If I didn’t have a dog that would surely develop an untenable morning habit, I might try it—just getting up at 3:00 a.m. for the day. I could quit trying to wrestle my body and my mind back to sleep, being careful not to stir too much. Let one sleeping dog lie. I heard an interview with Dolly Parton, who said she does get up at 3 am and gets more work done from three until seven in the morning than most people do all day.
I used to wake up fairly regularly at 3:00 a.m.
I would read a good novel for 15 or 20 minutes and eventually fall back asleep until a respectable time to wake. Over the last couple of months though, the times I wake up in the deep of the night are multiple: 12:30, 1:45, and 2:30. And, reading for a while doesn’t seem to work; my mind is too full and it is an endless chore to sort through the worries.
I came upon this poem written by Julie Elliot, a Spiritual Director at Pacific Jubilee Associates. I don’t know Julie, but she knows me. I was struck by the truths for my experience that this poetry can evoke.
When You Can’t Sleep at Night – by Julie Elliot
You wake in the night,
thirsty for something you cannot name.
You’ve been worrying again.
Mistaking worry for love,
Trying to control others’ lives.
Forgetting your own.
It dries you out like the pine needles
that scatter themselves outside your bedroom window.
Brown and lifeless they fall to the ground,
in every season, every weather.
An inevitable carpet growing under the old Ponderosa.
You wake to the choice.
Will the falling needles be an endless chore?
You’ll rake them constantly even as they drift down
to settle in your hair and on your shoulders.
Or will you let them fall the way they do,
noticing the beauty of their changing patterns,
a lacy mat under your feet
becoming part of the holy ground
on which you stand?
You wake up to your life
as it is.
Call it Presence.
Call it God.
Call it Love.
It’s yours. It’s in front of you.
Suffering grows when you worry
One truth is the power of poetic language to give images and words that illuminate my experience. After a particular wakeful night, Mitch would ask me, “What were you so anxious about?”
Sometimes, I honestly didn’t know. But, there was that feeling that Julie figuratively describes as “parched, anxious, and thirsty for something you cannot name.”
Last night I was caught worrying again, like Julie’s truth to tell, mistaking the thoughts for love or prayer and they are neither. My concern is one of an urgent need to change, rescue, or convince a life that is not my own.
The second truth is even more demanding—waking to a choice.
Lately, I have been able to name my worry. Maybe that is because I have been more intentionally naming my fears in a challenging situation, out loud, in the regular daylight. However, in the morning light, what I worried about in the dark doesn’t always make good sense. I gain a new perspective when I confront the error of my nighttime assumptions that seemed so real hidden in the covers of my bed.
What would it be like to let my worries fall the way they do and just let them be?
What would it take to notice the beauty of the changing patterns they make and to recognize those patterns as part of the holy ground on which I stand?
Suffering only grows when you worry against it.