The Function of Dreaming Consciousness

“Nature does not speak to us in code. The idea of dream interpretation is that Nature speaks to you in code, and you have to break the code in order to understand the knowledge that is encoded deeply in your abstract dream.”

Thom Knoles

Why do we have dreams and what do they mean?

Some schools of thought attempt to attribute specific meanings and interpretations of dreams, but the Vedic stance is somewhat different.

The Vedic worldview recognizes seven different states of consciousness, including dreaming, but as Thom explains in this episode, not all dreams are dreams, and none of them require interpretation…

Subscribe to Vedic Worldview

Apple Podcast logo
Stitcher Podcast logo
Spotify Podcast logo
Google Podcast logo

Episode Highlights


What Does My Dream Mean?



One More Possibility Gone



The Illusion of Dream Duration



Dreams and Rapid Eye Movement (REM)



Dreaming in the Waking State



Dreams as Expressions of Stress Release



Sigmund Freud’s Dream Theory



Brain’s Storytelling Mechanism in Dreams



A Story Unfolds



Let It Go



Release of Stress



Exploring Turiya: Beyond the Three Relative States



Lucid Dreaming to Transcendent Experiences



Nature Does Not Speak in Code


Jai Guru Deva


The Function of Dreaming Consciousness

[00:45] What Does My Dream Mean?

Jai Guru Deva. I’m Thom Knoles. This is my podcast, the Vedic Worldview. Thank you for listening.

I’d like to spend a few minutes on the subject of the dream consciousness state, D-R-E-A-M, dream, as in dreaming, and what that is and as much about it… we could talk about dreaming for an hour, but we’ll talk about it for a few minutes instead.

So many times, I’m approached by people who want to know what their dreams mean. “What does my dream mean? I dreamed that I was in a tree and sleeping on a branch, and it was so fascinating, and there was a river below me, and the branch broke off and I fell with the branch into the water.

“But when I arose from the water to take a breath, I realized it wasn’t water at all. I was in a desert of sand. And I looked over, and the branch wasn’t the branch anymore, but part of it was sticking out. I reached over and took the branch, and it was the hand of my brother. My brother emerged from the sand, and I said to him, “What are you doing here?”

“And he said, “I’ve come here just like you to eat the ice cream.” And then I noticed that he had a sand-covered soft-serve ice cream cone. And the sand sparkles that were on the ice cream were no longer sand particles. They were sugar particles. And we were in an ice cream shop together.

[02:18] One More Possibility Gone

“And then I realized in my dream that I didn’t ever really have a brother. This was a brother I always wanted to have. And there we were, having ice cream together.

“What does it mean, Thom? Take me from the beginning to the end. You’re a Vedic Meditation Guru. Can you give me a dream interpretation? What did my dream mean? Let’s start with me lying on the branch of the tree.”

You can imagine that in my multiple decades learning with my Guru, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, there were many times when people would describe their dreams, however fanciful, however demonic, however macabre, however abstract, to Maharishi, and then say to him, ,”Maharishi, what does it mean?”

And Maharishi always gave the same answer. “It means,” he said in his beautiful Indian accent, “One more possibility gone.”

One more possibility gone. What did he mean by that?

First of all, we have to understand what dreams actually are, and we need to make a distinction between different types of cognitive phenomena that happen , mostly, when we’re lying down on our pallet, on a bed, presumably in the night, but sometimes people sleep in the daytime. And so, what is the dreaming consciousness state?

[03:57] The Illusion of Dream Duration

We know from modern physiological science we cannot deny somebody of the capacity to experience any consciousness state.

So if you deny someone the waking state by giving them drugs that keep them asleep, like, for example, in the great experiments done in which L-DOPA was used to either cause people to sleep or to bring them out of their sleep state during deep sleep therapy, we made a discovery that deep sleep therapy was, in fact, very harmful because it causes very obvious attrition of the body and of the brain itself. And a state of consciousness where someone cannot dream but they can sleep, and they can’t do any waking state activity is going to be very damaging to them.

Deprivation of the dream state can be done because during dreaming, a phenomenon known as rapid eye movement starts. The eyeballs begin to oscillate around behind the eyelids because the eyes are attempting to watch something akin to a cinematic production, a movie, on the screen of consciousness that is happening at high speed.

