Monday, 5 January 2015

Dream Visualisation: An Introduction

Dream visualisation is the inherent power of the imagination in manifesting the internal imagery of the dreamer. This is a natural skill, of which most people will be more than capable with only a little focus and practice. Make sure that the visual images you wish to use for dream visualisation are as compelling, bright and bold as possible. You want to be able to recognise what you are seeing and recreate as much 'truth' and detail as possible. It may sound odd, but you should only ever try and visualise that which you desire to see and experience. This is very important in dream visualisation, since you are going to be undertaking this exercise with the intention of placing yourself firmly within your imagined seen and taking an active part in the narrative constructed around it. When I wake up in a conscious/lucid false awakening and want to change my dream scene (part of dream control which requires similar skills to dream visualisation) I often think negative or fear-inducing thoughts, which commonly leads to me seeing something I haven't desired or willed into existence. The same happens when I am experiencing the hypnagogic state. Remember, whatever you visualise and then 'see' in a dream scene is a projection of your internal thoughts and subconscious mind.

Dream visualisation is often considered to be one of the more difficult aspects of the WILD (Wake Induced Lucid Dreaming) Technique. It requires the dreamer to either vividly recollect and mentally reconstruct a previous dream scene from memory, or create a new dream scene using imagination. Dream visualisation may come very easily to some people - especially those with what we call 'photographic memories' or those who use their visual imagination creatively on a regular basis in their waking lives. Dream visualisation is highly subjective, so the tips and techniques in this article may not be useful or successful for everyone, particularly those who are not visually predominant in their imagination and may rely on other senses to develop a dream scene in which to enter and anchor themselves.

Mental imagery and visualisation is thought to play a large role in memory and learning. They are a form of internal, mental and neural representation. Daydreaming is a common form of mental visualisation which happens in most people. Steven Pinker, a psychologist, suggests that mental imagery and visualisation are essential to human experience - mental images can be associated and compared to others and synthesised to create entirely new images and sequences in our mind, without the need to directly experience the actual consequences. It is not known for sure whether other animals have similar imaginations to humans or the same ability to use mental visual imagery.

There are several theories about how mental visual imagery is formed in the mind:
  1. Dual Code Theory - This is the idea that we use two separate codes to represent information in our brains: image codes and verbal codes. If you are using the image code to think of 'rose' you will see a picture of a rose, whereas if you are using the verbal code, you think of the word 'rose'. The distinction is similar to how the brain deals with abstract concepts (love, hate) and concrete objects (flower, knife). Abstract words are easier to think of in terms of verbal codes, whereas with concrete objects, it is easier to think of them in terms of image codes.
  2. Propositional Theory - This suggests that the mind stores images in the form of a generic propositional code, which stores the meaning of the concept, not the image itself. The propositional codes may be descriptive of the image or symbolic in nature. They are transferred back into visual or verbal code to form the 'mental image'.
  3. Functional-Equivalency Hypothesis - This states that mental images are internal representations which work in the same way as the actual perception of physical objects.
Flash visualisation
The first and easiest technique to try is 'flash visualisation'. The key is to use your mind's eye to quickly conjure a relatively realistic mental image of a familiar object or person from memory. Think of something you see every day - for me, I choose the moon in the night sky. In the moment you think of the object you want to visualise, it should pop into your head. While your mind's eye may not create an identical picture-perfect representation of the object you are imagining, the size, shape, colour - the obvious visual details should be enough to give you a good sense of what you are imagining. 

Detailed visualisation
If a person is asked to use their imagination to visualise a flower, it is likely that the image which they create in their mind will be vague, non-specific and representative of the generalities associated with a flower - it is likely that the person will 'see' petals and a green stem, because these are characteristics all flowers tend to possess. However, the genus of the flower (rose, daisy, orchid etc) will vary from person to person, as will the colour, shape, size etc. 

The dreamer should close their eyes and cover their eyelids with their hands in order to block out any excess light. Imagine a baby-pink rose, growing on a thorny branch, with pointed, dark green leaves sprouting from the stem at each side of the flower. The leaves have slightly jagged edges. The petals of the rose are a very pale pink at the centre, and then darken slightly at the outer edge. The rose is part of a bush of other, similar roses, blossoming and unfurled in perfect round cabbage-like shapes, with little, darker-pink rose buds poking through the flowers here and there, folded and pointy, not yet bloomed. The thorny stems of the roses grow out from the organic shape of the rose bush and are long and slender, while the rose heads are heavy, slightly drooping and made up of intricate folds of delicate, gossamer-thin petals.  You can see early morning dew drops glistening on the petals of the roses, as they sway gently in the breeze, the sun illuminating the droplets of water. The sky behind the rose bush is a brilliant, cloudless blue. Now, even if you see a different pink rose bush to the one I am imagining, you are becoming more complex and specific. We could both draw an image of what we have just visualised and there would be enough similarities to recognise that we were depicting the same theme.

