Thursday, May 28, 2020

Brushes with the red fox

When the fox is around, the message for me is always Pay attention. The fox is a liminal animal, and its appearances suggest that we are entering an edgy time. I feel a Trickster energy in play when the fox is about.
     Once, when I was talking about the fox in front of a workshop circle in the Big House at Esalen, a fox popped up behind me, clearly visible to the group through the window. When they started laughing and pointing, I turned around. The fox promptly disappeared. This scene was repeated several times. That fox seemed to enjoy performing for the group while playing hide-and-seek with me. I became quite careful about monitoring the shifting energies of the group that week.
     I pay special attention to the comings and goings of the red fox. In my personal mythology, the red fox connects me to ancestral dramas. In shamanic lucid dreaming, I once tracked a red fox, glimpsed in dreams, to a scene in ancient Britain involving a tragic love affair and a druid sacrifice and the issues these raised in my current life.
     The oldest evidence we have of shamanism in Europe is the remains of a woman of power who was buried inside a crypt of mammoth bones in the wooded Pavlov hills of what is now the Czech Republic. She was interred 30,000 years ago. Her body was painted red, and in her hand was placed the body of a fox,apparently her spirit ally.
     Similar clues to the importance of the fox in early magic come from other parts of Europe. The druid prince dug out of the Lindow Moss in northern England, preserved by the chemical stew of the bog, was found to be wearing a collar of red fox fur.
     As a power animal, fox brings many gifts, of craft and cunning and camouflage. Fox knows when to hide and when to hunt, and how to wait in concealment for the right opportunity.
     There are clues in language to the qualities associated with the fox. To "outfox" someone is to outsmart them. "Foxy" can mean crafty, or sexy, or simply red-haired. "Shenanigan" - an act of mischief - is derived from the old Irish sionnachuighim, meaning "play the fox".The Trickster character of the fox is central to countless folk tales, fables, and children's stories.
      East Asian cultures are uneasy about the fox, and especially about foxy women. In traditional Japanese and Chinese culture, possession by a fox spirit is held to account for many problems, especially in women. In folk tales there are women who are foxes, putting on human disguise to seduce men.
     Here are some verses from a long poem I wrote from a hundred encounters with the red fox, on the roads of two worlds:

From Brushes with the Red Fox

You live on the edges of my life
at the margin of the tame land and the wild
and your appearances are always edgy for me.

You know when to hide and when to hunt.
Men chase you on horseback, with dogs,
yet turn chicken when you turn up unannounced.

You are tricky. I doubt I'll ever be at ease with you.
But you are a determined messenger
and a necessary link to old and sacred things

You call women I care for to reclaim lost soul
and become foxy girls, immune to glass ceilings,
setting their own boundaries, living unbounded life.

