Er’perrehne

— Ursula Le Guin, The Lathe of Heaven

“We have also been variously disturbed. Concepts cross in mist. Perception is difficult. Volcanoes emit fire. Help is offered: refusably. Snakebite serum is not prescribed for all. Before following directions leading in wrong directions, auxiliary forces may be summoned, in immediate-following fashion: Er’ perrehnne!”
“Er’ perrehnne,” Orr repeated automatically, his whole mind intent on trying to understand what the Alien was telling him.
“If desired. Speech is silver, silence is gold. Self is universe. Please forgive interruption, crossing in mist.”

* * *

“They’re a lot more experienced than we are at all this.”
“At what?”
“At dreaming — at what dreaming is an aspect of. They’ve done it for a long time. For always, I guess. They are of the dream time. I don’t understand it, I can’t say it in words. Everything dreams. The play of form, of being, is the dreaming of substance. Rocks have their dreams, and the earth changes … But when the mind becomes conscious, when the rate of evolution speeds up, then you have to be careful. Careful of the world. You must learn the way. You must learn the skills, the art, the limits. A conscious mind must be part of the whole, intentionally and carefully — as the rock is part of the whole unconsciously. Do you see?”

Ursula K. LeGuin, The Lathe of Heaven

Er’ perrehnne.

This is my new mantra. It has stuck to my mind like moss to rock in the sea. It contains truth and myth, and reminds me of everything that I find important. It may be the key to saving ourselves.

This phrase is not in any real language, which is part of its effectiveness. It contains more meaning that it should be able to for me, because it does not function as a known language does — that is to say that it does not correspond to a precise meaning. Rather, it suggests. This is why practitioners of Yoga often use Sanskrit terms: phrases in unknown languages can contain more meaning — more essence — than a familiar term bogged down by endless specific instances.

The phrase comes from Ursula K. Le Guin’s novel The Lathe of Heaven. It is in the language of an alien race living on Earth, and it is given as a gift to the novel’s protagonist, George Orr. Orr has “effective dreams” — dreams that can change reality for everyone. While George seems to be the only human with this power, Le Guin suggests that the aliens also have it — or at least understand it. They have a term for it: iahklu. When George asks one of the aliens what this term means exactly, they reply: “Incommunicable. Language used for communication with individual-persons will not contain other forms of relationship” (153), suggesting that effective dreaming is in fact more than just dreaming — that it is some other way of relating to the world. A way based on oneness and connectedness. The alien earlier gave George the phrase “Er’ perrehnne” as a way of summoning “help” with his effective dreams — to ensure that they “go the way [they] ought … to go (154).

I won’t go into a detailed explanation of the novel here, but you can read a summary here, and I highly recommend this essay for an interesting spiritual perspective on the book. 

And so, for me, “Er perrehnne” is a reminder of our immense power, but also an assurance that all will be well.

It reminds me that I am not alone. That I am one with the universe. That what I do affects others and that others affect me. That we are all bound together in the mists of time and space.

It reminds me that my dreams — both literal and figurative — can change the world. That my intentions create my reality, and that of others. That my unconscious thoughts, if left to their own selfish obsessions, have the power to create chaos. But also that, if cradled with compassion and directed towards the greater good, my thoughts can heal suffering.

It reminds me that I cannot do anything meaningful alone. That I need “a little help from my friends,” and that I can call on their aid at any time. And that my friends are all sentient beings, and in particular all those with the desire for enlightenment. It reminds me that alone, I cannot choose my intentions wisely. I cannot see the results of my actions. I am blind. But with the help of others, I can see.

It reminds me of my childhood hope that I might meet an alien some day. That we may not be alone in the universe. That our perception of the universe is limited and perhaps completely wrong. It reminds me never to mistake my truth for the Truth, and to open myself to the ideas and perspectives of others. To be open to the guru — to see everyone and everything as my teacher.

It reminds me that consciousness is a miracle, and a danger. If rocks dream, they dream of being rocks, and so the world works just fine. But humans, we dream of everything. We dream of being gods. We dream outside the bounds of our being. This is the source of our imagination and our beauty, and of our cruelty and chaos. Our consciousness creates the illusion that we are separate from each other, and from the world. And so we need constantly to remind ourselves that we must align our dreams with the world. We have immense power and responsibility, and we have abused it, destroying much of our world in the process. We must dream together for the world to heal.

Once George receives this mantra from his alien friend, he says it before he dreams. And henceforth, his anxieties and fears dissolve. We are told that:

“…quiet as a thief in the night, a sense of well-being came into him, a certainty that things were all right, and that he was in the middle of things. Self is universe. He would not be allowed to be isolated, to be stranded. He was back where he belonged. He felt an equanimity, a perfect certainty as to where he was and where everything else was. (143)

And so I will whisper “Er’ perrehnne” each night before I sleep. I will say it each time I begin to meditate. And I will say it when I feel lost or hopeless. I can’t tell you exactly what it means, but I know that it means exactly what I need it to, so I can create a better world.


Works Cited
Le Guin, Ursula K. The Lathe of Heaven. New York: Scribner, 1971. Print.

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