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We’re quite different but we still sleep together

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Almost every day ends the same, with me lying unconsious on top of my favorite possession — my pillowtop queen.

There are exceptions, such as when I travel, where I end up unconscious on some other horizontal surface, but it’s as sure a rule as any that no matter what kinds of wild or unpredictable events happen during the day, the conclusion is quite predictable: me, horizontal and comatose.

I know it’s the same for you, and everyone else too. Just about everything else between us is different though. There are seven billion people in the middle of their lives at any given moment, whose days differ from each other in almost every respect. The events and thoughts that fill a normal day are so distinct to each individual that it’s probably impossible for any one person to imagine quite how it feels to live a day in the life of another.

The early-rising Chinese fishmongress couldn’t possibly guess what happens between dawn and dusk in the life of a Seattle studio guitarist, or vice-versa. But neither would even a close friend of yours have anything but the most basic idea of what a normal day is like in your shoes. The details of your job, your clothes-choosing process, the emotional feel of your morning routine, the recurring memories that comfort you or bother you — all of it is familiar to you and utterly foreign to everyone except you.

The waking part of each of our lives is necessarily different from anyone else’s, particularly given that most of our experience consists of what is completely private: our thoughts and the feelings that come with them. Yet with few exceptions, each of us will end the day by sinking willingly into some kind of surface, and letting consciousness finally run out of gas. 

Wherever your days end, once you find that resting place, the unique goings-on of that day begin to fade away and you slip into a well-practiced routine. You get comfortable almost automatically, flipping your pillow or tucking your feet under the blanket, or whatever you do, and putting your hands where you like your hands to be. Then the background noise settles in.

After those last few actions of the day, you become like everyone else, everywhere, once they’ve parked themselves for the night. No matter what the day held, talking is over, doing is over, you’re horizontal and still, and ready to resign yourself to unconsciousness.

Some thoughts probably appear. They could be lazy ones or fierce ones. But however long it takes for the mind to let you go, by that moment unconsciousness is already descending. It may be a minute or an hour, but you’ll never see the exact moment it arrives. You’ll just find yourself on the other side of it.

My pillowtop is four years old now, beginning to bow in the middle a little bit, but it’s still superior to almost all of the other surfaces I’ve experienced in recent memory — camping pads, musty hide-a-beds, frumpy floor-beds with no boxspring, creaky hostel bunks, couches, stiff hotel beds, and the odd carpet. Even after a relatively bad day, or on the night before something I’m worried about, that bed is still pleasing enough that I can’t help but feel grateful to be exactly there, of all places. It’s interesting that the events of waking life can make a given day feel like it’s going so unswervingly wrong, yet they always end the same.

Sleeping together

The first outbreath after I’ve stopped tossing into position serves as a trigger for a little ritual now. My mind starts to wander to other people’s last moments of the day. I think about who’s going to bed in the city around me. The girl who rang my groceries through and said “mmmm” when she got to the kiwis. The guy in the jacked up truck that was tailgating me on the bridge today. I wonder how they feel as they’re going to sleep, and what surfaces they end up on. Was it a good day? How does tomorrow look? Is it a worrisome sleep or a grateful one?

I never know. But I don’t often get to sleep without feeling at least a passing sense of solidarity with everyone who is also, at that time, giving up on consciousness for the day. Sometimes it’s a really powerful sense. We sleep together.

It’s an interesting quirk of Mother Nature — that she insists on taking us down to the ground like that, every day, no matter who we are. For all of us, the act of leaving consciousness is the same, it’s just our settings and situations — which bookend that unconsciousness — where we differ.

Some people are surrendering their consciousness in sleeping bags, straw beds, or hammocks, and maybe they’re just as comfortable as I am. Some of them are in fancy hotels, or crummy motels, or bamboo huts with termites audibly eating them. Some are on prison cots. Millions, actually.

There are people going to bed alone, wishing they weren’t. There are people falling asleep beside their true loves. There are people falling asleep next to someone they don’t love any more. There are people falling asleep on benches, in abandonded subway stations, or on piles of discarded clothes in a stand of trees in the park. There’s probably even someone out there falling asleep in a coffin.

No matter the setting, all these people are doing the same thing: just closing their eyes and letting themselves disappear.

There are people leaving their waking hours in hospital beds, in rowdy dorms or hostels, in vast gymnasiums turned into emergency shelters. There are people sleeping on their office floors in sleeping bags, which they roll up and hide before anyone else gets in. There are people going to sleep in shipping containers with dozens of others, hoping the good life is about to begin when they arrive in Vancouver.

Some are hearing rain while they fade into sleep, some are hearing sirens, some are hearing arguing next door. Some are hearing their neighbor peeing. Some are hearing crickets. Some are hearing rats.

Every single face you’ve seen today will find a spot somewhere, to call the day done and let sleep take them. No matter how your day goes today, I hope that when today’s talking and thinking and hoping and working is over with, your final place is a warm, dry one.


