Notes from a fractal encyclopædist on the interdependence of sleep and waking, delivered at a time when the only radical act remaining is to rest. Being declarations of freedom, independence and interdependence at the ragged edges of awareness, from a well-dreamt biographer of the power of sleep herself …
Netflix’s biggest competition is sleep
– CEO Reed Hastings (Independent, 19th April 2017)
upon the land of sleep.
Mining treasures from the caves of dream,
and clearing forests of rest
from hillsides of slumber.
These colonies of wakefulness are
Stealing from this land.
Anxiety and sleeplessness
Are stealing from this land
that used to be
A wild and pathless place to rest,
A secret forest of repair,
A private lake of restoration,
A hidden place of refuge to restore
within the wild diversity
of restful sleep and dream.
Now ecosystems of our sleeping cycles are destroyed,
and disrespect for rest
the rhythms of sleep.
Addiction to the wakeful states
denies all reparation,
distances from wisdom
and disconnects from dream.
Public colonies of wakefulness
from our collective insomnia.
Our private rest is broadcast time,
And we have forgotten
How to sleep.
Can you catch her? Can you still sense her?
Can you feel her presence at the ragged edges of your dreams? She is the Wild Queen of Liminality. She is Nidra Shakti, Queen of Dreams, dark feminine power of sleep. She is encountered, amongst other places, in profound rest, and in those liminal states of consciousness experienced in the meditative practices of Yoga Nidra, or the Sleep of the Yogis. She is the power of sleep herself.
And for the past five timeless years I have been writing her biography.
Serving her story, writing her life, I have followed Nidra Shakti into the fractal echoes of trances we have shared together in 27 different countries and states across this increasingly sleepless world of tired humans, all desperate to rest. I have sung exhausted beings into the restful spaces between places, and insomniacs have fallen asleep hearing the praises of the Queen of Sleep herself. No-one can resist her; she will get everybody in the end, no matter how much coffee they drink.
In the liminal space of Nidra Shakti’s domain, five years into this writing dream of sleep’s queen, I have awoken to discover that her biography has become an urgent song of freedom, a call for liberation, a poetic manifesto for the decolonising of sleep.
For even here in the lands of our dreams, even this intimate territory of rest, our sleep has been colonised. Just as the land beneath our tired bones has been owned and sold, thieved from us and rented back to us, so too has sleep been stolen from us by the lords of profit.
and dreaming still
we are bleeding from the roots
of interrupted sleep,
of insufficient hours of rest.
This dislocated rhythm
disconnects us from our dreams;
And sleeping children,
are bundled into outdoor clothes
and uniforms of wakefulness
that rush them to attend
to the teachings of machinery
that drags them out of heart and dream,
Displaces them from earth
to pay attention
to teachings that require no dreaming
to teachings that dismiss our hearts
In the buses,
On the trains,
And inside metal boxes
on the road queues
torn from worlds of rest and dream
barely knowing we are human –
– to be human is to dream.
and to feel the earth beneath the buildings we inhabit and the vehicles we drive –
we are sleeping as we drive
to machineries of dream death;
and in confusion,
ripped in dream
from sleep’s warm womb
to a premature arrival
on the shores of this new day.
The power of sleep, Nidra Shakti herself, she too has been colonised and trademarked. Even this power, the wildest queen, the benefactress of our dreaming insights, even she too has been boxed, dismembered, forgotten and rediscovered.
She has been owned and sold to the US military as a therapy for veterans suffering post-traumatic stress disorder after active duty in Afghanistan and Iraq. Neurologists have measured her influence under experimental conditions in Kansas and Copenhagen in the nineteen-seventies and eighties. And meanwhile, hordes of exhausted insomniacs, including Lord Vishnu, sustainer of creation in the Indic pantheon, have snored sweetly in her lap for over three thousand years. Yogis, healers, indigenous shaman, poets, inventors, psychologists, stage hypnotists, medicine people and other fellow seekers after peace, she has travelled and slept with them all.
She has moments of freedom. Amongst her most admired liberatory adventures, she assisted the reparation and restoration of the Black Panther warrior kings of the mythic African nation of Wakanda, and the dreamtime visioning of Martin Luther King. She has enjoyed the wild sweet embraces of naked Kashmiri songstress Lalleshwari in 1350, as she sang of the interdependence of sleeping, waking and wisdom. Nidra Shakti inspired the rhapsodic visions of the Irish Nobel Laureate in London in 1888, and the Vijnana Bhairava Tantra in eleventh century India, and she has danced through charmed encounters with Transcendentalists and Relaxationists in 19th century Massachusetts.
Nidra Shakti’s intimates include Lal Ded, Octavia Butler, Twylah Nitsch, Henry David Thoreau, Annie Payson Call, William Butler Yeats, Thomas Edison, Leonardo DaVinci, and a crew of yogic gurus with ambiguous reputations, such as Swami Satyananda Saraswati, Swami Rama and Amrit Desai, as well as a number of curious psychologists, and her greatest American admirer, Ormond McGill, father of US stage hypnotism.
And now, after all these adventures, it is only in the wildest places, the places where there are no alarm clocks, and dreams are revered and welcomed, that Nidra Shakti remains free.
It is only in the wildest places, the places where there are no alarm clocks, and dreams are revered and welcomed, that Nidra Shakti remains free.
And so, when I lead people in the practice of Yoga Nidra, I strive to do so in a way that is post-lineage, decolonised, creative and spontaneously responsive. It is an approach free from the dogma and specific directives of any single school, not fixed to protocols and scripts dictated by gurus or commodifying organisations. Each session is improvised in response to the unique needs of the listeners, to place, time and season. Those who lie and listen find it is often inherently therapeutic, frequently meditative, and mostly hypnotic. To me, it is a technology of freedom.
Nidra Shakti’s songs and stories are about sleep as our birthright. Resting is a radical act of reclamation of our capacity to restore and repair ourselves in sleep, to be free from the enforced denial of adequate sleep by the inhuman demands of commerce and capital.
I believe and trust that, in the few remaining places that humans can rest and dream in rhythmic cycles of revival, this power of Sleep will emerge to heal. In uncolonised freedom space, at the wild fractal edges of awareness, in the places between sleep and dream, we remain present enough to hear these songs of freedom calling for repair and restoration.
Free audio downloads of Nidra Shakti sessions are available at yoganidranetwork.org
IMAGE: Feeding from the Fire Below by Kate Walters (from Issue 6 and Walking on Lava)
Watercolour and conte on gesso-prepared canvas
A dream of the Mother, a sense of being supported by the fruitfulness of an intense relationship with Nature, here embodied by a deer and an acacia tree; and the increasing and yet-to-be-born which gives Mothering life. The support is implied by the connection with a spirit animal –in this case the Horse, which according to Marie-Louise von Franz is the authentic ‘voice of the cells’ – in touch with the Fire which lights all life and is found in the earth.