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27 April 2016

Dream Yoga and Mormonism

Today I wanted to talk about some thoughts I've been having lately that are, admittedly, not fully developed. I'm hoping that by putting them out there, your collective thoughts will bring out some resolution. Note: this post will probably be most interesting for someone with a Mormon background that has an interest in dreams and philosophy. 

OK, so let's jump back to the beginning. I've been doing some research for the dissertation I'm hoping to write later this year and stumbled upon some art by the 12th century catholic nun, Hildegard von Bingen. She is pretty well known for her music (she's a staple of basically every humanities class out there), but not many people realise she had massive visions, and commissioned several books of art to illustrate her spiritual accounts.

While we don't know the actual artist that she commissioned, and how their experiences factored into the final product, I think it is safe to assume that Hildegard worked very closely with him/her to get to artistic renderings as close to her visions as possible. The crazy thing about some of these artworks is that they very closely resemble art created by Tibetan monks. Here's are two quick examples (in both cases, Hildegard's are on the left, the Tibetan monk's "Thangkas" are on the right):

Aren't they amazingly similar? Back in the 1100s Germany, there would have been no way for Hildegard to have had contact with her counterparts in Tibet. Yet remarkably, both of these bodies of artwork derive from the creator having had spiritual visions. The Tibet monks often create Thangkas (such as the one seen above) after practicing something called Dream Yoga (also called Milam).

Dream Yoga is practiced in 5 stages (I've made up my own stage names as it helps me remember):
  1. The Cave Stage: Dreamer must become lucid (i.e. realise they are in a dream and not awake)
  2. The Superman Stage: Dreamer must realise that everything in the dream is a construct, and that nothing can hurt him/her.
  3. The Matrix Stage: Dreamer should contemplate the fact that things in waking life are similar to the dream world as both are in a state of constant change and are thus illusory and are not real. This stage is hinged on the Buddhist belief that all things in the waking and dream world are empty and have no substantive value. 
  4. The Inception Stage: Dreamer should realise they have total control in their dream state and can do whatever they want-- flying, making objects bigger or smaller, going anywhere, doing anything.
  5. The Vision Stage: Dreamer should then summon images of dieties (for Buddhists this would be Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, or Dakinis... for Mormons- God, Angels perhaps loved ones that had passed?) In contemplating these individuals, one can have revelatory experiences and realizations. 
As is probably clear, I don't think that this process is incompatible with Mormonism. Christianity as a whole has a pretty rich tradition of spiritual experiences in dreams (Daniel, Joseph of Egypt, Lehi, Nephi [sort of, his seem to come in from a waking state] to name a few). I have a whole stack of spiritual dreams I've collected from journals and accounts of my ancestors as well. Dreams are a big deal to Mormons, so we definitely allow for it to be a place where spiritual communion can occur, specifically of a personalised nature. It seems natural to me that if we could begin to control the third of our lives we spend sleeping, and use it for personal discovery and spiritual enlightenment, God would give us a big thumbs up.

That being said, I am a little concerned about Stage #3 (The Matrix Stage). MOST of our theological construct, I think, allows for our waking life to be a less sinister, Matrix-type world. After all we believe we had existed previously with God and somehow our consciousness occupies bodies on earth when we are born. This consciousness, or spirit, then returns to be with God afterwards. Perhaps this Earthly experience is simply a computer game-like reality. Perhaps God's creation of the world could have literally been achieved in 7 days if Earth was created the way we create worlds in our dreams. I think most of our belief system could allow for that.

However, IF we are occupying a constructed reality, I see one major theological problem. Namely, why is receiving a body so important to our salvation (D&C 138:16-17)? Why do ordinances need to be performed in THIS life, with a physical body (1 Cor 15:29D&C 124:29-36)? And how could our physical bodies possibly be reunited with our spirit (Alma 11:45) in order to attain exaltation with God?

