2 Sleep Perchance to Dream
For the last two months or so, I have been considering death and the afterlife. I have been having a spiritual crisis (as I have every few years) over an irrational fear of death, and have been struggling with my faith to find comfort. Recently I began to consider the relationship of sleep and dreams to the consciousness state of death; this sermon is the outcome of those considerations
One wonders why I should fear a death of non-existence, when I am surrounded by so much evidence to that contradicts the very idea. In truth, I participate daily in spiritual prayer activities which clearly, unequivocally affirm the existence of non-physical presences --I KNOW there is non-physical intelligence in the universe; and yet, I just don't have enough personal confirmations of this reality that specifically include ME, (or who I THINK I am) to give me absolute confidence in the proposition of an ETERNAL ME. Let's put it another way, my mind is made up but my body is still egocentrically opposed to non-existence.
So, my mind is completely made up, and all the arguments in favor of life after death are firmly in place; and yet I still have doubts, moments of panic when I face the unimaginable prospect of non-existence. In the face of oblivion, doubt rages within me and I pace the floor in a frenzy.
It is some comfort to know that even C.S. Lewis occasionally had periods of doubt; and furthermore, to Kierkegaard, doubt was actually part and parcel of the faith package.
"The leap of faith is his conception of how an individual would believe in God or how a person would act in love. Faith is not a decision based on evidence that, say, certain beliefs about God are true or a certain person is worthy of love. No such evidence could ever be enough to completely justify the kind of total commitment involved in true religious faith or romantic love. Faith involves making that commitment anyway.
A leap of faith according to Kierkegaard involves circularity insofar as a leap is made by faith. In his book The Concept of Anxiety, he describes the core part of the leap of faith, the leap. He does this using the famous story of Adam and Eve, particularly Adam's qualitative leap into sin. Adam's leap signifies a change from one quality to another, mainly the quality of possessing no sin to the quality of possessing sin. Kierkegaard maintains that the transition from one quality to another can take place only by a "leap". When the transition happens, one moves directly from one state to the other, never possessing both qualities."
From this preceding sentence I believe for the term "leap" we may substitute: "shift along a continuum of graduated levels". This is, indeed, the subject line for this sermon: dreams, sleep, and death are all points on a continuum of consciousness states. Now, I'm giving you the punchline here, before the setup, but I sort of want to tell the story, in a roundabout way, of how I came to this conclusion; the conclusion is this:
I have extolled from this pulpit, for years, the importance of fluidity between levels of consciousness, but, in my stupidity, it never occurred to me to think of death as just one more level of consciousness within an infinite array of possible levels of consciousness. I have now accepted this premise.
Furthermore, I have often spoken of music as a transmitter of higher-level spiritual reality into a lower-level material reality; I am thereby familiar with the experience of shifts in consciousness levels, and the subtle imprint these shifts makes on the literal consciousness. Once again, especially through music, the IDENTITY of higher consciousness levels has long been intimately known to me, but, until now, the connection between music and death has not been obvious. The sehnsucht aspect of music is the most fragile and tender of aesthetic responses,(it is my favorite experience), but, so far, I have never been willing to go the distance, and hear the call of death in every strain of Bach. Now I do.
I have worked to develop a sense experience of the higher vibratory self, with which I may identify, but, until now, I have never had the confidence in it (or the faith) necessary to fully give up my identification with the chattering monkey mind in favor of this higher vibratory identity. Now I am.
Accepting this deeper understanding of the scope of the mobile consciousness, has deeply affected my priorities. It now seems to me that: a person's ability, to move through different levels of consciousness, might very well prove to be a reliable index of his spiritual advancement. Certainly an adept at this control of vibratory rate would have little fear of death.
But let's start over: allow me to backtrack a bit, and detail the question that initiated, and eventually led me through, this particular spiritual crisis:
I was thinking about sleep, when I began having these death-anxiety attacks. I was thinking about how every night I cease to exist, and then come back to life in the morning. If my consciousness ceases to exist in sleep, in a faint, in a coma, why should I fear death? I'm very familiar with non-existence in that context. However, the thought of never waking up is very upsetting. On the other hand, what about this UNCONSCIOUS everybody is talking about? How can it BE, if it is unconscious? Is this another one of those psychic realities that depends on anecdotal evidence to confirm its existence? I mean OTHER people can experience YOUR unconscious, but can YOU?
The whole question of sleep led me to consider different levels of consciousness as elements in a macrocosmic view of death. I asked, among others, this question: "Where does sleep fit into a comprehensive spiritual discipline?"
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:
"Sleeping is associated with a state of muscle relaxation and limited perception of environmental stimuli.
