Breaking through to the Psychic and Spiritual

In January of 1972, two friends, Mike Tanner, Sheila Johns, and myself formed an experimental group. With ourselves as the subjects we wanted to research into the probability of the dream process breaking through into waking consciousness. Our main reason at that time was to see if the therapeutic functions of dreaming could then be more fully exploited. I for one was seeking personal healing from depression and psychosomatic pain.

I had started my own interest in dreams six years earlier, and had explored, individually and with others, various methods of working on dreams, their symbols and meaning. I had particularly worked with Jung’s active imagination, and had discovered the power of spontaneous fantasy erupting into consciousness. My book, Do You Dream? was written around the work of those early years.

My interest led me to study the work of Franz Mesmer. Subjects placed by him in a relaxed condition experienced spontaneous movements, fantasy eruption, vocalisation and abreaction of trauma. All of these connect with the dream process, in that during the dream one spontaneously experiences a dramatic fantasy, movements, vocalisation and sometimes the abreaction of trauma. Having watched humans and animals move while dreaming, I theorised that during the dream, in most people the movements being experienced only partially express through the motor nerves and muscles. I had watched a dog, for instance, make obvious running and barking movements and sounds while it dreamt. But the movements and sounds were faint. Yet in sleepwalking, the spontaneous movements and vocalisation are much more complete. So I wondered what connections existed between dreaming, sleepwalking and Mesmer’s subjects.

I found other mentions of these phenomena in as diverse places as early Christianity, in which during the Pentecostal phase, worshippers allowed spontaneous movements, vocalisation and connected phenomena. In Indonesia a group called Subud had started, which exhibited the same type of experience. And Dr. Wilhelm Reich, a student of Freud, has similarly found that patients who were helped to relax muscular tension and hold an open emotional state, experienced spontaneous physical movements, fantasy, vocalisation and abreaction. During a visit to Japan I found there a traditional practice called Seitai that has the same format. The modern teacher, Noguchi, even connects the spontaneous movements with the movements made during sleep.

Our problem as an experimental group was to find a way to allow this type of breakthrough for ourselves. To start with we tried two approaches. Jung had already suggested that to break the intellectual resistance against the eruption of fantasy from the unconscious, it was helpful to let the hands start moving where they wished. It is also a fairly well established fact that nightmares frequently reproduce the movements or postures that had been experienced during past trauma. So we tried a form of fantasy that would allow, not just hands, but the whole body to take part. Also we used the technique of reproducing the position experienced in a nightmare to see if the dream would rise into consciousness and continue.

My own experience in these first experiments was based on a nightmare I had of being strangled. My head was pulled back. Also, prior to the experiment I had noticed that as I fell asleep, a powerful neck tension pulled my head back. So I reproduced the posture in which my head was pulled back by tension and left my body, emotions and voice free to express spontaneously. My body soon began to tremble. This was something we were intellectually ready for, as it was described often in cases of this type. Then the trembling developed into powerful movements. My head pulled back hard, my mouth locked open, and my voice, quite without attempt on my part, cried out for my mother. I then relived my tonsil operation I had as a six year old. It was an amazing experience, rather like a record being played, only my body, voice, mind and feelings were the amplifier.

This began a process which we entered more deeply into over the years, and with it my personal journey to healing – but also to waking up in and exploring the world of the unconscious. Not only did I find childhood trauma, but also a vast unity of minds of which I was a part. It was a unity that spilled into my life as visions and insight.

So that was the beginning. The dream process could break through into waking consciousness. But it was clearer and it was healing. A long standing neck tension and feeling of loneliness disappeared. It wasn’t a nightmare – like Mesmer’s subjects, and Reich’s – it was an abreaction or catharsis.

So one of the keys we used to unlock the dream process into consciousness was the release of muscular tension. I discovered that most people have unconscious muscular tension. If this is made conscious by having the person become aware of it, what was unconscious is already emerging into consciousness. If the tension is then given time to release, with a body and mental attitude of acceptance, spontaneous movements begin.

With further research with numerous people we found abreaction was only one of the many aspects that spontaneously emerged into consciousness. The range was as wide as the subjects covered by dreaming. i.e. sexual pleasure; experimental consideration of a life problem; creative fantasy; ESP; happy play; the exploration of the depths and heights of the mind and body, etc.

I suspected as our experience grew, that in normal dreaming, there is a suppression of motor impulses to the body. I also felt that the people we worked with, ourselves included, learned to relax this suppresser, so that full movement could emerge from the dream maker in us, along with often amazingly rich emotional and mental experience too.

