Dream States: The Space Between Sleep
Sleep is a funny thing. We all do it and yet, we never really regularly compare notes. Growing up, I assumed my experiences with sleep and dreams were the same as everyone else's. I'm not saying they weren't, for the most part, but it's hard to distinguish what is common with what is perhaps more unusual if the experience is everyday (or, every night as this topic would have it).
Dreams for me have forever been a spiritual experience. I was always curious about this state and thought a lot about my adventures upon waking. Even as a kid, I'd wonder what they meant and dig for hidden context. In this post, I'm going to highlight various dream states that I personally experience, and provide my thoughts both on what they mean, how they can be achieved (if desired) and what to do with them once you're there.
I didn't realize that lucidity in dreams was a desired state or one that not everyone experiences. I began lucid dreaming as a kid and just saw it as very normal. Lucid dreaming essentially means becoming aware you are dreaming, while still in the dream. So, think of it as waking up (while still dreaming) and realizing that everything you are experiencing isn't "real". It isn't just that you know you're dreaming, but you are also aware that everything you're seeing and feeling is a product of your own mind and therefore, can be controlled. This is quite a powerful spot to be in because it means you are now in the driver's seat and can dictate how the story unfolds. Once lucidity is achieved, you can technically begin to change the landscape on whim - however, getting good at this can take some practice. I ran into difficulty where my mind would run a muck with all the possibilities - both good and bad. It's something you really need to work at to get a handle on, but once you do, the sky is the limit. Want to see a long lost friend? Explore a different corner of the world? Fly? All possible! On the other hand, you can also use lucidity to free yourself from an undesirable dream situation. I'll frequently "wake up" during a nightmare and then force myself to actual wakefulness so that I don't have to experience it anymore.
I think lucid dreaming is a way to also understand your own innate power as a spiritual being especially as it relates to creating your reality. These types of dreams show you how much control you truly have and how you can use that control to shape an outcome. You just need to believe you can do it, set the right intention and use the tools and skills at your disposal. Nothing is unchangeable and everything is possible.
It is difficult for me to tell you how to achieve this state because it just kind of happens to me. But, there are some good resources I've found which may be helpful!
Wikipedia describes the hypnagogic state as follows: "The experience of the transitional state from wakefulness to sleep in humans: the hypnagogic state of consciousness, during the onset of sleep. Mental phenomena that occur during this "threshold consciousness" phase include lucid thought, lucid dreaming, hallucinations, and sleep paralysis."
This is a pretty good descriptor, but it doesn't quite account for its intensity. In my experience, there is this moment that exists on the threshold of sleep where my senses can get really messed up. Sometimes it lasts just a couple minutes before I drift off. Sometimes it lasts for an hour as I struggle to make the transition. In all instances, my guard (ego) is generally down and so when I have the experience, it's not as scary as it would be if I were fully conscious or if it were the middle of the day.
So, what happens in this space exactly? It can range. On some nights, it's as if a literal movie is being screened on the back of my eyelids. The picture is so clear, much more clear than just regular thoughts. It's as if you are seeing your dreams play out right in front of you. I often see faces of people I don't know and a lot of times, I'm being zoomed over and across various landscapes. It's a more immersive experience than a movie, but I'm not sure how else to describe it - imax maybe? Or, like one of those rides where the seats move and it feels like you're in the movie that's being played? It's a bit like this. I wouldn't call it a hallucination though because it's happening behind closed eyes - nothing is being projected into my 3d reality.
However, auditory hallucinations are also a lot of what I experience in this state. When I'm laying there, I'll often hear very random sentences, or names of people. It's a bit startling, but not scary. I've taken a great interest in these short word bursts and try my best to remember them. I know it happened last night, for example, but unfortunately I can no longer recall what I heard.
Which brings me to my next point. A lot of what I experience in these states, and maybe you too, is hard to hold on to. Like dreams in general, if you want to be sure you're going to remember it the next day, sometimes you have to wiggle yourself out of that space and actually write it down. There have been many times where I thought to myself "there is no way I'm going to forget what I heard!" and then the next morning, sure enough, it's melted away. I know it happened...but I can't weave it back together. So, whether it be your dreams or other experiences, keep a pen and notepad by your bed if you want to make sure you can revisit it the next morning!
