Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Tales of the dream tellers

Last night, in a dream, I gave a lecture on dreaming traditions in India. I quoted the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad and looked up the text after waking:

When he dreams, these worlds are his. Then he seems to become a great king. Then he seems to become a great Brahmin. He seems to enter into the high and low. As a great king takes his people and moves about in his own country just as he wishes, just so this one takes his own senses and moves about in his own body just as he desires.

My main thesis, in my dream lecture, was that your approach to dreams, reality and illusion differs radically according to whether you are thirsty for moksha (liberation) from the world, or  seeking to do as well as you can in the conditions of samsara. The first orientation will send you to the ashram and to dream yoga; the second might send you to the village dream teller and the temple of Lakshmi. The sources I quoted ranged from the Yogavasistha and the Upanishads to folktales and Queen of Dreams, a novel by an (East) Indian-American author, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni.
     I recounted one of my favorite Indian tales about how dreams of the night can help you fulfill your dreams of life in this samsaric world. The story is about dreaming your way to Mr Right. It is sometimes called "The Sketcher of Pictures" but I will call it

The Face of the Dream Lover

The princess (and all women may be princesses, or queens) is dreaming. She dreams of the perfect lover, who satisfies her in every way. The dream streams like silk. It smells like jasmine and honeysuckle.
   She opens her eyes and howls with pain and loss, because although her surroundings are opulent she knows no one like the man of her dreams.
   Her father sees that she is very sad and asks what is wrong. When she tells him it has something to do with a dream, the king summons his wise men to listen to the dream and tell her what it means. They gather in a council chamber, ready to give their interpretations.
    As the princess recounts her dream, a wild man rushes into the room, his hair a white storm about his shoulders. He is a rishi who lives in the woods and cares nothing for the rules of the court. He grabs a piece of paper, makes a quick sketch, and hands it to the girl.
    When she looks at the picture, the princess is stunned. The rishi has captured the very essence of her dream lover.
     Abandoning the conclave of dream interpreters, she runs after the wold man from the woods. When she catches up to him, she begs him to tell her the identity or her dream lover. "Who is he? Where can I find him?" Clearly the rishi knows the man of her dreams.
     Good teachers don't give you everything all at once. The rishi says only, "The map is in your dream." Then he takes off into the woods.
     The princess thinks about it. What does it mean, that a dream contains a map? When she thinks about it some more, she realizes that she was not with her lover among the clouds. She was in a bed in a room in a house in a city in a certain landscape. Though she recognizes none of these places, she has vivid memories of them and feels she would know them again.
     So she sets out on the quest. In an Indian village, they may take hours to tell this part. There will be tigers, of course, and bandits, and deserts and snakes and all manner of perils. There will probably be elephants.
     But let's catch up with the princess at the moment when her quest is almost over, because there on the horizon, after long travels and many ordeals, she sees the city from her dreams. And now she is rushing through those streets the house from her dream, and up the stairs to the bedroom from her dream, where she finds her lover rising from his dream of her.

It sounds like a fairy story, but there are no fairies in it, or any of the gods, demons and others from the rich forests of Hindu mythology. There are only humans, and what humans can do when they learn to make maps from their dreams and have the will and stamina to follow their maps.
    Through the perfume of romance, we receive a lesson in practical romanticism. Do the work in dreamwork. Recognize that dreams require action. Learn - why has it taken you so long? - that a dream is a place. Because you have been there, you can go there again. This can bring you, in this physical world, to place of your dream lover. More often, it will bring you to places in a more spacious universe where you can rejoin the beloved company of your soul, those who love you across time and space, even when you make each other crazy.

