NDE, OBE, DMT…Life
By Sarah Janes
Seen by some as the oldest cop out narrative device in the book, the dream gets a bad rap when it serves as an explanation as to why anything unusual or interesting ever happens. But a bit like the weird way the magical efficacy of a sugar pill gets written off as just a placebo effect— dreams can be astonishing, life-enhancing and miraculous.
An increasing number of scientific studies exploring the neurological and electrical landscapes of real-time altered states (links at the end of the article), suggest striking similarities between exceptional human experiences (in particular NDEs and psychedelic trips) and the dream state — more specifically the lucid dream state. But should this diminish the value of these experiences, or does it show us something more fundamental about the nature of perception? Are people disappointed if a benevolent insectoid entity or singing golden matrix turn out to be merely dream characters or worse still — potentially unrecognised aspects of self? Does a dream Life Review make it less poignant? Is a dream light at the end of a tunnel less lucent? If the soul truly rejoices in dream bliss, is that not the point, the elixir of life? What is self anyway?
There is extraordinary variety in how individuals view reality, and even more so in the ways we dream. In dreams, the deeply personal is made outwardly manifest and the worlds and characters we create in dream scenes represent our own psychic architecture. In dreams we inhabit the imaginal structures of our memories, thoughts, language and emotions. Some people have an incredible recall of dreams and might remember in detail dozens of dreams from a single sleep, others couldn’t tell you one single dream of interest from their entire lives.
Many people purposefully smoke cannabis or drink alcohol before bed to suppress recurring nightmares caused by early psychological trauma, and millions of people are prescribed anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medications which taken longterm curtail REM sleep and therefore dreaming. In many ways, a life without dreaming is a sort of half-life. A life void of dreaming might reveal itself in apathy, depression, neurosis, narcissism, psychosis and any other number of mental health issues. Good circadian rhythms, in synch with natural cycles of light and dark, are like a fingerprint for health and wholeness.
Dreaming is known to be of vital importance for cognitive functioning, overall wellness and emotional stability. Beyond this, dreams can be deeply creative and immaterially nourishing. Breakthrough moments are offered by profound lucid dreaming when the various defence mechanisms and organising systems of the body and mind seem to surrender to the flow of the cosmos. It could be seen in a similar way to how psychedelic experiences rely on the relaxing of the brain’s DMN Default Mode Network. Perhaps this is what is happening in Near Death Experiences, Out of Body Experiences and other ecstatic trance states. Our minds are capable of constructing breathtaking emotional and visual tapestries that serve to attenuate the vastness of everything as it pours through our awareness. Like dreams, these experiences can produce mind-boggling configurations through association — and of course especially whilst awake, we have access to extra amounts of sensory input which would usually be inaccessible during ordinary sleeping/dreaming.
In the case of OBEs, perhaps this means we are able to move through a real space as though we are a dream character — as the real world has been integrated into the matrix of the dream? To me OBEs seem to have an extraordinary amount in common with false awakenings.
We are a species that over millennia has aggressively tamed and domesticated itself — by imposing boundaries, developing agriculture, cultivating complex cultural rituals and relationships, inventing tools, languages, technologies and narratives. We still enter the world at birth wobbly and incoherent and over time we recalibrate to the spheres of influence that shape the perception of our existence as an individual entity. As babies, we learn to settle into our human-shaped niche. Perhaps, as we exit this world, we revert to that unformed state, the pathways of our individuation unravelling into the eternal now. At this point then, all of our lives become a dream.
Altered states, dreams, drugs and delusions papers and articles:
Enhanced Interplay of Neuronal Coherence and Coupling in the Dying Human Brain
Predictors of Psychedelic Experience — A Thematic Analysis
An Encounter With the Other: A Thematic and Content Analysis of DMT Experiences From a Naturalistic Field Study
It’s Time to Start Studying the Downside of Psychedelics
An ontology of psychedelic entity experiences in evolutionary psychology and neurophenomenology
The Insights Psychedelics Give You Aren’t Always True