Way #19: Wake Up and Live
Minimize sleep – because on a deeper level, it's about "waking up" to life.
You go to wake up your roommate at 7 a.m. He grunts, "Thanks, I'm up." You return five minutes later to find him sound asleep. You shake him again, "Get up already!" Half-opening his eyes, he says, "Yah, yah," and drops right back to sleep.
Has this ever happened to you? Unfortunately, it's a fairly accurate description of the way many people lead their lives. We may say, "I can't afford to waste time anymore. This is it! I'm going to start applying myself." An hour later you've forgotten the whole thing. You went back to sleep.
Way #19 is Bi-miyut shayna – literally "minimizing sleep." The desire for living is the struggle against sleep. On a deeper level, it's about waking up to life.
Staying alert is a constant struggle. We have insights. We make resolutions. But will we be inspired for more than a moment?
The Purpose of Sleep
Of course, sleep has a positive aspect: Our bodies need it to function! Sleep gives you a chance to become re-energized. It unravels tension and allows you to heal, both physically and emotionally.
Yet never treat sleep as an end unto itself. Don't look at sleep as the reward for a hard day's work. Look at sleep as a way to recharge your batteries for a new day of growth.
Don't sleep longer than necessary, and don't "love sleep." Fight the desire for comfort. If you love sleep, you'll yearn to get more of it and wind up sleeping your life away.
The best way to take advantage of sleep's recuperative powers is by napping. When you find yourself stymied, take a 20-minute nap. Any longer than that and it's a struggle to regain momentum.
Find the right balance. In general, sleep as little as necessary. Minimize sleep – and maximize awareness.
The Thrill of Living
Sleep can be a mirage. The proof is that when you're full of excitement and energy, you simply can't sleep. Did you ever wake up at 4 a.m. to climb a mountain before sunrise? You're not sleepy. You're awake and bubbling with excitement, freshness, zing!
If life is a bore, you feel more like sleeping. Someone who loves life doesn't want to go to sleep at night. He just keeps on going until he falls asleep – then jumps out of bed the next morning like a lion.
Children are a perfect example. From the moment a baby opens his eyes, he's up like a shot. "Another day... new adventures... so much to discover... so much to experience... waaaah!!! Take me out of my crib!"
And did ever try putting a baby to sleep? No way! He's afraid of missing all the excitement.
To capture this zest for living, you need to focus on the deeper purpose and meaning of life. Look for fascinating, fulfilling activities. Learn how to create joy in living, instead of just "waiting for it to happen." When excited and looking forward to a new day, you are fully alert.
Why do adults often crave sleep? Responsibilities weigh us down. We want to crawl into bed and hide under the sheets just to get a breather.
Underneath it all, do you think it's good to be alive? Or are you trying to escape from the struggle of life? If being alive is good, then sleep is an escape.
How Much Sleep Do You Need?
Fit sleep into your schedule; don't schedule your day around sleep. Work out logically how much sleep you need to function well. Are you getting more than you need? Keep a record of your sleep patterns for one month, and calculate the average. Unless you make a conscious decision how much you need, you're just drowsing along.
Drowsiness is not being alive. It robs you of existence.
Maimonides writes that eight hours sleep is maximum, unless you are sick. If you train yourself to sleep less, so much the better.
You'll have more conscious time to accomplish, learn, and become wiser. The Vilna Gaon, the greatest rabbi of the past 500 years, would sleep only four 30-minute intervals each day – a total of two hours of sleep each 24-hour period.
Napoleon used to sleep only four hours a night. He explained: "Every moment I'm awake I can bask in the glory of being the king. But when I'm asleep I lose the experience. What a shame to miss it!"
Don't be afraid of sleeping "less than average." A person can actually be in peak physical condition with a minimum amount of sleep. Military recruits are sometimes kept on a regimen of two or three hours of sleep per night. You don't hear them say, "I'm getting delirious... My bones are dissolving... I'm going crazy!" And when they finish boot camp, they're in tip-top physical shape!
Of course, each person has his own metabolism and is affected by different levels of sleep. A person can gradually cut down, as long as it is not having a negative effect on his health.
Techniques for Less Sleep
There are various techniques to keep yourself awake. Stand instead of sit, or put your feet in cold water or on the cold floor. My father would only allow himself to sleep in a bed one night a week, on Friday night.
In the times of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, the High Priest stayed awake the entire night of Yom Kippur by doing push-ups. Exercise of any sort will keep your body and mind energized.
