I’m sure I came out of the womb ready to stay up late, and since I was born late at night, I had a good start already. My mother tells me I didn’t sleep much as a baby, and even left in the crib to cry it out — the parenting protocol of the time — I rarely cried myself to sleep. Instead, I cried until I threw up, and then kept crying. As a kid, I remember being wide awake late every night, often listening to Cousin Brucie on a little transistor radio beneath the covers. Even when I did fall asleep, I would often sleep-walk, waking always on the couch, my eyes fixed on Johnny Carson on the TV. My mother was used to this, but it freaked out my dad. So it’s no wonder that sleep is a tricky train to catch for me even now.
It’s not that I don’t like sleep. I love sleeping, especially when exhausted. I mean, is there anything more luxurious and satisfying than lying down between flannel sheets with the stars out the window, the cat purring nearby and the pillow so welcoming? I’m also good at dreaming, and often have many vivid forays through houses with secret rooms, parallel cities where I’m looking for hot bagels or interesting travels that mix up the geography of the awake world.
Yet sleep is difficult for me to attract easily. Even if I do all the right things — exercise vigorously, avoid caffeine after mid-morning, do work I love, get fresh air — it may or may not come. Sometimes when I do all the wrong things, it comes easily. Getting to sleep also doesn’t mean staying asleep. I wake early and often, years of waking for crying babies having honed my insomnia in ways only accentuated by menopause. When I do tunnel into it at just the right angle, I can sleep deeply for many hours. That right angle (and hour) is not something I can plan though.
Yet I also see that there are certain gifts to waking or still being awake in the middle of the night. I was struck by this article — “Appointment with the Wolf” by Clark Strand in Spirituality and Health Magazine — although Strand names the hour or so when we’re awake in the middle of the night as the time our fears grow largest, and we’re closest to death. He suggests that we’re awake not by mistake but by a calling to meditate, pray, contemplate. Strand started using this time in his life to go outside and talk to god, “green meditation,” he called it, based on an esoteric Jewish tradition written about by Hasidic master Rebbe Nachman of Breslov (1772 – 1810) to restore “the hour of the wolf.”
Although he wasn’t Jewish, when he contacted an elder rabbi, the rabbi said to him,
“Wouldn’t it be wiser to say that this ‘hour of the wolf’ you speak of — this luminous reality — well, isn’t it really as old as God? After all, it’s too old and too big to belong to human beings, isn’t it? Maybe it belongs to the wolf.”
I don’t know that I’ll be stepping outside all that often when the wolf calls (and in Kansas, it might best be called the Hour of the Coyote), but I like the idea to seeing these awake moments in the deep dark as a time the soul can speak…..and listen. Instead of thrashing around over the difficulty of snagging a snooze, I’m thinking about how to submit to my own nature and the nature of the world around me.