Tuesday, December 25, 2007
Monday, December 17, 2007
Saturday, December 15, 2007
Dreams of the Father
Rodger Kamenetz's latest spiritual trip is into the subconscious
by Jascha Hoffman In 1990, Rodger Kamenetz traveled to Tibet with a group of American Jews to meet the Dalai Lama. On that trip, which he describes in The Jew in the Lotus, he happened to learn that some Buddhists meditate within their dreams. He began to wonder how dreams had been understood in Jewish texts and found that, while they had once been considered a source of revelation, dreams had been all but exiled from the tradition because they were deemed too disturbing or difficult to understand. As Kamenetz went deeper into his own dreams, which he calls “the oldest spiritual technology on the planet,” he found that they did not have any explicitly Jewish content. But in their own strange way—as he recounts in his new book A History of Last Night’s Dream—they did, over the years, begin to lead him back to something like God.
You say that dreams have been exiled from Judaism since Genesis.
There is a twin tradition. One is of the dream as direct revelation that requires no interpretation. That’s embodied in the dreams of Joseph as a boy, and in Jacob’s dream of a ladder between earth and heaven. And then there is the whole tradition of interpretation which actually begins with Joseph’s brothers, who have been quite correctly identified as the first dream interpreters. Their interpretation is full of anxiety and rage.
And you see that same mistrust reflected in the Talmud?
To give them credit, I think the rabbis were concerned for the average person who may not want to take a mystical venture into dreams, or who may not be equipped, or who may be fearful. They also wanted to assert that the Torah is the primary spiritual guide. They limit the scope of the dream very severely based on a passage in Deuteronomy essentially saying that no dream can contradict the Torah.
How has this affected the way we understand dreams now?
Our own response to dreams is often that they’re painful or that they are difficult. They bring up feelings we don’t want to face and we call out for an interpreter who will remove the sting of the dream and soothe us. One can find this not only in the rabbinic project but in the Freudian project, which says that the real meaning of the dream is hidden. But in my view the real meaning of the dream is right on the surface.
You once dreamed of an enormous book that was keeping you from writing.
I walk into my study and I have this feeling I’m going to write something. But in front of the computer monitor is this very large blue book with the letters “K de G” on the cover. The author is the Rabbi K de G, which seems to stand for “Kamenetz on Genesis.” The book reads from back to front and it appears to be a commentary on Genesis. As the dream ends, I’m thumbing through the pages from back to front and have completely missed the fact that behind the book, at a distance, was my father who had given it to me.
So the problem wasn’t so much that this holy book was keeping you from writing, but that it was standing between you and your father?
The book was a gift from my father that could have brought me closer to him. A few years ago I had a dream where my house is falling down and I just call my dad and ask for help. And he comes with a bunch of painters and carpenters and suddenly the house is repaired. It was just the first in a series of dreams that helped to lead me closer to him. One of the great gifts for me was to have this different relationship with my father in the last years of his life.
And what was coming between you and your father in waking life?
My pride. There’s another dream where we’re sitting at a kind of Talmud study. My father knows what a certain word means and I don’t. But I don't ask him; I think I can figure it all out for myself. I don’t want to be the vulnerable son who needs help. But at a deeper level, this was not just about my relationship to my father, but about my relationship to the Father.
You hear people talk that way in church, but not as often in synagogue.
My answer would be two words: Avinu Malkeinu. Our Father, our King. Obviously Jesus said stuff like that because he also went to Rosh Hashanah services. There’s a whole Yiddish tradition of referring to God as tateynu, as “dear Father.” Our ancestors were very comfortable with the idea that God was a father and a king and a shepherd. But now if we have an emotional relationship to God, that’s immediately seen as goyish. We have drained the feeling level out of our liturgy and then we wonder why people can’t connect. They’re not just words. If God is a father, then I must be like a child.
So how does God appear to you in your dreams?
At the end of the book, I describe a dream where an orphan boy is being visited by his father. The father shows him his hand and says, “My hand is the same as yours.” Then the father leaves and the boy starts sobbing and looks in the mirror. And he’s me: I see my face. That sadness of having lost the Father, in this case not my father but the Father, that yearning to reconnect, not to be an orphan but to be his son—that’s the quest. It’s rather like what Rabbi Nachman said: You have to connect to God from your broken heart. The dream reawakened the feeling of loss, the pain of the separation from God. It’s a tremendous gift to feel that.
You’ve been studying under Marc Bregman, a self-styled "dreamworker" in Vermont.
Marc Bregman grew up as a Jewish kid in Philadelphia in a kind of anti-Semitic environment. He had a strict Jewish father and he rebelled in the 1960s. After he moved to Vermont he was working in the post office by day and seeing clients about their dreams at night. He’s certainly not a traditional Jew or even a nontraditional one. But I know that he is a man of God.
And you have your own clients now. How do you work with their dreams?
We meet once a week for an hour. We try to find the feelings in the dream, the belly button, as Marc calls it. Then we have homework, which is to visualize a moment from one of the dreams that needs change. There’s a rhythm back and forth from night dream to daydream and from daydream to actual life. Usually people come with a problem they’re trying to wrestle with but the dreams often point to some underlying predicament. It could be other people’s expectations. It could be family obligations, guilt, or a sense of duty. We just keep going deeper and over time there’s a shift. The dream becomes a live rehearsal. The changes you make in dreams can change how you behave.
In what sense is this approach to dreams Jewish?
