Sunday, April 21, 2024

The "just so" feeling on leaving a dream

Feelings, feelings. I don’t want to discuss a dream experience unless the dreamer will talk about first feelings around it. I notice that quite often my own feelings when I leave a dream are neutral and detached. There is often a sense of “been there, done that” – that I have returned from an experience that in another world that does not have immediate consequences in this one.
    It may be an experience in one of many parallel lives. It may be a case of what the Jungians call compensation; I am engaged in a life unlived in my present reality but going on continuously in a realm of imagination. 
in Inner Work Robert Johnson reports the memorable case of a reclusive introvert who was leading a robust life with a voluptuous wife in an imagined Italy, where he spoke Italian, made love and had rows, and played with his kids, night after night. While these can be tagged as compensation dreams, we can also allow that they may be glimpses of a continuous life in a parallel reality where the dreamer made different life choices. 
    Then there are the dreams in which you seem to be in someone else’s body and situation. This is not unusual in psychic dreams.
    In a dream experience, I may engage in thrilling adventures, churning with high emotions. If I am calm and detached after coming back, I know I don't need to import these dramas and emotions into my regular life, except perhaps as stories to tell or write. Those dramas belong to another life, one of many I - and maybe you - are living in the multiverse, with varying degrees of consciousness.
     So when I record my feelings on returning from a dream excursion, the words I most often use are "just so," meaning "been there, done that" in a world and a situation that feel quite as real as everyday life, and sometimes more so. I may add the phrase "travel worn" because (for example) when I have led a three-day workshop in my subtle body while my body of meat and bones was dormant in bed for a couple of hours - and then had to fly back across oceans and continents - I can be somewhat jet-lagged. 

Journal drawing: "Bardo Hotel" by Robert Moss

Friday, April 19, 2024

Synchronicty Magnets and Ottoman Dreams


Synchronicity is when the universe gets personal. I am thrilled when the play of synchonicity feeds into a current project and shapes it and drives it forward.  I find that when I am giving focused attention to a certain line of study, or a creative project, coincidence comes to support me, sometimes through the agency of that benign spirit Arthur Koestler called the Library Angel, a shelf elf who makes books and documents turn up (or disappear) in highly unlikely ways. This works through the internet too.

On a certain night, I was trying to document a story about shared dreaming and war magic from the time of Suleiman the Magnificent. The story involves a "dream master" who supposedly had twelve people enter lucid dreaming together on a huge round bed to provide energy for an astral operation in which he entered the mind of a European prince and altered the fortunes of a battle. 

I first came upon this intriguing account in The Understanding of Dreams, an old anthology of cross-cultural dream narratives,edited by Raymond de Becker, an elusive and somewhat murky character. He gave his source as an earlier book by one N. de Helva titled La Science impériale des songes, published in Paris in 1935. After much hunting, I was unable to locate a copy of this book anywhere, or even identify the publisher. When I compared the de Becker version with the historical records of the campaigns and household of Suleiman, I became more and more suspicious that someone had constructed a tall tale. But I realized that my investigation would not be complete until I had probed documentary sources available only in the Turkish language.

I said to myself in the wee hours of the morning, I really need help from a Turk. The next instant, an email arrived in my inbox from a Turkish doctor in Istanbul, wanting to know about a retreat I was leading that fall. I seized the opportunity to ask her whether she could check out the story of the Ottoman "dream master" for me. Within hours, she started sending me documents and original translations from Turkish sources that not only confirmed my suspicions about de Becker's cavalier use of materials but vastly expanded my understanding of the practice of dreaming and imagination in the Ottoman empire.

People ask why some of us seem to have more frequent and more exciting experiences of synchronicity (or meaningful coincidence) than others. I think one of the facts of life is that there are periods when any of us can become a synchronicity magnet, attracting events and encounters in rich profusion according to the energy and intentions that travel with us. 

We observe synchronicity at work in the world more often when we are open to seeing it, and ready to play with the signs and symbolic pop-ups of everyday life. But there is more to it than just our willingness to pay attention. Like calls to like, and the call is stronger when our passions or curiosity are most actively engaged in a life passage or a course of study or exploration. Yeats spoke, with poetic clarity, about the "mingling of minds" that can take place when we are giving our best to a certain line of study; he noted that we draw the support like minds, including intelligences from beyond our ken and beyond our world, who share our interests.

Oh yes, the Turkish doctor came to the United States for my fall retreat.


I recount the story of Suleiman and the Dream Master in my book  The Three "Only" Things. Though I now believe the story is not historical, one may say of it, with the Italians, si non e vero, e ben trovato. ("If it's not true, it's well found".)

Phot by RM: Ottoman History at Taksim Metro. One of a series of mosaics created by students at the School of Ceramics. 

Why You Want to Keep a Journal


When a lusty, ambitious young Scot named James Boswell first met Dr. Samuel Johnson, Johnson advised him to keep a journal of his life. Boswell responded that he was already journaling, recording "all sorts of little incidents." Dr Johnson said, "Sir, there is nothing too little for so little a creature as man."

Indeed, there is nothing too little, or too great, for inclusion in a journal. If you are not already keeping one, I entreat you to start today. Write whatever is passing through your mind, or whatever catches your eye in the passing scene around you. If you remember your dreams, start with them. If you don't recall your dreams, start with whatever thoughts and feelings are first with you as you enter the day, or that interval between two sleeps the French used to call dorveille ("sleep-wake"), a liminal space when creative ideas often stream through.

If you have any hopes of becoming a writer, you'll find that journaling is your daily workout that keeps your writing muscles limber. If you are already a writer, you may find that as you set things down just as they come, with no concern for editors, critics or consequences, you are releasing descriptive scenes, narrative solutions, characters - even entire first drafts - quite effortlessly. Some of the most productive writers have also been prodigious journal-keepers. Graham Greene started recording dreams when he was sixteen, after a breakdown in school. His journals from the last quarter-century of his life survive, in the all-but-unbreakable code of his difficult handwriting. First and last, he recorded his dreams, and - as I describe in detail in my Secret History of Dreaming, they gave him plot solutions, character development, insights into the nature of reality that he attributed to some of his characters, and sometimes bridge scenes that could be troweled directly into a narrative. Best of all, journaling kept him going, enabling him to crank out his daily pages for publication no matter how many gins or how much cloak-and-dagger or illicit amour he had indulged in the night before.

