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Tag: sleep

Six reasons to meditate


Every so often, I’ll be listening to a recitation of problems and I’ll say, “You know, I think meditation could really help with that.” And then I’ll get a list of reasons why the person I’m talking to can’t possibly meditate. (These are all real reasons.)

  • Their dog has dementia and wants to go outside every five minutes. (A five-minute meditation practice is perfectly valid.)
  • The apartment’s too noisy–someone’s car alarm is always going off. (It’s completely possible to meditate no matter the background noise–leaf blowers, fireworks, a thunderstorm. I do try to choose a quieter time if I can. No doubt every apartment complex, dorm, or other communal living space has its quieter times.)
  • Physical issues make sitting in the ‘proper’ position too painful. (My view is that the proper position is the one that allows you to meditate comfortably for the amount of time that yields the benefit you’re looking for. Insight meditation also recommends being comfortable. I once attended a day-long meditation retreat, and found that the grouchy monk running the retreat and I had different views on this. As I made myself comfortable, he shot me looks, and finally explained how wrong it was to do so–that if a fly, for example, lands on your nose while you’re meditating, you should simply allow it to sit there for as long as it likes. I was very comfortable with never returning to that meditation center. I believe a real spiritual leader won’t judge you, and neither should you judge yourself, if you decide that being comfortable while you meditate is right for you.)
  • They’ve tried it, but clearly have no talent for meditation, as they just can’t stop thinking no matter how hard they try. (There are a lucky few who have a natural talent for meditation–the rest of us get to get good at it the hard way, which starts off in exactly this way. As someone to whom a few things have come easily, I think it’s a salutary experience to keep working at something worthwhile despite no immediate signs of genius. I have read–and I believe this–that meditating with your mind running 100 miles an hour is still practice.)

So there are the excuses. If you haven’t yet committed to a meditation practice, here are a few reasons to meditate based on my own experience, that I hope will speak to you.

  1. Meditation is great for releasing what’s bothering you. When I’m feeling upset, I often try to make time to meditate ahead of schedule (typically after breakfast and before my shower in the morning, and before bed at night). Inevitably anything I’m upset or excited about will cross my mind as I meditate. When it does, I visualize packing several symbols of whatever it is into a helium balloon, and cutting the string.
  2. Meditation is also great practice for releasing judgment of yourself and the need to be perfect. It soon becomes apparent that thoughts enter your mind, that’s what they do, and it’s OK. Perfection, whatever that might be, isn’t possible, but awareness and recognition of what’s happening is. You simply recognize the thoughts, release them, and move on–nothing else is necessary. This works in real life, too–you notice something has gone off the rails a bit, take corrective action, and just keep moving.
  3. Once you’ve meditated for awhile, not only does ‘monkey mind’ rarely happen during meditation, but my experience has been that it fades considerably all the rest of the time too. I used to actually try to drum up thoughts in quiet moments, asking myself, ‘OK, what’s next?’ I don’t do that anymore, and there are nice quiet spaces in my mind pretty much all the time. Peace, in other words. Calm. Serenity.
  4. I find that meditating before bed generally puts me in the perfect frame of mind for sleep. Good sleep is pretty much impossible to overvalue.
  5. When I meditate, I’ve found that I’m much more patient and tolerant. It’s not unusual now for people to thank me for my patience. I’m not sure that happened even once in all the years I didn’t meditate.
  6. Studies have shown that violent crime decreases in the surrounding area when people meditate regularly. I love that a practice intended to benefit me and my own life, in combination with the practice of others I both know and don’t know, raises the vibration of our neighborhoods and cities such that harmful violence is prevented, and lives that could have been painfully disrupted or even ended, never are. Together, we can bring that about.

If you meditate, what benefits have you experienced?

This post is illustrated with the SoulCollage card I made today, Meditation.

SoulCollage® cards are for personal use, and are not for sale, barter, or trade.


Nourishing the soul

Lavender fields

This coming week, I’ll have the luxury of time. Following plenty of grueling work, I’m taking a little vacation time, and I’ve also been given some comp time. With the weekend, I’ll have nearly a week off. I thought about taking an impromptu road trip, but ultimately decided to stay home.

So I’ve been giving thought to this question–how best to use this time to enjoy myself, to relax, to experience what brings me joy and pleasure–how best to nourish my soul?

