Thursday, August 22, 2019

Unwritten story

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

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Soul sleep and wild goatfish dreams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Walking Dead on Wall Street

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

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

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

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Check Your Inner Soundtrack

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

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

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Dream Growing in Auschwitz

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

When you're losing teeth in a dream

I would love the Tooth Fairy to give me a dollar, or even a nickel, for every dream of problems with teeth that I've heard over the years. When I opened this theme for discussion in one group of dreamers, the first two comments reflected two radically different ways of looking at a dream of losing teeth. Both are valid.
     One dreamer said that when she dreams of loose teeth that may fall out, she thinks about the need to express herself carefully. This is a personal association that certainly speaks to me. Another dreamer reported that on her mother's side of the family, it's strongly believed that if you dream a tooth falls out, this means that someone connected with the family is going to die.
     The belief that losing a tooth means illness or death in the family has been shared by many cultures and codified in their dream books. We can trace this from the New Kingdom Dream Book of ancient Egypt through Artemidorus, the 2nd century Greek author of The Interpretation of Dreams (whose title was borrowed by Freud) on through the dream books that are bestsellers in the Islamic world today.
     Dream books like those of Artemidorus and Ibn Sirin not only say that a lost tooth means that someone close to you will die; they predict who that will be, based on which tooth is lost and its "status" in the "house of the mouth".
     If you have been raised in a belief system like this, it's likely not only that you will interpret a dream according to it, but that the actual content of your dreams will be shaped by those beliefs. So we get what anthropologists call a "culture-pattern" dream. You dream that a molar falls out because that's what your dream producers - following the agreed vocabulary of images - give you to let you know that an older member of the family will pass on.
    Back to the present. As always, while recognizing the apparent universality of the dream of losing teeth, we want to be alert to the specific details of a dream with this theme, the dreamer's feelings, and the spontaneous personal associations that arise. If you tell me a dream of losing teeth in a general way, I'm likely to do two things pretty quickly: (1) inquire when you last went to the dentist and (2) explore with you whether there are things you need to spit out - by expressing yourself, or perhaps by purging, or both.
    But I'll also consider lots of other things that may be involved in losing teeth, literally and metaphorically. For example:
- Teeth are tools and weapons and power in the animal kingdom. If I am losing teeth, am I at risk of losing my power, which could mean my financial resources, my fighting ability or my sexual potency?
- Am I aging, which could mean maturing (we lose our teeth) or just getting older?
- Am I eating right?
- Am I concerned about my appearance (and do I need to be)?
     How you lose your teeth in a dream is worthy of special attention. Sometimes you may find your dream self fussing with a loose tooth until you pull the tooth out. One woman reports that on a number of occasions she found herself fussing with one loose tooth, then another, until she succeeded in pulling all her teeth out. This prompted her to start thinking about where, in waking life, excessive worry over a problem might tend to compound it.
     Common expressions and sayings involving teeth can also give us clues. “You’ve bitten off more than you can chew” might be relevant – especially if you are losing teeth in the dream. A "toothless lion" is a term used for a person who has lost powder. Off and on, I've found myself saying (usually humorously), “You lie in your teeth", which reminds me of the Chinese tradition that if your teeth are falling out in a dream, it’s because you’ve been telling lies.
      There are further variants on the theme. Some dreamers have gum stuck in their teeth, which for me would raise the theme: what is preventing you from expressing yourself? Some dream of being gagged. An especially gruesome version of the gagging theme was a dream in which a woman had something like a horse's bit rammed into her mouth, so violently that some of her teeth were knocked out. The ends of the bar where then tied with straps around her head, very tightly. She was unable to cry out, and felt more of her teeth falling out. The dream suggested a whole structure if repression, maybe dating a long way back through family history. I did not have an exact context for this dreadful dream image until I read (in Richard Flanagan's brilliant and searing novel Gould's Book of Fish) about a vicious device called a "tube gag" that was operated in a very similar way to "teach silence at the price of agony" to convicts in early English and Australian prisons.
    The happiest dream of losing teeth I've ever heard came from a woman who reported that in her dream her teeth were falling out, but each time she lost one, a new one would take its place. "It was like my teeth were moving around on a conveyor belt rather than stuck in my gums." That's exactly how a shark's teeth are routinely shed and replaced. I suggested that, if it were my dream, I'd be glad to know that I have the resilience to get through the process of aging and shedding old stuff, and I wouldn't be scared of showing my teeth when a situation demands that!

