The Alchemy of Dreams: My mythopoetic self

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Mythopoetic Symbols of my Psyche

There is a place, a realm, a fancy, a state of mind, sense, country, and experience that exists within the imaginal spaces within my being.

It is a soulful place where reality is nurtured and the mysterious grows dense and tangled as an aggressive vine weaving its branches into every corner of my consciousness.

It’s a place where time is measured in experience not finite number. It’s the place where the dream of my conscious and unconscious selves meet and share what is real.

Curator of lost dreams

 

My wife and I have often traveled the Pacific Northwest and one time pulled into a little town lined with antique stores, old fashioned news stands and funky little restaurants catering to the meat and potato crowd–sushi, are you kidding? After nosing around the town for a few hours the following missive came to me the next morning on the veranda of our lodgings:

Driving through town I pass beneath an ancient steel archway, a portal marker for a city hanging on to its past. Traffic is sparse and all moving in a single direction, much like, I imagine, most of the denizens of this little outpost bordering America’s past and future–pretty much all aligned in belief and values.

I parked along the curb across from a local antiquarian–a dealer in “the lost dreams of the dead” as the proprietor described himself to me before I wandered toward the back of his shop piled high with the bones of these dreams. I wandered narrow aisles displaying the technological wonders of a golden age where art and function united to create objects of magical beauty whose purpose have been lost to antiquity anticipating a Magus to caste just the right spell to animate them once again.

 

th-2.jpgI wandered past objects in fine wooden cases, or Bakelite boxes, some with oddly shaped glass tubes–the instruments of a former alchemist’s dreams–ready to spring to life once more.

And there it was, center stage in a locked glass cabinet, the object of my quest, a century old device once used by student wizards to peer into a Lilliputian universe. It had a golden tube that seemed to glow with a fire of it’s own. It was to the rational mind a brass microscope, a beautifully machined tool of exploration and wonder. Excitedly I called to my wife who also marveled at the find and immediately offered to purchase it as a birthday gift.

As the proprietor dismantled the lenses from the scope and wrapped them in tissue and butcher paper for their protection, he shared some of his own past. As an engineer by training and vocation he spent a lifetime wielding the modern instruments of his trade and watched in despair as the world became more and more functional and plastic and losing it’s beauty to practicality. “Something had to be done.” He said almost pleadingly. “So today I’m here as a curator of the past, a preserver of history, if you will” he added with a look of hopefulness that I would understand and honor his purpose.

“Many who enter here don’t understand, they see pretty things that briefly hold interest, just as with anything else in this world of small attention spans and equally small ambitions. Some come here to steal so as to feed their habits, or their addiction to excitement. Others come to sell and bury their loved ones in a place they know will honor their memory.”

So, like the oarsman who ferried the dead across the river Styx, this man tends to the ghosts of human ingenuity, preserving and honoring their former meaning and the dreams they once represented. “There seems to be a soul attached to these things. The souls of their former owners I think.” He says as he ties the last string around the larger package. “Or perhaps the souls of their inventor, or maker.” I suggest while hefting the package that somehow seemed heavier. It was as though the item were emphasizing the new import of the dream I now took as my own. “Perhaps.” He said his eyes glistening as he carefully handed me the smaller package of lenses.

I thanked him, turned to go, and as I did so he rounded the counter so as to escort me through the door. “Thanks for caring.” He said and I walked out of the shop of wondrous visions and onto the streets of empty eyes–the unseeing eyes blinded to the magic all around, to the dream we are all living, and to the past that informs it’s future through the world of our present.

A nighttime menagerie

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Monoceros in Sidney Hall’s Urania Mirror depictions of the night sky constellations

On my first night walk this Spring I was greeted by all sorts of old friends frolicking in the sky above me. There was Sirius, Monoceros (unicorn), Centaurus and Leo and I even looked for good old Sagittarius but then remembered that he was being over powered by Sol and wouldn’t show in the night sky again until some time this summer. They’re all animals, you know, there’s a dog, unicorn, lion and Centaur with each having its own symbolic meaning in mythology and in dreams. Actually nearly half (42/88) of the identified constellations are animals plus two more being Chimera (part human/part animal) for a total of 44 out of 88 while more than half are animals on the western monthly Zodiac (7 out of 12). All of the 12 zodiac images on the Chinese yearly zodiac are animals.

