A Mindful Evening: Complete Each Day with a Calm Mind and An Open Heart
The new book by David Dillard-Wright
Released January 1, 2017 by Adams Media
Barnes and Noble:
- Paperback: 284 pages
- Publisher: Adams Media (January 1, 2017)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1440598673
- ISBN-13: 978-1440598678
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 6 inches
Set the tone for a peaceful night’s rest!
At the end of a busy day, sleep can sometimes prove elusive. But that doesn’t have to be the case. By integrating meditation into your nighttime routine, you can set the stage for quality rest.
A Mindful Evening gives you the tools you need to power down at night. With nearly 200 inspiring quotes and short, easy mindfulness exercises, you’ll learn how to end your day with a clear head and calming energy. These simple moments of awareness, healing postures, and meditations can help soothe your soul as you conclude each day and prepare for a tranquil, restful night’s sleep.
From the Introduction:
The sun hangs low in the western sky, leaves silhouetted against the golden expanse. Cars, finally freed from the stranglehold of snarled traffic, make their way to houses and apartments. Evening has come, and with it the promise of food and rest. The day’s labors draw to a close. Sleep may be hours away, but something has definitely changed. The rhythm of life slows and the edges of things soften as the moon rises. The moon—emblem of devotion, counterpart to the sun’s harsh truth—can be seen hanging low in the sky. With the moon come the stars, the opening of the heavenly maps to other worlds, to other places on this blue orb. With night comes the chance to forget, to dream, to escape, and yet it is still evening. Evening, like dawn, is the in-between. Unlike dawn, the evening is the waning of the powers of day, the last vestige of the tracings of the hours, a diagram half erased. What transpired this day now lies in the past, already become memory—a wisp of smoke, a reverberation.
Welcome to A Mindful Evening, a treasury of wisdom and exploration, a chance to delve deep inside and explore at the close of day. This book helps you to put a period (or at least an ellipsis) on the events that have taken place in your life over the last twenty-four hours. It helps you to close the loop, close the cycle on the joyous or tumultuous occurrences that have occupied your time and attention in this, the latest sojourn through the changing world. This is the exhalation of the day, the last breath of the mini death that we experience each night. In the cycle of seasons, the evening is the autumn, the prelude to the winter of night. In the notes of a chord, it is the fifth, which makes for completion. On the fingers of the hand, it is the ring finger, the done deal, the already committed. Evening can be tinged with joy or regret, blessings counted or curses lamented. Evening is a milestone and a passage, however brief.
The evening is traditionally a time for prayer—the Islamic al-Maghrib, Jewish Maariv, Christian vespers, Hindu sandhyā—but it is also a time for feasting and drinking. The evening is the most spiritual and most worldly time of day, the second great transition that takes place each solar cycle. For the pious, it is a time for protection from the demonic forces; for the impious, it is the true dawn. Evening holds great tension and even contradiction: It is the balance of opposing forces, the fulcrum of life, the point between systole and diastole. Whether fast or festival, it speaks of closing. It whispers of drying leaves, of fragility and entropy. It wears the same colors as dawn, but more garishly, as though the day had grown conscious of its age and decided to flaunt it.
We have a pernicious tendency to judge ourselves at the close of day. Nagging questions linger, perhaps on the drive home, while sitting at dinner, or lying down to sleep at night. “Did I accomplish enough today? Did I pay the bills? Was I good enough as a partner or employee or parent?” This analysis has the potential to spiral out of control, to become fodder for insomnia, to lead to chronic stress. The little annoyances of daily life can be magnified out of proportion, making Mount Rushmores out of molehills. Notice that if we have been engaged in work, the activities likely to be labeled as “productive” by our society, we have a tendency to criticize ourselves in the opposite direction. So we might ask questions related to self-care, like, “Did I eat well enough today? Did I do my meditation? Did I start writing my novel?” So there is a Catch-22 of self-regulating thought. We can criticize ourselves for being too “worldly” or too “spiritual,” for being too obsessed with success or for not being successful enough. We need to develop techniques of self-inquiry that do not become a sort of torture session where we castigate ourselves for everything that we did not accomplish over the previous day.
One beneficial practice is to have boundary rituals where we mark the transition from one phase of the day to another. I remember the old Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood episodes, where that smiling 1950s gentleman would change out of his work blazer and into his play cardigan, out of his work shoes and into his sneakers. Mr. Rogers was getting ready for his imagination time. I don’t have the same extensive library of cardigan sweaters as Mr. Rogers, but I usually do take off my shoes and at least change shirts when I come home from work. Sleep experts usually recommend keeping electronic devices out of the bed and having a buffer between “screen time” and sleep time. I confess that I am not as good about that, and I tend to read a good bit before sleep. I do notice that sometimes the stimulation of the Internet or streamed programming makes for less sleep. In some cases, the screen time may be worthwhile, and at other times it may just be killing time that could be better spent asleep.
