I don’t know about you– but I do know from colleagues, friends, and folks in general, an myself — that sleep is a precious commodity these days. Person after person has shared with me that, if they are fortunate enough to fall asleep, they wake in the night and the monkey mind is swinging wildly through the jungle — chittering loudly.
Sleep has always been more of an acquaintance than a bosom buddy for me. For one thing, since my 20’s, the middle of the night has been a really precious time. I love the quiet and the sense that (I should probably have outgrown by now) that I am getting away with something. And, often, there is a spaciousness in the dark night. A timeless feeling — perhaps, also left over from adolescence — that the night is a magical time apart. And then, my father never needed much sleep. It was one of life’s great pleasures to return for a visit with him and stay up talking until the wee hours. And a badge of honor that I, too, needed less sleep and could use more hours in the day than those who needed 8 hours.
But there can also be — though it has been a long, long time since I experienced this — quite the opposite set of feelings. Every moment awake can feel like theft — one less moment of rest. That can instill incipient panic. And, if you have anxiety or keen worry, the night can feel like tight cell — isolating, lonely — a cell locked until other people might awake with the morning to free you. And, it can be a time when the background nagging worries stride out of the background and pelt your mind and heart.
And, of course, for many of us, the night is often interrupted by the simple biological need to scamper to the bathroom and back and hope, against hope, that the loud chittering, pelting, or other sleep invaders won’t wake up, too.
But we need our sleep — more than I knew in my earlier years. It restores us, clears our minds, allows the subconscious mind to process and discard garbage or file treasure, and it gives our bodies the restorative time to build up reserves and resilience.
The Bard knew this.
Sleep that knits up the ravell’d sleeve of care,
The death of each day’s life, sore labour’s bath,
Balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course,
Chief nourisher in life’s feast,– (Macbeth, Act 2, scene 2)
So, we need those practices that help us knit the sleeve of body and spirit, quell the noise, silence the monkeys, and keep the nagging in the background.
There are literally thousands of helpful practices for this. And no one is right for everyone. It may not work for you, but, for me, tuning into an old Bob Ross painting video on YouTube just does the trick. I always loved him back in the day — and now, if I tune him in, his gentle voice and the magic little things that appear in his landscapes just bring me peace. I seldom make it much past the first couple of little trees and I lay the phone aside and enter the magic world of sleep. Simple things, like getting into a bed where the bedding is smooth and cosy, can help. At times, a ritual of tucking myself in, even imagining myself tucking myself in — snuggling down — will do the trick. Often, there is nothing more effective than listening to a story. it doesn’t work well with cliff hangers… nope — I find myself less peaceful when the writer introduces you to the next victim and the chapter ends. better to hear something a little more nuanced and peaceful. And then — once it’s knocked you out — to go back the next night and figure out when you lost consciousness.
Sometimes, in particularly anxious times, the ability to call a friend — yes, they are going to lose some sleep, too — can be helpful. Just a warm voice who can listen to the chittering from you until you both tucker out.
And sometimes, you can be your friend. Recently I was talking about Kristin Neff’s method of “self-compassion” that can be so helpful in stressful times. She has one exercise that is so simple and clear. First, you tell yourself — this is a moment of suffering. What is remarkable about this is that most of the time, we want to stuff or push aside our pain — get it out of the way — but this enables us to simply accept it and have some compassion for the reality of this pain. Second, you remind yourself that there is suffering in life. I think that too many of us, perhaps in America, in particular, think that our lives are supposed to be about being above or beyond suffering, that suffering only happens to “them” and not to “us” and when it happens, it’s a real surprise. But, really, time proves, life after life, that suffering is an inevitable part of life. You suffer, I suffer, everyone suffers. In the face of that reality — compassion is called for. Finally, you offer words of healing, peace or strength. I have the capacity to sleep — I just need help lifting that up. I have a peaceful place deep inside and I can find it. There are people who care about me — I may be awake by myself right now, but there are hearts that are holding me close. I will get through this.
There are self-hypnosis techniques, that will share here sometime, a friend told me about counting things — sheep, of course, is a classic. It’s intended to busy your mind with something not charged. Something positive — but not thrilling. Something neutral. And then, possibly, bore you into unconsciousness.
Anyway this friend was sharing a way to address feelings of anxiety and suggesting that, as I was encountering so many people with sleep issues, this technique might help. I think the key is that it quiets the chattering brain and, at the same time, puts you back in touch with you immediate surroundings and your body. You could even do this with your eyes closed, if you can clearly imagine each of these things.
When the ground shifts, grounding ourselves is so important. If we are grounded, we can find balance. If we are grounded, we can find peace. If we are grounded, we can find solutions to things that challenge us. And, if we are grounded, we can rest and restore and renew ourselves.
And then, this morning, I found the article below in my inbox, from Medium, about sleep. Of course, I wanted to take a nap immediately after — but, instead I decided to write this.: to encourage all of us to rest during this time. even if we’re working hard, to balance that hard work with rest and renewal. I will work on this for me. I hope you will, too.
Now, go get some rest. Night, night.