- from my collection Here, Everything Is Dreaming

Drawings (c) Robert Moss

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

The Double, the Dream Traveler and Mark Twain's Mysterious Stranger

Mark Twain’s last major work of fiction was born at the site of an ancient Celtic ferry crossing on Lake Lucerne, in the summer of 1897, after the tragic death of his daughter Susy. Writing, as always, was his therapy for grief and disappointment. On the lake, he wrote for nine hours a day, seven days a week. A cluster of drafts emerged that he called “The Chronicles of Young Satan”.  Eleven years later,he was still working on it, off and on. The novella was published posthumously as The Mysterious Stranger.
     On the title page, Mark Twain described it as “Being an Ancient Tale Found in a Jug, and Freely Translated from the Jug.” This was another of his insider’s jokes. In addition to the jesting allusion to booze, the line is echoed by a remark made by the Mysterious Stranger halfway through the story: “One cannot pour the starred and shoreless expanse of the universe into a jug”.
     The Mysterious Stranger is set in a medieval Austrian village in the time of the witch burnings. The title character appears to boys on a wild hilltop as a handsome youth with magical powers, which he first demonstrates by lighting a pipe by pure will. He proceeds to demonstrate rather greater powers, creating miniature people out of clay and destroying them when he is bored with them. He can transport himself and others to distant places – China, the Moon – instantly. He can fold time so that lengthy journeys in other lands occupy only instants in the ordinary environment.
      He can change people’s fates, and demonstrates again and again that the smallest alteration in one of the links of fate can make a radical difference in the outcome. Getting up two minutes later than was in the plan can make the difference between life and death. His interventions (such as ensuring a boy gets up two minutes later than destined) may be anonymous and natural-seeming, or showy (as when he knocks down a whole troupe of witch-hunters at the narrator’s request, breaking a rib in every person).
       He is invisible unless he chooses to be seen. He can easily take possession of chosen subjects, moving over them like “transparent film” before he goes inside. He spins moralizing stories – sometimes illustrated by grand panoramas exhibiting the whole sweep of history, from Cain and Abel on – to prove the idiocy of the “moral sense” in humans. He insists that it is humans who create right and wrong and then most often choose wrong. At the end of the tale, he contends that there is no heaven and hell, no God, no afterlife, no larger meaning – that everything we experience is “only a dream”. In the last words of the story, the narrator (speaking for the author?) agrees.
 This Satan at first identifies himself as an “angel” and says he is the nephew of the more notorious Satan. All angels, he says, are indifferent to humanity. But he is capable of doing humans a good turn – which often proves to be the gift of early death (even by being burned as a witch) in order to avoid lengthy suffering that would otherwise ensue.
     He gives himself a name for the times, Philip Traum, which means Philip Dream. He is an attractive figure. Animals love him. His arrival energizes people. He seems to enjoy playing with humans, but there is an edge of cruelty to his play, like that of a boy digging into an anthill. He presents a very bleak picture of humanity, and its capabilities, insisting that no human ever voluntarily changes his prearranged fate – while hinting an infinite parallel event tracks and outcomes available through the slightest change. His circus tricks, his talking cat (a cornucopia cat called Agnes), and his way of producing vast effects by tiny tinkering in a person’s life are echoed in Bulgakov’s version of the devil in Moscow in The Master and Margarita.
      Playing in and around the novella are themes that have long haunted Mark Twain: the theme of the double, and the separate life of a dream self that travels freely outside the body. He describes “the presence in us of another person, not a slave of ours but…with a character distinctly its own.”  Musing on Jekyll and Hyde again, he describes them as “dual persons in one body, quite distinct in nature and character and presumably each with a conscience of his own.” He speculates in his Notebook that “two persons in a man have no command over each other.” They “do not even know each other and…have never even suspected one another’s existence.”
      He distinguishes the double from another aspect of the self that operates independently from the ordinary personality, and is not confined to the body. “We have a spiritualized self which can detach itself and go wandering off upon affairs of its own.” This is not the double, the “partner in duality.” He notes, “I am not acquainted with my double…but I am acquainted (dimly) with my spiritualized self and I know that it are one, because we have common memory.” This “spiritualized self” is the dream traveler, at home in many worlds.
   “Waking I move slowly; but in my dreams my unhampered spiritualized body flies to the ends of the earth in a millionth of a second. Seems to - and I believe, does....
“I do actually make immense excursions in my spiritualized person. I go into awful dangers...I go to unnamable places, I do unprincipled things; and every vision is vivid, every sensation - physical as well as moral - is real.”

Friday, May 15, 2020

When you rest your head Egyptian style

Lying on my back with my head propped on a second pillow, it is not hard to imagine that my head is supported by the crescent of an ancient weres, an ancient Egyptian headrest. The crescent is supported by a pedestal so my head is raised the height of a couple of pillows above a bed that rests on lion legs. I can see the paws.
    Instantly a scene forms before me an around me, suffused by wonderful soft blue light. I am lying at the edge of a huge pool. The water is aquamarine and luminescent. The pool is contained inside the hall of a temple or palace.
    Very consciously and carefully, I step out of the body lying on the bed. I am naked, strong and buff.  Beautiful women attendants greet me. My first priority, however, is to bathe in the pool. I enter the water and swim laps. I return to my body refreshed. I notice, unlike dreams in which we seem to live the events of weeks or months in a few minutes of tick-tock time, it took me the same time to swim lengths of the dream pool as it would have done in the physical world.

