Earth-Dreaming: Liminal Waters

posted in: Pilgrimage Stories | 12
Marsh grasses of White Oak estuary are liminal waters
Marshes of the White Oak Estuary

Liminal Waters is a story about a dream that comes from the Earth. Earth-Dreaming is the process by which the Earth dreams through us. Earth-Dreaming takes us beyond using dreams to track our individual psychological growth. Earth Dreams come not from the personal unconscious but from the collective unconscious, the level of the psyche that we share with all humanity. Even deeper, they come from the place where nature and soul are indistinguishable, where matter and spirit are one, what Jung called the psychoid realm, the Unus Mundus. In the depths of our psyches we are wild, and our inner wildness meets and entwines with the outer wildness of nature.  Earth Dreams are not just personal, to be kept private. They speak to all of us. They are meant for all of us. Inner dreams and outer nature are both reaching out to us, and, if we listen, will bring teachings that will help us create together the new myths and stories that we need to guide us in these dire times.

Trout Lily

A friend, Kathleen Hannan, who is a talented songwriter, sings us a song only once each year, at this time called “Just Beyond the Winter, Just Before the Spring.” Yes, it’s just before Spring Equinox, and on teasingly warm nights the peepers and chorus frogs sing of love, and by day the ephemeral woodland wildflowers are opening shyly to discretely perform their mating ritual before the trees leaf out. These are liminal times, the cold comes again, and we realize that winter is not quite over. Winter has traditionally been a good time to be hunkered down dreaming, dreaming like the Earth is dreaming, before the great seasonal awakening. The Earth is speaking to us, has always spoken to us, through our dreams. Let us listen to her and awaken from this living nightmare of destruction that all of us creatures of the Earth are enduring. Let us embrace our sacred role of tending the dream of the Earth.

Throughout my adult life I have kept journals of dreams and nature intertwining, but I have found it hard to write about Earth-Dreaming because these inner and outer threads weave such intricate and complex patterns of synchronicity, sequence, and process. Perhaps we all find it hard to tell each other about these interweavings, but I hope we will try, because we need to share their wisdom. In future posts I’ll write about various aspects of Earth-Dreaming, big dreams and how to work with them, both alone and in groups. (You can read another story in the series, Earth-Dreaming: Heartscape here.) But for now I will tell a very small winter-time dream to illustrate how dream- and nature-experiences intertwine.

Liminal Waters, Ocean

Dune swales are liminal waters with green duckweed, bullfrog
Valentine Bullfrog

Back in mid-February my husband and I went on our annual Valentines’ pilgrimage to the coast of North Carolina to explore the various coastal habitats and experience the abundant winter bird life lurking within them. I had been busily plugging away writing the Lady of the Bees story in time to get it posted before we left. We arrived after sunset at a retreat center nestled in the maritime forest between the sound and the ocean on Bogue Banks. In the morning I awoke with this dream:

A group of us are exploring areas of a wetland, seeing what is under the water at the edge where it meets the land. Walking farther I can see that around a bend the dark shallow water stretches on and on within the forest. At the end of the walk I’m saying to my friend Laurie, “Did you see how far it goes?! Maybe we can ask her (the group leader) how big it is. I’d love to spend a year here exploring it through the seasons.”

Peering below the water at the edge looking for hidden creatures, seeing the dark water penetrating the swamp forest and wondering at its size, a sense of mystery permeated the dream. I interpreted the dream as saying that I needed to get out of my head-expressing and into my body-experiencing. That it was time to move on from thinking and writing to making sensual contact with the waters within and around this island.

