Lucid Dream, Ethereal Music

Vitruvian Man

Leonardo Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, corporeal balance and symmetry in the ideal

Last night, for the first time, I used an iPhone App called Sleep Cycle. Its basic function is as an alarm clock. Unlike most normal clocks, the application incorporates a personalizing function. This unique operation adapts the timing of the alarm to coincide with one’s actual Sleep Cycle. The application utilizes one’s movements during the night as manifestations of the various, general stages of sleep. The movements are detected by a sensor that exists already in the iPhone. In addition, according to the designers, these movement correspond to specific stages of our night’s rest and can be used to adjust the moment when the App executes the sounding of the alarm that wakes us. It is interesting to note that these movements range between full-body, such as rolling over, to more subtle shifts in position as well as spasms (as during REM). The sensor when properly positioned in proximity to the sleeper detects by way of direct contact with the mattress.

From the application’s monitoring through a given night, a sort of graph is created. This series of hills (near wakefulness) and valleys (deeper and deeper sleep) displays the night’s slumber as steep-sided, with undulating tops and valley floors. In a practical way, the underlying purpose is to determine when our sleep state approaches closely to wakefulness. There, the raison-d’être of the App is intended to ease us from our sleep in the gentlest way possible into our waking day. There is research elsewhere that confirms this as a healthy and desirable manner to awaken. On the other hand, we normally cannot lie in bed until some convenient moment at mid-morning. This is where the utility of the program is demonstrated. A time bracket is selected which establishes a period of 30 minutes during which the alarm will occur. To avoid oversleeping then, the ‘hard’ wake time, that one would normally set on a standard alarm clock, is established as the end-point of the period. For example, this period for me last night lay between twenty-’til and ten-past five.

Sleep Cycle

Example of Sleep Cycle screen with peaks and valleys of soundness of sleep

As with any experience of the kind, it required an adaptation on the part of the user. Necessarily, I went to bed last night and, as instructed, set the phone to Airplane mode (to suppress disturbing and unhealthy phone transmission and WiFi), positioning it under the bottom sheet at the corner of the bed. That is as physically close to me as possible without annoyance. The phone was connected to the power cable and placed face down (so that the illumination of the screen would not disturb when the alarm went off). The phone’s proximity to me, as the sleep subject, is intended to minimize the influence of movements of my wife, who naturally, sleeps next to me in our double bed.

Overlaying this is another of our long-standing nocturnal habits. As it is, Karen is what I like to call a “Woman On the Go”. Whether asleep or in full-on business mode, she stands on the marks, ready for anything. Consequently, we possess an alarm clock that projects the time onto the ceiling. She adores this function and actually in the absence of the jointed articulation of red numbers that coruscate the night like waving spotlights at a Las Vegas premier, she sleeps less well. She describes it as a special comfort, knowing for instance that several hours of delicious sleep may remain if she awakens in the middle of the night. It is a kind of reverse anticipation, and is very characteristic of this special woman (whose ability to sleep has much in common with a cat) . On the other hand, my preference is to be ignorant of the exact time, and generally I content myself knowing there is time enough to love.

As it happened this morning, though not at all unusual, I awakened spontaneously before the alarm sounded. I estimated later that it must have been around 4AM, which is when I had made a visit to the privy . Returning to bed it seemed that I would lie awake for a bit. A short time after, Karen budged and also went to tinkle.  She returned to bed chilled, and cuddled next to me, until our knees inadvertently collided. This caused me to roll onto my back, while she nudged closer yet and found the sweet spot of warmth to settle in. Generally, I was attempting to drift back asleep. I recognized however, the insidious onset of conscious thoughts (worries that tend to pester many of us in the wee hours). I tried to relax in spite of it.

It is very possible that there some amongst you who have had an experienced that I have read about. In this semi-conscious place where I found myself, between sleep and awakedness, there is said to be a door through which we pass, like a threshold that leads between consciousness and sleep. For my part, I had never hitherto experienced this register of semi-wakefulness. For some unknown peculiarity, I jump from being fully awake to fast asleep without ever perceiving a transition. That is, I believe, until this morning.

So it was, at a given moment in half-consciousness, that I entered a space. I will call it a large ballroom. It had a high ceiling and a vague sense of walls. The vagueness of the boundaries of the space came from the color I perceived for walls and ceiling, which seemed to blend with a broader darkness that reigned, beyond. The space seemed sparsely occupied by others along with myself. All of us were loosely gathered in small groups at round tables. I can say that the presence of others was only indistinctly felt by me. This was perhaps in part due to the dimness and scattering of spots of light that illuminated, here and there.
Collioure art

Dreams of the great blue beyond in Collioure

I also perceived that this space was something that seemed to divide, as a threshold would, sleep from awakedness. I began to practice what I will call soft-focus awareness. It is something that follows a set of guidelines from a marvelous book I am rereading called Mindfulness in Plain English. The author, Bhante Gunaratana, describes a skill that allows us to modify how we perceive sensorial stimulation. It works against our normal latching on to a given stimulus in order to identify and resolve it into rational components (by which I mean, making into an identifiable sound, smell or event). Soft-focus awareness has the effect of making us perceive without ‘investing’ elements of consciousness. This avoids superimposing things like desire, interest or repulsion leaving it as a ‘raw perception’. To say the least, it is a discipline that runs counter to my normal  inclinations. This soft-focus perception I could describe as much like an infant must perceive, absent of all preconceptions. For rational thinkers like myself, this is challenging exercise. In spite of that, I sensed a rare opportunity.

Within the awareness of the space, the scene as it was, began to evolve and a haunting music began to play, without my intervention. I have come to call this my personal Music of the Spheres. This was not the first occurrence. It happens unpredictably and with some regularity, though always in the early, waking hours. At one point, this morning, I noticed my awareness was attempting to assign the source of the mystical music to the Sleep Cycle alarm on my phone. However, I resisted that purposefulness, and instead did my best to remain poised, and to let the music spill out of thin air.

For better of worse, and in the most effortless way possible, I attempted to memorize what I heard. Fortunately, it continued to play with its ethereal ambiance for several minutes in spite of this vain desire. I almost certainly perceived the famous threshold which acts to divide the semi-conscious from the sleep state. It was there that I felt my relaxing body drifting towards. Though never making it across, I waited and observed.

I can at least say that I recognized in the music a repeated motif (that is a recognizably repeated phrase). Its effect was based on a single, repeated note that leapt up an interval of a fourth, or fifth, at the end of the phrase. There was not a steady rhythmic pulse, rather an ethereal blending of individual motifs with intervening silence. The main instrument was a keyboard (piano of a heavenly sort) accompanied by a percussion sound (drums of some sort, lightly playing). The style was nothing I had, to memory, ever heard before (though Amrit’s music in Grand Scales resembled it). The music created a spectacle of a ‘soundscape’, in a way. As with the painting of the type, the sense of place comes out of a grandness in the openness of space.  Gradually, I also noticed its intensity was swelling. I followed it allowing, holding, as disconnected as I could, until of its own accord it diminished and finally, faded into nothing. But how it left me inspired, lying sleepless in a thrall.

To think of it now, such is a “moment’s sunlight fading in the grass”. The effect was scintillating.

As I retell the experience, it seems that it approached the mental phenomenon called lucid dreaming. It is stunning to think that I have been the unwitting spectator of a manifestly ungraspable music, a spontaneous outpouring from an unknown source. In all fairness, the incident seems to have been at least partly induced by the novelty of the newly-acquired iPhone App, Sleep Cycle.

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