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Saturday, September 21, 2013

Two Ancient Spiritual Practices May Fight Insomnia: Good News From Christianity

Surrender your restless thoughts to these disciplines!
I recently discovered a prayer, an old five step prayer ... you know it's old because they hadn't developed twelve steps yet ... that helps calm the mind on those nights where your brain just won't let go of the day and keeps running in tiny, lunatic circles in the still dark watches of the night. Begin there and follow it up with the discipline of silence. That one-two punch may do the trick for you. It has for me, twice. Here's how. First the prayer ..

The author of the book Heaven and Mirth, James Martin, SJ (pp. 176-178), recommends turning to St. Ignatius Loyola's five step "animation of conscience" prayer to help us create a sense of gratitude. Who knew gratitude could so calm the mind? The whole prayer journey hinges on the certain belief that true joy always and eternally stems from God. Keeping your relationship with God front and center in your life will allow you to find your joy, comfort, and solace ... even when it hurts, even when you can't sleep. Let the prayer begin ...

1.                  Gratitude: recall those things that happened during the day for which you may be grateful (I know you're hurting, I know it's hard, but you can do it). Simple, small things are fine: a kind word from a colleague, friend, or family member, a child's smile or laugh, some objective completed, a good meal, a walk in the warm sunshine, anything and everything you can think up. Linger over these items and feel a little bit a gratitude start to glow deep down in your hurting heart. As Martin states, "nothing connects us to God more quickly than orienting ourselves toward those things for which we are grateful."  
2.                  God's presence: mull over the day's events and discover where God was present in your life. You probably overlooked that in your busy day. It is much easier to see God's hand in things after the events of the day, when things are calmer. 
3.                  Grace: be bold and ask for the grace to see where and when you may have sinned by turning away from God during your day. Go ahead. Don't get defensive. Relax. It happens ... and God knows it. So should you. It'll help. 
4.                  Forgiveness: Be bolder still and sincerely ask for forgiveness for any sins committed during the day. You may want to follow us with the even bolder reconciliation with a friend, coworker, family member, or neighbor slighted if you have committed some wrong against them (best to be quick as small wrongs grow in the mind of yourself and the one you wronged if allowed to grow). 
5.             Grace again: Finally, be very bold and ask for the grace to see more clearly where God is at work in your life tomorrow. 

The secret to this five step prayer is the creation and cultivation of a sense of gratitude in our lives for the gifts God has already given us. Through this, even in our pain, we can reconnect with, as Martin beautifully states, "...a believing joy. Gratitude reminds us of the underlying joy in our lives." As a side note, the second time I used this useful, calming prayer, step 5 was granted to me the very next day. God's graces that day were much more apparent in my life. 

Follow this prayer with the spiritual discipline of silence. It is designed to stop a person from thinking long enough to come into the presence of God and just rest there with the one who loves us most. To accomplish this goal of shutting down thought (which isn't easy and must be developed over time) try one of two things. Envision a river with a bend in it that is quickly masked by trees. Anytime a nuisance thought interrupts you silence, envision yourself setting that thought into the river and watching it disappear around the bend. Don't worry. If you need that thought, it will return at a more useful hour. Keep at it. Or you can pick a word that you'd like to concentrate on, perhaps something you'd like to have like "joy" perhaps and just repeat that word over and over again in your mind, driving out the other thoughts. In time ... you are getting sleepy ... you may discover morning has come and your dark and restless night is over. You slept. 

Give it a try and let me know what happens. All I can say is, it works for me. Blessings to you all, sleep deprived children of God. 

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