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Lucid Dreaming and Consciousness – Jayne Gackenbach – Part 2

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From Jayne Gackenbach at Spiritwatch

A Continuum of Consciousness in Sleep
Lucidity-Meditation Link
Psychological Parallels
Physiological Parallels
What is Meditation? An Technique to Access Pure Consciousness.

A Continuum of Consciousness in Sleep

J. Gackenbach

I am going to begin my argument that lucid dreaming is but the first stage in post-formal operational development on a descriptive level of analysis. From interviews I (Gackenbach, in press; Gackenbach & Bosveld, in press) have conducted with several long term meditators a sequence of qualities of consciousness in sleep has emerged. An especially clear meditator identified five basic stages in the movement from lucidity to witnessing. These stages are further illuminated by comments from a meditating petroleum engineer and a Sanskrit scholar. The first two practice TM while the third does not. In order to understand these stages one must think of the progression, at least initially, as the dreamer shifts from being an “actor” in the dream to the “observer” of it.

STAGE ONE: Initially in lucid dreaming, the actor is dominant. The only role the observer plays is to recognize, however briefly, that the self is dreaming. Despite this recognition, the feeling is still that the dream is “out there” and that the self is “in here” with clear representation of each. As the dreamer becomes more familiar with lucidity, it may occur to him/her that he/she can manipulate the dream. The clear TM meditator believes that in this form of lucid dreaming one is, “trying to manipulate the dream in some way, so there is a greater degree of wakefulness inside but still one is tied to the figures of the dream. It’s a matter of accent…it’s more that you’re an object in the dream and less so that you are a witness to that dream.”

STAGE TWO: At some point it may occur to the dreamer that what is “out there” is actually “in here”. At this point two paths seem open to the dreamer: The dreamer may either become actively engaged in the dream events all the while recognizing that it is the self as well as the dream ego that is involved; or, shift his/her attention to the “inside” I, allowing the “outside I”–the dream scene–to fade. The meditator comments, “the predominance is on the observer, [whereas] the action, [or] the observation I don’t really much care about…”

The petroleum engineer from Canada remarks that during these preliminary stages one flips easily back and forth between witnessing the dream with a quiet detachment to being lucid in the dream. In the latter case still aware of the dream but also caught up in its activity. A graduate student in Sanskrit, writes, “There is little in lucidity itself that will disrupt the production of dream images and sense effects. But because I know I am dreaming, I can proceed to do things that I would not do in ordinary dreams, and it is these actions or non-actions that disrupt the dreaming process. My interaction with the dream keeps it going normally. If I become passive, by stopping to watch what happens, or just to try to think of something, the activity in the dream environment diminishes or stops altogether.”

STAGE THREE: Lucid dreams in this stage tend to be short. The clear meditator describes it as a thought that arises which you take note of and then let go of. “The action of the dream,” he says, “is not dominant. It does not grip you so that you are identified with it as opposed to the first step in which the focus was more on the active [participation]. In this case it’s just a state of inner awareness that’s really dominant. Awareness is there very strongly. The dream is a little dust flying about so to speak.” This is, he says, analogous to when “I’m just sitting while awake and doing nothing and thoughts pop up, like an involuntary knee jerk. I’m not caught up in that so [consequently] the dreams do not have much significance…I never tried to hold onto them. The state of awareness is more satisfying. Since you don’t get caught up [in the dream] there isn’t much intensity to them.” The Sanskrit scholar explains that the meditator in sleep, “knows that he is not to interact with or be tempted by anything that may happen phenomenally. He is not to desire or anticipate anything.” I should qualify this by saying that the “intellectual” knowing is not the source of the detachment. It is experienced at a deeper almost “reflective” level of experience. The final two stages are, according to the clear meditator, experientially distinct but perhaps not so from the point of view of those who have never “been there”. These last two stages might be said to be dreamless sleep with awareness or as the Sanskrit scholar notes:

When all waking and dream imagery and all mental content are eliminated, there is dreamless sleep. Each night, I, the dreamer, move into dreamless sleep. Here I desire no desire and see no dream. There is only an ocean of objectless consciousness. The inner Self still sees, because the Self is imperishable, but there is nothing distinct from it to see. Likewise there is no second thing from the Self for the Self to smell, taste, speak, hear, think, touch, or discern. The Self is conscious of nothing within or without. This is the home base from which the Self moves out into dream and waking image and thought, the home to which the Self, like a tired bird, returns from waking and dream experience to rest.

