Seeing Through Murky Waters

There is a beautiful stream that flows down the street from my home – it enters from one end, flows under the street bridge and emerges on the other side. I love going to stand on the side of the bridge where the water flows away from me – though most of the time, it looks quite still. For the last three years, I would spend some time looking around at the greenery that grows around the stream and enjoying the sound of the water. This past summer I became very curious about whether fish and other animals lived in the stream. I had wondered about what lives here before but the water was so murky that I just never bothered to look for any signs of life for longer than a minute.  

But this time, I had also gone to the stream with a different purpose in mind. It was to unwind after the school year and allow my mind to rest – not doing anything in particular… just being in the moment, taking in all that nature presented before me. So, I just stood and enjoyed the water. Its murkiness, the occasional ripples, and then of course all the sounds of life around the stream – rustling leaves and different bird calls. Just watching, just being…

Before I knew it, I began to see rocks on the floor of the stream and the texture of the floor became more apparent. I was actually seeing through the water. Minutes passed…

And wow! There was a fish… and then two…three…ten! Just watching, just being… 

A school of fish came into sight in the once murky waters. It was as if the water had mysteriously become clear. A man who was walking by also stopped to peer into the stream. I told him about my experience and we both watched the stream. After a while he said, “Look at those crab-like fish.”  I looked, and where I had once seen rocks, I saw crab-like fish moving ever so slowly into holes between rocks and making their journey from one rock to the next. I stood there, continuing to watch as the moments unfolded, immersed in the sites within the murky waters and sounds around the stream.

I began visiting the stream everyday and the same process would unfold. The water would look murky, mixed with mud, and slowly grow lucid. The clutter would fall away and life in the water would come to life. As 15 or 20 minutes passed by, it felt as if the chaos of dirt mixing with water fell away and left a clear view of the life that truly existed in the stream. On one occasion, what looked like a large rock turned out to be a snapper turtle.

There is a big IF to the experience of course. IF I allowed myself to be still and immersed in the present moment, then the underlying clarity of the water revealed itself. IF I had gone on Twitter or my email and texts, I would have never penetrated the initial murkiness that veiled what truly existed.

I keep thinking of these times at the stream as schools around the country are opening and classes are starting. The transition from summer vacation to the school year is a process of moving into uncertainty and overwhelm at times. Who will my new teachers be? What exactly makes up the course I am taking? What do I wear to school so I “fit in”? Will the school year be filled with nourishing relationships with peers, teachers, counselors, principals, etc.? Will I be able to do it? Who will I sit with at lunch? How will I get my lunch? Who do I go to if I need help? How do I meet new expectations as I enter the next grade level? There are SO many more questions I could list here. On top of the “newness” in this transition, you may be avidly checking Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, WhatsApp, email inbox, and endless texts so you don’t miss any of the “organized chaos” of the start of the year.

Wow! Just writing of a tiny slice of the tons of questions and social media outlets made me want to take a step back and take a deep inhale and full exhale. So how does this have anything to do with the stream?

Well, the transition to school is complex – it’s murky. It’s chaotic and not grounding at first. The feelings that arise about the next 10 months and the bombardment of social media cloud the clear calm waters of the mind. Feelings about a new year (an unknown) rise and fall. Thoughts about your first encounters at school are in flux. Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, shopping, an endless stream of negative “breaking news”  fill the mind, stimulating it and leaving it restless.

This overabundance of stimulation hinders our ability to think clearly and see what truly enlivens our beings. Our minds, as murky as the stream water now, struggle to see beyond the constant flux of thoughts, emotions, and external stimulations. To see through the murky stream of a new school year, we must step back and unplug for a bit. As a teacher, my preparation for the new year starts when the previous school year ends. But it’s during the weeks that precede the new school year that we also feel some of the same things students feel. 

We all are, at the core, learners and subject to the same experiences that manifest themselves in different ways depending on our position – student or teacher, business owner or employee, artist or technician (the list goes on). 

