Thursday, May 30, 2019

To converse with stars

He lives in a world lit mostly by fire. The Roman Empire has recently been split into two. Rome, the capital of the West, will soon fall to the Goths. The barbarians are inside the gates of Constantinople, the capital of the East. His home city of Cyrene, in what is now Libya, is under constant attack by marauding tribes; he is often up on the walls, standing sentinel, or training his neighbors and retainers to fight back.

He comes from a noble family that can trace its lineage back to the founders of Sparta. He has the best education of his day; he studied with Hypatia, the great woman philosopher and scientist of Alexandria. In brief seasons of peace, he enjoys riding around his estates, sampling the olive oil and the honey from his bees and the milk from his goats. His great loves are books - in an age where nearly everyone is illiterate - hunting and dreaming. His name is Synesius of Cyrene, and we should know it better, because around 404 he wrote a treatise On Dreams that is (in my opinion) the most helpful book on the practice of dreamwork to appear in the West until very recent times.

In an era when the great oracles of the ancient world are being overthrown, Synesius reminds us that dreams provide us with "a personal oracle" that goes with us everywhere. All we need do is pray for a dream, wash our hands, and set our heads on a pillow. Dreaming matters because it shows us the future, provides creative inspiration, reveals different aspects of who and what we are, offers guidance on all the business of life - and above all, because it "uplifts the soul", raising us from our everyday confusion towards the level of Mind.

As a writer and orator, Synesius reports on how dreams corrected his literary style and gave him ideas for speeches that allowed him to catch the ear of an emperor. He observes, correctly, that recording and telling dreams is great preparation for public speaking, because it gives us training in telling our stories well. Some of that story material is of course extraordinary and challenges us to expand our ways of expression: "It is no mean achievement to pass on to another something of a strange nature that has stirred in one's own soul."

As everyday practice, Synesius urges us to practice dream incubation (asking our dreams for guidance), to study personal markers or "forerunners" in dreams that clue us in to whether those dreams may reveal future events, and above all to journal our experiences. He advises us to keep both a "book of the night" for dreams and a "book of the day" for our observations of signs and symbols in the world around us. By the universal law of sympatheia "all things are signs appearing through all things" and "the sage is one who understands the relationship of the parts of the universe."

For active dreamers, the very best incitement to go dreaming that Synesius offers may be this soaring passage in which he encourages us to embark on an adventure that will take us far beyond the laws of our physical universe:

There is nothing that forbids the sleeper from rising from earth and soaring above eagles, to reach a point above the loftiest spheres themselves. He may look down on the earth from far above, and explore lands that are not visible even from the moon. It is in the power of the dreamer to converse with the stars and to meet the hidden powers of the universe. [my adaptation of the 1930 translation of On Dreams by Augustine Fitzgerald]

In 410, the formidable Patriarch of Alexandria, Theophilus, persuaded Synesius to become bishop of Ptolemais. He was allowed to continue to live openly with his wife, to pursue his love of the poets who celebrated the old gods, and to practice and write about philosophy in the way of Plotinus. In the Hymns he wrote in his last years, we see Synesius making a marriage between the Christian revelation and Neoplatonist metaphysics, in verses that are sometimes very beautiful (but still await adequate translation). So we can call Synesius, at least retrospectively, the Bishop of Dreams. It is heartening to know that the early Church, in a time of violent contention, could make room for a philosopher who taught that we can become citizens of the deeper world by dreaming, and should allow no one to come between us and the sacred source that opens to us in dreams.

Image: Ruins of Ptolemais

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Dreaming to heal our lives

In our dreams, we have access to a personal doctor who makes house calls, provides an impeccable diagnosis of our physical, emotional and spiritual condition, and doesn’t charge a cent. If we are not in touch with our dreams, we are missing out on a tremendous resource for self-healing. Here’s why:

