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How medicalization corrupted our mythic relationship with sleep and dreams

Sleep_and_Death_Carrying_Away_Sarpedon

Fascinating reflections from “a psychologist specialising in sleep and dream medicine”:

Nyx and Hypnos were a dynamic duo of sorts — supernatural heroes who romanticised night and sleep. Nyx gave birth to sleep and created an aesthetic of darkness where Hypnos could flourish. And Hypnos loved sleep. Surrounded by fields of wild poppies on the River of Oblivion, his lair was a sanctuary — a cool, magical retreat open to all in celebration of the sensual, even sexy, mysteries of sleep.

Today, mother and son have been largely forgotten. Nyx has been in exile for well over a century as our night sky is eroded by light pollution. And Hypnos is remembered mainly by his namesakes, hypnosis and, surely to his chagrin, hypnotics. Sleep is no longer personal, transcendent and romantic — it is medical, mundane and pragmatic. . . .

The Industrial Revolution radically transformed our perception of sleep from a gracious, transcendent experience to a mechanistic, biomedical process. . . . In more recent decades, the domestication of sleep has given way to its medicalisation. Hypnos has been abducted and is being held captive in research labs, clinics and pharmacies. The field of sleep medicine has encouraged us to think of sleep as a complex biomedical process that lies outside of our awareness — a perspective that impedes our personal relationship with sleep. . . .

We are mired in a pre-Copernican-like, wake-centric era regarding consciousness. We presume waking to be the centre of the universe of consciousness, and we relegate sleeping and dreaming to secondary, subservient positions. . . . Medicalisation obscures sleep’s true nature — its breadth and depth and joy. It conceals the personal, transcendent and romantic dimensions of sleep. We are in dire need of restoring our sense of sleep’s mythic dimensions — of reimagining our personal experience of sleep. I believe this can be best accomplished through poetry, spirituality and, ultimately, personal investigation. . . .

Mythic perspectives suggest that there is something in the deep waters of sleep worth accessing, and invite us to personally investigate it. Metaphorically, they encourage us to practise our descent into the waters of sleep with our third eye open. . . .

Sleep loss, then, is not simply a medical problem; it is also a critical spiritual challenge. Our epic struggles with accessing deep sleep are, fundamentally, struggles with accessing deeper aspects of ourselves. As wakists, we presume that who we are is limited to our waking-world identity. Essential parts of who we are, however, are obscured by the glare of waking life. And these become more visible at night — in the deep waters of sleep and dreams.

FULL ARTICLE: “Falling for Sleep

Image: Sleep and Death Carrying Away Sarpedon of Lycia by Henry Fuseli, 1893 [Public domain ], via Wikimedia Commons

 

Teeming Links – July 18, 2014

FireHead

William Binney, the ex-NSA code-breaker and whistleblower, says the NSA’s ultimate goal is total population control: “Binney recently told the German NSA inquiry committee that his former employer had a ‘totalitarian mentality’ that was the ‘greatest threat’ to US society since that country’s US Civil War in the 19th century.”

“New research finds having a mobile device within easy reach divides your attention, even if you’re not actively looking at it.” (This explains a lot about an increasing number of my daily interactions with people who literally cannot maintain interpersonal attention for more than 30 seconds.)

There just has to be a Ligottian corporate horror story buried somewhere in this: Financial Times reports that businesses are increasingly using big data, including social media footprints, plus complex algorithms to make hiring decisions.

You can still be a passionate reader, but it’s getting ever harder to make a career of it: “A less-heralded casualty of the digital age is the disintegration of the lower rungs of the [publishing] ladder that have long led young, smart readers into the caste of professional tastemakers.”

Steven Poole says that, whereas the disciplined cultivation of spontaneous, effortless action along the lines of Taoism’s wu wei is a great thing, the counterfeit cult of consumer “spontaneity” encourages psychological and social chaos and numbs us to morally reprehensible sociopolitical conditions.

John Michael Greer lays out, in his characteristic elegant prose and with his characteristic lucidity, a vision of the deindustrial dark age that may await us.

Theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli argues cogently that science, philosophy, and the humanities in general all need each other: “Restricting our vision of reality today to just the core content of science or the core content of the humanities is being blind to the complexity of reality, which we can grasp from a number of points of view.”

