NEW ORLEANS TIMES-PICAYUNE'S SUSAN LARSON:
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.
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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