In animals, sleep is a naturally recurring state characterized by altered consciousness, relatively inhibited sensory activity, and inhibition of nearly all voluntary muscles. It is distinguished from wakefulness by a decreased ability to react to stimuli, and it is more easily reversible than being in hibernation or a coma.
In mammals and birds, sleep is divided into two broad types: rapid eye movement (REM sleep) and non-rapid eye movement (NREM or non-REM sleep). Each type has a distinct set of associated physiological and neurological features. REM sleep is associated with the capability of dreaming. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) divides NREM into three stages: N1, N2, and N3, the last of which is also called delta sleep or slow-wave sleep.
• NREM stage 1: This is a stage between sleep and wakefulness. The muscles are active, and the eyes roll slowly, opening and closing moderately.
• NREM stage 2: theta activity In this stage, it gradually becomes harder to awaken the sleeper; the alpha waves of the previous stage are interrupted by abrupt activity called sleep spindles and K-complexes.
• NREM stage 3: Formerly divided into stages 3 and 4, this stage is called slow-wave sleep (SWS). SWS is initiated in the preoptic area and consists of delta activity, high amplitude waves at less than 3.5 Hz. The sleeper is less responsive to the environment; many environmental stimuli no longer produce any reactions.
• Slow-wave sleep (SWS), often referred to as deep sleep, consists of stage 3 and 4 of non-rapid eye movement sleep, now combined as stage 3.
• Slow-wave sleep is considered important to consolidate new memories.
• Sleep deprivation studies with humans suggest that the primary function of slow-wave sleep may be to allow the brain to recover from its daily activities. As it turns out, glucose metabolism in the brain increases as a result of tasks that demand mental activity. Other functions slow-wave sleep can affect include the secretion of growth hormone. It is always greatest during this stage. It is also thought to be responsible for a decrease in sympathetic and increase in parasympathetic neural activity."
[Sidebar: One of the primary articles of my spiritual catechism is that the brain is merely a muscle, it is not the SEAT of consciousness. My experience of my higher, inarticulate, self has affirmed this principle. And yet all the research on consciousness focusses on brain function more than anything else: what if the brain really IS the SEAT of CONSCIOUSNESS? To put it another way: what if a person's spiritual vibration is incapable of manifestation WITHOUT the brain as a SEAT, a CONDUIT, a TRANSMITTER? What if, without manifestation, there is no existence? You see why I'm worried?
Back to Wikipedia:]
"• REM: The sleeper now enters rapid eye movement (REM) where most muscles are paralyzed. REM sleep is turned on by acetylcholine secretion and is inhibited by neurons that secrete serotonin. This level is also referred to as paradoxical sleep because the sleeper, although exhibiting EEG waves similar to a waking state, is harder to arouse than at any other sleep stage. Vital signs indicate arousal and oxygen consumption by the brain is higher than when the sleeper is awake. An adult reaches REM approximately every 90 minutes, with the latter half of sleep being more dominated by this stage. REM sleep occurs as a person returns to stage 1 from a deep sleep. The function of REM sleep is uncertain but a lack of it will impair the ability to learn complex tasks."
[Sidebar: I find this fact about dreaming very provocative:
"Vital signs indicate arousal and oxygen consumption by the brain is higher than when the sleeper is awake."
Could this POSSIBLY be some kind of indicator of spirit consciousness? Do we mean by "raised consciousness" "increased oxygen consumption by the brain"? Below we will encounter another definition of "raised consciousness" that will thicken the plot even further.
Back to Wikipedia:]
"Below is a hypnogram showing sleep cycles from midnight to 6.30 am, with deep sleep early on. There is more REM (marked red) before waking.
An adult reaches REM approximately every 90 minutes, with the latter half of sleep being more dominated by this stage. REM sleep occurs as a person returns to stage 1 from a deep sleep.The function of REM sleep is uncertain but a lack of it will impair the ability to learn complex tasks.
One approach to understanding the role of sleep is to study the deprivation of it. During this period, the EEG pattern returns to high frequency waves which look similar to the waves produced while the person is awake
30 seconds of deep (stage N3) sleep.
A screenshot of a PSG of a person in REM sleep. Eye movements highlighted by red box."
So we can see that psychic experiences such as dreaming and psychic experiences such as REM sleep are linked, if not indistinguishable from each other. Our flights, into the technicolor world of dreams, result in experiential reports remarkably like the reports of soul travel in the astral plane, and encounters with living, archetypal symbols in art. Thus, wonder of wonders, the charts above indicate that the reception of material from the collective unconscious (the archetypal dream image) is actually MEASURABLE by the equipment in a neurology lab! Does this make it physical--or is spiritual energy susceptible to objective measure? Or is the incarnation of spiritual energy, into the physical, as much a physical event as it is a spiritual event? Is it both equally at once, or is it both, in different proportions?
