My sleep habits have evolved to match the pre-electricity patterns of first and second sleep. I go to bed about ten p.m., read for a few minutes, turn off the light, take a few regular breaths, and drop into four or five hours of deep sleep. I rouse to the pressure of my middle-aged bladder with no recollection of dreams or time passing. When I return to bed my sleep, if it comes at all, is quite different. I lie still, but my mind soars. My breath iterates dozens of cycles before I doze. A kaleidoscope of images pulse through my third eye center, lacey shapes sweep toward me and then blur out into the distance.
I have vivid dreams during my second sleep. So vivid I swear I’m awake. They unfold in elaborate spaces with columned porticos, open windows and sweeping stairs. Sometimes they’re light and airy, but most often they descend into shadow. My dreams are busy. Close friends, old acquaintances, fabulous movie stars and complete strangers cross my path. The soundtrack is an incoherent din until a sharp phrase rings through the fog and I wake with a start.
Last night I settled into my second sleep but my mind would not release me to sleep. I lay quiet on my back and breathed firm. I placed one hand on my belly and one on my heart. I bent one knee as if in tree pose. I often sleep with one crooked leg. I was calm but not asleep. I began ruminating. My troubles are meager compared to many, but real enough to me. I worried about getting my book edited on time, fretted over painting my housemate’s room, and speculated about my new yoga teaching gig.
My ruminations turned nasty. People began to shout, then some got sick. People died. Friends died. I died. Maybe Freud was right; you can’t die in your dream. But you can conjure death when you’re convinced that you’re not asleep. Things got worse. Life turned dreary, pointless. In my early morning existential crisis I found no reason to continue on. The hiss of the sprinklers triggered in the city park across the street ratcheted into my ears. Oh, would I never fall asleep?
The alarm went off. 5:30 a.m. Time to go to yoga. I fumbled to turn it off. Should I roll over and try, once again, to get to sleep, or should I drag myself to the studio? I lifted myself out of bed. Since I hadn’t been asleep there was no reason not to get up. I walked toward the bathroom. Dawn broke through the stained glass irises that hang before the window. The morning was clear and crisp; fall is already in the air. I felt terrific.
I stared at the mirror while I brushed my teeth. How could I feel so fresh after lying awake for hours? Then I realized the magic of second sleep. I had not been awake. I had not died. My friends had not died. Life was strong, the world vibrant.
Second sleep is like a sappy movie or cheesy play: Les Miserables or Candide. While it’s playing its playing out through the interminable night everything is a horrid disaster. But at its end, the lights come up, the orchestra sounds a major chord, and all of my trials, real and imagined, disappear. Perhaps we must persevere the terrors of the night so that the new day can appear so sweet.