Photo by procsilas

Marina March 6, 2012 at 1:07 am

<3 That was unexpectedly moving.

Michael March 6, 2012 at 1:08 am

I’ve always thought it particularly interesting that for all the conflict in the waking world, everyone still ends their day the same way – willingly unconscious and with their minds clear of the troubles of the day.

I just wish everyone could do that while awake, as well. Let their minds clear and look at what they’re doing. Not think, just look – whether you were just in a fight with your loved one, whether you were hurting someone or committing a crime, or whether you were shooting someone in a war. Or commanding that war. Or leeching off your country’s people for your own well-being.

To me, at least, it’s quite revealing to just realise that, at the end of the day, everyone sleeps, no matter our differences, and all these things are meaningless. If they can be meaningless when we’re all in sync, then why must they be so important when we’re awake and apart?

David March 6, 2012 at 9:40 am

I guess it’s because sleeping is a surrender. It’s inactivity, letting go. It’s the opposite of what we’re inclined to to while we’re awake. It’s interesting that almost all spiritual guidance seems to boil down to learning to surrender while you are awake.

Michael March 6, 2012 at 7:25 pm

That makes sense, I think that’s it. When we’re sleeping, after our thoughts quiet, all that matters is the here and now. All the conflict is lost in the empty-mindedness.

If we could tap into that, we’d realise every single conflict and every single problem we have nowadays is just us making a mess of our thoughts and torpedoing that towards other people. Because it is all reduced to nothing when we’re sleeping.

Knowing that, the answer to being better at being human becomes so obvious it’s ridiculous hardly anyone embraces it.

Simon March 6, 2012 at 3:50 am

This made me smile! Thank you. :)

O. March 6, 2012 at 6:47 am

When I go through particularly difficult or painful times in my life, I find that I am more tuned in with other people. As if, somehow, I want someone, anyone to come and comfort me, but I realize they can’t do that if for no other reason than because they don’t know what is happening with me, inside me, and that I need comforting. That then leads me to wondering what is happening with them. What are they going through? The person in the car in next lane as we both wait for the traffic light to turn red; the person next to me at the road crossing; the person looking at the same display at the shop window… who are they, do they have children, what makes them happy, are they happy, do they need comforting? Being tuned in with other human beings, whenever, wherever, is humbling, grounding and uplifting experience.

Thanks for yet another beautiful post.

David March 6, 2012 at 9:42 am

That’s interesting, because I’ve found the opposite. I’m most interested and sensitive to others when things are going well for me. When I’m upset, I almost lose sight of the reality that other people are even people inside.

Charity March 6, 2012 at 10:41 pm

I like the way you phrased it, that you almost lose sight of the reality that other people are even people inside! I find I do the same thing when things are going not so great for me too…..or sometimes even when they are. But never would have found a way to phrase it quite like that, in such a perfect way =)

Anthony July 10, 2012 at 12:18 pm

I have had very similar experiences. I tend to perceive others how I perceive myself. When I self identify with my inner being, as opposed to my Ego, I then perceive others for their true selves too.
There seems to be a link to compassion here.
When I judge myself based on outward things such as the car I drive, the music I listen to, or the job I have (my ego), I then begin to judge other by the same shallowness. I become less compassionate & more judgemental. A recipe for unhappiness

LunaJune March 6, 2012 at 9:01 am

totally moving David… I have a habit of sending good wishes to everyone as they signing off Twitter , and facebook.. if I know them or not.. because sleep and I are wonderful friends… I slip into it’s embrace so easily anytime, night or noon… and now I will broaden my good night wishes to include everyone, to wish them well , now that day is done..

thank you for sharing all you do
inspired and inspiring :~)

David March 6, 2012 at 9:42 am

I am good friends with sleep too. We get along great.

Zeynep March 6, 2012 at 9:23 am

My favourite post of yours I think. Humbling and moving. Thank you!

Dawn March 6, 2012 at 9:26 am

Good one…really nice David. I loved the images — and I felt very connected with what you are saying, b/c recently I too, have been thinking, as I fall asleep at night, about the connections we have to each other. And I found it comforting to read your article, and realize that perhaps we are all connected in thoughts, in sleep, in many ways that we don’t ever realize. Thanks for pointing this out. P.S. I love your bucket list.

Trish Scott March 6, 2012 at 10:14 am

Yes. I love that you write about things that are largely taken for granted. It has always been interesting to me that no matter what love or war we are in, literally or figuratively, we have all agreed to leave each other alone for 6 or 8 hours a day to just STOP. I think of it as the universe letting us play however we must, but making sure we get back in touch on a regular basis. It’s brilliant!

