By: Stuart White 09-07-2021


“If you can't sleep, then get up and do something instead of lying there and worrying. It's the worry that gets you, not the loss of sleep.”
― Dale Carnegie

Last night I found myself awake in the wee small hours of the morning. I am pacing up and down, irritated, angry, tired, frustrated (also hungry). I know darn well that I can’t solve anything in the middle of the night, early hours in this case, so I don’t know why insomnia happens to me and millions of others. With my thoughts, in the quiet of the house with the separateness that comes from being the only one awake and the absence of distractions, I feel alone and despondent. During the day, there are several things which I can do to control my thoughts, including taking direct action to address them. In the isolation of the night however it takes on a different feeling – somewhat overwhelming and inescapable.

I know that worry is future-based. I can fear the future and unknown (we mostly all do even if at a subconscious level) and can worry about what will happen to me, my family, my business, money, possessions, the country, the world, whatever. It’s mostly a waste of time and irrational (that’s why it feels better the next day). I also know that often worry is about resisting reality and not accepting what is happening around you. Somehow at 3 am, however, my inner voice, which is saying ‘surrender’, ‘what will be will be’ and any of all the other mantras I use to try and inch me nearer to nirvana, seems to fall on deaf ears. Learning to live a stress-free life and to be at peace is hard work – why do I feel that it shouldn’t be? As paradoxical as it may sound it takes a lot of hard work and discipline to be chilled. When you see a monk meditating in a cave (not that you are likely to but go with me on this one) I think they are actually working REALLY hard on being present and mindful.

I was advised once that when I have these periods of insomnia where there is worry involved or rumination, I must pay attention to the negative thoughts and let them know that my mind is not their home. I love that – ‘let them know that my mind is not their home’. When I observe the thoughts, my mind acts as a bouncer and tosses them out. As urban monk Dr. Bhante Saranapala says “ Turn the light on when the thieves that steal your happiness enter your mind, see them, watch them but do not feed or nourish them. Slowly as you watch them, they will begin to dwindle and go away.”  Easier in thought than deed and of course that didn’t come to me last night.  Those burglars put the kettle on, kicked back and taunted me  while I watched, seemingly powerless to evict them. 

What I failed to do in the middle of the night was to deeply ‘listen’ to what was going on. Between the pacing back and forth, audible sighs and opening and closing the fridge door (although resisting the temptation – but to be honest there was nothing nice) all I was doing was squashing my worry – wishing it away or ruminating. Not doing the healthy stuff which is what I would advise others to do or that which I know I am supposed to do!

Had I sat down to meditate I could have given myself the medicine I needed. There is a sickness inside us that sometimes makes us sit with the pain and feed into it.  Sitting down to meditate is not easy (sometimes you have to fight that ‘can’t be bothered’ feeling) — it takes time for the body to feel relaxed and without ‘pain’ for a sustained period. Pain is one of the most difficult obstacles to meditation. 

"When we feel pain, the mind can start racing, and the practice becomes difficult”, Saranapala says. “The obstacle becomes not just feeling the physical pain but the difficulty of facing the fear related to the pain. Facing the reality or truth about where our pain originates, is a major obstacle. When you sit with yourself in meditation, eventually you will have to address your pain and your fear or emotions. How long can you turn away? There is no escape. We may have accomplished many of the material successes in life, but for our peace of mind and our piece of happiness, we must first face what is inside." 
I read this the other day and found it really insightful.

“Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing. We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.”

 I had forgotten about that last night too.

Trying to control our propensity to worry about the future may be a lifelong goal. Learning to focus instead on what's happening right now, regardless of how difficult or infuriating it may be, rather than worrying about what might happen. Tonight, if it happens again, I am going to remember that like all who have come before me, I will one day be dead and given that sobering realization, I will, as Dale Carnegie wrote ‘stop worrying and start living’ and that will start with having a good nights sleep.