Evan Thompson: Waking, Dreaming, Being

Susanne van Doorn from Mindfunda interviewed philosopher Evan Thompson about his book ‘Waking, Dreaming, Being’. Evan Thompson builds a bridge between Western science: neurology and the oldest map of consciousness, Upanishad.

A big thanks to Christian Gerike for alerting me to this book, and to Christoph Grassmann, for sharing his presentation about the self in dreaming with me so I could prepare questions for this interview.

Evan Thompson talks to Mindfunda about:

  • How his father William Irwin Thompson founder of Lindisfarne Association, as well as his wife, neurologist Rebecca Todd, influenced the ideas he proposes in this book.
  • The waking state as a stream of consciousness with gaps in-between.
  • The dreaming state and especially lucid dreaming is a special kind of awareness.
  • Dreaming as more than random neurological chatter of the brain.
  • A state of pure awareness.
  • And finally Evan Thompson tells us why he picked up the pen to write Waking, Dreaming, Being.

I got aware of ‘Dreaming, Waking, Being’ because of a quote colleague Christian Gerike put on Facebook. It was this quote:

The first quarter is the waking state. Here consciousness turns outward and experiences the physical body as the self. Waking consciousness takes enjoyment in the ‘gross’ objects of sense perception, yet no object holds its interest for long, because attention, motivated by desire, constantly flits from one thing to another. Consciousness in the waking state is restless, dissatisfied, and constantly on the move.

~ Evan Thompson. ‘Waking, Dreaming, Being: Self and consciousness in neuroscience, meditation, and philosophy.’ 2015, p. 9. New York, NY: Columbia University Press.

Evan Thompson
Waking, Dreaming, Being
Evan Thompson

Needless to say I was fascinated. I got myself a copy of the book and enjoyed the book very much. Being diabetic, and having experienced a coma when I was a young child I always have had a fascination about consciousness. What had happened to “me” in that coma? I was not there but I still had flashes of memory.
I considered the voice in my head as my I, my concept of self. That little voice that whispers to me when my blood sugar is low: “Susanne you are not seeing well, it is time to measure your blood sugar level”.

Reading ‘Waking, Sleeping, Being’ and talking to Evan Thompson gave me a new framework for my concept of self. Evan suggests that there are four states of awareness: the waking state, the dreaming state, dreamless sleep and a state of pure awareness.

Waking State

William James was one of the first psychologists and he coined the term “stream of consciousness”. The latest neurological research indicates that this stream is not continuous. it is filled with gaps. Evan talks about what could happen during such a gap and why understanding this is an important step towards understanding consciousness.

The waking state is a creator of the concept of self. Phenomenologists call them the “self-as-object”: a third person perspective, and the “self-as-subject”: me being aware of myself.  This I and Me perspective carry over to dreaming.

Dreaming state

Christoph Grassmann wrote a very interesting presentation about this for one of the psiberconferences organized by the IASD. Christoph was so kind to give me his presentation to prepare for this interview and that is why I asked Evan Thompson the question how his own sense of self had evolved during the process of writing the book. Evan told me that he had become more experienced in lucid dreaming. Lucid dreaming had made him able to change his perspective on his sense of self because he was able to change processes and experiment in lucid dreams. In fact, a lucid dream inspired him to dive into the poems of the Upanishad and compare them with the latest scientific research about consciousness. He had that dream in Dharmsala, where he was invited to speak for a Mind and Life Institute conference with the Dalai Lama and Western neuroscientists on how experience can change the brain.

