A Break in the Clouds

Sansaku: A Break in the Clouds


My father died on this day, thirty-nine years ago, and the year before I’d been with him in Prescott, but about to leave for Boulder. I told him I’d be back in April or May, but I took a detour that led to Durango. You know what they say about plans.

When I mentioned this to Chyako, she said, “Your life would be so different if you hadn’t found your father. He was your break in the clouds.” I had to agree. I needed him to know myself.

Chyako also said, “When you decided to marry me, that was also a break in the clouds.” I had to agree. I needed her to know myself.

Before I left Prescott, forty years ago, I asked about his philosophy of fatherhood. He took his time and gave it thought. It’s something I always appreciated about him. For as badly as he’d behaved, he could be trusted to give an honest answer.

He boiled it down. “I had little interest or patience with babies, but looked forward to the day we could talk. To that end,” he said, “I wanted to steep you all in a rich cultural broth. I hoped to nurture your intellectual curiosity and generosity of spirit.”

“In the end,” he said, “it’s all about love and learning.” I had to agree. We needed each other to know ourselves.

Not since coming to the canyon had the sky clouded over, and being deep in a narrow canyon wasn’t the best of feelings. Dow was jarred out of his memory-dream loops and paid close attention to the disturbing change in the weather.

His imagination shifted from pains in the past to fears in the immediate future.   He was drawn out of himself and into the darkness outside.


As night fell, the storm came on harder and sand-blasted Dow and the canyon. It might have polished stone, but skin was something else.   He climbed into his sleeping-bag, zipped it up tight, and listened to the fury. It sang him to sleep and he dreamed about a break in the clouds.

When he woke, something had shifted. Instead of a cloud-burst and flash-flood, a soft rain was falling and the world felt fresh and renewed. His senses came alive and the hum was louder than ever.

The scent of juniper and sage brought forgotten memories to life, and he remembered being a child. He stopped thinking and that’s when everything changed. He decided to go exploring.

Just then, a hummingbird came out of nowhere and light as a feather, landed on his shoulder. He could see the color without turning his head, and noticed his eyes worked better. When the little bird took flight, it zoomed in and out of focus.

There’s a motif in fairy tales about the feminine falling asleep and waiting for the masculine kiss to wake her. It goes both ways.

The next time Em returned to the pool and quietly surfaced on the other side, he was gone. She looked around and slowly emerged from the water. The light was low and the glow turned her skin gold. That’s when she saw him.

He was looking at her, and once again their eyes met.   This time he wasn’t caught in a dream world and this time his eyes were sharp. He knew exactly who she was.

Em smiled. They were both bare naked. She slowly turned her back and dove. The sun disappeared along with the girl. He knew where the sun had gone, but not the girl. This was a break in the clouds.





A Point of Emergence

Sansaku: A Point of Emergence


Em had come to the surface of the outer pool with a bit of splash. She hadn’t expected to find a man close at hand. He was naked, like her, and sitting in the shade of a small cottonwood not far from the edge. He didn’t seem asleep, although he looked to be dreaming.

She had instantly remembered him and wanted to study his features. She tried not to wake him. Just before she submerged to swim back under the cliff, he briefly opened his eyes. There was no way she could know about his near-sighted eyes which were looking straight at her.

Dow had the vision of a woman. She was half-out of water and not that far away. She was looking at him and there was knowledge. But when he briefly closed his eyes to ponder, she was gone by the time he opened them.

He walked to the pool and took a long drink. The water still tasted the same, but looking down it seemed he could see a wet hand-print on the rocks. He didn’t know what to think and thought he might be losing it.

Em climbed the stairs in the dark cavern passage and carried her discovery like a precious secret. She wanted to share it with Dahl, who would remember the man from the day she found the owl and the cloud to the west had called them.

Down below, Dow was back in dream time and the woman had triggered yet another life-review. He watched as he failed in love.

Jung had a theory that reflective consciousness first came in the form of a wound and grief was central to the process. Psyche was wounded with wonder and grief when she betrayed the sleeping Eros. Our soul wound is a great mystery and is one of those points of emergence.

Joni Mitchell sang, “Don’t it always seem to go, you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” She was writing about the sad fact, awareness comes too late and it doesn’t matter who’s to blame. Now we know what matters.

Most therapists figure out it’s not just these wounds and betrayals that hurt and injure the spirit, it’s the elaborate defenses we erect like electric fences around them. It’s how the solution turns into the problem.   We re-infect ourselves and self-inflict the damage.

I’ve never done a dream group where grief wasn’t a theme. It’s not just the grief of the trauma or wound, but all that we lost because of the way we responded. More often than not, we grieve because we were too shut-down, too angry, too frightened and vulnerable to risk what we longed for and wanted to be.

