Sunday, January 31, 2010

Sleep as an Emotional State

Sleep and dreams have always fascinated me; it's one of the reasons I majored in psychology in university. The human mind presents a fascinating tableau, and never more so than when the subconscious is handed the keys.

I rarely remember my own dreams, and when I do, it's often due to my being profoundly disturbed within that dream. If I am lucky, it will be something I can talk about with Audrey and gain a degree of catharsis that way. I'm not always lucky though.

Occasionally I will have detailed memories of a dream with a high degree of whimsy; I still remember vividly a dream I had when I was eleven or twelve, in which I was telekinetic. It was superbly detailed, but full of elements that clearly distinguished it as a dream, even beyond the ability to move objects with my thoughts. For instance, while my bedroom was exactly the same, my house and suburban neighbourhood looked far more similar to something out of a television show or movie than where I lived in Willow Park. In the dream, I used my psychokinetic abilities in a variety of ways: I helped my mother carry in the groceries, brown paper bags from the back of our old blue station wagon to the kitchen. When a group of small children kicked a ball into the street, I swiftly returned it in order to keep them out of traffic. Most satisfying, however, was when I was approached by a neighbourhood bully on his bike. I still can't recall whether this was an actual figure from my childhood or just some archetypal cipher, but when I extended my hand to stop him and allowed his bike to continue forward, depositing him on the ground with a bruised rump and shattered ego, and watched him run off in the opposite direction, the sense of personal and moral victory was so palpable, I can feel it to this very day.

When I woke up, still envigored by my triumph, I immediately sat up in bed and made a summoning motion to bring my socks and underwear to me. There was a brief moment of very sincere confusion when nothing happened, followed immediately by the sheepish realization that I had, of course, obviously, been dreaming. Embarrassment began jockeying with bitter disappointment in a race that is, to this day, too close to call.

Audrey has a tremendous recall of her dreams a lot of times. When she was pregnant with Fenya, she had a dream in which she met her maternal grandmother, Fenje, who had passed away the previous year. Her name had already been assured for our first daughter, even though we had no idea of the gender of our unborn child at the time; had it been a boy, the name would have been Liam Jacob, after both our grandfathers. I don't remember all of what transpired in the dream, but I clearly remember her waking up, smiling even though her face was tracked by tears, as she told me of how the dream ended with her hugging Oma Fenje, and how she could still feel that embrace upon awakening.

Sleep seems to contain significance even outside of dreams. The act of being around someone or something sleeping implies a degree of trust almost never rivalled in the waking world. I remember one of my uncles talking about a a friend who awoke on his couch, embarrassed, and apologized for having spent the night so ignominiously. My uncle brushed off the apology, and told his friend how complimentary he found it as a host that his guest was comfortable enough to have gone to sleep in the way he did. I also think of Meryn Cadell's excellent spoken word/song "The Sweater", in which she breathlessly describes an adolescent girl's affection for a sleeping boy:

"And you woke in the night to watch him as he slept but you couldn't see anything 'cause it was dark so you just laid there and listened to his breathing and wondered if your heart might burst..."

When Glory was about 6 months old, she had a tremendously hard time getting to sleep. A lot of young children do, and I wonder sometimes if insomnia doesn't sometimes involve our unwillingly revisiting this time in our development; the sense of surrender, of succumbing to the call of Morpheus, this momentary journey into the unknown of this 'little death' of sleep. For Glory, the only thing that seemed to work consistently was for her to lay upon my shoulder, her tiny face nuzzled into the base of my neck, as I reclined in my office chair in the basement. It was often a challenge to stay awake myself, as I listened to the steady rhythm of her breathing and let her warmth spread though out my torso. "5 cc's of dadazine" became our evening routine for over a year, and in a lot of ways, became the foundation of relationship.

Friday afternoon, I sat in the recliner reading while listening to the Ambient music station on the television. Nitti came and sat expectantly at the foot of the chair, and jumped onto the footrest once I motioned him up. The dog immediately made himself at home on my lap and draped his head across my thigh as I continued to read. I absentmindedly scratched behind his ears, but the baroque electronica in the background (120 bpm; the perfect rhythm for hypnosis, as it happens) combined with the warmth, both thermal and emotional, of my canine companion as well as a rather frantic week leading up to this moment, and I joined him in sleep shortly thereafter.

My apnea means I never nap for long in this fashion, but I did definitely sleep. As I crawled out of the fog and began to again scratch Nitti behind his ears, I realized that being accompanied by the dog on my catnap was just what the doctor had ordered. I reflected on the aborigines who slept with dogs as a source of warmth, which is where the musical group Three Dog night derived their name, and realized once again how much wisdom our modern and insular society has put by the wayside.

If you have someone in your life, whether a child, lover, pet, or what-have-you, I hope you have the opportunity to share some sleep with them. It may be the closest you get to experiencing magic in this day and age, without even dreaming.

There is a great Zen story told about the master who napped in the afternoon, and told his young disciples that in reality he was entering dreamland to confer with the ancient sages. When he encountered all his students asleep in the courtyard one day, he kicked them to wakefulness and demanded an explanation.

The oldest student said, "Honored master, we followed your example and entered dreamland to speak with the ancient teachers."

"Is that so?" grinned the master maliciously. "And exactly what did they have to say, these sages?"

"Well, we asked them if they knew our teacher," the student replied, "But none of them had ever heard of you."

1 comment:

  1. Before I was born, my mother dreamed of a man with the same name as me, who had died within the past year. In the dream, he asked my mother to name me after him. And by Icelandic tradition, she did exactly that.
    Personally, I seldom remember my dreams, unless they are of zombies or horses. (never zombie horses). I know which of those dreams I prefer.