You don't have to be a writer to be a journaler, but journal-keeping will make you a writer anyway. In the pages of your journal, you will meet yourself, in all your aspects. As you keep a journal over the years, you'll notice the rhymes and loops or cycles in your life. Mircea Eliade, the great Romanian-born historian of religions, was a great journaler. In the last volume of his published journals, he reflects, during a visit to Amsterdam in 1974, on how a bitter setback to his hopes at the time he first visited that city nearly a quarter-century before had driven him to do his most enduring work. He had been hoping that his early autobiographical novel, published in English as Bengal Nights, would be a big commercial success, enabling him to live as a full-time novelist. Sales were disappointing. Had it been otherwise, "I would have devoted almost all my time to literature and relegated the history of religions to second place, even though Shamanism was at the time almost entirely drafted." The world would have gained a promising, and perhaps eventually first-class, novelist; but we might have lost the scholar who first made the study of shamanism academically respectable and proceeded to breathe vibrant life, as well as immense erudition, into the cross-cultural study of the human interaction with the sacred.

Synesius of Cyrene, a heterodox bishop in North Africa around 400, counseled in a wonderful essay On Dreams that we should keep twin journals: a journal of the night and a journal of the day. In the night journal, we would record dreams as the products of a "personal oracle" and a direct line to the God we can talk to. In the day journal, we would track the signs and correspondences  through which the world around us is constantly speaking in a symbolic code. "All things are signs appearing through all things. They are brothers in a single living creature, the cosmos." The sage is one who "understands the relationship of the parts of the universe" - and we deepen and focus that understanding by recording signs in our day journal.

Partly because I keep unusual hours, and am often embarked on my best creative work long before dawn, I don't separate my night journal from my day journal. All the material goes into one book - a leather-bound travel journal, when I am on the road, my digotal data base in Word when I am home.  I try to type up my entries before my handwriting (as difficult as Greene's) becomes illegible and put the printouts in big ringback binders. I save each entry with a date and a title in my data files, so I automatically have a running index.

One of the things you'll come to see clearly, as you journal dreams over a considerable period of time, is that your dream self travels ahead of your waking self, scouting the ways. 

Robert Moss journals with lamassu, a dream friend since childhood

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Stoic Divination through Sympathy and Soul Travel


The Stoics had an optimistic belief in divine pronoia: that the gods sent forewarning to humans out of benevolence. They defined divination as “the foreknowledge and foretelling of things that happen fortuitously” (Cicero De Divinatione 2.13). The future that can be foreseen for them is not predetermined.

Two modes of divination described by the far-traveled philosopher Posidonius (c. 135-51 bce) are observation of the "affinity of all things" and the close study of dreams. He spent time with druids in Gaul and wrote five books on divination, of which only fragments survive, mostly in the pages of De Divinatione, a philosophical dialogue by CiceroThe concept of sympatheia - the “affinity of all things” (συμπάθεια τον όλον) – presents the world, including the gods, as a unified organism with mutually interrelated parts that turn on each other. Everything is part of a cosmic body. Just as your whole body may respond to the lightest touch on your little toe, what happens to any part of the cosmos may resonate with the whole and generate an event far away. 

Posidonius taught that the soul travels free from the body during sleep. “Divination finds a positive support in nature, which teaches us how great is the power of the soul when it is divorced from the bodily senses as it is especially in sleep and in times of frenzy or inspiration: (Cicero de div 1.129). The Stoics held that dream divination is open to all, a view resoundingly espoused by Synesius of Cyrene in his wonderful little book On Dreams around the year 404.

With the name of a sea-god inside his own, perhaps it is not surprising that Posidonius was wedded to the sea. He confirmed his sense of pattern in the cosmos as an oceanographer, studying the effect of the Moon on the tides. He set up his own school of philosophy on the island of Rhodes, a hub for travelers and traders from all over the Hellenistic world. He traveled on boats to Spain, Gaul, Italy, Sicily, Dalmatia and Greece. He was fond of maritime metaphors to describe the voyage of life, sailing on fortune’s wind, seeking safe harbor.

Rhodes, island of Posidonius the Stoic philosopher


Sunday, April 14, 2024

Shamanic Lucid Dreaming


I have reservations about the term "lucid dreaming" because it has been associated with notions of "controlling" or "manipulating" dreams. Through dreaming, we have access to a source that is infinitely wiser and deeper than the everyday ego, and we want to be available to that source. I am in favor of learning to choose where we go and what we do in dreams, as in waking life, but that requires discernment, not the fantasy of control. 

Another problem I have with the term "lucid dreaming" is that it is most often associated with techniques for waking yourself up to the fact that you are dreaming while you are asleep. This is a valuable skill, especialy when it enables you to choose how a story is gong to devleop and the role you will play, exercise your cretaive imagination, dialogue with dream characters and gather and retain detailed information you can bring back. However, the easiest way to become a lucid or conscious dreamer is to start out lucid and stay that way: in other words, to enter conscious dreaming from a waking or semi-wakeful state.  

I titled my first book on all of this Conscious Dreaming. My preferred name for what I teach and practice is Active Dreaming. As the phrase suggests, we can be active in embarking on conscious adventures in dreaming, and we want to be active in bringing the energy and insight of our dreams into waking life.  

Since I am often asked whether Active Dreaming is a mode of lucid dreaming, I am going to borrow a phrase employed by one of my friends in the lucid dreaming fraternity who refers to my "shamanic lucid dream adventures." I am using the adjective "shamanic" here to describe a method for shifting consciousness to enter nonordinary reality for purposes that include the care and recovery of soul.  

How do you become a shamanic lucid dreamer? You start out conscious and you stay that way. To accomplish this, you only need three things: a clear intention, an image that can serve as a portal, and a means of focusing the mind and fueling the journey. All these things can become available naturally, in the twilight zone of consciousness that researchers call hypnagogia. You are between sleep and waking. Images rise and fall in your mindnd any one of those images can become the gateway for a conscious dream adventure.  

