Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Serial awakenings and the power of an 8 oz bottle of beer


The last flight of steps down from my top floor apartment would normally scare me. The wooden slats bounce underfoot and seem to be suspended in midair.There is no railing. However,I bounce down happily enough into a large atrium restaurant.
     I have been told they have 8 ounce bottles of beer here that are really powerful. I order one, and a plate of small sausages. I take my seat at a table in the middle of the space, where a server brings me my order. I have been typing my dreams on my phone, as is my custom. There were many active scenes, and I am glad I managed to catch them.
     The beer and sausages are delicious, though each was barely a nip. I think I'll repeat my order. At this moment, I realize I did not write my dreams where I will be able to find them when I go back to my bed. I am now quite lucid. I realize that I came out of some inner dream experience into this outer court - appropriately, it's rather like a food court - and that if I want to save anything before the bouncy steps and the punchy little bottle of beer, I had better get on it.
     I sit up in bed and grab my phone, postponing my bathroom visit. While typing a report in bed, I am still at the table in the dream restaurant. Carefully, I retrace my steps, up the bouncy ones, and then up regular stone or cement staircases to the apartment.
     What was I doing in this apartment, unknown to me in the ordinary world? The last thing I did before leaving was to arrange three divination decks - one at least was a tarot deck - I had designed and drawn atop a waist-high bookcase. I reached through a gauzy curtain to pull down a tall window behind the bookcase in case of rain 
      I remember vaguely doing test readings with my cards with other people,and exploring the city beyond this building. But for now,I am content to go forward with the story that will bring me to the 8 ounce bottle. I open the door of the apartment.It is dark on the landing. I hear a neighbor moving about. "I'm new here," I call. "Do you know where the light is?" She laughs. She doesn't. 
      I go back down the stairs. They are well lit by the time I get down to the bouncy steps. I recall I was going t get something to eat at a restaurant outside this complex, but was diverted by the 8 ounce beers.
      Now I recall a little of the city I started exploring in earlier scenes. 
The streets are full of amazingly decayed and ruined houses. Their pictures would make a marvelous book. Clearly a general disaster overtook the city - war or plague or inundation- yet each house has been ruined in its own way, and carries its own story. Formerly elegant townhouses are solitary islands among the rubble of buildings that fell around them. A once grand palazzo wears the face of a ruined duchess. I will come here again. But first I must finish this report.

The so-called false awakening is a common phenomenon. For many prolific dreamers, it involves the experience of writing something in your journal (or in my case on the phone) only to wake up to find that you were still dreaming when you did that. I would not call my experience from the early hours today a false awakening. Rather, it is as example of serial awakening.
     In a dream I become aware that I was dreaming when I recorded a dream report. I am now able to sustain awareness in both realities, typing my report with my physical fingers while still in the dream restaurant with my beer and sausages. At the same time, I am able to project myself back into earlier scenes in the dream sequence: to laying out the card decks and exploring the ruined city. I am missing a great deal, but I have leads for reentry expeditions..
     I am tickled by the lucidity trigger. The notion of "powerful" 8 ounce bottles of beer was insistent. It came into my mind repeatedly, when I entered the dream restaurant and when I realized I was dreaming. Something to seize and hold. Reality check: I am unlikely to order a half pint of beer in any container. I see that 8 oz cans are available, both of suds I would never touch (like American Budweiser) and of some high-octane craft brews that do pack a punch,with 7 to 10 per cent alcohol content as opposed to the 5 percent average for American beers.
    Perhaps the symbolism of the little bottle is telling me that less may be more and that small portions may be potent. Certainly I enjoyed bringing back small portions of a very active night when my dream self was out and about in many places, and the prompt to float the expression serial awakening. I may need to eat some sausages soon to honor the dream. Their taste is still on my palate: slightly spicy, like merguez.  And no doubt there is beer in my future.

Drawing from RM dream journal, September 29.2020

Monday, September 28, 2020

Those who die and come back


Who knows what happens after death?

Those who live there, those who have visited, those who have died and come back.

