Start letting go of insomnia being an issue

Have you lain awake at night, unable to sleep, worrying, tossing and turning, keeping your partner awake, getting more and more churned up? If so, join the merry throng of people who have difficulties with sleep, insomnia.

Actually it’s huge today. According to the UK’s ONS, as many as 16 million UK adults are suffering from sleepless nights as a third (31%) say they have insomnia. Two thirds (67%) of UK adults suffer from disrupted sleep and nearly a quarter (23%) manage no more than five hours a night

In fact a pattern can set in. The more you find you don’t sleep at night, the more it seems to set up an expectation that you won’t sleep. So, guess what, self-fulfilling prophecy, no sleep. I meet masses of people who think they “must” have their 8 hours sleep, come what may (can be tough if you or your partner has a baby, by the way!)

The one thing medics say not to do is to worry that you “can’t sleep”, because that’s more likely to keep you awake. Yet, as worriers know, that’s easier said than done, and you finding that as you lie awake your mind immediately goes to “I can’t sleep again” and off you go, stuck in being wide awake.

Well, there are things that can be done (see below), and they don’t necessarily involve sleeping tablets, which tend to get a bit addictive, like a “prop”, and leave you feeling drowsy the next day.

Letting go of insomnia

One thing that people don’t tell you is that this idea that you “should” be asleep is a bit of a myth. We probably learned it early on in life when our parents wanted us to get off to sleep so that they could have “their” time or because they thought we “should”, that it was “good for you”. Yet people often don’t have regular sleep rhythms and can be awake in the night quite naturally.

The point is to change your relationship with the issue, by not making it an issue. There is something in all this about acceptance of what is. There is probably something else you could do while awake. A friend of mind does the Times crossword at night, not my thing (too much thinking), but it works for him. The words “let go” and “surrender” come to mind, surrendering to it, rather than having it be a drama.

Also there is something important in all this about consciously managing your state, which is what can be learned from developing the art of mindfulness. The key is to learn to manage the mind and learn to let go of unhelpful mental activity and re-focus. The yogis learned this  thousands of years ago and mindfulness practitioners teach others to do it today. It is for example a very good time to meditate, when the world is silent and still. A good time to know more of your inner place of stillness. Quietening the mind is often a very helpful route to having better sleep.

Try the Sleepio programme

For insomnia sufferers, here is a very good online CBT (and mindfulness) based programme to help you let go of insomnia. It’s scientifically-based, and comes strongly recommended, such as by the UK’s NHS. Click here.

In memory of a very special person

I was very sad to learn recently that a major inspiration in my life, a very special person, has just died of a heart attack. Graham Browne led a very powerful program, Turning Point, that I attended at a very low point in my life in 1989 and it was through the work that followed that a very rapid transformation occurred for me. Many people have come out of seemingly nowhere to confirm what this man, with his fellow teachers, has achieved for them too.

It’s one of those very big occasions when people sense another turning point. When someone important for us like this dies, or for comparison a present or past leader or other major figure, we are likely to be very impacted and to stop and think very seriously about what the person has meant for us. How many of us for example had a sense of a major transition when Princess Diana died? It’s about what that person meant for us.

In Graham’s case, he was for me a very charismatic workshop leader who had a rare capacity to facilitate people’s process in a group such that he could identify exactly what was their “growing edge” in their personal growth. It was a brilliant example of insightful coaching in a group situation, well before the term was commonly used. Except that Graham’s work was more like therapy than what we might conventionally call coaching, although there is no clear or agreed demarcation. Rather like Fitz Perls’ “hot seat” approach in Gestalt, the work he would do impacted not only the person concerned but the group as a whole. Such is the power of this kind of group work. It is as if this person’s journey is our journey too. It was through watching Graham work that I was inspired to change my career from teaching and learn what I now do. What I learned and what I do isn’t the same. Graham’s skill was arguably unique to Graham, as each of us has their own style and way of working, although he very successfully trained his successors in his approach. I went my own way, but what I’m saying here is that it was Graham’s work that got me thinking.

I want to stress that it is very important to watch others at work and see how they do things. NLP would call this modelling. In turn you might then go on to explore and use other ideas too. I went on to study Gestalt, which also powerfully uses “in the moment” processing.

Graham also worked with the group as a whole from a Transpersonal perspective, and without going into detail, he accessed a whole range of techniques to help people to get in touch with and release emotional blockages and learn more of their real potential and of who they really are. It was during one of those processes that he led, a guided visualisation, that I had a extremely powerful spiritual experience, and it was perhaps this that has stayed as the most powerful moment I had in working with Graham. I had the enormous sense of God’s love beaming down, a great big massive ball of deep gold, vibrating with energy, with great strands of energy powering out all around, beams coming on every side of me, and such that All there Was was this deep, unconditional love. Everything seemed to dissolve into this love.

