By Gayelord Hauser
IT IS MIDNIGHT. I am lying in bed in the Grand Hotel in Rome. I have been driving all day and I am tired, but I have not yet relaxed. Through the window come the noises of the city-cars, buses, hundreds of motor scooters. Since Rome is in a hurry to get home, every vehicle has its own little toot-toot or peep-peep telling others to get out of the way. So sleep does not come quickly.
For such moments I have a favorite soporific. I call it mixing a mental cocktail and I prescribe it as a diversion when sleep eludes you. I prescribe it, too, for those moments when you need comfort or a spiritual boost. This cocktail is not to be drunk from a glass but taken in through the mind, for its ingredients come from the distilled essences of sensory pleasures and happy remembrances.
Let me tell you how I mixed my cocktail that night in Rome. For sound I took the soothing theme of the lullaby from the light opera Erminie, which I have always loved. For sight I went in memory to my home in New York and from the wall too a Renoir picture of a peaceful old man sitting outside a rural inn door. For taste I used the remembrance of tree-ripe peaches as I had eaten them a few weeks ago. For odor I added a little gardenia from a California garden. And for touch the remembrance of the cool, refreshing waters in which I swam just two days ago-the waters of the Mediterranean. Slowly, in my mind, I mixed these things which I always associate with peace and calm and relaxation. Round and round I stirred them, seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, feeling. The sounds of Rome died away. The draught is a heavy one and potent. Phenobarbital was never like this.
At first, in mixing such a cocktail, you may find it difficult to conjure up the ingredients. It depends on whether you live in a world of merely vague and general sounds, sights and smells, or whether you live where the oriole sings, where the lilac scents the air. It depends on how well you have trained your eyes, ears and nose whose three wonderful senses are your main contact with the world. And such training is possible. You should see not just a painting; you should see that it is a Matisse, or a Corot: You should hear more than music; you should hear Beethoven and an inverted fifth. You should know that that was an oriole, not a warbler, and that this is the odor of jasmine and that of lilac.
Every time you go to a museum you can bring home a Cezanne, a Da Vinci and a Rembrandt all your own. Originals too. Here is how you do it. Simply focus on the picture for four or five minutes but make sure that everything you want to keep is contained in the frame of your attention. Go over it detail by detail, shut your eyes. Now look again, and if things appear which you had not remembered, then your first exposure has not been long enough. So try a minute or two more. Now you have your picture. It will not fade. It is our s forever.
Music, too, is something to remember, not merely something to recognize. Hang on to some part of every composition you like. Grab a measure and make it yours. When you have a little of Beethoven’s Fifth in your mind, you will find that just those few notes will evoke many more. And when you have trained your eyes, your ears, your nose, make your mind a museum of masterpieces, a Carnegie Hall full of visions of Toscanini, a country garden of flowers and the scented breezes of summer. Make it a hall of fame full of the great people of history; make it a stage on which Shakespeare is re-enacted.
Tonight when you go to bed, see what ingredients you can pour into the gobbler of your mind. Remember, when you mix that first cocktail, to put in a jigger of a song that soothes you, a dash of a picture you love, for sweetness a taste of some wonderful fruit, then add a touch of bouquet from a favorite flower and finally a liberal amount of that feeling you had when you relaxed on your vacation with the warm sun overhead. I assure you it will give you such sleep as you have not had since childhood. Try it.
By Gayelord Hauser