The Astonishing Train and the Huge Hole (Briefly Lucid Dream, 08/25/11)

This is a dream that I had this morning, perhaps around 5:30 AM. It was what they call a “Dream-Induced Lucid Dream”: DILD.

I’m in the back seat of a car. P—‘s driving, and somebody — the identity seemed to shift from M. to B. to an unfamiliar African-American man — is in the passenger seat of the front seat, “riding shotgun”. (Riding in a car as a passenger rather than as the driver happens to be one of my dream signs.)

P— is maneuvering through a parking lot, and then gets distracted by something. From my viewpoint, I see his head turned to the left, but he’s driving forward and I see that he’s going to hit the rear end of a parked car (which was white, distinctly recall). I yell “P—!!” but he ignores me… and he hits the car. Then he drives off out of the parking lot, apparently not taking responsibility for the accident.

Now we’re driving through a modern city with tall buildings, perhaps 20 stories high, so the streets in between feel like canyons. The city seems to have been built on a hilly area, because there are definite slopes to the streets. The passenger riding shotgun (at this point, I think it was B.) directs my attention down one of the streets, pointing out an ASTONISHING TRAIN. I can see only the part that’s not obscured by the buildings, but I can see that it’s enormous and that it seems to have been built from red bricks! So, it looks like a long three-story red-brick building that’s moving fast, down a street one or two blocks away. I marvel at this engineering achievement, and think how puny a “regular” train looks in comparison.

Then I notice that there’s a HUGE HOLE in the city, like they’re digging a big hole to make the foundations for a building. I am suddenly no longer in the car with other people, and I suddenly become lucid. I recognize that it’s “only a dream” and I jump into the hole to see whether I can fly. Unfortunately, I almost immediately lose the scene — it all goes black, and I fear that I am losing lucidity. I never hit the ground, but I also don’t get around to flying. Darn! I am not sure whether I proceeded to wake up at that point, or whether I slipped into a non-lucid dream or into a dreamless state.

(The non-lucid portion of the dream that led up to the moment of lucidity, the accident in the parking lot, may have been a separate dream, but I believe it was part of the same dream.)

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The Trap of the Middle Way

I mentioned earlier that L. LeShan warned (p. 65) that there are special traps associated with what he calls the “Middle Way” approach to meditation, also called “the way of the man with a silent mind” of the Hesychast tradition of Mount Athos or “the way of emptiness.” He points to an entire chapter in his book entitled Alluring Traps in Meditation and Mysticism (p.116). But nowhere in that chapter does he specify what the special traps associated with the Middle Way are.

He lists several categories:

1. “Vibrations,” “Energy,” and Other Cheap Explanations of Things

2. Monday is Blue, Is Subatomic, Is Regressive, and Other Silly Maps of Reality

3. The Game of Withdrawal from the World (or, “I am such a high person that I can see that your pain is illusion”)

4. My Guru is Higher Than Your Guru

Of these three, my guess is that trap #3 is the one that is most likely to pertain to the Middle Way. On p. 128, LeShan writes that practitioners of a certain type (perhaps Middle Way?) of meditation

… turned out to be calm, centered, intelligent philosophers who could watch starvation and avoid involvement with those starving, since they believed involvement would bing them more closely to the “wheel of things” and so prevent their inner development.

Maybe this is one of the traps of the Middle Way?


Another possible trap is as follows. There may be TWO states of mind that are devoid of internal verbalization/conscious thought:

1. A state which LeShan describes as “a highly alert and dynamically balanced mind without conscious thought,” in which “events are perceived and responded to as they occur with the full focus of immediate attention…” This is the ideal.

2. A “spaced out” state in which there are no particular thoughts, but in which there is also little attention or alertness. This is not ideal.

It may be possible to attain state #2 but mistakenly believe that one had attained state #1. In state #2 the mind is indeed empty, but it is not alert. Perhaps the Middle Way should be renamed “the way of the man with a silent and alert mind” or “the way of emptiness and alertness.”

