Sunday, February 1, 2015

Of Kairos and sea shells

Paradise Island, Bahamas

Kairos is jump time, opportunity time, the special moment that you seize or miss. In Kairos moments you may feel you have been released from linear time, or that powers from outside time have irrupted into your world. The Greeks personified Kairos as a young, fleet-footed god, completely bald except for a curling lock falling over his forehead. Hence the phrase, "seize time by the forelock." If you meet this fellow on the road and fail to seize the moment, you'll find him very hard to catch. Kairos is slippery.
    Brutus talks about Kairos time, the time of opportunity, in a famous passage in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar:

There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves
Or lose our ventures.

    Kairos, in Greek, has related meanings in two interesting contexts: in archery and in weaving. In archery, kairos means an opening in the specific sense of a long aperture through which the archer must make his arrow pass, as Odysseus, at the start of the battle with the suitors, must fire an arrow through the holes in a dozen ax heads to prove himself. Meeting the test of this kind of Kairos requires fine precision and the force to drive the arrow all the way. In the art of weaving, kairos is the moment when the weaver must draw the yarn through the gap that opens - just for that moment - in the warp of the fabric that is being woven.
    On the last day of my visit to the Bahamas, where I was teaching at the Sivananda Ashram over the past week, I had an experience of Kairos that touched my heart. I had packed my bags. I was due at the dock on the other side of the ashram in a couple of minutes, to catch the boat to Nassau en route to the airport. My hand was moving to shut down my laptop and tuck it away in my carry-on bag.
   In this instant, I received a message from a dear friend and student. Could I possibly offer a sea shell to the ocean for her deceased mother, who loved the ashram and stayed here many years ago?
   There was no tick-tock time to do this, but Kairos - and the heart - take precedence over Chronos. I ran down the steps to the white sand beach in front of the ashram and hunted up and down until I found a small white shell. I padded into the shallows and released the shell, gently, into the streaming hair of the sea goddess, with a prayer for my friend's mother.
   May her paths be open.
   I caught my boat. When Kairos is in play, ordinary time is either suspended, or elastic.
   May we always be available to the Kairos moments when immediate action is required. 

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Drum spirits and real church

Paradise Island, Bahamas

After my last workshop at the ashram, I walk up the beach to the Atlantis resort in quest of some tiger food. The closest I come is a Caribe Spicy burger. A little black kitten jumps up on the windbreaker I have placed on the next chair and waits patiently until I share my late lunch with her, breaking off pieces of burger from the side not coated with jerk sauce.
   On the way back, there is an empty lifeguard's chair, the perfect throne for me to occupy while I watch the Atlantic waves and feed more of my spirits with a good cigar. A dark-skinned man approaches me. I recognize him from the ashram. He appreciates the cigar, telling me that another of his teachers, Malidoma Some, was often to be observed smoking a cigar in breaks from his workshops. We agree that we must feed our spirits, and different spirits require different sustenance.
   He tells me he is a drummer, and assisted Babtunje Olatunje, the renowned Yoruba drummer, in some of his performances at the Esalen Institute, where I am teaching again in April. He is eager to explain how he dreamed his way to a prize drum, made in Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso) over a hundred years ago. It has an unusual design, featuring huge hands and a pair of female breasts and other fertility symbols below the drumhead. In one of his dreams, he saw the shape of those great hands, clasping something unseen, and was told by a voice that he must take up drumming.
    After the message came again, he found himself in an antique shop in California filled with artifacts from many indigenous cultures. In the African section, he discovered the drum with the hands and the breasts and was certain it was the one he had dreamed. he ran his hand across the surface in a glissando. This sent out singing vibrations through the store that brought the owner running to see, "What was that?"
     Of course, my new friend wanted to buy the drum but he was a poor student at the time who did not even own a car. Playing another drum in a pop-up concert, he earned enough in donations to lay down a deposit, and then unexpected helpers came to enable him to complete the purchase - an anonymous benefactor, a generous reduction in price by the owner.
     "The drum was calling you," I commented. "And its spirits like you. They made everything possible."
     He agreed. "I know I am the custodian of this drum, and that those who came before are playing with me and through me."
     The conversation continued in this vein. I told him some tales of my own connection with spirits of Africa, especially the Yoruba. 

