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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Showing 20 comments
  • Ursula Kern
    Reply

    Suzi,

    how you hit my daily question as I lost in our heavy situation my ability to sleep well during the night.
    Before I got to bed and slept until morning, awakening fresh and motivated.
    I know I for years sleep to less and this has to do with my missing self discipline : after a long busy kids-family-work day I enjoy very much the hours after 9pm for reading, talking, watching movies and documentaries when quietness comes slowly over the house.
    I know I feel much better and more creative when resisting to have a glass of wine late in the evening.
    So here is the point for myself: feel the strength and joy of resisting several days a week – so other late nights are ok. And: a 20 minute afternoon nap is the best for me – so I try t integrate this in my days as often as possible. Thank you for giving me more power for self discipline with your writing. Love Ursula

    • Suzi
      Reply

      Yes Ursula dear-you are integrating so much, on a normal run-of-the-mill day. I see you napping in the corner with the Turkish rug on a shady afternoon. And I know you will find your sleep again when your days settle out a bit more. Here is much love to you! S

  • Sarah
    Reply

    Suzi. SLEEP is my “higher power,” the one they talk about AA, the sole spiritual healer of my addiction. When I drink, my sleep is tormented, barbed wire waking me at 3, shame thick as quicksand behind my eyes. When I am sober, my sleep is primitive, hourless, mystic, innocent. I wake years ago, years behind now. I wake wondering where the days have gone. I wake wondering why I would ever drink again the days between then and now, why I would drink away the time between innocence and middle age. Sober sleep heals my cells and gives me true wakefulness which sometimes becomes painful but I am trying to practice sleeping instead of drinking. Sleep is where God waits for me. Sleep is my sanctuary.

    • Suzi
      Reply

      Sarah? This is a prayer. And I will hold you in that sanctuary, your access to it easy and ready. Thank you for writing here. The truth in your words blesses this space. Much love and thanks, Suzi

  • Lori
    Reply

    Suzi- your writing here, as always strikes a deep resident chord. Always one step ahead of me because your kids are just that much ahead of mine, I am living my way into the truth that you write here. As my daughter moves more into her adult world, I find I’m sleeping in great gulps of time. Always a meditator as you know, I absolutely love and then intrigued by your end of day meditation to assist in the transition between work and rest. It is something I will emphasize in our home and moving forward. as always, I will no doubt carry your sensitive wisdom and the beauty of your words through my day.

    • Suzi
      Reply

      Oh Lori, somedays I wish I could be one of your kids. You have made visible a mindful practice for so long, I can see your family melding around a late afternoon sit. Not that I didn’t, but meditation was something I did away from my family. B and C are coming to it on their own, and that is great. Also, I love when you speak your comments in to Siri, there is a difference that I love. No worries about spelling, ever. Much love to you all in this big time! xoS

  • Lori
    Reply

    I trust you will realize that I save time by using Siri to write this comment- thus, the typos which I didn’t catch upon speaking.

  • Sue Richardson
    Reply

    Suzi, oddly, my sleep has been severely disrupted the past 2 months. I feel better imagining us all in this whatever we want to call it together. When I have a good night, I am soooo thankful. Since I have quadruplet daughters 25 years this summer, we are all feeling concerned about women’s rights. I am patiently waiting for the pendulum to swing. Thanks for your lovely self. 😘

    • Suzi
      Reply

      Thank you for your lovely self too Sue! It is great to read you here. I can imagine the way reality sifts through all 5 of you at times. I hope you can find a way back to sleep. From this thread of comments, I see that we all long for solid good rest. Naps help. Early to bed helps. And unplugging does too-big time for me. Lots of love! S

  • Susie Kaufman
    Reply

    It’s so interesting to me that you chose to write about sleep today. I’m writing about stillness. It seems that the commotion around us really pleads for an antidote. Love your word rubble. Also….I am a lifelong insomniac and am actually doing better now than at any time in my younger years. I talk to myself about my body…..”my right hand is on the pillow, my left foot is dangling off the bed…” This practice seems to take me out of my thinking self which is working way too hard trying to figure out if we’ll all survive…..Blessings, Susie

