Monday, February 3, 2014

Remembering Our Ceremonies with Respect to the Elders

photo courtesy of ethnoautobiography.net
What an interesting time to be alive. Most of us are post-diaspora ancestral mosaics, lumped together under national politics, our tribes and homelands forgotten, colors replacing heritages, compartmentalized into tiny boxes. (I will not check "white," the box that ignores Celt, Anglo-Saxon, Frank, Ashkenazi Jew, Norse, and Cherokee, not to mention the unending backbone that connects me with all of life.) 

It is also a wondrous time to be alive. Google exists. Self-selected families can create beauty on staggering scales. We have relative freedom to choose our paths, as long as we aren't upsetting the NSA, as long as we have privilege, etc. We live among people from all over the world.

We still have so much in common with our ancestors. We are born, we die, we breathe in, we breath out, we dream, we mate, we eat, we eliminate, we emote, we think, we observe. We create ceremony. 

After a weekend of attending the powwow in Berkeley, California, and the Gathering of the Ohlone Peoples in Coyote Hills, I feel strong in my commitment to remember the ceremonies of ancient Europe. In October of 2011, before Mexica-Toltec elder, Sundance chief, and timekeeper Tlakaelel became an ancestor, I told him that we had lost our ceremonies, and asked for his advice. He said, "You must must do a lot of research, keep looking with your heart. If you still do not find any ceremony, then you must create it. You must create it from your heart, with respect to the elders." He held my hand while saying this, and emanated pure love. 


me with Tlakaelel in 2011

I have done my best to take his advice. I have kept an open heart and mind as I move through life. I have read the Celtic sagas, folktales, and books on the alignments of our sacred sites. I have been recording my dreams every single day for 9 years so that I can contribute my waking and dreaming records as a body of work when I meet other people working toward the same end. I know you are out there. 

I look at the European people around me who create ceremony, and I have trouble connecting. In respect and kinship with the participants, I see a lot of substance abuse, and I wonder about the origins of their practices. Don't get me wrong; I'm not a purist. I know we can't make things the way they once were, and I wouldn't want to anyway. I'm just trying to find my place. Tlakaelel said to create new ceremonies only after we have looked, within and without, with respect to the elders. Where are the European tribal elders? They must be in Europe. I am looking here in America, and I am finding only the passage of time, and I am wondering if we are the elders, slowly growing up together.

I look to my friends who are immersed in Lakota ceremony, or Maya healing traditions, or curanderisma, or Hopi, or Hindu, or Chinese cosmology. I am happy for them, especially when they are fortunate enough to have access to their own unbroken ancestral traditions. I do not deny that we can be called to another tradition or that we all share common ancestry, because we can and we do, but it is always good to know who we are first. 

At one time, I would have eagerly attended any ceremony, with a nose-to-the-glass desire to become whatever I witnessed before me. Now I attend strong in myself, as a guest, and thank God for those who are able to have continuity with their homelands and ancestors. It is beautiful.

I am a person of many European clans, a fluid embodiment of bygone tribal eras. What do we do when we are a beautiful, confusing patchwork quilt of cultural expressions? When we are not born on ancient inherited land that stores millennia of ancestral memories? What would a ceremony even look like today? 

Ceremonies were given to the people by the land, the ancestors, and the spirits to create reciprocity between the worlds. They are like a set of instructions that keep communities healthy, that keep our relationships good. We can gauge our relative health by what happens during the ceremony. If things don't go well, that says something. It's a form of divination. If they do go well, that bodes well for the tribe, for the world. 

Ceremonies accumulate power and momentum over thousands of years, especially on our sacred sites, where people would gather. This is why when we go to the special places on our homelands, we can still feel the power there, and can experience awakening quickly. We are basking in the ceremonial residue of harmonious intent. 

I look around and wonder, "Am I the only one who misses them?" I can't be. This is why thousands of European-descended people flock to powwows, identify so thoroughly with their 1/28th Cherokee heritage, become initiates in other traditions, create new ceremonies the best we can together after generations of colonization, disconnection from our lands, and painful forgetting of our own stories. 

So what do we do? For me, it started with a prayer. My teacher and elder Apela Colorado instructed me to make a traditional offering of mead (honey wine, a common European offering) and say a simple prayer to connect with my ancestors. It worked. This prayer opened a door that a thousand ancestors wanted to step through simultaneously (which can happen if no one in the family is consciously listening to those who have come before us). 