So, I sat down a month ago and started a three-week social media fast. I also restarted several grounding rituals that I had dropped over the summer. I did not read the news for about a month. I spent time with my family, spent time tending my plants, and also experienced Ayurveda –  the sister science of yoga – an extremely powerful antidote to some of the unsettling effects of modern life. In this process, the chaos and murky waters of my mind began to subside into stillness.

I began to see what tasks truly need my attention to move forward during this transition and beyond with confidence and clarity. For me, this included the following:

  • A filling breakfast.
  • Earlier dinners so I can sleep earlier.
  • Not multitasking when eating.
  • Turning off ALL notifications on my phone apps.
  • Regular exercise and breathwork.
  • Regularly connecting with family/friends

I was so surprised that, after making my list, and beginning to implement it (many of the items are old habits with some tweaks), LIFE FELT MUCH SIMPLER. I was unplugging from what was unnecessary. *joyful sigh of relief*

What can students do at this time? Let’s take a look at “Action for this post” (below).  


Action for this post:

Try at least one of the following. If you can do more that one that is great! But making lifestyle changes towards simplicity and clarity are best made in small steps so that we can build long-lasting healthy habits.

  • Turn off notifications from as many social media apps as possible.
  • Keep your phone beyond arms reach at night.
  • Turn your phones off and do not keep them out in class (it’s best to keep them in your lockers!). The mind is in a habit of checking the phone and feels a sense of urgency to do so – this will significantly undermine your efforts to learn.
  • Do not touch your phone unless necessary past 7 pm.
  • Engage in positive social company by avoiding negativity and unkind gossip.
  • Organize all of your binders, notebooks, schedules, and keep an organized list of when each teacher is free for extra help. Keep this organization going by re-organizing as needed every two weeks.
  • Identify and get to know a few trusted adults that you feel comfortable going to if challenging situations arise.
  • Make self-care a priority – take deep breaths every morning and every evening and stretch or exercise for 5 minutes before school.
  • Set an intention that you will not give up even when things get very challenging and remind yourself of this intention on a regular basis.

This next bullet, over time, has tremendous positive and powerful effects on the way you think about yourself:

  • Stop saying “I’m stupid/dumb/an idiot/not good enough” or “I’ll never get this” or “No one likes me” or “Why should I try?”. Not saying these things (which aren’t true about anyone!!) will weaken their wiring in your mind.

Finally:

  • Come up with your own lifestyle change that you think will support your ability to stay grounded and don’t hesitate to reach out to a trusted person when you feel overwhelmed.

NOTE: In the next blog post, I will present a reflective meditation to help the mind assimilate the material in this article! Stay tuned!

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Recultivating the Fearless Child-Mind: Part II

Being a child is one of the most fascinating experiences – the mind journeys into realms and places that adults often struggle to imagine. In the fixed daily path we follow day-in and day-out, our minds get used to routines. Breaks in routine are often experiences that break open the fears, unhelpful habits, and sadness that lie deep within all of us. These unknown experiences, “breaks in routine”, open us up to the moment-to-moment uncertainty that is the reality of our existence. But as children, play and imagination were the doors through which our minds made meaning of each moment and this play allowed an expression of our fears, worries, and sadness in creative ways, allowing us to learn about ourselves and the world. While complete chaos threw us off, we generally did not fear new experiences – well, that is, until we were conditioned to fear that the world was not always a safe place. We heard scary stories in the news, the test-driven culture drove us to places of discomfort, and seeing bullying or teasing at social events made us wary.

