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How to Feel Alive Again
Katherine May, the best-selling author, has one simple question to help you get started.
It all started with a Post-it note.
“Go for a walk,”
it said, the no-nonsense command perched in a prominent spot above Katherine May’s desk.
Ms. May, a British author who wrote the best-selling memoir “Wintering” about a fallow and difficult period of her life, had encountered more hard times during the height of the pandemic.
She was bored, restless, and burned out. Her usual ritual — walking — had fallen away, along with other activities that used to bring her pleasure: collecting pebbles, swimming in the sea, and savoring a book.
“There was nothing that made the world feel interesting to me,”
Ms. May said in a recent interview with The New York Times.
“I felt like my head was kind of full and empty at the same time.”
In Ms. May’s latest book, “Enchantment,” she describes how a simple series of actions, like writing that note, helped her to discover little things that filled her with wonder and awe — and, in turn, made her feel alive again.
“You have to keep pursuing it until you get that tingle that tells you that you’ve found something that’s magical to you,” Ms. May said. “It’s trial and error, isn’t it?”
We asked Ms. May for tips on how you can do the same. Commit to noticing the world around you
“We have to find the humility to be open to experience every single day and to allow ourselves to learn something,” Ms. May wrote in “Enchantment.”
This, she acknowledges, “is easier said than done.”
“Let yourself go past those thoughts that tell you it’s silly or pointless or a waste of time, or you’re far too busy to do this possibly,”
“Instead give yourself permission to want that in the first place —
to crave that contact with the sacred, and that feeling of being able to commune with something that’s bigger than you are.”
Entering a state of wonder is akin to using a muscle, Ms. May said. Put yourself in that mind-set more often and it gradually becomes easier. First, you must “give in to the fascination” that you feel in everyday moments. For example, Ms. May gets “really excited” when she sees light dance across the surface of her coffee. Don’t force it, though. The key, she said, is to keep looking for the things that make you marvel — and have faith that you will encounter them.
What you find pleasurable might be quite simple: Ms. May has often felt awe when examining a small bug in her garden.
“We’ve told ourselves that everything needs to be so big,” she said.
“Actually, we can just breathe out and live quite small lives.” Ask yourself one simple question Instead of thinking about what you find enchanting, which may feel too difficult to answer, Ms. May suggests asking yourself a different question: What soothes you? It might be going on a walk. Or visiting an art museum. Maybe you enjoy watching the shifting clouds.
Whatever it is, find a way to do it. Every morning, Ms. May goes outside and smells the air “like a dog,” she said with a laugh. She notices the color of the sky and the way her skin feels against the cool air.For some people, that soothing moment might be found in a place of worship, or while staring at the moon.
“The moon is so beautiful, and when you look at the moon you can’t help but notice the stars and the planets that are out in the night sky,”
said Ms. May, who observes the phase of the moon regularly. “It’s just a lovely, lovely thing to do. Every day. And it’s so easy.”
Contemplate and reflect in your own way
If you want to spend more time in personal reflection but you are concerned about doing it the “right” way, set aside that concern. When Ms. May was learning to meditate, for instance, she aimed to do so twice a day for 20 minutes, but not before or after sleep, and never after a meal.
Then she became a mother and finding the time to meditate became more difficult.
“You come to a point in your life when you think, ‘This is just simply impossible,’” she said.
“For a long time I thought, ‘I’ve failed. Obviously I should be able to do this.’”
Eventually, she had a realization: The problem wasn’t that she hadn’t tried hard enough, it was that those rules weren’t made for her. They had been created by someone who had never walked in her shoes.
Now she meditates in a different way.
Sometimes she does it for five minutes in the middle of the night, or while walking through the woods.
“For me, it’s never been about clearing my mind,” Ms. May said.
“It’s about undertaking the kind of slower work of processing all of those things that are itching at the back of your brain.”
Do it because it feels good
People tend to think that seeking pleasure for pleasure’s sake is somehow naïve, Ms. May said.
In other words, we are more likely to assign worth to things that are considered practical and efficient. But you don’t need a set of data or another compelling reason to do something that brings you joy. For example, one of Ms. May’s hobbies is cold water swimming. She doesn’t do it to burn calories. Rather, it’s for “the sheer pleasure of being in that incredible space,” she said, not to mention “how sensual it is, and the amazing happy hormones it releases.” And although Ms. May initially took a beekeeping class to learn how to make honey at home, this goal became less urgent when she became filled with awe as a student.“I could still, technically, do that, but I realise now that this is never what I really wanted,” Ms. May wrote in “Enchantment.”
The enjoyment of it all —
the connection with her teachers and classmates, the sensory delights — surpassed any practical ambitions.“I want to take it slowly, to absorb my lessons through the skin and the ears, to sometimes get stung,” she wrote of the experience. And she described the wonder she found in the class:
“They are so loud when they all sing together, and with the smell of honey and propolis, the smoke, the way the whole box vibrates under your hands, it is quite absolute, this interaction of human and bee.”
So with that, Lets touch ore on sleep as we all know its something that's VERY important for us all.
REM Sleep Is Magical. Here’s What the Experts Know.
