Changing

The only real failure is the failure to try.

And the measurement of success is how we cope with disappointment, as we always must.

Can we be blamed for feeling that we are too old to change? Too scared of disappointment to start it all again?

We get up in the morning. We do our best. The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing.

All we know about the future is that it will be different.

But perhaps what we fear is that it will be the same.

So we must celebrate the changes.

It will be alright in the end. If it’s not alright — then it’s not the end.

 

— The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (John Madden, 2012)

How to go to sleep

How to sleep like a babyApropos of nothing, I want to say something about insomnia.

I struggled with insomnia for many years, and it made my life miserable. Sleeplessness starts a chain reaction that affects everything else in your life: your energy and productivity, your mood, your sex life, your health, your personality and your mental health included. When I couldn’t sleep, I didn’t do well at work, I was irritable and my relationships suffered. My perception of the world was skewed, so that all my problems seemed much larger, and it seemed that everyone was against me. My immune system suffered, making me more susceptible to illness. Worst of all, insomnia made me depressed, and depression triggered more sleep difficulties, including nightmares and night terrors.

I wish I could say there is an easy three-step solution that will help you conquer your sleep difficulties. I was able to conquer mine, and this method does work, but takes time and self-discipline. Everyone is different, and some things work for some people but not others. All I can do is tell you what worked for me. With a lot of discipline, over time, little by little, I gradually got back to normal, healthy sleep.

Before anything else, I should mention that if you have an underlying cause of anxiety, coping with that will solve most of the problem.

After that, the core of the strategy is to train your body, mind and emotions to sleep when it’s time to sleep. This training will eventually work, but it may require some sacrifices. The payoff, though, is huge: less depression, more energy, feeling better about life, doing better at work, being more likeable, and in general being healthier and happier.

How do you train your body, mind and emotions to sleep? There is more to it than simply telling yourself to sleep. There could be many factors keeping you awake, and some of them might not respond to simple willpower. You need to train yourself, consistently and clearly, to sleep when it’s time to sleep.

First: develop a regular bedtime and stick to it. I know this sounds boring, but it really works. Even if you don’t feel sleepy, go to bed at the appointed hour. It may be tough for the first week, or even the first month, but eventually, your mind and body will be conditioned, and you’ll find yourself getting sleepy at the appointed hour. If you are tempted to stay up, just remember that every time you don’t observe your bedtime, you set yourself back, even to the point of having to start over.  If you can’t sleep, just lie in bed and rest with your eyes closed. Try to form a mental image of something pleasant, abstract and far away. Odds are, once you stop thinking about yourself, your life and your surroundings, you will fall asleep. If not, resting will still be good for you.

Once you have an established bedtime, the next step is to teach your body, mind and emotions to wind down. Create a period of about two or three hours before your appointed bedtime, that will be a buffer zone between wakefulness and sleep. In my case, I go to bed at 11:00 p.m., and the period from 8:00-11:00 p.m. is my sleep buffer zone. During this three hour period, I avoid certain activities, to allow myself to wind down and prepare to switch off for sleep. Protecting the sanctity of that two to three hour buffer zone is crucial.

Let’s talk about your body. You need to give your metabolism time to wind down before bedtime. If your body is working on digesting a meal, it’s going to be harder to fall asleep. So, for at least two to three hours before bedtime, don’t eat or drink anything. No bedtime snacks or late dinners. No alcohol, caffeine or sugar within three hours of bedtime. Also, it may sound obvious, but consider reducing your overall intake of alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, sugar and other stimulants. Also avoid sleep medications if possible; the idea is to train your body to sleep naturally.

Add more physical activity during the day. Not only is it good for you, but it helps your metabolism function more normally, which can make it easier to fall asleep at night. Inactivity contributes to insomnia.

Now let’s talk about preparing your mind for sleep. Just like your metabolism, your mind has to wind down before you can fall asleep. The more mental stimulation you have in the late evening, the harder it will be for you to sleep. There is evidence that over-use of electronic media of any sort, including television, computers, video games, phones and other devices, contributes to insomnia. All these things can switch your mind into wakefulness rather than sleep. Avoid them for two or three hours before bedtime, to allow your mind time to wind down. Reading can go either way: a relaxing book can lull you to sleep, but an exciting mystery is more likely to keep you awake. Choose your bedtime reading carefully.

The same goes for your emotions. For at least two to three hours before bedtime, don’t watch the news, read newspapers or blogs, post on forums, or allow any other mental input that could make you feel anxious, angry or depressed. Your emotions have to wind down, too.

Now that we’ve identified some of the triggers that keep your brain awake, and have talked about how to deal with them, let’s talk about training yourself to sleep. Timing and environment are two of the most important ways to teach your subconscious to sleep when it’s time to sleep.

Timing and schedule are the crucial elements in this strategy. As I mentioned before, it is important to develop a regular bedtime, and stick to it. In addition, develop a regular bedtime routine. Do the same things in the same order every night. It’s a signal to your subconscious that it’s time to sleep. It may take some time, but eventually, your subconscious will get the point.

