The intermediate space between being awake and asleep is a beautiful suspended state. Reaching and then hanging out at this threshold for a while during your meditation practice can be profoundly soul shifting.
This hypnagogic state is where we enter what the great surrealist artist Salvador Dali described as ‘slumber with a key’. This ‘sleeping but not sleeping’ state during meditation can be a source of great inspiration, creativity and profound insight. It can also be simply a beautiful, imaginative and relaxing state to pause for a while. It is like resting in a meditation cocoon.Since discovering the term ‘hypnagogic’ I had been waiting for a less scientific and more imaginative name to turn up for this meditative state. And tonight as I sat to unpack my thoughts, ideas and musings on this topic, I realised the meditation cocoon was the perfect name for this liminal state and a glorious way to describe this in-between extrasensory experience.
The meditation cocoon is where you go when you go deep during meditation. After a recent Monday night meditation class, a meditator shared her experience of feeling like she was asleep, but knowing she wasn’t. Of being aware of my voice and the meditation practice on one level but disappearing from the world on another. She didn’t have a name to describe where she was and what she was feeling. Others related to her experience, and together they sought my explanation into this hypnotic, sleep-like state during their practice. Outside of explaining the idea of what the term hypnagogic means and relating it to their experience, I didn’t have the words and promised to find them. And here they are.
Deep meditation takes us into a meditation cocoon. Here we feel some of the phenomena of sleep, while at the same time, some of the experience of being awake. It is similar to the hypnagogic state, which is defined as the in-between stage we reach as we start to fall asleep. A state of limbo between being awake and conscious, and being asleep and unconscious. The meditation cocoon is similar to being in a hypnagogic state, but it is not the same, because we are suspended in the cocoon, rather than passing through it. It is not a transition into sleep like the hypnagogic state.
The meditation cocoon is where transformation is possible and where we perhaps face our ‘nympha’ our semi-divine spirit, where we are free of the shackles of being a mere mortal. It is where the perception of our humanness shakes loose a little as the conscious awareness of our body disappears and a dream-like consciousness takes over. Where our souls levitate out of our bodies and into our imagination and higher self, into our personal unconscious, and even into the collective unconscious to receive the messages of ancestors and the world beyond the comprehension of our egos.
From a neurobiological standpoint, we enter the meditation cocoon when both alpha and theta brain waves are active. When these two brain waves, which usually act independently, are dancing together in harmony. Alpha brain waves are dominant when we are daydreaming or in a state of wakeful rest. Theta brain waves are dominant when we are in a deeply relaxed state, in the early stages of sleep, and when we are dreaming during deeper sleep states. Theta brain waves have an important role in memory forming. So, together the alpha and theta waves form a mixture of a deep, sleepy and dreamy relaxed consciousness that is not like being awake, not like being asleep, and not like falling asleep. But something else, created by the fusion, the alchemical and magical mixing of these two brain waves.
The meditation cocoon is a mystical chrysalis where, like the butterfly, the very form of us breaks down and transforms. Imaginal discs are cells which survive the enzyme-made soup a caterpillar breaks down into. These imaginal discs are undifferentiated cells and can turn into any type of cell, which they do, to form the new body of the butterfly as a critical part of the metamorphosis process. And it is our dreamy imaginative state inside the meditation cocoon, a result of the combined alpha and theta brain waves providing a balanced dialogue between our conscious mind and our unconscious resting deep within our bodies, which, like the undifferentiated imaginal discs, gifts us metamorphic potential during meditation.
The mood of the meditation cocoon will depend on the dialogue between the conscious mind and the unconscious, and what kind of discussion is needed to have them singing with beautiful harmonies like two pitched notes playing at the same time creating a melodious chord. But like the caterpillar does not resist what happens in its chrysalis, we too should trust in the process and what goes on in our own meditation cocoons.