by Leah Walker
Years ago, while struggling with sleeplessness and unwilling to resort to medications, I decided to learn to sleep well. I went looking for the secret to restful sleep and discovered the most profound of relationships between day waking experience and the night. I went looking for a good night’s sleep and found a source of integrity.
When asked to describe a good night’s sleep, words come to mind that might also describe a good meal: yummy, delicious, mmmm. I’ll often say, “I love my bed,” but what I mean is I love that deeply satisfying feeling of repose. I also know the curse of lying awake, wishing I could sleep. How difficult it can be to quiet worry, stop endless dialogues with invisible relations, loosen the grip of loneliness, fear, despair. I have often wondered if the intensity of being awake at night belongs to a more primitive time when, were the fire to go out, the dark of night truly threatened survival.
The night wishes to talk with us through deep and refreshing sleep. At day’s end an ideal consciousness is ready “to work on” our experiences of the day and prepare us for the day ahead, a task for which waking consciousness is not suited. Generally, I no longer spend my nights trying to figure it all out. I look to the night, in sleep, for guidance—I trust it and with practice typically receive what I need. It is as if upon awakening I stand at the window with a clear view on what is right, beautiful, and good—what is called for.
I often refer to this experience as the “Spirit’s morning call” borrowed from a verse by Rudolf Steiner: We humans of present time must give ear to the Spirit’s morning call…. Karl-Heinz Finke, of Living Way in Germany, calls it the “night echo.” Mary Oliver depicts it beautifully in her poem The Night Traveler: Passing by, he could be anybody…/On his way to a worried house…./It is the Night Traveler…./He has a gift for you….
We use a particularly interesting turn of phrase to describe sleeping well. We say, “I slept like the dead.” Many people who have had near-death experiences will tell you that, as a result, they changed their lives dramatically when they suddenly knew what really mattered, and began to live with greater intention. Sleep can work in a similar way, like a “little death,” offering a reminder of what is truly important.
Rudolf Steiner wrote:
I go to sleep. Till I awaken My soul will be in the Spirit World, And will there meet the Higher Being Who guides me through this earthly life…. My soul will meet this Being,Even the guiding genius of my life, And when I awaken this meeting will have been— I will have felt the wafting of wings, The wings of my genius will have touched my soul.
Mindfulness about one’s sleep life is not unlike the mindfulness needed in meditation. My task is to focus my attention. This can be done in a number of ways. Before going to sleep, I might simply recite the above verse. In addition, I might articulate a question, perhaps one which arises out of study. For example, What facilitates the ego’s ability to let go at night? Or, it could be more personal: When did I first learn to worry? Arriving at a clearly stated question can be aided by journaling or by a daily review, walking backward through the day’s events. The night is expert at discerning what needs to be amended.
We can work with the night on a deeper level, via imaginative biographical pictures, to develop and heal relationships or to make life-changing choices—achieve greater clarity about destiny. Here, I can prepare alone or, as it is a lovely way to relate, with others. Try this: Choose an event or conversation that feels unfinished or calls for better understanding and describe it in detail. Ideally, draw the scene or even sculpt it in clay. Develop as clear a picture as possible. The details matter and it is important to stick to the facts, resisting all temptation to analyze. (Where you cannot remember certain details, let go and trust that what is needed will present itself.) And then take this scene “into your sleep.” You can take the same event or conversation into your sleep repeatedly in order to deepen your understanding. Thoroughly and thoughtfully done, a dialogue with the night will take shape. The night echo or morning call will—subtly or strikingly—“speak” and, if you are open, impact your waking consciousness and day-to- day activity. You will begin “to live into” answers.
Receiving a message from the night is a potent experience, at once spiritual and practical. In a certain way, mid-night prophesies (as do mid-year and mid-age in similar and related ways). Just as day follows night, the light of the future comes from darkness. The night traveler’s gift sings/Like a newborn beast/Like a child at Christmas/Like your own heart as it tumbles/In love’s green bed…—it is magical and delightful.
Except when it is painful. Like near-death experiences, the night also casts light upon what we have left undone or unsaid, where we have caused injury to others. The difficulty in listening to the night is that we may be asked to change, and it is uncanny to me how often I resist the very wisdom I seek. The day wears on, distractions mount, and my fidelity wanes. I’m human. Yet, my guiding genius knows when I am on the path and when I have strayed. The night is “a well-spring of moral intuition.” When I am lost, that is, out of integrity with myself, the morning call strongly encourages me to return to the path!
Rudolf Steiner suggested there will come a day “when we will no longer sleep through the suffering of others.” Perhaps this is what keeps us awake at night. My guiding genius knows my heart of hearts—it is my heart longing for what may be. It is my Spirit
Self, forging its own future, seeking a mature and loving ego to illuminate. We may anticipate this. The question is: Am I serious about what is trying to happen? Can I bring to consciousness what is possible for me in the future? Am I able to recognize and respond to what is needed?
Taking pictures into our sleep, asking questions of the night, might be, in our time, a way of stoking the night fire. We must see that it burns within now. To listen to the night is to listen to my guiding genius, to know it is I who is the night traveler, “I who sends my life to myself.”
Leah lives in Austin, Texas, where she practices homeopathy and biography work.
Note: The use of caffeine and other substances such as alcohol and sleep-aids may dramatically alter one’s relationship with the night. I recommend reading Lilipoh Autumn 2003 for more on sleep.
References: Oliver, M., New and Selected Poems, Boston: Beacon Press, 1992. O’Neil, G. & O’Neil, G., The Human Life, Spring Valley, NY: Mercury Press, 1994. Steiner, R., An Outline of Occult Science, Hudson, NY: Anthroposophic Press, 1972. Steiner, R., Karmic Relationships, Vol. II, London: Rudolf Steiner Press, 1974.