I wonder now whether the Egyptian headrest was designed with the aim of facilitating lucid dreaming, a certain mobility of consciousness between the worlds. Headrests of this kind are still in use in hot countries in African where they may serve to cool the user by lifting the head so that air can circulate freely underneath. In elite Egyptian houses, the headrest may also have served to protect elaborate ladies’ hairdos.
     A little research informs me that the Egyptian headrest was sometimes loaded with figures and designs– a carving of the dwarf warrior god Bes, or of the hippo-crocodile demigoddess Taweret, lion statuettes – as apotropaic defenses, to keep ghouls and ghosties away.
     Is it also possible that the headrest was meant to help facilitate awakening into a dream, including the dream of the afterlife? There are hints in some of the funerary texts. Headrests were buried with the dead and spells were assigned to them. Some of the spells in Coffin Texts, designed to help the deceased make a successful passage into the afterlife, make explicit reference to the headrest and compare it with the sun’s rising in the horizon. Coffin Text 232 reads: “A spell for the headrest. May your head be raised, may your brow be made to live, may you speak for your own body, may you be a god, may you always be a god” (R. O. Faulkner translation).
     In the famous Egyptian Book of the Dead spell 166 states is announced as a “spell for a headrest (to be put under the head of Osiris N.). Doves awake thee from sleep; they alert thee to the horizon. Raise thyself, [for] thou dost triumph over what was done against thee. Ptah has overthrown thy enemies. It has been commanded to act against him who acted against thee. Thou art Horus the son of Hathor, the [fiery] Cobra [of] the [fiery] Cobra group, to whom a head was given after it was cut off. Thy head cannot be taken from thee hereafter; thy head can never be taken from [thee].” (T. G. Allen translation).
     The hieroglyph for wrs (headrest) resembles the hieroglyph ws (awaken) and they may both be related to rswt (dream).

Hieroglyph for wrs, headrest

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Dreaming with footnotes

Where we go in dreams, as in life, has a great deal to do with our desires, our calling and our curiosity. In this time of pandemic, I am spending more time than ever in orgies of reading in the middle of the night, jumping from one partner to another; last night from Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty's study of what we learn from Other People's Myths to Jeffrey Kripal's book on Authors of the Impossible to a biography of Victor Hugo.
      I turned in a round 4:00 a.m., curious to see what might be waiting for my in the twilight state of hypnagogia. I set no agenda. I simply lay on my back, in horizontal meditation, ready to allow images to rise and fall. Here's what I recorded in my journal:

My inner screen is blank. No, that’s not quite true. It is illuminated by a dim light. It is the color of old parchment, quite flat, until a small grey shape appears near the top, It flutters and falls back, stirs a little, rises into the shape of a wing. A butterfly wing, drawn in pencil or with a fine brush. I think of Zhuang Zhou’s butterfly and of how it is depicted in paintings of the sage dreaming the butterfly or the butterfly dreaming the man.

     Count your breaths, I tell myself. Just watch what rises and falls. Notice when you lose count.
     The shape stirs again. Beyond it, still only a silhouette, I see a great bird with spread wings.
     There is the irruption of color. A blonde woman’s large rosy face and blue eyes, peering into mine. Who is she? She is gone before I can identify her.
     I picture myself landing at a European airport, riding to the hotel, wearing a face mask as I check in. This is fairly vivid, but seems like a set of updated memories. It lacks the spontaneity of the butterfly trying to take wing from the brush, or the blonde peeper
     Fifty breaths. I have already stumbled in my count a couple of times, switching from inbreath to outbreath. I have the impression of lots of shadow play, of figures and images flitting by too quickly for me to make an inventory. No big visitation tonight, it seems. No repeat of what unfolded around this time, in this room, ten days ago:

A Woman with a Face Like the Sun

She took form as soon as I lay down and closed my eyes: a tall, statuesque female figure wearing a long shimmering blue robe with a golden nimbus about her head.. She held a long golden staff that rises to head height. It was capped by a pair of birds, possibly doves, that came alive in a glory of fluttering wings.
     I thought of Brigid, and Mary, but did not need to settle on any single name. The Lady’s  face became a golden disc. It shone as bright as any sun except that I could contemplate it without turning away.
     I knew this was an epiphany and felt blessed.

