Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Thanks giving is for every day

In the indigenous North American way, giving thanks is a practice for every day, not just for an annual holiday. Here is a little of what I learned after I was called in dreams by an ancient woman of power to study the traditions of the Haudenosaunee, or Iroquois.

Orenda is the power that is in everything and beyond everything. It clusters in certain things – in that tree, in that stone, in that person or gathering – and if you are sensitive you will feel its weight and its force.
    People come from another world – in the Iroquoian cosmogony, they call it Earth-in-the-Sky – and the origin and purpose for life here below is to be found in that Sky World. Tosa sasa ni’konren, they say. “Do not let your mind fall” from the memory of that other world where everything is directed and created by the power of thought, and everything lives in the glow of a great Tree of Light.
    The first person on Earth who was anything like a human came from that Sky World, after she fell – or was pushed – through a hole among the roots of its great tree. As she fell, she was caught on the wings of great blue herons, who carried her gently down to a chaos of water. Animals, diving into the black deep, found earth for her, so she could begin to make a world. Turtle offered its great back and First Woman danced a new world into being. Under her feet, a handful of soil became all the lands we live on.
    The memory of Earth-in-the-Sky in no way blurs the knowledge that orenda – which is power, spirit, energy, consciousness all at once – is in everything. In the way of the Onkwehonwe, the Real People (as the Iroquois call themselves) we must remember that our relations with our environment are entirely personal, and require appropriate manners.
    If you want to take something from the Earth, you must ask permission. The hunter asks the spirit of the deer for permission to take its life and wastes nothing from its body. I once watched a Mohawk medicine man gathering healing plants. He started by identifying the elder among a stand of the plants and speaking to this one, seeking permission. He offered a little pinch of native tobacco in return for the stalks he gathered for medicine.
    In this tradition, the best form of prayer is to give thanks for the gifts of life. In the long version of the Iroquois thanksgiving, you thank everything that supports your life, and as you do this you announce that you are talking to family.

I give thanks to my brothers the Thunderers
I give thanks to Grandmother Moon and to Elder Brother Sun

In the Native American way, as Black Elk, the Lakota holy man, said, “the center of the world is wherever you are.” For him, that was Harney Peak. For you, it is wherever you are living or traveling. You may find a special place in your everyday world. It may be just a corner of the garden, or a bench under a tree in the park, or that lake where you walk the dog. The more you go there, and open both your inner and outer senses, the more you will find that orenda has gathered there for you.
     A woman who lives near the shore told me that she starts her day like this: “I go to the ocean in the morning at sunrise and put a hand in the water and say Good morning, thank you, I love you. I feel a response from this. The tide will suddenly surge up a little higher, hugging my feet, which is kind of cold in winter but wonderful in warmer weather. I talk to everything out loud like this.”
     The simple gesture of placing your hand in the sea, or on a tree, or on the earth, and expressing love and gratitude and recognition of the animate world around us is everyday church (as is dreamwork), good for us, and good for all our relations
    It is good to do something every day, in any landscape, to affirm life in all that is around us. This may be especially important on days when the world seems drab and flat and even the eyes of other people in the street look like windows in which the blinds have been drawn down. The Longhouse People (Iroquois) reminded me that the best kind of prayer is to give thanks to all our relations, to everything that supports life, and in doing so to give our support to them. When I lived on a rural property, I began each day by greeting the ancient oak on the dirt road behind the house as the elder of that land.
    These days, it is often enough for me to say to sun and sky, whether on the sidewalk or in the park or by the sea

I give thanks for the morning
I give thanks for the day
I give thanks for the gifts
    and the challenges of this lifetime


For more on indigenous tradition, please read my book Dreamways of the Iroquois. For more on everyday practice, please see my book Sidewalk Oracles: Playing with Signs, Symbols and Synchronicity in Everyday Life.

Monday, November 18, 2019

In the Cave of the Dreaming Bear


Some nights, at the edge of sleep. I picture myself approaching the roots of a great tree – the oak that once called me to a country home, or a beech, or an ash – singing the chorus of the song that was given to me as a key to a place of regeneration and creation.