Tombstone territory

Teeth may be tombstones but tombstones may also be teeth. On the eve of a visit to the dentist many years ago, I had a rather spooky dream in which I was in a graveyard, looking at a tombstone that was leaning over. I noticed that the tombstone was cracked down the middle. I wanted out of there! After examination at her office the next day, my dentist told me, "Sorry, that molar on the upper right side is cracked. It has to come out.

Drawing by RM.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Maxims of the Hidden Poet

Did you really say that your dreams have nothing to do with reality? Your real problems begin when your reality has nothing to do with dreams.

Instead of trying to interpret dreams according to everyday assumptions, use dreams to interpret the confused messages of everyday life.

You have a poet hidden inside you. In dreams, your poet makes worlds. He is not hiding from you, you have been hiding from him. Let him walk with you in your world and your world will change. You will smell colors. You will hear voices in stones. You will find a universe in a flower. You will meet a goddess at a traffic light..

Coming events cast a shadow before them. You have felt this, some mornings, as you emerge from a dream you may or may not remember. The shadow of a mass event can fall like a mountain, over many. Most days the shadow is softer and more intimate.. As you rub sleep from your eyes, the shadow that falls over you may be cast by your roving dream self, returning to your time with a sun that has not yet risen in your world at its back.

Dreams can be the revenge of the imagination. In ordinary life our imagination may be bound to old stories and crushed by our efforts to fulfill schedules and fit in with other people's expectations. We may have lost the power to visualize anything beyond the surface world, and to find the extraordinary in the ordinary. We may have so lost contact with our Great Imagineer, our inner child, that we reject the magic of making things up.

Dreams can blow a hole in the hard carapace of our self-limiting assumptions through which the moreness of life comes shining through. That opening can be the portal to realms of true imagination where creators, shamans and mystics have always wanted to go.

Everything is waiting for you to wake up. You thought you were dreaming in your sleep, but while your body slept your soul was awake. Right now, as you go about your day, your soul is dozing. Wake up and dream.

Drawing: "Golden Path" by Robert Moss

Saturday, August 10, 2019

A Writer's Way

I read somewhere that William Faulkner was persuaded, late in life to give a writer's work shop at his alma mater, Ole Miss, the University of Mississippi. He turned up and said to packed classroom, "So you want to write." Nods and cries of assent. "Then write," the great novelist told them. And he turned on his heel and went home.

I have often thought that Faulkner got this pretty much right. However, when I consider what works for me, and try to offer some counsel to others, I notice that there is a little more that may be said, although I start pretty much where Faulkner left off.

1. Show Up!. Make time to write something EVERY DAY. What writers do is write.

2. Journal! I am certain, after publishing 25 books, that my journal is the most important book I will ever write, and one of the most important I will ever read. The act of keeping a journal is a workout for the writing muscles. It frees you from inhibitions if you make this your secret book and write in it without concern for consequences and the opinions or others. You'll find that a dream report, an observation of something seen in the street, a snatch of overheard conversation or a quote from another author that sparked something from you will give you starter dough for your own compositions and even a first draft.

3.Read! As much as possible, all over the gamut. Notice which genres call you most strongly. Maybe one or more of them is you natural genre, or maybe it's pure entertainment or a way of escape,though it could prove to be both. Borges, the master of gnomic, gnostic tales of the fantastic and surreal, loved traditional detective stories - and also borrowed from their puzzle forms in some of his fiction. I am creatively triggered in my own writers by authors who tackle themes (in fiction or nonfiction) that have appeal strongly to me, but delivered flawed work.This gives me confidence to enter that field in the hope I can do better.

4. Set a Time Limit (until you are on a roll and simply can't stop). I have a quarter-hour glass,whose blue sand runs out after 15 minutes. I use this often in the approach run to producing a new book.And I actually try to get up from my desk after 15 minutes. This often means stopping in mid-paragraph. Fine.When I return to my text, I don't have to face a blank page.I know exactly where to pick up.

