Uncle Jerry and His Secret to the Sweet Compassion of Sleep


In the old days, before I discovered self-compassion techniques for sleep, I would lie awake often thinking of my Uncle Jerry.  My Uncle Jerry is a tall handsome man with a full beard, and broad shoulders.  He wrinkles his brow, when he is thinking or speaking on a subject for which he is passionate (which includes most things).  He was a medic in the Vietnam War, and served with both the Navy and the Marines in this capacity. 

When I found myself alone at Boy Scouts with an incomplete project, his warm smile, double-armed hugs, and his finely crafted Pinewood Derby cars would come to reassure me, and save the day.  As a grown man, I had a medical emergency that my Uncle Jerry diagnosed accurately, when registered doctors could not.  He is a smart, thoughtful, tough, and opinionated man.  He is a skilled outdoorsman, but, most notably, he is honorable and loving.  To this day, he is the only grown man that calls me honey. 

These are all great reasons to think about him, and I do think about these things, but the reason I think about him when I cannot sleep is that he is the greatest sleeper I know.  He can sleep standing with one arm on the wall.  He can sleep sitting on the couch.  He can sleep in his bed, but I know him best for sleeping on his well-aged brown lazy boy chair in his basement.  It is not just the sleeping that is impressive, but that he can sleep anytime and anywhere. 

Having a history of sleeping issues, I greatly admire his ability to sleep, and had the opportunity to ask him how he sleeps so well.  I think of his words often.  My Uncle Jerry is a very direct communicator, who tells you exactly how he feels in as few words as possible.  When asked, he simply reported that he learned to sleep while at war.  He said that, during those times, you had to sleep when you could because you didn’t know when you would get a second opportunity.

Vietnam was tough, and it molded my Uncle Jerry into the greatest sleeper the world may ever know.  The universe also did us a favor by giving this quality to somebody so articulate.  If you think about his answer from a self-compassion perspective, you will learn all you need to know about sleep.  Uncle Jerry’s perspective is that they were already at war.  It could not be worse.  It made no sense to think about being at war because it was too apparent to not accept it.  Your only recourse was to sleep.  Acceptance + sleeping helped him survive a horrific war in which many died.

Often, we struggle to sleep because our current experience seems too terrible to accept.  So we reject it, and our bodies work really hard to actively try to avoid it, disacknowledge it, or overcome it.  The truth is that if you get rid of all your fears, your failures, your shortcomings, and anxieties, you will have to get rid of all the good stuff too.  To truly enjoy your life despite life’s challenges, you must accept your whole self, especially the bumps and bruises.  Then, you will have the resources to do both what is necessary for your well-being and your responsibilities (hint: They are the same.). 

Once you are able to accept your present, you will no longer dwell in the future.  You will be aware that suffering exists, and that, at times, you fall short of managing suffering. Sometimes, you are actually involved in perpetuating it.  Yet, still, as imperfect as you are, you are good enough, and worthy of love and compassion.  As a compassion-driven person, you sleep.  You sleep because sleeping is the best way to take care of yourself whether you wake up to more or less suffering.

Perhaps you may think my Uncle Jerry is fortunate, and not complicit in his sleep skill development because war did the heavy lifting.  You are free to your opinion.  I prefer to think that under a tough, strongly opinionated, smart man is an even smarter human being, who taps into an infinite well of kind wisdom to give his body the rest that it deserves. 

Nearly losing him to cancer, I thank the universe for his ability to sleep almost every day.  It played an important role in saving his life.  My hope is that it may play a similarly profound role in yours.  Although I suppose it is not a secret now, even when I cannot sleep I think of him sitting in his favorite chair in the basement with that glorious, glorious beard breathing slowly and evenly as his body reaps the delightful benefits of living (no matter how briefly) in homeostasis.

 365 Days of Kindness.  Self-Compassion.  Day 63.  In the Books.