Tuesday, April 15, 2008
The Myth of Sleep
Someone once told me this myth about the origins of sleep, and I will recount it you now, here.
There was, in the dim and dusty past, a gentle god who created the Earth and the people of the Earth. He made it so the people had shade on hot days, and cool water, mountains to climb, songs to listen to, and beauty to look at. He showered all his love onto them and his own happiness became entwined with theirs. Such was his love that he could not stop creating the people, one after another, until they flourished and populated all corners of the Earth. The other gods looked at his work and sighed with impatience, shaking their heads, jeering, believing that he would eventually ruin everything, to the destruction of the humans and himself. But there was one goddess of infinite beauty and patience who loved the god, and wanted to help him.
"My dear one," she said, "You must stop making new people, lest your world become too crowded. Either this, or you must rid the world of some of them."
"I know," said the god."But I've grown to know and understand each of them, and I hate to say goodbye. And yet I cannot give up the joy of making each and every unique soul."
"Well," the goddess replied, "If you cannot stop, then why not after some time, move each person to a different world where they can enjoy things anew?"
The god mulled this over, and, reluctant to abandon his passion for molding ever newer humans, assented.
So he gave each person a span of a certain number of years, after which he spoke to them from the heavens, in a voice of thunder, and bid them settle their bones onto the Earth, leave their bodies and travel to the next world.
But the people did not listen. The god's world was too beautiful, too welcoming, too familiar and they would not leave. In desperation, in order to drive them off, the god aged the people's bodies, let their skin hang loose, their jaws slacken and beauty fade, until there was nothing left. And still the people would not leave the Earth. Their organs would become motionless and drop away, and they remained, whispering ghostlike around his wonderful world, making it mournful.
And the god's heart became sad because the people he loved were sad.
He went to his goddess for advice. "Look at my world. It is now full of misery. Everything is ruined. What should I do?"
The goddess pondered over the problem for days, and finally returned to the god and asked him one question: "And how do you learn how to do something?"
"I try it once, and then again and again until I get it right."
"Well that is what your people must do. They must practice how to die and then when it is time, they will know how."
So the god went to his people, and did the best thing he could for them. He gave them a darkness at the end of each day. And though it pained the god, with this darkness he sent a weariness into the minds and hearts of the people. And his voice thundered gently from the stars and his faced gazed down bright from the moon onto his loved ones. And the people were so tired that they lay down their bodies and closed their eyes. And they slept. But when it was day again, they arose with fresh vigor.
In this way, the people practiced for the end of their times every night each for a certain number of years, and when the moment came for them to leave the Earth, the people knew how to rest, to close their eyes, and to let their minds drift away to a newer place forever.
The god was pleased and happy and continued to create new people to fill his Earth while the older people left it. The goddess' heart filled with love for him and the other gods admired his creation, which continued on with only a little more sadness and heartache than before.