The shadowy life of a city is truly revealed to you when your bedroom window opens up to a major urban artery.
The broken and the destitute stumble by, screaming at each other, smashing empty bottles into the abyss of their obstinate dreams. The cars rush by all day and night. Music pulsates at the traffic lights: Hip Hop, Reggae and Rock.
Then the sirens sound, rushing off to horrors I can only imagine.
The sirens scream, relentlessly.
I lie in bed, staring at the ceiling. I’m unable to sleep. I get sleep anxiety. Scratch that, I get anxiety. Sleep is one of the casualties that lie in its wreckage. Here’s how a conversation with sleep anxiety goes, beginning as soon as I turn the lights out:
What if I can’t sleep tonight?
Drunken laughter…glasses clinking.
Ugh, I definitely can’t sleep. What time is it anyways?
Buses stopping…music playing.
I will not look at the clock. I will not look at the clock.
I lie there for what feels like hours. My mind continuously going to dark places: South Sudan, ISIS, my parents might get ill, my nephew being bullied, Alton Sterling, Iraq, breast cancer, Syria, loneliness, Unemployment, Death.
I am scared. My body is in panic.
I have to look at the clock. F*ck, it’s after four a.m. I’ll never get to sleep now.
The sun rises and so do I, a zombie heading out into the chaotic world. There may be noise in the street, but the real problem is in my head. It’s loud, constant and begs for mercy. I’ve had it in the most silent and peaceful places on this earth—the nocturnal monkey that feeds off of fear, resistant to everything outside of the mind.
A person at peace is not bothered by noise so much as the person at war with herself. When we’re in battle mode, every little sound puts us on edge.
Everything is a trigger.
This is what anxiety is:
Constant waiting for the bomb to drop. Expecting disaster. It’s locked in the body, deep in the belly. The trauma of abuse, loss, heartbreak, violence, oppression and life.
Thankfully, there is a way out, and we get there by going in. Once we learn how to do this, the potential for healing is truly astounding. Somatic meditation is a sleep aid that works better than sedatives, with side benefits instead of side effects.
Here is how it works:
Turn the lights out and know that you have the power to calm yourself into restful sleep. Begin by breathing deeply. Go into the dark knots and the tense spots. Slowly, very slowly, breathe compassion into them.
When the crazy thoughts come, turn the conversation inward.
Ask your body where it hurts, dive deep down into the fascia—where the trauma lives—and give it permission to relax. Visualize expansion. Flood the dense parts with light. Peace will wash up on the shore of your breath. It takes about half an hour to an hour longer than popping a pill, but guess what?
Mindfulness is the miracle that starves the monkey.
The only silence that matters is that which we are able to cultivate in our minds. If the mind is chaotic, even a five-star resort on the beach in Zanzibar won’t be able to save you.
If the mind is in chaos, how can we expect to serve the chaotic world without losing our sh*t? It’s alarming how much noise there is in the world. The sirens are screaming relentlessly.
The very thing that keeps us alive is the portal through which we can calm our minds and begin to heal our traumas. It’s called Ujjayi (victorious) breath for a reason. We can use it to conquer many afflictions, such as insomnia.
We need sleep, for in the morning this crazy world needs all the well-rested help it can get.
Author: Jaime Jacques
Image: Loren Kerns/Flickr
Apprentice Editor: Theresa Wolform; Editor: Caitlin Oriel