Towards more conscious sleep and dreams

As the consciousness becomes purified through regular practice of Yoga, one finds that sleep becomes more active and more real. Dreams no longer seem to be phantasmagoric illusions but resemble what they actually are – excursions into the occult worlds.   We  possess one unbroken stream of consciousness, which during the day dwells in the physical world and at night interacts with the occult worlds and consequently, the experiences we have in dreams are inextricably tied to the events in the physical world.  In this article, we explore a few ways to become more conscious in sleep.

Photo: Aurora Borealis by Trodel via Flickr (Creative Commons). Click image for source

The nature of sleep

The sleep of most worldly men and women is an uncurbed plunge into the depths of the lawless subconscious.  There is a wide variety of dreams one may have in this type of “animal sleep”.  Some may just snore and wake up without knowing what went on in their sleep.  Others, especially those who are sick, may have deliriums because the thought process inside the brain refuses to die down.

There are cases where we may rise above the subconscious world and ascend into the vital worlds.  In this situation, we may have nightmares of being chased and attacked by some unknown person or animal and waking up with the relief of having survived.  Such dreams occur because our lusts and cravings are transparently visible to the hostile entities of these worlds, who exploit them to trick and possess us for their own nefarious purposes. Sometimes we may also have dreams of falling from great heights and suddenly waking up.  This occurs because conscious control over sleep is lacking.

If the consciousness in sleep were to rise up into the higher mental worlds, we might even awaken with fresh new ideas for problems that we couldn’t solve during the waking state. This is a common occurrence which surprisingly often goes unnoticed.  We go to sleep thinking about a difficult problem and wake up with a vague idea of having solved it in the dream, and after little more thinking we actually settle on the right solution.  Consider the following anecdote by a co-founder of Google, Larry Page.

You know what it’s like to wake up in the middle of the night with a vivid dream? And you know how, if you don’t have a pencil and pad by the bed to write it down, it will be completely gone the next morning?

Well, I had one of those dreams when I was 23. When I suddenly woke up, I was thinking: what if we could download the whole web, and just keep the links and… I grabbed a pen and started writing! Sometimes it is important to wake up and stop dreaming. I spent the middle of that night scribbling out the details and convincing myself it would work. Soon after, I told my advisor, Terry Winograd, it would take a couple of weeks to download the web — he nodded knowingly, fully aware it would take much longer but wise enough to not tell me. The optimism of youth is often underrated! Amazingly, I had no thought of building a search engine. The idea wasn’t even on the radar. But, much later we happened upon a better way of ranking webpages to make a really great search engine, and Google was born. When a really great dream shows up, grab it! [1]

There are also situations when one may wake up invigorated, as if one has been away for a long time, or as if one has awakened into a verdant new world brimming with refreshing  possibilities.  This effect occurs when one has touched the highest layer of consciousness called Existence (Sat in Sanskrit, which is one of the triune Sachchidananda or Existence-Consciousness-Bliss – the highest plane of consciousness).   Sleep has a restorative effect only due to those brief moments of time when our consciousness resonates at the highest level of world-consciousness [6].  If you wake up exhausted, it is probably because you did not reach the highest level.   Sleep again!

The more purified our consciousness becomes, the higher we ascend into the strata of consciousness.  The acme of this development is seen in those who gain Enlightenment.   They need very little sleep and remain active even when they are supposedly asleep, meeting and helping other people through their subtle bodies, as can be adduced from the following letter the Mother Mirra Alfassa wrote to someone.

(3 July 1927)… It is true that for a long time I have not slept in the usual sense of the word. That is to say, at no time do I fall back into the inconscience which is the sign of ordinary sleep. But I give my body the rest it needs, that is, two or three hours of lying down in an absolute immobility, but in which the whole being, mental, psychic, vital and physical, enters into a complete rest made of perfect peace, absolute silence and total immobility, while the consciousness remains completely awake; or else I enter into an internal activity of one or more states of the being, an activity which constitutes the occult work and which, needless to say, is also perfectly conscious. So I can say, in all truth, that I never lose consciousness throughout the twenty-four hours which thus form an unbroken sequence, and that I no longer experience ordinary sleep, while yet giving my body the rest that it needs. [2]

Making sleep more conscious

Now we will discuss some steps, apart from the daily practice of meditation, which can be undertaken to make sleep more conscious.  It requires a great degree of granular control over one’s daily life to successfully open up and navigate the world of dreams.

