Every so often I like to read something really technical, something not from my field. My conversation is more interesting, and I know more, if I push myself to read widely, not just a lot in the things I gravitate to without thinking. Lately my technical reading has been Hypnagogia, by Andreas Mavromatis. The book’s subtitle explains what hypnagogia is: “The Unique State of Consciousness between Wakefulness and Sleep.” You’ve experienced it, you more than likely just didn’t know that’s what it was called, or what exactly it was that you were experiencing.
The book is quite a quick read, actually. I’m making progress much more quickly than I thought I’d be. I started the book prepared for it to be a slog, but it’s not. It’s still somewhat technical, although not so technical as to render it unintelligible.
One of the neat things about reading as much as I try to, and as widely as I try to, is that after a while things start to coalesce and line up without my trying. Perhaps because I like things that are most alike under the surface, or through extraordinary coincidences — maybe I’m seeing through the surface to commonalities that I might have sensed but couldn’t explain — but lately my reading has started all to tie together.
For example: Not too long ago I read the “Loveless” volume in Continuum’s 33 1/3 series. (Bloody brilliant series, if you’re a music lover…you should check it out.) In it the author made a passing reference to hypnagogia — which, if you’ve ever heard My Bloody Valentine’s music, makes perfect sense. I thought, That sounds interesting, and noted it on one of my reading lists. (I have at least three…sometimes curating my reading lists threatens to consume all my time. Then I remind myself that the purpose of the list is to help me read more or more interesting books…not keep a list.) I got it through inter-library loan (my best friend where I live), and dove in.
As I read, some of the descriptions of focusing attention during hypnagogia, or learning how to direct one’s attention, reminded me very strongly of other things I’ve read recently. As a renewal of an older interest, I’ve been doing more reading on lectio divina, which is essentially an ancient Christian method for praying the Scriptures. It involves contemplation, directing one’s attention in a very focused way, yet different than we usually do every day, and focusing in on the words of Scripture. I’m into it, and I try and practice it for myself. Throw in some references to meditation or mysticism which crop up, and which I’m also interested in, and the web draws tighter. It was fascinating to me to see how things I’m interested in, things themselves very different and disparate, coalesce and come together, all on their own.
Here’s the particular quote that especially reminded me of lectio divina. I share it with you because it may be of wider interest:
“In his experimental studies on meditation, Deikman, adapting a procedure from Patanjali’s Yoga, instructed his subjects to adopt an attitude of ‘passive abandonment’ as they concentrated on a blue vase. His instructions ran: “By concentration I do not mean analyzing the different parts of the vase, or thinking a series of thoughts about the vase, or associating ideas to the vase; but rather, trying to see the vase as it exists in itself, without any connections to other things. Exclude all other thoughts or feelings or sounds or bodily sensations. Do not let them distract you, but keep them out so that you can concentrate all your attention, all your awareness on the vase itself. Let the perception of the vase fill your entire mind.” Again, these instructions can be recognized as directions for psychophysical withdrawal and diffuse and absorbed attention which, as we saw earlier, are marks of hypnagogia. The instructions to attention and concentration can be seen as directions for the deliberate induction of a state of fascination that presents itself spontaneously in hypnagogia, and can be further prolonged and deepened in the latter by attending to and concentrating on the imagery. The relationship between hypnagogia and meditation becomes even closer when the object of concentration is an internal image. In the latter case, instead of the subject becoming fascinated by emerging hypnagogic imagery, as is the case with hypnagogia, the procedure is reversed and an image is visualized and used to fascinate the subject. As Deikman points out, “the active phase of contemplative meditation is a preliminary to the stage of full contemplation, in which the subject is caught up and absorbed in a process he initiated but which now seems autonomous, requiring no effort. Instead, passivity — self-surrender — is called for, an open receptivity.”” (Hypnagogia, Mavromatis, pp.112-113) (emphasis not in original)