Dr. Apela Colorado (center) with Roger Marty, traditional Occitan Healer, and Voodouin healer and M.D. Erick Gbdossou in the South of France
Our ancestors speak to us in waking life synchronicities and through our dreams. Apela taught me to pay attention and record the things that happen after I made my prayer. I also continued with traditional genealogical research. It all works together. Ancestral remembrance is much easier when we rely on the support and momentum of a circle whose focus is remembering. (But don't let that stop you. You can start out working with just yourself and some guidelines [email me]. And, you'll always have unseen help. Do have a stable support system in place to help you through the transformative path of ancestral remembrance.)

Apela was among the first to reawaken to our European indigeny and offer her revelation as a gift for the Earth and we who are walking on it. She grew up identifying with her Native American (Oneida) heritage, but then one day she realized that her Frank ancestors (from France) were just as important as her Oneida ancestors. Luckily for us, she opened a school to help people from any background to reconnect with our native traditions. 

I entered this ceremony of remembrance with a group of people from nearly every continent. We have worked together over many years to remember who we are, our global tribe. We're creating a new way with respect to the old ways. We have seen remembrance become easier for each successive group of students. Our efforts pave the way for each other, like our ancestors paved the way for us. We have also noticed, as the motley crew that we are, that when we keep clear boundaries with our prayers, our lineages speak in turns, very manageably. I learned how to tell the thousand ancestors who wanted to speak all at once, "I'm here. I'm listening. But you gotta form a line."

The ancestors who speak most clearly to me and through me are the Celtic people of Ireland. I am at home in the stone circles. There, I can breathe. The pre-Celtic Neolithic people really understood the relationship between land and sky. They made their observations available to us by building sophisticated stone monuments, which also functioned as ritual centers. 

This weekend at the powwow, the Aztec people (Tlakaelel says their ancient name is the Atlan) explained that their ancestors were sky watchers, too, who embedded their observations in dance. The dancers were not spinning and bouncing at random; each move embodies a relationship between the Heavens and Earth.

I thought about Irish dancing. Although far younger than the Atlan dances, surely the Irish dances I know and love didn't appear out of thin air. I wonder about their stylistic precedent, or if the content reflected the heavenly motions. In Ireland, star charts are everywhere. Each mound is a precise archive of our heavenly dance. The petroglyphs, too, record lunar, solar, and stellar patterns. The River Boyne is said to be a reflection of the Milky Way.


Ann Marie Sayers, photo by thecaliforniamissionride.org

Yesterday at the Gathering of the Ohlone, I saw elder, Tribal Chair of Indian Canyon, and storyteller Ann Marie Sayers, who I have admired for years. I walked up to her and told her so, and also mentioned that I was working toward the recovery of my people's native ceremonies. She looked at me with a twinkle in her eye, and said, "They're coming back!" 


This was one of the first times I'd heard this from an elder. It was music to my ears, and I know it's true. In fact, Apela just returned from a ceremony in the caves of Dordogne, France, conducted by an indigenous elder of the (European) Occitan culture. She offers this picture and words about her experience:

photo courtesy of Apela Colorado
"In the presence of shamans from around the world, Jean Paul Amanieu, member of the ancient Occitan indigenous people of southern France, calls to Ancestors and for their help in renewing the indigenous spirituality and traditions of his people. The Occitan culture has survived a thousand years of oppression from the Romans and Catholic Church Inquisitions, and in modern times, French government policies aimed at destroying the language and any vestiges of culture. This moment marks a renaissance and is a beacon of hope for the entire western world."

I dream of participating in such an event. I already am, in my own way. Every effort counts, and before we know it, our lifetimes of effort have contributed to something really beautiful. Bringing authentic European ceremonies into a modern context might sound like a lot of work, and it is. But it's also fun. I'm living my dream. It is an honor to help pave the way for the growing movement of remembrance. 


. . .


A huge thank you to Apela for all you do and have done, for my circle of friends who are walking the path with me, and to my ancestors, who make all of this possible. 

Go raibh maith agaibh! 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Cynthia Greb Interviews Erin Langley: Ancestral, Prophetic, and Lucid Dreaming

artist unknown

1. Erin, I know from our work together in the Indigenous Mind program that you are a powerful dreamer. When did you first start remembering your dreams?

The first dream I remember happened in the apartment my family lived in until I was 18 months old. So, sometime when I was very young, I had a dream of three faceless figures sitting on a bench in a desert, in front of a building made of sand with swinging red doors. I guess it was a nightmare, because I screamed for my mom, “The folks are coming! The folks are coming!” It was very real. My dream life has always been vivid.

2. Have you noticed times in your life when your dreams were particularly powerful or sacred? What was going on in your waking life at that time?

