Empty Space

Last week I reached up onto one of my bookshelves and cracked open a book I’ve had for years and years, have carried from one home to the next, but have yet to really open. Truth be told, I bought it entirely on a whim, cruising a second hand store, noticing the gorgeous green cover; the title with my initials, Ka; the evocative subtitle, Stories of the Mind and Gods of India. All for only $11.

Finally opening it, years later, I found on the first page, an astonishing paragraph:

Garuda flew and remembered. It. was only a few days since he had hatched form his egg and already so much had happened. Flying was the best way of thinking, of thinking things over. Who was the first person he’d seen? His mother, Vinata. Beautiful in her tininess, she sat on a stone, watching his egg hatch, determinedly passive. Hers was the first eye Garuda held in his own. And at once he knew that that eye was his own. Deep inside was an ember that glowed in the breeze. The same he could feel burning beneath his own feathers.

~ Roberto Calasso

Oh what imagination! The consciousness of a bird who has just hatched from an egg!

Immediately, I wanted to dive into this book, into this world with such soaring imagination… and yet, I know I currently am struggling to maintain the concentration for deep reading.

People who’ve known me a long time know what an avid reader I’ve always been…stacks of books forever by my bedside, several books, both fiction and non, on the go at once much of the time… both parents are English profs, what can I say.

But I have lost this capacity for deep reading – maybe it’s been gradual over the last couple of years? I did really notice my stunted attention span last year at work – I found that, seated by myself in a little dark room for hours on end, day after day, I’d spend so much of that time on the internet. While waiting for a render to complete, I’d check my email, and while that was loading, have a look at my phone, checking for new texts, notifications.

There’s an increasing amount of writing about this problem in the population generally – the addiction to the dopamine hits, the living out of shallow parts of the brain, the inability to access deep focus and concentration.

And then on top of everything, the pandemic… the doom scrolling, the obligatory news information check ins lasting hours longer than was truly necessary.

So, for the moment I’ve moved to audio books, listened to in extended quiet moments with no other stimulants (except maybe the lake or a tree). And I’ve been making the studio a wifi free zone. No phone allowed.

My desk there now has notebooks for writing, but also a few books to read, a few books about writing, so that I have the option of spending time just quietly with my thoughts, or even with the thoughts of otherss…

We can’t fully participate in the mystery of life if, as soon as we approach the depths where ideas reside, our own anxiety, negativity, and self-doubt make breathing difficult. If the depths unnerve us, we’ll search for answers in safe places, where the air is plentiful and the sun scares demons away. But the answers we seek can’t be found in those sun-drenched places. We really must dive.

Eric Maisel

Right. This is why it’s important.

Lens Artists – Negative Space

New Teach

Truth is, though I continue to add new teachers, I’m never finished with the old ones – just always growing a bigger roster.

* * *

Back in May I went to a workshop with a teacher I’d had my eye on. She’s based in the UK, and there was no fast and easy way I was going to make it to one of her weekend workshops there, so when she announced a workshop in the States, I jumped on the bus heading south with bells on.

The trip was through a part of the States I love – the Mohawk Valley, and the beautiful little historical towns of upstate New York, on into Massachusetts.

There was a rather hilarious moment with a ride-share, where Sharon had agreed to pick me up at the Albany bus station to drive together along highway 2 into rural Massachusetts. She opened her arms to me at the bus station with a big hug, and we clambered happily into her car, where she started with: “So, how do you know Rabbi Jill?”

Well, I knew nothing about Rabbi Jill, and she knew nothing about shamanic teacher Manda Scott, but as we soon found out over the weekend at the conference centre in the woods, there was plenty of overlap and love between the various groups sharing the space.

There are stories I could tell about the weekend itself – about details and insights and the way one weekend in the woods can seem more important than several months on either side of it, but…

… at this point I will focus on the fact that there were so many things about Manda that were very appealing to me – her fierce intelligence, her life as a creative (she’s an author – more known in Britain than over here), the way she had navigated learning shamanic practice and then building her own way with it, the excitement she brought with her about Extinction Rebellion (a much bigger movement in the UK than here), and the seriousness with which she took her role as teacher and guide to more novice travellers.

