Cricket and the Calm app

Lately I have been using the Calm app.

Six weeks ago, I would have told you it was millennial nonsense designed to keep people addicted to their phones and provide a false sense of accomplishment. But I would have been wrong. I use it every day — mostly for the guided meditations, which I find super helpful — but also for what are called Sleep Stories. Yes, they are bedroom stories for adults, that you listen to as you fall asleep. Ridiculous, I know.

But here’s the thing: they really work.

I have never been a great sleeper. I have struggled with it my entire adult life. I have both a difficult time getting to sleep, and a difficult time staying asleep. It’s been awful, especially over these last few years. Truly awful. I think I slept for a grand total of like 30 hours in June of 2018.

But with the Sleep Stories, I fall asleep literally within seconds. And while these last few days I have been waking up again in the middle of the night, that feels like a temporary setback. And when I do wake up at 3am, I just put another Sleep Story on, and do my best to drift back off again. I cannot recommend this app enough. It’s honestly the best app I have ever spent any money on.

Included in the Sleep Stories is one called ‘A Cure of Insomnia? Cricket Explained.’ Of course I rolled my eyes. “Typical American nonsense,” I sighed. “Cricket is NOT boring.” But then I thought that maybe it was just voiceover actor reading from the Laws of Cricket. I mean, I think we can all agree that with the right actor even the most diehard of cricket supporters would fall asleep to someone reading this out loud:

The pitch is a rectangular area of the ground 22 yards/20.12 m in length and 10 ft/3.05 m in width.  It is bounded at either end by the bowling creases and on either side by imaginary lines, one each side of the imaginary line joining the centres of the two middle stumps, each parallel to it and 5 ft/1.52 m from it.  If the pitch is next to an artificial pitch which is closer than 5 ft/1.52 m from the middle stumps, the pitch on that side will extend only to the junction of the two surfaces.  See Laws 8.1 (Description, width and pitching), 8.4 (Junior cricket) and 7.2 (The bowling crease).

Right?

Then I saw that the voiceover actor was no slouch. In fact, it was BBC Test Match Special mainstay Henry Blofield. He had been covering cricket since early 60s, retiring at the age off 77 in 2017. Blofield lived and breathed cricket his entire life, eight decades worth. This wasn’t some American reading the Laws of Cricket, but a cricket head of state.

And so I listened to it. Not while trying to fall asleep, but on the elliptical machine at the gym, lest I fall asleep in the middle of it.

It was delightful.

It was great to hear old Blower’s voice again. He had obviously written the piece with an American audience in mind — he quoted some Americans (Bill Bryson, Groucho Marx) and their hackneyed opinions that the game was boring — and the lingo was all very much for beginners, but other than that it was great. He doesn’t just read the laws of cricket, but rather takes the listener to a match (along with Groucho) and talks about the experience and simulates wickets and runs in order to explain the rules. Near the end he just gives definitions of cricket’s most obscure terms, which is where even I started to drift off a little bit, despite the fact that I was on an exercise machine. He really transported the listener to another time and place, which all the Sleep Stories tend to do, and in that sense it was a very good one. And so it wasn’t the game itself that was putting listeners to sleep, but rather the style in which it was written. This made me feel better.

Furthermore, Blofield made a couple more arguments against the idea that cricket is boring. He said that like all sports — and all things everywhere for that matter — cricket is better enjoyed when you understand the rules, and very few people outside of the 12 Test playing nations (and even lots of people in those nations) understand the basic ins and outs. Honestly, it can take a lifetime to even scratch the surface of the game, which also adds to its intrigue for those of us lucky enough to know the basics.

But he also said that what Americans don’t understand is that cricket is not meant to be watched like other sports. You go to the game, you talk to the person next to you, and you drift off into your own head as the rhythm of the game happens in front of you.  And in that sense, it is also like the other hallmark of the Calm app: meditation.

I have been listening a lot to Alan Watts’ lectures, especially on the field of meditation, and throughout them I cannot help but think of the experience of watching a game of cricket, even on the television. Your mind wanders, you are free and open, focusing and not focusing at the same time. Watts talks about how in meditation you focus on the breathing because it’s something you can focus on that is not a concept, and that it is one of the few actions that is both voluntary and involuntary, therefore telling our brain how arbitrary the division between the two is.

None of this may resemble the cricket you know and love, the cricket of sixes and yorkers and boundary line catches, but when you step back and think about, it is. When you are watching this great old game, the pace of it — like your breathing — allows your mind to wander to other things, despite the fact that you are still somehow focused on the game. You are both there and not there. Aware and not aware.

We are all floating in a tremendous river and the river carries you along. Some of the people in the river are swimming against the current, but they are still being carried along. Others have learned that the art of the thing is to swim with it. You have to flow with the river. There is no other way. You can swim against it, and pretend not to be flowing with it. But you still flow with the river.

When we are watching cricket, we are flowing with the river, and I think that is something we can all agree on.

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