Sirius is the Dog Star and comes with loyalty and unconditional love and the Unicorn represents purity, high ideals, insight, and gentleness though he can also represent one-sidedness. Then there’s good old Leo. Besides being my birth sign he represents bravery, power and leadership and sometimes an archetype of the King. He is also symbolic of the Christ that may be why CS Lewis used him in the Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe of the Narnia series.

The Centaur is the astronomer and the guardian of magic. He represents the melding or union of both the higher and lower aspects of humankind. He also represents the dual nature of us all that needs to be balanced in both the intellectual/mental and the physical of our nature.

Oh yes, I almost forgot there was another member of my symbolic menagerie that night that of the inverted crescent of a waxing moon looking very much like the fading smile of the Cheshire Cat an animal being simultaneously here and not here and thus representing the concept of all potential and who then makes a mockery of reality with his questionable reliability.

As with our dreams these animals in the sky are all guides to and from our deeper nature and whether in myth or dreams represent the energies of the deeper psyche i.e. they are reflections of ourselves and as such are very real in that they live within us no matter where we walk or lay down our heads.

 

There be Dragons out there: Sailing into the imaginal

 

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Children have a special relationship with the imaginal and learn early on to edit their sharing of it with adults. You see, adults draw a hard distinction between what they think is real and the imaginal world of the child. The child plays with and explores the boundaries of real, keeping it flexible, while most adults have hardened those boundaries thus keeping what is contained within trapped and limited. But reality doesn’t care what you and I think of it and doesn’t conform to the ego boundaries that we set for it.

Those who have decided what something is one way or the other have essentially killed any possible alternatives (note that the root is “cide” i.e. to kill). This of course limits ones perspective and thus their options and resources. If we place too many conditions upon reality we eventually build a box of sorts around ourselves– a box born of many deaths.

When I reflect upon my dreams over the years one particular theme keeps showing up, nightmares of being trapped, contained, boxed in, imprisoned and trying to escape. I’ve been trapped in ever constricting tunnels, struggled mightily to fly and stay air born, held down, cornered, and lost within caves or endless hallways with no way out.

Something within me desperately wants to be expressed and keeps showing up in my dreams. But what is it? I honor the imaginal, some say to the extreme, but I too have a limit on this, artificially created so as to not look too crazy, or too over the top. After all I have a reputation to keep up and want to maintain the freedom to explore (the world tends to reign you in if you get too far out there).

But nothing new can be found if you remain within the safety of the box. To use another metaphor, no new worlds can be discovered if you’re not willing to sail off the “edge” of the world you’re on, just ask Columbus, Magellan, Elon Musk, and Steve Jobs.

I’ve been inside many boxes in my life and what usually keeps me there is the fear of what is outside, I mean, there are Dragons out there! I also don’t like to let go of what I have until I know what’s out there to grab hold of. Using yet another metaphor that resonates for me, it would be like letting go of the trapeze while blindfolded and hoping there’s someone to catch me at the other end of the flight. But risk taking is…well, risky.

Growth and the discovery of new worlds is often like that in that you don’t know what’s out there, you just know that you can no longer stay cooped up in the box any more. Though there may be dragons lurking on the journey, they must be willingly faced for the glory and the wonder of new discoveries.

For me it’s the imaginal world of my dreams that offers clues that there is something beyond my self and the culturally imposed boundaries and that I need to cast off into its unknowns so as to really see what’s possible.

It is a lonely journey, one because it is very personal and two because there’s little agreement from the rest of the world that the journey is worth it and there’s no guarantee that you’ll survive it. But remaining locked up in this damnable box, or tied to the safe harbored dock, is not what I want my life to be about i.e. there’s no journey if you’re tied to the dock.

 

“Disturb us, Lord, when we are too pleased with ourselves,
when our dreams have come true
because we dreamed too little,
when we arrived safely
because we sailed too close to the shore.


 Disturb us, Lord, when
 with the abundance of things we possess
we have lost our thirst
for the waters of life;
Having fallen in love with life,
we have ceased to dream of eternity
and in our efforts to build a new earth,
we have allowed our vision
of the new Heaven to dim.



 Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly to venture on wilder seas
where storms will show your mastery;
Where losing sight of land,
we shall find the stars.



 We ask you to push back
the horizons of our hopes;
And to push back the future
In strength, courage, hope, and love.”