Now, maybe the Buddhists just got this part wrong. It's possible. But, but in my own experience with dream yoga (since I began trying a month ago, I've had three lucid dreams), I'm beginning to realise it's merit. My first lucid dream was a bit of a mess because, before going lucid, I had been having a dream where I caught Jon (my husband) in a massive lie. Everything that happened in my lucid dream, DESPITE the fact that I thought I was in control because I knew I was dreaming, was still in reaction to the notion that Jon had been lying to me. Freeing yourself from reality keeps you from getting caught up and would allow you to focus more clearly, particularly on spiritual things.

Still, I haven't quite resolved this point theologically and it has been gnawing at the back of my mind for the last month. Mormons very much believe in the reality, and importance, of a material world. Buddhism does not. I watched this TED talk the other day, and I feel like, maybe the answer is somewhere in here.

While Dr. Hoffman seems to be suggesting more of a Buddhist perspective, I think that he makes it clear that the physical world is hugely important, hence the evolutionary need for our simplified interface. I think his ideas may be the beginning of the resolution, but I still need to contemplate it further.

Anyway, I am really interested in what you, my lovely reader, thinks. I'd love to hear your thoughts on whether you see a conflict of between dream yoga and Mormon theology, and what you think about Donald Hoffman's talk. I'd also love to hear about your own experiences with lucid dreaming and spiritual experiences you may have had. All thoughts are welcome, even if you disagree, so please let me know what you think in the comments below!

23 April 2016

Sharks and Panna Cotta

Yesterday I reached a milestone: I gave food back to the kitchen at a restaurant.

How has it possibly taken me this long to get here? I'm not sure, but even if the food is terrible, I always feel some obligation to eat it. My parents clearly exercised some skilled brainwashing in this department (although my mom's a great cook, so it's not like I've suffered my whole life).

Anyway, last night I finally broke free. Jon had taken me to this pishy-posh restaurant on Eagle Street Pier called Pony Lounge. Our food was great, and we decided to go in deep with dessert. My usual go is a creme brulee or panna cotta, and as luck would have it, there was one on the menu.

Now, generally panna cotta comes out looking like a pure white flan, a creamy custard that's been set in a form, then removed and placed on a plate with fruit or chocolate or other good stuff. THAT was what I was expecting.

However, what arrived at our table was something quite different. The waitress came and I was given a short mason jar on a plate. The actual panna cotta was only about a cm thick and looked more like gelatinous milk scum stuck to the bottom of a jelly jar. It was sprinkled with a bitter cocoa nibs-granola and was topped with something I can only describe as looking like a blood-soaked medical sponge (the menu called it a blackberry marshmallow, but was much more porous and free form then your average campfire variety).

It was awful. And I couldn't bear to eat more then a bite or two.

Jon was obviously upset and said we should demand a new dessert. I desperately tried to talk him down.

"No no, someone went to the effort to put that together. I'm too embarrassed to say anything," I whispered.

"We are PAYING them," Jon insisted. "They don't want you to have a crappy experience. THEY are the ones that should be embarrassed for serving you something like that."

I finally conceded, mustering up all my courage to tell the waitress how vile this thing was that she had served me.

In the end, yes it mildly awkward, especially when they brought the manager out to get the details and offer me something new, but I fought through.

On the other side, I feel a little ashamed that it has taken me 27 years to get to this point, especially given how much I love food. Good news is that I made it. Thank you Australia for getting me here.

In other news, I have a little friend that keeps coming by to visit me. I've named him Daku, which is an aboriginal Australian name that I think seems to fit him pretty well. He comes up to the back door and peers in to say 'hello' every couple of days.

Speaking of wildlife, I forgot to mention that I saw dolphins swimming in the river while I was getting off the ferry. The ferrymaster pointed them out to me, as they were jumping out of the water. It totally took me by surprised as 1) I had assumed that even though the river feeds into the ocean that we were dealing with a freshwater situation-- do dolphins swim in freshwater? and 2) they were tiny! Like half-sized teacup dolphins. It was amazing! I may have even considered jumping in to the water and swimming out to them if I hadn't just read this on the ferry:

Yes, terrifying. So, now I will never go on that river kayaking trip I've been considering as I'm too afraid of getting mauled by a shark. But I'm happy they keep us informed.... Also glad I had never considered the possibility of piranhas.

17 April 2016

Two Week Nightmare

Ugh. The past two weeks. Seriously, it's been a nightmare.