When you’re taking a dream seriously it becomes a spiritual practice. How does that connect to what’s offered by this tradition we belong to where we have Torah and commentary and rabbinic authority and services and holidays and all of that? We struggle with a feeling of loss of connection to God. Religion tries to give us intellectual or ritual answers. People often outsource their spiritual struggles to the experts. Hence the tremendous pressure on rabbinic figures in our community. If we don’t have a personal feeling of a quest, at least if some of us don’t, then it makes the rabbi’s job very, very hard.
Could you have understood your dreams without coming to them from a Jewish angle?
It seemed necessary for me to go through the books, to go through Genesis, to go through the rabbis. And yet it’s true that having done that, it no longer seems quite as relevant. You can find the gift of the dream without Genesis. But it’s promised there.
You had a series of dreams in which men kept trying to feed you meat.
I had alternated between various dietary restrictions from semi-kosher to vegetarian and wasn’t too faithful to any of them. And all of a sudden these guys are showing up in my dreams serving meat. It started as hors d’oeuvres and ended with giant hunks of beef thrown on a grill by bare-chested Mexican chefs. It was obvious that these were good guys and that they were challenging me with a kind of a male generosity of spirit.
What did you dream last night?
Recently I dreamed I woke up and went to the window. I looked outside and the ground was covered with snow and I felt such joy. It took me back to being a kid in Baltimore thinking, I’m going to spend the whole day playing and I won't have to go to school. You worry and you plan, you try to make yourself happy, you try to make other people happy and then the snow just falls, you know? It falls on its own.
Jascha Hoffman is on the editorial staff of The New York Review of Books.
Copyright 2003-2007, Nextbook, Inc.
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
After delineating connections between Judaism and Buddhism in The Jew and the Lotus (1994) and reporting on contemporary Jewish mysticism in Stalking Elijah (1997), Kamenetz continues his heady and unusual spiritual chronicle by examining the role dreams play in the Judeo-Christian tradition and in psychoanalysis. Kamenetz keenly investigates the interpretation of dreams from Jacob and Joseph to Freud and Jung and neatly elucidates relevant aspects of gnosticism and kabbalah. In some of the book's most probing passages, Kamenetz analyzes the triumph of the word over the image and the elevation of sacred texts over direct experience in monotheism (a fascinating corollary to Leonard Shlain's Alphabet and the Goddess, 1998). Then there are Kamenetz's dramatic adventures in dream work. He first consults with Colette Aboulker-Muscat, an 87-year-old Algerian practitioner of "kitchen kabbalah" in Jerusalem, then finds his true dream teacher in Marc Bregman, a Vermont postman turned shaman. Kamenetz's hard-won and provocative insights into "how exquisitely made" dreams are, and how dreams "reveal us to ourselves," profoundly alter our perception of what goes on while we sleep.--Donna Seaman
Sunday, November 11, 2007
Rodger Kamenetz, author of The History of Last Night’s Dream will introduce this year's Spiritual Journeys Program.
Master Class, Dreams:
How they Inform the Creative Process
Led by Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Robert Olen Butler, author of From Where We Dream. With art photographer Josephine Sacabo, whose new collection of images, Nocturnes, is informed by dreams.
10:45 a. m. Hotel Monteleone Nouvelle Orleans East/West Ballroom
Getting in Touch With Your Soul
Dreams: Signposts to the Soul
Led by bestselling author of The Jew in the Lotus and Stalking Elijah, Rodger Kamenetz, whose newest foray into the spiritual world is The History of Last Night’s Dream. Rodger will call on other artists to tell personal dreams as examples of the unique ways in which each person’s dreams are signals to us to pay attention and get in touch with our inner selves, our souls. Among those he is inviting to participate are Brenda Marie Osbey, Poet Laureate of Louisiana; visiting Palestinian poets Ibtisam Barakat and visual artist Jana Napoli, who created a unique tribute to the victims of Katrina with her recent installation in New York and Louisiana, Floodwall, composed of bureau drawers which once belonged to Katrina victims.
WORDS AND MUSIC FESTIVAL SCHEDULE
Friday, November 09, 2007
Thursday, November 01, 2007
Monday, October 29, 2007
Tapping into the soul of your dreams
By JAMES D. DAVIS | Religion Editor
October 29, 2007
Life is but a dream, the old song says. Rodger Kamenetz would say, dreams are but a life — yours. And to awaken to your predicaments, even your own soul, he suggests you row your boat gently down the stream of consciousness.
It's the theme of Kamenetz's new book, The History of Last Night's Dream: Discovering the Hidden Path to the Soul. His research into dreams in the Bible led him to seek out dream workers of several religions. And he offers ideas on what dreams may teach.
Kamenetz, professor of English and religious studies at Louisiana State University, will speak this week in Miami Beach and Coral Springs. He offered an appetizer by phone.
Q. You've said that dreams tell the truth about ourselves. How do you mean?
A. A dream shows us our predicament in life, which many times we're not willing to heed. There's always a point in a dream, a feeling or an opportunity for feeling.
As an example: A woman dreams she's chained in a basement, talking to Bob Barker, the game show host. Her son comes down and gives her a kiss on the way to high school. I asked, why didn't she ask her son to let her go? She realized she felt numb, trapped in obligations, doing things for others. And she accepted it. She felt she deserved to be chained. The dream is a warning, trying to get her to feel the predicament and to decide what to do about it.
Q. Your book seems to turn things upside down. You imply that we're somehow more aware when we dream than when we're awake.
A. Yes. A dream is a template that stamps out all kinds of behaviors that play out in waking life. It gives you a vivid image to work with and to feel into the situation.