In the learning process, the fear of opening up to each moment, which ultimately unleashes insights and creativity, bars our ability to process new concepts, experiences, and skills in meaningful ways – ways that go beyond just the textbook and help us explore and understand the world around ourselves. And so, the purpose of this meditation is to embrace wandering pathless while tending to our fears, without any specific aim, just as we did once when we were children. We hope to engage our minds, through imagination, in the fearless, joyful, and engaging play of learning. Join me in this unique meditation below – it’s quite different from my other ones and I hope you find it helpful, enjoyable, and a bit adventurous 🙂

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Recultivating the Fearless Child-Mind

A curious walk into an unknown place…

Do you remember hoping for a huge storm as a child – one that threw out the electricity so you could sit in the dark, tell scary stories, or play with flashlights? For example, I remember playing tag using flashlights with neighbors through the darkness and winds between our windows. This is the mind of a child – ready to embrace the unexpected non-routine aspects of life and fully embrace surprises.

Today, do you ever hope for the same random chaotic events to take place now and then? I know I certainly do not with the exception of a snow day when I am lacking on sleep. If the lights and heating go out, I don’t feel as much of an adventurous energy surge through me as I did when I was a child. It always seems that we are on some mission as adults – play and goal-empty paths are few and far between. Chaos, the unknown, and a break in routine are too much and sow fear in most adult minds. To fill the space, we jump to a screen on our tech devices that can tell the the answer to everything we want to know (or so, we want to believe) right at our fingertips. Somewhere along the way, we got fooled into believing that uncertainty forebodes the possibility of failure and the death of something (our routine, our work plans, etc). And so we close our minds when thrust into vague and unclear situations, just as we instinctively close our eyes if we thought something was going to hit us. Note: While we may consider vacations to be a break in our routine and an exploration of a new place, it is nevertheless planned and so inhibits an immersion into true open-ended exploration.

In order to unwire this resistance to major changes and glide through the throes of change with complete curiosity and wonder, we must return to our healthier child-like (not childish) patterns of experiencing newness. Since we may have left this part of ourselves behind a long time ago, it will take patience and practice to open up. This openness is a prerequisite to learning – diving into unknown realms (subjects, skills, situations) and playing with each moment as it unfolds, much like a baby plays with a new toy for the first time. It it not scared, it is just curious and, like we all want to do, the baby is just “trying to figure things out”.

When drinking tea this week, I came across a beautiful quote on the tag of my teabag:


“There is pleasure in the pathless woods.”

Lord Byron

I embraced this quote and saved the tag as a reminder to walk into the unknown future and explore my mind with curiosity rather than resistance. It is when we are pushed out of our comfort zones, in a healthy manner, that we discover, observe, wonder, dream, and innovate.

In the next post, I will present a meditation that helps us embrace each unfolding moment with a child-like mind, rather than anxiously (or depressively) shutting off our minds.

Action for this post:

Regardless of how many items are on your agenda and what you had planned for some day this month, take a few hours to stroll out into a store you never stroll into, go on a path in the woods, a street downtown, sit by the window and stare into the outdoors… do something spontaneous with a warm heart – welcome the experience and observe all that unfolds without any predictions about the future.

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Happy New Year 2019 :)!

Time can be viewed in many ways. Generally, we think of time as passing and so it forms a line – which is why many of us learned to store knowledge of historical events on timelines. However, we humans love patterns and structure. And so, we assign a cyclic nature to our clocks to count days and we then apply this cyclic nature to the months or seasons to count years. In many cultures, in fact, the yearly calendar follows the moon and the cycles of the moon. School calendars are also cyclic – starting from the beginning to the end and starting all over again. This is very reminiscent of circles or the mandala…the deeper we steep ourselves in each cycle, the deeper our understanding of ourselves grows.                         

As one cycle dissolves, a new cycle is born. And here we are, for those of us who follow the Gregorian calendar, at the end of 2018. So many experiences and details of the past year have shaped our minds and influenced the pathways of our thoughts and behaviors. They have dissolved into our beings and we have an opportunity to begin another cycle as if it’s a blank slate.

In the labyrinthine caves of Time.

