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Meditation and Consciousness and Dreams

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By Arnab Datta, MD
Published on Feb 17, 2023

Meditation is very simple, but understanding it feels counterintuitive sometimes. EMDR can be added to meditation to help people let go of trauma and negative experiences. In Arnab Datta, MD’s practice both these techniques are utilized. The scope of this article is just a brief overview of Meditation. Some people may find it difficult to streamline their thoughts or focus on the pertinent things when it comes to entering a meditative state. So a lot of people say, “I can’t meditate.” I assure you, everyone can meditate and quieten the chatter of the mind which is necessary to make a sound decision in life. In Arnab Datta, MD’s practice people are taught to meditate (if they wish) where meditation is used in tandem with psychotherapy to reframe negative thoughts and feelings and surrender/let go of trauma and negative experiences. 

In meditation, one doesn’t need to “shut the mind off.” The nature of the mind is to think and run around. Sometimes the mind running round can be beneficial; people have solved many problems this way. One can focus and concentrate the mind to accomplish great things. However, when it comes to rumination, perseveration, addiction or delusional thinking, our mind may not be our friend. Our mind can drive us to madness if not checked. A significant theme in establishing sound mental health is allowing our mind to be our friend.

A metaphor of the ocean is often used to describe what happens in meditation. Imagine, if you will, the surface of the ocean. The wind (affairs of our daily lives) will always continue to blow against the surface of the ocean as there are always waves on the surface of the ocean. However, our mind and consciousness are much deeper than that. Once we close our eyes (shutting off all the visual stimuli coming in i.e. sensory deprivation), breathe more slowly and deeply (restful lower respiratory rate like that of sleep), we start to mimic the effect of more restfulness and sleep. Our brain waves change and we begin to access a different part of our consciousness. If we hold this technique for 7-10 minutes, then we sink deeper and deeper into our consciousness. Eventually we arrive at a calm and still place that is different from the frenetic waves on the surface and different from the darting worries of our day to day thoughts. At this depth of consciousness the answers to our problems make more sense and we can slowly let go of the things we are holding on to. 

The combination of psychotherapy and meditation can be very effective. Through psychotherapy you can re-interpret or re-frame painful experiences that may have led to unhappiness. With repeated sessions, one can internalize the reframing exercises discussed with the therapist. Finally, when meditation is used in combination, one can work efficiently towards letting go of this pain and changing for the better and happier you. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2719544/

Mental health or Therapy is not just about talking about your problems. What we perceive in our waking/conscious day to day mind is just the beginning of what we perceive and what we carry with us. The ocean of the unconscious mind lies beneath all this. Meditation is not sleep. One can say that Meditation is the place between the conscious mind and sleep. There are actually different brain waves in all these stages between waking and sleep. There are 3 basic states of consciousness; wakefulness, REM (rapid eye movement) and non-REM (NREM).

There are 4 distinct brain waves: Beta, Alpha, Theta and Delta. Gamma waves (35 Hz and above) are when we are concentrating the most on completing a task, the highest level of wakefulness. Coffee or Adderall XR can take you to Gamma waves. Beta waves (12-35 Hz) you’re awake, alert and taking care of daily activities. Alpha waves (8-12 Hz) help with rest, relaxation and creativity. When in alpha waves, you’re not that focused and not thinking too hard. Theta waves (4-8 Hz) is light sleep (NREM1 and NREM2). During deep meditation, the brain functions at 4-7 Hz. You are entering the unconscious mind at 4-7 Hz. This is why sleep meditation is needed to help you wind down and go to sleep; so we aren’t taking Ambien or another controlled substance medication all the time. REM sleep occurs between Theta and Delta.This is when most of our dreams occur. REM sleep also plays a key role in memory consolidation, cognition (thinking) and mood regulation. Delta waves (0.5-4 Hz) are deep dreamless sleep, that’s the deepest sleep (NREM3 aka slow wave sleep SWS). 

