Switch points, dream yoga and dark nights – What is arising from moment to moment?
Student of Integral Theory, M.A. Online Program
John F. Kennedy University
What makes a human (or animal) life so interesting? Is there ever a moment that is exactly the same as previously? Probably not, since the experienced states come and go whether being from day to day changing general states of waking, dreaming and deep sleep or meditative and non-ordinary states. In this paper I will take an Integral approach on general states and also have a deeper look at the switch points, dream yoga and dark nights. I will also describe my own experiences on lucid dreaming and compare how Eastern and Western approaches differ in it still fitting into the same territory. The Wilber-Combs matrix gives us a map for putting all this together in the most elegant way possible at this time.
Keywords: general states, lucid reaming, dark night, integral, Wilber-Combs matrix, REM, switch-point
In this paper I will use Integral Theory and the AQAL model to explain what happens when general states (waking, dreaming, sleeping, non-ordinary, meditative) switch to one another and how our consciousness can have an effect on those (and how our awareness at different structure-stages will change the interpretation). Here the switch point means a change in energy and realm. I will take a closer look and explain in the light of the Wilber-Combs matrix how changes, whether permanent or temporary, in the state-stages actually happen. According to Integral theory and Integral Life Practice, the practice relating to states rides the paradox of effort and acceptance. All states come, stay for a while, and then cease to be. “An Integral Life Practice must include both state acceptance and state training” (Wilber et. al., 2008, p. 305). Tibetan Dream Yoga and dream practice has been considered an essential part of man’s spiritual journey and overall development. We spend roughly a third of our life sleeping despite of the nationality, age or gender; animals dream also. From our waking gross state we fall into dreaming state or REM-dream and this happens every night. We shut our eyes and dissolve into darkness still having the realization that everything that we would define as “me” disappears. What exactly happens there? Why must we sleep? There is no clear explanation to this either from Western science or Eastern spiritual traditions. Their approaches are of course arising from very different perspectives and both are right (Western explanation is usually considering the physiological or psychological [Zone6/Zone2] and Eastern the spiritual [Zone1&2]). All of us dream whether we remember it or not. Normally the dream is thought to be unreal or fantasy as opposed to “real” waking state. According to Tibetan Dream Yoga and the writings of Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche (1998), “all of our experience, including dream, arises from ignorance” (p. 24). With ignorance Rinpoche means the “entanglement with the delusions of the dualistic mind” (p.24).
Ken Wilber, the inventor of Integral Theory and the AQAL model, writes in one of his really poetic and spiritual books, One Taste, of the switch points of the general states:
“As you fall asleep, you pass from gross body (waking) to subtle mind (dreaming) to causal emptiness (deep sleep) – that’s evolution or ascent – and then, as you awaken, you move down from causal to subtle to gross – that’s involution or descent” (p.51).
Everybody moves through this cycle every day. But as Wilber continues in his book “with constant consciousness or unbroken witnessing, you remain aware during all these changes of state, even into deep dreamless sleep” (p.51). One of my hypothesis’ why we must dream and sleep is because otherwise, mostly controlled by our egos we would simply be mad, sad and confused all the time with our complicated thought patterns. Of course there are physiological explanations for sleeping, like getting rid of extent metabolic waste (adenosine etc.) and charging our synapses, but I would see that sleeping gives us “free time” from our egos, since ego exists mostly in the gross state. Ramana Maharsi has once stated: “That which is not present in deep dreamless sleep is not real.” And his point was that ultimately Spirit couldn’t be something that pops into consciousness and then pops out.
Then how are non-ordinary states related to general states, especially in the dream? The Tibetan Dream Yoga is all about practicing the awareness in the sleep states and also having non-ordinary and/or meditative in the general states. David Zeitler (2011) explained in the states of consciousness course as follows:
“If I am asleep and I wake up in my dream, I am having a lucid dream. If I then have an experience of being overwhelmed by love and light, and my dream-body is obliterated by this light and love, then I am having a spiritual (subtle) state. When I then became overwhelmed by love, and my dream-body disappeared, I was having a meditative or spiritual state, while dreaming, while in a non-ordinary state.