Way of the Dream Teller

Last night's dream sent me back to 
Divakaruni's novel. Queen of Dreams is very interesting as the portrayal of mother-daughter relations, in this case in an immigrant (Indian) community in California. Most interesting for me, the mother in the story is a "dream teller" in the old Bengali style. She not only interprets dreams for people, she can dream for them - for example, bringing warnings about the future. Excerpts from her journals are interspersed with the narrative.
     Some of these journal entries describe the dream teller's initiation by an order of female dream specialists in caves in India. One of her teachers retold stories of dreams from mythology and history to inspire students to think about the deeper aspects of dreaming - for example, that if you can remember a big, life-transforming dream, and go back into the space of the dream and take the right action, you can change your life and your world. 

“A dream is a telegram from the hidden world,” the dream teller writes in her journals.

     Queen of Dreams first published in 2004) is a captivating story that makes an ancient Indian tradition of dreaming highly accessible. On one level, this is a story of social and personal transition. A young single mother, Rakhi, is trying to make a life and make art in contemporary Fremont. Her livelihood is threatened when a Starbucks-type chain opens a supercafe across the street from her quaint little tea shop, and the dynamics of the struggle that ensues are told very well – hyped by turning the java-train manager into an ice-blonde witch.
     The heart of the story is Rakhi’s relationship with her mother, and what she learns about her mother’s life as a “dream teller” when she discovers her mother’s journals after she dies in a mysterious car accident. Rakhi knew, as a child, that her mother had special gifts, and was disappointed that she did not inherit them. Her mother’s gift explained why she needed to sleep alone, and why she would drag herself to a public phone to deliver an anonymous but extremely specific warning to a man she did not know after dreaming the details of a murder plot being hatched against him.
    The dream teller’s journals contain a beautiful statement attributed to an ancient text called the Brahit Swapna Sarita, which appears to be the author’s invention. (The literature of India is full of dreams, but I cannot locate this text, or the Swapna Purana also mentioned in the novel).

The dream comes heralding joy.
I welcome the dream.
The dream comes heralding sorrow.
I welcome the dream.
The dream is a mirror showing me my beauty.
I bless the dream.
The dream is a mirror showing me my ugliness.
I bless the dream.
My life is nothing but a dream
From which I will wake into death,
Which is nothing but a dream of life.

    To read her mother’s journals, Rakhi is dependent on translations from archaic Bengali by her unloved, alcoholic father. We learn that the mother was trained by a female order of dream tellers in caves. The instruction included lectures on the history of dreaming. One of the elders tells a story that does not mention the word dream. The students are left to puzzle out the connection. In summary, the story goes like this:

The King, the White Boar and the Transforming Moment

A king who prides himself on his prowess as a hunter goes out in search of game. Finally he sees a white boar, which would be the greatest of prizes. He pursues it deeper and deeper into the forest, his men left far behind. He comes to a clearing where little people in bark clothes are making an offering of something like porridge to a stone god. He finds he is ravenously hungry, and steals the food meant for the god. Fatigue overwhelms him.
     When he wakes from sleep, he finds his horse and trappings are gone. The little people must have stolen them. He is a good tracker. He finds his way home. But at the gates of the palace, the guards bar his way. They do not know him. When he checks his appearance, he finds he has been turned into a beggar in rags. Then he sees a different banner is flying over the castle. There is a different king, a man unknown to him – who has his wife and his child.
    The king-turned-beggar returns to the forest. He cannot find the place of the stone god until he catches sight of the white boar, which leads him again. He makes supplication to the stone god, humbly accepts the porridge given him after the ceremony. He lies down where he tethered his horse before. He can’t sleep, but must, because “he knows that only through a break can he change back to who he was.”  When he wakens, his horse and trappings are there, his men are not far away, he is king again. He now lives prayerfully, and is especially kind to beggars.

Swapping Lives through Transforming Dreams

Elder Jahnavi explains what happened with a diagram. She draws two ovals, one for the waking world and one for the dream world, linked by a connecting tube she calls the gateway. Both ovals revolve; the dream oval very fast, the other very slowly, so that when you come back from a dream you normally find yourself in a scene from regular life. But because the balance was disturbed by the forest sages after the king’s impertinence. The king experienced a transforming dream. Because he remembered it and was able to reenter the same magical space, he was able to shift worlds again through a second transforming dream. The name of the king is Tunga-dhwaja. “Tunga-dhwaja was fortunate in that he remembered, and even more fortunate in that he could reenter the same transforming dream, where he was forgiven. Otherwise he would have been trapped in his new life, and doomed to spend his days as a beggar.”

