Feedback Loop (Hypnagogia)
This exercise is about surfing the edge of consciousness, moving back and forth between thought and dream. Lie or sit back and relax your body and mind as much as possible. With your eyes closed, let your mind drift, but don’t fall asleep. You’re waiting for something: an image, an idea, perhaps a distant sound. Eventually, something will appear. It might just be a little visual glimmer, or a drifty thought. Maybe it’s a slight tone, or distant voices. Whatever it is, once it’s in your mind, breathe slowly and softly into it, allowing it to take shape, to move and shift on its own. Use your exhale to relax your body even further. As you breathe out, imagine you’re animating whatever it is that you’re perceiving. The exhale removes tension and energy from your mind and body and transfers it to the hypnagogic dream that’s taking shape. If you start to fall fully asleep, sharpen your consciousness. The trick is to do it only slightly, so you don’t wake up completely. As you breathe your energy into the dream, it will become easier to perceive. Especially at first, the hypnagogic dream may simply be moving points of light or color, faces turning toward you, or flashes of thought that shift into dream. It may also be over quickly. Over time, this exercise will help you easily enter hypnagogia, and stay there for long periods of time.
Dali/Edison Method (Hypnagogia)
Many people have tapped the creative potential of hypnagogia. Both Salvador Dalí and Thomas Edison invented more or less the same exercise independently of each other, one you can adapt to suit your purposes. When feeling tired, each man would sit in a chair holding something in one or both hands over metal plates placed on the floor that would produce a clanging sound when the object dropped (Edison used balls in both hands, Dali used a solid, brass, Spanish key in one hand). Edison kept a note pad nearby to write out ideas. Dalí kept a sketch-pad. Each would sit in the chair and start to drift off. Once hypnagogia gave way to sleep, the balls or key would drop onto the plate and wake the holder. This exercise works well during the day, at nap time, or when tired at night before bedtime, but still sitting up. Charles Tart, an American psychologist who helped open the study of altered states of consciousness, created a simple version of this exercise. Just start napping with your arm raised in the air. As long as you’re still in hypnagogia, you can keep the arm up, but once you slip into slumber, you’ll drop your arm. Make sure you keep something nearby — be it dream journal, voice activated recorder, digital sketch pad, or whatever else works for you — to capture your dream ruminations as you emerge from the liminal dream state.
Morning Linger (Hypnopompia)
To practice the morning linger, try to wake up as slowly as possible. When you first become conscious, stay relaxed with your mind calm and unfocused. Keep your eyes closed and try not to move. Let your mind drift. You haven’t yet woken up all the way but your rational mind is starting to come online. This produces a hypnopompic dream space, where the border between thought, imagination, and dream is extremely permeable. Lie in the midst of hypnopompia and experiment with shifting between thought and dream. With practice, you may find yourself able to spend more time in a mind space balanced between the two.
Accessing hypnopompia is also the best way I know to recall the REM dreams you had during the night. As you sink back into an unconscious state, let your mind dwell on whatever images or thoughts arise. You may find that you begin to remember dreams from the night that you had forgotten. You probably sleep most often in the same three or four positions. For example, I often lie curled on my left side with my left fist against my forehead. You may already know your sleeping positions. If not, pay attention to how you naturally place yourself when you lie down, or how you’re posed when you wake. If you don’t remember any REM dreams, or if you’ve exhausted the store of what you can remember, slowly move into one of the other positions in which you frequently sleep and relax into it. Anyone who plays an instrument or has a physical practice like yoga or dance knows that the body has memory. Sleeping isn’t as far from that as you might think. Dreams that you might not have remembered can be unlocked by putting your body into the posture it was in when you had that dream.
Dream Incubation (Both)
This exercise builds on the Morning Linger. Dream incubation is an ancient practice of planting the seed of an idea you want to work through in your dreams, maybe an issue in your life you want to solve, a creative idea you’re working through, or even code you’re trying to build. When you go to sleep at night, lie in one of the positions in which you normally sleep and contemplate the idea you’re planting in your mind. Meditate on it and let it seep into your body, like feeling a drink of hot liquid warming your stomach. Make sure you do this when you can stay in bed a long time the next morning. When you wake, practice the Morning Linger, except concentrate on the position you laid in when you set your intention. Keep something next to the bed, like a pen and paper or your favorite note taking device, so you capture the outcome. You might also want to try working with a voice activated recorder. Dream incubation was practiced at temples of Asclepius throughout Ancient Greece. Pilgrims in need of healing — physical, emotional, and spiritual, would sleep at the temple, using dream incubation as one method for exploring their ailments. Snakes slithered freely across the floors. The healing work performed at these Asclepia laid the groundwork for modern medicine; priests of Asclepius were the earliest Western doctors. This is why the symbol of the medical profession is a snake wrapped around a staff.
