July 30, 2008

You Call THAT Summer Reading?

Although four days ago I escaped the urban circus of Budapest for the idyllic peace of a farm house in southeastern Hungary, far, far from TV cables and internet connections and subway trains and all the other features of my harried life (which I love, but gets a bit much after a while), through the miracles of online technology this posting is being published on my appointed publishing day, thereby keeping my promise to grace the world with another dose of my prose every Wednesday. (Note to self: I should suggest to Google that they develop an application called iStiff, which sends an indistinguishable virtual image of a nine-to-five employee to the office through the internet every weekday morning, while the real employee stays home and putters around the house, blogs, meets friends at cafes, etc. Sounds like the Next Big Thing, huh?)

As this digital missive is being released into cyberspace, its flesh-and-blood author will have already spent days breathing fresh air, taking walks in the woods, watching his kids play with farm animals, cooking meals for ten (we'll be there with another family with children), watching the stars in a clear sky free of city lights, and... READING!

Now, being a corporate editor, reading on vacation is a bit like a busman's holiday, but as any professional reader (or college student) will tell you, there's a world of difference between reading what you have to, and reading what you want to.

Admittedly, being on vacation with that many children doesn't really allow for that much reading time, which is why I have to make every minute of it count. So... no mental-chewing-gum potboilers for me. Why waste that quality time away from the frenetic life, while my blood pressure is down and my brain waves smoothed out to gentle curves? No, I'm going to bring along two books that are definitely not what most folks would consider light beach reading.

The first is a novel. I don't read many novels anymore. First of all, I don't have time for them. I recall when I was younger, being very disdainful of people who say they don't have time to read. But, now I'm in that position. A full-time job, four kids and a commitment to spiritual exercises doesn't leave much time for other things. And the truth is, I do read. But shorter stuff I can squeeze in while commuting or eating lunch: articles on subjects I'm interested in, short stories (especially from my favorite speculative fiction site Strange Horizons). I read chapters from e-books on subjects I'm researching. But novels, no. You have to have long stretches of time to read novels. Reading a three-hundred page novel at a rate of four pages a day is very frustrating.

So, there's this six-hundred-page book I started,...uh,... a year ago on a bus ride to a company outing. I got one or two chapters read on the bus. Then I struggled for a few weeks at three or four pages a day and gave up. Around Christmas I took the time to plow through half of the book, and gave up when vacation was over. At this point I still have 170 pages of Gustav Meyrink's The Angel of the Western Window left.

Many of you will know the name Meyrink as the author of The Golem, but far fewer people know that Meyrink was actually an initiate of the western esoteric tradition, and that he wrote a number of esoterically significant novels. The plot of Angel takes place in two different time periods. One is the lifetime of Dr John Dee (1527-1608), and the other is the lifetime of the first-person narrator, a bachelor gentleman in Vienna in the early twentieth century. We slip into John Dee's time whenever the narrator reads Dee's diaries. I won't spoil the story for you (because you really should read it), but suffice it to say that the interaction between these two times and personalities becomes very bizarre and intricate.

Dr Dee was the Renaissance man's Renaissance man. There's hardly an art or science this man didn't dabble in, if not excel at or pioneer, including magic. And this novel is very much about the magical side of Dee. And the sweep of the novel is incredible: England and Wales, Emperor Rudolf's Prague (including Rudolf himself), Vienna, and more.

I've really worked myself up! I can't wait to get back to it.

The other book I'm taking along is a very thin, but very dense volume by Dr John Dee himself: The Hieroglyphic Monad. I've been wanting to delve into this book for some time now, but just haven't felt the time was right. This is the type of book Georg Kuhlewind would designate a "contemplative book". That means that, unlike a light novel, or an instruction book, or a magazine article, it is meant to be absorbed a few sentences at a time. The prime example of such a book, according to Kuhlewind, is the Gospel of John. One should, he says, read a sentence or two, and then deeply meditate on them to see what they evoke from deeper levels of consciousness. I'm certain this is how the Monad is meant to be read. It is divided up into 24 short theorems, each short enough to read in a few minutes. So, in the afternoons, after lunch has been served and the children are playing in the yard, or in the barn, I plan to drag a comfortable lawn chair out under a tree in the yard, sample a theorem, and then slowly sip my tea and contemplate.