Aspire for peaceful sleep of atleast eight hours:  First and foremost, one must aspire to a peaceful sleep undisturbed by dream disturbances.  This naturally occurs when one has calmed the turmoil of daily life by curbing, among other things, one’s eating, talking and socializing habits .  As Carlos Castaneda also noted in one of his books, “Looking at it in retrospect, it had become evident to me that I had succeeded (in dreaming consciously) only after I had gained a degree of control over the world of my everyday life.” [4]

Relax before sleep: Listen to serene music or a powerful Mantra.  Read inspirational books rather than cheap thrillers.

Recapitulation before sleep: Before falling asleep, take a few minutes to review the events of the day. Sit quietly in a meditative posture and visualize the events of the day. Watch the emotional attachments (anger, fear, etc) that developed during your interactions and release these emotions.  This was the advice Mother Mirra Alfassa gave to a disciple:

…as an initial help to set you on the path, I can tell you: (1) that on getting up, before starting the day, it is good to make an offering of this day to the Divine, an offering of all that one thinks, all that one is, all that one will do; (2) and at night, before going to sleep, it is good to review the day, taking note of all the times one has forgotten or neglected to make an offering of one’s self or one’s action, and to aspire or pray that these lapses do not recur. [3]

Eat light food at dinner: If the stomach becomes heavy, the brain is unable to think and the consciousness sinks into the subconscious.

Stop using the alarm clock:  It is possible to train oneself to arise at a certain hour by imposing one’s will on the subconscious. This may not happen immediately but with patient work and as sleep becomes peaceful, it does work.

Sleep before midnight:

Question: Why are the hours before midnight better for sleep than the hours after it?

Mother Mirra: Because, symbolically, during the hours before midnight the sun is setting, while from the first hour after midnight it begins to rise.

Question: How is it better to go to bed early and to get up early?

Mother Mirra: When the sun sets, a kind of peace descends upon the earth and this peace is helpful for sleep.  When the sun rises, a vigorous energy descends upon the earth and this energy is helpful for work.  When you go to bed late and get up late, you contradict the forces of Nature and that is not very wise. [5]

After waking up, stay still for a few moments: When you wake up, do not jump all excited.  Stay still and try to remember the tail of the last dream you had.  Wait patiently to see if anything flashes through the mind.  Gradually, this exercise helps to bridge the gap in consciousness which exists between the day and the night.

Don’t wake up on the wrong side of the bed:  Just kidding on that one… !

An exercise in sleep: There is an exercise of “finding one’s hands during sleep” which is noted in one of Carlos Castaneda’s books.  I haven’t tried it but it seems worth mentioning at this point.

Don Juan’s praxis of dreaming was an exercise that consisted of finding one’s hands in a dream. In other words, one had to deliberately dream that one was looking for and could find one’s hands in a dream by simply dreaming that one lifted one’s hands to the level of the eyes.  After years of unsuccessful attempts I had finally accomplished the task. [4]

Photo: Boreal Dawn by Well Lucio via Flickr(Creative commons). Click image for source

Stages of development

One can discern about four general stages in the progress towards more conscious sleep.

Unconscious sleep: This is the normal state for all mortals.  When you fall asleep, you experience incoherent dreams and possibly a brief state of bliss.  When you wake up, you remember little but feel refreshed or groggy.

Passive sleep: After some progress in Yoga, the subtle center known as Ajna Chakra in the middle of the eyebrows slightly opens and one might see subtle visions but as yet there is no conscious control over the dream.

Active sleep: When the subtle body becomes independently active, one gains conscious control over sleep.  Some may notice a change in the quality of light, others may feel a higher quality of liveliness in dreams as if it were no different from the physical world.  Now one is able to wake up in the so-called “dream” and interact with other people as well as ward off attacks from hostile entities of the occult worlds.