This why it is essential to look back and reflect:

  1. What events dissolved and left a negative taste in my mind? Have I allowed myself to process these experiences rather than let them sour my mood and behaviors?
  2. Was I honest with myself? In other words, did my thoughts and actions align with each other? Or did I allow peer or social media pressures or those in positions more powerful than mine influence me to change in ways that disagree with my values?
  3. Was I kind and honest to others? Note that this does not mean you please others and say what they like to hear. It means you offer honest help – whether it is picking up a stranger’s fallen bag items or sticking up for what is right even if it means disagreeing with your whole peer group.

I wish everyone a wonderful New Year 2019 filled with learning, growth, laughter, good times, and great adventures!

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Self-Regulation VI: Walking Into Longer Days

Winter solstice has passed and we are finally climbing out of our journey into progressively shorter days (and of course, by that I mean fewer hours of sunlight). As we moved into the darker days of the winter, we may have noticed that it was more difficult to wake up or feel energized. We felt like hibernating under the covers in our beds or staying warm at home with warm foods, saving our energy.

However, the busy external world does not stop to note our bodies’ needs for energy conserving activities or activities that would counteract the dullness building up inside. For example, I noticed how important it became for me to go to bed earlier, practice breathwork, and swim regularly. But if we don’t stop to listen to our bodies, our work, school, and success-oriented, result-oriented mindsets will never allow us to notice the changes going on in our internal worlds. How do we feel with less sunlight and darker mornings and afternoons? What parts of us feel emptier with less heat and increasingly cooler winds? Do we notice our cravings for certain foods rising or falling?

There is a useful tool that can be used to get in touch with our inner clock, which reflects the clock of Nature, not that of busy ever-changing economic and social landscapes. It is called walking meditation. In this meditation we consciously observe every movement of our bodies as we walk on green grounds or barefoot on the floor. As you begin to walk, whether it be in a pattern (i.e., around your home in a circle again and again) or without any predetermined pathway (allowing yourself to follow your intuition), notice the pressure of your feet and the various points of your feet on the ground and the weight of your body flowing through your hips, into your knees, and eventually onto your feet. Observe the flow of your arms. If your mind wanders, use a mantra that matches your movement as you place your feet down: “Right foot, left foot, right foot, left foot, …”

Glimpse of Sunlight

If you tend to get obsessed with perfection of movements, you may choose to not pay attention to your body’s movements. Instead, you may choose to look around and take in all the sights you observe through the visual field, all the sounds you hear, and the scents you smell.

In setting the intention to observe yourself (or your senses) as you walk and move slowly, you give yourself the opportunity to get back in touch with yourself and determine what you may need in this moment. I am not referring to needs of buying a new outfit, table, or bag. I am referring to the need to perhaps get more sleep, spend less time on the screen if your mind is jumping around, or meet with a friend without tech devices that steal your attention away from conversations and bonding moments. Something I realize is that I sometimes find the need to just turn off my cell phone, laptop, and lights and just sit in natural light in silence, taking in what exists around me in my home. You may be surprised how much you don’t notice until you stop to do so!

Note: I know some of our readers are in the Southern Hemisphere, so some of this will be more directly applicable in about half a year :D! Walking meditation is of course something you can do anytime of the year.

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Self-Regulation V: The Mandala Practice

The mandala is an ancient symbol that represents the universe. It serves as a microcosmic representation of all that exists within us and in the external world. Mandalas have an intricate circular symmetry made of geometric patterns.

Years ago, I came across a practice that hooked my mind – I couldn’t stop thinking about it because it was just so intriguing. Tibetan Buddhist monks gather to create exquisite mandalas with special colored sand during rituals (see video below). At the end of the ritual the sand is gathered, destroying the deeply significant and symbolic mandala that was created with hours of diligence. The hours of perseverance and focus on the meaning of the mandala of course brings about an attachment and connection to the work and the final piece in its last stages. In destroying what was made, the monks practice letting go of the end result marking the knowledge that all things are ephemeral.