·         The body talks to us in dreams. It shows us what it needs to stay well and previews possible symptoms long before they manifest. If we recognize these messages from the body, and act on them, we may be able to avoid painful and costly medical intervention further down the trail.
·         Dreams are also experiences of the soul, and show us the spiritual sources of wellness and illness. The Iroquois say that dreams reveal the “secret wishes of the soul” – as opposed to the narrow agendas of the ego. If we honor the soul’s purpose, as revealed in dreams, we move towards health and balance. In traditional Iroquois practice, it is the duty of the community to listen to dreams in order to help the dreamer to identify and honor the wishes of the soul.
·         Our dreams provide us with fresh imagery and energy for self-healing.
·         By going back inside our dreams and consciously reshaping our inner dramas, we may be able to help shift the body in the direction of health.
·         Dreams invite us to reclaim vital soul energy lost through pain or grief or addiction. Absence of dream recall is sometimes a symptom of soul loss. Dreams in which we encounter a younger version of ourselves or return again and again to earlier scenes from our lives may be invitations to bring home parts of our energy and identity that went missing.
·         We can bring through dream guidance for others as well as ourselves.
·         Dreams give us a direct line to sacred sources of guidance and healing. In sacred sleep, the ancients not only sought diagnosis and healing images; they sought a direct encounter with the Divine Healer. We can ask for dream healing in the same way.

Here’s how to bring the energy and magic of dreams into daily life, in four easy steps:

1.       Make a date with your dreams

Before you go to sleep, write down an intention for your dreams. Make this a juicy intention – “I would like to be healed” or “I want to meet my soulmate” or simply “I want to have fun in my dreams and remember.” Have pen and paper ready so you can record something whenever you wake up. Write your dream in a journal later, give it a title and see if you can come up with a personal motto or “bumper sticker” distilling the message or quality of the dream.

2.       Share dreams with a partner

Regular dream sharing is wonderful fun, builds heart-centered relationships, brings us fresh perspectives on our issues and helps to nudge us towards taking appropriate action to honor our dreams. You’ll want to begin by creating a safe space where you and your partner will give each other undivided attention. Whoever is sharing a dream should tell it as simply and clearly as possible, giving the dream a title. The partner then asks a few simple questions. Start by asking how the dreamer felt when she first woke up – the first feelings are usually an excellent guide to the general character and urgency of the dream. Ask the dreamer whether she recognizes any of the elements in the dream in waking life, and whether any parts of the dream might possibly be played out in the future.
   You are not going to tell each other what your dreams mean. You don’t want to steal the dreamer’s power, or to lose the energy of the dream in verbal analysis. You can offer helpful, non-intrusive feedback by saying to each other, “If it were my dream, I would think about such-and-such.” Finally, you’ll want to ask the dreamer, “What are you going to do to honor this dream?”

3.       Act on your dreams

Dreams require action! If we do not do something with our dreams in waking life, we miss out on the magic. Real magic consists of bringing something through from a deeper reality into our physical lives, which is why active dreaming is a way of natural magic – but only if we take the necessary action to bring the magic through. Keeping a dream journal and sharing dreams on a regular basis are important ways of honoring dreams and the powers that speak through dreams. Here are some more suggestions:

·         create from a dream: turn the dream into a story or poem. Draw from it, paint from it, turn it into a comic strip
·         take a physical action to celebrate an element in the dream, such as wearing the color that was featured in the dream, traveling to a place from the dream, making a phone call to an old friend who showed up in the dream
·         use an object or create a dream talisman to hold the energy of the dream: A stone or crystal may be a good place to hold the energy of a dream, and return to it.
·         use the dream as a travel advisory: If the dream appears to contain guidance on a future situation, carry it with you as a personal travel advisory. Summarize the dream information on a cue card or hold it in an image you can physically carry.
·         go back into the dream to clarify details, dialogue with a dream character, explore  the larger reality – and have marvelous fun!