Divakaruni has played fast and free with a very old story. In the original, the king’s arrogance is that he refuses Prasad (food offering) when cowherd boys invite him to join their Vrata ritual for Satya Narayana under a banyan tree. The Lord himself decides to punish the king. When he returns home, he learns that all his family are dead. He realizes he has incurred divine wrath. He returns to the banyan, makes offering – and his family and property are restored. This simple telling, found online, lacks the dream shift.
    Divakaruni omits to tell us that the ritual that the little people are conducting is one of the most popular vratas in India – the Satya Narayana Puja ritual, which starts by invoking Ganesha and offering him favorite foods and continues with offerings and praise for a beneficent avatar of Vishnu.
    Still, I am intrigued by the idea that if we can remember a dream in which our life changed, and reenter it, we might be ableto put ourelves on a different event track.

Divakaruni gives us this,froma cave tecaher of her secret order of dream tellers:  “Sometimes you will be given a warning in a dream, which you must convey to the person it is meant for, a person whose mind is too thick for the dream spirit to pierce...The dreams that are most important come from another reality…This is the time of the dream spirits.” 

In the Dream of a God

Whether you are seeking nirvana or Mr. Right, in the literature of India we see again and again that dreaming is a way to wake up to the nature of reality and illusion.
     In one Indian cosmology, we live inside the dream of a god. 

Vishnu is dreaming this world. It will last until he leaves the dream and dismisses its cast of characters,who include us. The god with skin the color of rain-filled clouds sleeps and dreams on the great serpent Shesha Naga, who may have five heads, or seven or a hundred.. The serpent drifts on the Ocean of Milk.  While Vishnu sleeps, his mind generates dreams. They are the stuff we and our world are made of.

Markandeya is a human being who is curious about what is real. He tries so hard to see beyond the obvious that one day, without meaning to, he falls out of the mouth of the dreaming god. He now discovers that he has spent his whole life inside the body of the god. Now he's out there, he has a cosmic vision of the structure of the universe; he sees that everything he knew is contained within the body of the dreaming god. But this vision is too much for him; it inspires him with a trembling awe that easily shifts to terror. It's too much for him, even though he is an evolved soul, an adept. So he climbs back through the mouth of Vishnu, back into the world the god dreams. As he resumes his life there Markandeya starts to forget that there is anything outside..

Drawing at top: "The Sketcher of Pictures" by Robert Moss

Monday, January 18, 2021

When we become a dreaming society


I have a dream: that we will again become a society of dreamers. In a dreaming culture, dreams are valued and celebrated. The first business of the day, for most people, is to share dreams – dreams from the night, and dreams of life - and seek to harvest their guidance. The community joins in manifesting the energy and insight of dreams in waking life. In a dreaming culture, nobody says, “It’s only a dream" or “In your dreams, mister.” It is understood that dreams are both wishes (“I have a dream”) and experiences of the soul.

     If dreams were honored throughout our society, our world would be different, and magical. Let me count the ways:

1. Dream Partners. 

Personal relations will be richer, more intimate and creative. There will be less room for pretense and denial. Sharing dreams, we overcome the taboos that prevent us from expressing our real needs and feelings and open ourselves to those of others. 

2. Family life and home entertainment.

“What did you dream?” is the first question asked around the table in a family of dreamers. In our dreaming culture, families everywhere will share dreams and harvest their gifts of story, mutual understanding and healing. Parents will listen to their children’s dreams and help them to confront and overcome nightmare terrors. Best of all, they will learn from their children, because kids are wonderful dreamers. This might be bad for TV ratings but it would bring back the precious arts of storytelling, helping us learn to tell our own story (a gift with almost limitless applications) and to recognize the larger story of our lives. 

