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Monsters, Shadows and Bad Dreams

monster in closetAlthough we associate fear of something in the closet, a monster having taken residence under our bed, shadows in the shape of snakes and the dreaded bad dream as afflictions of children and young ones too new to be able to apply logic to fantasy, when we are being honest, adults struggle with sleep and the role of sleep in their lives.  We try to fall asleep, but that chronic ache in our shoulder is suddenly a symphony of pain and no matter how we move we can’t get comfortable.  Our bodies are exhausted, but we lie down and immediately our mind is an Olympic quality racer and we can’t even trace the tracks.  Essentially, the monster that has taken residence under the bed may no longer be some slimy, toe biting, one eyed, baby napper…….it’s that car insurance bill that slipped behind the desk, that last e-mail you read at work before you shut down for the night that caused fear and loathing, the dreams you had to climb the mountain and now you wonder if your car is going to start or how you are going to both fill that same car with gas and feed your children……..and poems you want to read and a new color you wanted to add to your painting and all the flavors of ice cream you haven’t tried yet and how you are going to get to the beach and wondering if you remembered to take the clothes out of the drier or sign the permission slip or, for that matter, lock the door.  Did you remember to lock the door?  Forget the door, is your alarm set?

If you have children in your life, whether a parent, an aunt, a neighbor, a babysitter or teacher, one of the greatest gifts you can give a child is to help them center and find calm around falling asleep.  This is a learned skill and one that they can carry with them for their whole life.  As a matter of fact, creating a ritual of centering and time to reflect, hope and be calm before sleep may benefit your own health and well-being in surprising ways.

In Deepak Chopra’s book, “The Book of Secrets” the second secret is that “You are not in the world; the world is in you (21).”  He secretsargues that there is no way to prove the existence of an outside world and that, for all anyone knows, the entire outside world could be a dream (20-21).  “When I’m in bed having a dream, I see a world of events just as vivid as the waking world…But when I open my eyes in the morning, I know that these vivid events were all produced inside my head.  I’d never make the mistake of falling for this trick because I already assume that dreams aren’t real (20-21).”  When we learn how to open to a calm space before sleep, we prepare for a more creative, abundant and satisfying dream life.  This spills into our waking life as we apply the same creative principles to our movement and appreciation of space, time and relationships during the daytime.

cooperCooper Edens has written and illustrated two beautiful little books that are perfect for adults and for reading and exploring with wee ones right before sleep.  One is titled, “If You’re Afraid of the Dark, Remember the Night Rainbow.”  The other is titled, “If You’re Afraid of the Dark, Add One More Star to the Night.”  Suggestions for dealing with fears include, “If your eyeglasses wear out….put them on your back and call them your wings.”  and “If your elephant forgets…perhaps your aardvark knows the answer.”  Yes, ridiculous, but soothing and joyful and just what you, need to send the concerns of the day off to rest so you can too.

Another beautiful resource is a book of simple visualizations for children by Maureen Garth titled, “Starbright: Meditations for cooper 2Children.”  I’m not embarrassed to share that I personally find these to be incredibly helpful to read and visualize before I go to sleep.  There are most definitely “adult” techniques that are not necessarily more complex, but use our ability as adults to locate sensation in the body in a deeper way or actively release tension and I do not suggest that this is the best resource for adult relaxation and visualization, but it is a resource that you can use with children that will benefit you as the facilitator in ways you may or may not be able to predict.  In the Introduction, the author teaches you a basic starting meditation that you use in the same way for all meditation sessions using the book.  Basically, you create a garden and then, you choose one of the individual meditations to continue your garden journey.  For example, “The Clouds” meditation on page 65 begins with:

“As you enter your garden, you become aware of the softness of the air caressing your cheeks, and the warmth of the sun on your body.  Look around and you can see the trees and plants all sharing the same earth happily with the flowers and the animals.  The sky is a deep shade of blue although it is also very bright and clear.  The golden sun is high in the heavens warming the earth and all of the earth’s creatures.”

My whole body relaxed just typing that paragraph!  Isn’t it just so SWEET?  Before I do the meditation, my older child likes to read buddha bedtimea story from the book, “Buddha at Bedtime: Tales of Love and Wisdom for You to Read with Your Child to Enchant, Enlighten and Inspire” by Dharmachari Nagaraja.  Here dear reader, I’ve got to be honest with you.  I don’t get the attraction to these stories.  But, I simply can’t deny that both of my children (ages 2 and 7) listen to them intently and I can visually see them relax.  So, I guess the attraction is that they work for children and that means good things for the parents who previously had to go 20-rounds of “But I’m not tired….my foot feels squished….I need a drink of water….these pajamas are itchy…” and now only have to read a remarkably boring story that somehow manages to lull a wee one into a state of creative calm.  A calm child sweet before dreaming is a relaxed parent.

joyful mindFor adults, I would also like to suggest that how you wake up changes how you perceive your sleep.  My phone is my alarm clock and this is dangerous.  As soon as I wake up, I also see how many Facebook Messenger chats I’ve received, new e-mail messages and I am tempted to check Facebook and the weather too.  Instead, what I do is read a Lojong slogan and commentary by Pema Chodron from her book, “Always Maintain a Joyful Mind.”  This is the best way to make meditation practice a part of your morning.  It takes less than two minutes to read the slogan and the commentary and during my morning I keep returning to it.  Sometimes I return to it through the day and the slogan provides a thread of awareness from my waking self through the day.  So many of my students and clients desire to wake up earlier and make yoga and meditation a part of their day.  But, for most of us, we are barely getting the rest we need to begin with and we simply can’t dedicate even 20-minutes to contemplative practice or energy work as the day starts.  For parents of young children, there is literally no time between that early morning cry for food, a fresh diaper or a cuddle and when the day must begin.  But, a nursing mom or father can read a slogan while feeding a baby in bed and carry that contemplation into the care of the infant and through the day.  We all have two minutes, a few of us even have five minutes.  This is my absolute favorite resource for making contemplation and the energy of meditation practice a reality no matter how pressed for time I am.

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