Taber Shadburne


Some of my oldest memories are of lying in bed, late at night, wishing I was asleep: sleep-onset insomnia. I’m happy to say that I have largely overcome this malady. I have a sizeable bag of tricks to help me out with it (read about them here), the most important of which is having gotten over my fear of insomnia, which had become the primary source of sleeplessness. For the last several years I’ve had trouble getting to sleep just a few times a year.

For the last couple months, though, I’ve been experiencing “terminal insomnia,” AKA waking up too early and failing to fall back asleep. Most of my tricks don’t apply here. It sometimes helps to stay in bed until my alarm goes off–occasionally I will fall back asleep. Sometimes cuddling helps, too, but I’ve found nothing consistent so far. It’s become a problem: I’m getting married next week and sleep debt tends to make me clumsy, grouchy, and stupid–not the way I’d like to show up for this event!

So I complained about it to my therapist today and he gave me his hypothesis: I am chronically and habitually productive. Productivity is a way of life  for me and it’s infiltrated my groggy, should-be-going-back-to-sleep mind. He is right. I am on the go all day. It never occurs to me to slow down, much less take a nap, and that was exactly his prescription:

“I wonder what would happen if you cultivated a habit of trying, even to a ridiculous degree, whenever you noticed being really tired , just saying, ‘OK, I’m just going to lie down. I’m just going to quit what I’m doing and lie down.’ Even if it seems indulgent or incovnenient. Just ‘F*** it. I’m lying down, I’m closing my eyes, I’m relaxing. If I sleep, I sleep–it doesn’t matter. I’m just going to relax.’ Look at your tiredness as a sort of enlightened messenger, giving you the gift of saying, “Stop it! Stop working so hard. Just lie down right now and be irresponsibly lazy. Just lay out.’

“And you’ll have to deal with the resistance in you too. The well-trained hard, hard worker in you will say “Now’s not a good time… maybe later,” and the challenge is to say “F*** you. I’m not buying it. I’m lying down. For at least five minutes I’m going to lie down, deep breath, deep relax, and invite myself to doze if it happens.

“It’s the next logical progression of getting over the fear of insomnia: The next step is getting over the fear of being tired. OK, I’m building into my lifestyle being tired and loving myself in my tiredness. If I’m tired, I lie down. Why the hell not?

“I want you to take it on as a spiritual practice. Seriously. A spiritual practice of just interrupting productivity as often as possible in order to be lazy and relaxed and tired and just let the earth hold you up. When you lay down, experience the earth holding you up and receive that kind of support. You are a very diligent, principled and hard-working fellow, Nathen, and we have noticed. We got the message. You’ve got that covered. You’ve acheived that already and can let your pendulum swing back in the other direction.”

He’s right that it won’t be easy. As I’ve been writing, I can feel the familiar tiredness in my face and arms, weighing me down, and I’m choosing to write instead of lie down. Well, maybe I will go lie down and finish this later…

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My favorite answer to the question, “What is the meaning of life?” came from my friend, Taber Shadburne seven or eight years ago. He said that it’s a misleading question because we think of meaning as existing in language, so we imagine that the meaning of life will have a narrative, a set of values, a statement about the nature of reality. We expect mental games to do something that they just can’t do. The meaning of life, he said, is more like the meaning of skiing. If you ask yourself, “What is the meaning of skiing?” you see that you can’t answer that question with language. Instead, the meaning of skiing is something like this: He jumped up on a nearby bench, crouched into a skier stance with a delighted, slightly terrified look on his face, and shouted “Woohoo!”

The meaning of life is kind of like that.

Here’s Taber playing one of his songs:

Sing everyday: This is I did, minus maybe ten days. It was one or two songs a day, usually. This was enough to keep up my singing voice, but not enough to improve it, as I had hoped.

Dance everyday: This I did as well, minus a few sick days. I put the number of minutes I danced on my daily graphing-my-life/training chart, which shows that I danced an average of 54.41 minutes a day. My dancing really improved. I went to two Balboa camps, two Lindy Hop camps (“camps” are weekend-long dance marathons with classes all day and dances all night), one Lindy exchange (like a camp without the classes), took tap dancing classes all year, took a series class for Soul Motion, taught by Grace Llewellyn, and worked for hours at home on Balboa, Charleston, Melbourne Shuffle, clown walk, and just boogying.

Meditate every day: I think I might have missed once or twice. I kept track but lost my excitement for number crunching after analyzing my dance time. It looks like I averaged between 15 and 20 minutes. Meditation is not nearly as enjoyable as dancing for me but I’m glad to have sat every day. The benefits seem to come from regular practice.

Make a fourth Abandon Ship record: This I did not do. Abandon Ship is the band I have with two of my brothers, Damian and Gabriel. I did write arrangements for a couple of Damian’s new (and really good) songs and I wrote a bridge for another. I also spent a couple weeks in Joshua Tree this summer, writing and recording three more songs with him. It’s an ongoing project.

Continue to master being kind to myself: This is a project I started two years ago, with the help of my friend, Taber. It’s definitely worth a blog entry of its own, but simply put, I realized that there was a way that I am habitually not on my own side, and I began to practice continually realigning myself toward compassion and kindness for myself. It’s a major shift in my tectonic plates, as Taber says. This project is going really well.

Walk slowly: This has been great. This has been my favorite. I noticed that I walk as if I’m in a hurry, even if there’s no reason to hurry. I’d like to think I was emulating my fast-walking Grandpa Bob, but I think I just kept myself so busy for so long that I forgot about strolling. Walking slowly is wonderful. I love it.

Have a flexible back and hips: I did downward dog and plow poses plus a few other physical therapy exercises most nights between my birthday and the end of June. I improved my back and hip flexibility noticeably, though not as much as I’d hoped. I also stopped wearing a backpack after more than 15 years of schlepping, which I think helped. I started getting comments from friends that my posture had improved. Then I traveled all summer, basically camping in somewhat hectic circumstances: helping friends move and working at Not Back to School Camp, mostly. Traveling makes a nice, relaxing evening stretching routine a challenge. Anyway, I still have some of the flexibility I gained but I can’t say that I have a flexible back or hips right now. I’m not even sure that I could have said that in June, actually.

Overall I think I did well this year, both in setting good goals and in following through. I like the simplicity of the list. It’s got a nice compact aesthetic. I’m both inspired and daunted by my list for this coming year but it’s not as nice to look at.