May 25, 2018

When I was a child I looked forward to bed as I did going to the cinema and there was a time when I was rarely disappointed.  Where else but in a dream, could I fly?   Where else could I enjoy experiences I could not see in the cinema?

And — yes– if you realize it is a dream – and you don’t like it you can always wake up or if you are feeling really bold turn around and talk to that monster chasing you asking it a direct question like, “Excuse me, I think I know you, can I help you with something?”  And then suddenly laugh as the monster melts or dissolves much like the witch in Wizard of Oz or better yet becomes someone you know like the kid down the street who is less than kind.

One cinema evening, however, didn’t end well at all for me. I must have been around four years old and I had not yet fully realized that dreams were distinct from waking.

In that dream, I had been given a candy bar.  I decided to hold on to the chocolate bar tight enough that it could make its way back with me upon awakening.  Ready to be… devoured.

After I awoke, I remember looking everywhere for that candy bar blaming my older brother Ken for stealing it and asking my parents if they had seen the candy bar anywhere.  I was in a sour mood and furious…until my mother asked me a few questions on where I had gotten that candy bar and where I had seen it last.  She then told me the bad news:  dreams are not real.  You can’t take things from dreams and bring them back here so easily.

And then I became deeply curious.  What were dreams and what were they good for?

Around the age of seven, my experiments lead me to use sleep differently.  I would read something at night and then set my alarm very early around 6am and re-read the material I wished to know one more time.

I realized that during the night my mind was working in wonderful ways while I was resting.  As I loved sleep, this pleased me immensely.  I enjoyed this method so much that as a reward to myself after completing the early morning study ritual in bed, I set up my alarm clock once again – this time for an additional 20 minutes of sleep.

During those 20 minutes of time I would let my body fall asleep but remain slightly aware. Everything during those 20 minutes of “light” sleep became even clearer.  Answers to my questions came.  Material was effortlessly absorbed.  Creative ideas abounded.

And when I awoke after those 20 minutes, I felt incredible as if I had three additional hours of rest.  Rest of a different nature.

It is only years later, that I realize that position on my back was shavasana and that the sleep technique was a form of yoga nidra.  Had I been more knowledgeable at the time, I would have used my sleep for far better things then just acing tests and being good at academics or coming up with creative ideas.

Had I known…

So, these next entries are for those who are a bit curious.

Perhaps you want to sleep more, perhaps you want to sleep less, perhaps you want to experiment with what is most beautiful within or a new direction in your life.  To each his own:  I let you choose, but do be curious, test what you think you know (as I did) and experiment with a few.  Sleep — less or more of a variant of it– may just change your life.


  1. Assess Your Sleep (SWAN): Strengths, Weaknesses, Ambition, Needs
  2. Memory, Learning, Creative Problem Solving
  3. Sleep Well at Night
  4. Power Naps Equal to Three Hours of Sleep
  5. Use “Conscious Sleep” for Meditation



  1. Assess Your Sleep (SWAN): Strengths, Weaknesses, Ambition, Needs

Sleep is one of my most beloved moments in a day.  A serious moment to be reckoned as my husband will surprisingly attest — for when I get sleepy, I become warm as a baby and nothing NOTHING (not even mounds of laundry nor gold scattered on my bed) could stop me from nudging everything aside and letting everything melt away.  Hurricane, tsunami, earthquake, it might just not matter at that moment.

Anywhere, under any condition I can sleep–just kindly give me two minutes.  As funny as this may sound, the capacity to relax instantly has saved me more than once.

It is not that I was always sleepy, but when I want to sleep, I can.  And soundly.

And how about you – what are your strengths with sleep?  What are your weaknesses, ambitions and needs regarding sleep?

Take 5 minutes to assess your sleep: Strengths, Weaknesses, Ambition and Needs

Strengths:  Are you a good sleeper?  Do you wake up well rested and full of energy and ideas?  Can you fall asleep easily?  Do you need many hours of sleep or just five or so (imagine all you could do if you only needed 5 hours of sleep and felt GREAT)?

Weaknesses:  Is it hard to fall asleep?  Do you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t fall back asleep?  Do you always feel a bit tired as if on empty?  Do you have bad dreams that disturb your sleeping hours?

