Dream Gates

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I often read a page or two of Emerson before greeting the sun. For me, he is the wisest of American philosophers and the most practical, because his words create a stir in the spirit that is a wonderful incitement to action. He is the perennial enemy of hand-me-down systems of belief and self-limiting notions about what is possible in a life. When we are wandering lost in a fog of confusion in the low marshlands of group-think, he pipes the tune and shines the light that will get us back to the upward slopes of our life purpose.
The other day, leading a five-day adventure in Active Dreaming at the Omega Institute, I guided a group of brave and ready souls on a journey to a real place in the Imaginal Realm that I call the House of Time. It is the kind of locale that creators, shamans and mystics have always wanted to visit, a place where we may encounter an inner teacher who is the master of any field that compels our best attention and study, and where any book of secrets – even that Book of Life containing our sacred contract – may be accessible.
While drumming for the group to provide fuel and focus for the journey to the Library in the House of Time, I found myself in contact with intelligences who have guided and inspired my work in the past. It seemed that Emerson, in high collar and frock coat, had joined the group. I do not say this was the individual spirit of the great sage; I do not claim the privilege of a personal interview, and I am sure that wherever Emerson may now be, he has many things to do. I say only that for a few moments I seemed to be in the presence of a figure who embodied some essence of Emerson’s thought. I was eager to receive insights I could easily retain, while my consciousness was working on several levels, including that of drumming for the members of the group and watching over their own adventures.
My Emerson gave me three words: Rectitude. Plenitude. Attitude. Just now, in the twilight before dawn, as the first pink suffused the gray sky, I tracked these clues through Emerson’s essays and letters, and through the pedigrees of the terms themselves.
In its origin, rectitude is the virtue of being straight, or upright, in your conduct and condition. It derives from the Latin rectus or straight. It has nothing to do with a narrow moralism. As Emerson wields this word, it is the property and armor of the brave soul who dares to live by his own lights. In his famous 1838 address to Harvard Divinity School – a speech the faculty tried to suppress but the senior class insisted upon – Emerson defined “the grand strokes of rectitude” as “a bold benevolence”, and that independence of mind that enables us to ignore the counsel and caution of our friends when they seek to hold us back from pursuing our calling, and the readiness to follow that calling without concern for praise or profit. Those who can do this are “the Imperial Guard of Virtue” and “the heart and soul of nature.” They “rise refreshed on hearing a threat”; they come to a crisis “graceful and beloved as a bride”; they can say like Napoleon at Massena that they were not themselves until the battle began to go against them.
Plenitude is fullness or abundance, coming from the Latin plenus, or “full”. For Emerson, plenitude – abundance – is our natural condition, and we miss it only by failing to live from the fullness and integrity of our own spirit. When we develop self-trust, we gain “the plenitude of its energy and power to repair harms,” he instructs in his essay on Heroism. “There is no limit to the Resources of Man,” he adds in a letter on that theme. “The one fact that shines through all this plenitude of powers is…that the world belongs to the energetic, belongs to the wise.”
Attitude has an even more suggestive etymology. It first came into usage to describe the posture an actor playing a role strikes on the stage. Go further back, and we find it is kissing cousins with the word “aptitude” and both share a common root in the Latin aptus which means “fit” or “suited” – in short, ready for something. Our attitudes indeed determine what experiences we are apt to encounter on our roads of life. “The healthy attitude of human nature,” Emerson instructs us in his essay on Self-Reliance, is “the nonchalance of boys who are sure of a dinner” – in other words, the confidence that since we are at home in the universe, the universe will support us. In the face of hardship and challenge, we need to strike that posture of determination that “by [that] very attitude and…tone of voice, puts a stop to defeat,” Emerson adds in his letter on Resources.
We are now entering one of the great open secrets of life. “We are magnets in an iron globe,” as Emerson told the young men at Harvard. “We have keys to all doors….The world is all gates, all opportunities, strings of tension waiting to be struck.”  We choose which doors will open or remain closed. We decide what we will attract or repel in life according to whether or not we are straight, and full, and ready.

