Tag Archives: Consciousness

Your Brain on Dreams

Deficient, or just plain different?

Throughout history, dreams have alternately been hailed as messages from the gods and dismissed as random hallucinations. But rather than place dreaming on a mystical pedestal, or look at dreaming as a deficient form of consciousness, let’s instead look at dreaming as an alternative form of consciousness and a different way of thinking.

Your brain on dreams

Sure, equating dreams with thinking might seem at first to make dreams less interesting or less meaningful. But I believe that understanding the brain basis for dreaming makes them all the more intriguing and significant.

After all, knowing the science of how the heart works, and the biochemistry of oxytocin which is released when we embrace another person, or even when we pet a dog or cat, doesn’t make love any less desirable, mysterious, or spiritually significant, does it?

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Likewise, understanding a bit about the brain science of dreaming will deepen your connection to your dreams.

The logic behind those illogical dreams

For example, ever wonder why dreams seem to operate in their own world of crazy logic? Well that’s because at least two important regions, the dorsal lateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) and the precuneus, are de-activated during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the period when most dreaming takes place. This makes it difficult to fully exercise short-term memory when we dream, both within the dream and upon awakening. Thus you might dream your college professor is dancing with your deceased mother, even though the two of them never met in waking life. This also helps to explain why it’s difficult to recall dreams on waking. Making decisions or directing our will is likewise difficult while dreaming because of these changes in brain activity during sleep.

The dreaming brain is highly active and operating with a different chemical makeup that gives it a distinct array of abilities as compared with the waking mind. But a lot remains the same, too. Thoughts, attitudes, memories, and feelings result from brain activity when awake. When dreaming the same is true—just with altered brain activity. If we see these alterations as imperfections, or evidence that the brain is simply firing on too few cylinders, it is easy to dismiss dream content and write it off.

If, on the other hand, we accept dreaming as a different but valuable form of consciousness, there is much to learn, wonder at and explore.


Adapted from Consciousness in dreamsKahn D1Gover T. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20870068

Freud v JungCatching up on my reading, I came across this in The Sunday New York Times Magazine’s story, “Tell it About Your Mother: Can brain-scanning help save Freudian psychoanalysis,” by Casey Schwartz:

“Throughout Freud’s writings… again and again [Mark Solms, neuropsychologist and Freud scholar] said that he was eagerly looking forward to the day when it would be possible to reunite his observations from the psychological perspective with the neuroscientific ones.”

The day has come! This is an exciting time to be exploring dreams and the unconscious, taking advantage of what we know from science, psychology, and mysticism.

Read the full article, reflect and enjoy.

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Q&A: What do I do when dreams get confused with reality?

 Q.I sometimes have a hard time distinguishing dreams from waking reality. I can fool myself into thinking I’m dreaming when I’m awake if I try. It’s kind of disconcerting and un-grounding, like reverse lucid dreaming. What can I do to strengthen the boundary between dreaming and waking?

Signed,

Boundary Issues

 

A. Dear Boundary Issues,

Here’s what I’d like you to do: Take a walk outside today. Find yourself a collection of smooth, solid rocks, scoop them up and put them in your pockets.

No, I’m not being facetious, and I’m not speaking in metaphors. Go ahead, get outside. Select some pretty stones, smooth stones, stones that sit nicely in the palm of your hand—and pocket them. Let them help hold you on this earth.

This isn’t punishment or penance of any sort. I’ve prescribed this same therapy for myself from time to time. Now that you’re settled firmly on this sweet blue planet, let’s talk.

You see, Dear Boundary Issues, while I spend a great deal of my waking time and energy spreading the Good News about dreams: how we should pay more attention to them, honor them, talk and write about them … there are times when I know it is wisest to pull back a little and put our slippered feet solidly on the hardwood floor of waking reality, and honor time we have here, as well.

Dreams and waking are two ends of a continuum of consciousness. We slip in and out and between these states all the time, moving from focused problem-solving, to relaxed day-dreaming, to fantasizing, to going to sleep and having ordinary dreams, lucid dreams, and more. This is healthy and usually quite productive.

Skillful dreamers can slip in and out of various states of consciousness with relative ease. This can be a way to access hypnotic states, trance states, healing Shamanic journeys, and more. When done with intention, agility, and perhaps even a bit of training—this is a wonderful gift to have.

Then again, confusing wake life with dreaming can be a slippery slope to psychosis. Thinking you’re dreaming when you’re awake can lead to all kinds of problems, like deciding to fly off the ledge of tall buildings, for one.

Don’t get me wrong. I love to dance along the boundaries between states of consciousness as much as the next dreamer. And if you can move through dreams within dreams and delve into deep philosophical and metaphysical discourses about how all of life is a dream, and then suit up for work and navigate waking reality just fine, then no problem.

