Apocalypse does not point to a fiery Armageddon but to the fact that our ignorance and our complacency are coming to an end. Our divided [worldview, inadequate] to coordinate conscious and unconscious — that is what is coming to an end. –J.C., Thou Art That
Lucidity is a choice. Learning to see through dreams in sleep primes you to see through this dream. THIS ONE. Through whatever beliefs, scipts and stories get you in a bind.
Saturdays I wake and then stay sleeping. To move backwards into the darkest corners of the dreamscape, I have to roll my sleeping body in the reverse order of my sleep positions through the night. And I have to hold the mind strong. It’s the weirdest state of consciousness ever. And it’s the one time all week when I work hardest, because otherwise it feels so good to just let the dream take over.
It’s worth the work, to map the dream all the way back in time, and sideways in space. I’m not looking for stories and archetypes, I’m looking beyond that at the architecture of the dream world. Not the content, but the form. Two reasons this is fascinating:
1. I suspect dream awareness is Mother Nature’s short cut for teaching us to see through reality. With exactitude. (Because it’s so easy to think that the world constructed by our five senses is real, is out there. But it’s not. It’s personal. Same as a dream is personal.) Mysteriously, most of us feel subtle resistance to close study of the dream. I did. Once I pushed through that, it got fun. Fun like mushrooms, fun like LSD, fun like DMT. (Or so I hear. I don’t know.) The clearer I get at reverse-mapping the dreamscape, the more lucid I am throughout the day and the night. The mind is being trained. I’m wasting less time, and the inner growth is more steady.
Experience is becoming more intense and more gentle all of the time.
2. I suspect that those who can see through dream of daily life get a fighting chance for seeing through the dream called death. I want to keep my honor when the time comes, to experience it. Maybe all the secret dream yogas are training for a good death, though it’s hard to say because these strongest practices are closely guarded. I could join some sect (surely the tantrics are great at this conscious ecstasy stuff?), but instead I have found fellow travelers: the genius Jennifer Dumpert and her friends, and the 10% of meditators (Jeff Warren’s estimate) who trip into the psychedelic realms just by sitting on a cushion.
And on Saturday, I practice. Lying semi-lucid for hours, turning to face my mind alone. I started trying to lucid dream around 2005. Failed for years. Then one night, sleeping on the floor of an Ashtanga teacher’s home shala, it happened. The first real lucid dream became a forgiveness ritual, destroying a heartbreak loop running in my deep mind for years. It’s nice to experience that kind of control sometimes, but dream MAPPING is different, and harder, and I think sweeter, than dream MAKING. It’s just reconnaissance. No agenda. Like this…
1. Stand at the gate of your waking mind and wait. Don’t open your eyes. Keep the breath shallow, keep the body asleep. Now. Swivel the eyes backwards in the head and see the tiger tail (or whatever it is) disappearing back down the tube into the sleep world. Catch it! Let your feet leave the ground. When gravity stops working, and the psychedelic starscapes and unknown faces surge forth from the shadows, REMEMBER, you are conscious! Don’t let the pleasure, or the fear, snuff that out. Re-experience the places you have just been during sleep. If you commit, they will offer themselves back to you in great detail.
2. Or here is an easier starting point, from the other end of the dream. Lie down for sleep and review the day in revese. Rewind in 10 minute segments and watch the clips all the way back to the first ten minutes of the day. This is a serious mind training: it’s not supposed to be easy at first. After 30 nights, something vague will have shifted. What? It’s your view, your strength in non-physical realms. IT’s your commitment to self-awareness, and confidence that you CAN go into the unknown alone. After a year of this, it’s easy to dive backwards from the other side – not just rewinding the day, but spelunking the sleep.
The more spelunking I do, the less I buy any theory about what it all means. Dream interpretation feels like just another way to get lost in the siddhis and psychic material. But now and then amid the space trash there’s something that I can use as a personal teaching.
Because we have particular bodies. We have particular minds. We have particular selves. May as well feel them, taste them, express them, enjoy them.
In the teaching practice, there is so much time in inscrutable silence. This is useful and respectful. It is getting out of the student’s way. But when it’s time to manifest a personality, I’ve made a decision to wear my self sheer. To be unapologetically in process as a student, and as dynamic as that rapid growth makes me, and exactly as unfinished as I’ll always be. The transparency thing is an effort at generosity, for someone who prefers to hoard experience in private. Much more important: it is a way of refusing to accept other people’s power. No other human self can rightly take your power, because every small self is just a process, a vehicle for relationship. A self is a nice way to get around reality for the short term. That’s it.
