generation.  

The Dead Come to Settle Unfinished Business
Brian's deceased friend appeared in a dream and said with fierce clarity, "Where is that book you took from my library?" 

What is "unfinished business" for one of our deceased may extend to achieving a lucid understanding of what happened in the life they have just left, preparatory to moving on to new life experiences. Yeats suggested that in an early and important phase of the afterlife transitions, the dead engage in "Dreaming Back", revisiting the scenes of their previous life, essentially to get the story straight and understand what is really going on. During the Dreaming Back, they interact with the living, in shared or overlapping dreams.

The Dead Bring a Warning or Health Advisory
Once they are free of their physical bodies and physically-oriented assumptions about the rules of reality, our dead can become extremely helpful and reliable psychic advisers, since they can see across space and time quite easily. We have this ability too, but while we are encased in physical bodies and self-limiting beliefs about physical laws and linear time, we often forget to use our ability to see beyond these things. Departed friends and loved ones very frequently turn up in dreams to pass on health advisories. They are especially sensitive to health problems that tend to run in families.

Our dead may come to us in dreams with warnings and advisories of any kind. The Chinese Book of Zuo relates that the dead father of a general called Han Jue appeared to him on the eve of battle and told him that in the fighting the next day he should avoid veering to either right or left and lead always from the center. The general was victorious in battle, but the enemies' arrows killed all the men immediately to the right and left of his chariot.

The Dead Return as Guides and Family Angels.
A young woman I'll call Kirsty lost her grandmother - a proud, creative, take-charge kind of woman - around the same time she developed a rare and serious illness. She then received a dream visitation from her grandmother, who told her, "I've arranged to be around for two more years. You and I have lots of work to do together, Sunshine." When Kirsty enrolled for an expensive series of therapy sessions, she dreamed that she heard her grandmother's voice on her answering machine. She did not want to pick up for fear that her grandmother would not really be there.

"Pick up, Sunshine," her grandmother's voice encouraged her. When Kirsty did so, her grandmother said, "You can save a bunch on those therapy sessions if you meditate on your nickname. You are Sunshine, right? Be Sunshine! Let it stream through every cell in your body!"
With the words, Kirsty felt waves of healing light and energy rolling through her body. She proceeded to make it a practice to sit with the sun and invoke a flow of inner sunlight every day, and this felt profoundly healing. In another dream, Kirsty's grandmother called to say she was going to help her arrange a move from her apartment in Manhattan to a house with a garden, and trees, and sunlight.

Though Grandma was not visible in the flurry of real estate moves that followed, she had been very adept at this kind of thing, and Kirsty was buoyed by the feeling that she was active behind the scenes. It took less than a week to sell her condo, and she managed the house purchase in just one day. Magic. Grandma called again to say she wanted to support Kirsty in developing a new relationship. Nothing controlling, just a blessing. Kirsty was thrilled to find herself entering a warm and loving new relationship with a man who was not afraid of commitment. Kirsty's grandmother loved to paint cardinals. At her new house, Kirsty sees them all the time, glorious flashes of bright red among the greens.

The Dead Come to Prepare Us for Death
One of the most important reasons our dead visit us in dreams is to prepare us for our own crossings. It is very reassuring to know that we have friends and escorts on the Other Side. These death guides may include beloved animals, as well as humans, who have shared our lives. Valerie was sitting in her family home, exhausted from taking care of her very ill mother. She was dozing when she felt a presence. She looked up and saw her father, who had died years before. He said nothing, smiled a beautiful radiant smile and held out his hand. Then she saw her mother standing in front of him. Her mother took her father's hand, and they vanished. When the nursing home called to tell her that her mother had passed, she discovered that he mother had died at the same time she had seen her father come for her in the dream.  

The Dead Want to Pass on a Message through Us
The dead may call on us to pass on a message to someone who is disconnected - a person who is not picking up his or her own messages. This is frequently the case when an emergency is impending, and a dead well-wisher urgently wants to get an advisory through to someone who won't pick up the phone or answer the door. The dead caller will turn to someone else in the neighborhood who is more receptive and may be willing to pass the message along, directly or indirectly. This is likely to work best if the "sensitive" is family or a friend of one or both parties.