Powerful dreams happen most often when I am traveling, or if I'm in a transition--situations that put me out of my comfort zone and make me feel alive. But they can come at any time. I treat all dreams alike. Whether they seem powerful or not, they all matter. I write them all down, and consider them as I make my decisions. Small, insignificant-seeming dreams can add up to motifs, which taken as a body of work, can be very powerful.

When I went to Ireland, and sat in the sacred sites of my ancestors, my dreams were very potent. I would often return to my room after a day at Brú na Bóinne (Newgrange), lie down, and simply leave my body. Sacred sites have a profound impact on my dreaming.

3. A. What is it like to dream as a woman? B. Have you noticed correlations between your dreaming and your menstrual cycle? C. How did your dreams change when you were pregnant?
My concept of gender has really changed over the years to be more open. I guess I can only speak for myself. As a woman, I feel very receptive to energy and information. I love to learn the symbols that have come to us as a dreaming people for millennia. It feels like a very old, natural art that connects us all.

I think of menstruation as a service, in which millions of women are processing grief, turmoil, and all kinds of stuff, on behalf of all of us. I prefer to relax and nourish myself, if I can. It's a great time for dreaming, letting go, and being recalibrated.

When I was pregnant, I had lots of prophetic dreams with animal symbolism, which I didn't understand until after the birth. They foretold my daughter's stroke, and also the medicine that could help stop her bleeding. My daughter spoke very loudly from the womb, to both me and her father. Her dad is a very practical computer guy, and he'd wake up from these clear, prophetic dreams that showed what she looked like. Before she was born she said, “Don't worry, Daddy. I'm smart and happy.” We were so grateful for this dream when she was in the hospital. She also told me her very unusual middle name in a dream, which I did not share with her dad, and then he “thought of it.” In a way, we were both pregnant with her.

4. Some indigenous women teach that women’s dreams are intimately connected with both their womb and the moon. Have you noticed your dreams changing in accordance with the phases of the moon?

For five years, I tracked thousands of my dreams against an astronomical ephemeris, including the phase of the moon. I noticed that I had the most dreams in a waning gibbous moon. I don't know why. I was born in a waning gibbous moon, so maybe there's an affinity there.

5. In the Indigenous Mind program, we are encouraged to actively research our ancestry.  Did you find ancestors visiting you in your dreams?  And did it occur more frequently after you began doing research and/or honoring them in some way?

Yes, I did have some visitation dreams. I still do. I don't know if they occur more frequently than they did before, but I understand them better now. I think I was always fated to work with my ancestors. We all are, since we inherited their histories, but often that continuity remains unconscious.

As a teenager, I had visions of ancestral homelands that I would later visit. One vision (a waking state of seeing clear, photographic images through closed eyelids) showed me a map, which I thought was France. It turned out to be a map of County Meath, Ireland, which I painted as a mural seven years later on my ancestral journey.

Around the same time, I had an out of body experience of being in the Black Sea. Later I learned my maternal great grandfather came over from Odessa. When I was 20, I made a waking life pilgrimage to the healing wells of Arles, France, and to Mt. Sainte-Baume, the resting place of Mary Magdalene. I had lots of dreams and visions on this trip. This was before I knew of my Frank heritage. If you're as mixed as I am, you can go almost anywhere and it will be an ancestral journey.

Actual ancestors came to me in dreams, too. One man told me his name and relationship to me, which I verified in waking life. Some unsettled ancestors have come in. Others have come to bless me. Ancestor dreams don't need to be so literal. I have been looking at my dreams closely for a long time, so I know some of the symbols that are associated with ancestors, and what they can mean.

6. I know that you are very interested in lucid dreaming. Can you tell us a bit about lucid dreaming and why you think it’s important?

Lucid dreaming is fun. It shows me a clear view of reality, and my impact on it. If I project love, the scene responds in kind. If I ask to see what's beyond dreaming, I can experience clear, fundamental, nameless quality that is so exhilarating that I can't tolerate the experience for very long without waking up. It's also the perfect place to face my fears because they can literally manifest before me. So, I get to practice courage. Once I sat down in a den of striking snakes to meditate, because why not? Then the dream dissolved, and the most scintillating energy rippled through me, as though I had integrated the power of the dream. I felt like I'd passed some kind of test I set up for myself.

Lucid dreams are a great place to experiment with ancient healing technologies. I can't do it very well by myself; I have not been initiated or trained except through my own experiences. I need the support of a tribe, and a contextual demand for the skill. Our ancestors practiced healing from the dream worlds. I have experimented a lot with bioremediation in lucid dreams, as well as healing people (with permission), as long as it doesn't get too strenuous. Or else, what's the point—healing one at the expense of another?