I can easily see somebody falling into this trap for years.

Published in: on 15 November 2009 at 12:18 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Suitcase Buckle (Dream, 04/24/09)

In the second dream, my sister was cooking a chicken in the oven. We had to go somewhere, and she suddenly learned (perhaps through a telephone call) that she had found transportation. I am not sure what form the transportation was, although it may have been a taxi cab. We had to leave immediately to catch the transportation.

I asked my sister if it would be okay to leave the chicken cooking while we left. Surely it would get burnt? She insisted that it would be okay. I again asked her, are you sure? She was sure. We left the chicken cooking.

B.O. appears in the dream. B.O. is slightly annoyed at M. because he had suggested she use a suitcase that had a buckle on it, and the buckle somehow irritated her. Perhaps during her travels, it was pressing on her leg or her head, and it was painful.

(This may be a reference to my “real” suitcase. The night before, in what we consider waking life, I had lent it to a friend who needed it to go on a trip this weekend. And the buckle is very most likely a reference to a poem entitled My Papa’s Waltz that was discussed in the CD-ROM course on poetry that I sometimes listen to in my car.)

S.J.F.’s wife T.S.F. (who is expecting twins in May!) also appeared in the dream, briefly. She made a comment, but I don’t remember what she said.

Published in: on 26 April 2009 at 10:41 am  Leave a Comment  
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Spring Cleaning (Dream, 04/24/09)

I had two dreams the night of April 23 (so they probably actually occurred in the early morning hours of April 24). At least, two that I can remember.

I remember only the general gist of the first dream. In this dream, for some reason I have decided to be less messy, and to throw unnecessary things away. In the process, I throw away two notebooks into the trashcan in the garage where I live. One of the notebooks was spiral-bound, while the other was my moleskin notebook that I often bring when I go on trips or to some function (e.g., a wine-tasting I attended April 8, or a musical event that I attended April 19) to take notes.

But later I suddenly had second thoughts, and decided in a near panic that I really hadn’t meant to throw those notebooks away. I decided to go back to the trashcan to retrieve the notebooks. I reasoned that they don’t empty that trashcan too often, so there would be a good chance that those two notebooks would still be there.

The notebooks were still there, although a little soiled, near the top of the pile of trash in the trashcan, with some other trash on top of them. I retrieved the notebooks, greatly relieved.

Published in: on 26 April 2009 at 10:32 am  Leave a Comment  
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The Mango Goose (Dream, 02/04/09)

I dreamt last night, of the old family house. The dream seemed to have three “scenes,” so I was tempted to count them as separate dreams, and indeed I list the three “scenes” separately below. But I believe they were actually just one rambling dream.

Unfortunately, at no point did I achieve lucidity.

1. The Balky Lamp. I was in my old bedroom, back in the old family house. It was dark, so I tried to turn on my lamp but it wouldn’t light. I peered out the venetian blinds and could see a light coming from some source, perhaps a street light. I returned to my lamp, and tried it again. This time it turned on.

I’ve read somewhere that electrical devices have a tendency not to work in dreams. I think The Balky Lamp was a good example of the effect. Perhaps if I had had the presence of mind to do a reality test when the lamp wasn’t working, I could have achieved lucidity. It is another example of the Dry-Cleaning Effect: can you train yourself to have the presence of mind to do a reality check whenever an electrical device doesn’t work in your waking life? If so, the next time a balky electrical device appears in your dreams, you might do a reality test, and you might then go lucid!

2. A Walk Around The House.
Here, I exited the front door of the old family house with B.B.; we went to the west face of the house following a curved path that isn’t there in real life. To the east we saw P.H., a child again, riding his bicycle up and down his driveway.

This dream fragment may have come either immediately after The Balky Lamp or immediately after The Mango Goose. I have placed it second in the list because I think that was the order in which it appeared; but I am not certain.

