I guess you could say I have an active brain, even if I don’t have the best memory. I’m not saying that in a bragging way. It’s more of an affliction. I have trouble turning off my brain at night. There’s a line from Bruce Coville’s book, My Teacher is an Alien (a better book than it sounds), where the main character is being haunted by a thought that he can’t get out of his head. He says, “Sometimes I think my brain has a mind of its own.” I can relate. I’m often looking for the next great sleep aid. I’ve tried melatonin. I’ve tried listening to these almost hypnotic meditations on YouTube. I’ve tried Headspace on my phone. I refuse to try any of the real medications. They scare me, and I don’t really sleep that badly…just on Sunday nights and sometimes Thursdays.
Last week I attended a workshop for school. It was a conference put on by the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence. We’ve been working on the RULER approach in our school. I have great respect for the founder, Marc Brackett, who is smart both intellectually and emotionally. He’s also very funny. I’m not writing about RULER, though, I’m giving a little slice of my conscious attempts at unconsciousness.
On Tuesday, in his introductory remarks, Brackett talked about breathing. I know it doesn’t sound interesting, but it was. He mentioned that he sometimes works very late and then gets exhausted, but he’s too wound up to fall asleep. I gave him the “I connect” signal in my head. He then said he had a little ritual that he used to turn off his overactive or anxious mind. My ears perked up. I was here for a school workshop, but how cool to get a little personal sleep therapy.
“This is what I do. Hold on, why don’t we all do this,” he said. “I close my eyes, and I recite a little script. It goes like this. You try it too. See if it doesn’t calm you down. How odd is this, right? How many speakers do you know who try to put their audience to sleep?”
It was true. This was odd, especially in the morning introduction, but I willingly participated. “So,” he began, “I want you to breathe in, and in your head, say the word, ‘In.’ It should be a deep breath to fill your lungs. Then breathe out and say, ‘Out.’ Now breathe in again and say ‘Deeeep,’ then out and say, ‘Sloooow.’”
The whole audience followed along…I assumed. My eyes were closed, after all. He continued. “Now take another deep inhale and say, ‘Calm,’ and then as you slowly exhale say, ‘Eeeeease.’”
I was enjoying this. Very relaxing.
“And finally, as you inhale again, I want you to say ‘Smile,’ and try to smile as you do this inhale. Now let it out gradually as you say, ‘Releeeeease.’”
This was seeming very effective. He explained that the slow steady breathing had the effect of disengaging the part of the brain that was busy finding reasons to be anxiously alert. Being able to turn that off was a big part of self regulation.
We repeated the exercise before moving onto other topics. I hurriedly wrote down the sequence in my notes.
Two nights later I was up late trying to write a story that might be worthy of the first day of the Slice of Life challenge. It had been a chore. I was out of practice. I was unsure about the amount of time I could devote to this challenge. I had report card comments to write and assessments to score. And then there was that pesky thing about planning for what I would teach. When I finally headed to bed, I was certainly tired enough to sleep, but I had so many loose ends to tackle on Friday, that my mind was spinning rapidly through the tasks.
As I lay down, I knew sleep was not going to happen fast. Head on the pillow, I tried to think of nothing. It didn’t work.
Brain with a mind of its own: Ooh, those recycled instruments. We have to do the concert at the end of the day. Maybe we should use those sound-activated lights Annie’s family gave us. Wait, I can’t forget the PSA’s we’re filming. We’ve delayed that too long. I wonder if the kids worked on their scripts tonight. I wonder if we can use the TV studio. That reminds me, tomorrow’s the day I’m on the news. I have to remember that hat to wear when I make the announcement. Oh no, it’s green, isn’t it? It’s not gonna show up in front of the green screen. I’d better bring a back-up. Do we still have that top had in the attic? I hope I don’t read the numbers wrong for the drawing. I hope the teleprompter doesn’t scroll too fast.
Rational Brain: Hold on. This is not good. I need to breathe. Let me do that routine Marc Brackett taught us. That was good.
“Innnnnn,” I said as I took a big inhale. “Ouuuuut,” I said as I slowly let go of the air. “Deeeeep,” I said, pulling in a healthy gulp. “Slooooow,” I said, as I gradually released. I could feel the busy side of my brain fading. Pause. “Ummmm…next word…What was the next word?! Oh no. I can picture it. ‘Pull?’ No. ‘Smooth?’ No, that’s not it. I know the last word is ‘Release.’ Shoot! I was so close. Oh wait, there was a ‘Smile,’ somewhere. Is it okay if I skip a step? Okay, ‘Innnn’…
Postscript: I eventually fell asleep. Happy to report, I have now memorized the eight words…in order…to sleep.