Consciousness and Hypnagogia: Part IV

Copyright © Sirley Marques Bonham, PhD

Hypnagogia & Sleep Paralysis

The following is a list of some of the characteristics of this problematic hypnagogia.  

Sleep Paralysis & Recurrent Sleep Paralysis characteristics:

  • Unable to move with or without breathing difficulties
  • There may be visions of monstrous creatures (incubus and succubus, for example)
  • There may be the perception of evil nearby, and its consequent intense fear
  • Sleep paralysis may happen at the same time as intense “vibrations” throughout the body

The perception of vibrations has been argued to be a key perception that indicates the onset of OBE. However, in many of my self-experiments the disconnection of the 'astral-body' (if that is what that separates from the physical body) happens so smoothly that I don't notice it, which for me indicates the fallacy of this modern belief. I suspect that hypnagogia where there is the sensation of vibrations may be more related to energetic-like (Kundalini) phenomenon, as it will be discussed below, than a necessary condition for the achievement of an OBE.

What to do to get out of a Problematic Hypnagogia

One common suggestion made to break the sleep paralysis state, is to attempt to move one finger, which when successful will break the state and the person awakens. Eyes may open during the sleep paralysis, or the person may believe they are open. However, the ability to see in this state may be only an illusion. On the other hand there may be a real possibility to see with the eyes closed, if the 'third eye' opens in such a way that we see the environment we are in, or perhaps a similar environment. This has happened to me, and I could see the environment of my bedroom without any movement of my head.

It is important to get informed! For example read the article on “Recurrent Isolated Sleep paralysis” – or the book by David J. Hufford, The Terror that comes in the night Also, the difficulty of breathing may be a real symptom of sleep apnea, where the natural breathing during sleep stops. This is a dangerous condition and it requires the attention of a sleep specialist to confirm its presence during sleep.

From my article with Terrillon, here is what we suggest:

[Note: RISP means 'recurrent isolated sleep paralysis', which is an academic term used for the more severe case where this phenomenon happens with a high frequency.]

When feeling a presence at the beginning or during a RISP episode, try to face it. Stephen LaBerge (1985) has suggested that, upon encountering an evil presence during a lucid dream, one should face it and try to transform it, or the unpleasant situation, into something good. There is a “forgiving attitude” in this suggestion, which might result in a transformation of the “evil presence” into something either neutral or outright friendly. Equivalently, a similar course of action can be used when having hypnogogic or hypnopompic hallucinations at the beginning of an episode involving the feeling of an evil presence. Other tactics might be to shout at the presence in order to conquer the fear, or prayers for religiously inclined individuals, which can help build a positive attitude. Finally, when hearing an increasingly loud buzzing sound, and/or feeling increasing pressure on the chest or inside the head, one might state repeatedly to oneself that RISP is not dangerous, so that one may proceed to the (generally more pleasant) next phase of the episode. An interesting approach to cope with RISP that is often used in Japan, where sleep paralysis is prevalent and is named “kanashibari” in Japanese, meaning “still-bound,” is humor: RISP has been discussed repeatedly on various Japanese television programs, and jokes about RISP are often added to the serious discussions, 19 just as jokes about RISP are also included sometimes in television “durama” (dramas) in Japan.

I would like to remind the reader here that more frequently than not, hypnagogia involve peaceful and beautiful images. Fear should not stop us from enjoying these special moments.  

Next, let's review phenomena that may appear during hypnagogia.  

Phenomena: There may be overwhelming surprises! What are they?

- The sun (or the moon) is coming up in my reveries. Why?!

- Why in the world am I dreaming these annoying car-head-lights moving by?

- Why do I feel itchy when I am trying to relax?

- VIBRATIONS!!!!! What in the world is THIS?!

- Thunder?! - From where? There is no storm coming by…

- Strange… I thought I heard a bell, a glass being broken, a weird sound…

- Weird… A window opened on my forehead!!  

Do Phenomena Equal Energy-Like Events?

The perceptual phenomena observed in hypnagogia may be related to what is known as the Kundalini phenomenon, or at least its 'stirrings.' Robert Bruce calls the lights we see suddenly during hypnagogia as 'strobing' of the third-eye (the Ajna chackra). Vibrations and itchy or current-like sensations are also supposed to be related to Kundalini-stirrings, as is the sometimes sudden dizzy feeling while falling asleep. Of course, there will be brain and CNS correlates to these perceptions - and these might span the whole brain and the nervous system throughout the body! However, the event known as 'Kundalini awakening' is a powerful event for our brain and CNS. It has been assumed to be very rare…

Gopi Krishna describes how he felt during his several powerful Kundalini episodes, as told in his book – Living with Kundalini Irina Tweedee's personal story on her Yogic/Sufi training describes many of the phenomena present in the Kundalini stirrings. Also, there are stories told by people who attained Kundalini-like 'awakenings' through the ingestion of hallucinogenic substances. Much of what is traditionally known as shamanic experiences, may be related, if not the same as what happens during Kundalini events. See for example the books by Stanilav Grof, and the one by Darrel Irving, about LSD intoxication leading to Kundalini events. Also see the book by St. John of the Cross, as well as others related to the experience of no-self, for the types of western (religious) meditation practices that produced exceptional experiences. And again, l et's not forget our mentally ill people in our mental hospitals, as perhaps many of them may be just victims of our ignorance of this phenomenon.