Pinus_strobus_trees.jpgWhy seven? I’ve been asked this question about the ancient Iroquois precept that we must be mindful of the consequences of our actions down to the seventh generation beyond ourselves. I don’t recall ever hearing an explanation from my friends of the Six Nations, or seeing one amongst the earliest records of the traditions of the Confederacy.

But when I picture in my mind the Tree of Peace, the Great White Pine that stands at the center of all in the imagination of the Onkwehonwe (“the People”), the deep meaning of the number seven comes to clarity in my mind and my heart.
The roots of the great tree spread out in the four cardinal directions, inviting all peoples to find peace and shelter. They extend to east and west north and south. They go down deep, into the mystery of the Great Below. The tree rises skyward, towards the Great Above, and high in its canopy perches the eagle that can see many looks away. In the heartwood of the tree, we can find our center, our True North.
In the retreat I am leading this week, with joined hands, we sang to the seven directions. We turned first to the East, singing
Spirit of the Wind, carry me
Spiritt of the Wind carry me home
Spirit of the Wind, carry me home to my soul

Turning to the South, we sang
Spirit of the Fire, carry me
Turning to the West, we sang
Spirit of the Sea, carry me

Turning to the North, we sang
Spirit of the Earth, carry me

Then we faced the Great Below and sang
Spirit if the Deep, carry me

We turned our faces to the Great Above and sang with the sun in our eyes
Spirit of the Sky, carry me

Then we faced each other. The light of our heart intentions streamed towards the center of our circle. We were conscious of becoming a sphere of energy, a little world within the world. We sang
Spirit of the heart, carry me
Spirit of the heart, carry me home
Spirit of the heart, carry me home to my soul

These, for me, are the seven directions. The words of the song are not Iroquois. The first verse is borrowed from a grand old source, Anonymous. The other verses are my own. As another Native people of the Americas, the Inuit, instruct, we must come up with “fresh words” to entertain the spirits. But I think the spirit of our song is in harmony with the ancient ones of the Northeast. Certainly we sensed their benign presence. I will honor them again today with a pinch of tobacco, and by giving thanks for the gifts of life, which is the way of prayer of the First Peoples. And I will remember those who are coming, seven generations beyond me, and those, seven generations back, on whose shoulders I stand.

sevengenerationslrg.jpgAt the Omega Institute near Rhinebeck, New York, where I’m leading a five-day adventure in Active Dreaming this week, a striking assemblage of metal figures stands on the grass beside the library. You look through the hollow in each to the last, and smallest, figure, which contains an unborn child. This sculpture set was created by the artist Frederick Franck to honor the traditional teaching of the elders of the Six Nations of the Haudenosonee, or Iroquois, that we must be mindful of the consequences of our actions, down to the seventh generation beyond ourselves.

