Friday, April 24, 2015

Sleep Paralysis, Night Terrors, What-Have-You

Sleep Paralysis is something I'd given zero consideration, until I read Regan Reid's timorous review of The Nightmare -- "the terrifying doc I could have starred in."

After reading this peaking-between-her-fingers account, I wondered if I couldn't also qualify, not as a star, but certainly for a bit-part. I was surprised by how many phenomena I could tick off as stuff I'd experienced. "Dark presence" -- check. "Creature squatting on my chest" -- check. "Can't seem to move" -- check.
"OK, good news, bad news. The good news is... No, wait: I started wrong."
Most of this was in my 20s, mind you. These episodes slowed in my 30s, even moreso in my 40s. I'll be 50 in June, and the last time something like this happened was two years ago, in the summer. And while I'd never characterize these events as "pleasant," they were never awful enough to inspire an actual fear of sleep.

Rather, much of the ephemera was cause for curiosity. Exactly where is all this fear coming from? I could often pinpoint the source of my anxieties, sometimes even as the events unfolded. The last episode, for instance, occurred shortly after I'd returned from a family visit on the prairies. A Dark Presence hovered over me, pinning my shoulders to the mattress, and telling me awful things. "Your father will die," he said, "then YOU will die!" The physical sensation of actual tears cooling on my cheeks woke me up.

When I was able, I sat up and mulled it over. There wasn't much to argue with, really. Anyone with an eye on the event horizon would have to agree with my faceless tormentor -- in fact, since death is inescapable, he was articulating the desired order of things.

So it has always been. I've had the general sense that these phenomena could needle me, torment me even, but do no real harm. What else you got, there, bub? Grinding of the teeth -- now that's genuinely worrisome (and addressable).

The people who endure these trials all have different stories and various causes for concern. It's a solo journey for everyone, alas, so you learn your psychonaut jiu-jitsu on the fly. But psychic self-defense is a learnable skill. The plasticity of consciousness is really quite marvelous.

Karen Emslie has intuited a way to transition from paralysis to lucid dreaming -- which can be a lot of fun, but also beaucoup scary in its own right. It is, however, greatly preferable to lying passively and taking whatever your id is keen to throw at you. Dream-life as dojo. PJs as gi.

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