Most people don’t realize this, but we have the illusion that dreams last for a long time. Maybe you had a dream that you thought lasted for an hour. The fact is that in modern science, we can demonstrate uncontroversially that dreams all are done and finished within three minutes.

Three to five minutes, maximum. Very rare occasion to get as far as five minutes.

But our brain makes it feel as though it was half an hour or an hour or however long we felt we dreamed for. And this is because the imagery that we’re witnessing in our dream is occurring at very high speed.

[05:53] Dreams and Rapid Eye Movement (REM)

And this is why the eyeballs move so rapidly behind the eyelids because our eyes are attempting to watch a movie as it were, not a real movie, you get what I mean, I’m using it as an analogy.

But to watch a cinematic sort of production happening in the consciousness screen that’s moving at high speed, our brain does a little trick and slows it all down and makes it feel as though it happened over a period of a long time.

And so a dream is caused by—and we know this again, uncontroversially—this kind of rapid eye movement dream is caused by overloads of experience, either relatively mild overloads that may have happened at a time when we were particularly susceptible to it being an overload.

Someone playing with a light switch off on, off, on, off, on, off on. Maybe a child playing with a light switch, at a time when you’re not susceptible to that being stressful isn’t stressful for you.

The child playing with the light switch off on, off, on, off on, at a time when your brain is susceptible to that becoming a stressful event, it will cause you to be stressed, even though you may not recognize it, and you might laugh it off and you might even encourage the child to continue their exploration of the cause and effect of switching a light switch and causing light to go off and on in the room. Maybe you think that’s a good thing, and so you just handle it.

[07:23] Dreaming in the Waking State

But if you are susceptible, and if that’s making you have an overload of perceptual phenomena in your brain, then this is going to come out in some way as a dream. There’ll be some kind of flickering light function that occurs inside of a dream.

When we’re resting during sleep state, and we dream, we get rapid eye movement. And we know from sleep research that if somebody has rapid eye movement and you interrupt them, and you let them go back to sleep again in a sleep lab, but then when they get rapid eye movement again, you interrupt them again and let them go back to sleep.

In other words, they’re able to sleep as much as they wish to sleep, but you’re preventing them from dreaming. Then dreaming will start to occur in the waking state.

Dreaming occurring during the waking state is what we call psychosis. That is to say, people start to have dreamlike experiences with their eyes open, these dreamlike experiences not conforming to the reality of any other human to whom they communicate these dream experiences, therefore, psychosis. In other words, if you prevent someone from dreaming, the suffering will grow so much that psychosis will occur, generally speaking, within about three days.

So, dream state is very necessary because it’s a release-of-stress state. What is its meaning?

[08:52] Dreams as Expressions of Stress Release

When we are sleeping and resting, and we start releasing stress in the way that provokes the brain a little, our brain is slightly provoked by the phenomenology of repair work that’s going on. Release of stress can be thought of as repair work.

And this repair work that’s happening in the perceptual machinery and repair work that’s happening in the emotional machinery, if indeed we had overloads of emotional experience, that can also be an experience of stress, and it’s stored in the physiology in chemical form.

Any kind of overload of experience, whether it’s emotional, whether it’s intellectual, whether it’s mechanical, perceptual, when that starts to release during a sleep state, after the depth of rest of sleep has occurred, then there will be the starting of the process of the reverse engineering of the input of the stress.

The way the stress went in, it will come out the same way. Reverse engineering, it means that we’ll have a variety of experiences.

Now, our brain doesn’t like to be awakened from sleep. And so what our brain does is it takes these light provocations that are caused by the unstressing phenomena, and there are multiple light provocations being caused by multiple stress release phenomena occurring during sleep.

It takes these provocations, and instead of allowing the provocations of the brain to wake the brain up from the sleep state, the brain will take these different stimuli of stress release and turn them into a story.

[10:39] Sigmund Freud’s Dream Theory

This was first described by Sigmund Freud in any kind of cohesive theory. Sigmund Freud got a lot of things wrong that we know about today, but he also got a lot of things right.

And his position as a great psychiatrist is still very sound, even though there are certain theories that he had that we’ve now looked at and decided that they’re not quite as rigorous as once we thought they were. But one of them, which is very rigorous, is his dream theory.

So if you take, for example, someone who is releasing a particular kind of stress and they are having the stimulus occurring from inside, their brain doesn’t want them to wake up, and so their brain will invent a story.

