There are some of you out there like me, for whom sleep is a complicated thing. There are two moments that are vital: late at night right before bed, and first thing in the morning when I awake. Night and day are defined by the peace of these moments. And there are a number of things that can disturb it—a looming deadline, an illness in the family, a massive case of self-doubt…or anything wrong in the world that I’ve come to worry about. Things, and the thoughts of things become intrusive, sometimes relentless in the worst of days. But I think I’ve found a hack for it.
Months ago, through a beautiful post in A Cup of Jo, I stumbled upon an article in the New York Times by Akhil Sharma called The Trick of Life. In it he writes so eloquently about a breakdown he had while struggling to finish a novel. Tormented by panic attacks, and haunted by the death of his older brother who was comatose for years before he died, he turned to praying for other people. “By focusing on others and their needs, my own problems seemed less unique and, somehow, less pressing,” Sharma writes. And there’s this other thing he does. Here’s an excerpt…
“Just as my parents were always looking for ways, however ludicrous, to wake my brother, I find that I am constantly on the lookout for ways to keep my mind quiet, so that I might live and work in peace. Recently, I read an interview of an actor who said that when he needs to change his behavior toward someone, he merely thinks, ‘I love you, I love you,’ as he is talking to the person.”
I’ve tried combining both ways whenever I feel overwhelmed, or afraid. Or sad. Those feelings don’t always disappear entirely, but they are put in their place. Put in a place where they can’t permeate my entire existence. Where they can be quiet. This ‘trick of life’ is a way of seeing yourself and others in a different way. I’ve found that it yields kindness, or a semblance of it inside you. And love. Even if it is for people you don’t know.
Heartbroken by the death of Robin Williams, I found comfort in the outpouring of love from millions who took to social media to grieve the loss of such a gifted man. A friend of mine said something so apt on Facebook. “We need to be kind to everyone because we never know what they might be going through.”
Usually at night, sometimes when I awake, and sometimes at any given moment when intrusive thoughts begin to immobilize me, I pray for people I don’t know.
For people in conflict zones. I pray for your safety, for peace where you are. For that time when you will no longer have to live in fear. I love you, I love you…
For the old man on the bus I saw one time, who carried a Manila envelope, and had a look of despair on his face. I pray for your mission, whatever it is. I pray that you are surrounded by people you love who will care for you. I pray that you see many, many happy days. I love you, I love you.
Even for that driver yesterday who kept screaming at me to get out of his way. I pray that your emergency is nothing serious. And that if there isn’t one, I pray that you learn to slow down, literally, and in other ways. I love you, ok? I love you…
And for Robin. I’m sorry that you felt like you couldn’t be saved. I pray that you will never feel pain again. That you feel alive again. That you have the infinite joy you deserve. And that you know how much you are loved. I love you, I love you.
And you. Thanks for reading.