      He told me he had discovered an old, abandoned church nearby - "only the spirits live there now" - and after we parted company I set off to take a look. The atmosphere about the church was slightly sad and eerie, and I decided not go through the broken doorway.
     Then, just behind the church, late sunlight fell on a remarkable tree, a grandmother banyan. I approached her with reverence, offering the last of my tobacco. I knew that this tree is the real church, ancient and ever-living.

photos (c) Robert Moss

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Can't stop the dreamers drumming

Sivananda Ashram, Bahamas

Those in authority have decided to ban shamanic drumming for groups, in the way we practice this in Active Dreaming circles. They have concluded that the combination of drumming with personal dreams and imagery, used as portals for shamanic journeys, is just too powerful, opening direct access to the sacred and to self-healing.
    However, the practice has become so popular that it cannot be stopped. Efforts to interfere result in groups everywhere taking up the practice and it spreads like benign wildfire, cracking open the carapace of hand-me-down doctrines and entrenched skepticism. The mood is soon celebratory. Dream droughts are breaking everywhere.

I wake feeling very cheerful, even triumphant, from this dream today. I have the sense of a great wave whose ripples are being felt in many communities. My mind goes to the Singing Revolution in the Baltic. When I first visited Tallinn (where I am teaching again next month) I visited the Museum of the Occupations (note the plural noun) which preserves the memory of the suffering of Estonians under the heel of two totalitarian dictatorships, those of Hitler and Stalin. I will never forger listening to a recording of the chief of the Soviet KGB in Tallinn as people gathered in their hundreds of thousands to sing folk songs together, defying an official ban. As the singing crowd mounted, the Soviet secret police boss reported to Moscow, "We have lost". The collapse of Communism followed.
   I know the power of the combination of dreamwork and shamanic journeying that I have called Active Dreaming. There is an immense gift available in any image that comes to us spontaneously, especially in dreams we have not asked for and may or may not want. Any image that is authentic and personal can be worked with in the direction of healing and guidance.
   If you have been running away from something that scares you in dreams, you want to learn to go back and confront that fear on its own ground. You may find that what is waiting for you, beyond the fear, is your own power. You may find that by clarifying what is going on in the dream, you are able to avoid a crisis in waking life - an illness, an accident, the rupture of a relationship - that the dream has been trying to prepare you for.
    You may have met someone in a dream with whom you want to have an extended conversation, a departed loved one, a spiritual guide, an enigmatic figure you would like to identify.
    When you learn to journey through the portals of your own dreams, you will soon discover that a dream can be your gateway into the multiverse. You can use a dream door to travel to past or future or to a parallel self on a parallel life path. You can even find your way, through the space of a dream, to connect with a younger and brighter aspect or yourself that may have gone missing through pain or trauma or disappointment and bring her vital energy to reside in your heart and your life.
   This is the royal road to becoming a lucid dreamer any time of day or night.
   Steady drumming on a simple frame drum, of the kind that humans have been using for many thousands of years (first in Mongolia and Siberia) provides excellent rule and focus for this kind of journey. I have recorded my own shamanic drumming CD specifically for dream travelers
    They truly can't stop the dreamers drumming.

Photos: (1) drumming with a people of the Singing Revolution on the Bay of Riga in 2011
(2) scene on the beach in the Bahamas near the ashram where I am teaching today.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Ammonite and a blue god

Sivananda Ashram, Paradise Island, Bahamas

I am in a fine wine shop where the owner has arranged a display of rare French vintages at amazingly affordable prices. I have never heard of some of the chateaux and some of the names are distinctly un-French. I start making a collection. However, my beautiful companion wants something else. "Ammonite". I hear her whisper the word to the proprietor, who takes her into another room. I am intrigued. This is definitely another kind of spirit.

My sense of intrigue lingered on waking to the sound of the waves outside my room at the Sivananda Ashram in the Bahamas where I am teaching this week.
     At home I have an ammonite - the spiral fossil of a mollusc from the time of the dinosaurs - presented to me by a French archaeologist after I dreamed the site of a paleolithic menhir he was able to locate for me.
     I did not know until just now that the ammonite is also a most sacred symbol of Vishnu. It is held to resemble the Sudarshana Chakra, the formidable discus weapon in  his fourth rear hand. There is also a myth that Vishnu once took the form of an ammonite (shaligram) from the Gandaki river while waiting to release a goddess from a curse of mortality inflicted by the rage of another goddess.          
     There is no French wine for me at the ashram, but other kinds of spirit seem to be infusing my dreams. I dined last night in the Vishnu House with the outside wall painting you see here. I'm not much of a yoga guy, but I do have a soft spot for blue gods.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The hidden chain

I am studying a pattern of islands. I can see from the observation deck – which might be on a space station – that the islands are the peaks of underwater mountains, not truly separate but part of a range. This is a simple model for patterns of coincidence. We see some resemblance between surface events because they are part of a larger structure, a hidden chain.
    I wake with the impression that in the same dream I am with a group that monitors anomalies such as coincidence for clues to the convergence, confluence – or collision – of different aspects of reality. As the islands are joined in the underwater mountain range, so surface events may be part of deeper structures and woven from one fabric. How that fabric is folded or torn changes everything.
    I start to speculate that there really is a corps of observers who monitor wrinkles and rents in reality fabric. Are they interdimensional cops, or at least maintenance teams? I feel they are observers, not enforcers, and essentially benign. Would their findings lead to interventions or repair operations? Are there rival groups? Are these observers able to cross between parallel worlds and travel across time?
    I haven’t finished forming the last question before the answer comes to me: of course.