I somertimes find that I am able to maintain continuity of consciones through all the phases that evolve from this liminal stage. I will add that I find the twilight state between sleep and awake in the morning tat sleep reserachers call the hypno[pompic zone particularly propitious for conscious edream adventures and lucid enciunters with inner guides and transpetrsonal visitors. 

An equally simple and natural way to become a shamanic lucid dreamer is to use a remembered dream as the portal for a journey. In your night dream, you went to a place, which may resemble a site in ordinary reality or may be a locale in a separate reality where the physics are utterly different. Either way, because you were in a certain place, you may be able to find your way back there, just as you could return to a house you once visited in regular life. 

 Why would you want to do this? Maybe you've been running away from something in your dream world that scares you - from the Bear, or the Tiger, or an unknown intruder or pursuer. If you can find the courage to go back inside one of those nightmares and face what frightened you on its own ground, you may find power and healing waiting for you on the other side of the terror.  

You may want to go back inside a dream because you were with your dream lover in a tropical paradise but were interrupted by the alarm clock. You may want to talk to someone who appeared to you in a dream. You may need to clarify whether that auto accident could take place in the future, as either a literal and symbolic event, and what you need to do with that information (once you have it clear) in order to avoid an unwanted development. You may simply want to know more about a dream. The best way to understand a dream is to recover more of the experience of the dream. A dream experience, fully remembered, is its own interpretation. 

 Through the technique of dream reentry, you can pursue any of these agendas, or simply enjoy the fun and adventure of using a personal dream image as a portal to the multiverse.  

The best time to attempt dream reentry may be when the dream is fresh and you are still closely connected to it, lingering in bed after waking. But if the dream has energy for you, you can go back inside any time, even decades after the original dream.  

Shamanic drumming - a steady beat on a simple frame drum, typically in the range of three to four beats per second, but sometimes faster - will help you to shift consciousness and travel into the dreamspace. The steady beat helps to override mental clutter and focus energy and intention on the journey. The rhythms of the drum correspond to brain wave frequencies in the theta band, associated with the hypnagogic zone and its dreamlike imagery. If you want a physiological explanation of why shamanic drumming is such a powerful tool for shifting awareness, you could say that the "sonic driving" of the drum herds our brain waves into the theta band, opening us to its characteristic flow of imagery. I have made my own recording of shamanivc drumming specifivcally for shamanic lucid dreamers.  

The drumming will also help you to synchronize and focus shared adventures in dream travel. You can invite one of more partners to journey with you through the portal you have chosen and act as companions and trackers who can support you and bring you extra information. In my workshops, we frequently have 30 or more active dreamers traveling together on group adventures of this kind. Often we keep group logs, and you can read samplings from these in my book Dreamgates and in the epilogue to Dreamways of the Iroquois, where I describe how I led a group of frequent flyers on a group journey to meet the shaman-priests of the Kogi, on their sacred mountain, at the invitation of a Kogi elder. Through such experiments, we assemble truly scientific data on the reality of the dreamworlds, and what is possible within them.  

Shamanic lucid dreaming is an adventure in navigating the deeper reality that we can share with a partner, with a group, or a whole community. A caution: the side-effects may include transformation.

Journal drawing by Robert Moss: "How It Will Begin"

Saturday, April 13, 2024

The Soul throws an image before her


When the soul wishes to experience something she throws an image of the experience out before her and enters into her own image.

The words are from Meister Eckhart, the medieval German theologian and mystic who knew about the laws of the larger reality through direct experience. I first read then and jotted them down as an undergraduate, eons ago. They turn up now and then unexpectedly, as they did just now in an old journal. I went looking just now for the exact source (the history professor in me dies hard) and I see that you can order a Meister Eckhart Quote Bag with this inscription.

I'm tickled by the notion that instead of putting this quote in your bag of tricks, you might want to try packing what you carry through the day inside the thought.

It's a thought that demands walking meditation. Travel with it, and see how it shapes and illuminates your day. Then test it against your dreams.

The medieval master is telling us something vitally important about our relationship with time and about the secret of manifestation. He draws us to think about the confluence between what medieval theologians called the Aevum - the realm between time and eternity - and events in our world. It is in the Aevum that the incidents and circumstances of our physical lives are generated, in this understanding, through the agency of imagination, that great faculty of soul. On most days, most of us, sequestered from soul and its knowing, are merely receivers of the results of choices made in this realm that is hidden from the ordinary mind.

Who knew where we stood? 
In an aevum maybe, where time's conferred

with the beginning we gave it,
but with no end in sight.

These beckoning lines are from a poem titled "Aevum" by M.E.Caballero-Robb. They strengthen the enjoinder to walk through a day - why not today? - with Meister Eckhart's thought. That means asking, of whatever develops during the day, What image am I now entering? And, Where and how was this image created?

Then, energized by these reflections, we go the long step further, which is to seek to be present, as conscious co-creators, in the place where soul makes its choices on what we - as its vehicles - will experience in the world.

Do I sound like a mystic? Very well, you may call me a mystic, but I would say that I am a mystic of a very practical order. We are talking about how worlds are made.

By the way, a more famous Meister Eckhart quote is this: "If the only prayer you said in your life was Thank You, that would suffice." That is my own philosophy of prayer, and it is the practice of people who live close to the Earth as well as the heavens, and give thanks daily for its gifts. Oh yes, you can get that on a "quote bag" too.

Drawing by Robert Moss

Friday, April 12, 2024

How dreams get us through


During an interview I did for Wisconsin Public Radio, the callers produced a harvest of personal examples of how dreams help us to get through life.

A songwriter described how he has woken in the middle of the night with new songs playing in his mind. Sometimes they are complete, with words and music. Sometimes he has to work on them for a bit. He is in a long tradition of songwriters and composers who have plucked new pieces from their dreams. I was reminded on John Lennon's statement that "the best songs are the ones that come to you in the middle of the night and you have to get up and write them down so you can go back to sleep." 

As we discussed diagnostic dreams, the host recalled the case of a man who dreamed a rat was gnawing on his throat. Shaken by the dream, he sought medical assistance, and went from one physician to another until his throat cancer was detected and treatment began that he credited with saving his life. 