Another example: A man dreams that a long needle is being inserted into his knee, and he didn't feel anything. And he was proud of it. He's numb to his own pain. That speaks to his relationships. If he doesn't feel his own pain, he can't feel yours.
Q. Who gives us the dreams? Prophets and shamans said it was God or other spirits.
A. I believe dreams connect us to the world of the soul, God, angels or the psyche. The primary dream that tells us that is the [biblical] dream of Jacob's ladder, between heaven and Earth. Instead of saying there's an earthly reality and a spiritual world, that dream says they're all one, and they're connected. You can go up and down the ladder.
Q. So the soul, God, angels, the psyche, they're all the same? Are dreams simply ourselves talking back to us?
A. Dreams give us core experiences, but different religions have different vocabularies. I personally can't say for sure whether it's all "in here" or "out there." All I know is that these numinous figures are a profound experience. People ought to experience dreams for themselves and decide what words they want to use.
Q. Is there a danger in relying on dreams? Many people seem to distrust them.
A. I think the fear is a huge factor, and it's driven the whole tradition of interpretation. I think every dream is a profoundly beneficial message, but we have to understand what it's saying.
Q. How do you think society would change if everyone tapped into their dreams?
A. How would society change if people felt more deeply?
Q. OK, go with that. How would it?
A. I'd like to leave it at that. I believe we're often pushed by our lives to lose track of feelings, of what's most important to the soul. We've seen the result.
It's interesting that a lot of people think it's great to be godless. I wonder if anyone thinks it would be great to be soulless? Dreams enrich the soul, inform the soul, lead us to the soul.
James D. Davis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 954-356-4730.
Friday, October 26, 2007
Rodger Kamenetz is the author of the international bestseller The Jew in the Lotus and the National Jewish Book Award-winning Stalking Elijah. He is a professor of English and religious studies at Louisiana State University. Those familiar with his writings know that he is a bold explorer of spirituality, and he continues that quest in this erudite work. This time he focuses on dreams. Along the way, he must learn the true power of images, downplay the significance of interpretation, and only then enter the dream world as a realm of the soul. The teachers he meets have much wisdom to impart, and he is open to receive their lessons. He also ponders the predominance of the word over images in the Abrahamic religions.
You can read on
Sunday, October 21, 2007
Discovering the Hidden Path to the Soul
HarperOne: 272 pp., $24.95
IT'S palate-cleansing for readers: Rodger Kamenetz, author of "The Jew in the Lotus" and "Stalking Elijah," writes in this fascinating book that words, too many words, stand between us and our dreams. We must learn to think in images, the language of dreams. And if we overcome our obsession with interpreting dreams, we can access the truths they offer. ("The usual emphasis on interpretation overshadows the possibility of direct revelation.") But first we must accept what's revealed: "[O]ur dreams have a difficult job precisely because they come to remind us not only of what we have forgotten, but of what we have forgotten we have forgotten." Kamenetz takes us through the history of our attempts to understand our dreams, relying a great deal on purely Jewish texts, like the Zohar, but also on Genesis, the Gnostic Gospels and many others. His teachers -- among them an 87-year-old Algerian mystic called Colette and a postman/astrologer/dream-therapist named Marc Bregman -- show him ways to bring dreams to the surface, such as Freud's method of free association. Bregman teaches him how to focus on images in the dreamscape and feelings around the dream's events. A dream's ability to reveal the opposition in your life -- the person, pattern or thing that keeps you from being happy -- is, Kamenetz writes, "a strange miracle."
Los ANGELES TIMES
In 1994, Rodger Kamenetz helped shift the spiritual center of liberal Judaism. His book The Jew in the Lotus combined the chronicle of a delegation of Jews visiting the Dalai Lama with an investigation into the possibilities for meditative mysticism in a Jewish context. The avid curiosity it provoked helped launch a thousand Kabbalah classes. Kamenetz's follow-up, Stalking Elijah: Adventures with Today's Jewish Mystical Masters, won the National Jewish Book Award. But his latest offering, The History of Last Night's Dream, diverges in content and tone. TIME's David Van Biema wondered whether he was straying from his fan base.
TIME: This is even further from institutional Judaism than the last two: it explores a way of looking at dreams that involves elements of the divine but, as you put it, has "no fixed ceremonies, no creeds or beliefs." How Jewish do you remain? Are you doomed forever to push the envelope of the faith?
Kamenetz: I don't think I'm pushing the envelope so much as re-opening it. Historically, the rabbis are split on the question of dreams. None of them denied their power. A majority emphasized the anxiety and fear a dream produces, and a minority stressed their prophetic potential. There's a very mainstream saying, "A dream ignored is like a letter unopened." Meanwhile, I just gave a talk at the local Jewish Community Center, and the place was packed. So thus far, they love it. And I absolutely remain Jewish.
TIME: You write that Judaism isn't alone in an ambivalence to dream work.
Kamenetz: The dreams of Jacob or Joseph in the Bible are unmediated religious experience, and both Judaism and Christianity preserved mystical dream traditions. But direct religious experience is threatening to organized religion, which often mediates it with a rabbi or priest. Mainstream rabbis essentially closed the book on dreams by the sixth century, and Church fathers established that only certain saints have the discernment to determine which dreams are from God. The dream is exiled.
TIME: Your book describes your introduction to, and then immersion in, a new kind of dream interpretation. Only it's not really dream interpretation, is it, at least in the classic Freudian sense?
