The Ravelled Sleeve of Care

It would perhaps be best to lead in with a quote from A Winter’s Tale, but a line from the Macbeth comes to mind at this time of year instead:

Sleep that knits up the ravelled sleeve of care,
The death of each day’s life, sore labor’s bath,
Balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course,
Chief nourisher in life’s feast

(Act II, Scene 2, lines 35 – 39)

Shakespeare is talking about the pangs of conscience following an unconscionable act, but his depiction of sleep itself is lovely. I think about it often at times when I feel that I have become unravelled in my days; when many perpetually semi-completed things compete for my attention; when it’s time to stop work, but I’m still at it.

With all that is on our plates or be dealt with — with all that demands our caring attention — it is sleep, Shakespeare suggests, which re-ravells us, and makes us whole.

I mention this as a tie-in to the time of year when nature yawns, and the northern world tries to slow down. I mention it because I think it’s a worthy goal for the season — to go to bed. I mention it because the act of rest is essential to our effectiveness.

In their book The Power of Full Engagement, authors Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz compare the modern office worker to a professional athlete–and come away with the conclusion that the office worker’s body is under more demands. They make a point of saying that athletes know they can’t be training all the time. Thoroughly and at regular intervals, they must knock it off and rest.

Similarly, the creative process is frequently conceived of as having a period of fallow time, when nothing is happening, but everything becomes potential. Usually identified as “incubation,” this is the time when your brain is working the problem below the level of your awareness. I think of frogs hibernating in the mud at the bottom of the pond… I think of root vegetables, hung in a basement cellar… I think of the season at the bottom of the year, when it’s our job to be like a frog asleep in the ooze, to incubate on the efforts of a year.

What happened to you this year? Where did you go? What did you learn? Let it rest. Let it seep slowly up from your unconscious mind, to gently soak into you in the dark of the year. Let it be nothing known. Pull up a turnip blanket in a warm underground, and set the alarm for February first.

And in that sleepy dark, may some dreams come
to knit up your sleeves of care.

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