Lately, I don’t sleep so well. The dog does. I’m lying awake in the middle of the night and she’s snoring away. It’s amazing how loud a little dog can snore. Sometimes her legs jerk as she dreams of chasing … something.

I don’t have the heart to shake her awake, so I reach over and rub her belly until the snoring gradually subsides.

Meanwhile, I’m turning from one side to the other, or flat on my back, adjusting the covers, but it’s no good. My brain won’t shut down. Round and round and round it goes, churning over work issues, relationship issues, worries about every conceivable thing.

Sometimes I get desperate and decide to put on my robe and go downstairs, leaving the dog sleeping peacefully in the bed. As long as it stays dark, she’ll stay asleep.

Downstairs, I can at least get a break from the obsessive, churning thoughts. I find a snack, pick up a book or a magazine – I try not to resort to electronics in the middle of the night, as they’re supposed not to promote sleep. One of the most soothing things I do is just stare into the fire in the woodstove. Flames, like waves, are hypnotic.

In the middle of the night, I seem to be a different person, more concerned with ultimate questions, the impossibility of ever communicating to another how it feels to live in your skin. Or to grasp the experience of living in theirs. I’m by turns fretful, resigned and, mostly, tired.

Perhaps you won’t be entirely surprised to learn that sometimes I think I’m crazy during these hours of unwanted wakefulness. If I’m desperate enough to have come downstairs, I often turn to poetry. Specifically, the poems of my soul sister and guide, Mary Oliver.

She tells me “There is only one question: how to love this world.” Her example of how to do that is a black bear just awakened from hibernation, who “…sharpen(s) her claws against/ the silence / of the trees.”

The bear is a “dazzling darkness,” an image for God taken from mysticism, and she represents the divine mystery itself, with “her tongue/ like a red fire/ touching the grass,/ the cold water.”

The poet identifies with her, saying whatever else her life is, with its gestures at culture and civilization, it is also the bear, “coming/ down the mountain,/ breathing and tasting;/ all day I think of her — / her white teeth,/ her wordlessness,/ her perfect love.”

Unlike the poet, and humans generally, the bear is completely at home in her environment, completely one with it and so able to love this world, the world in which she lives, perfectly.

Back upstairs, I enter my bedroom quietly, take off my robe in the dark, get into bed next to my dog, now breathing quietly, wrapped in her own perfect love. I may or may not fall back to sleep, but now I have my friend Mary Oliver and her bear, fierce symbol of total immersion in experience, to keep me company.

Sweet dreams.

Republican Journal Editor Sarah E. Reynolds is a longtime Mainestay Media employee.

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