More than one year out from my cancer diagnosis and surgeries, I am celebrating each day that I am still cancer-free. And I am living differently than I was a year and a half ago, not only with more gratitude each day but also with more sleep. It turns out, as I’ve discovered in dramatically cutting back on caffeine, I need a lot more sleep than I ever thought I did. I’ve also discovered the joy of passing through my days without nodding off — or wanting to!
On average, I’ve learned, Americans now sleep an hour less each day than seventy years ago. No wonder we’re so cranky! When you stop to think about it, it’s alarming how many of us awaken to alarms each morning, beginning our days by ending our sleep before our bodies have told us they’re ready to wake up. So as I prepare a writing session on the topic of “awakening” this week, I’m thinking that perhaps the awakening we need most is not an awakening from sleep but an awakening to the wisdom gained when we do.
All memory begins in the unconscious and less than one percent of it ever rises to our conscious awareness. When we dream or daydream or enter deep meditation or prayer, the theta brainwaves of our unconscious gain access to this larger memory bank; and in this dreaming, prayerful state, our free flowing thoughts are often unharnessed by censorship or guilt. They are naturally plenteous and generative.
Thomas Edison once noticed that his most inspired thinking often came in the state between wakefulness and sleeping, now known to be replete with theta brainwaves. In an effort to harvest this creativity, Edison would drift off to sleep in an arm chair with a ball bearing in each hand hanging over the chair’s arm rests. On the floor beneath his hands, he’d place two metal pie plates, and when he became drowsy, the ball bearings would slip from his hands, awakening him as they struck the pie plates below, ringing out like clattering bells. Edison would then pick up his pen and write down whatever came to him in that moment.
We may not want to follow Edison’s example. (It sounds way too much like the sleep-deprived early months of parenting to me.) Instead, if we really wish to awaken the dreamer within, we may need to sleep a little longer and to slow down when we are awake. By honoring the work that our bodies and minds are doing when we’re asleep, and cultivating wakeful practices of meditation, prayer or contemplation, we might finally reap the fruits of our dreaming consciousness with all the creativity and wisdom it can spawn.
What awareness might be awakened if you tended to your dreaming hours as carefully as your waking ones? What might be possible for any of us if we trusted our unconscious ways of knowing, letting them converse with our rational, conscious minds? Might we finally awaken a greater human capacity, a holistic consciousness drawing from a deeper well of memory and wisdom? What practices, wisdom teachings, people or communities help you to awaken the dreamer within?