Push yourself to get less sleep. Don't be afraid. You won't die. What's the worst thing that can happen? You'll get tired and fall asleep!
Early in the morning try coaxing your body out of bed: "C'mon. Let's get up! Otherwise we're going to miss today's awesome experience of [fill in the blank]."
A cozy body has difficulty getting up in the morning. Just throwing off the covers can rouse you out of bed. Some people even sleep on the floor, because a person doesn't cling to the hard floor the way he clings to a cushy bed.
Each morning when you wake up, rethink, revise and reevaluate what happened yesterday. Learn from your mistakes. Anticipate a fresh start. You'll be more excited to be awake.
The Second Wind
Were you ever involved in an absorbing project and stayed up all night? Though you began to feel tired, you forced yourself to go on. Eventually you got a second wind, a point when your mind became clear, refreshed and alert again.
The second wind only comes when we are deeply involved in an activity. Those who are bored just fall asleep...
To harness the power of "second wind," learn how to throw yourself into things. When I was a student, we would challenge each other to stay up all Thursday night studying. Try picking such an activity for yourself. It's a proving ground, a test area, for how to struggle against sleep.
Avoid the "Zombie Life"
The struggle against drowsiness and fatigue is the struggle for meaning. We use just a fraction of our potential. You can go through an entire lifetime and at the same time be unconscious to much of the world around you. Don't walk, talk, or eat like a semi-conscious person. Pay attention to what you're doing at all times.
Watch out for zombieism. Don't walk around with "nothing" going though your head. Sometimes you are waiting in line at the supermarket and your head is completely dead, without a thought in your mind. Shake your head to stay awake. Pump yourself: What am I doing? Where am I going? And why am I going there?
In Judaism, our basic drive is to gain clarity. "Wake up" to the purpose of your life. Let go of illusions about fame, romance, etc. Don't get the shock of a cold bath when you graduate college and find out that not everyone automatically becomes a stock-optioned executive.
You want greatness. You want to be good. You want to help humanity. What are you going to do about it? Tackle the big issues and get real answers. Ask yourself: "What am I living for, and what do I want to do with the rest of my life?"
Don't just think about tomorrow or next year, but do a long-range forecast: What do I want inscribed on my tombstone? Will it say that I graduated college, made a million dollars, and owned a large house? Or will it say that I helped and cared for humanity?
Figure out the pleasure of being alive. If your ideals are high and far-reaching, you're not going to want to sleep away your life. You don't want to quit this game of living. You want to be great. Recognize that. Sure, living is a struggle. But boy, is it exciting!
You Can Change
We all have moments of awareness, an immediate recognition of "a-haaaaa." You hear something that makes sense. You have a first crack of light – an insight, a truth, a moment of recognition that life can be beautiful. This is the pleasure of learning wisdom. The light bulb goes on, and as far as that idea is concerned, you've been asleep until now. It's an exhilarating sensation of waking up.
Yet we can have such moments of clarity... and then fall asleep again. You may finish reading this and say, "Yes, that's a good point. I should think this through and make a plan. After all, greater awareness in life is something I'm interested in."
These thoughts are flittering through your mind. But as soon as you close the book, it's back to sleep. Is that right?
When you have an insight, capture it. Like the time you were driving a car and felt drowsy. You fell asleep for a moment and veered off the road. You caught yourself and for that moment you were wide awake. You remember that adrenalin shock. You are not going to let it happen again.
When you gain a moment of clarity, immediately make a decision. Decide that you can change, that things can be different.
The Jewish term for spiritual awakening is "teshuva," which means to return, to straighten out. Look at the damage your mistakes have caused, and consider how you've lost out as a result.
No matter how old you are, you can change. You can find truth and act on it.
Recognize that waking up is your battle. Now go out there and win.
Why is "Waking Up" a Way to Wisdom?
- The struggle of life is the struggle to be awake.
- Decide that life is good. Otherwise you'll go to sleep.
- Get the maximum out of your body. But don't torture it either!
- Don't miss out on life's opportunities and pleasures by oversleeping.
- When we're excited about a project, our creative juices and mental faculties are in full gear.
- Watch out for "zombie-ism." Don't walk around devoid of thoughts in your head.
- Too much sleep dulls the mind.
- Tiredness is a habit. Break it.
- Unless we take practical steps to stay awake, sleep is going to overcome us.
- Whenever you learn something new, wake up to the recognition that you were partially asleep before.
- If you learn how to live with joy, sleep vanishes.
- In the "final sleep," what do you want inscribed?