Turiya (i.e. “the fourth state”):  This is the state reached by Enlightened Beings.  One is awake in the day as well at night.  There is little need to sleep because the mind experiences no psychological fatigue.  When the Buddha was asked, “Who are you“, he replied, “I am awake!“.

See also

  1. Sleep and Dreams page has further references on this topic
  2. Stages in the spiritual journey (as per Anandamayi Ma)
  3. How does a Guru act?
  4. How to awaken the soul (psychic being)
  5. Jnana Yoga : the ego blocks that have to be dissolved
  6. Ill-effects of television on Yoga
  7. Conversation : Self-control over speech
  8. Interplay of faith and doubt in Yoga
  9. Liminality or negative capability required in Yoga

References

  1. Larry Page.  University of Michigan Commencement Address
  2. Collected Works of the Mother, vol 16, p 4.
  3. Collected Works of the Mother, vol 16, page 317.
  4. Carlos Castaneda, Tales of Power, p 18.
  5. Collected Works of the Mother, vol 12, p 160
  6. Mother’s Agenda. Oct  30. 1962.
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30 thoughts on “Towards more conscious sleep and dreams

  1. Pingback: Sleep disorders : somnambulism and somniloquy | Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo & The Mother

  2. Pingback: How can we “see” in our dreams when our eyes are closed? | Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo & The Mother

  3. Pingback: The teachings of Paracelsus | Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo & The Mother

  4. sudip

    Thank you, for this wonderful blog site. I believe that it must be the divine Grace that made go through this on the net and would be of great help, in my journey towards the goal – Supreme.

    Regards,
    Sudip

    Reply
    1. Sandeep Post author

      Sudip,

      I am just presenting the works of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother in a web-friendly format. It is infinitely better to go the original source, to contemplate on their words and imbibe the consciousness behind it directly.

      Sincerely
      -Sandeep

      Reply
  5. ipsa

    I have a deep question. I see there is one category of my kind who need to study and built discipline of study as I never did in my student life. But i see other who are very brilliant and have developed those and it is something I lack and need to work on by doing my studies regularly.

    So the question is: is it so important to read many things by staying awake if instead one can sleep well and feel good. Is knowing so many things necessary if the stress of learning at early age can create health problems? If we will automatically get all knowledge by following the spiritual path, why stay awake and learn knowledge which will flow with meditation.

    Reply
  6. Pingback: The role of intellectual development in the spiritual path | Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo & The Mother

  7. Sandeep Post author

    In a recent experiment, scientists have found that rocking the bed gently during or before sleep increased the duration of what’s called N2, a non-REM stage that accounts for about half of a good night’s sleep. Rocking also increased deep-sleep-associated brain activity—so-called slow oscillations as well as bursts of action called sleep spindles. Apparently, this is why babies like to get rocked to sleep!

    See
    http://www.scientificamerican.com/podcast/episode.cfm?id=rocking-increases-brain-activity-as-11-06-20

    Reply
  8. Pingback: Why do we forget our vivid dreams? « Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo & The Mother

  9. ipi

    Sleep Derived Immune Strength
    Sleep health, like bowel health, is also related to immune function. Unlike bowel health, sleep is well known by most of us for its importance for both happiness and health, perhaps because the effects of sleep loss can be felt so immediately. There is no shortage of science supporting the relationship between sleep and stress. Studies have shown that deprivation of REM (rapid eye movement) sleep causes psychological disturbances, such as apathy, depression, irritability, confusion, disorientation, hallucinations, impaired memory, and paranoia. As most of us know, sleep also has a paradoxical relationship with stress. Too much stress interrupts sleep which then causes more stress.

    Sleep loss lowers immune function too. Even just one night of disturbed sleep can decrease production and activity of white blood cells and T cells. 13 One study showed that chronic sleep deprivation can leave children at a higher risk of catching colds, flu, and other infectious diseases. Sleep shortages increase daily stress (and therefore immunity) by interfering with memory and focus and the ability to organize information.14

    Many different kinds of unpleasant stressors seem to have a similar deleterious effect on the immune system and the above information reinforces the idea that happiness is necessary for health.

    source:
    http://www.wholeapproach.com/newsletter/archives/2008/2008_august.html

    Reply
  10. Sandeep Post author

    The Mother Mirra Alfassa’s advice on remembering dreams given several decades ago was as follows:

    Mother: “In order to recollect a dream, whether it be the last one or the one in the middle that has made a violent impression on your being, you must do what I have said when you wake up: take particular care not even to move your head on the pillow, remain absolutely still and let the dream return.”