I believe that the soul and body are differentiated, that the soul has its own trajectory before the body is born, which continues after the body dies. But for now, during this life, they are one–so what truly nourishes the soul also nourishes the body, and what truly nourishes the body also nourishes the soul. Meditation nourishes the soul, but it’s also been proven to change the mind for the better, as well as improve health outcomes for the body.

So here’s what I’d like to do next week … I may not get to all of it, but I’m going to have a good time trying!

  • As I do every week, I’ll take time to write. I hope I’ll feel inspired to write a bit more than usual.
  • I meditate twice a day, nearly every day without fail, but I often struggle to carve out the necessary time. Some months ago I accepted a challenge to meditate 40 minutes at a stretch for 40 days. It was a true challenge to find the time to do that, but often it felt like a true luxury rather than an obligation. I plan on some luxuriously long meditation time.
  • I’ve been thinking about a bath each and every day. That sounds like a little bit of heaven. (I take a shower every day, in case you’re picturing Pig-Pen! But I usually only have time to take a bath once a week or so.)
  • As a child, I read all the time, escaping into the world of books. I usually finished a book or two every day. These days, I read a lot of short-form writing, but books? Not so much anymore. I want to find a lovely new book and read it cover to cover.
  • While I’m at the bookstore, I’ll probably indulge in one of my favorite I-have-a-few-hours-all-to-myself activities. I like to select a large pile of magazines from an extensive newsstand, look through them, and choose two or three with the most beautiful images (useful for SoulCollage) to take home.
  • Perhaps I’ll feel inspired to make some collage art.
  • Have I mentioned sleep? Lots and lots of sleep-debt-erasing sleep.
  • Cooking is a beautiful way to be creative, and with immediate, tangible results too! I plan to cook something delicious and a bit decadent–probably my meatloaf, which I shape on a jellyroll pan, and cover entirely in bacon + glaze. Perhaps that’s more than a bit decadent?
  • I’ll definitely take some time to work in my garden. Gardening is a guaranteed way for me to quickly drop out of clock time and into the flow, where I feel I’m working hand-in-hand with God. It’s a great time to do some fall cleanup in the cool early morning hours.
  • Antiquing is another activity I find really relaxing. You never know what you’ll find, and usually I have no shopping agenda. There are no wrong turns, and serendipity very well may be around the next corner. You may see something you’ve never seen before, or find something stunningly beautiful–and be able to take it home for a song. (I’ve been to fancy antiques shows where I admired very old celadon pottery, each piece selling for thousands. But I find the glazes of 20th-century pottery just as pleasing, and nothing could be easier than finding a lovely piece, certainly for less than $100, and probably less than $50. A few weeks ago, I found a vintage red Swingline Cub stapler–à la Office Space, only one of the funniest movies of all time–for $6, and couldn’t have been more pleased.) I’ve made plans to visit one of my favorite town squares and its shops, antique and otherwise.
  • I love new experiences–they’re rather addictive once you start–and so I’ve made reservations at a restaurant I’ve never been to before. It’s in a restored 130-year-old house, just off that town square, that I can’t wait to see!
  • Naturally I’ll spend time with the people and animals who are important to me. I hope to get together with my sister. I’ll wish a friend who’s moving away bon voyage over brunch at a favorite restaurant. And hopefully the weather will be perfect for a visit to the dog park.
  • And of course, solitude is lovely too. There will be some (but considerably less than a hundred years!).

Probably some of the same things that feed my soul feed yours, but I suspect you have a long list all your own. How might you be able to nourish your soul today, or this week, in a truly meaningful way?

This post is illustrated with my SoulCollage card Lavender fields.

How to get unstuck


By chance are you feeling stuck today? Perhaps you know what you need to do, but you’re unsure of the next step. Or perhaps you know the next step, but can’t seem to take it. Maybe you just have an aimless feeling, like your sense of purpose has gone AWOL. Maybe you feel like you’ve been in a rut forever, and don’t know how to get out. Perhaps you find yourself in a liminal stage between an ending and a new beginning, and things aren’t flowing as you’d like. Whatever your level of stuckness, here are some ideas to get you moving in the right direction …