Kamenetz: Freud "interpreted" dreams by treating them as intellectual riddles whose details, once processed through free association, exposed hidden wishes. But the method I learned from Marc Bregman, a teacher in Vermont, uses the feeling in the dream to guide you. You identify a dream's strongest feeling — or what should be the strongest — what Bregman calls its "belly-button." And you consciously revisit it several times in the course of your waking day.
TIME: What do you mean "should be" the strongest feeling? Can you give an example?
Kamenetz: Many people start out numb to it. I now teach Bregmans method myself. A client told me she had dreamed she was chained in the basement and chatting with Bob Barker, the game show host, when her son came down the steps. She gives him a little kiss on his cheek and he leaves. The belly button was being chained up in your own basement, but she wasn't able to feel it. I said to her, "Gee, you were chained in your basement. When your son came downstairs, why didn't you ask him to let you go?" For homework, I asked her to revisit that image.
TIME: What happens from there?
Kamenetz: Your dreams change. Initially the belly-buttons help establish the dreamer's predicament — the situation you are trapped in or held back by. Over time, a character appears in the dream I call the Opposition, the essence of your destructive or self-destructive behavior. A child or children begin to show up, who are your own essence, or your soul. Eventually the dreamer develops what Bregman would call an "allergy" to the Opposition, and as it fades, adult male or female figures appear called archetypes, or the animus and anima. A very powerful, beautiful, profound and loving relationship develops between the child and the archetypes. Some people also dream an even more powerful male figure called the father.
TIME: Some of this vocabulary sounds familiar. Is this Jungian analysis?
Kamenetz: Carl Jung, in the years after he split from Freud, developed an adventurous dreamwork, but he eventually abandoned it because he thought it might lead some people to psychosis. Bregman follows in Jung's original spirit, but there are big differences and Bregman avoids the pitfalls Jung worried about.
TIME: And it affects your waking life?
Kamenetz: We've found that if you change the way you behave in a dream, you can change the way you behave awake, making better choices as you begin to recreate the kind of relationships that evolve in your dreams. In my case, one aspect was learning how to be a student. I've been teaching for 27 years, and do you know how hard it is to shift from thinking you're the teacher in every damn moment to realizing that you can be the student? That came out of my dreamwork, and students have come up to me and said, "Gee, you're a much better teacher."
TIME: This seems very new-age.
Kamenetz: Yeah and the New Age folks complain I'm too intellectual. I don't think that the theological vocabulary is as important as the experience. We don't want to get hung up on, "Wait, if I experience this, does it mean I need a new religion?" Dreams are at the foundation of all religions and I find the work done by Bregman and his group, North of Eden, bears a remarkable similarity to some ideas in the Kabbalah, which honors dreams. Many of the Christians involved are comfortable with the idea of the animus as Christ or the Father as God.
TIME: Your best known books might be called participatory spiritual journalism. You were a searcher but you maintained a certain objective distance from the material. But you describe your own experiences as an apprentice teacher of Bregman's method and talk of "we" rather than "they." Given this shift, do you think you could go back to writing the other kind of book again?
Kamenetz: No. I couldn't. You'd have to say, "He finally found something. God knows, he was looking long enough."
Friday, October 12, 2007
I had a dream party - Nathan Rothstein leader of NOLA YURP, Mark Yakich a new poet and painter in town and Jana Napoli, the creator of the FLOODWALL, all shared their dreams as did the wonderful Rosemary James who was the great host of the event for the Faulkner Society. I had a little too much "new Orleans Rum"-- dind't know we were making New Orleans rum, but it didn't seem to affect the performance. I read from Chapter 8 of the book.
The whole idea of people sharing their dreams together is something I'm feeling even more strongly after this event. Because dreams are how we access our inner lives, and on the inside, we humans are much more alike than we know. The same conflicts, rage, violence, lust, and also great hidden beauty can be found in our dreams.. and when we share them, the old barriers that divide us of race, religion, gender begin to break down. I got a glimpse of that last night and it's something I hope to pursue.. We are doing a WORLD DREAM PARTY at the Gold Mine Saloon on November 1.. and we'll have poets and writers form all over the world
(via internet) participating..
ShapiShap, who I met and signed a book for wrote a comment on his blog:
I appreciated his comments, and particularly enjoyed the Q&A, because this author/poet had some firm opinions regarding reality, and seemed to become a bit frustrated with the audience for not getting the point.
If you've ever been to a book reading, you know the kinds of off-topic, absurd, painfully blurry questions/comments people make. Apparently this poet/author either wasn't familiar with this phenomenon, or he just wasn't having any of it. It even got a little heated, to the point where he had to insist to one guy: "Okay. You know what? We've got no quarrel here. Mazel tov. Next question?"
Well maybe.. actually as I remember it the guy asked me what was the connection between my new work and The Jew in the Lotus, and with meditation. I answered him that my curiosity about visualization and dreams in Tibetan Buddhism led me to wonder about the same in Judaism. He didn't seem to accept this. I had the sense that he liked meditation and was wondering why I was moving into dreams. I just said, dreams are working for me, if meditation works for you, wonderful.. mazel tov.
I have a lot of fans of the old work and sometimes they don't want you to change...
Monday, October 08, 2007
The author interviews several local rabbis on the subject of dreams in Judaism to supplement her interview with me. Thoughtful and intelligent piece:
DREAM WORLD: Author Rodger Kamenetz wants Jews to revive the power of dreams in our lives
By Pauline Dubkin Yearwood (10/05/2007)
Think hard: Did you dream last night?
