Minutes of the October, 2013 Oneironauticum
This October Oneironauticum was held at the Esalen Institute where I, Jennifer Dumpert, co-led a weekend retreat called Cultivating Extraordinary Experience, with author Erik Davis. The workshop focused on the idea that “Experience is also something we cultivate and refine. With practice, we can increase our capacity for wondrous insights and delicious sensations. By learning to focus attention, break through ordinary habits, and develop a taste for even challenging experiences, we can tease the extraordinary out of ordinary life.” Over both Friday and Saturday nights, we conducted Oneironauticum sessions, described in the Esalen catalogue as “an emerging approach to dreamwork that we will explore both nights of the weekend. Rather than emphasize the symbolic meaning of dreams, this form of dreamwork cultivates the visionary texture of the dream itself.”
Present at the Oneironauticum were dreamers Erik, Polly, lissa ivy, Matthew, Chad, Blaine, Diego, Ben, Michael, Mai, Chris, Deborah, Katherine, and Bill. Friday night, we made dream pillows with mugwort, lavender, and rose. We also used inhalers to breathe in mugwort mist. Saturday night, we drank Calea Zacatechichi.
Friday night, several people experienced sexual dreams, as well as physically very sensual dreams. Saturday night, the dreams became more disjointed and psychedelic.
Interestingly, this reflects the way that dreams move through the brain over the course of a single night. In the initial stages of sleep, activity tends to stay centered in the frontal lobes of the brain. The frontal lobes participate in goal achieving, decision making, problem solving, and purposeful behaviors. The mental states involved in reaching goals includes representing what you want to achieve—creating a mental image of what you want—planning strategies for succeeding, and tracking how well you’re managing to accomplish the goal. If I have dreams about trying to get to the airport to board a particular flight, I usually have those early in the night. Activity buzzes through my frontal lobes. Gotta get there! Need to accomplish my goals! Wait, what! I never finished that high school class? Sound familiar?
In most of us, however, after we’ve been asleep a while, the frontal lobes cease being the locus of activity. Logic and planning, as measured both scientifically and according to subjective reports, start to shut down. Dreaming moves to other parts of the brain, become less about what happens during the day, and probably involves a lot less of the anxiety of planning, trying to get somewhere, and to accomplish something.
Oddly, and probably sadly, for deeply depressed people, it doesn’t quite work the same way. People who experience depression for, say, a year following a divorce or after the death of a loved one—what’s called reactive depression—have their sleep and dream patterns messed up temporarily. But people who can’t pull out depression—the chronically depressed—have an entirely different experience. For one thing, clinically depressed people experience the onset of REM earlier in the night than most other people do, and the periods of REM are comparatively quite long. Also, activity in the frontal lobes of such people doesn’t decrease throughout the night, as it does otherwise.
For most of us, sleep and dream refresh the system. Not only do our bodies heal, but our minds let go of worry, anxiety, and a whole host of mental plagues. The chronically depressed have a more difficult time stepping away from their daytime minds, even during sleep and dream. Cultivating sleep and dream practices, in addition to providing access to the visionary, may also improve your mental health and overall well being.