 –Sir Francis Drake

In the land where the Faery Lantern and Jabberwocky lay

 

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Faery Lamplighter– RJ Cole (2002)

In a potted plant sitting obscurely in a corner of the patio behind our house sits a lamp that when night falls begins to glow an eerie blue. White crystals at its base fracture the light and send it helter-skelter across the garden floor eventually being absorbed into the dense forest of green across the miniature meadow. “What is that Grandpa?” Said my Granddaughter one warm spring evening while we sat in the dark before the moon took over the sky and dispelled the eerie shadows of the night. “Ah yes, that’s a Fairy Lamp” I explained. “Ohh, what is that?” she whispered.

“A Faery Lantern, the link between two worlds is like what the dream is to those who sleep and leave the world of light for the world of the night, the world of bright consciousness to the world of dark shadows.”

“The faeries are those images that reside within the dream and guide the dream body through the labyrinth of the inner psyche. Like Dickens’ ghosts of the Christmas Carol they cross through time and solid walls as though they didn’t exist. They are of the intuitive and imaginal world beholding to nothing of the material and rational and yet, and yet, hold the very secret of life, the cradle of our soul.”

“Light the lantern and sleep will overtake you and the fairies will come, dancing and flitting, soaring and roaring through the air with an invitation to follow deeper into the night realm, deeper into the shadows of the unknown.”

It’s mostly a curious world, a mad hatters craziness that can turn on the moment to either the sublime or upon a nightmarish Jabberwocky” I growled and clawed the air menacingly while my granddaughter recoiled in mock fear.

“It’s a place of wizards, wisdom keepers and great ladies, heroes, lovers, martyrs, tricksters, devils and death. It is a world where unicorns still forage and people can take wing over vast green meadows. Here the archetypal male in us all holds his hand to the female we all share and rejoices in the union that eludes us in the waking world.”

“As we travel through the world of the night the shape-shifting creatures of the dark will lure us into the Neverseen, the Land of Faery and introduce us to our true self. Once met and understood we can never ever be the same.”

“What do you think of that?? I queried and looked over at her, but the faeries had already come and taken her through the light of the lamp. I smiled and pulled my jacket against the encroaching cold.

 

 

 

A doorway into the universal soul

 

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I had a dream not too long ago where I seemed to be everywhere at once. The dream was very disconcerting and somewhat dark in nature, I’d no sooner noticed where I was than I’d be somewhere else, then nowhere and yet everywhere. This went on and on until suddenly I awoke and was a bit disoriented. It took some moments to remember and recognize where I was. It was as though the dream had carried into the waking world and I needed to pin the wakefulness down to find where I was.

This dream and its residual into the wakened state reminded me of the quantum physics concept of “nonlocality”. In the dream it was only when I noticed myself as being somewhere that the location would change. In the theory of nonlocality everything is potential and it’s only when we make an observation that the field of everywhere and everywhen collapses into a single place. It’s as though reality is what we make of it. It’s only when our ego-selves intervene that everything solidifies into a something.

Some self-awareness gurus like Deepak Chopra, Eckhart Tolle, and James Redfield suggest that at a fundamental level reality is a non defined soup or eternal soul that exists at the level of potential and only taking form through the personal soul, the soul of all our experiences. As Chopra once said “the soul is the observer in the midst of the observation.” Essentially there is an object that is observed, then there’s the process of observing that happens in the brain, and lastly there’s an observer. The brain is interpreting what is seen based on prior information, observations, relationships, and biases. This is all happening while the “observer” is observing.

In dreams this nonlocal essence is often imaged as an ocean or great sea while the waves represent the local or personal point-of-view. Carl Jung, the early to mid-century Swiss Psychiatrist thought of this vast sea as the unconscious mind where the universal archetypes of the psyche reside– that there is a shared information that crosses all cultures and across all time. Everyone and everything is part of a nonlocal ocean of intelligence i.e. an unbounded potential from which we can draw if we learn how. Dreams are but the waves of this vast ocean and present us with information that the conscious mind normally has no access to. They are an access-point or doorway into the universal soul.

My dream might have been trying to help me to keep the doorway and my options open as well as my points-of-view flexible and fluid. In short, to be more willing to let go and let reality evolve. All too often it seems that I cut short the process by settling on one point-of-view to the exclusion to all others.

Dreams and hypnosis

 

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Not too long ago someone asked about the relationship between dreams and hypnosis.

Did you know that dreaming and hypnosis have a lot in common? Both tap into what the subconscious is observing and has stored. Both place the conscious mind in a state that allows for access to the unconscious. Neurologically these frequency wave states are called alpha and theta (8-13 Hz and 4-7 Hz respectively. A Hz being a “Hertz,” which is the name for a cycle per second).

