As a severe asthmatic from early childhood, I suffered insomnia. Apart from not being able to breathe, the drugs I was given to keep me alive made it all-but impossible to sleep. There were other factors, but they’re not all relevant to this post.
I’m sharing a little of what I did to overcome it. I suffered, fought with it, experimented with various strategies, and eventually with the assistance of a great clinical psychologist, I learned to not fight, but to succumb to sleep after more than fifty years of insomnia. There are still times when I’m not good at sleeping, but they’re fleeting; not the ongoing, fatiguing agony of before.
Fighting insomnia increases it. Insomnia often comes from fighting, within our minds or in the reality of our lives. At night, in bed, fears we have not sufficiently dealt with can knock on the doors of our minds. That’s when our worst fears can come true – in our minds – through nightmares, half-awake or wide-awake imaginings and what-ifs. Even if we don’t consciously realise it, it seems safer to be awake, alert, able to flee or to fight.
Fighting insomnia doesn't work! It leaves us groggy, disempowered, angry and frustrated at missing out on our refreshing sleep. We think we are alone in our plight of wakefulness. Not so! Millions wish they could sleep at the same time as we wish we were asleep, feeling guilty for not sleeping. Insomnia is extremely common. Common, and can be overcome.
Each person needs to find what works individually. Compare notes with others, yet be wary of the trap of multiplying the misery.
Suggestion: keep a small notepad and pen in a bedside drawer. If it’s out in the open, you may be too tempted to be awake to write in it. In the morning, take a few minutes to jot down the things that kept you awake. Did those things happen? Are they likely to happen? What are the chances of them happening? If there's a real chance of them happening, is there anything you can do to prevent it from happening? Write this down too. No need to go into detail; you have the day ahead of you.
How realistic are your fears and worries? If they are not realistic, LAUGH AT THEM. If you don't feel like laughing, force yourself to. Here’s my favourite way to get laughing. I’ve been teaching since the early seventies:
Then go on with your day. The whole process, from picking up your notepad and pen, to having laughed your way into the new day, is probably less than fifteen minutes.
Do it regularly, not just once. Worries and fears become habits. When we have been victims of our habitual thoughts, we need to break the habit by replacing it with a better one. This has assisted me no end.
Please let me know how you go by contacting me here. I hope it's a fitting key to your peaceful sleep and waking. At some point, I’ll post about other ways I’ve found to sleep better. Feel free to remind me!
Success, love and hugs to you!
© Aviva Sheb'a April 2017
Empower yourself to take the time and take the rest.
We're trained to think of rest as laziness; that nobody is entitled to rest unless they're great-grandparents AND they were extremely active, hardworking, self-sacrificing, deprived people who after retirement looked after their parents and grandchildren, before becoming too frail to go on. Women form the majority in this demographic.
We are supposed to revere people who had it tougher than us. Not pity: revere.
In doing that, societies ignore the fact that those people outlived their family members and friends who died doing the same thing, but younger, often much younger. Of course, somebody must be the eldest! Der!
Those of us who develop chronic illnesses are supposed to carry on as though we are always well. Wrong.
Had I been born a couple of generations ago, IF I'd survived childhood, I probably would have died in my forties, if not sooner. I may have been a grandmother many times over.
I bet those generations would have loved to see us taking our time, taking our rest, to be as well as we possibly can be. How happy they would be to think the work they put in enabled people to live better lives!
Perpetuating the idea that rest and time for oneself is laziness or only OK in the very last months of life serves nobody well. (Besides, do most of us even know when it's our last months?).
How hard people fought for the forty-hour working week. Alas, that was never accepted for women. Women were still expected to be active and on call 48/7.
Resting, taking time to look after ourselves is an activity for our well-being. Let's do it! Enjoy it! Give yourself the license to take the time to rest.
Had I not learned this the extremely hard way, I would now be outside on this glorious autumn morning. Instead, I'm enjoying the rest of recuperating from surgery I would not have needed in the first place had I rested enough in my earlier years.
