““I know how much a dream can be worth, but, alas… ‘Hello.’ ”
— Richard Brautigan, from his short story “The Library.”
|Lincoln Stoller, PhD, 2019. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International license (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)
In my book about lucidity, I emphasize that lucidity is the process of becoming more aware. And depending on what state you’re in, becoming more aware can mean different things. There is no one state of greater awareness. There is no one state of enlightenment. There are many states of awareness, and you can become more enlightened in any one of them.
I’m involved with hypnotherapy and for me that means leading people into states of greater self-awareness. Hypnosis itself is not a state of greater awareness, though it’s not a state of lesser awareness, either, as it’s sometimes misunderstood to be. Hypnosis is more like a dream state, and dream states are states of large potential.
My research in dreams and hypnosis has landed a 2003 article by David Kahn and Allan Hobson called “Dreaming and Hypnosis as Altered States of the Brain-Mind” which appeared in volume 5, issue 2 of the journal Sleep and Hypnosis. This article talks about the discernible differences in brain states between hypnosis and sleep. In one experiment it’s observed that people just waking up are more able to make creative associations than when they’re fully awake.
This connection between dreams and hypnosis has also been brought to my attention by a client who is dealing with inner conflict that occurs only when waking up. We generally overlook these brief states of falling asleep and waking up. The parallels between these laboratory observations and my client shows something interesting is going on here.
The state of transitioning to wakefulness is called the hypnopompic state. The definition should be more specific because it’s just as important what you’re transitioning from as what you’re transitioning to. I’ll focus on the hypnopompic state when awakening from a dream.
The Hypnopompic State
Hypnosis is said to be a state in which you’re vulnerable to suggestion. Hypnosis is regarded as a means of modifying inclinations or planting suggestions that lead you to a better state of mind. There is a fair amount of discussion over the meaning of better and worse, and whether bad ideas can be implanted.
It’s generally advertised that ideas cannot be implanted if they go against your will, but this doesn’t make much sense. Most people exhibit a great variety of wills, and most of us are full of tendencies that are not only negative but self-destructive. I tread carefully when someone gives me access to their inner feelings, not just because I don’t want to offend them but because I don’t want to mislead them. A person in hypnosis tends to accept as truth the spin that’s put on any idea. As in a dream, a hypnotized person seems to take things at face value. What is accepted in hypnosis tends to stick at an emotional level, and what you accept in a dream may stick, as well.
Our brain’s analytical functions largely limit the way we experience things. Through the action of our mind we get a smaller view of what’s going on outside us. This must be so because any analytical picture of reality is just one version of several pertaining to various currents happening simultaneously around us at any moment. By analyzing what we see, we attempt to make sense of what’s going on; and we usually think we succeed, but we never really do. We limit ourselves to what we think we see.
Out of Thin Air
We contrive the agreement between what we think and what we perceive. Our ability to fabricate reason is the foundation of hypnotic suggestion, which modifies these fabrications, leaving your sense of free will intact. Reason floats over emotion like a spectator explaining a magic trick. Hypnosis speaks to your inner viewer; your inner viewer controls the actions that you think are of your own free will. But your inner viewer is not your identity. Your inner viewer does not speak directly to your conscious mind. What you think of as free will is an explanation you concoct after the fact.
You are convinced free will precedes your decision to act, but it does not. Even as your forming your decision to act you’re making up your reasons for the way you feel. Stage hypnotists make use of this by inciting ridiculous actions in fully awake people who then fabricate ludicrous explanations of their behavior. The lesson is clear: your conscious mind is making everything up as you go along. It’s not really controlling anything that you do—it’s your subconscious that’s making the decisions. Your conscious mind is just reading the press release.
There are limits to this, and it seems that you can consciously regain control. Some people don’t fall for this, and we don’t know how to identify the factions of mind that vie for control. We’ve noticed certain aspects of more hypnotizable people; but there’s no clear test of who is suggestible, or how suggestible they might be. It does seem that, in order to get you to act on a hypnotic suggestion, there must be some part of you that is willing to go along with it. It does seem that under normal circumstances you can’t manipulate a person to violate every aspect of themselves.
Here, again, dreams form an interesting counterpoint. We don’t have dreams that are completely unrecognizable; there is always some level of reality in them. That does not mean our dreams are always positive or understandable; in fact, it’s rare that they’re entirely both positive and understandable. I believe our dreams are essentially our inner viewer talking to itself, and the confusing nature of dreams is a measure of the vastly different mode of thinking between your inner viewer and you.