David, an IT professional, recounted a situation in which his office was preparing to install a new system. The day before, his supervisor told him to go home and get some sleep. He took a nap and saw himself in a workaday situation. He saw and recognized the code he would be applying. Suddenly the screen in his dream went fuzzy and a voice said firmly, "NO. It should be like this." The code changed. When he went into the office the next day, he checked and found that the code they were working with was wrong. He made the necessary changes, as had been done in the dream. "Good thing you caught that," his supervisor told him. At this point, David explained that he had dreamed the correction. "Never heard of anything like that," the supervisor shook his head. "Maybe I should have my analysts do a lot more sleeping." 

A woman caller spoke of a recurring dream theme whose full significance became clear to her only at the end of a long relationship. She dreamed again and again that her partner was missing. She couldn't find him or couldn't get through to him on the phone. Sometimes she felt he was hiding from her. By the time of the break-up, she had been compelled to recognize a long pattern of deception, and that in fundamental ways, her partner had been "missing" for much of the time they had been together. 

We discussed what is going on when a dream theme repeats over and over. I suggested that it's either because we need to get the message or because we need to take action on that message. We may have a notion what a recurring dream is about, but can't bring ourselves to do what is necessary - which would be very understandable if we dream our partner is missing. Like a helpful (and well-informed) friend who is looking out for us, the dream theme will come again and again until we do something about it.

At the end of the show, the host asked me to share a "big" dream of my own. How to pick one, out of so many? Yet I knew at once which dream I would tell, because earlier in the program - when asked to explain how dreaming can help to move us beyond hatred and war - I had quoted a phrase in the Mohawk Indian language. The phrase is tohsa sasa nikon'hren. It literally means, "Do not let your mind fall". 

We fall into Dark Times, in the traditional Mohawk cosmology, when we forget the higher world - the Earth-in-the-Sky - from which we come. Our ability to heal our enmities and grow as a life form depend on not-forgetting a higher source of wisdom and a higher order of reality. Dreaming is the main link between our ordinary minds and that higher spiritual plane, a way of not letting our minds fall. 

So I told a watershed dream from my ligfe in the 1980s, in which I entered a space where a circle of people who lived very close to the earth were singing and drumming. I hestitated at the entrance of their longhouse, fearing I was intruding. But they welcomed me into a place they had waiting for me. At a certain point, I lay by the firepit, at the center of the circle. 

One by one, the dream people came to me. They took red-hot coals from the fire and placed them over my ears and my eyes, and on my tongue, and over my heart. They sang in their own language, which I could now understand: "We do this to open your ears, that you may hear clearly. We do this to open your eyes, that you may see clearly. We do this to open your mouth, so you will speak only truth. And we do this -" placing the coal over the heart "-so that henceforth you will speak and act only from the heart." 

I did no analysis with that dream. Vitally energized, I jumped in my car and drove to a lake in a state park east of my home. I promised to the lake and the trees and the red-tailed hawk that came knifing through the clouds, "Henceforth I will speak and act only from the heart." 

On the darkest days, a dream like this can be a hearthfire and a homing beacon. Charging us with the power of a deeper drama, inciting us not to let our minds fall - these may be the biggest ways that dreaming helps us through.

Journal drawing" "We do this to open your heart" by Robert Moss


Dream Bruises and Other Bleedthroughs


What if in your dream you went to heaven and there plucked a strange and beautiful flower and what if when you awoke you had that flower in your hand?

Coleridge's famous question is not a hypothetical to active and conscious dreamers, who notice various types of bleedthrough between different dimensions of reality and experience.
    A nurse who took part in one of my early dream classes later told me she had dreamed of a visitation from a being that was half woman, half deer. Waking in her second floor apartment, she found deer scat on her floor. Trying to make sense of this (nurses are no-nonsense, practical people) she recognized that a deer might have wandered onto the grounds of her apartment complex. But she was quite certain there was no way it could have gotten up her stairs or through her window! She was content to accept the unlikely deer poop as a sign from the deeper universe that her visitation had been absolutely for real. She later found the deer-woman turning up as a guide when she was caring for patients, especially the dying who needed help to prepare for their journeys beyond this world.
    In his account of his personal dreams in The Crystal and the Way of Light, Dzogchen master Nakhai Norbu gives a memoriable example of something being transferred from a dream into the hand of the dramer. 
One of his uncles was renowned as a tertön, a "treasure revealer" of hidden texts that sometimes appeared as tiny scrolls in unusual places, apparently transmitted across generations by ancient masters. While staying with his uncle in a remote area, Namkhai Nprbu dreamed he was visited by a dakini.
     She gave him a small scroll of paper containing a sacred text. She said this was very important and that on waking he should give it to his uncle. In the dream he knew he was dreaming. He gripped the scroll tightly in one fist and wrapped the other around it. It was not permitted to disturb his uncle until after his morning rituals, so he drifted off still with his fists clamped together. Waking at dawn, he opened his hand and found there really was tiny scroll within it. He was too excited to wait. He woke up his uncle and presented the scroll. His uncle took it and said “Thank you, I expecting this” as if nothing had happened.  
     On a land of marvels and siddhis, a report of this kind would have drawn respect and keen interest rather than incredulity.  
     One of the most common bleedthroughs from the realm of dream or astral experience into the world of the body is astral repercussion, to use a term favored by Dion Fortune and her peers. This is what happens when what is experienced in the astral body during its excursions outside the physical body leave physical marks when it returns.
    While Fortune described cases where this kind of thing can be seriously depleting, even life-threatening, to the experiencer, astral repercussion may be a routine side effect of getting out and about in a subtle energy body, sometimes wholly benign and even entertaining. In the first letter from Lady Valerie D'Arcy in my novel Fire Along the Sky, she protests that an amorous visit from her lover in the form of a leopard-man left her with bite marks on her body; this fictional scene was drawn from experience!
    Let me give an example from my dream life a few summers ago. I was enjoying a rather lazy week's vacation on a lake, swimming and reading a lot, spending a lot more time in bed overnight than is my typical pattern. My body's peace and ease over those summer days was balanced by the nocturnal adventures of my dream self. In a dream thriller that could easily be filmed in the style of The Bourne Identity, I went on a wild ride through the Bois de Boulogne in Paris. We have to dodge road-blocks and predatory packs that are out to stop cars and rob their drivers and passengers, or worse. The predators use all sorts of stratagems to get drivers to stop, sometimes pushing children in front of the cars. When they do that to us, I grab control of the steering wheel from my driver, managing to avoid hitting a child being used as bait, so we escape the trap. I hurt my arm making this maneuver, but pay little attention because soon I am caught up in a big-stakes international intrigue.
    I wake happy and excited. I felt like I had stepped into a movie to play an Action Man hero, and this was really enjoyable. But - uh, oh - how did that bruise come to appear on the underside of my left upper arm? There really was no physical cause I could locate. On the other hand, there was all that action in the dream, and the pain I experienced during the car chase. Someone had jabbed something at me through the window of the car, in that mad ride through the Bois de Boulogne.
   Inter-dimensional bleedthroughs bring us awake to the fact that we are engaged in more than one order of reality, and that what happens beyond our default (physical) reality may not only be no less real, but sometimes more so. If the dream gave me the bruise, then which was more real: my night escapade in Paris, or my lazy day by a lake in Vermont?
    We are also drawn to reflect on our lager anatomy. We have more than one vehicle of consciousness. Beyond the physical body, we have an etheric, or dense energy, vehicle, and an astral body in which we travel in dreams, and higher vehicles given different names in different tarditiosn. When we go dreaming, we often travel beyind the physical body and we rarely go as a disembodied thought form. We travel in the astral body, sometmes carrying a significant amount of denser etheric energy. Take too much with you, and you return depleted - and you are vulnerable to  significant etheric reopercussion on your physical body.
      In modern Western society, we are not told much about the subtle body, but understanding its reality and its requitrements is essential to or psychic wellbeing and to safe and rewarding adventures beyond the physical. 