In our everyday life, we get attached (varies by age) to grades, accolades, physical appearance, money, and social status. While students may get caught up in their grades (the end result) or the number of friends they have (again another number that is the end result of social interactions), adults also face the same experience. Adults may get obsessed with how much money they make or with climbing up a social hierarchy ladder, which are the end results of hours of work and maybe degrees.

It is no surprise humans are wired to value the end result of endeavors and hold onto them as if their worth depends on these end results. Based on evolution, we are wired to hold on to all that helps us survive – the results of tribal wars over land or the competition for a mate. The only difference is that most of us reading this article are not struggling to survive and so the intense hold on end results does not benefit us. Instead, it breeds anxiety, insecurity, mean competition, and probably a whole list of related physical ailments.

It is said that, when asked about what is most surprising about humanity, the Dalai Lama replied:

Man.
Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money.
Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health.
And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present;
the result being that he does not live in the present or the future;
he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.

We are literally afraid of loss as if our survival depends on one home, one job, a more than sufficient paycheck, one SAT score, one state exam score, and one performance review.  In order to practice letting go, we must immerse ourselves in the process of each moment unfolding with childlike curiosity – not like a machine that is just intent on creating an end product. 

The action of this blog post revolves around a mandala coloring practice in which we rewire the mind to engage in the process and let go of the result. Read on to practice!


Action for this post:

Print out or draw your own mandala. See this site for mandalas you can print for yourself or get inspired to draw your own: https://printmandala.com/

Every day, spend only 5 minutes coloring the mandala (preferably with colored pencils or crayons) bringing your attention to the sound of the utensil on paper and each stroke of color filling the empty space. Put your crayon or pencil down at the 5 minute mark. Do they same every day until you complete the mandala, suspending any judgement of your work.

Then, upon its completion, recycle the mandala paper in your bin. This marks the end of one exercise, a process and experience in which you let go of the end product.  

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Self-Regulation IV: A Gratitude Meditation & Happy Thanksgiving!

Before I begin I would like to I dedicate this post to Swami Tadatmananda (Swami T hereafter), who taught me about meditation in addition to many other practices. I offer a meditation, below, that is a variation of what he taught me.

One of the most memorable classes with Swami T fell on Saturday mornings after Thanksgiving every year. In this special Thanksgiving class, we learned how to cultivate gratitude for the myriad of gifts in our lives. I remember Swami T always joked that many people must have come from previous days of feasting and Black Friday shopping. And now here we were – ready to delve into ourselves – or were we, I wondered?

When we are just busy eating and feeding ourselves followed by intense shopping to fulfill our wish list desires, what are we actually doing? Well… there are lots of things, but I would not say self-regulating falls high on many of our lists as we feast and run out for Black Friday shopping. We are over-stimulated by tastes of sweets, dinner, music, lots of conversations, and lots of people. Then, as if we hadn’t fed ourselves enough, we dash out as stores open, to consume (thus the word consumer) more and feed our closets and homes, which we consider extensions of ourselves, with Black Friday sale items. The mind’s attention is constantly shifting, from one flashing sale sign to the next, store to store, bumping into dozens of people, surrounded by noise. And, as the mind is stimulated by all these things, the mind is set on constantly looking for things to satisfy ourselves from the external world.

There is also another side to Thanksgiving or any other holiday. The holiday could trigger emotions – good or bad – for many people as they may not be around family (or being around families could also trigger emotions). Perhaps food or streaming of movies or games to fill time  is just an attempt to fill emotionally empty parts of our innerselves. Regardless of how the holiday is processed, we are just trying to fill ourselves in one way or another. We feel more satisfied just for a day or so… until we feel empty and in need of more.

Swami T’s main point as he introduces the gratitude exercise for the class (and the discussions of course change from year to year) is that in the midst of looking for more and more so that we fill in missing pieces to ourselves with the outside world, why not take a few moments to also turn inwards and see that all the contentment we are constantly running after lies right within ourselves? Our happiness and contentment does not lie in external items, circumstances, and the mere number of people around us (you may have heard the idea that it’s better to have one true friend than be friendly with a hundred people).

