For sleep, one needs endless depths of blackness to sink into; daylight is too shallow, it will not cover one.
~Anne Morrow Lindbergh
Lights turned low. Soothing music. A warm bath. Steaming cups of chamomile tea. Candles burning, then extinguished.
All good ways to usher in the end of the day.
On those nights when I do it well (and I often don’t), it’s a purely soulful experience: easing up, letting go, emptying out, giving in. Lavender blossoms strewn along a metaphorical path, so that conscious can find its way to unfold into unconscious. And as I sink into sleep, I’m not just in the dark. No, I am darkness itself, merging with the night sky, the stars, and the moon.
Opening the windows wide to the breezy mysteries of dreams and other worlds.
In the past I’ve written about transitions, those periods when we’re called to disengage from some life structure. Before we ever get a chance to make a new beginning, though, we usually must spend time in an in-between space. And as William Bridges says, that’s a place for being rather than doing.
At the end of the day our natural rhythms also call us toward being rather than doing.
And that particular space of transition between waking and sleeping is so crucial for our well-being. For our happiness, even. It sets us up to receive the deeply restorative benefits of sleep.
And how we’ve slept is often a harbinger of how the day will go.
Children, it seems, know all of this instinctively. They require winding down before drifting off, and as far as I’m concerned the bedtime story is just about as good as it gets. No wonder I’ve taken to listening to audio books at the end of the day. Gentle, softly narrated audio books.
As they tell me a story, they sing me sweetly into sleep.
But poetry is good too. Poetry at bedtime is like the preview before the movie. A taste of what’s to come, leaving us wanting more. Because poetry presents itself much like a dream, full of images, symbols, and metaphors. At the end of the day, more than any other time, I think, we’re able to descend right into a poem and live in it.
And sometimes, the poem stays with us until the next morning, groggily waking when we do, rubbing the sleep from its eyes and asking to be noticed again.
How do I know this? Well, such a thing happened to me. Imagine that!
Recently, one late night, I revisited an intriguing little poem about happiness by Carl Sandburg. It huddled against me, and it’s still there. You might even know it:
SNATCH OF SLIPHORN JAZZ
Are you happy? It’s the only
way to be, kid.
Yes, be happy, it’s a good nice
way to be.
But not happy-happy, kid, don’t
be too doubled-up doggone happy.
It’s the doubled-up doggone happy-
happy people … bust hard … they
do bust hard … when they bust.
Be happy, kid, go to it, but not too
So at the end of this day, before I say goodnight, I have just two questions for you:
How do you traverse the in-between space between waking and sleeping?
And what do you think of this poem?
WHY NOT START NOW?
Your writings always have the ability to push me to face the “not so nice” part of my day. But, I’ve learned that it is important to reflect on these things. Thank you.
Since becoming paralyzed, traversing the time between waking and sleeping has become a difficult time of day for me. At night, I am left lying on the bed unable to move a single part of my body. If I’m thirsty, hot/cold, itchy or uncomfortable I still can’t move. I have to wake my care assistant to help me. Too often I’m left alone in the dark with my own (sometimes destructive) thoughts. In my previous life (pre-accident) I used to read every night before going to bed. How I miss the ache in my arms, holding that book and drifting off to sleep.
Hi Tracy – Welcome, and thank you so much for reminding me that not all of us have the choice of how we spend that time between waking and sleeping. I really appreciate your words. You put everything into perspective for me.
I love the poem, Patty, and your beautiful words here…
“And as I sink into sleep, I’m not just in the dark. No, I am darkness itself, merging with the night sky, the stars, and the moon.”
That space between awake and asleep is my favourite time of the day. I call it the “time between times”. It’s the only time when I get to be truly weak and happy, where I can just give in and let the dark take me. Bliss.
You’ve captured it beautifully, Tony. The time of day when we can be “truly weak and happy.” When everything falls away. Thank you so much.
Hi Patty! This whole post is pure poetry! LOVELY descriptions!
My transitional ritual is reading in bed, lavender sachet in my pillow, lavender hand cream freshly applied and my eyes determine when I have enough of the day. On the other end of this, I begin the day with gratitude for being given one, and do stretches and yawns gently til my eyes declare me fit to get up. Gee, I guess I let my eyes be in charge – but since they are said to be the windows of the soul, this might be just right.