However, I don't think this is the lady who looked in on me just now. Well,the body deserves some industrial rest.
     I roll on my left side ready for sleep.
     My inner screen lights up.
     I see letters and numerals in a broken column, printed on the left side of a page or screen. They look like academic citations, with many abbreviations. References to learned journals and books published by Brill in Leiden.
     There is an Arabic word, helpfully transliterated. Al-ruya. The true dream. And something in the non-Roman characters of another language. Amharic? Maybe this:


hlm, pronounced ḥilimi. Amharic for "dream". (I looked it up later.)
     With this, I have the vision of an elderly king. Dark-skinned, bearded, gaunt, with voluminous robes, a scepter and a high boxy crown. His vestments and his crown seem too big for him, or maybe he has shrunk since her first put them on. He reminds me of photos of Haile Selassie,the last emperor of Ethiopia..
      An inner voice tells me
     The king appears when you are able to step back into the dream

Later, in a sleep dream, I found myself as participant and observer in an exciting thriller plot. The action started to unfold on a pleasant urban street that may have been in Little Venice in London. The dream was so vividly real that I nearly failed to record it on waking. It felt just-so; been there, done that.

On the other hand, my more bookish adventures in hypnagogia have set me research assignments. Why Haile Selassie?  How are dreams approached in Ethiopian culture and how are they represented in Amharic literature? Can I follow that list of citations? What more do I need to learn about رؤيا , the true dream, in Islamic tradition?

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

What's the use of dreaming?

Most human societies until relatively recently have understood that dreaming is important for three reasons above all. First, dreams give us access to sources of wisdom beyond the ordinary mind - to the God or Goddess you can talk to, to the ancestors, to the animate powers of nature, to the greater Self. "It is an age-old fact," declared the great psychologist C.G.Jung in his last major essay, "that God speaks chiefly through dreams and visions." 

Second, dreams show us the future, in ways that can contribute to the well-being and survival of whole communities. They not only rehearse us for events that will happen; they show us possible futures,. If we are able to harvest and clarify the information, and then take appropriate action, we can improve the odds on manifesting a desirable future event, or avoiding an unwanted one.

Third, dreaming is medicine, in several senses. In somatic or prodromic dreams, we are shown what is happening inside the body and symptoms it could develop in the future. So dreams can be a source of vital, even life-saving, diagnosis.

When we do get sick, dreams are a factory of imagery that can help us to get well. Medical science is increasingly receptive to the fact that the body receives images as events, and responds accordingly. Where do we get the images that will persuade the body to adjust in the direction of health? The best images we can use for healing are those delivered by our own dreams. We know they are timely and they are authentic, or own material. The dream image may initially be scary, but I would insist that any image that belongs to us can be developed in the direction of wholeness and healing, if we are prepared to work with it.

Still on the theme of dreams in relation to healing, dreams put us in touch with multiple aspects of ourselves - with the shadow side we may have repressed or denied, with the magical child who may have parted company with us when the world seemed too cold and too cruel, with our animal spirits. Working these connections consciously can help us be stronger, and more. It can lead to soul recovery, which is what happens when we bring home vital parts of our energy and identity that went missing to live in our bodies and our lives. 

Dreaming is an essential human activity, as essential as sex or sleep. If we have lost contact with our dreams, the Iroquois say, we have lost a vital part of our souls. Dreams are important and useful for everyone.

Through our dream radar, we are able to see challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. This is part of our survival kit. Dreams hold up a magic mirror to our everyday attitudes and actions - sometimes in a quite shocking or humorous way - helping us to see ourselves from a higher perspective. In this way (as Dostoyevsky reminded us in Crime and Punishment) the dreams of the night can be a corrective to the delusions of the day.

And then there is the entertainment and refreshment value of dreams, whose gift may simply be a good story or a good laugh. You have access in dreams to a night cinema where the movies are screened  especially for you. You can sometimes step through the screen and become scriptwiter, director and star of your own productions. If you don't remember your dreams, you are missing out on the movies.