  1. Write down some intentions about what you want your life to look like. Get out your journal–or, if you don’t have one, take a quick trip to the bookstore and treat yourself to a lovely new one in a favorite color. Then open your journal to a blank page, and let your intuition guide you as you write a title. It could be “My intentions for …” or “What I want my life to look like.” Your title could relate to how you feel stuck, or it could relate to something seemingly different. Thoughts about your list may come to you over a few days. Fine-tune it until it really expresses what you want (you may want to copy it out again once you’re done), and then read through it every so often. I like to read through mine before I meditate.
  2. Check your energy flow, and correct it if necessary.
  3. If you’re feeling stuck, you might not be grounded.
  4. Fix something that’s bugging you. WD-40 the creaky door. Pull the weeds you’ve been eyeing. Is a tree seedling or some noxious weed (devil vine is the bane of my existence) sprouting from a seam in your driveway or sidewalk? Boil the teakettle and put a stop to that. (Sometimes it takes more than once, but boiling water always wins.) Kick something ugly to the curb. Say no to something you’ve been asked to do that doesn’t feel right for you. (Don’t you feel better already?)
  5. Clear some clutter. This is a fantastic way to power through a barrier. You’ll get the biggest bang from clearing old and/or negative clutter (i.e., clutter with negative associations for you). Bonus points for clearing clutter directly related to an area where you feel stuck. You may want to identify an area where you can make a significant impact in a reasonable amount of time–an area where you’ve already made a decision about what needs to happen, or where you can make that decision right now.
  6. Try something new today–and if you don’t try new things regularly, begin to make it a habit. (This one step can easily change your whole outlook on life.) Have lunch or dinner at a new restaurant that’s getting good reviews. Try a food or cuisine you’ve never tried before, or a new recipe. Call a friend and have an impromptu picnic, or take a walk, in a park or public garden that’s new to you. Stop in a store that’s caught your eye. Go see that museum exhibit that looks so interesting. Take a weekend road trip to someplace you’ve never been. Take a workshop and learn how to do something you’ve never done before. If there’s something you’ve always wanted to do, take that first step today. Always wanted to play the piano? Find a teacher and book a lesson. If you’re deciding whether or not to do something, and the no feels like unjustified fear–say yes.
  7. Look around your home for things that belong to someone you used to be. Are there textbooks from the student you used to be? (You’ll never need to know more about the accounting methods of 20 years ago.) Shelves of novels when you’ve stopped reading fiction? Magazines about hobbies you don’t do anymore? A whole wardrobe? Love letters (or hate letters)? What baggage could you release today in order to create space for the you you’re becoming?
  8. Look around your office at work. What’s out of date? What project is every bit as extinct as the dinosaur, but you still have all the paperwork? (Maybe you can let go of all the files for Project Dinosaur, if there’s no company policy that mandates keeping them.) Do you see any paper that’s actually yellowed? This may be a clue.
  9. Add something to your life that will guarantee change, like a new friend, or a new pet.
  10. Slough off your old skin quite literally. Go shopping for a body scrub that smells wonderful, and use it. (Fresh has some lovely products.) Get a pedicure, facial, or massage. Get a haircut. Get your teeth cleaned (it’s good feng shui!).
  11. What do you have that’s expired, past its use-by date? Check the cupboards and medicine cabinet. Find a prescription take-back program (your city or pharmacy may have one), and take advantage of it.
  12. If you’re still not sure what your next step is, ask yourself the question, and go to sleep. See if you don’t wake up with new insight.


How to go to sleep

sweet dreams

Every baby is born knowing how to go to sleep, and they do so effortlessly, whenever they want to (emphasis on whenever they want to).

And then … then it can get more complicated.

This week, for me, sleeping was complicated. I was eventually successful at getting my sleep back on track, and I thought I’d write about what I did, since I imagine that at any given time, there must be thousands if not millions of people having exactly the same problem.

First I’ve noted the things I do to sleep well on a regular basis, and then the additional measures I took when my sleeping pattern started to go off the rails. (Where I’ve written about a topic before, such as how to meditate, I’ve linked to it.)

