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30 Days of Rest: Day 28

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An Hour of Wakefulness

“For centuries we were accustomed to the idea of “first sleep” or “dead sleep” and “second sleep”. It was accepted that between this first bout of slumber and the next there would lie an hour or so of quiet wakefulness, sometimes known as a “watch”. This period was often used for prayer, or writing, or sex, or even for visiting the neighbors.” ~Laura Barton

I stumbled across this idea of segmented sleep in David Randall’s book, Dreamland during the early stages of my 30 days of rest. As Randall predicted, about three weeks into my extravagant experiment, I did start to wake up for about one to two hours right in the middle of my sweet sleep. This is common for most people, but we often consider it a frustration.

While I have been on the lookout for this curious happening since Day 16, I did not trust it when it appeared. Even though I would wake up completely refreshed sometime between midnight and 2:00 am, I would fight it. I would re-arrange my eye mask, maybe turn on a fan or put in my earplugs and start doing my go back to sleep tricks. It did no good. I would still be awake fidgeting in bed until my body was ready for it’s second sleep.

One day, I had the thought to stop resisting and start receiving this time-I could read, journal or simply make a cup of tea and soak in the stillness of the middle of the night. Because my relationship with rest has been based on scarcity, I was afraid if I allowed myself to enjoy that time, I would pay the price the next day. So for days, I continued my midnight tossing.

And then, it happened.

I realized, like every good thing in life, rest is there for me whenever I need it. I don’t have to be afraid of being tired. If I am tired tomorrow, I can rest.

The next time I found myself between sleeps, I felt the childhood giddiness of Christmas morning. I tiptoed out of bed, steeped some lemon ginger tea, lit some candles and journaled while I was all snug in my softest blanket.

It reminded me of those precious midnight nursing sessions when I had my newborn babies all to myself and I still had the ability to meet their every need just holding them in my arms.

There are many gifts to be discovered at all times of the day and night when I shift from resisting to receiving.

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30 Days of Rest, Day 27

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Ordinary Being

“True restfulness, though, is a form of awareness, a way of being in life.

It is living ordinary life with a sense of ease, gratitude, appreciation, peace and prayer.

We are restful when ordinary life is enough.”

~Ronald Rolheiser

 Ordinary life. What is ordinary, anyway? For me, ordinary life is what one must do, what I do that takes care of me, my family, anyone else I may be responsible for. Today, ordinary included seeing my kids off to school, making breakfast, going back to bed for short snooze, going to yoga, taking a bath, getting ready for the day, and now I am writing before meeting friend for an afternoon coffee date. For both of us the real work of our day begins after school.

There is a phrase in yoga, “Go as slow as you can and as fast as you need to.” It implies that our instinct is to rush, especially through hard things, this is a reminder that when we go slow, we are able to notice ways we are in control.

In control…I felt nervous writing those words. Its common therapy talk that we are not in control-which is true for so many things that bring us great deals of anxiety and pain. But this idea of going slow and staying in control is really about what is under our influence. When I rush, I miss acknowledging micro-movements that are up to me and only me.

Rest as a way of being challenges me to take my own movements as slow as I can. Extraordiary things have happened in our life and they will happen again. But they aren’t under my control. It’s ordinary life that I am taking slower these days.

And when I am restful, ordinary is enough.

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30 Days of Rest: Day 26

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The Compassion Prescription

As I was updating one of my friends on my month of rest, she asked me a question I have asked myself many times through this experiment, “Were you depressed?”

Depression is one of my closest old companions-I have known her better than I know myself. Its worth noting this month of rest has been one of the few times in my adult life that I have not had to actively manage depression-either through therapy, writing or medication.

My friend’s curiosity, echoed my own thoughts. What made these extravagant three nap days and my insatiable need for alone time shift from symptoms of depression to the very best time of my life?

When I am feeling depressed, in addition to having sadness wash over me, like Linus’s cloud of dust, there is also a heaviness inside of me, like my heart has been replaced by a 30 lb. medicine ball. I cry a lot. I start to feel such big feelings that I stop feeling anything. It’s my soul’s zombie apocalypse.

According to everydayhealth.com, some of the questions doctors ask when screening for depression are:

  1. How many of the past two weeks have you been feeling down, depressed or hopeless?
  2. Have you had thoughts of suicide?
  3. Are you getting less than 3 hours of sleep a night?
  4. What is your energy level?
  5. Do you want to stay home or go out and do new things?