4.       Go back inside your dreams

When I started living in rural New York, I dreamed repeatedly of a huge standing bear. Though the bear never menaced me, it made me uneasy because it was several times my size. I realized that I needed to face the bear and find out why it kept appearing in my dreams. I made it my intention to go back inside my dream, and “brave up” to whatever I needed to confront. I stepped back into the dreamspace – as you might step back into a room you had left – and the bear was there, vividly real and tremendous.
    There was nothing cute or “made-up” about this encounter. I had to push myself to approach the bear. When I found the courage to step up to the bear, he embraced me and we became the same size. He showed me we were joined at the heart by something like a thick umbilical, pumping life energy. He told me he would show me what people need in order to be healed. I later discovered that the bear is the great medicine animal in Native American tradition, and that the most powerful healers of the Lakota are the members of the Bear Dreamers Society, composed of those who have been called by the Bear in dreams and visions.  Today, when I lead a healing circle, we call in the spirit bear.
    Our dreams may offer us gifts of power and healing that we can only claim by going back into the dreamspace and moving beyond fear or irresolution. We may need to go back inside a dream to overcome nightmare terrors, to clarify whether the dream is about a literal or symbolic car crash, to talk to someone who appeared in a dream, to reclaim our own lost children, to use a personal image as a portal to multidimensional reality – or simply to have more fun!
   Dream reentry is one of the core techniques that I teach and practice. If you would like to experiment, start by picking a dream that has some real energy for you. It doesn’t matter whether it is a dream from last night or from 20 years ago, as long as it has juice. Get yourself settled in a comfortable, relaxed position in a quiet space and minimize external light. Focus on a specific scene from your dream. Let it become vivid on your mental screen. See if you can let all your senses become engaged, so you can touch it, smell it, hear it, taste it. Ask yourself what you need to know, and what you intend to do inside the dream. And let yourself start flowing back into the dreamspace…
    In my Active Dreaming workshops, we use shamanic drumming - a steady beat on a simple frame drum, typically in the range of four to seven beats per second –to help shift consciousness and facilitate travel into the dreamspace. The steady beat helps to override mental clutter and focus energy and intention on the journey. If you are doing dream reentry at home, you may wish to experiment with a drumming tape or soft music. I have made a recording of shamanic drumming specifically for dream travelers.
    The applications of the dream reentry process for healing are inexhaustible. In this way, for example, we may be able to travel inside the body and help to shift its behaviors in the direction of health. In her wonderful novel for kids of all ages, A Wind in the Door, Madeleine L’Engle describes a journey into a world inside one of the mitochondria of a sick boy; when things are brought into balance inside a particle of a cell, the whole body is healed. As we become active dreamers, we can develop the ability to journey in precisely this way. Our dreams will open the ways.

Illustration: "Serpent Staff in the Sky" by Robert Moss

Monday, May 27, 2019

When the Dead Hold Seances for the Living

I find myself drawn, again and again, into the world of the Victorian spirit hunters, especially that great and eloquent pioneer of psychic research and psychology, Frederic (F.W.H.) Myers, and his famous American friend William James. They joined in a great quest to provide evidence acceptable to science that consciousness can operate outside the body and survives bodily death. They drew to their cause many of the greatest minds of their era, including scientists, physicians, literary giants and a British prime minister.
     There is an amazing moment in one of James's sessions with Leonora Piper, the Boston trance medium James studied and consulted over many years and came to call his "white crow".* She was supposedly communicating on behalf of Richard Hodgson, a great friend of James who had been secretary of the American Society of Psychical Research. Though "tremendously athletic", according to James, Dick Hodgson had died suddenly playing handball, leaving two book projects unfinished - and a half-joking promise that, if he died first, he would communicate from the Other Side and provide evidence of survival.
     James grilled the Hodgson personality over and over, seeking proof positive that it was the dead man talking, through the revelation of personal secrets and codes neither the medium nor the sitter could have known. The demands this approach imposed on Hodgson's memory (assuming it was Hodgson) became ridiculous. Assessing the notes from these long sessions (James conceded) bored him "almost to extinction". 
     But then something will come through that is thrilling even to a skeptical reader more than a century later. Here's what excites me, in the transcript of a "voice-sitting" on May 21, 1906.    Speaking through Mrs Piper, Hodgson tells James that Myers (who died in 1901) is with him:

"Myers and I are also interested in the Society over here. You understand that we have to have a medium on this side while you have a medium on your side, and through the two we communicate with you."

     The "Society" mentioned is the Society for Psychical Research, which was (and is) dedicated to producing evidence of "supernormal" (Myers' phrase) phenomena, including contact between the living and the deceased. Think about the statement made via Mrs. Piper's vocal chords. 
     While there is a Society for Psychical Research on this side, there is a similar Society on the Other Side. They, too, hold seances or sittings with mediums. While James is listening to the voice of his dead friend through a speaker for the dead, Hodgson is apparently listening to the voice of his living friend through a speaker for the living. 
     Was this the ultimate folie de grandeur of a psychic charlatan, promoting her own profession - that of medium - to the status of indispensability on the Other Side? I have a notion that this part of the reading, at least, can be trusted. There are sensitives among us who are more able than others to pick up presences and messages from the Other Side. It's not such a stretch to suppose that in the same way, there are people on the Other Side who are better as inter-world communicators than others, and may even have the ability to call spirits of the living for a session with relatives or colleagues who are eager to talk with them.