Dow was caught in the tidal wash of grief and watched as it ground him down again and again. He could have, he would have, he should have, but he didn’t. Next time he’d do it differently. There was always the fear he wouldn’t get a next time, just an endless repetition.

But then that woman in his vision came to mind.   He could swear he’d seen her before, probably in a dream. That’s when a gust of wind woke him up.

He opened his eyes and noticed a small cloud. That’s how the storm began, with a cloud that looked to his eyes no larger than a wine glass. The wine was a dark red vintage.

Dahl and Em watched the storm approach. Since the weather is notoriously unpredictable in canyon country, it could easily be a bust. But they were safely sheltered under the immense overhang and weren’t gambling against the possibility of a flash flood.

Dow couldn’t say the same.




Between Worlds

Sansaku: Between Worlds


In fairy tales, there’s often a place where you can move between worlds. Sometimes it’s a beanstalk and sometimes a golden key. Sometimes you have to get lost and stumble into the place. Dow didn’t know he was camped by one.

It didn’t take long for Dow to figure out he was being held by some sleep enchantment. The place was strangely comfortable and he could find no reason to venture out into the hot sun and swarms of gnats. He ate very little, did very little, and spent most of his time in that weird nether-space between sleep, dreams and waking.

Memory and the unconscious are so closely related it’s hard to tell them apart. Dow was swimming in those waters when he felt an undertow and didn’t swim to shore.

That’s when the first gnat found him and started to chew just behind his ear. It reminded him of something and the thought turned quickly into emotion.   Emotions are strange attractors.

We all have wounds and guard them tenaciously. Dow thought he’d forgotten and gotten over his long ago. It turns out they’d been growing in the dark waters of his unconscious memory. He should have known that too much time alone in the wilderness attracts spirits. And not all wounds are ancient.

He was looking back at his life in Boulder and wondering why he had come here. The biting gnat spoke a nonverbal language and Dow translated. He felt like a fool for coming here and began to grieve all he’d left behind. It felt like he’d never get out.   And this was just the start. Much more would come.

Jung often said we’re aware of our virtues much more than our vices, which is why the journey must begin by making the dark side conscious. This is what Dahl called baking the potato and Jung the alchemical process.   Dow would have said, “Is that what you call this?”

The potato tasted more like crow and there wasn’t just one. It’s been said that eating your words is spiritual food and quite nutritious for the soul.   If Dow didn’t have much food, he had more than he could swallow with the stuff the gnat had triggered.

While this was going on, Dahl and Em entered the upper bowl of what he called the Best Remembered Canyon. It was a most unusual place and just happened to be right above the spot where Dow sat dreaming.

The old ones had come here since time immemorial and the place was so obviously sacred they’d built a small kiva under one of the long sweeping overhangs. There were no other ruins.

Em had been here before and she knew the way to descend from the long-forgotten paths that led to this place. It’s where Dahl had taken her after she graduated from high school.

She’d found the second secret stairway on her own.   This one descended through the darkness of a cave and ended at a pool.   The old ones had obviously crafted the passage.

When she told Dahl about it, he said, “That’s one of those places that connects the two worlds.” But when she asked how, he wouldn’t say. It always depends.

She’d been thinking about that pool on the long walk to get here. She knew what she wanted to do.   Soon after they set camp, she walked straight there and dove into cold deep water.   She could see light on the far side, and when she popped out, he was sitting there. His eyes were closed but she knew she’d seen him before.











About to Be Baked

Sansaku: About to Be Baked


Researchers at the university in Boulder put special glasses on student subjects that inverted the world. It made walking and everything else incredibly difficult. They had to pay outrageous attention.

I forget how long it took, but a time came when the brain made the adjustment and the world reverted to normal. Now taking off the glasses would turn the world upside down.   There’s a big lesson here.

The researchers were also looking at dream time and noticed REM sleep dramatically increased while the brain accommodated to the disordered perception.   Rapid spurts in learning or brain growth will also increase dream time.

One thing for sure, an absence of dreams is not a good sign and comes with organic conditions like senility or dependence on certain substances. When dream labs studied dream deprivation, which is different than sleep deprivation, they generally had to discontinue after ten days because the subjects start dreaming all the time.

Dow was doing his own experiment and it wasn’t one the dream labs studied.  He was moving into dream time.

The weather turned hot in the canyon and along with the water disappearing, something else happened. The gnats or no-see-ums hatched and half drove him crazy. He spent days trying to find places to escape them and that’s how he found the hard to find canyon.

One thing for sure, his eyes hadn’t helped. If he could have seen, he would’ve continued down the main channel, but the canyon walls pulled an optical illusion and he stopped to stare. He was also hot and looked for some shade.

The mouth of the smaller canyon was quite narrow and lost to the dense vegetation. Usually the water way is easy to spot, but this one was sneaky. It’s hard to describe and needs to be seen. Dow was thrilled when he found it.