5. Sideline the Editor. Don't judge or evaluate a draft until it's done. And do not let others play editor or critic. 

6. Avoid Feedback Felons. Stay away from anyone who gives you less than positive encouragement or saddles you with wrong or premature expectations or is simply jealous because you are creating and they are not.

7. Keep Your Fingers Walking. Don't agonize over trying to perfect any part of what you are writing until you have sketched out the whole thing.

8. Relax - and Pay Attention. The flow state is one of relaxed attention, or attentive relaxation. You are stretching yourself, and your ability to receive and bring through, without forcing anything on the level of the control freak in the ego. If you're stuck, put on some music, take a shower or a swim - getting in flow with water always helps - take a walk for five unscheduled minutes and see what the world gives you.

9. Gag the Demon of Expectations. You want fame and fortune from this, or at least some respect from your friends? Fine. But don't let your expectations damn your performance. Write for the heck of it, have a good time doing this for its own sake.

10. Put Yourself Where the Big Story Can Grab You. Writing, at its core, is about releasing a story. Never forget that the Big story is hunting you. The whole art of telling it is to keep moving - further and further from the tame and settled lands - until you get deep enough into the bush for the Big story to jump on you. Then everything will be different, and fabulous. Your dreams can take you there.

11. Entertain Your Genius. You may have various writing partners, but the one that matters is the big one, the creative spirit the Romans called the genius. The more you are willing to give yourself to your writing for its own sake, to dare something new, the closer you draw this guiding power and its limitless energy. And that changes everything.

12. If You Must Work to Deadline, Make Sure It's an All-But-Impossible Deadline. Our genius loves us best - and helps us most - when we take on the greatest challenges, and play the game hardest.

Friday, August 9, 2019

The Strand of Imagination

I love playing architect of the imaginal realm. This means helping to design or co-create real places in the realm of true imagination where people can go - in lucid dreaming, shamanic journeys and imaginal exercises - to have adventures in discovery and healing. As a book lover, I especially like traveling and guiding people to various versions of a Secret Library or Magic Bookstore where they may have access to any kind of information or inspiration,and meet master teachers. I invite them to call up the memory of a place like a bookshop or museum where they were excited by the discovery of new ideas and images, and then use that memory as the portal for a visit to a space that will soon expand and deepen into something far beyond memory. Here is my account of what happened when I suggested to a circle of forty literate dreamers at a weekend workshop in Manhattan that we might travel together, fueled and focused by my shamanic drumming, to the iconic Strand bookstore and let it become our doorway to the Imaginal Realm where poets, shamans and mystics have always wanted to go.


