I had one of those nights last night. I woke at 3.30 needing to pee (it’s a constant aggravation having to empty one’s bladder in the middle of the night) and instantly my brain did that standing to attention thing and saluted smartly at some incoming ideas. Why do ideas choose the ungodly hour of 3 am? Don’t answer that – I already know why. It’s because there are no distractions, and because the brain has been chuntering away during the hours of sleep and like an eager intern who’s been working through her lunch hour, presents me with a whole sheaf of new thoughts.
I know this kind of wakefulness. I know it has to run its course and that after a while you may get a window of opportunity to try to sleep some more. So I lay and sifted through the ideas – a process which of course generates more ideas – for about an hour and a half. I can’t absolutely swear I didn’t nod off for a bit during that time but I don’t think I did; after a while I’d had enough and decided to hit the old noggin with some sleep techniques. I have a few of these, garnered from Paul McKenna’s book, so I started with counting down from 300 to zero – and by the time I’d got to 99 I was in a swimming pool. I’d finished my swim and was just about to get out. There was another woman in there but nobody else, just the male lifeguard. Another man came in and both men began to harass the other woman. Right, I thought. I climbed out of the water and strode towards the exit where the men were. ‘There’s a door there,’ I said to one of them. ‘I’m going to walk through it and you are going to let me.’ I wasn’t entirely sure this would work, but he just said nothing and let me pass. Out in the corridor I called the police.
Next thing I remember, a police officer is congratulating me. He’s played by an actor from the schlocky drama I’ve been watching, Industry. This does not seem strange to me. ‘Well done,’ he says, ‘you’ve just saved a woman from being raped.’
Then I go to work and everyone stands round applauding my actions. This is very gratifying. Next thing, I’m on my way home and preparing to tell OH all about it but before I get there I wake up and realise it’s not real.
And the moral of the story is… if you’re going to have a disturbed night it’s always better to end up with a vivid dream, especially one where you’re the hero.
Habits are hard to break, and particularly in the evening when one feels tired it’s very tempting to just flip on the old box, flick through a few channels and just let entertainment carry you through till bedtime. But I’ve been breaking it up a little and I’ve noticed that far from being restful, watching TV actually makes you tired. I’m not entirely sure why; it could be the effect of the screen, it could be that you’re looking at constantly moving pictures, or it could be the passive nature of the engagement. True, it’s not always entirely passive; when watching a good film or drama you can be completely engaged, but mostly I’m only half there, breaking off to check my phone or to talk to OH or make a drink or go to the loo. Most TV is background and the programme makers know this so they increasingly add bright colours and loud sounds to attract our attention. This goes double for adverts, though I hardly ever watch commercial TV.
There is of course a lot that I miss when glued to the box. I miss reading, thinking, playing the piano-keyboard, going outside to look at the moon, talking to others and listening to music. I tell myself I’ll do these things another time but that time only comes when I make it, so last night I decided I would watch a couple of pre-selected programmes and then, rather than filling the time with more TV I would read. I’ve really been getting into Elena Ferrante and last night as I finished the book (review to come I noticed a huge difference in my mind. When I read I was energised rather than tired, engaged rather than passively ingesting; I felt alive and alert and I went to bed feeling pleasantly tired rather than drained.
Paul McKenna suggests turning off the TV at least half an hour before bed and using that time to read. With me this tends to be a custom more honoured in the breach but I intend to practise it from now on.
I don’t want to give up the box altogether, there’s some good stuff on and it’s useful to kick back and watch something when you haven’t got the energy to do much else. But it takes over, so from now on rather than using TV to fill the evening, I shall choose programmes I really want to watch and do something else the rest of the time.
Last night I watched University Challenge (I scored 70 points), Doc Martin and a little bit of Murder 24/7, a police procedural documentary. Total 1.5 hours, much better than my usual three hours. And tomorrow night when OH is out I plan to spend the evening playing the keyboard.
I’ll let you know how I get on.
I have already mentioned my successes with Paul McKenna’s book on sleep. When someone lent me a copy I was initially resistant, knowing him only as a TV and stage hypnotist and not wishing to subject myself to any form of ‘mind control’ but the techniques he suggests are rather different from what I expected. First, they are fairly commonsensical; things such as go to bed when you’re tired and switch off the TV an hour before bed (a custom more honoured in the breach in my case, though I do occasionally do it: the other night I turned the TV off and instead of watching the zillionth episode of Episodes got my keyboard out and laid down some groovy vibes.) Then there are techniques based on CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) and others based on visualisation; in fact there’s a whole spread so that if some don’t work for you, others might. Since I got this book about a year ago my sleep has improved enormously. It’s not perfect but if I’m awake in the middle of the night I have a range of techniques to help myself, and I don’t normally have any trouble getting to sleep.
So, following the success of this volume I thought I’d try his book on getting rich. Again I was a little wary, having read so many ‘get rich’ manuals that were set in a very different universe from mine, but here I found a lot that resonated with me. Again he builds on techniques to eliminate negative habits (I was astounded how much of my attitude towards money is based on pity for the poor and resentment of the rich – more on this later) and to get rid of poor thinking habits, ie to visualise yourself having the things you want. An important part of the mix here is to think of riches as involving far more than money; in fact he re-defines wealth as ‘living your best life’ and quotes Rockefeller who, in his eighties and struggling to get around, when offered an electric wheelchair said he’d rather have the money. So often the rich are – or seem to be, since I don’t know any personally – in a prison of their own making, sometimes a literal prison with gates and searchlights and guard dogs. As George Bernard Shaw’s Millionaire says, ‘a man as rich as I am cannot afford anything.’
So far I’m entirely with McKenna in this vision. But he spoils it for me in two ways; one is by quoting people like Donald Trump and Philip Green (the book was published before either was discredited but I’d still struggle to see them as positive role models) and the second is by being a manual on how to be a good capitalist. McKenna’s model for making money is first and last a business model, and here’s where it all falls down for me, not only because I don’t believe in capitalism but also because I’ve never been able to sell myself in any kind of business arena, no matter how I tried. That’s one reason I’ve never been tempted by self-publishing, because the hard work is in the marketing and this is something at which I am utterly crap.
As far as the ‘pity’ and ‘resentment’ go, by trying a couple of his exercises I discovered that my approach to wealth was almost totally governed by these unhelpful emotions. This does not imply that I need to abandon my socialist views, nor that I should admire billionaires and regard the poor as responsible for their own condition; it just means that these emotions were blocking my own understanding of how I might progress. Here’s one exercise from the book to try:
Picture the wealthiest person you can think of who is also someone you admire. Picture that person with all the possibilities they have in their life. Put that picture in a large box. In one small corner of the box, imagine yourself as you are now. Then practise switching the images in your mind, so that you become the big picture and the other person shrinks to where you are.
Rinse and repeat.