My dad used to peek in my room at night when I was young to make sure I was asleep before he went to bed.
I was always still awake.
Sometimes I’d try and pretend I was sleeping, other times he’d catch me with the light on while reading. He used to call me the “Little Night Owl”—a term I took a liking to. It was cute for a while, but as I got older not being able to fall asleep became a nuisance.
Despite the lack of sleep, I’ve always felt pretty optimistic in the morning and throughout the day. I’ve managed to exercise and meditate for the majority of my adult life. I truly cherish the sun light, the day time, for all the possibilities it has to offer. I feel safe during the day to get lost doing anything and everything my heart desires.
It is the night that haunts me…
Even with dusk feeling like the most magical time of day—when I feel most connected with the earth and the energy that flows through us all—as soon as the light recedes and the darkness creeps in, I instantly feel a shift inside me. Anxiety, restlessness, agitation: all of my oldest friends whom I used to greet with a glass of wine, a shot of tequila or a swift run out the door to a dive bar where I’d have long conversations and big laughs with friends in the smoke-filled air. Anything to avoid these terrible, awful feelings.
This became my routine for years. “Work hard, play hard” was my motto. I deserved the much-needed cocktails and late night rendezvous—until I had burnt the candle at both ends and was tired. Actually, I was exhausted. Exhaustion didn’t stop me though. These routines became habits and habits can be incredibly hard to break. This went on a few years longer until I broke down (a few times) and had no option but to quit.
I had to face my fear of the night.
I decided to break up with wine, tequila and the bars for a bit, and sit with my old friends: anxiety, restlessness and agitation. This wasn’t pleasant. I’d ask questions, create space to listen to the answers and accept their presence without trying to push them away. I did this after hearing the story of when the Buddha decided to invite Mara to tea. Mara (the demon of unwholesome impulses) would try and tempt the Buddha, but he’d simply remark with acknowledgement, “I see you Mara,” and invite her to sit down on a cushion and join him.
For months, I practiced sitting with my feelings without succumbing to the pressure of reacting to them. Sometimes I failed, mostly I succeeded. I realized that this may be a lifelong practice for me. I also realized that I needed to implement a nighttime routine if I wanted to sleep. I searched for a few things that I had control over and created a ritual.
Firstly, I bathe. I use the same Dr. Bronner’s castile soap that my parents used. I let the warm water wash over and comfort me. I allow my mind to do whatever it wants, whatever it needs, to recover from the day. This sometimes means letting it run rampant as it takes me to faraway places or humming out tunes that have been stuck in my head. Besides the mind, I try to imagine the warmth permeating all of my muscle cells.
Secondly, I put my favorite lotion on. I know this doesn’t really sound like much, but it is huge. I dry off my body with attention and care. Slowly and mindfully, I apply the lotion to every part that needs it. I think positive thoughts about my body and feel happy that I am taking care of it in such a way. I place a few drops of lavender on my wrists and neck, then inhale a long, slow breath of it.
After this, I put on comfortable clothes to relax in and make sure that I don’t do anymore work. This means no computer and very little cell phone activity. I allow myself time to read or watch a bit of TV, but watching TV can sometimes create restlessness, so I don’t do it often or for long. I also dim the lights so my body can start to release the proper chemicals to put me to sleep naturally.
Then, the rule with no exception. I go into my room at midnight, sometimes kicking and screaming all the way. I force myself to go to bed—yes, like a reluctant child.
Lastly, there is Deepak Chopra. I know, it surprised me too. I just recently discovered that it is his voice that can woo me to sleep. I’ve experimented with many of my other favorites only to find myself awake hours later, tossing and turning. Deepak’s voice hits the snoozer like no one else.
Even with the routine and sitting with my uncomfortable feelings, my fear of the night still exists. It has lessened significantly and is tolerable, but I don’t know that I will ever find a complete solution and that’s okay. I have learned to greet my fear with compassion.
With this compassion I have been able to face something I had been running from my entire life—something I thought I could escape from. Embracing these uncomfortable parts of our human experience is against the stream of our conditioning and is incredibly challenging some days. However, I feel better knowing that my routine can evolve as it needs to if I continue down the path of self-inquiry and put away my running shoes—just for today.
Author: Cori Carlo
Image: Helga Weber/Flickr
Editor: Nicole Cameron