Maybe a long-gone relative or friend came to visit you in your sleep.
Maybe the whole thing was just a feeling that slipped out of your grasp as soon as you entered the mundane world of being awake.
Or maybe it was one of those nonsensical visions where you're eating tomatoes for breakfast on a boat with Bob Dylan, who is actually your mother, while your dog performs a magic show and then turns into Brittany Spears.
To Rodger Kamenetz, even such a dream is fraught with meaning.
Meaning-yes. But not exactly the way Sigmund Freud, the 20th century's most influential interpreter of dreams, envisioned it. Whereas he interpreted dreams, Kamenetz suggests a way of "uninterpreting" them that he says can lead us into spiritual realms that Judaism once explored but no longer does.
The latest book from the spiritually questing author of "The Jew in the Lotus" and "Stalking Elijah" is "The History of Last Night's Dream" (HarperSanFrancisco), out this month. In it, Kamenetz explores the history of dreams and dream interpretation from Genesis to Freud and Carl Jung, explains why he believes that we-as human beings and as Jews-have lost the power to connect with and learn from our dreams, and takes the reader along on visits to several individuals who have made dreams the focus of their spiritual life.
To continue go here.
Sunday, October 07, 2007
Perchance to dream
The stuff of dreams takes Rodger Kamenetz on his most recent spiritual journey
Sunday, October 07, 2007
By Susan Larson
From deep in your dreams -- you know that feeling. You wake, shaking off that other, altered world, slowly returning to the present reality, nagged by memories of something that happened while you were sleeping, something important -- there, just tugging at the edges of your brain. And then you get up, or move, and it's gone. You missed it; all that's left is the abiding sense of an answer there, just out of reach. How can you recapture what you've lost? How to understand what those fleeting images meant for your life?
In his most recent spiritual memoir, "The History of Last Night's Dream: Discovering the Hidden Path to the Soul," Rodger Kamenetz takes readers deep into the dream, drawing on such rich sources as the Bible (remember Jacob and the ladder?), Freud (who got that famous dream of his patient, Irma, all wrong, as Kamenetz sees it), and even his own dream world (where the mysterious Book of K de G will linger in readers' minds, even as they chase their own dream images).
Kamenetz did not dream his dreams alone -- no, he chased them around the world. The first, and most revelatory, stop in his dream quest was his study with Colette Aboulker-Muscat, whose Jerusalem porch was the setting for a daily gathering of dreamers, learning meditation and healing techniques, which Kamenetz joined during the summer of 1995. There Kamenetz would have to re-acquire that primary human gift, the ability to create an image, from such traditional images as sweeping piles of leaves to find a single green leaf and place it against your heart, to experience the greening energy. Aboulker-Muscat used her work to heal, to comfort terminally ill patients.
Sitting there, with other dreamers, Kamenetz felt connected to a long history, as he writes: "We students were learning the language of images together, dreaming in company, our eyes closed, sitting on a small concrete bench while she guided us, and the light came through the purple bougainvillea and the smell of white jasmine filled the air. We were dreaming in Jerusalem where, two thousand years before, merkabah mystics had first closed their eyes and dreamed their way into heaven."
Kamenetz's quest for dream knowledge takes him to the work of Jewish mystics and rabbis, as he searches for the revelation dream, lost in contemporary Judaism. He goes back to that original dream book, Genesis. He re-examines the work of Freud, and finds it wanting, a power play of interpretation involved to dispose of dreams, to tidy up those powerful images. He meets Tarab Tulku, a Tibetan master living in Copenhagen, known for his work in "dream yoga." Kamenetz chases the dream until he finds his most influential teacher, a Vermont postman named Marc Bregman, whose work in bringing dreams into the world will transform Kamenetz's own life, teaching him to abide with those dream images, to work with them.
This is how Kamenetz sets readers on course: "Here is an outline of the path as I understand it. First you must encounter your predicament, and see your opposition; this is the first gift of the dream. Then you can find the essential image of the soul; this is the second gift. Finally, as the child you explore this imaginal space and learn from the archetypes; this is the third gift.
"These are the three great gifts of the dream: to discover your pain, to see your soul, and to explore its realm."
Bregman confounds Kamenetz's expectations: a postman by day, he draws his clients' astrological charts (which horrifies Kamenetz), often uses phrases and words idiosyncratically or incorrectly, but then, cleanly and directly, cuts to the chase with Kamenetz's dilemma -- he has lost his father. Shaken, Kamenetz moves on, determination growing, until he feels his way toward his father, his true self, learning to love his father better in his dream.
To read this book, as always with Kamenetz, is to undertake a pilgrimage, just as readers of his earlier works -- "The Jew in the Lotus: A Poet's Rediscovery of Jewish Identity in Buddhist India" and "Stalking Elijah: Adventures with Today's Jewish Mystical Masters" -- have. Like those earlier travels, this is a journey filled with unlikely teachers, surprising insights, an exile, a return.
Central to the quest is Kamenetz's dream of the Book of K de G, a giant blue book that blocks his way. How to read it? How to decipher its message?
This is a dream, as Kamenetz points out, that "fits his life like a glove." "The devout believe that a book can change your life. So do I. It may be one book for me and another for you; it may be poetry or physics, philosophy or history -- but we believers in the world are all, one way or another, people of the book. For us, books are holy. They are how souls travel, how the spirit of one person enters another. Who ever says, 'My life was changed by a DVD?' We still say, though: a book changed my life."
