In Spirit: The Dream Space

In many mystical traditions, whether Sufi, Tantric or Christian, mention is made of the importance of dreams, such as visits from God to his disciple as we often meet mentioned in the Mathnawi of Rumi: “He dreamed that a voice came to him from God: his spirit heard / That voice which is the origin of every cry and sound: that indeed is the (only) voice, and the rest are echoes” (Rumi, 2011: c. 2105, Book I).

The usual and mundane dreams are usually residues of our day, “We know that the dream is nothing more than a certain arrangement of residual traces (samskaaras) [of past experiences]” (Pandey 2006: 350 and 531). But if the dreams are no longer acting like a trash to empty one’s day’s experiences, they allow access to another plan. In French, we distinguish the word “rêve” from the word “songe.” The word “rêve” implies this personal space where the often traumatic experiences, which have left a mark in the individual, are replayed. The term “songe” is closer to half-sleep, a space where the body, the self-image and the usual defences fall asleep, while the Consciousness remains awake at its full potential. This is where sometimes the “dreamer” can access other plans.

The dreams are described in the Hindu iconographic tradition, as shown by one of the bas-reliefs of the Srisailam wall (Andra-Pradesh, India) carved between the 14th and the 16th century. It shows a yogi in a cave, receiving a Shaivite initiation. Dreams are a form of initiation in their own right, alongside practice and intellectual study. Maheshvarananda, a sage who lived around the 12th century, was said to have been “initiated by a siddhayogini during a dream. He specifies as well that this yogini appeared to him in the intermediate state between waking and sleeping ” (Silburn 1968: 9).

The visit of a yogini is not to take literally. Indeed, the body being incarnated, he will perceive and project elements of his knowledge of the objectified world. This is why a Hindu will see Siva appear, a Sufi will see a jinn and a Christian the Virgin Mary. As for the yogi, Liliane Silburn explains that the yogini that appears to him in a dream is none other than the personification of his faculties that have become divine powers. Yoginis and siddhas are often mentioned in the trika and krama systems of the Kashmiri Shaivism tradition as higher initiatory forms alongside the guru (Flood 1993: 193, Sanderson 2007: 329-330, Vijnana Bhairava Tantra: sloka 141). Yogini refers to the five senses of the practitioner (Silburn 1968: 54) in their essential state that leads back to Consciousness. Yoginis temples – round and without a roof – thus enclose the symbolism of the internal space of the body when the latter, unencumbered by its dual projection of itself and the world, finds the freedom of the energies that can now traverse the body freely.

“I enter a circular stone building that seems to be a temple, with a platform, circular too, in the center of the building to lie down or sit on it. My master explains how to place offerings and candles around the central platform. “The most important thing,” he says, “is that once the ritual is over, you can visualize the circle and reactivate it around you anytime.” (dream: April 15, 2012).

In the dream, the symbolic elements mark a resonance of the person for one tradition more than another. Sometimes, when travelling to a new place, new symbols previously unknown may emerge. In a dream, we can learn for example that the temple, in its internal meaning, is the space where the teaching of the external way to the internal way is activated. The temple becomes a form of passage to better actualize the deep and lived understanding that the internal ritual requires neither place nor object (Pandey 2006: 492-493). It is the passage from the exoteric sphere to the esoteric world. The master is here the initiatory figure, the one who transmits not by the intellectual knowledge but by the embodied one which exceeds the words.

There are two types of family: the biological family and the spiritual family. The spiritual family is the lineage to which one is attached, the master being the one who will (re) actualize the trace of this lineage within the practitioner, as the father of Abdel Kader did with his son, initiating him to the lineage of Ibn Arabi. Later, when Abdel Kader talks about his prayers, he says that God is extracting him away from himself:

“I received this precious verse in a secret spiritual way: Allah, when He wants to teach me a science or answer a question I asked Him, has the habit of extracting myself away from myself […] after which He restores me to myself, provided with this verse, relieved and satisfied” Abdel Kader (Chodkiewicz, 1982: 157).

Archetypal forms are present in each of us, around us, because we are not different or separate. Dreams are like doors to another plane that must be listened to, keeping in mind that it is important not to analyze them. Indeed, if today many books flourish on the interpretation of dreams, we must still see a security of the individual who seeks to control this space that escapes him. A dream can be understood only globally, that is to say, that a symbol makes sense only in relation to the individual in all that he is, with his experience and what he is going through at the moment. The same symbol can completely have a different meaning for one person or another. If we observe the dream as a purely living form, it is a visit that goes beyond the understanding and apprehension of the mind. What remains to us when we wake up is only the most superficial aspect of it. Do not try to understand it more than what spontaneously comes to you, is to not limit it to our conceptualization, it is to let it live.

