75 years old minus 9 days, WTF? On sleeping and suffering
The previous post in this series concluded:
One question that consumes me these days is: why do I so easily go into the trance that I retrospectively regret. And I think I might have an answer.
That was too optimistic. Better to say: I think I might have a clue.
When Bobbi was getting her Ph.D. in myth at Pacifica Graduate College, I learned of the work of Dan P. McAdams author of The Stories We Live By: Personal Myths and the Making of the Self. Personal myths are the stories that we tell about ourselves, and they are what define who we are. Because they are stories--just stories--they are malleable. We can tell any number of stories that fit the facts. And even more, and more interesting stories if we're willing to choose which facts we include--or dispense with them when they are inconvenient to the story we're telling.
So here's a story that I've told about myself. I don't like to sleep. Not at night and certainly not while I am walking around and seeming to be awake. Sleep, as far as I am concerned, is a waste of time. I accept the need for at least some sleep because everyone needs sleep. But some people get by on just a few hours, and I'd like to be among them.
But here I'm talking about the kind of sleep that precedes a moment of "waking up." It's a state that I find myself too often. And the story I tell myself is this: I want to be fully awake and fully conscious all the time. Given a choice between being awake and uncomfortable, even in pain, and being asleep, I would choose to be awake.
That's my story. But that's not how I roll.
Sleep has two effects: it speeds healing, and it makes time pass. Going to sleep means taking a shortcut through time and escaping the experience of discomfort. So I go to sleep. And even if I knew that the sleep would not speed healing, I'd do it to make time pass faster.
So my story does not match reality. What do I change? My story or reality?
Life is suffering, say the Buddhists. Some translate it as "unsatisfactory." Whichever it is, it sucks. Sleep, I now realize, is one of the ways that I do avoid suffering, unsatisfactoriness, and other forms of suckitude.
So if all of life is suffering, and my MO is to sleep to avoid it, then it makes sense for me to reflexively go to sleep whenever things are uncomfortable. Which, these days, is all the time.
Right now I'm hurting. Part of it comes from being old. Arthritis sucks. That's exacerbated by my shoveling snow yesterday. So add tendinitis and muscle cramps to arthritis. I can avoid the pain by going to sleep or zoning out. Or maybe I can decide to experience it more fully and stay awake more.
My story is that I'd choose to stay awake, even if I am not comfortable doing it.
There are other kinds of discomfort too. I want to clean my office. I put it on my todo list. I'm uncomfortable doing it. Maybe that's why I go into a trance and dream my way through the day without doing anything.
Today, I deliberately faced discomfort and made a start.
Will that "insight" make a difference? I hope so.
Now it's late. I've done more than my assigned share of writing.
Stay tuned for the next chapter.