3. Dream Healing. 

In our dreaming culture, dream groups will be a vital part of every clinic, hospital and treatment center and doctors will begin their patient interviews by asking about dreams as well as physical symptoms. Health costs will plummet, because when we listen to our dreams, we receive keys to self-healing. Dreams often alert us to possible health problems long before physical symptoms develop; by heeding those messages, we can sometimes avoid manifesting those symptoms. Dreams give us an impeccable nightly readout on our physical, emotional and spiritual health. 

4. The Care of Souls.

As a dreaming culture, we will remember that the causes of disease are spiritual as well as physical. We will use dreams to facilitate soul recovery. In dreams where we encounter a younger version of ourselves, or are drawn back to a scene from childhood, we are brought to recognize a deeper kind of energy loss, that shamans call soul loss. Through trauma or abuse, through addiction or great sadness, we can lose a part of our vital soul energy. So long as it is missing, we are not whole and the gap may be filled by sickness or addiction. Dreams show us what has become of our lost children and when it is timely to call them home. 

5. Dream Incubation. 

In a dreaming culture, we will remember to “sleep on it,” asking dreams for creative guidance on school assignments, work projects, relationships and whatever challenges are looming in waking life. When we seek dream guidance, we must be ready for answers that go beyond our questions, because the dream source is infinitely deeper and wiser than what Yeats called the “daily trivial mind.” 

6. Using Dream Radar. 

Dreaming, we routinely fold time and space and scout far into the future. As a dreaming culture, we will work with dream precognition on a daily basis -- and develop strategies to revise the possible futures foreseen in dreams for the benefit of ourselves and others. 

7. Building Communities. 

When we share dreams with others, we recognize something of ourselves in their experiences. This helps us to move beyond prejudice and build heart-centered communities.

8. The Art of Dying. 

The path of the soul after death, say the Plains Indians, is the same as the path of the soul in dreams -- except that after physical death, we won’t come back to the same body. Dreamwork is a vital tool in helping the dying to prepare for the conditions of the afterlife. 

9. Walking the Path of Soul. 

The greatest gift of dreaming is that it facilitates an encounter between the little self and the big Self. Active Dreaming is a vital form of soul remembering: of reclaiming knowledge that belonged to us, on the levels of soul and spirit, before we entered this life experience. So much of the harm we do to ourselves and others stems from the fact that we have forgotten who we are and what we are meant to become. Dreaming, we remember, and encounter authentic spiritual guides who will help us on our paths.

Top: Dreaming at Kernave, Lithuania,at the hill of the Shaman fromthe Eagle's Nest.(See The Boy Who Died and Came Back for that story) 

Bottom: Gathering of a family of Active Dreamers in the New York Adirondack Mountains

Sunday, January 17, 2021

What is Active Dreaming?


Active Dreaming? The phrase is a provocation, designed to shake us free from the assumption that dreaming is a passive activity.  I am grateful for the gift of spontaneous sleep dreams, the ones we don’t ask for and often don’t want. They hold up a magic mirror in which we can see ourselves as we truly are. They serve as a voice of conscience. They preview challenges and opportunities that lie in our future. Sleep dreams show us what is going on inside the body, diagnose developing complaints before medical symptoms present themselves, and show us what the body needs to stay well. We solve problems in our sleep. And, as the First Peoples of my native Australia teach, our personal dreams may be a passport to the Dreamtime, the larger reality in which we can meet the ancestors and our authentic spiritual teachers.

I work with sleep dreams in all these varieties, and many more, and welcome them to work on me. But Active Dreaming is far more than a method for decoding sleep dreams. While the techniques involved are fresh and original, they are also very ancient. They involve ways of seeing and knowing and healing that were known to our early ancestors, kept them alive on a dangerous planet, and enabled them to communicate with each other and with other forms of life in the speaking land around them.

Active Dreaming is a way of being fully of this world while maintaining constant contact with another world, the world-behind-the-world, where the deeper logic and purpose of our lives are to be found.

