Instead of Sleep: Prayers around the Body

Do you ever have trouble sleeping at night? Judging from ads on TV, this must be a common problem.

            Ambling toward the far side of seventy I occasional wake up and can’t fall back into the arms of Morpheus. Generally it’s not a problem thanks to a few meditations and prayers that usually bring calm.

            Some of these techniques may be worth sharing.

            The simplest one is a breathing routine I’ve developed over the years. This has become my mantra, something I say silently often: ‘plan work, give love’. Each of these four-letter words has many different meanings, yet their essential idea has become my personal philosophy and daily guide. If I can take time to think things through and search for the good within each person or situation, most issues will resolve themselves over time. Or as Friends say, the way will open.

            How these four words dance around my unsleeping body changes most evenings. I say the prayer in various ways. For the last few years I have seen the word ‘plan’ on my left knee. The word ‘work’ on my right knee. On my right shoulder is ‘give’, and ‘love’ is on my left shoulder. I breathe in through my nose gently with the first two words, exhale slowly with the last two.

            As I toss and turn, I try to get as comfortable as possible, often scooting pillows around, as I tend to be a restless sleeper. I turn from one side to the other to stay warm or just cool enough in the deepest darkness and stillest silence as possible.

I often see these four words as glowing letters or as tattoos on my body. I let my mind create a trail of of light circling up from my knees to connect the words and ideals of peace on my shoulders. 

After a brief period I may not think the whole words, letting my mind imagine the letters P, W, G, and L glow on my knees and shoulders. These four concepts can trigger memories of friends or works of art. I let my mind recreate a path of calm connecting breath to body. Sometimes I see these words in different colors or let my body become two geometric shapes, yin-yang symbols or as designs on T-shirts to give to friends. 

The main thing is not to dwell on issues from the day. If some concern won’t float away I may note it on my cellphone. But I resist any temptations to check mail or news.

Each night is different. Most nights I don’t mess with this process, and sleep without meditation other than a prayer of thanks for getting through the day’s craziness.  

Of course this meditation doesn’t always work. Sometimes worries overwhelm sleep. I may read a while with a night-light or digital book. I try not to bother my sleeping wife, who seems to be usually breathing gently, rarely snoring as I reportedly occasionally do. Hardly ever moving, Cathy seems always perfectly prone and calm as a sleeping baby.

Even more important than this breathing meditation must be trying to lead a balanced life: getting an hour or two of exercise daily, not eating weird food or overdoing stuff. Common sense lead to appreciation of the Holy Spirit guiding us to possibilities of revelation, simplicity, essential change and calm sleep. 

If nothing else gets me to sleep, I may crawl from bed and find a cool corner to read, then hopefully fall out. One muggy summer night I took a walk outside just in pj’s where I saw a huge flying saucer hovering over the countryside. I knew no one would believe me, so I quickly went back inside, popped into bed and kept the vision to myself. Or maybe it was all just a dream. 

A happy dream with no war or hunger, just friendly space travelers who brought the possibility of sleep. Sometimes sleep is greatest gift possible.

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