What more is there to ask for?

I feel tearful now, in a very positive way, remembering that moment, which seemed to go on for ever.

Thus can people be gifts for us, angels that come, as they come in many forms, and so did Graham that day.

So I thank him from the bottom of my heart, a true gift, acting in pure service, unconditionally, in love, for so very many evidently very grateful people. What more could people ask for?

So, let’s just pause and remember the gift of our fellow humans, and perhaps for yourself bring to your mind some special person who has been of service to you or helped you in some powerfully positive way, and give thanks to them, and give your love to them.

Om shanti.

Being stuck in the past with unresolved grief

People can get such powerful upheavals in their lives that it can get very hard to move on as a result. They can be very stuck in the past, although it might not seem like that. The challenge can be very much about finding ways to let go of what happened, and bring it to completion so that they can free themselves up to move on.

A classic example of this is a bereavement, where someone might so miss, say, their dead partner that for years afterwards they feel unable to let go of the dead person. This might be such that they feel they cannot move on and meet and be with another. A famous example of this was of course Queen Victoria after the death of her beloved Prince Albert. Another, from literature, is Miss Havisham in Dickens’ “Great Expectations“, jilted on her wedding day, still in her wedding dress and keeping her wedding feast laid for a feast that never happened. At one level you might think, should they? Of course, it might work for them to be like this, and this brings up the important questions of it not being about what’s “right” but instead what serves them as individuals. Where this sort of matter becomes an issue is where the person concerned would like to move on, but feels unable to do so. It’s when they decide that it’s not OK for them.

Unfinished business

Such a stuckness is what we would call a fixed Gestalt, unfinished business, where there’s grieving to be done and a process of letting go to be gone through, which can include facing and working through the pain, and embracing the feelings that can come up. Very often people have felt unable to go through the full grieving process. However, each in their own time. It can take years to work this sort of stuff through, and sometimes people don’t really deal with their loss and their grief until years later. We need to be gentle with ourselves and let healing take its natural course. For others, they decide they aren’t going to let it hold them up and they take hold of an opportunity, in a manner of speaking, and allow the feelings to come up and be released.

It’s worth taking an inner look and asking ourselves what stuff from the past we’re holding on to, where we’re stuck in the past, what we’ve not let go of. Otherwise it’s held inside, in the body, and eats away inside us, a life put on hold, held in a freeze-frame in the past, incomplete, unfinished, and yet unfulfilled, like a perpetual sadness (and perhaps rage too), and a held-on-to perpetual sadness too.

Thus by being stuck in the past we can prevent ourselves from embracing all that life offers us in each and every moment, the joy of aliveness and the love of life. Yet it’s always there, for whenever we choose to let go and go and enjoy it. We hold the key. We can open the door from the inside, and step out, and be who we really are. When we choose.

When you’re totally and utterly stuck

Psychological growth can occur after periods of feeling stuck. When we’re stuck it’s as though we can’t see a way forward or a way out. We’ve still got the problem and it continues to get to us and be getting in the way of our life. In Gestalt terms, we have some awareness and but are immobilised at the point where we’re seeking options and choices as to what to do. Stuck phases can seem enormously frustrating, if not depressing, but can have great potential for positive results if embraced and treated as a challenge. We need to find a way to take action.

Physically it can feel like we’re rooted to the spot, weighed down, lacking fluidity and ease of movement. There can be a tendency to go round in circles, going over and over the problem or challenge as if that’s all there is. It’s very hard to see the bigger picture. We’re down in some hole.

I once had great help from a friend over being stuck, when he helped me visualise being stuck in one such hole. In working on it, I imagined going all around this hole till I knew it backwards, so to speak. He helped me think of what the sides were like and I realised the sides weren’t as high as I had imagined and that there were sticking out bits and roots that I could cling to so that I might be able to climb out. I then had to learn to believe I could climb out. We didn’t talk of him giving me a rope and pulling me up. This was about me getting out myself.

Taking responsibility and realising we have power over our situation, and then actively doing something about it that changes it are vital components. Yet it helps to reframe the perception of the situation and then to find options to use. Vitally though, we very often need to go back to our awareness and find what else we might become aware of but haven’t yet. Then once we’ve done that, there’s a much more powerful energy at our disposal. Then effort is needed, tapping into the energy, to make the changes that are needed, even dealing with the part of us that is reluctant, and resisting becoming aware and making the change. Often the resistant bit is about a part of us we’re not willing to recognise, embrace and change. The resistance and the clinging on to the old understandings helps keep the stuckness in place. It’s us ourselves that need to do something about this.

