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August 31, 2011

Dreams, Archetypes, and Synchronicities

I recently attended a Wisdom University course intensive in Oakland, California with dream workers Jeremy Taylor and Bruce Silverman titled “Many Paths Into The Heart of Dreaming: Solar & Lunar Perspectives on the Archetypal World.” There were so many surprises that I and others in the class encountered, such rich layers of meaning between Jeremy’s morning projective dreamwork and Bruce’s afternoon rituals and dream enactments that it’s taken me many days to “come down” enough to write about the experiences at all. Since it would take several pages to describe the multiple synchronicities we – individually and as a group - encountered, I will keep the focus on the remarkable coincidences having to do with two dreamers in the group. But before I do, I want to add that I can’t say enough good things about Wisdom University and the work of Jeremy Taylor and Bruce Silverman - individually and as a team. They are both brilliant masters of dream work. If you ever get an opportunity to do a workshop with both or either one of them, I suggest you jump at the chance!

During our group's first full day of dreamwork (we had met the night before for a two-hour orientation), we assembled in the morning for 30 minutes of Lunar heart and body work with Bruce - drumming, song, dance, poetry. Afterward, we joined Jeremy in a smaller room for the more Solar interpretive dreamwork that lasted until lunchtime. Those who wanted to share a dream and have it worked on by the group were instructed to write their name on a slip of paper, fold it lengthwise for security, and place it in a bowl that was passed around the circle for Jeremy to chose one at random. The dreamer who was chosen that first morning - I will call her Dawn (not her real name) - shared with the group a fascinating and what some considered to be a precognitive dream of inner transformation that required the whole morning session. By the time we took a break for lunch, we had learned many things about Dawn's life as this information related to the dream, including her strength of character. We also learned a lot about each other through our projections onto her dream. In working with Dawn's dream, the group practiced the type of group work that Jeremy writes about in his book “Where People Fly and Water Runs Up Hill.” Following Jeremy's "Tool Kit" for dream groups, deep intimacy between members is nurtured in a safe environment. Our own group space quickly began to feel – as in the morning’s ritual with Bruce - like “Holy Ground.”

After lunch, we met with Bruce on the Lunar side again for drumming, music, and grounding before actual dream sharing with him this time. In Bruce’s group work, those who feel led to share a dream stand up in the middle of the circle. If more than one person is standing, then, those who are led to sit back down do so until only one is standing. Out of four people who initially stood up, John (not his real name), a man in his early thirties, was left to tell his dream when the process was complete. And what a dream it was! He proceeded to share an amazing dream of mythic proportion; a personal and collective dream of initiation and redemption. As John recounted his dream to Bruce's soft drumming , he stood in the center of the room surrounded by the group.

Standing in for John, here, I recall that his dream went like this:

In the beginning of the dream, I am facing a tall woman with a light, like a torch, in her right hand. This image changes into a wall with the woman and light contained within it. Behind the wall is a white knight. The wall, then, becomes the white wall of a castle where I am the King. I am going through many, many receipts and getting frustrated because my young daughter is playing with two cats on the floor. I ask her to stop playing and help, but she will not. This scene changes into the King (me) going through a doorway into another reality where I become an ordinary man whose house is being built. Two artists of grunge-like persuasion are there working on the house. One, a man, is painting white flowers on the outside walls and the other, a woman, is hanging a wreath on the door. I call these two the Seattle Lights. Dawn (from the group) is there. She is giving me instructions on the building and use of the house.

Without going fully into the extraordinary work that John, Bruce, and the rest of the group did on this dream (I could write a book!), I will merely recount what relates to the synchronicities that unfolded. The first thing, of course, is that the two dreamers of the day, both chosen by random selection, were Dawn and John. They were strangers before meeting at the group and separated in age by many years. Not only had John dreamed about Dawn the night before we worked on her dream, but also the group had a chance to get acquainted with her as person during the morning session before hearing his dream! Ah, but there is more to be revealed about the Dawn/John connection as you read on. In the meantime, we will explore the next meaningful coincidence that happened as John chose people to represent and act out the symbols in his dream. Without thinking too much about it, John picked a woman from the group, whose name was later discovered to mean Angel of Light, to represent - you guessed it! - the Divine Woman of Light symbol in the dream. Little did we know at that time how much light this angel in disguise would bring to the group over the next few days.

There were other interesting matches between people and symbols, but what really made the hairs on our arms stand on end was when John chose Dawn to represent herself in the dream, and she confessed that she had also dreamed of him the night before - perhaps, at the same time he was dreaming of her! In Dawn’s dream she saw a billboard with John’s face on it that resembled that of Alfred E. Newman of Mad Magazine fame. It wasn’t a stretch from that famous jester's image to making the connection between the Court Jester (positive Shadow figure) and the King (the dreamer’s Ego) to associating the jester with the Divine Trickster archetype. In my projection on the dream, it is the Trickster who tells the King and his subjects (sub-personalities) the truth through the back door of humor. He lessens the king's load by showing him the lighter side of life.

I will leave you, the reader, to tie up the dream associations and meanings for yourself. I am a merely a messenger, bringing word that the universe is indeed alive with meaning, mystery, and humor. And I know a group of dream workers who resemble the truth of that statement!

