In 1923, jockey Frank Hayes became the only jockey to win a Steeplechase race at New York’s Belmont Park while dead. The poor man suffered a heart attack mid-race, but his body stayed in the saddle until Sweet Kiss, his bay mare, crossed the finish line for an astounding 20-1 outsider victory.
I resonate with Frank’s story. Because, you see, I’ve slept through the winter. Like a hibernating bear, I have spent between 9 and 10 hours of every 24 in slumber since January 1. A few nights I slept over 11 hours, completely dead to the world. I missed the Super Bowl, the Winter Olympics and a Mardis Gras party in suspended animation. This from a gal who’s suffered from hormonal insomnia her entire adult life.
And it’s been glorious. After a diagnosis around the holidays of mild adrenal fatigue (like, who doesn’t have that in today’s culture?), I took great pains to research how to heal my exhausted body, mind and soul. David and I decided to try to stimulate mitochondrial biogenesis (in other words, do things that would push my body to make new mitochondria).
You might remember from high school biology that the mitochondria are organelles in the cell that create energy each cell uses to complete its purpose. The mitochondria are like the cell’s battery. And my batteries were as dead as poor Frank Hayes. So, starting January 1, we started bio-hacking our bodies to charge my cell’s batteries. Since improving the efficiency and number of mitochondria is a great treatment for both anxiety and depression, David decided to join me. Think long meditations, less commitments, tons of restorative yoga. Extreme temperature immersions (cold thermogenesis), CBD oil and coffee enemas. B-12 and magnesium. Rebounding, lymphatic massage and float sessions in a sensory deprivation tank. Lots of fat and protein, fewer carbs. More sex than we’ve had in years (hey, the research said we should). The results have been incredible. I started sleeping deeply the very first night and have only had insomnia once all year.
But spring now beckons, with lengthening hours of daylight and daffodils poking their smiling, yellow faces up through the brown. My cardinal family has returned to their home in our Bradford Pear tree and the red-breasted grosbeaks have remembered their songs. The bush honeysuckle is starting to paint the gray hills green. I am beginning to feel the pull to sleep less and be awake more. Because that’s what we’re here for. To awaken, arise, spring forth.
But to wake up, we must first start in a state of slumber. I think of Jesus leaving the tomb on Easter morning. Of Princess Aurora stirring at love’s true kiss. Of Rip Van Winkle, blinking his eyes to find he’d lost 20 years. Of the Buddha insisting he was not enlightened, only awake. Many Shamanic cultures celebrate a coming-of-age rite where a young person is buried alive overnight, communing with Mother Nature to be reborn in their truest form the following morning. Saint Irenaeus, the bishop of Lyon, said, “The Glory of God is the human person fully alive”.
Waking up is holy work.
What makes you feel fully Alive? Awake? Aware?
I want a life where my biggest wish isn’t to crawl back under the covers and hit the snooze button. A life where I’m thankful not to climb into bed because the day is done but instead a life where I’m grateful to jump out of bed to greet the day before me. I don’t want to spend my life waiting to be alive. I suspect many of us sleepwalk through our lives because facing our realities seems too painful, too daunting, too hard. It’s easier to just slump down in the saddle and let the horse run the race for us.
Some of us will get a literal wake-up call. A cancer diagnosis. A bankruptcy. A mental health disorder. We’ll get fired, divorced, fat. But we needn’t wait for a terrible circumstance to choose to rouse; you don’t have to be shaken to awaken. If you don’t like where you are, you have the power to move in a different direction. An easy place to start is by establishing a morning routine that sets the tone you desire for the rest of your day. We have coffee, cat snuggles and a meditation on Clifford the Big Red Couch. We puppy pile and talk about the day ahead, no phones, no rushing, no loud voices. We watch the light change, the stars fading as the sun peeks over the hills. Honoring this liminal time between torpor and movement helps us ease into our day with grounded, grateful intention.
The holy work of our lives is to answer the call of the morning.