Dream Gates

Dream Gates

Martyrdom of a woman philosopher

posted by Robert Moss

Agora Spanish Poster.jpgWhen I posted my recent essay on Synesius – the “bishop of dreams” and student of Hypatia -on this blog, I had no idea that writer-director Alejandro Amenábar had made a movie in Spain (“Agora”) with Rachel Weisz as Hypatia and Rupert Evans as her admiring student Synesius. Still less that it opened at the end of last week at a local arts cinema. That kind of nod from the universe can’t be ignored. I went to see the film today and here are some brief notes.

I enjoyed this film after I adjusted to the fact that Synesius is used as a fictional character. The historical Synesius was not a Christian in 391; he was not with Hypatia in the period before her murder; he was bishop of Ptolemais, not Cyrene (though that was his home city); and his attitudes to the new religion were not those of a convert but of a thoughtful and pragmatic man who saw the need to make an accommodation between the old and the new. However, for scripting purposes the continuity of the Synesius character, as one of Hypatia’s trio of student admirers who remain central to her drama, works well.
Clearly the writer-director wants us to see the resemblance between the Christian militants of this time and the Islamist fundamentalists of today, and he succeeds. Walk into a middle scene from this movie without any knowledge of context, and you might think you are looking at Taliban fanatics at play among the ruins of an ancient site – except that they are wearing crosses. Their contempt for women, and the rights of women, is identical.
The horrific martyrdom of a great woman philosopher and scientist at the hands of “Christian” thugs is in no way hyped in the movie; in the only two surviving accounts, Hypatia was actually skinned alive, an option considered by the mob leaders in the movie but not carried out by them. 
The disparity of class and education between the Christians and the pagan establishment at this time is delineated very well, and we have no doubt that we are inside the agora of ancient Alexandria – and inside the Serapeum – as the action swirls between these locales.
The cast is excellent. Rachel Weisz is wonderful, pursuing her inquiries into the “crazy” theory that the Earth revolves around the sun in the midst of all the violence and religious hatred. The cinematography is sometimes breathtaking, especially when we are treated to aerial footage in which the book-burning Christian thugs are reduced to scuttling black beetles. 
If you have ever heard Gibbon’s notorious pronouncement that the fall of Rome marked “the triumph of barbarism and of Christianity” (but have never read his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire) this film will give you a few ideas about what he had in mind. The cameras take us there: to 391, when the remains of the great Library of Alexandria were all but destroyed, and to 415, when the greatest philosopher of her age was butchered. At the same time, the film speaks to us now, in our confused and divided world, about the cost of substituting religious authority and claims of exclusive revelation for rational inquiry and tolerance for the many paths to the sacred. This is an important movie with a timely agenda.

Waking up to a different dream self

posted by Robert Moss

quantum_leap-300x222.jpgIt happened again last night. I was rushing around between cities and airports in Europe, and realized I did not have directions for a house where I had an appointment. I decided to call the people I was visiting, and found that the cell phone in my pocket was not my regular one. It had very different features, and I could not initially figure out how to make the call. When I finally reached my destination, I glanced in a mirror and saw a different face looking back of me – that of a handsome young man in his twenties with lustrous curling black hair.

The face in the mirror woke me up to the fact that I was dreaming and not in Kansas any more. I stayed lucid for a while inside the dream scene, then got out of bed to make sure I did not lose a mass of details, place names and personal names that are only dimly familiar to me in waking life, when familiar at all. I’ll be doing some detective work with these clues in the effort to understand why I assumed this young man’s identity and body form in the dream.
For many dreamers, it’s a classic moment of dawning lucidity and self-awareness: to look in a mirror and see a different self. I’ve been doing this, off and on, for as long as I can remember. Glancing through old journals just now, I notice a series of dreams I recorded over a period of nine months some twenty years ago in which I seemed to be in the body of a vigorous black man with dreadlocks. Again, I first noticed that I was in a different dream body when I glanced in a mirror.
Sometimes we find ourselves in the life situations and apparently the bodies of people living in other times, past or future. We may have entered the experience of our ancestors, or may be inside a “past” life or “future” life. 

I once dreamed I was in a Hall of Mirrors where I was able to look at the features of fourteen different selves, living in different times. These fourteen selves were revealed in mirrors of different types, arranged around a a great stone bowl containing water whose mirror-bright surface, illuminated by light from above, showed me a central identity.