Drawing: "Autoscopy" by Robert Moss

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

A universe inside a stone


I am intrigued by tales in which we find a universe inside a very small space, such as the space between subatomic particles. These give us a window into what physics is telling us about the nature of hidden dimensions, and they provide a context of understanding for dreams and visions in which we experience these realities directly.

In the vast Yogavasistha the sage Vasistha entertains and instructs the despondent Rama with a series of tales that include his first-hand account of his travel to and from a world of beauty and magic that he created in subatomic space.

At a certain time in his life, the sage recalled, he wished to leave the “busy world” behind and live in a quiet place “free from all imaginings, where I would be invisible to everyone.” Through “yoga and imagination” he created a little hut in a “far-distant corner of the space of emptiness” and lived there unmoving, in the lotus posture, meditating. A century passed in a flash.

In my meditation I saw the thousands of universes that are nested one within another, even inside the smallest atom of a stone.

He surfaced from meditation and heard the beautiful voice of a woman. He searched for her. “I went into the space of my mind and saw countless worlds, all unable to see one another.” After many years, he heard the sound of a lute, and followed to a beautiful young woman singing sweetly. She was a celestial magician [vidyadhari]. Vasistha wanted to know how she came to be here.

She told him her home was inside a tiny atom of a stone in a peak of the mountain called Lokaloka (World-Not-World) “which encircles the disks of the worlds on the outer rim of the universe”. She was the wife of an ascetic scholar who created her from his imagination but never consummated their marriage, because he was wholly given to his studies and meditation. As “the most beautiful woman in the world” she was frustrated. She flew to the sage to seek release for both of them.

She invited Vasistha to visit her world, and by magic, made it possible for him to fly with her to it. At the border of her realm, the sage could at first see nothing. She told him this was because he had become too remote from the worlds of manifestation. In order to see her “illusory” world of forms, he must recall his life experiences from before the time when he achieved full enlightenment. Vasistha went into trance and saw “as in a dream, a great stone and a whole universe inside it.”

In the world inside the stone, Vasistha met its creator. The creator opened his eyes and told him: “As you are to me, so I am to you; this is a mutual story. For a man who is dreaming becomes a man in another man’s dream.” The beautiful woman created an illusory world out of her own desires; now it would end. He withdrew his mind from external images, and the world collapsed in fire and flood, into stillness.

Vasistha looked at the stone again, “like a country boy standing at the door of a palace”:

Everywhere I looked, in every single atom of it, I saw a whole universe. Each of these worlds was different from the other; some had a few resemblances, some more, some no resemblance at all. Some were made entirely of rock, some of water, some of air. In one of them I saw Rama killing Ravana, and in another I saw Rama being defeated by Ravana. Then I understood that all of these worlds were the ideas of various people. Each person imagines his own world, and that becomes his world.

He went back to meditation in his hut in the corner of emptiness. His body was gone. In its place was a magician [siddha] seated in meditation.

Vasistha decided to stop imagining this place. As his mind fell “from the sky to the earth” the magician dropped from the hut that had ceased to exist, still in meditation, falling like a stone. Vasistha roused him with some difficulty, using rain and thunder and hail. They swapped life stories, become friends, and agreed to live together in a world of the magicians where each eventually found a congenial home.

Much to dream and reflect on here! We see how worlds are made by imagination and how what is conceived in the imagination takes on its own life. Vasistha creates a beautiful woman in a trance, and then she comes to him when he has emerged from his trance.

It seems that others can live in our self-created worlds. While some mental worlds ceased to exist when we cease to imagine them, others continue. The people we dream are dreaming about us. We have interesting doubles in the multiverse.

The incredibly large can be found within the incredibly small.

Parallel worlds coexist at every level of the cosmos.

Source: Yogavasistha 6.2.56-94. There is an elegant summary in Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty's Dreams, Illusion and Other Realities.

Saturday, March 30, 2024

Snapshots from a dream of Tallinn


I plucked this report of a visit to Estonia from an old journal. Its content seems uneasily relevant to the current situation in Europe; see the last quotation in particular. 

Tallinn, Estonia
April 21. 2011

I walked past Fat Margaret, the massive medieval tower that guards the north gate of the Old City, and down Pikk Street. Just before 9 AM, it was nearly deserted; while the word "Suletud" on the doors of shops and restaurants and museum simply means "Closed" in Estonian, I was able to enjoy blissful solitude, in the more familiar sense, instead of tourist crowds . 