August 8, 2011

A Heroine’s Journey: Turning Straw Into Gold

Years ago I thought about writing a book about using life's challenges as a way of embarking on a heroic healing path. I even had a title: If Pain is the Teacher, Joy is the Reward. As I wondered if such a book would be meaningful and helpful to others, I thought about my own life and how facing painful moments instead of hiding out in addictive behavior has made me a stronger and more aware and compassionate person (Admittedly, I am a late bloomer, but over the years I have achieved a modicum of awareness). At that moment, a perfectly formed yet tiniest of all acorns fell at my feet. I took this as a sign that all that I needed to write this or any book was within me and just needed to be nurtured to grow. While that particular book was never written, I am happy to be in the process of writing another about a subject close to my heart: synchronicity journaling. I saved my little acorn and pasted it in the journal I was writing in at the time as a symbol to remind me that given the right conditions for growth – focused attention, love, dedication, and time – the books I do choose to write will take root and grow and, hopefully, be sources of sustenance, warmth, and shelter for those who choose to use them.

Thankfully, others have successfully written about using life's challenges as sources of healing. One of my favorite books on this subject is Jack Kornfield’s A Path With Heart. I have recently begun reading it for the second time, and I am mining more nuggets of wisdom in it than the first time around. In the section titled “Turning Straw into Gold,” Kornfield writes, “What freedom this attitude [of the Dali Lama toward the Chinese, whom he calls my friends, the enemy] shows. It is the power of the heart to encounter any difficult circumstance and turn it into golden opportunity. This is the fruit of true practice. Such freedom and love is the fulfillment of spiritual life, its true goal…”

A few days after reading Kornfield's words, I was looking for a Netflix movie to watch and chose “I Dreamed of Africa,” primarily because I’m drawn to stories about Africa lately. As it happens, the universe had different reasons for me choosing this inspirational biography about Kuki (pronounced cookie) Gallman, a woman of courage and heart who turned her own intense suffering into a golden opportunity to help the endangered animals of Kenya and educate future generations of Africans about the joys of conservation. Since I’m going to tell the gist of the story here, if you haven’t seen the movie or read the book, I suggest you quit reading now and come back after you’ve had a chance to do so.

Kuki was born to an Italian family of wealth and means. Although, she had everything she could ever want materially, she dreamed of leaving Italy and living a more meaningful life in Africa after having spent time there with her father in her teens before he passed away. In 1972 Kuki, her husband Paolo, and son Emanuele moved to Kenya where they acquired the farm known as Ol Ari Nyiro. In the farm's idyllic setting they raised cattle and began an anti-poaching initiative to save indigenous animals from extinction. In 1980, Paolo died in an auto accident transporting a crib for their unborn daughter. Three years later Emanuele died from a poisonous snakebite. The movie spent much time building up family's love of Africa and the loving relationships between Kuki and the two male loves of her life. At Emanuele’s death I was beside myself, wondering how a woman goes on after losing both her husband and her son. But Kuki is an extraordinary woman. She has continued to find meaning in her life by writing the book I Dreamed of Africa (made into a movie) and starting the Gallman Memorial Foundation, dedicated to the memories of Paolo and Emanuele, to protecting endangered species of wildlife in Kenya, and to training young Africans about the importance of conservation.

I found the heroine's words at the end of the film quite moving: “Finally, all we can do is let the days instruct us, and know the only gift worth having is the Grace to go on. There’s a job to be done, people to love, and knowing what we love we can never lose. There is no holding on in this world. We came to this extraordinary place, and Africa let us lead extraordinary lives. Then, Africa claimed an extraordinary price. That was Africa’s privilege. And now it is my turn to look after Africa.”

Wow! That’s what I call turning straw into gold!

August 3, 2011

The New Humanism Re-visited

David Brooks is a columnist for the NY Times. He wrote an article March 7, 2011 titled "The New Humanism" that caused quite a stir in education circles. The article has to do with our nation's "overly simplistic view of human nature" and our belief in the West that "society progresses to the extent that reason can suppress the passions." As a result, we focus on our kid's test scores and achievement and competition in school and put subjects having to do with the arts on the back burner. Brooks notes that that historically in our culture something has to be quantifiable or measurable to be considered worthy of our attention. Unfortunately, this causes a major disconnect between our hearts and heads.

I have experienced this disconnect recently during a visit to a new doctor for a ‘complete’ physical examination which consisted solely of discussing my blood work and her giving me a print-out of exercises to do for my wounded rotator cuff. I was thrilled that my blood work looked so good, but disappointed that this doctor didn’t touch my shoulder or look at any other part of me to back up the medical report with her own intuition. I walked away feeling disappointed as if I'd been reduced to technical notes on a piece of paper.

It is interesting to note that my physical examination was on March 7th, the same day that Brook’s editorial was being published in the NY Times. I discovered this the next day when a friend - not knowing my thoughts about the doctor's visit - sent me a link to the “Point Reyes Dialogues” between author/philosopher Jacob Needleman and other philosophers, humanitarians, and high-profile service workers. There were several dialogues to choose from...I chose, at random, to listen to the one between Needleman and Dr. David Heiden, an Ophthalmologist who serves individuals in developing countries in an effort to save their eyesight from complications due to AIDS. Both Needleman and Heiden praised Brook’s editorial, and discussed their beliefs that touch is essential for a doctor/patient relationship to have real integrity. The dialogue supported my own feelings during my less-than-physical examination.

“One of the greatest things you can give me is your attention," says Needleman, "When you give me your attention…when I feel you’re really letting me in…hearing me, feeling me, seeing me, that is as much a healing force as almost anything…technology is good up to a point, but if the other part isn’t there, something is going to be dead wrong.”

I am touched by those words. Right on, I say. Right on!