Thoughts on sleep, waking up and everything in between
by Frances McGonigle, 19 December 2019
I used to dream that I could fly, tearing off the landing in my sleep like a runway at the top of the stairs. I always came out low over endless cornfields in bright sunshine, skimming the leaves with my toes on the way to nowhere fast. I was free.
In the daytime, daydreaming, zooming through the clouds, cutting holes in the nimbus stratus until the rain fell out and I tumbled down to earth, landing, splash, in a puddle, before falling further, deep inside to the upside down world of my unconscious mind.
Then nothing but a void, a space devoid of dreams, a grown-up world of day-to-day, where university and work and State meddled with my thoughts and time flew past at speed.
But now my brain stirs in the night as liquid gold pours in. Ideas forge in the black smithery of time forgot as people, places, books I’ve read meld into a kaleidoscopic, changing world. I’m walking round inside my head and visualise a scene, then off again to scope the sky beneath my skull for more to morph from dreams to real. I write it as I go along, turning images to words, bringing life to memories in prose before the doors of sleep begin to close once more between my ears.
All humans have creative potential. We create life. History. Music. Narrative. We create stories. But the truth of our creative potential is often buried deep beneath a heavy burden of doubt. The further we are from our childhood dreams, it seems the less we’re in touch with our inner child and the magic of imaginations run wild.
In childhood, imagination was a train of thought rattling at one hundred miles an hour around a never-ending track, but somewhere along the line the Express turns to Suppress and that train is derailed. But in sleep, the adventures return. When the conscious becomes subordinate to the unconscious for a while.
The oscillations of our circadian clock dictate the rhythm of our lives in a gentle ebb and flow of brainwaves that submerge us in sleep, and as we pass through REM 5–6 times a night, our heart rate increases, information is filed to long-term memory, and we dream.
Alone in the dark, coiled in the foetal position beneath a thick, comforting layer of quilt, drifting down into semi-consciousness with thoughts flowing across my inner vision like slow moving clouds in a night sky. A wide yawn softens my diaphragm and collapses my body into the mattress. Falling asleep, gently chloroformed from within, mentally smothered with a soft pillow, drowned in a sea of deep relaxation. Falling, spiralling into a well drilled down to the centre of the Earth and out into an endless universe. Then floating into a dream in a parallel space in my mind, resurrecting the memories of the day and mixing them up with the past as an unconscious reel of film plays out in an unlit auditorium. Then dead to the world, unmoving and silent, but for the shallowest, slowest breath barely inflating my lungs.
As you emerge from sleep, you remember little to nothing of the flight through space and disembark without a thought to the eight hour gap in your consciousness. The healing sleep repairs the mind and reinvigorates the flesh, but you’re still half asleep in the day, only partially there, walking forever in a dream-like slumber, a passenger in a sleep pod lost in hyperspace.
What if you could awaken the untapped resource of your unconscious? There would be a lifetime of creativity inside.
The opposite of creativity is consumption. We consume like our lives depended upon it — big hungry caterpillars at the side of the Silk Road, from buying to streaming to eating to collecting friends on social media, ingesting celebrity and imbibing the imagery of other people’s lives like vampires, as if possession were the ultimate goal. But happiness is fleeting, so we consume even more, inflating a Pennywise ego with illusory ideals. Click here for the Meaning of Life — it’s free! But just as the universe expands and contracts and our diaphragms do the same, we need balance between what goes out and what comes in if we’re to ever find peace. The irony of Brave New World is that the liberated are closely controlled by the system and by their own desires. This has not changed in the past century of fast fashion, credit plans, planned obsolescence and an infinity of trying to own and out-do in the name of progression. The same progressive ego that would shoot a stray dog into orbit: a misguided missile in the race for Space, consumed by fear and a ball of flames and reduced to a legend on a postage stamp (RIP Laica, Sputnik II, 1957). To pretend that we’re human is often a disgrace. And the humans race on.
In his essays, Huxley often refers to an awakening of the mind — a shift in consciousness, as explored extensively in literature and film, and such esoteric texts as The Tibetan Book of the Dead. Ekhart Tolle makes a fine living from a spiritual experience. Huxley opened his own Doors of Perception with mescaline, transcending chemically to another plane. Nootropics, an or simple meditation can do the same. In yoga, as in sleep, when the only pressure you’re under is gravity, you can re-centre your mind and uplift your soul, taking first position at the centre of an infinite Universe. Self love does not mean loving yourself. It’s a question of value and perception. Your body’s a temple, and then a rocket ship. The Apollo 11 around the moon, before landing back to Earth with a jolt, a hypnic jerk and… “Back in the room”. Creativity knows no limits, only those created by fear — the terror in our hearts and self-doubting voice in our heads.
And like a burning bulb above a creative head, the sun woke me in Springtime and I fell madly in love. With the sky, the rain, the trees, the sea. And I started to write.
Be bold and take a quantum leap of faith. Soar from the Primordial Hill. Feel the poetry in motion of the Fall as the sun warms the wings of your self belief and your heart opens up to the call. You are Horus, a falcon, god of the sky. Falling into the space between the two hemispheres of your brain, bridging the divide between logic and creativity, headlong down the rabbit hole to another country, Wonderland, you will discover a place you never knew existed, and you will be free.
For some, mind exploration is a Space Odyssey or the light and darkness of Star Wars, or a trip in a Fibonacci-shaped vessel — the Nautilus — with Nemo (“the Man” and at the same time “Nobody”) to the depths of the sea where the Great White stirs all, and The Kraken Wakes. Or to Hell where Red is the monster of your ‘sweating self’ (refer to Huxley’s essay, Drugs That Shape Men’s Minds, 1958). For others, it’s a quest — a challenge — an ascent up a mountain to throw a ring into molten lava from the planet’s crust. Or for Jacob, whose little ass saw an angel, as he climbed the wooden hill to sleep, he took a stairway to heaven as well. Enlightenment is the goal. Nirvana. The Force. The light. Grace. It. Human evolution is open to us all.
And to exemplify using the biggest bird metaphor of them all, in Wim Wender’s celestial film, Wings of Desire (Berlin, 1987) the story is as much about the performer’s transcendence as it is about an angel’s loss of wings. With understanding, desire turned to love (refer to The Philosophy of Freedom, Rudolf Steiner, 1894), the inner chatter silenced and she found her real voice. The graffiti writing was on the Wall and within two years, the divided self of Berlin did the same. The Wall fell under bulldozers, flashing lights and Hasselhoff. 1989 — Orwellian year. When the Internet was born and everything changed.But you don’t need to change the world to change your Self. Just consume less, meditate more and sleep. No one likes change, but maybe it’s as good as a rest.
So, yes, I used to dream that I could fly, but I was grounded for a while. The engine seized, the pipes were furred, Lewis Carroll’s Dodo Bird. Then one night while sleep-submerged, a chrysalis formed and I emerged. From the edge, I took a leap… a butterfly: the Brown Hairstreak!