The above image was taken at the Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, at the World Dance Alliance Conference, 2008
© Aviva Sheb'a March 2017
Following my successful season of This is a War Zone, Baby – Improvise! I’ve been thinking: how to move forward?
We’re living in a time of great uncertainty, loss of so much in the arts and other areas necessary for the good of the people. Governments and the media are fuelling fear and division. I feel it’s time to lighten the load, rather than expand the angst.
After thirteen years, The Vault Cabaret has come to an end.
This brainchild of Anne-Louise Rentell delighted, entertained, frightened, provoked thought and laughter for hundreds, if not thousands of people over the years. Each event had a theme, and the last one was The End. (What is an end? What could this mean?)
What would I wear to the final Vault? How would I interpret the theme? I’d missed the previous Vault. The theme of the one before that was Exploration, Tropical, Winter or other exotic themes. I wore a headdress consisting of a head-lamp topped with a clear plastic vaginal speculum. Of course: exploration of exotic places.
It came to me in a flash! My original War Zone frock, which I’d had made in 1997 to show how entertaining the troops in the Vietnam War had trapped me in a war zone I could never escape. On my head, the genuine Vietnam War helmet, given to me for the first season of my show, This is a War Zone, Baby – Improvise! (Adelaide Fringe, 2000) Lips slathered with red red red lipstick. I puckered my lips, pressed them to my hand and pressed the imprint to my face, neck, chest. Apuckerlips Now!
That night was hilarious, poignant, exciting, friendly. The place was bursting. Camaraderie huge. Last week, I met with Anne-Louise. Anne-Louise has an alter ego, if you will, The Governess.
We talked about our shows; where we were going, how we might get there and why. I’ve always loved performing comedy, as has Anne-Louise. I want to go further into that aspect. As she pointed out, we can lighten up, but it’s also important to not sweep issues under the carpet. ‘Tis true.
We laughed at my Apuckerlips Now outfit and people’s reactions at The Vault. There it is! The beginnings of my new show: Apuckerlips Now!
Why Apuckerlips? To start with, the reference to the film, Apocalypse Now, all about the Vietnam War. But why Apuckerlips? I’ve thought a lot about puckering lips. Not only do we pucker our lips to kiss. We pucker them often when we’re thinking. When we’re considering whether to believe something that challenges our preconceived ideas, or a totally new idea, or something that seems implausible.
My daughter, Rosie Sheb’a, pointed out, it could even be my name: A Puckerlips. Aviva Puckerlips. Here she is, now.
Oh yes, much puckering is being explored for Apuckerlips Now!
© 2016 Aviva Sheb'a
Aussie, strictly Kosher, recent ballet school graduate, seventeen year-young flamenco and jazz dancer, Aviva, goes to entertain the troops in Vietnam – with a rhythm and blues band.
What could possibly go wrong?
I toured (then South) Vietnam for three months, March to June, 1970. The most common exclamation there: this is a war zone, Baby – improvise!
My inability to readjust to life in Australia following my tumultuous tour, as well as my innate lust for adventure and performance led me to travel widely and to live and work in several different countries. My survival and sanity-saving mechanism was – and remains – my art. I developed my own method of using voice and body as a way to express and integrate my deepest emotions, coining the term, Vocal Dance, while working and living in Amsterdam in the 1970s.
In 1996 my two young children and I moved to Adelaide, South Australia from a small town, Dunolly, in Central Victoria. I began writing “This is a War Zone, Baby – Improvise!” intending to write it as a book and as a one-woman show, with each selling the other. I had no idea how to write a book, though had devised and performed two shows before. I thought I’d knock it on the head in eighteen months. Bwahahahaha!
Twenty years on, I’ve performed the show in numerous versions; the book is in draft innumerable. Having the book manuscript professionally assessed three years ago showed me how to improve it by putting aside five years’ work – saving the mess of words for something else.
Lesson: Spend a few dollars on a good manuscript assessor and save a fortune in time and effort.
