“When the world is itself draped in the mantle of night, the mirror of the mind is like the sky in which thoughts twinkle like stars.”
– Khushwant Singh, author
“I feel like I have had it many, many years! ”
Lilith had called because she said she had to deal with her insomnia, right away. She said it had been going on too long and she was both, literally tired and figuratively tired of being tired.
Lilith was a thirty three year old owner of a small, upscale restaurant. Like many entrepreneurs, she projected a nervous energy, like it was hard to relax, which it was for her. Especially, if she wasn’t sleeping much.
She carried her stress not just within her body but also on her face. Lilith has a teenager’s acne condition, and was just as embarrassed and awkward about it. While she didn’t mention it, her right hand would wander up to check her face regularly as an unconscious mannerism.
After she had laid out the key points of her present life, she looked at me and said, “So why can’t I sleep at night?”
“Lilith, you just told me you have a thriving business, two young children and a partner, Arnold, who is being charged with theft, a criminal offence, by his employer. You seem to have a lot on your plate right now! But, why do you think you’re not sleeping?” I asked her.
“Not sleeping is not a new challenge for me. I feel like I have had it many, many years! Maybe before I could work around it, but not anymore. It seems different now…it’s more important now to get a handle on it than before. That’s why I called you.” she replied, tensely.
“I do make a list all my current stressors.”
“Lilith, tell me about your usual routine of going to sleep at night.”
“Well, I’m up at six because I have to be at the restaurant by eight. The kids catch the school bus at 7:30 and Arnold, my husband, is the last out the door, usually by 8:30. So, we have an early start Monday to Friday. I try to get to bed by ten…but don’t really get to sleep until after midnight or later.” she said.
“So that’s the logistics of your day. But, I want you to tell me about your mental logistics of getting to sleep. When you finally get to lay down, where do you take your thoughts?” I asked.
“Hmm…! I’ve never noticed that part before. I guess I think about the day I just got through and what lies ahead tomorrow…and probably my screw ups of the last few days…about who is pissed off at me…how the kids are doing, which of my staff need a word tomorrow, either of encouragement or correction, and of course, how Arnold is coping.”
“It sounds like you do a review of your day and your life, listing all your sources of challenge or stress.” I said in paraphrasing her comments.
“Yes…that’s about it, isn’t it? I do make a list all my current stressors.” she said in surprise, as if perhaps realizing it for the first time.
“Does that mean what I’m thinking creates my insomnia at that moment?”
“There are two people whose ideas you will find helpful in dealing with insomnia. The first one showed how the mind and body interact. And, the second one showed how the mind and body follow the same law when they do interact.”
“I’m not sure how the workings of my mind and body affect my insomnia. Tell me more.” she said.
I went on, “The first one, Dr. William Glasser, considered by many one of the founders of modern psychology, whose ideas have spread over at least 15 to 20 countries globally, showed how our feelings and the physiology of our body, are determined by what we do and think in any given moment.”
“Does that mean what I’m thinking creates my insomnia at that moment?” she asked.
“Lilith, you just said when you lay down to sleep you start thinking about all the stress sources in your life. Dr. Glasser’s work shows laying down and reviewing all your sources of stress creates feelings of stress which raises your heartbeat, raises your breathing rate, raises your blood pressure, tenses your muscles and so prevents you from going to sleep. And, he would say your body will tense up this way, as long as, you keep lying there thinking about your stress sources.”
“That kind of makes sense as I think about it. So, he would suggest switching to ‘positive’ thoughts instead? Would he recommend I become some kind of ‘positive thinker…a Pollyanna or Tigre Tiger?” she asked with a degree of skepticism in her voice.
“Insomnia is my greatest inspiration.” – Jon Stewart – entertainer
“… grateful thinking is being pessimistically optimistic or optimistically pessimistic.”
“Lilith, that’s a common error many people make. No, it’s not switching to ‘positive thinking’ but rather to ‘grateful thinking’(or ‘appreciative thinking.)’” I said.
“What’s the difference between positive thinking and grateful thinking, Ken?”
“Negative thinking is often called being pessimistic while positive thinking is usually called being optimistic. However, grateful thinking is being pessimistically optimistic or optimistically pessimistic. In other words, grateful thinking is acknowledging both the negative and positive. And this is where the second person, Dr. John Demartini, comes into dealing with insomnia.”
“And, what does he have to say?” she asked.
“Dr. Demartini, a human behaviour specialist, whose work has spread to at least 50 to 60 countries globally, points out the human body, like all living systems follows a basic law of nature. This law is called, in physics, the law of symmetry and in biology, the law of homeostasis. Demartini’s work shows both negative and positive thinking are valuable and to be respected.”
“What does that mean for my insomnia, Ken?” she asked not sure where this was going.
“That means, if you just started thinking positively as you lay there, it won’t work either because it will create euphoria,which increases your heartrate, your breathing rate, your blood pressure, your muscle tension level and so, also prevent you from going to sleep.” I said.
“… appreciating how one always balances out the other to enable you to learn and survive.”
“So, I guess that means I have to think both positively and negatively at the same time…is that what you’re saying?”
“Lilith, that’s what gratefulness is all about, that’s what appreciation is all about, as well. It is not ignoring the negative (or painful) aspects of your life or about focusing only on the positive (or pleasurable) aspects of your life. Being grateful is noticing both and appreciating both, appreciating how one always balances out the other to enable you to learn and survive. It is this level of awareness, this true nature of your life which relaxes your body so you can go to sleep.”
