Officially day four of 04:20 wake ups. This morning wasn’t a challenge, and here I am at the keyboard, still four minutes until five. Even in Arkansas, when one wakes this early, it’s always nice. The humidity isn’t too heavy, obviously the temperatures aren’t soaring, and the bugs and evening noises are still in a nice rhythm. Syncopated to the night, the morning approaches.
Meditation has been fantastic. And while I’ve only used a couple of techniques thus far, they have been hugely successful. A little elaboration is in order I think.
The mindfulness meditation is the simplest to enact once a bit of walking the house is achieved to knock sleep from center stage. Lately, I have been taking a lit Nag Champa and going around the house mimicking a cleansing ritual, going so far as to even blow the rising trail of smoke into spaces or onto surfaces. Passing through every room except for Ivy’s, as she is sleeping still at 04:27, the average time this takes place, the tour returns me to my room. I douse the incense and climb onto the bed for meditation. The bed has always, since the first of any practice, been my most commonly used platform, and a habit developed while using the bed is to use a certain pillow as my Zafu. Since that side of the bed is rarely occupied by anything more than a backpack, three of my study/reading books, and sometimes and assortment of clean clothes and/or electronics, the pillow was an easy sell as Zafu. It isn’t even used for sleeping. On really bad nights, it acts like a shoulder to cry into. On really good mornings, my strong warm embrace gives this pillow something to remember me by. The incense ritual is a new one, but I have another for morning and evening meditations used since the first week of progressive muscle relaxation therapy. It is direction.
Some of readers may remember this habit of mine. In the mornings I face west, and in the evenings, east. The reason for this arrangement is a metaphor based on the sun being at my back.
In the mornings, I am facing the day, keeping the journey always in front of me. In meditation there is no hiding from the self, as well, the upcoming day cannot be hidden from either. We can hide from responsibility and friends, family and jobs, but we cannot hide from time or its passage. In the evening facing the east symbolizes what is inexorably coming from that direction—the next day. The evening session is meant to welcome what comes next. Thankfully, there is no hiding from that either.
I used to stay up late more often than not as a way of hiding from the coming day. Thinking around this issue more and more has me convinced it must be true. My unhealthy mind, the one that really didn’t want to be “me” anymore, and had been around for two decades, surely feared the idea it must exist again tomorrow. Not wanting to be around today would make tomorrow an ever more dreadful prospect. And there I would be, at five a.m., trying to figure out how to drink another rum and coke, smoke another bowl, smoke another cigarette, or watch another episode (truth is, it was regular for me to be doing all three simultaneously). No longer fearing the mornings has made going to sleep far more fun, and for all those who have horrible insomnia, get this, easy most of the time.
The other meditation technique mentioned earlier is known as the body scan. I learned this one from “Full Catastrophe Living.” There is a specific type of body scan called body scan for sleep, which works very well for me. A full body scan takes a long time, is fairly hard to do and requires the kind of focus that can wind a mind up or put you fast asleep. The adverse of those effect makes a full body scan risky at bedtime in my opinion. The body scan for sleep is a little more subtle, easy, and less time-consuming. Not that we should rush the process of falling asleep, but just looking at the words I used to describe the differences in the two techniques it’s not difficult to notice why it’s used for sleep. I don’t always complete the scan for sleep, but once I lose the ability to focus on it, a few turnings on my side usually does the trick. Plus, this translates to something I have never tried as a practice, three meditations a day. While it is true the evening mindfulness and body scan for sleep are within moments of one another, there is no loss in satisfaction. In fact, there seems to be a utility in this.
Often my evening practice is frustrating. The mind full of all the day’s thoughts and recollections is that of the ostentatious child. Synapses are still firing like I am getting ready to deal with heavy stimuli when all I seek is silence and solitude. A ten minute barrage of agitation, especially if the day went poorly, is what the evening mindfulness session is often reduced to, but the sleep scan gives me an extra sliver of practice. As perception settles into the horizontal position, and my breath is my focus once again, my body begins to speak. This gives me a chance to listen to and to breath into and out of pain that will inevitably erupt from my long abused flesh, more mirrors for healing feedback loops.
This little extra time of just trying to quiet the mind is precious to me, and like I mentioned, has inadvertently created a third meditative space. Our evolving and plastic consciousness has just brought a smile to this face before 06:00, truly something to consider.