Praise and serve the Mother
and let her grace unfold
Praise and serve the mother
and reenchant the world

An opening appears for me among the roots, and I go down into the breathing dark of a warm and cozy space. I snuggle with a family of bears. We are family. I am welcome.
    Then I am called into the embrace of a primal form of Earth Mother, and am nourished and loved and replenished.
    I can now go down to a cave deep in the world of the tree. It is light-filled and full of creative tools and toys, especially art supplies. There is a long wooden pointer there. It points unerringly, like a huge compass needle, in the direction I need to take. Sighting along it, or with it, I can see scenes of possible and desirable futures in the outer world.
    I can go from here along paths where other adventures await. I may start following the flow of an underground river to a waterfall, where I can enter a place of the ancestors by going through and under the falls, or leap up over the falls into a different kind of experience.
    I can picture myself rising up through the tree, as through a library from a Borgesian dream, with countless levels filled with bookcases and galleries. I can make it my intention to read in these books and bring back a few pages in the morning.
     I always hope that the pages I’ll bring back will be from books of my own that are not yet written or published in this world, but can be.


I am launching my new online video course.The School of Imaginal Healing, for The Shift Network this week by leading a journey to the Cave of the Dreaming Bear.

Art by Tracy Cunningham

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Let the universe tap you


"Don't ask what you already know," I was once advised by a babalawo, a high divination priest of Ifa, the Yoruba oracle. I think he was correct. We annoy the spirits, and confuse our own ways, by constantly asking questions when the answers are already with us.
    I have many friends who start the day by putting questions to some personal system of divination, from Tarot to tea leaves.  And many more who put a question to their dreams every night.
    I am in favor of seeking guidance from sources beyond the ordinary mind. But I have mixed feelings about asking all these questions, especially if the questions are on the same theme.
    When I put a question to the night, it is most often only, "Show me what I need toknow".
    There are questions that have to be lived, not merely answered. And it is often better to hear the questions the world is putting to us, rather than constantly putting our personal questions to the world. 
    Spontaneous night dreams and the play of synchronicity in everyday life will tell us what we need to know, if we are ready to hear. By attending to dreams, especially dreams we did not ask for and may or may not want, and  to the voices of the Speaking Land (as Aborigines call it) we escape the trap of constantly moving among projections of our wishes and fears. Spontaneous night dreams and synchronicity speak with an objectivity the ordinary mind often lacks.
     We can tap to awaken the spirits, as the reader of Ifa does with his divination tapper. But it is more interesting to let the universe and the spirits tap us.


Image: Opon Ifa, Ifa divination tray

Reincidence and the Triple Goddess


I invented a new word for a run of coincidence: reincidence. While the words "coincidence" and "synchronicity" define a meaningful conjunction of an outer event and an inner sense of significance in a given moment of time, "reincidence" describes a sequence of conjunctions of the same kind, playing out over time. For example, you might dream of a flamingo, or see one on the side of a van, and then it's flamingos all over - on a suburban lawn, on a beer coaster, in the description of staff officers (with red stripes on their pants) in a thriller set in World War II, on a baby blanket.   
     The following sequence, mostly played out in Asheville, North Carolina, shows how reincidence runs:

April 15, 2010 - In Asheville, NC there is a big crowd at Malaprops bookshop for my talk and signing. A woman asks me about the significance of the number 3 in the title of my book The Three"Only" Things. I give her a bit of a lecture about three as the Celtic number, the number of the Trinity and of the Triple Goddess and the Three Fates, ending with the statement, "Three times makes the charm".

April 16, 2010 - I wake from a dream feeling super-charged, with a shimmer of possibility all about me. I have learned to associate this shimmer with the play of numinous forces. In my dream, taking giant steps across a beautiful landscape, I feel that each step I take is being taken in more than one world, and is bringing worlds together. I notice three red haired women walking together up the slope towards me. They move so close together that their bodies appear to be joined, and I notice their heads are all enclosed by a single hood. Am I looking at the Triple Goddess? I have seen them before, going a different way. They look at me with intent interest and I feel a stir of excitement that they are in the field.