The Tibetan language has a word for those who have died and come back. The word is delog (pronounced "day-loak" with the stress on the first syllable). There is also the term nyin log, for one who dies and returns in one day.

Delog Dawa Drolma [d. 1941] recorded a detailed account of her travels in “realms of pure appearance” under the guidance of White Tara while her teenage body lay seemingly lifeless for five days. These higher realms, like the lower ones, are understood to be “the display of mind”. The pure realms are the display of enlightened awareness, while the bardo state and the six directions of rebirth are “the display of delusion and the projection of mind’s poisons.” [x]

In the presence of the Death lord Yama Dharmaraja, she sings (with Tara) a song:

If there is recognition, there is just this – one’s own mind.

If there is no recognition, there is the great wrathful lord of death [xi]

The Tibetan Library of Works and Archives in Dharamsala, India,  houses at least a dozen accounts of delogs.

French anthropologist Francoise Pommaret did pioneer work in this field,  published as  Les revenants de l’au-dela dans le monde Tibetain. She traveled often to the Himalayan highlands and  discovered historical records of ten delogs from the 11th to the 20th century. She interviewed a delog in a village in Nepal and three in Bhutan Pommaret’s studies of  texts include a marvelously detailed story of a delog whose biography is based on a 17th-century manuscript.

Pommaret observes that "at first, the delogs may not realize that they are dead, when the spirit separates from the body, leaving it seeming like an animal in the delog’s clothing. As the disembodied spirit roams about the home, the delog may not understand why the rest of the family is acting so strangely and unresponsive to the delog’s efforts at communication."

A delog named Gling Bza’ chos skyid reported that she did not recognize her own body when she saw the family gathered round it in mourning:


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


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


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


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

I would have found the term delog useful as a boy.When I was three, I was pronounced clinically dead from pneumonia in a Hobart hospital. When I revived, the doctors told my parents, with some embarrassment, "Your boy died and came back". I was again pronounced dead under the surgeon's knife during emergency appendectomy when I was nine. While out of my body, I seemed to live a whole lifetime in another world. I titled the memoir in which I describe these experiences The Boy Who Died and Came Back.



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

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

Art: Bhavachakra depicting the realms of existence within the grip of Death




Thursday, September 24, 2020

Notes for the Road


To find yourself you must lose yourself.
The One you are seeking is not inside you.
You are inside the One.

To be present in every time
you must be fully here, now.
Now is the center of all times.

Here, now, you can step on and off
the trains to past and future
and travel on parallel lines.

To get to a place you do not know
you must go by a way you do not know.
Burn your maps to make beacons.

To wake up, you must dream.
Without dreams, you are a sleepwalker
who could join the ranks of the living dead.

There will be monsters, of course,
dark dwellers at every new threshold.
Without them, how could you be ready to pass?

In dealing with demons, you must learn
to choose the forms of your worst fears
and laugh at your creations.

If you wish to see marvels around you
you must carry marvels within.
A mirror can't show you what you don't bring.

The gates of the Otherworld open
from wherever you are. Don’t think
you have to drink jungle juice with anacondas.

Put your blade away, dragonslayer.
You only conquer the dragon when you raise it
and ride it and turn its energy towards Light.

Turn out the lights if you want to find the Light.
The visible is the skin of the invisible.
In the dark, it is easier to see with inner eyes.

Don’t list the Trickster among your demons.
He is your friend if you expect the unexpected
Everything interesting happens on the boundaries.

If you want to be fully alive, be ready to die.
How about now? You feel the cool breath
of Death on your neck. Give him some foreplay.

To find the One, don't spurn the many
Name only one God, and you’ll always end up with two.
Seek the nameless behind the forest of names.

Make your confessions on the road
not from behind a curtain. The hawk will hear you
and the rabbit, the lily and the stone.

Walk on the mythic edge. Let your life
become a stage for divine events.
Notice what neverending story is playing through you.

Look after your poetic health.
Notice what rhymes in a day, and a life.
Follow the logic of resemblances.

Practice real magic: Follow the passions of your soul
and bring gifts from the Otherworld into this one.
You’ll regret what you left undone –

the fence you wouldn’t jump, the dream you didn’t follow –
more than anything you did when your cool lover
stops licking your neck and takes you in his full embrace.