From that experience we can deduce that meditative or spiritual states can and will outrun the general states. States are also typically exclusive: “you cannot be drunk and sober at the same time”.
Analysis & Discussion
The five general states are waking, dreaming, deep sleep, non-ordinary and meditative. According to Integral theory, all of the five general states also have respective energetic bodies especially for waking (gross body), dreaming (subtle body) and deep sleep (causal body). Non-ordinary states also have their respective energetic bodies, which can vary from gross to subtle to causal to non-dual. A state means a state of consciousness and the body is the energetic support of the various states of mind. Ken Wilber (2000) writes in Integral Psychology of the major states:
“According to the perennial philosophy, the waking state is the home of our everyday ego. But the dream state, precisely because it is a world created entirely by the psyche, gives us one type of access to states of the soul. And the deep sleep state, because it is a realm of pure formlessness, gives us one type of access to formless (causal) Spirit.” (p. 13)
What is so important of these states and the corresponding realms or energetic bodies is the fact, that everyone, every human being in no matter what point of the Wilber-Combs matrix they are at have an access to these states on a daily basis. These states can be entered with full consciousness, where the meaning of these states can truly be revealed. I will describe some of those in the section of lucid dreaming and analyzing the switch-points.
General states have been “available” at least since the first humans were evolved (and with animals for sure much longer). So what has been before the general states? Are planets and macrevolutionary pieces of the Kosmos experiencing these states? Or is it so that general states have evolved as an evolutionary necessity for the Kosmos to become more conscious of itself?
The three strands of knowing (or science) can nowadays validate the general states that we are experiencing whether being through the eye of flesh (sensibilia), the eye of mind (intelligibilia) or the eye of spirit (transcendelia). Here when we are having this discussion whether states of consciousness exist both within the kosmos and not within the kosmos we are using the injunction. When we want to grasp it cognitively, with the eye of mind we must have apprehension about it and then have this discussion here within our community (rejection/confirmation). Mode #2, mandalic or paradoxical thinking: our minds are trying to reason about spirit and with Mode #1, the gnosis, we are experiencing these shifts of consciousness, switch points, from one state to another which is crucial for understanding the context and ground those are arising. “Spirit as Spirit is not paradoxical; it is not characterizable at all in mental terms – but when put into mental terms, the result is paradoxical” (Wilber, 2004, p.75).
Non-ordinary or altered states of consciousness. These can be divided into endogenously and exogenously arising. Exogenous are external stimuli like drugs (UL and UR correlations), brainwave patterns, light-sound machines, herbs etc. Endogenous, or self-produced states include holotropic, flow, near-death experiences and for example lucid dreaming (my main concentration on the paper). Nowadays and especially earlier in the golden age of the psychotropic drugs, there were conducted some serious experiments with psychedelics that lead to a realization of their potency creating non-ordinary states of consciousness. “The most plausible hypothesis is that the chemicals somehow inhibit the brain’s normal pattern of processing information, allowing access to an ocean of stimuli that normally are filtered out of awareness” (Bravo & Grob, 1996, p. 179). That seems to be the most advanced UR description of the functionality of psychedelics, but the drug itself does not cause the produce the transcendent experience, but rather opens the mind from the ordinary (patterns and beliefs). But is it just that or is there more into it that we don’t know? To me it looks like most of the people are programmed to be something, collectively depressed with deeper realizations and controlled by fear (personally I had been conditioned by school teachers, parents and other people). This again leads to diminished awareness and the possibility to experience and “see more” is close to none. People are afraid of the non-ordinary. This includes especially the Western medicine, which has not been able to recognize the use of psychedelics exploring the psyche. The aim for psychedelic psychotherapy and personal use of the psychedelics, when consciously used with appropriate set & setting, is to “…weaken a person’s ego resistance until a breakthrough occurs” (Bravo & Grob, p.339). And here lies the danger of the experience/therapy: patients with “weak” egos, not fully integrated with all of the previous stages of vertical self-identity line, having diminished boundaries in the earlier “fulcrums” or stages are in danger. With other types of non-ordinary states, such as near death experiences, the situation is a little bit different. People with significant earlier stage repressions of the self can either have a serious awakening to life and to spirituality or even more serious depression because of the cognitively unexplainable experience and possibly the lack of collective support. This can very well lead to a transpersonal crisis. “Quite often, near-death experiencers have difficulty in integrating that illumination into their daily lives, a difficulty that transpersonal psychiatrists can address” (Greyson, p. 304). I will go into more detail of the possible pathologies in the chapter of state-stages.
