Erich Fromm, who described himself among other things as a “nontheistic mystic” (I wish I could come up with snappy phrases like that), had some interesting things to say about being awake. Possibly the most immediately accessible was this: “The paradoxical situation with a vast number of people today is that they are half asleep when awake, and half awake when asleep, or when they want to sleep.”
I can identify with this. My wife has been suffering with a virus which, among its many joys, features a persistent cough. The result of course is that she finds it hard to sleep and, being of one flesh and usually one bed, I find it hard to sleep too.
But there are other times when for no good reason sleep eludes me. I know many people are worse off: I have no wish to make you feel particularly sorry for me. I do sleep, quite often.
In any case I am more interested in the other half of Herr Fromm’s pronouncement – that we are often half asleep when awake. You can take this at different levels: some people are so dozy that they rarely have much idea what’s going on, for instance. This is probably the only thing that makes democracy work.
As I get older, however, I find it easier and easier to doze off at embarrassing times – during a sermon, for instance, or silent meditation. Indeed, I spend most of any meditation session that I happen to get involved in trying not to go to sleep, which is annoying because I’m supposed to be tuning into God. If I can sleep at such a time, what hope is there for me? It’s like dozing off while making love. No, I haven’t done that. As far as I can remember.
Even more surprisingly (perhaps) I often go to sleep while watching television. This happens even during programmes that I enjoy and which to other people are gripping. Dr Who, for instance. Last Sunday I surfaced towards the end of the programme, slightly puzzled and thinking I had missed a crucial moment or two. But hey, the Tardis was back, and the sonic screwdriver; so I got over it.
Later I re-ran the programme and discovered I had slept through a good half of it.
Falling asleep during TV dramas can be quite interesting. I have noticed on several occasions that my mind continues the drama after I have lost touch with it, and all kinds of things happen in my mind that never happen on screen. So I wake up thinking I’m at a certain point in the narrative and find that not only am I somewhere else, but the bit of narrative I thought I was watching never happened.
If I was Erich Fromm, of course, I would see this as a valuable area of study – possibly source material for several books. As I haven’t read his books, he may already have sorted it all out.
But I have to do my tax return now; so I’ll leave it at that. Wake me up when it’s all over.