Sleep and Dreams

“I think we dream so we don’t have to be apart for so long. If we’re in each other’s dreams, we can be together all the time.”
― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

Sri Aurobindo & the Mother Mirra Alfassa gave detailed advice on how to make sleep more conscious . For a summary of their advice, see the article Towards more conscious sleep and dreaming.

A few things to remember:

  1. Dreams do not always have absolute interpretation; some dreams have meaning relative to the seeker’s subjective consciousness, and what that meaning could be is not easy to determine.
  2. One must beware of hallucinations which can result from the strong emotional desire to fulfill some heartfelt wish.  Dream which occur in a turbulence-free state of equanimity are more likely to be revelatory.
  3. Instead of impulsively assigning some interpretation to a dream, it is prudent to be patient and let the dream reveal it’s true meaning in due time, perhaps through some subsequent confirmatory dreams or other signs.  As the consciousness becomes more illuminated, enigmatic dreams will automatically resolve themselves like the solution to a jigsaw puzzle.

For more on these practices, check the books listed below. Similar practices have been followed by ancient Yogis – see Yoga Nidra (wikipedia) and this page listing various Yoga Nidra practices.

olympic beachImage by Jeff McCrory via Flickr (Creative Commons).

Articles on the topic

  1. Towards more conscious sleep and dreaming.
  2. A contemplation exercise before going to sleep
  3. Explaining out-of-body and near-death experiences
  4. Sleep disorders : somnambulism and somniloquy
  5. Why do we forget our vivid dreams?
  6. Somnambulists who do creative work in their sleep
  7. Perception of Time changes with the concentration of consciousness
  8. Mental awareness in comatose patients and sleeping newborn infants
  9. Sleep-learning and the Upanishads
  10. Reading and writing books in a dream
  11. How can we “see” in our dreams when our eyes are closed?
  12. Sri Aurobindo and the Mother on sleep (at another website)
  13. Premonitory Dreams (at another website)
  14. Dreams and Visions (at another website)
  15. Dream Self and Sleep Self (at another website)

Books

Besides Satprem’s Adventures of Consciousness which explains sleep and dreams very nicely, these are some other books on this topic. Click on the book below to go to the relevant SABDA catalog entry.

SleepAndDreams1

SleepAndDreams2

SleepAndDreams3

52 thoughts on “Sleep and Dreams

  1. kalpana

    I thought the treatment of the dream state in the recent fascinating movie Inception was interesting to examine, in the light of texts such as Yoga Vasistah etc. Would be interested in any other comments views.

    Reply
  2. Sandeep Post author

    Question: How is it that the symbolism of dreams varies according to traditions, races, religions?

    Mother Mirra Alfassa: Because the form given to the dream is mental. If you have learnt that such and such a form represents such and such a mythological person, you see that form and say: “It is that.” In your mind there is an association between certain ideas and certain forms, and this is continued in the dream. When you translate your dream you give it an explanation corresponding to what you have learnt, what you have been taught, and it is with the mental image you have in your head that you know. Moreover, I have explained this to you a little later in the vision of Joan of Arc (Mother takes her book and reads):
    “The beings who were always appearing and speaking to Jeanne d’Arc would, if seen by an Indian, have quite a different appearance; for when one sees, one projects the forms of one’s mind You have the vision of one in India whom you call the Divine Mother; the Catholics say it is the Virgin Mary, and the Japanese call it Kwannon, the Goddess of Mercy; and others would give other names. It is the same force, the same power, but the images made of it are different in different faiths.”

    (Collected Works of the Mother, vol 5, p 28)

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

  4. Sandeep Post author

    Yoga Nidra is taught at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center to cure Post-traumatic Stress Disorder in American soldiers

    The Specialized Care Program at Walter Reed focuses on helping service members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan leave their wartime experiences behind.

    Yoga, Carnes said, has become a large part of that effort.

    In conjunction with a team of psychologists, a physical therapist, two nurses, a social worker and a general internist, Carnes has worked with hundreds of service members.

    The program, which serves as many as 120 service members per year, 90 percent of whom suffer from PTSD, costs about $800,000 annually. That figure covers salaries for the program’s specialists as well as travel and accommodations for the participants, such as Farley, who typically come for a three-week treatment session.

    The yoga that Carnes teaches, a form of guided meditation known as yoga nidra, was added to the program in 2006 after she helped conduct a feasibility study at the medical center.

    The results of the study were overwhelmingly positive, she said, adding that the service members appreciated learning skills that they could continue to use after they left.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/05/02/AR2008050203426.html

    Reply
  5. mike

    Yes, ‘lnception’ was a strange film. Basically it’s about Lucid Dreaming, l think, as in developing the ability to control our dreams and manipulate the dream environment. Seems to be a lot of interest in it these days.

    Reply
  6. mike

    l had an unusual dream with The Mother last night.
    l was in a large room and a few ppl were there with The Mother. l was talking with Her and then She started telling me about how She could see the evolution going back to the beginning [the key word here was ‘Evolution’, l think]. Then l was seated in a chair and l could see an extremely vivid image of what appeared to be a Golden Salamander [for some reason, when l woke up later ‘salamander’ was the word in my mind – not lizard etc]. l could see some kind of evolutionary forward movement going on with this salamander as Mother was talking. When She’d finished talking, She stood in front of me and l was looking into Her eyes. My mind was unusually calm and unperturbed – which isn’t a normal state for me lol.
    Anyway, l know nothing about salamanders or their symbology. l haven’t seen or read anything about these creatures recently. So, l had to do an internet search for some kind of explanation. lt seems to be a fire symbol, and from what l’ve found, it might relate to Agni or the Transformation of Matter [evolution was the KEY in this dream]. Here are some things l found [l’ve highlighted the word Salamander below]:

    “Something seemed to be pushing me to go to Pondicherry. In a dream, I saw a stone with the imprint of a salamander and I knew this to be in the Aurobindo Ashram. The effect of this dream was so strong that even now, when I am walking in the ashram, I inadvertently look around for this stone! The salamander in the stone meant the transformation of matter, I suppose.[georges vrekhem]. ”

    “Other symbolical fire representations are the Phoenix, which is revived in the flames and its former body destroyed so it arises again in an incorruptible form, the Salamander, which perseveres in the flames and possesses a blood more precious than any treasure.”

    “This is the flaming godhead whom we cherish within, Agni, the leader of our progressive life, the great Sacrifice, the child whom we nourish, birth after birth, by all that we experience and do and achieve. To live normally and naturally in that fiery element – like the legendary SALAMANDER – to mould one’s consciousness and being, one’s substance and constitution, even the entire cellular organisation into the radiant truth is the goal of man’s highest aspiration, the ultimate end of Nature’s evolutionary urge and the cycle of rebirth [nolini kanta gupta, Collected Works, vol. 3, The Souls Odyssey].”

    Reply
    1. Sandeep Post author

      Intriguing, but I can’t comment on the dream. I feel typeless! (web-equivalent of speechless)
      I updated your comment with references.

      It seems salamanders are associated with fire because of their bright orange color and because the licks and curls of a fire can resemble a salamander. [Lipp, Way of Four, page 6]

      Reply
  7. mike

    Thanks for updating it Sandeep.
    l was a little amazed at how such a humble creature [that l’ve never come across in the writings of SA and Mother before] can have such an important sybolism. lt would never have occurred to me before this dream.
    The color in my dream might have actually been bright orange or gold merging into orange.
    Anyway, thanks for all the effort you’ve put into this board. lt must take a lot of work. l know it’s helped me a lot.
    All the Best.

    Reply
    1. Sandeep Post author

      Anyway, thanks for all the effort you’ve put into this board.

      No, it didn’t take a lot of effort. Two minutes with google !

      Reply
    1. Sandeep Post author

      I thought you were referring to my comment but I might have misunderstood.
      By board, I think you mean “blog” ?

      Reply
  8. Sandeep Post author

    Historian Roger Ekirch in his book “At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past” expatiates that before the Industrial Revolution, when there was no electrical illumination at night, people used to sleep in a two phases. He has found more than 500 references, from Homer onwards, to a ‘first sleep’ that lasted from sunset to until maybe midnight, which was followed by ‘second sleep’. In between the two sleep periods, people routinely got up, peed, smoked, read, chatted, had friends around, or simply reflected on the events of the previous day – and on their dreams.

    See http://www.history.vt.edu/Ekirch/sleepcommentary.html
    and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Segmented_sleep
    and http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-16964783

    Reply
  9. K

    Yesterday after reading this article I went to sleep.Relaxed the physical body and tried to relax the vital and mental.Didn’t know how to do that so just affirmed that vital and mental are relaxed and slept quickly
    Something happened in the middle of sleep.A sudden awareness came, I was aware a part of me was dreaming, was participating, witnessing and just being aware of these all were happening toggling between each also aware of the external environment(sound of fan, it was strongly heard). Then a sudden surge of panic came, the experience made me think falsely that I was invaded by a hostile force(actually not I just imagined wrongly) and hence the panic.some how gathered courage and asked ‘who are you’ twice as if some one external was inside me.No answer came(obviously because nothing came inside me, I just imagined that way and panicked.wondering about the ability of the mind to trick oneself).

    Opened my eyes and came to the waking consciousness, heart was racing because of the panic
    and said ‘Mother protect me’ and went bank to sleep,Usual dreams continued.

    I am not sure whether reading the articles about sleep and dream created this experience or something else.Probably sandeep can shed some light on this.

    Reply
    1. Sandeep Post author

      K said: I am not sure whether reading the articles about sleep and dream created this experience or something else.Probably sandeep can shed some light on this.

      I have not yet been given the power to peer into other people’s consciousness so I can’t tell what happened 🙂

      You may be feeling fear because you have not “individualized” enough in your dream. In other words, you can separate Purusha and Prakriti (become the witness) but the psychic being is not fully united with the Purusha

      I don’t know what Robert Monroe and Robert Bruce have taught about astral travel but it is better to develop these dream faculties within the spiritual path (through Divine consecration) rather than as magical occult processes. That way, you have protection as well as a natural rather than forced opening.

      In an earlier comment, I said there are many levels of dream development
      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)

      Which of the above items happen to you?

      Reply
  10. Kai

    Dear Sandeep,
    I am wondering how I missed your above comment.I was searching the articles about dream today to find answer to another dream and found your comment.

    I seek your permission to mail you as I need some clarity regarding an intriguing dream experience which I feel quite difficult to understand

    Reply
  11. Kai

    Dear NAshwin
    I remember reading an article here where sandeep explains how the five different sheeths separate during the sleep.It seems that we dream several dreams simultaneously with different parts of our being and awareness moves from one to other.

    Reply
  12. Sandeep Post author

    Dolphins can sleep with one half of the brain active

    Dolphins can stay alert and active for 15 days or more by sleeping with one half of their brain at a time, scientists in the United States have learned.

    The trick of keeping half the brain continuously awake is vital to the sea mammals’ survival, experts believe.

    It allows them to come to the surface every so often to breath, and remain constantly vigilant for sharks.
    […]
    “If dolphins sleep like terrestrial animals, they might drown. If dolphins fail to maintain vigilance, they become susceptible to predation. As a result, the apparent ‘extreme’ capabilities these animals possess are likely to be quite normal, unspectacular, and necessary for survival from the dolphin’s perspective.”

    read more @ http://www.independent.ie/and-finally/dolphins-stay-awake-for-15-days-3263738.html

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

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

  15. Sandeep Post author

    (Sandeep : In this article, “Deep sleep” means consciousness descends into the subconscious regions while “REM sleep” means consciousness rises above into the higher worlds. There are two “deep sleeps” – the one of the subconscious and the other related to sushupti or superconscious ascent)

    Reviewing Alcohol’s Effects On Normal Sleep

    A review of all known scientific studies on the impact of drinking on nocturnal sleep has clarified that alcohol shortens the time it takes to fall asleep, increases deep sleep, and reduces REM sleep.

