Oddly, I never knew I had insomnia. For as long as I can remember, broken sleep was simply normal. I just assumed that everyone was the same. I felt like Richard Pryor’s blind character in Hear No Evil, See No Evil, dumbfounded by some startling news that everyone else knew, “you mean, I’m not white? . . . does Dad know?
Upon my girlfriend’s insistence that I should see someone about it (seeing her apparently didn’t count) over a week of extreme stress where I’d self-medicated to get some solid nights sleep, I ventured to my doctor to relay my symptoms: I can get to sleep just fine; after three or four hours I generally wake up; and will continue to wake-up intermittently for the rest of the night, and will be fully conscious when doing so. Not even five seconds went by until she said ‘yup, terminal insomnia.’ Other than airports and power-sockets, no good can come from anything labelled ‘terminal’.
In this case it simply means that the last few hours of my sleep are disturbed. Not wanting any pills or medication, which my doctor assured me she would wouldn’t provide anyway, she recommended this site, espousing the imperative nature of sleep in our lives. Quite simply, sleep deprivation is pretty serious business. Every idiot knows it’s important, but the effects are staggering. Here are the things I’ve changed to improve my sleep:
I can’t say all of the above is ameliorative, but it’s an on-going experiment. Any suggestions of course would be more than welcome! Oh, and I’ve also started Marcus Aurelias’ Meditations, which has my mind dozing off after barely a paragraph. Maybe he’s the secret!
Image references: https://www.lifehacker.com.au/2015/12/why-insomnia-happens-and-what-you-can-do-to-get-better-sleep/
From the very first years of real sentience and cogent thought, about mid-teenage years, the meaning of life / ultimate reason you’re here question starts looming in the shadows like a 500lb gorilla. It’s such a gargantuan and daunting task when you’ve barely learnt any adult life skills, like making an omelette and trying to kiss a girl. Christ, I’d just got the hang of my Velcro shoes! The question of life’s purpose becomes all consuming, the gorilla whopping bananas at the back of your head constantly. It’s no surprise to see 60% rises in youth depression and 56% in suicides in the last twelve years, let alone the increase in number of gorilla attacks. How do you define your object of dedication for your entire life when you don’t even know what you’re actually passionate about in the first place? Well, the answer is simpler than you think: you don’t.
There are some humans that will know what they want from the off, and they are the exception. Bastards, I must add, but the exception. However, I only half envy them – the search is the fun bit! Your curiosity must lead you to dead-ends as well as paradisiacal waterholes, and may take years or decades or end up fruitless. Ultimately, this is the search to find things not that will change the world, but that makes you happy, and that you derive purpose and enjoyment from.
Holocaust-survivor and psychologist Viktor Frankl believed that it was the search for the meaning of your life that was the meaning of life. Not only that, it was changeable depending on the period of your life. Why be wed to some ideal for the rest of your days when you change and evolve as a human being? Better to identify the meaning of your current time in your life, and adapt.
Socrates said ‘know thyself’, which is a simpler version of learning about you: what you enjoy; what you dislike; but accepting them both. Whilst being compassionate to others is important, being compassionate to yourself is imperative. To expand on Socrates, once you know thyself you need to also love thyself. You are not perfect and never will be, but this is what defines you: a unique, never seen before, never to be repeated, 13.8 billion years in the making, human being. You’re a pretty special individual. So, start today by loving yourself like your life depends on it. Then make some tea, relax, and enjoy the search to finding out what makes you happy, what gives you purpose, knowing that it’s the journey that counts, not the ending.
It’s not often that I’ve been asked to get naked in the woods with two men I’ve just met. But as the saying goes: when in Japan, get naked.
Having met Matt, a fellow Brit, in the hostel in Kyoto, we shared an easy rapport debating the hopeful soundproof qualities of the net curtain between our two shikibutons – the rollout mattresses of our single beds. As it was, we didn’t need to worry about potential snoring as the traffic noise exceeded that alarmingly. Win! Together with Matt and his friend, Maurice, a German with a mild manner that belied his No Country for Old Men haircut, we set out on the train north to the countryside. Both turned out to be excellent company, and certainly I couldn’t think of anyone else I’d rather get nude with than these two chaps. Well, apart from every woman in the world. Then them.
After boarding the train about mid-morning, we arrived at the Kitayama Mountains for a half-day hike. We’d need to walk thirty minutes to the nearest village, Kibune, to start our adventure into the forest, packed with twittering birds on a hot and sultry day. We initially climbed steeply, but settled finally into easy-going slopes and meandering paths, running into shrines ensconced within the mountains. We came out behind and above the main temple, clambering down to see a sign cautioning us against the walk we’d already taken! The warning told of a typhoon had swept through the area months previously, destroying some of the smaller shrines and causing dangerous walking conditions. It’s always good to be on the front foot with these things!
The view from the main hall over the adjacent verdant mountains was beautiful, and the climb down far easier than up. In all honesty, once you’ve seen twenty shrines, you’ve seen a million, so I was eager for some nudity. With legs aching after a few hours walking (I'm out of shape, I tells ya!), the path led us back into the village and into the bosom of an open-air onsen, the famous Japanese hot springs, one of the few positives of being on an active volcanic country. With views of the mountains, it was a serene and peaceful spot to view the world.
Men and women are separated at the entrance, so bathing is single sex. We undressed, placed our belongings into lockers and then took to showering and scrubbing oneself to avoid sullying the waters. You effectively shower whilst sitting down next to your fellow bathing mates, and once clean, amble over to the pool to gently lower yourself into the hot bath. It was wonderful to soak the muscles and relax. We chatted a little but did our best to be respectful (the Japanese are exceptionally quiet and peaceful people), letting the hot water soothe the mind as well as the soles – my feet appreciated the indulgence. I can withstand heat better than your average penguin, but missed the contrasting cold-water plunge-pools that shock the body after the heat which I'd experienced elsewhere. The glacial waters high in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan was one in particular, the water acting as a bracing yet welcome balm to the heat. Admittedly I took some convincing to even try those freezing waters a few years back, but that was the one missing ingredient with this new calming bathing experience: the contrast.
Japan as a whole has been wonderful: the fast-paced, neon-glitz and razzmatazz of the cities, technology, gaming and anime culture, seem a complete imbalance to that of the onsen, countless Buddhist temples and calm state of mind of the people. It's an odd, cognitive dissonance: want to calm the mind? Come to one of the busiest, densely populated countries on the planet. An incredible place to be.
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