Dreaming you can travel without leaving home, not a small thing in the time of pandemic. You can come back with the memories of a delicious vacation. You can rendezvous with friends and loved ones far away, since dreaming is social as well as personal. 

photo by RM

Monday, May 11, 2020

Traveling without leaving home, with dictionary

Reading, like dreaming, is a way of traveling without leaving home. The sense of being far away may be enhanced by reading in a foreign language. Prior to the pandemic, I made it my practice to read fiction in French or Spanish every month or two to scrape the rust off my humble acquaintance with those languages. I read fast, hoping that I would get the meaning of words unfamiliar to me from the context – as you might when riding the Paris Metro or hanging out at a Barcelona tapas bar – and that they would then stick to me by osmosis. 
     My reading style is different now. I am enjoying reading slowly, sifting possible meanings for an arcane term or a burst of patois. I am currently sipping and nibbling my way through Historias de amor, a collection of petite beauties by Adolfo Bioy Casares, my favorite Argentine writer after his close friend and occasional collaborator Jorge Luis Borges. 
     I purchased my copy of this book on the Passeig de Gracià in Barcelona before air travel became a memory of a bygone era. I opened it at random and found myself in the midst of a story titled La obra (“The Work”) listening to the voice of a novelist who oscillates between complete idleness and the terror that he may fail to produce the new work he knows to be the price of immortality. He goes to a beach resort out of season, hoping to write without the distractions of the capital.  He arrives at his cottage “when the last troops of summer people have gone to their redoubts and the afternoons are most beautiful.” He hopes that logs crackling in the hearth and the sea view through his window will give free rein (rienda suelta) to his imagination. He declares, “I am not seeking adventures but favorable conditions for work.”
      With the narrator, we make inventory of every detail of his daily round. When he goes to the grocery store, we are with him as the shopkeeper requires his shy lady customers to call out, one item at a time, what they have come for. When our writer comes upon a beach spa, deserted except for Balmante, its piratical, pipe-smoking owner, we see (and count) the portholes (ojos de buey), the ropes, the canvas, the wicker chairs (sillas de mimbre). I don’t find this wearisome at all, even as I reach for the dictionary. The enunciation of precise details of one scene after another builds a kind of enchantment.
     I see the truth of Bioy's observation elsewhere that "the most intimate charm of an adventure comes to us through giving voice to the everyday circumstances that surround it." (El más íntimo encanto de la aventura nos llega por la enunciación de las circunstancias domésticas que le rodean).
     In “La obra”, we are not on our way to a wildly fantastic event, or even an act of lovemaking, which are often central to Bioy’s plots (tramas). The climactic event is tragic but strangely remote: a fire at a service station that claims the body of the narrator’s beautiful young landlady. They took tea together every afternoon;he admired her and once made her blush. Yet he does not rush over to the scene. He watches from a distance, on a neighbor’s balcony. He joins the townsfolk who have been up all night as they pig out on a whole lechón  (suckling pig) at the market at a crazy hour. A stranger rushes into this surreal scene to report that the son of Balmante, the spa owner, was seen escaping the burning building through a window. We learn a savage story, but only in gusts of hearsay. The son of Balmante attempted to violate the beautiful lady, killed her when she resisted and tried to cover things up by setting the fire. The narrator dreams of her, calcified and in the flesh.
      Later in the day we learn that the son of Balmante went out on a boat and has been lost in a wild sea. On the last page the narrator and Balmante smoke their pipes and drink rum together, contemplating the moods of the ocean. Their own emotions are contained. There is a beautiful last reference to la obra as Balmante gestures towards the shifting sands.
       Making frequent dictionary stops, my progress through “La obra” was as slow as “the interminable railroad adventures” the narrator mentions as he rides his slow train to Mar de Plata. The narrative is admirably clear and crisp, with that patrician air of detachment and bone-dry humor characteristic of Bioy. However, there are many words and expressions that were unfamiliar to me and I did not want to miss any of them. Now I know the Spanish word for tripe (mondongo), something I hope never to eat. I know I want to avoid becoming a baked pigeon (pichón al horno) and that I must find a way to avoid slumping into holgazanería, that state of idling and procrastination that is not unknown to writers.

Friday, May 8, 2020

Dreaming with the animal powers

When shamans go dreaming, characteristically they operate under the protection and guidance of animal guardians. Forging a close relationship with one or more "power animals" is central to developing the arts of shamanic dream travel and tracking. It is invaluable in maintaining healthy boundaries and defending psychic space. A conscious connection with the animal guardians shows us how to follow the natural paths of our energy. A strong working connection with the animal powers brings the ability to shapeshift the energy body and project energy forms that can operate at a distance from the physical body. 

