Posts Tagged ‘robert moss’

Mazda3It is with regret I leave Scarborough and the North Sea coast, but not before a surprise awakening in the night! On the first occasion, it is the amorous couple across the landing, again. It’s going up for midnight and it’s taking a while for their indiscreet coitus to get going. I regret to say I attempt to quench their ardour by rolling groggily from bed and flushing my toilet, since I presume this will be as audible in their room as theirs is in mine. My intervention is purely on account of the lady’s predilection for talking dirty, which has never been my thing really – perhaps there is too much of the grey tweed Englishman in me. I am not a prude, but I find it vulgar and embarrassing. Also there are young children on the same landing and I would not like them to be disturbed by it. I underestimate the couple’s determination however and the voluble, aggressive, foul mouthed coupling continues.

It is the fire alarm that comes to our rescue eventually. Unfortunately this also necessitates evacuation into the cold and rain of the small hours to await the Fire Brigade. Fortunately the alarm is false.

You never know someone properly until you have seen them in their pyjamas and I venture to suggest guests found the event, chatting casually in the small hours and rather less formally clothed than at dinner, a good ice breaker. I regret to say I did not follow evacuation instructions to the letter, being guilty of pausing to pull on jeans and jacket over my PJs, but I was still out in under a minute. I note I had also unconsciously rescued wallet, carkeys and spectacles. Luggage and, interestingly, the journal (on the Voyo) were left to burn.

Anyway, the morning of my departure is wet, and it’s a long, steamy drive west, pausing for coffee in the beautiful market town of Helmsley. I suspect the weather is broken now, and we will not be cruising home at any point in style with the top down. The rain comes on more in earnest now and I browse Helmsley with the aid of an umbrella. In the bookshop I discover to my delight Niall Williams’ latest novel, History of the Rain.  I read the opening paragraph, my heart fills and I take it at once to the till. I shall lock myself away next week and savour it. Williams I’m sure is part born of the Faery folk, for none other could cast such a spell with mere words.

I make another stop at Ripon for more coffee and to purchase picnic tea from Sainsbury’s, also a brief visit to the deer park at Studley to relive memories of past summers there with my children – now too old to want to holiday with eccentric parents. I find it is too expensive to leave the car for even an hour by the lake, so I press on to my final lodgings, the Half Moon Inn.

In “By Fall of Night”, the Half Moon Inn does not exist, at least not in the physical world, but rather in the shared dreamspace of the main protagonists, Tim and Rebecca. In other parlance it is an Ibbetson space, a term so far as I can discern first coined by Robert Moss, teacher of dreaming, author and latter day shaman. It is so called after the Georges du Maurier novel Peter Ibbetson, an highly accomplished story which explores the idea of shared lucid dreaming. I am half expecting to have similarly imagined the physical existence of the Half Moon, but come upon it suddenly as I usually do, while pasting it along the road to Pateley Bridge. It is by now mid afternoon and still raining.

I seal myself up in a cosy annexe for the remainder of the afternoon and early evening, with picnic tea, books, and recalcitrant Voyo, then venture briefly to the bar for a modest nightcap where I make the acquaintance of the sweet natured Billy the dog. The bar is quiet, some locals passing through, some tourists, both native and foreign. All are friendly.

Moss is dismissive of Ibbetson spaces, not because he questions their existence, but more because of their limited potential for personal development. Like my creation of the Half Moon Inn, an Ibbetson space exists only in the shared imagination of two people. Others cannot discover it, they cannot trespass. The broader spaces and collective constructs of the Dreaming are different in being discoverable by anyone, and not relying upon the continuing existence of a particular individual for their persistence. This is said to be true ground of being, of the psyche. Intellectually there is much to explore here. I do not believe or disbelieve in the existence of such things. They are for now beyond proof,  but I enjoy the thought experiments they permit.

Of course I have explored these ideas in many of my past novels, but now, in The Queen of Carrickbar, or whatever I end up calling it, I seek once more the firmer ground of a purely material existence. Materiality is a very testing environment for a human being. A number of tragedies have befallen friends this year, and they have left me shaken, they have left me taking nothing in life for granted for I see how easily all might be lost. I see how easily a man might suddenly find himself in late middle years with everything he has built – family, friends, even wealth – swept away, and there he is once more, naked as a babe, facing the blank wall of an apparently pointless universe. How can anything that comes next not be seen as futile? How does one carry on?

If there is anything more to life, or behind life, then its traces can be discerned in the more peculiar faculties of the mind, that the mind, can sometimes see around corners, that we are in part at least capable of some kind of psychical existence beyond the limitations of space and time (Jung). But the search for anything definitive along such lines can never be anything more than a thought experiment, at best tantalisingly suggestive of something remarkable hidden beneath the fabric of existence, but impossible to state with any more certainty than in fictional works like Du Maurier’s Ibbetson, or my own stories.