These are religious, mystical and meditative experiences, which are associated with the subtle body, causal body, and the Witness, which “is neither a body, nor is it not a body” (Zeitler, 2011). Meditative states can also include peak experiences of the subtle, causal or can also be nondual witness states. There are numerous meditative or contemplative practices that attain various states of the body whether subtle, causal or non-dual. Usually some sort of meditative practice is required for achieving permanent state-stage change and stabilization via the switch points. This is more closely described in the state-stages chapter of this paper. Meditative states are such a huge topic of its own, that I won’t go any deeper into it in this paper.
Dream yoga and lucid dreaming
We are usually not aware of the fact that we are dreaming while we are dreaming, but at times we become conscious enough to have the realization that we are in fact dreaming. The term “lucid” derives from van Eeden (1913). According to Stephen LaBerge (1990) lucid dreaming is normally a rare experience. Most of the people report having had a lucid dream at least once in their lives, still only about 20% of the population reports having lucid dreams once a month or more (Snyder & Gackenbach, 1988). Previously (1950s) some theoreticians have considered lucid dreams being impossible and even absurd. “Empirical evidence began to appear in the late 1970s suggesting that lucid dreams occur during REM sleep” (LaBerge, 1990, p.1). Stephen LaBerge is the pioneering researcher from the Western scientific approach to lucid dreaming, especially of the psychophysiological studies of consciousness during dreaming.
The Eastern or Tibetan yogic approach to dreaming and lucidity is somewhat different from the Western understanding. While LaBerge is concentrated on the psychophysiological realms of dreaming (which is of course great), the Tibetan yoga of dream and sleep provides a “deeper” spiritual understanding into it. According to Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche (1998), “the karmic prana is the energy of the dream, the vital force, while the mind weaves the specific manifestations of the karmic traces – the colour, light, emotions, and images – into the meaningful story that is the dream. This is the process that results in the samsaric dream” (p. 52). He also states, that “all of our experience, including dream, arises from ignorance” (p.24). By ignorance Rinpoche does not mean the Western term, but rather two kinds of ignorance: innate ignorance and cultural ignorance. The first is the basis of samsara, and the defining characteristics of ordinary beings. In the Dream Yoga there are three kinds of dreams: ordinary dreaming (arises from personal karmic traces), dreams of clarity (arise from transpersonal karmic traces) and clear light dreams (non-duality). The first two can be either non-lucid or lucid and the latter is always lucid (beyond subject/object duality). “Unlike the samsaric dream, in which the mind is swept here and there by karmic prana, in the dream of clarity the dreamer is stable” (p.62) and for clear light dreams, which are fairly rare, are similar of developing the capacity of abiding in the non-dual presence of “rigpa” during the day. The greatest value of dreams is in the context of the spiritual journey, which means that they may be used as a spiritual practice. This is something I’ve personally been engaged the past few months with a little success. I’ve had lucid dreams since childhood and now I have a practice of attaining lucid dreaming and holding the witness state, a sense of being enlightened; the “upper right corner” of the Wilber-Combs matrix. Under strenuous stress clearly the ability of attaining consciousness enough for lucidity is impaired. Still I consider it an important part of my own spiritual practices. David Zeitler (2011) commented in one of his reply’s in States of Consciousness course on lucid dreaming that not only are structure-stages (levels) and state-stages (states) important but so is attention, which is related to our translations (meaning-making). He continues:
“Differentiating translation from transformation and transcendence allows us to deal more effectively with situations such as lucid dreaming. The attention that I maintain CAN be imported and exported between both my level and my general-state; this is standard integral theory (interpretation and states-become-traits, respectively). But by NOT differentiating the relative level of attention (on a spectrum from Selective-Inattention through Attention to Repression), we cannot deal with the duality of transformation and transcendence.”
