Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Waking Dreams, Dreaming Wakefulness

“Life is something that happens when you can't get to sleep. “
~ Fran Lebowitz

The other night as I tossed and turned, occasionally sneaking glances at the clock in the hope that I might have dropped off for an hour or two, an old memory came to me.

In 1969 I spent several months in a rambling Victorian house in Oakland, California, sharing the rent with a small group of nomads and free spirits. Since we were young and this was the 1960s, most household members were experimenting with mind-altering substances of one kind or another. There came a day when the most eager experimenter in our group — let’s call him Gary — consumed way too much of something he hadn’t tried before. Hours after the drug should have worn off Gary was still rattling around the neighborhood babbling to himself. Eventually, with some effort, we coaxed him into the house. The question was how to keep him there. We were certain that if he rambled out again, as he was inclined to do, he would end up under arrest or in an asylum.

We decided we would take turns guarding Gary around the clock until he was back to normal. You may wonder why we didn’t simply bring him to an emergency room. The answer is, that would have made sense, but this was the 1960s and young people rarely did the sensible thing, especially if it involved authority figures. Has that changed? Probably not. In any case, I took the overnight shift, but stress also kept me awake during the day. When the next night came and I took my turn, I was exhausted.

Around 5 a.m. on the second day of Gary’s madness I discovered myself sitting in the kitchen, drinking a cup of coffee, having a conversation with Gary and another friend. I had no recollection of how I came to be there. Gary was back…but where had I been?

Somniloquy is the name science gives to talking in one’s sleep. (Imagine for a moment what Hamlet's somniloquy might have been.)  Somniloqy is a subset of the larger classification called parasomnia, which includes somnambulism — sleepwalking — which I had obviously been doing as well. I cannot find any scientific information about somnicaffeination — sleep-coffee-drinking. It is possible that it's a subset of nocturnal sleep-related eating disorder (NSRED). But I suspect it was simply a natural instinct telling me to wake up. After all, it's what millions and millions of us do to wake up every morning.

That experience awakened me (pun intended) to the fact that my unconscious mind was able to participate in its own activities, with no input from me. I wonder, what else is it doing?

"All men whilst they are awake are in one common world:  but each of them, when he is asleep, is in a world of his own." 

~ Plutarch

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