Thursday, May 3, 2012

Buddhist Psychology: Introduction to Lucid Dreaming Part 1

Dream Theory
Sleeping versus Waking Conscious
The dream is not an activity of sleep, rather, it is an appearance of a constant, unconscious, flow of emotions that becomes apparent when the sensory organs are muted by sleep. In this way, we approach the dream as something that we experience in waking consciousness at the emotional level, and in sleeping consciousness at the rational level. Dreams are the rational experience of emotional cognition.

During waking consciousness we interact with auditory, tactile, olfactory, visual, and gustatory stimuli (known in cognitive psychology as bottom-up processing). We also interact with internally generated memory (experienced as past) and fantasy (experienced as future)top-down processing. The unconscious (automatic processing) of psychodynamic theory is an emotional, irrational, motivation that directs our thinking and choice of action. Evolutionary psychology understands these desires, described by S. Freud as das Es (the id), as powerfully effective methods for survival and procreation.

We understand dreaming, as described in the Buddhist, Vedic, Hindu, and Gestalt traditions, as another form of cognition. Carl Jung described this as intuitive thinking. We understand emotion as another form of decision making, often described as intuition, or a "gut" feeling.

Emotion and Thinking as Decision-Making Processes
In waking consciousness we privilege rational cognition, which favors logical analysis and causal experience. We are motivated by emotional states (moods) that inform our rational experience. Although we can be aware of our mood, we are often unaware of the impetus for these moods, for they are reactions to unconscious thoughts that are of survival and reproductive value. As cognitive psychology tells us, mood (affect) determines how we think about something.

It is not until we enter the hypnogogic (stage 1) state of dream life, marked by alpha wave brain activity, that our sensory thresholds rise, essentially disengaging the mind from the outside world (turning off bottom-up processing). With reduced sensory input from the eyes, ears, and other sensory organs, we are left, without distraction, with the contents of our, typically, unconscious mental processing. Our logico-rational experience of the unconscious is that of irrational emotions, often in symbolic, illogical experiences. We call this dreaming.

Qualitative research provides the richest information regarding dreams. Using qualitative, phenomenological methods, we can rationally analyze the irrational, symbolic meaning, of dreams. Using the insights from semiology and semiotics, outlined by C.S. Pierce and William James, we can understand the link between a geometric, interactionist, analogical thought process (experienced as emotions) and the arithmetic, linear, logical thought process (experienced as thinking). In this way we approach thinking and emotions as two processes of decision making. The point to be taken here is that meaning can be understood by understanding our emotional reaction to the sign (symbol) in a dream. Not unlike Freud's description of the latent versus manifest content, we have the signified (emotion) and the signifier (dream image) of semiology. The linguistic structure of the dream can be read as a text, with emotional phenomenological analysis, by the dreamer.

We experience the emotional (geometric) processing during waking consciousness as mood. We experience the logical (arithmetic) processing during sleep as dreaming; as an introspection into the unconscious (automatic processing). Understanding the phenomena of dreaming in this framework is essential to the introduction to lucid dreaming.