Exploring Consciousness at the Edge of Sleep

A conciousness hacker and sought-after speaker on dreams and dream technology explains how to use liminal dreaming, the dreams that come between sleep and waking, for self-actualization and consciousness expansion.

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At the edges of consciousness, between waking and sleeping, there’s a swirling, free associative state of mind that is the domain of liminal dreams. As we sink into slumber, we pass through hypnagogia, the first of the two liminal dream states. In this transitional zone, memories, perceptions, and imaginings arise in a fast moving, hallucinatory, semi-conscious remix. On the other end of the night, as we wake, we experience hypnopompia, the hazy, pleasant, drift that is the other liminal dream state. Readers of Liminal Dreaming will learn step-by-step how to create a dream practice, integrating the deeply unusual half-waking dream states of hypnagogia and hypnopompia into their lives in personally meaningful ways. Working with liminal dreams can improve sleep, mitigate anxiety and depression, help to heal trauma, and aid creativity and problem-solving. Liminal dreaming practice is also far easier to learn than lucid dreaming practice, making it possible for the reader to begin working with these dreams this very night.

What is Liminal Dreaming?

There’s a swirling, kaleidoscopic, free-associative experience on the edge of your mind. You’ll find it in the space right between awake and asleep, where your meandering consciousness mixes memory and thought with visionary imagery. I call this experience liminal dreaming. “Liminal” refers to the spaces in between things, the transitional condition of thresholds or boundaries. There are two dream states that, together, make up liminal dreaming: hypnagogia and hypnopompia. These constantly morphing states cling to the edges of sleep. You’re probably familiar with both, but you may never have given them much thought. Liminal dreams happen during flux periods in the nervous system, when brain waves jump around from one settled state (Alpha, Theta, REM) to another as we fall asleep or wake up. Betwixt settled states lies the liminal dream. Although generally the shortest lasting mind states, hypnagogia and hypnopompia contain more than twice as many brainwave forms than any other state, waking or sleeping. The chaotic, shifting patterns of liminal dream states reflect the experience, faces seen as we slip into sleep (hypnagogia), the thoughts that drift across the border into dream and back again while you slowly wake (hypnopompia), involuntary jolts of the body (called myclonic jerks), remarkably realistic and uncanny auditory experiences, and the bizarre thrills of sleep paralysis when your still-waking mind realizes it’s in a paralyzed and dreaming body.

Hypnagogia and hypnopompia provide some of the strangest, loveliest, and most interesting dreams. They’re quite unlike what you experience during REM (rapid eye movement), the phase of dreaming you’ve probably heard of. Most people know that dreams happen during REM, but not many understand that dreams happen in other phases of sleep as well.

My interest in liminal dreaming arises from my own incredible explorations of these spaces. Over my fifteen years of working seriously with dreams, I discovered an ability to dream while still physically awake. In this edge realm between conscious and unconscious, there’s the possibility of encountering our own visionary mind without the heavy hand of the ordinary ego, but also without simply reacting to whatever unusual things happen in the fully dreaming world.

Liminal dreaming is about exploring this crepuscular space, and it is a practice that can be cultivated. Much like lucid dreaming (but considerably easier to learn), liminal dreaming has a rich history. From Tibetan Buddhists to Salvador Dalí to August Kekulé (who discovered the benezene ring in hypnagogic dream), liminal dream practices have been developed and used across time and cultures.

If you’re interested in pursuing extraordinary states of mind, experimenting with your own wondrous consciousness, please give liminal dreaming a try. Write and tell me about your experiences!

Dream Tripping: Exploring Consciousness through Dreams

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Have you had liminal dream experiences? Share your stories with the liminal dreaming community. In fall, 2015, a repository of liminal dreams will be added to this site.

During hypnagogia, when you fall asleep, have you had fantastical visions, tuned into alien radio stations, or watched as swirling light patterns resolve into faces that all turn to look your way? Maybe it’s the feeling of falling, or of jerking limbs. Perhaps you’ve had a succubus or incubus lover. You may have found yourself paralyzed, seemingly awake but still in a dream. Sometimes when my body falls asleep, my mind stays awake and starts to meander toward dream through dissolving thought.

During hypnopompia, when you surface from sleep into consciousness in the morning, do you have hazy half thoughts, ideas that drift over the border into dream and back again? Is it sometimes sexy? Do you get confused about reality?

This is all liminal dreaming. Play with your own mind! It’s the most finely tuned and responsive plaything you’ll ever have. Give one of my exercises a whirl. If you have other ways you cultivate liminal dreaming, drop me a line. And send me your dreams to post to the site. Share, read, and learn everything you need to know to become a champion liminal dreamer!

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