Here’s what I do on a regular basis …

  1. I keep my life pretty unplugged–no TV or smartphone, but I do have a laptop. I’ve read recommendations to avoid screen usage starting two hours before bedtime, and so I try to avoid going online as bedtime approaches. This way, not only do I not encounter the artificial light that’s known to interfere with sleep, but also all the mental clutter I could encounter by reading my e-mail, a news site, a combative forum, etc. If you do go online as bedtime approaches, I recommend keeping it positive. If you have anyone in your life who’s apt to drop bombshells via e-mail, maybe it’s best not to go there.
  2. I’ve always been a light sleeper, but (spoiler alert!) as I’ve gotten older, hormonal changes associated with perimenopause appeared to significantly accentuate this tendency. As a result, I take two things at bedtime. One, a low-dose progesterone replacement, and two, a tryptophan supplement. On a normal night I take just one of the three tryptophan caplets, and I get a noticeable benefit. If I know I’m wired or if I’m falling asleep slowly, I’ll take another.
  3. As I mentioned, I do have a bedtime–you’re never too old for bedtime! It has some flexibility to it, but I know about what time I need to get the household ready for bed, and I know there will be negative consequences for me in terms of sleep debt if I don’t track to it.
  4. If you have a job that exercises only your brain, as I do, getting some physical exercise is a great idea. Being tired in all senses helps me be ready to sleep. I love to take walks by a nearby river, and I’m equipped to do so in various types of weather. Gardening and dancing are great exercise too. I like exercise to be pleasant and fun. I’m sure there are people who love the gym … sadly I’m not one of them.
  5. I limit caffeine to 1-3 cups of green tea a day, and usually a max of one coffee drink (such as a Starbucks tall, which for anyone lucky enough to be outside Starbucks’ orbit, is their little way of saying small). If I’m tired and really need to crank it out, once in a blue moon I’ll have two cups of coffee. I enjoy it, and typically have it in the morning on a workday. I’ll usually have decaffeinated coffee with dessert at a restaurant–for some reason, I feel that dessert calls for coffee. I try never to have caffeine after 6 pm, and often avoid coffee on the weekends. I stopped drinking soft drinks a few years ago after eliminating my beloved Dr Pepper during a 21-day cleanse. After 21 days without it, it no longer tasted the same and it became clear I could live without it, so I have.
  6. My bedroom is my bedroom–not a gym or an office. I don’t own any exercise equipment, and have my office in a separate room. If you’re short on real estate, I’d recommend compromising your dining room or living room rather than your bedroom. Far better to have the Nordic Track next to the sofa, and sleep like a baby. My bedroom is the preserve of peaceful, pleasant, low-tech activities.
  7. I have no clock in my bedroom. I do need an alarm; my clock is a battery-operated Zen alarm, and I keep it in the hallway outside the bedroom. Typically one of my dogs gets up and alerts me even before I can hear it myself (she’s responding to the sound it makes before it starts to chime).
  8. I have no phone in my bedroom. Not only do I not want it ringing in my ear and waking me unpleasantly, but I’ve learned when my phone line has been dead how much more peaceful I feel without a live phone line right next to me.
  9. Every night, typically right before bed, I meditate for at least 15-20 minutes. This usually helps me wind down and puts me in the proper frame of mind for sleep. It’s also a good idea to set the intention at this time that your own energy be optimized for sleep.
  10. It’s a great idea to keep the bedroom clean. I’m not talking about a sterile environment perfect for watchmaking, but getting the dust bunnies out from under the bed on a regular basis can only help create a fresher environment that’s more conducive to sleep. If your bedroom’s gotten a bit dusty while you were busy doing other things (and whose hasn’t), there’s no better use of your time than to take a few minutes to get it in better shape. I promise you’ll be delighted with the fresh energy you create.
  11. I prefer to garden outside, but I do keep a few houseplants in my bedroom to help purify the air. I originally put them there on the recommendation of a feng shui consultant. I think she had a specific reason for wanting me to have them there that year, but they remain and still serve a useful purpose.
  12. I make sure the dogs go outside immediately before bedtime. A couple of them (I have three) aren’t so fond of the backyard late at night, and no doubt they have their reasons. If they’re reluctant to go out, I take them in the front yard instead.
  13. At bedtime, I spray the linens with diluted French lavender essential oil. I use Aveda Pure-fume Spirit Spray, which I have custom made this way at any of their stores. I get one free on my birthday, and so can you. I’ve noticed that the lavender aromatherapy makes a real qualitative difference in the depth of my sleep.
  14. My front porch light shines through some of my bedroom windows, so I turn it off before bed. I keep the back porch light on, a night light (with an LED bulb) in the kitchen only, and keep a lamp with a dimmer switch in my office on very low (this allows me to see the keypad for the security system). Otherwise, the house is dark.
  15. Good pillows are worth whatever you pay for them. I’m allergic to feathers, so I’m partial to a not-too-thick, medium-firm pillow with an organic cotton or wool filling. Good sheets are worthwhile, too. I like linen, or in the winter, cozy organic cotton jersey.
  16. I lower the thermostat a degree or two at bedtime for optimal comfort. When the weather’s perfect, perhaps a little cooler outside than inside, I open a bedroom window for a few hours before bedtime in order to get the freshest possible air. (If you have the thermostat set at a temperature that’s non-optimal for your sleep because you or someone in your household likes to save a buck … if you’re in no danger of having your utilities disconnected, I believe there are better ways to squeeze a dime.)

