Thursday, 30 June 2011

Rolduc, a conference, and Robert Waggoner

I just returned from a very pleasant stay in the beautiful abbey of Rolduc, in the Netherlands, for the International Association for the Study of Dreams annual conference. The abbey is located a short distance from the train station if measured by the inexpensive taxi ride to their grounds, but it seemed so much farther because of its ancient self-contained beauty. Inside the massive stone courtyard, one already feels isolated from the rest of the modern world, and this despite a number of automobiles parked there. Step into the building and then walk out onto the patterned brick paving leading to their gardens and you will feel thrust backwards a couple hundred years in time. Juvenile pears and apples grow quietly in shady trees under a gentle mist, and to the side, other crops, ornamental bushes, enormous whispering trees, and a small graveyard effectively cancel out the noise of busy thoughts.

The purpose of my trip was to present a couple of lectures on psi dreams. The first was about the validation of spiritual dreams, if this is even possible, and the second concerned my observations about the fact that many seemingly symbolic dreams are not symbolic dreams at all. Due to an unintended impression created when I checked the A/V equipment for my presentation, some of the people there came to consider me "the A/V guy", and I was asked to assist several people with their presentations also. I briefly had the impression that other attendees knew me better as the person who knew how to make the remote work (by plugging in the USB antenna) than as the presenter of a couple of presentations on his psi dreams.

One of the room monitors for my talk was IASD president Robert Waggoner, author of Lucid Dreaming: Gateway to the inner self. I didn't discuss his book with him when we first met, at least partly because I wasn't too interested in lucid dreams. As far as I was concerned, the term "lucid dream" was just a fancy gimmick designed to artificially create interest in a not-particularly-interesting subject. He seemed pleasant enough, but I'd read enough to be turned off by the idea of turning dreams into amusement parks by practicing techniques that allow dreamers to manipulate the content of their dreams. This had nothing to do with Waggoner, as I found out just hours before I had to leave the conference to return home.

My last presentation was one of four, all done together. This meant that whether I liked it or not (and I didn't mind) I would have to listen to the other three in addition to giving my own. To my surprise, Waggoner not only offered to help advance my slides for me when the remote turned up missing, but then he got up to give his own talk and asked me to do the same for him. In this way I not only had an opportunity to hear him talk about lucid dreaming, but really had to pay attention, or risk making a mistake with the slides. Considering that I wasn't enthusiastic about his subject, I thought it was ironic to play a role in his presentation. The irony changed to something else when I realized that his take on lucid dreaming was quite different from what I expected.

The first thing Waggoner did was to say that if a person uses the lucid state in a dream to manipulate it, they are likely disturbing whatever legitimate and valuable information it may contain. This was exactly my argument against being interested in lucid dreams. They only encouraged the destruction of legitimate dream elements, or rather, if focused on for that purpose, that is the result. In one stroke then, I was disarmed. Waggoner went on to discuss his own study of lucid dreaming. To my ears, it sounded very much like my own road to discovering that legitimate information, oftentimes of genuine spiritual value, is conveyed in dreams. After listening for awhile, his lucid dream interactions sounded more and more like a kind of dream meditation, and worthy of any meditation expert.

After listening to his talk, and then having a short conversation with him afterward, I believe he has made some genuinely valuable observations and written about them in his book. My dreams are sometimes lucid, and sometimes they are good quality dreams, but not always. When they aren't, it is always because I interfere with the existing dream content by consciously manipulating it. In the good quality lucid dreams, I am more passive and observe what is presented to me. What Waggoner describes in his writing, is how he discovered that he can be active without destroying the dream, in order to better understand the dream that is there, rather than for mere entertainment. This is an interesting take on the subject, and one worth knowing more about. His website can be found here.


Friday, 3 June 2011

Veganism and disbelief

I've had a vegan diet since September of 1984. That is almost twenty-seven years since I last had any meat, fish, or dairy products. I became vegetarian very soon after leaving home to go to college when I was 18, and within months, was vegan. At the time I didn't understand the difference between the two, nor did I become vegetarian or vegan on purpose. What happened is that when no one was putting meat dishes in front of me, and I was free to select whatever looked appealing at the store, it didn't occur to me to buy meat products. Maybe it was because I didn't want to cook, but don't think that was it. In the first few months after leaving home, my stepmother brought me some raw ham. I ate it raw, "Henry the eighth style" as my disgusted roommate liked to say. But then it was gone and I didn't replace it. By the time my stepmother came by with another non-vegetarian dish--pizza--I realized I didn't like that kind of food, and never had. I'd tolerated it for the sake of the people around me, that is all.