Slowly. Patiently.

July 24, 2008

Stream of Consciousness on the Yugoslav Wars

At the end of my last posting, I wrote a short laundry list of dramatic ideological shifts: times that looked very different when those who lived through them looked back on them. The impetus for this exploration was the way the ideological purge of post-war Japan is portrayed in Ishiguro's An Artist of the Floating World.

Before I move on to the topics I planned to explore, I'd like to reflect on the Surprise that came in yesterday's news: that they'd finally arrested Radovan Karadzic. Talk about your anticlimaxes! How does this relate to my theme? Well, in an odd sort of way. Serbia is a country that hasn't really undergone the post-defeat purge. And so you have a small part of the population that feels repentant about what happened there in the 1990's, and a large part of the population that still feels defiant and justified for its ultranationalist atrocities.

This posting is going to be a bit "stream of consciousness" because I find that the recent news is dredging up lots of memories and sentiments, and I'm not sure what conclusions to draw from them yet, but I'd like to relate my second-hand relationship to the wars Serbia waged. You may recall that last week I wrote "As in another well-known Ishiguro novel - The Remains of the Day - the story of an intense era with reverberations well into our own time is not told on the grand scale of historic figures and events, but on the level of less prominent people and their personal lives. One gets the sense that the grand historical and political life of the world is made up of the sum of millions of personal lives." Indeed, these wars had their effects on my little life. And now that the war-criminal architects of those conflicts are finally being brought to justice, I find myself reflecting on how my life felt the echoes from their deeds, distantly, but distinctly.

I was planning, in the summer of 1991, to move to Europe for a while. I religiously read Die Zeit, every week in an effort to brush up my German, and to tune into the European news and media. German media was very keen on reporting the developments in the incipient Croatian War of Independence. Germany had, after all, made the controversial move of being the first country to recognize the newly declared Republic of Croatia. I recall sitting in a greasy-spoon diner in Knights Landing, California reading an article by a Croatian woman who described how unprepared she was when the war began. She called her mother and asked her what kind of supplies to buy, and drawing on her experience from the second world war her mother rattled off the list "oil, flour, salt, candles, potatoes, bacon, sausages, pasta, rice, tea, coffee, soap." I will say more about this article in a minute.

Part of my complicated motives for coming to Hungary sixteen years ago was to try my hand at making a living as a writer. I even imagined that once I'd established a base in Budapest, I might slip down to Croatia and do some reporting. It all seemed so interesting and "real" when I read about it in Die Zeit. It was the sort of stuff that would inspire a budding Hemmingway. But once I got comfortable here, I (sanely!) decided I wasn't meant to meddle in that world, especially when I heard the tales of the people who did venture down there to report about it.

I recall the young freelancer (who incidentally shares my not-all-that-common surname) who stayed in my apartment twice between jaunts down to Croatia. One evening he sat in my living room telling me how two nights before he'd spent in the cellar with a Croatian family while they endured the nightly shelling by the Serbian Army. No, I thought, not my cup of tea.

When I was working at the Budapest Sun, there was a freelancer named Julius Strauss who regularly did stints in the Balkans to report for the Telegraph. One evening at the watering hole around the corner from the Sun offices, Julius told us about driving up a Bosnian hillside toward the war front in a rented Jeep full of reporters, and being informed by the Bosnian Serb Army that their presence wasn't appreciated by raining shells around them. I was quite certain that was not an experience I needed in my life.

I was the book reviewer at the Budapest Sun, and one day a local English-language bookstore sent me a book called Balkan Express by a Croatian journalist named Slavenka Drakulic. Among the essays in that book I found the one I'd read in the rural California diner two years before in Die Zeit. I liked the book so much that I pestered some publishers to send me more of her books. I gave a glowing review to a darkly passionate novel of hers entitled Marble Skin. Not long after that I met her at a book festival in Budapest. I brought along copies of her books to sign. When I told her who I was, she gave me a big kiss. Her publisher had sent her a copy of my review, and she said it was one of the most flattering things she'd ever read about her writing (which is pretty amazing, considering some of the gushing reviews of her work I've read).