But if the message is really urgent, and nobody else is available, the dead caller may try to communicate through someone who is a relative outsider. A great many people approaching death try to blank out their awareness of what is coming, instead of using the last stages of life as an opportunity to get ready for a grand adventure that opens new vistas of growth and learning. The elderly may actively refuse to communicate with departed family and friends, because there is bad blood or, quite simply, because they are trying to avoid their appointment with death.

The Dead Come to Show Us their Realm
One of the most familiar and important reasons the departed appear in our dreams is as guides to the realms beyond physical life. A departed loved one - including a beloved former pet - may be the soul-guide, or psychopomp, who makes it easy for us to approach the big journey beyond physical death with courage and grace.

I have heard many, many accounts of this, and have been blessed to help introduce many dying people to guides with familiar faces from the other side. Here is one: "My father visited my mother looking like he did when he was courting her. She was grieving and he told her he wanted to describe the beautiful valley she would first see. He showed her in a dream a vale filled with wildflowers, birds singing, and a small brook running through. He told her he could not present it the way it really looked, that it was more beautiful than anything she could ever imagine."

The Dead Come as Guardians and Guides
The ancients believed that the illustrious dead may intervene as daimons or demigods to strengthen and support the living. Plutarch located the base for helpful daimons who were formerly humans in the astral realm of the moon.

The Dead Need Guidance from Us
The dead come calling in our dreams because they need help or guidance from us - often because they are lost or lonely or stuck somewhere not very far away. They of course have guides available on the Other Side, but they may have remained so physically oriented, enmeshed in their dense energy bodies, that they are inclined to trust someone who has a physical body more than a being who does not. Or they may simply be shy about getting to know new people.

Yeats observed, with poetic insight, that "the living have the ability to assist the imaginations of the dead". I know this to be true, since I have been called on many times to help survivors to assist departed family members to move beyond stuck places by growing their imaginations and becoming more aware of new real estate options and life possibilities on the Other Side.

Jung described a dream in which he found himself at "an assemblage of distinguished spirits". He was asked some complex questions, but the conversation was in Latin and he was embarrassed that his command of this language was not sufficient for him to respond. The dream spurred him to abandon his holiday and rush home on the train to work on an answer to the question. He later concluded that the question had been put to him by "spiritual forefathers in the hope and expectation that they would learn what they had not been able to find out during their time on earth, since the answer had first to be created in the centuries that followed."  [1]

Jung subsequently speculated that "the souls of the dead 'know' only what they knew at the moment of death, and nothing beyond that" - contrary to the "traditional views" that the dead possess great knowledge. [2]

I think it is certainly entirely possible that after death people try to attain an awareness that may have escaped them during life. But there are other possible explanations for Jung's experiences. One is that he was actually communicating across time - speaking to people from early periods not in their postmortem state but as they are in their own now time. Frederic Myers trembled on the edge of recognizing this possibility, when he floated the idea of "the permanence or simultaneity of all phenomena in a timeless Universal Soul". [3]. 

1 C.G.Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections. Ed. Aniela Jaffé. New York : Vintage, 1965, 307.
2. ibid 308
3. F.W.H .Myers, Human Personality and its Survival of Bodily Death. Volume 2 London: Longmans, Green, 1903, 76

For much more on this subject, please see The Dreamer's Book of the Dead. Dreaming with the departed is a major theme in my new online course Active Dreaming: The Essential Training, which starts on April 18.

Photo: "Rendezvous at Thirteenth Lake"by RM

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Dreaming with the departed

The number one reason men talk about dreams, in my experience, is that they have dreamed of someone who has died and the experience seemed so real that they desperately need help in understanding what is going on. I'm not talking about the brave men who come to dream classes and share their inner lives with a mixed group. I'm talking about the guy in the neighborhood pub or on the bleachers, the cop in the all-night diner, the commuter on the train.

