The Clock… Notes on a Momentary Respite in a Long Journey

There are, at the moment, three items on my bedside table: Modern Spiritual Masters/Writings on Contemplation and Compassion, edited by Robert Ellsberg; an eighteen-page instruction manual for the Brookstone “Tranquil Moments Advanced Clinically Proven Sleep Sounds” machine; and the “machine” itself. (Yes; I know the Buddha is there, too; either I’m not counting the Buddha, or I always count the Buddha…) If the juxtaposition of these objects does not hint at a body and spirit in transition, then I don’t know what would.

The “machine” is, almost incidentally, an alarm clock – a ridiculously expensive alarm clock, since that feature seems an extraneous addition to a menu of sixteen different Clinically Proven Sounds, created by Experts, to lull one into blissful rest, a fine meditative state, or relief from anxiety and stress. (Perhaps a thoughtful reading of Modern Spiritual Masters would do any or all of the above, without the need for the eighteen-page instruction manual. That thought, itself, should be cause for some contemporary contemplation on my part, now that I think of it.) But an alarm clock I could love is what I was seeking, and – so far – this one seems to be doing the trick.

The arrival of this device on my bedside table is the momentary culmination of a search I have pursued, albeit intermittently, for almost twenty years. At the moment, things are looking – and sounding – very promising!

My husband, “B,” came to our twenty years of cohabitation and marriage with an alarm clock he’d already had for at least ten years. For more than thirty years, he has been very attached to his clock – secure in the reliability and trustworthiness of this small and homely, plastic LED-screeened, device, after his own series of relationships with numerous analog, digital, and clock-radio combinations, and any number of other things in life, which had disappointed him by failing to live up to their promises. It is “only” an alarm clock (no aromatherapy, rising dawns, or soothing sounds included), but that solitary task it has performed without fail, time after time. For this reason, B’s clock has earned – and held – his deep loyalty and affection.

However… His clock performs its sole duty by aggressively presenting its own rendition of the sound track from the shower scene in Psycho, morning after morning. I have never liked this about it. B doesn’t seem to mind being jolted at least semi-awake, hitting the snooze button, and falling right back to sleep, only to repeat the process several times, as often as not. This works for him… But it has always seemed kind of ridiculous to me. Either you’re getting up, or you’re not. Being assaulted into semi-consciousness, again and again, is not the same thing as consciously and deliberately “awakening.” Like so many couples, we are wired somewhat differently, and have learned, for a sufficient part, to live with those differences for almost twenty years.

Over these years, B has been both generous and gracious in trying to satisfy my periodically-expressed yearning for a gentler approach to leaving sleep and greeting the day. He got me a combination “gradual dawn” and aromatherapy device, which included several sound options. Unfortunately, it looked like a tacky plastic ziggurat; I didn’t like fooling around with the smelly little beads; and its version of “morning bird sounds” was a pale rehash of the real birds that get going around 5:00 in the morning here. Then followed the Zen alarm clock, which I wanted desperately, and which was really quite lovely – and very promising. However, after a relatively short period of time, its LED display slowly disappeared into irreversible invisibility… Evidently following some inner Zen directive of its own.

In our recent and ongoing effort to shed things that no longer serve or please us, the Alarm Clock Issue reappeared – this time addressed by me with renewed determination. A few hours of web research on my part disclosed this machine – a veritable Maserati among alarm clocks, purveyed by Brookstone, the indisputable prime source (along with Hammacher-Schlemmer) of all things electronic, complicated, beautiful, costly, and generally completely unnecessary for sustenance of the average human life, even here in Fairfield County, Connecticut. However, it had an absolutely lovely set of chimes to ease one into wakefulness, and that’s what I wanted, accessories or no accessories.

B agreed to give it a try, with the mutual understanding that, if he hated it, back it would go. (I would, in that case, get earplugs.) It arrived yesterday. Disconcertingly, there were few “tranquil moments” involved in the set-up and initialization of the thing – from opening the box itself, to installing the button battery with the Lilliputian screwdriver (which we happened to have, thanks to previous experience with sophisticated electronic devices and their requirements), to figuring out the sequence of buttons to push and hold for two seconds to activate one function, and five seconds for another. With repetitions of the Serenity Prayer, and one dark period of a few minutes where we were convinced that “it isn’t working,” we got through all that; set the alarm; and chose a “sleep sound” for the night that seemed richly appropriate: “Unwind.” (It was a clock, after all…)

When we got into bed, I hit the button, and the Clinically Proven Sounds began… In only moments (evidently the “tranquil” ones for which the machine is named), I had melted into a complete and utterly blissful state of limp relaxation… And we were both soon “sound” asleep. This morning, right on cue, mellow chimes gradually eased their way into our consciousnesses. The first word out of B’s mouth was, “Success.” I could hardly contain my joy. Reliability and grace seemed not mutually exclusive after all.

Ridding oneself of something one really doesn’t like much is usually a piece of cake. Ridding oneself of something to which one has long been attached – for whatever reason – is another story entirely. In truth, we’ve both been attached to B’s little clock for all these years – he, for its fidelity; me, because it’s his. But we were looking, now, for something that might not only be dependable and reliable, but something that was lovely, as well – something that we truly liked – not just because we already happened to have it, or because it worked and we were used to it, but because it offered the promise of bringing new pleasure and grace to our lives, in an area where we had long, and somewhat thoughtlessly, just accepted the status quo, the “it’ll do”…

And what better place to try for something better than in our daily awakening? If it has to be a machine, let it be a fine one.


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  1. betseyc

     /  November 26, 2012

    What a graceful, elegant and witty meditation on one of the many manifestations of how life is made up of small things and moments, how important those things can be, and how often something that seems a minor detail can, indeed, be a force for awakening. Plus I utterly love the koan that you either always count the Buddha, or not.

  2. dcg

     /  November 29, 2012

    A graceful, elegant essay indeed. And now I know how the 1% manage to get to sleep and then awake in the morning. But who wants to wake to chimes or anything? Wake when you awake seems a good alternative for old folks like you two. And what of the Buddha? I think we are owed a better explanation of his presence there.

    Keep writing; always a welcome read, even the politics.

  3. Thanks, dcg… and lb… Just getting the hang of this whole thing. Absolutely agree with you about why get up at some particular time on any particular morning. It ain’t me! It’s your Green Buddy who has to get to spin or racquetball at least five days a week, by 8:30 am. I, myself, schedule nothing before 11:00 am on any given morning. And now I’m in charge of the clock. I can live with that. And, yeah, this was really a 1% thing for me. At least I thought about it. We might as well admit it; we are ALL incredibly fortunate.

    The Buddha thing came to me just as I was typing this into the blog. I’m thinking it’s kind of a koan… Want to look at it that way, just for fun? Not sure that explaining is the way to go with this… Your thoughts?

    My newsletter, BTW, seems to be disappearing under the wave of electronic connections. Any pressure for you to do the same…?

    All best to both of you.


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