Fragile Fringe Phenomena
From The Natural Depth in Man
Articles By Wilson van Dusen

There is thought which is interior and more interior, also exterior and more exterior. What is actually the first effect of life is inmost thought, which is the perception of ends. But of all this hereafter, when the degrees of life are considered. (Emanuel Swedenborg, Divine Love and Wisdom [p2], 1763

In our gradual descent into the natural depth in man we now enter an area that is less understandable than what came before. We went from the external aspect of one's perceptions of others to the more conscious processes of mind to processes that gradually become more feeling-laden and symbolic. Now we pass through a region that is among the least understood.

It is also one of the most difficult regions from which to get data. Some of the phenomena from this region are so little known they do not even have a name.

One general tendency of our descent into mind has been to move away from conscious ego control. The phenomena to be described here are just over the conscious/unconscious border. While traces of ego are involved, it is mostly as an observer of the quite spontaneous and autonomous processes within.

Most of what is to be described are phenomena from the hypnogogic state. Even some psychologists do not know of this state. Hypnogogic phenomena arise when one is lying down, very relaxed and nearing sleep. The general sequence of events as one approaches this state can be described. First one lies down and becomes comfortable. Worries from the day and sensations from the bed are mixed for a while. One may choose to centre on a favourite fantasy. Gradually the mind slips out of gear. Stray images and phrases float through one's head. Yet one is still awake enough to note these if one chooses to make the effort. The individual can watch relatively spontaneous unconscious processes bubble to the surface. Most people lazily fall into a fantasy and walk of into a dream and sleep. It requires unusual persistence to stay poised between sleep and waking. Few have done it, and those who have tried it lost a lot of sleep. Yet they found a new and complex realm of possibilities, which will be seen to be an extension of what was beginning to appear in meditation. There is a great deal of symbolism in this area. It is perhaps all Symbolism.

To my knowledge there are only a few great explorers who have recorded their observation in this area. Oddly enough, one of the earliest explorers in this region made the richest and most complex discoveries. Moderns seem far less daring and poorer equipped to deal with autonomous symbolic processes. Swedenborg has done more work in this area than anyone else. He approached this region by focusing inwardly and breathing minimally in the style of Raja Yoga. At first he wanted to focus all his powers of concentration to think better. As shown in his Journal of Dreams and Spiritual Dairy, he soon saw he had was watching the raw natural processes of the mind at work. This region is immensely symbolic, and he learned to penetrate symbols from this experience. Incidentally he broke through from the hypnogogic state into a personal journey through heaven and hell, and he left a profound and fascinating account of his discoveries. Even very average people who explore this region can run into strange people and strange symbolic conversations that look like visitations from another world. In more modern times the French existentialist Jean-Paul Satre also spent many hours exploring the hypnogogic. Sartre missed the great key to understanding this region that had been understood by Swedenborg and found again later by Herbert Silberer. The region is naturally autosymbolic, that is, it represents where one is at the moment. Or, put another way, it represents itself.

Much of the hypnogogic area looks simply like cute images and odd sentences being tossed around in one's head until one asks precisely what the individual was thinking of at that same moment. Then it begins to look like either a representation of the person's state or an answer to his query. Examples will clarify this autosymbolic character of the state.

I was trying to pick up hypnogogic experiences and heard, "Still a nothing," I wasn't getting much and it said as much. While I was trying to see in detail how the hypnogogic experience forms I heard, "Do you have a computer?" I was getting very sleepy in the hypnogogic state and heard, "The usual snoofing." At the time the odd word "snoofing" sounded like a cross between snooping (trying to snoop on the hypnogogic) and snoozing (getting sleepy). It was a playful representation of where I was  both snooping and snoozing.

In the hypnogogic there isn't much doubt one has run into something alien to normal mental processes. The images arise suddenly alien to normal mental processes. The images arise suddenly and are fully formed before one can even guess what they imply. Similarly, a person can hear sentences or phrases that are not immediately understood. The process requires some study to find meaning in it. Even with concerted effort one may be able to trace sense in only a portion of what turns up. For Instance, in the same night I picked up the above comments I also heard someone say, "Master, you are playing games with me." Later someone said with great determination, "It does with me!" It was as though I had broken into someone else's conversation. I couldn't connect it with my state at the moment, but that may have been because it passed so fast. Even when the hypnogogic is obviously being autosymbolic of one's state at the moment, it is just of that precise instant. A fraction of a second later what it is representing may have passed. But the above phrases were quite beyond my understanding. That same evening I heard the hypnogogic saying, "I didn't want anything to happen to my sphere so I read Chekhov. Your sphere will have a repair letter on it." I have no idea why this conversation occurred, though it is intriguing. These spoken phrases are usually said in the tone of your own voice. It is surprising at first to see your mind thinking and talking without your bidding. When you say something to yourself the meaning is there before it is said. When something is said in the hypnogogic, or an image is experienced, the meaning is not there. It may take considerable work even to find its possibility.