I have learned to watch for the egotistical, colonial mentality of "fixing" something I know nothing about and doesn't need fixing. The idea of curing in general maintains duality, but seeing my child suffer, or thinking about people who don't have enough food to eat or access to medicine makes this view seem like decadent abstraction. There are so many layers. It's a dance.

7. Aboriginal elders believe we dream the world into being, that we can dream a better world. What do you think of this idea and do you have a dream you would like to share that can inspire us and help us to imagine a world transformed? 

A teacher of mine tells about a man who came down from a mountain to bring a girl, his distant relative, out of a coma. He treated all information he encountered along the way as a dream. When he got to the girl's house, he simply said, “Sit her up.” And she did. She sat up and asked for a drink. He had to “work on” everything and everyone around him so the dream would turn out the way the girl's family wanted it to.

We get to practice the same thing in lucid dreams and in waking life. Some lucid dreaming teachings encourage us to “control the dream.” As Robert Waggoner says, “Does the sailor control the sea?” But still, we can practice walking through walls, flying, turning into animals, doing whatever we set our mind to. This strengthens our power in any facet of the world. I don't know if the man from the mountain dreamed a better world, but he dreamed a different outcome.

To me, hope of a better world is counterproductive. I just try to keep my heart open to what's in front of me, and then tolerate the discomfort. If I give up the hope the world can be a better place, then I can relax into my actual situation. When I'm present, I'm more sensitive to the cues life gives me. Then I can respond powerfully with simple economy of gesture. I am learning about abandoning hope and animating the story I want to inhabit. Hope takes away our power. Acceptance, intention, and sustained action toward that intention give our power back to us, especially when we work together. 


. . .

For full article and information about writer and artist Cynthia Greb, see All Things Healing.




Friday, June 28, 2013

Prophetic Dreams

photo by Katerina Plotnikova

Have you ever had a prophetic dream? If you record your dreams, then you probably have. Most often, they occur as "inconsequential" prophecies, or details of little import that bleed through the dream world into wake-world occurrences. Inconsequential prophecy (and commonplace clairvoyance) dreams happen for just about anyone who pays attention.

This morning, I had a dream in which I was turning my soaking wet purse inside-out to dry. Sure enough, when I arrived at work today, I found myself in this exact situation.

A couple weeks ago, I had a dream in which I was rooting for the decades-old rock band, Rush. I was telling a group of people how much they deserved to be in the Rock 'N Roll Hall of Fame, and how glad I was that they were finally being recognized. The very next day at the doctor's office, I opened Rolling Stone magazine to an article that said, "Rush Enters Hall of Fame." I couldn't believe it, except that I could. This happens all the time: BAM. Commonplace clairvoyance.

Have you heard of the crossword puzzle experiment to explore the notion of "collective consciousness"? In the movie Waking Life, a visionary exposition on lucid dreaming, two characters describe the idea behind the experiment: If the crossword puzzles were a day old, meaning that thousands of people had already completed them, then people found it easier to get the answers because the answers were already "out there" in the collective memory.

Thousands of screaming Rush fans at the inauguration, lots of press and hullabaloo: Seems likely that my cosmic radar could easily pick up on this, especially since--and here's an embarrassing admission--as a teenager in 1998, I used to wait in the long line at the University of Florida's library to use a computer just so I could solicit the Rock 'N Roll Hall of Fame bulletin board to plead for Rush's induction.

(I have since learned that there are more pressing issues to which I can lend my efforts.)

But what about prophetic dreams? Dreams that occur before a phenomena has occurred among the meat-suit participants of waking life? The best way I can explain this is to say that time is all oogly-boogly.

Waking life and dreaming life are really part of the same team, constantly informing each other. The two worlds are actually one. When we learn to read the symbols of our dreams, we simply find that they hold a million premonitions. They just do. If you're interested in learning about this for yourself, I recommend keeping a dream journal.

Write down everything that you remember about your dreams. Don't worry about any of the meanings of the dream symbols or events. Just listen and record, and keep those records accessible. I write my dreams down in a notebook, and then type them up into my computer so I can search by keyword later.

Then let life unfold! You will begin to notice that certain symbols predictably yield similar events. You will start to learn the language of dreaming, both personal and transpersonal. Here are two examples from my own life:

photographer unknown

Foxes. Foxes are wonderful animals. So beautiful. We have the red and the gray variety here in the Bay Area. But when I dream about foxes, I know I can expect a spot of trouble. There is nothing inherently negative about the animal, yet when they appear in dreams, they often foretell distress of some kind or other. I originally believed this was my own personal portent, but then I learned from two prominent dream teachers that foxes are actually a cross-cultural symbol for impending complication.