What you will see, if you have been able to perform this dream visualisation technique successfully, is quite a complex image of something quite subjectively imagined,  but based on your knowledge and memory of a 'typical' pink rose bush you have seen before in your waking reality. This is a powerful dream visualisation because it incorporates a significant amount of detail, yet it was all internally generated. 

It is difficult to describe the difference between 'really' seeing something and visualising it in your mind's eye. Is the visualised image accurately coloured? Does it move? Is it flat (one-dimensional) or three-dimensional? Does it disappear when you stop thinking about it? Our language ability makes it virtually impossible to differentiate between 'actual realness' and 'imagined realness' when we describe what we 'see' and how we see it.

Mind's eye
The first step of visualisation is the simple act of recalling a detail - a mere thought - from the mind'e eye. You can't actually see anything at all - only a conceptualisation of the object or thing you are visualising. This type of visualisation or  mental visual perception is the most basic - and includes the 'flash visualisations' I referred to above. You are recalling an imaginary stimulus. Some researchers, such as Rick Strassman, believe the 'mind'e eye' is seated in the pineal gland; during dreaming, OBEs and near-death experiences (NDE), the pineal gland releases DMT, a hallucinogenic, which produces internal visuals when external stimulus is absent.  

When the body is relaxed and free from external stimulus, the brain will begin to put you into the sleep state. If you are already very tired or have been deprived of REM sleep, you may experience the hypnagogic state, which often appears as flashing lights or geometric shapes which swirl behind the eyelids of closed eyes. Other sensations typical of the hypnagogic state include bodily movements of audible sounds. Visual phenomena which can be witnessed during the hypnagogic state often start as phosphenes - the appearance of light ('stars') without any light entering the eye itself. These are induced by stimulation of the retina and visual cortex and also the random firing of cells in the visual system. These phosphenes may be abstract moving speckles, form constants or figurative/representational images. Unlike dreams, hypnagogia has no discernible narrative content, and tends to be experienced as a cusp on the transition from wakefulness to fragmentary dreams.

During the hypnagogic state, it is possible to focus dream visualisations and make them appear very real and solid. Vague outlines, shapes and colours can be formed into realistically detailed three-dimensional objects with only a small amount of effort. While it is possible to manipulate the imagery you see during the hypnagogic state, it is also useful to see how these shapes and colours evolve on their own while you remain relaxed, simply observing them. Watch to see how the hypnagogic imagery morphs and intensifies to form solid, detailed dream scenes. Instead of using their 'mind's eye' to recall an actual scene from a previous dream, some dreamers like to allow their hypnagogic imagery create something in this organic, free-flowing way. and then use dream anchoring to place themselves in the dream scene.

A useful exercise to help you make the most of your hypnagogia and learn how to manipulate it for dream visualisation, is to try to imagine shapes. Start with simple, flat, recognisable shapes, such as circles or squares. These shapes may start to move or become more solid and three-dimensional, so if this happens, observe how they change and eventually, you will be able to change them at will and create any shape you desire. You should gradually use the hypnagogia to experience more intricate, complex, detailed shapes, such as fractals, snowflakes or spiderwebs. Try also changing the colours of the shapes you see - often hypnagogic imagery appears in fluorescent, light-like flashed, but try and focus on what colours you see, then try to 'see' specific ones. While some hypnagogic imagery will appear at random, from its own volition, when you are able to create chosen images, this is your mind presenting you with a visual manifestation of your thoughts. With practice, you can move on from shapes and colours to actual scenes.

Wake-induced Lucid Dreams
The rationale behind the WILD Technique is Mind Awake, Body Asleep. It is considered to be one of the more difficult lucid dream induction methods and therefore is often described as the 'holy grail' of lucid dreaming techniques. This method is undertaken at the point at which the mind is still conscious, but the body has been tricked into falling asleep. Because your body then sends a signal to the brain that it is asleep, sleep paralysis begins and you begin to enter a dream state. The dreaming mind takes over the visualisation process, creating a vivid, high-definition reality. The best times to attempt WILD are: after waking up randomly in the night, after a WBTB, while still tired, and during an afternoon nap, when drowsy. As mentioned above, some dreamers rely on the imagery created during the hypnagogic state, and focus on what they 'see' there, while others like to pre-plan an ideal dream scene (from a previous dream or real life recollection). WILD is so tricky, because it relies on the dreamer remaining conscious and mentally awake while encouraging their brain to lose awareness of bodily sensations and remaining as still and relaxed as possible. 

In successful WILD techniques, the dreamer will become detached from awareness of their physical body and fully immersed in the experience. It is at this point that they transition into the dream and an altered state of consciousness as they anchor themselves into the dream scene they have visualised. Always imagine yourself as the main participant in your visualised dream scene. This is important, because I have heard from many dreamers that they imagine seeing themselves in the third person. This is not an effective way of placing/anchoring yourself into a visualised dream scene. You need to visualise yourself as present in the first-person - see the visualised dream scene through your own eyes, as an active participant. You will only be able to see yourself in the same way that you are able to see yourself in waking reality - by looking down at the visible parts of your body, or looking at your reflection. You need to imagine yourself integrated with the objects in your visualised scene - you are not an external observer, but a special protagonist who is able to exist and interact with the visualised dream scene. 