But find it we must if tragedy is not to break us. The spiritual function must be allowed its freedom to transform the psyche, or we become more vulnerable to the trials of material existence. And the worst we can do is lose ourselves completely in materiality, believing it is all there is to life.

So,… as I bid goodnight to Billy the dog, the last leg of my journey unfolds in my imagination. Tomorrow we rejoin the valley of the Wharfe, travel south to Burnsall Bridge and Bolton Abbey. Then it’s the endless roaring ribbon of the A59, back across the border to Lancashire, and home.

This has been an immensely satisfying tour of Yorkshire. For its success, and its welcome I would like to thank:

The Buck Inn, Malham,
The Grove House Guest House, Leyburn,
The Park Manor, Scarborough,
The Half Moon Inn, (nr) Pateley Bridge

Also, the people of Yorkshire encountered enroute, friendly to a man, and woman, and reassuring of the nature of all human beings. And if not then let all human beings take note of the nature of Yorkshiremen.

And finally I would like to thank the designers and engineers of the Mazda Motor Company, of Hiroshima, Japan. I know I’ve droned on about the beauty of the MX5 elsewhere, but this trip quite simply would not have been the same without this old girl.

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penyghent from horton ir

Looking up from the lovely village of Horton in Ribblesdale, the objective is clear: the long profile of a hill dominating the village. Uncluttered by other fells it stands alone, rising above lush green pastures.

“Here I am,” it says. “My name is Penyghent.”

Along with Whernside and Ingleborough, it forms a triangle known as the Three Peaks, the trail around them being a tough hike across serious limestone country. At twenty miles or so, it’s not a challenge to be taken lightly and though I’m familiar with each of the beauties in this crown, I’ve yet to sample them all on the same day, and I probably never will; it would spoil them. The hills have never been a test of endurance for me. They’ve tested my courage at times, my presence of mind, and my resolve, but for every laboured breath I’ve vented on them, they’ve returned the effort ten fold in treasures beyond imagining. And the treasure is never in the distance won, nor  completion of the trial, but always glittering in the details along the way.

The pull up Brackenbottom Scar was the first test of ill-used lungs, and it took me a while to get going. On the plus side, the early morning rains had swept east, dragging with them a clearing sky that promised clarity and sunburn, while a freshening wind felt like it would keep the heat at bay. It’s a well worn route, leading up to the limestone  terraces on the southern face of the hill. Here the wind shrieks down from the north, pulling mist with it and a chill that seeps into your bones, freezing the sweat you’ve already worked up. Then the fun begins – a modest scramble up dark, water dribbling crags. Although hardly mountaineering, I found an old voice whispering hillcraft in my ears – three point contact, look, think, reach, pull,… and I felt a childish tinglel as I engaged a younger part of myself and heaved my bones skywards.

I’m reading a book at the moment by Robert Moss*. In it he talks of shamanic journeys into one’s past, searching for the pieces of ourselves we’ve left behind, fragments that didn’t want to join in with the way they felt our lives were going.

I know what he means; a good deal of my self remains in these windy places and I don’t seek them out often enough, though the energy they lend me when I do is always a  tonic. Get to a certain age and look back, and you realise there’s not much of your old self left – the self you thought you were. There are just bits of you scattered like pebbles, fallen through a hole in your pocket, a trail of fifty years, pockmarked by the wreckage of one disappointment after another, and always these lost bits of yourself looking at the ruins and saying: what the hell happened there?

Having come up the southern face of the hill, the normal circular route will take you west, along the Pennine Way,  back to Horton in Ribblesdale – a respectable, beautiful hike of around six miles. Or you can head north across a  pristine waste of russet moor, to the sublime loneliness of Plover Hill – a circuit of about eight miles – no crowds, like on the summit of Penyghent – just the plaintive call of the Curlew and the run of your own thoughts.

There I sat down among the white bobbing heads of the cotton grass, and scanned the rim of the nameless northern hills through binoculars – wild Yorkshire! My soul was out there, splashed up to his knees in mud, tireless, eating up the miles as he crossed one dale to the next, reading the land, seeing magic in it, reading the stories in the stones, then sleeping deep and dreaming dreams rich in meaning.

I know how much that part of myself loves the hills, and how the hills are few in the life I’m living now. But lately I’ve felt a need for his eye, for his grit in the face of storms, for his energy, his spirit, and above all for his sense of perspective.

They say the past is gone, that we should waste no time with it. But that’s too simplistic. A careful scouting of the past will reveal those lost parts of ourselves, fragments we failed to bring with us into our present lives. It does no harm to go looking for them, and upon finding them the energy released can bring a welcome relief, like the sun chasing shadows from the dale,…

…. refreshing as the giant mug of tea waiting for me back in the Horton Cafe.

penyghent from foxup rd

* Moss, Dreaming the soul back home.

