An Embarrassing Measure of Blessing

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Baby Crash, who must be fed.

A Saturday morning routine has taken hold by surprise. As Kathy and I wake up at leisure—the one day that doesn’t begin with the aria of Bach’s Goldberg Variations set as the alarm on my snotty iPhone—we stay in bed, talking, breathing, warming to the hours ahead. “What do you have up for today?” We have friendly negotiations, then when she heads downstairs to feed dog Watson and cats Baby Crash and Shadow, I pray/meditate for half an hour. After paying bills, we run on separate rails until suppertime. It’s a calm, sane arrangement.

Yesterday I had a shamatha moment—calm abiding, clear awareness—before Kathy got out of bed. As she lay against me, her hair was all over my face. I breathed in its scent—a glad habit—and looked out through its wild lattice at the turning trees on the Shenley Drive boulevard. Sun and fall leaves behind my wife’s brown hair—a double blessing.

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When I woke up, the storm had passed, leaving the Coleman family with firewood.

Another day last week as I settled into my nap, I watched those same beloved trees get thrashed by wind and rain. Though the temperature was in the forties, I opened one window about a foot so the hiss and deep ah of the weather could sing me to my rest beneath a feather quilt. Before sleep came, inhaling and exhaling the joyous riot outside, I remembered the fortunate position I’m in.

Each day I can take the Siesta Exit off of Interstate Absurdity and rest for an hour. Even during hectic stretches, I can usually pull to the berm for a twenty-minute power nap. The world is catching on to the restorative benefits of midday oblivion, but most people I know don’t have the liberty to do what has become central to my spiritual practice—stop, halt, cease and desist, for just a little while. The twenty to sixty minutes of repose isn’t counted as company time—as my brilliant grad school professor John Barth was fond of saying. When I add up work hours to make sure I’m earning my pay, nap isn’t part of the tally. Folding sleep minutes into compensated minutes would be sane, but at this point in our assumed societal covenant, it would be unethical. (Google and the Huffington Post provide napping pods, but I don’t know if they actually pay employees to nap. After a cluster of near misses, baggy-eyed air traffic controllers are cleared to close their eyes as long as the friendly skies are adequately monitored.)

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Even Thomas Edison napped in his midday valley.

No, my blessing is a flexible schedule. I regularly work from 4:00 to 5:00 a.m. shaping programming for the church, then go back to sleep. Or I catch up on e-mails between 9:00 – 10:00 p.m. In a certain respect I’m always working, praying/meditating without ceasing, dreaming about what’s possible, opening myself to the Spirit’s leading. So at 2:30 p.m., when my forehead gets heavy, I surrender.

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The Shenley Drive maples that bless my siestas.

If I’m at church, the siesta kit finds its place on the floor of the pastor’s study, and I set my alarm for an hour ahead. At home, I lie on my left side in bed, look out the window at the Shenley Drive maples, and remember Kathy, who nurses cancer patients all day long and can’t stop to rest, son-in-law Matt, who nurses machines and has to slog through his midday valley, or son Micah, who paints with minimal breaks and comes home sweaty. I watch the maples from the barren branches of February to the swollen greens of July to the fiery leaves of October and reverence people who have no beloved brown hair to kiss or no bed at all. Then, especially when the weather plays against the trees, I nod off, embraced by an embarrassing measure of blessing.

I Was Napping When Napping Wasn’t Cool

I’m fighting off a little resentment here. In 1981 Barbara Mandrell sang, “I was country when country wasn’t cool.” After noodling on Google for half an hour this morning, I want to sing, “I was napping when napping wasn’t cool.” One website I visited, visual.ly, promises to give [me] all the factoids about napping [I] could ever want” in a “beautiful infographic.” The graphics are slick, but I’m grumpy from the start because the only difference between a fact and a factoid is the latter sounds cooler. Some might argue that a factoid is a wee-little fact, but please. To borrow from Dr. Seuss, “a fact is a fact, no matter how small.” The present movement to replace switch with switch out rubs me the same way, a factoid that proves that I’m about as interesting as comatose bison.

