Moving across the frontier between dreaming to waking 

Daowu and Jianyuan went to a house to offer condolences. Jianyuan struck the coffin with his hand and asked, “Alive or dead?”
Daowu said, “I’m not saying alive, I’m not saying dead.”
Jianyuan asked, “Why won’t you say?”
Daowu said, “I’m not saying! I’m not saying!”
On the way home, Jianyuan stopped in the middle of the road and demanded, “Tell me right now, Teacher. If you don’t say, I’m going to hit you and leave.”
Daowu said, “You can hit me, but even if you do, I still won’t say.”
Jianyuan hit him.

~ The Blue Cliff Record, Case 55

It has only been In the last couple of years that I have followed my dreams as part of my meditation practice. I have always naturally dreamed a lot; I love to sleep, I love to dream. But in inviting my dream world into my practice world, I guess I look less for self-knowledge than for affirmation of the deep undercurrents of my psyche, which for all of us flows within the vast river we call the Way.

A few weeks ago, I joined a small meeting of zendo leaders and we opened by going around the room sharing experiences. One woman sitting across the room from me, tall and lovely, shared a story about her dreams of seeing animal tracks in the mud.

That night, she appeared in my dream, selling funeral packages. One option was plain and simple: a casket with no adornment. The other was complex, difficult, and beautiful. The two packages were as different as common linen cloth is to rich gold-threaded brocade. As part of the expensive package, the woman smiled and held up a finely crafted box, which was made of dark-grained wood with a deep lacquer finish and a tight-fitting lid.

I shared the dream with a group of friends, and their questions helped me unpack it some. What was in the box? Without hesitation, I answered: “My guts, my internal organs.” My heart, intestines, liver. Strangely, I said, “But that is normal in preparing a body for burial.” No, they pointed out, it was not normal in these times. However, ritual removal of human organs after death was part of the mummification process commonly used in ancient Egypt, particularly for pharaohs.

Can you speak from the woman’s point of view? What did the box have to say? It was a fascinating inquiry, but afterward, I didn’t really feel I had learned anything particularly new about my life.

That night, laying in bed, I went over the dream again and again in my mind. Half asleep, the dream continued to evolve, and I could see the woman become clothed in ancient Egyptian dress. My thought was, “Oh, she is my Egyptian wife.” From there, she morphed into what looked to be an Egyptian goddess. With almost no knowledge of Egyptology, the name of the goddess that came to me was “Isis.”

Several days previously I had seen a single reference to a cult of Isis existing around the time of Jesus that may have influenced early Christianity. So, not even knowing if Isis was a man or woman, I looked her up in Wikipedia. Along with her brother and husband, Osiris, Isis was the most widely worshiped Egyptian god in the first millennium BC. She was believed to guide and heal the dead in the afterlife, just as she had revived back to life her slain husband, Osiris. She also invoked healing spells to help ordinary people. Isis was the goddess of pharaohs, and her revival of Osiris in the afterworld was considered the source for Egyptian mummification.

Through a dream, tapping into the cosmos of the Egyptian afterlife feels brocade-like to me: at once richly intimate and distant, immediate and ancient. Moving across the frontier from the country of dreams to waking and back again, I don’t think we have to choose either “alive” or “dead.” That is asking too much.

Art: Isis, by Mayumi Oda, the Original Egyptian Goddess! See at