Isn’t it common to hear, “Even after the lights are off I keep wide awake late into the night, at times even into the wee hours of the morning? Even if I am lucky enough to catch a few hours of sleep I still find myself waking up with the same feelings that I went to bed with: mental fatigue, tiredness, exhaustion, grouchiness, anger, stress, tension, worry, and anxiety? What do I need to do to embrace the new day with a sense of peace, calmness, and serenity?”
Band-Aid solutions like sleeping pills, drugs, alcohol, TV, social media, and binge eating are of not great help in the long run. I am neither a psychologist nor a trained counselor to offer you tools to be stress free as you go to sleep and to wake up without worry or anxiety. But I can share with you what is helping me, that is, from a spiritual perspective. My take on this, is that, this particular spiritual approach is just one path among the myriad paths. It has helped me and is helping me and I do not make a claim that this is the only way. Give it a try. If it works let it be for the glory of God; if not, keep searching till you find the path that is right for you.
A religious practice that has stayed with me is what I learned from my days with the Salesians. After the Compline (Night Prayer) is over, one of the Salesians will give us a Goodnight Talk; a few words that would highlight a spiritual/moral point to ponder as we retire to bed. After the Night Prayer we were expected not to be engaged in any activities but rather to go to bed. In the Catholic Religious Communities, young men and women in formation are expected to spend time before the Blessed Sacrament and in prayer before retiring to bed. Now looking back I can definitely say that it laid the foundation for my present approach to cultivating a healthy state of mind (though I still have a long way to go) before going to bed. I strongly believe that what is being done in religious communities can be adapted to our present walks of life.
I get varied responses when I ask people, “What’s the last thing you do before going to bed?” Some watch TV, others on telephone calls, few others read novels or play games on their smart phones, and others check FB/WhatsApp/Instagram/Snapchat and other social media. Few put on their “worry and anxiety mind” as they go to bed. Definitely, there will be lot of things to be seen to before retiring to bed: mails to be checked, messages to be answered. And some who are in the hi-tech industry have to be connected with the team on the other side of the globe, and others are occupied with work related telephone and video conference calls. Do what you have to do.
As a parent you will have to see to many things before going to bed; housework and getting things ready for the following day. If, after dinner, you are watching a movie or a program, go ahead and watch them. If you are on social media do what is needed. But after having finished what you have to do for the day and just before retiring to bed sit for few minutes of prayer (5 to 10 minutes). After prayer, as you go to bed, try not to be on your smartphone or on any social media and don’t turn on your worried mind. If you are a Christian, as you are lying on your bed, pray the Jesus Prayer. It is a wonderful prayer companion to accompany us as we as go to bed.As you breathe in and breathe out just keep repeating the name of Jesus (Or any short phrase from the Bible). As you repeat the name of Jesus, the mind and the heart get centered in Jesus and all activities of the mind come to a standstill; keep repeating the name of Jesus as you doze off to sleep. And eventually as the practice deepens the subconscious mind takes over and even dreams become a rare phenomenon. And in the morning we wake up repeating the name of Jesus. What a wonderful way to begin our day!
In repeating the name of Jesus we trust and surrender to God our life, its worries, and anxieties. God takes over and we will be blessed with a clear and a pure mind to face our life and its concerns and find a solution to what is preventing us from living our life to the fullest with joy, peace, and happiness. At least using the name of Jesus does not have any negative effects; it can only be for our well-being.
The Gospels tell us that at the end of the day Jesus would retire to a lonely place to pray and we can definitely assume that even after his moments of prayer he stayed in that state of communion with his Father. And he began the following day with prayer. Here lies the formula, end the day with God, begin the day with God, and in between let God’s love envelope you.
If you are a non-believer you could become aware of your ‘in’ and ‘out’ breath as you go to sleep. Let your awareness be on your breath as you breathe ‘in’ and as you breathe ‘out.’ Soon the mind is brought under control and you doze off to sleep in the state of awareness and in the morning you wake up with a calm and peaceful mind.
If we go to bed with a mind that is constantly thinking, worried, anxious, disturbed, and troubled… then we will also rise with the same mind. Let our minds and hearts be centered in God as we retire to bed and we can be sure that we will rise with a mind that is graced by God. When our last thought is on God the first thought, as we wake up, will also be on God. And so my friend, before going to bed, wish goodnight to social media and to the worried minds. Let them rest for the night; they deserve a break from us as well.
I'm busy working on my blog posts. Watch this space!