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Spiritual Practice: SLEEP

“Sleep is a spiritual practice.” – Gabrielle Bernstein

I prayed as I shuffled the deck of cards in my hands that I would be guided through the day. Soft morning light streamed through the windows to my office as I sat in the first few moments at my desk. I pulled a card away from the others and read

Sleep is a spiritual practice.

Wait. What?

I sleep just fine these days, thank you very much. After perusing the affirmation/meditation cards I purchased a few months ago, this was the one that I thought I did not need. I have this sleep thing down and I am super proud of that accomplishment, since it was such a lonely struggle for a long time. Throughout graduate school, particularly when I took courses and taught undergraduates at the same time, I had a fraught relationship with sleep. This problem is now long gone and I am a sleep champ – I go to bed every night by 10:00 PM and wake up at 6:00 AM! Super healthy!

As I sat looking at the card in my hand, I mulled through my personal history with sleep. As a child I regularly woke reeling from nightmares and in adulthood I experienced a continuation of vivid dreams. I found myself, like others, amplifying my troubles in the dark for one or two hours, only to think back on their insignificance at 8:00 AM. Sometimes I used this time, embarrassingly, to attempt deep conversations with my husband. (What was I thinking?) There were nights that I felt very much alone, though my love was peacefully sleeping next to me. I firmly believe that a regular meditation and yoga practice alleviated these sleep troubles – so much that when I read the card this morning, I thought, “Shoot. I do not need this insight.”

Then it came to me – yes, I do! If sleep is a spiritual practice, then with my sleep past in mind, good sleep is a message that my body, mind, and spirit are growing in tune with each other. I prayed for a sign that the work that I do each day is productive. We can get frustrated if we do not see the fruits of our labor. This was my sign.

Sleep is a loaded concept for many. Sometimes sleep is an elusive foe, and there are those who make it a symbol of achievement. In twenty-first century American society, the concept of success is often tied with sleep deprivation – successful work life, successful education, or successful parenting. Rarely do we think of adequate sleep as a sign of successful health or spirituality, and thus a signifier of success in other parts of life. In my field, there is a running commentary about how academics and scholars keep an odd schedule and write in the wee hours of the morning, whether before or after their short bouts of sleep. I never held that belief and as a result, sometimes I feel that I am not pursuing an appropriate level of work to be prosperous.

This is bogus. I am here to affirm that sleep is a spiritual practice and one that should be in line with other health pursuits. It is fine to splurge occasionally, but the respect we give our bodies reflects the beliefs we have about ourselves: the way we eat, how we move, and our sleep habits. It is not fitting for me to give a set number of hours one should sleep, because – surprise! – I am not a sleep doctor. Each individual knows when her body is in balance. In fact, it may shift day by day or as the years pass.

Sleep is a spiritual practice because it is where our bodies find renewal. It is where we spend time in our dream landscape. It is even a place where we can meditate (Yoga Nidra.) Guard your sleep like it is a treasure that only you can protect. Of course, when we take care of children or have one of the other issues listed above, sleep is disrupted. We cannot just throw in the towel, though, and settle into ignoring this beautiful part of our lives. Know yourself. Find your balance and guard it.

You can find Gabby’s 62-card affirmations deck here.

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