I woke up early this morning, before my alarm. For half an hour I lay in the dark, thinking and praying and turning next to my sleeping wife, before I crept downstairs to read. I don’t know if I woke up because I had a cup of coffee later than usual or from the extra anxiety of the last month, but I awoke with my mind alert and awake.
I often forget that I am a body, that my body affects my mind. I imagine I’m not alone. In our culture, we constantly command our bodies to conform to our minds’ intentions. We push ourselves harder in the gym or skip a meal and expect no consequences or substitute sleep for coffee and wonder why we feel anxious. After all, we all believe in mind over matter, or have at one point.
Except, our minds are not over our matter, but rather a part of it. I could not overcome my tiredness today, after a short night. I fought through it at work, but upon coming home I let show my truest self: the tired and moody self, who wanted rest and quiet. My mind was not over matter, but controlled by matter. After all, my brain is matter.
Or, as Vince Lombardi said, “Fatigue makes cowards of us all.”
And it is true. It is true in the 59th minute of a football game as it is at 5 p.m. after a restless night. Our bodies matter, and when we ignore and push them we shortchange our minds. Our thoughts become sluggish and clouded, and focused only upon ourselves.
When we have a body problem, we need a body solution. This is true of all of us. The gospels recount Jesus often staying up or rising early to pray, but also recount him falling asleep during a terrible storm. I thought of this on my run this afternoon, as I paid attention to the pale green grass of early April, to the blue sky between the sharp needles of a Ponderosa Pine, to the yellow buds on bushes I ran past. I did not run as fast or far as I wanted, and I question now whether I should have run, whether a run was not some mind over matter illusion that I thought I must follow.
But, later, while Brooke prepared dinner I played with Ellis in the backyard. Or, she dug in the garden while I sat and watched; she dumped fresh, black dirt on the brick terrace I made last spring, to raise the beds. I was barefoot after my run, a hooded sweatshirt on because of the wind. Ellis came over to my chair and took my hand, saying, “Come on, Daddy.” She led me to the raised garden bed, the black dirt.
“Walk in it.” She pushed the back of my knee.
I do not know why she wanted me to walk barefoot in the fresh soil, but I did. I felt its coolness, the soft grit between my toes, the sharp mulch against the balls of my feet, the black and fecund dirt almost a sponge. It is spring, and I have not walked barefoot outside lately, and I am an adult and do not walk barefoot outside as much as I should. I stood there in the soil, Ellis a step ahead of me, urging me across and up and down the raised garden bed.
I forgot my tiredness because of the thrill at my bare feet, because of my daughter. It was not mind over matter as much as mind with matter, mind reveling in matter and finding life in the wide world. Still tonight, I will go to bed early and sleep late in the morning. I do not want to be a coward again tomorrow. But, for a few moments, my daughter again brought me out of myself — which is the real danger of fatigue — and connected me with the earth and her fingertips and something or Someone larger than myself.