Dream journal: Of sea and sky, and finding my place in the world

This is the dream I had this morning.


I was walking back to where I was staying, but as I turned the corner into the path, I was delighted to see it had become flooded with deep water. Sleek brown otters bobbed above and below the surface, in twos and threes, playing with each other. Big black bears, their heavy fur glistening with water, swam among them, and even though I thought the bears might not like me swimming among them, I dove in, clothes and all, and found myself weightless and moving effortlessly through the blue. I didn’t have to struggle to keep my head above water, yet the wetness never touched me; it wasn’t that I could breathe underwater, as much as the water was as air to me, and I moved in and out of it as easily, though I was burdened with clothing and a heavy bag.

When I arrived at the front door, it was also underwater, and I had to duck under a seaweed-covered lintel to get my head inside. When she saw me, my aunt told me I couldn’t come in, but someone was outside to see me. I turned back around toward the watery path and found an enormous whale, blue-grey and crusty, but very dignified, poking his head out toward me. He frightened me, he was so huge, and so close, and his barnacled, rocklike skin made him unlike any creature I’d ever met face-to-face. But he lowered his head toward me, just as any creature might, and I knew he wanted me to stroke him. So I did, and he made those whale sounds that are so foreign to our ears — and yet now they weren’t, and I knew he was happy. I stroked him some more, and he kept making the happy sounds, and then he invited me into the water with him. I took a hold of him and as he plunged down I had a moment of fear, knowing that if he brought me as deep down as a whale can surely plunge, I would be deeper than I ever wanted to be. But there wasn’t time to panic before I realized he hadn’t gone further in than I wanted to, and together we swam away.

If my swimming had been effortless before it was even more so now, as the whale propelled us along at high speed. We went off the path into deeper waters and caverns, but I no longer feared the other creatures who shared the sea. We were still in a normal neighborhood but it was becoming some mixture of ocean and human settlement; on a wall there was a map. The whale moved us toward it and I saw it was old by human standards. The whale lifted a flipper and pointed. He didn’t speak, but I could hear him as clearly as if he had enunciated every word.

“This is where I come from.”

He pointed to a region north of India.

“Ceylon*,” I said.

“Yes,” he replied.

“You are a Ceylon whale,” I said.

“Yes,” he replied, and we were off again.

We ended up somewhere that was so much its own place, I couldn’t tell whether it was underwater or air, a human settlement or an animal one, a real place or a dream. I didn’t even know whether I was still myself, or whether the whale was still a whale, but when he gave me a heart-shaped necklace in gold with pink stones, it sparkled like the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.

After three years in that place it was time for me to make a choice. I had grown to love the whale, the perfect ease I felt with him, and his kindness and generosity, but I could no longer exist in that place as a member of humanity.

“Stay with me,” my whale said, stroking my back and shoulders. “This is only a temporary place. Once you decide to be with me forever, we move on to the home place of whales, which is even more marvelous than this. You will want for nothing, and your joy will be beyond imagining.”

I said nothing, but continued to stay close against him, enjoying his touch. I thought of my family and friends in the human world, and of never seeing them again. I held up the golden necklace and though it still sparkled, it looked smaller than before, a little less extraordinary.

“I must meditate,” I told him.

That night, I went with two other humans to the top room of a tower, and we sat in the tiny room around a small, low rectangular table covered with a dark cloth. A woman sat to my left, and a man across from her. They were cross-legged on cushions and bowed their heads in silence. But I felt uneasy for the first time since coming to the middle place between worlds, not knowing my future but knowing it was in my hands. I couldn’t sit peacefully. As deep as they were in their meditations, my movements kept bringing the man and woman out of it, and I felt ashamed for disturbing them.

“Excuse me,” I murmured, and rose as quietly as I could. It felt good to be standing again, and I wished I could just walk out and never worry about anything ever again. But I was in the tower all night to meditate, and in the morning I would have to give my decision.

I thought, “I’ll do a walking meditation,” and moved my left foot forward mindfully, feeling my heel against the floor, the ball of my foot, my toes. For a short distance I walked, and then I looked up and realized the room had a window, a simple opening someone had cut out of the thick tower wall. I went to it and looked out.

Outside, even though I’d thought it was night, I saw an enormous blue sky filled with clouds. In the far, far distance, the sun shone as warm and gentle as early morning just after sunrise, all peach and gold and pink and bright. Suddenly I felt as if I hadn’t breathed for three years, and I leaned my head out to take in the air. The breeze lifted me bodily from where I stood. I stretched out my arms like wings, and they grew longer and longer, reaching into the sky. A white bird soared by my right side, and I followed it toward the great expanse.

“I’m flying!” I thought. Though the air should have been cold and my breathing labored, it wasn’t and it wasn’t. I didn’t have to flap my arms or do anything; as effortless and weightless as the sea had been with my whale, now the sky was with this bird.

“I know what’s happening!” I thought. “I had three years with my whale, and now I’ll have three years here in the sky, and after that something else. This is how my life is meant to be, moving through the world like this, learning everything it has to offer.”

But as soon as I thought it, I saw how vast and limitless the sky was, and became afraid.

“I can’t do this,” I thought. “The ocean has land to break it up, but the sky just goes on forever. Where does it go, ever on into the clouds? Must I fly always, without coming down to land? At night and in the sunshine, always flying?” And at that moment I began to feel tired, and the wind no longer lifted me up.

“Here it comes,” I thought. “I am going to fall, and I am so high up.”

I braced myself for the fall-feeling in the pit of my stomach, but it never came. Instead, I ceased to move forward, and soon felt myself moved gently backward as if on a small soft breeze created just for me. It backed me up to the tower and back in through the window, and before I knew it I found myself in just the same position as before, standing there looking out, but no longer one with the sky.

“So that’s not how it will go,” I thought.

And woke up.


If I ever start illustrating my dreams, as I someday hope to do, this one will be a great place to start. The trouble is that while I am getting better at depicting dimension in objects — like the shape of a head — I still have no experience illustrating space, as in the vastness of the sky. And my dreams do so often have enormous spaces in them, that I long to be able to paint. Well, a dream book is in my lifelong to-do list for sure, and I’ll get to it someday.

The thing that makes this particular dream so interesting, at least to me, is that in real life I am terrified of deep water and would never go into it without panic. And I’m not wild about heights either. But in the dream I was able to feel the fear and not let it touch me. I wonder if that’s my brain showing me that such a distinction is possible.

Also, this is the most vivid dream I’ve had in ages. Last night we walked through San Francisco in the cold rain, and spent a couple of hours immersed in the new Bali exhibit (and a gamelan performance) at the Asian Art Museum. I can’t see any obvious relationship between our outing and my dream, but maybe the sensory stimulation did something for me — and I’ve always found gamelan music mesmerizing and otherworldly.

*In the real world, Ceylon (Sri Lanka) is an island at the southern tip of India. Go figure.