    “SWS or deep sleep generally promotes rest and restoration,” said Ebrahim. “However, when alcohol increases SWS, this may also increase vulnerability to certain sleep problems such as sleepwalking or sleep apnoea in those who are predisposed.”

    “Dreams generally occur in the REM stage of sleep,” said Ebrahim. “During REM sleep the brain is more active, and may be regarded as ‘defragmenting the drive.’ REM sleep is also important because it can influence memory and serve restorative functions. Conversely, lack of REM sleep can have a detrimental effect on concentration, motor skills, and memory. REM sleep typically accounts for 20 to 25 percent of the sleep period.”

    “In sum,” said Idzikowski, “alcohol on the whole is not useful for improving a whole night’s sleep. Sleep may be deeper to start with, but then becomes disrupted. Additionally, that deeper sleep will probably promote snoring and poorer breathing. So, one shouldn’t expect better sleep with alcohol.”

    From http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/01/130122162236.htm

    Based on “Alcohol and Sleep I: Effects on Normal Sleep” by
    Irshaad O. Ebrahim, Colin M. Shapiro, Adrian J. Williams and Peter B. Fenwick in “Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research”, April 2013 (to appear)

    Reply
  16. gopal

    i have always thought what they call REM sleep is nothing but Subconscious part of the sleep where one tires oneself. the body mind responding, by those rapid eye movements. But from the above i guess it also has its benefits, but that to me is gross generalization on the part of the scientist, but i think may be sometimes, when the mind correctly interprets the dreams as a vision without interruptions from the subconscient, then also REM happens. Am not an expert but have tried to be conscious in sleep so these are some of my understanding or Mis-understandings, :D. …

    Reply
    1. Sandeep Post author

      I need to amend the previous comment to clarify that there are two kinds of deep sleep – the slumber of the subconscious and that of the Superconscious. When the article says alcohol reduces REM sleep (dreaming) and increases deep sleep, it probably implies that the slumber of subconscious sleep is increased and not sushupti.

      I believe REM sleep is more likely to imply “vital world” excursion. It helps the mind free itself from the body.

      My interpretation (which could be wrong) of the correspondence based on the summary posted here is as follows:

      There are three stages of NREM sleep. The first two seem to be descents into the subconscious because these are close to wakefulness.

      The third stage of NREM stage called slow-wave sleep is probably the time when sushupti occurs and the Atman unites briefly with Brahman. It is hard to awaken a person, and when awakened, the person feels groggy.

      In REM sleep, muscles are paralyzed, eyes move rapidly, EEG waves are similar to that in the waking state, and brain oxygen consumption is higher. All these criteria indicate that actual dreams are occurring and that the subtle body may have extended itself out of the physical body (since muscles are paralyzed). This corresponds to the swapna state in the Upanishads.

      The REM muscle paralysis corresponds to the Mother’s explanation on why we are sometimes paralyzed after sleep (doctors call it REM-sleep paralysis)

      Question: Sometimes when one is asleep, he knows that he is asleep but he can’t open his eyes. Why?

      Mother : This happens when one has gone out of his body…. Sometimes the eyes are a little open and one can also see things….And one can’t move! It means that only a fragment of the consciousness has come back… you must not shake yourself, because you risk losing a bit of yourself. You must remain quite still and concentrate slowly, slowly on your body (Collected Works of the Mother, vol 6, p 146)

      So roughly, the correspondence would be
      NREM stage 1 and 2 = subconscious sleep
      REM sleep = vital world excursion
      NREM stage 3 (slow-wave sleep) = sushupti (union with Brahman)

      Reply
  17. mike

    “The REM muscle paralysis corresponds to the Mother’s explanation on why we are sometimes paralyzed after sleep (doctors call it REM-sleep paralysis)”

    Yes, often called ‘Sleep Paralysis’ in Astral Projection and Lucid Dreaming. They actually welcome this state because it’s a precursor to leaving the body – l’ve had it myself and if you lay still and just imagine yourself going out of the body, it usually happens.
    Normally, l just wake up in a dream, though, and realise l’m dreaming – this would probably be during REM, l think, because l’m in one of the subtle or vital [astral] worlds, l believe.

