Thirty-nine years ago I had an unforgettable dream about my grandfather, who I called Papa. From time to time, the dream would resurface right when I needed to reflect on its message, then it would tuck itself into the far reaches of my memory and wait until it was called again.
The dream crept out of hiding while I was assisting the Hoh River Valley and Rainforest Retreat in early August. On the second night, while gathered around the fire, we invited the participants to share something about how they were feeling after spending a nearly silent day in the forest amongst giant sword ferns and towering ancient trees dressed in thick moss and fungi. I listened to the participants’ stories of transformative moments and thought of my own. The forest felt magical that day. I recalled the dappled light across a range of luminescent greens and yellows. I thought back to the few remaining berries calling to me with their tantalizing colors and plump shapes. And I remembered the peaceful feeling as we walked together in silence except for the crunch of twigs and dried leaves under the weight of our steps. I was close to my Papa. His singing voice could melt my heart. He knew how to tend to plants. He bought my sister and me sweets and took us on long walks. At the end of the day, he’d let us climb onto his big blue chair with him and watch Merv Griffin. We felt loved and protected. Papa died in 1980. The vivid dream happened three years after that when I was a senior in high school. I’m sure I was focused on grades and my future so I was probably feeling uncertain and anxious. No one used the word “anxiety” in those days, but that's probably what I was experiencing.
The dream opens in a Morocco-like room. Handcrafted rugs crisscross the floor. The curved red hued walls are dimly lit by candle sconces. Against the wall is a long sofa stacked deep with pillows of rich colors and woven patterns. Reclining on the sofa are a few stately men wearing ornate silk robes. My Papa is there, too. Everyone appears happily unaffected by my presence. My Papa smiles when he sees me. I smile back. Then he says, “Heaven is on Earth”. Then the dream ends. That’s it. While some may have an issue with the word “heaven”, at its very core the message is about living in and appreciating the present moment. Serendipitously, while in the Hoh, I happened to be reading Sandra Ingerman’s book, Medicine for the Earth. In the section titled, “A Shift of Perception”, she writes, “My dream, my desire, my intent in this lifetime is to experience heaven on earth…[and] I was shown I must see the beauty in everything throughout the day.” When I read these words I thought, of course, the dream emerged as a reminder to cherish the beauty of this place by opening my senses to every detail. At the fire that night, I shared the dream with the participants and connected it to what I’d experienced that day in the forest and how I sensed that the dream and the forest were in a dynamic relationship, gently reminding me that seeing beauty in everything was also an invitation to revisit the childlike feeling of being loved and protected in the arms of a caring presence, a sensation I have every time I step into the natural world or recollect the precious time spent with my dear Papa.