    Her insights are identical to those given by Dierdre Barrett, an assistant clinical professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School, in a recent Scientific American interview conducted on July 2010:

    Dierdre says “…Equally important, don’t jump out of bed when you wake up—almost half of dream content is lost if you get distracted. Lie there, don’t do anything else. If you don’t recall a dream immediately, see if you feel a particular emotion—the whole dream would come flooding back. [In a weeklong study I did with students that followed this protocol] 50 percent dreamed of the problem and a fourth solved them—so that’s a pretty good guideline, that half of people would have some effect from doing this for a week.”

    Reply
  11. Pingback: Somnambulists who do creative work in their sleep | Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo & The Mother

  12. mike

    Yes, ‘Lucid Dreaming’ which waking up in a dream, is very interesting. l practiced a lot of techniques in the past to accomplish this and have had a lot of these over the years. l found the best way that always worked was to write down – about every hour or so – ‘l am dreaming’. This will come up in the dream and you will automatically awake in the dream. lt’s basically the same as an out-of-body experience or exteriorisation, except that when you wake in the dream your in a dream scenario. But, with practice you can change the scenery and enter a more real world. There is plenty of literature on this subject these days as there is a growing interest in Lucid Dreaming – steven laberge for instance. There is even a lucid-dream mask that you wear in bed and it flashes lights at intervals to alert you inside the dream lol.
    The ‘rocking in bed’ is interesting, because l used to do this [only l imagined my subtle body rocking] and eventually l would rock or roll out of my physical body – so there is something to this, l think.
    One question has puzzled me for a while. Although SA and Mother tell us we should attempt to become conscious in sleep we should not try to exteriorise unless we’ve reached a certain degree of purity [psychic purity l suppose]. ln my understanding, being conscious in sleep is the same as being outside the body, so it appears to be somehow contradictory. l even wrote to M.P. Pandit about this once, and he said the same thing – he said ‘sorties into the other planes shouldn’t be attempted, but it was alright if they happened spontaneously’….

    Reply
    1. Sandeep Post author

      Mike: One question has puzzled me for a while…ln my understanding, being conscious in sleep is the same as being outside the body, so it appears to be somehow contradictory

      IMHO, there are various levels to becoming conscious in sleep
      1) getting eight hours of peaceful sleep by rising above into the higher triple worlds (Sachhidananda) and not descending into the subconscious.
      2) ability to remember one or more dreams after waking up.
      3) being able to return to the same place in an occult world every night. This is when the dreams start repeating.
      4) ability to withstand attacks in dreams, by becoming more individuated in the dream and by having proper psychic “armour” through the Guru’s protection.
      5) observe oneself actually stepping outside one’s physical body.
      6) being able to wake up in world after higher occult world.
      7) remaining conscious all night (as the Mother could do)

      Reply
  13. mike

    Haven’t heard the term ‘Psychic Armour’ before. ls this like remembering Sri Aurobindo and Mother in dreams.

    This man has some interesting things to say on dreams. Apparently, he was conscious from birth and had many abilities. He’s called Dr stylianos atteshlis or Daskalos.

    Reply
    1. Sandeep Post author

      Mike: Haven’t heard the term ‘Psychic Armour’ before. ls this like remembering Sri Aurobindo and Mother in dreams.

      Its a term I invented while struggling to describe a particular stage where you no longer remain a passive helpless victim in your dreams, but you begin to actively interact with and respond to the beings you meet.

      Reply
  14. Sandeep Post author

    An elegant mystical composition by Rumi

    When I am with you, we stay up all night,
    When you’re not here, I can’t get to sleep.
    Praise God for these two insomnias!
    And the difference between them.

