The Big Red Balloon

The greatest irony in hearing Ms. Arianna Huffington speak about her best-selling book “The Sleep Revolution: Transforming your life, one night at a time” earlier this evening and how we must work now to highlight the necessity of a rested society is that I left her presentation feeling absolutely wired.

I felt energized. Renewed. Ready to take on any and everything which, at ten-o-clock in the evening before a thirteen hour nursing shift, is something of a dilemma. What is one to do when “inspiration strikes,” so to speak? How can we tune out the racing thoughts of an erratically producing mind when those wonderful moments, rich with depth and complexity, can strike at any given moment? If a bird flaps its wings and begins to soar, can we justifiably lock its cage when evening comes?

Inspiration, unfortunately, keeps no time card. It is not a 9-5, Monday through Friday sort of entity. The ineffable nature of what comes into mind — and more often, is quick to leave, is difficult to encapsulate into a time frame that seems logical to the average person. And so while I work hard to get seven or eight hours of sleep every night — critically before working by very long days in the intensive care unit — there are often times when I’m aroused from the depths of my slumber with some seemingly brilliant thought or complicated theorem. Though it’s proven difficult to control this layer of my ever-churning mind, I’ve taken to a method that seems to fit into the highly abstract nature of my post-shift thinking which highly contradicts my structured and clinical mindset during the day.

Within my mind I group my thoughts into pockets: worries, hopes, dreams. Concerns, ideas, problems (actual ones and those which we are all guilty of inventing). Passions, people, places. I take the components of my densely packed mind, richly littered with the good, bad, and ugly of past, present, and future — and I place each component into a section. I blow up the thought like a large red balloon — literally, inflate the thought and envision a childlike balloon tethered to a string, and I release it. As it floats away from my mind’s eye — unscathed and free — I allow every element of my weary mind to drift away. Sometimes my list is concise and complete. Others, it takes what feels like hours. There are moments still where the process succumbs to the overwhelming force of an exhausted body and a defeated mind and I drift into the stillness of sleep with my concerns not yet packaged. I choose not to be bothered when this happens: I will never run out of balloons, and while they might flit and flutter they can never burst. When I wake they are always there, the residual thoughts who can’t quite get past my skull. Yet somehow I feel a sense that I can rest more quietly; comfortably; and completely when I acknowledge the existence of my planned complacency within the calamity.

If our bodies are temples, our minds must be a shrine: we cannot treat the sacred portion of ourselves with reckless abandon and not feel the consequences in other parts of our lives. Sleep is a sacred space for me: while I don’t always sleep well, I make it a priority to get a restful sleep even when — and especially if — the world around me seems chaotic. And while I sit and admire the very irony of my current state — laptop in hand; television on; writing about calming my hurried mind as it feverishly writes about rest — I cannot help but think that this burst of mental power… this increasing creative bubble… this is a big red balloon. And while I hope to stop before it should pop, releasing this moment into the universe even if only to return in the morning, I can rest with a peaceful mind and a full heart knowing that my pent-up energy serves me better out than in.

And may the same go for you and your many red balloons. Sleep well. Sleep often. And when your mind becomes a bit too cramped, let your thoughts take flight.

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