The apartment I rented in those days looked out over the Danube river toward Margaret Island (a locale I couldn't even dream of affording nowadays). Over time it occurred to me that the flags on the ships that passed by were always from countries north of Hungary. Due to the war, the river was unnavigable because of sunken boats and bombed bridges, for years. No boats from Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria. Perhaps a little thing to me. But once I noticed it, I thought about it every day when I watched the boats pass by my balcony window.

There was a photographer who briefly worked for the Budapest Sun in the early nineties who had fled from Vojvodina, the ethnic Hungarian region of northern Serbia. One day we were talking in a cafe. He reached over to get something out of his camera bag. I briefly caught sight of a nine millimeter automatic among his cameras. That's the only time in my sixteen years in Hungary I've seen a firearm anywhere besides on a policeman's belt. Though a dear man in most ways, he was paranoid and uptight. I could feel the war craziness in him.

My wife had a Serbian office mate at the advertising firm she worked at many years ago. She invited us to come over for a few drinks with her and her husband. Things were going quite smoothly until the subject of Kosovo came up. They had been living in Belgrade during that war. Addressing me as the only American in the room, his eyes suddenly got wild, and he shouted, "Why on earth did you have to bomb us?" I tried to politely say a few things about atrocities, but I could tell he hadn't been convinced yet that that wasn't all just Nato propaganda. "But why did you have to bomb us?"

It's hard to describe what it was like to live in a country at peace and in relative prosperity, knowing that barbarous butchery and cruel terror were transpiring less than a day's drive away. I think Hungarians tried to forget what was happening in the country next door. But there were always reminders.

There was an odd incident one Saturday morning in the early nineties. I was awoken in the first hour of daylight by the sound of an explosion. Turns out it had been many miles away at the St Matthias Church on Castle Hill. People got a bit nervous when news reports said the bomb site had been marked with Serbian nationalist symbols. But people realized soon that a) Serbia had enough on its hands without involving Hungary, and b) Hungary was quickly falling within the sphere of influence of the EU and Nato. Serbia wouldn't dare.

And so, you see, despite the fact that I didn't experience that war first hand, and that I have yet to go to the former Yugoslavia, my life was affected in many ways.

As I said before, the grand historical and political life of the world is made up of the sum of millions of personal lives

July 16, 2008

Reflections on Ishiguro's "Floating World"

It is a perennial puzzle of mankind: how do we judge the acts of individuals and societies once the times have changed? Certain ways of thinking and patterns of accepted behavior predominate for years, for decades, even several generations, but inevitably comes the sea change. Live long enough and you see it happen. Kennedy is shot and the world goes into mourning. Iranian militants take American diplomats hostage, and the world goes paranoid. The Berlin Wall falls, and the Cold War is over. In retrospect you look back and realize that things were no longer the same afterwards. And you also realize that what you think, what you believe, and what you feel is no longer the same.

I just recently read Kazuo Ishiguro's novel An Artist of the Floating World, which deals with just such a situation. The first person narrator, a painter who was an influential pro-imperialist propagandist, tells the story of his life in the first few years after Japan's surrender to the allied armies. Here is a society that is coming to terms with what it thought, felt and believed only a few years prior, and how it must accommodate a new reality as an occupied land. It is a society going through an inevitable post-defeat process: the purge.

Purging is the act of ridding a system of undesirable elements or properties. The victor does not want to be confronted with the need to fight this enemy again. But any reflection on history will yield the conclusion that purging is a tricky thing to carry out. And it might even be argued that it can never be carried out justly, or that it doesn't actually work.

The Romans didn't fool around when they purged. When they were forced to defeat the pesky Carthagians a second time - actually having to fight them on their home soil, and nearly being defeated at one point - they killed the men, made the women and children slaves, took their capital city apart (not one stone standing on another) and sowed their fields with salt. Let that be a lesson to everyone. Don't mess with the Romans! International law frowns on such behavior nowadays. They call that genocide now. People get dragged into international court for that sort of thing.

The Counter-Reformation (and the ever-popular Inquisition) was a purge. There's another example of methods that don't quite meet public approval anymore. And, well, it didn't really work, did it? Protestantism just kept spreading anyway.