When I was moving into a former home, I was startled by banging on the French doors of the study in which I was shelving books. I opened the doors and a huge, wild-eyed man introduced himself as a neighbor. He was a former basketball pro. "I've just come from the graveyard," he explained, breathing heavily. "My dad showed up in my bedroom last night and I had to go prove to myself that he's still in the ground." The cemetery was half a block away, not a long hike at all.

But in fact the distance between the living and the dead may be much shorter. It is exactly as wide as the edge of a maple leaf, said Handsome Lake, the Seneca Indian prophet.
Many of us yearn for contact with departed loved ones. We miss them; we ache for forgiveness or closure; we yearn for confirmation that there is life beyond physical death. This is one of the main reasons why people go to psychic readers.

Here's an open secret: we don't need a go-between to talk to the departed. We can have direct communication with our departed, in timely and helpful ways, if we are willing to pay attention to our dreams. We meet our departed loved ones in our dreams. Sometimes they come to offer us guidance or assurance of life beyond death; sometimes they need help from us because they are lost or confused, or need forgiveness and closure.

Dreams of the departed help us gain first-hand knowledge of what happens after physical death. One of the cruelest things that mainstream Western culture has done is to suggest that communication with the departed is either impossible or unnatural. There is nothing spooky or "supernatural" involved, though these experiences take us into realms beyond physical reality.

The easiest way for the departed to communicate with the living is through dreams -though sometimes the departed, as well as the living, fail to realize this. For once, Hollywood got this right. In the movie The Sixth Sense a psychically gifted young boy can see and speak with the departed. He plays counselor to a man who has died, is initially confused about his situation, and then dismayed that he cannot talk to his wife. The boy instructs the dead man, "Speak to her in her dreams, only then will she hear you".

In most dreams, the departed appear to be living, and very often the dreamer is unaware that the person he or she encounters is "dead" until after waking. The reason is that the departed are indeed alive, though no longer in the physical realm. The departed may appear as the dreamer remembers them from their last days of physical life, especially in the first dream encounters. But over time, it is quite common for the departed to alter their appearance, to shrug off signs of age and bodily ailments, and to present themselves as healthy and attractive. People who died in later years frequently reappear looking around 30 years old.

After my father's death, he appeared repeatedly in my dreams to offer counsel to the family, bringing specific and practical information to which I did not have access in waking life. For example, he gave me the name of the real estate broker on the other side of the Pacific - someone otherwise unknown to me - who moved with great speed and humanity (once we contacted him because of the dream) to help my mother sell her home and resettle in a community where she spent some of the happiest years of her life. My father also made a happy dream visit to one of my daughters, who bitterly regretted never having known him in physical life; he showed himself as a handsome horseman, about 30 years old, and took her riding. Through many dream encounters with my father, I was vividly reminded that a departed loved one can truly play "family angel".

I have been dreaming with departed people all my life, and have worked with thousands of dreams of the departed shared with me by others. While the departed person in some of these dreams may be an aspect of the dreamer's own personality or genetic inheritance - or a mask for a messenger from the deeper Self - the great majority of these dreams appear to involve transpersonal encounters.

There are three main reasons why dreams of the dead (and other forms of interaction with them) are entirely natural experiences:

1. The deceased are still with us because they have not yet moved on for reasons that may be good, bad or mixed.
2. The deceased come visiting for all the reasons we call on each other in everyday life, and then some.
3. In dreams, we travel to the Other Side and find ourselves in territories where the dead are alive.

Notice I speak of dreaming with the departed rather than dreaming of themWe are talking about interactive, transpersonal, social encounters that may be initiated by either party. They visit us and we call on them. Sometimes they turn up, in dreams or liminal space, to invite us to travel with them to see where and how they are living now. 

In The Dreamer's Book of the Dead, I discuss thirteen reasons the dead come calling. They may have messages for us, or need help from us. They may come seeking healing and forgiveness. When we engage with them with open hearts we find that healing and forgiveness are always available, across the apparent barrier of death.