There was a clear pool and a perfect camping spot under a small overhang. Best of all, the no-see-ums hadn’t found it.

It was there he fell under the sleep enchantment and felt a bit like Rip Van Winkle. In the story, Rip is a lazy man who goes wandering in the mountains and takes a sip of some dubious liquor. He falls fast asleep and doesn’t wake up for twenty years and is an old man when he does. Needless to say, everything had changed.

Dow’s not going to sleep for twenty years, but a suspended period of dream time can feel like that. It’s well known that dreams compress time and a near-death experience can flash a life review and so much more in one timeless moment. When this happens, it’s not that the world has changed, it’s just not the same.

The basic structure of the universe is thought to be a vast web of interconnected energy fields. Much like light, it’s both particle and wave. It’s the same with music, the notes don’t sound like much until they’re played together. And thought fields structure a culture and give it form. It’s the glue that holds the group and ego together.

In times of transformation, things fall apart.   Before the butterfly emerges something strange must happen.

Dow was no caterpillar, but he spun a chrysalis in this small canyon without knowing. It wasn’t something he planned and he didn’t plan on getting cooked.

Dahl told Em, “Before you eat your potato, you need to bake it. You wouldn’t want to go around half-baked.” He was talking about the ego.






The Epigraph

Sansaku: The Epigraph


Japanese differentiate the inner from the outer in all kinds of symbolically meaningful ways. Shoes are taken off and carefully placed by the outside door. Gekan means the inner porch and every home has one. Slippers, by the way, are worn in the house and kitchen, but taken off in tatami rooms. The bathroom has its own set of slippers.

When I tried to skip the ritual by going barefoot, both indoors and out, I was gently told it’s not their way. And before going to bed I had to take a bath, and I couldn’t take a bath until I showered. I needed to be clean to get into the tub. This is all very Shinto.

The boundaries are clear and it’s a matter of respect. My wife tells me, “This is why Japanese homes feel so good.” In America, the word respect, which is both noun and verb, is slowly losing ground, at least according to Google. We aren’t looking back with proper regard.

When Dahl took Christina and later Em up and into the alcove of the dancing cranes, respect came to mind. They didn’t have to remove their shoes, but they did. It just felt right.

When Christina saw the panel of petroglyphs, Dahl asked if she knew about epigraphs. Of course, she did. “They’re the quotations found at the beginning of books or chapters. They’re also the inscriptions on monuments or buildings.” She wasn’t a slouch.

She quoted the one on the library she loved so much at the university in Boulder, “Who knows only his own generation remains forever a child.” Dahl said, “You couldn’t have picked a better one.”

He didn’t ask if she could interpret or read the images, he asked how she felt. The word that came to mind was respect. “I feel respect. I feel I’m in a temple. I feel I’m inside a great and never-ending story. There’s so much I want to experience.”

He encouraged her to feel and talked about boundaries and thresholds. There’s a gap between you and me, the self and the world of others, and the space in-between is filled with the invisible fields of relationship and meaning.   He asked if she could feel them.

Christina nodded she could and Dahl said, “Dreams are about these webs that connect us to each other and all life.”

Since coming to the canyon, Dow’s dreams had become louder and more vivid. Now that he was descending deeper into the lower canyon, which felt like the underworld to him, his dreams felt like they were coming from a different source.

He’d learned that dreams are about dreamers. They aren’t like some newspaper article or television news report. They’re personal, subjective, much like a journal entry. They’re not about facts.

But the ones he’d been having were very strange. It felt like he’d crossed some border or threshold in his consciousness and was losing his personal and subjective grip on reality.

For the last two nights, he’d been sleeping in a ruin under a massive overhang. It faced south and the curving walls of the canyon opened like a deep well into the night sky. Even with his near-sighted vision, he could see oceans of stars and galaxies, and they sang him to sleep.

On the first night, he dreamed of a crane hieroglyphic and was told by a voice, “This stands for the one and means soul.” When he woke, he realized he’d been shown many hieroglyphics. The only other one he remembered was a golden chrysalis. He had the distinct feeling he was inside of it and coming unglued.




And Motley Mooed

Sansaku: And Motley Mooed


Cranes still came to two butte marsh, but only Dahl seemed to see them. Invariably they arrived after a wild spring storm when they’d been blown off course. He’d wake to their lovely voices and watch when they took to the air.

He hadn’t told Christina, but now that her mother had died she spent more time outside. Motley liked to go with her and would wait in the soft valley between the two buttes while she watched the sunset and waited for stars. Dahl was often there.

Christina had known her mother liked to walk in the dark and now she knew the reason. Cranes mate for life and it’s where she’d go to meet him. They had to keep it secret.