Our ancestors believed that we are born with a connection with a particular totem animal; this was the raison d'être of the clan system. Some Australian Aborigines believe, up to the present day, that when a human is born, its "bush soul" is born in the form of an animal or bird. We may feel that we have a lifelong connection with a certain animal or bird. Others may observe this in our body type, our life styles, our modes of responding to challenges. 

But in the course of a lifetime, we may develop many animal connections. Some of these may stem from our relations with the animals who share our homes and habitats, from the family pets to wild animals encountered in nature and in our travels. Animals we have met in the physical world may reappear in our dreams, as allies and helpers. 

Here are two personal examples, one involving a dog who had shared our home, the other a bird who had shared our habitat: After a black dog I had loved was killed on the road, he appeared again and again as a family protector. His presence, for a time, was all but physical. Driving the Jeep he had loved to ride in, a family member saw him in the rearview mirror and told him firmly to "Sit down!" The dog had died, but he was still very much around, watching over the family he had loved fiercely. After a time, I performed a ceremony to release his spirit. 

After this, he appeared in a different way. A larger intelligence began to work through his form, and I found a black dog - who sometimes walked upright and even drove an automobile - appearing as a guide and bodyguard in my dreams and journeys. He showed me passages into the afterlife. He played guide and escort for me on a powerful and challenging journey that finally resolved a past-life issue that had shadowed my current life in many ways. I believe that, in the year after his death, I was dealing with the individual spirit of the dog I had loved. I feel that in later years, the form of my beloved dog has fused with a larger transpersonal source of guidance, linked to the precinct of Anubis, the "Opener of the Ways". 

On the same land where I lived with my black dog, I had a series of physical encounters with a red-tailed hawk who spoke to me in a language I felt I could understand - if I only spoke hawk. In a spontaneous vision one night, when I was drifting between waking and sleep, the hawk lent me her wings, and I found myself drawn to a cabin in the woods, north of Lake Champlain, where I had the first of a series of life-changing visits with an ancient Iroquois "woman of power." I have written about this at length in my book Dreamways of the Iroquois. The hawk has appeared again and again over the years, to offer confirmation or warning in its flight patterns over the roads of everyday life, and to lend me her wings in dreams and visions.

Animal dreams may be the doorway to developing strong working relations with the animal guardians. These dreams may hold up a mirror to our health or habits. They may show us how we need to feed and attend to our bodies. They may reveal a potential we have not yet developed. They may tell a story about our lives or relationships like one of Aesop's fables. They may be the place of encounter between our dream self and a spiritual ally or guardian. 

Our true spiritual teachers come looking for us in our dreams, and often they come in unexpected forms.The cat in your dreams may be the kitty you remember from childhood, or an aspect of your self that needs to be pampered or walk by night or play hunter, or a guide that has assumed a familiar face.

Drawing: "Calico Tiger" by Robert Moss.  As she approached death, I dreamed that my beloved elderly calico cat had a giant version of herself waiting to receive her on the Other Side. After she died, I saw them fuse and become one.

Monday, May 4, 2020

Put simply

I agree with Einstein that if you cannot explain something clearly, you don't understand it well enough. You may need to use words or formulas that are outside the household vocabulary in order to state exactly what you mean but this does not remove the need to keep it clear and simple and translate those terms when that is possible.

If I want to take you into the mindset of the Hellenic world, I may speak to you of miasma or eudaimonia. If I am taking you into the dreamways of the Iroquoian peoples, you may hear me speak the old word ondinnonk. It first came to me in one of those dreams that set detective assignments; I tracked it to a report preserved in the Jesuit Relations, from a blackrobe missionary writing from Huron country during the bitter winter of 1647-8.
I avoid talking down to people. I decline to shut them out or strut my stuff by using $10 words when smaller denominations will do fine. Using thorny exclusionary jargon to keep people out of important conversation has been one of the black arts of clerisies for as far back as humans have tried to turn knowledge into privilege and power. At the same time, I refuse to dumb things down. I detest how I see this done in a certain type of self-help book. We don't grow by being spoon fed sugary baby food and plastic affirmations. What we most need to know is simple. However, in the midst of adult life, awash with half-digested knowledge from all over, and yet clogged by self-limiting beliefs, we may have to pay a price for the simplicity that is now required.