Dune swales are liminal waters, red mosquito ferns
Dune Swale, Red Mosquito Ferns
Dune swale, green duckweed, liminal waters
Dune Swale, Green Duckweed
White ibises in salt marsh pond.
White Ibises in Salt Marsh Pond

While searching for birds in their habitats we indeed experienced the teeming life of the waters —  loons bobbing on the waves and plunging deep into the ocean near the shore; gannets high diving into the roiling waters of Beaufort Inlet between Bogue Banks and Shakleford Island; an eagle cruising above and dolphins pinwheeling through the quieter waters of the harbor channel between Emerald Isle and Bird Shoals; egrets and ibises hanging out in the hidden ponds where a small creek winds into the salt marshes from Bogue Sound. We watched bullfrogs eyeing us in the freshwater swales between the dunes; dunlins, black-bellied, and piping plovers drilling for delicacies in the temporary salty pools between the tides; and dainty Bonaparte’s gulls hover-feeding in the estuary of the White Oak River between Emerald Isle and Bear Island. An osprey, newly returning from migration to nest was surveying the brackish marshes of the White Oak River up at Cedar Point. All of these areas at the edges between land and water are liminal, in-between places that hold a sense of mystery for me. Dream-mystery and nature-mystery intertwining, I was filled with a sense of wonder, recognizing these as signs that the subtle energies of nature and psyche were activated and weaving patterns in their movement. Returning home I savored all those wild island intimacies, but I forgot all about that small snippet of a dream.

Liminal Waters, Creek

Liminal waters of swamp forest
Northeast Creek Swamp Forest

For almost a year my friends Laurie, Sandra, and I have been tending a small section of an urban creek called Northeast Creek that runs behind Laurie’s office complex. Our goal is to experience its changes through the seasons. By tending I mean we have been attending to learning the incredible richness of this plant community that lies right behind a seemingly magical green veil just beyond the parking lot, tending it spiritually by speaking words of praise to its beauty, making offerings of gratitude to it for all the homes for critters it creates, sometimes pulling out a few pieces of trash or invasive honeysuckle or Japanese stilt grass, of which there is surprisingly little, a small mystery in itself.

A few days ago I mistakenly arrived an hour early to meet Laurie for lunch near her office. Instead of ordering tea and reading while waiting for her, I took this as a sweet synchronicity and decided to walk across the parking lot and down through the small forest to Northeast Creek. Immediately I came upon a big patch of very floriferous trout lilies. (What other wonderful plant life had been there before it was all scraped away and paved?)

At the creek highbush blueberries were opening their small bell flowers. A bit uphill from these a cluster of painted buckeyes were engaged in the attractive unfurling of their little pleated leaves. I happened to look down just in time to see a pile of otter scat! There are obviously beavers at work here in the wetland marshes, evidenced by all the dead snags, great forage trees for red-headed woodpeckers, but otters, too! I wished I’d brought a camera. Suddenly two great blue herons rose with a simultaneous “crank.” The trees still bare, there seemed to be an endless expanse of wetland forest across the cattail marshes. When the leaves emerge this sense of vastness across the wetland is not visible, because a gradually rising wall of green treeness blocks the view. Gazing at it I’m wondering how wide this swamp forest is, thinking I’d like to try to find out. But for now it remains a mystery. I wonder where the beaver lodge is.

Highbush blueberry flowers
Highbush Blueberry
Painted buckeye bud
Painted Buckeye Bud
Painted buckeye leaves opening
Painted Buckeye Leaves Opening

It is now exactly a month after the ocean trip, and I’m sitting at my desk preparing to write a different article on earth-dreaming, when I randomly open my journal and am surprised to see the dream that I had totally forgotten about. I am even more surprised to realize that the wonderings in that dream exactly parallel these wonderings about Northeast Creek. Once again the inner nature of the dream world meets the outer nature of the day world. Once again I feel a sense of the Mystery that permeates both nature and spirit. This is why we Westerners are finally realizing that to make a distinction between nature and spirit is false. Some cultures have no words for nature, no words for spirit, because they are not separate from each other or from us. We cannot be disentangled from our world. Needing to try to name this kind of leapfrogging I’d experienced between soul’s wildness and nature’s wildness, I long ago started calling these events sequences that together form the process of the movement of eco-psycho-spiritual energy. Synchronicities are often aspects of such sequences.