In that spirit, here is more of what things look like from the perspective of the dream-watcher. Stories from the small self, dreamed on the last three moons…
MARCH 23 FULL MOON
The first full moon back from Mysore, the last image on the astral plane as I wake is a geometric rose. It burns in from deep space, through the half-awake space, and then just sits there behind my not-yet-open eyes. Lucid, I catch it and follow it back down the wormhole we’ve just exited, to Gurdjieff next to a fireplace at Talesin on Christmas, with patterned circles spinning in the air like blown bubbles. I lay motionless in bed for another hour, combing my psyche’s garbage like a good detective. Then, careful not to get too much in my body, I glide next door to the yoga room and etch the rose on the back of a notecard. It’s still branded on the back of my eyes even now in the afternoon – not “real,” but not just imagined either. It’s superimposed on the visual world, filtering over it like a mantra filters over auditory space.
I text the sketch to five friends, unaware of what I’m setting in motion. Because you know what? Texting a line drawing to five ashtangis on a full moon morning is a straight up call-and-response move. Line drawings are not innocent in this tribe: they are on a bee line for the BODY.
The idea arcs back to me over the compass rose from east to west as they wake: Tattoo? Mysore, London, New York, Phoenix, San Francisco: Tattoo?
Meantime, an image search. Turns out my subconscious has copped a midcentury Mackintosh Rose. A Christ symbol. Given my story – a belief at age 3 that Jesus lived in my heart, and a long adolescence spent pissed off at him – the dream feels like some part of me forcing the issue. God, who is less cool than Jesus?
My dad chose the middle name Sharon, for the rose of Sharon, which grows on the fertile crescent plane where they prophecy the battle of Armageddon. Who names their firstborn after a war zone? Fundamentalists, I thought, and changed the name at age 20. I was studying Hebrew, planning a foreign correspondent’s career in the middle east, and sickened by the genocidal moves of president long-O Sharon. So I switched Sharon for Zang, my grandmother’s surname, and a tribe of Bavarian brewers who moved to Colorado 5 generations back. (Later the Coors family competed with them, obliterating Zang Brewry during prohibition, when Zang spirits went underground but Coors sold gov’t-approved soda.) At age 20, moonlight bartender me already had an Irish whiskey surname, and thought that should be the chaser for a stout middle name. Christ consciousness out, beer consciousness in.
The undermining started right away. At 21, I apprentice to the chief of PR for Amnesty International. They pay my transportation to DC but nothing else, so all summer I sleep on a high school friend’s floor and drink coffee for lunch. One noon hour I’m opening a crisp imprint of Foucault’s Pendulum at the front desk and my secret crush Carlos Salinas, the human right’s movement’s messianic attack dog contra the devil Jesse Helms, hurricaines in the front door and widens his eyes at me sitting there at the desk with that book. Then he loses his mind. The steam of profanity is unbroken, Spanish-accented, passionate as hell, and actually transcendent. I don’t care about being in trouble, and it turns out I’m not. He’s just jealous it’s not him “losing his virginity” to his favorite book… the esoteric sequel to the Name of the Rose.
Now the rose line resurfaces over my life. That is what the Rose of Sharon does. She goes underground, through centuries of grassroots conspiracy, passed along the esoteric way. The rose carries the inside jokes that drive grail lore: We are one, and ecstatically so where two or more are gathered in the name. Also, when the bud that pulses in the middle of your brain takes bloom, then you snuff out the small self and light a fire in your heart. Furthermore, apocalypse is when something comes from nothing, and again when it returns.
And ALL of that remains sub-rosa only for us drunks until we hold still enough to see through the dream. Rebirth is annihilation, and it is a joke. So here I am, re-changing my name and wondering who is the right artist to put this body under the rose.
APRIL 7, NEW MOON
Great Lakes land is full of hermits and contemplative communities. I spent the first five years here searching for the ideal solo retreat, striking out with the hippies, the Hindus, and the Buddhists. Last year I finally went to the mystic Christians in a place called Three Rivers. It’s easy to think Christians aren’t cool. But these ones have their own vortex, plus great taste landscape architecture. They also like the dark side and use dreams to get there.
The one hard thing about taking annual retreat with Shinzen is the short nights – monastics know how to use sleep deprivation to quicken classical awakening. But a Mysore teacher on break from work should be banking sleep. On group retreat, I’ll shave off a few sits in order to log 7 hours horizontal, but when I go alone to Three Rivers the retreat schedule is up to me. That means at least 8 hours for sleep and 4 for reconnaissance and play in the psychedelic midstream between waking and REM. But experience shows that it’s possible to sleep up to 14 hours a night there – double what my organism can usually achieve. Something strange is happening in Three Rivers and it’s not on the physical plane.
Fifty years back, in the ashes of an archdiocese that pulled up its own roots, Helen Luke and Else Hope (their real names) came here from LA to build a contemplative community based on Jungian analysis of dreams. The local church embraced them, then later rejected them when the dark side of dreamwork became clear. The women kept dreaming, and farming, and writing (Luke’s books are beautiful), and mystics from all over the world started coming for support in spiritual crisis. Many stayed. Now Luke’s Apple Farm is one of MANY post-Christian communes here, where the residents oscillate between caring for the land and sleeping their way through the heart of darkness. Time there changes everything about how I feel in Michigan.