Photo: Path in Transylvania by RM

This poem appears at the end of my new book Growing Big Dreams


Monday, September 14, 2020

Who was the dreamer?

We travel, in this world and in others, in the direction of our interests and desires, and we see what is around us through our personal lens.

Swedenborg, one of the great astral travelers, observed that this determines our experience of the afterlife. He wrote in Heaven and Hell about how the light of heaven was a consuming and terrible fire to those who wanted to go somewhere else.
This is highly relevant to how we understand what goes on in our dreams. The famous American psychic Edgar Cayce suggested that we need to discern whether a certain dream reflects the needs or wishes of the body, the mind or the spirit.
Our dreams are often excursions, in which we travel beyond the physical body in a subtle vehicle, guided by whatever part of the self is in control.
Let's turn to another of the world's great astral travelers, the Persian mystic philosopher Shahabuddin Suhrawardi, whose followers called him Shaykh al-Ishraq, the Leader of Illumination. He distinguished different levels of dreaming – with corresponding degrees of importance and reliability – according to which aspect of the self is the prime experiencer.
Clear dreams or “free revelation” [kashf] are experiences of soul [ruh] traveling beyond the body, or having clear communication with a visitor. The territory visited may be a separate reality or a situation in the future. “With the eye of the free soul, by the imagination, a person contemplates in dreams the state of things which is yet in the hidden.”
In this condition, the dreamer can have accurate foreknowledge of future events, and true clairvoyance. “After separation from the body, the soul knows even of the small things heard and seen of this world.” In clear dreams, the dreamer becomes a remote viewer.
This is a practice that can be developed in waking states of altered consciousness, or mukashafa. The Prophet Muhammad scouted out the progress of a caravan en route to Mecca in this way. The Caliph Umar, from afar, scouted an ambush that had been laid for his general Sariya (and sent his general a telepathic warning that was received).
The second of Suhrawardi's categories is symbolic dreams or “fancied revelations”. These he defines as dreams in which the lower self [nafs] is dominant. Clear vision is cloaked by the “fancy garments” of appetite and desire. Landscapes traveled in such dreams are “the stages of lust.” Interpretation is required to separate a message from the fancy dress.
Suhrawardi's lowest category is dreams of “pure fancy”. These unfold when “sensual thoughts” take over completely and higher consciousness [ruh] is “veiled from considering the hidden world.”

Then there are the dreams in which we seem to join or rejoin another personality, in another body, in a different reality or a very different version of our present world. I have just been reading the travel reports of a prolific dreamer who has found herself entering the perspective, the life experience and seemingly the bodies of different animals, including a small terrier dog and a very large polar bear.
These experiences seem to me entirely plausible, and possibly quite similar to the dreaming of many of our ancestors, and of indigenous people who remain rooted in the old ways. This dreamer loves animals and lives close to the natural world, so it seems likely that the animal-lover in her, and the part of her that not only identifies with animals but is willing to learn from them, takes charge during these adventures. Typically, she retains dual awareness, of her human self with its current life situation and memories, and of the animal self she joins.

Here's a question to ask when you come back from a dream excursion: who was the dreamer?
Translations of Suhrawardi are from H. Wilberforce (ed. and trans.) A Dervish Textbook ('Awariful-Ma'arif) London: Octagon Press, 1990. For more on Suhrawardi, see The Secret History of Dreaming.
Art: "Guardian of the Kingdoms of God". Persian school, 16th century.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Mark Twain's terrible memories of the future

