Insomnia: A Guide to, and Consolation for, the Restless Early Hours
Publisher: The School of Life
ISBN 10: 1999917979
ISBN 13: 978-1999917975
Not being able to sleep is deeply frightening. We panic about our ability to cope with the demands of the next day; we panic that we are panicking; the possibility of sleep recedes ever further as the clock counts down to another exhausted, irritable dawn.
Our societies have learnt to treat insomnia with the best-applied discipline we know: medicine – in particular, with pills powerful enough to wrestle consciousness into submission. But there are other things to do besides, or alongside, medicalising insomnia. We can reflect on our sleeplessness, define it to ourselves and others, try to understand where it springs from in human nature and speculate on what it might – in its own confused way – be trying to tell us.
This book is an eloquent guide to, and companion through, the long sleepless hours of the night. We come away from its soothing pages informed, consoled and armed with insights that will make us feel a lot less alone – as we wait for sleep, eventually, to come.
About the Author
The School of Life is a global organization helping people lead more fulfilled lives. It is a resource for helping us understand ourselves, for improving our relationships, our careers, and our social lives―as well as for helping us find calm and get more out of our leisure hours. They do this through films, workshops, books, and gifts―and through a warm and supportive community. You can find The School of Life online, in stores and in welcoming spaces around the globe.
The School of Life Press was established in 2016 to bring together over a decade of research and insights from The School of Life’s content team. Led by founder and series editor Alain de Botton, this is a library to educate, entertain, console, and transform us.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
There is so much material in our minds that we seldom visit in our waking hours. We have, surprisingly, forgotten almost nothing that we ever lived through. We just need the right amount of calm to bring it to the surface. An inner photographer has taken shots of pretty much everything we experienced: the highlands of Scotland we went to when we were ten; the store room in our grandmother’s house on the archipelago; the light on a Sunday evening as we drove home from a party shortly after our twentieth birthday. These things rarely come to mind in the press of the working day, but sometimes – when we can’t sleep – we realise that it is all still there, and we find ourselves travelling back through images and scenes we had not suspected had survived with such clarity. The memories are not necessarily significant in and of themselves, but they are vivid and overwhelming in their immediacy, like the most beautiful frame of a film. For example: we are seven again. It is a Saturday morning, the sun is shining through the bedroom curtains; the wallpaper has big pink and blue flowers. We are waiting for everyone to wake up and are on the floor, designing a game on a large sheet of paper. The mood is serene and focused and filled with hope. Or, we are in New York for the first time. We must be thirty. It is an intensely warm, almost tropical, evening and we wander the streets of Lower Manhattan; we can recall the pavements, the restaurants, the shape of the buildings. We go into a shoe repair store and talk a little to the owner. We can remember the smell of leather and polish. Or five years ago, we are on a trip to Asia: we are coming into Singapore at night. We have a window seat and can see a long line of lights of tankers and container ships and perhaps some small fishing vessels too. Gazing down, the modern world looks majestic and calm, beautiful and ordered. In the full range of our memories we’re bigger than we suppose. At some point or other across our lives we’ve met so much – and though it has receded deep into the cavities of the mind, it can re-emerge with the right meditative night-time frame of mind. Little attention normally gets paid to our sensory memories. We don’t engineer regular encounters with them. We may feel we have to dismiss them as ‘daydreaming’ or ‘thinking about nothing’. But in our neglect of our memories, we are spoilt children, who squeeze only a portion of the pleasure from experiences and then toss them aside to seek new thrills. Part of why we feel the need for so many new experiences may simply be that we are so bad at absorbing the ones we have had. When we can’t sleep, we should always think of going on Memory Journeys. Our experiences have not disappeared, just because they are no longer unfolding right in front of our eyes. We can remain in touch with so much of what made them pleasurable simply through the art of evocation. We talk endlessly of virtual reality. Yet we don’t need gadgets. We have the finest virtual reality machines already in our own heads. We can – right now – shut our eyes and travel into, and linger amongst, the very best and most consoling bits of our past.