My guilty secret: I take a nap after lunch every day, and I’ve been doing it since my late 20s. Why guilty? Napping has always had this faint whiff of wrongness, something to do with naps being the exclusive province of geezers, folks who are so used up that they don’t have the juice to get through the day. But there was nothing vague about the words of my spiritual teacher. In typical terse take-no-prisoners style, he said, “Naps are suicide.”
I heard these words a few years after the nap habit had become entrenched. I was an obedient disciple, but my nap was dear to me. And these words came to me second-hand, from the teacher’s wife. So I told myself his advice was only for her, though I knew better. Still, I admitted this dirty habit to no one aside from my own wife.
The cult eventually fell apart, and I was free. Though he hadn’t put it quite so pungently, my teacher was down on therapy. Though I’d been on a few rough psychological rides during my time in the group, I never once saw a shrink.
Soon as I was out of the cult I saw a skilled therapist to help me deal with the fallout from twenty years inside what felt in retrospect like a prison. When I finally trusted this shrink enough I confessed my nap habit. Her words were almost as harsh as my teacher’s. She said, “Stop doing it. Naps are a way of covering up depression.” I stopped.
For the better part of a year I gave up my nap. Now lest I give the impression that I’m some lazy-assed slackabed, I must mention that I’m a morning person who often got to work composing by six am and slammed away at piano and synthesizers with barely a break until noon. After nap time I made phone calls, but often socked in a few more hours of composing before dinner.
Without my nap, afternoons became excruciating. I don’t know that I’d been particularly depressed before, but by three every afternoon I was. I could phone in my phone calls, so to speak, with my voice on autopilot. But music just wasn’t happening. Making that quantum leap from nothing to something—the essence of creativity—requires a lot of positive energy. When eyelids are drooping and the couch across your recording studio is beckoning with sweet lullabies, nothing remains nothing.
After a year or so I started napping again. Afternoons were more productive, not to speak of more pleasant. My life was better. I didn’t tell the shrink.
Years passed and the shrink retired. I traveled to France and Italy where businesses closed in the middle of the day for lunch and, presumed, a nap. Nobody’d shamed these populations out of their siestas. As I returned to those countries over the years I saw how Americanization was steadily eroding those midday breaks.
I’ve been working on my nap for forty straight years, seeking midday perfection. Here are a few personal tips:
If you’re retired or one of the 10% of Americans who are self-employed, you might want to start working one your own perfect nap. If you’re reading this at the office, I’m truly sorry. Maybe you can get the boss to read this? Maybe you can go out to your car, or sneak off into a closet…I’m not kidding. I’ve been resourceful over the years. I’ve napped in parked cars, on trains, on park benches and even once on the ground in front of the gates of the Sforza Castle in Milan.
So, judge me if you must —if you’re one of those literally upright people who soldier on through the day, wide awake, taking life by the horns. Or join me if you want. It’s just a nap.
Only I can’t help seeing something deeper here. (It must be a disease in the DSM-5, the shrink’s diagnostic Bible, this constant searching for deeper meaning in the most trivial of things.) That deeper thing is the realization at this late age that I’ve spent my life looking up to others for answers. Looking to parents and teachers, holy books and spiritual teachers. Doctors and shrinks and wise friends. Expecting them to tell me what to do, to give me a map for my journey through this time, the instruction manual for how to live this life.
And while others can provide valuable clues, and sometimes at the right moment can nudge me in a new, better direction, it’s ultimately up to me.
When I was thirty an inner voice told me naps were good for me. But I was too busy listening to those voices outside—and their echoes inside—to hear the truth.
I have more deep thoughts, but it’s time for lunch. Then my nap.