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The Meditation-Lucidity Connection


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Gackenbach, J.I. & Hunt, H. (1992). Lucid dreaming as a transpersonal (meditational) state: A potential distinction from dream-work methods. Journal of Mental Imagery special issue Prolucid Dreaming (Akhter Ahsen, Ed.), 97-102.

This article is in fact a response to an eighty pages long research paper about prolucid dreaming (by Akhter Ahsen), which basically is a method of redreaming a specific dream in wakefulness as an addition to therapeutic dream-work, but I'll leave that discussion out here.

However, Ahsen linked his prolucid dreaming approach to LDs, and this is a link which should not have been made, according to Gackenbach and Hunt. From the way Ahsen uses the LD phenomenon, one can see that he understands LDing as a sort of mental waking up in the dream, allowing primarily its deliberate modification. To Gackenbach and Hunt, this seems to miss the characteristic sense of clarity and/or peak experience in LDs that appear precisely when they're NOT controlled (or over-controlled), and which links them to similar states occuring within meditative practice and other altered states of consciousness. This misunderstanding is widespread and probably stems from the actual proximity of inexperienced LDers to physical awakening and the tremendous emphasis on dream control in the more popular literature on LDs.

In contrast, the research done by Gackenbach & Hunt suggests that LDs are something more than a mental waking-up in the dream - especially since forms of confusion and clouding characteristics of ordinary dreams can continue even within the most stabilized LDs. Similarly, the idea of a "struggle" between dreaming and waking consciousness applies only to its unstabilized levels or to the sort of deliberate psychic adventuring emphasized in media accounts. Allowed to deepen in its own way, with a minimum of control (other than to stay in the dream), lucidity seems to result in the enhanced mental clarity and blissful release that also follows from the highly similar Witness or mindfulness techniques of meditation, with theirspecial development of a detached, receptive, observational attitude and its integration with ongoing functioning. The Buddhist and Vedic traditions have developped LDing precisely as a way to extend meditation into dreaming. This strongly suggests that LDs and meditation must involve common cognitive processes - presumably including the same detached receptivity, imaginative vividness and involvement, and nonverbal spatial abilities.

An interesting point here is that the OBE, empirically correlated with the tendency to dream lucidly, would show the same detached self-reflective capacity manifested more exclusively within a mode of visual imagination.

Research by Hunt & Ogilvie (1988) found that LDing in a group of long-term meditators was significantly correlated with the length of meditative practice. In addition, both the frequency of lucidity and length of meditative practice in these subjects was correlated with the appearance of archetypal or transpersonal themes in their dreams (white light, geometric mandala patterns, mythic figures). This suggests that long-term LDing operates on consciousness much like long-term meditations, producing identical transformations of awareness.

Along similar lines, a study by Gackenbach, Moorecroft, Alexander and LaBerge (1987) on experienced TM meditators (Transcendental Meditation) has shown elevated levels of LDing, similarities in the EEG and autonomic measures between those dreams and waking meditation, and a gradual development of LDing towards a less active, more receptive, awareness termed "witnessing" in the TM tradition.

Physiological parallels

Physiological parallels between lucidity and meditation seem clear. Except that the individual is awake, depth of somatic arousal during meditation is equivalent (not the same) to that of light sleep. However, REM sleep shows increases in oxygen consumption and heart rate over stages 1 and 2 NREM, and lucid REM is significantly higher on these dimensions than nonlucid REM. This lucid somatic arousal (meaning, the state of heightened physiological activity) seems to argue against the proposed parallel. LaBerge has pointed out that the continued somatic arousal after the eye movement signal (which determines the moment when the dreamer becomes lucid) could be an artifact of demand characteristics (active engagement in a predesigned dream task with consciousness could keep the system somatically aroused).

A study by Gackenbach et al. (1987) sheds some light on this apparent discrepancy. They had a long-term meditator who during meditation showed physiological signs of transcending correlating with his self-reports. This individual claimed that he was conscious of his true state throughout his sleep cycle, that is, he knew he was sleeping and sometimes dreaming during the entire night. This ability is called "witnessing sleep" and its stabilization is thought to be the result of the regular practice of meditation (as concluded by Alexander, Boyer & Orme-Johnson, 1985). In the sleep laboratory this meditator was able to signal prearranged eye movements that he knew he was dreaming/sleeping during REM, stage 1 and stage 2 sleep. Interestingly, and in line with the present hypothesis, he showed physiological arousal around the eye movement signal but, contrary to the data of LaBerge et al. (1986), he rapidly returned to quiet somatic levels shortly thereafter. With at least this one subject signaling was somatically arousing but his self-reported continued consciousness in sleep was not. This study tentatively confirms that as LDing unfolds to witnessing dreaming, somatic arousal decreases and the equation of consciousness in sleep to states desired by the practice of meditation becomes firmer.

