Insomnia and Self-Care

At times, I find myself in awe of how much joy there is to find and create within every day, and of how much of our lives we spend failing to notice this. When my attention is thus focused, I find myself unable to quite recall why I can’t live with this level of joyful awareness at all times, and am determined to try capture an essence of it that leaves breadcrumbs (or, rather, smooth round river stones) for me to follow back here.

Tonight, I found myself an unaccustomed insomniac, body disturbed by pain and out of sync after an unusually long sleep last night. I lay in bed awhile, attempting to calm my busy thoughts, then thought to distract myself through reading – which in turn only stimulated a wider range of thoughts, and pulled me further away from the comfort of sleep. An hour and a half later I finally roused myself from the warmth of bed, and pulled on a warm jersey and slippers against the winter chill, making my way to the kitchen to stir together a long-neglected childhood remedy: gently warmed milk, sweetened with honey and laced with fresh ginger and turmeric. The final ingredients were a warm blanket and my laptop, and here I sit: the first welcome yawns just arriving, feeling sleepily satisfied and ready to capture a few thoughts before slipping back to bed for what I hope will be a delicious sleep.

It feels an impossible task at times to identify what deep internal dialogue and impulses, far beneath what I can consciously grasp, drive me from patterns of growth and self-care to those of increasingly subtle self-sabotage. Even when I consciously push myself to address my unhealthy choices, or have the support of a coach or friend to do the same, it can feel unreasonably difficult to make the real underlying changes to my intention that leads to lasting change in my patterns and rhythms.

Sometimes the triggers are obvious – I have noticed for many years, for example, that when I run I crave fresh, healthy food for at least eighteen hours afterwards, whether the run itself is short or long, intense or easy. I know, therefore, that if I have fallen into less healthy eating patterns, the quickest and easiest way to change this is quite simply to start running again. This in itself has additional benefits, including that I go to bed earlier in order to be fresh enough to wake up earlier in the morning to go running, so I work shorter hours and get a better quality of sleep. It also provides me with more time alone out in nature, which usually improves my mood and reduces my sense of being stressed and overloaded. The cause and effect are relatively simple, and while I certainly find it easier to motivate myself to get out of bed and go running at certain times of my life, generally speaking once I have made the decision to do so I have the willpower to follow through, whenever injury (or, rather, the lack thereof) allows.

So what are the shifts I need to make to get myself back into healthier mental patterns, such as daily meditation, which I have neglected for over a year now? These I find much harder to unpack, and make sustained change around when my energy just doesn’t seem to want to go there. Of course there are different answers to this question at different times, but there are also patterns that I have at times been able to alter, and wish to become more conscious in shifting for longer periods of time. Perhaps if I continue to lay these patterns down, and reflect back on them over time, they will emerge with increasing clarity. What I can see for now is that towards the end of last week some challenges at work that had felt as if they had entirely drained my energy and motivation began to shift positively after I put concerned effort and conscious openheartedness into it, and that shift continued more profoundly throughout this week. As that began to move from feeling stuck and unsolvable to constructive and fruitful, my energy returned, and with it my creativity and optimism. From there the positive effects are easy to track: I have been more present and loving at home, and have been lighter and more engaged with life.

This morning I made a commitment to myself to meditate every day, even if it is just for ten minutes – an entirely achievable goal even at the most pressured times, and no matter where or how I may find myself. A simple and profound gift I can choose to give myself, which is both an end in itself and a gateway to the further gifts that flow from even brief moments of calm and equanimity. I am glad to say I kept this commitment for the first day at least, and look forward to tracking my progress and learning for myself as I go.

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