The treaties of Versailles and Trianon are another example of a purging. The idea was to make the enemy too resource poor to be a threat anymore. Well, we know how that worked out, right?

Ethnic Cleansing (a term brought to prominence by the Balkan Wars) is another type of purge. Nato finally stepped in an put a stop to that.

In Ishiguro's book, the narrator's friends and former students must deal with the Japanese world's equivalent of denazification. Through his eyes, one can see how ambiguous it all seems. One does what one feels is one's duty, and devotes one's energy and talent to a cause, then one day the tables turn, and what you and your society used to regard as a virtuous activity is now considered a crime. Although the narrator is retired and financially set, his former students and colleagues are finding it either difficult or impossible to get work in a world where everyone's political background is being screened before they can be employed in positions with any authority.

As in another well-known Ishiguro novel - The Remains of the Day - the story of an intense era with reverberations well into our own time is not told on the grand scale of historic figures and events, but on the level of less prominent people and their personal lives. One gets the sense that the grand historical and political life of the world is made up of the sum of millions of personal lives. In the same sense, each of us has to deal with the big questions and the big political realities of our day as they manifest in our own lives and in our individual choices and decisions. But what we don't always consider is how the way we choose to live our lives is our own accommodation to the predominant ideas and ideologies of our times. And we certainly don't consider that we will regard our own actions differently once the tide turns.

In the next few postings I will explore these themes further, using Ishiguro's book and particular dramatic societal shifts to find some philosophical truth underlying the phenomenon of being a human being in a constantly shifting ideological environment, with the concomitant changes in values that brings.

Some of the big shifts I want to look at:

  • The sixties and aftermath
  • The purges of the Bush II years
  • Post-Nazi Europe
  • Post-Communist Germany vs Post-Communist Hungary
  • What will happen once Bush II is gone?

Am I getting ambitious enough?

July 9, 2008

Who's to Blame?

The following article, translated into Hungarian, previously appeared in A Rozsakeresztes Tükör (The Rosicrucian Mirror), the official newsletter of the Rákóczi Pronaos, an affiliated body of the Rosicrucian Order AMORC.

I'm not telling you anything you don't already know if I say that we are in a difficult situation: Budapest, Hungary, Europe, Western civilization, the world. We have some serious problems. We face some very frightening dangers.

How did we get here? Why is this happening? Who is to blame? Let's examine those questions carefully.

It would be easy to blame the politicians. Depending on your political loyalties, it would be easy to say that the other political parties acted against your interests, and stole the people's money and resources while they were in office. Or even to say that all politicians are corrupt and untrustworthy. That would be one way of looking at the world.

We could blame powerful corporations. It's easy to point a finger at them and say they are destroying our culture with their mass produced products, and their aggressive, tasteless, and ubiquitous advertising. We could accuse them of abusing working people with their low wages, and of polluting our environment with all their packaging and freight transport. That's another way of looking at it.

How about the greedy small business people who don't pay their taxes? Let's blame them! Or let's blame the schools because they aren't properly preparing children to be productive and responsible adults.

The list of people and institutions we could blame for the problems of the world is endless: pop culture, the police, drug dealers, the EU, organized crime, the Americans, the Islamists, etc.

But there's an aspect of the problems we are experiencing in the world today that cannot be explained by looking for evil people or institutions to blame it on. And to explain to you what I mean, I need to tell you a little story.

Like many people, I sometimes have money problems, which weigh especially heavily on me, since I am responsible for a large family. One day I was particularly preoccupied with these problems, and specifically that I needed to come up with a certain amount of cash within a few days, and I didn't know how I was going to do it.

I was walking along a quiet tree-lined street near my home, on my way to work, when I noticed a chubby, shabbily dressed old man with an old-fashioned metal cane coming towards me. He was still several meters away when he stopped and looked at something on the sidewalk. He leaned over, sticking one leg out behind him and using the cane to support him. I was right in front of him once he had stood up straight and had had a second or two to see what he'd found. He made eye contact with me, and held up the object for me to see. It was a simple gold-colored ring. He tried to put it on one of his fingers, but they were way too thick. Unexpectedly, he held the ring out to me. From it's sparkle in the morning sunlight, and its heft in my hand, I immediately knew this was gold. I peaked inside and found the marking: 18K. It was a very thick, woman's wedding band.