Great humor often sparkles on the surface of a dark tide of challenge or tragedy. Mark Twain, still America's most beloved humorist, was stricken by many terrible events in his life and that of his family - the loss of a beloved brother and later his favorite daughter, the loss of all his money late in life, forcing him to start over - yet generally managed to come back laughing, and making the rest of us laugh.
    His ability to laugh his way through did not mean numbing himself to tragedy. Sam Clemens (who adopted the pen name Mark Twain) dreamed the death of his younger brother Henry before it took place, in exact detail, and this haunted him for the rest of his life..
     Sam and Henry were set to embark together on the riverboat Pennsylvania, Sam as apprentice pilot, Henry as a  lowly “mud clerk”, given food and sleeping space in return for helping out at places on the river where there were no proper landing sites. The night before they sailed, Sam dreamed  he saw Henry as a corpse, laid out in a metal casket, dressed in one of his older brother’s suits, with a huge bouquet of white roses on his chest and a single red rose at the center.
     Sam woke grief-stricken, convinced this had actually happened and that Henry was laid out in the next room. He could not collect himself, or convince himself that the dream was not “real” until he had walked around outside. He had walked a whole block, he recalled, “before it suddenly flashed on me that there was nothing real about this – it was only a dream.”
     Family members urged him to dismiss his terrible dream; after all, it was “only a dream”. Though the force of his feelings told him something else, Sam agreed to try to put the dream out of his mind.
     The tragedy began to unfold soon after the two young men boarded the Pennsylvania. The pilot of the Pennsylvania, William Brown, was an autocrat with a violent temper with whom Sam was soon scrapping. During the voyage downriver, Sam got into a full-blown fight with him. The captain sided with Sam, and said they would find a new pilot when they got to New Orleans. But a new pilot could not be found and since Sam and Brown could not coexist on the same boat, Sam was transferred to another vessel, leaving Henry on the Pennsylvania, which started the upriver journey fist. Just before they parted company, Sam and Henry discussed how they would act in the event of a riverboat disaster such as a boiler explosion, which was a common occurrence.
      The Pennsylvania’s boiler exploded in a hell of steam and fire, in the way they had discussed.  Badly burned, Henry survived for a few days, to die in Memphis, where the injured were carried. His handsome face was untouched, and the kindly lady volunteers were so moved by his beauty and innocence that they gave him the best casket, a metal box.
     When Sam entered the “dead-room” of the Memphis Exchange on June 21, 1858, he was horrified to see the enactment of his dream: his dead brother laid out in a metal casket in a borrowed suit. Only one element was missing: the floral bouquet. As Sam watched and mourned, a lady came in with a bouquet of white roses with a single red one at the center and laid it on Henry’s chest.
    Mark Twain kept telling and retelling the circumstances of Henry’s death, in his mind and in his writing, for the rest of his life. He was one of the first to join the Society for Psychical Research after it was founded in London in 1882 in the hope that its investigators could help him understand the workings of dream precognition. He could never escape the thought that – had he only known how to use the information from his dream – he might have been able to prevent Henry’s death.

When I described this episode in a lecture, someone asked, "What's the use of dreaming the future if you can't do anything about it?"       
    My response: any future we can foresee, whether in dreams or though intuition or careful analysis, is a possible future. We may be able to change the odds on the manifestation of a future event, reducing the likelihood that something unwanted will happen, or improving our chances of securing a happy outcome.
     Our ability to dream the future is part of our basic survival kit, part of what kept us alive when we were little more than naked apes without good weapons, trying to fend off leathery raptors or saber-toothed tigers. In our Active Dreaming approach, we use these key methods to work with dreams of the future in order to make better choices and shape the future for the better:

1. Run a reality check on all dream material
Ask, of any and all dream material: Is it remotely possible that something going on in this dream could manifest in the future, literally or symbolically (or both)?

2. Practice dream reentry to clarify and expand the available information
If you can get your head back inside the dream, you may be able to get clarity on the when, where, how and who of a possible future event. If you think of a dream as a place you have been, it's not too hard to understand that because you have been to that place, you might be able to go there again. When you succeed in reentering a dream space, you are not confined to your first memories of the dream on waking, which may have been muddled and fragmentary. You can enter other, related scenes and bring back much more data.

