Sunday night was one of those nights. You wake up in the early hours to make a quick trip down the hall and then that’s it. Sleep is well and truly interrupted. The rhythm is gone, never to be seen again– for tonight, anyway. After twenty minutes or so, despite tissue salts (#6 Kali Phos may help), conscious slow breathing and counting backwards from 100, I’m still there, firmly in the grip of something that is bigger than my toolkit and all my best intentions. Sometimes I even forget about the toolkit—I forget to check on myself and what is happening with my thoughts, and how these may be affecting my breath and heart rate. A sudden recollection of a disagreement at work or at home may lead to an unexpected welling up of outrage, resentment, or whatever, and before you know it you are confronting that person in your head, you are feeling the steaminess of anger and righteous indignation, your heart rate goes up as your blood starts to boil, and in no time you are wide awake, living those unpleasant memories, and any hope of sleep has left the building!
And what about all the tossing and turning? Suddenly your own bed feels unwelcoming, difficult to know, impossible to sink into—not that soft place to land that you look forward to at the end of the day.
I was frustratingly awake from around 2.30 till 5.30 am on Sunday morning, amidst a tumble of thoughts and feelings, and lots of tossing and turning, whilst at the same time trying to be a considerate sleeping partner. Earplugs in (my cat is very elderly and prone to sudden bouts of howling. Also tonight there is a dog barking somewhere in the distance), earplugs out (they say the wax and cotton ones are the most eco-friendly, and the most comfortable, but I don’t necessarily agree), changing sleeping position until all options have been exhausted. And of course: Why am I not a better daughter, or more tolerant of certain people, or better organised with my paperwork, how did I forget that one thing again after all this time, why don’t people care more, try harder, drive better etc. Why is that dog still barking? Is the dog ok? Is it cold? (It is winter here in the South, and the birdbaths in our Johannesburg garden were frozen over the past two mornings.) Is the dog’s owner ok? And so it went for some time until 5.30am when I finally decided that this was all too much, and despite the cold and the dark, that I would very quietly and carefully, so as not to wake my husband, get up and go to the kitchen. I made tea and switched on a heater, and bundled in a thick nightgown and an extra blanket, sat down and wrote the beginnings of this blog.
So why do we forget our toolkits, our better judgement, our pearls of wisdom, just when we need these things the most? We become victims to our worst fears and anxieties, and even some new ones that we weren’t aware of till now, and we forget to breathe, forget how to replace negative thoughts with positive ones as we lie there feeling anxious, angry, sad, or whatever. We forget to count sheep, or our blessings, and soon we are kind of victims of the night, of our own thoughts, of those lonely hours before dawn, and we resort to lying there hoping to drift off again before the pale dawn light starts to show and the earliest birds find their voices. Helpless in this grip of emotion and longing for peace and some happy oblivion. Yes, sometimes we do forget that we know better.
And where are all the wise quotes, sayings, reflections, passages and proverbs that we hold so dear but forget to call on at these times just when we most need that little peace of mind? The ones that we know from The Bible or The Prophet, or from pins we have saved to our Pinterest boards? Sometimes you have to dig a little deep to find something that offers comfort and makes sense at difficult times (even when you are exhausted and tearful and sleepless and don’t feel like digging.) One reflection that seemed to come up spontaneously for me that night is from John Steinbeck: “All the goodness and the heroisms will rise up again, then be cut down again and rise up. It isn’t that the evil thing wins — it never will — but that it doesn’t die.” I don’t know if this was exactly what I needed; I didn’t get back to sleep again, but it made sense to me in that moment, and still does. And if I really think about it, it’s often these bigger issues (good vs evil, or wisdom vs ignorance, as Buddhist thinking is more likely to phrase it) that disturb us, unsettle us, and keep us awake in the wee small hours of the morning
By the time my husband came upstairs that morning, the morning light was just starting to wash over the night sky, I was on my second cup of tea, and the dog in the distance had thankfully ceased to bark.♥