Across the whole course of the human odyssey on the planet, the principal reason for the age-old conviction that consciousness survives physical death is that we receive visitations from the departed, especially in dreams, and that in dreams and journeys we find ourselves in realms where the dead are alive. What happens after death is too important for us to rely on hand-me-down belief systems. We need first-hand experience. It is available to us any night, through the portal of dreams.

- Dreaming with the Departed is a theme in my new online course for The Shift Network, "Active Dreaming: The Essential Training"; it starts on April 18.

Image: Victorian ghost comes through mirror. Provenance unknown. I could not resist the graphic. But let's notice that there is nothing spooky about most encounters with the deceased.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Why creativity matters

Three essential things about creativity and the human condition:

Creativity, in the sense of the ability to adapt or innovate, is one of the twin engines of human evolution (the other being selection). As change continues to speed up in our lives and our world, we need the creative ability to adjust and adapt to the unexpected.

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 muse or daimon.  Most people understand this intuitively, even though we may fumble for an agreed language to describe it.  

Creativity is healing.

The neural basis for high creativity – the 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 – a new creation emerges. [1]

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 creator 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. 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 the child inside all of us.
The most important thing 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, based on my own observation and experience:

- They find personal ways of getting “into the zone”. These may include walking in nature, swimming, doodling, taking naps, spending periods of relaxed attention in the liminal space of hypnagogia between sleep and awake.

- 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.

[1] Source: Nancy Andreasen, neuroscientist at University of Iowa, pioneer in brain imaging the neural paths of creativity

We'll discover what this means, experientially, in my creative writing retreat "Writing as a State of Conscious Dreaming" at a dream location, Mosswood Hollow (think a cross between Hogwarts and Narnia) in a five-day residential retreat from May 20-24. And we will bring back gifts! 

Art: "Flutter of Swallows" by artist and dream teacher Karen Nell McKean. Karen is hosting a weekend workshop for me on the arts of Magical Dreaming and Kairomancy at her dream studio outside Madison Wisconsin on May 4-5.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

The only dream expert is you

You are the final authority on your dreams, and you should never give the power of your dreams away by handing them over to other people to interpret. Yes, our dreams can be confusing and opaque, and we gain greatly from other people's insights, especially when those other people are "frequent fliers" who work closely with their own dreams and have developed a fine intuition about what may be going on in dreaming. So it's okay to ask for help. More than that, we often need help because we are too close to our own issues, or too inhibited by self-limiting attitudes to see what may be obvious to a complete outsider.
     But we need to learn some simple rules about how to share and comment on dreams. I suggest the following ways of sharing and playing with dreams:

1. Tell the story of your dream as clearly and exactly as possible. Dreams are real experiences, and the meaning of the dream is often inside the dream experience itself. Give your dream report a title. So much jumps out when you choose the key element, and you are developing the power of naming.

2. Consider your feelings, inside the dream and on waking. These are a quick and usually reliable guide to the importance, urgency and quality (e.g. positive/negative) of the dream.

3. Always run a reality check by asking what you recognize from the dream in the rest of your life. If you are running away from something in the dream, are there situations in waking life where you may be running away from a certain issue? 

4. Check whether your dream may contain clues to the future. Ask whether it is remotely possible the events in this dream could be played out in waking life, literally or symbolically. If you dream of an earthquake check whether you or someone connected with you may find themselves in earthquake territory - or whether something may erupt in your personal life with the force of the ground moving from under you. I have never seen more time wasted in dream analysis -- and more life-supporting messages lost -- than when we fail to recognize that our dreams are constantly rehearsing us for challenges that lie around the corner.

5. If you are going to comment on someone else's dream, always begin by saying (in these words or similar words), "If it were my dream, I would think about..." This way, you are not leaning on other people and presuming to tell them the meaning of their dreams or their lives. If we can only encourage more people to follow this vitally important etiquette for dream-sharing, we'll create a safe space for many people to share dreams and work with them in everyday contexts -- at work, in the family, in schools -- and we'll be on our way to becoming a dreaming culture again.

6. Learn the art of dream reentry. Try to go back inside the dream and recover more information. A dream fully remembered is often its own interpretation.

