I wrote this title more than a year ago when I was having huge difficulties falling asleep because my mind was racing and I couldn’t shut it off.
This is a common problem and that’s the typical solution. When our mind keeps us up for hours after we go to bed, we try to find ways to shut off our thoughts. We take sleep aids, we use substances to dull our mind, we try to distract it by counting, and we generally try to master it by force. If we’re trying to be nice, we sit back and observe the thoughts, sending them floating away in little clouds, reassuring ourselves that it’s okay to fail at meditation.
What if we calmed our mind by addressing its concerns? No I don’t mean by getting up and creating a budget to stay afloat financially, or calling a counselor to keep the relationship alive, or researching a cure to whatever ails us. Those are all great things to do — when wide awake and mentally alert. But it’s bedtime. How do we address the concerns of a tired, stressed out, cranky-from-lack-of-sleep mind?
Just like we address the concerns of a tired, scared child — by calmly and realistically reassuring them that they are safe. Don’t worry, we will always have food to eat and a place to stay — I’ll always make sure of that. I promise, I’ll look over our finances tomorrow to make sure we’re on track. We are safe, protected from the elements, snuggled with our puppers, alive in one of the safest places and times in human existence. We’re not going to die alone, unfound until the neighbors notice a stench — we have friends who care. In the morning we’ll make that doctor’s appointment we’ve been avoiding.
Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. Back up. You’re telling me the way to get to sleep is to dredge my worst fears up from the depths of my subconscious where I keep them firmly chained in the darkest cellar? Faced by the most horrible imaginable catastrophes, you think I’m going to drift off into peaceful rest, rather than end up folded over in fetal position sobbing?
Well, kinda, yeah, that’s what I’m saying. Your mind is trying to help you by finding solutions to your problems. But since you’re hiding the true root of the problems, your mind is thrashing around trying out every topic it can come up with to see if that is the key issue to address to create the reassurance you need to sleep. So, perhaps if you go ahead and bring up the true issues, then explain to yourself how these are fears of unlikely fates that you are actively doing your best to prevent (You are, right? If not, that’s a different post altogether.), then your mind can rest.
When a child cries in the dark because they are afraid of monsters, it doesn’t assuage their fears if you just yell at them that there are no monsters, go to sleep. If you take some time to address their fears, you might get better results. Let’s check the closet, let’s check under the bed. Let’s turn the lights on and off and back on and see that nothing changes. Let’s turn the light off and look in the closet and under the bed with a flash light. Let’s check the floors and walls and ceilings and see that there’s no way for a monster to get in. You are safe. I’ll tuck you in, kiss your forehead, and whisper calm, reassuring words — I’m right next door in the other room, you can give into your tired body and drift off to sleep.
If you’d do that for your fearful child, why not for your fearful inner child?