It’s a time of day that doesn’t really exist. A time of myth. Too late to still be up, too early to get out of bed. A time that most people rarely experience. Because of this, 4am holds weight in story telling. A listener will have an almost physical reaction when they hear the hour dropped. For most, the only points of reference one has with the time are of the extremes.
Other times of day can be rationalized, sorted and filed away with the myriad of other happenings typical of their time slots. But for most people, 4am has a very shallow bag of experiences to pull from. Stress, exhaustion, and inebriation being the most common.
You sympathize with someone forced out of bed at 4am to make a flight, and you ache at the stamina needed when someone is retelling a long night on the town that of course, ends at 4 o’clock in the morning. The specific time in which these events take place doesn’t really matter all that much when retelling the events. Was it a 4:20 wake up? Did the late night after party wrap up around 3:40? No, of course not. It was 4am.
A few weeks ago, I had my own brush up against the mythical 4am. It was an end of summer bop in Montreal. Friends were in from out of town and needless to say, one thing snowballed onto the next. I found myself outside of a recently closed up club making loose brunch plans nobody actually believed in.
The only vehicles on the street were cabs, but I opted for the 30 min walk home to help sober myself up. Walking through the empty residential streets I was surprised by the sense of calm that washed over me. Every apartment I passed was full of sleeping Montrealer's in their warm beds. It felt as though there was nothing to do, nowhere to go but home. My mind was tired and empty. One step in front of the other.
It's no wonder why Zen monks are instructed to take there first meditation before daybreak or why so many professional athletes start their training at the crack of dawn. It's because its easier. Not a single distraction to be had.
The irony is that if you, like me, have had restless nights of mediocre sleep, the opposite feelings tend to be true. Instead of clarity, 4am represents tension, where past mistakes loop and tomorrows troubles are ruining a decent nights sleep.
The goal is to keep in center consciousness the real state of the world. Everyone is in bed, and there is nothing to do. The mind should feel as empty as a 4am stroll down a residential street.