Au Naturel

When I was very young, nap time was the remedy for excessive childhood energy, to give mom a quiet break. It was just something to whine about and endure, condemned to an hour of grumpy boredom trapped in my bedroom, dimly lit by curtain-filtered sun.

As an adult, I continued to hate to nap and I would resist the urge to sleep in the daytime, choosing instead to fight through the leaden afternoon doldrums, struggling, coffee-fueled, to keep productive. If I absolutely could not resist, when the urge was too strong, I would wake from naptime feeling worse, feeling sick. It was a penance. I didn’t know how to nap.

What changed? Maybe my stamina is diminishing as I enter my 50s. Or I just learned to stop fighting hard always to be productive. Have I learned to let go? Why be hyper-productive while the world slips into climatic and political chaos? Let it go. Lie down. Sleep.

As this spring of 2024 evolves out of winter, we’ve enjoyed unusually warm temperatures under glorious blue skies. Even if the air temperature is chilly, so long as the sun shines bright and the wind is no more than a whisper, it is comfortable to sleep outside. As early as late January, when we had two weeks of improbable 10 degree temperatures, I set a cushion on the snowless gravel under the breezeway of the cabin, stripped, laid down first with a book, then covered my eyes against the sun, and then snoozed, comfortably. Many sunny days in March, once the snow on the dock melted away, and now April, when time and privacy allow, I sprawl out by the pond. Freikörperkultur-style. No apologies to unscheduled visitors who arrive silently. It’s just a human body, you’ll get over the shock.

Late in my five decades of life, I’ve learned to say “yes” to life, increasingly unconditionally. I’ve learned to say “yes” unconditionally to the sun. Not “yes, except this part of me”. I have sufficient melatonin production. I tan well. I’m less in danger of skin cancer than many. And so I say enthusiastically “yes” to the sun. With my nudist naps, I’m saying yes not only to the sun, but to everything that is: the breeze, the air temperature as it may be, even yes to the harmless but ticklish little flies who love sweat. And even a reluctant but yielding “yes” to the occasional mosquito, whose bite is not so terrible after all. In winter weather, or cold rain, or when it’s windy, I can lie inside sprawled on a window bench or on the floor in front of the woodstove. But when the chance arises, I’ll nap outside in the sun.

And so with a conceding “yes”, I can lie down on the dock, and love what is. Humans are made to desire what is not. Our maladapted bodies are actually a cause of our evolutionary success. Because we are soft-soled, dull in senses, defenseless, and nearly hairless, we must invent and cloak and arm ourselves in what is artificial and not truly of this living world. And we have the opposable thumbs required to make our inventive creations work. Or because we developed inventiveness, we could become so ridiculously maladapted. Either way, we are poorly suited for this world when au naturel, and we live with this inherited adaptation of striving/inventing/struggling to overcome our nakedness so we can be comfortable and safe, even wealthy. Out of our struggle came a spectacular victory. Because it is our superpower, we just can’t stop inventing technologies. We are neurotically addicted to the ‘New & Improved!’. The human condition. We can’t stop accumulating comforts and wealth and offspring and ornament and power.

Yes, Homo sapiens has its occasional crashes of famine, genocide, and epidemics. But we recover and carry on. We’ve carried on all the way to every habitat on this planet and beyond to space, and even further onward into virtual reality.

To some of us, it’s become obvious that our technological super-adaptations are the source of our coming downfall. From sufficiently mal-adapted, to super-adapted, to technological Armageddon. It would have been better to remain just sufficiently adapted, maybe?

So I am trying to learn how to be merely sufficiently adapted. To strip away the technology as much as I can without becoming maladapted (that is, dead). To be unclothed, unornamented, undesiring, primordial. To let go of what is not and instead to accept what is, nakedly, mosquitoes and all.

Pre-human ways lie latent in our modern human minds. That pre-technological nature is still alive, still knows how to respond to the bear met on the trail in the forest, or to the snake nearly stepped on, or to the approaching ferocious lightning storm. That nature also knows how to be simply a body devoid of purpose, basking in the sun, comfortable and trusting, at least when the conditions are sufficiently non-fatal.

My naptime sleep style is not that of a REM-cycle nighttime sleep. At times I wish it could be, that way I could wipe away all the work-accumulated fatigue or account for an insufficient previous night’s sleep, and then return super-energized for work until the end of the day and nighttime’s sleep. Then I could meet all those deadlines, grow a perfect garden, and reply to all those emails.

These pondside naps might instead be something like practiced meditation. I don’t know anything about meditation. I’ve never delved into it as a learned intentional practice. But I can say it is meditative, to lie sprawled out naked, just a body in the sun, the senses sending only few, clear, simple signals to the mind: sun on skin, a breeze that has just stopped, a warbler singing, another breeze, the taptaptapping of a spotted frog, the fading throb of minor muscle pain that flared up earlier in the day, cranes calling to each other, the sweat-licking fly crawling on my arm, the sudden uncomfortable coolness as a cloud covers the sun, the return of the sun’s power as the cloud moves on.

When I first lie down, my mind is scarcely aware of that which is. Instead it grumbles neurotically with thoughts of that which is not: a deadline, hurt feelings over something someone said years ago, the urgency of overdue garden work, guilt for not replying to a friend who wrote months back, the annoying song playing on loop in my head all day. There’s a lot of crud in my brain when I first lie down.

But with my afternoon sleeps, with closed eyes, with only the sensory stimulus available in this semi-wild location, at least on days when we are free from the horrible whining noise of the neighbourhood chainsaws, I’ve learned how to give my brain only that which is: weather, birds, insects, and the sun’s warmth. My human mind shuts down, and my pre-human mind takes over. At first the worded and pictured thoughts disentangle. Then the remnants of thought blend as truncated, illogical, spliced clauses. Then the thoughts cease like a fire going out. My breath slows. My heart rate declines. I lose some of the feeling in my limbs. The muscle aches fade. And then I am aware only of what I can hear, and I feel only comfort. And then I become almost unaware. I become a body in the sun. I leave behind the ‘human condition’. In this pre-human condition, I could contentedly die. I could happily slip back into the primordial soup.


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