I’ve had “body-hopping” dreams in which I’ve found myself briefly jumping from one personality to another. I remember a very vivid and sensory night of lucid dreaming in which I slipped into the body of a black basketball player (fun but edgy), then into that of a prosperous Midwest golfer (boring!) and at last into that of an eccentric independent scholar who appeared to be an older version of my present self (delightful, but I felt the pain or his aging joints).
Dreams in which we enter the situation of someone very different can expand our humanity. 
Body-hopping is a common feature of psychic dreaming. The most gifted psychic dreamer routinely finds herself inside heads, and looking through the eyes, of a wide variety of characters, some of whom turn out to be principals in news stories and crime dramas that become public knowledge only after her dreams.
Slipping into another person’s perspective in this way is very common among siblings and other relatives in close-knit families. There’s a need here to pause and ask both  (1) what part of me is like my sister/daughter/nephew and (2) have I entered the situation of that relative so I’m seeing something – maybe of the future – that they may need to know? Let’s never forget that because dreams are multi-layered and because our dream memories reflect experience in realities that have different physics from our everyday world, several orders of explanation may be relevant and are not mutually exclusive.
Sometimes there is the sense, as in the old TV series “Quantum Leap,” that we have been catapulted into the life of another person at a moment of crisis, on assignment to help that individual make the right choice and “put right what once went wrong” (in the words of the scriptwriters). I once dreamed that in order to save a young woman from being raped, I needed to enter the mind of a strong man in her town who could put her would-be attacker to flight.
Experiences of this kind may lead us to speculate about our relations with counterparts in different places and times within our soul families. Joan Grant and others who knew what they were talking about have suggested that some of us may have several soul siblings living in our current world. These are aspects of a shared identity that fragmented somewhere in our previous history, so that we are reborn not just as one person, but as several. I’m an agnostic on this theory, keen to study as much data as possible from the only source that counts: first-hand experience.

To converse with the stars

posted by Robert Moss

ptolemais_angel (1).JPGHe lives in a world lit mostly by fire. The Roman Empire has recently been split into two. Rome, the capital of the West, will soon fall to the Goths. The barbarians are inside the gates of Constantinople, the capital of the East. His home city of Cyrene, in what is now Libya, is under constant attack by marauding tribes; he is often up on the walls, standing sentinel, or training his neighbors and retainers to fight back.

He comes from a noble family that can trace its lineage back to the founders of Sparta. He has the best education of his day; he studied with Hypatia, the great woman philosopher and scientist of Alexandria. In brief seasons of peace, he enjoys riding around his estates, sampling the olive oil and the honey from his bees and the milk from his goats. His great loves are books – in an age where nearly everyone is illiterate – hunting and dreaming. His name is Synesius of Cyrene, and we should know it better, because around 404 he wrote a treatise On Dreams that is (in my opinion) the most helpful book on the practice of dreamwork to appear in the West until very recent times.
In an era when the great oracles of the ancient world are being overthrown, Synesius reminds us that dreams provide us with “a personal oracle” that goes with us everywhere. All we need do is pray for a dream, wash our hands, and set our heads on a pillow. Dreaming matters because it shows us the future, provides creative inspiration, reveals different aspects of who and what we are, offers guidance on all the business of life – and above all, because it “uplifts the soul”, raising us from our everyday confusion towards the level of Mind.
As a writer and orator, Synesius reports on how dreams corrected his literary style and gave him ideas for speeches that allowed him to catch the ear of an emperor. He observes, correctly, that recording and telling dreams is great preparation for public speaking, because it gives us training in telling our stories well. Some of that story material is of course extraordinary and challenges us to expand our ways of expression: “It is no mean achievement to pass on to another something of a strange nature that has stirred in one’s own soul.”
As everyday practice, Synesius urges us to practice dream incubation (asking our dreams for guidance), to study personal markers or “forerunners” in dreams that clue us in to whether those dreams may reveal future events, and above all to journal our experiences. He advises us to keep both a “book of the night” for dreams and a “book of the day” for our observations of signs and symbols in the world around us. By the universal law of sympatheia “all things are signs appearing through all things” and “the sage is one who understands the relationship of the parts of the universe.”
For active dreamers, the very best incitement to go dreaming that Synesius offers may be this soaring passage in which he encourages us to embark on an adventure that will take us far beyond the laws of our physical universe:
There is nothing that forbids the sleeper from rising from earth and soaring above eagles, to reach a point above the loftiest spheres themselves. He may look down on the earth from far above, and explore lands that are not visible even from the moon. It is in the power of the dreamer to converse with the stars and to meet the hidden powers of the universe. [my adaptation of the 1930 translation of On Dreams by Augustine Fitzgerald]
In 410, the formidable Patriarch of Alexandria, Theophilus, persuaded Synesius to become bishop of Ptolemais. He was allowed to continue to live openly with his wife, to pursue his love of the poets who celebrated the old gods, and to practice and write about philosophy in the way of Plotinus. In the Hymns he wrote in his last years, we see Synesius making a marriage between the Christian revelation and Neoplatoniist metaphysics, in verses that are sometimes very beautiful (but still await adequate translation). So we can call Synesius, at least retrospectively, the Bishop of Dreams. It is heartening to know that the early Church, in a time of violent contention, could make room for a philosopher who taught that we can become citizens of the deeper world by dreaming, and should allow no one to come between us and the sacred source that opens to us in dreams.
Mosaic angel in the museum at Ptolemais

