I had the pleasure of conversing with my friend Jane Carleton about her rich experiences of living in Bali, sharing dreams with Balinese people, and teaching Active Dreaming workshops there. Jane is a certified teacher of Active Dreaming, a gemologist, and a frequent flyer in the multiverse; you can listen our conversation on my “Way of the Dreamer” radio show on Tuesday, November 13.
I invited Jane to contribute a guest blog, containing some of her favorite memories of Bali.
Guest blog by Jane C. Carleton:
To live in Bali is to live in a dream, in a land where butterflies are the size of birds and living nature is inside and out. Where monsoon rains visit in an afternoon, and the impossibly large, stripy and polka-dotted tokay gecko calls from the bathroom, and in the open-air kitchen a frog hops out of my dreams to pee on me from the ceiling; I catch it and put it out into the garden where I hope the cats won’t find it. Near the house, a farmer is herding ducks through the rice fields and in the ravine a cow stirs. And across this, the gamelan playing in the temple entertains the people and the spirits.
There are temples everywhere in Bali, and each temple is sacred and unique for that village, that seaside, tree, ravine, or mountain, and all the temple sites have stories about the power of the natural forces there, and of the gods and goddesses that live there. Gods go visiting; they travel to each other’s temples for ceremonies. And ceremonies are vital to everyday life. Every temple has an Odalan, or anniversary, every 210 days, a Balinese year, and the whole village participates in honoring the spirits and gods that reside there. An Odalan for a big temple can last weeks.
Here, everything is known to be alive. Sacred objects are especially potent and may not be placed on the ground, unless of course it’s a sacred stone. The ground is thought to be dangerous; traditionally a baby is not supposed to touch the earth until he or she is six months old. There is a special ceremony for this initiation, and the community fully participates.
Balinese say we are born with Kanda Empat (“four siblings”), four brothers for men, four sisters for women. These are the four spirit guardians. They stay with a person their whole life and journey on with their spirit after death. The Kanda Empat are helpers in life and after, and there are specific mantras to call on them. When I welcome my sisters in the morning I feel ready for my day.
Most temple sites and cemeteries have a massive banyan tree. The banyan tree came from heaven and is sacred, as is the japun, or plumeria. Powerful good spirits live in the banyan and these entities provide balance and protection, especially in the case of cemeteries, where black spirits prowl. A big banyan tree also frequently protects village crossroads. These crossroads are dangerous places where dark spirits can enter the body through the feet. At every crossroads, people place fresh offerings to pay off these dark spirits every day. These offerings are simple, placed on the ground, and are not as ornate as the beautiful and frequently elaborate offerings placed high for the gods.
The Balinese maintain harmony between the spirits in their world with daily offerings. It is critical here to entertain the spirits, and this is taken very seriously. Every new moon and full moon is rewarded with ceremony, with offerings and visits to the temple to pray. When it is time for ceremony, it is the priority, and everything else must accommodate this. It’s a lovely and magical way to live, from my Western view, and the air is rich with the beauty, fragrance, and sacred feeling of this.
For many Balinese, the Lower World is a scary place. Taking a Balinese person on a shamanic journey into a cave, or into a tree, into the realm of the lower animal worlds is not something I would do. It’s safer to a Balinese person to connect with the gods and goddesses in the upper world. But even though the lower world may be dangerous, you see animal statues everywhere, especially the great serpents, and often the Singha, the winged lion that is a temple guardian. Animal spirits are important in Bali, but connecting with an animal ally on a shamanic journey, as we do in Active Dreaming, is not a widespread practice. However, nature is honored, the animal powers are recognized, and when I asked several people to tell me what is the best dream you can have, the answer was, a dream of a butterfly landing on a flower.
