A Continuum of Consciousness in Sleep
What is Meditation? An Technique to Access Pure Consciousness.
What is Meditation? A Technique to Access Pure Consciousness
Prior to considering further stages of consciousness in sleep we must at this point stop for a moment and ask, “What is meditation?” , due to the relationship of lucidity to meditation just delineated. For the past two decades western scientists have been addressing the question of meditation and several models have emerged. Most frequently cited is meditation as a stress reducing mechanism but also often pointed to is meditation as a form of psychotherapy or as enhanced self awareness or a finely held hypnagogic state or a form of self hypnosis. More recent models focus on meditation as an attention training procedure. (For a recent review of the meditation literature see Murphy & Donavan, 1988.)
But these models have not answered the “what is meditation” question. They only describe what it does; that is what the potential products of it’s practice are. All of these “takes” on meditation really miss the essential point. Meditation is a procedure, a technology, a method and as such it is not causal; rather it facilities outcomes, such as stress reduction and consciousness during sleep. These outcomes are a natural part of the biological and psychological systems but the application of the “technology” of meditation increases the likelihood of attaining them.
These perspectives on meditation are reductionistic. Such reductionism to the common denominator is the meat of the scientific method but it can also strike a death toll for complex, holistic procedures designed to work with the entire self system. As Deikman (1982) recently noted:
Ironically, although the power of meditation to affect physiological and psychological functions has been substantiated in many different laboratories, we have paid little attention to what the originators of meditation have said about its intended purpose and the requirements for its appropriate use….Focusing primarily on the experiences and bodily effects of meditation is like collecting oyster shells and discarding the pearls. Such ‘spiritual materialism’ inevitably interferes with the real potential of meditation.
If meditation is somehow more than its component parts or products, what is it? Virtually all systems of meditation contextualize the procedure in some way as part of a spiritual path – a seeking – for union with the higher self – God – nature. Here I will focus on one of these systems because it is not only comprehensive but is the most empirically supported theoretical position. It comes from the founder of the largest meditation group in the west, the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. He conceptualizes meditation as a tool or mental technology, for the development of consciousness. In other words meditation, in this case Transcendental Meditation, is a technique which serves to enliven an individuals experience of the common denominator of being, pure consciousness.
Pure consciousness, according to Alexander, Chandler, and Boyer (in press), is “described as a silent state of inner wakefulness with no object of thought or perception.” Furthermore, they note that “pure consciousness is conditioned not by cultural or intellectual conditions, but by fundamental psychophysiological conditions which are universally available across cultures.”
Alexander et al. offer several descriptions of pure consciousness. For instance:
After about two years, my experience of the transcendent started to become clearer. At that time, I would settle down, it would be very quiet … and then I would transcend, and there would just be a sort of complete silence, void of content. The whole awareness would turn in, and there would be no thought, no activity, and no perception, yet it was somehow comforting. It was just there and I could know when I was in it. There wasn’t a great ‘oh I am experiencing this,’ it was very natural and innocent. But I did not yet identify myself with this silent content free inner-space. It was a self-contained entity that I transcended to and experienced.
Alexander et al. reviewed the empirical correlates of the experience of pure consciousness. Physiological correlates of this “subjective” experience during meditation are numerous but two physiological variables are markers of experiencing pure consciousness according to these authors, breath suspension and EEG coherence surges. These two, these scientists explain, “were the immediate correlates of specific subperiods of reported experience of pure consciousness indicated by button press, and were greater than those occurring during the remainder of TM practice” and during eyes closed rest.
As for behavioral effects they note that “exhaustive meta-analyses of over 100 separate studies indicate that repeated experience of pure consciousness during TM produces significantly greater reductions in trait anxiety, depression, hostility and other symptoms of mental stress than simple or stylized forms of relaxation.” Further “regular experience of pure consciousness during TM is associated with development of personal identity as operationalized by improvement on such measures as self-actualization, self-concept, self-esteem and field independence” including ego development. By way of methodological refinement Alexander et al. point out that “although experience of pure consciousness occurs with far less frequency in the general population, our research (and that of other researchers) indicates that its behavioral correlates are similar even among subjects who have received no exposure to meditation or the concept of pure consciousness.” They conclude, “This enables us to go beyond the prevailing understanding of pure consciousness as an inaccessible, ineffable or “mystical” experience. Rather, we come to realize that the experience of pure consciousness is a natural consequence of unfolding the latent potential of human consciousness to fully know itself, that has profound utility for improving the quality of human life.”
Access to pure consciousness due to the purification of the nervous system in response to the regular practice of meditation is exemplified in the development of the witness, a silently observing part of the self that witnesses all other states of consciousness (waking, sleeping, and dreaming) without trying to change them. Thus if the expression of pure consciousness is the silent witness of the 24 hour cycle of activity/inactivity then it becomes important in tracking lucidity to pure consciousness to connect lucidity to witnessing in sleep.