My suspicious is that the hypnogogic and psychotic hallucinations are closely related. There is the same alien quality of an image or a sentence suddenly appearing out of nowhere, leaving one guessing as to why. There are differences, though. Hallucinations are much more vivid. Psychotics can literally and clearly see and hear things while awake. Normals, with considerable effort, have difficulty picking up these trance experiences while nearly asleep. Also, auditory hallucinations in psychotics are usually not in their own voice. My guess is that the psychotic, being more alienated from his own nature, experiences the same general processes as more intense and in a more alienated form.

The general nature of this inward terrain can be described. The way to the hypnogogic state is to lie down and relax as though going to sleep. One might direct attention to the eigenlicht, the vague, half-apparent coloured lights and images seen with eyes closed. These are also called the entoptic or idioretinal lights. With concentration on them they can become clearer images. The patterns swirl, move, constantly change. With an intensity of inner awareness they can form into simple objects or geometric patterns, sometimes in complex over-all designs. One I've often seen is formed out of delicate fern leaves. If one awakens slowly from sleep one may be able to linger on half asleep, looking at a wholly formed scene. A common one for me is a shore line of city lights. These inner eigenlichts seem impossible to hold still. My guess is that the brilliantly coloured background imagery one may hallucinate under the drug LSD or other hallucinogens is simply an amplification of the normal eigenlicht. The meaning of the eigenlichts is quite unknown, since few people have examined them. My guess is that they too are autosymbolic of one's state. Seeing geometric patterns goes with a more analytical set. My own fern-leaf designs seem to go with a very peaceful languid state, the feeling suggested by ferns growing in shaded areas. The eigenlichts seem to be the bare beginning of inward self representation.

To my knowledge, another phenomenon in this area has not been described before. When nearly asleep I find myself locked into some kind of logical relationship. There may be a fixed image and I go over the logic within its form repeatedly. I have the impression it is like a perfectly balanced, very complex, logical presentation. When I awaken it is difficult to remember, though. I may come out with some very paradoxical statement. When, within it, all its logical relationships seem perfectly clear although complex and often paradoxical. I have the feeling it is gone over repeatedly to get it fixed in the mind, yet it fades rapidly on full wakening. My own inner tendency and deepest need is to understand things. A common fantasy is that I am giving a very complex and well-presented lecture. My guess (and this is clearly an area of guess and uncertainty) is that this unnamed kind of instructive logical process is autosymbolic of my own tendencies. I badly need a total understanding of a whole system. Left to its own devices, my mind seems to fall into such understandings. Others, with other tendencies, may well have a parallel kind of process going on in them. My wife, a woman of native good humour, falls into a humorous situation as she goes to sleep. I can tell by her mumbled chuckle that she has fallen asleep.

A rough descriptive map of the hypnogogic realm can be drawn. It is clearest in the state between sleeping and waking. Both sides must be present. One is totally relaxed and approaching sleep so inner processes can become more conscious. But one is awake enough to observe them. It occurs on the way into or out of sleep. If one awakens part way, it is quite easy to observe hypnogogic phenomena until one becomes so awake as knock them out. The main advantage of this difficult balancing act between sleeping and waking is that the conscious person can observe an indeed even talk to and experiment with inner process! Examples of this will be given later. This state has the advantage over fantasy and meditation in that one can be sure one is not generating the actual responses of the hypnogogic state. Usually these are autonomous, ie., the images and what was said are not immediately understood.