3. The Mango Goose.
I was back in the entry foyer of the old family house, facing towards the door, looking upwards and over my right shoulder. Somehow, I could see straight through the ceiling and perceive a goose on the roof, as if I had X-Ray vision. I saw that the goose had in its beak a string or vine, about 12′ long, from which dangled a fruit like a mango. Somehow, I was able to catch the goose, grabbed it by its neck so it couldn’t bit me, and lifted it up. Although in real life this would surely injure a goose, in the dream somehow I knew that the goose would be okay. I am not sure what happened to the vine and the “mango.”

Small animals that bite occasionally appear in my dreams. I wonder whether I have some hidden phobia.

Published in: on 4 February 2009 at 9:10 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Dry Cleaning Effect and Remembering Yourself

‘Dry Cleaning Effect’ Explained By Forgetful Researcher.

In a nutshell, the rigid striatum is the autopilot, the flexible hippocampus is for (spatial) learning. Vow to yourself that the next time you see, e.g., a red bird, that you’ll say the word “parsimonious.” It seems technically easy to do. But do you think you can actually do it? Or will you forget?

Maybe meditation is about training yourself to minimize use of the striatum and maximize use of the hippocampus. Even if you’re doing some menial chore that you’ve done hundreds of times before, remain engaged to the task at hand. I think this is what some people mean by the phrase live in the moment, or by one of the current New Age buzzwords, mindfulness.

Don’t fly on autopilot; operate manually and maintain focused attention. It is difficult!

I think this is related to turning off that incessant internal dialogue we’ve all got running in our minds like a ticker tape.

In his book In Search of the Miraculous (6 MB File; top of p. 121), P.D. Ouspensky, a student of the mystic G.I. Gurdjieff, wrote:

Then again I went out of the house. I walked on the left side of the Nevsky up to the Gostinoy Dvor intending to go to the Oflitzerskaya. Then I had changed my mind as it was getting late. I had taken an izvostchik and was driving to the Kavalergardskaya to my printers. And on the way while driving along the Tavricheskaya I began to feel a strange uneasiness, as though I had forgotten something — And suddenly I remembered that I had forgotten to remember myself.

I think that Ouspensky had in mind this difficult cognitive task. He had vowed to “remember himself” as long as he could, but then fell back into the zombie-like autopilot thought mode. Although he was physiologically conscious while walking about St. Petersburg (even “changing his mind” at one point on where he wanted to go), in a sense he was only an automaton running on autopilot, a robot run by his striatum. And then his hippocampus kicked in, and he “woke up” and remembered to “remember himself.”

There seem to be two usages of the word to remember. One usage (striatal?) appears to be somewhat static, like recalling some piece of information that you have memorized by rote, e.g. the year in which some great historical event happened, or the colors of the rainbow. The other usage (hippocampal?) is more dynamic, as in having to remember to do something, like stop by the dry cleaners on the way to work. Of course, it is this second meaning that the “Dry Cleaning Effect” article is about, and it may be related to the kind that Ouspensky was talking about, too.

Published in: on 19 January 2009 at 1:48 am  Comments (3)  
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A Taxonomy of Meditation

I once dug up a paper by James Moffett, philosopher of education, teacher of teachers, entitled Writing, Inner Speech, and Meditation (College English, Vol. 44, No. 3. (Mar., 1982), pp. 231-246). In this paper, Mr. Moffett suggested that meditation is good for writers. He argued that the “inner speech” or “internal monologue” that continuously goes through our mind like a ticker tape provides raw material for writing, and that writers would benefit from learning to harness that inner speech.