Several Balinese friends have shared with me dreams of being pursued by someone attacking them with black magic. This is a dream that may need the help of a professional to remove the spell. This is taken very, very seriously here. A friend told me she dreamed someone was attacking her family with black magic. She went to a balian, a traditional shamanic healer who travels between the worlds, and he undertook to repel the attack – at the price of an offering to the gods costing half a month’s salary. It’s not typical for a visit to a balian to be this pricey. In one week, I heard four dreams of being attacked by black magic. Any illness or mishap may be attributed to black magic, which may be practiced by someone in the community who carries a grudge. The attack is done typically by a dark side balian who practices sorcery on behalf of a client. Several Balinese people I spoke with expressed the need for caution and to be discerning around balians. The balians I know only practice white magic and they are beloved friends.
I’ve led shamanic drumming sessions for my balian friends. I drummed for a Balinese woman who is a powerful healer, and she had an extraordinary journey. She reported meeting the “Queen of the Gods”. She was weeping with fierce joy throughout the encounter. She said she rode a golden chariot drawn by golden horses to meet the Goddess and was shown a world so beautiful it made her cry. The Goddess said she will have to wait to live here because she has to go back to do what she can to help the troubles of the world at this time. I was told the “Queen of the Gods” that she talked with is called Ratu Ayu Sarining Lumbung Jagat Bumi. She is the First One, mother of all gods and goddesses, and seems to be Balinese in origin, older than the coming of Hindu deities to the island.
One morning I woke from a dream in which Robert Moss was teaching me something. I heard a voice outside calling my name. Groggy from sleep, with my head spinning in an unusual way that was difficult to shake, I walked downstairs and there was my balian friend and teacher, dressed in white for sacred ceremony. He had come to take me to his jungle home to meet his family and teach me a new meditation.
It was the full moon day, the day before Kuningen, when the spirits of the ancestors return to their world after living on Bali for ten days during Galungan, one of the most important holidays, a time when everyone honors and entertains the spirits. Every village has Barong dances, and the children go door-to-door dancing in their Barong mask, collecting offerings. The Barong is a sacred protector spirit, kind of a blend of a big white dog and a lion, and a bear, and does battle with Rangda, a hideous witch. In this way the triumph of good over evil is enacted.
My teacher came to get me because the day before, “the God” told him in a dream to take me to his mountain home to pray. So, dressed in my kabaya, sash, and sarong, my sacred temple clothes, we drove to the highlands, where his 97 year old mother lives and I spent a remarkable day there with them. Synchronistically, the spiraling, spinning sensation that I woke with, and the powerful meditation I was taught on the mountain that day produced a similar sensation.
Nature participates in Bali. I led an Active Dreaming workshop out on a beautiful yoga platform above a ravine of green, with running water below. While I was drumming a squirrel fell from the rafters of the open-air pavilion, landed on its belly on the tile, was winded for a moment, then got up and climbed up the nearest tree, pausing to look back, shaking its tail, and carried on, seemed to be fine…At the same time a rooster came to see what was up, on the other side of the platform, and watched the dreamers. Another time a gecko fell into the middle of the circle during a workshop. Coconuts will often crash to the ground, seeming to punctuate a statement at just the right moment.
I’ve had rich encounters with Balinese people who have shared dreams with me and are responsive to our methods of dreamwork. People here understand the shamanic nature of dreaming, but sometimes fear what comes to them in dreams, and they often feel that conscious dream travel is only for priests and shamans, those who have studied and developed the power to traverse the worlds. Yet many people I’ve met want to know more about dreams, and readily share them with me.
I’ve learned that I can successfully unpack a dream with a Balinese friend, by using Robert’s Lightning Dreamwork process, and as long as I hold a respectful awareness of the living culture that is manifest in the dream the process will unfold beautifully. Insights, healing and depth emerge as magically as when I’m exploring a dream with someone from the West. The dream takes us where we are supposed to go.
Jane may be reached through her website. Listen to her conversation with Robert Moss on his Way of the Dreamer radio show on Tuesday, November 13 at 9:00 a.m PST (12:00 noon EST) or download from the archive afterwards.