During the most difficult of times in my life, such as when my daughter had a stroke after her birth, a pair of foxes, a mom and a baby, literally walked into my midwife's home on two separate occasions in the weeks leading up to the birth. This occurred in waking life(!) The symbols can appear in either realm. (It's the same realm.)

And then there are weddings. I used to dream about weddings, beautiful dreams in which the bride, usually a family member, looked so lovely as she entered her marriage ceremony, surrounded by family and friends. Then, in waking life, the bride would pass away. So, I learned that weddings foretold profound transformation or "marrying" a strong fate. Sometimes this can be a literal death, sometimes not.

This made me very anxious about wedding dreams. I started having dreams with myself as the bride. This is an example of anxiety skewing a dream symbol. I had aversion to it, so my aversion created more wedding dreams.

Plenty of more positive-seeming foretellings can occur as well. Flying can mean freedom (or it can also mean you have gas). Ripe fruit signifies privilege and luxury. We can meet with teachers and guides whose positive impact on us requires no interpretation. Usually we don't need someone to explain to us if a dream is good. It just feels good.

But sometimes good dreams occur in a "crooked" form, or opposite of what you think the dream might mean. For example, seeing feces in a dream often heralds a time of great wealth. Seeing a coffin portends good health. Copious weeping can mean profound healing and resolution. No meaning is set in stone. The images are flexible, and can evolve over time. The feeling of the dreamer usually informs the auspice. Some dreams are not symbolic at all, but offer direct glimpses into things to come.

Often, prophetic dream hold a message for or about a larger community. Dream sharing with our friends can help us discern these larger messages, and recalibrate accordingly. Integrating our dreams (which is a good 30% of our lives, after all) keeps us healthy as individuals and as communities. For example, if a tribe wanted to avoid a traumatic event that they had seen in a dream, such as a raid, they would enact the dream (in a dramatic, but less lethal way) so the dream's reality and vitality would be "spent" and the disaster could be averted. We can get creative, too, to make adjustments in order to buffer unwanted outcomes, or simply prepare for things to come.

My point is this: All the information we ever wanted know about our dreams presents itself to us every day and night. All we have to do is pay attention.




Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Cross Quarter Dreaming: Imbolc

I am a calendar-loving dream detective. The cycles of the Sun, Moon, and Earth have cued our cyclical celebrations for millennia. Seasonal dreams can describe rituals performed at a given time of year, or our ancestors' associations with the calendar itself.  These dreams can occur on cross quarter days, which have been informed and empowered by rhythmic ritual. This land- and culture-based impulse still arises, and finds an outlet through our dreams. 

I have noticed several associations around the time of Imbolc/Candlemas, which I will describe here to organize my own records, to show a way I work with dreams (or a way they work with me), and to share findings with other dream archeologists and cultural practitioners.  
The Presentation of Jesus at the Temple by Hans Holbein
For many years, I have had dreams about different aspects of the cross quarter day Imbolc. Usually, the dreams describe Imbolc as a gateway to other seasonal pivots. This reminds me of the careful alignment of megalithic monuments. A circle of stones archives a complete template for the cyclical progression of time, with the entrance oriented toward a certain day (or short range of days) on the wheel of the year. The stones rely upon and refer to one another throughout the year, much like how our dreams change with and inform each other throughout the seasons.

The first recorded dream I had about Imbolc occurred on Febraury 2, 2006:

"A black dragon chases me through the water in a cathedral. It is simultaneously Easter and Christmas. A man is using a shell as a pendulum; it is important that I get it back from him, and I do. I am at a Christmas revival, but it is also Easter. I go into a trance and am sweating and nearly hyperventilating. When I open my eyes, I am standing against the wall crucifying myself in the light. There is an Easter egg with money in it."

The dream had an urgency that caused me to research "Easter and Christmas," which sent me to an article about Candlemas, a Christian holiday that commemorates the presentation of Jesus, 40 days after his birth. The celebration takes place on February 2, the same day I had the dream. The article states, "Traditionally, Candlemas had been the last feast day in the Christian year that was dated by reference to Christmas. Subsequent moveable feasts are calculated with reference to Easter."

Six years later, on January 31, 2012, I dreamed:

"A woman has two sons, one born on 'the Christmas Equinox,' and one born on 'the Easter Equinox.' The boys have another brother, too, who was born somewhere between these two special dates. A Celtic cross, they called it, to have two sons, one born on the first Equinox, the other on the second." 