There are many different levels of lucid dreaming. At the superficial level there may be a realization that one is in a dream but still having little clarity and no power to affect the dream. In the deepest level or at the other end of the continuum, lucid dreams can be extraordinary vivid, even “more real” than ordinary waking experience. Rinpoche (1998) describes what I think is the core of lucid dreaming as such: “In lucid dreams, we practice transforming whatever is encountered. There is no boundary to experience that cannot be broken in dream; we can do whatever occurs to us to do” (p.121). Breaking the habitual limitations of experience the mind suddenly becomes flexible. Rinpoche continues:
“The purpose of these practices is to integrate lucidity and flexibility with every moment of life, and to let go of the heavily conditioned way we have of ordering reality, of making meaning, and of being trapped in delusion.” (p.121)
Lucid dreaming is thus not just for fun or because it’s cool; there is a spiritual wisdom embedded in it and the capacity for transformation in the waking life is evident (state-stage transition).
Psychophysiology and consciousness during REM sleep. LaBerge et. al (1981) argued in one of the preliminary studies of lucid dreaming occurrence in REM sleep. This conclusion is supported by research in seven other laboratories (see the original article for the studies). There has been debate whether the lucid dreamers really were “asleep”. LaBerge (1990) explains:
“…according to the reports of lucid dreamers (LaBerge, 1980s, 1985), if they deliberately attempt to feel the bedcovers they know they are sleeping in or try to hear the ticking of the clock they know is beside their bed, they fail to feel or hear anything except what they find in their dream worlds. Lucid dreamers are conscious of the absence of sensory input from the external world; therefore, on empirical grounds, they conclude that they are asleep.” (p. 3)
Lucid dreams have been frequently reported to occur most commonly late in the sleep cycle. According to the current research, lucid dreams reliably occur during activated (physic) REM. Thus, measures of central nervous system (CNS) activation, such as eye movement density, should predict lucid dreaming. “An elevated level of CNS activation seems to be a necessary condition for the occurrence of lucid dreams” (LaBerge, 1990, p.7) and another key point is that “…becoming lucid requires an adequate level of working memory to activate the pre-sleep intention to recognize that one is dreaming” (p.7).
Figure retrieved from LaBerge (1990).
LaBerge (1990) proposed in his paper that with the notion that lucid dreamers can remember to perform predetermined actions and signal to the laboratory can lead to a number of studies. Those are measuring for example counting numbers in the dream, varying the depth of breath, measuring the eye movements and blinking, measuring other muscle group activation and even measuring EEG alpha activity when lucid dreaming. LaBerge (1990) continues in his research, as recognized thousands of years earlier in the Tibetan traditions of dream and sleep, that “lucid dreaming is a learnable skill and there are a variety of techniques available for lucid dreams” (p.12). What then is the difference between a normal waking state perception and imagination and/or dreaming? From the psychophysiological point of view the difference is described by LaBerge (1990) as such:
“In the case of perception, neural excitation is generated by external input, driving activation of the particular schema to-be-perceived in a largely bottom-up process. In the case of imagining (including lucid dreaming) the experienced image is generated internally by top-down processes activating the appropriate neural network (schema).” (p.13)
Personal experience of lucid dreaming. I have not been that successful in lucid dreaming lately mainly because the lack of deep sleep and sleep deprivation caused by strenuous stress. But, the success has often occurred during a vacation or with a little help by an external REM-device called REM dreamer and/or with drinking the dream herb (calea zacatechichi). Also one of the key things is the normal state of wakefulness and witness for a few days before practicing lucid dreaming. The more conscious I am, the easier it is to attain lucid dreaming. I remember one night lying in the bed on a spike mat listening to Holosync “dive” level 3, which is a brain-mind device for inducing theta and/or delta waves in the brain. When I was listening to the binaural beats and waves an image of ocean and deep sin-wave-like patterns of kosmic flush started to arise in my mind. I recognized my crown, third eye and heart chakras becoming really active and suddenly I was illumined by blissful clear light. I knew that I wasn’t awake, but I was fully conscious, bathing in the light and wondering “what the heck is this”. The dream/experience continued for a few minutes (or maybe more?) and during that I was able to fly in the skies. But it all stopped when I tried to gain for more, try too much. I felt that I was falling and at the same time when hitting the ground I woke up. That experience has been the strongest one to my memory; usually the lucid dreaming occurs maybe once a week with the most superficial level of recognizing being on a dream, but not really having that much control of it. I recall many dreams from every night, which I take as a great spiritual and shadow practice.