In heavily Slavic-accented Hungarian, he told me to try it on. "Kicsi uj!" (Meaning: little finger!) It slipped onto my finger easily. He made a gesture to give it back to him (it was his ring, he found it, after all), and for a moment I feared he would realize how valuable this object was. He tried to find a finger of his that it would fit on, but with no success. He smiled and handed it back to me. I was relieved, and excited. I was about to walk away when he indicated that he wanted money for cigarettes. Fair enough. I got out my wallet and handed him two 100 forint coins. He frowned and said "Keves." (Meaning: Not much. And he seriously mispronounced it.) "Nincs cigoretta!" (A very illiterate, ungrammatical way of saying he can't get cigarettes for that.) The only other thing I had in my wallet was 1,000 forint bills. I thought about the fact that gold had recently hit $1,000 an ounce; an all-time high. The ring was worth at least 50,000 forints, probably much more, considering how heavy it was. So I thought, fair enough. And handed him 1,000 forints.

All morning long I kept thinking about the fact that my momentary crisis had been solved. All I would have to do is sell this ring, and I'd have the cash I needed. At lunch time, I went to the silver smith's shop across the street from my office and showed the ring to one of the men who work there. He looked at the ring, and asked, "Is this your ring?" I told him that I'd found it on the street. He raised an eyebrow at that answer. He got a little brown bottle off the shelf, unscrewed the top, pulled out a little glass rod and placed a drop of liquid on the ring. It immediately started to fizz and make white foam. The man looked at me and declared, "It's brass." I was very disappointed, and slightly embarrassed. Just then another man came from a back room.

"What's going on here?" he asked.

"This fellow thought he found a gold ring on the street. Turns out it's brass."

"Found it on the street? You didn't walk up to someone just as they were bending over to pick something up off the sidewalk?"

Both of them smiled at me, knowingly. Now I was really embarrassed. I don't really recall how the conversation in the shop ended. I just wanted to get out of there.

Later sitting alone in my office, I pulled the ring out of my pocket. As I was examining a dark indentation, that should have made me suspicious, I suddenly noticed that I could smell the ring. I held the ring up to my nose and recognized the unmistakable smell of brass. And now I realized how much I had been blinded by my greed. Neither did I notice that it had a tiny dark indentation in one spot, nor did I think to use my sense of smell to test it. I wanted it to be a piece of gold, and I let that push me completely out of balance.

And now I understood how the trick worked. The trick depends on the victim being greedy, and desiring to take advantage of someone they perceive as less intelligent than themselves. In the moment the victim believes he is about to walk away with something valuable, the con artist asks for something. The victim panics and makes a bad decision, based on the belief that whatever he gives the con man, he is getting the far better part of the bargain. The trick only works on people who have been blinded by their greed.

Now, it would be easy to get angry about a con man tricking you that way, but I was grateful to him for teaching me a valuable lesson about myself. Even if I try hard to be a good father and husband; even though I work at being as kind and loving as possible in my interactions with other people; even though I work to use the teachings of The Order to elevate my consciousness so I can serve mankind and The Order; when I felt desperate and afraid, I was willing to take advantage of another human being. I was tested, and I failed.

In the week that followed this incident, I went into my sanctum several times and visualized the situation. I would see the man bending over and picking up the ring. I would see him trying it on. I would see the situation just as it happened, up to the point where he offered me the ring. At that point in my visualization, I would look at the man and see him as my brother, as another soul, as another spark from the divine fire. I would look into his eyes and say, "No. You keep the ring. You found it. It is yours. You need it more than I do." And then I would imagine myself walking away happy, and full of love for the world.

Why have I told you a story that shows me in such an unflattering light? What does this story have to do with the topic of this essay? Who is to blame? This incident, and others in my life, serve to remind me that I am to blame for the way the world is. I am. You are. We all are. I'm sure every one of you could tell us an embarrassing story about how your actual behavior fell short of your Rosicrucian ideals. Whenever we fail to live up to the ideal of living our life as an expression of the light, life and love that flows from the divine center within us, whenever we give in to fear, greed, anger, pride, laziness and other distortions of human nature, then we contribute to the problems of the world. As the American journalist Sydney J. Harris said: "If you're not part of the solution, then you're part of the problem."