This same night we are listening to music in a small night-club when a woman walks in whom I have not seen in probably ten years. We get to talking, and I suddenly realize that she is the one person uniquely suited to answer my dream question, my waking question, how big, how wide is the swamp forest? because she used to run a music shop on one side of Northeast Creek and lives directly across it on the other side. In fact, I entered the forest this time right at the back door of her former shop. “About a half mile,” she answers. Ahh, large enough for imagination to explore the hidden mysteries that lurk at the edges of these liminal waters where land water meet.

Otter scat
Otter Scat

Today I returned to the creek with my camera to try to find that otter scat. Still there — see all the fish scales! Also there, gliding dreamily in the creek and nibbling on grasses at the edge, always together, were a pair of geese. But one was a Canada goose and the other a white goose. Ah, love is another mystery. To some people, white animals are spirit animals. Doubting my writing, I had been wondering whether I should finish and post this story. I hear this messenger from the earth-and-spirit world saying, Yes, you need to tell each other these dream stories, for us and for our Earth.









Text © 2019 Betty Lou Chaika, Photos © 2019 Betty Lou and David Chaika

Just Beyond the Winter © Kathleen Hannan. You can hear this song at:


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12 Responses

  1. Sue-Anne

    Beautiful, Hakima. Not being able to immerse myself in nature right now, lying in my room in almost constant pain, I am tearfully grateful to read this news about some of the very places I know and love. Was that Cathy you were talking about, then? Yes, I remember a procession to the creek I think you are speaking of, and how you pointed out the pawpaw (that WAS you, was it not?). And all the coastal places you mentioned are in my heart and memory.
    Thank you for taking me away to these places, in a time that is liminal for me, as I am neither here nor there, gestating a new knee, crying to it to forgive me for what I did to it, asking its forgiveness, deeply sensitive to every small act of empathy and opening out into the world of beauty that my friends are offering me.


    • Betty Lou Chaika

      Sue-Anne, you are one of the few people who would know both Emerald Isle and Northeast Creek. Yes, Cathy of Music Explorium. We processed down there with Layne Redmond during a drumming retreat. Yes, there is pawpaw and so many other wonderful species present there. Knowing how much being in nature means to you, this being laid up indoors must be hard. I’m happy to be bringing to you these places you love. May our “world of beauty” bring you comfort and healing.

  2. Robin Rogers

    Aaah, a breath of fresh air for me. My nights have been wakeful, busy thoughts circling and circling, my usual ways of taming them ineffective. I have just returned from the Carolina coast, hiking river and ocean trails., where I found myself stopping in absolute awe and wonder at the beauty and mystery of this unfamiliar landscape before me. My walking partner this time preferred a quick pace to slow rambling, though I longed to stop and fully immerse myself in the “something” just beyond my grasp. I woke up this morning on my return with the continued sense of longing for I don’t quite know. While sitting on my porch with tea, listening to birdsongs, I read this blog with a big sigh. My winter has been full of writing, academic pondering, and much mental busyness, while my “soul’s wild ness” has taken a back step while I forayed into the practical world. Thank you for your timely reminder to integrate in to wholeness again.

    • Betty Lou Chaika

      Good morning, Robin. I enjoy seeing you there with your tea and the birds. Of course I am eager to hear where you hiked these NC coastal river and ocean trails, finding such beauty and mystery. I find that longing can be both an uncomfortable and a blessed state, if I can honor and tolerate it until it opens to what my soul is seeking and needing and leading me to. Congratulations on your “practical world” accomplishments and contributions. I’m glad my words are helping in your oh-so-human need to come back into balance between right brain and left, exactly within the energies of the Equinox season.

