Mastering trauma

Olga Kharitidi's first book, "Entering the Circle" had its psychiatrist author stepping into the world of Altai shamanism. It is a journey of self-discovery beautifully told and grounded even when it demands much of your imaginative sympathy for the magical. 

Her second book, "Master of Lucid Dreams" traverses similar territory except now we step out of the territory of the familiar - shamanism - into the territory of the 'secret brotherhood' and if the former raised the spectre of Castaneda - what is testimony and what imaginative extrapolation? The latter brings us into the realm of Gurdjieff - charlatan or wise trickster, delusion or sagacity beyond our usual ken? 

What keeps the book on the side of the possible (to this reader at least) is Olga's transparent humility. She never pretends to be anything other than an overworked, vulnerable, often skeptical psychiatrist who finds herself, in her openness and gift for healing thrust into extraordinary encounters - and Russia and Central Asia (as I can attest) has huge reservoirs of belief both indigenous, folk and esoteric that seventy years of Communism, however hard it struggled, never eliminated - though it and modernity may have fragmented it. 

In the 1990s Olga finds herself at an unusual research institute in Novosibirsk, Siberia where the mysterious Smirnov is researching consciousness and the psychic (not an unfamiliar place even under the Soviets indeed the KGB were, and their successors maybe still be, deeply interested in such matters) and is enticed by one of his young subjects, Masha, to attend a lecture by a man named Vladimir. 

It is on a subject close to Olga's heart and her medical practice - the spirits of trauma. For Vladimir this is no metaphor - trauma is best configured as the actual practice of spirits (or memory demons as a later character, Michael, will call them) and they are not simply personal, you can inherit them from past generations, even places, and hand them on into the future. They manipulate memory and behaviour to secure their hold. The path free is through creating the right kind of internal space, reinforced by the right kind of remembering and storytelling, such that you win back their energy, making it, and them, your own, turning darkness into light. You can do this not only for yourself but for others - here in this world and in the next - as Olga will discover when she finds herself in Samarkand. 'Prayer' for the dead is not only for the 'living'!

Interestingly I was reminded of the work of the clinical psychologist (and expert on Swedenborg), Wilson Van Dusen, who, in his clinical practice, had great success by treating the multiple voices of his patients as real personalities, with agendas, if with agendas at odds with the true well-being of the patient subject to them, such that owning and responding to those voices, and transforming them, health was reborn and the patient regained control. Different traditions but similar underlying patterns.

However it is to Samarkand where Vladimir invites Olga (in a suitably esoteric and roundabout way) and it is here she meets the even more mysterious Michael, the master of lucid dreams. It is he who will lead her through the process and have her confront one of her deepest traumas - the failure to respond to a depressed friend's last cry for help, the friend subsequently committing suicide. 

This ritual has Olga journeying in imagination to the realm of the dead and finding her friend and helping release her on her journey. It is beautifully told and even if it were fictive (and I have no reason for believing it so) is one deeply resonant with multiple, over lapping traditions of afterlife - shamanism is here (and to the fore) but so to was Swedenborg (and, to my mind, though I expect not to the authors, George MacDonald). 

The book would be a disappointment if you imagined one was going to 'learn' how to lucid dream (and there are many texts for that) but not if you wanted inspiration as to why. As with her first book, Kharitidi paints a powerful picture of a deeply interconnected world of many mansions where consciousness flows, if not with ease with definite practice, and where both time and space is relative and relative to moral and spiritual imperatives. It is a deep reminder too that we all carry brokenness, that brokenness it suggests is not simply what we accrue in a particular lifetime, we inherit 'sin' and pass 'sin' on but it is also a reminder that this cycle can always be broken, now, in the past and in the future, for time and space are simply moving images of eternity; and, potentially that all will be well.

To quote another Russian, from a different but not unrelated tradition, St Silouan of Athos, when asked whether there would be anybody in hell at the end, he simply replied, "Love could not bear it" and for bearing the beams of love, to quote Blake, is the reason that we came. The Lord's hands are our hands, to interpose St Theresa of Avila, so that work of love is 'ours' too. This book is an invitation, if a somewhat esoteric one, to one of its many works.


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