    Reply
  15. Pingback: A contemplation exercise before going to sleep | Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo & The Mother

  16. K

    “There is an exercise of “finding one’s hands during sleep” which is noted in one of Carlos Castaneda’s books. I haven’t tried it but it seems worth mentioning at this point.”

    Have tried, it worked but Don Juan advises to be cautious when one finds the hands, I don’t
    remember what he meant.

    Reply
  17. Pingback: How do movies affect yoga practice? | Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo & The Mother

  18. Pingback: Reading and writing books in a dream | Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo & The Mother

  19. Pingback: Sleep-learning and the Upanishads | Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo & The Mother

  20. Sandeep

    People who are aware they are asleep when they are dreaming have better than average problem-solving abilities, new research has discovered. Experts say that those who experience ‘lucid dreaming’ – a phenomena where someone who is asleep can recognize that they are dreaming – can solve problems in the waking world better than those who remain unaware of the dream until they wake up.

    […]

    The research by Dr Patrick Bourke, Senior Lecturer at the Lincoln School of Psychology, is the first empirical study demonstrating the relationship between lucid dreaming and insight.

    He said: “It is believed that for dreamers to become lucid while asleep, they must see past the overwhelming reality of their dream state, and recognise that they are dreaming.

    “The same cognitive ability was found to be demonstrated while awake by a person’s ability to think in a different way when it comes to solving problems.”

    The study examined 68 participants aged between 18 and 25 who had experienced different levels of lucid dreaming, from never to several times a month. They were asked to solve 30 problems designed to test insight. Each problem consisted of three words and a solution word.

    Each of the three words could be combined with the solution word to create a new compound word. For example with the words ‘sand’, ‘mile’ and ‘age’, the linking word would be ‘stone’.

    Results showed that frequent lucid dreamers solved 25 per cent more of the insight problems than the non-lucid dreamers.

    Read more @ http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/08/140812121839.htm

    Reply
  21. mike

    This makes sense, and l would imagine that these people [problem-solvers] would be logical or analytical types in the waking state too.
    What’s lacking in the dream state is the ‘Critical Faculty’ that can distinguish between the many inconsistencies experienced there – some are totally ridiculous and yet the majority of us still don’t notice that we’re dreaming.
    l’ve had quite a lot of lucid dreams over the years, but still find it difficult to initiate. l find that the Force makes us more conscious in sleep, so this awareness that we are dreaming becomes easier. l think concentrating at the heart centre before sleeping helps too.
    Also, if we wake up in a lucid dream and issue a command like ‘l want to astral project now’, we’ll most probably find ourselves in the out-of-body state in our bedroom – after all we are exteriorised in a lucid dream, but unfortunately, we are still stuck within the dream or the dream matrix.
    We can issue different commands in this state to make us more conscious too – like ‘awareness now’, ‘clarity now’, ‘control now’. They seem to work.

    Reply
    1. mwb6119

      Mike: “This makes sense, and l would imagine that these people [problem-solvers] would be logical or analytical types in the waking state too.”

      I’ve met people who were naturally inclined to dream lucidly: they didn’t have to try, it was readily available to them. I’ have only rarely been able to dream lucidly. Sometimes I am able to force myself awake in a dream to stop a dream from progressing further – sexual dreams for example, or spider dreams-which are usually nightmarish. I’m have neither an analytical nor scientific mind, My conscious center is in the body (more so than less) rather than the mind – a somatic intelligence.

      Thx to Mike and Sandeep!

      Reply
  22. mike

    Hi mark, yes, lucid dreams are a nice experience. The only method that really worked for me – that actually produced lucidity virtually every time l had a dream – was to write down ‘l am dreaming’ about 20 times every hour. You can imagine how tedious that can be. But it’s the best technique l ever used. Really, it just has to penetrate the subconscious l think, and then it will come up in the dream like an ‘alarm call’.
    Fortunately, the sex dreams are pretty rare these days and by the Grace of God l usually wake up before they can affect me too much.
    l don’t have nightmarish dreams as such, just the occasional fight dreams. l’m getting more dreams with SA and M these days, which is a blessing from the ordinary subconscious garbage – they seem to be getting more real too – hopefully a good sign.
    Best Darshans to everyone on the Master’s birthday tomorrow.

    Reply

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