The other day, I asked a group of adults what their bedtime rituals were and people responded with hesitance. Some people said they went to bed watching the news. Others replied that they used to read novels religiously before bed, but had stopped. Still others said they checked their phones one last time for messages. Not one person had a regular practice or a system.
However, when I asked if they had bedtime rituals with their children growing up (or grandchildren right now) every single person empatically said “yes, of course”!
I asked why they felt so strongly that bedtime rituals were good for their children. The reasons were remarkably similar: 1) they comforted their kids before sleep so they could go to bed in peace. 2) They helped them wind down from the day and quell any fears. 3) Each person told their children before they turned out the lights: I love you.
Bedtime Rituals Help Us Navigate Limininal Time
One of the functions of ritual has always been to help people navigate liminal times, when we move from one state to another.
“Times in-between” such as from childhood to adult, single to married, working to retired are made holy when we mark them with rituals.
Going from our waking day to sleep is a liminal moment. We know this intuitively with our children and grandchildren and that is why we help them navigate this time.
Many of us as adults are concerned that we will be awoken by worries, or that our bodies do not seem to stay asleep the way they used to, or that we cannot seem to wind down after a day filled with bad news.
Perhaps it is time to institute what we knew was important for our little ones for our own selves: regular bedtime rituals help us ease from day into night with comfort and blessing and love.
Can you imagine what it would feel like to tell yourself that you loved YOU before you drifted off to sleep?
When did Bedtime Rituals Get Started?
In ancient times, the rabbis believed that sleep was 1/60th of death (Talmud 57b). Certainly, people did die more frequently in their sleep back then, but it was also an acknowledgement that moving into sleep was a letting go of conscious control. We had to “let go of the handlebars” in order to release into the unknown.
Back in Talmud times, Jewish sages created extensive bedtime rituals which centered on the themes of forgiveness, protection, and unity. Traditionally called the Bedtime Shema, the idea was to make the going to bed process one of holiness and comfort.
Come learn Bedtime Rituals with us!
In our Hineni virtual mindfulness group this month, our focus will be on experimenting with bedtime rituals and determining what is most nurturing for you.
You can register here for Hineni Week – February 1-4 – where all our sessions are open.
Rabbi Jill Zimmerman.
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