Dreaming, memory-making, problem-solving: A lot happens during the most active sleep phase
Any sleep tracker will show you that slumber is far from a passive affair. And no stage of sleep demonstrates that better than rapid eye movement, or REM, commonly called dream sleep.
“It’s also called paradoxical sleep or active sleep, because REM sleep is actually very close to being awake,”
said Dr. Rajkumar Dasgupta, a sleep medicine and pulmonary specialist at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California. Before scientists discovered REM sleep in the 1950s, it wasn’t clear that much of anything was happening in the brain at night. Researchers today, however, understand sleep as a highly active process composed of very different types of rest — including REM, which in some ways doesn’t seem like rest at all. While the body typically remains “off” during REM sleep, the brain is very much “on.” It’s generating vivid dreams, as well as synthesizing memories and knowledge. Scientists are still working to unravel exactly how this strange state of consciousness works.
“It is fair to say that there is a lot left to learn about REM sleep,” Dr. Dasgupta said. But from what researchers do understand,
REM is critical to our emotional health and brain function — and potentially even our longevity.
Where does REM sleep fall in the sleep cycle?
Throughout the night, “We’re going in and out of this rhythmic, symphonic pattern of the various stages of sleep: non-REM 1, 2, 3 and REM,” said Rebecca Robbins, an instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School and an associate scientist in the division of sleep and circadian disorders at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. As you doze off, you enter the first stage of non-REM. This lasts less than 10 minutes and is considered a light sleep. Your breathing and heart rate decelerate and your muscles relax as you slip into the second stage of non-REM sleep, where your body temperature drops and your brain waves get slower. Then you enter the third stage, known as deep sleep, when your body repairs your bones and muscles, strengthens your immune system, releases hormones and restores your energy. After that, REM sleep begins, and your heart rate, breathing and brain activity all increase.
Brain regions involved in processing emotions and sensory input (from your dream world) light up. Meanwhile, your brain paralyzes the muscles in your arms and legs, preventing you from acting out your dreams, Dr. Dasgupta explained.Ideally, you move through the four stages in 90- to 110-minute cycles that repeat four to six times in a typical night. Then, after your last REM cycle, you wake up rested and alert, said Dr. Indira Gurubhagavatula, a sleep specialist at Penn Medicine and associate professor of medicine at the V. A. Medical Center in Philadelphia.
Editors’ Picks If you’ve ever gone to bed upset about something and woken up noticeably less bothered, it’s likely a result of the emotional processing and memory reconsolidation that happen during REM.
There’s evidence that your brain divorces memories from their emotional charge — removing the “sharp, painful edges” from life’s difficulties, said Matthew Walker, a professor of neuroscience and psychology and the founder and director of the Center for Human Sleep Science at the University of California, Berkeley.
REM is “like a form of overnight therapy,” he said.
REM also makes us better learners.
During this sleep stage, your brain strengthens neural connections formed by the previous day’s experiences and integrates them into existing networks, Dr. Robbins said. Dr. Walker added: “We take those new pieces of information and start colliding them with our back catalog of stored information. It’s almost a form of informational alchemy.” These novel connections also make us more creative, he said.
“We wake up with a revised mind-wide web of associations” that helps us solve problems.
Researchers in Dr. Walker’s lab conducted a small study where people were roused from different stages of sleep and asked to solve anagram puzzles. They found that subjects awakened from REM sleep solved 32 percent more anagrams than subjects who were interrupted during non-REM sleep. Then, of course, there’s dreaming: The majority of our vivid dreaming takes place during REM.
Some experts suspect that dreams are a mere byproduct of REM sleep — the mental manifestation of neurological work. But others think they might help people process painful experiences, Dr. Walker said. And although most physical processes, like repairing bone and muscle tissues, happen during the non-REM sleep stages, some hormonal changes occur while someone is in REM, Dr. Walker said, like the release of testosterone (which peaks at the onset of the first REM cycle).
Is it possible to prioritize REM sleep?
Though recent research suggests people may get slightly more REM sleep in the winter, it’s a modern myth that you can target one specific stage of sleep for improvement.
“People want to manipulate sleep and have more of this particular stage, but the body doesn’t function like that,” Dr. Krieger said.
The natural architecture of sleep is not something to tinker with, but to protect.
“The way to get healthy REM sleep is to focus on getting healthy sleep overall, and let your brain do the rest,” Dr. Gurubhagavatula said.
Waking up and going to bed at the same time every day helps your brain and body know when they should be resting, making sleep more efficient, Dr. Robbins said.
Other behaviors that help regulate your biological clock include having a consistent eating schedule and not eating too late, exercising regularly, getting some morning sunlight and avoiding blue light in the evening.
Make sure to follow other sleep hygiene best practices,
such as avoiding alcohol and stimulants like caffeine and nicotine (particularly later in the day) and maintaining a sleep environment that is dark, quiet, and cool, Dr. Gurubhagavatula said.
And don’t overlook the importance of a wind-down routine to help you shift from action to a night of rest and recovery — including that bizarrely busy time your brain spends in REM.
So with that, We hope you all have a restful rejuvinating week ahead... as always,
Be kind, Do Fearless
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