Day 15/30 - tomorrow

Day 15. We are halfway through this "not-Lockdown" selection of poems. Today's poem is by the Sufi mystic Rumi again. It is very short, only 4 lines. But my reflection on the poem is pretty long. It was actually written for the online zine "Casual Days", started by photographer Rebecca Toh. In Issue 2, the theme was Night, and she had asked me to contribute a reflection on the theme.  So I reproduce below what I sent her for the online zine. 

Quatrain 36
By Rumi (1207-1273)
When I am with you, we stay up all night
When you are not here, I cannot go to sleep.
 Praise God for these two insomnias!
And the difference between them.
 
We have romantic notions of night. “Night People” are creative. In the silence, we are alone with our thoughts. Set apart from the unimaginative “Day People”, we create. The same way the world is divided into “Cat people” or “Dog people”, “Night People” are justified in their morning grumpiness because how they have suffered for their work, their life, for us. 
 
We have romantic notions of night. Or should I say night has romantic notions for us? Night is for the exploring of bodies – natural, virtual, illict or on the marital bed. Night is for the gazing upon stars and moons - one on my side of the world, the other on yours – the longing of lovers.
 
I don’t have any romantic notions of night. 
 
I was married to one of the “Night People” who nonetheless grew to fear the night for the insomnia that occasionally plagued him and heightened his anxieties.
 
Insomnia troubles many. Perhaps insomnia is a condition of our post-agrarian, post-industrial world. Insomnia seems to affect many of us whose daylight is spent seated by a computer, whose labour is the churning of the mind, and whose loneliness is the endless chatter of social media. Scientists have pondered on the cause(s). Blue light from our screens. An over-active mind. A forgotten friendship between us and the bed. The body’s chemistry and rhythms thrown off balance by diet, activity (or the lack thereof), stress, pollution, pathogens… 
 
Linked often to depression, insomnia sufferers suffer alone and loneliness itself is part of that suffering. Sleep, the curse of a body that wants to stay awake for more of everything, is a blessing denied a body that wants to shut down from everything. 
 
For a while after he died, I too feared the night. Not because of insomnia since I am one of those irritating people who can fall asleep within minutes of the head touching the pillow.  But rest itself. I was afraid if I stopped, everything else would stop too. And there was no time left  to live – even if it wasn’t as clear at that point what living was for.  It was not insomnia.
 
And then three things happened. 
 
One was illness. It was a warning that said the body needed rest. Today, scientists tell us that sleep is necessary for our immune systems, for regeneration. And hence dementia and cancers are often linked to a lack of sleep throughout a person’s life. 
 
Two, as always, was the word of God – throughout all of the bible, God promised rest – sleep, renewal and assurance – to all who sought him. He himself rested, after he created the world. And he admonished me with words that asked why did I not desire the rest he promised. 
 
Three was the sight of a new day. In my new flat, I could not wait to raise the blinds and let the light of a new day come into the space. I wanted to be awake as early as possible so that I would not miss the gentle light of dawn, before at noon we mutter “why so hot”! 
 
All three made made it clear to me that we wake so that we can rest, and we rest so that we can wake. Both are simple joys of being alive – one does not cancel out the other. Rather, this was “instituted”, “hardwired”, designed and made beautiful in the division of day and night, light and darkness. We rest to enjoy the dark quiet of night. We wake to enjoy the renewing light of day. 
 
And so I have built a new discipline. Pause when the sun is just about to set. Let yourself from that point on, slowly put aside work and worries. Give the first few hours of this dark to feed or care for the immediate people and things around or in you. And then before the dark takes hold of you, embrace its quiet and be still. Listen to the radio if you must. Read some pages of a book. Chat with a friend or loved one. Do just that one thing. And lower your body into sleep. And wake as early as the body demands. We have the in-built intelligence of all things livings to turn towards the sun. 
 
For you who fear and suffer insomnia, I wish you sleep and new mornings. 

[Image above is "stolen" from J's IG, dated 15 Sept 2018. His caption for this image was apt: 每一天的閉幕象征着明天的开始. The end of each day points forward to the tomorrow's beginning. The grills in this image is from my old flat, but it looks exactly like the grills by my new flat's balcony where the plants are! And indeed, from my new balcony, the sun sets are amazing. ]

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