You might even choose to take advantage of having a thin boundary between sleep and waking states of consciousness. But if you do, take care. Such explorations require the balance—and ballast—of a rock solid sense of self. Check in with friends and a trusted therapist to see if you fit that bill. Then find yourself a salt-of-the earth spiritual teacher or guide who has her or his feet planted firmly on the ground, who has a clearly articulated ethical and moral framework for their spiritual work, and ask this person if you can study with them. Even then, keep in close contact with your trusted friends and counselors to get an honest assessment if you’re veering to far off into dangerous territory.

But first, let’s get back to those rocks that are weighting down your pockets. Let them be a reminder to mind the boundary between sleep and waking. Perhaps it’s time to start putting a little more emphasis on the latter. Give your dream journal a break. Drink plenty of water, chew your food slowly, and indulge your five senses.

Because here’s the bottom line, Dear Boundary Issues: Living in bodies is a unique and splendid limited-time offer. Even if we live to be 120, our time in skin suits is still a blink of the eye compared to the eternity our souls have to travel all the invisible realms. So while we’re here encased in flesh and bound by bones, enjoy all the perks. Gravity is a pretty cool phenomenon when you think of it … not to mention color, wind, rain, and skin to skin contact. Play with these earthly delights all you can. Don’t undervalue the eyes-wide-open opportunities presented by so-called ordinary reality.

And let me know how it goes.

Dreamily yours,

Tz …

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Want to learn more about your dreams? Contact me to find out about upcoming dream groups in western Massachusetts, or individual dream sessions by phone, Skype, or in person.

Have a Dream Question? Send it along! I’d love to hear from you.

 

 

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Q & A: Last But Not Least (CV)

English: On the roof, in a moonlit night, look...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Q. It seems like the last dream I have before waking is the most vivid and the longest of the night. Is there any reason for this?

A. Not only do we dream every night, we also dream several times per night. And yes, these dreams do vary in length. Typically we enter a dream cycle every 90 minutes over the course of a night’s sleep, and the dream periods increase in length as the night progresses. So, yes, it seems like those early morning dreams are the longest because, well, they are!

That covers the well-worn terrain of what science tells us about sleep cycles, but I’ve made other observations about the last dreams of the night as well.

My dreaming mind is a wonderful one-woman sleep laboratory, because I have unusually high dream recall; I remember three to seven dreams a night (and, on not-so-rare occasion, more). Over the decades of observing my dreams I have noticed that my dreams not only progress in length as the night wears on, but they also progress thematically.

My first dream of the night is usually, as science predicts, brief. Sometimes it contains just a few images and symbols, and very little by way of storyline. Dream by dream, those themes and symbols might repeat, coming up in different storylines, in different forms, and in different contexts.

For example, one night the first dream of the night was of a nurse in her uniform. The last dream I remembered was about me examining a wound on my foot. The night’s theme was clearly “healing.”

Recently, a full night’s dreaming started with people making television commercials, and several dream adventures later ended with me walking on “Market Street.” The theme of commerce (what am I “buying”? I asked myself on waking) was repeated in different contexts and unfolded over the course of the varied dreamscapes.

Also, sometimes the dreams have a certain narrative arc. For example, in a recent night’s dreams, I am leaving a hotel to go for a walk in the first dream, and in the last dream of the night I return to my house and go up the stairs to my bedroom.

I also seem to have more lucid dreams (dreams in which I know I’m dreaming) in the early morning hours. I suspect that is because our brain chemistry is beginning to shift from sleeping to waking consciousness, and this might create the ideal environment for hybrid states of dream consciousness such as lucidity.

I’ve also noticed that the last dream of the night can be super-charged with light – so much so that in those dreams I am often squinting and unable to fully open my eyes. I’ve always assumed this has something to do with light beginning to enter the room as the sun rises, but since it even happens on dark winter mornings, I wonder if it has more to do with the re-activation of the physical senses as our waking consciousness begins to come back on line. (If there are any scientists reading along, I’d love to hear your feedback on this theory!)

On a practical level, the last dream of the night is the easiest one for most people to remember – and so it is significant in that way, too.

In any case, when it comes to dreaming, “last” is far from being “least.”

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And you? Do you notice trends or patterns in the way dreams unfold for you over the course of the night? Is the last dream different from the first?

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If you’d like to learn more about your dreams, schedule an appointment for dreamwork, purchase a dream journal, or buy a dreamwork gift certificate, visit me at Third House Moon.

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Corner View is a weekly appointment each Wednesday, where bloggers from all corners of the world share their view on a pre-arranged theme. This week’s theme is last but not least. Start here to visit more Corner View blogs.

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Q & A: Is it Okay to Control Your Dreams?

Q: I don’t want to try lucid dreaming because I don’t want my ego to interfere with the natural flow of wisdom and information from my dreams.

A: Many people shy away from lucid dreaming, and some people even wake themselves out of lucid dreams, rather than “risk” imposing their ego’s desires onto the dream.

But why?

Technically speaking lucid dreaming occurs when you are consciously aware that you are dreaming. Trying to take control of your actions in the dream is optional (but often very enjoyable!) while in the lucid state. But to say the lucid dreamer controls the dream is a vast overstatement.