The poem? Love it! It speaks to me of a gentle happy, a sincere to your very bones kind of contentment, peaceful soul kind of happy. Contrasted by the trying too hard to pull off “happy”. I can sense when people are trying too hard to SHOW how happy they are – as if they have put on a mask. That’s what the poem says to me.
Thanks for all this – delightful!
Hi suZen – How wonderful that you’ve shared not only your evening in-between space but your morning one as well. These little transitions throughout the day are so important, I think, even if they only last five minutes. And I appreciate your comments about the poem. Its message is different from what we usually hear about happiness, but it has stayed with me nevertheless. So I’m very curious to hear what you and others have to say about it. “Trying too hard to pull off happy.” That resonates with me. Thank you, and hugs!
Beautiful. I would love to have a nightly ritual in the in-between space but lately this time for me is when I’m most ambitious; constantly negotiating to squeeze more “doing” in. I love the process so it’s working for me right now.
I have mixed feelings about the poem. I love the words but not crazy about the message. I have no problem with being “double-up doggone happy”. In fact, I think we’d all be pretty lucky if we could experience it at least once. As for “busting hard”, so what? I have faith in my resilience.
Hi Belinda – Thank you! I often wish I was like you, able to be in doing mode until the last minute of the day. But those times lead to me not being able to sleep; my mind keeps going even though my body has stopped doing. (And I hear that from clients a lot too – might be an age thing.) So I’m learning more about this ritual, and what I truly need at the end of the day. I appreciate your comments about the poem, too. I never thought about the resilience angle, and I do so love resilience. Busting hard sounded painful to me, like once you bust there’s no putting you back together again. Kind of like Humpty-Dumpty, I guess!
I love your artistic descriptions more and more. I am acquiring a taste and undoing all the damage my school days has done to poetry. Thanks.
I do feel blessed to having my bedtimes be child like again.
No cramming in last duties nor jumping up to duties.
Giving those times of day their due, giving me as a human BE-ing my due.
Some cars need their engine to wind down before it shuts off, why are we giving an engine more respect than ourselves.
I had mixed feelings about the poem.
It started so happy and then the warning about happiness was like a cold shower to me.
Why drag happiness into the negative, I resisted and felt annoyed to see a blemish on happiness.
Then I read SuZen’s comment and thought OH? It is about forged happiness like a mask.
But then where is the fake it till you make it? Then my mind took over and I stopped there and then.
Back to the peacefulness of bedtimes.
I do want to comment on Tracy’s comment that I hear her loss of her happy moment at bedtime and I guess you will have many more. Blessings to you and may you regain others.
Hi Wilma – Thanks so much. I love the metaphor of the car engine winding down. Perfect! Interesting about the poem, isn’t it? It’s like it gives you something then takes it away. Like the cold shower you mention. I wonder what that giving/taking away is about? Whatever it is, I’m loving hearing everyone’s take on it. Sending you hugs.
I have read and re-read this post. I am more like Belinda – doing until I drop almost. Then, I realize that my body is telling me it is time. That usually means I leave something half finished.
This past week, I tried to schedule sleep time. Instead of going until I was tired, I went to my room to prepare for sleep so I would be well-rested for my first half marathon this Sunday. That transition time was wonderful – whether a few moments to pray or an hour to read or even catch up on a bit of TV that I haven’t watched in ages. It provided me with a cut off spot in my day and I think I may keep this!!!
That’s it exactly, Nicki. I’ve found I need to claim the cut off spot in my day, to begin to shift towards sleep. That’s interesting too what you say about leaving something half finished, because I think if we do have a cutoff spot, then we also claim that whatever we’re doing is finished for now. Gives us a sense of closure. Thanks, I never thought of that before!
Recently I’ve found that it is taking me longer to drop off to sleep. In the last couple of years I’ve found that I’ve been learning so much so fast that my mind is still racing. My ritual is a good hug, slipping into my most comfortable sleeping position and just letting my mind slowly wind down. Sometimes consciousness is playful and brings me images and ideas, sometimes it just drops off. I love the idea of an audio book or poem before bed – will try it out. And for your poem, I am tempted by the idea of being double doggone happy, however I know that may lead to a heavy fall. Thanks for a great post – and sweet dreams!
