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Easing the Journey Through Shadow & Light

  • Dawn

Small Seeds of Hope: Take a Nap

As a culture we are famous for running around like the proverbial chicken, trying to accomplish all our own goals--and those everyone else has for us. For thinking we must do. And do. And do. Nike almost sounds like an impatient parent when it says, "Just DO it!"

I know I often feel guilty if I stop doing. Maybe you too? "My boss might be unhappy," or "I might let other people down," or perhaps, "I am not fulfilling my obligations, responsibilities, even my calling."

And its true--sometimes life takes an awful lot of doing just to keep from tipping over the edge, especially if you are a caregiver for children or for someone who is elderly or disabled. Even so, it can be a wise thing to be still for a little while.

In 1967 E.L. Konigsburg won the Newbery Medal for that year's best children's book, From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. If you've read it, you know how good it is. If you haven't, see if you can get hold of a copy. It's a funny, unique and very perceptive story of a young sister and brother who run away from home and live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

At one point near the end of the story, eccentric 82 year old Mrs. Frankweiler tells the children that she is satisfied with what she has learned about a particular subject. "I'm not in the mood to learn anything new," she says.

Then Claudia, full of the righteousness of a smart twelve year old, says, "But Mrs. Frankweiler, you should want to learn one new thing every day. We did even at the museum."

Mrs. Frankweiler's reply? "No, I don't agree with that. I think you should learn, of course, and some days you must learn a great deal. But you should also have days when you allow what is already in you to swell up inside of you until it touches everything. And you can feel it inside you. If you never take time out to let that happen, then you just accumulate facts, and they begin to rattle around inside of you. You can make noise with them, but never really feel anything with them. It's hollow."

There are many other ways of describing what Mrs. Frankweiler was talking about: a retreat (as in a spiritual retreat), a rest, even fasting--it is, after all, a brief cessation of something basic. Or as I've blogged about, a space of grace, a pause that refreshes/mini-sabbath, or simply taking a break. For a slightly different take on pausing see First Cousin to Silence.

This time the focus is on napping. Zapchen guru Julie Henderson says that napping might be the most important of all the zapchen exercises. "Napping lets you learn from whatever you have just been doing. Without this tiny respite, you have stress without learning. With napping you learn faster, deeper, more stably, no matter what the activity." Sounds kind of like Mrs. Frankweiler to me.

When I taught a zapchen class this past winter, my students told me napping was the part best. "And it's so counter-cultural!" one of them said. "A bunch of adults being urged to lie down and snooze in the middle of the day--who ever heard of that?"

What if Nike said, "Just nap!" What if our bosses said, "You know, I've just read some of the research on taking breaks. I value you as an employee and I'd like to help minimize your stress. So go take a little nap." (No, I can't imagine it either.)

There are, of course, various people caught in this pandemic maelstrom that have way too much time, or way too little. So I realize napping may sound especially absurd--or impossible--to some right now. But I believe that taking a break, a mini-mental vacation, can offer a seed of hope to almost anyone.

Here's what Julie suggests: "Yawn. Stretch. Lie down....Maybe smack your lips softly a few times..Doze much as feels luxurious to you." That's right. Stop doing. And enjoy it. What an odd idea.

Even if you can't lie down, perhaps you can lean back, close your eyes, let go of having to get things done, just for a minute or two. If you can't relax like this at your desk for fear of being judged (or these days in front of the all-seeing Zoom), you can always head for the bathroom.

Take a hint from a cat--napping is one of the most natural--and lovely--things in the world.

Until next time,


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Note: I've posted a list of all the tools in all the toolkits that I've offered so far. I will update it when I create new posts.

Photo and artwork credits:

Kate Stone Matheson (cover)

E.L. Konigsburg

Lauren Kay


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