So a couple months ago, I picked up this bad habit that I'm having trouble putting down.
Wait, let me go back a little further...
I find many daily routines of the human body to be tedious and utterly intrusive.
An example: Despite my notoriously selective palette (and prominent onion allergy), I leave foodies aghast when I express just how little I care about eating. I do it because I have to, or because there's a social occasion, but generally I am prone to forgetting to eat. Don't get me wrong: if I have to eat (and I do), I want it to taste good and present my body with a nice balance of nutrients, but I'd just as soon not have to bother. There are physical clues that I have always been this way: I eat fast to get it over with sooner. I eat too much in hopes of going longer before I have to eat again. I insist on watching TV or some other entertainment while I eat (because just sitting there chewing, oh, what a waste of my time!).
If we had those pills from The Jetsons that literally encapsulate an entire meal, they could easily replace 2/3 of my diet and I would consider it an improvement.
But that's enough digression; it was only an example leading into my real topic: sleep.
I often say insomniacs should hate me. They sometimes think I'm one of them because I'm such a night owl, but as I recently tweeted, "the difference is about 6 more hours of sleep." I abuse sleep like a beat up old car, only giving in on my own terms or when by body refuses to cooperate with anything else. And while yes, I hate to miss out on anything, the worst part of falling asleep isn't the absent time, it's the FIVE MINUTES it takes for me to get there! Oh yes, you heard me right. Over 90% of the time, I can fall asleep pretty quickly, but I resent even that pittance. THERE'S SO MUCH MORE I COULD BE DOING WITH THAT TIME!
(Upon our first meeting, faeriecritter — diagnosed me as an "internal controller" and said to test this diagnosis by sitting still for an hour and doing nothing. I almost burst into tears of dread right then. SCAN COMPLETE.)
So a couple of months ago, I got this GREAT idea: what if I could jump-start REM by meditating myself into a creative space BEFORE I FELL ASLEEP. I'd done this before during daylight as a means of clearing my head and fostering creativity. It's kind of hard to describe, but it's like tapping into the high-speed MTV of my subconscious (or maybe even a human "collective unconscious", since a lot of what follows doesn't match my other creative patterns). Basically, I welcome unfamiliar images to enter my mind, transform, and lead into other new images, and they flood instantly.
I first experimented with this in my teens, creating skyscape music videos to accompany John Williams soundtracks: I'd be flying over the mountains or diving through the water while listening to the themes of Indiana Jones and E.T. I had control over those (I chose flying precisely because it is a common dream I'd never experienced), but later dalliances focused on letting go of control and seeing where it would take me. I basically challenged my brain to show me something I'd never seen before, and it delivered. Every two or three seconds, something new, sometimes formless, often animated, always unfamiliar would fill my brain. I sometimes wished I could keep track of it all, write it all down. Sometimes there were loose plots, and sometimes I could direct them, and this was the point where they most started to resemble dreams. Once or twice, several years ago, I actually jump-started REM while I was still awake, and it was pretty cool.
Before a couple of months ago, it was a technique for relaxation or creativity, but I'd mostly done it for a few seconds at a time, no more than a couple dozen times in my life. When I decided to try it before sleep, it was more intense and for a week or two, almost daily.
There may be a name for this phenomenon, but I haven't a clue what it would be. I suspect anyone familiar with it can guess where this is going... or anyone who's ever heard the advice of CLEARING your head for better sleep. I stopped the "meditation" before bed a few weeks ago (more because I forgot than because I found it intrusive -- that realization would come later), but there are a dozen, a hundred, a million other moments through the day when the mind is silent -- if only for an instant -- and gradually those moments evaporated until I had subconscious MTV running in the background
ALL. THE. TIME.
Looking back, it's pretty obvious; I often find that my activity right before bed sets the tone for the entire day that follows. My brain got used to being in overdrive, and it's become very hard to silence. While the practice is rarely intrusive, there is a commensurate amount of concentration set aside for my next "dose", and if I don't use it to summon vivid and bizarre daydreams, that brain power gets redirected into something else close to the same subconscious. Stress. Worry. Distraction. Fear. (Oh, goodness, I wonder if that's why my phobia has spiked in the last month!) My actual dreams have also become less elegant, more frenzied, more threatening -- oh, and less restful. My sleep became more erratic -- though the stressors of July definitely contributed as well -- but even my best, longest nights' sleep were stiff and fitful.
So while this practice is not even in the top 100 reasons July 2013 was such a dreadful month, it undoubtedly made everything else worse. I was more stressed, more vulnerable, more frenetic, more emotional... because I lost all my little moments of silence. I'm getting better, but it's not something you can fix by simply undoing what's been done. I have to replace it with conscious, deliberate silence. I have to replace it with actual, quiet meditation. I have to force myself to slow down and breathe and "be present" and focus on one thing at a time and sometimes do NOTHING and all that crap.
I hope I can find the right circumstances to tap back into this skill at a later date, because I do find it a delightful recess of the mind and a potential resource for creativity and (daytime) relaxation. But for now, I can't run the risk of letting even a little bit of the egg back out until I've finished rebuilding the shell.