by Mukul Sharma
Consciousness means being awake and aware of our surroundings, whereas dreams happen only in sleep when we have no idea of what’s happening in the real world. What’s going on here? Is there any scientific basis to it?
According to Doctrines of Walter Evans-Wentz, there are six stages of Dream Yoga. In the first stage, the dreamer is told to become conscious in the dream. In the second stage, he is instructed that the contents of the dream cannot harm him. Next, he contemplates how all phenomena both in the dream and in waking life are similar because they change, and that life is illusory in both states because of this constant change. This is the stage of contemplating the dream as maya, and equating it with the everyday external world. In the fifth stage, he learns to control objects in the dream.
Following this, the dreamer should realise his dream body is as insubstantial as the other objects in the dream. He should also realise that he is not the dream body. The dreamer who has gained complete control over dream objects could, for instance, alter the dream body’s shape or make it disappear all together. Finally, in the sixth stage, the images of deities should be visualised to serve as symbolic doorways to a mystical state of being.
How can a person become conscious in a dream state and then be able to control it? Isn’t a dream all about the unconscious?
Although anecdotal reports of people awakening inside a dream have been around for centuries and over 50 per cent of people report having at least one such experience in their lifetime, the first rigorous study of the phenomenon was only conducted in the last century. That’s when Celia Green of the Institute of Psychophysical Research in England published Lucid Dreams in 1968.
Green analysed the main characteristics of such dreams, reviewing previously published literature on the subject and incorporating new data from subjects of her own. Her conclusion was that lucid dreams were a category of experience quite distinct from ordinary dreams and predicted that they would turn out to be associated with rapid eye movement, or REM, sleep.
It turned out she was right, but scientists still had a problem. Because the only way we can ever tell that a person has had a lucid dream in which he became conscious, is when that person tells it to us on waking. But this is hardly evidence of proof because the person could merely be misreporting or making it up.
That’s when two groups of psychologists on two sides of the Atlantic began wondering if a dreamer could communicate with the outside world â€” while a dream was in progress! It seemed impossible, but their plan was sound. It’s a fact that during REM sleep when lucid dreams occur, all the muscles of the body are paralysed except for eye muscles. That’s why we can see dreamers move their eyeballs under closed eyelids and know that they’re dreaming. So why not just instruct a trained lucid dreamer to move his eyes in a predetermined pattern whenever he became lucid?
It was a brilliant breakthrough idea and beginning in the late 1970s, both teams in England and the US were able to receive eye movement signals from people who were asleep and conscious while they were dreaming. And with it, the existence of consciousness within dreams became established.