*  Having concluded that Mrs Piper's communications were for real, even though the sources could not be determined beyond doubt, William James declared: "If you wish to upset the law that all crows are black, it is enough if you prove that one crow is white. My white crow is Mrs. Piper." [William James on Psychical Research edited by Gardner Murphy and Robert O. Ballou. New YorK: The Viking Press, 1960, 41]

Illustration: "The medium Leonora Piper" in Pearson's magazine, vol. 18 no.2 (1907)

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Mosswood directions

Mosswood directions

Go to the core of the squeaky avocado
to know why the mermaid keeps tripping
down slimy steps on her fish tail.
Sort out the dad who can't smash a piñata
to help the lost child in the woods come home.
Don't listen to talking heads on any wave.
Join the makeover crew who get people ready
to party by the light of the Moon. 

Place your hands over prints of the ancestors
on the cave wall that yields to your pressure 
and lets you into a world behind the world
or releases into your world, through your touch,
beasts with wings, goddesses with hooves,
the obdurate seed of the soft green earth. 

Stand with the great stump that nurses new life
and say from your belly, “I grow back.”
Remember the spirits love you and will keep
changing their skins until you join their embrace.

- May 20, 2019

In my writing retreats we play a version of my Coincidence Card Game in which we swap stories and images as starter dough. giving each other permission to borrow and adapt whatever we want to play with. This little poem is a hybrid of images shared in the first round of the game in my current retreat at Mosswood Hollow.

Photo of Great Stump by RM

Saturday, May 18, 2019

The people beyond the garden gate

Though mostly skeptical of reported sightings of the Little People, I’ve had some personal encounters – wide awake and dreaming in the animate world of nature – that have quelled my inner naysayer. Here’s a brief account of one such episode, when I stepped through a garden gate in Gloucestershire, into the greenwood:

I walk by the redwood - a newcomer to this English landscape,
 and a link to a place of my heart - above the cow pastures, and past an ancient sycamore that leans over a softly bubbling spring. I am drawn to a path that leads up to the kitchen garden on a rise behind the stone manor house. The far end of the garden is aglow with pink and peachy roses, rambling and climbing over trellises, forming a bower.
   Beyond the roses is a gate in the high, old brick wall that separates the garden from the woods beyond. In the arch is a weathered gray door, secured by a simple wooden latch. The woods are bottle green, dark as an inkpot above the top of the door. I open the gate and step through, onto a trail part covered by ground ivy.
  As I walk the path, a breeze picks up, and soon the woods are alive with whispers. The stir is most active beneath and around me, where the wind does not reach. I have the vivid sense of small creatures running and hiding. I am amazed by the thought that they are trying to hide from me. I can't see them, not yet. But I sense them quite distinctly. They are Little Ones.
   There's no need to be afraid, I tell them. I'm not going to hurt you.
   For a moment, the woods seem very still.
   Then a small country voice says, from among the roots of a tree, We thought you were one of the Lords.
   Oh, I don't think so. Who are the Lords? Do you mean the Normans? Or the Courts of the Fairies?
   Sshhhh. We don't talk about Them.
   This leaves me quite uncertain about the identity of the Lords they fear.
   Wait, they tell me. We'll get the Centaur.
   It seems that this creature is the Big Man in the society of the Little Ones. I am tremendously excited by the prospect of meeting a centaur. When he gallops up, I am amazed. He is certainly a Big Man, in this company, with a massive torso, a curling black beard, two stumpy horns - and a phallus like a club. But he is about six inches in length, from his chin to his tail. And his body below the waist is that of a billy goat, not a horse, although he does indeed stand on four legs rather than two.
-----The Goat-man tries to act bold in front of the Little Ones, but is plainly terrified. From his perspective, I am a giant, and of entirely unknown intentions.
-----I can see the whole company more distinctly now. The Little Ones are the size of elm leaves. I have no wish to disturb their society, or make their centaur lose face. I bid them good day, and follow the track deeper into the woods.
-----It does not surprise me that when I stroke the smooth bark of a beech, the tree responds. I absorb a deep knowing from within the beech, and have the impression of a feminine figure whose eyes are leaf-green, without pupil or irises. She instructs me on natural remedies for various bodily complaints; when I check them out later, they work brilliantly.