“I’ve always wanted, since I was a kid, to catch the exact moment when sleep arrives and notice when I begin to dream. With the rising and falling of my breath, colored shapes start to float on the inside of my eyelids. They hover just beyond my gaze, turning into cows and shacks and mules, like the ones I saw this morning on the bus ride up the mountain. As I watch these images, trying not to tamper with them so they don’t fall apart, I find myself thinking of how Jean Paul Sartre explains pre sleep in his book The Imaginary, which we read in my philosophy class a week before I left for India. When we are conscious of drifting of to sleep, Sartre says, we delay the process and create a peculiar state of consciousness, and from them we fashion images -but these shift with each eye movement and refuse to settle into dreams.
The next thing I know, I’m flying over a large, tree-filled valley. I must be dreaming, I tell myself. From the memory of trying to watch myself fall asleep –  still fresh in the dream- and the lack of memory for what came after, I realize I must have lost awareness during my drowsy reverie and reawakened in the dream. I’m having a lucid dream -the kind of dream where you know that you are dreaming. Indian and Tibetan traditions say that meditating in the lucid dream state can make it easier to see the consciousness beneath waking and dreaming, so I try to sit cross-legged and meditate. But my intention to sit this way won’t translate into action and I wind up kneeling instead. Then I lose the intention entirely and I am flying again, still aware that I am dreaming…”

Evan Thompson – ‘Waking Dreaming Being’  p 108

DReaming as more than neurological chatter

After all his research Evan Thompson is convinced that dreaming is more than random neurological firing from the brain. ‘Waking, Dreaming, Being’ gives us a framework to sharpen our mind. The framework that is handed to you as reader provokes your mind to think and rethink about your concept of self, your dreaming self and your memories. Any book that can do that is worth reading.
The science combined with the magic we all crave, magic that seems to be lost in our rational worlds is just what the doctor ordered.

 

watch the interview with Evan Thompson
Watch the interview with Evan Thompson (YouTube – 30min)

Watch the interview (30 min)

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Dalai Lama dreams: here is looking at you kid!

Today Mindfunda's guest is blogger Patti Allen. In this blog she shares with Mindfunda she talks about how people in dreams reflect aspects of your own personality. I know Patti Allen as a gifted dreamer, a good writer who combines inner wisdom with straightforward actions. That always gives her that touch of extra magic when it comes to dreams and spirituality.

Have you ever had a dream about a famous person and wondered what this could mean for you? Is the dream a precognition for a future event or is there another way to work with these dreams? Patti Allen had a series of dreams about his holiness the Dalai Lama and discovered 4 ways of tuning in to your inner dream investigator. The Dalai Lama goes Casablanca style: here is looking at you kid…

“In 2002 through to the present, I started dreaming about the Dalai Lama. It wasn’t a stellar number of dreams—only five—and none of them were precognitive nor giving me information about my relationship with His Holiness or anyone like him, yet they piqued my curiosity and inspired me to dig deeper into the role of people in our dreams. I’ve discovered that I have an inner Dream Investigator who loves to solve mysteries and these characters are most often showing me parts of my Self that it’s time to get to know, own and integrate into my conscious awareness.

 

dalai lama
Dalai Lama

 

We are often surrounded In dreams, as in waking life, by the people we know but also by strangers. Family, friends and co-workers, as well as generic “somebodies”, movie stars and other famous characters we don’t know. Over time, our dreams may seem like we are dealing with a cast of thousands in a Cecil B. DeMille extravaganza! But the fact is, we are the producer, director, writer and actor in our dreams. If you are a dreamer who is consciously evolving and using dreams as a tool towards this end, then you may have wondered, “Who are these people and what are they doing in my dream?”

This is not a simple question. It helps to determine if the dream and the characters are giving you information about a relationship or situation in waking life or if the dream is largely symbolic and the people in your dream are showing you aspects of your Self. Often it is both/and, not either/or, as every dream can have multiple layers of meaning for the dreamer. In some cases, the dream can be precognitive. You may find yourself in waking life face to face with the people in your dream in the same way the dream actually unfolded!

In the first dream about the Dalai Lama is  entitled “The Dalai Lama Visits”:

“The Dalai Lama is coming over. He arrives with his entourage and chooses to hold court in my office. I am pleased and busy attending to the entourage’s needs. I was fussing with the blinds so the glare from the sun wouldn’t be too bright and His Holiness won’t be uncomfortable. His people think it is too dark; they want it lighter. He sits on the couch and at one point calls me over. I think he is calling someone else standing behind me. (I was nervous, reacting with a “Who? Me?” type of response.) His people offer me ghee that was intricately shaped into the shapes of animals. I say it looks different here (in our country). Some biker gang- type neighbours are making a lot of noise and I go next door to yell at them. “Don’t you know we’ve got a holy man here?