One of my wishes is that, in any situation where we are called upon to choose a leader, from a President down to the coordinator of a community action group, we should pose the question: Will you be mindful of the consequences of every decision, down to the seventh generation beyond us. The traditional Iroquois call their chiefs rotiyaner, which means “men of good minds”. By tradition, they are chosen by the clan mothers. When a royaner is raised up to wear the deerhorn antlers of office, set in a feathered crown, the understanding is that he will live in connection with a deeper order of purpose and responsibility. The deer antlers, rising above the physical head, symbolize the connection with a higher world, the world of spirit where the origin and deeper logic of human events are to be found. By tradition, the “man of good mind” is accountable; if he fails to honor his trust, the women of power can and will de-horn him.
A lot of history has happened since the time of Hiawatha and the Peacemaker and the creation of the Confederacy of the Longhouse, and traditions may no longer be honored as they were meant to be served, in a world turned upside down for Native Americans and others. But the tradition speaks to all peoples, I believe, and offers us a path beyond our present confusion.
In my own life, I remember my obligations to a woman seven generations beyond my own, who has reached to me in visions and offered me glimpses of her world. It is a harsh world, in terms of the physical environment for human life. It is a world in which she is a member of an order of priestess-scientists who are trying to restore the Earth and the human spirit after a series of disasters brought about by men driven by greed and hateful ideas, men who acted with no thought for the long-term consequences of their actions. My priestess-scientist in the seventh generation beyond mine is a dreamer, in a Commonwealth of Dreamers for whom the true arts of dreaming are central to every aspect of everyday activity, in education and medicine, in seership to scout the best possible future for all. I am humbled by the thought that my work, in creating a new mode of Active Dreaming, may contribute to what she and her sisters are able to do. I am challenged and mobilized by the knowledge that I must give my best, in the time I have available, with the help of the community of active dreamers that is growing fast in my world, to help make her possible.
I came to study the ways of the Iroquois because an ancestor of the land where I now live – the Huron/Mohawk shaman I have called Island Woman in Dreamways of the Iroquois and in my historical novel The Firekeeper – reached into my mind, seven generations in front of her own time, when I moved to a farm on the edge of Mohawk country in the mid-1980s. I learned from her that the vital importance of dreaming is that it helps us to identify what the soul (as opposed to the ego) wishes in our lives, and that dreaming is for and about communities, not only individuals. In the Mohawk language, which my dreams of her required me to study, the phrase that means “Do not forget” is transcribed as tosa sasa nikon’hren, It literally means “Do not let you mind fall” – that is to say, do not let your mind fall from the knowledge of the first and essential things that were known to you in the Earth-in-the-Sky before you fell into this world. 
I was reminded by Frederick Franck’s sculptures of one of the essential things we must remember to use as a gauge of action and a requirement for anyone who seeks leadership: to be mindful of the consequences of any decision, down to the seventh generation, in the precious and vulnerable ecosphere we share with so many forms of life that so often we fail to see or respect.

hormhb.jpgWhen I meet someone new, I like to ask them if they know what their name means. This is a way of registering the new person’s name in my mind, so it doesn’t slip. It’s also a great conversation starter.

I find it interesting that lots of people, even at the midpoint of life or beyond it, seem never to have paused to ask what their name means. One of my recent workshops was hosted by a thoughtful couple in Maryland. I put my question to them. The wife – Deborah – knew that her name means “honeybee” in Hebrew. She did not know that it is also the name of the priestess of the Great Goddess in very early times; Deborah has the same double meaning (“honeybee” and “priestess”) as Melissa in Greek. 
The husband was another Robert. He didn’t know what the name means. It wasn’t hard for me to help him out, since I’ve often had occasion to reflect on what my name means. It’s of Scandinavian origin, though it came down to me through my father’s Scottish line (those Vikings got around). The original meaning of Robert is “bright in fame.” There’s a double edge for me in that. My name says to me: Be ready for the spotlight, and try to stay bright (in all senses) when it’s on you.” I’ve gone through such radical changes in my life that I might have thought of changing my name several times over, to reflect the changes in me and my sense of what matters. But through all my life passages, Robert has felt like the right name for me, However, I won’t tolerate any messing around with it. Call me Bob, and I become dangerous.
On the other hand, I know plenty of Bobs who aren’t Roberts. It’s interesting to notice what’s being reflected or invoked, energetically, if we switch from the formal version of a name to a colloquial or abbreviated one, or do this the other way round. A Bob is not a Robert. A Betsy is not an Elizabeth. Betsy might be the fun and friendly lady next door, the perfect soccer mom and short-order cook for the neighborhood kids. Elizabeth travels with a name that evokes royalty and sacred intent; her name literally means the House of God.
The Egyptians regarded the name (ren) as an aspect of soul, and believed that any assault on a person’s name – for example, by defacing an inscription – was an act of soul mutilation. At the start of my workshops, I ask everyone in the circle to begin by claiming their name and announcing it to the circle in a clear, ringing voice. “If you don’t like the name you’ve been given or are called by others, change it now and we’ll say it back to you.”
What’s in a name, first and last, is you. You want to know what your name means, and what gift or challenge is in that meaning. You want to be sure that the name you are using suits your natural energy and is not like a suit that is two sizes too small and is buttoned up tight, or a pair of shoes that are just too big for you.
Cartouche with the ren nefer (“beautiful name”) and titles of Horemheb, warrior-pharaoh of the XVIII dynasty