So when she and her partner, Faith, launched a new venture in December – around the time of the equinox, moving into the new year – I signed up right away, without even really knowing what it was.

Turns out, it’s a series of offerings, and you can follow the podcast for free, or you can sign up for the paid membership version of the whole thing. Aside from the (fascinating, brilliant) podcast (where Rabbi Jill makes an appearance!), there’s an online discussion board, and my favourite part – a series of guided meditations and visualizations connecting with the elements (water, fire, air, earth, and so on).

The project it proposes – of believing in a new world, of imagining a new world, rather than being locked into the narrow vision of modern life as it is currently known – has been an anchor of optimism for me. It was an anchor of optimism even before the mammoth towering shadow of a global pandemic, so I mention it to you, just in case.

Just in case it is of interest to even one someone…

Sun’s up

Sun’s up, uuh huh, looks okay
The world survives into another day
And I’m thinking about eternity
Some kind of ecstasy got a hold on me

It came on the radio a couple of days ago as I was puttering around the studio,
an old favourite from way way back in the day –

I had another dream about lions at the door
They weren’t half as frightening as they were before
But I’m thinking about eternity
Some kind of ecstasy got a hold on me

I looked around and chuckled –

I’m surrounded by them these days, the lions.
And yes, they were there at the door, in a dream,
and not half as frightening…
In fact they were lolling on the landing,
rolling on their backs, showing their tummies,
as if asking for a belly rub.

The big cats have been frequent dream visitors for some years now, so I pay attention, I work with them.
Not in any fancy complicated way,
more just in a way of being with them, of staying with them,
hangin’ with them, feeling them, and drawing them…

Recently The Shift Network had a “Dreamwork Summit” and gathered a bunch of interesting contemporary thinkers on dreaming to each give a talk and present their methods.
A few of my faves who I’ve worked with were there – Robert Moss and Toko-pa Turner, Sandra Ingerman and Sergio Magaña and Charlie Morley –
but I found I was especially drawn to a couple of guys whose work I’ve only read in books –
Robert Bosnak and Rodger Kamenetz.
Both of them talked about the phenomenology of dreaming.

Bosnak elaborates in Tracks in the Wilderness of Dreaming,

The dream story is not the dream itself.
The dream itself is a texture woven of space and time inside which we find ourselves.
During the dream we believe we are awake, in the same way that we believe we are awake when we truly are…
This is one of the few laws of human experience that hold true the world over.
The ‘I’ in the dream lives inside the dreamworld with the unshakable conviction that the surrounding reality is, indeed, utterly real.
Each dream arouses within us the conviction that we are in our waking lives.
~Robert Bosnak

With this unshakable conviction,
believing utterly and truly that it was happening as it happened,
I had a dream a couple of months ago – a nightmare, really.
In the dream, I (an I that was not entirely me, but somewhat somehow)
had been designated contaminated, or contagious, or faulty in some way,
and was given a bomb to hold against my soft belly.
And I lay there waiting for it to explode,
praying only that death would be fast.

Not a fun dream to take to the studio.
Not a fun dream in any way.
But as I let myself live with it,
as I looked long and hard at my day-to-day life,
it proved very instructive.

Kamenetz writes in The History of Last Night’s Dream

The dream wants to show us inner space.
It shows our predicament, how we really live.
But you have to be willing to feel something about your predicament, because there’s no other way in…
The special language of dreams is forceful, poetic, metaphorical…
You have to learn what causes your predicament and overcome it.
~ Rodger Kamenetz

And so I began to make a few changes.
Obvious things – started removing some unhealthy habits and initiating healthier ones.
But with these subtle changes came a surprisingly enormous emotional shift,
an energy and optimism and buoyancy I thought had fled forever with the onset of middle age.
And then I came across a quote from Sergio

Often when we die in a dream
it denotes favourable changes in our life,
even if the death occurs in a violent manner
and our conditioning leads us to interpret the dream in a negative way.
~Sergio Magaña

