I had fibromyalgia for many years, and came to agree with the doctors who told me it was a sleep disorder. Now that I am free of its constant pain, I cherish a good night’s sleep. The only other person I’ve known who was so enamored of sleep was a Greek man who remembered having to get up pre-dawn in the Army. Ruined him. A lot of my writing is done in my sleep – I wake up in the morning with the resolution of a challenge, a few choice words, a title to something, an idea for a new project, whatever. I also used sleep when I was studying foreign languages – I read over the vocabulary lists before I went to sleep and remembered them better in the morning. When your mind is asleep, it is still prioritizing, analyzing, and digesting ideas and intentions. Insomnia doesn’t happen often, and one reasons is that I have become familiar with a practice called YOGA NIDRA. There are places online where you can be guided through various Yoga Nidra sessions. I use yogaglo.com. The number one pick on Google is https://www.doyogawithme.com/content/yoga-nidra-sleep and I nearly conked out while evaluating it for you. Here are two yoga practices which put me to sleep without fail.
- While lying on your back, breathe in on a count of three, hold for three, breathe out for three. Breathe in for four, hold for four, breathe out for four. Continue until you reach fifteen. You’ll feel a touch of oxygen deprivation when you get into the higher numbers (which might be the secret of this exercise). If you aren’t asleep by then, count backwards to three.
- Begin by tracing, in your mind, the outline of your pinky toe, then your fourth toe, until you have finished the toes. Trace the tendons running from the toes to the heels (try to identify them in your mind), go around your ankle and up the shin, then down the back of the shin, circle your knee (I am sure to make an “x” I front of the knee where the ACLs are), up the front and back of your thigh, around your hip, into your hip joint, out around the back of your sacrum. Then do the same with your other leg. From your hip, move upward to outline your liver, gall bladder, spleen, large intestine, small intestine (I’m getting sleepy just writing all of this), the full length and width of your lungs, your pancreas, you heart and all its chambers, your thyroid gland, thymus, down your throat, around the back of your neck, your shoulder joints, then outline your fingers, wrist, forearm, upper arm on both sides. If you’re not asleep yet, trace the line of the jaw right into the joint, then trace your teeth, outline your tongue, relax your lips, outline your sinuses, honor the pituitary gland, which sits right behind your nose, your eyes, being sure to relax all the little muscles surrounding the eyes, make your eyes into two lakes, the eyebrows, outline the ears, making sure to hit every little nook and cranny. Let your remaining thoughts ascend through the top of your head into the air.
This afternoon I went to a restorative yoga session which included long periods of meditation and gourmet stretches. Perhaps I was meant to be listening to my breath during the meditations, but instead I came out of it with four rules for the new year.
- Protect myself
- Do my job
- Seek moments in which to receive and to give kindness
- Seek new experiences
Sex is like ballet. It appears before you elegant, graceful, leaping and soaring under special lighting, with fanfares, exciting arrangements of personnel, and touching denouements. The pleasure and thrill are powerful cultural markers which mask the deeper purpose. Follow the dancers backstage and you see that the elegance and excitement is only a small part of the function and process of ballet. The dancers unwrap their gnarled and aching feet, they soak their aging bodies in mineral baths. Every day, they exercise wearing old sweat pants in yellow fluorescent rooms. A spectator might be addicted to the beauty and grace, but the dancers' love of dance is deeper. There is a scene in Masters of Sex in which the misanthropic doctor holds his stillborn baby, which he has just delivered. The many problems he and his wife have been living with for years disappear in his momentary grief. As Khalil Gibran writes, “Your children are not your children; they are the sons and the daughters of life’s yearning for itself.” This scene is life’s yearning for itself gone wrong. A reader has generously reviewed my book on amazon, and he complains that there is not enough sex in it. He wants details. The details, though, are not only in the unique pairings, the flights of the imagination, which is what he wants; but they are also like the dancer’s bleeding feet, the constant effort in the face of fatigue or boredom, the fantasy gone sour. The purpose of sex is much greater than fantasy and fancy choreography. It keeps our human race alive, cements loving relationships, keeps couples together, opens our eyes to new and unexpected experiences, and forces us to know ourselves. That is the art in it.
I am a Halloween grinch. My husband and I retreat to watch television, keeping the sound low so that children coming to our apartment door won’t know that we are at home. Last night though, I opened the door by mistake, thinking it was the mailman. Three screeching children were running around in circles shrieking “Trick or treat!” “Trick or treat” and as soon as I gave them a cookie, they ran away. A frowning mother, backed up by three other frowning, distracted adults, shouted, “Did you say thank you? Did you say thank you,” but the children were already tearing down the corridor toward the next apartment. They weren’t communicating with anybody by either listening or speaking – not each other, not me, not their parents. Halloween is a spectacle gussied up by two-dollar costumes which brings not joy but mania and is as empty of meaning as a ritual could possibly be. I noticed last night that not much had changed since the years when I lived in a big house, turned on the light, prepared treats, and even occasionally wore a costume myself. About ten years ago, the ritual of Halloween changed. I’d open the door to three or four children fighting each other to be first in line to grab the treat, no eye contact with me, no thank you, and usually not even a “trick or treat” or even a “hi.” Parents stood at the bottom of the driveway staring at me mirthlessly, gauging whether I looked like the sort of person who put arsenic or a razor blade in the apples. This felt demeaning and I finally turned off the lights and retreated to the television room. Just so you know, this is how we did it when I was a kid. We borrowed something from our parents, took something out of the costume trunk upstairs, or otherwise cobbled together a costume. It was amazing how much we could do with such limited stocks. Our parents had nothing to do with the costume creation. I figured it out with my brothers or my friends. When we were very young, my friends and I went through only the immediate neighborhood, unchaperoned, since my parents were at their own door handing out treats. As we grew older, we could go farther afield until, when I was a teenager, we started out in my neighborhood and went all the way to Upper Mountain Avenue, walking from 5:00 in the afternoon until about 9:30. We must have covered three miles, stopping at each house on both sides of the street. My brothers had their own set of Halloween friends and followed separate routes. I’d put my bag of candy in the closet and took out one piece at a time. Once it lasted until Easter. Though my childhood Halloweens had already lost any deeper religious or historical meaning, they at least bathed us in something I would call fun rather than mania, and the people providing us treats were granted a moment of laughter and conversation so they, too, could enjoy it. At least Halloween is followed by the lovely authenticity of Thanksgiving.