This week, I have spent several hours viewing livestreamed and webcasted talks given by H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama during his speaking engagements throughout New England (and also Virginia). Ever since taking a world religions course in college more than 25 years ago, His Holiness has been one of my greatest personal and spiritual heroes and a source of deep inspiration. His life experience and relationship with the Chinese government provide me with a model for dealing with adversarial themes in my own life while remaining rooted in kindness and compassion. I am grateful for the technology that makes it possible to watch these live and recorded events, particularly after an unsuccessful attempt to purchase tickets for his public talk at Middlebury College.
During one of this week’s talks, a questioner asked how the Dalai Lama can maintain such a busy lifestyle without compromising his health. He responded with gusto, “Good sleep!” He went on to explain that he gets eight or nine hours of sound sleep every night. During this morning’s talk at Middlebury College, he stated, “My sleep is an important part of my meditation,” and once again expounded on the importance of sleep.
I found this interesting because the day before I heard him speak about this topic, I arrived at the realization that getting a good night’s sleep is an important contribution to world peace. My reasoning was based on the assertion that world peace is generated from inner peace. Inner peace arises from a happy heart and mind, and I realized that depriving myself of sleep tends to compromise my mood and my ability to manage the normal stressors of everyday life.
I haven’t been able to go on the river this week because it’s been too windy and cold; the water has been rough. I’m sure there will be more opportunities for river bliss before retiring the kayaks for the winter, but the season is winding down along with the garden. In fact, we had our first frost last night.
Soon it will be the season of the wood stove, candles, and shorter days.
And you know what? That sounds like a great opportunity for getting more sleep!
I have been shortchanging my sleep since June because there has been so much to see and do during the longer, warmer days. Toward the end of summer, preserving tomatoes (canning, drying, sauce-making) and other gifts of the garden occupied a lot of my “free” time. So did experiencing and photographing the outdoors. Trying to fit in creative pursuits after resuming full-time teaching more than a month ago has presented additional challenges to getting a good night’s sleep. But the act of creating is like breathing to the artist’s soul, and I can’t not do it. I just have to remind myself constantly that adequate rest is perhaps even more important and put some boundaries around my creative endeavors.
Among the lessons I learned from observing the water lilies on the river all summer was the importance of getting plenty of rest. By 2:00 or 3:00 p.m., they already were closed back into tight green pods until the following morning. The beauty they gave to the world during their waking hours was breathtaking. It was as if they put all their energy into blooming fully and then needed lots of time to regenerate in order to do it again the next day. They spoke to me of balance and simplicity – not trying to do too much. It seems to me that there is a certain amount of doing that is necessary and healthy each day, and anything beyond that only serves the ego, which is never satisfied. We need to discern when enough is enough and call it quits for the day.
This week, I have begun prioritizing sleep. It requires a great deal of discipline because there is so much I want to accomplish and experience each day. However, sleep needs to come first! It is the foundation for everything else, including having the energy and motivation to get enough physical exercise, maintain a healthy diet, and generate enough mindfulness and patience to manage my classroom, home life, and other interactions effectively.
During the summer, I often had to choose between experiencing the sunrise or the nighttime sky (made more compelling by the fanciful glow of thousands of fireflies around the yard and the allure of moonlit kayaking). I usually chose the latter. During the cooler months, it is easier to do both and still get a good night’s sleep. This is one reason to welcome the cooler weather and darker months as the sun favors the southern hemisphere and travels a path lower on the horizon.
I have had numerous conversations during the past week with friends who are experiencing tangible and measurable symptoms of too much stress. In our fast-paced world where many of us find ourselves burdened with heavier workloads and impossible demands put upon us, I feel the Dalai Lama’s simple advice is much needed. We can come up with umpteen excuses to keep running on the treadmill in a futile attempt to satisfy the appetites of all the egos in our lives. However, peace and happiness in our hearts, our homes, and our world depends on everyone taking personal responsibility for meeting this most basic need for sleep. With proper rest comes greater creativity for problem solving the issues that confront us in our daily lives. With a good night’s sleep, our minds are clearer, and our actions are more effective.
So why not join me in doing ourselves and everyone around us a favor by prioritizing a good night’s sleep?
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