We agree to meet at the Strand, the venerable, vast and lively bookstore at the corner of Broadway and East 12th Street in Manhattan. The area used to be called Book Row, but of all the bookshops that flourished here around the time the Strand opened its doors in 1927, this is the sole survivor. It has remained a family business, ownership descending through the progeny of Ben Bass, the founder. In the time when the Strand boasted that it contained eight miles of books, a wag stated that the eight miles of New York worth preserving were inside its walls. The bookstore has grown since; it now boasts no less than 18 miles of books.
    In the year I lived in Manhattan, my arms were often sore from toting big shopping bags of twice-sold tales from the Strand up to my modest apartment in Yorkville. On flying visits to the city since, I have often failed to ration my book-buying at the Strand sufficiently to pass the weight inspection for suitcases at airports. Besides the expected and unexpected treasures in all the cases of old books, the Strand is the place to get a new book at half price. The velocity at which review copies pour into the store makes it hard to believe that many of those reviewers even opened their copies before generating a little extra income.
    The Strand has long been, for me, one of those magic bookshops where the shelf elves produce exactly the right book to guide or redirect a creative intent. When I was writing a chapter of a novella in which W.B.Yeats is at home in his rooms in the Woburn Buildings, off Tavistock Square, circa 1900, my youngest daughter - who did not know about my project - visited the rare book room at the Strand and brought me back a rare prize, a memoir of Yeats by John Masefield in which the English poet evokes beautifully the experience of visiting the Irish poet in that London apartment.
    The Strand has a place in my imaginal geography, as well as my physical rambles. I go there in night dreams, and in wide-awake shamanic journeys to places in the imaginal realm, a world of true imagination beyond the physical (but not the inner) senses where we can access wise teachers and extraordinary places of healing, initiation and higher learning.
     When I was writing about Harriet Tubman, who used her dreams and visions to guide escaping slaves to freedom on the Underground Railroad before the American Civil War, I found myself roaming the Strand in the middle of the night in my astral body, in that wondrously fluid state of consciousness that sleep researchers call hypnagogia and I prefer to call the twilight zone. Down in the basement, I met Harriet Tubman, wearing a hat pulled down over her forehead and a shapeless coat. She showed me that her skills as a tracker and guide owed a great deal to the shamanic ways of the Ashante, her father's people, and especially to the leopard, the favorite animal spirit of West African shamans and shapeshifters. I used the insights I gained in the basement of the Strand that night in my chapter on Tubman in The Secret History of Dreaming.
    I shared this "old" dream with the participants in a shamanic dreaming workshop I led at the New York Open Center back in 2012. There was great excitement when I suggested that all of us could use the Strand as a portal for an adventure in the imaginal realm, with the aim of contacting master teachers or practitioners in whatever fields most interested us. Most people in the workshop knew the Strand.
    I explained that we could use our memories of the physical bookstore in order to enter a space beyond it. We might find that by opening any book, we could enter the world it contained. We might discover that a bookshop in Manhattan could become the gateway to a Secret Library, where all knowledge is accessible.
    When I was sure that everyone had been seized by the intention to explore, and the workshop participants had placed their bodies in comfortable positions for journeying, I used my gee-whiz technology - a single-headed frame drum - to provide fuel and focus for our group adventure. I always journey for myself while drumming for the group; I immediately found myself at the corner of Broadway and 12th. After a cursory look at the sale items in the stalls on the sidewalk, I headed into the store. I noticed a memorial display for Maurice Sendak, and paused to check the prices of recycled review copies of a few novels I had recently purchased: Carlos Ruiz Zafón's The Prisoner of Heaven, Alan Furst's Mission to Paris, Joseph Kanon's Istanbul Passage.
    I took the stairs to the basement and found Graham Greene waiting for me there. I have talked to that grand English novelist and entertainer (or the part of myself that relishes him) before, and he has given me excellent advice on the practice of writing, advice I have not always followed. Greene was a consummate professional, able to sit down and crank out his 750 words a day however many drinks he had shared with a Soviet agent, a whisky priest, or a bevy of filles de joie the night before. I wondered if he would nudge me towards trying my hand again at a tale of intrigue; in a former life, back in the 1980s, I published a series of popular spy novels. Ah, something more interesting. Greene offered me some tips on writing a memoir. I set my intention re-read his own autobiographical works, especially A Sort of Life and Ways of Escape.
    Behind Greene, among the stacks, I saw a dark-haired young fellow in a trenchcoat. Who was that? It gave me a shiver to realize I was looking at a much younger version of myself, the 1980s thriller writer, seen now very much as he appeared on the dust jacket of a couple of my early novels. I did not engage with him directly.
    I went to the right, down book-lined passages, and met other figures, including a magical child with a treasure chest full of stories for children that I might yet write. As I continued drumming, I found myself in a passage where books rose to the ceiling. The passage turned and turned in a spiral until - poof - I came out in a space where the first thing I saw was a spray of black feathers, and the black embroidered hem of a long woman's dress.
    I found myself in the presence of a gloriously over-the-top lady of a certain age, still desirable and very sure of her place in a social and literary world she had made for herself. She was dressed all in black, with a black feather boa and a magnificent dress with plunging decolletage. She gave me her pen name and allowed me a glimpse of her life. Her admirers include American tycoons and European counts; she allows only a very select few to share her intimate favors. There are those in high places who rely on her as a psychic medium; it is her special pleasure to connect people with their past lives. Out of this life, she has written a wildly successful series of romps that blend the metaphysical with the bodice-ripper and the policier.
I was astonished, though not altogether surprised, to realize that I knew this lady writer. At the end of the 1980s, when I had abandoned the commercial path, I found myself held up for a long time at a customs inspection. While I submitted to questions and inspections, I noticed a flamboyant woman in furs breezing past complaint officials at a parallel checkpoint; they whisked her Louis Vuitton bags through, uninspected. The lady in furs turned to me and blew me a kiss. She called to me, "Maybe we'll meet again."
    That was, of course, a dream. When I thought about it at the time, I chuckled, realizing that I had caught a glimpse of my inner Happy Hooker, the part of me that had been willing to put out my work for a price. Here she was again, in a black feather boa. Why?
   Write in my voice, said my Happy Hooker. Write in my name, if you likeYou can still write about the things that matter to you, while you give people even more fun.
    Hmm. I'll need to think about that.
    When I sounded the recall with the drum, our intrepid dream travelers brought back a marvelous set of personal reports, featuring encounters with dead poets and master chefs, with a children's writer and a Neoplatonist philosopher. Wonderful what one can find, in the Strand of imagination.