The Book of K de G, once read properly, changes Kamenetz's life. "The History of Last Night's Dream" may well change yours. Kamenetz's fierce honesty and unflinching self-revelation inspire both admiration and awe and sympathy and a sense of kinship. We are all dreamers, are we not? This smart, funny, and revolutionary book is filled with compassion for our dreaming minds, for the ways in which they reveal ourselves to ourselves, for the ways our dreams, nighttime or waking, can carry us back to love and so to God.
. . . . . . .
Book editor Susan Larson can be reached at email@example.com or at (504) 826-3457.
THE HISTORY OF LAST NIGHT'S DREAM
DISCOVERING THE HIDDEN PATH TO THE SOUL
By Rodger Kamenetz
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
Sept. 17, 2007 issue - A decade ago, book publishers discovered a
fertile market in the growing number of liberal-minded Jews interested in Buddhist
meditation. The publishers called them "JewBus." Rodger Kamenetz started the
craze with a book called "The Jew in the Lotus: A Poet's Rediscovery of Jewish
Identity in Buddhist India," and soon Jewish meditation centers were open all
over the West Coast.
Saturday, August 25, 2007
here andhere. A third work in progress, Sex Trauma and Coniunctio can be found on the North of Eden website,here.
I recently got into writing a response to a chapter now called the Act of Growing Up, a small piece of Bregman's very rich writing about Sex Trauma and Coniunctio. You can find my response on the North of Eden site
Friday, August 24, 2007
Rodger Kamenetz is the bestselling author of The Jew in the Lotus and Stalking Elijah. His new book is The History of Last Night's Dream: Discovering the Hidden Path to the Soul (HarperOne, Oct.). A poet and professor, Kamenetz teaches English and religious studies at Louisiana State University alongside his wife Moira Crone, also a writer. They live in New Orleans.
RBL: What is the spiritual significance of dreams?
Kamenetz: They are private revelations, the foundation of religion—and they are available to all of us. The locus of religious experience is in the psyche. The mystics—the raw experiences they talk about—they are in our dreams. And with dreams you are addressed with your language and images, with a soulful dimension added to the message. It's the same message that a spiritual teacher might impart, but it's done in such a personal way that you can't escape.
RBL: Where do dreams come from?
Kamenetz: I think they are the divine within. Every religion talks about soul, the inner voice, conscience, the God inside us. Are dreams the beginning of that voice connected to God? Certainly that is what people always thought in the ancient world. We've lost that belief today.
RBL: You say the way we typically interpret dreams now—by turning images into words—is harmful. Why?
Kamenetz: I think we need to live with our dreams for a long time, soaking in their images and dramas. Eventually we probably need to interpret, but I am suggesting that we immediately resist interpretation—it holds us back from the power of the dream. And we dream, but then dogmatic religion comes in and says no—you can't have your own private mystical interpretations. Dogmatic religion has killed our ability to encounter dreams as individual revelations.
RBL: How are dreams "like being alive twice"?
Kamenetz: We spend one third of our life asleep. It's rich—full of images, feelings, experiences that challenge our waking and consensual reality. Dreams challenge our definition of reality.
RBL: What is your most memorable dream of late?
Kamenetz: Recently, I saw a very ailing Fidel Castro and apparently his wife. I was in my old neighborhood as a child. I was very surprised that Fidel was my neighbor. It was funny, Castro's wife asked whether I'd like a cup of S.O.S. Maybe I need more help. I told her yes.
"Last Night's Dream" is the tale of Kamenetz's attempt to break free …by training himself to place dream imagery on an equal footing with text in his quest for a spiritual connection. The book is deeply personal and artfully written; Kamenetz was an established poet before his 1994 classic "The Jew in the Lotus" turned him into a Jewish Renewal celebrity. It is also an accessible primer on the evolving status afforded dreams in Jewish and Western thought and science.
Kamenetz… represents the best of what the Renewal movement strives for - authenticity of spirit combined with critical thinking. That is why this book will likely receive a lot of attention. Look for it to show up on many a list of the year's best Jewish books.
September 3, 2007
DREAMING THE SAME DREAMS
BYLINE: Ira Rifkin
SECTION: BOOKS; Pg. 40
LENGTH: 1213 words
The History of Last Night's Dream: Discovering the Hidden Path to the Soul By Rodger Kamenetz - HarperOne 272 pp.; $24.95
The Achuar Indians of the Peruvian Amazon are into dreams. No longer isolated jungle dwellers, today they maintain a tribal website and profit from eco-tourism - a far cry from the time I visited them more than three decades ago when a Velcro sleeping bag still befuddled and amused them and snapping a Polaroid of the village chief secured an invite to hang out with the tribe. But they still get up before dawn to sit around in groups and discuss their dreams of the previous night. For the Achuar, dreams are the deeper truth meant to guide time spent awake.
The ancestors of contemporary Western rationalists once subscribed to a similar worldview. What Freud relegated to the psychological realm as eruptions of suppressed emotions and desires were once the source of prophecy and revelation, the raw material out of which religious thought and cultures were crafted. But that, Rodger Kamenetz writes in his latest book, "The History of Last Night's Dream: Discovering the Hidden Path to the Soul," was before Western religion fell hostage to its greatest creation; the sacred texts that democratized but also canonized group wisdom. "How, " he asks, "could a tradition that gave us the dream of the ladder end up essentially 'phobic' about the revelation dream?"
"Last Night's Dream" is the tale of Kamenetz's attempt to break free of the phobia by training himself to place dream imagery on an equal footing with text in his quest for a spiritual connection. The book is deeply personal and artfully written; Kamenetz was an established poet before his 1994 classic "The Jew in the Lotus" turned him into a Jewish Renewal celebrity. It is also an accessible primer on the evolving status afforded dreams in Jewish and Western thought and science.