In a series of studies conducted by Ogilvie, Hunt and associates, they sought to demonstrate the lucidity-meditation connection by examining alpha waves in lucid and nonlucid REM. Reviews of the EEG and meditation literature have fairly consistently pointed to the association of alpha with meditation. The Ogilvie & Hunt group found, consistent with the meditation literature, variations in alpha as a function of stage of lucidity. Specifically, they found increased alpha in prelucid REM periods and early in lucidity and have likened this to the access phases of waking meditation (see for instance this paper for a detailed description of the experiments used and conclusions). Similarly, West (1980) and Teneli & Krahne (1987) have summarized the EEG and meditation literature for power measures and note changes as a function of stage of meditation. Both reviewers agree that at the beginning and at the end of meditation, increases in alpha are observed. Later, theta occurs, often intermixed with alpha, and at the transcending or samadhi phase bursts of beta occur.

Dream Lucidity and Dream Witnessing: are they related?

Some clarity about this relationship can be obtained by looking at the phenomenological relationship between lucidity and witnessing in sleep. Whereas lucidity has been characterized by some investigators as the capstone of a scale measuring self-reflectiveness in sleep, others argue it can also be conceptualized as a developmental bridge to witnessing dreams. In other words, the evolution of self-reflective consciousness does not end with lucidity. One can move further along the continuum to a more quiet, uninvolved state of awareness that is experienced as having no boundaries. According to these scientists, this stage, known as witnessing, most often emerges spontaneously. However, it can be phenomenologically viewed as falling along a continuum.

In interviews with long-term meditators, Gackenbach has been able to conceptualize the relationship of lucidity to witnessing in terms of five basic stages. In order to understand these stages, one must think of the progression, at least in part, as the dreamer shifts from being an "actor" in the dream to the "observer" of it. The stages are:

* Stage 1 - Initially in LDing, 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" and, further, the dream ego ("in here") is very much involved with what is happening "out there".

* Stage 2 - At some point it may occur to the dreamer that what is "out there" is actually "inside" or "I am dreaming" rather than "this is a dream" may be the attribution. Two paths seem open to the dreamer:

o the dreamer may continue active engagement of the dream events all the while recognizing that it is the self represented by the dream ego that is involved; or

o the dreamer shifts his/her attention to the "inside I", allowing the "outside I" - the dream scene - to fade.

* Stage 3 - LDs in this stage tend to be short. A meditator describes it as a thought that rises 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]."

* Stage 4 - In this stage an "inner wakefulness" dominates, you do not have dreams or in any case you do not remember having dreams.

* Stage 5 - Once the dreamer is firmly embedded in this transcendental state of pure consciousness while sleeping, 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 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. "One experiences oneself to be part of a tremendous composite of relationships," a meditator explains. These are not social or conceptual or intellectual relationships, only "a web of relationships. I am aware of th relationship between entities without the entities being there."

Conclusions

The stabilization and development of LDing leads in a very different direction than the more actively manipulative methods associated with current dream-work techniques. It is only the control side of LDing that resembles some of these methods, and so provides the basis for Ahsen's comparisons. What Ahsen overlooks is the characteristic and more immediate experiential impact of LDing, which places it closer to the transpersonal traditions of meditation and psychedelic drug research than to traditional psychotherapies. In the transpersonal domains, subjectively powerful states of consciousness release and ecphorate deep levels of mind, potentially affording a directly curative impact of the sort associated with the classical spiritual traditions, psychedelic drugs, and the Jungian emphasis on imaginative-archetypal experience.

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I love these exploration type of subjects, here is some info on yoga Nidra:

Yoga Nidra, which literally means "sleep of the yogis", is in the beginning used just as a physical and mental relaxation technique, but this is not the true sleep of a Yogi, which penetrates into much deeper levels of consciousness and awareness. Yoga Nidra should not be confused with techniques of auto-suggestion, or "autogenous training". Adherents claim that half an hour of Yoga Nidra can replace up to three hours of normal sleep. Regular use as a sleep substitute is not recommended, however, as the body and mind still require sufficient standard rest. Yoga Nidra can, however, be practiced on a daily basis as a relaxation technique, in addition to normal sleep.

The true sleep of a Yogi is a state of consciousness in which the Yogi is connected with that divine energy pervading the whole Cosmos. This energy is beyond space and time and during this state of consciousness the Yogi can see past, present and future. He knows his past lives and what will manifest in the future. Through Yoga Nidra the Yogi can work through Karmas, as this clarity penetrates levels of the unconscious and subconscious. It is used to help purify the subconscious through use of certain vows known as Shankalpas. Experienced Yogis use Yoga Nidra for Astral travels and in its highest level it leads to Samadhi.

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have you actually experienced lucidity? i got lucid once during a dream for like 2 seconds, it was probably less than that, i used no methods or nething. Simply was very excited about experiencing it before i went to sleep and when it happened, i got way too excited and before i realized what was happening i lost it. Kinda sucked, but in that instant there was freedom.

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