The Threshold of Sleep

20th November 2012

‘I was writing once at a very symbolical and abstract poem, when my pen fell on the ground; and as I stooped to pick it up, I remembered some phantastic adventure that yet did not seem phantastic, and then another like adventure, and when I asked myself when these things had happened, I found that I was remembering my dreams for many nights.

I tried to remember what I had done the day before, and then what I had done that morning; but all my waking life had perished from me, and it was only after a struggle that I came to remember it again, and as I did so that more powerful and startling life perished in its turn. Had my pen not fallen on the ground and so made me turn from the images that I was weaving into verse, I would never have known that meditation had become trance, for I would have been like one who does not know that he is passing through a wood because his eyes are on the pathway.

So I think that in the making and in the understanding of a work of art, and the more easily if it is full of patterns and symbols and music, we are lured to the threshold of sleep, and it may be far beyond it, without knowing that we have ever set our feet upon the steps of horn or of ivory’.

W. B. Yeats – The Symbolism of Poetry

I think this resonated with me because I have often found myself in a similar situation when I practise yoga. Obviously it is not the same as an act of literary creation, but Hatha yoga is all about balancing the creative energies of mind and body, pingala and ida, often represented by sun and moon, male and female, which complement rather than oppose. There are times when I feel this mingling of energies more profoundly and it is in these moments – usually during meditation or lying in Shavasana (relaxation pose) – that I find myself at the threshold of sleep; a realm where Yeats’ ‘phantastic adventure’ becomes reality, becomes all that is immediate.

There I walk through a world that truly is more startling and powerful. It is rich with symbol and with myth, and full of landscapes, peoples, stories that live within the self. And it is on this threshold that the conscious mind can mingle with them, becoming one of them, yet retaining the ability to remember what transpired upon waking. Who is to say which world is the realer, which the more truthful? Often that glimpsed world is more wonderful in its scope, its majesty, in its imagination. What I take from it, I am sometimes able to translate into words – hence ideas are born. Equally often, the strangers I have glimpsed exist only as intangible forces; images that do not survive the passage between worlds, for as Yeats intimates, they cannot exist in both.

The rich world perishes upon waking, as does the consciousness we call reality upon entering sleep. It strikes me how necessary it is to be able to wander through that landscape, which – while you inhabit it – is the only reality. Truth is there and is accessible as it is sometimes not in waking life. Or an ability to accept it, to imbibe it. Poetry is the channelling of universal truth, and by wandering on the threshold of sleep and on that of self can the poet awaken it into words.

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