7. Make a bumper sticker. Try to come up with a one-liner to summarize what happens in the dream (or encourage the dreamer to do that). This will often turn out to be a personal dream motto that will orient you towards appropriate action -- to act on the dream guidance and honor the dream.

8. Come up with an action plan. Always do something with the dream! We need to do far more than interpret dreams;we need to bring their energy and insight into manifestation in waking life.

The simple guidelines above are central to my Active Dreaming approach. You may want to join me for a new 12-week online course, Active Dreaming: The Essential Training in which you will learn to master and apply the core techniques in a wonderful international community of creative spirits.

Photo: Dream Sharing on Gore Mountain by RM

Saturday, March 23, 2019

How dreaming gets us through

Dreaming helps get us through life. It can save us from a fall, and even get us to the top. It puts us back in touch with our soul purpose and gives us everyday tools to thrive and survive. I was made vividly aware of this when I did an interview with Wisconsin public radio and a series of callers phoned in, eager to share their dreams.
     A songwriter described how he wakes in the middle of the night with new songs playing in his mind. Sometimes they are complete, with words and music. Sometimes he has to work on them for a bit. He is in a long tradition of songwriters and composers who have plucked new pieces from their dreams. I was reminded on John Lennon's statement that "the best songs are the ones that come to you in the middle of the night and you have to get up and write them down so you can go back to sleep."
     As we discussed diagnostic dreams, the host recalled the case of a man who dreamed a rat was gnawing on his throat. Shaken by the dream, he sought medical assistance, and went from one physician to another until his throat cancer was detected and treatment began that he credited with saving his life.
      An IT professional recounted a situation in which his office was preparing to install a new system. The day before, his supervisor told him to go home and get some sleep. He took a nap and saw himself in a workaday situation. He saw and recognized the code he would be applying. Suddenly the screen in his dream went fuzzy and a voice said firmly, "NO. It should be like 
this." The code changed.
     When he went into the office the next day, he checked and found that the code they were working with was wrong. He made the necessary changes, as had been done in the dream. "Good thing you caught that," his supervisor told him. At this point, David explained that he had dreamed the correction. "Never heard of anything like that," the supervisor shook his head. "Maybe I should have my analysts do a lot more sleeping."
     A woman caller spoke of a recurring dream theme whose full significance became clear to her only at the end of a long relationship. She dreamed again and again that her partner was missing. She couldn't find him or couldn't get through to him on the phone. Sometimes she felt he was hiding from her. By the time of the break-up, she had been compelled to recognize a long pattern of deception, and that in fundamental ways, her partner had been "missing" for much of the time they had been together.
     We discussed what is going on when a dream theme repeats over and over. I suggested that it's either because we need to get the message or because we need to take 
action on that message. We may have a notion what a recurring dream is about, but can't bring ourselves to do what is necessary - which would be very understandable if we dream our partner is missing. Like a helpful (and well-informed) friend who is looking out for us, the dream theme will come again and again until we do something about it.

Towards the end of the show, the host asked me to share a "big" dream of my own. How to pick one, out of so many? Yet I knew at once which dream I would tell, because earlier in the program - when asked to explain how dreaming can help to move us beyond hatred and war - I had quoted a phrase in the Mohawk Indian language. The phrase is tohsa sasa nikon'hren. It literally means, "Do not let your mind fall".
    We fall into Dark Times, in the traditional Mohawk cosmology, when we forget the higher world - the Earth-in-the-Sky - from which we come. Our ability to heal our enmities and grow as a life form depend on not-forgetting a higher source of wisdom and a higher order of reality. Dreaming is the main link between our ordinary minds and that higher spiritual plane, a way of not letting our minds fall.
    So I told a watershed dream from my life decades before, in which I entered a space where a circle of people who lived very close to the earth were singing and drumming. I hesitated at the entrance of their longhouse, fearing I was intruding. But they welcomed me into a place they had waiting for me.
    At a certain point, I lay by the firepit, at the center of the circle. One by one, the dream people came to me. They took red-hot coals from the fire and placed them over my ears and my eyes, and on my tongue, and over my heart. They sang in their own language, which I could now understand: "We do this to open your ears, that you may hear clearly. We do this to open your eyes, that you may see clearly. We do this to open your mouth, so you will speak only truth. And we do this -" placing the coal over the heart "- so that henceforth you will speak and act only from the heart."
     I did no analysis with that dream. Vitally energized, I jumped in my car and drove to a lake in a state park east of my home. I promised to the lake and the trees and the red-tailed hawk that came knifing through the clouds, "Henceforth I will speak and act only from the heart."
     On the darkest days, a dream like this can be a hearthfire and a homing beacon. Charging us with the power of a deeper drama, inciting us not to let our minds fall - these may be the biggest ways that dreaming helps us through.

