On Nothingness

photo by Caity

Sleep is just one of “those” things.

It’s tied in to so much of our well being, that to notice how important it is to our daily functioning, all one has to do is go for a brief period where it’s hard to come by.

Besides studying counselling psychology, one of the things I do on the side is work as a casual/on-call staff in community homes around Vancouver for people diagnosed with severe mental illness.  The homes are staffed 24 hours a day, and I seem to be among the small percentage of casuals who don’t mind working overnight, so I often work the graveyard shift.  This is all well and good, and I really don’t mind working nights here and there, but sometimes the ramifications on my sleeping patterns can reverberate all the way through the week (i.e. if I could right now, I would be sleeping such that my 7 hour class starting tomorrow morning would be more bearable, but it’s just not meant to be).

Anyway, I was on a night shift on the weekend and I found myself looking up into the sky at about 3:30, 4:00 am.  It was muggy outside and there was a distinct purplish pink hue to the normally gray overcast clouds.  And there was a moment of beautiful urban silence.  Like time slowed and the rest of the world had truly gone to sleep, leaving me alone standing in a backyard in the middle of a vast sprawling city.  I’m not sure how long it was before the sound of traffic shattered my reverie.  It was probably only moments.

The thing that I kept thinking about as I stood there looking up into the empty purple sky was nothingness.  How immensely vast the atmosphere is, the planet is, solar system, universe.  How there is no way to conceptualize this kind of space and emptiness!  How truly surprising, inspiring, and revolting the things that we’ve accomplished in spite of this crushing unknown.  The vanity of our attempts to reduce or explain it down to a level that is supposedly comforting and relatable… the mythologies, the religions…

But the irony of my experience that night is that the most salient feeling I had was one of comfort.  I’ve felt this before when looking up into the sky on clear nights, contemplating the stars and wondering, after their light has travelled for millions of light years, whether they even still exist.  Knowing that in this perspective, I am less than a speck in space and time.  I could understand how this might be an overwhelming feeling of being lost, without meaning, for some.  But for me it’s always been a comforting experience.  A spiritual experience.  To know that there really is nothingness all around.  To embrace it, without pushing it away or belittling it.  To be lost, and to not care.

It makes what we have in our meagre lives seem a lot more… human.

Now, if only I could get some sleep.

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