Speaking of brain unconsciousness, what about near-death experiences? In brain death, those laboratory instruments would measure NOTHING, and yet NDE subjects still see visions, hear sounds, and witness, from above, their own doctors trying to coax their consciousness back into their bodies.
Back to Wikipedia:
"Near-death experiences have been described in medical journals as hallucinatory, and such prescient information supposedly gained from NDEs as merely coincidental and dubious. Ketamine, a dissociative hallucinogen, has been shown to replicate compounds of near-death experiences. Lucid dreaming too induces experiences quite similar to those of NDEs. The imagery in NDEs varies within cultures. Rick Strassman advanced the hypothesis that a massive release of the psychedelic dimethyltryptamine (DMT) from the pineal gland prior to death or near-death was the cause of the near-death experience phenomenon."
The above is a doubt-raising/faith-damaging paragraph; it could mean that all para-normal experiences are mere hallucinations projected into consciousness by the pineal gland. This is not an outrageous suggestion, based on the similarities between reports of OBE experiences, and reports of other types of drug-induced experiences. As mentioned above, the "raising of consciousness" might turn out to be nothing more than elevated oxygen consumption in the brain; after all, all the big psychedelic drug users claim that drugs "raises consciousness", and we know that the main activity of psychedelic drugs, more than anything else, is playing with the sugar supply to the brain. If this turns out to be true, then all the great yogis and soul-travelers of history will be reduced to insane DMT trippers.
Even the validity of the NDE subjects witnessing their our team of doctors is called into question by this DMT idea, because one of the typical features of the psychedelic experience is an experience of consciousness leaving the body for parts unknown. Perhaps a chemical is capable of STRETCHING the cord of consciousness out of the body's immediate confines, but when the body truly dies, and all the SUBTLE traces of energy have drained out, dead is just dead, and oblivion is our eternal home, not Heaven.
However, here enter the idea of consciousness levels: one of the main reasons that people take drugs is that drugs allow the subject to effortlessly change consciousness levels. The danger with drugs, of course, is that they are unpredictable; they can sometimes drive the consciousness upward into higher vibrational states (an uncontrolled state, but a higher state to be sure), but they are just as liable to drag the subject down into lower vibrational states, which is not exactly the same thing as being in touch with the oversoul. Nevertheless, the idea that the pineal gland can trigger a reaction similar to LSD is not a comfortable one.
Still, one of the big questions the scientists still can't answer is how brain-dead subjects can see their doctors and their surroundings when there are no vital signs registering at all? It raises the question of whether out-of-body drug experiences are just hallucinations or are they more? I mean, are they just random false pictures, projected onto the screen of verbal consciousness, or are actually trans-dimensional experiences? And note the similarity of the drugged state to the child-like Saturday-morning cartoons mind state, in which colors are exaggerated, and basic human principles are argued in basic terms: white hat, black hat. Surely it is not too much to imagine that ALL children, up to a certain age, dwell in a primitive heaven. Their descent into the world of paradoxical verbal images is their Fall from the Garden. They spend the rest of their lives trying to get back.
My particular lapse of faith has a brand name: it is DEATH ANXIETY.
Back to Wikipedia:
"Death anxiety is the morbid, abnormal or persistent fear of one's own death or the process of his/her dying. One definition of death anxiety is a "feeling of dread, apprehension or solicitude (anxiety) when one thinks of the process of dying, or ceasing to ‘be’".
Robert Langs distinguishes three types of death anxiety. the third one is:
Existential death anxiety
Existential death anxiety is the basic knowledge and awareness that natural life must end. It is said that existential death anxiety directly correlates to language; that is, language has created the basis for this type of death anxiety through communicative and behavioral changes."
[Sidebar: remember the sermons that discussed the opinions of Julian Jaynes, and his idea that consciousness is a consequence of language.
Does this mean that: when we make music, speaking in a language more decidedly complex that verbal communication, we enter a higher level of consciousness? Indeed, music is just like sleep; it is a place where the mobile mind consciousness elevates itself to the level of the "preconscious", or the "archetypal", or "collective" stage; and we know that beyond all these is a state of consciousness which is even larger in scope than the collective--a level of consciousness which is more inclusive, and more primary. How, then, can the reality or the PERMANENCY of dream consciousness be doubted?