And for those wondering how to achieve this state, I think the best thing to do would be to keep your awareness engaged when you're really tired and know you'll be passing out shortly. It tends to happen on the cusp of sleep, so pay attention to the way you're feeling right in this moment and remain relaxed. You may also want to try to push off sleep a little bit if you need to - the point is to be not quite awake, but not quite asleep either.
And if you're still struggling with it, here is a relaxation meditation created with the intention of reaching the hypnagogic state.
P.S. Thomas Edison is a famous hypnagogic explorer and used the visions he received in this state to come up with many of his inventions. You can read more about it here: How To Dream Like Thomas Edison
Okay, this isn't exactly a desired sleep state, but it's still one I've experienced and so I thought I'd talk on it a bit. The first time I ever experinced this phenomena I was a teenager. I'd heard my dad and aunt talk a lot about it and quite frankly, it sounded terrifying. My aunt in particult would recount experiences where she would feel beings tear her from her bed or taunt and mock her. This was nothing I was interested in and luckily, I'd never had to...until I did.
On the night of my first experience, I was telling my boyfriend at the time about the experiences my family had shared. I am not sure how we got on the topic, but I recall either saying or thinking that I hoped it would never happen to me. Well, I tempted fate I guess because that night, not only did it happen to me, it happened to me 3 times. The first two times I woke up simply unable to move. I felt awake and aware, but nothing was working. Yes, this is scary. I recall struggling to move my limbs and after maybe a minute or so, was able to escape the paralysis. The last time it happened though, not only was I frozen, I was also in the presence of some big dark faceless figure. It lunged at me and let out some kind of howl, landing right on top of me. I tried to fight it off and through this process, was able to free myself of the paralysis and the figure disappeared.
Thankfully this is the worst experience I've had and it only happened once. I have had the paralysis though on and off through the years. I wouldn't call it a common occurrence, and I'm not sure exactly what brings it on. Some believe it may be a lack of sleep or the abundance of stress. I don't know if I've been able to connect the dots in that way with my own personal experiences, but I wouldn't count it out either.
Since achieving this state is likely not desirable, I'll tell you instead what I do to try to free from it. First off, I try to stay calm. I assure myself it's only temporary and my body just needs a moment to catch up. Then, I try to wiggle my limbs and stretch my body. Of course, I'm not actually moving but doing this helps me gain some control back over the situation. After a few moments, it seems to correct itself and all is good again!
In that paralysis state, I hear it's also possible to experience the hypnagogia as I described above. To be honest, I hate the paralysis so much I don't ever try to achieve anything in this state other than the ability to get out of it. And while I do like hypnagogia on its own, I'm actually not the sort of person who likes very psychedelic experiences. My enjoyment of the space between sleep is quite uncharacteristic, but I also think its my way of exploring with a method that is comfortable as opposed to, say for example, using a hallucinogen during the day to bring about similar effects. To each their own though!
Oh, and to further highlight how much I dislike this state, as a lover of horror movies and being scared, I refuse to watch the film The Nightmare because it's all about sleep paralysis. Since I know what it's like, I have no desire to delve into other people's terrifying experiences - I'll stick with my own, thanks!
Regardless of the specific state, dreaming in all its stages is a part of my spiritual practice because it's about exploring another state of consciousness. It is another aspect of myself that speaks a different language and expresses itself while my guards are down. And while these experiences I've shared are very personal, dreaming in general is so shared. If you've experienced things similar or different to what I recounted above, I'd love to hear about it. Feel free to get in touch or comment below.
And before I close out, dreams and tarot are also wonderful companions. Last October, Nisha and myself ran a 31 day Tarot and Dreams challenge on Social Media and from that, this guidebook was born. It's a freebie that talks about the states I've covered here but also, how to better understand your dreams using tarot as a tool to analyse their meanings. Grab it if this topic is of interest and sweet dreams, my friends!