Brandon March 6, 2012 at 11:09 am

Sleeping is a condition that everyone wanted for, this is only the moment were we can escape with reality and feel the refreshing way of life…

Tom K March 6, 2012 at 11:26 am

Insomnia is a big problem for many; may they have surcease at some point…sooner than later.

David, get yourself a memory-foam bed and you won’t have any “bowing” problem. I’ve been sleeping on one (Temperpedic) for over 20 years and always with an aahhhh upon climbing in…especially with fleece (microloft) sheets: mmmmm, mmmmmm!

Hayley March 6, 2012 at 11:43 am

When my kids were very small and still needed me to bath and towel dry them, I would always remind them, that no matter who/where/how old you are in the whole wide world…”The most important thing is a Clean Dry Crack.” I figured amongst all the other things that can go right or wrong in a day, a year, a lifetime; if you can go to bed at night with a “CLEAN, DRY CRACK” you are winning! Your last sentence reminded me of this and made me smile. Thanks for sharing with us a view of your amazing universal insight!

David March 6, 2012 at 3:56 pm

that was truly lovely – sleep well David

Andreas March 6, 2012 at 4:20 pm

Beautiful. Thank you, David.

nrhatch March 6, 2012 at 6:02 pm

Fascinating post, David. I enjoyed every word . . . even if I end up with insomnia tonight. :D

Queenie20 March 7, 2012 at 9:33 pm

Excellent Job David.. I really enjoyed reading it!

Emanuele March 8, 2012 at 4:57 am

A very poetic post. It’s inspiring to remind ourselves that we are all the same when nature sends us sleep. All the differences created by our fear and unhappiness fade away and for one moment there is only one humanity and no flags. I like so much that feeling that I think of it even during the day when I can.

Ryan Lamoreaux March 8, 2012 at 3:44 pm

Ambien :)

Emily W. March 9, 2012 at 8:15 am

Thanks for the reminder of what we have in common. Seems that falling asleep is a little death each night–a total surrender that we all submit to. There is a sweet resurrection in the morning, a fresh start and fresh opportunities. IF you have a fab pillow-mattress! :-)

Noch Noch | be me. be natural. March 10, 2012 at 7:26 am

oh indeed, my pillow, and my snuffles bear!

Lora March 11, 2012 at 7:39 am

You make me smile. I need my snuffle bear! Thank you for sharing!

Grey March 12, 2012 at 1:58 am

What a beautiful things happen, I think sleeping is the only way for quitting from the reality and found the really peace of life… XOXO

Shalani March 12, 2012 at 2:18 pm

Thanks for sharing with us your great creation and activities here, I know that resting is the solution for making oneself comfortable and back the refreshing way of decision…

Charmagn March 12, 2012 at 8:40 pm

David…Thank you for your awesome post here and I am sure a lot of people will want to read this over and over again…

Keith March 13, 2012 at 7:45 pm

Whenever I have a long day, you somehow know exactly what to say. Well done. :D

Ronifelle March 13, 2012 at 9:58 pm

Hi David…It is never easy to sleep alone and I can really relate to the post here when I was younger…

Cheziannhe March 14, 2012 at 7:27 am

Sleeping is definitely our friend because whenever we feel tired, we look for it but sometimes, we abuse it and we don’t mind them much…We need rest all the time…

Nicole March 14, 2012 at 10:36 am

Very interesting post. You’re so right.. Everyone of us will always ends the day sleeping. :) thanks for sharing.. I enjoyed reading this! :)

Trexcy March 14, 2012 at 2:51 pm

What a beautiful creation, sleeping at a moment is the most wonderful moment I wanted to… Its the moment that I find my self relax inspite of all the sudden activities…

Maria March 18, 2012 at 7:32 am

I love your article! Sometimes, I am making the same thoughts with you.
We may do completely different things throughout the day, but at the end of it, we are all the same as we enjoy the same experience; Clearing our minds from the everyday problems and sleeping.

Bianca March 23, 2012 at 7:27 am

Kind of funny..LOVE IT..

nicole March 25, 2012 at 9:31 am

Thanks for your interesting post…Sleeping is one of the basic needs in our daily life to refresh our mind and way of hoop up your stress.

Paul Esche June 6, 2013 at 8:53 pm

It’s your articles that move me. I appreciate them. I’m also grateful for the comments I see here. What a wonderful group.

Guillermo June 7, 2013 at 1:03 am

What a wonderful post! Definitely one of my favourites. Thank you! And I really should be going to bed, myself… hehe…

PJ July 13, 2013 at 6:02 pm

That was beautiful ! I was mesmerized reading this and I couldn’t help thinking of myself in bed later , getting into my comfy position and drifting off. The concept of us all sleeping together hadn’t occurred to me before and I’m curious what thoughts will emerge as I fall asleep tonight. Thank you for this moving and thought provoking piece.

“Death, so called, is a thing which makes men weep, And yet a third of life is passed in sleep.”
― George Gordon Byron

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