Then Mr. Moffett gives a taxonomy of meditation. I adapt his figure below (hmm, I may need to re-capture the figure to make the text a little clearer; I don’t know how to make those arrows in HTML):

Moffett's Five Categories of Meditation

Moffett's Five Categories of Meditation

In his book How to Meditate, psychologist Lawrence LeShan gives two systems for classifying meditation practices (Chapter 6 of the book). In the first classification system, there are two types of meditative practice: structured and unstructured. In structured meditation, one’s meditative practice is precisely defined. LeShan gives as an example a simple breath counting exercise, wherein one counts one’s breath up to four and then starts over; any time you notice your thoughts straying from the exercise, you gently but firmly bring them back into line. In unstructured meditation, one allows one’s thoughts to wander on some selected topic, and merely observes thoughts, feelings, and memories one has on that particular topic; in essence, it is developing a thought chain on the topic. Thus, there are two components: (1) the topic itself, and (2) one’s feelings about it. LeShan warns that it is not just lazily musing or daydreaming about some topic, but instead involves an active act of will. LeShan’s structured meditation seems to map to Moffett’s “focusing inner speech” category; on the other hand, LeShan’s unstructured meditation seems most like Moffett’s “witnessing inner speech” category, but restricted to a particular topic.

LeShan’s second classification system divides up meditative practices into three classes: inner, middle, and outer ways. In the inner way (a.k.a. the way of expression, or the way of surrender), you just observe your own stream of consciousness; this seems to be the same as Moffett’s “witnessing inner speech” category. In the middle way (the way of emptiness), one strives towards an emptiness of the mind. It is not a trance-like, drowsy, or “spaced out” state of mind, but exactly the opposite: an alert mind with no conscious thought. This seems to be the same as Moffett’s “suspending inner speech” class. LeShan states that in the Byzantine desert Christian mystical schools, i.e. the Hesychast tradition of Mount Athos, it is known as “the way of the man with a silent mind”; and he warns that this is a difficult way, fraught with hard work and certain “traps” which he doesn’t specify (I once wrote him a letter asking him to elaborate, even going so far as to enclose a S.A.S.E., but unfortunately I got no response). In the outer way (a.k.a. the way of forms), one focuses on some externality such as an object, word, image, or event, and explore it actively with the eyes in as nonverbal a way as possible. This doesn’t seem to fit easily into Moffett’s classification system; an externality is involved, so on the one hand it seems like “focusing inner speech”, but it is to be done in a nonverbal way, which on the other hand sounds like “suspending inner speech”.

I found the bit about the middle way very interesting, because it sounded extremely familiar: I believe I’ve been practicing this method since high school, without realizing it was “meditation”. To me, it was just a challenging mental exercise, a sort of fun game. It is very difficult to maintain your mind in an alert, awake state, but clear of any verbal content for prolonged periods; try it and you’ll see. An interesting exercise is to take a walk and pay attention to the things you see as you’re walking, but maintain your mind in a nonverbal state. You see a car coming at an intersection, and you don’t cross the street because you don’t want to be hit; but don’t allow the words “car” or “accident”, e.g., to pass through your mind.

Maintain inner silence: very difficult.

One thing that I have learned is that it is possible to suspend inner speech, but in a way that you’re not really alert; you’re more “spaced out,” which is exactly the opposite of what you want. I was stuck in this dead end for about a year before I realized that it was probably the wrong thing to do. Perhaps this is one of those middle way “traps” that LeShan hinted at.

Just this past year (2008), a scientific paper by Lutz et al. from the University of Wisconsin appeared, entitled Attention regulation and monitoring in meditation (Lutz A et al., Trends Cogn Sci. 2008 Apr;12(4):163-9). Lutz recognizes that there are different meditative practices, and stresses the importance of distinguishing between them. He writes:

The term ‘meditation’ refers to a broad variety of practices, ranging from techniques designed to promote relaxation to exercises performed with a more far-reaching goal, such as a heightened sense of well-being. It is thus essential to be specific about the type of meditation practice under investigation. Failure to make such distinctions would be akin to the use of the word ‘sport’ to refer to all sports as if they were essentially the same.

(I heartily agree; if a group of scientists are going to study something, they need to make sure that they’re talking about the same thing.) Lutz then proposes a binary classification of meditative practices. Lutz calls the first type of meditation focused attention (FA), which maps readily to Moffett’s “focusing inner speech” and to LeShan’s “inner way”. The second meditation type in Lutz’s system is open monitoring (OM), which seems to be the same as Moffett’s “suspending inner speech” and LeShan’s “middle way.”

