Who wants to live forever?

december dawn 001 sue vincent (42)

Morning lights the east with liquid flame as the earth and I shrink into ourselves, frozen and pensive. Even so, with such beauty as this you almost wish you could live forever so the memory of it would never fade. The dog dismisses my philosophical mood and with her usual abandon, races across the field with every evidence of selective deafness. Ignoring both blandishment and command with her lopsided grin, she chases her breath in circles and greets the birds. Why, after all, would she want to come back to a nice, warm house and breakfast when there are moments like this to be had?

The sky changes, moment by moment, fierce flame and pastel softness vying for attention. It is incredibly boring for her to sit inside when there is a whole world out there to explore. Ani would far rather chase the morning than curl up by the fire. I, on the other hand, would happily go for the curling up today. It is cold and fingers struggle with the camera. Hibernation feels like a good option this morning.

Yet I can’t help thinking how much of life is spent in slumber already. Not just the necessary and healing luxury of sleep, where the realms of possibility unfurl over a landscape of dream; but the hours spent half awake, going through the motions of survival in our busy world, in submission to the systems that regulate our movement through the labyrinth of blind alleys and perceived opportunities that litter our days.

Even our bodies adjust their rhythm to the clockwork dance of time; hours devoured by hands that grasp each second as they turn in never-ending circles; seeking to define that illusive ‘now’ in which we are supposed to be and which is already the past before we are aware of its passing.

The flaming dawn ignites the horizon in a momentary blaze of splendour never to be repeated. For me, it is the immediacy of a ‘now’ that can never come again. Yet the sunrise I see is illuminated by light born far away and in the darkness of our night. The luminous glow that unfolds came into being over eight minutes ago at the centre of the solar system before I even left home. It’s now is my past. My now is my past too, over before it has been perceived… its separation from the present marked by the milliseconds required for neural transmission.

My cold-numbed mind is aware of a concept beyond words as I finally catch the laughing dog and head home in search of coffee. I am moving in what I see as a linear fashion through what I think of as time, yet it is such an elastic concept in our lives. I think about our perception of time and how it slows and speeds us through our days. How it flies in laughter or drags its heels through boredom and loneliness. The more new information the brain has to process, the slower time appears to pass for us… the more familiar the input we receive, the faster it seems to slip away.

The long, hot summers of childhood were filled with wonder, the shortening years of age pass in swift familiarity. Minds constantly learning with childlike abandon stay more alert than those content with the known… I dredge up the science I have read and conversations shared on those subjects and it seems that time itself, at least on a subjective level, is a perception; an elastic frame within which we order the chaos of experience.

Lurking around the freeze-dried edges of a warped imagination is the vague idea that here lies the key to immortality… the fabled elixir of eternal youth. If our days were filled with wonder and new learning, if our minds and bodies were alert to every scrap of information and attentive to experience, how slowly would our lives appear to run? Could we ‘stop time’ through our perceptions so that even a short life would feel like a long one? And is that eyes-wide-open awareness the secret of those of our elders who seem graced with the glow of inner joy that takes little account of physical age or bodily health?

I wouldn’t want immortality … wouldn’t even want eternal youth in the normal sense, but I would rather like to grow old with the wondering eyes of a child; with relish, not regret for the life I have been privileged to be a part of; something not mine but entrusted to me to do with the best I could. That kind of temporary immortality of perception I think I could handle.

To sleep, perchance…

dream-world-painting-jacek-yerka-1

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.

dream-world-painting-jacek-yerka-10-forblog

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….

sleep* paintings by Polish surrealist painter Jacek Yerka