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The Sloth's Sweet Sleep

In my servant the ant, my tiny servant, who hoards greedily like a miser. /
Who works like one unhappy and who has no break and who has no rest. /
But death and but the long sleep of winter.
Charles Peguy

Sloths are one of the most somnolent animals. They sleep 15 to 18 hours a day. We all know this.

But what I did not know, which is an otherwise easy logical corollary, was that they are very, very, very slow mammals. Having half the muscle tissue of other animals their size, sloths have a maximum ground speed of 1.5 meters per minute. But when running away from predators, their speed goes off the charts--to a blistering 4.5 meters per minute. And no, snails and tortoises are not their usual predators; it is the jaguar which usually hunts them down. Now you know why they hang on the branches of trees the whole day.

And hang on branches they do exceptionally well. Evolution is so kind as to give them curved, strong and sharp claws, enabling them to hang upside-down from a tree's limbs they effortlessly grasp. They sleep, eat, give birth and even die in this position--some even continue to hang on a limb hours after their death. How cute!

Put two and two together and it makes sense to conclude that the sloth is a coward. Why so? Let us test this through a (very) long imaginary syllogism.

The sloth is a mammal and mammals are usually carnivores. And to find sweet meat in the jungle implies having to be a predator--they just don't go to a meat shop carrying leaves for money, right? But having to be a predator also means having to be a prey. This is where one of the fastest cats around comes into the picture: the scary jaguar.

And the jaguar did scare the sloth out of its wits--so much so that the sloth retreated to the heights of trees which the quick cat could not climb. All this trying - to - act - as - a -predator - but - the - jaguar - is - just - too - fast - and - scary drama sent the cowardly sloth to the sanctuary of the tree's branches and the camouflage of its leaves.

Terrified with the idea of going back to the ground, the sloth began to find ways to balance itself on otherwise disproportionately small branches; it then also slowly learned to prefer lizards than lions, carrion than deer, and made do with tender shoots and buds instead of meeting Mr. Jaguar in the eye.

So what else does a coward do if it cannot comfortably rest on a tree's limb that's too thin for him? It learns to hang upside-down. And what else can it do when all of its four limbs are clutching a limb upside-down? You guessed it, you sleep and you sleep.

Do not convicts themselves, judged guilty by the law of the land--and too coward enough to face their sentence--sleep and do nothing but sleep in their dark, secluded cells? This is the price of retreat; this is the punishment for cowardice. For is not sleep itself cowardice from the waking world?

Ask a depressed person what he does the whole day and he will answer, "Nothing." In depression lingo, "nothing" means "sleeping." All the rest, e.g., getting out of bed, eating, talking, exercising, having sex, working, etc., are just too darn difficult for a man suffering melancholia. So he rests. The bright and brave world outside sleep is just too much to bear, too dangerous.

At least the boa constrictor only sleeps for days after devouring a whole pig. At least the bear only hibernates after lording over its prey and scaring them out of their furs. But this depressed sloth, what does he have to show for before he goes to sweet sleep?

For those with seasonal affective disorders, winter usually ushers in another slow wave of depression. Animals, too, exhibit this as winter is also the time of rest for some animals. That is when bears, among others, sleep--even for months. But summer, oh summer! That is when they take the ground, grit their teeth and fight for meat.

The sloth knows no winters and summers as jaguars never rest. And if jaguars never rest, the depressed sloths have to the rest all the time.

More so, aside from not being able to tell the the seasons, the sloth also has no sense of space or orientation. It knows no other place than the tree to which it has retreated since birth. Male sloths never give up their trees. If it be at least a territorial animal with even a hint of terror implied in it, it "claims" one Embabua tree and there lives, sleeps and dies.[1]

As for the female sloth, the highlight of its life--being its most dangerous adventure--is leaving its tree and giving it to its newborn offspring. But to clarify, this rarely happens as sloths rarely reproduce because the cowardly male sloth rarely goes down from his tree to mate with the female sloth hanging upside-down from the other infinitely distant tree. But sometimes, true love conquers cowardice and the male sloth goes down from his tree. To risk one's life and surrender your tree--there is no greater love than this.

The saying that cowards die a thousand deaths, however, does not apply to the sloth. Better: sloths sleep a thousand lives. Because for most of its life, all is the same for the cowardly sloth--sleep after sleep after sleep. And when nothing is new under the sleepy sun, indifference awaits and awakes.

What initially was an act of cowardice turns into indifference. The sloth does not care anymore. Why should it? It does not envy the jaguar who runs all day seeking its prey. It does not envy the bear who needs to indulge in a meat buffet in order to supply its gigantic body with a proportionate supply of energy. It does not envy humans--now its most dangerous predator--who work all day to earn a living because it does not need to earn a sleeping. Fight all you want, eat all you want, work all you want but sloths just don't care.