And that sentence shows you the choice we have to make. Many people falsely believe that you are not part of the problem if you don't actively participate in the problem, and just mind your own business. But being passive and neutral isn't an option. You are either part of the problem, or part of the solution.

Are you upset when you see the condition the neighborhood around your home is in: trash on the streets and sidewalk, paint peeling from the disrepaired buildings? Not only should you not throw more trash in the street (which nobody reading this article does, I hope), but perhaps you should occasionally pick a few things up and throw them in the nearest trash can. Perhaps you should spend a few minutes a day visualizing a beautiful neighborhood the way you would like to see it.

Do you complain about the way Budapest is run, and the way this society behaves? Maybe it would be more productive to think of what kind of city, country, society you would like to see develop in your lifetime and in future generations. Don't complain and gossip about how bad things are, and what stupid things leaders and powerful people do. Talk to people about your vision of the future. Get involved in projects that improve the world.

But above all, do you complain about the how people are unkind and unfair? Perhaps it's more important to be sure you yourself are always kind and fair in your dealings with other people, rather than judging the behavior of other people.

Who is to blame for the problems of the world? We all are. But the good news is that we all hold the keys in our hands to solving those problems.

Announcement: Scribbler Goes Weekly!

That's right folks! The Scribbler had a serious talk with himself and decided a change was needed.

When I started this blog a little over a year ago, I declared that I wasn't really interested in your public diary sort of blog. Not to say that there isn't a call for that kind of blog. Lord knows I even read a few like that. It's a good way to keep up with family and friends who publish them. And just because a blog concentrates on such subject matter doesn't mean it can't be intellectually deep, or aesthetically dazzling.

But that's just not what I was aiming for. I wanted to concentrated on good writing; the sort of thing I used to write when I wrote columns for small newspapers. And, I said this was going to be a philosophical blog, which is still my aim.

To a certain extent, I have succeeded. I've been pleased with some of the essays I've published in this blog, and I've received good feedback. But something was missing. I couldn't put a finger on why it was so difficult for me to motivate myself to publish regularly, unlike my wife, who puts out new postings almost daily (sometimes even more than one a day!), and doesn't seem to ever run out of steam. She's my alphablogger. When she mentions my blog in her blog, my stats go through the roof for a day or two.

I tend to write long. (I can hear some people out there saying, "Tell us something we didn't know!") Years of habit make me think of ideas that take about 800 words to express; columns in other words. And it's just so hard to keep that up all the time when you're a nine-to-six working stiff.

And then it occurred to me: deadlines! I'm a deadline creature! Tell me an article is due on Tuesday at five, and you'll get it in the e-mail on Tuesday at 4:50.

I followed a blog once that published weekly. It was good. I always looked forward to publishing day (I think it was Monday), and his pieces were always worth reading. It worked.

So that's how it's going to work around here now. Starting today, A Touch of Pansophia will publish a posting -- think: column -- every week, and Wednesday will be publishing day. That doesn't mean I won't ever post in between, but Wednesday will be a deadline I commit myself to keep every week. I can already feel my creative juices responding to the deadline pressure.

Later today I'm going to cheat by publishing something I already have in the can. It's Wednesday: time to publish!

July 2, 2008

Dreams as Spiritual Practice

I Just wrote this essay as a contribution to a project being conducted by an on-line dream group I belong to. I thought it was worthy of space on this blog.

The majority of mankind's current problems can be attributed to a drastic restriction of the race's consciousness to a narrow band of phenomena that can be perceived by our physical receptor senses. This trend in human priorities is generally known as materialism. Various esoteric schools have differing explanations for how and why this veiling of the face of Isis came about (some saying that it was a necessary stage of development in order to make us more fully manifested on the physical plane), but they generally agree that cultural evidence shows there was a time mankind was, as a whole, more sensitive to vibrations from other planes of being, and communicated with these planes of being.

