As the mother of a 2-year-old and a 7-month-old, I don’t get a lot of sleep. It is typical that I wake up at 11, and 3, and 5, to nurse the baby. And then at 6 am, to a toddler screaming ‘mommy, mommy, mommy,’ so that we can go eat cereal. And I am one of those people who LOVE sleep. I mean, how some of you feel about chocolate cake, that is how I feel about sleep. I crave it all day. And however much you give me, I will eat the whole thing!
So, here I am, learning to live my life sleeping hours I can count on one hand. Trying my best to find that magical shift in perspective that makes it all okay; something beyond the fact that my children are great joys in my life. That is a blessing, for sure, but it doesn’t actually do much to make the prolonged sleeplessness tolerable. So I got to wondering, what did Meher Baba say about sleep?
Before delving into any texts, I plumbed my own highly foggy brain. I know Baba said he came not to teach, but to awaken, so he must prize wakefulness, right? And to hear the mandali tell it, he often tested close ones’ obedience with superhuman demands to stay awake. But why?
In That’s How it Was, Eruch muses on the fact that while the Prophet Muhammed had a rule that you should never wake anyone, Meher Baba is known as The Awakener. Indeed, as Eruch tells it, it was true even in a literal sense. He recalls how Baba would sometimes say “Go give Peter this message.” And when the messenger would find Peter, sleeping, he would awaken him to deliver the message, which was “Peter, Baba wants you to sleep well.”
I try to think of my baby’s cries as the equivalent of Baba telling me to sleep well. But it doesn’t quite work.
Next, I remember Eruch telling the story of being on a mast tour with Baba and not sleeping for several days or nights. At one point, en route by bus, Eruch finally succumbs to his exhaustion, and nods off. He awakens to find that he has fallen asleep on Baba’s shoulder, and has left a little puddle of drool there. And what does Baba do? He gently presses Eruch’s head back down to his shoulder and says, “don’t worry, go back to sleep.” After a short amount of time, Eruch wakes up and feels completely refreshed. How is it possible? As Eruch recalls, Baba said that real deep sleep is like the original state of God. It is so completely refreshing to be there, that one can wake up revived even after very little time.
It is reassuring that despite all the stories of sleeplessness, Baba didn’t disregard sleep altogether. Tonight, I will be like a deep-sea diver, and try to reach the depths where I will be refreshed, even if I am called back to the surface too soon.
But the more I think about my sleepless state, the more I think there is a different kind of learning in it for me. Something less lofty: surrender. As someone formerly married to 9 hours a night, and convinced I could not function without it, here I am: at the whims of two little people who I completely adore and who sometimes need me to snap awake at 3, and 4, and 5. With the supports of sleep swept out from under me, I am more vulnerable, less likely to try to do it all, and more grateful for the rest I do get. And as I learn to surrender to the unknown of my nights and to rise and greet the day even when I would give almost anything for an extra hour of sleep, I am more likely to remember Him, and to lean on Him. And isn’t that the beginning of real wakefulness? And real rest?