4:30 a.m: The Hunt for the Day, Before the Day Arrives
August 1, 2022
My Persian kitten, Prana becomes a hunter at dawn and dusk. She sleeps the day away, but come the hour when night and day enter into a waltz, she awakens, to join the dance, seeking adventure. Prana, like all animals, is more attune to the rhythms of the universe. She leads a simplistic life that is extremely present to the moment, and I often envy her contentment. Even domesticated, she lives in step with this waking/dreaming dance, (despite my every effort to get her to sleep through dawn). I imagine that she feels the earth’s rotational shift before the black of night, bleeds into cerulean blue. She is up to hunt the day, before the day even arrives. Prana lives so gloriously in the moment, that I can’t help but envy her.
Every morning, I feel Prana’s white paw tapping my face; her quiet purr across my belly. Most mornings I give her some kisses, and then stumble half-asleep into the living room, to turn on a few cat toys, so she might hunt for “prey,” while I return to sleep. This morning however, I have decided to end that practice, and replace it with a new one: to get up with her, and join in the hunt for the day, before the day arrives. I decide to begin my own morning ritual; to greet the sun, and the youngest, safest, most healing lumens it provides, just as it appears on the horizon of the Atlantic.
In all the reading I have done about spiritual health and well-being, intentional waking has appeared many times in literature. Waking is a spiritual experience, whether we recognize it to be or not. It is also revered in so many less modernized areas of the world; where stretching out the hypnopompic state (the half-asleep fogged experience that bridges sleeping and waking), is very common. In more fast-paced countries like ours, the hypnopompic experience is seen as a negative; one that most Americans plow through as fast as they can with massive amounts of coffee, and an intake of the morning news. However, it is believed by many tribes of indigenous people, as well as religious monks and nuns across all avenues of faith, that this hypnopompic state – is a place where we are most connected to the spirit realm, and can receive profound insights, if we are open to them.
My city looks different at 4:45 a.m. The casino lights burn brightly, and any stars I might strive to see remain obscured, but rather than a frenzied, hectic sort of energy that permeates the town night and day, the city before dawn, feels hungover. The sky is beginning to bleed navy and burnt sienna from the east, where the sun is making its way into visibility. I arrive at the naked boardwalk, and walk down to the beach, which is completely deserted, save for a couple who are making love under a blanket behind a distant lifeguard stand. I try not to disturb them, and set up my meditation pillow, blanket, journal and a single pillar candle, and wait to greet the dawn.
The curse of myalgic encenphalomelitis, (the illness which has been keeping company with me these last 18 months), is that my hyper-aroused nervous system, can and will react to just about anything; sound, light, touch, food, smells, chemicals. I have always been a hyper-sensitive person, but getting this illness has taught me what can happen if one does not respect such a gift, and allows it instead to be abused. Let me tell you: an autonomic nervous system gone haywire, is a hell on earth most people cannot imagine.
But on the upside, in my recovery from such a heinous illness, I have experienced the same hyper-sensitivity on the opposite end of the spectrum. Colors seem brighter to me now. Food is more fragrant and rich. I am more sensitive to experiencing pleasure through touch. Music sounds so incredible that it is almost orgasmic to my ears. While for almost a year and a half, I lived in a state of de-realization, where there seemed to be a wall between me and the world I could not tear down, now the wall was not only gone, but everything seemed infinitely connected.
I seem to have developed an unexplainable connection to nature; it is as if everything is speaking a language that I now understand. The vernacular is one of immense joy, connection and gratitude. It seems that all the earth around me has been forever dancing within the elements, through a ritual celebration and inviting me to participate. I just never had the eyes to recognize it; too busy lamenting and worrying about everything. Now however, still somewhat sick, the celebration is constant and unending. Meanwhile, healthy people around me seem to be in a coma that I was once lying dormant in also. Ironically – it was only sickness that was able to wake me up from it.
Yes, Asleep. It feels as if everyone has fallen asleep to the wonder of life around me. Chronic illness was the smelling salt that roused me from my slumber.
I kneel on my meditation pillow and place my hand over my heart. After a year of practicing mindfulness, I can easily bring myself into stillness and quiet my thoughts, in preparation for the sunrise. Soon, I am only my breath. My body not breathing, but being breathed. The rise and fall of my chest syncs with the tide, crashing against the neighboring sand, and then receding. My fingers against my naked skin begin to feel electric, pulsing, and this pulsing spreads to my arms, and legs, until my entire body is radiating with energy. My breath moves even slower.
The sky is dotted with periwinkle and creamsicle clouds; the blackest of night draining out of the sky as morning overcomes it. The beach suddenly feels pregnant with anticipation; a scurry of funny, little, frantic birds scatter across the shoreline in perfect formation, as if fans awaiting behind a gate, for a celebrity appearance to emerge. The tide seems to pick up, and every grain of sand is singing to me. We all await the Sun.
Then at last, the fiery orb breaks the barrier of night and day, cresting on the thin line where the ocean meets sky. The couple making love some yards away, rise from beneath their blanket, still holding each other, and face the east. Night is over, and another practice of death is over with it. The day begins; a ritual resurrection arrives, and we are all born again. I begin my light bath; feeling the most primal source of joy feed every cell in my body; the light, the warmth, and the healing rays flowing forth from a dying, aging, hot ball of plasma.
My face drips with light, as I become a canvas for the Sun to paint its morning upon. Its first brushstroke is a smile on my lips. Grinning, I think of what it means to wake up, and to actually stay awake; to not fall back to sleep. Not only in bed, but in life. I wonder, as I recover, how will i stay “awake” to the world I have discovered? To the joy I know within me? To the presence I have cultivated that is more precious to me than anything I possessed when I was physically strong?
I realize then, in this moment of pure aliveness, in communion with the Sun, sand and surf, that to stay awake means to stay present to the gift of the moment. For every moment provides contentment to each of us, if we only respect and honor the reality as it is at present, instead of trying to make it something that it is not.
The sun is nearly halfway to the ceiling of heaven, as I open my eyes at the end of meditation. The couple is gone now; off to engage the day, so I have the entire beach to myself, where I remain for several hours. In an odd way, it feels as if this is the first morning that I have ever begun on purpose. With this frame of mind, one could even say that this was my first morning intentionally alive.
Bowing my head to close my practice, I can’t help but think of Prana, whose entire life is a meditation. What a beautiful little teacher she has been for me; pawing at my face at the first hint of dawn, for years now. Insisting I wake up, and stay awake, despite my begrudgery. Inviting me with perfect delight into the wonders of the morning. The only morning that has with certainty been given to me; this one day; this one gift, ripe like a summer peach, with the fullness of possibility.