There is no question that the hypnogogic area is difficult to deal with in contrast to the states already described. One easily falls off to sleep. On the other hand, if one is too wakeful, it is easy to block it. This is the first major lesson to be learned. The hypnogogic comes spontaneously in little quick images or things said. If one instantly alerts and tries to retain it, this much ego can block any further appearances of it. It may take weeks or months to learn to relax enough to continue to observe the hypnogogic without blocking it by an excess of ego. Very clearly it is the antithesis of ego. Where ego is absent, it can appear. One of the several values in developing an ability to observe hypnogogic phenomena is in learning to lay aside ego, learning ego's deleterious effect in inner processes. Often it is difficult to remember. Like a dream it fades fast on awakening and getting into normal activity. If you can dictate into a tape recorder when half asleep you can capture a good deal of it. The eigenlicht, images with eyes closed, hypnogogic, and dreams could well be a single continuum in which ego fades and the inner awakens. Dreams seem longer and more intense experiences than these forerunners. The person is usually in his dream but is more of an observer of the hypnogogic.

For most people the hypnogogic is primarily visual, for some primarily auditory. This same kind of division will later be found in psychotic hallucinations. It is not known yet why these differences exist. It could have something to do with the way one enters the process (i.e., concentrating on the eigenlicht, making it visual, or listening for voices). Or it could reflect basic personality differences. Perhaps those more extroverted and sensation-orientated see things and those more introverted and of intuitive bent hear things. The images can be black and white or in colour. My guess is that the more intense the process the more likely it is to be in colour. All other senses can appear too, i.e., taste, physical sensations, ect.   One young man in a hypnogogic state felt hit with a solid object that struck him in the head, made his ears ring and muscles contract, and felt faint. This particular experience was easily remembered because it was so intense.

Even though it is a difficult state to achieve and explore, it has its own lessons. It is my vague impression that there are levels of the hypnogogic state itself, which seem to have to do with how well one understands and deals with the process. As one enters into it better, its own apparent richness and power seems to grow. This may be an extension of the general idea that the main thrust of inner processes seems to be autosymbolic; the processes may reflect not only one's state, but also one's understanding and capacities.

Material roughly illustrative of these levels will help clarify something of both the levels and power of the hypnogogic. When one first runs into the hypnogogic it seems to be just a lot of random firings of the brain, bits of images and phrases. I have seen faces I couldn't recognize and heard comments in the background. I wasn't sure if I were overhearing bits of conversation or hearing bits of my own thoughts.

Upon closer examination it appears rather clearly autosymbolic. I was thinking of the richness of the process and heard, "My liberal arts course." While meditating on a pain in my head I heard, "Nonmaterial!" Of course the experience of pain is nonmaterial, but that is not how I would ordinarily think of it. I was trying to hear something like a random conversation nearby and heard, "Drowned people in the bush." Both "drowned" and "bush" seemed to represent the muffled unclear quality of what I was trying to hear. It was unclear, so it clearly says it is unclear! Again, this choice of language and conception was not one normal to me. Another time I was listening and heard, "Anybody over the telephone?" It represented the act of trying to pick up conversation.

More complex examples of this autosymbolic level can be given. It is possible to watch feeling shape itself vaguely and then explode in an image or something said. Sometimes it would be a word or name that had no meaning in itself. Once I heard "Edward Conze," another time "Anzeema." More recently someone asked, "Where is the Ogalala?"  My impression is that these names reflect a particular inner state in their sound qualities. For instance, Oga for me has some implication of something big, powerful, and threatening. Lala I associate with pleasant wandering. "where is the Ogalala?" then has the implication of searching for something powerful in this wandering inner state. The process feels autosymbolic, though with an odd name, "Edward Conze," and sound, "Anzeema," I am on less certain ground. At the moment the name explodes in awareness it seems to represent the background feelings it came from by the arrangement of its sound qualities.

On another level the hypnogogic seems to be instructing the person. At this level one may have enough experiences to be able to question the process and have it answer back. Like the rest of the hypnogogic, these dialogues are often brief. One wakes up too much to stay in the process. And the dialogue doesn't always make nice clear sense. It isn't like talking to one's self. It is more like talking to a very playful stranger who thinks symbolically. While meditating on a headache I heard, "There is an old bitch or bastard and you can't see how intimate he is. Concentrate on the pain. It is useful." This sounded like instruction. I was already suspecting that meditating on pain had use, so much of the statement could been autosymbolic of this. The "old bitch or bastard" was about the way I felt about the pain. The making of an unseen male or female person out of it really surprised me. The lesson to be learned from this was unclear.

