Listening to Sacred Stillness: Stillness on Sleepless Nights

Listening to Sacred Stillness: Stillness on Sleepless Nights July 23, 2019

Stillness on Sleepless Nights

There are nights when sleep is particularly elusive.

I lie there as quietly as I can with my eyes closed, working hard to think about nothing. Taking deep breaths I try to expel everything keeping me awake and inhale stillness.

Even as I stay as still as I can, sleep hides from me in the darkness.

Some nights it is anxiety which keeps me awake. All those things I wish I had done during the day and others I do not want to forget to do in the morning. If I lie there long enough on sleepless nights I remember old reasons to be anxious which had long slipped my mind.

Even when our bodies are tired we may not be ready to fall asleep. We could stay up reading or watching and never drift peacefully off to dreamland.

Eventually I arrive at a point on sleepless nights where I begin getting anxious about not getting enough sleep.

There are things I plan to do tomorrow or the next day which depend on my getting some rest tonight.

I might toss and turn, wrestling with sleeplessness, or I can choose to get out of bed and try to find myself sleep elsewhere.

When we try to practice listening to sacred stillness there are voices within us.

We struggle to locate sacred stillness in which we can rest but all we find are shallow pools which do not satisfy. Where can we turn for sacred stillness which will give us rest and help us fall asleep?

Thoughts and feelings and words dance in our heads, reminding us of expectations we have not met. How can we find the stillness and rest we need?

Why are we still awake? When will we discover stillness on our sleepless nights?

Sleepless Nights at the Monastery

Night can be the most challenging part of the monastic day.

Monks’ days are scheduled to give them time to focus on their priorities. Time for reflection and prayer, time for physical work and reading. Each day includes time for meals, personal hygiene, and rest. Monastic time is organized to reduce distractions and allow monks to pay attention.

Spending time at a monastery is a way for us to reset our internal clocks. We immerse ourselves in monastic time, we become open, and we are restored.

The longest part of each monastic day is the night.

Following an evening service, many monasteries practice the Great Silence. People remain in their rooms being quiet and resting. Some monasteries continue their silence through breakfast.

Monastic night is often the most challenging adjustment for me in returning to New Camaldoli. I love rocking in a chair, reading, and watching the sun slide into the ocean. As my room grows darker, it is tempting to turn on the lights and continue reading. There is so much I want to read, to write, to consider.

It takes time for me to realize how tired my body, my mind, my soul can be.

Monastic night is the deep heart of letting go, of contemplative practice. We struggle to quiet ourselves, to let go of what distracts us and listen to sacred stillness. It is often when the most hidden nuggets of pain within us demand our attention. We may have forgotten throughout the day. Monastic nights prompt us to remember.

It often helps me to quietly step outside into the dark. The stars in the night sky, usually obscured by city lights, shine in the darkness. Opening my heart and my hands, I can almost touch them.

I practice listening to sacred stillness on sleepless nights.

Listening to Stillness on Sleepless Nights

We can try to schedule when we intentionally practice listening to sacred stillness. Some fo us have regular times for listening built into our schedules.

The challenge is when sacred stillness has something to say to us outside our regularly scheduled practice.

I am no more excited about missing a good night’s sleep than anyone else. There are times, though, when sleepless nights are the price we pay for listening well.

Sacred stillness has more to say to us than we are usually ready to hear. We would like to find wisdom in easy, digestible pieces. If we could discern sacred truths at specific times or for particular reasons, we would. We may not be comfortable with the fact sacred stillness is beyond our understanding.

Sacred stillness sometimes speaks to us on sleepless nights. We listen and allow ourselves time to reflect on what we hear.

What we hear is not usually broken down into small bites and we often need to chew on it for awhile.

For me, the things which keep me awake are often memories of people and places I have forgotten. Listening to sacred stillness gives me new insights.

Wisdom on Sleepless Nights

I would avoid sleepless nights if I could. A good night’s sleep is one of the great pleasures in life.

There have certainly been times when I have spent sleepless nights through my own actions. I have pulled all-nighters and have saturated myself in caffeine and kept myself awake. Sometimes anxiety or insecurity have caused me to lose a night’s sleep.

Other nights, though, I have struggled to sleep when sacred stillness had things for me to hear.

There have been days when I have not given enough attention to listening to sacred stillness. Our conversations have been extended past times I have scheduled into what became sleepless nights.

Sometimes there is so much going on it does not fit into our carefully structured plan. Sacred stillness draws our attention to people or places which need our prayers.

Send me a message when you experience sleepless nights. I will pray for you as soon as I receive it.

Breathing deeply, we close our eyes and open ourselves to sacred stillness.

What wisdom have you heard by listening to sacred stillness on sleepless nights?

How will we listen to sacred stillness on sleepless nights this week?

[Image by Goldmund100]

Greg Richardson is a spiritual life mentor and coach in Southern California. He is a recovering attorney and a lay Oblate with New Camaldoli Hermitage near Big Sur, California. Greg’s website is and his email address is

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