Having reached the venerable age of 67, I'm familiar with the Yes! Aha! feeling I frequently have when I ponder questions in the What Life is All About category.
Those Yes's/Aha's mean something to me, obviously, or I wouldn't feel so positive about them. But whether my personal mini-revelation resonates with anyone else... who knows?
Well, I'll get some clues if anybody leaves a comment on this post. So here goes my attempt to explain why getting back to sleep has become so interesting to me.
Sleeping is very personal. Here's how it typically goes in my case.
I drop off to sleep quickly, soon after I go to bed, which is usually around midnight. When I first go to sleep, I don't do anything special. I sort of mull over what happened during the day; what's up for tomorrow; what events have caught my attention news-wise (I'm a political junkie).
Probably because I'm so tired, sleep just happens naturally when I first close my eyes at night. But after I wake up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom (hey, I'm 67; and a coffee drinker into the evening), fairly often it takes me a while to get back to sleep.
For most of my life, I've figured that what I did to get to sleep the first time should be good enough for getting back to sleep the second time.
And usually this works: just letting thoughts flit through my mind; not focusing on anything in particular; allowing whatever comes to mind to occupy my psyche for a while. But sometimes I have trouble getting back to sleep, especially if a certain thought overstays its welcome.
What I've noticed is that I typically envision something I'd like to have happen.
Such as, how cool it would be if my favorite presidential candidate wins the next primary contest. Or if something I wrote in my citizen activist persona changes minds and gets lots of Facebook "likes." In other words, I'm trying to get myself into a positive, feel-good frame of mind conducive to relaxing and getting back to sleep.
Being a long time meditator -- daily for the past 46 years or so -- I've also used techniques such as repeating a mantra or counting my breaths to get back to sleep. These work OK, but focusing my attention in those sorts of ways now seems counterproductive, since focusing and sleeping appear at odds.
So this gets me to my mini-revelation (which, again, may strike others as so mini as to be microscopic).
The best way for me to get back to sleep is (1) not to try to get back to sleep, and (2) to simply be aware of what my body feels like at the present awake moment.
Doing something, anything, like repeating a word or counting my breaths, this now strikes me as fostering an I-can't-get-back-to-sleep problem. I've taken a simple situation -- waking up to go to the bathroom -- and made it into an issue: I need to do something special to get back to sleep.
As an avid Tai Chi practitioner, this seems to go against the grain of Taoist principles that can summed up in modern jargon as Relax and flow with it, dude.
Hence, my current approach to getting back to sleep mirrors my current approach to religiosity and spirituality in general: be natural; be real; be content.
I've found that instead of thinking about some pleasing future state of affairs, or envisioning how good I'll feel if this or that happens (which could be "getting back to sleep"), natural reality as it is in the present moment contains all the contentment I need.
Thus now I walk back from the nearby bathroom, slide into bed, pull the covers around me, and simply... be.
Well, a bit more than that: I simply am aware of my being.
How parts of my body feel, pressed against the mattress. How my breathing feels, air going into and out of my nostrils, my chest and abdomen rising and falling. Just lying in bed, awake yet not far removed from my previous sleeping -- that's a fine state of being.
I feel content. I don't feel much of a need to think about the future. Right now is just fine. The feelings I could envision myself feeling in the future... they're already present. Calmness. Contentment. Peace of mind.
My brain and body seem harmoniously connected. My mind isn't trying to produce a state of affairs different from what is right now, right here. Not trying to get back to sleep, I do.
Now, does this insight have any Cosmic Significance regarding the Big Questions of Life? Damn, I sure hope so! But that's a subject for another blog post. I'm starting to feel sleepy... very sleepy...