From Sleep Consciousness to Pure Consciousness

Psychological Analysis of the Lucidity-Witnessing Relationship

In conjunction with Cranson and Alexander (1987; 1989) I have conducted several studies examining the relationship of dream lucidity to pure consciousness. The latter as expressed in the witness set during dreaming or dreamless sleep. We described each state to the subjects not by labels but by descriptive sentences:

Here are examples from the TM meditators of the three states of awareness:

LUCID DREAMING: "During a dream I will become aware of the dream as separate, then aware that I am dreaming. Then I begin to manipulate the story and the characters to create whatever situation I desire. At times, in unpleasant situations, I'll think as the dreamer 'I don't have to put up with this' and I change the dream or at least 'back out' of the involvement."

WITNESSING DREAMING: "Sometimes, whatever the content of the dream is, I feel an inner tranquillity of awareness that is removed from the dream. Sometimes, I may even be caught up in the dream but the inner awareness of peace remains."

WITNESSING DEEP SLEEP: "It is a feeling of infinite expansion and bliss and nothing else. Then I become aware that I exist but there is no individual personality. Gradually, I become aware that I am an individual but there are no details of who, where, what, when, etc. Eventually, these details fill in and I might awaken."

We found that although meditators reported experiencing more of all three types of sleep consciousness experiences, across samples lucid dreams were experienced more frequently than either witnessing dreams or witnessing deep sleep. This finding favoring the higher incidence of lucidity relative to witnessing also held across level of dream recall and supports the notion that lucid dreams are easier to access no matter what ones training or personal skills and therefore may represent a developmentally prior state of sleep consciousness leading eventually to the experience of pure consciousness.

As reported by Alexander (1988) in order to examine the differences between these three forms of sleep consciousness we did content analyses on these sleep experience reports collected from 66 males who were very advanced in their TM meditation and have devoted their lives to their meditation practice. These were selected because it was believed that their training better equipped them as a group to be able to distinguish these subtle states of mind in sleep. Some validation for this assumption was gained when it was determined that only 17% of the 66 subjects lucid dreaming reports could not be used because they were either blank or questionable. This is compared to a loss of about 50% of nonmeditating subjects for the same reasons reported in my work with nonmeditators (for a review see Snyder and Gackenbach, 1988).

Nine content categories were then developed based on a reading of the reports with the first seven scored for presence or absence of the quality in the description. They were:

  1. sleep/wake/dream state transition,
  2. references to real physical body,
  3. dream body flying
  4. dream body running,
  5. "lightness" of experience,
  6. control of the experience,
  7. sense of a feeling of separateness,
  8. emotions (rated as extreme positive, positive, negative, no reference) and
  9. trigger for consciousness (rated as none mentioned, just knew, oddity, and anxiety).

The 55 lucid dreaming descriptions, 41 witnessing dreaming descriptions, and 47 witnessing deep sleep descriptions were characterized in the main by different components although a continuity between states could also be seen. Most revealing of these categories was the one on feelings of separateness. In lucid dreaming only 7 percent of the cases were those in which people reported feeling separateness. Whereas in the witnessing dream experience, 73 percent of the cases reported in their dream description that the dream went on, but they were separate from it. These reports are consistent with Alexander and colleagues conceptual descriptions of witnessing as involving the complete differentiation of pure consciousness from the dream state, in other words the silent witness functions as completely distinct from or outside of the dreaming state.

Another category which is interesting is that of emotion. There were positive emotions associated with all three states, but extremely positive emotions, described most often as "bliss", was reported more frequently for witnessing dreaming and witnessing deep sleep as were feelings of "lightness".

On the other hand, dream control was much more frequent during lucid dreaming (47%) than witnessing dreams (5%). This is consistent with the claims that dream lucidity typically involves active information processes and manipulation of dream content. The "will" or volitional capacity of the individual ego can act on its thoughts and desires. This is in contrast to the experience of pure consciousness which is said to be one of complete inner fulfillment or contentment. The Self does not act, but silently observes the changes occurring within waking, dreaming, and sleep.

Also over half the time lucid dreaming was triggered by mental events in the dreams that appeared to stimulate or awaken intellectual or discriminative processes typical of the waking state. On the other hand, witnessing dreaming and sleep were virtually never triggered by such mental events. The most unambiguous criterion of witnessing is maintenance of pure consciousness even during deep sleep. Because lucidity involves active thinking and deep sleep is often, although not always, without mentation, it is not surprising that lucidity (as typically experienced) drops out during deep sleep. However, after long-term practice, TM practitioners gradually begin to report experiences of "witnessing", or maintenance of pure consciousness, even during dreamless sleep.

Although each form of sleep consciousness was largely differentially characterized there were some characteristics which weren't so individual. For instance, as mentioned all were emotionally positive. Also in both lucid dreaming (11%) and witnessing dreaming (12%) experiences of the dream body flying were reported. Likewise state transitions were mentioned in both lucidity (20%) and witnessing deep sleep (55%) but not witnessing dreaming (2%). Finally, although it was rare (7%), feelings of separation were on occasion mentioned in the lucid dreaming reports of this group of elite TM meditators.

Our work supports the notion that these three states of consciousness in sleep are qualitatively as well as quantitatively distinct but none-the-less probably exist along a developmental continuum with lucid dreaming emerging prior to witnessing dreaming or deep sleep. In fact, 19% of these elite TM meditators spontaneously mentioned the developmental relationship between lucidity and witnessing dreaming with comments such as witnessing dreaming, "is a clearer experience of ... [lucid dreaming]. The sense of self is more full and transcends the dream completely. It is large Self." Alexander (1988) explains that, "the significance of the experience of pure consciousness is that it provides the foundation for the development of stable higher stages of consciousness or 'enlightenment'. Witnessing of deep sleep indicates that the inner wakefulness of pure consciousness is now beginning to be maintained even during the most extreme conditions of mental inertia -- dreamless sleep. Indeed ... the first stable higher stage of consciousness termed 'cosmic consciousness' -- is defined as the maintenance of pure consciousness throughout the 24-hour cycle of waking, dreaming, and deep sleep."

Well I have taken you from lucid dreaming to pure consciousness. You might now ask so why should I want to experience this state. Beyond the reasons implicated herein I would point to the Maharishi Effect but I'll let that one rest till next year's conference.

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