Astrophysicist, author, and NPR science blogger Adam Frank reflects on the “science vs. religion” debate in light of Eastern philosophy.

If you “hear voices,” is it brain disease, communication from discarnate spirits, or perhaps the very voice of God? Tanya Luhrmann and three co-authors of a new study observe the profound impact of cultural assumptions on the subjective experience of voice hearing.

The ancient history of dream interpretation points to humanity’s insatiable hunger for the divine. For the ancients, every slumber held the promise of the numinous.”

Speaking of dreams, a recent study published in the journal Human Brain Mapping finds that psychedelic mushrooms put the brain in a waking dream state, with profound worldview-altering effects: “[T]he mushroom compounds could be unlocking brain states usually only experienced when we dream, changes in activity that could help unlock permanent shifts in perspective.”

David Luke reflects on psychedelics, parapsychology, and exceptional human experience: “Psychedelic researchers since the time of Huxley and Osmond have been fascinated by exploring the apparently parapsychological affects of these drugs. Rightly so, because the implications of such research for understanding our capabilities as a species and for understanding reality itself are deeply profound.” (I’m happy to report that David will be contributing an article on the relationship between drugs and the paranormal to my paranormal encyclopedia.)

Finally, it looks like my adolescence (and also a significant portion of my twenties) wasn’t so egregiously misspent after all, since Dungeons and Dragons has now influenced a generation of writers: “As [Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Junot] Díaz said, ‘It’s been a formative narrative media for all sorts of writers.’ ”

 

“Fire Head” image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Teeming Links – March 21, 2014

FireHeadImage courtesy of Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Why great artists need solitude: because it “heightens artistic receptivity in a way that can be challenging and painful.”

The Obama administration aggressively prosecutes leakers. It electronically spies on those who might speak to journalists. It deploys its own counter-media to confuse and evade scrutiny by the press. It is, in short, “a closed, control freak administration.”

Michael Dirda on the lessons provided by the late Cornell scholar Lane Cooper for both life and literature:

[I am a reader] with a passion for “low” literature, for adventure stories and fantasy and science fiction and mysteries and romance. And yet. And yet. Something in me deeply responds to, even if it cannot wholly emulate, such men as Cooper and Bongiorno. I envy their wisdom, their beautiful souls, their serene and noble spirits. Because of them I try to write about books that matter, whatever their genre, and, as often as possible, to urge the rediscovery or renewed appreciation of great works from the past.

The dystopian death spiral of American higher education: In the age of predatory corporate capitalism, faculty are slave labor and students are lambs for slaughter. “Ours is the generation that stood by gawking while a handful of parasites and billionaires smashed it for their own benefit.”

The Network-Based Interpretation of Dreams: By mapping the links between themes that appear in dreams, network scientists reveal the connections between dreams in different cultures for the first time.

As it turns out, the 2012 apocalypse almost literally happened (but a few months ahead of the putative Mayan schedule) due to a massive solar flare.

The I Ching is an uncertainty machine: “The I Ching repeatedly prompts me to go beyond false certainties and to create new and unexpected possibilities. In this way, divination might not be the enemy of rational thought but could be a means to its fuller flourishing.” (Also see “Meditation, the daimon muse, and the I Ching.“)

Did the U.S. government pay a Hollywood special effects expert to create fake alien bodies for a disinformation campaign against the Soviets? Nick Redfern makes a compellingly suggestive and suggestively compelling case:

So, we have one man claiming to have made alien bodies to fool the Soviets and (in a fictional setting) we have a government creating a monster to fool the Germans. There is a Billy Wilder tie to both issues (in the sense that the source of the above-story worked with Wilder, and Wilder himself directed, produced and co-wrote The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes), and both Wilder and the man behind the “alien dummies” ruse worked with the Psychological Warfare Department on Death Mills. Somewhere, in this convoluted saga, I suspect, there is a big secret just waiting to be uncovered.”