Yoga Nidra (Hypnagogia)
The ancient practice of yoga nidra focuses on achieving the deepest relaxation of sleep while maintaining conscious mind - in other words, hypnagogia. Set an intention for your practice to focus your energy. I prefer to use tangible, easy intentions such as “I will remain calm behind the wheel today.” Write it down or say it out loud. Lie down comfortably, but make sure not to fall asleep. Now scan your body. Let your attention rest on each part of your body, starting from either the top or the bottom, and from one side to the other. For example, focus on eyes, nose, mouth, ears, whole head, neck, right shoulder, right upper arm, right elbow, right hand, each finger, chest, left shoulder, etc. If it helps, you can tense and release each part, or you can just let your thought linger for a moment. Let your awareness settle, mind and body relaxed. As thoughts or feelings arise, acknowledge them and let them pass, staying unmoving and calm. Simply witness without judgment. Allow the liminal dreams, made of thought, memory, and image, to rise and fall. Do not identify with them, just experience them. Once you decide you’re done, transition back slowly to a waking state. Slowly wiggle fingers and toes, move your head side to side, and gently stir your whole body. You may want to repeat or reread your intention.
Public Napping/Driving (Hypnagogia)
To undertake the first of these exercises, you need to have enough confidence to nap someplace public, as the name suggests. Early in my exploration of liminal dreaming, I had really good luck doing this at a party. I've also napped in Golden Gate Park on a warm sunny day on a comfy blanket in a crowded area. I felt safe, since there were a lot of people around, and lying in the sunshine definitely drew me into sleep. Overall, though, it was a pretty public place, so I couldn’t get comfortable enough to totally zonk. If there's a time of day when you start to feel groggy, or even better if there's already a time of day when you sometimes nap, try leaving your home and lying down someplace less private. I've napped in my VW van parked on the street, on a bench outside an art gallery, and on the subway. It makes me do that thing where I nod off but then jolt myself back awake. If you do that with the intention to find the dream space, you may well find, as I have, that hypnagogia arises pretty easily. Make sure that you do feel secure enough to doze off. If you can't imagine going to the beach or the park and lying down and napping on your own, take a friend to watch over you. Dream cruising operates on the same principle as public napping, but it requires traveling in a vehicle in which you can sleep. Just lie in the back seat of a car while someone else drives and try to nap. This practice works best if you're traveling for some length of time, maybe an hour or more, and if you're traveling when you're sleepy.
Oneirogens: Tech (Both)
Although they’ve been around since the 1970s, binaural beats are currently undergoing a resurgence of interest thanks to the large number of phone apps that can so easily produce them. Tones or frequencies are used to entrain brainwaves. When two different frequencies enter the head through the right and left ears, the brain synthesizes the difference between them. This creates a rhythm that simulates or triggers a brain state. There are a wide range of binaural beats apps that attempt to trigger hypnagogia. Experiment with different apps to find the one that works best for you. You can also try working with a voice activated sound recorder.
Vanishing Point (Hypnagogia)
The basic idea here is to try and stay awake enough to become aware of the very moment when you fall asleep. Really pay attention to your thoughts. Monitor what's happening in your body as your limbs relax and your breathing slows. Follow your drifting mind very attentively. When you start to fall asleep, give yourself some mental juice. But don’t stay awake by moving your body. Keep in mind that you are trying to get to the edge of sleep, so you want to feel relaxed enough that you’re going to nod off at any second. If you’re having a hard time falling asleep, bring your attention to each limb, one at a time, and slowly and peacefully relax it. I conceived this exercise when I realized that I already do this naturally. It took me a long time to develop the skill to find the vanishing point, but it's been one of my most rewarding hypnagogic dream producers. I've definitely had some of my trippiest dream experiences with this one. Several times, I’ve been able to produce the experience of having my body fall completely asleep while my mind remains conscious. Fair warning, though: this isn't a great exercise if you have a hard time falling asleep and aren't getting enough rest. Trying to retain sharp focus when drifting toward sleep may keep you awake for a bit longer, but it's worth it when it pays off.
Oneirogens: Consumables (Both)
Many of the oneirogens we’ve used on Oneironauticum
nights to enhance REM can also be used for liminal dreaming. Most notably, a lower dose of melatonin than normally suggested is effective for inducing sleep paralysis during hypnagogia, especially if you’re prone to the experience. If you’re ready to face your fear or if you’re just interested in the experience, try 2 - 3 mg of melatonin before you sleep. Of course, always take any kind of supplement with mindfulness, especially if you have any sort of medical condition. And note that high doses of melatonin do bring on nightmares for some people. High dose melatonin gives me bad dreams.
Two other consumable oneirogens that work well for liminal dreaming are Calea Zacatechcichi and Galantamine, or red spider lily. Follow the instructions I provide on my Oneirogens page at oneironauticum.com
, except take your oneirogen 30 – 45 minutes before bed rather than right before. Unlike most dream practices, liminal dreaming works extremely well in combination with mind altering substances. If you’re someone who tweaks your consciousness with such methods, try the Feedback Loop exercise.