This word appears to be falling into – or out of – something, the h tumbling to y and into the pillow-person p with cushion n o and again the p and more cushion o m and again the p: is it falling asleep? Or is it falling from sleep? If you know your Greek prefixes you know hypo is below, but no, not below: hypno, sleep… and if you know your Sanskrit you know om, the divine syllable, the chant of meditation, a state not sleep but other than normal wakefulness… As you come from sleep you find your pillow is plump, but that means you are becoming aware. You are greeted by reality… with pomp? But are you aware of the circumstance?
F.W.H. Meyers named the two liminal bookends of sleep. That state leading into sleep is hypnagogic (also spelled hypnogogic): your rational mind relaxes, lets the dream world ease it, intrude; it opens, dilates, reality becomes elastic as your brain becomes chalastic. You are agog as you are led into the dreamworld – it is ἀγωγός agogos, Greek ‘leading’. But the state leading out of sleep is hypnopompic, the pomp from Greek πομπή pompé ‘sending away’, and is characterized by the reverse process: the oneiric visions persist into reality for a moment or a time before disappearing, the emotional associations fading like bright colours in the harsh sun of the rational world, or evaporating like spirits on a drying surface, or simply evanescing like a flame taken from its fuel.
And, as a psychopomp is a spirit guide, is a hypnopomp a guide out of the world of dreams? No – hypnopomp is simply the name for the hypnopompic state. The state says goodbye to itself, it is its own valedictorian; the setting is the character. Why not? Such is the fluidity of the state from which your are emerging.
But sometimes, surely, we wonder what is hypnopompic and what is hypnagogic. I am sitting now in one or the other: I have left the quotidian repetition, the fever dream of daily work, the samsara of commute-compute-commute-compute, for a week in a freer state, the obligations being only to eat, relax, enjoy myself, show up to a few things on time, write. Every time I do this I feel as though I am awakening to freedom. And every time I come back from it I feel as though I am awakening from a restful dream. But what is the more real: the free self, intoxicated but open and joyous, or the constrained self, seeking only further sips of intoxication and freedom? Why, when we have a last resonating savour, not altogether faded, of some beautiful vision, do we think we are in a hypnopomp, leaving behind a dream? Perhaps we are in a hypnagog, losing our grip on the truth we had found, and we may yet awake again to find it once more.
Thanks to Anthony Shore for suggesting today’s theme.