Thursday, January 19, 2012

Waking up to Insomnia

As most of you know we are in the midst of moving back to Manitoba. It is a challenging time.  It gives my intention to be present for "what is" lots of practice - the waiting, the questions, and the "what ifs". Parts of me have been frustrated, angry and anxious and, not surprisingly, this has affected my sleep.  As I reflected on this I turned to an article on insomnia that I had written for the ARC "Presence and Possibility" magazine some time ago.  It reminded me about how I had dealt with insomnia in the past and helped me address my present situation.  I have found that simply breathing into the part of me who knows about being relaxed , and that soft, calm and warm feeling in my muscles and joints often short circuits my restlessness and allows me to drift off to peaceful sleep.  And when that doesn't happen, I just get up and sit with whatever is.

I know many of us, in our busy lives, struggle with bouts of insomnia, so I thought I'd share this story with you.

Insomnia, for me, has deep roots — a genetic predisposition compounded by my family history and years of wrestling this night-time demon.  As I worked through my ARC training, I realized that I had created a lot of drama around my insomnia and she had obliged by becoming bigger and stronger.  The more I resisted, the more powerful she became.  This insight inspired me to consider a new relationship.

Having learned to trust my own internal wisdom, I knew I had a choice about whether or not to remain hostage to my various parts. The decision to act on that choice, however, does not come easy.  It takes a determined commitment to personal growth and a desire to live a more authentic life.

So, as part of my commitment to myself I began to explore my insomnia, I decided that on nights when I was restless and knew that sleep was not coming I would get up.  I knew getting up would not be easy.  So, to make it as welcoming an option as possible I kept the lights low and made myself warm and cozy.  I allowed myself just to “be there” with what was — my wakefulness.  Sometimes I read or meditated, but mostly I simply rested.  Quite often I got sleepy and went back to bed where I drifted off to sleep. But, whether I went back to sleep or not, getting up when I couldn’t sleep proved to be much better than lying there twisting and turning.

Getting up when I couldn’t sleep not only short circuited my old patterns but simply  accepting being awake also enabled me to see things in a new way.  By looking at my insomnia with a new eye, and with a new name, “wakefulness,” things gradually shifted. I began to understand more about her. I know I am often awake because I’m excited — either about something that has happened or something that will happen.  I have come to realize that some of my favourite activities are quite stimulating, and not a good preparation for sleep.  I also learned that getting little sleep at night does not necessarily result in a “bad day”.  Surprisingly, I can often carry on quite well; not having a “good night’s sleep” isn’t the medical emergency I thought it was after all!

However, as I sat with my insomnia cum wakefulness I began to sense something deeper; a feeling of tightness throughout my body — a tightness holding on for all she was worth.  So, I followed that part for a while and asked a few questions.  How is it to feel this tightness?  How was it in the past to feel this tightness?  Were there times when I felt it more than others?

As I probed deeper I came to know my tightness for what she was — an anxiety that not only affected my sleep, but also undermined much of my day-to-day life.  So, once again following my commitment, I explored this anxious part.  How was it for this part to feel this way?   Where did anxiety learn to feel this way?  How would it be if this part were less tight?  As I gently listened to anxiety, it began to open up.  And, as it did, I discovered within myself a strong, almost overpowering need to look after things and to make everything work out okay for others.  No wonder I felt tight and anxious!  I was trying to hold everything together — for everyone!

This part who “needed to look after things” was hyper vigilant; it anticipated other’s needs and even took on their perceived emotions.  The anxiety which was attached to it was often so high that I would follow its directives and take immediate action on behalf of others without being asked — without finding out if this was something they wanted — without even considering my own personal costs.  As I came to know this part better I gradually began to regain my authority.  I realized that I was attempting to do the impossible.  I could never look after everything.  No amount of anxiety and vigilance could keep my family and others safe.  I could not hold everything together, and, in truth, I didn’t need to. 

As that reality sunk in anxiety started to loosen its hold and I began to feel very tired.  With that feeling, however, came a voice from the past who quickly identified this tired feeling as laziness — a big “no-no” in my family. Anxiety rushed back in, urging me to do something — anything.  I almost listened.  But now I was on to “anxiety”, so instead of doing as she wished; I simply acknowledged her presence and returned to spent time with the part who felt tired — to simply “be there” with her.  My acceptance of tiredness became so strong that one morning after a good night’s sleep I didn’t want to get up!

This was a totally new experience for me.  Yet, in line with my commitment to myself, I just lay there. And, once again, understanding came.  What I had been calling tiredness and sleepiness was really something else.  This soft, calm and warm feeling in my muscles and joints was what it felt like to be relaxed.  What a realization this was.  A part of me knew what it was to be “relaxed”!  For almost all my life this part had been buried — it had been in exile — I never even knew she existed!

I was euphoric.  I just basked in my relaxation.  For several weeks I was unwilling even to consider being anything but relaxed.  But, of course, honeymoons don’t last forever.  My anxious part did not really disappear.  What has changed, however, is my awareness.  Now I am much more attuned to anxiety’s presence and can respond to it more effectively.

As for my relaxed part, we are gradually building a trusting relationship.   It is wonderful the way I can depend on “relaxed” in moments when anxiety tries to gain the upper hand.  Simply connecting with my relaxed part, who knows how to be calm even in the midst of a storm, helps me to “be there” with my anxious part.

As for anxiety, we are also continuing to deepen our relationship.  I see how this part can act as a dependable barometer — one that signals the need to pay attention and to be present for what is really going on.  Feeling that anxiety, recognizing that something needs my attention and being able to approach it from a relaxed position is still relatively new to me.  But it feels right.  I feel empowered.

From insomnia to wakefulness; through anxiety to finding relaxation…the journey of authenticity continues.