Cadence of the Heart

May 2019

Om augusti shahi-nah. Om augusti shahi-nah. Om augusti shahi-nah.                    

            My lips mumble the words compulsively. Despite several months of muttering them each night, their meaning still remains a mystery. Not that it matters though, as I’d do anything to relieve the unrelenting racket in my head.

An electric current runs through me, jolting me fully awake. Out of breath, my body heaves, shivers. Beads of icy sweat sting as they drip. My shirt—drenched—clings to my frozen skin. Beneath the covers, my legs quiver. Sights and sounds speed through my mind like an express train. A scene flashes: I am chained to my bed—shrieking—struggling. My hair, ragged.

Stop.

Forcefully, I carry on with the guided meditation, stuttering in the heavy darkness of my bedroom.  I am on my bed, where I always am at 4:38 am. Lying on my back, I wrestle to still myself as my tongue clucks the magical words of an exotic tongue. After descending into an endless abyss of sleep-inducing invocations, the Sanskrit mantra seemed the only cure for my nightly restlessness—but only after a good hour of recitation.

            Om augusti shahi-nah. Om augusti shahi-nah.

The mantra did not bring sleep, but rather, stillness. Like a gentle lullaby soothes a fickle baby, its soft repeating melody quietened my thoughts, allowed my body to rest, and my turbulent emotions to pacify. It’s true that I uttered words I did not understand, but in their repetition, I developed familiarity. And I took comfort in familiarity. The way a baby falls asleep to its mother’s song. My hands, clutching the woolen blanket tightly, begin to loosen.

The guiding voice trails off, into the seemingly infinite universe of night. My lips still move, mechanically. Om augusti shahi-nah. Om augusti shahi-nah. Slower…slowly…slow, until sounds become air. In the silence, I hear the cadence of my heart; I am alert, aware. I listen to myself, breathing, yearning. To be still in the darkness, to fall sound asleep.

A wave of vertigo comes over me. Suddenly, I am rising, falling. Spinning in the throws of a wild ocean. A clap of thunder—a flash of lightning—lashing rain.  A ship in the distance stirs. I gasp a split-second of serenity. Have I arrived at the never-neverland of my dreams?

But the moment—ephemeral—vanishes, as the sound of the nearby mosque beckons.

Allahu-Akbar Allahu-Akbar La Ilaha Ila Allah.

It is yet too early to rise, too late to fall asleep.

 

 

 ***

 

For the past several months I have been suffering from insomnia. Read: I have allowed myself to waste precious moments obsessing about situations outside of my control—reliving the past and predicting the future—that I could no longer fall asleep easily. Throughout the experience, I noticed that oftentimes we try to drown out the noise in our heads with only louder sounds from the outside world—succeeding in numbing the moment only to find ourselves increasingly restless later. And the louder the noise in our heads, the louder the distractions we seek. At the end, we reach for something that can envelop all our senses—something that can completely take us out of ourselves.

But the cure to said insomnia is not sleep, nor is it popping any kind of pill or muttering any magic mantra. What many insomniacs need most is stillness. In stillness, we connect to our deepest selves: physically, mentally, emotionally. And if we can be still enough to sift through the noise: to listen to our inner voices beneath the din, and to accept the truths we hear without judgement, then we would no longer need to chase after distractions.

So the next time you find yourself stirring, restless, in the early hours of daybreak, don’t reach for your phone to see what time it is or for your allergy medication to knock you out, but rather, reach a little deeper. Stop and breathe through the noise. As you inhale/exhale, tune in to the cadence of your heart. In stillness, the truth will speak. Listen.

 

Yours,

N. ALSAGER

 

P.S.

What do you hear? xx

 


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