I use the new moon in April to get four days alone. The first evening ends with a burnt brown sun going down in a hailstorm, me lighting a fire and staring into it for hours like the ancients. (Was it fire that first taught humans to meditate?)
I sleep 13 hours while nature turns crazy. In the morning: new snow, with the tracks of a big cat – and a mouse! –outside my cabin. My mindbody falls still between walks in the forest, logs on the fire, hours on the cushion, and the three-hour asana practices I’d take every day if having a teacher and students didn’t rein that in.
Transcendent asana practices are kids’ stuff and caring about that is a trap, but still, retreat practice is never not ecstatic. Setting up for ustrasana the second day, my gaze wanders out to the field, to a tiny stone chapel set into a hill in a snowstorm. Smoke rising from the chimney. This landscape is an image stockpile for dreams. As the retreat-world takes over my consciousness and home life drops away, awareness oscillates between the land itself and the images the land throws into my dreams. The waking/dreaming boundary recedes – sleep being long and lucid, days being epic sensory displays for my animal mind. This is my mind nourishing and cleansing itself – it knows what it needs on retreat.
The morning I depart, a most beloved mentor floats through a dream, doing his usual move of stepping down off the pedestal. Showing me how that vinyasa is done. Because he’s a silverback with a good side-eye who doesn’t care if or what you think of him, cooler than anyone else in the field.
We’re all wounded healers, the whole lot of us, he says. There’s just a question of which shadows you choose to dance with.
April 22, FULL MOON
Being cool, Prince dies in epic time. I sleep late for the full moon, ignore the inevitable Internet Death Event, and stay in spacey-ecstatic dream-mind for a long morning drive. There’s two days of uninterrupted Prince music on the rental car’s satellite radio, enough to hold me in that liminal state across Ohio and back.
I don’t know Prince’s star chart, but in addition to his left-handed obsession with hidden truth, that man’s moon shadows are all sex, death, apocalypse, and ecstasy.
Archetypically, that’s straight Scorpio (says someone with five planets under that sign), befitting this spring Scorpio moon that lit his exit. Nice touch.
For years, it’s felt like Prince was over himself. His rival, Michael Jackson, died seven years back, on the first day of my first meditation retreat with Shinzen. Though a scholar of Buddhism and yoga, Shinzen always takes us to Christian retreat centers – for some reason, he finds them most hospitable to his students’ awakening. (And to my discomfort he has a thing for crucifixes – he’d rather surround us with thorny imagery of death-to-the-self than with statues of the Buddha in repose.) The weekend MJ died, we were at the Mary and Joseph Retreat Center of Encino, immediately next door to the Jackson family estate. For two days, TV helicopters hovered over the zendo while we meditated. MJ’s vibe on the way out was narcissistic and terrified and image crazed. Not a good death. Nobody partied.
Prince’s death weekend: not a drag. If drinking has become boring, DRIVING remains as a guilty pleasure. For historical reasons I like big engines, and speed, and a good car stereo. Actions leave traces.
The Dodge Charger is a good machine that happens to be evil – it’s a tank made for all-American men. It’s a desperate move by Ford, and (I hope) the last stand of the kind of ego that identifies with a car. At the gas station, a guy in a suit reverently whispers: “Miss, your Charger, that’s a WHOLE LOTTA CAR.” In silver, it not only drives like the smoothest most caffeinated ultra responsive led intermediate you could ever lucid-dream, but it looks like a loaded gun. I ride a slow 79 from Ann Arbor, across Ohio cop country, down to the Kentucky border. With the moon full and Prince singing like a bat out of hell, it’s as ecstatic as 110.
On the way home, I hang a right through Detroit just to thread the needle through the rusting Escorts on the post-apocalyptic freeways of the motor city. I take it fast, in time to get home for a long sleep before Sunday (led primary) service. Not just the Fords but most everything here is crumbling. It’s extremely unpopular to say, but there is a lot to understand here about social death: disappearance of leaders with stewardship consciousness or an ethics of care; post-industrial waste; rape of the planet every which way; segregation; and now the first of many water crises to come. Southwest Michigan is my utopia, but it also has a bad case of Armageddon. I see it in myself as much as in the surround.
Prince was good at being bad because of his purity of spirit. His dark sides amused him. May as well sing like a demon, drive like a demon, inhabit your bodymind to the hilt, because for now you’re human. You actually love, and you actually become one by gathering with the many. There is actually a rosebud in your brain and a fire in your heart, and your everyday reality is actually a something that comes from nothing and returns to nothing when it’s done. We only dream that we have something to prove, and something to hide, and a way of getting through all of this alive.