Levels of Consciousness

In the zone

Dreaming reality

I’ve just woken up.

I’m a perennial insomniac so sleeping is an issue for me. Sometimes it’s hard to know whether I’ve been sleeping or not.

I’ll be lying awake, tossing and turning, and I’ll think, “I’ve been here for an hour at least, and I still haven’t got to sleep.”

But then I look at the clock and several hours have passed, which means that somewhere in amongst all that frustrated tossing about some real sleep had actually occurred. I just never remembered it, that’s all.

There are a number of levels in sleep. The first is the deep, dreamless sleep necessary to repair the body and ease the mind. After that is the chaos of dreaming, with lots of clutter and noise and a million things happening all at once. Then comes symbolic dreaming, where the events of the dream take on a highly-charged mythological quality, as if you were living in the time of legend. Dreams such as these always seem to signify something important in your life, like a message from another time, another place, another part of yourself.

Finally there is lucid dreaming, where you wake up in the dream and have control over what’s happening. My immediate instinct then is to leap from my body and go soaring in the air. I usually return from the lucid dream world with a sense of intense excitement, a feeling of wonder.

We tend to think that there’s just two levels of consciousness: waking and sleeping. But, while we acknowledge the complexity of sleep, we are less inclined to think that there might be other levels of wakefulness too.

And yet there are. Even in normal life there are varying degrees of consciousness, from being half-awake first thing in the morning, to everyday consciousness – which is generally just enough to stop you bumping into walls – to states of high alertness when there is danger present, or when you have to make quick decisions.

Sports men and women describe a certain level of consciousness as being “in the zone”. Time has slowed down to such a pitch that every signal to the brain can be fully acknowledged and acted upon, every movement can be controlled.

To the observer it is as if there is a blinding swirl of almost incomprehensible activity, creating the impression of a person acting instinctively. But the athlete is totally in control, totally conscious of everything around.


Another widely recognised state of consciousness is hypnosis.

This is a state which has some of the qualities of sleep, and some of the qualities of wakefulness. There’s a heightened sense of awareness with a corresponding feeling of relaxation. The imagination becomes very intense, very vivid. Deep memories you thought were lost suddenly come into view.

The hypnotic state is highly suggestible, however. It works just below the level of consciousness, on the threshold of the dream-world. And while a hypnotist cannot make someone do something they don’t want to do, they can plant suggestions in your mind. They can make you remember things that never happened.

Sometimes I think that watching TV is a bit like being hypnotised. You flop out in front of the telly watching a bunch of flickering lights moving about. You relax and absorb the images. This is when thoughts can be implanted. This is where illusions are born.

Watch out for the TV. It may not be as innocent as it looks.

Finally there are states of higher consciousness.

Hindus and Buddhists talk of a state they call Samadhi, which, loosely translated, is the Sanskrit for “wholeness”. It is a state of blissful oneness with the whole of existence, a point at which you know your real purpose in life.

Sometimes this is described as “awakening”.

Or to put it another way, when you woke up this morning maybe you only woke into another dream. Maybe your real awakening is yet to happen.

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