In the movie Arrival the protagonist, a linguist, is tasked with communicating with a highly evolved alien intelligence. She eventually figures out that the aliens do not experience time and space the way we do. They experience many simultaneous realities over many spans of time. The movie ends leaving us to wonder what this kind of awareness could be. This is the kind of awareness of our inner viewer. It’s that alien.
Dreaming takes advantage of our free time to rearrange, reconsider, and consolidate what was or might have been. That is also why, I believe, we don’t remember much of our dreams. A lot of our dreams are the sense-making process and not the final version. To remember all of our dreams would be like reassembling the discarded bits from an edited movie. A lot of it would just appear as confusing garbage to our small, limited, and analytical prefrontal cortex. Dreams are like truly multi-dimensional cubist paintings. Our ego has the mind of a child.
Cat and Mouse
Last night I had a strange dream. I am where I grew up and I have a dog. I am close with dogs, but I cannot see this dog. A large orange cat appears and it is teasing the dog. We never had a cat. The cat has brought in a mouse and released it. Someone has picked up the cat as the mouse runs down the hall. I shout, “Let the cat go!” The cat pounces on the mouse, bites it on its back, and releases it again. The mouse twists around as I pick it up by the tail. It’s terrified, but it’s not a mouse—it’s a gerbil, and I had pet gerbils. This wasn’t a wild animal; it was my pet.
I’m not completely awake, but I’m waking up. I’m in the hypnopompic state where I can still create images. I resolve to take the mouse outside. The action is now in my mind, the mouse in my hand, and I am heading outside. I’m feeling resolved but without conclusion, and it seems I’ve run out of time. I feel the state slipping away as if I’m being sucked out of direct experience and into the normal waking sense of being lost in the world.
I’m entering the later part of the hypnopompic state in which one is relaxed, mostly awake, and mentally coasting. It’s as if I’m in contact with two conversations at once—one that’s quietly considering the dream, and the other that’s starting to think about the day. I want to be in contact with all of what’s happening, which I do by sitting with the whole feeling. Then I take the situation into my body.
I identify on four entities in the dream: the dog, the cat, the mouse, and my stress. I get in touch with sensation in my body: my heart, my gut, my genitals, and my feet, and I associate one of these entities with each of those body sensations. The dog goes into my heart, the cat into my gut, the mouse into my genitals, and I let the stress settle into my feet. Then I just let myself marinate as I rise into wakefulness.
Nothing happens quickly—my mind is still unclear, but my anxiety settles. I find myself becoming grounded. This is not a logical process; I did not rationalize these connections. I simply let things arrange themselves in ways that seemed right, and this is something that one can more easily do in the hypnopompic state. I can still feel those places now. The entities are no longer ideas; they’re feelings, and my body will process them.
My initial feelings were a reflex. A deeper connection comes from realizing these feelings don’t pertain to an event but are an ongoing sense of being. I initially felt I needed resolution; but it’s not resolution I need—it’s introspection. This might take hours or days, but now that I have embodied the dream, it will happen.
Thinking from an Altered State
We think that we wake up from dreams but, instead, I think we contract into our normal reduced state. It’s not that we’re lost in a dream—it’s that we no longer exist as who we consider ourselves to be; and while we are dreaming, we are actually a larger, more self-aware person.
Waking up is a state few of us take advantage of, but I believe my client is taking advantage of it, and that you can, too. According to Kahn and Hobson, you are more creative in this state. In Becoming Lucid I offer a guided visualization to further explore this state. In it, I lead you to new ideas and help you watch them as you wake up.
That brief state of waking up is a time when you can be receptive to insights that might otherwise evade you. But you may also encounter conflicts that you otherwise overlook. This creative state is available to all of us.
Becoming Lucid explores what you can become lucid of in your waking state, your sleeping state, and the two states that separate them, the hypnopompic and the hypnagogic (falling asleep) states. Each of these states offers different doors to lucidity and to different kinds of lucidity.
Read the book for more details. It’s available in digital, print, or audiobook formats from Amazon HERE.
You can listen to the book’s hypnotic induction for greater lucidity in the hypnopompic state by clicking on the button below. This will take you to an MP3 file that you can either stream or download. Just don’t listen to it while driving as it could put you to sleep!
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