Have you ever had this happen to you? You are finally in bed after a really long day. You are exhausted. Sleep is but seconds away. Then suddenly, you are wide awake, your heart beating faster than it did all day. It is not quite an anxiety attack, but it is not far. What triggered it? It was probably the first time you had all day to think about how aggravated you were by something, or how frustrated you were that you did not finish what you wanted to. Maybe you were thinking about that person who cut you off in traffic, or only drove 25 mph on the freeway.
You feel like you have two choices either toss and turn for a couple of hours, or get up and watch TV. Either way, you are not going to get the rest you need that night, which means tomorrow is not looking good. You are already thinking of the excuses you are going to make for being in such a lousy mood.
This happens to a lot of people in our very hectic and tense society. I would like to share a teaching with you that will help you sleep better and have a more optimistic approach to life. (I imagine some of you are thinking that it is kind of funny for a rabbi to give suggestions about sleeping. I really do not mind if people sleep during my sermons. I am just happy they are there.)
What helps me settle down at the end of the day, and lets me sleep is a prayer called the bedtime Shema. It consists of the the first six words and then the first paragraph of the Shema. I want to focus, though, on the first part of the prayer, which goes as follows:
Master of the universe, I hereby forgive anyone who angered or antagonized me,whether they did so accidentally, willfully, carelessly, or purposely; whether through speech, deed, thought, or notion.I forgive every one. May no one be punished because of me. May it will be Your will, O God, my God and the God of my forefathers, that I strive to do the right things with my day. May the expressions of my mouth and the thoughts of my heart find favor before You.
You would then say the following blessing, and the Shema.
Blessed are You, our God, who brings slumber and drowsiness to my eyes. May it be Your will, my God and the God of my ancestors, that You lay me down to sleep in peace and let me wake in peace. May my ideas, bad dreams, and bad notions not confound me. Blessed are You, Who illuminates the entire world..
Different prayer books have various versions of this, but they all have the same idea. When we lie down, we should concentrate on thoughts of forgiveness, both of others and ourselves. This does not mean that we have to like everything that happened to us, but we should realize that the day is already in the past, and that there is nothing we can do. Instead, we should focus on what we can do to have a better day tomorrow. You do not have to use the words of the prayer book, though it is worth at least taking a look. You can, of course, make up your own prayers.
I do not guarantee that you will never have a bad night. This is, though, an important part of a daily practice that will make you feel more compassionate and generous with your thoughts about the world.