(Thanks to Christine Paice, who did a marvellous job swiftly, with enormous compassion and integrity.)
The first season of the show was in the Adelaide Fringe, 2000. The final performance was thirty years to the day after innocent, naïve, over-protected Aviva arrived in the thick of the Vietnam War. I have kept developing the show, performing it in theatres, festivals and conferences. As the title suggests, each show is different. In 2013, “This is a War Zone, Baby – Improvise!” was the first of the Merrigong Theatre Company (Wollongong) Make it@Merrigong Studio Sessions, directed by Anne-Louise Rentell. In 2014, Anne-Louise and I presented together at the International Oral History Congress in Barcelona. As well as excerpts from the show, we talked about our individual approaches to making performance from Oral History, and our collaboration, which started in 2010.
I am currently rehearsing a new version under the direction of University of Wollongong Creative Arts Faculty’s Dr. Janys Hayes. We are enjoying the process of discovering what Janys brings out of me. One of the delights of working with a great director is finding new ways of expression. I’ve been extremely fortunate to have worked with Anne-Louise, and now Janys. That they’re friends who have a great respect for each other is a huge bonus.
This time, audiences will laugh and cry as I share some of the stories I’ve not performed before, as well as showing the development of Vocal Dance. Those who wish will also have a chance to join me and experience the joys of Vocal Dance.
Recently, the Phoenix Theatre Company received ownership of the Bridge Street Theatre, and are hosting a season of “This is a War Zone, Baby – Improvise!”
October: Friday 21, Saturday 22 at 8pm, Sunday 23 at 3pm. Bridge Street Theatre, 24 Bridge Street, Coniston (Wollongong).
© 2016 Aviva Sheb'a
Go to the inside of your inside. Use soundlessness and stillness to find your own rhythm, your own melody, your own form. Let your energy flow through your vocal cords. Don't hold it back. Vocal Dance. Hear your inner being. Then let it flow into movement. No mechanics, no directions. Just let it go. Your OWN rhythm, no counting.
The counting of rhythm and timing, the reduction of movements to "1234, 5678" may lead to the inhibition of the dancer's natural rhythms and sense of timing. I find it dehumanising, not allowing the dancer to experience the awe of dance in its purity. For me, that awe is the beginning of dance. Without that awe, what have we? Beautiful movements, lovely lines, interesting performance, splendour, perhaps. But what is the point of expending all that rehearsal/time/care/love; who or what does it reach? What does it affect? Does it change anything for the better? Does it add to the betterment of people or the state of the world? Maybe, but what are the odds? It's time now for understanding, compassion, love between artists and their public.
Bodies are made for movement. Movement can be the key for releasing the soul. Dance has so many possibilities of aiding humanity by allowing this release of feeling, of soulfulness. It has done so in the past, we need it now, more than ever, to take us into our future.
We humans are screaming out for release of tension, for understanding of our difficulties. The world is in a state of sorrow. It doesn’t need a prophet’s insight to see that if our morale is not lifted and some positive changes made, there will be no point to any of the work we are doing now.
The arts reflect the state of mind and emotions of the artists. Artists reflect the state of the society. The arts have tremendous power to affect our society. My dear dancers, what an opportunity we have! How wonderful is our vocation. I implore you, as artists, take the opportunity to find the wonder of life, the awesomeness of the creation called humanity. Discover, through movement, what movement and giving voice really are, then let your audiences/public/fellow human beings in on the secret. Be courageous in your actions. It’s time.
Take in energy, transform it through your own body, send it out again to be picked up, transformed and sent further. Let the public feel your dance. Let them hear your dance. Let them dance too; let them realise how good it is to be alive. How far does our energy go when it leaves the boundaries of our bodies? All the way there and back again – transformed.
Dance – totally non-destructive. Soul releasing, mind releasing, through body releasing. Dance – the sublime Energy Exchange. Take it, use it, love it – it’s yours.
© 2015 Aviva Sheb'a