Dreamers Hike Into the Spirit of the Berkeley Hills

I was bundled in layers of mismatched summer clothes I’d scavenged from my suitcase. It was day three of the International Association for the Study of Dreams annual conference in Berkeley, California, and on this late June afternoon we would set out on a Dreamers’ Hike. We met outside the conference hotel at the Berkeley Marina and listened as our guide announced that we’d hike for about three hours and return at sunset.

We walked first along a not very scenic highway with pounding winds at our backs. But soon, the Golden Gate Bridge came into view in the distance. As we passed through a parking lot near the small beach, cars pulled up and people let their dogs bound out from backseats into the surging surf. While a black lab pounced into the waves after a red ball, we dreamers crowded around a patch of scruffy weeds, which our guide identified as mugwort, which is said to enhance dream imagery and recall. We dreamers cheered enthusiastically for these oneiric plants, as if we had discovered buried treasure.

As we walked on we noticed the trail was blazed with red hearts hand-painted onto rocks. To our left I noticed a strange stone outcropping splashed with paint. My friend Sherry and I headed toward it, to find that it was a small shelter with a triangular window that looked out on the sea. I stooped to peer inside the doorway where a young man and woman, leaned on opposite walls, empty pizza boxes and beer bottles strewn at their feet.

“It’s a druid house,” I whispered to Sherry.

Just beyond, our group spread out on the rocks unpacking meals from little cardboard house-shaped boxes: each containing a sandwich, apple, chips, pasta salad, an energy bar, and a cookie. Strands of our windblown hair caught in our mouths between bites.

With dinner behind us, we fanned out over the rocky beach looking for the path, then scrambled up and over a hill. Amidst the foliage and tufts of spiky red weeds, we spied signs of lives being lived here: there were tarps stretched between boulders, tents tucked amid shrubs, and plastic outdoor chairs on brushy improvised lawns.

Then we came to what looked like an empty roadside vegetable stand with a sign tacked beneath the wooden roof that identified it as a clothing drop for the homeless. One dream hiker approached, read the sign, then pulled the apple from her cardboard box and left it there. Another followed, leaving a tub of pasta salad. One by one, others approached, leaving power bars, bags of chips, and sandwiches.

Without comment we continued downhill to the water’s edge, where we were greeted by a glorious 10-feet tall woman made of scrap metal. Her hair snake-streamed behind her, arms stretched out, beseeching.

To our right, two young people squatted before a cobbled wooden wall, with spray paint cans poised. I could smell the acrid acrylic scent of whooshing colors as we turned to the left and found more found-object sculpture, including a crazy-jawed animal growling at the sea, and two figures seated on a log bench in a conversational pose.

We hiked back talking, wind tossed and sunset-drenched. All evening long we are alive with land and sea and color and dream.

The next morning, a presenter who had recently arrived at the conference, declared that he experienced the land outside our hotel as dead. “All of this,” he explained, sweeping an arm toward the view of the land we’d just the day before hiked upon, “was built on garbage. Literally, trash.”

Those of us who had spent the previous afternoon and twilight hiking on it were not so sure. We’d passed through a world of color, art, homelessness, community, hikers, kite surfers, punks, and modern hobos, wild herbs, ripening berries, stone and water in angry conversation, wind and sun–all ringed by distant cities.  A compost of rebirth, re-mirth and transformation.

And so, a shaman in the group suggested we ask the land itself if it were dead, dying, or in need. In shamanistic traditions, which are found in various forms in indigenous cultures around the world, everything is alive and intelligent. By journeying into the land (we used a hybrid of shamanistic practice and guided meditation in this case) we could gain information and insight about it.

We closed our eyes, relaxed, followed our leader through a set of instructions into an open state of mind. When we felt we had reached the spirit of the land, we were instructed to inquire whether the land wanted our help, then listen to what it had to say.

This is what I heard, both from my dream-meditation-journey into the land, and from other dreamers when they shared their experiences.

We asked the land

I Asked the Land

And it said …


“Look at your hand.

There’s a sun in your hand.”


And the earth shrank away

Leaving only me

and the sun in my hand.


I asked the land

and the land said,

“I am only you

work to heal your past

and you will heal my wound.”


I asked the land

and the land said

“I absorb your dreams.”

And the land said

“Create art.”

And the land said

“The place of power is where you are.”

And the land said

“You are the water

And the water in you

Needs healing, too.”


And the land said,

“Align yourself with your heart, always

Your spirit lives there.”

And the land said,

“Your heart will keep your spirit safe

while you dream.”


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3 responses to “Dreamers Hike Into the Spirit of the Berkeley Hills

  1. I shared your hike and your shaman the following day. Thanks for the memories!

    • Hi Lou,
      I’m glad you enjoyed revisiting that wonderful time in Berkeley through the blog 🙂 Please feel free to add your own impressions, pov, on the experience, too!

  2. Beautiful dialogue, listening to the land, landing in dreams…and so nice to see a glimpse into your recent journey!

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