I am about to tell you a story about a single, tiny, golden raisin that recently had the ability to shift my consciousness faster and more wholly than two entire years of soul searching. Yea, I know you're tired, so (remember, being tired and looking tired are wo different things- see last month's blog topic for more on THAT)- so you're probably thinking that you read that last sentence incorrectly- but I promise that you did not... I said a raisin! R-A-I-S-I-N- as in what some people might refer to as a dried-up-wrinkly-little-old grape! (Hey now, I know that all of you raisin lovers are about to get defensive, and you're right, they are so SO so much more than wrinkly old grapes- don't hurt me)- But this little raisin ignited a spark in me that is so bright and shiny, you'll want one too. And so I am calling this blog post - 'the little raisin that could' and will tell you all about it in just a few. But first, I will tell you a little bit about my life- My life as a person, my life in relationships, my life as a psychologist... and of course, how this all relates to SLEEP.
Here we go. So I, (as many of us do) find myself constantly trying so effortfully to be BETTER. Better than the person I was yesterday, more loving, more forgiving, more open.. to heal myself of past sorrows, patterns, difficulties... to work towards a place of joy versus suffering. Can you relate? It's hard not to be pushed and pushed and rushed and pressured to be better and better and more and more in this one little life. To eat better, to SLEEP better (<- I realize the irony here I really do) to live life to the fullest to be the best versions of ourselves, to be the best partner and family member, and member of society, the best psychologist even. And I truly believe with my heart and soul that all of these goals are GOOD goals. They are worthy, valuable, and truly honorable goals. I wouldn't be the person I am today if I didn't have this internal drive about me- it's one of my favorite characteristics- it even makes me smile-because I know that that spark will never go out, and on some occasions in this life I have watched it light up the lives of others and multiply, and that my friends, is so flipping awesome.
Back to the raisin. Yesterday I attended a Mindfulness Retreat for healthcare professionals during part of my workday. The retreat was mostly meant to increase mindful awareness among said professionals, positively influence motivation levels to incorporate a daily practice of mindfulness/meditation, and to help give us a moment of space, focus, and attention on ourselves via the "self-care" model that is so often talked about in healthcare professions. By doing so- by investing in these moments for ourselves- the intention is that we will become even better caretakers of others (and FYI, the research backs this up *1).
So here I was... I had raced there by the way, leaving behind the back to back meetings , patients, ringing phone, constant email influx, and other demands of the morning by driving like a maniac through the streets of New York with a sandwich in one hand and the directions on how to get to his peaceful zen spot in the other- and as I arrived, barely making it on time (a pretty consistent trait of mine which an old friend likes to observe "keeps some excitement in my life") my heart was pounding, my breath was heavy, my steps were quick, and my eyes were darting around trying to adjust to the layout of this brand new place that I had never been before, scanning to find my group. My mind, in between trying to figure out how to gobble down my lunch while navigating the streets and endlessly challenging parking situations all too common in NY, was relentlessly pulling me somewhere at least 15 minutes ahead- laying out the almost tragic scenario of walking into a calm, zen space, LATE, in a highly aroused and agitated physiological state (did I mention it was about 90 degrees and humid), and interrupting the mindfulness of those around me. I shook it off multiple times and as I look back now, I realize that this whole process of trying to be better, of rushing, of all the things I went through to just arrive at this place imitates the daily grind so many of us face. And it can be exhausting, truly exhausting. To constantly be working effortfully to become/achieve that specific person/state. I sometimes find myself rushing to a finish line that I’m not entirely sure is even there.
This paradoxical effortfulness is something that is also a big part of suffering from sleep difficulties. Those who have insomnia may be able to relate to the following scenario... You're exhausted. You try everything you can, you really try your hardest to fall asleep. Your mind is clear that you need to fall asleep, in fact, your mind is even trying to help you realize just how important it is to sleep by reminding you of all the consequences of not sleeping and the benefits of sleeping. So you continue to try and try and try your hardest to fall asleep- you tire yourself out, do all the things that you think will help, and then ultimately you may end up tossing and turning. WHY?? Because sleep, like life, is a natural process that maybe doesn’t need to be so effortful afterall. In fact, I would argue that sleep should NOT be effortful and that is something I teach my clients in CBT-I treatment with me. Falling asleep is process that's just supposed to HAPPEN- NOT one that is supposed to be effortful- in fact for those who sleep well, they likely don’t even recall trying to fall asleep at all each night!
