The 4AM Lemonade

Jul 28, 2005

If life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Sometimes when you get lemons, though, you run out of water and sugar or can't find the lemon-squeezer tool. Life certainly has an uncanny track record in shelling out exactly you need but we mostly lose the opportunities because we're not ready.

Take, for example, my volunteer job at the meditation center. At the end of the first day, everyone is distributed into different shifts. I really didn't mind doing anything, except waking up at 4AM. And of course, came the announcement: "Nipun Mehta: Group A, Open the Halls at 4AM." I get to sleep last at 11PM, wake up first at 4AM and work with drowsiness for the rest of the day. ;)

I've happily signedup for many all-nighters and odd-houred sleep schedules, but never for ten days straight! It's lemonade time. :)

Three of us were in this Group A. By itself, waking up at 4AM isn't so bad. Unless you have to close at 11PM too. And unless you get off at 7:00AM, eat breakfast in the next half hour when it's available, and shower in the next fifteen when there's hot water. Having slept five hours the night before, you try hit the sack during your couple hour break at 8AM but you can't sleep since you just ate and showered. You're not awake, you're not sleepy. Middle-man's land. So then, you have lunch and finally you ready to get knocked out. Of course, that's when our second shift starts. 11:30AM to 2:30PM! Hooya.

For a day or two, all three of us in Group A woke up and did our jobs. Then, we decided to improvise. We took turns waking up. Until the fourth day. Due to a family emergency, one of our group members had to leave abruptly. So that left two of us. When the "course manager" asked us for "hall key" ownership, both our eyes hit the ground to avoid the responsibility. It's a big deal because if you somehow sleep in, there'll be 320 silent meditators waiting outside the door!

My other group member was a good guy, but bit on the lazy side; his attitude would really frustrate me sometimes. Fortunately or unfortunately, I remembered a quote by Herman Hesse: "You only experience that which is within you." That translates to -- if I didn't have a latent greed for comfort, my friend's laziness wouldn't frustrate me.

So I took out my frustration ... on myself. I grabbed the keys and emphatically declared, "From today, I will wake up every morning." "Are you sure?" "Yup. And not only that, no shifts. I'll do it everyday."

Laziness is subtle phenomena. By mundane standards, I'm far from lazy; I do a ton, and then signup for more. That's a very superficial measure, though. At a subtler level, our greed is for status-quo; we are either afriad or lazy to change patterns. We want ride a groove, again and again. And again. I might be super active 20 hours of the day, but underneath it, I could be active just to avoid changing my old habits. It's one of those paradoxes -- I'm busy to be lazy, simply playing hide and seek with myself.

First morning, I hear my alarm at 4AM. It's raining, chilly, and I don't have snooze on the cheap alarm clock. I know I have to get up but my body aches for the warmth underneath the shawl.

Right then, of all things, I remember an episode from Ajahn Chah's life; a Thai meditation master, he once told a sleepy disciple, "When you wake up, just jump out of bed right away." Wow. He's right. Most of our life goes in diddly-daddlying. Doubts, snooze, laziness, five more minutes. We are yo-yo's of our confusions, predictably swinging up and down to the rhythm of our sensations. And then, one fine day, we die.

"Noooo. I want out of that game." I swing right of bed, as if Ajahn Chah is giving his sleep-sermon right in my own room.

Day in and day out, this pilgrimage has been about ripping open everything I feel. I mean, if I just go to the core of the matter, depth of the sensation, what's gonna happen? What, I'm afraid I'll die? Even that's fine.

The more I dissolve the apparent knots, the more subtler stuff arises. It seems like a endless yet worthwhile journey. Endless because whenever I get lemons, I'm hardly ever ready to make lemonade; worthwhile because those few times when I'm ready at 4AM, it feels as if I'm the commander of my ship once again.

It's time to wake up.

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