This continues an occasional series of strong medicine dreams. Several times each night, when our earthly body and personal mind become quiescent, a myth-spinning mind becomes active. The following dream is part of a slowly evolving indigenous mythology. The story of how I was drawn to dreams many decades ago is here. Links to other numinous dreams in this series are here.
I’m in a massive indoor mall, filled with small shops, large businesses, and condominiums. It’s a self-contained urban living environment. People in the mall are trying to leave, due to the immanent arrival of an approaching Presence that is both alien and implacable.
It’s Christmas Eve, 1995. I’m alone in a rental house on Inverness Ridge, an hour’s drive north of San Francisco, where I was born 50 years ago. My wife Joyce and our 11-year-old daughter Lauren have joined my parents, my sibs, and their families for the traditional Christmas Eve dinner. It’s part of a long-planned family reunion. I haven’t joined them because outwardly and inwardly I’m unable to do so.
Classic signs of the flu set in this morning: congestion, fever, fatigue. But these are symptomatic of a deeper dislocation. A week and a half ago, on my first 10-day Vipassana course, I was plunged into psychological crisis. Since then I’ve been tumbling through a bewildering array of insights, anxieties, communions, and paranoia. Given the traumatic aftermath of the course, including my dissociated flight to San Francisco, it’s somewhat surprising that I haven’t ended up in a psych ward.
This is Part Two of a three-part story, told from the perspectiveof how I experienced ittwenty-five years ago this month, in December of 1995.Part One can be found here.
A Frightened Octopus
I’m sitting in Light Morning’s community shelter. It’s December 18th, 1995, and I have just returned from my first 10-day course at the Vipassana Meditation Center (V.M.C.) in western Massachusetts. When the course unexpectedly turned traumatic on Day 8, I stopped eating or drinking anything. Now my mental status is becoming marginal.
The following story, in three parts, is told from the perspective of how I experienced it 25 years ago, in December, 1995.
After the trauma had served its intended purpose, I came to believe that the path I had traveled had to unfold as it did. The hard-earned clarity of hindsight showed me clues that I had missed and discernible traces of long-dried blood on the tracks.
But we don’t see what we’re not yet ready to see; or shouldn’t see. Foresight would have caused me to run from the pain that awaited me, and from the improbable healing and commitment that that pain would bring.
Part One of this three-part series, which includes Marlene’s disturbing account of the abuse she received as a young girl at the hands of her mother, is here.
The Chain of Abuse
At my mother’s funeral, I talked with one of my uncles. He told me that Leona had been horribly abused growing up, thanks to grandma and grandpa swinging the leather horse straps and the logging chains on their eight children. I was stunned! Never before, in all my fifty years, had I heard this story.
“Will this chain of abuse,” I wondered, “ever be broken?”
For the next two weeks I sorted through all of Mom’s “treasures on earth.” She had moved from the farm into town in 1965 and, except for the machinery and the cows, had brought everything with her. My God! Why had she saved this and that and everything in between? It was intense work physically, and even more so emotionally.
Recovering From the Wounds of an Abusive Childhood
Part One of this three-part series, which includes Marlene’s harrowing account of the abuse she received as a young girl at the hands of her mother, is here.
Reaching for Blackberries
I went off to college in 1958, at the age of 18, filled with excitement and enthusiasm. Even though my mother, Leona, gave the Dean of Women a fit, and some weekends at home were the usual hell, I was finally out of there. Free at last!
This is the final post in this series. Part One and the introduction are here.
Each of the first two posts in this series revolves around a strong medicine dream. But where do dreams like “Down Under” (here) and “Harvesting the Moment Points” (here) come from? They’re certainly personal. I’ve already shared visceral associations with the imagery. It’s quite improbable, then, that anyone else could have dreamed either of these dreams, any more than they could have my face, my voice, or my fingerprints.
Yet strong dreams can also be more than personal. Other people’s thoughts, words, and images sometimes come alive within us. That’s why poets, painters, and storytellers ply their trade. That’s what makes conversation and communion possible. That’s why myths and scriptures resonate. They help us approach the threshold between the worlds from one side. But what awaits us on the other side?
This is the second of three posts in this series. Part One and the introduction are here.
I’m sitting in the Roanoke City Library re-reading portions of Citadel of God, an historical novel about Benedict of Nursia. I’ve lucked upon one of the few armchairs scattered among the stacks. Some newspapers had been laid across it, but I put these aside and become immersed in the life and times of the man who helped birth western monasticism.
A woman in well-worn clothes walks by, glances at me, then sits down briefly on the floor a short distance away. Some of Roanoke’s homeless people take refuge in the library when the weather turns cold. I wonder whether she’s the one who had marked the chair with the newspapers.
Later I lay the book down on my lap and stare into space, thinking about the monastic components of Light Morning. Then my gaze turns to the large bookcase across the aisle from where I’m sitting. The title of one book comes into focus: Callings. I’ve just been reading about how Benedict, a young nobleman living in the waning days of the Roman empire, followed a series of inner callings to leave Rome, live as a hermit, and later become the founding abbot of the Monte Cassino monastery.
I stand up and take the book off the shelf. The author is Gregg Levoy. I open it to the inside front panel of the dust jacket.
“How do we know if we’re following our true callings? How do we sharpen our senses to cut through the distractions of everyday reality and hear the calls that are beckoning us? …How do we distinguish the true calls from the siren song? How do we handle our resistance to a call? What happens when we say no? What happens when we say yes?”1
This is a revised version of the third and final reflection paper I wrote for an 18-month School of the Spirit program called “On Being a Spiritual Nurturer.” My application for this program is here. The first paper, Two Roads, starts here. The second paper, Medicine Wheels for Story Orphans, starts here.
Between Two Worlds
This paper explores the probability that we are a species poised between two worlds. It suggests that on the threshold between sea and land, inner and outer, heaven and earth, we receive liminal gifts from a mysterious Gift-giver. For this is what liminal means: on the threshold. Although the luminous offerings we find on such thresholds are not always easily received, they are the ultimate source of our charisma, our callings, and our special friendships.
* * *
In the middle of the night I’m walking along a beach on the North Carolina coast. Bare feet on wet sand; the soothing sound of surf to my right; the long row of beach houses to my left. Some are dark. Others have a lamp or two still burning. A few are decked out with security lights.
“The inner light alone makes us feel secure,” I muse. “Security lights feed our fears.”
The mid-September night sky is clear. The waning gibbous moon behind me casts the distinct shadow of a walking man on the damp sand in front of me. It mimics me perfectly.
Sirius has climbed above the eastern horizon, faithfully following Orion, Taurus, and the Pleiades. Moonlight plays across the surface of the receding waves. Looking more closely, I smile to see the faint reflection of Sirius there as well.
The waves keep breaking; I keep walking. Slowly I slough off the constraints and conceits of this present time. The beach houses, lights, and power lines fade away, leaving a solitary human doing what our species has done for thousands of generations – walking at night by the edge of an ocean, hearing the same sounds, seeing the same constellations, marking the same phases of the moon.
After trauma had pummeled George Fox, Carl Jung, and J.R.R. Tolkien into becoming story orphans, after they could no longer find meaning or purpose in the outside world, they turned to an inner world. There they encountered murmuring voices, kaleidoscopic images, and transformative visions. They journeyed, in other words, into the magical realm of the myth-spinning mind.
Then they had to make sense of what they saw, felt, and heard in this extra-ordinary reality. They had to put their strange encounters into perspective, to translate and incorporate them into the context of their times. The new stories they were later able to tell were surprisingly well-received.