Ambition:  What do you want from your sleep?  Is it a way of resting?  Is it a means to explore?  Do you use sleep to get new ideas or absorb information quickly?   Do you feel sleep effectively solve conflicts from the day?   And how about using sleep as practice for being conscious at the time of the ultimate sleep: your death?

Needs:  How many hours of sleep do you need to feel rested?  When you are tired can you take a quick nap and recover fully or do naps make you more tired?  If you need 8 hours of sleep do you calculate at what time you need to go to bed so you can wake up naturally without an alarm clock?  Do you find you need less or more sleep depending on what and when you eat?

Jot down a few ideas.  After all many people spend at least 1/3 or more of their lives in bed.  Might as well think for five minutes on the value of all this time and make it work towards your health, happiness and well-being.


2.  Memory, Learning, Creative Problem Solving

The technique I used for memory and learning during sleep as a child and young adult that helped me do well academically (took classes at Harvard Law, Harvard Undergraduate, Fletcher School, Amherst, Berkeley, HEC business school) was simple enough:

  1. Read, review or study something before going to bed for as long as needed (the last thing you see before sleep) and then wake up an hour or earlier to review it fully.
  2. As a reward allow oneself 20 minutes of sleep after the review where one can lightly dose in bed and rest soaking everything in on a different level.

Little did I know that this 20 minutes was the crucial technique that allowed the information to enter effortlessly and remain in my short-term memory.


3.  Sleep Well at Night

Usually, I go to bed around 10.30pm and like to wake up without an alarm clock early in the morning (I nevertheless set one just in case).   But most days I wake up naturally anytime from 3.30am to 5.00am.  Five hours of sleep is usually sufficient for me, but when my body is healing it can be later.  I enjoy this early morning time alone immensely as the air is fresh, cool and my mind and spirit are at their best.

Do things without Tension During the Day (Relaxation and Ease is Rest)

Since I do the most important things first thing in the day when everyone is sleeping I am more relaxed the rest of the day as I have done what matters most to me (meditation).  During the day, I try to do either things I love or at least do them in a way I love so my body is not tense.  Naturally, daily exercise also helps in letting go of physical tension.

Eating Different Foods Creates a Body at Rest & the Need for Less Sleep

I used to need eight hours of sleep.  However, my sleeping time dramatically decreased ever since I began to eat differently (became vegetarian and ate a good amount of raw fresh foods & raw organic juices so digestion happens faster and easier).

At one point when I was doing many organic juices and had many vegetables, I only needed four hours of sleep.  This made me realize that my body was not working optimally on a “regular French diet” even if I came from a family of great French chefs and ate good quality food.  This discovery has made me deeply curious about what foods bring energy and make you feel great.

Digest Well and Cleanse Away the Worries of the Day

Other things that help me sleep well is eating an early dinner around 6.30pm, a shower before sleep and a cup of warm un-homogenized organic milk with a pinch of turmeric 30 minutes just before bed.

Set up a Great Environment and Say Goodbye to the Day

I also like to light a candle in my room prior to sleeping with a little oil as it gives a beautiful glow to the room.  As I watch its warm glow, I say a silent prayer (not to disturb my husband) and then usually take 10 or more minutes to write about what was most meaningful during the day; what I learned about myself and how I might do things differently if given a second chance tomorrow.  If, as each day is a blessing.

Create Space for the Night for Greater Things to Happen

Just before going to sleep (if I am not already asleep as I usually fall asleep in two minutes) I try to disassociate myself from events or things during the day; creating a little space by reminding myself that I am not my body nor my mind.  In other words, I try to disassociate from the many roles I play during the day: mother, wife, yoga teacher, chef, artist, Director of Beyond Our Best, writer or other.

Gratitude and Joy

In the morning, I like to wake up and see the glow from the lamp (sometimes it goes out at night) and smile that I am alive for another day.  I like to smile too at my heart and thank it for beating while I was sleeping.

Do What Is Important

Another day is another chance for me to experience something worthwhile with people I love and to do what is important for me.  Before I usually practice morning meditative techniques, I put a little ash on my forehead (like Catholics do on Ash Wednesday but I like to do it every day) to remind myself that today could be my last day and if it is I must use it wisely.