On the subject of Wisconsin dreaming, I am leading a new playshop on the Arts of Magical Dreaming at a lovely spacious studio in rolling horse country outside Madison WI over the weekend of May 4-5. Artist and dream teacher Karen Nell McKean was inspired by her dreams to design this nurturing creative space and have it constructed. "WomanEye" is one of her dream-infused paintings.

Graphic at top:''L'Alpiniste Emballée'' by Henry Gerbault (1916)

Friday, March 22, 2019

Dr Freud's slips and others

I am leafing again through the book in which Freud gave the most complete account of the phenomenon known (after him) as the Freudian slip. First published in 1901 as The Psychopathology of Everyday Life, it's a collection of essays that was probably better-known and more widely read in Freud's lifetime than any of his other works.
    In my favorite local used bookstore, a shelf elf placed a copy of an elderly Macmillan edition, with A.A.Brill's translation, in my line of sight. The paper label on the spine had rubbed nearly away, like the label on a well-soaked bottle of wine, so I had to pull the book off the shelf to see what was facing me, which begins to sound like a Freudian joke in itself.
    The merits of Freud's study of slips of the tongue and memory lapses are threefold. First, he assigns meaning to incidents that many of us tend to overlook. Forgetting the name of a town where you once stayed, or giving the wrong name to someone you know perfectly well, isn't simply a memory lapse or passing confusion; it speaks of something in you and your life situation which merits close attention, because you can learn from it. Second, Freud does dreamwork with these incidents, applying the same principles of analysis to episodes in waking life as he applies to dream symbols. Third, his prime lab rat, first and last, is himself. Like Jung (and unlike lesser scientific minds that fail to realize that knowledge is state-specific) he knows that understanding begins with self-knowledge, and that the most important data on inner events (and their interplay with outer events) must be gathered from first-hand experience.
    We follow Freud down some interesting trails as he studies such phenomena as forgetting names and otherwise well-known phrases and word substitution. He recounts a chance encounter with a fellow-traveler on a train who begins to quote the famous line, in Latin, in which Queen Dido of Carthage issues a terrible curse against Aeneas, the hero who loved her and left her. Exoriare aliquis nostris ex ossibus ultor (Aeneid, IV 625). "Let someone arise from my bones as an avenger."
    In the days where a good education still required Latin, Freud's educated companion would be expected to get the quotation right. But he cannot recollect the harmless indefinite pronoun aliquis. By the end of a long conversation in which Freud guides his travel companion through the free association process he also applies to patients' dreams, they understand that there may be deep significance to the suppression of a seemingly harmless pronoun. In aliquis the speaker now recognizes the echo of "liquid" and "liquefaction" in the Latin word. This reminds him that he's alarmed that his girlfriend may have missed her period. He's scared that he is the "someone" who will be cursed if he abandons his girl and a baby he doesn't want.
    Now we come to the defect in Freud's approach to Freudian slips, which he called Fehlleistungen, which means "faulty actions" or "misperformances.". He wants to insist that word-amnesia and name substitution are related to "disturbing complexes" that prompt the psyche to seek to repress memories and information that may cause us pain. We hear of a man who simply cannot remember the name of a business partner who stole his girlfriend and married her; he just doesn't want to know. Freud can't remember the name of a town he knows well (Nervi) when treating a neurotic at a time when he himself is feeling nervous and may be heading for a migraine.
    While Freud's theory of repression may apply to some of his examples, there's both more and less going on with our slips and memory lapses than he allows for. Common sense tells us that memory gaps can be the result of all sorts of life factors, from fatigue to drug or alcohol abuse to migraine to information overload. Einstein once made people laugh because, asked for his phone number, he had to look it up in the book. He declared that he had so much on his mind that he didn't need to burden it by adding the need to remember things he could easily look up.
    I am generally pretty good with names, so when I call someone I know by a name that isn't their own I pay attention to what may be showing through my slip, In one of my workshops, I kept calling a man "Michael" though I was perfectly well aware that his name was "Don." Finally I asked, "Who's Michael?" Through tears, he explained that Michael had been his partner for many years; Michael had died but Don felt him close and was actually wearing his sweater that day.
     One of my rules for life navigation is: Notice what's showing through your slip. To which I will now add: And don't tag it a Freudian slip until you've explored what else may be going on. 