In mostly non-linear fashion (and why should a book about the spiritual realm unfold in linear fashion?), Kamenetz tells us how hitting a spiritual wall pushed him toward the exploration of dream imagery after a lifetime of using language to distance himself from the pain that invariably accompanies the inner-discoveries he so desired. "For me, it had to be a complicated truth, the kind I found in religious books and commentaries and commentaries on commentaries, where too often I got lost in words."
Along the way, we meet his primary teachers; Jerusalem's Colette Aboulker-Muscat, who until her death in 2003 had an international reputation as a spiritual (a word she loathed) healer of body and mind who employed visualization and dream interpretation; Tarab Tulku, a Tibetan lama of high rank living in Copenhagen; and Marc Bregman, a postman cum astrologist living in a "small but not quaint" town in northern Vermont. There's even an encounter with Morrie Schwartz, the ex-sociology professor whose lessons about life, imparted as he lay dying from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's disease), were immortalized in Mitch Albom's bestseller, "Tuesdays with Morrie." All of them push Kamenetz toward a blend of meditation and dream immersion drawn from Tibetan Buddhist and kabbalistic sources.
The point, he writes, is to retain, when awake, insights gained through dreams - and to remain aware that even awake the mind dreams on, separating us from tougher truths and "natural religion." Kamenetz claims progress in this regard, but nothing close to full attainment, that always allusive abstract.
For those familiar with Kamenetz's transformation from Jewishly ambivalent to Jewishly omnivorous, "Last Night's Dream" will be another stop on his pilgrim's journey, last updated in a major way in his 1997 book, "Stalking Elijah." Kamenetz revisits his Baltimore Reform upbringing: "My family did not pray in a crisis; we worried... I don't recall God being taken seriously in anyone's mouth." He also writes about his struggle to connect with his father, a difficulty Kamenetz blames on his own fragile ego - an insight gained working with his Vermont postman.
"Last Night's Dream" has two distinct tracks. The first is Kamenetz's personal journal. The second, and subordinate track, is the role of dreams in religious development, particularly within the Judeo-Christian tradition. Kamenetz moves deftly between them to produce a consistent narrative.
My preference would have been a more complete exploration of track two. There is much to be said about how dreams - or, more specifically, their acceptance as a group truth by some controlling authority - have been pivotal to the course of human history.
Kamenetz does address this point, but to a limited degree. "Every time a group of people dreams the same dream, a new religion gets born," he writes. He discusses the place of dreams in Sumerian civilization, recounts the importance to Jewish thought of the Biblical dreams of Jacob and Joseph, and notes the "animosity" toward revelatory dreams included in the Book of Deuteronomy: "And that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams, shall be put to death"
(Deut. 13:6). This, he says, is the mark of the gatekeeper class asserting rank to protect its ranks, and stifling Jewish spiritual evolution in the process - the Baal Shem Tov and the rise of hasidism notwithstanding.
He likewise touches on the same process within Christianity - the revelatory dreams of the early disciples and the church fathers' inevitable closing of the door to revelation in the following centuries.
But, curiously, Kamenetz says next to nothing about the impact on humanity of what one imagines were the prophetic dreams of Jesus of Nazareth. He also ignores Christianity's central image, the Resurrection. Could the Resurrection have been a dream - that is to say, a wholly internal experience - shared by Jesus' core followers, as John Dominic Crossan and other New Testament scholars have surmised? And what about the collected revelations of the Prophet Muhammad that became the Koran?
These are sensitive questions. Did Kamenetz avoid them to sidestep controversy or because of the prodigious scholarship required to do them justice? Or did he rule them out as diverting from the focus of his book? His text provides no hint of an answer.
Kamenetz could also have said more about non-Western beliefs, instead of largely limiting his comments on non-Western interpretations to Tibetan Buddhism, in which he is well versed. The Australian Aborigine concept of dreamtime - which bears some resemblance to Achuar beliefs - would have been a good place to start. Here, again, there is much that could have been said.
Still, none of these quibbles should detract from Kamenetz's accomplishment, perhaps the most striking of which, from a Jewish perspective, is his insistence on staying within the broad tradition no matter how far he ranges in search of insight.
Jewish Renewal has its flaky fringe; Kamenetz is not part of it. He represents the best of what the Renewal movement strives for - authenticity of spirit combined with critical thinking. That is why this book will likely receive a lot of attention. Look for it to show up on many a list of the year's best Jewish books.
Ira Rifkin is the author of "Spiritual Perspectives on Globalization: Making Sense of Economic and Cultural Upheaval," SkyLight Paths.
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
Sunday, July 22, 2007
Here's the opening passage of the book:
A whole world inside us is asleep. We wake to it but rarely.
We glimpse and barely remember. Or we don’t understand what we’ve
A third of our time on earth we’ve spent sleeping, with little to show: an
image, a face. Only rarely does a dream come that wakes us to ourselves.
Will our lives someday be forgotten as we have forgotten our dreams?
I know there is a conscious mind and an unconscious. But I don’t always
think about what that implies—that more than half of who I am and what I
am is completely unknown to me, except in fragments and glimpses, images
Is it possible that all we don’t know about ourselves includes also the most
important thing? That our self-knowledge is trivial by comparison, and yet
we use only our conscious awareness to guide our lives? And so we miss receiving
great gifts that have been waiting for us all along.
