Thursday, July 06, 2006
Witnessing During Sleep
In practice, witnessing during sleep can be a rather strange experience. During my days of heightened awareness, I’d go to bed and wait for sleep to come. I’d wait for that feeling of “being awake” to wane - and it never would. Finally, I’d roll over, adjust the pillow and think, “Won’t I ever go to sleep!”
Then, in retrospect, I would realize that for some time I had not had a single thought. Nor, in retrospect, could I recall hearing any outside noise. Only then would I realize that I had been sound asleep. It just didn’t feel like it since I had been suspended in Wakefulness itself. No thought, no sound from external world. I had been experiencing Pure Consciousness, the transcendent foundation for all thinking during the “unconsciousness” of deep sleep.
In 1997, researchers published what to me is a remarkable study in the journal Sleep (20: 102-110.) They took eleven long-term meditators who reported witnessing during sleep and recorded their EEGs. Previous studies of people practicing TM had shown that the subjective experience of transcending (Transcendental Consciousness) correlated with an increased theta-alpha EEG pattern. Now, in the meditators that reported witnessing during sleep, scientists found this same EEG pattern coexisting with the delta wave activity of deep sleep. The EEG showed that the theta-alpha pattern was being maintained in non-REM stage 3 and 4 deep sleep. This unique EEG pattern was seen in the witnessing meditators, but was absent from two control groups of short-term meditators and non-meditators.
Clearly, witnessing can arise in the absence of epilepsy and psychological disturbance, despite having qualities related to classic depersonalization. The scientists researching TM now argue that witnessing can be related to states of consciousness with distinctive neuro-physiology, namely Transcendental Consciousness, and the first stage of enlightenment, Cosmic Consciousness.
This is interesting to me because different paths cultivate very different experiences. Understanding witnessing physiologically may be a first step towards being able to objectively define a “higher” state, or states, of consciousness.