Interview with Kat Duff, author of The Secret Life of Sleep

1) What would you say to your 13-year-old self if you had the ability to have one conversation with him/her? Why?

This is what I would tell my 13-year-old-self:  “I know Granny Fay told you after Sunday dinner that your teen years would be the best in your life, but I’m here to say she was wrong. It gets better, and the older you are the more you will know there is always a way through.

This is not to say that terrible things will not happen. They will, again and again, more often than you think you can bear at times. It will be tempting to give up hope, but you will be stronger and wiser then, and you will know that hopelessness is a failure of imagination, a luxury we cannot afford. So, you will lay yourself down to sleep every night, and trust yourself to the universe with the sure knowledge that everything changes and a new day brings unimagined possibilities.

I applaud your valiant refusal to wearing nylons to the school dance, even though all the other girls were wearing them, and you felt so alone in your choice. Granny Fay wanted a different life than the one laid out for her too, but she couldn’t make that choice. You, on the other hand, have the power of choice.

In your heart of hearts you have begun to imagine a different life, one that suits you, your many gifts and your critical weaknesses. You will carve that life with the choices you make day in and day out, and no matter what happens, you will have the power to make and remake your life until the moment of your last breath. You will make grievous mistakes, lucky guesses, and brilliant moves. We all do; that is the artistry of life.

Through it all I want you to know one thing: You are loved beyond measure, and there is nothing you can do to lose that love.”

2) What event or moment in your life has inspired who you are today? How did it change you and why?

When I was in high school and home sick with the flu, I had a strange experience. I was lying on the living room couch, slipping in and out of sleep as the mid-winter sun sank in the sky, when I suddenly felt myself rise above my body and hover a few feet above it. I looked down at myself lying there, flushed with fever, and wondered: “Which one is me? The one on the couch, or the one watching the one on the couch?”

The experience did not last long, but I’ve never forgotten it, because it left me with the clear conviction that my body and myself are not one in the same. I can’t say it was the start of my spiritual life, as my kinship with certain trees and the sun went far beyond the physical by that time; but it opened a door that led to more discoveries.

The next week, my English teacher asked us to write a story. Lacking inspiration, I resorted to recounting my experience on the couch that day. Since that wasn’t long enough, I added a memorable dream of flying over a road leading up over the horizon while thunderclouds morphed into a thunderbird.

When my teacher handed back the papers, mine had a note written at the top: “See me after class.” Thinking I must be in trouble, I waited nervously until everyone left the room before approaching my teacher’s desk. Imagine my surprise when he handed me a small, weathered paperback and suggested I might want to read it, before adding: “Don’t tell anyone I gave it to you.”

The book was Edgar Cayce: The Sleeping Prophet, by Jess Stearn, and it told the story of a man who accessed a greater consciousness in his sleep, and helped tens of thousands of people from with his readings about healing, dreams, and reincarnation. That book, highlighted by the obvious courage it took for my teacher to give it to me, opened me up to the value and power of the inner life, for which I will be forever grateful.

3) If you could only carry what you can fit into your hands, what would you chose and why?

My immediate response to this question was that I would take a book. We writers spend those long, grueling hours at our desks because books have saved our lives and we want to return the favor. I would take Normandi Ellis’ translation of the Egyptian Book of the Dead called Awakening Osiris. It is one of the oldest and greatest classics of Western spirituality, and Ellis’ translation is unbelievably beautiful and unendingly mystifying. It’s the closest thing I have to a Bible, as it reminds me that the gods live and breathe through everything that exists, and death is one of the ways we come into that knowledge.

But then I thought I’d rather have my hand free to do things. Things hamper us, and we end up spending time and energy preserving and protecting them that could be better spent elsewhere. In the long run, our abilities matter more than our belongings. Our abilities to sense, feel, think, dream and do are innate and unalienable. They are with us at all times, from beginning to end in life, and no one can take them from us. They may wax and wane, falter grievously at times, and occasionally mislead us, but they never leave us. When my hands are empty, I am more aware of their presence, more likely to appreciate and rely upon their gifts.

And when I find myself up against the wall, confused, bereft or remorseful, I give myself over to sleep, my favorite of all our unalienable gifts, and let something larger than me sort things out, repair the rifts, and return me to the living, breathing world.

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