There is a borderland state called hypnagogia. It is a place of transition, a space that is rapt with images, symbols and words that captivate the mind as they move you from wakefulness to sleep (referred to as hypnagogic) and, on the other side of the sleep cycle, give rise to wakefulness (known as hypnopompic).
Hypnagogia whispers to you as it gradually, bit by bit, lets go of or barely brushes up against your conscious mind. It is a process much like sunset and sunrise, which darken and brighten respectively, not in a flash, but slowly and mysteriously over the span of minutes.
I am particularly interested in my hypnopompic waking thoughts, and I have trained my mind to become increasingly aware of them.
These hypnopompic thoughts that drift, hang and effortlessly glide by contrast radically from those of ordinary wakefulness. The sense of self has "loosened," allowing for an openness, a sensitivity, and a gracefulness to "be."
In this place of "being," there is only one voice. The observer, the part that is aware of the thoughts, is simply aware. There is no counter-thought, no judgment of the thought, no critical thinking. The "loosened" voice is free to give rise to flexible thoughts, thoughts that bend and curve and yield to a heightened state of suggestibility.
My hypnopompic thoughts are sometimes bright and enthusiastic, bursting with energy and sweet talk, coaxing me to rise and shine, to greet the day with joy and happiness.
Sometimes dark, shadowy thoughts arise, threatening to cast gloom on the day as they drape themselves heavy on my chest, a blanket of sadness across my body.
I find that I am equally curious and welcoming to both sides of the "hypnopompic divide." Truly.
When happy thoughts arise, I do my best to amplify and enhance the joyful energy. I pack the zip, zing and dynamism into my jet pack, ala George and Jane Jetson. I borrow a phrase from my father's beloved nautical dictionary, as well as his voice. Dad roars, "Full steam ahead." I obey, powering my way upward into the day.
The "negative" feelings, the upset, the sadness, dare I say -- the deeply depressive thoughts -- are explored in a more gingerly fashion. They have a depth to them, a richness, a bittersweet quality. I respect and honor these thoughts. They are my humanness. They are my guides and my teachers, and ultimately, I am to rise above them. Once inwardly explored and expressed, my Lucy Lawless -- my Xena the Warrior Princess -- emerges, and again, the upward spiral is in motion. I power my way into the day.
This morning, the dark side solidly rolled into view. Thoughts of my mother and her current state of mind, which fluctuates wildly from phone call to phone call and from visit to visit, surfaced. Sometimes we are optimistic; sometimes we are terrified. Sometimes grateful to be alive, sometimes we want to die.
Our yesterday's conversation rivaled Mozart's "Requiem," one of the best and saddest pieces of music ever written. Mom peppered our talk, which primarily focused on the difficulty of her transition with the following phrases: "People live too long." "It would be better for everyone if I left now." "Maybe the cough will turn into pneumonia." "Perhaps I'll toss myself off the balcony."
One might say that she is lucky, and that I am lucky by extension. A walker is better than a wheelchair; the assisted living setting, with all its challenges, is far better than a nursing home. Amen to that, sister, I am right there with you.
Nevertheless, a person is entitled to feel his or her feelings, and without question, getting not just old but ancient is an extraordinarily difficult journey.
Mom is 95.5 years old, and her passage -- like everyone else's -- is a journey of losses. Sometimes one loss is on the heels of another. Sometimes the losses are mercifully spaced out, allowing us time to catch our collective breath, readying ourselves for the next "happening."
Mom has experienced a great many losses. The death of her son (five years ago), the death of her husband (10 years ago), her home of 31 years gone in one swift fall (the recent move to assisted living), the full use of her body also gone in one swift "fall" -- literally (now needing a walker for the shortest of trips -- even from the bed to the bathroom). And her mind, which was the sharpest of them all -- sharper than yours or mine -- is showing its wear, a bit tattered around the edges.
And so, in my hypnopompic state, where my thoughts and feelings have a bow to them, where I am in a heightened state of suggestibility, I simply note that the blanket of sadness is indeed heavy on my heart, in fact, on much of my body -- from my eyes, to my throat, to my chest... on downward.
I am increasingly aware of the words, phrases and thoughts that are floating through my mind. "W...e..." passes through. (As above, "we are sad.") In that moment, I create a space between my mother and myself, a space filled with compassion and loving-kindness, but nevertheless a space. I am, and she is.
No, I do not need to feel her feelings for her, even if this was the unspoken childhood role that was assigned to me. The roots may run deep, but I am no longer a child, and I make a choice -- I let go. As I wonder, "To whom do these thoughts belong?"
Many of the thoughts that float before me belong to my mother. I tentatively hand them back to her, further creating a space for me to explore my thoughts and my feelings.
Miraculously, as I further relax my body and my mind, the thoughts and the feelings that accompany them begin to dissipate. The blanket of sadness lifts. And I am once again coaxing myself out of bed with sweet-talk of the day to come.
The weather gods predict an unseasonably warm and sunny day. The corner fruit vendor has a fresh shipment of grapes and cherries arriving early this morning. And later in the day, after we visit my mother, Peter and I will venture downtown to see The Descendants -- a tear-jerker, promises the New York Times.
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Janice Taylor is a Life & Wellness Coach, Hypnotherapist, Author, Self-Help Artist, the creator of the Kick in the Tush Club and most recently, Caretaker.