Those who experience the paralyzing effects of insomnia know what a tough ordeal it is to navigate on a daily basis. Similar to “a dry drunk’s” preoccupation with staying sober, “how to get enough sleep” becomes the thing we are focused on each day above all else. This continuous concern has an impact as well on,(how could it not), our direct environment. And in the course of my personal experience, I developed a tool that helped me to getting more of a grip on what used to be ‘my’ insomnia.
We may think of ourselves, of our person, as a single unit when in fact, with a little effort we can distinguish the various voices in our heads: the voice of reasoning, the inner critic and the voice that represents the fear of what others would think of us, to name but a few. There is also the voice of what I named our Early Childhood Survival Strategy. This is that part of us that we developed when we were still a toddler, a young child, and it helped us get our needs met. We tend to identify with that voice long beyond the time of its relevance.
Which of the two parts are causing sleeplessness? Is it the healthy natural part of our Self or the stagnating remainders from the past that are lingering in our memory?
Sleeping is a natural and health preserving process and I have come to understand that it isn’t my healthy Self that causes the insomnia. My true and authentic part is chipper and upbeat, and always up for undertaking something. It is in general positive. Its only problem is that its voice is not always loud enough to be heard.
Yes, the problem is that the voice of my real Self, and my personally developed opinions and criteria, is drowned out by the loud instructions of the Early Childhood Survival System that also prescribes a strict criteria for me to live by. When I was still a toddler or a young child I was intent on getting my needs met by my caregiver. My mistake as an adult is, however, that I still perceive these early learned instructions to be of life and death importance. I identify with them.
“What if I won’t succeed becoming the best mom ever so people will say…look at her, she raised her children well!”
“What if I don’t become the most helpful neighbor so people will say: look at her, you can always count on her.”
“What if I don’t become the most absolute animal lover ever, so people say: Look at her, her cats are so fond of her… no wonder ‘cause she is so good to them.”
“What if I won’t sleep and I have to be at this appointment at an early hour… People will think bad of me.”
We are so used to taking other people’s judgment and opinions into account and then presume that we might not be able to live up to them. I say “other people’s opinions,” but what we truly are doing is putting our early caregiver’s opinion right into the mouths of all the new people we encounter on our lives’ paths. We are unable to see them for who they are as themselves, pre-occupied as we are seeing them as another and wanting to comply to those conditions from our Early Childhood Survival System. Living up to those conditions is the one and only thing that makes us feel somewhat satisfied with ourselves. In short, this “Past-part” of us keeps us dependent on the outcome of our performance. To function properly and with whole health it is of utmost importance that we get rid of that addictive part in our Self that craves validation/acknowledgment.
How do we recognize from which part inside us a specific suggestion or advice comes from so we can appropriately ignore it. If we don’t know the source how are we to stop listening to the less helpful one while paying attention to the other?
Here is what in time worked for me. Imagine that your body and mind, “your system”, is ruled by two opposing forces: the one is your true self and the other one is the force of what is left of your Early Childhood Survival System. In truth this is the case and to illustrate this visualize the following. Think of these two forces as clouds that are continuously in motion throughout your system, exchanging places, colliding softly or violently and separating again. Pretty much like a bad weather condition in the sky, only you are containing the weather.
For the purpose of making it easier to identify those clouds imagine them to be distinctly different colors. Imagine your “True-Self-clouds” are green and the Early Childhood Survival Strategy clouds are red-bluish.
Now pick up that magic wand that you are handed and with a light touch and a clear intent touch this entanglement of clouds and immediately, “poof,” on our command, a shift takes place. The red – bluish clouds separate from the green ones so that there now are two groups: the green unit, which is our natural healthy and joyfully productive Self and the other unit which looks more like a big stain. This entity is ugly. It is forced – it is defensive, unforgiving and rock hard… It is the petrified version of what we were, once, long – long ago. This now solid body of dark distress specifically contain our childish conclusions, decisions and coping mechanisms that helped us to survive then but in our lives of today only stifle us and in the end and do us harm.
There is no more need to live up to these childish survival strategies, however well they used to serve us. We were kids then, time has moved on; our lives have changed, the setting is different now. We need our judgment of today and now to be alive and awake for us and the very first new rule is: let us not judge ourselves by the criteria of the red – bluish force. We now know that it is there and that it is trying to do its utmost best to stay in charge of our system but tell yourself that it is outdated!
We now know too that our healthy part, our true Self, tends to be overthrown by the unchallenged leadership of the old survival system. Now we need to be smart and find a way out of this.
I would say….let us quietly and gently start to make sure our healthy green part grows and becomes stronger. Let’s start simply by sensing where our healthy Self is still tangible: in our breathing – let’s zoom in on and become aware of the subtle presence of our body as the biggest representation of our Self – our legs – our five senses that allow us to look out in the world. Let’s open all of our Self up for the subtle experiences of a summer breeze on our warm, moist skin…and build up our true selves to be a strong true voice that we can hear.
This healthy part of our Self has to grow big and strong till there is no room anymore for the red – bluish part that shrinks and shrinks and shrinks until it is gone. Once we can sense our body in each present moment we then will know that each present moment doesn’t so much require us to take the action our part-from-the-past wants to make us believe. Once we have this skill, then we are the true rulers of our system. Now we are the masters of our lives and we are at the steering wheel of our own car so to speak!
Let us be gentle though, compassionate and understanding of the panic our red – bluish part will be in… After all it used to be US as well, a long time ago, and after all it was a survival strategy. It is not going to give up control easily…