  3. Asha KENT

    yes, reveries of material interiority, thus begins our work in the Ziraat. You descirbe one’s experience in the first springtime steps of the material imagination described not only by the great sufis but also in Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan’s time there was an arising of the concern with hermenuetics (discovering the values, the Qualities, the meaningfulness of being and time.) mixed with the problem of even imagining a ‘quantum’ universe. At the same time there was the arising of the phenomenolgists i.e. the focus on that which transpires through that which appears. One of these ‘new’ guys was Pir Vilayat’s science teacher, the great Gaston Bachelard at the Sorbonne who wrote one book called Earth and Reveries of Repose and then Earth and Reveries of Will — there were a whole group of these guys covering lots and lots of territory about being a contemplative with boots on (boots for digging in the mud) All of which is very much the foundation layer of the Ziraat and it’s “creative imagination”. SAM was also among the pheneomenologists. For me, the best of these guys today is Max van Manen whose books cover the subject with a focus on the practice of teaching children and nursing, but covers the philosophical subject as a whole, relating to our practice of living in the world. It might even not be well termed ‘a philosophy’ as it really is a mysticism in the world.
    In the lodge i work in i work hard to get folks to relate thier stories of their experience in the world and thus the narrative of thier contemplation. Reading your paper, I see you have this sense quite beautifully.
    It’s a big subject … may you explore well! and keep me up with your lodge and it’s exploration if possible.
    Asha Kent

    • Betty Lou Chaika

      Thank you, Asha, for providing context, history and contemporary readings on, as you say, “mysticism in the world.” “Reveries of material interiority. . . stories of experience. . . narratives of contemplation,” yes, we are observing and describing how psyche and nature are intertwined in our Life-loving work.

  4. Gina

    Thank you, Betty Lou!
    Yes! Yes! We must share our earth dreams. After weeks of distractions and deadlines like taxes, I have myself returned to daily walks at the Eno. Your blog so inspires me to stay close to my heart by following its wildness. The NC coast line you have described is near and dear, though I long for a deeper intimacy. For many years my folks had a place at Fort Macon. Two experiences of refuge there are among my favorite memories. One was trotting on horseback through schools of reddish purple jellyfish in the surf and sand bars at Cedar Island. Another was kayaking among the wild ponies off Schakleford. Such gratitude for these wild places! And lovely to hear more about ..such fond memories with Layne and sister drummers that day.

    • Betty Lou Chaika

      Gina, I see your beautiful inner wildness meeting the Eno River’s wonderful “outer” wildness! All of your mindfullness training will help you open more and more to the deeper intimacy with nature you desire, I’m sure. Thank you for sharing your memories of those glorious experiences with the horses on Cedar Island and the wild ponies on Shakleford. Leaving on the Cedar Island ferry to Ocracoke, I’ve admired the people riding horses on the beach. I’m enjoying imagining riding there with you! We’ve been on Bird Shoals with the wild ponies rolling on the dunes and playing with each other in the surf, but oh to be kayaking near them off Shakleford! Delicious! Yes, gratitude that this wildness is honored and preserved.
      Speaking of Layne, Farrunnissa and I will be offering a celebration of Layne on Summer Solstice Sunday. Stay tuned!

  5. Sandra

    Thank you so much, dear Betty Lou, for showing us the natural weaving and interplay of nature and spirit, as experienced through your sensitive sight and psyche. I delight in the synchronicity of your dream, rediscovered in your journal soon after you have experienced that liminal, sacred space, Northeast Creek. Your beautiful narrative about these holy experiences inspires and uplifts!

    • Betty Lou Chaika

      Thank you, Sandra. I am so grateful to have friends like you with whom to share love of our sacred forests, this hidden, magical swamp forest in particular. Each time we go there the sense grows that it is truly a miracle that this species-rich edge of land between parking lot and creek is so whole and intact. It is this holy place that inspires and uplifts!

  6. Ann Loomis

    Thanks you, Betty Lou, for this lovely article. While on my FL trip, I had a dream about two bears. Jung wrote that when images come to us in pairs, it signifies that something is coming into consciousness. Perhaps it’s my Mother Bear nature beckoning me to protect the natural world with both fierceness and nurture.

    • Betty Lou Chaika

      Ann, thank you for sharing your Earth-Dream. Yes, the Earth is calling you, us, to nurture and protect her fiercely. She’s providing us with a potent symbolic image, so we can feel how to do so, like a Bear Mother. I’m reminded of a wonderful Bear Mother poem that I’ll send you.

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