Consciousness and Hypnagogia: Part II

Copyright © Sirley Marques Bonham, PhD


Irrespective of the source, meditation in general, when consistently and judiciously practiced, it tends to produce hypnagogia. Meditation techniques most frequently practiced presently come from Yoga in its many forms. However, from western culture, religious meditations also follow appropriate prescriptions with similar results. [Note: A more academic label for meditation could be ' introspection ' – something that is unfortunately not too clearly defined in psychology. Ref.: A book on the subject of introspection is Trusting the Subject, in two volumes, which is the book version of the Journal of Consciousness Studies devoted to introspection; the title is a game on words, where 'subject' refers both to the subjects used in research and to the subject of introspection. The editors of this book are Anthony Jack and Andreas Roepstorff. Exter, UK : Imprint Academic, 2003 (Vol. 1), 2004 (Vol. 2).]

Remote Viewing

Personal histories of Remote Viewers are published in their many books, which have multiplied since this protocol was un-classified by the government toward the end of 1995. Remote viewers describe many instances of radical experiences of being in the target, or of going to the target even after the session has been over for a while, demonstrating a residual rapport with the location of, and events at, the target.

It is important to note that remote viewing uses a system – a protocol – to access information at the remote location, the target. This is a key example of a modern systematic approach of accessing information that is unconscious. Remote viewing arrived at this protocol or method after consistent research and development initiated by Harold Puthoff and Russel Targ in the seventies, and the creative contribution of Ingo Swann. They were fortunate that government sources of funding have allowed for such a research and experimentation, even though initially classified. In the American military, mainly the Army, this protocol was specifically developed for a two-person operation: the receiver, who is the remote-viewer by definition, as the one who receives the information, and the operator, who observes the receiver's behavior and directs or re-directs events toward the goal of the remote viewing session.

From the description of their activities, it is notable that remote viewers used, and still use, a variety of methods to access information about the target. They include not only the conscious exchanges between receiver and operator, a constant within the protocol, but many also use methods taught by Robert Monroe at The Monroe Institute. In this sense, remote viewers have also used methods applied to achieve what is known as out-of-body experiences (OBE). In any case, the choice of method was left to personal preference. Therefore, a few of the Army's remote viewers clearly accessed the threshold of sleep where the messages from the unconscious could be received with less interference from the conscious mind. The avoidance of interference of the conscious mind is one key element of their protocol. The Army's retired remote viewers teach this protocol relatively unchanged, to this day. It is a small step to assume some of the remote viewers were and are accessing hypnagogic and hypnopompic imagery.

Biofeedback, Neuro-Feedback, and Alpha-Theta Training

This is a technology developed in the sixties, with its peak in the late seventies. One of its brightest stars was Elmer Green and his wife Alice, with the support of the Meninger Foundation, from Topeka, Kansas. Biofeedback, a term for this whole field of study, is concerned in general with the perception of the person's biological functioning not usually perceived by the conscious mind. Through the help of electronic feedback, which detect signals of physiological activities, the patient is taught to perceive and to control these physiological activities, as needed.

Neurofeedback, the specific part of biofeedback that is concerned with the brain's functioning, detects the brain's workings through electro-encephalograms (EEGs) obtained from specific areas of the brain, which is determined depending on the needs of the patient. It has been successfully used for re-training of brain-waves in people with ADD/ADHD (attention deficit/hyperactive disorder), as well as other problems like epilepsy, even drug-addiction and alcoholism.

The part of neurofeedback called ' alpha-theta training' was specifically developed for training in awareness of reveries, or hypnagogia, at the threshold of sleep. The main purpose of alpha-theta training is the development of creativity, as communicated by the unconscious mind through reveries from the threshold of sleep.

The Effects of Hallucinogenic Substances

The so-called 'hippie-era' of the 1960's left us with loads of personal anecdotes of 'wild' hallucinatory experiences due to ingestion of certain hallucinogenic substances, principally through the use of LSD, though unfortunately these experiences have been scientifically investigated by very few. It is well known that the use of hallucinogenic substances for the purpose of attracting 'visions' is nothing new. For example, the ayahuasca used by South-American Indians is a traditional shamanic tool, and is still used in the present in religious (shamanic) ceremonies in South America, mainly by societies who have contact with the Amazonian Indians. Peyote has similar origins, as well as similar uses in what is now Central America.

In 1990 Rick Strassman started research with DMT, which is the same molecule that produce visions present in the ayahuasca. N,N-dimethyltryptamine, abbreviated DMT or N,N-DMT, is a molecule with powerful psychedelic properties. It is the simplest of known psychedelics, and is very common in the plant and animal kingdoms. DMT formation takes place in human brain, lung, and red blood cells. According to Dr. Strassmann,

' DMT fairly reliably induced in our volunteers a profoundly altered state of consciousness in which took place a seeming separation of mind from body. Volunteers also reported experiences that share features with mystical and near-death states. Many described the sense of contact with beings variously described as sentient, with whom they communicated. A few described scenes from what they believed was the future; in other words, prophetic visions.'

Unfortunately, his research stopped in 1995; he describes the conditions, complications, and results in his book DMT: The Spirit Molecule.

The important point to be considered about the effects of hallucinogenic substances is that ALL bring mystical experiences or visions that may be interpreted as the further development of hypnagogia. It is also important to note that shamans do not always use hallucinogenic substances to produce visions, but have alternatively made use of methods such as the North American Indians' sweat-lodges, the dances performed by African shamans, as well as the Middle Eastern whirling dervishes. Modern techniques have included breathing techniques (something Yoga also suggests), and sensorial deprivation. (See also, the work of Christina and Stanislav Grof.)

