Sometimes in my dreams I catch myself walking. Of course I’m delighted having walked away from the walker and exclaim to others, hey look, I’m walking on my own! It’s wonderful to have that sense of freedom and joy in dreams rather than the kind where you lose things, the phone won’t work, there is no phone.

What’s also wonderful about the dream is that it means I was asleep! I don’t sleep all that well. I could say it takes me awhile to get to sleep but that’s because I like to read in bed. I love that quiet time at the end of the day to write in my journal and read.

In days gone by, I stayed up late watching television. I don’t do that anymore and that’s a good thing. Although we may call TV “mindless,” it really isn’t mindless in the negative effects it has on our bodymind.

Once I go to sleep, I wake up an hour or two later. And then I’ll wake up again. I have tried various sleep remedies and also have tried to close down my mind earlier in the day. The work day ends at five. No going online after 9 p.m.

I was intrigued to read an article by Lea Bayles in my We’Moon calendar last year. It was called “Wild Wisdom” and in it she says, “Wild Wisdom wakes you up at 2 in the morning, and yes, you can ignore her, I tried for years, so go right ahead and pathologize her as a sleep disorder, do an herbal protocol for your liver or get a prescription for Ambien to try to make her leave you alone or – Good Grief! – at least come back at a civilized hour? But honey, do you really want her to leave you alone?”

I wrote to Lea Bayles to let her know I appreciated her article and she sent me the full version. It was a delight to have a chat with her as well. She told me she wrote “Wild Wisdom” in the middle of the night. It got me thinking differently about waking up. Here’s a link to Lea’s website:

When I wake up now, I listen for what I’m meant to hear. I don’t turn on the light though. (Some suggest that as your bed is for sleeping, you ought to get up and do something else if you’re not sleeping after twenty minutes.) I tend to list things, like what I’m grateful for. Or, I plan the next writing circle. Sometimes I do loving kindness meditation. And I remember to breathe.

wakinguptothedarkClark Strand who has been studying the world’s spiritual traditions for more than thirty years, says in his book, Waking Up to the Dark: Ancient Wisdom for a Sleepless Age (Spiegel & Grau, 2015), that the Hour of the Wolf many insomniacs experience is really “the Hour of God.”

“In every religion there is a long-established tradition that involves waking in the middle of the night for some kind of spiritual practice – for meditation, for chanting, or for prayer,” he says.

Clark Strand talked to various contemplative over the years – monks and nuns, priests and rabbis, imams and lamas – and they all “reveal a single pattern at work. After about four hours of sleep, they would awaken to perform their devotions, during which time their minds occupied a space that wasn’t quite waking, and wasn’t really dreaming either, but seemed to have qualities of both. It was a visionary state, a time of deep tranquility during which they felt especially forgiven, blessed, or loved.”

It sounds ideal, doesn’t it, to be in a visionary state? This is not a state people are likely to experience in the light and busyness of their days. When Clark Strand wakes up, he goes walking outside in the dark and has done so since he was a child.

Because we no longer honour the darkness, Clark believes, we have ”lost touch with the journey of the soul.”

“Turn out the light s– and leave them off – “ he says, “and we will experience a consciousness our minds have never known but our bodies still remember. Leave them on, and it scarcely matters what else we do or leave undone. We will not significantly alter our path through time. Nor will we alter the path of our species, which has taken a collective detour leading nowhere but oblivion and extinction. We persist perpetually in making all of this seem more complicated than it is.”

So, Clark advises: “Turn off the news. Forget Facebook and Twitter. Don’t read the paper. Let the world turn and the seasons pass on their own. Then wake up in the middle of the night a year later and ask yourself if anything is amiss. If so, let go of more media. Let go of more light. Wake again and ask if anything is lacking. Repeat as necessary until you have remembered what it means to be a person, because this is the only thing everyone forgets.”

He said, “Turn off the lights and leave them off and, in short, you remember who you are.” It took him a long time to understand his anxieties: “Every last one of them, were all just forms of light.”

Nearly every word of Waking Up to the Dark came from a series of fifty-nine notebooks recording Clark’s experiences of rising to walk at night. Did he write in the morning or did he write in the dark?

Waking Up to the Dark is not about a writer’s productivity however, Maria Popova, the founder of Brain Pickings, was fascinated by the sleep habits of writers and you can read about literary sleep habits, complete with illustrations, here.

“In the dark we recover our simplicity, our happiness, and our relatedness, because in the dark we remember our souls. Once that happens, we know what life is. And then finally, we remember how to live,” Clark Strand writes. His book has given me much food for though, shedding light on the value of the dark and wakefulness or shall I say, offering “black silk” as Denise Levertov writes in her poem “Eye Mask.” I recommend Waking Up to the Dark, the book and the practice, as well as the poetry of Denise Levertov.

Eye Mask

In this dark I rest,
unready for the light, which dawns
day after day,
eager to be shared.
Black silk, shelter me.
I need
more of the night before I open
eyes and heart
to illumination. I must still
grow in the dark like a root
not ready, not ready at all.