April 16, 2010, afternoon -  I sip a glass of wine at a civilized establishment, the beautiful. dog-friendly Battery Park Book Exchange & Champagne Bar, and admire the griffins that guard the entrance of The Grove Arcade across the street. Three women, two of them redheads, the third a blonde, take the next table. In jolly mood, sipping margaritas, they strike up conversation with me and prove to be very interested in dreams. I say to the blonde, "If you were a redhead, I would think that the three of you are manifesting my dream from last night." She replies, "Oh, I'm a natural redhead. I colored my hair just last week for fun. I think I'll go back to red."

April 16, 2010, evening - A cheerful crowd gather for my Synchronicity playshop at Jubilee, a lively community church downtown. I drum for the group, asking them to relax into the rhythm and pull up a dream or memory we can use in a game. My mind turns again to the three redheads of my dream, the many forms of the Triple Goddess and the Three Fates, and the distinctly Celtic quality of all this. Through my stir of images comes the keening of bagpipes. A piper is playing at John of the Wood, the Celtic pub behind Jubilee. The sound of the pipes, skirling over the drumming, is irresistible. When the time comes for us to write on index cards a summary of a dream or memory that came during the drumming, I write: "My ancestors are calling me, reaching through my stir of memories. They want me to honor and celebrate and embody their knowing."

April 17, 2010 - I wake from a dream in which Lady Charlotte Guest, one of the first to translate and make accessible Celtic literature including he Mabinogion, invites me to stay with her at a country house . We discuss how events and opportunities recur in a life or in a day, and how when something recurs three times, we are prompted to pay attention.

Later that spring, in a powerful dream of love and longing, I was presented with a choice of three paths in the greenwoods
.

Photo: Site of a Triple Goddess encounter: The Battery Park Boox Exchange & Champagne Bar, Asheville NC.


Thursday, November 14, 2019

If You Don't Have a Dream, Ask for One from the World

One morning when I woke with no dream recall, I stepped out into the street to walk my dog saying, "I would love the world to give me a dream."
     A man walking his own dog across the street called out to me immediately, "Robert, do you have a moment? I'd like to tell you a dream." He was a neighbor I knew slightly. Our previous conversations were usually about our dogs.
    Of course, I hastened across the street. He was very excited. He had just dreamed that he was riding on a train with a bear, sharing a basket of apples. The train divided and he found himself in a different railroad car. He said, "I was glad I still had the basket of food, but sorry that the bear and I parted ways."
   We had a lively discussion about how the dream might reflect choices he would need to make about his job, and the need not to part company with all that the bear meant to him - healing, play, living a natural life - while earning his meal ticket. He was grateful for our dreamplay, and told me later that it helped him to push for - and arrange - the right job transfer.
    I was grateful that the world had literally given me a dream when I needed one.
    The incident was also an example of the workings of one of the favorite oracles of the ancients. They believed that voices from the deeper reality are heard in a kledon - sounds or speech coming out of silence or the undifferentiated hubbub of everyday life. In my book Sidewalk Oracles I explain how to listen for a kledon as daily practice.
   Whatever your relationship with your night life, when you step out into the day make it your intention to be alert and alive to the dreamlike symbolism of what is going on around you.
   If you have a theme for guidance, carry that with you. Get a statement clear in your mind, "I would like guidance on...." [you fill in the blank].Then be willing to receive the first unusual or unlikely thing that enters your field of perception as a message from the world, a dream delivered on the street.

photo credit: Bear on BART

Tuesday, November 5, 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 – eg “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.
    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.


We will practice these techniques and explore further paths of adventure, creativity and healing in my new online video course for The Shift Network, The School of Imaginal Healing. Classes begin on November 20.

Art by Robert Moss: (1) "Serpent Staff in the Sky" (2) "Dancing with the Bear"