In an ideal world, we would all do some chanting and/or meditation each night, but it can be difficult to work into a hectic routine. Dinner has to be made and the dishes cleaned. Even ordering take-out requires a modicum of effort and cleanup. Animals, whether dogs, cats, parakeets, or boa constrictors, must be fed and watered. Families with children must make sure the homework is done and that the kids are fed and bathed. The laundry takes a good bit of daily effort. Oftentimes, adults have homework as well, maybe a report to be read or written, maybe a writing project. Finally, after all of that is done, it is quite understandable that most people just want to relax by watching a movie or television program.
The exercises in this book are designed to be short, requiring only a few minutes, so that you can work them into your routine, no matter how busy that routine might be. If you have five or ten minutes each evening, as distraction-free as possible, you can fully complete all of the exercises in this book. If you have more time, you can add more silent meditation, or perhaps read some scripture or philosophy.
You might be able to take a quick pause right when you walk in the door in the evening, or it might be right before closing your eyes to sleep. Try to get into a routine if you can, but don’t beat yourself up if you miss a day, or even a week. Don’t allow your mindfulness practice to become just one more form of self-criticism. Meditation should be one way that you can love yourself and take care of yourself. And when I say “love,” I don’t mean the selfish, shallow sort of self-love. I mean the deep lovingkindness that sees past faults and forgives past wrongs. I mean unconditional, divine love. We are all capable of extending this love to ourselves, and through this process we heal the deep wounds of the past. As we begin to heal ourselves of the disappointments and heartbreaks of the past, we become more able to move confidently into the future. We also become more ready and willing to love others, as our defenses become less necessary and we become more open-hearted. The paradox of self-love and self-care is that such daily disciplines make us more available to others, and we do not just engage in the practices for ourselves.
Transformation doesn’t happen overnight, in the sense that changing habits that have taken a lifetime to accrue will not automatically yield to a new way of being. But change does happen overnight in the sense that the thoughts that you put into your head before sleep carry over into the quality of rest and the thoughts that you have upon awaking the next day. The mind that is constantly going, constantly chewing on something, will eventually produce mental and physical health problems. The inability to cope with stress has real repercussions for your health and your society’s. By practicing mindfulness and meditation before sleep, you avoid carrying yesterday’s garbage into tomorrow. You leave the problems of this day behind and allow yourself to make a fresh start. You allow the day to come to a close, not just temporally but existentially as well. You make peace with the day, no matter how well or how badly it has gone, and let go of it. You put the day to bed as you put yourself to bed.
Beginning, Middle, and End
[Aristotle, in the Poetics, said that a good tragedy must have a beginning, a middle, and an end. The plot has a setup, a climax, and a denouement, and much the same can be said of any plot arc in fiction. A good novel has many such arcs: a large one with many smaller ones nested underneath that in the various subplots. We all hope that our lives are not tragedies or tragicomedies, but we all do have a beginning, middle, and end to our lives. We just don’t know which phase applies at any given time. We don’t know exactly how or when life will end, but the end comes for all of us. Each day is a microcosm, a tiny subplot of this larger story that we tell while living our lives. Evening is a time for making peace with the day, for saying goodbye to all of the dramatis personae of the day’s events, the sadness and joy that has taken place.
The fact that this lifetime ends does not have to be viewed as a bad thing. Even if the end of life brings sorrow, we hope that it is a sweet sorrow. If we have done all that we came to earth to do, if we have done our best by our loved ones, if we have made each day count, there will be no reason for regret. The shortness and fragility of life makes it valuable. Whether you think that we go through many hundreds, if not thousands, of lifetimes or whether you believe we only get the one chance, this day is a unique experience. By greeting this evening mindfully, on this day, we prepare for the evening of life, when everything will be said and done. By making peace with this day, we make peace with life in general.
In the Hindu tradition, one of the five observances (niyamas) is called santosha, contentment. I like the idea of santosha as a practice, because we usually think of contentment as something attained by rearranging external circumstances. In other words, we usually say, “I’ll be content once I make x salary, once I get y promotion, once I have z level of education.” This, of course, leads to a never-ending hamster wheel effect, in which contentment never actually comes. The idea behind santosha is to do quite the opposite, to be purposely content with wherever my life might be right now, to just accept my lot, whatever my lot might be. That might sound like fatalism or resignation, but there is a subtle difference. Santosha is not grim stoicism: It is meeting life with joy and courage. It is very hard for naturally melancholic people, but it is the remedy for persistent feelings of lack and self-doubt.
Barnes and Noble: