Sleep, the Spirit and the Sacred
Very often the things that wind up causing me to think a little more about life and how to make spiritual sense out of life come from the ordinariness of my life. I do affirm there is a sacred dimension to our world. What I am not sure about is whether there is a non-sacred dimension. I realize for many people, this is backwards. It would be easy to find folks who would be quite sure the world is secular, if not outright profane, and they would not be at all convinced there is any sacred dimension.
It would take a book to define and develop what I or any other person means by “the sacred.” Since I don’t have that ambition nor space to do that here, let me simply say for me “the sacred” is the sense of the holy---the place or space where one senses the Presence, the holy and the mystery. I believe that dimension is all around us. However, I also believe that most of the people do not have an awareness of that dimension. Without that awareness, we necessarily interpret and understand our world in secular, or even, profane terms. The way I see it, the sacred is there; we simply misinterpret.
To understand that we misinterpret the world in this fashion means that we do not grasp the true quality of our world. And if we misinterpret it long enough, the misinterpretation comes to define normal. Hence, the normal misinterpretation that the world is mostly secular becomes the tradition that gets taught and is handed down from generation to generation.
To understand this, let’s switch to a very different topic, namely, sleep. I recently read a very interesting article entitled, “Rethinking Sleep,” by David Randall. Since I do not always get a “full nights sleep,” I was intrigued by the topic and the title. Quickly I read some statistics that made sense to me. Randall tells us that 41 million Americans (nearly one-third of all adults) get six hours of sleep or less. Suddenly I was feeling more normal! I like to get seven or eight hours of sleep, but that is not the norm for me. It is easy to assume stress or preoccupied mind or some other malady is robbing me from my rightful portion of sleep---nearly one-third of my twenty-four hour day. I always had been told that was normal.
But Randall and other scholars suggest another understanding. “Rather than helping us to get more rest, the tyranny of the eight-hour block reinforces a narrow conception of sleep and how we should approach it,” writes Randall. He follows this with a zinger. “The idea that we should sleep in eight-hour chunks is relatively recent.” He proceeds to cite different cultural approaches to sleep around the world.
A particularly intriguing one for me was the focus on the medieval period in which people often talked about the “first sleep” and “the second sleep.” Apparently it was fairly normal to sleep some hours, and then wake up some time after midnight. It would not be unusual for these folks to do some work, meditate, etc. Then they would go to sleep for a couple or three hours again. That sounded a bit like my schedule on some nights!
Once again, the point of this is not to convince you of another truth. It is a way of saying to each of us, “be careful of normal!” The way we do things or understand things does not make them truth. Because I do not sense or experience the world as sacred does not mean it is not sacred. It simply means it is not sacred to me in that moment.
I appreciate the final point of the sleep article. “But freeing ourselves from needlessly rigid and possibly outdated ideas about what constitutes a good night’s sleep might help put many of us to rest, in a healthy and productive, if not eight-hour long, block.” Maybe the most important phrase in that sentence is the “needlessly rigid and possibly outdated ideas” phrase. How well that might apply to so many areas of my life. It does not mean I am wrong a lot or, even, sometimes. But it does mean for me to “pay attention” and “be careful” about my truths.
If that is true about sleep, it probably is also true for my take on the Spirit and the sacred. I do think our culture essentially tells us the universe is secular. My experience suggests to me the sacred can be experienced in the midst of our secular world. By this I don’t mean we have to go to church or the temple, although that can help. I mean we can experience the sacred whenever and wherever we get that sense of God’s Holy Presence breaking into our experience.
It happens routinely in the mountains and at the ocean shore. It occurs frequently with the stunning dawning of a new day when we catch the sun’s globe emerging in the eastern sky. It happened to me when I first held my two girls and also that first granddaughter.
I do not need to take off my shoes when I am on this holy ground or this sacred space. But I do want to be able to notice it, applaud it and appreciate it. I want to be so touched that I can do nothing other than be blessed and say to those around me, “God bless.” It is so much better than the “God damn” that I hear so often on the streets.
All this might be true. Sleep on it!