ARS VITAE is dedicated to examining a “thoughtful lifestyle” – “thoughtful” because our aim is to explore what it means to live well, and we focus on “lifestyle” because we believe it is important to put what we learn into practice in everyday life. It’s not enough to just think about change, we aspire to live the change.
Being true to this spirit, this past spring, my editors and I embarked on an experiment. We each came up with life-changing habits that we wanted to adopt and vowed to dedicate time to incorporating them into our daily lives. These goals included meditating, walking and reading every day, including spiritual texts and Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time . The experiment lasted 15 weeks, and we noted our daily progress. I was impressed with the tenacity with which my editors approached this experiment and doubly impressed when they committed to another round of 15 weeks. At the end of 30 weeks, we all felt how deeply gratifying it
is when a “good” habit sticks and becomes a part of our daily routine, especially when it’s an activity that connects us to our inner selves.
This experience made me reflect on another daily routine which hadn’t felt very peaceful for a long time – sleep. When I was a young girl, sleep came naturally and easily. But as an adult, my relationship with sleep
became more complicated. I always longed for it, but when the time came to embrace it after a long day, I often pushed it aside. Whether it was watching TV or letting my mind wander aimlessly, I wanted to compensate for the day spent working by indulging in my personal pleasures. Sleep had to wait. And then there were the nights when endless chains of thoughts and worries chased it away. The vicious cycle of denying sleep and then wallowing in fatigue went on for years.
The need to redefine my relationship with sleep came to my attention last year after a long and peaceful meditative experience (see ARS VITAE Volume 4 Prologue). During this period, I experienced anew how sleep could be. For many nights, feelings of softness and warmth enveloped me in my sleep, smoothing out the rough waves of energy remaining from the day. Every cell in my body experienced the healing, restorative, even spiritual, powers of sleep. It felt like a long, soothing meditation. I realized then that a good night’s sleep was a blessing.
At the heart of Asian philosophy is harmony and balance. Where there is light, there is shadow; where there is creation, there is destruction. All phenomena are explained in terms of yin and yang: active and passive energy are seen as two sides of the same coin. The ideal is to maintain balance between the two.
However, modern society has, for a long time, over-emphasized the activity and productivity of the daytime. With the bright lights and neon signs that never dim, television and smart devices that take hold of our attention around the clock, we have pushed the existence of night to the fringe and treated sleep as an afterthought. But no one can survive without sleep. Even from an evolutionary point of view, we would not be spending roughly one third of our lives sleeping if it were not in some way indispensable.
So then, what is sleep and why do we sleep? ARS VITAE Volume 6 is a compilation of what my editors and I have learned about what happens after we close our eyes at night. The scientific study of sleep is a relatively
new field and many interesting aspects are just being discovered. But in both the West and East, the healing powers of sleep have been reported from ancient times.
While preparing Volume 6, we came to appreciate the importance of not treating sleep as a state to hurry through to greet the morning. A writer of sleep meditation told us that sleep shouldn’t be about hurling our bodies into bed in exhaustion. As with all important things in life, we must treat sleep properly. Just as we have rituals to start the day in the morning, so must we also have rituals to welcome sleep at night. Sleep is a unique part of life, vastly different from the activity of the daytime, and all the more meaningful because of it.
Enjoy exploring the mysteries of sleep.