Sunday, June 22, 2008


This morning I woke up listless. One of those "I can't really be excited about my day because I don't know what I'm doing with my life and all my energies will probably be invested into non-returning enterprises" mornings. The texture of my world was drab, mundane.

Then I made the mistake of taking a mid-morning nap, waking after half an hour into a bout of sleep paralysis that was one of two of the most severe episodes in memory. For those of you who have never experienced it, give thanks.

My eyelids flipped halfway up my eyeballs, I lifted my legs up about six inches off the mattress and I was engulfed in electricity. This happens to me about once a month now, and it usually only lasts about a minute, so I waited for it to pass. It did not pass.

When this first started, I was about fifteen or sixteen and I had no point of reference for the experience. My first reaction was that something supernatural was attempting to pull my soul out of the top of my head while I slept. This was at around three AM, when I was overwhelmed by the fairly indescribable sensations of the paralysis and had not yet discovered I couldn't move, so it was more exciting than frightening. This assessment probably seems stupid. But the phenomenon is the genesis of the succubus myth; the feeling of submersion in Otherness is real.

So I waited and waited. Occasionally, I can break it by sheer force of effort, applying all my strength to forcing an arm or a leg into the air. It's a gamble, though, because when it fails the punishment is waves of ethereal fire washing over the body in incrementally more painful intensity. This happened of its own accord. Imagine the feeling of a limb falling asleep, only it's your whole body, and there's an invisible demon with its hand on a toggle, jolting you into submission.

Thankfully, I don't get the visions. Many people who have this problem also see manifestations of malicious entities roaming around the room, staring at them, sitting on their chests. I thought about this as the vibrations became more violent and spasmodic. I pictured a monster with a face covered in horns, gnawing at my foot. I then imagined how I would explain the missing appendage to friends.

"How did you lose it? What happened?"

"You wouldn't believe me. A creature from the fifth dimension rendered me immobile and ate it right in front of my eyes."

The thing is, you're still asleep. Logic operates in dream time; you are afloat in limbic twilight and all religious and superstitious proclivities are given free reign to play upon your imagination.

What felt like ten minutes passed. I was in agony, feeling now like I was being psychically tortured by some evil god for shits and giggles. Hanging within sight was an icon that holds special import to me, so I tried to wield it against my oppressor. Within a few moments, I was free.

The awakening is always strange. The mental space is so different that all the pain is almost immediately forgotten. It takes effort to remember exactly what happened, to recapture the feeling.

I am left with the impression that waking consciousness is a layering of lower consciousnesses, and that hypnopompic and hypnagogic (the transitions to and from sleep) occurrences are windows into this awareness. Sorry if that sounds New Agey, but I think it's important, because it means something as apparently fundamental as the overly-familiar sensational panoply of everyday life is to be treasured, because it is an evolutionary mechanism that puts us in control of our experiences. Sometimes it takes extended sessions of mild in-body torture to understand its sophistication, to appreciate the power it entails.