As I sit here on a sunny November day in a beautiful bookstore writing about depression, I am overcome with thankfulness that depression is not the demon I am dancing with today. At the same time, there is a warmth that fills up the space where that medicine ball used to be and extends to a glow outside of me-it’s compassion.

If I track this journey back, it was a dark day where bed was my only destination and Netflix my only solace. Friends, I was depressed. Most of my bouts of gloom have been overcome in the past with a lot of self-criticism and work. I acknowledge that I have a problem and I do what I can to get it fixed. Take the medication. Schedule the therapy. Get help. Come to terms, again, with my human limitations.

Something different happened this time. I kept asking myself, “Jenny, what do you need?” And I realized that my life was both too big and too small for me. It was so big that I couldn’t work hard enough, get smart enough or ever be enough for it. At the same time it was too small, I had all of these ideas, words, creative projects that were too big to fit into my already packed days.

Let me be clear, it was medication, therapy, and supportive relationships that paved the foundation for me to do something different this time. Until this time, the best and most courageous step I could take was going to the doctor, take my medicine, talk to my therapist, ask for help. Only you can know your next best step.

I was so tired.

I needed rest.

I needed simplicity.

I needed to go as slow as I needed to go until I felt like I could bring myself wherever I went.

While exhaustion is one symptom of depression, researchers are now acknowledging that prolonged exhaustion can lead to depression. “Prolonged periods of; a) physical stress, b) sleep deprivation, c) emotional stress, and d) intense overwork put together is a package that can cause exhaustion” (http://www.drkarenruskin.com).

“This is what I need.”

Are there any harder words for a woman to speak out loud, even to herself?

I need compassion. Gobs and gobs of compassion.

What do you need?

Let’s get it for you.

So, my month of rest, my days of naps, my abundance of alone time, my selfishly unscheduled hours, the space that has opened up big enough to hold my dreams…that’s what compassion gave me, exactly what I need.

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30 Days of Rest: Day 25

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Blurred Vision

My daughter has been complaining about eye issues for years. We have brought her to several different eye doctors and the consensus was the same every time. She has 20/20 vision. Everything looks good. Perfect, to be precise. A teacher that has been working closely with her for the past year and a half, recommended an ocular specialist to look a little deeper into what was going on inside of those windows into her soul.

It took a long time. The doctor was pulling all sorts of Marry Poppins tricks out of her bag, about to come to the same conclusion as all the doctors before her. Avery’s vision was beyond perfect. Her eyes were so well-engaged with every random dot and pen put in front of her face, even the doctor almost missed it.

Until my sweet girl broke down, just tears pouring down her face, exhausted from the dozens of tests she was passing with flying colors. It was right then the doctor breathed a heavy sigh, “There it is,” she said with relief, “We found it.”

It took the doctor over two and half hours of having Avery jump through every visual hoop imaginable before her eyes could finally un-focus. And then they couldn’t focus at all. On anything.

Healthy eyes know when something is within the space that they need to focus on. They focus on that particular object, be it near or far, and un-focus on everything else. Avery’s eyes never stop focusing. The doctor described her eyes as having a visual charlie horse. There were locked into taking in every possible detail from near, far and all of her periphery.

After years of being told she needed to try harder, stay focused, pay attention, this doctor said, “We need to help your eyes relax so you can put all your attention to learning instead of looking.” This is when she really started to cry. Avery is the hardest worker I have ever met. But it was never going to be enough, and now, this highly trained professional was saying, “You don’t have to try so hard anymore.”

Focusing has been one of my superpowers this year. The only way to get anything done is for me to choose what my one thing is and stick to it until it’s done or I’m done. I remember getting upset one day about something that had happened at school and I was very aware that I was not willing to give up my one thing for that one thing. It was annoying situation, but it was not a worthy place to use up my focus. Learning to let those things blur into the background of my vision is a tremendous challenge. For people like Avery and me, learning to let go of what is not supposed to be in focus, that is our real work.

The doctor gave Avery some eye drops to relax her focusing center. The calm that came over her was visible, she practically melted into her chair.

Maybe that is what these 30 days of Rest are for, relaxing my focusing center.

While I have some ideas of where my focus really does belong, today they are still a little to far out in the distance for me to see. Today, I just want to melt into my chair and enjoy not focusing on anything at all.