Before the invention of artificial light, humans were said to sleep up to fourteen hours in the night. Bodies followed the cycle of light provided by the sun and the moon. Today, it is a miracle for many to achieve the much hoped for eight hours of sleep. Yet, interestingly, what we lack today in comparison to the sleep of ancient of days, is the time in between wakefulness and deep sleep. The fourteen hours of rest experienced before the invention of artificial light, were not consecutive hours of deep sleep. It would be common for a window of a couple of hours of rest before sleep, one would wake up in the night and lay in a restful state, and wake again in the morning early with a window for rest before the sun would rise. 1
During this time, in between wakefulness and deep sleep, the meanings of dreams were said to be woven into being. It was a time where the mind was breathing, weaving, creating because it had found rest. Rest is something we are not oriented towards. It might be for some that it is the uncomfortableness of stillness. For others, it might be the fear of what people will say if we pry ourselves away from the wheel of busy-ness ever whirling before us in the world of work. Finding ourselves at rest in the in between times is important in that it is where wisdom for being is born. Wisdom is heard in the quiet moments, it is where deep is able to call out to deep. It is about how we sleep, but it is also about how we find our rest.
There is a rhythm of life in the Christian faith that honors quiet, stillness, centered moments of finding our very being at rest in the mighty hands of God. Richard Rohr, in an interview with Krista Tippet for her “On Being” podcast shares that being a contemplative is about “learning how to live in Deep Time—learning how to rest there and not be wrapped up in chronological time. What we learn,” he names “is that it all passes away.” Rohr talks about the importance of finding ourselves living in “Kairos time” instead of chronological time, the importance of understanding that moments of significance happen when we find ourselves living deeply now. This is so counter-intuitive to the way the world is oriented in these days. Busy-ness to the point of no time for rest, is affirmed.
The researcher who determined the likelihood of four-teen hours of sleep before artificial light, Clark Strand, claimed that the state in between, the space of rest, was like a “fossil of human consciousness.”2 Rather than trying to return to fourteen hours of sleep though, he shares that those who want to experience a move towards the consciousness of the restful state, should spend time where “darkness and sleep are set free from artificial light.” He is essentially, suggesting the importance of finding ways to unplug, in order to find true rest. Allowing our minds to rest, allows for the possibility of the fullness of time, the Kairos time, or what Richard Rohr named “Deep Time” to be what we experience in the now. More sleep is good, but it is more about how we find our time of daily rest in the in between. Busy-ness, artificial light, and distractions of every sort, can keep us from the quiet that used to be woven into the night. It can keep us from experiencing the awakening of true light.
O weaver of life, of sleepfulness and wakefulness, may our minds quiet and our spirits find deep peace in the place where we are able to find our rest in you. Awaken us for the living of these days, with your true light. Amen.
With you on the journey,
1Strong reliance on Barbara Brown Taylor, Learning to Walk in the Dark
2Clark Strand, “Turn out the Lights”