Both dreams involve the image of a cross, in the form of a crucifix and a Celtic cross. (I am thinking of the quadrant of the year, among other associations.) Both use a blend of Christian and pre-Christian symbolism and language to illustrate this time of year. Both suggest the simultaneity, or at least the conjoined nature, of these significant cyclical nodes: Christmas/Winter Soltice, Candlemas/Imbolc, Easter/Vernal Equinox.
image from http://www.drireneblinston.com

On February 2, 2013, I recorded another dream that merges seasonal nodes. This time, the dream connects Imbolc (February 2-ish) and Samhain (October 31-ish), which sit opposite each other on the wheel of the year:

"It is Halloween! I am getting ready, setting out decorations so people know to trick-or-treat at my house. I am buying candy." 

I have also had many visitation dreams at this time. Encounters with the deceased are usually associated with Samhain, when the veil between worlds is at its thinnest. In my experience, a similar window exists around Imbolc. Or perhaps more precisely, a portal exists between Imbolc and Samhain. The Mound of Hostages at the Hill of Tara is aligned to receive the sunrise on both Imbolc and Samhain. The rising Sun's identical position in the sky (from our vantage point) naturally links these two days.

artist unknown
Imbolc has the double meaning of "in the belly," or "ewe's milk." Fertility, reproduction, milk, and the young--all overseen by the goddess Brigid--govern this time of year. Brigid is the goddess/saint opoetry, smithing, medicine, arts and crafts, cattle, and Spring. I love her. She holds the balance of fire and water with her hearth fires and holy wells. On February 5, 2013, I had a clear and simple dream of how many women of Celtic descent are emanations of the goddess Brigid herself. She knows herself through their actions, and vice versa.  

A few days "early," on January 25, 2013, I had a dream that spoke of how megalithic monument Newgrange, in my ancestral homeland of Ireland, may be used on Imbolc. Elders from various traditions have taught me to share these types of dreams with discretion. It is my great desire to collaborate with a circle of tribally-rooted dreamers and historians so that we can corroborate dream archeology with known records and traditions.

Dreams are a natural way to recover "lost" or interrupted ceremonies. Together we can piece together a mosaic of our people's traditions. No matter where we're from on the globe, our ancestors kept ritual time. Cross quarter days are dictated not by culture, but by the motions of the Sun, Moon, and Earth. These cycles unite us as much as dreaming does. 


Lastly, Imbolc is an important time of divination. We can receive omens of the coming year in waking life and in dreams. Even for those who don't keep consistent records, this holiday offers a special occasion to write down our dreams. 



What have your dreams told you about the coming year? Do you know any of your ancestral rituals for this cross quarter day? Have dreams helped inform you? 


Saturday, November 24, 2012

Masks


image by Erin Langley

This morning, I woke up inside a dream, looked around, and decided the most brilliant thing I could do was shout to the quiet residential neighborhood around me, "WHAT IS THE MEANING OF THIS DREAM?" 

That is like going out into my own neighborhood while I'm awake and shouting, "WHAT IS THE MEANING OF LIFE?" The question, and especially the shouting of it, evidences my own deafness. What kind of answer was I expecting? The answer--the meaning of the dream, the meaning of life--is self-evident. Nothing happened. I laughed.

Lucid dreaming is cool because we can have direct contact with pure, unmasked (pre?)consciousness more easily than we can while we're awake. The pristine quality of emptiness or form or whatever you want to call it can remind us that all the masks we choose to don again in the morning are just there for fun, for ornament. They offer decorative distinctions that can be useful to us.

If I have the insight next time, I will ask for contact with the dream before it assumes its own masks, or mine: a residential neighborhood, a forest, a lair of striking snakes, encounters with angels or demons. I will ask, "What is behind the dream?" or "What is the clear light?" or "What is our true nature?"

In an interview between lucid dreamers Rebecca Turner and Robert Waggoner, Robert explains:

"The Buddhist yogi, Naropa, considered dream yoga (a system of inquiry that relies on lucid dreaming) one of the six paths to enlightenment. In Lucid Dreaming: Gateway to the Inner Self, I tell how after 20 years I sought to go 'beyond' lucid dreaming - beyond expectation and belief, beyond feeling and memory, to the source of lucid dreaming and its information. Without realizing it, I began to have experiences that sound very similar to what dream yoga leads to (non-dual experiences of clear light).
I had no framework to place those non-dual experiences, until I heard a talk three years later on dream yoga (so it was not something that I expected to happen as I went 'beyond' lucid dreaming). I felt like I had bushwhacked my way into something that another tradition had already built a path to - I just did it my way. Whether we take an Eastern path or a Western path to conceptualizing reality, lucid dreaming offers insights either way."




Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Dream Diagnosis

image from Paul U. Unschuld's Chinese Life Sciences

As a student of Chinese medicine, I see dream imagery as diagnostic. East Asian medical traditions, which include dreaming as one of many tools for diagnosis, have a lot to say about how the condition of the body's organs gives rise to specific dreams. Two classical compendia, The Yellow Emperor's Classic "Spiritual Pivot" (Huangdi Neijing Lingshu) and "Simple Questions" (Huangdi Neijing Suwen), arranged around 2000 years ago, offer a clear compilation of these symbols that emerge while we're sleeping. 


First, I will provide a quick primer on the organs and corresponding elements, then I will organize excerpts from the ancient texts on dreaming, and finally, I will offer examples of how to modernize the use of these symbols in clinical practice, self care, and in lucid dreams themselves.


The Five Elements




The relationships between the organs and the five elements are associative, rather than literal, unless we foster a sympathetic link between them. A Yoruba folkway repositions a breech baby by slowly rotating a watermelon in front of the mother's belly. The watermelon is not literally the baby, yet, there is an intimate kinship between the two. The Liver can have a similar intimacy with Wood. 

The same is true of all other elemental organ associations, including the Earth element and the Spleen/Stomach. However, the Earth element signifies much more than brown dirt; it is "that which is above, below, and around everything[...] It is auspiciousness and abundance itself." [1] Earth includes everything we know.

Water - Kidney/Bladder
Wood - Liver/Gallbladder
Fire - Heart/Small Intestines
Earth - Spleen/Stomach
Metal - Lung/Large Intestines



Ancient Texts:
Water



Kidney
The Spiritual Pivot (Lingshu) states:
If the Kidney Qi is in excess, there will be dreams that low back and spine are separating and cannot be joined back together.
凡 此 十 二盛 者 , 至 而 瀉 之 , 立 已 。[2]

When [there is deficiency] in the Kidney,  there will be dreams of overlooking an abyss; drowning inside the water.
客 於膀胱,則夢遊行;
The Simple Questions (Suwen) states:
When the Kidneys are weak, one dreams of swimming after a shipwreck.
If the dream takes place in the Winter [the native season of the Kidney], one dreams of plunging in the water and being scared. [3]
Bladder

Lingshu:
When [there is deficiency] in the Bladder, there will be dreams of swimming around.
客 於胃,則夢飲食;

Wood



Liver

Lingshu:
If the Liver Qi is in excess, one will dream of rage.
肺 氣 盛 , 則 夢 恐 懼 、哭 泣 、飛 揚;

When [there is deficiency] in the Liver,there will be dreams of mountain forests with established trees.
客 於 脾 ,則 夢 見 丘 陵 大 澤 , 壞 屋 風 雨;

Suwen:
When the Liver is in excess, one dreams of being angry. When the Liver is deficient, one dreams of very fragrant mushrooms; if the dream takes place in Spring [the native season of the Liver], one dreams of lying under a tree without being able to get up.

Gallbladder

Lingshu: 
When [there is deficiency] in the Gall Bladder, then there will be dreams of fighting and arguing that wound the dreamer.
客 於陰器,則夢接內;

Suwen:
When the Gallbladder is deficient, one dreams of fights, trials, and suicide.

Fire



Heart

Lingshu:
If the Heart Qi is in excess, one will have dreams of excessive laughter causing terror and dread.
脾 氣 盛 , 則 夢 歌、 身 體 重 不 舉;

When [there is deficiency] in the Heart, there will be dreams where one sees hills and mountains with smokey fire.
客 於 肺 , 則 夢 飛揚 , 見 金 鐵 之 奇 物;

Suwen:
When the Heart is weak, one dreams of fires; if the dream takes place in the Summertime [the native season of the Heart], one dreams of volcanic eruptions.

Small Intestine

Lingshu:
When [there is deficiency] in the Small Intestine, then there will be dreams of crowded cities with busy streets.
客 於 膽 ,則 夢 鬥 訟 自 刳;

Earth


Spleen

Lingshu:
If the Spleen Qi is in excess, there will be dreams with songs, and the body feels so heavy it cannot rise.
腎 氣盛,則夢腰脊兩解不屬。

When [there is deficiency] in the Spleen, there will be dreams where one sees grave mounds covered with swamp as well as an earthen room (tomb) with wind and rain. 
客 於 腎 , 則 夢 臨 淵 , 沒 居水 中;

Suwen:
If the Spleen is deficient, one dreams of being hungry; if the dream takes place in late Summer [the native season of the Spleen], one dreams of building a house.