Sleep is divided into 90-minute cycles of REM and NREM sleep; these 90-minute cycles repeat 3-6 times per night. Adults under age 65 should have 7-9 hours of sleep and adults older than 65 should have 6-7 hours of sleep (approximately). Brain waves are measured with an EEG. Psychoactive Chemicals/Medications such as caffeine, nicotine, alcohol and stimulants can affect brain waves. When your intake of these chemicals are too high, too frequent or too close to sleep, your sleep wake balance can be negatively affected. As a result, your consciousness can be negatively affected. National Sleep Foundation, great educational website: https://sleepdisorders.sleepfoundation.org/chapter-1-normal-sleep/stages-of-human-sleep/

Insomnia or the inability to fall asleep has become very common. People are stuck in Gamma or Beta brain waves (more active brain waves) and find it difficult to settle into a relaxing sleep. People read, get bored and slowly move to Alpha waves and finally stroll into Theta waves. Some people take a Sleepy Time tea (such as Chamomile or Valerian Root) which is slightly sedating, allowing one to relax. Some take Ambien, Lunesta or another benzodiazepine sleep aid which are central nervous system depressants. Some people are addicted or dependent on other central nervous system sedating medications because they’ve been taking them nightly for months or years. Some of these people can become angry when doctors try to taper down their sleeping meds. Some patients are brave, open minded and give the taper down regimens a try. Dr. Datta does prescribe controlled substance meds to help you sleep. However, he can prescribe you a taper down regimen if your current dose is high. He makes sure you’re not on too much medication and that you’re not becoming dependent on your prescribed meds. As you may have heard, nowadays doctors must practice some discretion in prescribing these controlled substance meds because they can be addictive. Dr. Datta also teaches a sleep meditation that can help you get from the Gamma or Beta waves of your active mind to Theta waves. This helps people who are just trying to fall asleep as well those who are tapering down on their controlled substance bedtime medications. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3060715/

These are all different parts of our consciousness. Freudians say, “Dreams are the yellow brick road to the unconscious mind.” Dreams (mostly occur in Deep Theta and REM sleep) and can be very abstract. We often don’t attribute any significance to our dreams. We often forget our dreams a few minutes after waking up, unless we write it down. At other times, we are unable to forget certain dreams no matter how hard we try. During sleep we access our unconscious mind and certain abstract messages may come up from the deep recesses of our unconscious mind. Psychiatrists and Therapists who practice psychodynamic psychotherapy or psychoanalysis (Dr. Datta is not a psychoanalyst but does provide psychodynamic psychotherapy) are able to interpret your dreams. We do not have access to most of our mind. There are levels of consciousness we do not have access to. The unconscious mind is part of that inaccessible area. As in the metaphor of the ocean, most of the regions of our mind remain unknown. Dr. Datta does interpret dreams since it’s a psychodynamic study. Please note that it is not an exact science, it is an interpretation. That is why it’s called dream interpretation.

The foundation of hypnosis is rooted in meditation. In order to be hypnotized, one needs to put the body in a relaxed state. Rather the patient must allow the doctor/therapist to lead them into a physically, mentally and emotionally relaxed state. Second, allow your mind to slowly sink into a meditative state. Third, allow the doctor/therapist to lead you through a guided meditation or visualization exercise. Fourth, you must trust the doctor completely for it to work. For hypnosis to work, the subject must be “suggestible” that means they must completely trust the doctor/therapist. The patient must allow the doctor/therapist to lead them into this vulnerable relaxed state where the patient is open to taking the doctor/therapist word as final. The patient must be willing to let a behavior go or adopt a new behavior. The leadership of the doctor/therapist must be as great as the vulnerability and trust the patient has for the doctor/therapist. Hypnosis is worth mentioning here because it is in the spectrum of meditation and the conversation regarding consciousness. Dr. Datta is not a hypnotist. Dr. Datta is a meditation teacher.

Dr. Datta is a trained meditation teacher and psychiatrist who is well versed in psychotherapy. His view of Meditation is not only from a course or certifications, but rather it is based on a series of training, patient and life experiences spanning over two decades. For Dr. Datta, Meditation has become a way of life. In the Psychotherapy process, Dr. Datta gets to know your psychological and emotional quirks. He can apply these characteristics and create a customized meditation for you. If you do this on a daily basis, it will help you let go of some of the thoughts you have been holding on to. The combination of talk therapy and meditation may be the key to shake these thoughts and feelings for good.

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