Sleep on the problem

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Sleep on the problem
it is the heart always that sees, before the head can see.
Thomas Carlyle
When you are relaxed in bed before going to sleep it is good
to think about an issue requiring some Depth Mind activity.

The value of doing so has long been known. As Leonardo da
Vinci wrote: ‘It is no small benefit on finding oneself in bed in
the dark to go over again in the imagination the main lines of
the forms previously studied, or other noteworthy things
conceived by ingenious speculation.’
Of course you might actually dream of a solution. Why we
dream is still largely a mystery. Dreams are extraordinary
creations of our imagining faculty in the inner brain.
Sometimes they have messages from the hidden parts of our
brain for us, not by telephone this time but coded in an alien
language of images.
The man who invented the Singer sewing machine reached
an impasse when he could not get the thread to run through
the needle consistently. When he was at his wit’s end he
dreamed one night that he was being chased by natives
carrying spears. As they came closer, he noticed that every
spear had a hole at the bottom of the blade, and the next
morning he made a needle with its eye near the point, instead
of at the top. His machine was complete.
You may like to try the experiment of jotting down fragments
of dreams you can recall when you wake up. See how many
suggestions or meanings you can discern in them. Even if
they do not solve your problems, dreams may reveal your
true feelings and desires, especially if these have been
suppressed for too long. As William Golding said, ‘Sleep is
when all the unsorted stuff comes flying out from a dustbin
upset in a high wind.’
Occasionally you will be rewarded by a real clue in your
dreams. Roy Plomley on Desert Island Discs narrated one such
instance involving Sir Basil Spence, the distinguished architect
who designed Coventry Cathedral:
In designing a project of such vast size and complexity there
were bound to be snags. He told me that at one point, when
he was held up by a particular technical difficulty, he had an
abscess on a tooth and went to his dentist, who proposed to
remove the molar under a local anaesthetic. As soon as he
had the injection, Spence passed out. During the short time
he was unconscious he had a very vivid dream of walking
through the completed cathedral, with the choir singing and
the organ playing, and the sun shining through stained glass
windows towards the altar – and that is the way he subsequently
planned it. Another inspiration was received when,
flipping though the pages of a natural history magazine, he
came across an enlargement of the eye of a fly, and that
gave him the general lines for the vault.
The philosopher Thomas Hobbes kept a notebook at hand.
‘As soon as a thought darts,’ he said, ‘I write it down.’
Follow up an idea promptly. Once, when Newton had a
particularly illuminating idea while walking down the steps
of his wine cellar to fetch a bottle for some guests, he
promptly abandoned his errand. The bemused guests discovered
him some time later hard at work in his study!
Quite why sleep plays such an important part in helping or
enabling the Depth Mind to analyse, synthesize and value is
still a mystery. Dreams suggest an inner freedom to make all
sorts of random connections between different constellations
of brain cells. There may be some sort of shaking up of the
kaleidoscope, resulting in new patterns forming in the mine
shafts of the mind. We just do not know. This ignorance of
how the Depth Mind works does not matter very much. What
does matter is that it does work. As the Chinese proverb says,
‘It does not make any difference if the cat is black or white as
long as it catches mice.’
There is an element of mystery about this creative work that
can go on in our sleep. Robert Louis Stevenson spoke of
‘those little people, my brownies, who do one half my work
for me while I am fast asleep, and in all human likelihood do
the rest for me as well, when I am wide awake and fondly
suppose I do it for myself’.
There are times that do seem conducive to the work of the
Depth Mind, times of prolonged solitude, for example, or
Sleep on the Problem
times when we lie awake in the still of the night, warm and
relaxed in bed. ‘When I am completely myself,’ wrote Mozart
to his father, ‘entirely alone or during the night when I cannot
sleep, it is on these occasions that my ideas flow best and
most abundantly. Whence and how these come I know not
nor can I force them. Nor do I hear in my imagination the
parts successfully, but I hear them at the same time altogether.’
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