“So, Dr. Demartini says to relax and go to sleep, I need to find out how each stressor also has some good in it to counterbalance the bad part…is that what you mean?”
“That’s it exactly! Then you will be able to appreciate you life as it is…a collection of counterbalancing moments of pleasure and pain which you have the privilege of experiencing. As your gratitude rises your body relaxes and you go to sleep.”
Ken, how do I learn to do that? All I seen is the pain in my life…I haven’t notice where there is pleasure.” she said, getting frustrated.
“Well, let’s go find it right now! Let’s start with your physical health. Besides, experiencing insomnia, do you have any other serious medication condition, such as cancer, Crohn’s or an autoimmune disease, perhaps?” I asked her.
“And, how about you sense of yourself?”
“No, not really! My back bothers me sometimes but it is nothing serious!” she replied.
“How about family relationships…do your kids love you, are they in good health, are they OK?” I asked her.
She replied, “I have beautiful, healthy children who are close to me and their Dad. My family and my partner’s are close by and mostly supportive. So, things are OK at home for me. Except for what’s going on at work with Arnold, of course.”
“How’s your social life? Do you have friends and neighbours who you value?”
“I have three really close friends, two of whom work for me. And, we have lived in the same neighbourhood for years and get on well with our neighbours.” she answered.
“How are your finances? Are you managing your debt load and meeting your obligations?”
“We are actually doing OK, given we only started the restaurant two years ago.” Lilith said.
“How’s your work, your job going? Are you satisfied with your progress to date?”
“I love what I have created. I get such satisfaction from the comments of my customers when they have a nice meal at my restaurant.”
“And, how about you sense of yourself? Do you like how you have evolved so far, do you like yourself for the most part?” I asked.
“When, I stop and consider it, I am satisfied with my progress and I really do like me!” she said.
“And, finally, Lilith, how’s your spirit, your connection to this universe we live in? Is it OK, too?”
“Ken, I really like my life. I have lots of energy for my family, my work…I’m doing quite OK really!” she replied smiling.
“Poor sleepers should endeavour to compose themselves. Tampering with empty space, stirring up echoes in pitch-black pits of darkness, is scarcely sedative.” – Walter de la Mare, author
“…I need to own my pains and my counterbalancing pleasures to relax my body for sleeping…”
“Lilith, notice your smile right now is not happiness…pleasure without pain, but rather, gratitude (or appreciation)…which is pleasure with equal pain. This is the truth of everyone’s life. When we acknowledge it, when we honour it, we get grounded, centred, and relaxed. This happens first in our mind and then in our body…then, we rest and sleep.”
“Are you saying, I need to own my pains and my counterbalancing pleasures to relax my body for sleeping…that’s how I resolve my insomnia?”
“You have just done it mentally, how do you feel physically? Are you tense, stressed with a rapid heart rate, a rapid breathing rate, an elevated blood pressure and tight muscles?”
“Actually, I feel pretty good…more relaxed…comfortable…kind of at ease!”
“That’s the state you need to create to get to sleep. And, you can only create it with medication or self control…your choice!”
“I don’t like taking medications if I can avoid it, so I want to learn to do this!” Lilith said.
“Well then, let’s get at it right now, Lilith! Knowing you have lots of challenges in your life at this moment, and you have been spending your day meeting them, would you go up to my flip chart and write down your top ten challenges, and beside each one, write down the best thing about having these challenges?” I asked.
So, began Lilith’s journey of learning to take control of her insomnia. She started by listing the top ten things she was most challenged by and beside it, the counterbalancing benefit which created a feeling of genuine appreciation. Her list included her children, her health, her husband, her restaurant, her staff, her parents, her siblings, her friends and her energy.
Her list looked something like this.
Demanding kids – helps me stay organized.
Sore back – motivates me to be more health conscious.
Arnold’s demanding job – keeps us close to each other.
Long work hours – reminds me how successful I am.
Frustrating staff problems – develops team closeness and friendships.
Never satisfied parents – provides me with great child care on short notice.
Jealous siblings – brother found me a new source for fresh produce yesterday.
Neglected friends – reminds me to make time for myself first.
Fatigue and lack of energy – helps me to pace myself more efficiently.
Now, she had 10 specific examples of how to actually create a feeling of gratitude and relaxation within herself. As she completed her list, she proved to herself she could create this appreciative state anytime and anywhere. Now she was ready to deal with her insomnia.
She started that evening mentally reviewing her day and taking each challenge and finding how it also benefitted her. As she followed this learning curve over the next few weeks, she noticed how she was falling asleep more quickly and staying asleep for longer periods. She said as her mind relaxed, her body followed and she rested.
What was also interesting was what she said near the end of our work. We were discussing her progress and she said there were two things which pleased her besides getting control of her sleep patterns.
When I asked her what they were, she replied, “First, I’ve realized, taking daily note of the pleasure in every one of my pains or stressors, drives me to appreciate my life more often…not just when I’m going to sleep at night. And, second, I realize my insomnia motivated me to learn to appreciate my life. It’s like…everyone should give it a go, if it will serve them, like it has me.”
I smiled at her saying,“ I guess counting blessings is more effective than counting sheep, eh?”
“Insomnia is a very prevalent issue. It’s a women’s health issue…. For me, I’m doing great now, but it took a lot of work to figure out how to get back to sleep. I had to change some of my habits. I developed some pretty bad sleep ritual habits.”
– Jenny Lewis, musician
Until Next time…
Now you know you only relax your body by relaxing your mind first. Where do you need to practice this skill besides when you go to sleep? How about with a family member or colleague? Just imagine how using this skill will empower you in your life!
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