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Red Ochre--Clear Light

dreamed 2003/4/2 and 4/21, by Jenny Badger Sultan; painting May 2003; acrylic on canvas, 48 x 50"

This painting comes from two dreams:

April 4, 2003

I am looking out a window from an upper story of a building. There are mountain ranges visible. One hunk of mountain starts to detach itself from the surrounding ranges. I know this is Mt. Everest. I say to someone "Look, there is Mt. Everest." This person looks and says "Really? It doesn't look like the highest mountain." "I know," I say, "but it is." Everest is surrounded by the buildings of a town. It is not snow covered and seems rocky and of a red-brown color, variegated light and dark. It is awe-inspiring.

Then I find myself in a long, long line of people on a sloping pathway. We are waiting to see a venerable person--the Dalai Lama? I see two women I know coming back the other way from seeing him. They are carefully dressed. One has on a crocheted cloche hat which matches her outfit. I realize I am not really prepared for this--I'm barefoot, and I've heard this is disrespectful, that the feet must be covered. I ask "Does anyone has some socks or shoes I could wear?" An Asian girl near me takes off some plastic rain boots she has on and says "You can try these" even though her feet are much smaller than mine. I slip them on and manage to squeeze my feet in and fasten them. Then the girl says "I want them back, though; I'm leaving on a trip and need to take them with me." I am mildly annoyed--why did she let me try them on if I can't use them? I ask my husband Hank "Would you please let me borrow your socks?" He is goes to take off his shoes and let me use his socks--he'll wear his shoes without socks. That is generous of him.

While waiting, I think about what I want to say to the Dalai Lama. I can't remember this part well, but I think I wanted to ask him how to have a clear mind--without all the negative, disturbing thoughts that plague me. No, that's not quite it.

April 21, 2003

I am driving around in a landscape of eroded hills (reminds me of Texas Spring, where we camped). I am in a large old car (reminds me of Joe Cepeda's old car). I drive up steep inclines and down gulleys--nearly run into a car coming the other way, but we manage not to collide.

Now I must get out and hike into some shallow cave-like places dug into ochre-colored sandstone. Written on the wall of one is something like "Room Charging Project". There's a box with pieces of red ochre earth. Evidently the "project" is for anyone who wants to, to take the chunks of red ochre and rub them on the wall, so that eventually this cave-room will become entirely red. I will do some of this.

acrylic painting by Jenny Badger Sultan, of a dream of red caves in yellow-ochre hills, where figures sleep and meditate


These two dreams were the ones I was bringing to my meeting with Stephanie Van Zandt Nelson, where I would paint a dream image and we would discuss the dreams. She did not answer when I buzzed her apartment and when I phoned, no answer. I had a very bad feeling about this and feared she might be dead.

Over the weekend I tried to contact other people who knew Stephanie but no one had any information, except that she’d told one she was going “on a retreat” in her apartment.

Then on Monday I returned to her apartment building and waited until someone came out, entered the building and went up to her place. The door had been splintered and was sealed by the Medical Examiner.

In a day or two Dennis, her ex-husband, phoned me and said he also had not been able to reach her, had gone there and broke the door down. He found Stephanie curled up on the kitchen floor, dead, with a book by the Dalai Lama by her side.

Several weeks later the autopsy showed she had died of diabetic shock.

I feel that both my dreams were in some way precursors to Stephanie’s death. Her retreat, my question for the Dalai Lama, the red of Mt. Everest, the red ochre cave, and her death are all related.

I placed her in the cave in my painting, thinking of how ancient people would sprinkle the dead with red ochre earth, because of its association with blood, life, rebirth.

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