As a newly independent adult, I decided to eat what I wanted to, so I turned down the pizza. Over the course of the next few months I made some more discoveries. Milk always made me want to spit. It finally occurred to me that if I didn't drink milk, I wouldn't have to worry about this uncomfortable problem. Then, perhaps because I no longer had milk coating my throat, I noticed that cheese left a burning, raw sensation in my throat, so I stopped eating that also. I'd never eaten eggs except under extreme duress (because I have always hated them). Trying to get me to have a bite was like trying to get a cat into a bath full of water. So, with the milk and cheese gone, and the meat given up months before, the only remaining dairy in my diet was yogurt. I gave that up shortly after starting school at Art Center, about a year after leaving home, and just before I turned 19.

Since then, I have had to defend that decision many times. These days I just about say, politely, "leave me alone" when asked, but in the old days I had some long discussions about the subject. My position was much weaker when I was young because I had not done any reading on the subject and knew of only a few real living vegetarians I could point to as people who hadn't dropped dead of the suspicious diet. One man I knew was a registered nutritionist. He gave me three years to live. I wasn't particularly worried, but when the three years were up and I was still alive, I did notice. Relatives and friends insisted that I had to go back to eating meat, or at least fish, or just an egg or some milk. They said I wouldn't get enough B-vitamins without these things and would eventually waste away and keel over.

I didn't want to eat anything else because I didn't like anything else. However, these persistent attempts to assist me out of my intransigence inspired me to do a little reading on the subject and to notice a few relevant facts. I read about the Hunza indians, vegetarians or vegans all, and that they they had the longest life span of any known human population in the world. Or an athletic tribe of Brazilian jungle-dwellers, or the many vegetarians of India who seemed to avoid death at an early age despite a vegetarian or vegan diet. Ironically, the malnourished of India are less likely to be vegetarian than those who are free of concern about starvation because vegetarianism is a fixture of the Brahmin caste--the highest, most affluent caste--of India. The lower castes, including the poverty-stricken "untouchables" are allowed to eat meat, and do. But never mind that, years passed, and I became more athletic, and healthier, than I had been before I was vegan. I even gained weight. I am less skinny today than when I wasn't a vegetarian, though I am still slender by most measures.

So after almost 27 years of being vegan, and a little over 27 years of vegetarianism, the issue still comes up. What fascinates me is the level of denial that goes into the explanations I hear for my continuing ability to remain alive. The most common trigger for a conversation is if I have a headache, hay fever, or an occasional cold. "Ah, well if you ate meat, it would go away. Clearly your immune system is weakened." I used to get this from an old friend who was sick far more often than I was. One friend said that being vegan would sap my energy, yet I put in much longer hours than he ever did, and got less sleep, and could walk on my hands for recreation (but he couldn't.) My in-laws thought I wouldn't be able to have children. If headaches were caused by veganism, aspirin companies would go out of business.

I'm 45, almost 46, and am still quite active, have all my hair, and don't need glasses. I work longer hours than my colleagues and may still get less sleep. Nevertheless, I need to start eating meat "to be healthier" they say. This reminds me of something I was told by C.C. Wang, my wife's grandfather. He was visited in New York by a famous monk. This man was almost 80 years old, but could do a handstand balanced on just two fingers of each hand. He performed this feat in C.C.'s living room. This man was a lifelong vegetarian. C.C. told me that he died a few years later at the age of 88. "Think how much longer he might have lived, a man like that, if only he hadn't been vegetarian!" I've been told that the only reason I'm still alive is that I ate meat when I was younger. Never mind that there probably isn't even a single cell of that remaining after 27 years, what of the people who were lifelong vegetarians, like the Chinese monk, or the Brahmins of India. You can't even say that they inherited meat-nutrition from their vegetarian mothers.

Never mind the fact that the world's largest land animals (giraffes, elephants, rhinoceroses, hippopotamuses) are all vegetarian from birth, and vegan after being weaned. Clearly, health, size, and athleticism do not depend on the consumption of flesh. And yet, there is this popular notion in western countries that it is necessary. This view is so prevalent, that serious effort must be made to explain the living vegetarians in this world, but the results are hardly credible. And yet! For lack of anything else that makes sense, many accept those explanations regardless.

Is this any different to disbelief in psi, the supernatural, or God? I don't think so. The same ridiculous explanations are trotted out, but they all come down to this: "either it didn't happen or it's a hoax." That is about the same as "You have three years to live" because you are vegetarian. These kinds of things can only be said in complete ignorance. One might even say, innocence.