It may well be that babies start out entirely natural in their waking patterns, and learn to sleep through the night. It might well be that once upon a time we’d all have been waking up in the night. The night prayers of monasteries are one piece of evidence for this, and there’s some interesting stuff in Don Quixote about how many sleeps a person needs. Pre-industrialisation, we probably slept like babies.
I’ve experienced night waking over the last few years. Sometimes it happens when I’ve consistently slept well for some time and can afford to be awake. Sometimes it feels more like insomnia. In recent weeks, I’ve found that Tom often surfaces when I do, and that makes for a very different experience.
When writing about this sort of stuff for Pagan Dreaming, I observed that, waking in the night I could think things that weren’t available to me at other times. That doesn’t seem to be the case anymore – I think that’s simply because my mental health has improved and I can think whatever I need to think whenever I need to think it. Lying awake in the darkness can be strange and lonely, but lying awake companionably is a whole other thing. There may be few words and little activity, but there’s scope for a deep sense of communion here. I wonder how the monks felt with their night time prayers, with little light to guide them. Did that feel like isolation, or intimacy? The same experience can be a chore for some, and touched with numinousness for others.
I’m very conscious that my sleeping time is dictated by the needs of the day. I seldom have the luxury of being able to stay up late, or be awake in the night, and then able to offset it by sleeping in. I can’t be led by my sleeping impulses. I have to respond to the alarm clock. Adventures in night consciousness are always accompanied by an awareness of having to really pay for it later.
We’ve become so involved with clock time, work time, school time. To be a modern human is to have a schedule, and dire consequences if you don’t stick to it. Our whole culture depends on this, and we arrange our lives in confidence around the expectation that everyone else will be in the right place at the right time, like a well oiled machine. Excerpt we aren’t well oiled machines, and I wish we had more space to let mystery come to us in the darkness.