STAGE FOUR: In this stage an “inner wakefulness” dominates. “You don’t have dreams or in any case you don’t remember having dreams,” says the meditator. You are absorbed not in dreams, but in the witness. This sort of sleep awareness can be so continuous that one may go for months without recalling a dream and one loses awareness even of the passage of time. The clear meditator differentiates yet one more stage.

STAGE FIVE: Once the dreamer has moved into this transcendental state or pure consciousness, she/he moves into the experience. Now the “dream” will characteristically take symbolic forms not generally found in nonlucid or lucid dreams of an earlier stage: They will be much more abstract and have no sensory aspects to them, no mental images, no emotional feelings, no sense of body or space. There is a quality of unboundedness to them. The professor explains, “One experiences oneself to be a part of a tremendous composite of relationships.” These are not social or conceptual or intellectual relationships, only “a web of relationships. I am aware of the relationship between entities without the entities being there.” He says there is “a sense of motion yet there are no relative things to gage motion by, it’s just expansiveness. There are no objects to measure it. The expansiveness is one of light–like the light of awareness.”

The vocabulary for expressing this kind of experience is limited. When the meditator used the phrase “light of awareness” it was, he says, because “of anything I could refer to in the sensory or mental worlds that word would be it.” But, he explains, it is not like light in a room, it’s “visual but not visual, more like light in an ocean; an intimate experience of the light.” Gillespie (1987) has referred to this as “the fullness of light” and interestingly well known philosopher and metaphysician Eliade (1965) details the role of “the light” in many of todays’ spiritual traditions. He notes, “considered as a whole, the different experiences and appraisals of the interior Light advanced in India and in Indo-Tibetan Buddhism can be integrated into a perfectly consistent system. Experience of the Light signifies primarily a meeting with ultimate reality.” It should be pointed out that control in the state of pure consciousness is a moot point. “The body does not exist,” the clear meditator explains, “There is no awareness of the body, no awareness of anything sensory.”

Savolainen (1989) points out that the smooth sequence taking one from lucidity to witnessing may not be true for everyone. In her experience she had to let go of lucidity and move through nonlucidity before she developed the witness set in sleep. This points out that although there may be a relationship between these states of consciousness in sleep, the exact nature of it may vary considerably from individual to individual. I suspect that the different sequence of Savolainen’s may occur if one becomes too “embedded” or “attached” to lucidity, especially to the active, controlling aspect of self awareness in sleep. Such an attachment would require a “letting go” of that self representation in sleep in order to de-embed to the next higher stage of witnessing. In fact, I wonder if this new generation of accomplished lucid dreamers may not face the same problem.

The development of these capacities of consciousness lies at the root of many meditative traditions. Not surprisingly, some traditions view lucid dreaming as a form of sleeping meditation, a necessary precursor to the development of the witness. Hunt points out that in Tibetan Buddhism once a disciple has “attained a relatively stable dream lucidity, he {or she] may practice confronting fearsome deities or use the opportunity to deepen his [or her] meditative absorption in preparation for ‘lucidity’ during Bardo [death].”

But why, you might ask, should we want to track lucidity to pure consciousness? As Wallace (1986) explains:

Contemporary physiology over the last three hundred years has come to the basic understanding that life and consciousness evolved from matter and energy. The property of consciousness, in particular, is considered by many to be an epiphenomenon of living systems – that is, a property which occurs as a by-product of the functioning of a complex nervous system…In the Vedic perspective on physiology, as brought to light by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the understanding and experience are quite the opposite. Consciousness is not an epiphenomenon; rather consciousness is the primary reality from which matter and life emerge.

In other words, by going to pure consciousness we go to the source of all being, of all experience whether ordinary or extraordinary. But now that I’ve described a potential sequence of stages I am going to back track and examine supportive data. I will start by examing the lucid dreaming-meditation link.

Go to: Lucidity-Meditation Link (Next Section)