Art:“Upstairs at the Strand Bookstore” acrylic painting by @jontwingley

The dream diagnosis Dr Freud missed

The most famous of all the dreams Freud analyzed was one of his own, the Irma Dream. In The Interpretation of Dreams he gives a lengthy account of this 1895 dream and his work with it. In the dream, he inspects the mouth of a patient called Irma and discusses her condition with several doctors.
     His work with this dream, by Freud’s own account, led him to invent psychoanalysis. He wanted a “marble tablet” to be placed at the house where he analyzed the Irma Dream, with the following inscription:

IN THIS HOUSE, ON JULY 24th, 1895,

 The tragic irony is that in all his work on this dream, Freud may have missed a health warning that could have saved his life. Dr. José Schavelzon, a cancer surgeon who is also a psychoanalyst has concluded, after careful review of Freud’s personal medical records, that the Irma Dream contained an amazingly exact preview of precise symptoms of the oral cancer that killed Freud 28 years later.
The night before the dream, Freud received a visit from a junior colleague, “Otto”, with whom he was in the habit of sitting up playing tarok (a card game related to Tarot) and smoking cigars. They discussed the case of “Irma”, whom Freud had been treating for hysteria. Freud was irritated when Otto reported, “She’s better, but not quite well.” He spent part of his evening writing up Irma’s case history.
He then dreamed that Irma arrived in a large hall where he was receiving guests. He immediately took her aside and told her. “If you still get pains, it’s really only your fault.” She was pale and puffy, and told Freud she was suffering dreadful pains, especially in her throat: “It’s choking me”. Freud was alarmed, and began to fear he had been missing “some organic trouble” in his approach. He took Irma to a window and peered into her mouth. He had a hard time getting it open because “she showed signs of recalcitrance, like women with artificial dentures.” When he got a good look inside, he found very disturbing symptoms – “a big white patch” inside the mouth on the right side, and also “extensive whitish grey scabs.” Freud gave an oddly specific description of these scabs; they reminded him of “the turbinal bones of the nose.”
He called for a second opinion on his patient. His senior colleague Dr. M. appeared looking pale and clean-shaven, repeated Freud’s examination, and gave a positive prognosis; there was certainly an “infection” but “the toxin will be eliminated.” Another medical colleague, Leopold, was less confident; he found infection had spread to the patient’s left shoulder and that there was “a dull area low down on the left.”
The dream scene became a medical gathering. Freud’s associate Otto was there too. All four doctors – including Freud himself – had no doubt of the origin of the patient’s illness. Otto had given her an injection of “a preparation of propyl, propyis…propionic acid…trimethylamin”. Freud saw the formula for the last chemical printed in heavy type, underscoring its importance. He concluded his dream report: “Injections of that sort ought not to be made so thoughtlessly…And probably the syringe had not been clean.”
In commenting on his dream, Freud began by noting that he had been thinking and writing about his patient the night before. Yet this left the content of dream totally mysterious to him, since his actual patient did not have symptoms anything like the ones that concerned him in the dream. “Constriction of the throat played scarcely any part in her illness. I wondered why I decided upon this choice of symptoms in the dream but could not think of any explanation at the moment.”
Freud wondered whether Irma, in his dream, was actually a stand-in for another patient, who had experiences of choking. Freud’s analysis wandered off through many other associations. When he pondered the names of the chemicals in his dream, he recalled a conversation in which a colleague suggested that trimethylamin might be an element in sexual arousal. This carried him away into “Freudian” thoughts about the probable source of hysteria in sexual frustration.
He wrapped up his interpretation of his Irma dream by declaring that it was a text-book example of wish fulfillment in dreams. He had been jarred the night before by Otto’s suggestion that his patient had not been fully cured. In his dream he got his “revenge” on Otto by establishing that her pains were Otto’s fault, not his own.