There are questions that cannot be answered they must be lived. A true teacher will take us to a certain point and leave us, to find our own way, which is likely to be inward and upward. I learned from an inner teacher when I was very young that the essential things we need to know come to us through anamnesis: remembering the knowledge that belonged to us, on the level of nous or spirit, before we came here.

Sometimes poetic speech rather than prose is required because poetry can lift us to a higher state of consciousness, to where we can see a droplet of water or the purple sheen on a raven feather or how a body can change into a tree or a swan as we never saw it before. And how life rhymes. Still, the need is simple: to stir the inner senses, to open the heart and give the spirit wings.

Image: Inspire View, the villa near Bran in Romania where I have been leading retreats for many year. Photo by Ana Maria Stefanescu.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Wrestling a dream report from the Undertoad

Just for fun, here's a note from my journal on what it took to bring home a report from a dream excursion in the early hours today:

To bed after 3 am still fizzing with excitement over all my discoveries in a late night reading binge. I am in bed less than two hours before I shoot up to the surface from a dream I nearly lose because sleep still grips me like a powerful undertow, trying to pull me back down. I also need to go to the bathroom.
    Torn between the call to the bathroom, the tug of sleep, and the fading brilliance of the dream, I choose the dream. I will myself to peck out the details of my dream excursion on my phone, fighting with sleep, eyelids closing after every few words, making endless typos, hauling myself back. In that other world

I am wearing a white terrycloth robe with a dark blue bird, wings spread in flight, over the pocket. It’s just a bathrobe but people think I am a wizard in professional garb.

When I’ve captured the essential scenes, I flop back against the pillows. The bathroom can wait. And it does, until I surface with another dream after another hour, eager to get that down too and see if my earlier efforts were worthwhile. They were. My journal report runs to three typed pages and contains many leads and research and creative assignments. I am energized and delighted, with further first-hand confirmation that in dreams, we can travel without leaving home.
     I reflect on my relationship with the undertow of sleep. I want to call it the Undertoad, a word John Irving gave us in The World According to Garp. Let me be clear that I am not opposed to sleep. I have simply never needed or wanted to conk out and sleep like the dead for six or seven or eight hours at a go as some recommend. All of my life I have been a biophasic or polyphasic sleeper, resting and dreaming in two or more periods within the diurnal cycle,avoiding set routines as far as I can manage. In these lockdown times, when I don't have to get to an airport to catch a plane or start an in-person workshop on time, I am more than ever master of my own cycle. I don't recommend that anyone should try to follow my cycles unless you receive a strong direct calling and your metabolism can sustain it.
     When I have to sleep it may be because my body demands some industrial rest and I listen to my body more often than not. On some occasions I have to lie down  because something or someone in another reality is calling me. Robert, we need you now. When I heed this summons I may find myself back in a continuous life drama that has been unfolding over years in an alternate reality. Sometimes I find myself on assignment, called to help someone who is in trouble on either side of physical death. Often I am called to lead workshops (this was going on again this morning), to play teacher and healer, or commune with colleagues in the scholar city of Anamnesis or in the astral realm of Luna. Again and again, I find the ancestors calling, calling. Ancestors of my bloodlines,and of the lands where I have lived or traveled  and of spiritual lineages connected to mine.
     How much I can bring back from these excursions sometimes depends on how willing I am to wrestle with sleep or routine signals from the soft animal of the body. My ability to satisfy the wishes of the body, and of sleep, and dream, is greatest when I can trip lightly trough the twilight space between awake and sleep, and sleep and awake, and greatest of all when I can sustain continuity of consciousness through all the transitions. But sometimes the transits are sudden and bumpy, like Jake Sully jolting in and out of his glorious blue body in Avatar, or Ed Harris coming up from The Abyss, or David Bowie’s landing in The Man Who Fell to Earth. It’s all good.
    One more time: please do not attempt try to follow my example-and definitely not,my polyphasic relationship with sleep! - unless you find this natural and irresistible. To riff on a saying of the dream shamans of the Daur Mongols, everyone has their own dream road, everyone has their own sky to fly.

Drawing: "The Man Who Fell to Earth" by Robert Moss