To thicken the plot, listen to this quote of Wittgenstein, the leading linguistic psychologist of the 20th century:
"Wittgenstein, in a notably non-theological interpretation of eternal life, writes in the Tractatus that, "If we take eternity to mean not infinite temporal duration but timelessness, then eternal life belongs to those who live in the present."
The point is that even a master linguistic psychologist like Wittgenstein must eventually resort to faith as a substitute for verbal consciousness.]
Having suggested several scenarios for activity along the consciousness continuum, let us now examine the concept of the trinity for clues as to how we may deepen our identification with the Father.
This simple sentence from Wikipedia inspired a personally significant insight:
"Hinduism propounds that every living being, be it a human or animal, has a body and a soul (consciousness) and the bridge between the two is the mind (a mixture of both)."
We have spoken many times of Jesus as the mediator between God and man, but I don't think I ever before equated the MIND with the MEDIATOR. This does a lot to allay my death anxiety, because:
I know my mind is just a chattering monkey, that hardly ever has anything to say; and
I know there is a consciousness BEHIND the mind that is the true self.
I have affirmed, many times, that an increased sensitivity to spiritual activity will reveal the consciousness BEHIND the literal consciousness--and yet I don't think I ever quite went the distance so far as to discredit my conscious mind's claim on my true identity; I may have SAID it, but I don't think I really FELT it. This is what I'm saying: all these things are clear to my mind, but my heart is still unruly and untrained. Even with all this talk of the Cloud of Unknowing, I don't think I fully realized the extent of the conscious mind's power to restrict my highest sensitivities by enslaving them in verbal terms. Let's put it another way: I have not been HYPOCRITICAL in my message of the power of faith to dispel doubt, but I have NOT been STEADFAST; to be sure, in the absence of steadfast faith, Satan has been able to infect me with death anxiety. What a jerk! Him to do it, and me to fall for it!
So, a summary of the main source of my death anxiety amounts to this:
if it is possible to LOSE CONSCIOUSNESS during sleep,
why should it not be possible to lose consciousness
Very frightening. But what if that subtle consciousness, BEHIND verbal consciousness, is the true consciousness? What if it depends on my mind merely to give it voice, but is just as content with silence? At this point in my life, the idea of "just shutting up for awhile and silently BEING" is an idea that is not at all upsetting to me; in fact it sounds kind of good.
And here is my point: having full knowledge of the existence of my higher self, I have, anyhow, forgotten to place the proper emphasis on THAT dimension of myself; in so doing, I have identified too much with my verbally conscious self, and have hence, bought into an image of myself that is both false and incomplete, or perhaps I should say, "false in its incompleteness". This imbalance in attention has inspired a troublesome bout of death-anxiety, but, true to the predictions of Kierkegaard, this doubt has also inspired a deeper faith, and forged this higher-level conclusion into existence. I am relieved. I am absolutely convinced in my mind and my body that my death will not be the end of me, and this knowledge encourages me to focus even more on the dimension of myself that WILL NOT DIE.
Below is an account of an Indian cheater of death:
"Ramalinga Adigal's disappearance on January 30, 1874
An Indian saint known as Vallalar claimed to have achieved immortality before disappearing forever from a locked room in 1874.
Perhaps one of the most notable factors of this sage is the claim that he supposedly attained a divinization of the physical body. He attained a total of 3 transformations. His first transformation was the transformation of his normal human body into the Perfect Body, between the supposed attributes of this body are total invulnerability to everything thus rendering him effectively immortal and impervious to any kind of damage as well as having the attributes of being omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient this body is apparently made of Divine Light.
Beyond this state there was a subsequent transformation by which the Perfect Body transformed further into the Grace Body possessing the following attributes: This body have automatically a young appearance like that of a kid, can be seen but can't be touched, and has complete and absolute dominion over all the Siddhis.
Even beyond the State of the Grace Body supposedly there was a third and final transformation in which the Grace Body was transformed into the Bliss Body. This body is the body of the Supreme Godhead and is automatically omnipresent but can't be perceived by anyone."
[Sidebar: I've read lots of New Age material laden with terms like Astral body, Etheric body, Fine body, all different flavors of body; this quotation here talks about the division of consciousness into those various levels expressed in interestingly different language. I'll read it again:
"Even beyond the State of the Grace Body supposedly there was a third and final transformation in which the Grace Body was transformed into the Bliss Body. This body is the body of the Supreme Godhead and is automatically omnipresent but can't be perceived by anyone."
"By achieving this Ramalinga demonstrated that the ultimate states of spirituality can in fact be attained in this world with the physical body and death is not a necessity to experience the ultimate spiritual experience.