    Reply
  18. Pingback: Ways of navigating this blog | Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo & The Mother

  19. mike

    l had a dream about sai baba the other night. l don’t know why l dream about this man; l only met him once in my life – although, at his ashram l had some weird occult experiences.
    Every now and then l get these really vivid dreams about him and he seems to be giving me information or helping in some direct way. l don’t even trust him, so don’t ask me why this happens.
    ln the dream the other night [if it was sai baba] he came close to me and said things would get worse. l thought this was about me personally, and when l asked he said nothing. Now, looking at the state of world affairs, l think he was probably referring to global events – the world certainly looks like it’s on the brink of something – ready to explode. that is.

    Reply
  20. mike

    Yes, sathya sai of puttaparthi [that’s the ashram l went to, actually].

    “Did he get a haircut or is he still as disheveled as he was here?”

    Yes, it’s still an Afro LOL.
    These dreams are the unbelievably colourful – some higher astral, perhaps.
    l was returning from an out-of-body experience once, and the Mother was standing at my bedside smiling at me, but surprisingly, sai baba was standing at Her side – work that one out lol.

    Reply
  21. mike

    lt’s strange, the Pope abdicated today [first one since 1409 l think].
    And the Malachy Prophecies indicate bad times for the Last Pope – Petrus Romanus….

    “In the extreme persecution of the Holy Roman Church, there will sit [i.e., as bishop].
    Peter the Roman, who will pasture his sheep in many tribulations:
    and when these things are finished, the city of seven hills will be destroyed,
    and the terrible judge will judge his people.
    The End.”

    Perhaps sai baba is right – who knows.

    Reply
    1. Sandeep Post author

      From the Onion

      Resigning Pope No Longer Has Strength To Lead Church Backward

      According to the 85-year-old pontiff, after considerable prayer and reflection on his physical stamina and mental acuity, he concluded that his declining faculties left him unable to helm the Church’s ambitious regressive agenda and guide the faith’s one billion global followers on their steady march away from modernity and cultural advancement.

      […]

      Word of Benedict’s resignation—the first for a sitting pope in nearly 600 years—reportedly stunned the world’s Catholic faithful, many of whom believed the German-born pontiff still had years of stymieing female advancement in Church roles, opposing stem cell research, and inflaming tensions with Jews, Muslims, and Anglicans left in him.

      […]

      Responding to the widespread outpouring of shock and sadness surrounding his resignation, Benedict issued a brief statement Monday afternoon consoling his followers, assuring them that “the Church’s most ignorant and regressive days still lie ahead of us.”

      Full article @ http://www.theonion.com/articles/resigning-pope-no-longer-has-strength-to-lead-chur,31248/

      Reply
  22. mike

    “l was talking with Her and then She started telling me about how She could see the evolution going back to the beginning ”

    l feel a nagging need to expand on that statement l made ealier in this post. Don’t know why, but l believe the Mother actually said it was Her Evolutionary Destiny going back to when She was this ‘Golden Salamander’ – which represented the Supramental Transformation.
    Strange, l know, but l’m fairly sure thats what She was telling me for some reason.

    Reply
  23. mwb6119

    Recently, I had a dream with Sandeep (the moderator here). Having heard of people with dreams of The Mother or Sri Aurobindo, it is my first dream having to do with an actual person who I have been in contact who is deeply committed to Integral Yoga. And it was a good dream, I cannot remember the details now, but Sandeep was kind considerate and the dream was in relation to the spiritual process concerning my involvement with Integral Yoga.

