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Sleep paralysis, demons and zen

Just arrived back from an incredible, 5 day-long sailing music festival known as Horizontoer. After finishing my Skype calls updating friends and family about the details of the trip I am ready to give my craving body the sleep it needs. It's 1:00.

I ease myself into my usual sleeping body posture: on my stomach, hands under my belly, head resting on one of my cheecks. The blanket on my back provides me the illusion of safety.

Finally, losing consciousness, it seems that nothing can disturb this peace.

Except maybe this strain in my neck. My head is facing right, I feel those 90 degrees. It seems that my usual posture is not that comfortable after all. Well, let's do something about it.

Trying to move my neck, but it just won't move. Nor do my other body parts. There we go, sleep paralysis! I know it from before, not a big issue...just a bit creepy, but not lethal. I remember what I read about it: it occurs when the REM phase of your sleep is disturbed and your mind wakes up before your body releases your muscles from the paralysis that is meant to stop your body from sleepwalking or talking. Very common phenomenon if you have sleep deficit.

An ex Psych-student once told me: never fight it. I couldn't agree more, letting go is the best cure for this state. Yet some ancient fight instinct takes over: I collect all my strenght and attempt to lift my head. In vain. I feel the wrinkles of my pillow in fascinating detail and how the blanket gently scratches the upper layer of my skin. Once more, with even more muscle tension. success. I'm trapped inside my body. The only thing I can move is my toung behind my teeth. I lick some of them, there is nothing more I can do.

Ready to give up? It's just sleep paralysis...or wait, tingling in my toung. Lightnings running across the left cheeck muscle. This is...mygraine. I am having a mygraine attack in my sleep!

Well, mygraine is also a common problem for women of my age. Not lethal. But having it during sleep paralysis is a tiny bit over the top. This is not right.

My brain is not fuctioning the way it should. It must be a tumor. The same thing that killed my grandmother. Fear is taking over my consciousness. There is darkness everywhere.

Terrifying faces appear in the dark. Distorted demon faces with disproportionally big eyes, glowing with a fluorescent blue light. The are very close and change quicky from one to the other. For a moment I see the face of someone I know from real life. Someone I am afraid to talk to. Fear is the missing link between these images.

I lose touch with my trapped body, no longer being able to identify the surroundings. It is a deeper layer of sleep. The demon face give way to a new picture: a frame with a painting in it. It shows a battle scene with a young private dying from a shot wound. His face is distorted with pain just like the demon faces. Yet it is comforting to see a real human being.

He dies or not, I don't know. The battle is over, I sink into actual sleep. It lasts only for minutes before I wake up; this time with full consiousness and properly reacting body.

My heart beats fast and heavy. My eyes pop wide open as I finally realize that I am safe in my room in exactly the same body posture how I fell into sleep earlier. Every single moment of what just happened was nothing but imagination, even the most realistic bits.

I still feel the pain in my neck: that is the only 'real' element of the story - and probably the reason why this all happened. And that bizarre, unexplainably high level of fear...that just won't leave right away. I carefully draw the curtain to let some light in. The moon helps me out; what an unbelievably kind and warm creature it seems with its smiling face and dim glow.

It's time to think this through in an organized fashion. What I just experienced is a classic case of sleep paralysis a.k.a. REM syndrome. Not the kind I usually had before: the kinky, surreal one with a slight sexual tint; no this was the kind you read about in books and online forums. The one that inspired paintings, stories about witches and alien abductions. The one that some adventure seekers use for igniting lucid dreaming and out of body experiences.

It is a relief to know that it had some conrete, explainable triggers: sleep deprivation, unhealty posture of the neck and unresolved social issues. Easy.

Now let's collect what we learned from this little trip:

1) Sleep paralysis cannot be defeated by force. The channel upwards pointing to reality is closed. On the other hand: the way down, pointing towards deep sleep is open. The only way you can travel that way is through understanding and giving up the fight.

2) Experiencing vivid demonic hallucinations happens on a deeper level than pure sleep paralysis. It is actually a sign of being on the good way.

3) Given the fact that s.p. happens on a higher level of consciousness than normal dreaming its methaphores are easier to decode. The pictures mean what they mean. The soldier dying on the battlefield means giving up fighting; mygraine means I am still freaking out by aura attacks and the face of my aquaintance in the row of demon heads means...I'd rather keep that one for myself.

And finally: the moral conclusion. You have to die a little bit for your inner peace. It sounds terrible, but what I mean is not the aggressive death of someone commiting suicide, but more the longing for death that buddhism teaches. As far as I has always been really distant from me except in moments like these.

Having thought through my recent bedtime adventures and drawn the conclusions I have no more reason to be afraid. It is time for a nice, refreshing session of sleep with its everyday dreams and nightmares during its healthy, undisrupted REM phase. 11 hours of deliciousness.


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