We can translate this by looking at the way that sometimes we’re lying in bed asleep, and an outside noise, a provocation from the outside, will occur while we’re sleeping. Not enough of a provocation to cause what we refer to as “punch through.”

Punch through means the outside provocation punched through the sleep state and woke you up. So not enough to cause punch through, but enough to cause you to dream.

When the outside provocation, perhaps it is the sound of a friend of yours knocking at the door at a mutually agreed, assigned time, five in the morning, to go surfing. The best waves are always there in the early morning before the wind starts up. And you’d agreed with your friend to be awakened at 5:00 AM.

[12:20] Brain’s Storytelling Mechanism in Dreams

The friend is knocking at the door. Brain doesn’t want you to awaken, and so brain invents a story. There’s somebody next door in the next door house, whether that next door house is real or not, on the roof of their house with a hammer, hammering, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, goes the hammering in the dream.

Bang, bang, bang, bang, bang is the actual provocation coming from the outside, from your friend who’s ready to wake you up to go surfing at 5:00 AM. Bang, bang, bang, bang, bang comes the more intense knocking, which is translated by your brain into more intense hammering by your neighbor hammering on their roof.

The annoyance and irritation begins, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang.

“Oh, why is my friend hammering on their roof with such an assertive fashion? I’ll have to have a talk to this friend about banging on their roof.”

Bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, goes the door. And in the dream, the banging of the roof next door becomes ever louder until, eventually, something very foreign to the dream that the dream can’t really explain happens.

It’s the voice of my friend saying, “Get up, you mug. We both agreed that you were going to meet me at 5:00 AM. Wake up.”

And you hear the wake up and then punch through happens. The outside provocation has exceeded your brain’s ability to cause a dream to occur that explains it, and you’re forced into the waking.

[13:52] A Story Unfolds

And all as well. And you may admit to your friend, or you may not admit to your friend, that you had reduced their knocking to a dream about a neighbor hammering their roof.

And so what we learned from this kind of phenomenon, which can be induced in sleep lab situations, by the way, is that rapid-eye-movement dreams do not have a specific meaning per se.

What they are is an expression of stress release. A cascade of stresses begins to line up and unwind one after another. During the sleep state, the mild provocations of the stress release provoke the brain.

The brain doesn’t want to be awakened, and so the brain begins to unite the different stimuli caused by the variety of stresses that are unwinding, those stresses being caused by past experiences that one has had during a time of being susceptible to becoming stressed.

And as those stresses line up and release, a story unfolds, and the elements of the story of the dream can be matched to the elements of stresses that are unwinding in the body, causing the dream to occur. And so this is rapid eye movement, stress release dreaming that is occurring.

[15:15] Let It Go

And so then, when someone is asked, “What did my dream mean?” going through all the elaborate details, and my Maharishi would answer, “What it means is one more possibility gone.” That, what appears to be dismissive is simply as much as to say the stress unwinds first, the dream comes next, by the time the dream has been had the stress that could have caused you to behave in particular ways is now gone.

One more possibility gone means nothing that occurred in that dream has any meaning for your waking state. Nothing that occurred in that dream has any meaning if you attempt to interpret it, because what it is is an examination somewhat akin to, if you want to know what somebody had for dinner, you can look at all the vegetable cuttings and peelings that are sitting inside the garbage can in the kitchen.

That’s the dreams, the garbage can. It’s the different experiences that were had that indicate stress is unwinding, and those stresses are gone now. Best to just take it out to the big bin and drop it in, let it go. Don’t bother thinking about it.

We don’t need to interpret stress release. We don’t need to interpret that which has already been thrown out of the physiology.

Now this is for rapid eye movement, cognitive phenomena, and this is why, when we describe these phenomena, we describe a dream to someone who didn’t dream the dream, and that’s anybody except you, it’s a very hard thing to listen to.

[17:03] Release of Stress

This is one of those telling things, which, when I tell it, I always get lots of feedback from people saying, “Oh, I’m so happy you mentioned that, Thom.

I can’t stand it when people tell me their dreams. Absolutely can’t stand it. Someone says, “Oh, I had a dream and this happened in the dream.”

And if it takes five minutes, then it’s a complete test of the degree of friendship if you can actually tolerate hearing somebody’s dream because all you’re hearing really is a sequence of experiences that were had that were the result of that person’s stress release.

The stresses that they released already being gone now, and so describing something that is no longer there.

