Dr. Charles T. Tart, Mindfulness, Institute of Transpersonal Psychology,

Lecture 3, Part 3 of 13 parts. To start class from beginning, click here.

Student: I’ve been having really lucid dreams as well. It’s really been helping my dream states. I mean, last night was sweet. I was playing bike polo the whole night.


And I even got up, went to the bathroom, and jumped right back in the dream; like reentered a dream state really easily. So yeah, tight.


CTT: Is there a real life sport of bike polo?

Student: It’s a small subculture, for sure.

CTT: Small subculture. It sort of sounds like fun, but I imagine there are some horrendous crashes sometimes.

Student: Yeah, definitely. But yeah, they’ve been very active dreams. I had a great skiing dream, and whatnot. I mean, it might just be the kind of person that I am, but I don’t dream that much. I don’t typically, or I don’t have recall of my dream. So that’s been nice.

CTT: Yeah. That’s good.

Student: A nice fruit of the practice.

CTT: Some people will find that as you practice various kinds of mind training during the day, it will start to slide over into the sleep state. You’re liable to recognize that you’re dreaming, or your dreams become more vivid, or various combinations of those.

And in fact in some branches of Buddhism, the Tibetan ones particularly, they have a whole bunch of dream yogas where you’re expected to become aware of your dreams as dreams and practice various meditative exercises in them. And then become aware of the state in between dreams. And no, it’s not easy for most people.


Student: I recall reading somewhere, there was that National Geographic cover with the Buddhist monk with the EEG electrodes hooked up to his head, that alpha wave activity and deep states of meditation have, I think, been associated with REM sleep states. So that just strikes me as some kind of correlation between….

CTT: I wouldn’t take that too seriously.

Student: No?

CTT: But see, partly there’s politics here. Okay? When I was in graduate school, back in the 1960’s, I wanted to do my thesis and dissertation work on dreams, and my advisors really discouraged me from doing that. Dreams were subjective; they weren’t things that you could study scientifically. It would be a real waste of time.

And then along came a publication in Science that showed eye movement and brain wave correlates of dreaming and, given the materialistic values of the time, overnight dreams became “real.” I mean, if your brain changed, it must be real! So I was able to do my experiments. Politically, the discovery justified all sorts of studies of dreams that would have been hard to do otherwise, because of the ethos that this was a waste of time.

And then I saw the same thing happen about 12 years later. Before that time, meditation was something done by foreigners who were probably schizophrenic and sat cross-legged in the mud and did superstitious things. And all of a sudden they found some brain wave changes with meditation and meditation became real! Gosh! Gee whiz! But the brain waves… while there can be some brain wave changes in meditation, it’s just barely beginning to touch the surface of what meditation is all about. You know, if you like those justifications, that’s fine; but don’t take them too terribly seriously.

When I published my Altered States of Consciousness book in 1969, I had a section on scientific studies of meditation, and I bragged that I had reprinted two thirds of the world’s English language scientific literature on meditation. It sounded impressive until you realized it was two of the three studies! (Laughter) Now there are, last time I checked when somebody had counted, there were over 1,500 studies, and it’s probably up to at least 2,000 or more now. And most of them are “trivial” in the sense that meditation is prescribed like aspirin. It turns out to be good for anything related to tension. All right, not bad.

So doing almost any kind of meditation for 20 minutes a day will make you more relaxed, and that’s good for people in a stressed out, tensed up culture, like ours. But the size of the effects they find, well you could get the same by taking a nap or running around the block or something like that. There are still almost no studies that have looked at the deeper aspects of meditation, namely the ones concerned with beginning to have insight into the nature of your own mind, which is really where we want to go.


  1. Dr. Tart, I have been interested in the question of how we see and feel in dreams. I have read various books (scientific) and they usually will give some answer about neural activity within the brain. However, I have not found any evidence of how we see and feel. If our eyes are closed or even if you sleep with your eyes open, you are in a dark room. Moreover, dreams, at least for me and other that I have talk to and read about tend to be in places other than the place the individual is sleeping in. Therefore, how do you see or feel. It would seem that there would have to be some photonic receptor area within the brain that would change electrons involved with neurons that are involved in sleep in order for us to see. Likewise there would also ,it seems, some type of receptors that would allow us to feel as well. I am wondering if you have heard or read somewhere about this being evidence for the spirit or some type of consciousness?

    1. The quick answer is that we see in dreams the same way we see in everyday life – parts of the brain or mind (not saying they are the same) create visual perceptions. When we’re awake, we’re getting massive visual input from our eyes and the internal creation has to accord with that or we get in trouble, walk into things, etc. When we are alseep, that world-creation process is unfettered by sensory input and so can get wilder. Where does it get its info from asleep? Most probably from memory of visual impressions while awake, maybe some from ESP, maybe…

      More complex of course, but good question!

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