Nightmares also have their place in the initiating wheel, it is then necessary to feel the fear in the body when one awakens. Belly, throat, thighs, etc. Only by the sensation becoming more and more intense and without defence that the nightmare will clear and empty of its emotional potential. As for the clear dream, it must not be caught. One must allow it to live, until it pares down, like the presence of a lover who surrounds us even when he left in the morning. More than trying to understand the facts that take place in there, at the end of the dream you have to ask yourself: how do I feel? The hidden indication of the dream will be discovered by going up by the feeling more than by the anecdotes of the course of the history of this one. Sensation of clarity or confusion, tranquillity or fear. We must stay with the one who visits us, and, like the presence of our lover, let her live in us, around us, until she is totally evaporated. Sometimes a dream can live around you and continue to actualized for a whole day, a week, a year. A dream lives, and you have to let it live by listening.

In the dream, the transmission resonates without fabrication, unlike the waking state where a certain experience can be so strongly desired that the person comes to create it unconsciously. A form of letting go lived in a dream is much more important than letting go of everyday life. Because the dream precedes, it is not subject to time or space. Dreams reveal us, and it is important to listen to them, without pretending.

If our writings are often tinged with the non-dual tradition that finds an echo in several mystics, and that, like in the scriptures, some elements are described in their archetypal forms, we must understand that we are not trying to establish a truth of things or how to live them. These intuitions that echo throughout the texts of sages and revelations are ways to explore just like the presence of a dream is: we must see the sensation and the echo of the body, and let ourselves be guided by this actualization of the vibration that, by itself, finds its own way.

In our articles, one to the other, we oscillate between what can be likened to more academic research work and personal travel notes on the other end. Life is manifested and multiple, and one does not prevent the other. The exploration of this continuum allows the colourful palette of expressions to resonate, that deploys and manifest themselves in spite of us, of a month on the other. There is nothing to hold, nothing to understand, and nothing to crystallize. Life is a dream, visible things are only the gross aspect of the subtle ones that the body and spirit that belong to this material world can not understand. So, do not seize, but let yourself be seized. To be revealed by God when the intuition becomes such a flame that it opens this look between the two eyes, until now asleep.


I am wrapped in my Tibetan blanket. A man speaks to me. His brown skin and facial features tell me he is Indian. When he has finished talking to me, he gets up and leaves. I realize then that it is coated with ashes, and that it is Brahman: it has just given me a teaching. (2011)

They give me the name of the chakras, main centers of energy. These are not Sanskrit names, but a secret name that refers to the utility of each. I visit them: they are places, landscapes that I enter and experience. There are colours, trees, stones … (2011)

I dream of this awake woman, she’s a female guru. Her being is like an incandescent light that can do no other thing but illuminate all that I am with my limitations and my spaces of compensation. We talked about many different things: on each subject, I felt that she can speak elaborate on them, because she has the verbal intelligence as well as perceiving the essence of those matters. Behind each question, as superficial as it may seem, she incarnates the impersonal space. I can feel the space in her body and in her mind, nothing is living a trace, words and body are empty of personal substance. (2015)

I am lying down, my eyes are closed. I am in a room, it is dark. I feel fear, apprehension. I know it, “Mister Owl” is coming, he is at the doorstep. In one second the fear vanishes completely. I feel an intense connexion, non-negotiable with this entity. I start having pain in my back, moving to my shoulder blades. I scream and I try to move, the pain is so unbearable. Mister owl stops me. He leans over me and puts his beak inside my throat. I witness the scene, but I leave it looking at it from the inside: my mouth is at the same time the universe. He grabs the base of my tongue with his beak and pulls it until the last sting breaks. I feel an explosion, an opening inside my chest, throat, head. I can witness the universe, the space is full and quiet. He tells me that now the dream has to continue in the waking state, that nothing stops. When I wake up, I see in my mind the sculpture of the yogini riding an owl, the one that can be found at the San Antonio Museum. (2015)

Coming home tonight after a yoga session, in the car I fall half-asleep. I see a word, the word of a talk formulated tonight. I see it approaching me, then enlarging, until it is huge and there, I see that in it, lyes the universe, like in the mouth of Krishna. I have tears of intensity rising. Every word carries the dynamics of creation in itself, when it is not used in a worldly way, then everything is actualized. The universe is contained there. (2016)