Now, for those of you who are all upset by my putting dreams into that category, let me say that rapid-eye-movement dreaming is not the only outlet that occurs in what we call nighttime cognitions, whether they occur in the night or not. You might be having a nap in the daytime and have a cognition.

Cognitions are not rapid-eye-movement dreams, and no rapid eye movement occurs during a cognition. It is possible to be lying in a supine or prone state— supine means on your back, prone means on your belly— or you could be lying on your side, and you could enter into subtler consciousness states while you are emerging from the sleep state into those subtler consciousness states.

[18:41] Exploring Turiya: Beyond the Three Relative States

In the Vedic worldview, we know that we have to pass through the fourth consciousness state. Waking, dreaming, and sleeping, these are the three relative states, they’re relative to each other.

You will dream to the extent that you got stressed in the waking state. You will have freshness in the waking state to the extent that sleep and dreaming provided you with that refreshing stress-released consciousness state.

You will fall asleep and dive deep into sleeping relative to how tired you got as a result of being in the waking state. Waking state yields and begets sleep and dreaming. Sleep and dreaming states yield and beget varying degrees of clarity of waking state. They’re relative states of consciousness because they’re related to each other.

Then there’s a fourth consciousness state that we experienced during Vedic Meditation. That’s that state of stepping beyond the thinking process and maintaining consciousness. The least-excited consciousness state where we are conscious but not having content, the fourth state.

And the fourth state is referred to in Sanskrit as Turiya. Turiya means the fourth. And it’s that state of consciousness attained to when we settle beyond all relativity during our conscious experience of Vedic Meditation.

Regular experiences of Turiya can awaken the ability to experience Turiya even unintentionally, coming out of sleep state or coming out of waking state or coming out of dreaming state. Turiya, in fact, resides in the gap between any two states.

[20:40] Lucid Dreaming to Transcendent Experiences

Consequently, when we are lying down, and we’re about to enter sleep state, a meditator in particular, because their brain is habituated to experiencing Turiya, will pass through the state of Turiya while moving from the waking state to the sleeping state.

During sleep onset, experiences of Turiya are common in meditators. It may last anything from a few seconds to quite a few minutes. Then moving from the sleep state to the dream state, Turiya can be experienced again. It’s the gap state, the junction point that lies between any two consciousness states.

Therefore, Turiya is there between waking and sleeping. It is there between sleep and dream. It is there between dream and return to sleep at that junction point. It is there between dream going straight to waking. It is there between sleep returning back to waking state again.

It’s the fourth consciousness state, the non-waking, non-dreaming, non-sleeping conscious hypometabolic, hypo means low, metabolism, conscious, hypometabolic, deep consciousness state.

When we’re in Turiya, which may occur during our lying down period, it’s possible for us to have cognitions that are not stress-release phenomena. And typically, cognitions that we have in that state will not be disjointed.

They won’t be, “I was on a branch, and the branch broke and I fell into the river, and the river wasn’t river anymore, it was sand. And I emerged and I took hold of the branch again and it was my brother’s hand. And he was holding an ice cream cone. And there were sparkles on it. And it wasn’t sand, it was sparkles of sweet sugar.”

“And I said to him, “How did we get here to the ice cream shop?”

And he said, “You tell me. I’m not really your brother. You don’t have one.” And then I woke up from the dream.”

[22:53] Nature Does Not Speak in Code

That kind of dream is stress release. When we have cognition during our lying down, eyes-closed period, supine, prone, or side sleeping, then we will generally experience thematic behaviors of how the laws of Nature are functioning.

What we experience won’t be bewildering, and it will not need interpretation because Nature does not speak to us in code. The idea of dream interpretation is that Nature speaks to you in code, and you have to break the code in order to understand the knowledge that is encoded deeply in your abstract dream.

Maharishi’s attitude towards regular abstract dreaming is, these are stress release phenomena and not worth examining, but his attitude to nighttime cognition, which is not dreaming and is not accompanied by rapid eye movement, is this, could be valuable, but you’re going to know what the value is.

Your cognition will not require you to go and buy a book and try to figure out what it means. It’ll be very clear to you. Plus, it will be thematic. It will repeat if necessary until you’re able to experience with great clarity the total meaning of it.

So rapid eye movement, dream interpretation, we don’t go for, and we do not require interpretation of regular nighttime cognitions that may occur because they’ll be self-explanatory.

This is all about dreaming.

Jai Guru Deva.

Read more