Dreaming with inner city kids

posted by Robert Moss

ADELITA 184.jpgAdelita Chirino is an artist, video producer and jewelry designer who has taken my training for teachers of Active Dreaming. Over many years, she has volunteered to help inner city kids in Bridgeport and New Haven, Connecticut, through expressive art programs in which she has incorporated Active Dreaming techniques. I had the pleasure of participating with her in leading a program where I was delighted by the eagerness and creativity with which the kids joined in dream theater and in making spontaneous art and story from their dreams. Here’s Adelita’s account of some of her experiences

One of the great blessings I’ve enjoyed both as an educator and a video producer is the chance to work with many children from low economic and “minority” backgrounds. Being a dreamer for over three decades, I can’t resist taking every opportunity to teach children and teens about their connection to dreaming, and at every opportunity I’ve taken, I’ve seen children blossom with curiosity. 
The good fortune of learning Active Dreaming from Robert Moss in the 90′s added a very thrilling dimension to my work with young people. At the time, I was volunteering for a wonderful program in Bridgeport, CT developed by a very dedicated police officer and many volunteer artists; the program was the United Youth Arts Program, or UYAP.
Working with UYAP was truly rewarding; best of all are the experiences I had teaching the students to use their dreams for creative inspiration. I have many thrilling memories of dreams working their magic across age, race and culture; here’s an example.
I’ll call this student Lisa, 
All the students knew of my predilection for working with dreams and they would often seek me out first thing to tell me a dream. As I’ve found with inner-city kids, many times they are troubling dreams that, with any reality check, mirror difficult situations in their lives. 
Lisa’s dream was of being chased with two of her friends through a maze of back alleys, trying to escape a shadowy dark figure. Her feelings on waking were anxiety and fear. I sat with her and went through the Lightning Dreamwork steps she already knew from class work we’d done.
Through this wonderful dream-sharing guide, it became obvious to her what she was running from and how she really could face and deal with it. To honor the dream, Lisa wrote a fabulous poem. 
 But it didn’t stop there; she carried the dream with her into other art classes and created a dream chair. She painted an old chair bright and daring colors, then she applied lines from her poem, computer generated in various fonts, lacquering the strips of paper around the chair so the entire poem could be read following the rungs to the seat to the legs. Lisa’s Dream Chair won an award at the end of the program’s art exhibit held in the gallery of a local university. The journey from sharing her dream to winning her award was perhaps a month, during which she used the energy her dream gave her to express her true Self. 
I saw Lisa grow in personal power in this month’s time; she laughed more, was more social and displayed a dedication to her artistic creation that I hadn’t seen in her before. Winning the prize just sealed the deal; she was on top of her world.  I’m willing to bet that anyone who sees results like she did from connecting her dream life to her waking will probably go there again and maybe again. 
Adelita Chirino is co-producer of Way of the Dreamer: A Course in Active Dreaming with Robert Moss;this DVD set is available from Psyche Productions
Photo (c) copyright Psyche Productions, from video, “United Youth Arts Partnership”

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