Ramalinga raised the flag of Brotherhood on his one room residence Siddhi Valakam in Mettukuppam on October 22. He gave his last and most famous lecture, entreating his audience to undertake a spiritual quest and look into the "nature of the powers that lie beyond us and move us," and asking them to meditate on the lighted lamp from his room, which he placed outside.
Adigal on January 30, 1874, entered the room and locked himself and told his followers not to open it. He said that even if they did open it they would find nothing (United with Nature & ruling the actions of 'all of the alls' - as told in his poem called 'Gnana Sariyai'). His seclusion spurred many rumors, and the Government finally forced the doors open in May. The room was empty, with no clues."
On the the subject of death and the resurrection of the body, John Polkinghorne, a physicist and a priest, has put it this way:
"'God will download our software onto his hardware until the time he gives us new hardware to run the software again for ourselves.' That gets to two things nicely: that the period after death (the Intermediate state) is a period when we are in God's presence but not active in our own bodies, and also that the more important transformation will be when we are again embodied and administering Christ's kingdom." This kingdom will consist of Heaven and Earth "joined together in a new creation", he said."
This is from the Seventh Day Adventists:
"Seventh-day Adventists believe that only God has immortality, and when a person dies, death is a state of unconscious sleep until the resurrection. They base this belief on biblical texts such as Ecclesiastes 9:5 which states"the dead know nothing",
and 1 Thessalonians 4:13–18 which contains a description of the dead being raised from the grave at the second coming.
"And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul." (cf. Gen 2:7)
Above I have asked, "Where does sleep fit into a comprehensive spiritual discipline?" Another New Age Site says this:
"During normal sleep, every human being wanders in the internal worlds with their consciousness asleep. During normal sleep, the Soul, enveloped by its Astral Body, abandons the physical body. This is how the Ethereal Body is able to repair the dense physical body.
We awaken from our natural sleep when the Soul enters into the physical body. In the internal worlds, the Souls are occupied repeating their same daily chores; there, they buy and sell as in the physical world.
During normal sleep, the Souls of the living and the Souls of the dead coexist together. In the internal worlds, we see everything as in the physical world, i.e. the same sun, the same clouds, the same houses of the city: everything looks the same.
Now, our Gnostic disciples will understand why the souls of the dead do not accept that they are physically dead. Likewise, our disciples will comprehend why the Souls of the living buy and sell, work, etc., during their normal sleep.
By consciously projecting ourselves in the Astral Body, we can know about the mysteries of life and death, since every human being is unconsciously projected in the Astral Body during normal sleep. Therefore, if we awaken the consciousness during normal sleep, then we can know about the great mysteries of life and death."
We have all read things like this, and some of us have been repelled by the "mumbo-jumbo" factor in it; and yet, it cannot be denied that the above paragraph is yet another testament to the idea of LEVELS of consciousness, and yet another suggestion that human consciousness may cross many boundaries. Furthermore, another detail in the paragraph above mentions WORK; the idea is that work of some spiritual nature is continually being done in sleep, in dreams, and even in death. A significant point is that the work of the soul is continuous, it is already in process when we enter the body, and the efforts of the soul to improve itself continue after death. This is one of the things that makes the thought of non-existence so frightening (that you would not be able to finish your work), but also one of the things that makes the thought of eternal existence so inviting-- the work goes on because, this way, we will always be assured of having something to do.
Only one thing remains to be said, concerning the role of spiritual mediation and its progress from articulate verbalization, to the grammarless Cloud of Unknowing: the primal source of this language of mediation is the Incarnation of the Christ. Jesus is the living example, the living paradigm of the mind. Through Jesus, the consciousness of the Father and the consciousness of the body are linked in sacred and eternal union. Through Jesus we realize the limitations of the literal mind, so miniscule in scope, and through Jesus we can learn to turn it off, and still have a sense of self. To me, a sense of self is all I need to rest assured that I will remain conscious after death.
And remember, Jesus is the personification of this Consciousness thing. When we become one with Jesus, we become one with the dimension of ourselves which is, not of the highest vibratory level, but of a quality which is necessary to make us human. Jesus and the body are aligned in the spiritual hierarchy; they clearly go together as the primary definition of our humanity, and, by implication, of a much higher state of consciousness; a level that is inaccessible to our normal state of verbal consciousness.
I have become convinced that I already have direct knowledge of the soul that will live on after my physical death, and I have been able to put it into language that my literal mind can understand. So it may readily be seen that doubt can be turned into faith by using the linguistic abilities of the mind to link itself with the voiceless eternal mind. The language is difficult, but it is sweet on the tongue.
Let us pray: Jesus thank you for the power to overcome mental obstacles with divinely inspired truths conveyed to us in sleep, in dreams, and in death. Amen