This reminded me of the interpretations of the Death card in tarot decks,
a frightening card to see in a reading,
that is usually not entirely what it seems –

Death is necessary for new life.
Without the old growth dying and decomposing into the soil through fall and winter, the new buds could not sprout in the spring.
Without death, nothing could change.
~Rachel Pollack

Or even more radically –

Initiation rites always led up to a simulated death and rebirth.
The initiate is led to believe that he or she is actually about to die.
Everything is done to make this death as real as possible so that the ego will be tricked and in fact experience that dreaded dissolution.
Then, when the initiate is ‘reborn’ he or she experiences a new maturity and a new freedom of energy.
~Rachel Pollack

Now this thought I love –
That the dreams contain their own processes of rites of initiation,
their own shamanic rituals,
their own journeys to power animals.

And to leave you with some of that buoyancy and optimism I’ve been feelin’,
do yourself a favour and have a listen –

And in case you’re wanting some more of that – 

Happy 2019!!!

Magicians

I am staying at Rh’s house. Or not in the house proper, but in a kind of separate guest house / basement suite that she uses, leaving the main house empty.

A man comes in. He wears a balaclava over his face and chases me around, trying to rape me. I am terrified, I do NOT want this to happen. Rh chuckles, watching the action. She has planned this.

There is a pause, and the man pulls off the ski mask. He is, in fact, a kind of goofy guy, and a magician. There is no threat after all.

* * *

This dream stayed with me for a while – as the frightening part was heart-stoppingly terrifying, and the idea of a goofy magician underneath the mask totally piqued my curiosity.

A few days later I found myself at a workshop in Owen Sound with the Toltec teacher, Sergio Magaña –

We learned a “manifesting technique” that, in its series of movements, reminded me for all the world of the Magician card in the tarot deck – reaching up to the sky above, and down below to the earth in the process of creation…

What a way to begin the summer…

We stayed just outside of Owen Sound on my friends’ farm where they had some new horses, and Sauble beach is just a hop skip and jump away –

And there is a sense of buoyant optimism in the sensation of creation from this practice… It’s a technique that is done for a number of days in a row, the repetition reinforcing the sense of creative magician… even my dream world has been increasingly busy (and occasionally magical) with this practice.

* * *

On Facebook I belong to various dream groups, and recently someone posted some collages she was doing from her dreams.

They had the structure of a series of comic book frames, allowing for the shifts in the narrative from scene to scene – a technique she said she learned from a workshop with Jeremy Taylor.

We got into a bit of a conversation about working from a dream, and how sometimes later, when you look back at the original entry in your dream journal, the details can appear to be quite different from what you’ve been accentuating or extrapolating as you make art, or even have conversations about the dream.

For example, from the dream above at Rh’s house, I’d been remembering the most vivid bits of the fear and of the unexpected revelation of a magician.

Yet when I looked back to my dream journal I found that I’d had several other forgotten magician dreams before this, and within the original entry on this dream, there was a detail that “this is a game or a challenge Rh and I have”. So the chuckling Rh seems less evil in this context, and my character is then also not so much a victim as a co-creator.

Interesting.

* * *

There was a dream I had maybe 2 years ago of 6 dead bulls in a parking lot.

It was a terrible dream, with the stench of death in it, and the sense of tragedy of these 6 massive powerful creatures dying a lonely unceremonious death in a parking lot at night.

At the time I had no place to talk about dreams, but I can always make art, so I did painting after painting of bulls, dead or dying, wondering what the heck the dream was about.

At some point I happened on a free webinar given by some people in Vermont, and I told them the dream of the 6 bulls. They were so lovely, they listened so well, and at some point Sue said, “how do you know they were dead?”.

The possibility of seeing the dream story as a more fluid entity, of not taking the narrative as a finished, absolute, unchangeable reality ROCKED my world.

Since then there has been a large painting in the works of some very alive bulls, and even a small sculpture is in the works.

And you, Dear Reader…?

Have you found your relationship or understanding of certain dreams changes over time?