- from my journal

Photo: Palau island chain. NOAA Photo Library. Public domain.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Jung's exploding knife

In Jung's Letters, I came again upon the photo of an "exploded knife" that he sent to J.B.Rhine, the famous American researcher of extra-sensory perception, with his account of poltergeist-like phenomena that he experienced in 1898, when he was twenty-three.
   Jung reported that a steel bread knife exploded inside a locked cabinet while his aged mother was seated across the room and Jung himself was outside in the garden. The bang sounded like a gunshot. Nobody could understand it until they unlocked the cabinet and found that the knife had shattered into four pieces, now lying in a bread basket beside a loaf of bread, neither of which had been damaged. "The explosive force apparently did not exceed that amount of energy which was just needed to break the knife and was completely exhausted with the breaking itself." 1   
    Jung took the knife to a master cutler who inspected it closely under a magnifying glass and found no flaw in the metal. "The knife is perfectly sound," the expert informed him. "There is no flaw in the steel. Someone must have deliberately broken it piece by piece." When Jung denied that this could have happened, the cutler shook his head. "Good steel can't explode. Someone had been pulling your leg." 2
    Jung told Rhine that there was an equally noisy and mysterious incident within a few days. Again, there was a sound like a pistol shot. This time, the explosion came from an old and very solid round table. It was found that for no apparent reason the table top had split from the rim to beyond the center, three-quarters of the way across.
   Jung went to work as a psychic detective. He could not accept that the explosions were "only" coincidence any more than it would be "only" coincidence if the river Rhine were found to be flowing backwards.
    He decided that the explosions were connected with the emotional and psychic forces that were running strong in his relationship with his cousin Helene "Helly" Preiswerk, a natural medium with whom he had conducted seances since he was a teenager. They had suspended their sessions. The exploding knife and the self-splitting table persuaded Jung to resume them. His experiments with his cousin formed the basis of his doctoral dissertation "On the Psychology and Pathology of So-Called Occult Phenomena."  Jung said quarter of a century later that the period of the seances "contains the origins of all my ideas."3
    In a 1934 letter to Rhine, Jung declared "I am highly interested in all questions concerning the peculiar character of the psyche with reference to time and space, i.e., the apparent annihilation of these categories in certain mental incidents."4
Jung kept the pieces of the exploded knife for the rest of his life. 5

1. Jung, Letter to J.B. Rhine 17 November 1934 in C.G. Jung, Letters 1:1906-1950 trans R.F.C.Hull ( Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1973) 181
2. C.G. Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, ed Aniela Jaffe, trans. Richard and Clara Winston (New York: Vintage Books, 1965) 106.
3. Analytical Psychology, Notes of the Seminar Given by C.G. Jung in 1925 ed. W. McGuire (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989) 6.
4. Jung, Letters I, 180.
5. Memories, Dreams, Reflections 105

Shelf Elf Moment

I wrote this note after rereading Jung's 1934 letter to J.B.Rhine and some material on the mediums in Jung's family. I realized that something was missing and I needed to go back to his account of the exploding knife in Memories, Dreams, Reflections. I sighed over the probable need to page through the early chapters to find the passage I wanted. The book fell open at the right page, and the first line I read was the start of Jung's account of the exploded knife.

Friday, January 23, 2015

A place to write from (Red Ink)

Write from the place that is raw
from the night when you lost your skin.
Write of the time in the war-torn city
when your heart was a quivering bird in your palm
and the blood pool kept filling, and you knew
no doctor could heal this wound
though the world would end if you failed
to keep the wounded lover alive for three days more.

Write from the night you wished yourself dead
and spirit flew from your heart, winged by your desire,
down to the lightless lands of the dead
that no one escapes without help.
Write from the day when, incredibly,
there was enough of you topside
to bribe the ferryman with the ribcage boat
and carry home the part of you that married Death.
Remember the promises you made her:
"You'll never be hurt again." "Every day you'll make poetry."

Write from the night you could not keep those promises
and had to hold the young lover in you by force,
rough as a jailer's armlock, soft as lambskin,
when she thought the one you were losing now
was the one she lost before. And when your heart
breaks again, hold her fast, willing a greater power
to embrace and join you, and write from that.
Dip your pen in the blood pool. This is the time for red ink.

Comments on my recent post "Ready to Paint it Red" lead me to re-post this poem, written in 2011 and included in my collection Here, Everything is Dreaming.

"Deer Sacrifice" (c) Robert Moss