Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Are you tossing and turning?

Cool Water, Dianne Warren

"The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you; Don't go back to sleep. You must ask for what you really want; Don't go back to sleep. People are going back and forth across the doorsill where the two worlds touch. The door is round and open. Don't go back to sleep."  Rumi

We dread insomnia, but sometimes, if we give in to it, it can reveal a strange kind of magic.  I recall a particular night when fear of financial ruin was keeping me up because our old home hadn’t sold while the new one had a substantial mortgage.  Finally I got up, wandered downstairs, turned on the tv, and watched a small city news station from thousands of miles away.  I knew that whatever was happening in that foreign town couldn’t possibly affect me, yet I was mesmerized.

Just as Norval, the town banker in Cool Water is lulled into relaxation by watching the weather channel at all hours, I was lulled by foreign leaves sprouting on trees behind the scene of a car crash, a promise that leaves would eventually bud in our area, and that life would get better, eventually. 

Although the worry that kept me awake was awful, that night had a magical effect on me, so much so that it remains one of my favourite nights ever.  I’ve had other nights like that, where anxiety kept me up, so I sat looking out a window to watch the sun rise, or out in the hot tub to listen for the first birds, then watch the greying sky, finally the pink dawn and then the normalcy of the day.  There is something enchanting about the quiet and the dark.  What starts out as insomniac dread and anxiety, if I get up and stay up,  has always ended in a magical and memorable night for me.

Some philosophers and mystics say the veil between our reality and others is the thinnest in the middle of the night, and this is the time when we can most easily communicate with the dead, with animals, with the deepest parts of our own souls. 

In this novel, several characters experience that unease associated with insomnia, but instead of tossing and turning, they get out of bed, and are better able to feel and follow their instincts.  Lee discovers a silvery Arabian horse outside his bedroom window, and sets off on a trek back into his childhood that is both magical and exhausting.  While his nocturnal adventure is the most dramatic of the various characters in this novel, all experience something profound. 

This isn’t a plot driven book.  But the characterization is crystal perfect.  Even the most minor character, a woman applying for a teaching job, is realistic and vivid.

As far as literature therapy goes, this book can remind you that instead of reaching for that sleeping pill, or getting frustrated because you can’t sleep, sometimes the best activity is to get up and enjoy the night.  Who knows?  It could be an enlightening experience.

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