3. Make a practical action plan to use your dream guidance
If you now feel sure that your dream revealed a possible future, you want to  to take definite and appropriate action to head off an undesirable future event, or to bring through possible good fortune. The action plan may range from getting a health checkup to being extra cautious at a certain road intersection, to checking up on your financial planner, to sharing dream information with another person to whom it may relate.
    Some cultures teach rituals for containing or taming an unwanted future. I am intrigued by an apotropaic ritual in traditional Iroquoian society, which consisted of play-acting parts of an evil future, foreseen in a dream, in the hope that the partial fulfillment of the dream in the performance would satisfy whatever was at work in the secret order of events, so that the full evil portended by the dream would no longer have to be play out. I have written about this in Dreamways of the Iroquois. Bizarre though it may sound, I have seen this method work.

Back to Mark Twain, and his terrible dream of Henry laid out in a casket, with the bouquet of roses on his chest. Could the methods described above have enabled Sam Clemens to help his brother to escape the "dead room" in Memphis? Of course, we cannot know. But I feel quite certain that Mark Twain would have been willing to give the Active Dreaming methods summarized above a better-than-college try, had he known about them. 
    Had he not allowed his family to talk him into dismissing his dream as "only a dream", careful analysis might have drawn him to think about possible scenarios for death along the river, of which the most likely for someone working on a riverboat, in those days, was a boiler explosion of the kind that caused Henry's death.
    Through dream reentry, Mark Twain might have been able to establish how the death scene came about, and might then have been able to take action by counseling his brother not to travel, separated from him, on the return voyage upriver with the rage-filled pilot.
     Mark Twain paid close attention to dreams and coincidence throughout his life and was keenly interested in improving his practice. In my Secret History of Dreaming, I describe how he returned, in his later fiction, to his regrets that he had not gone ahead and staged a kind of dream theater at home to help his beloved daughter Suzy lift the oppression of dreams in which she was being pursued and eaten by bears, dreams that may have portended her tragic death from illness but could also have been the key to healing had they been fully heard and acted upon.

For more on Mark Twain's dreams and his study of coincidence and what he called "mental telegraphy," please read the chapter titled "Mark Twain's Rhyming Life" in my Secret History of Dreaming, published by New World Library.

Image: Steamboat explosion (in this case the SS Sultana) on the Mississippi River, from Harper's Weekly (1865)

Thursday, September 10, 2020

All poetry comes from flooding

All poetry comes from flooding

They say this in a desert tribe
that values poets above all others
and knows what the Celt in my blood knows.
I hear this as I listen to the waves crash
against the lake shore in a northern land
that does not thirst for water.

I remember lying in a house of darkness
with a stone wheel on my belly
waiting for the words of new songs 
to rise with unstoppable power
bursting the dams of calculation.

I think of the Inuit who flames like candle
and sees through the obvious world
with shaman light, the one who told me
how his people would lie in the big house
in the dark waiting for fresh words to burst

to call the whales and please the Sea Mother.

I think of you, who bring a surge of desire
that must take form beyond our joy
breaking wave upon wave from 

inner islands into a larger world.

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Rilke's angels

He hears the voice in a howling wind on a cliff path above the Adriatic, and it gives him the first line of what becomes the Duino Elegies. 

Wer, wenn ich schriee, hörte mich denn aus der Engel Ordnungen?

Who, among the orders of angels, would hear me if I cried out?

He warns at the end of the first verse that “every angel is terrifying”. He picks up that refrain at the start of the second elegy, where he calls the angels “almost deadly birds of the soul”.  He gives a longing glance at the gentler appearance of the angel in the apocryphal Book of Tobit, as a gentle, very human guide who escorted the boy Tobias along the road 

Where are the days of Tobias,
when one of your most radiant stood at that simple doorway,
 dressed for travel and no longer frightening…?”

The author is Rainer Maria Rilke, who was born in Prague and is recognized as one of the greatest poets in the German language. His imagination was angel-struck, from his early poem about the angel of the sundial at Chartres to his ghost writing for the Angel of Death in the last lines he ever wrote. His angels rarely have much in common with the familiar figures of Jewish and Christian angelology. He told  Witold Hulewicz, his Polish translator, that he was more drawn to the angels of Islam. [2]

Before he arrived at Duino Castle, near Trieste, in 1912 as the guest of the Princess Maria von Thurn und Taxis, Rilke had wandered Andalusia with a Koran and a copy of a French biography of Muhammad in his book bag  He wrote a poem about Muhammad’s summoning.