Materialism as a "philosophy" (if one may grace such a narrow-minded view with such a lofty designation) is completely bankrupt: it is impossible to find one's way through life with no guide other than one's perceptions of the material world, and the conclusions of the physical brain. Actually, going about life in this manner inevitably leads to error. There is vastly more to the Universe than the material, and there is vastly more to Mind than the brain.

For the purposes of this essay, a good definition of spirituality would be: the desire to escape the prison of materiality and to expand consciousness to an awareness of realities beyond the material.

In this day and age of unfettered eclecticism and prolific syncretism, people driven by their spirituality to search for means to transcend the material world have access to a bewildering volume of resources from myriad cultures and historical eras. There are countless trail heads for paths up the mountain to the one unifying peak: meditation (comprising a plethora meditation methods), ritual, herbs and potions (including outright drugs), alchemy, sex, dance... you name it! (And any eclectic/syncretic combination thereof!)

The practice of devoting oneself to dreams, and especially what evolved in the late 20th century under the rubric of "dreamwork", is undoubtedly a means of expanding consciousness beyond the material. Although it would be disputed by the most intransigent of academic scientists, it does not take too many months of dreamwork -- especially if one's work involves other people -- before one has experiences that lead one to suspect dreams are not solely dependent on the physical brain. There are things that happen in dreams that strongly suggest (some would go so far as to say PROVE) they are transpersonal, transdimensional, and involve communication between the self and other beings or states of mind beyond the physical body. These experiences are characterized by an unexpected transgression of the assumed laws of nature one has absorbed from the society we live in. For instance, time is demonstrated not to be what we thought when we see an event in a dream before we experience it in physical reality. Or space gets bent when we see something happening in a dream that is taking place somewhere else in the world. Or the nature of personal reality and individuality is challenged by perceiving knowledge that someone else knows, but has not told you.

So it is not hard to argue that increasing one's awareness of dreams is a path to breaking out of the material fetters our milieu tends to bind us with. But the bigger question is: HOW does one pursue dreams as a spiritual practice?

One conclusion I've come to is that the discipline of keeping the dream journal is the single most important aspect of dreamwork. It is the sine qua non (Latin for: without which there is not) of dreamwork. If you don't keep the journal, dreamwork can't happen. It's what practicing katas is to karate; playing scales is to musicianship; drawing sketch studies is to painting. If you don't write them down, you don't remember them, and if you don't remember them, there's no material to work with. Keeping the journal is already an act of "spiritual anarchy" in and of itself. You are declaring that you are willing to put time and energy into something which has no physical reality, and is unrelated to the usual mania of acquiring possessions that dominates the motivations of most people in the materialist world.

But there's another aspect to this. The act of keeping the journal is what rebuilds the bridge. This loss of awareness of noumena outside the realm of the ordinary conscious mind (the aforementioned falling of the veil) is why we are such strangers to our unconscious minds. It takes practice to rebuild that bridge. As most people know now: we dream every night, most people just don't remember it. With practice, we learn how to coax those memories into the bright light of day. And along with that ability to remember dreams comes an ability to pay attention to the subtler things that are always going on at various levels of one's mind.

The subconscious mind is the gate to greater reality. The word dream is a very broad catch-all term that encompasses all the experiences we have from the time we put our head on the pillow and close our eyes until we get out of bed the next morning. Once we pay attention to these experiences we realize that they are not all of the same nature. Some can be accurately described as psychic experiences, visions, astral projections, readings of the akashic records, and other types of internal experiences that have been documented in esoteric teachings, religious texts, and other literature, as far back as our records reach.

But paying attention to and recording dreams does not yet constitute a spiritual practice. To be able to call it that, one has to make a commitment to act on the experiences one records. You cross a line from intellectualizer, dabbler and dilettante to spiritual practitioner once you act with will and courage, and actually base an action you take in the physical waking world on something you experienced in a dream. And it does take courage at first. After all: this is the kind of thing the materialists call insanity! "You did it because of WHAT? Something you dreamed? Are you nuts?" There is something downright magical in allowing this knowledge, this energy from another dimension to manifest in your physical world. It's like lightning striking. And sometimes the effects can be just that dramatic, or they can be simply deeply gratifying. And that’s everything one could expect from a spiritual discipline.