Sometimes hypnosis can help you to recall a forgotten dream, or it can be used to go back into a favorite dream so that you can finish it up (don’t you hate it when you’re in a great dream and you wake up in the middle of it?).

Hypnosis can also be used to generate dreams (dream incubation), or be used in the technique called “Active Imagining” when you take a dream theme and imagine it evolving beyond the reality of the actual dream. This is sort of like Gestalt therapy when the client imagines a theme or an outcome, or places themselves in another’s shoes by acting it out.

There are several states of consciousness with the mind crossing in an out of all three–Beta, Alpha, Theta and even a fourth, Delta, though this last one would be very momentary for this is the state of deep sleep. Each state has its own breadth and depth of consciousness and unconsciousness. Thoughts (what we laughingly call consciousness) is quite broad, but has very little depth, whereas the dream state isn’t very broad in that it is more focused, but is very deep and then there’s hypnosis which has a lot of focused consciousness and a much larger depth of unconsciousness.

To incubate a dream, or to set the stage for what is known as a “Lucid Dream” (one where you are aware that you are dreaming when in the dream, which allows you to orchestrate it somewhat), suggestions are placed during a hypnosis session. These sessions can use cultural ideas, values, or behavior patterns (called memes) in the form of suggestions that are “planted” into the unconscious and which can be brought to consciousness by attaching a cue to them (in the form of a word, phrase, sound, or visual stimulus*) that when expressed will activate the meme. These are good for the short-term, so are effective in dream incubation and recall.

The mind is a fascinating thing even it’s darker unconscious aspects!

_____________________

* For example, “When you see your hand in the dream you will become lucid.”

A waking Dream

 

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When visiting the UK not too long ago I found myself one late afternoon wandering the grass-covered ruins of an ancient Abbey. A strange fog had rolled in and masked many parts of the ruins making it look even more hollow and missing in walls than it otherwise would. It was on days like these that it is said things come up from the underworld and reach out for the souls that wander these halls that are no more.

This the land of the White Monks and the Black Death sings a lonely song, but during the Spring when the grass is cut it lays like a carpet across the floor of the great nave ready for the grand noble entrance of Kings and Queens once more. I could hear them walking past, the swishing of their robes, the clank of a Bishop’s Crosier striking the pace against the stone floor through the hall, and the smell of incense riding the foggy swirls descending from high in the roofless ceiling.

For one brief moment I was there, witness to what was and is no more. For one brief moment I transcended the veil of time. A coldness crawled up my back and I shook my head vigorously to dispatch the errant visions, then stood chilled and still, hearing echoes of a past I never knew, yet somehow they had followed me here and lay amongst my own memories forever more.

Falling into the Abyss

Not so long ago I asked the “nothing-in-particular-of-the-general-universe” (God for some of you) to help me through the funk I’d fallen into and while browsing a bookstore my attention was drawn to a shelf where a book called out to me, The13th Disciple by Deepak Chopra. “Sounds a bit preachy and just alittle too Christian for my tastes,” I thought, but found myself buying it anyway. I waded into its pages when I got home and nothing jumped out but something told me to be patient that there was some gold hiding in the pages.

As I continued to readI came across a chapter that sparked a memory, a recollection of a time spent at a retreat when a grief was resurrected and sent me hurtling down an endlessly dark hole from which I wasn’t sure I could pull myself.

I shook off the memory and continued to read when another turn of phrase triggered another memory of a void I had tripped into shortly after hearing of my father’s death. Both instances of grief propelled me into a helpless emotional abyss from which I wasn’t sure I’d escape and appalling as it may seem I wasn’t sure that I wanted to.

In both instances within moments of my plunge, and with fear consuming every cell of my being, I calmed and faced the darkness before me wondering curiously what lay at the other end and finding that I was just a little captured by the thought that there might not even be an end. What would that be like, I wondered?

Why was I visiting these pains yet again after so many years? Was it possible that I hadn’t fully dealt with either and here was another chance to reconcile, to “zero out” or bring balance to these experiences? I’d always wondered where the tunnel would have taken me if I had not stopped the tumble. I mean what would have happened if Alice had stopped her fall down the rabbit hole by waking herself up?

Almost as soon as I had that thought the following came to me and I quickly grabbed a pen and in my haste, and not finding any other suitable writing surface, wrote it inside the dust jacket of the book.