This is an excerpt from the travel journal I kept while leading a five-day summer adventure in “Reclaiming the Ancient Dreamways” at Hawkwood College in Gloucestershire, at the invitation of Celtic scholar and shaman Caitlin Matthews.

Drawig: "Gate to the Little People" by RM

Tales of the Delog: Those Who Die and Come Back in Tibet

Who knows what happens after death?
    Those who live there, those who have visited, those who have died and come back.
    The Tibetan language has a word for those who have died and come back. The word is delog (“day-loak, with the stress on the first syllable). There is also the term nyin log, for one who dies and returns in one day.
    Delog Dawa Drolma [d. 1941] recorded a detailed account of her travels in “realms of pure appearance” under the guidance of White Tara while her teen body lay seemingly lifeless for five days. These higher realms, like the lower ones, are understood to be “the display of mind”. The pure realms are the display of enlightened awareness, while the bardo state and the six directions of rebirth are “the display of delusion and the projection of mind’s poisons.”
    In the presence of the Death lord Yama Dharmaraja, she sings (with Tara) a song:

            If there is recognition, there is just this – one’s own mind.
            If there is no recognition, there is the great wrathful lord of death 

Sogyal Rinpoche discussed the delog phenomenon in The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. He reported that “In Tibet this was an accepted occurrence, and elaborate methods were devised for detecting whether d´eloks were fraudulent or not”.
    The Tibetan Library of Works and Archives in Dharamsala, India,  houses at least a dozen accounts of delogs
    French anthropologist Françoise Pommaret did pioneer work in this field,  published as  Les revenants de l' au-delà dans le monde Tibetain. She traveled often to the Himalayan highlands and  discovered historical records of ten delogs from the 11th to the 20th century. She interviewed a delog in a village in Nepal and three in Bhutan. Pommaret’s studies of  texts include a marvelously detailed story of a delog whose biography is based on a 17th-century manuscript.
    Pommaret observes that "at first, the delogs may not realize that they are dead, when the spirit separates from the body, leaving it seeming like an animal in the delog’s clothing. As the disembodied spirit roams about the home, the delog may not understand why the rest of the family is acting so strangely and unresponsive to the delog’s efforts at communication."
     A delog named Gling Bza’chos skyid reported that she did not recognize her own body when she saw the family gathered round it in mourning:

When I saw my own bed, there was the cadaver of a big pig covered with my clothing. My husband and my children and all the neighbors of the village arrived and began to cry. They began to prepare for a religious ceremony and I thought, “What are you doing?” But they did not see me and I felt abandoned. I did not think that I was dead.

When another delog met her spiritual guardian (yi dam), he said:

“Don’t you know that you are dead? Don’t show attachment to your body of illusion; lift your spirit towards the essence of things. Come where I will lead you”

Then she met terrifying minions of Yama shouting, “Execute!” but was protected by her yi dam and her mantra.


Lee W. Bailey,  “A ‘Little Death’: The Near-Death Experience and Tibetan Delogs”  in Journal of Near-Death Studies, 19(3) Spring 2001

Delog Drolma, Delog: Journey to realms beyond death trans. Richard Patterson.  Junction City, CA: Padma Publishing, 1995

Françoise Pommaret, Les revenants de l’au-delà dans le monde Tibetain: Sources litteraires et tradition vivante  Paris: Editions du Centre National de le Recherche Scientifique, 1989

Sogyal Rinpoche, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. New York: HarperCollins,1992