Hi Phil – Yes, I am so loving the audio books. I wasn’t sure why until I realized it felt just like being told a bedtime story. But I’ve discovered I have to be careful with what I listen to. Nothing scary or too sad. And you’ll love this – I prefer a British accent, female preferably, for the narrator. Thanks for your take on the poem. Maybe it’s cautioning us to find that balance.
LOVED the poem because it speaks of the happiness that in yogic terms we call contentment. The equipose that keeps our own eternal spring of happiness filled, to draw upon in crisis or chaos. In the Baghavad Gita Krisha tells Arjuna to not sink low or go too high, but to keep everything in balance.
Who wants to suffer the really low after a super high comes crashing down?
Oh wow, Peggy, of course, that’s exactly what I wrote about earlier in the week with the inflation/deflation cycle. And the book I quoted from is called, “Contentment.” Thanks so much for bringing this insight and age-old wisdom to the conversation. I don’t know if Carl Sandburg knew about the Baghavad Gita, but he did capture the essence of what you’re saying in his unique way. No wonder it stayed with me!
I read. Sometimes it is my only chance to read for pleasure all day and I treasure that time. But once I’ve put the book down, I say my nightly prayers (always the same). And lately, I’ve plugged myself into my hypnotherapy CDs. I listen to a few minutes of my therapist’s voice relaxing me and I’m off to wonderful dreamland.
Hi Charlotte – Sounds like you have the same reaction I do to a gentle, relaxing voice, slipping into sleep before you know it. That’s why it can take me months to get through an audio book! Thanks for sharing.
Patty — this was a nice post to read on a rainy Friday. Rain always makes me a bit sleepy so it put in the perfect mood to take in your words.
I love the time right before sleep. I usually read first and let my body wind down. Eventually, after the house gets quiet and my eyelids heavy, I turn off the lights, but stay a bit longer in the night, enjoying the darkness. If I’m lucky, I will simply disappear into sleep.
I like the poem, except I’d rather take my chances with being “doubled-up doggone happy-happy.” Thanks for this post…I might just go and take a nap now:~)
Hi Sara – It’s been a rainy day here on the West Coast too, like you say perfect for napping. I love what you say about your time before sleep. I do that too, sometimes, just sitting in the dark house and experiencing the stillness. It’s such a special time of day. And thanks, too, for your thoughts about the poem.
Just before sleep is when I get some of my best thoughts…
And the poem has a valid point – sometimes we’re flying so high with happiness it’s inevitable we might fall. But the times I’ve been flying high, I really didn’t mind the crash landing – lol!
Hi Talon – Welcome, and thanks for stopping by. Something about that time between wake and sleep is ripe for creative thoughts, isn’t it? Probably because the boundary between conscious and unconscious is loosened. And good point about the poem. If you get good at crash landings, no problem.
Hi Patty — I definitely find that my most powerful ideas have arisen in that half-asleep state, and in deeper meditation, which I think is very similar. I get liberated in that state from all the rules and self-criticism and other nonsense that governs how I act in waking life.
What a great way to put it, Chris. It truly is liberating, and I love how you talk of all that “nonsense” that governs our waking lives. Thanks for the comment!
I always long for the seldom time when I am neither awake or asleep, a phase when I’m suffused in a dimension of my existence where I am one with my infinite self. 🙂
Mmmm, sounds like poetry, Walter. The idea of an infinite self is very compelling to me. Thanks for giving me that food for thought!
Patty, thank you for raising this lovely question. That space between waking and sleeping has become particularly precious to me. I am committed to ending each day by clearing energy through physically clearing the spinal column (we do this for each other). Then I like to lie in a state of quiet acceptance which I find allows insights about the day and myself to surface. There are often creative insights, too.
In the mountains here I can lie and clearly listen to the sounds of the night – an owl, a night cuckoo, sometimes a civet cat or deer, rain when it rains, the wind from the high places down through the trees. And on moonlit nights the light comes in through the window. I love those moments of luminous stillness.
I have come to understand that the time between waking and sleeping is an important commitment to the spiritual in me, and those hours inform and connect and enrich me considerably.
With love to you from this mountain night – Catrien Ross.
Ah, beautifully said, Catrien. You really help me plug into that part of myself with your comments. Thanks so much, and a lovely goodnight to you!
Beautifully written, very serene and peaceful. I enjoyed this.
Thank you, Baker. And welcome! Please stop by again soon.