I have not been sleeping well. It’s been about a week since I both slept more than six hours in duration or slept through the night without interruption. And while it’s certainly been exhausting and frustrating, it’s also been interesting. Since I’m someone who typically sticks to a fairly rigid early-to-bed, early-to-rise schedule, this change has represented a shift in my routine as well as my physical/mental well-being, and it’s proved to be an opportunity of sorts to observe the inexorable link between mind and body.
When I first started a regular meditation practice, I was amazed at how much it highlighted my tendency to operate as though I were some disembodied brain that only happened to be attached to a physical body that needed my attention–I’d sit on the cushion, following my breath, and inevitably, experience flashes of annoyance when a foot would fall asleep or my back would begin to ache with the strain of maintaining a new posture for extended periods of time. I remember thinking, if it weren’t for this physical discomfort, I would be perfectly content to sit here all day. And of course, in this idealized imagining of my contentedly meditating self, I’d then be free to get past the tangled mess of thoughts getting in my way. But as time went on, and I studied and talked with teachers, as I continued practicing, I gathered that the general consensus is the physical discomfort, the tangled mess of thoughts, are to be welcomed in the same spirit as feelings of ease or sensations of clarity. I say that this is what I have “gathered” as opposed to “learned” because I think I’m still feeling my way through what it means to truly accept these experiences of mental and physical discomfort as a vital component of ‘clear perception’ of reality.
Intellectually, I believe it: how could any sense of what is real not include the discomfort and the mess? However, in terms of how I experience my life, day-to-day, moment-to-moment, I still find myself tensing up to resist, attempting to rationalize discomfort in hopes that understanding will bring relief. Psychologist and meditation teacher, Tara Brach has addressed such resistance with a process-based suggestion to recognize, allow, investigate, and non-identify (RAIN) with such feelings, and *sometimes* I find this to be a useful tool. Very often, though, I catch myself regarding acronymized strategies as a bit gimmicky and clunky, almost a distraction from what I’m actually trying to work with in my experience.
And this week of running on empty, of feeling a bit more irritable, a bit worn thin, I’ve had even less patience for the fancy footwork of managing my experience than usual. It’s not that I don’t still try to remind myself that my exhaustion is responsible for the more intensely felt peaks and valleys of mood; it’s more that because the lens through which I’m viewing my experience is more obvious, I actually manage less, give myself permission to fumble more. Somehow it’s been acceptable to feel grumpy for no reason or to say no to the demands of others in order to say yes my own needs. It’s also been acceptable to feel elated for no reason whatsoever and to be less surprised when this elation left me behind to go on its merry way.
Of course, along with this lack of management has meant giving myself over to experience the discomfort that comes with allowing one’s ‘reality’ to be cast in the light of shifting perceptions. If I don’t stop to remind myself why life might feel this or that way with particular intensity, then I’m opening the door to potentially “getting carried away” with myself, as my grandmother would put it. Interestingly, though, this loopy haze has actually allowed a safe space for exploration of the extremes I generally consider to be either self-indulgent or threatening. And it turns out…these extremes function just like any other thought: they arrive, bloom, and take hold until they disappear.