Image: Yama Dharmaraja

Encounters with a Higher Self

As we go through a process of spiritual evolution, we may grow to the point where we can fuse our current personality with that a slightly higher self and progress to a relationship with a self on yet a higher level, and so on up the scale. Through successive transformations, we may reach a level where we are able to survey — on a continuing or even constant basis — our relations with many aspects of our multidimensional self, including personalities living in other places and times, without losing our ability to navigate in our present bodies.
    “Take heart. I am with you always. I know you better than you know yourself.” This was the opening of communication with an inner teacher that I recorded on the night before Halloween in 1993.
     "Now we are one but may still talk as two.
     This was the essence of communication from the same inner voice, as I received it on March 13, 1995. Over many months, I had come to know and trust that inner speaker. He had given me a wealth of information I was able to test and verify, and apply in ordinary reality. That night, I had stretched out on my bed after applying myself to several hours of reading and reflection on our relations with inner teachers. What was coming through now was direct knowledge.
     “Your mind on my purpose.
      That was familiar language, the way this inner voice encouraged me to give my full attention to what was coming through. The best communication of this kind, I had learned, comes in a state of relaxed attention, or attentive relaxation. I don’t think of this as channeling, because I am fully conscious throughout, able to ask questions and to engage in a full dialogue when that seems appropriate. On that night, a self that was no stranger gave me some very clear information on how we may ascend to communication and even fusion with success aspects of the Higher Self:
    "When fusion takes place between a focus personality and the Higher Self - that is to say, the control personality on the plane directly above the focus personality -the result is a step forward in personal evolution that will revise the scales of the contacts. The Higher Self now becomes an entity on a higher level than before.
    "This progression has taken humans from the conditions of the group soul — comparable to animals or even insects — to higher individuation. It can take the species as a whole to a new plane. Indeed, from this point of view, you are attending the emergence of a new species.Your physical equipment imposes limitations on both consciousness and memory. The three-tiered brain joins you to the crocodile and the horse as well as the emerging human. New structures in the brain are being evolved. Rising on the planes brings a process of physiological change — in the metabolism, in the composition and replacement of cells, and, naturally, in the chemistry and electrical engineering of the brain.
     "Now we are one but may still talk as two. Beyond us, a higher, clearer, purer intelligence is seeking to manifest and contact you as you rise on the planes."
       This came from an inner voice of the kind we come to know and trust. As I recorded hundreds of pages of communications from this source over the years, I reassured myself that if I was going crazy, I was in good company. Socrates knew such a voice, and Plutarch wrote an essay about it. The truest guide is no stranger. As Rumi put it: “The one who knows everything is with you now, closer than your jugular vein.”

Text adapted from "The Double on the Balcony", chapter 31 of The Boy Who Died and Came Back: Adventures of a DreamArchaeologist in the Multiverse by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library.

My second shadow

3:00 a.m. 

A malleable time, when I am often wandering between the worlds. As I walk into a neighborhood park, my shadow walks before me. A second shadow walks right behind. Who is there? I turn, and recognize the second shadow is also my own. 
    A deliciously shiverish moment, especially since I had been thinking about Egyptian forms of the the double and the multiple self.   
    I look up at the moon, and the street lamp behind me, and my rational mind concludes that their twin effect produced my twin shadows. Still, I wonder where my energy double may have been traveling in the borderlands tonight.

photo by RM

Monday, May 13, 2019

Liminal Complaints, the Hag and the Goddess

I'm fourteen years old and I've never been kissed. In the middle of the night, I feel a presence in my room. It's a woman, and she's coming towards me. She's little more than a dark cloud to begin with, but when she reaches my bed she is fully defined. She is a hideous, black-skinned hag, with multiple arms. Jouncing against her withered dugs is a necklace composed of rotting human heads.
     I want to flee from this apparition, but I can't move. My body is completely paralyzed, except for my eyes, which are taking in everything. 

The memory of this episode came flooding back while I was reading a lucid and helpful book on Sleep Paralysis by Ryan Hurd, Ryan writes from first-hand experience, and he makes a careful study of the varying explanations for this phenomenon, in which the sufferer lies dormant, unable to move, while ghosts and demons may appear to menace him, pressing down on his chest.  This condition is by no means unusual. At least half the population are estimated to have suffered from sleep paralysis at some point in their lives.

Ryan identifies high-risk communities (workers on night shift, insomniacs, the jet-lagged, college kids) . He offers clear, commonsensical guidance on how to minimize your risk of finding yourself in this state, basically: keep regular hours, get enough sleep, stay grounded, don’t forget to breathe. I confess that some of this was lost on me since I have never kept regular hours, fly constantly, sleep in two or three short bursts in a 24-hour cycle, and have been accused of having “no body clock whatsoever”.

We are coming to the most exciting part of Ryan’s book, in which he distinguishes himself from much of the literature by asking: What if sleep paralysis is not a curse, but an opportunity? What if this state is “a gateway for lucid dreaming”, even a spiritual initiation? What if the demon or the night hag is actually a guide who can take us on an amazing astral journey if we can go beyond our fear – and stop worrying about the body? Ryan knows that all these things are possible, and more, because he’s been there. So have I, but I’ll come back to that in a moment.

