Sleep Ritual: A Day In Bed

03/23/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011
  • Donna Henes Urban shaman, eco-ceremonialist, ritual expert and consultant

On the first page of Even Cowgirls Get the Blues by Tom Robbins, his character calls in well to work. He maintains that he just feels too darn good to report for his job. That always struck me as an excellent idea. Why waste a perfectly fabulous day in bed when you are feeling too poorly to enjoy it?

For years I have maintained a Day in Bed ritual practice. Every so often there comes a day -- never predicting which day -- when I wake up knowing that today absolutely has to be my Day in Bed. I know with a deep knowing in my bones that if I don't lie down, I will surely fall down, cave in under the strain.

It's not that I feel ill, mind you, just out of steam. I see this not as a sick day, but rather, a Well Day, a day to devote to my own inner needs and well-being. Over time I have learned not to fight this overwhelming lethargy. I gladly give in and let go of my goals for the day. I don't fight it. I simply surrender to the delicious decadence of self-care.

I get up long enough to make a cup of tea and bring it back to bed with me where I happily stay for the next 24 hours. Oh, I get up periodically to attend to bodily functions, to muster up something to eat and drink, but after each brief foray, I return to bed. blissfully quiet and alone.

I read. I nap. I meditate. I compose a letter or list or two. I write in my journal. I daydream. I read. I nap.

I luxuriate in doing nothing. I imagine myself to be Elizabeth Barrett Browning or Colette or some other fabulously romantic invalid writer propped up on pillows, her devoted dog or cat nestled in the covers at her feet. Or a privileged consumptive patient pampered in the sanitarium in Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain, eating six cream-rich meals a day and lying down to rest after each one of them.

But of course, thank all goodness, I am not an invalid; I am not even ill. And I intend to stay that way. These short periods of respite work remarkably well to keep me cool, centered, and pretty balanced. And best of all, I rarely get sick.

This is not to say that I never lose my equilibrium. I sometimes suffer from what they call in Japan "the hurry sickness." That sorry spiritual dis-ease usually happens when I feel compelled to stick to some horrendous unforgiving schedule -- assigned or self-imposed -- where I work until I drop. Which is, I guess, why they call it a deadline.

In too many cases, my breakdown takes the form of a fall or other accident of some kind. I literally fall apart, fall down on the job, which is my body's undeniable way of reminding me to go to bed every once in a while and take a load off of my feet. Last summer's serious tumble and consequent concussion brought home in no uncertain terms the importance of my Day in Bed. Had I been a bit more rested, I probably wouldn't have fallen in the first place.

The insidious sickness of the deadline syndrome is that we delude ourselves into believing that if we don't do this thing, whatever it is, then no one can, or no one will, or we, ourselves, won't do it later. The work becomes more important than us. Sometimes, it is necessary to step back a few paces from our busy bustling lives. We need to stop racing around and sit still so that we can absorb and process our experiences and lessons.

In a culture that defines itself in terms of clocks and dollars and duty, it is difficult to allow ourselves to claim the time and mental space to devote to an occupation that results in no visible product. Non-product, however, and nonproductive are definitely not the same thing. Down time is not negative. It is not not doing something. What we are doing when we jump off of the treadmill is resting, reflecting, ruminating, regenerating, rejoicing, and opening to receive the spiritual reassurance and guidance that we need.

I had originally intended this piece to be longer, but my bed is beckoning to me. And I wisely choose to obey.