Text partly adapted from Sidewalk Oracles: Playing with Signs, Symbols and Synchronicity in Everyday Life, where you will find more on the game of noticing what's showing through a slip.

Image at top: Freud in Madame Tussaud's, Vienna

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Consecutive dreams and parallel lives in H.G. Wells

"Isn't there something called consecutive dreaming, that goes on night after night?"
    This is one of the most interesting questions that can be asked about dreams. Here it is posed in the voice of a character of H.G.Wells, in his remarkable short story "A Dream of Armageddon," first published in 1901.
   The story starts on a train with a sick-looking "man with a white face" striking up a conversation with the narrator because he is reading a book about dreams. The white-faced man has no patience with dream analysis because - as he says - his dreams are killing him.
   He describes how he has been dreaming a life in a future century, in which he is a great man - the leader of a great party - who gives up his power to live his consuming love with a younger woman on the island of Capri, which is now one gigantic resort hotel. The descriptions of Capri are wonderfully beautiful and vivid, the slope of Monte Solaro, the natural arch in the rock called Faraglione that the sea washes through. The dreamer has never been to Capri, in his present life, but the narrator has, and can confirm many of   the details. In this way, we are led to believe the reality of the extraordinary story that is unfolding.
    In his current life, the dreamer is a solicitor in Liverpool. He wonders, as he works on the details of a building lease, what his clients and colleagues would make of his second life, which often seems more vivid and real to him than the life he is living now. He remembers awakening to that second life when he felt the warmth in the air because a lovely woman had stopped fanning him. He admired her as she leaned over their balcony.  "Her white shoulders were in the sun, and all the grace of her body was in the cool blue shadow."
    Each time he wakes in this future Capri, he forgets his life in England at the end of the nineteenth century. The idyll of love and beauty is fast falling apart, however. After dancing in the pleasure palace, he is approached by a grim envoy from his own Northern country who beseeches him to go back and take charge before the brute who succeeded him brings about a world war. To do this would involve leaving the woman he loves, and he chooses his heart over his duty to the multitude.
   For three weeks, night after night, the solicitor is thrown into scenes in which his future self is present at the collapse of an island paradise and of a future world. War is threatened, and Wells describes squadrons of fighter planes wheeling over the Bay of Naples. World war breaks out, and the future life ends in global disaster and personal tragedy; the dreamer sees his lover shot through the heart and experiences his own death. 
   As he tells this story, he seems at the end of his tether.
   "It could have been only a dream," Wells' alter ego tries to comfort him.    
    "A dream!" he cried, flaming upon me, "a dream--when, even now--"
      For the first time he became animated..."One thing is real and certain, one thing is no dream- stuff, but eternal and enduring. It is the center of my life, and all other things about it are subordinate or altogether vain. I loved her, that woman of a dream. And she and I are dead together!