It started with some health scares on my end, then followed with an apocalyptic revelation at Jon's work. It's been so very, very stressful. Jon has been working around the clock, and I've even been going into to his office to be a bit of "fibre," and keep things moving (I've basically just been there to do the paper pushing no else wants to do).  It's been pretty overwhelming. So much so, that both Jon and I completely forgot last Sunday was our four year anniversary. We were only reminded of it by something one of Jon's bosses mentioned at lunch.

However, if we are going to look for the silver lining, Jon and I have gotten a lot closer these past couple of weeks. Despite missing a marriage milestone, we've grown-- smarter and more together-- which has to be a good thing. And, I think the fact that we BOTH missed is an indication that we are both focused on the issues at hand, which means we are on the same page. So, I'm going to take that as a win.

Anyway, today I'm going through my phone and collecting a few happy memories of simpler Australian days to think about. Here we go:

First off, bagels. There are some foods you just have to be in New York for, and generally bagels are one of those things. However, we found a pretty great bagel joint called Bagel Boys. The BRAT bagel is amazing and made me one happy little monkey. 

We also had a chance to go visit the museum, which was buckets of fun for our inner children.

Look at these morning glories! I'm not really a stop and smell the flowers type of girl (I wish I were), but these little beauties caught my eye and required a phone pic. 

We got to have Stake Conference a couple weeks back in the Brisbane Town Hall. Look at this building! What a beaut. 

There is a restaurant at Surfer's Paradise Jon's a big fan of called Hurricane Grill. Jonny be lovin himself some ribs. 

And those are my happy thoughts for now! Have a lovely Sunday...

05 April 2016

Sydney: Part 3 - The Opera House

When I found out that Jon was taking me to Sydney, I was prepared to do just about anything to get tickets to the Opera.  Somehow, the weekend we were there, La Boheme was showing, which made it extra exciting as I've been wanting to see it for the last several years. We managed to snag some tickets, albeit in the nose bleed section, and off we went.

The opera house was gorgeous, especially since we arrived just as the sun was going down. Everything was all golden and beautiful, which seemed like a good omen for what lay ahead.

Things started off pretty well, although we apparently stuck out a bit from the crowd. Several opera house employees offered to take our photo and told us how great it was that we dressed up. That seemed like a weird compliment given that we were at arguably the most famous opera house in the world. But then we got inside and noticed that there were a lot of people in cut-offs and board shorts.

On the one hand, I love that people felt so uninhibited by tradition and just came as they were to enjoy a really beautiful art form. On the other though, my inner snob wants to yell "hey buddy, show a little respect!" This feeling was only made worse by a our seatmates talking and dropping beverages during the performance.

Ultimately, we just had to chalk it up to the fact that the Sydney Opera House is a tourist trap, for better or for worse. For some, this may be their first and last experience with opera, I did my best to bite my tongue and be grateful that they were financially supporting something I feel passionate about.  Without them, the opera house might not be able to stay open, and seriously, how sad would that be?!

Now, on to the show...

Generally speaking, I'm a big fan of Puccini. My absolute favourite opera of all time is Turandot. But, I gotta say, La Boheme didn't really do it for me. I'm not sure who is to blame for that... The performers all sang beautifully, the music was lovely, but there were some weird choices on the part of the director, and I'm tempted to point the finger in his direction.

For example, one scene was turned into a burlesque number. In the background some of the non-singing girls came out topless. This weirdly sexualised scene was bizarre-- like a cheap pandering ploy to make Puccini seem exotic to the tourists.

Needless to say I was not impressed.

Some of the casting choices also felt misguided as well, and overall Jon and I sort of left scratching our heads.

But we didn't let that get us down. Afterwards we walked out and this was our view! What a magical night.

We took a walk around Sydney Harbour and said goodnight and goodbye to this lovely city. It was a great way to end the evening and our trip. Til next time, Sydney!

03 April 2016

Sydney: Part 2 - The World's Most Disappointing Milkshake

Look at these milkshakes. Don't they look amazing? I mean really, have you ever seen something so rich in artery-clogging goodness? They look like absolute perfection, but oh, how they lie. This is the story of a milkshake gone terribly, terribly wrong.

