“At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself: ‘I have to go to work – as a human being. What do I have to complain of, if I’m going to do what I was born for – the things I was brought into the world to do? Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm?”Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book V
It seems some things never change.
The reflections on sleep in Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations (121-180AD) communicate a struggle many of us modern folk experience every day.
You’d think that almost two thousand years on, in the age of alarm clocks and automated light globes programmed to mimic the sunrise, good sleep hygiene would be conventional wisdom, and we’d all be leaping out of bed with a spring in our step, ready to tackle our days.
How is it that we are yet to master the thing we each spend one third of our lives doing?
In his private musings never intended for publication, Marcus wrestles against his better nature in defence his bed’s warm embrace;
“-But it’s nicer here…
So you were born to feel ‘nice’? Instead of doing things and experiencing them? Don’t you see the plants, the birds, the ants, the spiders and bees going about their individual tasks, putting the world in order, as best they can? And you’re not willing to do your job as a human being? Why aren’t you running to do what nature demands?
– But we have to sleep sometime.
Agreed. But nature set a limit on that-as it did on eating and drinking. And you’re over the limit.”
He argues that to deny the world your contribution is in contradiction to what it is to be human. It is human nature to contribute. That no matter who you are, you have something to offer – so offer it.
Perhaps harshly, he continues to reprimand himself;
You don’t love yourself enough. Or you’d love your nature too, and what it demands of you. People who love what they do wear themselves down doing it, they even forget to wash or eat. Do you have less respect for your own nature than the engraver does for engraving, the dancer for the dance, the miser for the money or the social climber for status? When they’re really possessed by what they do, they’d rather stop eating and sleeping than give up practicing their arts.
It is from this section I believe we have the most to learn from Marcus. His purpose – his art, was helping others. It was his mission. It’s what he loved to do. He charged himself with a lifelong sentence; help others. Falling prey to sloth got in the way, so he disallowed it.
We all have an art. We all have a purpose. We all have something to give.
I’ve tried all the gadgets, apps, and sleep-hacks you can think of to rise early and do work which I don’t love. None of it worked.
What I’ve discovered is that I can get out of bed at 5am every single day for one of two reasons; to write, or to do Jiu-Jitsu.
Currently, these are my missions. They energise and motivate me like nothing else. This is what I love to do.
Tell me, what are your missions?
If they aren’t worth prying yourself out of bed for, allow me to suggest that perhaps it’s time to revise them.
Make some ruckus. The world is waiting.