I had found the place. It was beautiful, serene (see pictures included above) and as I entered I breathed a huge sigh of relief, finding that many other members would be late or were en route as well. I was warmly welcomed by the six members who were in attendance and we all began to settle into the peaceful environment. For those who cannot sleep- I highly recommend creating such a process about an hour before bedtime. To create enough space, and the right environment to begin to unwind the body/mind. Now I realize not all of us have a lake full of lilypads in our bedrooms, however, this can be done in multiple ways (which I will cover in a future blog post about how to create your bedtime zen den). For the mindfulness retreat, it took a little bit of peace and quiet, a view of nature, a safe space, and a few pre-session breathing techniques. With this, we began to settle back into our own bodies, slow our breath and with it our minds, and take in the sensations of the peaceful setting around us.
The psychologist leading the retreat asked us to close our eyes and hold out our hands -noting she would be putting some objects into our hands. I felt three tiny objects dropped into my palm and she began to lead us through an exercise in which we identified all five senses in relation to these objects. I know what you’re guessing, and you’re right- the objects were THREE LITTLE TINY CUTEST LITTLE RAISINS! We touched them and smushed them and smelled them and looked at them, concentrated on how each part of these tiny things affected our five senses. And finally, we were asked to place them in our mouths and finally, 10 long seconds later, asked to bite down (once) onto them. The unbelievably sweet, gummy, juicy raisin was released onto our tastebuds and it was seriously the most magnificent raisin I’ve ever had. I really tasted it. I really pictured and appreciated the planting of that grape vine, the way that the earth came together to grow these grapes until they were ripe, the harvester who picked the grape and then put it somewhere to dry, and the strength and power of our very own, ever present, ever shining, sun to turn that little grape into the tiny raisin I just ate. And do you know what I thought? I thought ‘WOW.’ I thought, ‘how MANY raisins have I really missed out on in my life?’ ‘How many raisins (e.g., moments, glances, people, laughs, appreciation for others and food and the earth and all we have) have I gone through life without fully appreciating… without fully being’ And I began to feel the weight of rushing through my life to get to one finish line or the other... the weight of brushing off people, moments, connections because my mind was somewhere else… the weight of the way we are trained to live our lives. And I realized in that very moment, just how much there is to appreciate in each moment, just how beautiful this life really is, and just how many forms of love we could CHOOSE to see/encounter/accept/be with on a daily basis. LIFE, this one life we get- it’s often times just about BEING. Not trying to BE, not effortfully becoming something new- but just being. (Thanks Raisin).
And I thought about you. I thought about the people in this world who suffer. Maybe from sleeping issues, maybe from any number of a billion other things. And I thought about how this life is simply a gathering of moments, strung together, one by one… and I realized in that moment that wanted to make sure that I BE PRESENT for all of them. Not only for the “good” moments or the moments I like, but for all of them. Because with that peaceful acceptance of what is, I am inevitably inviting more peace, space, and love into my world. In order to do reduce the effortfulness around the activities of our lives, we must set ourselves up for success. We must become mindful of the states of our minds and bodies… and hearts. And this looks different for everyone (e.g., yoga, meditation, mindfulness practice, etc) but I guarantee it will help. And if you create space for yourself to do this first thing in the morning and again before bed, your sleep will 100% improve (for those who need more guidance on this, you know who to call). In a life filled with so many imbalances, and daily events to knock us off track, we must create sacred space for ourselves. This will lead to a slowing down of the physiological, mental, and emotional processes that become so activated in a typical day, that change from moment to moment, and which can interfere with us actually living our lives, and even the way we sleep.
So I ask you, a night with or without sleep, a day with or without love, gratitude, beauty –are they all not worthless if we are not able to show up for them? At the end of the day, don’t we want to have a mindful say in how we create the LIFE we are stringing together moment by moment? If so, then we must BE THERE. The first step in mindfulness is awareness- so why not get on the road to learning this path to create a healthier lifestyle in which it is easy to appreciate the moments… the raisins.
I leave you with a wonderful Native American greeting…. “Thank you for being.”