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I’ve been re-reading Dreamgates by Robert Moss and I’m finding it very interesting. All of this is related to my exploration the old Romantic notion of the imaginal realm, or non-literal reality. Non literal reality, as I’ve explained elsewhere, is basically the dreamworld, it’s the place we drift off to when we’re not paying attention, it’s the place we enter when we dream at night, and the place writers can draw upon in writing their prose or their poetry. There’s also a long standing mystical tradition that it’s also the place we drift off to when we die, that it’s the mythical underworld, or the afterlife. It is a place that appears to be entirely inside our heads, and is most often rationalised as something we simply make up. However, another explanation is that it’s actually a dimensionless realm we can view through the faculty of the mind, that it is a real place and that we can make our way in it, if we know how.

What I want to do here is describe a way of entering this subliminal realm, of entering a dream while being fully awake and simply observing the run of it. You can do it too, and make up your own mind regarding the validity of the so called non-literal realm. The technique I used was the very first exercise in Robert Moss’s book, which is only meant as a light hearted thing to get you warmed up for the later deeply shamanic stuff, but which none th eless yeilded a surprising experience.

If you close your eyes and cover them with your palms, shutting out as much light as you can, you start to see patterns: lights, colours, swirls. If you observe these thing in a detached though objective frame of mind, you’ll see how these phantom patterns seem blended with your now hidden reality. Stick with the experience for long enough and the chaotic patterns will begin to condense out or crystallise into shapes. They’ll take on detail and they’ll move. When I was a kid these visual phantoms confused me and I remember lying in bed in the small hours trying to catch them in my hands. What the hell were they? Where did they come from?

Well, obviously they come from inside your head but appear before your eyes, as if seen by another kind of eye in the same place as your physical eyes, but it’s a vision that is somehow subliminal. If you watch them for long enough the details condense out so much they fill your field of vision, and you then become a passive observer of a different kind of reality altogther, like watching a movie you haven’t seen before, a world that moves and flows of its own accord. But you’re wide awake! And you don’t need to be stoned or drunk or hypnotised to experience it. Anyone can do this. It’s just that most of us have forgotten how.

The pioneers of this territory are what we nowadays call Shamans, though in other cultures they may be called Witch doctors or medicine men. These are individuals both feared and revered by their own cultures for their ability to enter the twilight realm and use the knowledge they gain from it to alter reality, to apparently receive visions of the future and to heal. One of the tools of the Shamans’ trade is the drum. The shaman beats his drum, quite rapidly – about 200 beats a minute or 4.5 Hz if you want to be scientific about it. It’s not exactly a relaxing rhythm and listening to it feels more like running, but the theory is that if the brain’s own rhythms can be entrained to this same frequency it will enhance the “shamanic experience”, it will sever the link tying you firmly into literal reality and allow you venture more freely into the non-literal realm.

Brain waves in this region are known are theta waves and are associated with trance states, with hypnosis, and with the borderline hypnagogic (leading into sleep) and hypnopompic (leading away from sleep) phases of the sleep cycle. Theta waves are also associated with lucid dreaming – dreams where you’re asleep but also fully conscious and aware that you’re in a dream. Theta then is beyond relaxation. Theta induces a liminal state associated with high strangeness, half dream, half reality.

I didn’t use a drum for my own experiement, because my neighbours would think I’d gone nuts and I didn’t want an ASBO. What I used instead was an app on my iPod Touch that delivers something called a bin aural beat, in the shamanic region of 4.5 Hz. I suppose I could have listened to a drumming tape or something, but I didn’t have one and I didn’t want to fork out £7.99 for one either from a New Age Emporium.

So, you tune in to the beats and you close your eyes and let the visual patterns emerge of their own accord. You don’t try to influence them in any way, you take a purely passive role, just letting yourself go with whatever comes. The first thing that materialised before my eyes was a desert region with sandstone mountains set against a startling blue sky. There was a dust storm blowing up in the distance, and there was this character walking towards me, walking out of the storm –  a Victorian gentleman,  in a top hat and an overlarge coat. It was quite a detailed vision. He seemed to be on the verge of talking but I’d set a timer on the iPod app, which faded the beats out  at the crucial moment and delivered me back into ordinary reality.

This was an impressive opener. I’ve used a technique for actively guiding my imagination in the hypnogogic state, probably all my life, but this was different. This was letting go of the controls, and the experience was vivid, detailed, colourful. The difference between it and a dream was like the difference between a black and white movie and HD.

Encouraged, I gave it another try.This time I found myself surrounded by a lot of Alice in Wonderland imagery. There was Alice in her blue dress with black and white stripey socks, there were rabbits, and then my Victorian gent came through again, a sort of prototype Mad Hatter? I wrote all of this down because it was fascinating stuff and completely off the wall. I mean, for pity’s sake the Mad Hatter? where did he come from?

And the punchline? Well,… that night I was doing something else, surfing for information online when suddenly, and totally unrelated to my search, there popped up an image of the Mad Hatter. Coincidence? Maybe. Still spooky though!

As with all things on the edge of reason, we should keep an open mind, weigh the evidence, expose ourselves critically to the experience, but take care not to let our brains fall out.

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