In all his discussion of “substitution” – how a dream character may stand in for another person, or several other people – he paused for only a heartbeat to consider the possibility that the real patient might be the dreamer himself. He wondered whether the “scabs” that resembled nasal structures could be a warning to him about the possible effects of his excessive use of cocaine – but moved briskly on from that thought without considering other substances and their possible effects.
Twenty-eight years after the Irma dream, Freud’s oral surgeons were looking at the precise symptoms he had dreamed – in Freud’s own mouth.
Early in 1923, a surgeon performed an excision of a cancerous growth resembling the “big white patch” on the right side of Irma’s mouth “at the right anterior palate.”
In a series of surgeries and treatments over the next fifteen years, Freud’s doctors worked to excise “proliferative papillary leukoplakia” inside his mouth resembling the unusual “scabs” in the 1885 dream. His many surgeries produced further scabs.
     In the Irma dream, the patient had difficulty opening her mouth. After Dr Pichler performed radical surgeries on Freud late in 1923, Freud - like the patient in his dream - had to wear "dentures", actually a removable prosthesis. Because Freud developed lockjaw during his multiple surgeries there was often difficulty inserting the prosthesis. Towards the end of his life, there were times when he “could not open his mouth.” 
     The reference to structures of the nose in the 1895 dream report may have been a preview of Freud's condition after surgery left the nasal cavity visible from the oral cavity.
     What about all the doctors who figure in the Irma dream? Stripped of their pseudonyms, they were medical colleagues who gave Freud differing advice on his smoking habit.  “Dr  M”, who gives a cheerful but wrong prognosis for the patient, was  actually Dr Joseph Breuer, a friend and mentor who was persuaded by Freud - despite misgivings - to drop his opposition to Freud's heavy cigar smoking.
   “Leopold” was a “slow but sure” medical colleague who had cautioned that smoking could contribute to serious diseases.
   “Otto” was Oskar Rie, a friend who shared Freud’s taste for cigars and may have brought him a gift of cigars the night before the dream.
    Whether Freud’s dream doctors represented aspects of himself – or their actual personalities and positions – their role in the dream held up a mirror to the dreamer’s behavior and attitude. Unfortunately, he was able to see in that glass only darkly.
   Freud thought the syringe (the German word also means “squirter”) was a penis and that the cure for the patient's symptoms was sexual intercourse. But a “dirty syringe” could also be a nicotine delivery system - one of the cigars Freud was almost certainly smoking the night before. All the chemicals named in the Irma Dream are found in cigar smoke. Though trimethylamin is not regarded as a carcinogen, when mixed with nitrites in an acidic environment (such as the smoker's mouth) it can be “nitrosated” into a very toxic carcinogen, dimethylnitrosamine (DMNA).
     The evidence suggests that Freud’s dream gave him a rather exact picture of both the origin and the histology of the oral cancer that subjected him to a painful and protracted death. Although Freud became interested in the idea that dreams can contain messages from the body, he missed this one - unlike Jung, who gave up smoking because of a dream.
     An important question for our understanding of the nature of diagnostic dreams is whether the Irma Dream may have contained a warning message from inside Freud’s cellular system, as it was at the time of the dream. In other words, could the Irma dream have been a “tumor marker”? It is possible that a single affected cell could trigger a dream, sending a distress signal out via neighboring cells, or via the endocrine system, that was shaped into a dream by the production company in the brain.
Freud may have paid an enormous penalty for forcing his own dreams to run along narrow-gauge rails of interpretation. Since the bigger story of the Irma Dream has such large resonance for dream interpretation, it seems appropriate that the pseudonym Freud chose for his patient means “universal”.
Somehow this tragic episode has escaped most of the legion of students and biographers of Freud. It suggests that Freud may have paid a terrible price for ignoring both the premonitory and the somatic aspects of dreams, and it offers a cautionary message for all of us as dreamers: let’s remember to check for diagnostic content in dreams.

