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The Mystery of the Night

I have always dreaded the inescapable reality of sleep. It reminds me of my finitude, my overall frailty, the reality that my body cannot possibly keep the pace, as my flesh forces my soul to dim its bright light to the gentle flicker of a dying candle, as dreams fill my mind and the body restores itself, as I naturally do what even the most powerful men and women in the world must do, even though I do not own a yacht or care to save a dime. Sleep. The dreaded reality has plagued our ancestors and every civilization the world has ever seen—a plague because of the helplessness that sleeping entails as we are suddenly at the mercy of our recoveries, and the surrender it requires, as the day passes—with all its achievements and shortcomings—and another begins anew. But maybe sleep is more of an invitation than a plague, an opportunity to admit that we cannot possibly do it all; that we are, in the end, at the mercy of our bodies; and that, though we go about the day scrambling around as if our tasks are curing cancer, thrown into comical disarray when we break a dish or land in traffic or are blindsided by the criticism of others or disapproval of our efforts, it is sleep, in fact, that reminds us we are only human—a spirit and a soul swirling around in a spacesuit temple. Maybe sleep is the great escape; a reminder that, though I spend most days frantically performing and striving and pursuing that which makes me feel most alive, which is fine and good and right, I am ultimately created to rest...and to be...and to spend much of my life in unconscious meditation, where I am who I am, loved and whole, without doing anything at all, as Love Herself carries me gently down the river of recovery, as my finitude suddenly frees me from expectation and perception. But what does one do when the one thing that we all need—sleep—is seemingly taken away in that desert phase, as I am awakened constantly by my bursting dreams: all that I have yet to do but must, or my consuming angst, as I obsess about a past I cannot change: the ignorance and innocence that carried me in my youth and the scars I caused, conversations long forgotten that I’ll always remember, flippant words I wish that I had never tried to write, and fantasize about a future that might never come, as if my worth and belonging hinges upon the fruition of my dreams, causing my blankets to feel like burdens and my pillow like a stone, as my mind rattles around in the cage of my anxiety, desperately trying to break free, but only exhausting and wounding itself the more it tries. I must sleep, just like the powerful and the powerless, but lately I cannot, and that makes me feel awfully powerless! Is this the great spiritual fast, depriving of the one thing my body needs for energy so that, abandoned by my body, I can perhaps fall further into my soul and all its inherent realities? Where maybe I can learn to reroute my mind with truths and calm all that I feel with surrender, there in that chaotic liminal space? Where, perhaps, I can discover a deeper rest, an internal peace, that goes beyond mere bodily exhaustion? Neurosis, neurosis, if I dare to befriend you—with non-judgment and grace, with curiosity and compassion—will you perhaps leave me the hell alone? Just like the nature of sleep, where this all began, maybe not sleeping, too, is an opportunity and not a curse—to rest in a different way when I am suddenly awakened. To transform those forlorn corners of my soul. To quiet the chaos and tame those toxic feedback cycles; for it is, after all, only three thirty, and no one is checking their emails anyway, and there is really no need to waste more time scrolling through all those intoxicating pictures of all the empty people trying to convince the world that they are happy, which, in the end, only makes me to feel more empty and less happy. To enter into meditation, where awakened by anxiety, I am forced to sift through it, not to conjure up solutions to solve it, not to judge myself for it, but rather to attempt to let it go even if I am shackled by it, and to admit my helplessness and poverty while simultaneously claiming my wholeness and fullness. To breathe one breath after another, reminding myself that I, like Adam, am a living being, animated by the Wind, which frees me from the lie that there is something deeply wrong with me; for out there somewhere and in here somewhere is a God who fought to unite Itself with me. To enter further into the mystery of the night, the intersection of death and resurrection, where I, once again, admit that I cannot do it all on my own, including the most simple, most natural of things, and in this sense, rest in the fullness of my humanity, for surrender is essential and prayer is freeing. This essay was originally published on

By Stephen Copeland

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