Active Dreaming is a discipline, as is yoga or archeology or particle physics. This is to say that there are ascending levels of practice. In any field, the key to mastery is always the same: practice, practice, practice.



First, Active Dreaming is a way of talking and walking our dreams, of bringing energy and guidance from the dreamworld into everyday life. We learn how to create a safe space where we can share dreams of the night and dreams of life with others, receive helpful feedback, and encourage each other to move towards creative and healing action. We discover that each of us can play guide for others, and that by sharing in the right way we claim our voice, grow our power as storytellers and communicators, build stronger friendships and lay foundations for a new kind of community. Above all, we learn to take action to embody the energy and guidance of our dreams in everyday life.

Second, Active Dreaming is a method of shamanic lucid dreaming.  It starts with simple everyday practice and extends to profound group experiences of time travel, soul recovery and the exploration of multidimensional reality. It is founded on the understanding that we don’t need to go to sleep in order to dream. The easiest way to become a conscious or lucid dreamer is to start out lucid and stay that way. As a method of conscious dream navigation, Active Dreaming is not to be confused with approaches that purport to “control” or manipulate dreams; it is utterly misguided to seek to put the control freak in the ego in charge of something immeasurably wiser and deeper than itself.

Third, Active Dreaming is a way of conscious living. This requires us to reclaim our inner child, and the child’s gift of spontaneity, play and imagination. It requires us to claim the power of naming and define our life project. It invites us to discover and follow the natural path of our energies. It calls us to remember and tell and live our bigger story in such a way that it can be heard and received by others. It is about navigating by synchronicity and receiving the chance events and symbolic pop-ups on our daily roads as clues to a deeper order. Beyond this, it is about grasping that the energy we carry and the attitudes we choose have magnetic effect on the world around us, drawing or repelling encounters and circumstances.

To live consciously is to accept the challenge to create, which is to move beyond scripts and bring something new into the world.

This approach is not only for individuals and friends and families, but for communities and for our deeper attunement to the cause of the Earth.  Active dreamers become Speakers for the Earth, and rise to full awareness of the truth of the indigenous wisdom that we must be mindful of the consequences of our actions down to the seventh generation beyond ourselves. Active dream groups can offer a model of intentional community, and can foster a new mode of leadership that empowers each member to claim her voice and play guide to others as they learn to speak and embody their own truth.


Drawings by Robert Moss

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Journal excavation and the magic of hand writing

I find there is magic in writing by hand. I prefer to write with a fountain pen, or in pencil. In the old days I used to carry rather fancy fountain pens.

In a village cafe where I was signing for a catered lunch that was going to be delivered to one of my workshop groups, I signed the bill with a fountain pen.

The man behind me said, "You're a writer!"

"How do you know?"

"Who but a writer uses a fountain pen. What's your name?"

When I told him, he gasped, "Robert Frost? Oh, I'm gonna die!"

"Robert Frost has done that already."

Things have changed. I am far less at risk of being mistaken for Robert Frost because in these times of pandemic you won't find me out and about signing for things. Also,I got lazy about fountain pen maintenance so instead of those fancy ones I use disposable Pilot Varsity pens and just throw them out when they run out of ink or get hopelessly clogged.

The biggest change, however,is that I'm not writing much by hand because my writing has become largely illegible, even to me. So at home, where I have been nearly all the time since March, when I follow my practce of starting the day by wrting dream reports or writing from my dreams, I go to a keyboard and type. I will often do a sketch a little later in the morning.

I was writing by hand every day during my pre-pandemic travels, which had me on the road roughly half the days of the year. I am still in process of transcribing what is in all those travel diaries - and in the big college-ruled five subject notebooks where I used to record my dreams thirty years ago.