We may run after the newest toys (if we are kids), newer cars (as adults), the latest cell phones (all ages!), and the coolest shoes because we feel as though we are more complete having them when, in fact, bigger and better possessions don’t equate to a sense of fullness inside. If we have a bike, we want a car; if we have a car, then we desire an SUV; if we have an SUV, perhaps we want a truck; if we have a truck, then the next piece is a boat… You get the point! (Some of you may have heard this example from one of Georg Feuerstein’s interviews.)

But if we just stopped for 5 minutes to practice being grateful for what we already have, perhaps we may be quick to experience greater contentment in this very moment. All of a sudden, we may not feel such an urgent need to run around to each and every sale during Black Friday and we may not continue to eat more sweets when our stomach is telling us it’s time to stop!

What is gratitude? Gratitude is a character trait (or a quality) that helps the mind to acknowledge and be thankful for what we have. Gratitude exists in the mind, not in the new cellphone in our hands or the new shoes we bought. Therefore, the way to cultivate gratitude is to turn inwards and reflect.

When Swami T held gratitude meditations, he guided the class through their entire lives, stopping at each junction noting the important people and experiences in our lives that we are grateful for. It brought tears to the eyes of many students as we walked through every segment of our life thus far – we recalled that a grandmother or guardian figure held our hand so we could learn to walk and remembered faces of those who truly cared for us and stepped in during times of crisis. We recalled people that protect and help nourish our society (i.e., a nation’s military, firefighters, social workers, lawyers, teachers, nurses, doctors, custodial staff, and EVERY SINGLE job that contributes to order and safety and progress).

In my variant of this meditation, below, I focus on only one day – today – from morning to the present moment. It is important to find a quiet place and a comfortable position so that you can focus with minimal disruption. Join me below :)!

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Self Regulation III – Morning Mindfulness: The Mind & The Inextinguishable Flame

Candlelight 2The candlelight flame is an ancient Indian symbol of undivided attention. It is said that if we leave the mind to its own devices (to entropy!), the flame of attention will scatter into thousands of tiny lights pointing in thousands of different directions, leaving us directionless.

I like to think of the tiny yet strong brilliant light as the Focused Light Aiming the Mind’s Energy in one direction. And it is this brilliance that we return to and experience every morning.

Just before waking, as we discussed in the last post, the mind is processing a complex array of emotions, experiences, and ideas through movements and metaphors. The fire (or flame) of life that lives on in us, even as we are unconscious of our external world during sleep and transported to another world, rekindles its brightness and we awaken to the reality around us. Once again, we enter the world that existed just before we slipped into the mysterious world of sleep. For most of us, hopefully, it is morning – a time when the sun is rising or already shining bright – a symbol of the brilliance that illuminates our mind.

It is in this transition between sleep and awakening that we have our next chance to gather ourselves for a new day. However, if are unable to let go of the stream of thoughts from the past or overwhelming excitement or worry about the future, we float in a sea that is forever pulling us away from NOW. Most of us spend much of our time and energy dwelling in the past or on the future. And, in doing so, especially first thing in the morning, we lose our chance to recalibrate to the present, where learning takes center stage. If we pay closer attention to ourselves in the present moment, we open up to and acknowledge our feelings, thoughts, opinions, intuitions, ideas, insights, and figments of our imagination. We are left less jumbled and have greater clarity of what lies within us in this moment. And here we are…at the doorstep of an opportunity to engage with the present, as if it were our moment-to-moment companion, and all it has to offer – the discomforts, wandering thoughts, insights, exciting experiences, creativity, and gratitude among many other experiences.