What is arising from moment to moment? All the states that one can possibly imagine can arise in a 24-hour or a day period. General states are the ones that are in the ground. We are either awake in the gross realms, dreaming with lucidity or non-lucidity and then in a deep dreamless sleep. Meditative and non-ordinary states take the control over the general states described in the previous sentence. So whether we’re dreaming, awake or in deep sleep there is the possibility for experiencing say a deep mystical state of either deity mysticism, gross mysticism and causal mysticism respectively (also non-dual mysticism). Phenomenal states (emotions and feelings) then again are layered on top of general states and they increase in complexity (from angry to happy to sad.. and at the other end from elation to contentment to bittersweet). Phenomenal states follow the law of “transcend and include”, and the law of greater and greater complexity. “Changes in General states often lead to changes in Phenomenal. It is rare that phenomenal states lead to changes in general states – but it does happen, and we tend to remember these experiences more than any other” (Zeitler, p.2). One could have a blissful experience with his lover, sharing a deep feelings of love and happiness, which suddenly might lead to “body-mind dropped” into the causal witness state. Isn’t all this what makes life so interesting? There is always the constant flux of changing states even within such a short period as one day (and night). These are called state transitions or switch-points, when there is a permanent switch in the state-stage of the Wilber-Combs matrix. First there is identification at the current state-stage followed by differentiation or transcendence of the new state-stage and finally the integration of awareness of new phenomena and phenomena from the previous state-stage. With permanent state-training, such as dream yoga, meditation and various contemplative practices can accelerate the state-stage transition.
As is the case with structure-stage transitions and fulcrums, there are switch point pathologies, which are: 1) Addiction (during the differentiation phase to lower state-stage), 2) Allergy (during the integration phase to the lower state-stage). Addiction simply means being addicted and attached to the previous state-stage and allergy having a rejection of integrating the previous state-stage. The right-hand glimpse means a peak experience of a state,
and can happen at any structure. These can have a microtransformative effect on your movement through vertical fulcrums; they can also have either positive or negative effect on the progression of state-stages. Positive: microtransformation through switch-points as a result of sustained practice. Negative: can take one “too far too quickly” without permanent foundation. Right-hand turn is initiated by contemplative practice (like meditation). However, it is important to build ego structure before deconstructing ego attachment. It requires strong lower quadrant support to be successful in metabolizing the mystic or spiritual experience. Taking a right hand turn later in development may increase the speed of vertical growth. Practices that work on the various bodies and realms are for example: concentration -> gross, insight -> subtle, extraordinary -> causal, non-meditation or One Taste -> non-dual. These are deep features represented regardless of the tradition or religion. A person’s so called Dual-Centre of Gravity describes the two-dimensional point where he is on average floating between state-stages and structure stages.