I walked up to the pink palace that houses Estonia's parliament, then down Toompea Street to a great unhewn block of stone that has been turned into a monument. On August 20, 1991, the day of an attempted coup in Moscow, the Supreme Council of Estonia declared independence. This was one of the rocks that nonviolent independence fighters hauled to block the roads to the citadel against Soviet tanks that (for once) never came. 

At the foot of the hill, I turned west to visit Freedom Square, where a man-made monument greeted me. It is a Victory Tower constructed entirely of glass, honoring Estonia's earlier struggle for independence in 1918-1920, when Estonians, supported by a British fleet and international volunteers, had to fight on two fronts - against the Red Army and against the German Iron Guard, in league with the Baltic German Landswehr. The glass tower, surmounted by the Cross of Liberty, Estonia's military medal, resembles an ice sculpture, suggesting both the difficulty of building a free society, and its fragility in a country whose geographic misfortune is to be situated in the "Bloodlands" between Germany and Russia. 

I walked up the Hill of the Hartu Gates, above the glass tower. A group of Russians were rough-housing with a Samoyed. I heard angelic singing behind me, as I stood under an ancient linden, and turned to find a troop of school girls chorusing a folk song. 

I arrived at the Museum of Occupations at opening time. This was at the top of my "must-see" list because I felt a strong need to understand the long nightmare of the 20th century from which the Estonians emerged, singing. I saw old suitcases piled everywhere, a mute tribute to all the Estonians forced to flee their homes or their country. A sinister inner gateway loomed in front of the exhibits. It looks like a cross between a tank and a border checkpoint, embellished on one side by the red star and on the other by the swastika, emblems of the twin evils that invaded and oppressed Estonia in World War II.  

Beside this iron gate, the museum's statement of intent included these words: 

The loss of memory and gaps in memory are dangerous for a people. 

Yes. And it takes remarkable bravery to own the memories of a history in which so many were not only brutalized or murdered, but compelled to fight in the uniforms of foreign armies commanded by psychopathic despots. The exhibits are understated: a collection of every-shifting identity cards, an NKVD trooper's body armor, a bottle of homemade vodka, a photo of Forest Brethren - who took to the woods to resist the Soviets - smoking cigarettes under a tree. The testimonials of survivors, speaking in documentaries running on monitors above the display cases, are more graphic. A woman speaks of the "smell of burned meat" after the Soviets arrived to "liberate" her district. 

I leave the Museum of Occupations with all the material in English I can find and walk up to Town Hall Square to drink a local beer - A. Le Coq - at a sidewalk table in the sun. Suddenly a large group at two long tables behind me burst into song, quite beautiful song. When I thank them, they tell me they are Swedes, a choir arrived for a singing competition at the Concert Hall. At my request, they proceed to sing a "summer hymn". And I wish that all international conflicts could be resolved in a singing contest. 

My walk brings me back to Fat Margaret, once a prison. Now the thick-walled stone tower houses a maritime museum. I wander inside and contemplate images of Neolithic Estonians in skin boats, of fish-factory ships, of the salvage from warships sunk in the Baltic. There's a copper deep-sea diving suit from the 1920s, worthy of Jules Verne. It's hard to image anyone in that kind of armor surfacing again from the deep; the commentary notes it was never used. Just above the right shoulder of the deep-sea suicide suit is the first painting in special exhibition of seascapes by an Estonian artist, Rein Mägar. It's dated 2011, and shows a wild spray of blue and white. The title? Unistus. "Dream." Perfect. Another nudge to keep on doing what I have come here to do.  

Leaving Fat Margaret, I look at the interesting building across the street, which pays distant homage to the Tudors. Now a children's library, this building at 73 Pikk was formerly the Tallinn headquarters of the Soviet KGB. A nice progression. At the Museum of Occupations, I watched the former deputy head of the KGB in Tallinn, Vladimir Pool, recalling on camera his experiences when he was trying to monitor the growth of the Singing Revolution in 1988, three years before the popular movement in the Baltic countries helped trigger the collapse of the Sovet Union. The KGB boss had his agents phoning in estimated numbers of Estonians arriving for a songfest that had been shaped as a cry for freedom from Soviet rule. Pool was astounded as his agents reported ever-growing numbers of people. He lost contact with one of his agents. The man called in. "Fifty thousand now," he reported. (The number was to get much larger). Then the agent added, "Soviet power has just gone down the toilet."

 In the evening, I walk along Soo Street, northwest of the Old City, to a studio in an old wooden building where I open the first session of my Active Dreaming workshop. People are excited; some have read Conscious Dreaming in its Estonian edition. 

As we go round the circle, making our introductions, I feel that a grand communal adventure is beginning. 

A young Estonian man tells us, "I am here because I feel an ache in my belly when I have to come back to the body from my dreams." 

An older woman says, "I am here because your book gave words for how I have dreamed all my life." 

A computer programmer says, "I'm here because my dreams have returned after years of amnesia but I'm clueless." 

A beautiful woman announces, "In my dream, I saw Russians driving around crazily on a monster, aggressive lawnmower in front of my dream home and I want them off my grass."

Photo of Tallinn Sky by RM


Friday, March 29, 2024

The Time of Who Goes There

Have you dreamed you are in a different body, even that of someone of a different gender? Have you noticed that you are a time traveler in dreams? Do you have the sense that you may be leading a parallel life? Do you feel you know far more than you can remember about a deeper reality?
    These themes and more - the liminal state of adolescence, and twilight zones of reality and consciousness - are beautifully explored in a recent Japanese animated movie I discovered when a friend shared a dream that had the visual quality of a film in this genre.
    "I was riding a train to the Moon," she told me. "The train crossed a bridge that was a long, bright crescent. I knew I had to get off at the third stop. You looked different - older but strong and sharper-featured - and I became aware I was dreaming."
    The train to the Moon made me think of Hayao Myazaki's animated films. I went online to refresh my memory and stumbled across a remarkable anime film released in Japan last year as “Your Name”. The original title was “If I Had Known It Was a Dream”, from a line in a famous ninth-century poem that ends “I would not have woken up.” Soon I had it streaming on my screen.
     "Your Name", written and directed by Makoto Shinkai, is a gorgeously-visualized story of body swapping, time travel and parallel worlds. A boy in downtown Tokyo and a girl in a mountain village wake up in each other’s bodies and each other’s lives. 