It all started on our second day in Sydney. Things had started off pretty great. We enjoyed a lazy morning of room service (still swooning over how great room service is) and decided around noon that we needed a milkshake in a very serious way. 

Now, I had heard about these legendary shakes from a buzzfeed article several months back about some of Sydney's finer milkshake establishments. Number one on the list was Foodcraft Espresso, the holy mecca of Australian ice-creamed beverages. EVERY article I look at showed this as the hands down choice for a milkshake craving. The only problem? It was an hour walking distance from our hotel. 

Undeterred, and feeling ambitious, we thought, "Let's do it! What a great way to see Sydney!"

What ensued was an agonizingly hot sojourn through Sydney's seedy underbelly. The journey's only redeeming experience was finding this random photo of Edward, staring up at us from a dirty sidewalk. You can almost hear his broody, vampiric voice telling us to turn around... alas, we didn't hear it.

We arrived, dripping with sweat and eager for the glorious dessert that was about to be ours. We ordered two nutella milkshakes and took a seat outside. The waitress arrived with a lukewarm water (should have been a sign), which we sipped-- gratefully-- while we waiting. 

Then HOLY MOLY the things came out. Topped with a doughnut and everything!

We grabbed them and greedily took a giant gulp. 


What was this crap I'd just put into my body?! First of all it wasn't a milkshake, certainly not in the American sense at least. 

I should just preface the next part by stating I love nutella. I'm one of those grab-a-spoon-and-go-to-town type of girls. But this "milkshake" was the wrong side of nutella, the DARK side of nutella. It was as though they'd taken milk and a rancid glob of nutella and just shaken it up, to a foamy nightmare, then topped it with a stale doughnut. 

I looked at Jon, he looked back at me. We tried desperately to take a few more sips, but couldn't bear it. It was too much. 

Angily, I then made it my mission to watch the "milkshake" guy behind the counter to uncover what misguided horror they called a recipe. As I studied his method, I watched him take out a gallon of milk, then a literal tub of nutella. He put a little milk and a whole lot of the tub-tella... then he blended to its frothy consummation. 

As expected, not one ounce of ice cream. 


When we paid, Jon pressed the cashier about the recipe, "So, what ice cream to you use?" She hemmed and hawed and finally lied straight to our faces saying, "oh uh vanilla?" Like it was a question WE should answer. 

We left disappointed, still craving the milkshake unrealized, and made our long trek back home. 

We polished off the day with a trip to the Botanical Garden and a couple of photos for posterity.

01 April 2016

Sydney: Part 1

Well, hello Sydney!

I made this bucket list in high school of places I want to travel. It was a pretty sizable list, and I figured it would take me until I was a rich, crazy purple-haired granny to visit them all. 

I've been lucky though, when it comes to travel, and I realised recently that there were only two places left on my list.  One is to hike the Inca trail to Macchu Pichu (I hear this is closing or something? NO!) and to see an opera at the Sydney Opera house. 

Well, people, we made it to Sydney and here are a few of our adventures.... (one of which is the opera house, but we'll talk about that later).

First of all, check out the view from our hotel. HOLY MOLY. On the right you can see the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the tips of the Opera House pointing out over the trees of the Royal Botanical Garden. Then there is the whole beautiful city of Sydney with St. Mary's Cathedral to the left. I've never had a a hotel view quite like this, and is probably why we spent part of day 2, lounging about and ordering room service. 

By the way, room service is awesome. And, since we are usually in the just-barely-out-of-the-price-bracket-of-hostel-accommodation, it's not a luxury I have had the pleasure of enjoying that often. But, boy it is a wonderful thing.

After checking in and such on day one, we had a stroll through Sydney. I love love love eclectic cities, and Sydney is definitely one of them. 

Around the harbour there were some aboriginal men playing the didgeridoo and painting. They also had these sweet boomerangs for sale.

More to come soon! I'll be posting about the world's most disappointing milkshake (that is not even hyperbolic, it truly was) and seeing La Boheme at the Sydney Opera House. Check back in soon!