The 96th sura of the Quran (“Recitation”) corresponds to the night of January 12, 611, when Gabriel first appeared to Muhammad – who was sleeping in a cave in Hira -and ordered him to read. In the hadith Muhammad is roused by a blinding light. When his eyes adjust he is terrified by a radiant figure that spans the whole distance between heaven and earth. The angel lifts him by his hair (he feels no pain) and speaks to him in a voice that fills him with fear. In the name of the creator, the angel hands him a scroll and orders him to read. Muhammad protests that he cannot read.In some versions,the contents of the book enter his heart and three years later, on the orders of the angel, he starts to deliver them to others. 

When Muhammad reads, in Rilke’s elaboration,the angel submits.and bows to him.

The Angel bowed its head
before him, one from thenceforth who had read:
who knew, and carried out, and who decreed.

From the birth of the Duino Elegies in the storm above the Adriatic, it took Rilke ten years to complete all ten, after the trauma of the Great War, in what he called a thunderstorm of the mind. Often, in these lovely, wild and mysterious verses,we fell the aching distance between the human condition and the untouchable beauty of the angelic realm. In a letter to his Polish translator Rilke explained that "the angel of the Elegies is that being that vouches for [our] being able to recognize a higher level of reality in [the realm of the] invisible than in the visible.” 

“You are the bird whose wings came/when I wakened in the night and called.”  This is how Rilke addressed the Guardian Angel (Der Schutzengel) in a poem with that title.

What shall I call you? Look, my lips are lame.
You are the beginning that gushes forth,
I am the slow and fearful Amen
that timidly concludes your beauty.
You have often snatched me out of dark rest
when sleep seemed like a grave to me
and like getting lost and fleeing, -
then you raised me out of heart-darknesses
and tried to hoist me onto all towers
like scarlet flags and bunting.

In the last lines Rilke composed, in the unfinished poem that begins Komm du, du letzter ("Come on you, you last") the poet gives voice to an angel. This time it is Azrael, the Angel of Death. 

As I burned in spirit, I burn in you.
The wood that blazes held back for so long has aged;
now I feed it and burn i
n you. 

Rilke gave us a gentler version of human-angelic interaction in one of the many poems he composed in French. 

From “Vergers”(Orchards)


Reste tranquille, si soudain
l’Ange à sa table se décide:
efface doucement les quelques rides
qui fait la nappe sous ton pain.

Tu offriras ta rude nourriture,
pour qu’il en goûte à son tour,
et qu’il soulève à la lèvre pure
un simple verre de tous les jours.


Stay still, if the Angel
suddenly chooses your table;
gently smooth those few wrinkles
in the cloth beneath your bread.

Then offer him your own rough food
so that he can have his turn to taste,
so that he can raise to that pure lip
a simple, common glass

The hint that an everyday angel may sit down at our table brings shivers of recognition and hope. In these lockdown times, it's good to know we may have visitors who don't need to enter by the door or come masked. Also helpful to have guidance on the correct table manners to observe when the angel calls.


1. Rilke, Duino Elegies II trans. Stephen Mitchell
2. 1925 letter to Witold Hulewicz quoted in 
Karen J. Campbell, “Rilke's Duino Angels and the Angels of Islam” Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics No. 23, Literature and the Sacred (2003) 191-211.
3.  Rilke, "Muhammad's Summoning", translated by Leonard Cottrell. https://dailypoetry.me/rilke/mohammeds-summoning/ 
4. Rilke, "The Guardian Angel" in  in The Book of Images translated by Edward Snow.
5. Adapted from an unsigned translation of “Komm du” published in the Times Literary Supplement in December 1975 accompanying an essay on Rilke by Walter Kaufmann, who is presumed to be the translator.
6. from "Vergers" (Orchards) trans. A. Poulin, Jr,, in Rilke, The Complete French Poems.

Image: Duino Castle,near Trieste, where Rilke composed the first of his Duino Elegies in 1912.