Dream Gates

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

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When analysts and “dream experts” take dreams seriously, they usually approach them from just one perspective, as sets of symbols to be decoded.
Certainly our dream life is rich in symbols. Etymologically, a symbol is something that “brings things together” (what is “diabolical”, by contrast, is what divides and separates). 

Symbols help bring together our workaday mind and the workings of a deeper multidimensional reality. We need symbols to take us beyond the little we know, or think we know, to a richer and deeper understanding of everything.
So we dream in symbols. 
But we also experience dreams that need to be taken literally rather than symbolically, because they give us a clear perception of events that are unfolding or will unfold in physical reality or in another order of reality that is no less “real”. They are experiences that take place within broad bands of dreaming that should not be confused with symbolic dreaming.
One of those broad bands involves the ESP that works naturally in dreaming, and is part of our human survival kit. In dreams, our intuitive radar sometimes functions better than it does amid the clutter of waking life; we scout across time and space and glimpse events at a distance. To borrow language from the East, these are “clear” dreams or “dreams of clarity” (although on waking, we may struggle to retain clear and complete information from them). 
Another broad band of dreaming involves the dreams and journeys that are experiences of a separate reality somewhere in the multiverse. For active dreamers, this is the richest treasury of dreaming. We travel, consciously or not, to the realm that a great Sufi philosopher (Ibn ‘Arabi) called “the isthmus of imagination”, which lies between the realm of the senses and the realm of the eternal. We have adventures in many other locales in the mutiverse, including parallel worlds, bardo zones, far-flung galaxies, and places where gods, demons and faeries are at home.
So as we reflect on a dream, let’s remember to ask: Which band was I dreaming on – symbolic, clear, or alternate reality? 
Photo by Suzette M. Rios-Scheurer

hippocampus.jpgHappy news: science continues the slow process of catching up to what active dreamers already know about the gifts of dreaming. At the recent convention of the American Psychological Association in San Diego, presenters suggested that dreaming may improve memory, enhance creativity, and help us prepare better for future events.

San Diego psychiatry professor Sara Mednick presented the findings of a study that, based on word tests, suggests that people who take naps in which they dream are notably better at creative problem-solving than those who don’t. Mednick’s careful conclusion: dreaming helps us combine ideas in new ways, and see connections between things that might otherwise seem to be unrelated.
At the same conference, Harvard psychiatrist Daniel Schachter reported that the same areas in the brain that handle memory, such as the hippocampus, show increased activity when subjects are asked to imagine future events. He allowed that dreaming may help us prepare for the future by putting together elements from our past. Schachter told National Geographic that “when you imagine future events, you’re recombining aspects of experiences that have actually occurred.” 
Active dreamers know that a great deal more is going on in dreams of the future than the Harvard psychiatrist is ready to discuss; see my recent post, “In dreams, we scout the roads ahead”. Still, I am always grateful when scientists take even a small step towards validating what active dreamers – and most human cultures prior to the modern era – know about dreaming. 
Hippocampus via psycheducation

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Memory is mother to the muses, and in my playshop on the Healing Power of Story in Maryland over the weekend we found, again and again, that the best stories sprang from life memories, often from early childhood.

One participant held us spellbound as she recalled how, when she was very small, she would climb into bed with her grandmother – by day a prim, impeccably coiffed matriarch – and Grandma would regale her with reminiscences from her own girlhood, of riding wild ponies and paddling a canoe on a northern lake.
An older lady in the group named Sharon told a strange story of how, aged seven, she cut her foot on a sickle on her father’s farm, standing up in the back of the truck, and did not notice until grandmother screamed at her and her father that both of them were bleeding – and her dad poured out a shoe-full of blood. Neither of them, though wounded deeply, had felt any pain or even noticed that they had been cut. I probed for whether the story teller found some meaning in the return of this memory some 70 years later. She said softly, “It doesn’t hurt.” In that moment, we felt the gentle presence of Death in the room. He is often depicted as carrying a sickle, ready for the harvest. Sharon smiled as she recognized that she was being prepared for the journey through Death said she would now be open to renewed communication with her father and grandmother, on the Other Side.
Leila remembered, eyes shining, the nights she would spend, aged ten, lying in the backyard looking up at the Milky War. A night came when she realized she had to sleep in the house, which she found hot and unpleasant and confining. She felt she had lost something vital of her ten-year-old stargazer, and longed to have it back. I suggested that she might want to make a journey with the drum, back to the place on the grass where she watched the stars, with a dual intention: to play mentor and big sister to her younger self at a time when she may have desperately needed someone to play that role; and to see whether she could bring vital energy and imagination from her child self to live with her in her adult body. The journey was brilliantly successful. It amounted to effortless soul recovery, as Leila met her ten-year-old self and embraced her, and their energies fused. Now she is going to paint the stars, as she saw them with unfiltered eyes.
Some favorite memories out of childhood that surfaced as we hunted up story material involved stories we remembered from our early years. I thought of “The Velveteen Rabbit” and its perennial message that if you love something strongly enough, you bring it alive, and of “The Steadfast Tin Soldier”, the imperfect and incomplete one who has the valor and steadfastness to accomplish what the regular guys cannot. Another person spoke of the enduring effect of “The Dark Crystal”, the marvelous Jim Henson movie that depicts the eternal battle of dark and light, and how it can be healed with the help of the child.
Alla spoke of a Czech story the rest of us did not know, a tale by Zden?k K. Slabý titled “The Three Bananas, or Peter on the Fairy Planet”. The lead character is given what sounds like an all -important assignment: to go on a quest to find three bananas that appear to have magic properties. He has grand and indelible adventures on his quest, and succeeds – braving fantastic dangers – in bringing home the bananas. The wizard who gave him his assignment shrugs when Peter asks what will become of the bananas now. “So eat them.” We get the message that what inspires us to set out on a quest may be insignificant compared to the quest itself. It’s the journey, not the destination, that matters.

We live by stories. Our first and best teachers, in our lives and in the evolution of our kind, instruct and inspire by telling stories. Story is our shortest route to the meaning of things, and our easiest way to remember and carry the meaning we discover.  A good story lives inside and outside time, and gives us keys to a world of truth beyond the world of fact. If you have lost your story keys – if you have forgotten that you can choose the story you are living – then ask the child in you to help you find them again.

Labyrinth at Blueberry Gardens in Ashton, Maryland, the site of the Story workshop