What does this present-minded focus look like? I would suggest it is like the flame of a candle (see the image for this post). Its relation to single-minded attention is exemplified by the gentle flame: if you have ever lit a candle and turned it sideways, moved it side to side, or even upside down, you can clearly observe the resilience of the flame. It always moves back to center and points upward. The flame neither breaks apart, dividing itself into scattered mini-flames, nor does it point towards a new direction. It embodies everything we would like our mind to be – focused, resilient, and gritty.  It’s brilliance can light up dark pathways such as confusion that hampers learning.

And there is not better time to set our mind on the path towards embodying the flame than the morning. So, here we go…bright and early :)!


Action for this post: A Two Part Candlelight Meditation

1. The first part entails spending time observing a lit up candle for about a 1-2 minutes. If you have access to a burning candle (and you are in the presence of an adult!) go ahead and light the candle and observe it.

If you don’t have access to a candle in the presence of an adult, you may also observe my picture for this post and imagine what it may do if you were watching it in person. It is very important that you take time to do this step.

2. The second part is the YouTube video below with the meditation audio. You can choose from two options: with music or without music – your choice! Take some time to adjust yourself so you are in a comfortable position, click play, and close your eyes!

With Music:

 

Without Music

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Self-Regulation II: Begins Before Bedtime

The world of sleep is mysterious and vast. We are conscious of ourselves just before we drift off to sleep. However, in between falling asleep and waking, we intentionally or unintentionally place full trust in the world around us – that we will be safe with our eyes closed, traveling into another realm of our daily experience. We experience dreams and movements that we may never recall upon waking. We trust that we will awaken, having allowed our bodies to rest. However, it is not just about our bodies – sleep has profound and powerful effects on the mind. It is no wonder that a vast section of medicine and scientific research is dedicated solely to the study of sleep.

This brings us to our next question… What does sleep have to do with self-regulation?

Common sense and experience tell us that sleep helps our mind and body’s ability to heal, process new information, and grow in creativity – dreams are proofs of our creative selves at play (next time someone tells you or you think you’re not creative, remind yourself that you dream!). Good sleep leads to a larger reserve of energy, more positive moods, and greater control over our motor functions and reaction times (if you’ve ever seen  a video in a driving course demonstrating the connections between sleep and driving, this point should be no surprise!).

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A glimpse of the setting sun.

At a deeper level, according to psychologists and many of the world’s traditions, sleep is the place where we meet metaphors and grow – a place where dreams that connect seemingly unrelated phenomena and phases of sleep rewire our minds towards (hopefully!) greater maturity and clarity. We process an old day’s or a past year’s worth of experiences to prepare for a new day. And so, if we don’t create a foundation for healthy healing sleep we wake up jumbled, chaotic, and confused. We are also much more emotional, more reactive, and with long term sleep deprivation more prone to being anxious and depressed – a perfect recipe for allowing the mind’s irrational processes to go for a run, leaving the more logical self-trusting skills behind. A jumbled and unresolved mind and body is not going to be ready to self-regulate or implement a series of checks and balances to keep our reactions to a new day’s experiences in check.

So, this leads us to the final and most important question: If sleep is so important in self-regulating, how do we prepare for it?

Huh?! Preparing for sleep?

Yes! With the modern pace of life, which continues to grow faster with time, we have forgotten the rituals that used to exist in the absence of cell phones and pressures to keep working. Our grandparents, great-grandparents, and ancestors effortlessly engaged in these rituals before bed. Before delving into how to prepare for one of our day’s most essential functions, SLEEP, let’s take a look at what does NOT prepare us for sleep:

  1. Peering into screens at least 60 minutes before bedtime. This includes television, cell phones, iPads, and laptops.
  2. Listening to news about negative events and the endless stream of “breaking news”
  3. Arguing with friends or family.
  4. Working – your work day should be over way before sleep – it sounds unreal to many of us today (I personally know my teacher colleagues will say we’re planning, thinking of new creative ways to teach material, and grading!) In each profession, and in each stage of life, including student life there is always more work that can be done, especially with the free flowing stream of electricity that lights up our homes at any time of day!
  5. Solving problems – unresolved questions will always consume us but we must press the brakes.
  6. Studying – it’s time to allow the mine to assimilate what you have learned.
  7. Loud or very stimulating activities (i.e., listening to very loud music or intense movies).
  8. Gossiping – creating unnecessary stories and throwing up emotions is the last thing we want to do!

