I remember when my first child was born and the sleep deprivation that came with having a newborn. Everyone said, “Sleep when baby sleeps.” But I couldn’t. You see, I had spent many years being “on the go” – working in Latin America, going to graduate school, working really hard. I was so used to being “on the go” that when I had children, I had to finally learn to “not go.” My mom gave the best advice, “Learn to rest.” And so over the last decade, I have learned to truly rest. And today, even with two children and sleepless nights, I am actually better rested than ever before. Why? How?
While we could talk about good sleep hygiene (healthy sleep habits) and there definitely is a place for that, I like to get to the root of our symptoms. I’ve noticed three key things that keep people up at night:
– Holding on to resentment
– Avoiding our fears
– Feelings of worthlessness
I know, not the most popular topics of conversation! But what I saw in my own life and I hear from people in psychotherapy is that what keeps us up isn’t just the cup of coffee we drank at 4 p.m. or the eight hours we were on their smart phone, but rather the feelings and experiences that are stuck within us, and the beliefs we have about ourselves that discourage us from making healthy, nourishing choices to care for ourselves.
When we stay busy and “on the go” during the day, we don’t give ourselves the time necessary to let go of all that accumulates emotionally during the day and we spend a lot of energy trying to keep what we most fear at bay. And underlying so many of our decisions about what kinds of foods we eat, if we workout, how long we work, and if we relate to others in healthy ways is the feeling of “not being worthy.”
When I first heard my meditation teacher talking about “worthiness,” I thought, “I don’t have an issue with that.” But when I looked deeply, as Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh invites us to do, I saw how there was a thread of not feeling so great about myself and I was making choices that didn’t support my well-being. When I began to truly regard myself and do the “inner work” of meditation, I began to make decisions that nourished me. I slowed down. I ate because I was hungry and not because I was anxious. I learned to gently explore what I feared. I learned to have compassion for myself. And I learned to let go of whatever I was holding or accumulating in the day. And the sleep came – the kind of deep, nourishing, restorative sleep. And my work as a therapist and coach are about supporting clients in learning how to heal the underlying causes of any distress, and learn to truly rest – awake and asleep.
Next Wednesday, April 10,2014, I’ll be leading our next Mind-Body Connections workshop on Sound Sleep. I hope you will join us. Together we more deeply explore these three key areas that leave us unrested, discuss healthy sleep habits, and engage in a restorative meditation. You can register here.