Once I asked who was speaking and heard, "A soul in the next place." I asked what next place and heard, "The episode of the pregnant----" It was cut off by my becoming too alert. But "The episode of the pregnant----" didn't sound as though I were going to learn of the next place in any easy fashion! I once asked, "What do you think of my lying in bed?" and immediately heard," Nut." I asked if it were harmful in someway and my own word "harmful" was turned into "horrible." My question instantaneously became its answer. I have had many indications that the hypnogogic doesn't approve of my staying in bed in the morning on the pretext of studying this state. It has never objected to my losing sleep time at night while studying it. I once asked the hypnogogic whether or not I should change jobs and circumstances. For once I got a nice clear answer. I saw a river that had worn down through a gorge for centuries and heard, "Wear down like a river." I came out of it with a feeling of the great pleasure of knowing one place for centuries. This looked purely instructive. Sometimes the instruction is a bit beyond my undertaking. For instance, I was thinking of the meaning of a dream while half awake and heard, "Liberal instruction is Beethoven's paycheck." I can only guess at the meaning of this. Beethoven was a man who gave much to the world by pouring out himself in music. It seemed to say the one who gives liberally of himself will be rewarded by liberal instruction.

Most of my dialogue with the hypnogogic has taught me something of myself and more of the playful elusive quality of the inner processes. The following is an odd and beautiful example of this. I was about to reject the hypnogogic and wake up when I suddenly heard, "Don't you like my sister?" I quickly inquired, "Who is your sister?" The process answered, "Heaven. Talk to me now." I said, "Tell me of your nature," and got the answer, "Handsome  breath." After such a dialogue you are left with the feeling something nice has transpired but you are not sure what! The words spirit and breath have the same Latin root. Roughly, the above incident seemed to say that by rejecting the hypnogogic I was rejecting the hypnogogic's sister, or heaven. The hypnogogic's own nature is handsome breath, which I take as a noble spirit  whose sister is heaven. This brings us to the deepest level of the hypnogogic.

I prefaced the whole matter of the hypnogogic by saying that it is a difficult state to reach and deal with. Within it, its deepest level is a kind of satori or enlightenment. Suddenly the questioner and the answerer are one. This breaks into infinite images of all its representations. The individual awakens as though from a trance, puzzled by what was suddenly seen and experienced. On one of these occasions I experienced a gigantic mandala, which is a fourfold symbolic image of the real self. It was an intricately and deeply carved Oriental wood design of a fourfold form. The centre of the design was an empty hole through which the fearsome force of the universe whistled.

If the hypnogogic is explored just deeply enough to see feeling form into words and to catch autonomously appearing images and words, the experience begins to modify ordinary daily life. Having caught images and words popping into the head from nowhere, you begin to see them also in daily life. You can better recognize the autonomous given. What you might normally have accepted as your own thought begins to be seen as "out of the blue." You begin to feel much more like an observer of a process rather than the only one ruling your own head. Your own head and experience becomes more like a meeting place of many. Your own head and experience becomes a bit more modest about his own processes. It is as though he has begun to experience the rolling hills and distant seas of the psyche and feels much less presumptuous about his own scope. Yet, as the individual sees the inner acting playful and wise, he gains more confidence in beauty and wisdom within. It is a somewhat odd world within, and yet it is a "handsome breath."


1. Images seen with eyes closed (eigenlichts), the hypnogogic state, and dreams are perhaps on a continuum.
2. It is difficult to poise between sleeping and waking in the hypnogogic state. Most of the early lessons in this state involve learning to keep one's ego quiet so inner processes can emerge.
3. The great advantage of the hypnogogic state is that ego can observe and even deal with processes that are autonomous and outside it bounds.
4. There may be levels in this state that may relate to one's own understanding and dealing with the state.
5. A rough hierarchy of levels would seem to be represented by:

a. random bits of images and phrases;
b. experiences that are pretty clearly autosymbolic or representative of one's state at that moment;
c. hypnogogic experiences that are instructive, including the possibility of questioning the process and learning from it;
d. hypnogogic experiences that break into trancelike periods of enlightenment.

6. Experiences with this state tend to:

a. make one able to see similar experiences in normal consciousness;
b. make one less presumptuous of his personal powers and, correspondingly;
c. make one more confident of beauty and wisdom in the natural depths of mind.

Keywords: Fragile Fringe Phenomena, hypnogogic state, Emanuel Swedenborg, Divine Love, Wilson van Dusen, Intuition, Intuitive, Articles, UK, South Africa, Cape Town,

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