DIY MAGIC: "Dropping the Spoon"

From the Editor: Let’s have a warm Arthurian welcome for Anthony Alvarado, whose “DIY Magic” column—first installment below—will be appearing every other week on the Arthur Magazine website. Anthony comes to us via a recommendation from Arthur’s comics editor, Jason Leivian of Floating World Comics (thanks Jason!). Anthony has published a handful of poetry chapbooks, most recently “Throwing Bones,” an illustrated short story collection of aleatory writing, derived from words chosen by chance. Previous employment includes work in theater and turns as a telephone psychic, a forest firefighter, and a high school science teacher. But it was the lonely and haunted hours working the night shift guarding an empty deer field that proved to be the best place to study the arcane, which will be the subject for his column. Take it away, Anthony…

Dropping the Spoon
by Anthony Alvarado

Tools required:

1 comfortable chair, preferably of the cushy recliner variety
1 metal spoon
1 metal bowl or large ceramic plate
notepad and pencil
time – about half an hour depending on current state of alertness

It grants visionary states of consciousness, enhances creativity, and is not currently regulated by U.S. federal drug laws. No I’m not talking about Salvia divinorum, but hypnagogic imagery. Before you go looking for that at your local headshop, take note you already experience it every single day (well night).The trick is remembering it.

You know the feeling. You are laying in bed, or even better napping on the couch; and the images of the day, the background thoughts which are always there, a constant hum, begin to take on a certain Cheshire cat-grin leer, fanciful and odd images begin to swim by as effervescent as soap bubble rainbows, fairy wings, a blue stag, patterns of red and blue (for me there is often a tunnel or kaleidoscope quality to the imagery) all swirl about, just as your consciousness relaxes its grip on reality.

Hypnagogia in Greek means roughly abducting into sleep, or leading to sleep, depending on how you would translate it. It is that liminal in-between state where you are just beginning to dream but are still conscious.

The most famous example we have of hypnagogia fueling the creation of art is perhaps Samuel Taylor Coleridge‘s best known poem, “Kubla Khan,” which came to him after his reverie was broken by a knock on the door, some might blame his visitor for interrupting the creation of the poem, but the truth is without the knock on the door Coleridge would not have been cognizant enough to begin writing anything down. Creative types from writers to inventors and scientists have long been aware of the rich trove of insight from our unconsciousness which can be made available to us through hypnagogic imagery. The list of inspired people who have made use of hypnagogic imagery is impressive; Beethoven reported obtaining ideas while napping in his carriage, Richard Wagner was inspired by hypnagogic imagery to write his Ring Cycle, Thomas Edison reported that during periods of “half-waking” his mind was flooded with creative images, the philosopher John Dewey said creative ideas happen when “people are relaxed to the point of reverie.” My personal favorite is the French Surrealist poet Gérard de Nerval (the guy with the pet lobster) who in Aurléia described it thus:

A vague subterranean world reveals itself, little by little, and there the pale, grave, immobile figures that dwell in limbo loosen themselves from shadow and darkness. And thus, the tableau shapes itself, a new clarity illuminating and setting into play these bizarre apparitions; the world of spirits opens itself to us.

Other geniuses knowledgeable of this technique include Carl Gauss, Sir Isaac Newton, Johannes Brahms and Sir Walter Scott, but the person perhaps most successful at harnessing the creative energy was Salvador Dalí.

A well-read student of Sigmund Freud, Salvador Dalí—who never used drugs and only drank alcohol (especially champagne) in moderation—turned to a most unusual way to access his subconscious. He knew that the hypnologic state between wakefulness and sleep was possibly the most creative for a brain.

Like Freud and his fellow surrealists, he considered dreams and imagination as central rather than marginal to human thought. Dalí searched for a way to stay in that creative state as long as possible just as any one of us on a lazy Saturday morning might enjoy staying in bed in a semi-awake state while we use our imagination to its fullest. He devised a most interesting technique.

Sitting in the warm sun after a full lunch and feeling somewhat somnolent, Dalí would place a metal mixing bowl in his lap and hold a large spoon loosely in his hands which he folded over his chest. As he fell asleep and relaxed, the spoon would fall from his grasp into the bowl and wake him up. He would reset the arrangement continuously and thus float along-not quite asleep and not quite awake—while his imagination would churn out the images that we find so fascinating, evocative, and inexplicable when they appear in his work…” —from Provenance is Everything, Bernard Ewell

How simple, how obvious and elucidating this is! To think that those images of towering giraffes, lions stretching out of pomegranates and 4-dimensional tesseract crucified Christs were in fact straight of out dreams makes one realize that the mojo of the king of surrealism (not to mention a potion for creativity strong enough to intoxicate the likes of Newton and Beethoven) is in fact available to us right here and now, and the only cost would be trading in a nap for a drowsy state of temporary self-denial, the hardest part is simply not letting yourself go all the way to sleep.

My experiments have shown that a ceramic plate works just as well as a metal bowl. Of course some may prefer trying this experiment with a tape recorder instead of a pencil but I have found operating “technologically advanced” equipment to be counter-productive towards fostering the desired dream state. Obviously if you are hunting for images rather than words then only a pencil and paper will do. Another tip—you may want to dim the lights or even try writing with eyes closed. You will be surprised at how easy this is, you don’t need to watch your hand to be able to scrawl somewhat legibly, your hand knows what it’s doing!

So, it is as simple as that. And best of all there is absolutely no hangover, or come down to this trip. It is most pleasant, however, if you allow yourself the time to take a full and proper nap after you have gotten your notes and sketches down.

7 thoughts on “DIY MAGIC: "Dropping the Spoon"

  1. yes! always enjoyed the “almost sleep state” better than the real thing. I’m looking forward to further installments.

  2. Thanks Doug!

    Yeah, considering how easily we can access that “in-between” state I think it’s often overlooked.

  3. This an interesting technique.
    Colin Wilson — “The Outsider” author — wrote about his technique, of lightly dozing to a certain piece of classical music. Find a performance that has soft, lulling, gentle passages… which segue into louder sections, which will wake you up. I forget what he used.

  4. Very informative. I’ve read that Edison used the same technique, but with ball bearings in his hands and metal plates installed on the arms of his chair. Had no idea so many other luminaries tapped into the hypnagogic state in a similar fashion. I’m looking forward to future posts.

  5. I’ve also found examples of hypnagogia among the opening passages of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Haunted Mind.”From the opening paragraph:

    “You find yourself, for a single instant, wife awake in that realm of illusions, whither sleep has been the passport, and behold its ghostly inhabitants and wondrous scenery, with a perception of their strangeness, such as you never attain while the dream is undisturbed.”

    I recommend reading the entire piece.

  6. Pingback: Three Unconventional Ways to Find Ideas

  7. Pingback: Three Unconventional Ways to Find Ideas

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