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Photo Credit: Doug Clemens

Moving on. Drawing from multiple sources, visual.ly gives some solid information on napping, which you can look up if reading this blog isn’t tedious enough for you. The resentment I mentioned comes from somebody who—identifying the somebody is difficult because the sources aren’t linked directly to the facts—presumes to label naps of various denominations. Here’s a quick run down, with my praise and complaints in parentheses:

“The Nano-Nap: 10-20 seconds,” as when you “nod off on someone’s shoulder on the train.” (First, if the nodder and noddee are strangers, yuck. Second, I’m not in favor of calling 10-20 seconds of oblivion a nap. This is like adding a two-meter race to track meets.)

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Photo Credit: BradKellyPhoto

“The Micro-Nap: two-five minutes”; “surprisingly effective at shedding sleepiness.” (The first time I encountered the term micro-nap was in reading about Swainson’s—or the olive-backed—thrush, which takes hundreds of 2-5 second naps per day while in flight. More on naps in the animal kingdom some other day. A 2-5 minute nap for humans? Breather or rest fits better, if you ask me.)

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Photo Credit: Kiran Pilly

“The Mini-Nap: 5-twenty minutes”; “increases alertness, stamina, motor learning, and motor performance.” (The term fits. As mini suggests, 5-20 minutes of sleep is at the low end of the spectrum; not a full nap. Like a kiddie soft-serve ice cream cone, two scrawny bites for an adult.)

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Photo Credit: Photofreaks

“The Original Power-Nap: 20 minutes –“; “improves muscle memory and clears the brain of useless built-up information.” (I was under the impression that a power-nap was 20 minutes long, 30 minutes max. Anything longer constitutes a conventional nap, but that’s just my amateur opinion.)

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Photo Credit: Kranzelic

The Lazy Man’s Nap: 60-90 minutes”; “includes slow-wave plus REM sleep; good for improving perceptual processing; also when the system is flooded with human growth hormone, great for repairing bones and muscles.” (Since this is my preferred napping range, I resent the label. With all the benefits listed, this sounds like The Smart Person’s Nap—why be exclusive?)

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Photo Credit: Justin Rahme

These napping terms are arbitrary and, in the case of Lazy Man’s Lap, judgmental. Lazy is to nap is the same as crazy is to therapy—not helpful! Still, visual.ly is behind the cause of midday oblivion, and for that I’m grateful.

Napping is so cool now that a University of Texas at Austin website, healthyhorns.texasu.edu, devotes a full tips page to the subject. Why should a college student nap? “Increased alertness and focus,” “higher energy levels throughout the day,” “increased motor performance (such as reaction time) and reduced mistakes and accidents,” and “decreased moodiness.” Churchill and Thatcher, Reagan and Clinton, and millions devoted to taking siestas have known of such benefits long before scientists got tenure publishing the proof.

What makes healthyhorns.texasu.edu novel, however, is a Healthy Horn Nap Map that lets students know where to crash and how to do so safely. The Alumni Center has “comfy, leather furniture,” and the Turtle Pond has grass and “shady spots.” Campus-wide you can find sixteen sleep-friendly spots, but do practice security: “keep your eyes on your stuff” and wrap “your arms around your backpack.” Copy that.

All this napping awareness is good, but only two years ago, Ray Lahood, unenlightened head of the Federal Aviation Administration said, “We’re not going to pay [air traffic] controllers to nap.” They were so tired that they were orchestrating near-misses, but never mind. Naps are bad! Period! Harrumph!

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Photo Credit: Bicycle Transportation Alliance

Fortunately, in 2013 science so confirms the wisdom of napping that the tough-guy response to incorporating rest into company time sounds ignorant. But nappers aren’t generally the type to say, “Told you so.”