    • Suzi
      Reply

      Oh Susie, blessings on that thinking self! If you are up to it, join us at Powder Keg tomorrow evening, June 7. We are having a very informal reading of recent work. We will write. Maybe we could write bedtime prayers? Lots of love to you! S

      • Susie Kaufman
        Reply

        I know the prayers of all of the lovely Powder Keggers will be heard tonight. You send a flood of blessings out into the world. Love to all, Susie

  • Elizabeth Teal
    Reply

    i think of the old saying, “a man’s work is form sun to sun, a woman’s work is never done” and ponder the need to give myself permission to rest fully, and the myth that i can give fully without it. i have on many days decided to emulate a cat – many naps, in sun and shade. My mother’s best friend had a sleep couch in her studio and for 10-15 minutes out of every hour, she would lie down. ” Just to sort the world, and make all her deadlines” she would say. as i age this makes more and more sense to me. Sleep heals. Dreams too. thank you!

    • Suzi
      Reply

      Thank you Lizzie T! I moved a couch in to my studio a few years ago. I don’t nap on it so much as snuggle and get away from my desk. I have such images in my mind, made up ones because I never got to Vinylhaven, but my imagined images of your Mom’s life and her friends, artists and ocean light lovers, what stories must be there! Thank you for your words. xoxoS

  • Tasha
    Reply

    It’s so interesting to read your thoughts and these comments! I find myself longing to sleep more lately, just being so tired in the evenings. I have no doubt that it comes at least in part from the barrage of worrying news. I’m trying to let myself sleep as it really feels helpful and healing, but also to balance it with setting up at least a few things that I’m excited about working on, so that I’m happy to get up and get into the day. Good luck to you, and to all of us navigating this time!

    • Suzi
      Reply

      Tasha you have been on my mind, especially as I sew. There is great value in setting things up for the next day. I learned this early with my kids, to set things out for morning. It has become something we each just do. It eases and provides a flame of excitement for what is to come upon waking. Lots of love to you! xooxS

  • Nancy McMillan
    Reply

    Thank you, Suzi, for this timely post. I agree that we are all operating under a shifted foundation of democracy and all we have taken for granted. It has affected me, and those close to me. This week I admit I have been feeling cranky, tired, discouraged, and restless. I believe that embracing more rest and sleep could serve me quite well, and is certainly an excellent place to begin coming back to myself.

    • Suzi
      Reply

      Even now, Nancy, a few miles down the road from when I wrote this post, I continue to feel the benefit of better sleep. Your words make me think of why I write early. I am my freshest most purely “me” self, not impinged by all the forces that work in and on me. Here is lots of love to you! Take notes. xooxS

  • Rose O'Reilly
    Reply

    Hi, I am a reader of yours that lives in the land down under, Australia. My husband and I have children that are all grown and left the nest (our little farm) some years ago now.
    We both go to bed early on a regular basis.
    It is the transition meditation that jumped out at me in this writing.
    My husband and I both work in our own little businesses, based from home. At the end of each day, there are chores to be done. We keep cattle.
    Every afternoon/early evening when the days duties and routines are “done” my husband gives our cattle a bucket of grain and some hay. He opens a cider, picks a piece of music and just sits with them. Most evenings I join him. Our dogs sit with us and the ducks come for their late afternoon swim on the dam before they retire for the night. We watch the last of the birds fly to their homes to roost.
    It is quiet and serene, the best part of the day. It is our transitional meditation, before we go inside to prepare the evening meal and get ready for the next day.
    Xo

    • Suzi
      Reply

      Rose! You are a poet! What a wonderful scene you paint here. Oh how I would love to see this moment in your day. Thank you for reading here. Did you know I have been to Oz twice? I toured there with Actors Theatre of Louisville in the mid-80s and returned there with a friend a few years later. I have a beloved soul sister in Palm Beach who hosts every friend of mine who visits the Sydney area. Maybe you have heard of her? She is a jazz singer, Justine Bradley. My son Ben traveled to Melbourne this winter and camped and traveled around. It is land that I love, for sure. I hope I can return some day soon. Thank you for writing and bringing your special brand of wonder to this comment thread. With love, S

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