Later I came across the work of Adrian Morrison and his research team at the University of Pennsylvania. They found that a small area in the brain, the pons of mammals, acts as a suppresser stopping the limbs responding to signals from the brain during dreams. When this tiny area of the pons was damaged, the animal lived out its dream fully in physical movement.

From this, researchers have been able to observe what the animals – cats – were dreaming from the movements they made during REM sleep. The cats played with dream toys, attacked or pounced on invisible adversaries, and expressed aggression.

In our own research, our observations of what emerged during periods of conscious dreaming were aided by the subjects themselves being able to give information on what they were experiencing. From these descriptions and from the privileged standpoint of being able to look directly into the dream as it happens, three main functions were observable.

Firstly, the dream process is an expression of the self-regulatory or compensatory function active throughout our being. So dreaming provides an attempt at maintaining health of body and mind. In normal dreams this may be interfered with because we interiorise fears, restraints and goals. During waking dreaming one can recognise and choose to drop the fears and restraints and thus allow the self regulating action to complete itself. This may sound rather uninteresting, but there is nothing dull about the process which constantly keeps out body in balance and dealing with the environment and food we eat, as well as managing to spontaneously lead us through growth of body and mind.

Secondly the dream process is an expression of the growth process at the psychological level. The dream can be observed to feed upon experience and integrate it into wider understanding and a freer identity. i.e. freer from anxieties, rigid viewpoints, etc.

Thirdly dreams express a contact between ones individual sense of identity and the living consciousness of our total environment. So the dream process is creative in that the individual experiences contact with the process of life, and can learn to relate to it more effectively. Also out of this contact emerges a creative response in action, emotion, art, speech, music, dance etc. In this area the dream acts like a microscope or telescope, through which the dreamer can literally explore the cosmos or the depths of their own psychobiological being. This has all the characteristics of the deepest of spiritual experiences.

We have noticed that as people learn the way of dropping the suppression of their ability to dream consciously, they can begin to tap the functions of dreaming when they wish. For instance, the dream process has a much fuller access to total memory and subliminal impressions than normal waking awareness. So once one has learnt to dream consciously, one can actually ask a question and have a direct response from the process.

People who use this technique have said it is like a very accessible intuition. As an example of using it, my wife and I located where she had dropped her glasses on moorland seventy miles from our home. People dealing with the public can much more easily discover what impressions their unconscious is picking up from the person, without having to sleep on it.

The more I observe this process, the more it seems to me that past cultures used it, but did not recognise it as being an extension of the dream. They considered such movements and vocalisation or intuition as being the work of God, Spirit or spirits. (I am not disagreeing with it being a holy experience at times, but want to stress that through understanding its connections with the dream process, one can avoid many pitfalls and misunderstandings.) It was violently crushed in some ages, being so feared. In our own culture, which has a fairly recent record of terror and persecution regarding any spontaneous expression of the unconscious, we are only now beginning a wider exploration of its potential. Having closely observed the very direct connection between the process of dreaming and the experience of ESP, religious experience, spontaneous healing, racial memory and cosmic consciousness, it seems the dream, and especially this conscious lucid dreaming, is one of the richest areas to explore.

I also feel that any investigator of lucid dreaming is limiting themselves if they hold the concept this can only occur during sleep. Consciousness can enter into the dream state in such a way as to bring about lucidity. But dreaming can also enter into consciousness in such a way as to bring about the same result.

My observation is that after practising waking dreaming for some time, the quality of sleep and dreams changes. One of the observable changes is the total vibration of the body while sleeping. As our group has never been able to afford the equipment to monitor this, we only have a subjective and physical experience of it. Also, the process in some cases leads towards lucidity, first within the symbols of the dream then the awakening beyond any images or symbols.

To myself as observer of this, and avid follower of the work being done by other researchers, I feel we are on the edge of opening a territory -consciousness – which had never been scientifically explored before. Have other human beings in the past created a bridgehead in the dimension of sleep and death, in which they now live, just as we live in the physical world? Can we learn to wake up there and develop, not simply a few minutes of excitement, but a dwelling place, a work within the realm of consciousness, and an exploration?

These questions I hope the years ahead will unfold to us. If we work together on pushing back the boundaries of human awareness, it might be we who answer them.

Copyright © 1999-2010 Tony Crisp | All rights reserved