In 2015 I came back from the Ebola response in West Africa if not actually broken, then with spiderweb cracks across my sense of ‘self’. As an infectious disease epidemiologist by training, I headed out to help understand this virus. Giving my heart, education and time in what turned out to be a shared global-control effort, felt to me like it was the entire point of my existence.
All of the time and money spent on my education, research and ethics courses, and all of the global health work I’d done in other places, were my preparation to getting on the plane – then the boat across the darkened bay in the moonlight — to what I would find in Freetown, Sierra Leone.
However, for all of us, the days were long, sleep was in short supply, and fear of this deadly illness about which we knew nowhere nearly enough, made us short-tempered. The stress of putting so much of one’s heart, feelings and self into the effort while people continued to die was extremely difficult. I’m happy to say there were many successfully treated patients.
I was not my best self by any stretch of the imagination. I felt deep rage, because of my perception that so many people could have been saved if poor countries had the basic hospital equipment so readily available in affluent countries. I felt deep grief also because strangely enough, this virus spread through the contact and mechanism of human kindness — the contact of a parent caring for their sick child; the care one’s beloved offering to them when they are ill; the contact and care a nurse gives a patient who is their responsibility. This was how it spread and so, of course, the caregivers were among the first to contract it.
I returned home with my sense of compassion blunted. Anxiety overwhelmed me and I found myself unable to sleep. Rage bubbling just below my semi-calm surface. I experienced facial tics, and crying jags, but the loss of compassion felt the worst. Perhaps because that was how I had defined myself in many ways, and how others saw me.
I slept beautifully there. I brought them home and listened to them in bed, as I tried to drift off. When I’d awake at night, I’d listen some more. And they worked.
They still work.
I’m not a regular practitioner of yoga and frankly, only a tourist in the realm of meditation. I felt my heart is rarely open to the degree I see in others around me at Kripalu. As everyone, I too am a work in progress. But wonderfully, miraculously, none of that matters. Divine Sleep® Yoga Nidra works for me too! Data-driven, and cranky skeptic though I am.
Now it’s been five years, and for these past five years, Jennifer has talked me into calm, deep rest, openness, and also to sleep in all of the places I work—Rwanda, Madagascar, Guatemala, Peru, Lesotho, Sierra Leone, and in the US.