A flock of sheep that leisurely pass by
One after one; the sound of rain, and bees
Murmuring; the fall of rivers, winds and seas,
Smooth fields, white sheets of water, and pure sky –
I've thought of all by turns, and still I lie
– William Wordsworth, "To Sleep"
Have you ever struggled to let go of the cares of your day, to drift into the nurturing embrace of sleep? Most of us suffer from sleeplessness from time to time. Fighting to enter the gateway of sleep is one of the most exasperating and unfortunately common tortures that most of us endure.
Sleep is a symptom that invites you to explore what your mind is having difficulties dealing with. Paradoxically, when we pick and poke at the thoughts and feelings that plague our attention when we lay our heads to rest on our pillow, the pursuit of sleep has the same results as when we chase our shadow. The balm of sleep continues its tantalizing and frustrating evasion of our of grasp.
Insomnia … will nourish itself on any kind of thinking, including thinking about not thinking.
– Clifton Fadiman
Clearly, when you are worried about your job performance or about keeping your job or about your relationships or about whatever, the worries create a stormy sea that bars you from the distant shore of a restful night. We cannot shut off thinking by thinking about what is bothering us. We cannot shut off thinking by deliberately NOT thinking about what is bothering us.
A ruffled mind makes a restless pillow.
– Charlotte Bronte
You might explore this in your waking state by simply not thinking about a purple camel. As soon as we set our minds to NOT thinking about something, our mind does exactly the opposite. The way to let go of a purple camel is to think about a cuddly kitten, a beautiful sunset or anything other than the camel.
While this may help you release a particular worry, it may not set your mind sufficiently at rest so that you can drift off to sleep. When you have started poking about in the 'Worry' files of your mental and emotional filing cabinets, there seem to be no end of items that will fester their way into your awareness.
This is the challenge of the insomniac.
Don't fight with the pillow, but lay down your head
And kick every worriment out of the bed.
– Edmund Vance Cooke
So we count benign, unworried sheep; we divert our minds and emotions to file drawers with pleasanter contents. With sufficient persistence this will often allow you to drift off to sleep. Even so, you may have to wander across hill and dale with your sheep before your mind drifts off into the release of slumber.
And sometimes your mind perversely pursues your worries through restless dreams and nightmares … which may wake you … and then you're back to the starting gate with your sheep …
There are twelve hours in the day, and above fifty in the night.
– Marie de Rabutin-Chantal
Conventional medicine and the pharmaceutical companies can help with varieties of sleeping pills and potions. The problems with these are that often they may have unpleasant side effects; they carry dangers of habituating or addicting us; and in some cases may even cause fatalities. There are also natural products such as melatonin that can help with insomnia. None of these, however, cure the problems that underlie our insomnia.
Inviting the insomnia to speak to us
Any change in our life, any symptom – be it insomnia, pain or anxiety of any sort – is an invitation to learn something about our life. Most often, our inner self will give us answers to the questions we pose to it.
Insomnia invites us to explore:
– What is going on in our life that the insomnia wants us to pay attention to?
– What do we say to ourselves when we're lying there, struggling with sleeplessness?
– What was going on in our life when we first started having sleep issues?
– When have we suffered from insomnia earlier in our life?
If the insomnia is pointing to stressful or traumatic issues in the past, it may be inviting us to clear the emotions we buried when we suffered these unpleasant experiences.
WHEE: Whole Health – Easily and Effectively is an incredibly easy, quick, yet deeply transformative way for releasing old traumas like these. WHEE helps you explore the traumas and to let them go, often within minutes.
WHEE guides you to create personalized affirmation, combined with alternating tapping on the right and left sides of your body. This is usually all that is required. Once these buried memories and emotions are emptied from the file drawers where we stashed them away (to avoid suffering), then the insomnia has done its job. When we listen to what our insomnia is telling us, the insomnia will usually lighten, lessen or stop. It may be that simple, even when we have struggled with sleeplessness for months and years.
Example: Theresa was a single mom, working as a nursing aide in a clinic to support her two young children. Though she struggled to get by on her limited alimony and earnings, she was happy to see her children growing and developing into lovely young people.
For no reason that she could identify, Theresa started having difficulties sleeping. At first it was hard to fall asleep; then she would also wake up at two or three in the morning and couldn't return to sleep for several hours. Her insomnia was marked by vague, obsessive anxieties about anything and everything that was going on in her life.
Theresa was not happy taking sleeping pills, because her daughter had asthma and she was afraid she might sleep through an asthmatic attack that she knew from her nursing work could even be fatal. But without a sleeping pill, she found herself dragging through the day, and became anxious on top of being tired because she started to make mistakes in her work due to weariness.
When she started to drink whiskey to help her fall asleep, and found herself on the slippery road of needing increasing doses, she came for a WHEE session. WHEE: Whole Health – Easily and Effectively is a self-treatment method that is simple to use and easily learned. Within minutes it can reduce stress, distress, and physical or psychological pains, even when these have been present for long periods. WHEE also works wonderfully well for insomnia.
The first step was to take a life history. Often, there are traumatic experiences earlier in people lives that cannot be processed at the time of the distressing event. Most commonly, people swallow down their feelings and put them outside their conscious awareness. While this works well to relieve tensions at the time, it leaves them vulnerable to eruptions of emotions later in life. So, as Theresa shared her story, I put arrows in my notes next to particular items for possible WHEE interventions.
A prominent arrow pointed to this item: Theresa had been a cherished, only child. Her parents simply doted on her and loved to spend time with her. It was only when she had her own first child that her mother revealed that Theresa had had a sister, born several years prior to her own birth, who had died of unknown causes, diagnosed as 'crib death.'
The second step was to invite Theresa to talk to her insomnia, asking it what it wanted her to know about her life. It told her that she needed to clear some old worries that were festering in inner 'file drawers' she had locked, years earlier. Theresa drew a blank in response to this message.
I invited her to use the next part of the WHEE process, which is to tap on the left and right sides of her body while reciting a general affirmation about her anxieties about falling asleep. These anxieties decreased in intensity from an 8 to a 5 (on a scale of 0 to 10) but refused to diminish further.
I asked whether Theresa had any anxieties about her daughter (her second child) dying, like her older sister had died. She burst into a flood of tears, recalling how she had slept very lightly and restlessly during her daughter's infancy.
She then realized that her insomnia had started after she attended to a girl in the clinic who had been rushed to the emergency room the night before, due to an asthmatic attack. This had triggered Theresa's anxiety about her daughter's asthma, and that anxiety 'sat in the same file drawer with her memories of her mother's story about the death of her older sister.
Once we had identified these specific anxieties, Theresa was able to use personalized affirmations along with the WHEE tapping to dissipate her anxieties. She was then also able to use WHEE to relax into sleep, and thus she cured her insomnia.
While this is a somewhat lengthy example, it illustrates how insomnia can very often be an invitation to clear issues that have been buried outside our conscious awareness. Once we do this, the insomnia abates – having completed its task.
May sleep envelop you as a bed sheet floating gently down, tickling your skin and removing every worry … Reminding you to consider only this moment.
– Jeb Dickerson