Spoiler alert  Plot surprises are revealed in the summary that follows.

    In an early scene we see the astonishment of Taki (the Tokyo boy) waking up to realize he’s in the body of a girl named Mitsuha. He’s still feeling her young breasts as her little sister comes to call her to breakfast. The grandmother tells him he’s more “normal” today. Yesterday he was “nuts” and didn’t know how to tie his hair. 
    On the way to school, someone asks if Mitsuha's grandmother had him exorcized because the day before he was acting completely possessed. In class, when a teacher calls “Mitsuha,” the boy in her body is just able to respond; the day before, he did not recognize this name.          The teacher’s blackboard lesson is fascinating. She is explaining the etymology of a Japanese word for "twilight." It literally means "Who goes there?" This is the theme of the whole story, and we will discover in the denouement that twilight is truly magic time.
    Mitsuha, in her own body, participates in a ritual at a Shinto shrine, making sacred sake the old way by masticating rice and spitting into a bowl. After, she screams her frustration at being “stuck in a weird dream, living someone else’s life.” She wishes that in her next life she will be “a handsome boy in central Tokyo.”
     Scene shift to Tokyo: Taki is wakened by his cell phone. But he's not there. Mitsuha is in his body. Now we see the girl experience the shock of discovering that she's changed sex overnight. Mitsuha is horrified when she reaches between the legs of the body she is in. She doesn't know Taki's routine - where he goes to school, where he waits tables after school. She must be dreaming of course, but she's amazed by the realism of this dream and wonders where it will end. She finds Taki's online diary and enters a message.Before sleep, she writes her name on the boy’s palm.
    Next day neither remembers the body-switching, but both boy and girl find they have messages written in markers on their hands. They go over their journals and come to the shocking conclusion that in their dreams they are switching bodies. This seems to be happening randomly a few times a week.
    They come up with a survival strategy. They’ll give each other guidelines, like "Use the right bathroom." They’ll go on posting diary notes on each other’s smartphones. Taki reads this entry in his phone diary: "Today is the day we’ll be able to see the comet". But there is no comet in the sky that day on his timeline. As we will discover, the comet appeared three years earlier. Taki and Mitsuha are not only living in different places; they are living in different times.
   Mitsuha, in her own body and her own time, watches the comet. It splits in the sky, hurling a lethal fragment straight at her village. We understands that the comet kills her and wipes out her village. After this episode, Taki stops waking up in her body. He entries in his smartphone diary fade away.
    Is it possible to bend events in the past, to save the girl from the death she experiences three years earlier? It's a crazy idea, but then it's crazy that boy and girl have been swapping bodies and living parts of each other's lives. If their destinies are that closely intertwined, maybe there's a chance that Taki can reach her across time, warn her about the coming disaster - and save her life and others.
    So the quest begins. Taki does not know the name of Mitsuha's village, but he has sketches he has made from his second life of its beautiful setting. Out in the countryside, a woman in a noodle shop recognizes the location in his pictures.
   Taki goes to the site. The village is gone, replaced by the crater made by the meteor.  All seems lost, but then then there is sake, and archaic technology for relocating spirits and stepping in and out of time. He finds his way to the place of a god, a placee where Mitsuha left “half herself” in safekeeping. The container of a vital part of her spirit is  a jug of kuchikamisake, sacred sake, made with her own spit.
     Taki drinks this. We understand that he is ingesting part of Mitsuha's vital essence. Now we see the unbraiding and re-weaving of time. This is visually compelling, bringing alive an ancient tradition. We come to understand that corded braids represent the threads of time, which can be knotted and unknotted.
      Now Taki is back in Mitsuha’s body on the day that the comet will strike. He struggles to get people to evacuate the village, without much success.
    Meanwhile Mitsuha is on a train to Tokyo in search of him. “If I see you I will know I was in your body.” But his number is unavailable (because they are living three years removed from each other, which she does not yet understand. She finds Taki on a train. He does not recognize her but she gives him her name.
     They are finally able to see each other and meet on the lip of the crater where there is the home of the old god. This begins and ends in the space of twilight. We are reminded of the blackboard early in the film, on which the teacher writes the kanji for Tasogare-doki , twilight time, and explains that it means the time of “'Who Goes There?”. The sense of the expression is that at twilight, t’s still light enough to see someone but too dark to recognize them. For much of the film, the dialect word kataware-doki is used.
    Thanks to Taki's journey across time, the people of Mitsuha's town are saved, though the town itself is destroyed.
    We can't stop without some romance. Mitsuha and Taki continue to seek each other. They finally spot each other on trains in the big city, as they travel on parallel lines. By this time, just as dreams fade, they have forgotten almost everything 
– including each other’s names – except that something restless in their souls has kept them searching for someone, somewhere.

Makoto Shinkai wrote a "light novel", also titled Your Name, while making his film, and it is well worth reading, though I recommend watching the movie first.

In the garden of Ottoman dreams

In the collective imagination of Islam, paradise is a garden. In the Ottoman world, gardens are places where friends come together, where wonderful parties unfold, where joy and romance are easy, where the seeker finds the spiritual master, where the living and the worthy dead rub shoulders. The maturation of a person in spiritual and life terms is likened again and again to the opening of a bud. The bud becomes a flower. Sometimes this sets a whole garden astir with blossoming, delighting the senses with color, perfume and the susurrus of silken petals.
    A book may be a garden of ever-living plants. Ottoman biographical dictionaries are often called gardens: The Garden of Roses, the Garden of Peonies, even the Garden of Truths. The last is the title of a biographical dictionary by the poet and provincial kadi (judge) 
Nev’zade ‘Ata’i (d. 1637). He studied a thousand lives, of people from the generation before his, and planted these in formal rows in the garden of his book. He took only subjects who had died and gone into the earth. The fact that his subjects were dead did not mean that they could not speak. He reports face-to-face encounters with the dead, in a garden, or at a gravesite, or at the threshold of a home.  