Stomach

Lingshu: 
When [there is deficiency] in the Stomach, there will be dreams of eating and drinking.
客 於大 腸 , 則 夢 田 野 ;

Suwen:
When one has eaten to extreme repletion, then one dreams of giving. [4]


Metal



Lung

Lingshu: 
If the Lung Qi is in excess, one will have dreams of terror, weeping and ascending upward. 
心 氣盛,則夢善笑恐畏;

When [there is deficiency] in the Lung, there will be dreams of flying upward where one sees marvelous things made of gold and iron.
客 於肝,則夢山林樹木;

Suwen:
When the Lungs are in excess, one dreams of weeping. If the Lungs are deficient, one will dream of white objects or about bloody killings; if the dream takes place in the Autumn [the native season of the Lung], one will dream of battles and war.

Large Intestine

Lingshu:
When [there is deficiency] in the Large Intestine, then there will be dreams of fields gone uncultivated.
客 於小腸,則夢聚邑沖衢;


Context:

So, how do we recontextualize classical Chinese dream diagnosis for modern people? First, we must understand that these passages are not theory; they are based on observation. Therefore, we can start by observing our own dreams and the dreams of the people around us. 

I have found, for example, that helicopters can be a modern symbol for the Metal element and Lung organ. If the helicopter is on fire, this could signify Lung heat. If it is generating a lot of visceral wind within the dream, this can indicate an impending wind invasion (common cold). If we treat ourselves and others based on these diagnostic images, we are not treating pre-emptively--we are treating traditionally, with greater sensitivity and awareness. 

(This is one of the main ways I have stayed healthy and resilient lately, after a lifetime of incessant minor [and a few major] illness. I listen to the dreams, I notice how my waking thoughts change and what foods I crave when an illness is coming, and I respond quickly and appropriately.)

Here is an example of how we can apply the wisdom of Chinese classical dream literature in our dreams themselves. In yesterday's lucid dream:

I find myself moving quickly through a forest. As soon as I realize I'm dreaming, I look around to see the state of the trees. I notice that they are green and healthy for the most part, with some dryness and brown foliage as well. "Good," I am thinking, with my eye toward diagnosis. 

Then up ahead, I see a tree that is bigger than the rest. It is mostly brown and dying, with brown palmettos around its base. I wonder if all this is an expression of my Liver [The Lingshu states, "When [there is deficiency] in the Liver, there will be dreams of mountain forests with established trees".] I close my eyes, call upon my inner energy, and send a resounding pulse of health toward the tree. When I open my eyes, the tree is no longer there, and the palmettos are green.

I love the reflective quality of our bodies and the Earth body--how by minding our relationship with trees, perhaps we are helping our livers. Or, by healing the landscape in our dreams, we are affecting the Earth's body and our own body at the same time. 

Of course dream images need symptomatic corroboration. In other words, I wouldn't diagnose myself with Liver deficiency if I did not also experience some of its wake-world counterparts: blurry vision, floaters, dizziness, propensity for dreaming. (I sometimes do.) And, It's just as important to let the diagnosis go as it is to correctly name and treat its temporary manifestation. Don't get caught up in having a "deficient Liver." Nothing is really deficient; everything is complete.

As we deepen our understanding of holistic medicine and physiology, so too will new revelations surface from the fluid symbology of diagnostic dreaming. We can continue to playfully explore the healing possibilities that arise within the landscapes of our dreams and our waking lives. 

Please feel free to share your stories! 

[1] Ming, Liu. The Butterfly Book: A Workbook for the Practice of Shamanic and Path Dreaming and the Dao of the Night. Da Yuan Circle, 2007.

[2] Many thanks to Becky Groebner of slateandshellpdx.com for permission to share her translation of the Hungdi Neijing Lingshu. All excerpts from this book (Unprincipled Xie Giving Rise to Dreams: Chapter 43) are hers. The brackets and use of the word "deficiency" are mine. I chose this word to simplify her translation, "Jue Qi" to make the text more readable.

[3] Unless otherwise noted, all excerpts from the Suwen come from Joyce Marley's Acupuncture-services.com."What Do Dreams Mean According to Chinese Medicine?" 2010.

[4] Unschuld, Paul and Tessenow, Hermann. Huang Di neijing suwen: an Annotated Translation of Huang Di's Inner Classic -- Basic Questions. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA 2011.