My pounding heart woke me up. My mind was a rabid squirrel running laps around me.
I forgot to call that person. I still need to finish that chapter. I need to email that person back. Oh shit, I forgot to post that link. Did I ever get the confirmation for that event? I need to remember to ask my assistant to remind me to do that. I'm not going to remember all of this. I'm fucking this all up. I shouldn't have even tried. What was I thinking? I just want to run away. This is too much. I just can't do this.
It was 1:18 in the morning and waves of panic and dread were pulling me under, into the darkness, into that inky insomniac blackness of helplessness.
I wrestled with my mind. I tried to fix every problem that my mind was offering up. I twisted and turned in my bed. I threw the covers off of me and then got too cold and put them back on. I adjusted my pillows. I counted breaths. I prayed. I smoothed out my sheets. I got up and had a glass of water. I laid back down. I turned on Netflix and then turned it back off. But nothing could calm the stormy sea in side of me. At 1:18 in the morning, everything seemed bad. Everything seemed horribly frightening. Everything seemed out of control. And any attempt at peace just seemed to increase my anxiety, fuel my panic and feed the raging sense of shame that overwhelmed me.
I've been here before. This used to be the way I lived every night. I had chronic insomnia for four years. I'd fall asleep at 10ish and wake up at 1:30 like clockwork to the madness of my mind and a pervasive sense of doom and despair. I went to acupuncture, chiropractors, doctors, therapists and naturopaths to get help for my insomnia, but none succeeded.
By 2:45, I'd finally had it. I sat up and said out loud to myself, "This has got to stop. You're a freaking coach, you help people with this kind of stuff every day. What would you tell your client to do right now?"
That's when I remembered that I had a cure for insomnia (duh): a tool called The Work. The Work is comprised of four questions and a turnaround and it's a powerful meditation for thought inquiry. It helps a spinning mind find a center of focus. It simply starts with looking at one stressful sentence.
I laid there with a beehive in my head and tried to follow just one thought from start to finish. My body started to calm down, my heart slowed its pace, and I distinctly heard, "I can't do this."
Is that true?
Yes, yes, that's true. I definitely can't do all of this.
Can you absolutely know it's true?
Um, I guess not absolutely. There's a possibility that I can do it. I am doing it so far. I don't know if I'll be able to continue doing this.
How do you react when you believe this thought?
I wake up at 1:18 freaking out. I can't sleep. I'm afraid. I'm panicked. I feel ashamed. I feel helpless. I want to run away.
Who would you be without this thought?
I'd be a woman laying in her bed. I'd just be doing what I'm doing. I wouldn't be worrying and I'd probably be sleeping.
Turn it around.
This is where you take the original thought and you find something that is even more true. I tried, "I can do this" but that seemed fraudulent.
And then I found, "I don't have to do this by myself."
I realized, at 3:15 in the morning, I had fallen for the oldest trick in the book, the old lie that I'm alone and separate in this world. I don't have to do this by myself. This felt like rock bottom truth. I really don't have to do this by myself. I've got my family, God, my friends, my students, my colleagues and I've got you, my readers. You support me and I support you. I'm not supposed to do this all by myself. None of us are.
Immediately, the panic, doom, anxiety and fear washed back out to where they came from. My shoulders softened, my neck lengthened and every part of my body felt heavy with sleep. My mind had found something stable and true to balance on. My heart had found something kind and true to open to. My body, no longer in a state of panic, felt safe and secure. And I slept.
Somedays are better than other days and sometimes, no matter how practiced we are as yogis, meditation students, or spiritual athletes, we slide back into our old habits. The goal isn't to have a perfectly trained mind and spiritual discipline, the goal is simply to pick yourself back up when you fall.
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