A word about words. “Sleep paralysis” is actually a major misnomer. Why? Because everyone who has experienced this condition knows that they were awake at the time.

It resembles sleep in two respects. First, in the muscular atopia – paralysis – which is a benign and indeed necessary state during sleep because it prevents us from acting out our dreams at the expense of the furniture and the family. Second, shapes from dream or nightmare may fill the space. We might add that “sleep paralysis” is most commonly experienced near sleep, coming or going. Still, it is not a state of sleep.

I would like to see us develop the verbal imagination to call it something more exact. If we are going to focus on the physiology, we could speak of muscular dyschrony, which would be to say that the muscles are out of kilter with time. A better term for the larger phenomenon would be liminal paralysis, which would feature its identity at a threshold state, on the border (for example) of being in and out of the body.

Let’s return to Ryan Hurd’s proposition – which will be shocking to many – that we can learn to love what I will now call liminal paralysis.

My terrified fourteen-year-old self can attest to this. His experience with the night hag did not end with the scene above. When she approached his bed and mounted him, he discovered that not every part of his body below the eyes was paralyzed. His story continues:
The black hag is on my bed, stamping on my chest. She lowers herself on her haunches. Despite my disgust, I am erect and now she is riding me. Her teeth are like daggers. My chest is spattered by blood and foulness from the rotting heads.
     There is nothing for me to do but stay with this. I tell myself I will survive.
      At last, the act is done.
     Satisfied, the nightmare hag transforms into a beautiful young woman. She smells like jasmine, like sandalwood. She takes me by the hand to a forest shrine. I forget about the body I have left frozen in the wood.
      She tells me, I am Time, and I give you power to step in and out of time. You can call me Kali Ma.
      When I return, I am different. 

In the days that follow, I write a cycle of poems that I title "Creatures of Kali". More than half a century later, I remember the first stanza of my adolescent verse:

In the darkness, a dark woman comes to me
softly, as the ticking of a clock.
I, in panic, cry out, "Go! I have no head for horror!"

But she smiles and wraps her four black arms around me
beating her bleeding necklace of skulls around my neck
and holds me captive through the night.

If we are willing to face our night terrors, we may find that the alien in the room is what is truly most alien to us, our own greater power. If we can endure the night hag, we may earn an encounter with the Goddess.
The book discussed is Ryan Hurd, Sleep Paralysis: A Guide to Hypnagogic Visions and Visitors of the Night (Hye

Sunday, May 12, 2019

My little dog guides me to Sirius

This is a story about everyday practice, the kind of practice essential for active dreamers. It involves the importance of keeping a journal and of going back into old journals and seeing what "old" dream reports may tell us about what we need to know now. It involves precognition. It concerns how dreams rehearse us for death, in this case the death of a beloved animal companion. Most important, it reminds us that dogs love us no matter what, in every world.
    I reopened a travel journal I was keeping in 2012. I regretted that I had failed to transcribe many of the reports, since my handwriting is almost indecipherable, even to me. Fortunately, the journal contained many sketches, and these helped to guide me to what might be most interesting for me today.
    I smiled at a little drawing I made on March 5, 2012. It shows me following my little dog Pepper through an underground concourse. We are somewhere near Rockefeller Center in Manhattan. There is a sign that reads "Avenue of the Americas", indicating a staircase leading up to Sixth Avenue. This is an area I used to frequent in my earlier life as a bestselling thriller writer. One of my publishers had offices in that area, and I was on NBC's Today show in the studios at 30 Rockefeller Plaza several times.
    In the drawing, I am dressed for wet, blustery weather in hat and long coat. The remarkable thing is that my little dog is trotting ahead of me. He clearly knows where he is going. He seems to have taken the lead and may even be playing the guide.
    I noted in the brief dream report that accompanied the sketch that I was "moved" by the dream that it left me with a sense of "wonder". My feelings stemmed from the contrast between the condition of my miniature Schnauzer in the dream and his situation in regular life. Pepper was very old. His senses were failing. He was nearly blind, could hear very little, and even his sense of smell was attenuated. He had trouble walking and controlling his bowels. Yet in the dream, he is in his prime, and even better than that.
    I wrote these questions in my journal: Who is Pepper in the dream? What are we doing in NYC?
    On the night of the dream, I was in Hawaii, leading a workshop on the Big Island. I wondered when I might next be at Rockefeller Center. I checked my events calendar and saw I was scheduled to lead a weekend workshop at the NY Open Center at the end of June, but the venue was downtown and would not ordinarily bring me to Rockefeller Center.
     I ended my journal report with this motto, or bumper sticker:

Keep your senses in NYC

     Three months later, Pepper died. Then I received an invitation to do an interview for Sirius XM. As I made my way to the radio network offices in Rockefeller Center, I remembered that Pepper had guided me through these passages months before. Confused at a certain point in the underground concourse, I turned the way Pepper had led me. When I entered the right lobby, they gave me a badge at reception.  It read "Sirius Visitor", which delighted me because I have often felt I was dropped on this Earth from a distant star. I drew my own version with Pepper in the headshot. I found this, too, in that old travel journal from 2012.
     Pepper has appeared many times since his death, in my dreams and in those of family members, always in fine form, sometimes clearly acting as a guide and night watchdog. Most recently he led me on a globetrotting expedition across Europe, en route to Benares. The holy city in India (also known as Varanasi) is not in my current travel plans, but Pepper may know something I don't. If I am in doubt which was to turn in an underground concourse, or on any other path, I hope my little dog will be looking out for me. I am glad to know that he is also with me, and those I love, on the roads of the Otherworld.

Notes for practice:
1. Keep a dream journal and review old entries.
2. Pay special attention to dream locations.
3. Recognize that dreams may be rehearsals for coming events, including death.
4. Be prepared to meet guides in many forms.

5. Remember that dogs love you no matter what, in all worlds.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Soul Tree

We can’t lose our way if we go to the root of things, to the roots of a tree. By finding the right tree — a tree you know that also knows you — you can reconnect with the soul of nature. You can find grounding for soul in this world, and a shaman’s ladder to travel between the worlds.
I once moved to a place in the country because of a tree, an old white oak behind the house that had survived the lightning. I knew it for a guardian of the land and a wise ancient. Sitting with that tree, I would have impressions of all the seasons it had lived. When I walked the farm road toward it, I would sometimes feel its silent greeting. Sometimes I watched the moon rise over the hills from up in its branches. The oak became a tree of my dreaming and a portal to the ancestors. Rooted deep in American earth, the oak also joined me to the ways of oak-seers of my bloodlines in the Old World, to the druids “grey, wood-nurtured, quiet-eyed" (as Yeats sang) to the sacred oak at Dodona where the Greeks listened for the voice of a god in the creak and rustle of the branches. After the first snows, when the cold stung my eyes, I saw that the oak still hung on to its leaves, longer than any other shedding trees on that land. Oaks hang on.
Spending good time with a tree that welcomes us is a great way to repair and renew our connection with the soul of nature. Trees have personalities, as individuals and as types, and sometimes we find they have a second personality that was not originally arboreal, a spirit from a different kinship group. In front of the farmhouse that I purchased because of the white oak was a great sugar maple. The patterns of the bark around the place where its broad trunk divided made the vivid likeness of an ancient Native shaman with a storm of gray hair and a long, twisted body. I learned later that there are legends in the Native traditions of Northeast America of shamans who have, in one of their soul bodies taken up residence in trees after physical death.

South of the farmhouse was an elderly apple tree that no longer gave fruit but still put out a few leaves in the spring time, and that let a few branches fall, which I burned in the hearth of the family room. The sweetness of apple, through pine and spruce and hickory, provided a kind of olfactory portal, and I would slip into conscious dreaming of ancestors for whom the apple branch was the passport between the worlds. North of the house was another great old tree, a shagbark hickory, that shed limbs as well as leaves profusely, as the deer sheds its antlers. I would often find antlers in the hickory hollow, dropped by bucks in the great herds of red-tailed deer that made their home in our woods, from which hunters were banned.
What trees call to you on country walks or from memory or dream? Any tree may be your soul tree, and it may also be your sole tree, the One Tree through which the three worlds of the shaman’s cosmos are joined, and which may become your ladder between them.

Text adapted from Dreaming the Soul Back Home by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library.

Art: "World Tree" by Annick Bougerolle