Problems with 'Energetic' Events

The perception of energetic types of phenomena is quite natural during the persistent practice of methods that are similar to meditation, or that use trance-like mind situations. However, sometimes 'energetic-phenomena' become stormy! Or, Kundalini 'stirrings' may be confusing or overwhelming! It is important to understand that, due to the radical event in the brain and CNS, a Kundalini awakening is a serious business!

There are also cases where there is 'awakening' of this energetic phenomenon naturally, without any practices of meditation or similar techniques, perhaps simply due to a genetic predisposition. In this regard, see for example, the book edited by Gilles Farcet on dialogues with Stephen Jourdan. In these cases, there may be little recognizable warnings that something radical is about to happen, though by reading the stories told by a few people who have 'natural peak experiences' – or enlightenment, something that is also related to Kundalini, we can see a pattern clearly outlined throughout their lives that frequently points to unusual psychological events, not common to the population in general.

Also, the stormy Kundalini-like events may be present through emotional upheavals, and therefore again not recognized per se. Again, it is a problem arisen from ignorance on this extreme type of phenomenon of the CNS, unfortunately often not taken seriously by our academics or health professionals.

What To Do

Once again, I suggest you get informed! The Internet has loads of information and personal stories from people who have suffered Kundalini awakening in situations frequently involving meditation practices, though there are also cases where no meditation practices were involved. Reading case-histories and books on Kundalini awakening helps us to understand the variety in both, the characteristic phenomena and the various intensities that the energetic phenomena can take. If possible, find an expert! There are some health professionals who are informed about Kundalini troubles. The understanding of Kundalini phenomena may in the near future break the present cultural conditioning that prevails about the mentally ill, which may lead us to view the mental and neurological phenomena present in the abnormal behavior of the mentally ill in a new light. A friend of mine who has undergone many events of Kundalini-like awakenings, which are events where there is expansion of consciousness, argues that the phenomenon seems to be quite akin to epileptic events, however in an organized way, as opposed to epilepsy per se, where the 'electrical storm' in the brain is disorganized. But we will have to wait for serious research in this area to test the veracity of this conjecture.

Here is an example, again from my personal history, of an experience with the energies of Kundalini. In February of 1991 I had been for more than a year systematically practicing a method I learned in Brazil, to develop the ability to have out-of-body experiences. (See reference by Bianca.) This method has characteristics of both, the meditation and the energetic like practices as the ones suggested by Robert Bruce. So, one evening while I was practicing, I suddenly had this intensely bright light shining on my forehead, which instantly took me from the attention to the exercise, putting me into an intense effort to not break my relaxed state. However, soon it went off, and I managed to continue my exercises, only to again be surprised by the same type of intense light on my forehead. After the second time I could not maintain my state, and fully came out of it, puzzled by the phenomenon. Unlike the sun-imagery of the hypnagogia described at the beginning of this article, this was almost physical. I pondered if I could be seeing the reflection on the wall from car head-lights driving by the window. My bed was facing the wall opposite to the window. I decided to check, but at every instance in which a car happened to drive by, the effect was not even close to what happened before. At that time, and principally during the past year of systematic practice, I had many instances of strange dream imagery of a bright sun, as if intruding in a dream, which I thought of as being odd, but that didn't especially worry me. However now, I had something that I could not ignore any longer. Yet, I was unable to obtain any explanation for it, until a few years later when I found an article in an OMNI magazine that described experiences of seeing lights similar to the one I had, and more. At that time I was also not acquainted with the modern explorations by users of hallucinogenic substances, or about the Kundalini phenomenon.

Next, lets review one last issue related to the mind, which is about its development through learning, and which I believe is also intimately related to our everyday dealings with the 'unconscious' mind.

Developing the Mind

In the process of developing the mind, and because it involves learning, we need to consider the issues of training, the issue of centers of instruction (schools), and the issue of how to develop expertise. These are important considerations, as learning follows different phases, and frequently structured learning works better than disorganized learning. Training should happen through the help of an expert, which may be found in schools. When schools are not available, the person should preferably join a study-group, because the mind thrives better when it has the opportunity to benefit from different points of view. The acquisition of expertise is the extreme goal of learning, and may take years to develop.

In the process of developing the mind so that the conscious mind is able to communicate with the unconscious mind both ways, 'to and from', it is necessary to ask a tough question: How do we communicate our intentions to the unconscious mind? The following is a list that would justify the need for such a communication from our conscious mind:

  • To be conscious during a dream, or while falling asleep (for OBEs and lucid-dreams)
  • The need for an answer to a difficult problem
  • The capture of a 'creative vein'
  • The development of a useful new skill
  • To obtain information from a distant location or person
  • How to heal a disease in ourselves, or in someone else
  • To know the future, given the present situation

…And so on

Learning 'how' is implicit in this list for whatever reason that we want to bring into the mind and to include in our long-term memory system, then to bring out of the mind answers to our needs or questions, or to learn about practical means to access our memories or to learn or perfect needed skills.

Is the knowledge accumulated about the brain and nervous system, as well as the mind, enough to obtain or develop a good methodology, other than what is already known? - I believe it is! Have we developed methodologies to achieve an effective way to communicate with the unconscious? – I believe we have!

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.