When I embark on tne task of transcribing handwritten pages, I frequently find I am digging up real treasure. Here's an example. In a travel journal from six years ago I found a dream report that came alive in glorious color, pulsing with energy and mystery today, as it did them, when I made a sketch from it. This is the transcription, unedited:

January 17, 2015. Walnut Creek, CA


Ready to Paint It Red

I am wandering through an immense and beautiful art museum. In one of the rooms, the ceilings are beyond cathedral height, and as far up as I can see there are enormous paintings in softly glowing pastel hues. I know these images are sacred and they have something to do with ascension towards successive levels of a Higher Self.
    I am carrying an open can of red paint in one hand and a paint brush in the other. The paint is bright crimson, fire engine red. The brush is large enough for a house painter but I think it is the kind an artist would use to cover a wide area very quickly.
    Through an open doorway, I look at a small group of people clustered around a professor who is talking to them about the large framed painting in front of them. This is a special invited group. The picture shows a stone tub, possibly limestone, that looks like it could be filled with water. Hooded figures in white and light-colored robes are around it, evidently waiting for some event.
    In mid-sky, in the picture, there is an arc of light. Figures are moving along this arc in the sky. Some are mounted, some on foot. They appear to be in many sizes. They are golden, and glowing.
    There is something of the quality of the Journey of the Magi about this painting, but the images are not explicitly Christian.
    I am fascinated by the stone "tub". I can't find the right word for it. It could be a sarcophagus, but the feeling is of coming birth or baptism rather than of death.
    My high excitement and curiosity are with me as I become fully lucid inside the scene.
    I hear these words streaming through my mind:

From life to life, from day to day, I bring essence from the world of soul into the world of time.

I rise into the California morning charged with energy and excitement.
    I want to know what my dream self means to do with that red paint. I think of it now as life blood, blood of spirit. I feel I want to fill that hollow tub with this blood of spirit and see whether this will provide a medium of manifestation for those glowing spirits in the sky.
    I am reminded of a big dream from many years ago in which I led a special group of invited guests along a spiral path, past a great stone lion with a huge carnelian on his back, into a gallery space with an immensely high ceiling. We studied an unfinished painting of incalculable size. Within it, a life size human figure was as small as a candle flame in proportion to the shapes that rose around and above him. I understood that this was an unfinished portrait of the Higher Self. I was the professor in that dream. In the new one, I am watching my second self - I am almost certain - play professor while I get ready to lay on the red paint.


Saturday, January 2, 2021

Assignment: Idun


Dreams set us research assignments. A note on an assignment I was given in the hypagogic zone, on the cusp of sleep, when I lay down in the early hours:

January 2, 2021

HG assignment


The name comes through clearly the moment I close my eyes.. I know I am being given an assignment: to explore and report from the realm of the Norse goddess who keeps the apples of regeneration that keep the gods young. For a moment I am wafted into an enchanted apple orchard. I smell the apple blossom in the golden hair of a lovely young woman who seems sweet and innocent.

I let myself drift into sleep. In the final scene of my sleep dreams, I am driving far north, ever north, faster and faster with a young woman who seems to be both my daughter and my research partner. The wind rushes past us as the beating of great wings. We are excited because we have found the key to a mystery. We now need to use it and confirm the story we may bring to the world.

Feelings: excited

Clearly this sequence demanded immediate research in ordinary reality. I looked at the name, written as IĆ°unn in Old Norse and translated as "ever young" and "rejuvenator”. I went back to the books: to the Prose Edda for the story of Idun’s abduction and rescue (both the work of Loki), to Hilda Ellis Davidson’s treatment of Idun in Gods and Myths of the Viking Age, I looked again at the role of apples in many traditions (notably Celtic) as seeds of life and as passports to the Otherworld. I reflected on the nature of Idun’s  husband Bragi, the skaldic god of poetry, who gave his name to the cup (bragarfull) with which toasts to the mighty Viking dead were raised.

Of course I drew Idun by an apple tree with apple blossom in her hair, holding her golden apples in a basket rather than an ashwood box because that is the way I see her. This assignment has just begun. Who knows how far the road may lead?

RM jounal drawing January 2, 2021