This week, I took the following extra measures:

  1. It’s a great idea to be aware of your city’s quiet hours, and make sure others are following them when you need to be sleeping. You shouldn’t have to listen to nail guns at 6 am, or a dog barking all night long. Sometimes not everyone is aware of the law, so I like to let people (neighbors, contractors, etc.) know about the law and ask for their cooperation before I ask for it to be enforced. Very often, that’s all that’s needed. In my case, I made calls and sent e-mails about 24/7 construction noise. Technically I learned that round-the-clock construction is allowed at a distance of more than 300 feet, but I was able to achieve a considerable reduction in noise.
  2. I bought malleable silicone earplugs. They don’t block all sound, but they do block a lot of unpleasant noise. I was concerned about getting earplugs that block everything since hearing does provide important safety cues, allows my dogs to communicate with me, allows me to hear my alarm, etc. All that is good.
  3. I changed the sheets. Nothing says “Let’s go to sleep” like freshly unfurled sheets and pillowcases from the linen press. If you anticipate any challenge in going to sleep, making your bed completely fresh is incredibly inviting.
  4. I’m encouraging my dogs to be more considerate. No barking in the middle of the night when they go outside, and they get one chance to decide to join the party–no serial trips outside.
  5. Taking a lovely hot bath with Epsom salts is extremely helpful, especially if the cause of your insomnia is a magnesium deficiency.
  6. The first four nights this week that I had difficulty sleeping, I wasn’t able to go back to sleep after getting up to let the dogs out. The fifth night, I never went to sleep at all. At 2 am, I got up to meditate (again). I knew exactly what was bothering me, and also that it was my “resistance to what is” that was keeping me awake. I decided it had to stop. I got out my journal, and wrote down everything I want in this (work-related) situation, none of which I’m getting. I then wrote down that I know I’m not going to get what I want from the other person involved, either now or later–and I accept that. I’m not changing what I want, need, and expect, but I am changing my resistance to the reality of what I’m getting. I’m also putting my intention out there for a match between what I want, need, and expect and what I get in the future. With that, I suddenly became very sleepy, and was able to go back to bed and sleep peacefully the rest of the night. So, while completely acknowledging how difficult this step can be, I recommend releasing your resistance to what’s bugging you. Like resentment, resistance only harms you. Jesus said, “… Resist not evil” (Matthew 5:39). He didn’t mean, of course, that evil is all right, simply that resistance is not an effective strategy.
  7. If your sleep is off track, don’t be afraid to do whatever it takes to fix the problem. Your sleep directly, and by that I mean directly, facilitates your sanity–which is more than just a nice-to-have. You ignore sleep deprivation at your peril. This week I took a day off work to ensure I got myself back on track–and that my sleep deprivation had no unintended consequences. Some years ago I had a crisis during which I was sleeping two hours every other night. That, my friends, is not enough. I got myself to a doctor, got a prescription, and took it. (Actually, on reflection, I told my sister what I needed and she made the appointment and drove me to it. Driving when seriously sleep deprived: Seriously not a good idea. I still owe her for her help at that time. Which brings up another point: Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it.) Some months later, I began weaning myself off it, cutting the pills into the smallest pieces I could without their turning to dust. I believe it was just about a year later when I was completely off it. I’ve had people who weren’t sleeping tell me they don’t want to be dependent on a sleep aid, and that is very admirable. I would love to see more of that attitude, in general. But dependence on a legal prescription is far from the worst possible thing that could happen as a result of sleep deprivation, and it need not be permanent. In my experience, I’m able to take prescription medication one night to sleep, when I need it, and I may be able to sleep well without it the next. So it’s important to realize that a sleep aid can be used occasionally. However, if you’ve tried everything else and decide you need a prescription, please be sure to research any prescribed drug you plan to take carefully. Some sleeping pills are known to have serious side effects.

On a lighter note, illustrating this post is the SoulCollage card I made today, Sweet Dreams. My sincere wish for you is sweet dreams and sound sleep–tonight and every night!

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