To Sleep Deeply, Wake Up
Stefan Chmelik is co-founder of and inventor of the Sensate stress reduction system, which is based on his over three decades of clinical experience working with anxiety, stress and trauma. His mission in now the company's mission - to positively impact the lives of 100 million people by 2025.
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This is not an article about sleep. This is not an article telling you why it's so important to sleep, or how to sleep, or that provides tips to trick the mind and body into unconsciousness. There is more than enough of that already and being told how critically important enough good quality sleep is, only serves to make us feel worse and guilty about the sleep that we're not getting.
For me, every morning when I wake up and take a breath, this is a good day.
It is well understood now that sleep is ‘a good thing’ and essential for all processes. But if you are having trouble getting good quality sleep then everything feels hard.
Why are we finding it so hard to sleep right now?:
My clinical experience tells me there are a number of overlapping issues creating the massive global perfect storm of sleeplessness. Some of the big ones are:
Overstimulation, record stress and anxiety levels, disconnection from natural rhythms and nature.
We should acknowledge that those of us in the northern hemisphere are now approaching the Vernal or Spring Equinox, when nature is waking and the sap is rising.
So, the first thing to say is go to bed early and rise early, otherwise you will be fighting the natural energy flow of nature and making everything harder for yourself than it needs to be.
Morpheus – the god of dreams has a twin, Thanos – the god of death
Hypnos – is the god of sleep
Whilst it's true that what we call the developed world is experiencing a sleeplessness epidemic, in reality most of us need to wake up, to be able to experience profound, deep sleep.
I think all of us understands intuitively that one of the best ways to avoid sleep is to struggle to achieve it. I'm interested in discussing the underlying behaviour and beliefs around the struggle to get to and stay asleep. And this is the same struggle human beings must confront if we wish to be content and as happy as we claim we want to be.
Falling asleep is an act of letting things go, the process of letting go the events of the day, the dramas of life in general. Of letting go, in the end, of the notion of control; surrendering control and fostering trust that if we do let go, that we will wake up again. Sleep and the peace of mind needed to easily fall asleep, the guilt free, shame free, contentedness needed to fall asleep on demand is something we only tend to see in a cat, a dog or a child.
Sleep is a small death, an end to this day and everything in it, a letting go of the struggles of the day, letting go of the attachments of the day, of attachments to status, money, job, friends, loved ones. And therefore the older we are the more attachments we have accumulated and the harder it may be to let go of these things, to surrender into a realm where none of these things matter or exist.
The modern human needs to start to transcend the survival reflex. This reflex, which has served us so well for thousands of years and which has enabled us, for right or wrong, to become the dominant species on the planet, is now actively de-evolving the human race and driving an unsustainable culture of greed, lack of empathy, and a disconnection from people and nature.
I believe that the toils and troubles that are so evident in the world today is the struggle of the human to evolve to our next stage of development. The only question is will we develop in time, and that is up to you, dear Sensater.
If sleep is all about letting go of the day, letting go of a life’s worth of thoughts and feelings, of guilts and shame that we have imposed upon ourselves, if we want to sleep the sleep of the innocent, then we have to be able to let go of the things that no longer serve us.
We must be able to let go of fear, and to allow ourselves to fall into the sleep realm, the realm of dreams, the other half of our reality and existence. The Yin for our waking Yang. Dreams and the dreamworld are as important to our mind and body as the waking world, as any psychologist will tell you. If we take baggage with us from our waking world to our dreamworld, our hands will be full, and we will be laden down and unable to allow imagination to unfold.
So this means that two things become important: a deep commitment to ‘doing the work’ around letting go of thoughts and feelings that no longer serve us, and attachments and baggage that can't be carried into the dreamworld and that hinder that realm. And secondly, we can cultivate our ability to dream without fear and anxiety and the ability to dream lucidly. There are a number of ways to do this; and this is a skill that we lose as we become adults, but which we can reacquaint ourselves with at any time through training and practise.
Falling asleep well can be thought of and used as practise for that one unavoidable truth – that nobody gets out alive. Now notice the panic and fear that last sentence most likely brought up for you, from a tinge to a wave. Sorry about that, but choose to use that as a prompt and a confirmation that I do want you and all people to wake up so you can sleep deeply
You sleep for around a third of your life, or 9,000 days. At the same time, many people want to achieve ‘more’ with their lives, so imagine if you could grow whilst you were asleep? Don’t think of this as a time to tick off items on your to do list. That is just another attachment we need to surrender to be able to fall into the dream realm. Somewhat like calmness, if we try too hard, it will elude us. Sleep and dreaming can be a time of deep processing and transformation, of profound healing. A time when we can do a lot of the work necessary to jettison attachment to things that no longer serve, and which are blocking progress and contentedness, keeping us locked in a pattern of fear, pain and suffering.
We would otherwise have to do this during the waking reality (you will need to do some of that as well in any case), so if we can undertake some of this essential learning in the sleep/dream realm, that can give us the opportunity to engage in additional progress.
As I warned at the start, this is not a ‘How to Sleep’ guide with tips to trick your mindbody into lapsing into unconsciousness. But there are a few pointers I can mention:
Light and darkness
We have not evolved to be comfortable with artificial or blue light, especially at night, especially overhead, especially during the darker months of the year. Avoid this kind of light as much as you can, embrace the darkness.
Inside and outside
We spend too much time inside. This is easy to remedy.
Sun and moon
Most of the world passes through four clear seasons, punctuated by the orbits of the solar calendar and the lunar cycle. To be in harmony, in step, with your mind and body, it is beneficial to develop awareness around the cycle or season you are passing through, and to live in harmony with that season.
Silence and sound, movement and stillness
There is no such thing as total silence or a complete void. Nature is not de-void. But by cultivating stillness and silence, we can hone our awareness of the more subtle, and thus journey there more easily.
Thigs that tend to render us unconscious also tend to block meaningful sleep and dreaming. Avoid these, you know what they are.
To help train the act of attention, here are a couple of sleep sonnets I read out on a recent group:
Sleep, sleep, beauty bright,
Dreaming in the joys of night;
Sleep, sleep; in thy sleep
Little sorrows sit and weep …
William Blake, ‘Cradle Song’.
Weary with toil, I haste me to my bed,
The dear repose for limbs with travel tired;
But then begins a journey in my head
To work my mind, when body’s work’s expired …
William Shakespeare, Sonnet 27.
I love you.
Photos by Johannes-Plenio, elliotm / Илья Мельниченко, Alexander Grey, Ann Danilina on Unsplash