I snuggled under the duvet. The night was chilly but the bed, with its big feather pillows is perfect in this weather. Bliss, in fact. And I was ready to sleep, looking forward to it… it had been a long day, an early start. The dog had burrowed beneath the cushions again… I’ve given up on that. She needs an igloo. Me, I burrowed under the cosy duvet. I relaxed, switched down, let the muscles go and the breathing slow, into that meditative pre-sleep state. As I was drifting into dream I thought about the whole affair of sleeping…
Then I was wide awake again.
Hang on a minute here… what is it with this sleep thing that we look forward to so much? Rest… yes, that I can go with. Relaxation… that I can understand. A chance to recharge the batteries; for the mind and the brain to process learning, memory and emotion… for the body to heal and cells to renew… But what do we actually do when we are asleep that makes us look forward to it so much?
Think about it. We do… nothing.
In sleep the conscious self goes into abeyance. It may as well cease to exist. We… the we we think we are… is no more. Gone. Zilch. Might, to all intents and purposes, as well be dead.
We have no control over anything. The body ticks over on autopilot, the mind wanders off on its own to play in those strange landscapes and weird circumstances we call dream…places our logical, staid conscious mind would dismiss out of hand as arrant lunacy. The thought of firing wet fish out of a canon would normally be anathema… flying by flapping your arms just isn’t going to work aerodynamically and lemurs in hiking gear don’t turn up on your doorstep armed with champagne and the latest philosophical gossip. Well, not every day, anyway.
Look, I am not responsible for the content of my dreams, okay?
But this is serious stuff. Not the lemurs. Or the fish to be fair. But the whole question of where is the ‘we’ when we are asleep? That part of us that observes our lives unfolding, acts in a considered manner and fails to go around flapping its arms to try for lift off. Because all the elements are accounted for. Body is busy doing what it needs to for scheduled maintenance. Brain is busy processing the content of mind and overseeing the body… a sort of junction box between the two. So I got to wondering. The body takes its orders from the brain; the brain keeps tabs on the body and digests what the mind has been up to… filing, processing, writing reports etc. It is a fairly corporate entity. We’ve got a nice chain of command going here. And it takes sleep for all that to work at optimum efficiency.
It’s rather neat really. The body is fairly obvious to all of us. Especially as you get a bit older… but lets not go there. The mechanics of it are fairly easy to get a grasp of and it contains the brain. The brain we understand at the physical level, though there are still a lot of things we don’t know. We know enough, though, to infer the gaps in our knowledge. It almost seems as if the brain is ‘bigger’ than the body. You could say it ‘contains’ the mind… although I wouldn’t. Mind, though physically non-existent, seems bigger than the brain through which it manages, nonetheless, to manifest.
So what’s the next bit up from the mind? Where is that getting its orders from and how big is that??? What, though too big to be contained within it, is manifesting through the nature of mind? And what is that part of us doing as we sleep? We are into metaphysics now… not a good move when you are crosseyed after midnight… especially when the dog is not the most voluble of conversationalists and the lemurs might arrive any minute.
By this point I am musing about the relationship between the absence of our apparent self during sleep and the absence of self after death… Then there is the soul to consider… that subtle part that pervades all of us… the junction box between us and the divine…and I appear to have opened a whole can of intellectual worms. And worms I do not wish to have wriggling through the images in my dreaming mind, thank you very much.
Maybe I should just go back to bed….