You say ‘Nirvana’, I say ‘Sleep Hygiene’
For as long as I can remember, I have been a seeker. As a young child with an active imagination, a curious mind, and a deep-seated longing for the world to be a fairer place than it seemed to be, I found myself increasingly questing after some sense of actualization and fulfillment that I had somehow lost. Paradoxically, the more I quested, the farther it seemed from me. The harder I tried; the more elusive. The tighter I held on, the more I lost.
Living now in Berkeley, CA, I see threads of this same struggle in the culture here. I was speaking with someone just last night at a family barbeque about the phenomenon of ‘spiritual bypassing’, which is common everywhere, not just in the Bay Area: eager to get to the ‘good part’, where everything is harmony and peace and ‘Hallelujah!’, we impatiently leap over what we are actually needing and experiencing in this moment
(this one right here),
and attempt to muscle our way through to get to Nirvana now. Rather than tell ourselves the truth about what is right in front of us (which we may judge as boring, pedestrian, or even just plain awful), we spin our experience to suit our primary narrative about ourselves and our lives. I have done this, and here’s the thing: it turns out it doesn’t work! I can feel it in my body when I am lying to myself.
One of the places that I see this happening in my own life is with routine self-care. In the past, when I have felt particularly anxious about the state of the world, I have been tempted to dive in and recommit myself to my loftiest of lofty goals, to the big vision I hold for myself and my life. (Who has time for breakfast when there’s a planet to save??) I have rolled up my sleeves and tried to rush ahead to the “important” parts, and then gotten impatient with myself and my body for having needs and getting tired.
I don’t have time for this! My work is too important.
The drive to employ a ‘mind over matter’ approach is very tempting, and the broader culture of our world encourages us. Fortunately, by some grace I have yet to truly understand, I have been given opportunity after opportunity to learn (and re-learn and then–you guessed it — relearn) that the real work begins with me taking care of my foundation in a consistent, patient way. Now when I begin to feel an existential crisis looming, I know to check in with myself on the most basic level:
Am I breathing deeply?
Am I drinking enough water?
Have I eaten enough today?
Am I protecting time to sleep and rest?
Have I reached out and connected with other human beings today?
Have I been outside to look at the sky today?
Spoiler alert, I mess up a lot. But I keep practicing. And the trick is that this approach works. When I take care of my foundation, I begin to experience the fulfillment, inner peace, and actualization I was so desperately seeking through other means. Plus, I’m more effective at everything I do; I enjoy my work far more; and I am in a better mood and nicer to be around! It might not be super sexy or glamorous to focus on getting 8 hours of sleep per night, but this is a game changer.
Food for Thought:
- Is there an “elephant in the room” in your life right now, a recurring issue or pattern of self-sabotage that you most resist looking at? If so, what is the story you tell yourself about why you can’t fully move past this or lay it to rest?
- How are you doing with your most basic and routine self-care? What excuses to you make to undercut your own needs?
- What would be at risk if you committed to taking care of your own life and your own needs first? (Would others potentially judge you as selfish? Are you afraid that loved ones would feel ignored or hurt if you took time for yourself? Is there part of your identity that is wrapped up in and sustained by your current patterns of self-sabotage?)
I invite you to commit yourself (and re-commit and then re-commit again every time you lose track of it) to the powerful and unsexy path of radical accountability for your own well-being, starting with sleep, food, water, movement, and meaningful connection, as well as staying current and honest about whether or not your life is lining up with your deepest values. Maybe I’ll see you at the park!