At night, as I lay waiting for sleep to take hold, I am entertained by fleeting impressions of nature moving gently behind my closed eyelids. The scenes seem to arise suddenly then glide for brief seconds across my field of vision, altering slightly as they go. Their appearance tends to signify the moment that I am just about to drop off.
The images are projected in the darkness and vary from forested silhouettes to closeups of branches that I can nearly identify. Like forms of some sort, made of light of some kind, they appear sometimes in one dimensional form, at other times in three dimensions, layered, looking almost computer generated. It’s as if one is viewing a negative, or looking at the forest in the dark through night vision goggles, but with an effervescent sheen and with a certain fractal quality defining the edges.
This state is significantly different from dreams, The colours are not lifelike, and there tends to be no accompanying storyline. This place exists right on the cusp of sleep, where it is very difficult to remain absolutely conscious, that space where one drifts in and out like deadwood caught in the wave break, forever dragged back out and under.
It is by nature a phenomenon that is difficult to describe, a type of sleep hallucination that is known as hypnogogia. It is apparently quite common, with around 50% of humans describing it in one form or another. It has been used by many artists and writers, namely the surrealists, and has been studied by scientists and psychologists. In this article, Peter Sjöstedt, describes the phenomenon as he experiences it. He talks of all sorts of fantastical creatures and intense unfolding movement. His general description seems consistent with my own experience, if a little more intense and detailed.
I can’t help but ask, why and what for?
In the endless wisdom of the modern world, this phenomenon has been labelled by some as a disorder for which to seek a cure. It can distract from sleep and has been associated with episodes of sleep paralysis. For me, it’s a blessing, it comes with a sense of deep immersion in another world, and seemingly one that is not contaminated by the worries of the real one. It’s provokes creative inspiration, insight, and makes one aware of other gentler and subtle modes of feeling and consciousness. It’s calming and exciting at the same time and the fostering of this phenomenon seems somewhat addictive. Hypnogogia is said to be linked to the ability to lucid dream, and by applying my attention in a certain way, I have learned, I am able to start moving and altering the forms, sometimes even encouraging images other than trees!
The simplest explanation could be that they have no significant meaning and are a byproduct of the brain’s processing activities, a precursor to sleep and nothing more. This seems like a good explanation, but leads me to the question, why should I only see trees?
Perhaps they are what a human might see in our natural environment, when we lived in nature, before the cities soaked us up. Maybe they’re messages from the body suggesting what it needs right now, though I already spend ample time in nature.
A lot of the scenes strike me as images that another tree would see, rather than a human on the ground, the viewpoint is somewhat elevated. Maybe it’s the trees speaking in the only way they can!
On another level, I find the images extremely comforting and relaxing, when the mind is focused on these, very little of the “outside” world exists at all, it’s almost as if one becomes the forms, and that they coax the mind further towards sleep. On that note, perhaps they are visual lullabies, an evolutionary development that helps humans sleep and venture into the dream realms. This theory seems like one I can put myself behind.
I would be interested to hear from others who have had similar experiences, if you have thoughts or have studied this at all, please don’t hesitate to write.
Lately, deep in sleep, I have been dreaming nightly of the trees. I venture into giant woodlands which I am able to explore. Sometimes exploration alone seems to be the purpose of the dream, on other occasions there is some underlying story, I am being chased, or trying to make my way somewhere. I have always considered the forest a great metaphor for venturing into the subconscious and used this archetype in my art and writing.
In these dreams, I am not restricted to the floor, sometimes I can fly and sometimes I am aloft in the canopies, picking my way through the elevated highway of branches, swinging on vines and finding cosy little sitting spaces in the tops of trees. Often there are the remains of buildings and ruined rooms, entwined in the branches, overcome by, or perhaps existing alongside nature.
Sometimes, I am down below, in the undergrowth, peering out at the edge of an epic woodland, like a 19th century oil painting, beyond real, enhanced, vibrant and ultra beautiful in comparison to the waking world, and the work of the Masters.
The trees are of an age which I have never witnessed, forming intricate woodlands, I come across remnants of huge split stumps with at least 3 meters diameter, their colossal lain trunks providing vast ramps into the upper branches. The closest I could describe would be like the woodland scene with the Ents, in Lord of the Rings.
Most of the time, I am left to roam in this realm. On the odd occasion, I am joined by others. The other night, a large brown bear appeared with her cub, we were in the woods at Ebbor Gorge peering out onto a clearing from beside a rather old oak. We watched the bear and her cub from a distance and noticed her head rising to sniff the air. She sensed our presence and started moving towards the woods, she was not moving towards us, just taking shelter, but the nervousness, nevertheless, was felt. We made a discreet departure, heading for the trees.
As I woke, in a half awake morning state, I saw a vast forest in brilliant gold, there were three still slides of different woodland scenes. The images held for longer than usual and I was able to inspect their detail. They were shimmering vistas of pure golden love. Bright, lifting, each one holding a multitude of epiphanies.
Each stayed for a few seconds and then faded as I joined the day with a smile.
Bring the outside in!
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