In lucid dreams, unlike ordinary dreams, the dreamer has some agency over their actions within the dream. Robert Waggoner in his excellent book on the subject uses this analogy: The lucid dreamer doesn’t control the dream any more than the sailor controls the sea.

However, in both cases it is wise to become skillful at navigating the terrain.

This is true both awake and asleep. Think about it: In your wake life you may decide to go on a picnic, but you can’t control whether it rains. There is not harm in setting the intention to eat outdoors, but circumstances beyond your control might well alter the outcome. i.e., you might end up eating your sandwiches in you kitchen, instead.

We don’t hesitate to “impose” our will on our wake life, but we do use our will as skillfully as we can to navigate and make the most of our experiences. Awake and asleep, too much ego-driven will and a lack of acceptance of situations that are beyond our control is unhealthy. However, it is also unhealthy to abandon any responsibility for directing our lives. Awake we see merit in choosing one path over another, and making decisions based on our values, goals, and desires.

So it is in dreaming, too. When lucid in a dream you might decide you’d like to fly. Give it a try and maybe you’ll take off and maybe you won’t be able to get your feet off the ground. You can decide to visit China, but you might just end up in Japan. Some of your plans and designs will be successful in your dreams, others won’t.

But lucid dreaming is much more than the dream world equivalent of playing around. Sure, it’s fun while lucid to have  romantic encounters, travel to exotic locales, do back flips, or climb a mountain in a minute. You can also choose to use this hybrid state of consciousness to request guidance, healing, and information to help in your creative, business and/or personal life. Again, the choice is yours.

Lucid dreaming is a powerful mind state that offers access to amazing stores of wisdom, beauty, and extraordinary experience. I encourage you to be open to the possibilities it contains, and to bring your best self to the experience – and then enjoy!

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To learn more about lucid dreams or to learn what your dreams mean,schedule an individual dreamwork consultation by contacting me here or at Third House Moon.

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The 14th Way of Looking at a Blackbird: Dreaming Awake (Corner View)

Enlightened Tree 2

The tree after the blackbird flew away.


I do not know which to prefer,

The beauty of inflections

Or the beauty of innuendoes,

The blackbird whistling

Or just after.

from “13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” by Wallace Stevens

A week ago, I woke from a long stretch of lucid dreaming, in which I consciously entered one dream after another. Finally, a couple of hours later, I woke from the dreams and into a beautiful spring Sunday morning. I threw on a pair of jeans, a sweatshirt and sneakers, and headed outside for a walk in the meadows.

It was a magnificent day. The air was dry, the light crystalline. There were no other people around at 8 a.m., so I was left alone to marvel at the delicate buds on the trees, the green of the mountains just beyond the river, and the new grass covering the fields. The whole world, it seemed, was newly awake.

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Then, stepping off the walking path onto the dirt road, I came upon a line of trees, and sitting about three-quarters of the way up in the branches of one, sat a red-winged blackbird. I tilted my head to look at it, just as the bird cocked its head to look at me. Suddenly I felt as if I’d stepped back inside my lucid dreams: the light intensified, and the air seemed to charge itself with a stronger current of aliveness. As if in a dream, the bird seemed to be conscious of me, as I was of it. The branches of the tree, the buds, the air, and the  hard-packed dirt of the road beneath my feet — all seemed to be  vibrant, connected, awake, aware, and alive.And then, the bird flew away, the magic receded, and the ordinary miracle of a spring morning returned.The memory of the ecstatic beauty was almost as good as having been inside of it.  I knew that though this waking lucid dream was over, it would always be there, just behind my ordinary experience of the world.

Enlightened Tree

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To learn more about lucid dreaming, or dreaming in general, visit Third House Moon.

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Waking up is hard to do

“Am I awake or dreaming?”

This questions becomes something of a mantra for people who are attempting to increase their powers of lucid dreaming. In order to be awake—that is aware—in a dream, one needs to have enough consciousness to question whether they are in fact dreaming. By asking the question while awake, we prepare our minds to ask the question while we’re asleep.

But I’ve begun to take an interest in the flip side of this interrogation. Rather than focusing on whether I’m in a dream when I’m asleep, I like to ask myself whether I’m awake while I’m—well—awake!

In other words, when I finish my meal then realize I barely tasted my supper, then I know I dreamed away the entire repast. If I’ve just blurted out a bit of gossip I had no intention of passing along, then I know I just sleep-talked, even though my eyes were open and I was awake.

Awake, of course, means conscious. I’ve gotten pretty adept at the art of being conscious in my dreams. Just the other night, in fact, I was able to recognize that the alien spacecraft flying just above my head as I sauntered down a country road indicated that I was asleep and dreaming. As it turns out, the harder job is to be aware and conscious after the alarm rings and I’m going about my day. Lately I realize that I need to wake myself up countless times every day. It’s worth it, that way I don’t sleep away the precious days when the azaleas and daffodils are blooming, or even the alive gray energy of yesterday’s rainstorm.

How about you—are you awake or dreaming?

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