The story ends when the train stops at Euston station. No moral, no reflection, no analysis. Just so.
     I find this one of the very best of H.G.Wells' stories. The framing device is familiar from other "scientific romances" he wrote, including The Time Machine. Events and scenes that many readers might consider fantastic are told by a traveler who claims to have visited other times or other worlds. Wells again demonstrates his ability to envision the shape of things to come. He describes "flying boats" and warplanes shaped like spearheads without the shafts, years before Kitty Hawk, and almost a century before Stealth aircraft. He has his characters travel comfortably around a building complex on a "passage with a moving floor", a preview of our moving walkways.
    Yet the prophetic elements in the tale are burdened by pessimism and fatalism. In his tremendously active life as novelist, journalist, educator and social reformer, Wells worked tirelessly to promote a "happy turning" for human evolution. He sometimes said that he published dark visions of the possible future in order to goad humans to prevent them from playing out, and escape the future Earth described towards the end of The Time Machine, where monstrous crab-like giants have inherited the planet from a human species that split in two and lost any semblance of humanity. Yet he was sometimes unable to roll back a black tide of despair; we see that coming in, unstoppable, in his very last work, Mind At the End of Its Tether.

Back to the question of "consecutive dreams". A dream sequence of this kind may awaken us to the fact that we are living more than one life, in the multiverse.
      For Wells' white-faced solicitor, this means serial dreams that carry him forward, night by night, in the events of a life being lived in another time and place. Time seems to run differently in Liverpool and the future Capri. For four nights, he does not remember dreaming of Capri, but when he returns it seems that months have elapsed since he was last there. In a few hours of sleep in his regular body, it seems that he can live days, possibly weeks, in his second body. Otherwise, time in the dream Capri moves as it does in Liverpool, linear and unidirectional. It's worth noting that in Capri, Wells' character does not remember his life in Liverpool, though in England, he can think of little else.

In my own dream life, as in the dream lives that others share with me, we may not only have "consecutive" or serial dreams, but may enjoy much more room for maneuver. In "consecutive" dreams, we may have the experience of returning, again and again, to a life being lived somewhere else. We may find, like Wells' dream traveler, that events in that second life have moved along since our previous dream visit. The second life may be remote from the present one, for example, in a past or future historical period, or in a different world altogether.
     Or the second life may be quite similar to the current one. It may be a life, for example, in which events are playing out as if we had made a different choice and are now living with a different partner, or living in a different country, or doing different work. Such dreams can give us first-hand, experiential knowledge of how we may be living parallel lives in parallel universes, which leading physicists say is likely bit can't demonstrate as lived experience. While you are doing what you are doing today, a second self is still living with the partner you left, in the old place, and doing - for good or bad - what you might be doing under those circumstances.
     We are all time travelers and interdimensional voyagers in our dreams. We travel to past and future, as well as to parallel worlds, and it is likely that we do this on any night of the week, even if we fail to remember our dream travels. It may be that, while our body here is asleep, a second - or a fortieth - self in another time or another world wakes up, with memories of our present existence, fast fading, when he remembers his dreams.
    Wells' white-faced dream traveler is the captive of an evil future he believes is dead and done and cannot be changed. But conscious dreamers know that the multiverse is more flexible. Any future we can perceive, for starters, is a possible future; the odds on the manifestation of any event can be changed.
    When we wake up to the fact that the only time is Now, we may discover that the events of "past" lives are also far from dead and done. In the mind and body of a personality in another time, we may be able to do some good, suggest some other moves, sow some new ideas - and also return with gifts of knowledge and energy from that other self. I suspect that one of the keys to success in this fascinating arena is for us to retain the memory of both lives (and perhaps a perspective above and beyond both of them) as we step in and out of different worlds.
    I've had some consecutive dreams of being in dark and dangerous places, in parallel realities and in other times, but typically I don't find myself bound to a set course of events in these situations, and usually I retain some memory of who I am in my 21st century world. Nor do I feel oppressed after these adventures, though sometimes I return with the  sense that my presence is still needed, urgently, in a drama unfolding in another world. So I have chosen to go back, of my free will but also with some sense of obligation, to try to fight the good fight or correct things.
    As Active Dreamers, we learn to interact consciously with our counterparts in other times, retaining memory of our current lives and the awareness that Now is always the point of power. That changes everything.