According to various spiritual traditions there are three different dark nights: the dark night of the senses (gross), the dark night of the soul (subtle), and the dark night of the self (causal). The term “dark night”, according to Wilber (2006): “represents a passing through, or a letting go, of attachment or addiction to a particular realm (gross, subtle, causal)” (p.99). Usually these occur in the transition phases between states also known as switch points (explained previously). After the awakening period for spiritual life going through stages from ignorance to disquiet to insight to surrender lead eventually into experiences of “dark nights”. The typical stages are described in Integral Life Practice (2008) book. Here is a quote from the book of the transformation phase:
“An ordeal ensues, which usually extends for years, even decades. Although it begins with purification of the ordinary gross life, it then encounters, illuminates, and purifies all the gradations of subtle experience, and even includes silent and empty “dark nights” of causal passage beyond any experience of light or bliss.” (p.226)
After the sometimes fairly long transformation phase follows understanding, where “there is crucial transition in which there is awakening from the dream. This is spiritual realization, sometimes called “enlightenment”. This is of course pretty rare and especially in the present world quite difficult to “prove”. According to Ken Wilber (2006), “an enlightened person is somebody who has developed to the highest available structures in the Kosmos at that time, and navigated through the available states (i.e., brought Wakefulness through the states, generally from gross to subtle to causal to nondual)” (p.242).
They key meaning for experiencing the dark night according to my understanding is to surrender into what is, let go of the attachment or identity with the general states that are state-stages. And also because of the notion that these are state-stages, not structure-stages gives them fluidity and openness. Spiritual traditions have a strong tendency to “…push through the dark night of the soul (into causal oneness) but not the dark night of the self (into nondual suchness)” (Wilber, 2006, p.99). Personally I’ve gone through the dark night of the senses about 4-5 years ago when deeply opening into the spiritual realms. Robert Kegan (1994) has stated that the shift from one structure-stage to another takes for an adult approximately 5 years. There are no estimates for a state-stage shift, but what I have noticed in myself is the fact that I’ve been going through the dark night of the soul this past year. There is a clear shift and state-stage stabilization process going on for the causal state. This has also been manifesting in the dream world as more vivid lucid dreaming and every now and then maintaining the awareness through the deep dreamless sleep (this is very rare still though). As is the same situation with integral, being at times very lonely in the world, seeing and hearing too much, the experience of the dark night often temporally leads to a sense of loneliness and desolation.
In this paper I have explained the general states that every one of us are having from day-to-day experience and how the states come and go. Some of them are more exclusive than others: general states of waking, dreaming and deep sleep are always in the ground, but these can be “overruled” by meditative and non-ordinary states. Phenomenal states of various emotions and feelings arise in the ground of general states and give the richness and complexity to all of the experiences we are having. Integral theory gives the framework for interpreting states as they are with non-exclusion, enactment and enfoldment. The Wilber-Combs matrix is to date the best possible map for understanding how state-stages and structure-stages are intertwined together. Not only is there vertical development, but also horizontal development usually achieved with a contemplative or meditative practice. Switch points describe the changes, whether permanent or temporary, between states. I have also taken a closer look into the dream world with Tibetan yoga of dream and sleep, which gives us understanding how important for ones spiritual and mental development it is to have a practice in the dream, the third part we spent in our lives besides waking state. Lucid dreaming is one example of a practice attained in the dreaming phase or REM dream. I also introduced some psychophysiological aspects of lucid dreaming, which makes it even more interesting: every conscious moment (UL) has an external behavioural action (UR) whether breathing differently, seeing mental imaginary or experiencing physiological changes. Dark nights are essential to permanent changes in state-stages in a sense of transcending and including the previous self whether in gross, subtle or causal state-stage.
For many, especially in the Western world, dreaming is an area of life that hasn’t been fully attained with the conscious mind. This could be achieved with practice from the childhood as has been in the Eastern (Tibetan) parts of the world for thousands of years. Combining the external studies of dream and sleep (UR) and the interior understanding of it (UL) there is an Integral way of understanding dream and dreaming as a meaningful part of our lives.
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