It is possible to use any of the other major senses to create a dream scene - for example, we can 'hear' with our eyes ('audiolisation'), as illogical as that sounds. This is because for some, sound is their primary sense. Imagine a rainy day. When the brain retrieves memories and information about rainfall, it conjures up a recollection of what rainfall looks like - but also a clear auditory sense. You can actually hear it. You may also be able to 'feel' what the rain is like.

The best way to create a realistic dream scene with multiple senses, is to start slowly and warm up with some basic shapes and colours. Whilst the hypnagogia is occurring, you can redefine the visual imagery into a tropical beach scene. 

  1. Visual (seeing) - Start with a very broad-brush approach. Imagine the horizon, because this creates a sense of distance and perspective. Once this has been mentally mapped, use your imagination to fill in other visual details - the sky, the sea, the sand, the palm trees. Mentally define colours, even if they do not immediately appear in your visualisation. You should be building the scene in layers, much like an artist does when applying paint to a canvas. You begin with a basic sketch and then build upon it, creating colour, shade and texture. It sometimes helps to actually move your eyes when attempting dream visualisation. Focus far away on the horizon, and then imagine yourself looking closely at your hands. This helps you put yourself and your dream body in your visualised dream scene.
  2. Auditory (hearing) - Now try and imagine the sounds you will associate with this scene - the gentle lapping of the ocean and crash of waves, sea gulls, music? Try and imagine these sounds in relation to visual imagery you are 'seeing' in your mind's eye.
  3. Tactile (touching) - Firstly, imagine the feel of solid ground beneath your feet. Lose all awareness of the actual feel of your body laying in bed or any physical sensations linked with sleep paralysis (vibrating, floating etc). Imagine the temperature which exists in your visualised scene - it the sun hot on your skin? Is there a cool breeze blowing in from the ocean? How do the grains of sand feel as you stand barefoot on the beach?
  4. Olfactory (smell) - Imagine the salty, briny smell of the ocean as well as other smells which remind you of the beach - for example, the smell of coconut oil, fish etc. You may want to use an actual real life memory at this point.
  5. Gustatory (taste) - Imagine tasting something you associate with the beach - ice cream, doughnuts, fish and chips etc. Can you taste the fresh air as well as smell it? Smell and taste are two senses intrinsically linked, so use one to assist in awakening the other as you visualise your dream scene. 

Of course, we possess many more, subtle senses which can all be employed in complex dream visualisation:
  • Equilibrioception (balance)
  • Proprioception (joint movement)
  • Kinestesia (acceleration)
  • Thermoception (temperature)
  • Nociception (pain)
Some dreamers find it useful to employ inner dialogue - which requires the same type of auditory imagination described above. Dialogue which is relevant to the visualised dream scene - for example, conversational phrases which might be linked with that location or experience, may help to set the mood and tone of your dream scene.

You need not remain too literal, sensible or restrained with your dream scene visualisations - after all you are trying to create an exciting dream environment, not a mirror image of your waking reality. You do not have to visualise only that which is possible, but you can also experiment with fantastical imagery. Of course, this is more complex than ordinary dream visualisation, but you can work towards this and gradually move towards more bizarre, surreal or impossible dream scenes after time. 

A lot of focussed effort is required for effective dream visualisation, but often beginners are surprised at how quickly they progress and the extent at which the imagination develops. Treat your imagination like a muscle - it needs to be regularly exercised and fed in order to work most effectively and grow. Children tend to have more active imaginations, not just because they think less logically or rationally than adults, but because they are frequently encouraged to use their imagination for play. Those who work in the creative industries and arts aren't necessarily more naturally imaginative than anyone else - they just know how to use their imagination more effectively, but this is something which can be learned and enhanced by anyone. 

Most common obstacles to dream scene visualisation is a lack of focus or motivation to continue to practice; a lack of understanding about what to expect or unrealistic expectations; and wandering concentration. Do not allow yourself to become distracted by random intrusive thoughts. If this does happen, don't give up - just start again and re-build your dream scene again. 

Successful dream scene visualisers describe the experience of visualising a mental image in similar terms to a photographer taking a photograph. Set an intention for what you want to see, aim the camera, look through the lens and 'see' the scene captured before your eyes. This makes the whole process sound incredibly easy, but after time, dream scene visualisation or using hypnagogic imagery to manipulate a workable dream scene will become second nature and an invaluable skill for the repertoire of any oneironaut!

A successful dream visualisation can lead you to transition directly into a wake induced lucid dream within a few minutes; complete dream-entry within a matter of seconds during an awakening in the night; work on 'dream architecture' or lucid dream control; and help you programme (incubate) non-lucid dreams. If initially you seem to be unsuccessful at dream visualisation, take a break (frustration will only be a detriment). Just keep working on it and trying and you will eventually reap the rewards with some excellent dream visualisation results!

No comments:

Post a Comment