Thoughts in Uncertainty #8
The Power of a Nap
One of the most consistent practices in my life is my daily nap. I discovered the joy of napping while in high school. During a class in art history, when the teacher dimmed the lights of the classroom, we watched slide after boring slide of either prehistoric cave paintings or Leonardo’s sketches of his hand. I discovered peaceful relief in a short doze. In college, I perfected the ability to hold my pencil in the note taking position while propping my head up. I positioned my closed eyes behind the head of the student sitting in front of me.
My naps weren't exceptionally long, some for only a few minutes, but that dip into unconsciousness was refreshing. It wasn’t until I studied theology in Rome, Italy, that I discovered an entire culture devoted to napping. Every day the shops in Rome would close after the midday meal. From 2:00—4:00, everyone took the siesta. I loved it and nestled into a two-hour afternoon nap.
Taking a nap back home in the States was only tolerated if one were sick or a toddler. Otherwise, “nose to the grindstone” was the expectation. I picked up some subliminal messages that, if I stopped for a nap, I was a low-energy slacker and lollygagger. Yet even in the face of this persistent demeaning, I snuck in naps at a rest area when traveling to a meeting or closing my office door to feign an essential and very private call. Often, I would cut my lunch hour short by fifteen minutes just to sneak in a nap. I was so good at napping that in desperation, I could literally put my chin on my chest, close my eyes, and dip into unconsciousness for just a moment of refreshing peace.
Later in my career, I came clean. When someone wanted to meet at 1:00 in the afternoon, I would politely ask for a slightly later schedule, "Could we make that 1:30? It's my nap time."
There is so much scientific evidence for the value of a nap that mostly concerns itself with how much more productive we can be, how much more work we can do, how much more. . . but I took a nap because I needed just a moment to stop being productive, drop out of my anxious worry and fear, and rest. It was so pleasant to just relax. When I reorganized my office, I did not have a table for a meeting. Instead, I bought two wingback chairs and a lamp, perfect for napping or quiet conversations.
Napping was a moment of trust when I could hand over the keys of "saving the world" for fifteen minutes or maybe longer and let go.
I think what we need more of right now are naps. Respite from the fear and worries of this virus, the relentless struggle to achieve, the impossible demands we place on ourselves to do more, do it faster and be more productive. What if we all just turned down the lights for a moment, closed our eyes for fifteen minutes, and took a nap? I believe we'd all wake up and perhaps see things differently, with more compassion and a little forgiveness.
When I take a moment to close my eyes and drift into unconsciousness, I am letting go of my need to be in control and in charge. For a moment, I am embracing something that every living being on the face of the earth does every day—sleep. For those few moments, I become like everyone else, even those I dislike, can't stand, and disagree with.
It is a moment of trust and an awakening to the fact that the world doesn't rest on my shoulders. Sometimes the best thing I can do is to just do nothing, wait, and see what happens next. A nap is available to everyone; a health care worker in ER, the executive director of a mental health facility, or a high school student. It is a pause that refreshes.
Moments of mindfulness are like that too. I’ve even discovered that five minutes of mindfulness is almost as good as a nap. Perhaps taking those moments to step back frequently during the day to pause, rest, and recharge can give me a new outlook, a fresh way of thinking, and a novel idea of what is most important in my life.
Someone is depending on us to be peaceful, reasonable, and compassionate. Taking a moment to step back, breathe quietly, and let go gives us a new view, a more even hand, and an inner quieting. And if it's not a nap, then a moment to listen to some music, look out the window, color a picture, do some deep breathing or take a walk.
It’s free. Why not today? Just for a moment, disconnect and feel the freedom of rest. We’ll all still be here when you wake up.