The environment where you sleep is important too. A quiet room with a comfortable bed helps, of course. If possible, use the bedroom just for sleeping (or other relaxing activities). Start calling it the sleep room – reminding your subconscious what it’s for. Don’t allow a television, computer or work desk in the sleep room. If there is a source of mental stimulation in the sleep room, your subconscious will learn to wake up when you go in there, which is not what you want.

Now that you know what to do, the next step is to do it, and keep doing it. It takes awhile. I finally achieved regular sleep after observing these methods for about four months. Don’t stop, or else you might have to start all over, retraining yourself from the beginning.

Sleep well! And may you have sweet dreams.

Lies

Recently I’ve been reflecting on past relationships I have had in virtual worlds. One of the things swirling around in my brain is the subject of honesty. Honesty in relationships is an extremely complicated idea. I’m writing this journal entry mainly for my own sake, to help me get it sorted out in my head.

How many couples say to one another, “Let’s be completely honest”? And how many couples actually are completely honest with each other? Not many, I’m betting.

The truth is that everyone lies. People lie for lots of reasons—some of them good reasons. It would be a mistake to cast all lies in the same light. Some lies are harmless; others are hurtful. Most lies swim in the gray area in between.

Fantasy role-playing could technically be considered a lie. Those of us in virtual worlds adopt an appearance and sometimes a persona that may or may not resemble our “real” selves. We operate under a social contract in which we all agree to suspend our disbelief about this. Some people are better at it than others. Some people look straight past your avatar and only want to know the “real” you. Others easily accept the fantasy avatar you have created. Is fantasy dishonest? Or is it playful?

Beyond fantasy, virtual worlds are a hotbed of deceit. Lying is far too easy. We can cover up where we are, and what we are doing, and with whom. We hide our online status. Knowing that no one can see our location, we feel free to invent stories about where we are. “I’m talking with a friend.” “I’m shopping.” “I’m checking something out.” Or, for total privacy, we just create an alt, and do as we please without detection. I know of at least one person who has a partner, and also a sex alt the partner doesn’t know about. I expect there are thousands of others in exactly the same situation. It almost seems to be the norm in virtual worlds.

Personally, I sometimes lie to preserve my privacy. When writing online profiles I usually say that I live in NYC. I don’t. I live near NYC, and I do spend time there, but I don’t live there. I don’t really want strangers to know where I live. I think that is a fairly smart lie and I doubt many would disagree.

“Privacy lies” happen when someone is pressuring you to reveal something about yourself that is actually none of their business. The response “that’s none of your business” might be counter-productive—it might actually increase your interrogator’s curiosity. Telling them something else may call off their prying. Are “privacy lies” good or bad? Rather than focusing on the morality of the lie, it would be better to examine the thing you are lying about, and decide whether it is hurtful.

That leads me to the “I didn’t want to hurt your feelings” lie. Sometimes this type of lie is actually compassionate, or at least benign, like when he assures her that she doesn’t look fat in those pants. But most of the time it’s bogus. Let’s say he cheats on her, and lies to cover his tracks. She confronts him. He says “I didn’t tell you because I didn’t want to hurt your feelings.” That’s bogus. The lie is not the issue. Clearly he didn’t mind hurting her feelings, because he cheated on her. That is what hurt her. The lie is extra. Lying about it is the secondary issue that piles hurt onto hurt.

What if he’d had the courage to be honest with her long before? What if he’d had the courage to admit that he wasn’t feeling satisfied? That she wasn’t meeting his needs? That something had changed in their relationship, or in him? That type of honesty is extremely difficult. First it requires being honest with yourself. Most of us would rather placate ourselves with lies. “Things are basically fine.” “I do love her.” “I can control myself.” “I can live without it.” “I should be satisfied.” When we can’t even face the truth about ourselves, how can we hope to be honest with anyone else?

The idea of hurting someone we care about is extremely difficult for most of us. He may find it impossible to imagine saying to her, “I’m not satisfied. This relationship is not giving me what I need.” He pictures her ashen face, the hurt and disappointment he sees there, and he just can’t face it. He can’t bear the burden of having to hurt her with the truth. So he lies.

When there is a truth that would hurt our loved one if they knew about it, it’s natural to want to withhold it, or cover it up. The trouble is that this deception almost never works. Not facing a painful truth does not make the painful truth go away. It just sits there, eating away at the relationship and causing damage to both of you. For the sake of not hurting her, he decides to forego his happiness. Does he think she won’t sense that? Does he think that he won’t eventually be compelled toward something outside the relationship that does meet his needs? Does he think that won’t hurt her even more?