Adapted from The Secret History of Dreaming by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

The biography of a dream symbol

If you are keeping a dream journal, a great game to play from time to time is to track the evolution of a familiar symbol or theme. 

You've been dreaming of the bear, or the fox, for years; how has your relationship changed? You often dream of running into construction on the road; are you getting through, taking a detour, grinding to a halt, or remembering you can fly? Again and again, you find yourself exploring a dream house that has more rooms or levels than your regular house; can you make a floor plan, marking its changes?

I made it a homeplay assignment for members of one of my active dream circles to come prepared to present the "biography" of a dream symbol.

A man in our group tracked his dream encounters with the bear starting with a scary brush with a giant grizzly many years before, in which some of the tension lifted when he was reminded that "all mammals like to be close to warm bodies." In a later dream, he found himself snuggling with a big black bear in bed, which would have been more enjoyable had the bear not recently been in the trash, so that it stank. In the most recent of his dreams, he was playfully skipping along with his children in the tracks of a friendly bear walking in the snow.

A woman dreamer told us she was going to speak about the "cross-over" theme in her dreams. She did not mean "crossing over" in the sense of the transits of the departed; she meant situations in which she had to cross over an obstacle ranging from a mountain to a busy street. Though the details of the five dreams in which she flagged this theme were richly specific and individual, the common theme emerged in a most interesting way in her narration. 

In the first dream in the sequence, she needs to cross over a man-made mountain with rubber boulders; she manages this easily, even dancing with friends on the top. In a later dream, she has to cross over a golf course set in the side of a steep hill to get to where she wants to be. In the last dream in the series, she must cross over a busy and confusing city street and make a loop through alleys where she begins to lose her way, until three men appear to play helpful guides. We noted a promising transition from needing to deal with a series of challenges or obstacles created by men to men figuring as helpers. This seemed to resonate with major life transitions over the same period.

Running out of road

I came to this circle intending to speak about my evolving visionary relationship with the red fox over many years, though that story could easily fill a whole book. After hearing the "cross-over"sequence, I opted to talk about a different dream theme, which I defined as Running Out of Road.

It had been a recurring dream theme for me, over decades. I'm on a road that becomes progressively more difficult or simply more rustic. In some versions, I run up against construction, a barrier or a brick wall.

 In a recent dream of this kind, the paved road ends and becomes a kind of farm track that in turn peters out. Now I am driving my car cross-country, over rocks and through little streams. Soon I am on an upward slope that is getting steeper and steeper, while the rocks are becoming enormous boulders. My car is doing very well but finally it stops atop a huge boulder on a near-vertical gradient. I get out of the car and inspect the situation. I calculate that my car can make it to the top with just a little help. I need to find one or two people to give a push. This can be managed if I go to a nearby village and ask for help.

I found this dream enlightening. In my work, on many fronts, I had reached a point where I found myself very willing to ask for help and cooperation from others.

I also noticed, exploring this theme, that our dream histories are non-linear. They circle and spiral around certain themes. In the past, my dream self has resolved the challenge of running out of road by getting out of the car and picking it up like a cardboard dummy and carrying it to where he needs to go. On another occasion, confronted by a vertical, seemingly impossible cliff, my dream self was pulled up by an ally above that revealed itself - when he reached the top - as a mountain lion.

We never want to forfeit the rich detail of an individual dream, which may offer specific insight and guidance on multiple levels, relating to the possible future (for example), to the state of our mind and body and relationships and/or to our parallel lives in other times and in alternate worlds. But it's fun to track those repeating and ever transforming personal themes and symbols.

In approaching symbols, we want to remember the very useful distinction Jung made between sign and symbol. A sign stands for something known; a symbol connects us with something we do not yet know. So tracking our symbols becomes an excursion into mystery.

Drawings from Robert Moss journals