    Reply
    1. Sandeep

      Mark: Recently, I had a dream with Sandeep

      Wow! I dont recall anything 🙂

      That also raises the question someone had asked me once : can two people dream together if they sleep at non-overlapping times (in different time zones as is the case here) ?

      Reply
      1. mwb6119

        Wish I were more dream conscious/aware, perhaps that is something developing unawares. I had just visited your blog that same day, but I have been on your blog for a few years. The dream helped me sense that I was connected or involved with the interior-process but externally. And it was comforting to have contact with someone living as opposed to only the writings of SA and M. The dream had also come after I had experienced a subtle shift in consciousness recently, over the holiday season. By all means the dream was an affirmation of some kind. Anyways, thank you!

  24. mike

    Yes, as SA and M have said, we are constantly interacting with others [known and unknown] in the other worlds – some we meet physically afterwards if they happen to be in the body. l’ve had those quite often.
    We also create dream scenario’s a lot, l think. lt’s mentioned a lot in lucid dream books [and l’ve had a lot of those, so l have some experience]. Through becoming more conscious in sleep we can manipulate these self-created dreams or dissolve them in order to see the real environment we might be in, l believe. A lot of dreams are just subconscious garbage IMO – it’s been described very well here on the blog in the dream section….
    l had one vivid dream where SA and M had appeared before me and M said ‘michael your in the Matrix of a dream’ [not a phrase l’d ever heard before] – l’m pretty sure She mean’t one of these mentally created scenarios, like our own little astral creation [which quite a few religious fanatics end up in after death, l believe, thinking their in a real place]….
    l find that a true meeting with someone in those worlds tends to be far more real than usual, and it leaves a strong impression in the memory when we wake up. The one’s with SA or M or both, are much more conscious l find. Also, if it’s some important dream or important information that we need to remember, it will make a strong impact on our mind…. Just being around Powerful Spiritual figures in a so-called dream, will make it very real. Their Force makes us more conscious….

    Reply
  25. arya

    Is there any spiritual/psychic explanation for chronic insomnia, especially waking up at a certain time and not being able to sleep thereafter?

    Reply
    1. Sandeep Post author

      Hard to suggest anything in adhoc fashion.
      Is there a history of alcohol, smoking, stress ?
      Have you tried sleeping earlier and eating less at dinner ?

      Reply
      1. Arya

        Yes, a lot of stress, especially regrets over missed opportunities when I was younger etc. Tried to overcome, so far i am failing.

      2. Sandeep Post author

        Some regret not being good enough, others regret not being naughty enough 🙂

        I found this question on insomnia in the Mother’s Collected Works

        http://incarnateword.in/cwm/17/30-may-1966

        Question : Sweet Mother, I beg you to free me from this insomnia which has harassed me for the last twenty-five years or more. Last night I slept only one hour, and for about the last twenty nights I have had almost no sleep. Dr. Z says there is no medicine for this complaint except sleeping-pills. But a few years ago You told me not to take sleeping-pills.

        Answer : The only cure for insomnia is to get rid of the need for sleep by knowing how to obtain mental silence at will. When you can obtain silence at will, you must put your body into a position of absolute repose, stretched out comfortably on the bed; then you go within yourself until there is perfect mental silence and enter a state that is something like a very deep sleep. Only if you know how to do this at will and do it regularly every night, can you manage to do without sleep.
        If not, you must be prepared to take sleeping-pills.

  26. S

    “ability to withstand attacks in dreams, by becoming more individuated in the dream and by having proper psychic “armour” through the Guru’s protection.”

    Quoting your lines as above …
    what exactly is ‘becoming more individuated’?

    Reply
    1. Sandeep Post author

      individuated = to be more aware and gain more control…

      Normally, we are passively experiencing dreams. We get hit or attacked and then we wake up.
      It is possible to act in the dream

      Reply

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