December means Advent.
And it means Tracking Wonder’s Quest is on. The Quest is a gathering of business artists, guided by Jeffrey Davis and a score of inspired leaders who ask how we can do business as unusual in the coming year. My Rampant Sisterhood has expanded because of the Quest, with guest bloggers here like Marisa Goudy and Tania Pryputniewicz. This is my third year participating. Watch for links below if you’d like to join this free initiative to look at your work in an invigorating light. Today’s topic is self-love.
Susan Piver, author of Start, Here, Now and the Open Heart Project and hosts the Mommy Sangha on her site with Jenna Hollenstein, posed the second prompt question to the Quest this week. Here is her question, followed by my response.
Do you love yourself enough to stop working on yourself yet?
Who would you be in that case?
There is nothing so self-loving as getting yourself to sleep at night. Nothing to work on, nothing to improve, just an entry in to the ubiquitous dark night, welcome dreams, welcome peace filled mind, welcome quiet digestion, welcome serene surroundings, welcome safe harbor, welcome sleep.
We do it for ourselves every single night. No one grades us on how we fall asleep. Young parents hover around a baby. Good sleeper? Bad sleeper? These qualifications wear off in almost every case, because eventually, at least by college, you will have figured out how to get yourself to sleep.
I am not a person with debilitating sleep issues. If you are one of those, you might not find this post interesting at all. I once dated a narcoleptic medical student. We both had bicycles as our sole mode of transportation around Houston, where we lived. This was very green of us, so green, in that hot dry city. But it was also hair-raising to be on a date with a guy on a ten-speed who might just fall asleep unannounced at stoplight or in the movie theatre from where I could not haul him. This post is not for him.
For the most of my life, I have been a moderately normal sleeper, grossly normal, as we like to say in this household.
That is, until I got to Gyumri this November. It wasn’t the sleeping part that was my problem though; it was the getting to sleep. The evenings were long and dark, very long, and very dark. Most of that city heats with wood stoves, so night falls in to a smoky landscape with few street lamps except for the central square. I moved around in the evenings quickly, from dinner to shop to my lodging. Not out of fear, there is very little “stranger on stranger” violence in Armenia. I moved swiftly to get inside my pink walled room where fluorescent lamps would provide some company. I planned and packed for so many contingencies for this three week residency, but what I did not prepare for well were those evenings.
All day long in Gyumri, I would carry out my New Illuminations project, teaching, interviewing, or preparing for an exhibit. I taught two different groups of people, I walked almost everywhere, almost always had a translator with me, and also maintained my daily creative practice. I was no longer preparing for this residency, working on myself as teacher, photographer, book artist, writer, in all the ways that I got ready for an extended time away from home to work in another country.
I was, as Susan Piver asks, done working on myself, simply and fully swimming the stream of my life, deep and alive.
But the evenings were work. When I was in Gyumri last March I learned that after a day of interviews, I was especially exhausted. So, in November, I was alert to the need to tenderly care for myself in the evenings. But what surprised me was the need to treat myself almost as a separate person, if that makes sense. I made myself dance to music, I made myself shower and pamper my body, and I made myself read uplifting things. Too tired to write and I had forgotten my knitting; I needed to fill the three hours until 10:00 with activity that would promote sleep. This meant absolutely no social media after 9. On a few forlorn evenings, I let myself scroll past Instagram images, but for the most part, I read a book or a packet of notes my writing group had sent along for me. I read myself to sleep.
What I learned from those long dark nights, is that working on myself, as I do in yoga, building up to hand stand or side crow, is different from the intimate company I keep with myself when I am in need. My evening tenderness was not a project I prepared for or could study to solve; it was a way to be in solemn and attentive presence with myself.
New Illuminations project was a joy to immerse myself in. I loved flying freely with the material, with the women I met and worked with, and in the exhibit. And learning to help myself to sleep at night, while not a big project, was necessary work. I discovered a well of tenderness for myself that I did not know I had before. Lonely in a time zone 9 hours from my partner and our evening rituals, I was led to engage my best practices for the most basic of my needs, those which flow so easily at home, but need to be established on the road.
I allowed my “soft animal body,” as Mary Oliver suggests in Wild Geese, to love what it needed to love in order to go to sleep. Apparently what I needed to love was my self. I slept well every single night.
I am grateful for Susan’s prompt. And grateful for the Quest community as a collaborative pool in which to swim. If you are interested in joining this free offer from Tracking Wonder, go here.
Here is Peggy Acott’ s response to Krista Tippett’s prompt #YourTrueCalling.
And Barbara Brucker Suarez’ at Birth Happens.
And a section of mine from my Dark Journal.