This may seem strange to some, but something as simple as a little ash is a reminder for me that I may not be here long.  It changes the way I spend my day.  And each day adds up quickly to a life.  This simple morning ritual, can help me focus on important things such as calling my mother or a friend in need.  When you think of your last day; it is not often the large glorious things you think about, but the really important people in your life and what matters most to you.

For more tips, here is a video by a yogi named Sadhguru who explains Good Sleep Rituals


4. Take Power Naps 20 Minutes Equal to Three Hours of Sleep

When and if I get tired during the day, I take a short 10-20 minute nap.  After 10 minutes of rest, I can recover completely and seem like a different person.  20 minutes is ideal.

This 20 minutes of sleeping or resting is equivalent to 2-3 hours of sleeping time.  For it to be done properly, you need to teach the body to fall asleep but keeps the mind conscious or aware.   This practice is best done in the morning when one is not tired or else one tends to fall asleep…

You can use the Brainwave 35 Binaural Programs App to help Train Yourself to do this: Press on this link to download Brainwave 35 Binaural Programs.

It uses two different sounds in each ear so you need to use headphones.

Please note you can put relaxing sounds in the background such as raindrops or choose your favorite song in the background (good for teenagers who may not like elevator music).  Some other apps do not allow this function and you get tired of their music.

After you download it, use the Power Nap function and set your alarm for 20 minutes.  Put yourself in Shavasana pose (corpse pose) in yoga – lying on your back with your legs and arms spread slightly, palms facing upwards.  During the practice try not to move and make sure you will not be disturbed.

Try doing this for at least 48 days until you get comfortable with it and can then do it upon will without falling asleep.  When you are conscious or fully relaxed you can also say a “signal word” like — focused relaxation and let it be associated with the moement of intense relaxation you are currently in.  Later when you repeat the same word at the beginning of a meditation relaxation should come quickly.

Use “Conscious Sleep” for Preparing the Mind for Meditation

Deep relaxation is key to many things; sleep, memory and meditation.

For those who wish to practice meditation the capacity to relax is the first thing one must learn.  To completely let go or relax helps one enter states of meditation.

I practiced conscious sleep (putting the body to sleep and keeping the mind aware) in Shavasana for 6 months for about 40 minutes a day prior to learning sitting meditation.

For those who want to meditate, start with the 20 minute Nap practice in Shavasana.

Remember Conscious Sleep is best practiced when not too tired or you will fall asleep.  You can practice it at bedtime if you have a hard time falling asleep and then let yourself sleep!   If you are tired during the day try finding the time for a 20 minute power nap as it will deeply re-invigorate you.  It is a must for people with long or intense working days or who may work night shifts.  Flight attendants can use the practice during their “rest period” travelling, taxi drivers can practice it at night in their cabs when on “rest.”


Some Tools for Meditation that Give the Benefits of Restful Sleep & Far More


Brainwave 35 Binaural Programs App (Power Nap do 20 minutes)


Yoga Nida (Beginners from Bihar School excellent 30 minute)


Yoga Nidra (Intermediate from Bihar School excellent 40 minute)


Shoonya (Taught by the yogi Sadhguru)


Centering Prayer as taught by Monks such as Father Keating

Try one that seems right for you.  The first three are easy to use and you can begin with the video or the app.  Shoonya needs to be taught.  There are books on Centering prayer.

Wishing you great sleep, good power naps, great memory and a deep centered awareness throughout your day and night.

Kenzaburo Oe “Japan, the Ambiguous, and Myself”

Kenzaburo Oe, “Japan, the Ambiguous, and Myself,” Gallimard, 1995.  BOOK REVIEW

Kenzaburo Oe Nobel Prize LiteratureThis book contains the speech by Kenzaburo Oe given on the occasion of the Nobel Peace Prize in Literature 1994 and other essays that ask important questions of Japan and Japanese artists.

For the purpose of artists working together to incite Japan’s imagination on a new Japan, see the About section of this website.

What follows in this blog entry are thoughts and questions for Japanese artists and citizens that stem from Kenzaburo Oe’s book “Japan the Ambiguous, and Myself,” and from thinking about a new philosophy in face of crisis with Dr. Paul Briot.  All opinions are errors are mine.

The questions in this review concern the soul of Japan as defined by Murasaki shikibu (and not Japanese nationalists), the “ambiguity” of that soul and Japan’s capacity to use the March 11th disaster for fundamental change.

