Saturday, December 20, 2008

Sleepless in Glasgow

Entry for 20 December 2008 (en route to USA):

I don’t usually have trouble sleeping, and I’ve been needing extra sleep for the past month as I recovered from the bug that laid me low. Even now, every time I end up a bit short on my sleep, the cough kicks in again, just to remind me that I’m still not completely well. So it was that as I got into bed last night after a very full and exhausting week, the last week in the run-up to my Christmas holiday, I fully expected to fall asleep without much effort.

Unfortunately, as soon as I turned off the light, I found myself wide awake. I tossed and turned for a good half an hour, then, remembering the standard advice, got up and read for an hour before trying again, finally falling asleep at 2am.

As I lay there, and even this morning, as I wait for our flight to Amsterdam, the first leg of our voyage back to Ohio, I am still puzzled by what happened last night. It can be looked at as a Problematic Reaction Point, so I could try to unpack my puzzling sleeplessness using Systematic Evocation Unfolding. However, last night it felt more like an Unclear Felt Sense, and I tried to Focus on it, with limited success. I suppose that Ann Weiser Cornell would say that I wasn’t able to be fully in presence with it, because I found myself feeling impatient with it: “For once you’re ready before a trip: you’ve done your essential email, you’re all packed, why can’t you sleep!” In retrospect, the Focusing was at least a partial success; it just didn’t help me fall asleep… and of course the impatience got in the way of sleeping also.

I did make some headway with the felt sense, though: It felt a bit like a caffeine-induced unsleepiness, but not exactly. Hmm… there was something like the feeling of excitement I used to get on Christmas eve, waiting for the next day to arrive, wishing I would just fall asleep to make the time go faster but being prevented from doing so by the very excitement to arrive there. So I was clearly excited to get out of the dark, big-city, still-after-2-and-a-half years-somewhat alien life here and back to the two-hours-of-light-more-a-day, suburban, easy familiarity of Toledo (and from there North California). And my kids and the rest of my family… and Christmas.

“Ridiculous!”, said something adult and impatient in me. “You’re not 7 years old, and you don’t really even want anything for Christmas this year. You’re going back a home that isn’t really a home anymore. Sure, you’re looking forward to seeing your kids and larger family again, but that’s not something to lose sleep over!” So I lay there tossing and turning, until I finally gave in to the sleeplessness and got up again. As I said, I was having difficulty being patient with myself, but the getting up was in a way a way of at least acknowledging the validity of the sleeplessness.

This morning I still find myself wondering about, and Unfolding, in a Focusing sort of way, the episode a bit: Some things that felt connected:

First, it has been an intense week, including two different intense processing sessions that revealed deep truths about my relationships with others and left me both drained and more fully appreciative of these situations and their sources. At some level, this feels quite important, although the implications need time to play out. But I’m left with a sense of excitement somewhere in me, about possibilities for new ways of being with others.

Second, there is sense of intellectual excitement over a new possible collaboration with a very diverse collection of colleagues from all over the University, around work on practical applications of Complexity Theory, something I’d looked into years earlier. Ernesto Estrada, recently arrived (about the same time as Lucia, but from Spain instead of Italy) to take up a new Chair of Complexity Science (cross-appointed in Math and Physics), is leading this effort. The developing project is helping me to think about the connection between significant therapy events and complexity theory, using Ernesto’s framework: internal structure (the person’s internal complexity of multiple voices or emotion schemes and modes of engagement); and external forces (the therapeutic framework, which provides a context that changes the equilibrium of the person’s internal organization). This has stimulated my scientific imagination, leaving me with a sense of excitement about the possibilities, not the least of which is the chance to interact with some of the best minds in this science-and-technology-oriented university, which I am coming to realize has a lot in common with Case Western Reserve University (Cleveland, Ohio), where my kids have gone to school.

Third, there is something bubbling away here about the RAE, or Research Assessment Exercise, the initial report for which was reported two days ago. The RAE happens every 7 years in British universities, and is a Big Deal. In addition to status, universities get more money from the government if they get higher RAE scores. I’ve got tons of publications (about 110 at last count), but they only look at the past 7 years, and it hasn’t really been clear exactly what the review panels have been looking for, so I don’t know if my individual submission will meet expectations or not (the individual results apparently will not be available for some time). I’ve been fairly nervous about this, because I was hired as part of an effort to improve the Education Faculty’s RAE ratings, and the Powers That Be will not be happy with me if I don’t do well. In fact, a couple of hours before I went to bed, I’d read our Vice Dean’s pessimistic assessment of our overall results, so that was definitely percolating in the background as I lay awake, a source of indeterminate worry.

Fourth, I realized that my body had a kind of unexercised untiredness, like it hadn’t been used enough. I’ve done very little running in the past two months; now with my energy coming back, it begins to feel like I’m missing the tiredness that comes from having run 3, 5, 6 or even 8 miles. So the unsleepiness also felt a bit like my body saying that it hadn’t been used enough. This didn’t help me sleep, so the impatient part that wanted sleep didn’t appreciate it at the time, but it’s an important message to hear and to do something about.

So no wonder I was having trouble sleeping… and one more thing: This morning, getting up on 5 hours of sleep, felt familiar in itself, comfortable, as if one is supposed to start one’s Christmas vacation tired, dozing on the plane, relieved just to be away from it all. It is the proper mode for travel, especially when you are going to be packed into a large tin can for many, many hours, waiting, suspended between here and there, now and then, waiting to arrive. Instead of Dramamine or alcohol, I have my tiredness to keep me company and temper the journey into a bearable, even enjoyable, time between.


AnnWC said...

Hi Robert
True, I would have said not enough Presence! But with a smile... Because I myself find it not easy at all to be in Presence with sleeplessness. And I would have invited you to say Hello to "something" that said "That's ridiculous." How lovely that so much unfolded from the felt sense. Have a safe and fulfilling journey.

Robert Elliott said...

My friend Jo sent me the following comment on the complexity theory section of this entry. I'm posting it here with her permission: On theory ... for me, the bit you have written about complexity (below), as I think I said in passing what feels like a long time ago, feels largely in tune with where I am coming from as a rather ex-mathematician. My sense is that most of our models, like mathematical models, operate to make meaning in situations when some aspects of our complexity are fore-grounded (or allowed to surface) for a moment or a period of time, the rest behaving as if there is no movement (like when we ignore friction in math) . Different models look in from different perspectives and ignore different factors but also (albeit in a way that is undescribed) affect the whole domain. The challenge is in recognising that we are never stationery and maybe that, in what was so clever about Rogers thinking, staying and working with where someone is, rather than probing into shut off places, the rest can begin (like an octopus) to unknot maybe, certainly untangle and unfold into the welcoming space and time that is in the process of being created in the presence of a compassionate other. I think that one of the processes that makes sense to me is the idea of narrative being a way of traversing a complex (memory?) surface, the process of symbolisation acting like a mathematical transformation, making a surface that feels un-navigable in one domain, navigable in another. Not sure if the words would make sense to a mathematician any more but I know what I'm trying to say!