Ever had the sensation where your mind won’t shut up, but you need to go to sleep, but it won’t shut up, and you toss and turn, and the hours tick away and the more you yearn for sleep, the more things your mind keeps coming up with, to keep you awake.
Last night, as I was trying to sleep, my mind wouldn’t settle. Instead it carried on imaginary conversations with a person that is lying to me over a business matter. When it grew worn out on that issue, it would begin on something else equally annoying or terrifying.
It sorted and plotted and planned how to resolve increasingly difficult situations and the strategies became more convoluted, the consequences more dire. Insomnia loomed large. My jaw was tense, a headache began. It occurred to me that if I wasn’t able to sleep, I would never be able to hold a coherent conversation let alone come to some intelligent resolution on the matter, unless I got some sleep.
But I couldn’t sleep because my mind was trying to solve a puzzle.
Which is what any mind is designed to do. Except that it wasn’t actually doing anything helpful, it was just chewing its internal mechanisms to pieces and rendering itself, and me, useless for the next day.
You can’t solve a situation using the same thinking that got you into it in the first place. You can’t outthink thinking. You have to stop thinking. This is the wisdom I tipped into my poor mind, and wearily watched it eat that too.
Because I was by myself, I sat up, turned on the light and reached for my phone. Opening my Calm app, I chose a story and then snuggled back down. I hadn’t done this before, I didn’t know if it would work, but I was a bit desperate.
A woman began to tell me a story in a gentle melodic voice. She seemed sane, rational, a soothing motherly adult.
I willed myself to listen instead of thinking. I tuned into my curiosity, I told myself I could resume my puzzle, when I had listened to this one story. I became a child to sit with my child and hold her hand.
It seemingly took a long time of repeatedly bringing myself back to listening. Some part of me kept returning to narrating on the experience, I had to shut that voice down, and make it listen instead.
The story was on a half hour timer, so I didn’t have to worry about switching it off. I vaguely recall thinking that I wouldn’t go to sleep before it ended. But I must have. I woke up the next morning at my usual early bird hour well rested and refreshed. It worked!
My 90% rule holds steady. 90% of what we worry about is because we are tired children who need a good nights sleep. The problem is never as large as the amount of emotion we are expending on it. We just need to sleep.
Treating ourselves like children when we are behaving like one is necessary and kind. Would you become irritated with your child if they were anxious or fretful and couldn’t sleep, or would you do all that you could to gently help them?
I’m a bit shocked that allowing my phone to tell me a story helped me fall asleep. I guess it switched my mind from talking mode to listening mode, and that allowed it to relax enough to drift off.
I shared because I thought it might help other people who suffer with a talkative mind.
Why not let someone else tell the story sometimes? God knows I get tired of narrating this circus. It’s nice to know there is another storyteller I can call on when my own becomes tiresome.
Listening is a skill that many of us lack. The more creative our mind, the less we are able to switch it off talking, judging, creating and telling stories to ourselves. We assume, we hypothesise and we untangle everything around us according to what our inner narrator is making up. But in the end it is just a story we tell ourselves.
And mostly, it’s probably not true. It’s just our version of this life we are having. This is an automatic response, it’s human. How else are we to live except through our filters. Yet it concerns me because while my mind is leaping to conclusions and colouring pictures by numbers – how much am I missing?
What is truth and what is my rendition of the world around me, the people around me?
And even when I ask this question? Frustratingly I receive a perfectly filtered answer?
Can I be silent? Can I be present? Can I turn into a listener and what would I learn if instead of consuming information like a starving child, I sat with the depth of a vast lake who simply asked the question
And then waited, with all of my consciousness ready, none of it running off into the corners to judge, to speak, to assume. Instead stretched, from every corner, listening.
To listen is to absorb. When in meditation, with eyes closed, ears open, mind soft, steady, paying attention to the breath and not letting any particle of thought disturb the surface of the water of consciousness. It’s hideously difficult. There is a constant motion of waves across the lake. And within the difficulty of listening is an astonishment at just how noisy we are internally.
I return each morning to try, because I am prising my listening mind open, one meditation at a time.
PS I wrote this post two days ago, it appears after my earlier one this morning because of how it was scheduled (the earlier one was an off the cuff post after waking at the strange time of 3am) I listened to a story last night too, it’s becoming a habit. My husband is home tonight, hope he likes stories, he is used to my idiosyncrasies, but this might stretch him 😂
Header photo courtesy Lux Graves Unsplash