Treating insomnia has to come from many different angles. Connecting with your inner world is an often forgotten component.
You are the culmination of a vast number of experiences, memories, history, and so much more. But how often do you create space to truly connect with yourself to ask “how are you?”. When it comes to treating insomnia, this is often a forgotten facet of recovery.
Sometimes we go through the weeks, months, or even years without stopping to take a genuine interest in our own experience. We become complacent in our own lives. In doing so, we forget that we need to analyse, without undermining nor exasperating, how our experience has been and how to process it.
The default mode is that we think we just need to “let things go” or “move on” without much thought. Or we think something that has happened is unimportant to us simply because we think it should be. But it really isn’t.
Those thoughts and feelings, especially recurring ones that cause you even a slight bit of discomfort, need to be listened to. They just want to be seen and heard, even if they seem silly or inconsequential.
Our life is like a golden thread being woven through a rich and complicated tapestry that isn’t completely of our own making.
Surely, a lot of it is what we created. We chose what we’re going to do, and where we’re going to be, and how we’re going to go about it. However, there’s a lot that shaped us that’s outside of our control, like the time and place of our birth. There are the people you’ve come across who have affected you in one way or another. There are your parents. And don’t forget the significant events that changed your life. These have all shifted your sense of self in some way or another, for better or worse.
But that golden thread is still there. Our true self is never lost. But sometimes past issues can color unrelated experiences that occur later. It’s strange and magnificent to think of how intertwined our whole being is. Not only our minds and bodies, but how we connect to ourselves through time and space. And sometimes you have to consciously reach for that golden thread lest you get lost in the fray.
The goal here is to neither suppress nor exaggerate your thoughts and emotions. They are simply there. And they want to be acknowledged. Here’s a few ways you can do that.
Philosophical Meditation – Treating Insomnia with a Head-On Approach
The School of Life proposed the idea of philosophical meditation. I find it rather interesting, and I thought it may be helpful to you in treating insomnia.
Essentially we get so caught up in our own lives, thoughts, and emotions, that it’s quite difficult to keep up. So they pile on top of each other to the point where it turns into a sort of static electricity of anxiety running in the background.
It doesn’t have to be anything major either. It can be things like keeping a mental checklist of all you have to do in your life. Or it could be a niggling little sensation that the conversation you had with your coworker had some undertones you’re not comfortable with. Or perhaps you’re unconsciously anxious about things you can’t control, like what the weather will be tomorrow.
Instead of doing a traditional meditation where you try to calm your mind, philosophical meditation seeks to confront everything that makes you anxious, upset, and excited. Because once you acknowledge all the inner workings of your mind, a clear picture starts to emerge. And the more you acknowledge these unhelpful thoughts and beliefs, the clearer the image becomes. And the less power they’ll have over you.
You can watch the video here on how to perform philosophical meditation: Philosophical Meditation – YouTube
What Makes You Mad
This is different from what I just touched on in philosophical meditation. Philosophical meditation focuses on the micro issues of your life. What I’m talking about here is what makes you mad on a macro level.
Maybe it’s a particular environmental issue, like salmon farming or local litter. Maybe it’s animal rights and veganism, or children on display for the whole world on youtube. Or in this political climate (at least in North America), a particular social or political issue.
Whatever the case, you need to acknowledge the deep discomfort while treating insomnia. And not in a “doom scroll” kind of way, but in a “take action” kind of way.
I will touch more on this in week 5. But in today’s world, where the line between real life and online life is blurred, I think it’s important to take measures to do your part.
Talk to Your Thoughts
It seems those with chronic insomnia take their thoughts too seriously. When treating insomnia, you need to imagine yourself sitting across the table from your thoughts (again you can give them names or physical forms). When they’re sitting across from you saying whatever it is they say, ask this thought why. Why do they think that about you?
When they give a response, ask them why again. The first answer is usually just a strawman you create in your mind based on those unhelpful pathways you formed long ago. So push ‘em to the side a bit here.
This second response may seem almost as strong as the first, so ask why yet again. You’ll find that the more you drill down into these unhelpful thoughts, the more you’ll see that they don’t have a leg to stand on. They may have even been put there by other people in your life because of THEIR insecurities and judgements about themselves.