I think an interesting study for somebody (Lutz?) to do would be an fMRI study with the following conditions: baseline condition in which subjects are allowed to engage in the inner dialogue, then different sorts of meditation (e.g., FA vs. OM, or inner vs. middle vs. outer ways, or Moffett’s classes). Then do a 1-way ANOVA with planned comparisons, making sure to do a correction for multiple comparisons.

In summary, meditative practices seem to be concerned with practicing and exercising the ability to control one’s attention: to simply be aware of it, and to direct and focus it. Control of inner speech seems to be distinct but closely related. I think it is no accident that Lutz’s scientific paper has the word attention in its title.

P.S.: I suppose I should have used the plural and entitled this TaxonomIES of Meditation, since I have discussed more than one system of classification. But A Taxonomy of Meditation sounded better!

P.P.S.: Interestingly, a paper by H.S. Kim entitled We talk, therefore we think? presents evidence that Asian Americans don’t use inner speech for thinking as much as European Americans. And from the abstract of a paper by Pagnoni et al. entitled “Thinking about not-thinking”: neural correlates of conceptual processing during Zen meditation, we read:

While behavioral performance did not differ between groups, Zen practitioners displayed a reduced duration of the neural response linked to conceptual processing in regions of the default network, suggesting that meditative training may foster the ability to control the automatic cascade of semantic associations triggered by a stimulus and, by extension, to voluntarily regulate the flow of spontaneous mentation.

Regulating the flow of spontaneous mentation sounds like regulating the flow of a thought chain.

P.P.P.S.: Has it ever occurred to you that suspending inner speech might be useful in the case of an alien invasion? Suppose telepathic space aliens invaded the Earth and were able to track down humans by listening for their thoughts. If you were able to keep your mind silent, you might be able to evade the aliens! 🙂

Along the same lines, I recall a scene from The Empire Strikes Back. Stalking Luke Skywalker with a drawn light saber, Darth Vader mocks him, saying, “Your thoughts betray you.” This indicates to me that Luke hadn’t yet learned how to suspend inner speech! Maybe Yoda didn’t have time to get to that lesson.

Akashic Records

For E.N.

The term Akashic Records refers to a sort of non-physical (metaphysical?) record of all human knowledge and experience; I guess that since it’s non-physical, some people now call it the Akashic Field, suggesting that it is all around us and permeates the very vacuum of space. It is a very New Age idea. One of America’s most famous psychics, Edgar Cayce (pronounced kay-see), the “Sleeping Prophet”, claimed to be accessing these records when he went into one of his trances. Although the idea of the Akashic Records may have pre-dated Cayce, I think (not 100% sure) he’s the one who introduced the notion to the public at large.

Dan SimmonsHyperion SF series had something like the Akashic Records. In the Hyperion universe, evil artificial intelligences have seduced the human race with the promise of immortality. But this denial of death comes at a cost: it is destroying the non-physical store of human knowledge and experience (if I recall correctly, Simmons doesn’t actually call it “the Akashic Records”, but that’s essentially what it is). Catholics might not like this series, since the RCC has been co opted by the evil artificial intelligences in the story; but I don’t think Mr. Simmons intended this to be an attack on the RCC. The Hyperion series has a lot of Christian allegory, complete with a half-human half-divine savior of the human race, the crucifixion of this savior, and redemption via her blood. It may also be a metaphor for the dangers of subordinating wisdom (human race) to science (evil artificial intelligences). (Reminds me of the very interesting distinction that Dungeons and Dragons makes between Intelligence and Wisdom.)

The topic of the Akashic Records makes me think of the fabled (very most likely fictional) Hall of Records, which is supposed to be a physical store of ancient knowledge buried beneath the Sphinx. Unfortunately, the entrance to the chamber containing the Records is lost, and is now waiting for some adventurous archaeologist to rediscover it. This could be the basis of an Indiana Jones movie. (And lost stores of knowledge reminds me of the Library of Alexandria!)