Awake is the New Sleep: On Resting and Rising

Sleep Trap

Sleep Trap

I am a notoriously deep sleeper.  For many years my alarm clock screamed its reprehensibly repetitive anthem for ten, fifteen, twenty minutes at a time, much to the dismay of anyone whose walls were adjacent to mine. When I lived in Madison, WI, my bedroom looked out over Kendall Ave, and I often slept with the window open. One morning, my alarm was doing its obnoxious thing, I happily sleeping through it, when a child walking with his father down the street started to shout up at my window, “Wake up, sleepy! Wake up!” The shrill staccato of his voice coupled with the blaring of my Dream Machine finally did the trick.

I’ve made many attempts to change.  I got an alarm that I wore on my wrist that vibrated like a cell phone; it was called the “Shake and Wake.” I tried two alarms. I tried putting the alarm somewhere out of reach so that I would have to get up to turn off. No luck. My most recent innovation was the purchase of an R2D2 alarm tone and, while I finish my night’s rest with dreams of light sabers and Twi’lek women (nerd alert), I’m not any quicker to bound out of bed. Still, each day, I lumber up and get started somehow. Going to sleep and waking up have been a source of personal tension for years and, as I’m apt to do, I think a lot about self-improvement.  But when it comes to resting and rising, I’ve all but given up on real change.

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I spent my spring break in Kansas City at an amazing place called Jerusalem Farm. I was with 10 undergraduate students on one of Loyola University’s Alternative Break Immersion trips. We lived with the Farm’s permanent residents, folks who have chosen lives grounded in prayer, service, community, and simplicity. We engaged in the experience of poverty through home repair, we homemade the vast majority of what we ate (including peanut butter, jam, hummus, salsa, bread, brown sugar, yogurt, granola, and superb breakfasts and dinners), and we unplugged from technology almost completely, including my R2-alarm’s playful beeps, whirls, and whistles.

There were symbols of rest and relaxation all over the house. The addictive glow of screens was absent. Board games abounded. Tea and hot cocoa were the drinks of choice. Mismatched and overstuffed couches filled every space including the chapel and sweatpants and hoodies were the dress code outside of our workwear. In the bathroom there was a vintage instructional poster that bore the words, “For vim and vigor, go to bed early.” Each morning, we were stirred awake by thoughtful playlists that increased slightly in volume and energy, from the Wailin’ Jennys and Coldplay to Rusted Root and Nappy Roots. For the vast majority of the week I had no idea what time I went to bed or what time I woke up. It was marvelous.

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Immersion experiences often leave me reeling and wanting to change everything about my current lifestyle all at once.  No more screens! No more meat and processed food! If it’s yellow, let it mellow! Bucket showers from here on out! But, the reality is that I’ve just been shocked by a deeply countercultural and moving experience. One thing at a time.

Australian singer-songwriter Ben Lee offers this: “Awake is the new sleep, so wake up and do it, whatever it is.” I wish it were always so easy but I know that it’s not. And so I pray, “God, help me to commit to that which I desire. Help me to make simple decisions, one at a time, and build a life I can be proud of and happy with. Help me spread your love to the world.  Help me to get up early and begin your work.” And God replies, “Then Eric: Simply wake up.” And that’s it. Wake up. Simple.

Recently, I abandoned R2D2 and chose to set my alarm to gentle folk-inspired music. I was slowly drawn awake, and despite the loss of an hour (having just sprung ahead), I felt more at peace and more ready to get up at the first alarm than I have in a very long time.

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The cover image, from Flickr user Jawharah bint Adam, can be found here.

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