Reflection & Question 1:  Can we use March 11th to envision a Japan with the comprehension, sensitivity and imagination of Murasaki shikibu?

If I understand correctly Kenzaburo Oe’s book, “Japan, the ambiguous, and myself,”  in 1945 Japan did not utilize the crisis to define itself it a large humanist sense—in the same manner that the noted woman writer Murasaki shikibu, the author of “The Tale of Genji,” might have inspired us to do so by her work.

The soul of Japan, a term originally used by Murasaki shikibu, was instead utilized by Japanese nationalists during WWII as a vulgar slogan of war, and forgot its initial vast definition formulated by this great lady of Japanese literature.  Comprehension, sensitivity and imagination have not yet taken root in our world still today.  Is it not the moment now, one year after the March 11th crisis to accomplish what we Japanese did not know how to do in 1945?

Reflection & Question 2 :  If knowledge is critical to create a new Japan, is there a knowledge which stands above technology, efficiency or even the great classics of Chinese writings?

Kenzaburo Oe Nobel Prize LiteratureIn Kenzaburo Oe’s book , « Japan, the ambiguous, and myself, » he explains that without « knowledge,” the Japanese soul could not function.  He mentions that the Japanese have throughout history at times inspired themselves with a Chinese knowledge, and at times from a knowledge emanating from the West.  They have nevertheless not come any closer to their own soul as a result.

I agree, however, I wonder if the Japanese direction remains ambiguous in part, because we Japanese have not yet understood the definition of knowledge itself?

Is there not a knowledge that is above technology, above efficiency or even the great classics of Chinese writings?  I cannot help but wonder if the definition we are looking for is not simply a comprehension or knowledge of ourselves and the meaning of life.  A basic knowledge:  that the Japanese and all human beings share a common humanity and a recognition that we Japanese must act with full understanding of this knowledge.

Reflection and Question 3:   What is the nature of a “Japanese soul”?

Murasaki shikibuMurasaki shikibu spoke of a Japanese soul to designate a Japanese specificity or something common to the Japanese.  In effect, although nations can be considered fictions or constructions of man and history, they each have their own energy or creativity; an imagination inspired by a collection of individuals.  Each nation has its own specificity, which needs not be eliminated nor made to resemble all other people nor all other nations.  In this sense our specificity if kept both noble and tolerant is a strength to inspire and share freely with others.

Kenzaburo Oe in this book says this well when he says that the understanding of a Japanese soul as defined by Murasaki shikibu has nothing fanatic or intolerant.  Rather it is both “gentle and human”; it comes from certitude of men capable of doubting.”  But we Japanese went astray.  During World War II those who tried to define a Japanese specificity contented themselves with the definition of a traditional culture whose center was the emperor.  No one could question such a sun, embodied by the emperor, and defined by the militarists themselves.

I cannot help but wonder if there was not a time in Japanese history where the sun itself was above even the Emperor?  The Emperor and most Japanese, agreeing that the sun is humanist, would encourage each of us to question a tolerant sun in full freedom.

And if the sun encourages us to question itself, if it embodies full freedom, who is anyone to speak for the sun or for each other?  I believe that Japan today is ready for a tolerant and humanist sun; its own “Hikari” a light capable both of inspiring, doubting and transforming.

Japan Heart of Sun

To envision a humanist sun, I would like here to quote and encourage artists to discuss and interpret artistic propositions by Paul Briot found in Le rayonnant…un art vers l’Infini…?   Here are two beautiful ones, there are of course many possible others.


A field of sunflowers, moving sculptures.  The flowers converse, look after one another, bow in all directions.  Eyelids of suns.  Us.

–Paul Briot, 2004, Editions Caractères, Collections : Cahiers & Cahiers


Noble suns move forward masked.  At rare intervals, their veils part, announcing radical changes.  Time, the intermittent revolutionary.

–Paul Briot, 2004, Editions Caractères, Collections : Cahiers & Cahiers

Reflection et Question 4 :  Will the healing power of art transform Japan from within?