Being right is a value judgement, not an absolute

How often have you had a disagreement with somebody where you have felt sure you were right? Or how often have you been faced with a choice over what to do, and you’ve asked yourself what the right course of action should be? And how often have people told you what the right thing to do is?

This is worth thinking about. After all, humans have a long history of fighting over it. Apparently it was right, according to the British Prime Minister, to invade Iraq in 2003: “I am right”, he said. We are not so sure now.

In the past I used to tell myself, in the heat of a argument, that “I’m right”, and felt the full force of righteous indignation and blame towards another whom I perceived to be wrong. And all the time, it was not worth all the negative energy. It was more powerful, and served me better, to let go of the need to be righteous so as to open up a space where both needs could be met, or a different, healing solution could emerge. “Being right” hid that space from view. The still space between thoughts, where there is no anger, no thought, is the space of true creativity. Meditators know this. That is why they focus on the space between breaths. When we pause and let go, something else can take the place of conflict and “being right”. Mindfulness helps us know this.

Getting it right

In a previous life I worked for a headteacher whose favourite maxim was, “Get it right”. And that might have been said when someone, somewhere had definitely not got it right. When a team of professional people, say, are closely aligned, they probably have a very clear idea of what that might mean. We certainly did in that school. There were the very clearly articulated and agreed principles for action by which we made decisions about the good education of our students. So, in this respect, being right may be about living by an agreed set of ethical principles. It can be useful.

An absolute or an opinion?

But what about when there’s disagreement? Who is right? It may be an issue of fact: “I’m right because the facts say this”. The trouble with facts is that there is no universal agreement even on facts. Scientists tend to prefer the word “probability” to “fact”. We all agree to call something a bus and we all agree that that is what it looks like. But as we learn more about the mind and how it works, the more it appears that what is really happening is that we are actually applying a joint perception that something is as it is. So, in that case who is right?

The trouble is, people treat “being right” as some universal rule, when in fact it is their opinion.

The social consensus

Then there is the whole world of the social consensus. What is deemed “right” is actually the rules of social consensus. We apply rules to our society and judge people’s behaviour accordingly. Yes, we might need it to be like that so that the society can function. Except that, as we evolve to become higher order beings, even those rules become less necessary as we become more autonomous, self-responsible, totally respecting beings no longer needing external rules to guide us. We have our own.

So, when we react to someone who says, “That’s not right”, it is worth appreciating how much we’ve become self-responsible beings who more and more wish to make our own decisions. Because we are more and more connected with one another, what we decide is also totally appropriate for the other as it is for us. Or we can listen to others and discuss it with them, and agree together what is needed. In this emerging paradigm, managers no longer instruct their direct reports. It doesn’t motivate them. Instead they find it works better to agree it with them after seeking their involvement in the decision.

“Being right” smacks of parentalism, someone older, better (who says?), wiser, more knowledgeable. In that paradigm, you are told what you “should” or “should not” do. Right away this slips into a right/wrong polarity of thinking, with judgement and blame not far behind. In the new paradigm, we seek to step above judgement. Here, each makes his or her own choices. As connected beings we are at once totally respecting of our need to make our own choices in life, and to respect the choices of others.

A legacy of a paternalistic age

“Being right” can take us into the thinking of fundamentalism, where one belief system is deemed right and all others relegated to eternal damnation. It is fascinating for me how many of us today are having a problem with this world-view. This is probably one of the most powerful inheritances from our common past, embedded deep in our consciousness from past ages, where religious and social systems enforced principles of behaviour on a God-fearing population. According to Spiral Dynamics, we are evolving fast away from that thinking and are poised to move en-masse to a far more respectful and inclusive, world-centric way of seeing things.

So, it is always worth pausing when you come across the word “right”. It can be useful, as in human rights, but it can also be an inheritance from a paternalistic age which no longer serves us. And you may be outgrowing it yourself. What would be a more growthful way of seeing the situation? Right/wrong thinking may also no longer serve you as an individual. Consider asking yourself instead, “Is this what I am choosing right now?” “Is this what I want right now?” “Will this serve me right now?” “Is this what I am seeking to create right now?” Here you can step into a far more empowering way of perceiving.

And, when you react to a perceived transgression by someone else, you can instead of leaping to judgement become aware of your feelings, take responsibility for them, let them go and see what other more creative possibility may exist.