One night when the clouds were dancing in a wild and windy sky, Christina told Dahl the clouds were cranes and the wind in the rock was the sound of their singing. He’d been thinking the same thing.

The moon was full that night and flew in and out of crane feather clouds that cast strange shadows and spells. Christina felt a deep yearning desire and longing for something she couldn’t name. That’s when they saw the two birds.

Together they witnessed the magic. Two noble cranes dropped from the clouds. Necks stretched and legs trailing, their wings were much wider than Christina imagined. Looking down at the two humans, the cranes made a slight gesture and tipped their wings in unison.

After the cranes pointed, and she knew they had, the magical beings began a slow and sensuous descent that curved into the shadows of the night. She’d read romance novels, but nothing like this.

She heard the lowing sound of Motley. The cow had seen the cranes and this was her song of praise. The full moon light was on her.

Dahl said, “That’s the sign it’s time.” Christina didn’t know what he meant, but he gestured like a crane and she followed what led to a climb. Eyes couldn’t find what the moon could, the hidden alcove in the canyon cliff.

Christina trusted Dahl with her life and the path was a test.

If the flight of the cranes was profound, so was the power to the place. Her eyes slowly focused and watched Dahl reach into a cavity in the wall and remove an object. It glistened white and the moonlight revealed a sacred form, an ancient flute carved from bone.

When Dahl put the flute to his lips and blew that first note, the deep-seated desire returned with a rush. It came with an intense longing to know and she felt she was close. Christina had lived a sheltered life, but when Dahl played that note, something wild came alive in her.

“The flute,” he said, “has a name. Can you guess it?” Bliss came to her mind and when she said the word, he smiled. “That’s what it’s called.” Christina had the intuition that bliss was the experience of life.

Dahl knew many songs, but the one he played that night was the love song he’d learned from his wife.

Dahl played the tune again and again, and slowly began his crane dance. Christina danced with him. The tones carried her out and into the night. The trance-dance was teaching her words of a primary language she already knew but had somehow forgotten.

The hollow alcove amplified the sound of flute and rhythm of feet.   The canyon echoed and the cranes added their ten million-year-old voice to the music and the moonlight. Motley lovingly mooed.




The Crane Flute

Sansaku: The Crane Flute


Cranes are masters of timing during their long migrations. They’ll wait for a change in atmospheric pressure, for the high-altitude winds to blow in a favorable direction, and then rise in a mass ascension. A mile above earth, they soar hundreds of miles in a day.

Carl Rogers used a term that came from the flight of cranes, congruence, to empower his counseling theory. Despite the amount of research time and space he gave to the idea, he found it very hard to illustrate and explain.

He’d identified three attributes he considered essential for a healthy therapeutic relationship. In common language, we need someone who can love and understand us. It’s about empathy and acceptance, not as we should be, but as we are. The third factor, congruence, he considered the most important of all.

Em would have called both her mother and Dahl congruent. In a strange way, she used them to measure herself. Not only did she feel understood and loved, but they were mirrors for wholeness. She wanted to be like them and saw a vision of herself in them.

If the nature of a flower is to bloom, what’s the nature of a human?

Most of us know when we’re in the presence of someone who is genuine and real. It’s a disaster when we can’t spot a cheat. You can lay down your cards with the first and they’ll honor and not take advantage. Unfortunately, education’s expensive.

The process of personality growth and change begins with a paradoxical step, we must accept ourselves just as we are. If we want to be real we need to reveal and drop the persona, the armor, the masks and disguises. Authenticity might feel naked, but look at a crane.

Crane spoke like a mystic and said, “When you cracked my head in the dream, you broke the egg inside you. It’s how I got out and in.” And the more Dow thought about the dream the more he remembered. He smelled a scent, what was it? He also remembered music.

Dow wasn’t much of a musician, but he’d brought a recorder into the canyon and played to the cliffs at night. He didn’t know that the oldest multi-toned instrument ever found was a flute crafted from the wing-bone of a crane. Crane did and intimated Dow might find one if he knew where to look.

While the relationship between congruence and cranes has long been forgotten, the concept of congruence has come of age in an age that is profoundly incongruent. We need a reminder more than ever.

Carl Rogers responded to the harsh sounding notes of existential isolation with a warm and humanistic heart. His psychotherapy and philosophy of education was the opposite of a technological factory-approach, which stressed production and conformity.

Rogers was radically nondirective and anti-authoritarian or expert to the extreme. He made the unheard-of assumption that the client or student might actually know what was best for them.

When Dow was in college, Rogers was considered the cutting edge and all counseling programs followed his lead. It was a good thing for Dow, because psychological health is not about adjustment to the norm, which has been called the psychopathology of the average.

His counselor did her best to model what Rogers prescribed. After listening to his story and falling half in love, she said, “I haven’t a clue what’s going on with you or what you need to do.”