In this dream, I found myself grappling with the layers of symbolism with the character of the Dalai Lama. What is the holy man or the leader in me?  How much “light” or enlightenment is just right? Do I adjust the blinds or would I rather stay in the dark? Who are the “biker or gang-types” in me? What is my need to keep them quiet telling me? What is the offering in my life or what am I being offered? In an intuitive or precognitive possibility, at the time of the dream I had no idea that there really is a butter and flour offering in the Tibetan tradition called “Torma”, which are “figures or shapes, some conical, made mostly of flour and butter used in tantric rituals or as offerings in Tibetan Buddhism.” -Wikipedia] And finally, and importantly, why am I always serving or attending to the needs of others?

In other Dalai Lama dreams, H.H. is wearing jeans and smoking after blessing my home, being asked questions about when he goes to the bathroom and when he prays, what souvenir should I buy or whether I can serve pork to his wife!

So with these mysterious characters in our dreams, what is the best way to approach them? Wearing my best “Dream Investigator” Fedora, I first look for clues in this way (with apologies to Casablanca fans!). The Dalai Lama goes Casablanca style. Four questions to sharpen your inner detective tools.

Dalai Lama
Casablanca

Dalai Lama goes Casablanca #1

Round Up The Usual Suspects (associations): Look at the characters in your dream by thinking of 3-5 adjectives to describe them. Don’t try to clean up your descriptions to be politically correct. I call your associations “the usual suspects” because it is your typical thoughts, associations and assumptions, whether true or correct, that we want to know. What first comes to mind when you think or describe that person? I learned a lot over the years and I love Gayle Delaney’s “Tell it to an alien” technique as a simple, powerful and direct way to come up with these descriptions. (Note: there are other similar techniques that are drawn from various types of psychotherapy schools, but framing it in this way Delaney cuts to the chase!)

Dalai Lama goes Casablanca #2

Play it, Sam: When you can’t quite get a handle on any associations in a way that resonates for you, imagine you are the person in question in your dream, and speak from their perspective. Tell us about yourself. “I am…” Playing the part of the characters in your dream will draw out your own associations. Soon you’ll be humming As Time Goes By.

Dalai Lama goes Casablanca #3

Here’s Looking at You Kid: Is the character telling you about a relationship or situation in your life or is the dream about a part of you? Take all the time you need to explore the usual suspects and situations in your life, and let your emotions guide the way. Sometimes, we too quickly rush to make associations and if nothing or no one in our life is a perfect match, we swiftly discard the connections. But taking the time to look with our emotions will often have us taking a second look. As you explore your associations, watch for yours body sensation as clues. You may have a physical or energetic reaction to the character and your associations that will tell you when you find your dream treasure, that juicy “aha” moment. You may know “in your gut” what the people in your dream represent.

Dalai Lama goes Casablanca #4

Louie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship: Once the connection is made between your life and your dream people, befriending them is a great way to begin to integrate their messages. Treat them as honoured visitors and dialogue with them. Invite their energy or point of view into your life. Begin to own their place and value in your conscious awareness. In Casablanca, Rick and Louise start out as enemies…or at best “frenemies” and by the end of the movie, they were going off together to fight in the Resistance. When it comes to dream messages, resistance will often be met with more dreams, both recurring dreams and nightmares, until we pay attention. These dreams and the characters in them can become beautiful friends, when we take the time to get to know these diverse aspects of Self”.

Dalai Lama: here is looking at you kid!

 

dalai lama
Patti Allen

Patti Allen has a rich background in the healing arts, education, and public speaking on the topic of dreams and has been facilitating dream groups for 18 years. As a Dream Teacher, Blogger at www.pattiallen.com, Mentor and Coach, Patti helps people use their dreams to access their inner wisdom, creativity and problem-solving abilities. You can contact her by writing to: patti@pattiallen.com.

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