Others may feel differently, but speaking for myself, I would choose a painful truth over a comfortable lie every time. Hurt can be healed, but only when it’s faced. If you need something that you can’t get from me, let’s face that together. Give me some credit. If I love you, I want good things for you. I am not so selfish as to demand that you fake it, just so that I can pretend that everything is fine. I know that relationships are not black and white. I know you care about me, and that, at the same time, it’s also true that I cannot meet all your needs. So tell me the truth. Let’s face the next step.

At least, that’s how I’ve always preferred it.

What do you think?

Politics and Drama

It’s an election year again, and I would prefer to hide under a rock for the next year.

No one seems to understand why I hate politics so much. I don’t have strong opinions about very many political issues. I am not particularly loyal to one political party or another. When I tune out of conversations about politics, people tend to assume that I disagree with their views. But that’s not it.

angry emo facePolitical conversation, in this day and age, seems to bring out the absolute worst in almost everyone. I hate politics because I hate what politics does to people. Those with strong opinions tend to listen to popular provocateurs who skillfully tap into base emotions and inflame them. They stir up hatred and convince us that it is righteous anger. They ignite our fears by demonizing our opponents, until we become convinced that we are utterly just and the other side is mired in evil (or at least incompetence). We do not see our opponents as they are. Instead we see the demons that zealots have conjured in our imaginations.

It seems to me, sometimes, that politics is not about examining the issues, but about vanquishing one’s opponents, regardless of the merit of their point of view. The thinking seems to be “my side is always right and your side is always wrong.” Don’t get me wrong: I am not a member of the wishy-washy can’t-we-all-just-get-along school. I do believe in standing up for one’s strong convictions. I also believe in honesty—especially self-honesty—which includes the ability to see the actual merits of issues—and people—independently of my feelings about them. If I have learned nothing else in life, I have come to accept that no one among us is purely good or purely evil. We, all of us, are a messy mix of virtue and vice. Every human being has character flaws, some bigger than others. Every human being also has some goodness inside them. Somewhere. If I can’t see both, then I am not seeing clearly.

These thoughts also relate to the so-called “drama” that seemingly is ever-present in the virtual world. The relative anonymity of our world seems to encourage people to say things they would never dream of saying in “real” life, including bold lies and cruel words for which they never have to take responsibility. It also tempts us to leap to conclusions; when we can’t see others face to face, our unconscious tends to fill in blanks with assumptions that may or may not be justified. Furthermore, in the online world our emotions tend to be magnified. All of this creates a recipe for hurt feelings, deception and misunderstanding.

Speaking for myself, drama bores me. It also makes me a little nauseous. It feeds on emotional energy and I have none to spare. Life is too short to waste one minute of it on such nonsense. Just as with political debate, in the presence of drama my instinct is simply to ignore it, mentally flipping the channel.

There certainly are people and situations that deserve anger: the bullies and those who hurt for the sport of it, deceivers and exploiters, those who engage in destructive behavior and thoughtless self-indulgence that causes harm. As I said, I do believe in standing up for myself; I am no mild-mannered pushover. I will protect myself and those I love, and will not submit to such treatment.

But it seems to me that too many people are addicted to the primitive thrill of drama. They seem to hunger for the battle-lust of explosive anger, or the conspicuous display of woundedness from having been wronged. I won’t deny it: such things can feel very satisfying—especially because it seems so clean, when we can’t see the effect of our words in the facial expressions of our target.

As for me, I have chosen a different approach.

I cannot stop anyone from trying to hurt me. I cannot control the behavior of others. I can only control my own. I try to do no harm. If someone claims to have been harmed by me, I try to embrace self-honesty and humility, always allowing for the possibility, however remote, that I might be wrong, and that I might learn something from my opponent. If I have done wrong, I swallow my pride and apologize.

If someone is harming me, I will do what is necessary to stop it—which usually means simply walking away. In most cases, fighting back stops nothing. It only prolongs it. If I choose to participate in their negativity, I give it power. If I turn my back on it, it has no power over me. I just turn away, without saying a word… and without giving any ground.

Even when I have been hurt, I resist the temptation to demonize my opponents. As difficult as it might be to imagine, I do my best to assume that they are people of good will, trying their best, as I am, to live lives of integrity. They may be damaged (as I am) or lacking in communication skills. Their action may have been thoughtless, or misguided. If so, then striking back would solve nothing.

I do not engage in vengeance or payback. I treat everyone with compassion whether they deserve it or not. When you do a small kindness for someone who hates you, they might spit in your face. But sometimes, a compassionate act, even a small one, is infinitely more powerful than an angry one.

And when I have been hurt, I resist the temptation to wallow in my woundedness. All that usually accomplishes is prolonging the pain and spreading it to innocent bystanders. If someone hurt me intentionally, broadcasting my pain would only encourage them. If the hurt was unintentional, the flaunting of bloodied bandages accomplishes nothing. I know how to cope with my feelings in an adult manner, and then let them go.

At all times, I listen, with an open heart, to the words of others, and to their fear, their wounds, their hopes and desires. I listen for the good in them. And I have never yet failed to find it.