“Seeking zero point where nothing holds you up and you plunge into the emptiness of your being.

Falling into the objectless void you’re on your own with no one to aid.

But keep your wits and you’ll pass right through hell, the tears will wash away the fear, and the abyss will become your grace.”

The words in my mind came to an abrupt end and I set down the pen and briefly pondered their meaning.

Suddenly a memory of light elbowed its way into consciousness and for a brief moment I was laying on the floor of a mediation room open on all four sides to a surrounding forest that until then had been cloaked in the deepening grays and shadows of an advancing night and marveling how every tree, every leaf, the sky, the ground, and the people around me seemed to have a glow.

What had been a somewhat hostile world became warm and friendly and I got up and walked into the night feeling for the first time in my life that I belonged, not to any organization or place, but to everything.

And then I was back. As I sat at home reading my musings it was as though something in the universe wanted to remind me of the journey I’ve been on all these many years and how far I’ve come and how I’ve changed over that time. It’s not in my essence that change took place but in my ability to see it and function from it and like Alice sometimes there’s a light just for us at the bottom of the dark holes we fall into and we just have to let go in to them.

Magic: Just for a moment step through the door between your perspective and the cosmic mind.

 

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Carl Jung the 20th century Swiss psychoanalyst suggested that there’s a place between the conscious mind and the soul called the dream–it is a hidden door into the cosmic mind he said. It is something that exists in the twilight, the limen if you will, between the “out there” and the “in here” of our brains. This is the threshold upon which the shaman works his magic, where the healing takes place.

To the Iroquois dreams are a representation of the desires of the soul. To some tribal cultures they are messages from the ancestors, or from the spirit world. To many Christians and Muslims they were and in some ways still are seen as messages from God.

Jung thought that dreams were part of the Individuation process where we each become more fully human–where the “I” is created. Perhaps we dream to create the self? But what is this dream?

One night I thought that I had awakened from my sleeping imaginarium and attempted to manipulate the lingering images so as to get back into it when I realized that I was still dreaming. So I asked myself while in the in the dream, “What is being awake? If I am still in this dream, but think I’m awake, am I really dreaming?” It came to me then that perhaps I wasn’t awake in the rest of my life, but only dreaming. “Am I a dream, dreaming I’m awake, or am I awake dreaming I’m dreaming?”

That was my first lucid dream experience, though at the time I didn’t recognize it as such, but it did shift my perspective a little about what I had been calling consciousness. Dreams then took on a different meaning for me when I realized that they were an in-between state of realities that may actually all take place within an even greater dream–the dream of God. If as Edgar Allan Poe quipped, “Are all we see or seem, is but a dream within a dream?” do we also dream God into reality and if we are dreaming him, is he also dreaming us?

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In the Australian Aboriginal cosmology the Rainbow Snake god created the Earth that then created mankind, who in turn recreated the Earth, and all was done within “The Dreaming.” To them this Dreaming continues to this day and in this perspective we are the dreamer and the dream at the same time.

Every story of every creature creates. And according to the physicist Fred Alan Wolf, just as reality is affected by the surrounding energy field, dreams are not made by the dreamer alone either, but by the surrounding field, which in this case can be seen as the people around us. We are all involved to some degree in each other’s stories. When dreaming, we may be writing our own script and in this way each of us is but one dream story of the Dreamtime.

Perhaps we are all standing on the threshold of consciousness and in a lucid dream so to speak–where being awake and being in the dream are superimposed. It may be here that we create what is. We do not devise the objects of reality, though we do beget our experience and meaning for what is there. But because we can only know what we perceive-what we project; we don’t really know what exists outside our own heads.

The Mandala is for me an excellent metaphor for the dream within a dream concept where at the center of its concentric circles lie our selves. In it we are both the center and the rings around it–it represents the whole self, the conscious and unconscious striving for unity. Upon every boundary one stands and sees him self, forward and backward, in and out, above and below, creating and being created. Reality is derived from the center and then collapses upon itself as it becomes ever more aware.

On his way to the Archipelago (in the book The Archipelago of Dreams) Robert crossed this limen between worlds and entered the world of the dream where reality is created. In it he was confronted by the archetypes of his race and was forced to reconcile with them. Beyond the veil he discovered the reality of creation and was forced to grow up in its embrace. Robert learned of the dream within the dream and feared awakening within his slumber. This was his ultimate shadow that had stalked him all his life and would end his life as he had known it.