When Sleep Eludes Us: Instead of Focusing on the Sleep We’re Losing, Notice the Moment We’re Gaining
Last night, I fell asleep around 12:30 am and woke up about an hour later. It’s not unusual for me to wake up several times in the night due to pain and other reasons. Or to wish the hour was later and the night closer to being over. Or to hear myself wishing that for once, couldn’t I just sleep through the night. Then I tire of that.
I look outside the window at the night sky. The trees, stripped naked by winter, form a delicate lattice pattern made visible by a graying sky. The sight broadens my perspective. And I sit down and hold both the discomfort and pain that woke me up along with the sky that surrounded me and everything else. And I go back to bed and sleep.
I notice the quality of the night because I’ve learned from previous sleepless moments and writing about them how important it is to do so.
I learned that how I responded to waking up was crucial to getting back to sleep. And to be aware of my response required a specific sort of sensing, and monitoring, a mindful, open, non-judgmental one. One that allowed me to see the reality I was facing with more clarity.
Pain and sleeplessness can be so awful and disruptive. But maybe the worst part of it, and what deepens it into suffering, is feeling powerless before it or not knowing what caused it. If we think our chest pain is the beginning of a heart attack, we feel the pain more intensely than if we think we have stomach gas. If we’ve had the pain in the past and seen a doctor, received answers about what’s causing the symptom and how to treat it (and that it’s treatable), it’s often easier to face.
And when we are ready and can face what we feel, or expand our vision beyond it, we have the possibility of transforming it. In dreams and nightmares, when we run from the monster that chases us, it gets bigger. So far in my life, almost every time I turned towards the monster, it turned away from me or transformed into something either friendly or less fearsome.
So how we respond to what happens is as important as the fact we experienced it. Knowing this is powerful. It can take us out of our ideas of who we are and let us return to the broader reality of what we’re feeling right now.
I learned from being awake in the depths of night to notice and let go of any thoughts or expectations I had about what I’d see or hear. And to look specifically for beauty. To befriend the night as much as I could. To recognize darkness can be intriguing and can illuminate what was formerly hidden….
*To read the whole piece, please go to The Good Men Project.