Richard Smoley on Colin Wilson, Faculty X, and waking up from the trance of everyday existence:

It is this self-remembering, this awakening, deliberate or inadvertent, that Wilson discovers in many accounts of mystical experience. Gurdjieff might have agreed. When asked once what higher consciousness was like, he replied, “Everything more vivid.” For Wilson, this awakening is the gateway to what he calls Faculty X, which he calls “the power to grasp reality,” and which “unites the two halves of man’s mind, conscious and unconscious” . . . . If we are to win the war against the sleep of everyday life, it will not come out of technology nor even from political or social reform, as much as this may be needed. It will come from the liberation of individuals who awaken from the dreams that pass across their televisions and computer screens — and their minds — and are able to say, “I – here now.”

 

Why dreams are the new Book of Revelation in our post-apocalyptic world

From an essay by sculptor, guitarist, and Jungian therapist Paco Mitchell on the awesome significance of dreams as psychic, spiritual, religious, and mythic guides to our present and future age of apocalyptic breakdown and revelation:

We are living in an age widely regarded as “apocalyptic,” though many of us steadfastly try to keep the lid on our share of apocalyptic awareness. But, in the end, it is better to lift the lid and peer into the cauldron. Every therapist understands this, and every patient should as well. And the most direct way of seeing into the living darkness that surrounds us is through our dreams.

. . . In his great but underrated book Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Sky, Jung puts our position into perspective:

The present world situation is calculated as never before to arouse expectations of a redeeming, supernatural event. If these expectations have not dared to show themselves in the open, this is simply because no one is deeply rooted enough in the tradition of earlier centuries to consider an intervention from heaven as a matter of course. We have indeed strayed far from the metaphysical certainties of the Middle Ages, but not so far that our historical and psychological background is empty of all metaphysical hope. Consciously, however, rationalistic enlightenment predominates, and this abhors all leanings towards the “occult.”

Although Jung’s book was devoted to an examination of UFO reports as symptoms of a modern myth in the process of forming, the larger syndrome of a myth-in-progress includes more than just flying saucer sightings, reports of abductions, or first-person accounts of being “probed” by aliens. The fact is that revelatory (apocalyptic) images are most likely flooding the dream-field as we speak, enriching our personalities and lives like silt from the rising waters of the Nile. The aggregation of these dream images and the life-experiences associated with them, will contribute over time to the formation of the new myth. Whatever metaphor we choose — a birth, an approaching dawn, an awakening — the features and full dimensions of this emerging phenomenon are scarcely discernible as yet. However, this should not deter us from keeping our eyes open, or lending our shoulders to the wheel.

. . . This responsibility of individuals is all the more enhanced by the charged and peculiar circumstances of the present historical moment. Despite Christian teachings, which imply that all the revelations ever needed are safely contained within the Bible, the fact is that apocalyptic, revelatory impulses from the collective unconscious are just as necessary, and just as valid, today as they were two thousand years ago, when the classical world of antiquity was breaking down. Now, when we lay our heads on our pillows at night, each of us participates in a kind of dream-lottery, to determine who and how many will wake up to find the mantle of John of Patmos on their shoulders, inscribing their own versions of apokalypsis onto the parchments of their dream journals — fragments of the new, soon-to-be-assembled Book of Revelation.

More: “The Role and Value of Dreams in a Post-Apocalyptic Future

(Also see “‘Powerful and serious fictions’: The mythic/psychic reality of gods and other fictional characters.”)

To Cleanse the Doors of Conception: Psychic Dreams, Scientific Monsters, and Transcendent Realities

Dream researcher, Teeming Brain friend, and future Teeming Brain contributor Ryan Hurd — who has spoken about dreams, consciousness, sleep paralysis, and related matters at Stanford, Yale, UC Berkeley, the Rhine Center, and elsewhere — recently shared an account of an apparently precognitive dream that he personally experienced. As I was reading through it, in addition to finding his description of what happened to be rather fascinating, I found that a number of thoughts and recognitions were crowding forward from the peripheries of my awareness to announce the wider implications of such experiences. All of them have to do with the question of what’s really involved in and portended by exactly the philosophical effect Ryan identifies in connection with anomalous experiences in general, namely, a cracking of the “dam” of assumptions that lead most of us to explain away the significance of such anomalies for our worldview, or even to screen out a conscious acceptance and/or awareness of such things altogether. When this kind of breach in one’s personal cosmos is effected, the resulting flood of formerly rejected realities has the capacity to recast everything in ways that can be experienced as horrific, salvific, or even both at once. Read the rest of this entry