In Kenzaburo Oe’s book, he states that he believes in the curious power of the healing of art.  His writing is art, an art that inspires.  In the letter Dr. Paul Briot and I have written entitled Letter to Japanese friends, we too think that art heals and transforms.  That is that art can share an experience which words cannot.   I have put on this site artistic propositions to encourage artists to interpret them and propose their own, ones that can be shared freely with all the Japanese.

My question to artists is how can artists inspire more comprehension, compassion, liberation, and realization through their art?  Can we the Japanese, with as strong tradition of inner art, create a radiant art that inspires and transforms as Dr. Paul Briot suggests?   In Kenzaburo Oe’s future novel, will such an imagination succeed in having us go out once again to see the stars?   When will we go out and experience this together?

Reflection and Question 5 :  Is there such a thing as a moral sun?

Natsume Soseki Kenzaburo Oe mentions Natsume Soseki’ book « And Then » written in 1909.  He tells us how Daisuke, the main character, evokes the difficulty of finding an equilibrium between a “vital desire” (such as the endless desire for the consumption of goods) and a “moral desire.”

In the novel, Daisuke believed that Japan could first grow by responding to its vital desire, an economy equivalent to that of the West, and only in this manner afterwards acquire a moral desire.  After 1945 this was the path taken by Japan, but today after the “accident” of Fukushima Kenzaburo Oe seems to suggest by his activism and words that we are indeed asking ourselves the same questions as 1945.

I think that we Japanese can exit from an ambiguous Japan and create a new one, and in so doing, come nearer to our own soul as described by Murasaki-shikibu.  For this to occur, one path may be for artists and citizens to experience this moral force through transformative art that lifts us far above March 11th.

How will Japanese artists help define the nature of a Japanese soul, as possibly intended by the great work of Murasaki shikibu?  How will the Japanese people experience such art and use this crisis to transform their country from within and inspire us all?

End Note

I read the book in French but comment and quote here in English.  All errors are mine.  I am not yet able to read the original texts in Japanese.  As such I remain limited, I ask to be corrected and quoted only in English to avoid any misunderstandings. Japanese themselves, with a knowledge far beyond mine, can engage in a more profound discussion.  Indeed, I have much to learn from many.

Letter to the Japanese

The World’s Most Valuable Asset in a Time of Crisis

Letter to Japanese Friends

Dr. Paul Briot and I (Nathalie Leiko Ishizuka) believe that to rebuild Japan will require a magnificent and strong morale made of comprehension, of compassion, beauty and all the pacific values of the great Japanese culture.  In that respect, Japanese artists, writers, thinkers and the youth have an essential task to realize.

It is with great modesty that Paul and I wish to address in the months to come a letter to our Japanese friends and in so doing share our own optimism for Japan.  We believe that Japan thanks to this crisis will rise again.  Not uniquely in an economic or political sense, but in a morale, aesthetic, existential or spiritual sense.

Should the Japanese collectively, and individually, emerge from this crisis with greater comprehension, compassion, liberation, and realization they could initiate changes in society far beyond a previous balance.

If successful, the Japanese could go as far as stiring the imagination of other nations on how to face and successfully overcome natural and man-made crisis, each freely with respect to their own culture, specificity and individual differences.

Brief Background Description of Authors of the Letter:

Paul Briot

Paul Briot, Ph.d in Philosophy, Professor at the Faculty of Comparative Religion, Antwerp (F.V.G.), Belgium.  Author of poetic essays, articles and books on the subject of the utilization of crisis, sincerity, artistic creation, and the clarity of objectives.  Recent books include Le rayonnant…un art vers l’Infini…?  (The Radiant…An Art towards the Infinite?) 2004, Editions Caractères, Collections : Cahiers & Cahiers.  La Structuration de l’existence, (The Structure of Existence) Charleroi, Editions du Centre universitaires (Cunic), 1989.

Nathalie Leiko Ishizuka

Nathalie Ishizuka studied Japanese at Keio University, M.A.L.D. Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy (administered in cooperation with Harvard), M.B.A. from HEC, Paris.  Her 240 page summa cum laude thesis on Article 9 of the 1946 Japanese Constitution and UN peacekeeping received written praise from Colonel Charles Kades, one of the Constitution’s founding fathers.  Ishizuka currently writes on the use of crisis as an opportunity to build individual and national health for the Positive Mental Health Foundation. She is also the author of this blog inviting Japanese artists and citizens to imagine a new Japan.