So how do we prepare?

Whatever we do, it should be soothing to the mind and body – bringing ourselves closer to the pace of sleep – which is a “non-doing” state, a state of letting go of all control of any unfinished tasks and worries. Here are some rituals you may choose to take up or follow if you don’t already do so:

  1. Read a nourishing book.
  2. Sit with family (only if that is a relaxing activity).
  3. Pick out your clothes for the following day, prepare your backpack or work bag, and take out anything related to your morning routine. Keep it ready so you don’t need to run around in the morning!
  4. Keep a notepad where you can write any reminders that pop up as you unwind – the last thing you want to do is get up as soon as your mind reminds you of a task.
  5. Journal – write down any positive things that happened during the day.
  6. Sit by a candle and just do nothing, enjoy the presence of the candle and soft relaxing music in the background.
  7. Try Yoga Nidra!
  8. Cut out something that stands between you and preparing for sleep. This is the hardest one of all! But if we want to attend to ourselves, we must learn to let go!

*Start preparing so you can be in bed by latest 11 p.m. This time will gradually and hopefully move to an earlier spot in the day, and you may end up going to bed everyday by 10 p.m. if you don’t already do so.

These are just some ideas. I’m sure our ancestors star-gazed in groups, sat around a fire and told stories, prepared the home for the next day, ensured safety of the kids before falling asleep, or read by candlelight. Whatever they did, the mind was geared to a slowing down process – as opposed to following Tweets, Instagram, Snapchat, the news, or problem-solving unresolved work issues. Our ancestors most likely did not even have the option of being pulled into a space where they could be bombarded with stimulation.

The more you prepare for bed, like our ancestors unknowingly did, the better your quality of sleep will be. What you do before sleeping has a huge impact on the state of your mind during sleep and upon waking. And this is why it is linked to self regulation! The more we prepare and allow a sense of calmness and stillness to begin to permeate into our bedtime-selves, the more rested, resilient, and focused we will feel the next morning. The swirls of emotions that arise within us in response to daily triggers will not quite hit the threshold to burst into a reaction but rather lay low and you will be able to move on without outbursts more easily.


Action for this post:

Create your own bedtime ritual. One hour before it’s time to sleep, try to move towards stillness. Do what helps you feel calmer and what helps slow down the activity of the mind and body.

It is helpful if you write down concrete ritual(s) that you will follow so that there is a plan ready to go as soon as 9 or 10 p.m. hits the clock! The last thing you want to do is start thinking about what to do when it is time to prepare, so do the thinking beforehand and follow the flow of your plan!

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Self-Regulation I: Getting To Know Your Breath

One of the first steps to developing the fertile soil in which we can plant seeds (in the form of tools) that help us self-regulate is getting to know one of the most mysterious and ever-present aspects of our beings: THE BREATH. Getting in touch with and exploring our breath begins to build an awareness of our internal worlds. The breath, as I have written in previous posts, is the connection between the mind and body and anchors us in time and space. As humans, we all experience the array of emotions from elation and cool to extreme sadness and anger. However, to begin to recognize these emotions before they explode into regrettable reactions, we must build a connection with our breath – we can then begin to cultivate metacognition. Metacognition is an awareness of the state of our mind, which encompasses our thoughts and our feelings among many other aspects of our minds that are in constant flux – it is an awareness of our internal world and its moment-to-moment fluctuations.

Our first exercise is called “What is the breath?”. Because it is developed for all ages, you may find it helpful to personalize the exercise to one that matches you (based on age, music, etc) and create one for yourself! Becuase of the tone I use (on purpose), this exercise is great for young students! Adults will benefit from it as well!

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