Last night at bedtime, my daughter was having trouble falling asleep, so she asked if she could draw in bed until she was tired. I said OK, and after a while, I peeked in to see what she was doing. “I’m making a card to myself,” she said. From the doorway, I could see hearts and pictures of herself smiling under a sunny sky. And I was struck, once again, by the wisdom of children.
I recently took an eight-week meditation course, and its most important lesson amounted to: Be nice to yourself. This doesn’t sound like such a revolutionary concept. But for so many of us, it is.
I think about all the nights of insomnia I have dealt with over the past three years — a trial that has undoubtedly been one of the most difficult in my life. I think about all the times I laid in the darkness with my heart pounding and practically screamed at myself, “WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU? WHY ARE YOU ACTING LIKE A CRAZY PERSON?” All the times I compared myself to people who have harder and more stressful lives than mine, and deemed myself weak and pathetic. (“Soldiers sleep in foxholes with bombs exploding around them, and I can’t sleep in a quiet room on a cushy pillowtop mattress? What a loser I am.”) I think of all the times I berated myself for falling into the same cycle of fear over and over. All the times I felt sick to death of myself, or fantasized about slapping myself across the face and saying, “Snap out of it!”
As you might guess, none of these techniques helped me get to sleep.
What if, instead, I had accepted my insomnia as part of my own little story — rather than raging and resenting and blaming myself. What if I had laid there with my heart pounding and said to myself what I might have wished to hear from a friend. What if I had said, “I’m sorry. I know this is hard.” What if I had said, “It’s OK to have trouble sleeping. We all have struggles in life. It doesn’t make you weak or less worthy.” What if I had said, “I wish you happiness and health and peacefulness.” What if I had said, “Why don’t you take this time to listen to the sound of the birds, or the wind in the trees, or the rise and fall of your own breath?” What if I had turned on the light and made myself a card, covered in hearts and good wishes? What if.
Over the past few months, I have tried offering myself this long-denied compassion, and my sleep is better than it has been in years. Kindness has more power than I ever imagined. After Amelia finished her card, she was still having trouble sleeping. She began kicking off her covers, moaning about her hair being in her face, refusing my attempts to help her. My first inclination was to get angry, to tell her that it was too late for this crap, that she had to go to sleep now or … I would throw away her Easter basket.
Then I thought about all my nights thrashing under the covers, yelling at myself to “Just go to sleep, for God’s sake!!” So I went back to her room and I stroked her head and told her that I know how hard it is when you can’t get to sleep, that I was sorry and that I loved her. It was probably just coincidence, but she was asleep a few minutes later.