    We can enter his world, and the gardens of Ottoman dreaming, through the pages of Dreams and Lives in Ottoman Istanbul by Aslı Niyazioğlu, a history professor at Koç University in Istanbul. We learn that for Ottoman officials, dreams were especially prized as a way of gaining counsel on career decisions; there is a practical edge to how they compared dream reports. In a society that valued dreams, a dream report might be a way to promote a case or a cause.    
    Versed in current scholarship on dream sharing in other early modern societies, from Mughal India, Safavid Iran, Habsburg Spain, Ming China, Aslı Niyazioğlu makes an important contribution to the history of dream sharing and how identities are constructed in different societies. We can almost hear the dreams being swapped at garden parties, by Sufis in the dervish houses, by students in the religious schools, in private homes. 
    Ottoman biographers often included dreams in their narratives. “They referred to dreams as mirrors that reflected the divine world that was hidden from ordinary eyes.”  In times of opportunity, as in times of unease, students and officials looked for role models  as they sought tools to survive and thrive.
    The full title of 'Ata'i's compendium is Garden of Truths in the Completion of the Peonies. Why peonies? I thought of those thick, ruffled blooms, ability to come back spring after spring for a century or more, and traditional associations with abundance, prosperity, fullness.
    What did the Ottomans want to know about the people they read about? What made, in their minds, an interesting or worthwhile life? Niyazioğlu correctly insists that we must abandon contemporary expectations to enter a different era and mindset. Ottoman biographies are full of dreams and encounters with the dead. On one level, 'Ata'i's collection is a set of resume lives, chronicles of career steps and appointments,  "Yet, it is also a book where the dreamers woke up to another sight of their world, a fearsome and restless world where social networks and career paths are turned upside down.” 
    The purpose of biography – according to Taskoprizade [d.1561], author of the Arabic biographical dictionary Crimson Peonies, a model for ‘Ata’i, it is “to learn from those conditions [of individuals of the past], to seek advice from them and to form the habit of experience through acquaintance with the vicissitudes of time.” 
     In Ottoman lives, dreams are shown to be guidance on practical decisions and career moves. It is also recognized that dreams can open the eye of truth, what Ibn 'Arabi called the eye of the heart. The bureaucrat Latifi [d.1582] recounted a memorable case of how the voice of conscience may be heard in dreams. The case involved a judge who gave up his career after he dreamed that on the Day of Judgment water mills crushed the heads of corrupt judges; the mills were powered by the blood of their victims.
    In this period Sufi sheikhs used dreams in the training of their disciples, especially in the Halveti and Bayrami orders. The Halveti leader Sinan Efendi wanted disciples to tell all their dreams to their sheiks. 
    Dreams selected by Ottoman biographers are typically clear and direct. These were held to be characteristics of a true dream. 
    Asli sees Ottoman dreams as “bridges between different realms…between the living and the dead, the past and the future, the human and the divine". This is a world where dreams change lives, the dead appear in broad daylight, and biographers invited their readers into gardens of remembrance where the departed will bloom again like peonies in the spring.
    Interaction between the living and the dead is constant in Ottoman biographies. The dead may appear at your door, or in a dream or both; it’s not always clear which reality you are in at the moment of encounter. In one of ‘Ata’i’s stories, an Ottoman sailor in North Africa is woken from a nap by a servant who tells him that his beloved friend, a sea captain reported dead three years earlier, is at the door. They embrace, they pass a couple of delightful hours together, then the friend leaves and the sailor is overcome by sleep. When he wakes, he hastens to tell his friends about the visit. He is amazed when they insist that the captain is indeed dead. No reason is given for the visit except the natural desire of good friends to spend time together.
    Rumi appears to welcome and bless a sheikh who travels to Konya, the poet-mystic’s domain. He appears at a sema and draws a skeptical sheikh into the turning dance, making him a convert. “I could not stay still”. 
     A dead lover appears to his grieving boyfriend and leaves a physical token.
    ‘Ata’i visits the tomb of a sheikh, who appears to him and gives him a pen and assures him he can function both as a kadi (provincial judge) and as a leading poet. When ‘Ata’i is blocked composing a mesnevi, his deceased father, the poet Nev’i Efendi appears and addresses him as “O young bud of the garden of my heart.” Telling him “I built a fountain of pure milk in this house.Strive so that it continues to flow. Do not bring it to a halt.” 
     In 'Ata'i's time, one preacher condemned visits to grave sites from the minbar of Ayasofya, while another praised them from the Blue Mosque just opposite. For 'Ata’i the wise dead are “guardians of the world”. Their bodies are beneath the earth, but their spirits open like wonderful ever-growing flowers.  
    Let’s notice these were scary times. The paranoid Sultan roamed the streets of Istanbul at night with his guards, sniffing for any tell-tale trace of tobacco; if he catches anyone smoking he will have him killed. Anyone caught walking without a light was also subject to immediate execution.
    The author of the Garden of Truths steadies himself in dangerous times with the knowledge that he has allies and bonds beyond death. He presents himself as custodian and gardener for wise men accessible to him in dreams. As a gardener, he removes weeds, prunes, fertilizes, displays unique plants. Asli  Niyazioğlu has rendered a tremendous service to the history of dreaming - which must also be a history of the role of dreams in social interaction - in this careful and fascinating study of Ottoman dreams and biographies.

From Ottoman Istanbul: A Sufi cure for a dream drought

According to his biographers, when Ibrahim Tennuri wanted to become a disciple of the Bayrami sheikh Akşemseddîn (d. 1459), the sheikh asked him about his dreams. As he could not remember any, he was placed in a retreat for forty days. The retreat worked: he had a hundred dreams and remembered each with great precision.

The subject of this review article is Dreams and Lives in Ottoman Istanbul: A Seventeenth-Century Biographer's Perspective  by Asli Niyazioğlu. Published by Routledge for the Birmingham Byzantine and Ottoman Studies Series, 2016. 

Art: anonymous painted illustration of the garden of Sa'dabad at Kağıthane, Istanbul, ca. 1720.