If sloth be a sin, it is only a sin against the many who are too busy on the ground fighting for a place under the manic sun; but the sloth is indifferent to them and their bravery, mania and frenzy. The many protest to God that the sloth commits the sin of sloth because the good life should not be so easy and not be so sleepy. But in doing so, they in turn commit a deadlier sin: envy of the indifferent sloth.

Nowadays we work to live and live to work. We act like predators to hide the truth that we are also prey. We do not to stop and pray any longer as everything can now be willed in a hurry if you act quickly--like the quick turning wheels of a speeding Jaguar running at 140 kilometers an hour.

The city, along with its sleepless zombies, has forgotten how to sleep while the sloth on the limb slowly lives the dream we all so hurriedly dream to live.


a1. In a lecture course on Aristotle, Heidegger introduced the Philosopher as thus: "Aristotle lived, worked, and died."


  1. as usual, a very enlightening read! (= just last sunday, the homily was about how one can surely go to hell. answer: by doing nothing... by being nonchalant to the plight of our hapless brothers and sisters... by simply being indifferent to suffering souls... by being blind and deaf to the sins of the world... i interpret the sin of omission as the result of sloth. lazy people have no time to love others because it takes a lot of time and effort to make love work...

    ooops! sorry, i got carried away. just thinking aloud... i thought i was in my own blogdrive. hehe (=

  2. No, no. I appreciate your--and anyone's--thoughts on the matter as I do not wish to speak in a monologue. I agree with you somehow: it is written somewhere that all it takes for evil to happen is for good people to not act. There is truth in this. But what I wanted to hit upon--even by just glancing at it or getting around it--is that nowadays, to do nothing, i.e, to be sloth, is tantamount to being a coward and a laggard.(See "Idleness.") There is enough reason for this view; however, what I tried to look into is sloth's possible beauty and own truth. Perhaps being a sloth is not so bad; perhaps sometimes it is better--and more difficult--to do nothing while everyone else is doing everything (busy, busy, busy...); or perhaps, since we are still animals, we go against our bodies and nature by working too much, trying too much, fighting too much. The sloth does not care--even if it could; it chooses to sleep--even if it could be awake. Actually, what I really wanted to write about here was sleep; but of course I was diverted by the unassuming sloth. Perhaps--this is crazy, I know--I wanted to speak in its behalf what with all the "bad press" it has been getting, especially from the church, it being one of the deadly sins. And the central (lost) idea was something that Peguy said: that God gets angry with those who do not sleep because it shows that they do not trust Him anymore. And on a personal note--another secret if you wish--I consider myself a sloth--literally, figuratively, and intellectually. I take two naps a day, am a slow learner and reader, and indifferent to what everyone else strives to possess or reach. I do not brag about this--as if I am better than all the rest; no. Actually, I am ashamed of it every once in a while in those cocktail parties where they ask me, "So what do you do?" But I am wealthy in my own right: Sloth is the only wealth I have now. And that is something that the student taking the final exams next week or the restless salesman on successive business trips do not have. "If so poor why so rich and if so rich why so poor?" Thank you again, yvaughn. I appreciate this.

  3. yeah, i had read "idleness" prior to my first visit to your blogspot (= i also experienced how it was to bum around during the summer (being jobless for 2 months can do a lot of damage to one's sanity. hehe :P) and how it depressed me a lot since i'm a workaholic most of the school year. being a sloth both has its benefits and detriments, and so do workaholism. let me share with you another homily: BUSY may be an acrostic for Being Under Satan's Yoke. after hearing that homily, i strive to be not too busy for my loved ones or God, for that matter. especially friends in need. i'm always more than willing to stop whatever i'm doing just to reach out to wounded souls (because when the tables are turned, i want them to be there for me, too. which doesn't happen a lot. oh well, c'est la vie). after all, love is expressed through the time we spend with other people since we only have a very limited amount of which. the key is to strike a balance between idleness and busyness. while i still feel guilty for having the luxury of time at the tip of my hands this year, i just console myself that i'm not as stressed out as last year, and i rarely get coughs and colds now as opposed to last year...

    how come i'm having the propensity to clear the cobwebs in my head whenever i visit your clearingroom? hehe (= must be enjoying the glories of my anonymity in your blogsite. hehe :P

  4. Anonymous4/26/2010

    sloths are not one of the most somnolent animals. they usually sleep under ten hours a day.

    don't disrespect sloths if you don't know about sloths.

    i'm a sloth myself and i don't take kindly to hearing you humans disrespecting us.

    it took me four days to come down from my tree. i was excreting at the time and i happened to read your blog. then i felt the need to reply to your libelous comments. that was two weeks ago.

    you have a lot of explaining to do considering your hatred and intolerance for the sloth community. i don't know how you sleep at night. probably like a baby.

    or a sloth. hanging from a tree.



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