Friday, 26 October 2012

An architect of troubled sleep?

In his excellent, humane and practical book "Depressive Illness: the curse of the strong," Dr Tim Cantopher warns sufferers (or any of us) about the various ways we can make it difficult for ourselves to get to sleep at night, and how to get round those sleep preventers.

My current sleep preventer is an old friend who has turned against me, and specialises in spiteful and abusive rhetoric. So of course I spend far too long running scripts, working out justifications and defences, and generally bothering myself up. Needless to say, all this hurt comes welling up at bedtime. I can't get to sleep.

You can't will yourself to go to sleep, can you? Worrying about not sleeping guarantees you won't sleep. So - what can mindfulness offer, how can being in the present moment help?

Firstly, the simple insight that what is troubling me at bedtime are thoughts - my thoughts, and nothing else. My ex-friend is not attacking me at that moment; the assault comes from the thoughts her actions have generated. There are no other events or phenomena at the time I cannot sleep - it's just thoughts.

Secondly, before I go to bed, a simple fifteen-minute meditation in front of an open fire or a candle (seems to help - beauty, reflections on changing states, awareness of transience, but mostly beauty.) Sit solidly, upright. Let the mind settle on the breathing. 

Bring the mind back to the breath, gently but firmly, when it starts running scripts. 

"And another thing - she said that I..." 

"Woa. Of course you feel these things, no blame, just get back to the breath.." 

It's the bringing back of the mind to the breath in the body that helps to create presentmomentness, so no self-criticism if thoughts wander, just return them. Meditation is a process, not a work of art.

Extend awareness to the whole body, sitting here, now, in front of this fire...and so on. (All a bit bald in text, but there are good CDs available to guide us in such meditations.)

Ten or fifteen minutes of this, and then slowly, deliberately and calmly to bed. Really works. She is no longer an architect of troubled sleep, and nor are my thoughts.

The other thing that works is at a common-sense level. Saying to myself three times each morning "she has behaved like a lying cruel cold-hearted piece of shit...."

Er - and then remembering that she's probably not in a happy state of being herself, or she wouldn't need to be so abusive. So - compassion, Gloria, compassion....grievances are an enemy of presentmomentness, stay in the now. Move on. She's an ex-friend, that's sad, too bad, you did what you could and it didn't work. So it goes. Acceptance.

Yup. That's better. 

But she's still behaved like a lying cold-hearted piece of shit.... 

Oh dear. It seems there are limits to mindful compassion; ex-friend may well have reached them. Final step - distance, calm, quiet. Let it all rest in the past. 

Goodbye, ex-friend. Go well. Without me.


  1. Annoying experiences, interesting thoughts though. Interesting that despite your best efforts of mindfulness the other voice in your head can't keep silent. As you say the thoughts are yours and they are in your head.

    "The robbed that smiles steals something from the thief"

    I've had a conversation with a client about this replaying of conversations. She was able to stop it by imagining (in a trance state) that she was pressing the record button on a tape recorder and recording over the thought with new thoughts.

    I'm sure mediation and hypnotherapy are parts of the same thing.

  2. I think you're right, Arkers, on the evidence of the recording-over technique. We were encouraged, in meditation, to bring our thoughts back to the present by seeing them as, say, leaves floating away on a stream. I preferred the scrumpling up and dumping in the bin that a Mac computer does if you delete a document. But I'm sure you are right in lots of other ways too.