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Sleep revelation: How rest contributes to creative practice

Meditation in every case, supports rest and revelation

In the past two months I have attempted to change my sleep patterns as a way of moderating mild anxiety and persistent worry. These challenges negatively influence my work and my general well-being. Working with a sleep specialist, I have had a set of neurofeedback sessions in his office. I have added an afternoon “digestion” meditation to the transition period between working and home hours. And I have added 90 minutes of sleep to my night.

While these steps may seem radical, I believe these times, our wild world and the daily maelstrom of news, require each of us to dig in to self-care in bigger ways.

My friend Katey Schultz says,

“Rest supports revelation.”

 

My experience bears Katey’s statement out, though my road to revelation is often paved with roadblocks, boulders, and niggling thorns in the seams of my jeans. I navigate these challenges better when I am rested.

Isn’t this true for all of us? Adding sleep does not necessarily clear challenge from my path.

But, when I sleep more, I have a saner head. I take a risk, a leap, and a bigger step. Life supplies rubble. This morning in yoga, my teacher Ilana suggested that these thorns and stones could be used as reference points. Not all of life is easy. We identify ourselves by our boulders–those obstacles in our way around which we build strength and character. Some years it is family life and the kids. Other years it is an aging parent or loss. Other years it is complications that we could each give one hundred names to and still not cover them all.

How many ways do we have to enter creative practice? So many thresholds. Slowing down helps you find the way through.

Right now, in America, the road is full of rubble. Each of us, no matter what work we are doing or where our partners or friends or children spend their hours, we are all handling the reality that what has been solid in our lives, this democratic society, has been rattled dramatically. The sure foundation of our Constitution remains, but the keepers of civil society, such as it is right now, include a set of people whose values do not reflect those of the greater populace.

I cannot write about my sleep habits and the benefit good sleep has on creative practice and the lives of women, especially mothers, without addressing the fear many of us feel as tangible. Wherever health care goes, basic reproductive rights for all women are in question. This shakes our roots.

 

What do sleep and rubble have to do with creative practice?

Every single woman I have sat with, who picks up a pen and brings her inner life to paper, meets with revelation at some point. It may not come for a few weeks; it may come all at once. But the act of engaging our inner lives with writing formulates what I call voice, where what we love and linger over, what we are inflamed by and protest, where what we stand for as value for all humans becomes evident.

Do you believe we all deserve the right to express ourselves? Check out the work of the Community Access To the Arts (CATA) here in Great Barrington. CATA makes sure that differently abled adults here in Berkshire County have the opportunity to explore Shakespeare, to encounter and be moved by poetry, to write their own poem and then speak it or hear it read by others. They dance, they sing, and they perform. CATA is one way inclusivity and expression expands.

This is a question that appears as a stone in my path. If I seek to express myself, to find a way around the boulders or challenges that my life provides, becoming more distinct and unique because of them, then I must seek to make sure that someone else has that same chance. This is exactly the reason why I teach.

 

Sleep is one way to slow down.My experiment with sleep has had positive results. The transition meditation means I set a time when I am “done” for the day. I laugh to think of trying to attempt this when my kids were living at home. With my husband and I both working from home and the kids in college, our work hours easily bleed in to the evening. Now, I mark the time when I close up my studio, clap my laptop shut, or turn off the lamps on my desk. Sitting in meditation for ten minutes, I return to steady slow breathing while my brain shifts gears. Cognition is a mighty force in the brain and thinking is an exciting endeavor for the mind. It is intriguing to consider these functions as actions that can subside or come to rest. As I get to know my habits better and learn about my brain patterns, I find my thinking to be more clear and sharp, my capacity for extended focus greater in ways that feel like an advanced yoga practice, deeply satisfying and rewarding for the insight. Simple tasks feel simple again. I can handle them with ease.

But sleep habits are hard to break.

I have eased up on intense evening reading. After we’ve cleaned up dinner, I read the newspaper, knit, go for a walk with my husband, embroider on my #1yearofstitches sampler and go to bed early. How early? Way earlier than I have gone to bed except for deepest winter when bed is the warmest spot in the house. Last night I was in bed at 8:30, lights out at 9.

I know. That is early.

Not very cool to go to bed so early, but the exchange for clarity and comfort is worth the effort. My doctor assures me that as I “fill my bank of sleep,” singular late evenings will not throw me off kilter. This weekend we were out two evenings in a row, so my sleep hours shortened. I still wake up early. It is hard for me to add hours to the morning, so I make do with the sleep I have.

Isn’t that what I have been doing for, say, like my whole life? There was a period of time in my late teens and early twenties when I slept for 3 hours a night. Life was so fun and interesting, I didn’t want to sleep. Years later, with two children under five years of age, I napped with them, slept hard, all three of us curled together in my big bed.

That sounds like heaven to me just now.

 

I used to nap with these people! Now they sleep in their own beds and I rest easy knowing they are on their way.

Ben and Cat surprised me on Mother’s Day. I was walking around the garden in my jammies when they showed up early for breakfast

Time has passed. They are big, big kids now, nearly adults and certainly behaving like adults most of the time. I have my own work, the things I am called to do, and I can set my own hours. This new habit gains strength.

Finding and using your voice, engaging in rigorous self-care, advocating for the voices and rights of others to express, these all reside at the foundation of who I am. I am challenged by weariness, by fear, by frustration, but I will not back down, for myself, or for you.

 

 

 

You could come write with me this summer at the International Women’s Writing Guild at Muhlenberg, Pennsylvania. IWWG is the place where my voice kindled under the teaching of a faculty of brave and bold women who know that each of our voices matter. IWWG is not a fancy retreat, not a spa vacation with writing; it is a gathering of fierce women who know that stories matter. We meet on a college campus with tall, elegant trees, in a setting that allows your desire to meet skill, where writing and expression are seen as human rights that must be available to all.

I will teach a mixed media course for 6 days in which we create our own Oracle cards. You know those boxed sets of cards that bear messages from archangels or goddesses or animals? We will let our own words be our own wise counsel.

What message would you give your self today? What do you most need to hear, right now?

 

 

Who should sing the song of goodness and well-being into the world? The Buddha? Jesus? Mother Teresa?

Why wait for a great leader when we each have a song in our throat?

– Noelle Vignola, Meditation Travelogue

 

Being well-rested makes it easier to make strong positive choices for how we spend our time. Getting enough sleep means I don’t labor over the rubble, but find my way around or over it.

I’d love to learn about your sleep habits, what happens for you when you let yourself really sleep. Or if you’ve found another key to supporting clear thinking.

And, as always, I wish you ease with those boulders in your path.

 

Love,

S

 

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