Hypnotic Reveries

Historically, the methods of healing developed by Mesmer, called mesmerism, has caused in some people a phenomenon that was called a crisis. In the use of Mesmerism for healing, it was believed that this crisis was necessary for healing to ensue. However, in the late 1700's Armand Marie Jacques de Chastenet, marquis de Puysegur, discovered through the use of Mesmer's techniques on one of his employees, Victor, to treat fever and congestion in the lungs, that he had fallen asleep peacefully in his arms. However, he soon discovered that Victor's sleep was different from the natural sleep, and that it appeared more like the type of sleep commonly observed in somnambulism. Due to this similarity, he then called it a magnetic somnambulism or magnetic sleep, among other variations, because it was produced by the so-called magnetic passes of mesmerism. The development of both – the techniques of mesmerism and the state that came to be known as hypnotic sleep – later formed the theories and practices of what is known as hypnotism. The term hypnotism is attributed to James Braid, in the first half of the nineteen century. The state of magnetic-somnambulism is undistinguishable from what is now called hypnotic trance. (See Adam Crabtree for more on the history of hypnotism.)

Milton Erickson during the 20th century discovered what could be called lighter states of trances, or of common everyday hypnotic states, or trances, usually not recognized by a person in normal waking life. These are subjective states of the mind that apparently parallel our everyday conscious states. Erickson developed techniques to tap into and to influence these parts of the person's behavior, so that he could effectively reduce certain problematic behaviors or control pain. In comparison to the long and involved treatment practiced by psychoanalysis, Erickson's methods came to be known as the fast-therapy. It took just a few sessions to achieve the therapy goal, as opposed to the long-term treatment required by traditional psychiatry.

My point in introducing the subject of hypnotism here is the fact that a person in a hypnotic trance, may be suggested to experience imagery or visions that are generated on the spot. So, in this sense, the person hallucinates. Or the person may be influenced to not see something that is there, which is a negative type of hallucination. Also, during the hypnotic trance, it is possible to access what I would call, the wise part of the mind – which could be the super-conscious mind, as it has been introduced above. The well known American medium Edgar Cayce, accessed this part of the unconscious to become aware of cures for diseases, as well as other information not related to health. My other objective in talking about hypnotism, is the opportunity to also introduce what is commonly defined as a trance.

More About Trance

A trance is a state of the mind in which a hypnotized person is focused in the imagery suggested by the operator. However, as Erickson discovered, there are many situations in our everyday awake-life, where we enter a trance. Here is the surprise – during our activities, we may enter lighter (or even deeper) states of trance, exemplified by our mind being intensely focused in one activity, while the rest of the world goes unnoticed. Driving a car to work, while thinking about something that worries us, then realizing we didn't notice the trip is a common event. When we get so involved in the story of a book in such a way that we completely forget the distractions of the world, or don't notice the passage of time, is another common example of a trance.

Spiritist mediums use trance to allow for spiritual communication, the so-called 'incorporation of spirit,' and other activities. However, the spiritist medium induces a form of self-trance, as opposed to the way hypnotic trance is induced, through the use of a hypnotist or an operator. It is interesting that some of the behavior of spirit-incorporated mediums is quite similar to the description of the mesmeric crisis as described in the time of the mesmeric healings of the late eighteenth century and nineteenth century, and during the early times of the European (and to some extent the American) spiritism. This form of spiritism is still widely used in Brazil, where I have observed these crisis, in which the medium would sometimes enter as a result of the incorporation of a spirit. The spiritism brand of trance state is mainly used as a tool to allow for the incorporation of a spirit. Also, spiritism uses magnetic passes quite in the same way as in mesmerism, which is understandable if we recall that Alan Kardec, whose ideas are strongly reflected in the 'white spiritism' practiced in Brazil, as opposed to the African brands of spiritism, was a contemporary (nineteenth century) of the hey-days of hypnotism. We should also not forget that there are religious (Christian) groups that practice entering a crisis (frequently understood as demonic possession), and the so-called 'talking in tongues.'

As related to the state of trance and to the spirit incorporation of the spiritism, when a person is in an alternate personality in the condition of multiple personality disorder, the new personality may be quite different from the every day personality of that person, something quite analogous to when a person is incorporated with spirit in spiritistic practices.

Finally, I should mention here that some modern explorers of lucid-dreaming and out-of-body experiences suggest that the process used to enter the sleep onset so as to produce an out-of-body experience, or an wake-initialed lucid-dream, is also a type of trance. Robert Bruce is the principal defender of this idea.

The Issue of Awareness

Here is an example of an instance of heightened a wareness : 'Look around and remember you are here!' Then ask yourself: 'Am I dreaming? ' This causes our level of awareness to increase, as it was suggested by Stephen LaBerge for the purpose of lucid-dreaming reality testing. I consider this test to be the best practical training technique to increase awareness within the restrictive 'awareness-condition' that we usually have during dreaming. The higher the level of awareness of our mind during a dream, or during the sleep onset, the better do we remember the events that happen during these situations. If we can't remember what happens during a dream or during hypnagogia, then it is the same as if it never happened!

The concept of different levels of awareness, as applied to the functioning of the mind, may be the same thing as the concept of different levels of attention. Higher levels awareness, or of attention, tend to result in good memory of the events at the moment in time they happened, while low-levels of awareness, like the ones we usually have in dreams, tend to be forgotten.

Next I will talk about both, dreams and out-of-body experiences, as they are both related to the state of sleep, and to the possibility of developing awareness during the sleep state. The first one we are all acquainted with is the dream state, as it is a natural state that we all enter several times during sleep.

About The Author

About The Author

Rebecca Casale is a lucid dreamer and a science writer with a special interest in biology and the brain. She is the founder of World of Lucid Dreaming and Science Me.