To receive these gifts, we must learn how to dream, which sounds easy
enough. But I mean dreaming with a purpose, learning to use dreaming as a
way to depth. That proved diffi cult, at least for me.
I had to make a wayward pilgrim’s progress to the dream because I had so
much to unlearn—and I am a slow unlearner. The progress falls into three
parts, which I’ve titled “Images,” “Interpretations,” and “Dreams.”
First I had to learn the true power of images. Then I had to unlearn the
ancient refl exes of interpretation. Only then could I explore the world of
Friday, July 20, 2007
Many of his poems center around dreams.
I recently reviewed his collected poems in The Forward,
Here's an excerpt:
Is it surprising that a poet who is musical also dreams of flying? Many of Shapiro’s poems are dreamlike and often based on dreams, including one very strange poem in which the lines of a sestina appeared before his eyes as a gift from his dead mother “in lines of/color like a magic marker on a lake.” In “Father Knows Best” is a dream of flying, and in flying dreams, there’s always a trick to get aloft:
Then Father realizes son must enclose but a few electrons of air in his fistThen son flies high above the family garage and trees, branch by branch
(“Father Knows Best”)
Dreams of flying are usually feelings of mastery, autonomy, self-sufficiency. But in this case, the trick of flying is not possessed fully by the son but is somehow in the hands of the father, too. The son can fly — but the father doubts it again and again.
This is the drama of the gifted child in hyperspace, the drama of the child of a very intense Jewish family with a peculiar set of demands: a) the child must be a doctor, b) the child must be a concert violinist and c) (this is the surprising part) the child must be a leftist fighting for social justice for all. With all these parental demands, no wonder the child takes flight — but is there any escape?
There are no umbrellas, there are only frosty parachutes,
Little angels who instruct him how to fly.
He must not struggle too much with his hands,
Which having practised the violin now dog-paddle in air.
The poet can fly — he can lift us up with his imagery. Or can he? There always seems to be some doubt in the poems:
The family now knows he can fly, but still father knows best.
Shapiro’s poems are levitations, magical and incantatory, or they are physics experiments that are also dreams, and so when they seem most airy or insubstantial (falling leaves, floating above the garage), they sneak up behind you and surprise you with meaning as if you had suddenly been illuminated from behind, or walked “at the bottom of a waterfall, awake in anechoic chambers.”
How lovely to learn that all the time we were reading him:
We have been sailing in a certain small fountain,
like physicists in toy boats
Each craft bears a candle on its deck.
We light thecandles and the boats puff by
As if you were real, delightful…
(“About This Course”)
You can find the complete review here:
Sunday, July 15, 2007
The History of Last Night's Dream: Discovering the Hidden Path to the Soul
Rodger Kamenetz. HarperOne, $24.95 (272p) ISBN 978-0-06-057583-0
Kamenetz's newest work continues his exploration of the Jewish tradition down yet another path: that of dreams. Like Jacob, who wrestles with God in the famous biblical dream, a leitmotif in the book, the author of the bestselling The Jew in the Lotus wrestles with personal, religious and cultural history in an ambitious quest to revivify the language of dreams. Kamenetz offers a psychological-cum-mystical version of Susan Sontag's watershed Against Interpretation. Don't "interpret" dreams, he cautions, as he lays out another way to meet and greet the nightly messages of human brains. Kamenetz offers a post-Jungian, semi-archetypal, image-centered view of dream meaning. He does so in the context of a historical overview of dream interpretation that also locates dreams in the realm of Jewish mysticism. Narratives of encounters with spiritual teachers are also part of this amalgam of a book that seems to have changed shape over time and through personal discovery. This is a disarming, hard-to-summarize, well-written and idiosyncratic book that will find a distinct audience that appreciates its reflective quirkiness. Readers who have enjoyed Kamenetz's other journeys through Judaism will follow with surprise and pleasure his next steps along a winding spiritual path. (Oct.)
Friday, May 11, 2007
After services there were a series of study luncheons; I went to Dream Interpretation from Genesis through the Rabbis, a talk by Rodger Kamenetz (author of eight books, among them my perennial favorite The Jew in the Lotus). I didn't have my computer with me, so I wasn't able to transcribe it, but I jotted a few notes down on paper. It's simplistic, he said, to assert that Judaism is purely a religion of the word; instead, "Judaism is a religion of the struggle between the word and the image, between the interpretation and the dream."
The question at the heart of his talk -- and at the heart of his next book, due next year -- is "what happened to the revelation dream?"
You can read the rest here: http://velveteenrabbi.blogs.com/blog/2005/11/urjbiennial_sha_1.html
Thursday, May 10, 2007
"It's fine to be a religion man," said Murat Duka, 55, a distant relative of the defendants and the first of about 200 Dukas to move to the Northeast, arriving in 1975 to work as a roofer. "But if you get too much to the religion, you get out of your mind and you do stupid things."
Thursday, April 26, 2007
The talk was called Freud's Dream of Irma: Science, Scientism and Gnosis. It was based on several chapers of The History of Last Night's Dream.
One point I made is that the last fifty years of research on the dreaming brain underlines the incredible opportunity dreams prsent for transformation. We are basiclly given a different brain to work with every night. In the dream space, we feel and sense more intensely, we are somewhat disconnected from parts of the brain that orient us towards waking concerns and from our old memories of who we are. This frees up the dream to allow us to rehearse new ways of responding to situations, and new ways of feeling and being. The I in the dream is not the I when awake and that's a great opportunity for change.