What do our nights (and life) want from us?

I heard the news last Saturday as I arrived to teach the workshop on Finding Rest in Turbulent Times.

This time, news was the synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh. The day before, execution of two black shoppers at Kroger. The day before, pipe bombs.

At some point, the news itself is just one more unfathomable affront. We are shell-shocked, stunned, trying to keep up with the avalanche of grief. For most with insomnia, anguish arises at night, unabated and with few distractions, keeping us miserably awake. This happens despite our need, the craving, the necessity to let go into rest and even sleep.

Suffering at night is painful to experience, and so is the inability to be yourself the next day. Still, you can find room, space to move into deep rest.

What does your life want from you?

A few weeks ago, I was at a performance of “Nights of Grief and Mystery” by Stephen Jenkinson and the Greg Hoskins band. I was awe-struck as I listened to songs, poetry, stories, and jokes about life, death, happiness, grief, being alive.

One of the many things that stayed with me is this:


What does life want from me?

That’s a different question from the one we usually ask: What do I want from life? Image We have many losses to grieve — from uncertainty about our future, receding viability of democracy, pain inflicted on groups of people. It’s understandable that we might lose our grounding, because what we want from life may not be so attainable.

When we let the grief and sadness move, it’s easier to be alive. But we need to have a ground on which to stand. And that can come by asking, what does life want from me?

It’s a question that has to do with meaning….

  • What are the values that keep my life aligned with who I am?
  • How can I continue to connect with something greater than my own struggles, and the struggles of others around me?
  • What does my life mean to others, and provide to make life better?
  • What keeps us connected to humanity?

When we come from humanity, or what life wants from us – whether we’re taking action, sitting with grief, being there for others, or resting at night – we have a bit of shelter to weather the storms.

Tools to use tonight

Ah, as I write this I feel so sad. That sadness and fear kept me up last night for a bit as well.

Here are some tools I taught in the workshop and helped me find my way back to rest.

  • Rest for a nano-second at a time. Those nanoseconds move you into the calming nervous response, and as you continue, nanoseconds turn into seconds, into moments, then minutes, and merge into extended time to renew and rest.
  • Release the fearful neuropathway by doing bilateral movements: Cross your arms and press one hand on your upper arm, then the other. Back and forth slowly as a gentle heart beat. BUT! As with all the tools, if this makes you more anxious, stop and move to something else.
  • Move away from thoughts of horror. We think that dreading something makes us more prepared, but it doesn’t. It requires some conscious effort, but it’s helpful to get some space.
  • Exhale for one or two counts longer than you inhale. Let yourself cry if that arises.

I wish I could change the story of the world. But as with all of us, we can change the story of how we live our lives, no matter how they turn out to be.

Please share your thoughts about your nights on the Facebook page, so we can all learn from each other.

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