Or perhaps you’ll find that some thoughts are signals to take something about yourself more seriously. The answer may be sobering when you ask “why”. Maybe you haven’t fully dealt with whatever life threw at you. Maybe a boundary was crossed and you need to acknowledge it. Or you need to reassess a value.
So question your thoughts ruthlessly, and ask them “why” at least three times.
A body scan is when you go through your whole body, part by part, and acknowledge what’s going on there without trying to actively change it. It may sound a lot like progression or passive muscle relaxation, but the goal with a body scan is to simply be with your body and breathe. Focus on each part and breathe “into” each individual muscle or organ a few times.
This relates back to the mind-body connection where you notice the areas you are holding in tension. So the goal here is to breathe in “calm” and breathe out “tension”. I personally like to light a candle or open a window to get a sense that the tension I am “releasing” has somewhere to go. There are many guided body scan meditations on both YouTube and Insight Timer.
Immerse Yourself in Nature – Treating Insomnia Through a Forest Bath
Getting out in nature has countless health benefits including lowering your blood pressure, enhancing immune system function, and reducing anxiety. One study with nearly 20,000 participants showed that spending at least 2 hours per week in nature showed a substantial benefit for physical and mental wellbeing1. Another showed that having access to green spaces in cities increases life expectancy2. There are another 1,000 studies that prove the benefits of immersion in nature3.
In other words, when we spend time in nature, we strip away all that excess mind-junk swirling around us and get back to the core of who we really are. So go ahead and take a forest bath. Feel the regenerative effects and connect with your authentic being.
Be a Kid For a Day
When was the last time you went wherever the wind took you? Really think of the sort of day you had when you were a carefree kid. When school was out for the summer and you had the whole day ahead of you.
Create that day for yourself. Eat the sugary cereal, wander aimlessly around your neighbourhood, play some vintage games. Throw in some adult indulgences too if you want because, hey, you’re a kid for a day but not an actual kid.
Let your own desires guide you, and let everything wait for tomorrow. It may reveal a fun part of yourself that you need to nurture more.
Uncover Unconscious Thoughts
The unconscious mind is crucial to how we interact with ourselves, other people, and the world at large. While it was believed to play a lesser “shadow” part of our being for centuries, the unconscious mind has been shown to be just as complex, deliberate, and perceptive as our conscious counterpart4. The current research is split into two ideologies – the New Look research, where “the person did not intend to engage in the process and was unaware of it; [and]…skill-acquisition research,[where] the person did intend to engage in the process, which, once started, was capable of running off without need of conscious guidance.”5.
Research still needs to be done (from what I can see, anyway) to fully understand the unconscious mind. However, I do believe there are ways that you can access your inner workings.
Dreams – A Double Edged Sword for Treating Insomnia
This is always fun to say to someone currently experiencing insomnia. But when you DO fall asleep, I want you to pay attention to your dreams.
Freud believed that the dreams were the “royal road” to the unconscious6. He thought that dreams contained your hidden fears, desires, and feelings. More recently, researchers have hypothesized that dreams consolidate memories, process emotions, express true desires, and/or gain practice confronting potential dangers. However, we have yet to get a conclusive answer on why we actually dream7.
With that being said, I’m personally a big believer that our dreams offer insight into our subconscious mind. It’s a window into what hasn’t quite materialized into our consciousness, or what we haven’t processed yet. I truly believe in the universality of archetypes in dreams. And it is the reason why so many people have had the same dreams of teeth falling out, being chased, or flying.
When you wake up, try to remember, and even write down, all of the details including seemingly inconsequential things. Look up every detail in a dream dictionary (there are several available online) to put together a full picture of what may need your attention in waking life.
Your conscious mind is logical and capable of expressing itself through words, writing, and language. The subconscious, however, is free from the constraints of language and expresses itself through imagery, music, and sounds. That’s why artistic pursuits, like playing an instrument, creating art, and other forms of self expression, can make you feel like you are opening up a side of yourself that feels oddly familiar yet rarely seen.
Creativity doesn’t have to be defined by one domain or another, either. For example, some people express themselves through cooking or baking. Others express themselves through building things or decorating their home. However you do it, you tune into an authentic part of yourself that seeks to be seen and heard. And when it comes treating insomnia, this is a vital key.
📍 Quest #2
There are many methods to connect to your emotional self. This week, I want you to pick one of the above ways to help clear up some mind gunk that has inadvertently blocked you from sleeping.