In the car to the yoga workshop I am giving today, I fall into half-sleep. I am told that during the seminar we will work with the white breath, that is to say, the most subtle matter of the breath. To actualize it, it’s very simple: when exhaling, put your attention on the breath, let the etheric white breath out of the body in the diagonal nostrils and let the sheath of the breath that is reddish dilute in the space at the exit of the nostrils. It is with the white breath that we will work today. I come out of my half-sleep. What seemed so clear and obvious to me in this space now seems to me more complex and gross. I remember the words and the indications, but as soon as I say them it does not seem to make any more sense. Yet, I know they are lines that point to something essential. In this respect everything is clear, and I also feel that on the moment of return, the brain is limited to this understanding, that’s why we must never forget that we always speak of something else elusive for the mind. However, we can give the direction, the intuition and the space of silence within oneself, during the non-doing, will do the rest … (2016)

Birds and flowers. They fly, come and go, at home, then outside. I go out, for once I follow them. They are like human beings. We are close to a tree, so that they show me their world. But I have to close my eyes so that I do not see where they live. I put my hands on my eyes, despite that, I can still see everything. You have to do a yoga posture in a specific place for the world to open. There are two men, one of them gets up, the one who trusts me the most. I press myself against him, and there something explodes in me: I feel the suffering of the world, of the earth, how sick she is. I cry, I suffer in my body. Then the world is absorbed and disappears in myself, I feel that instead of being in the world of suffering, it is the world of suffering that is in me. I feel the passage very clearly, of me in the world, to me who becomes the whole and the world being inside of me. With my whole being, I eat the world: the sadness and the suffering are consumed then, the intensity burns everything. I press myself against the man, against the wall, and by the intensity, we cross the wall, we go to another world, another level … then I do not know anymore … I only remember that I learn to cross the worlds, where yoga posture and intensity are the door. Everything dies in my being, there is no world, no suffering. There is only the Self in which everything appears, and everything is resorbed, dies … (2016)

Consulted references

Chodkiewicz, Michel, 1982. Abd- el-Kader : Écrits spirituels. Paris : Éditions du Seuil, Sagesses.

Flood, G.D. (1993). Body and Cosmology in Kashmir Saivaism. San Francisco: Mellen Research University Press

Mallasz, Gitta, (1976). Dialogue avec l’ange. Ed. Aubier

Pandey K.C. (2006). Abhinavagupta, an Historrical and Philosophical Study. Varanasi : Chaukhamba Amarabharati Prakashan.

Alleyne Nicholson, Raynold [traducteur] (2011). THE MATHNAWÍ OF JALÁLU’DDÍN RÚMÍ. Ed. Poetry Soup, version pdf.

Sanderson, Alexis  (2007) “The Saiva Exegesis of Kashmir,” pp. 231–442, in Dominic G. et André P. (éd.) (2007). Mélanges tantriques à la mémoire d’Hélène Brunner, Pondicherry: Institut Français Collection Indologie de Pondichéry/École française d’Extrême-Orient no. 106 p. 231-442.

Silburn, L. (1961). Le Vijnana Bhairava. Paris : E. de Boccard.

____ (1968). La Maharthamanjari de Mahesvarananda ». Paris : E. de Boccard.

Iconographic References

Yogi in a cave, receiving an initiation in a dream.

Since the initiator of the dream bears a trident ones know that he comes from a Shiva lineage.

Srisailam wall, Andra-Pradesh, India., between 14th and 16th century.

Yogini with Owl, India, Uttar Pradesh, Kannauj, ca. 1000-1050 CE

Sandstone, 86.4 x 43.8 x 24.8 cm | San Antonio Museum of Art.

Photos by Mariette Raina, film photography Black and white.

Model in the photos by order of appearance : Liv Sage | Eva | Enbydea | Sarah Boutin

Mariette has a master degree in anthropology from the University of Montreal. She teaches a yoga that echoes the philosophy of non-dual tantric Shaivism from Kasmir. She is regularly travelling to India to follow up her research on esoteric traditions from the Tantras. Mariette is also a visual artist, using photography as field notes and cultural exploration

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  1. RollandJr St-Gelais

    “Ce qui nous reste à notre réveil n’est que l’aspect le plus superficiel. N’essayez pas de le comprendre plus que ce qui vous vient spontanément, c’est de ne pas le limiter à notre conceptualisation, c’est de le laisser vivre.” Il m’arrive parfois me souvenir de mes rêves. Jamais je ne cherche à les comprendre, les interpréter ou bien même en tirer des liens avec mon vécu de la journée passée. Un rêve est en soi un monde bien à lui qui nous suffit de le laisser libre court aussi longtemps qu’il faudra pour l’absorber, tel un éponge, au plus profond de soi et, même, en dehors de soi. Un rêve ne nous appartient. Il est à lui seul un monde libre.

    C’est que je comprends à la suite de ma lecture. Il est fort possible que je me trompe.

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