My body would be exhausted, but my mind was reeling a mile a minute. I knew that I was tired and sleepy, but I just could not go to sleep. It seemed like the harder I tried to sleep, the more awake I became. That is to say, the more active my mind became.
In an article entitled “Insomnia” and written by the Mayo Clinic staff, 2012, one can see that there are three main causes of insomnia. They are: stress, anxiety, and depression. I had all of the above.
Many things have I tried to cure my insomnia. I have tried reading a book, drinking warm milk, exercising, taking sleeping pills, and even taking the controversial melatonin. I cut out things that would keep me awake, like: caffeine, nicotine, and spicy food. No matter what I tried, it did not really work. For instance, exercising, reading and drinking warm milk did not work for me. While drugs worked, I always awoke feeling lethargic and like my body had just been thrown under a bus. Taking drugs to get sleep takes its toll on the body. I do not recommend them.
Amazingly, I finally found a cure for my insomnia at the most unbelievably place, and I'm pretty sure that it will work for anyone.
Did I go to a hospital? No.
Did I go to an alternative medical facility? No.
Did I see a sleep therapist? No.
The truth is I was not even looking for the cure when I found it. Where was I? I was at a Buddhist Temple. That's right, a Buddhist temple. I had been attending meditation sessions each Sunday to learn the Zen way of meditation. Every time the monk would say, “Now everyone, please begin Zen meditation,” I would inevitably fall asleep. One time I started snoring so loud that I woke myself up. I was so embarrassed. Another time, I fell over during the meditation. A few people saw me. Again, I was so embarrassed. At first, I did not see it as a cure for my insomnia. It was just embarrassing. I blamed my insomnia for my lack of ability to stay awake during Zen meditation.
One sleepless night, I lay on the bed thinking, “Why is it that I can sleep during Zen meditation, but I can not sleep now?” Then, it hit me. Zen meditation was the insomniac's medication. From that point forward I have always done Zen meditation before going to sleep. And, it works every time, except when there is a physical reason for my insomnia, such as too much caffeine, too much nicotine, or too much spicy food.
As aforementioned, the three main causes for insomnia are: stress, anxiety, and depression. All of those are mental problems; Not physical problems. Keeping that in mind, does it not seem strange that we would treat mental problems with drugs that affect the physical body? Does it not seem logical that we would solve mental problems with mental solutions? Zen meditation may not be the only way to solve the problem, but it is surely works.
So, what is Zen mediation exactly?
Ironically, Zen meditation is the opposite of normal meditation, and there before “meditation” is a mega-misnomer. In fact, Zen meditation is not meditation at all. So, why is it called “meditation”? My guess is because from an outsider's point of view, it looks like the Zen practitioner is meditating. Also, there is no word in the English language for the behavior. It is incumbent upon me, therefore, for the purposes of this article to coin a new term. I shall call the behavior: “Vacuuming the Mind”.
For the purposes of this article, 'Vacuuming the Mind' is the act of making one's mind vacant. It is the process by which one eradicates all thinking from the mind. Zen Buddhists call the state of having a vacant mind: “Empty Mind.” It takes practice to acquire the state of “Empty Mind,” but here are some techniques that may help.
(1) Firstly, one needs to relax all the muscles in his / her body. Generally, when one lies down, his / her body is tense. The individual may think that he / she is relaxed, but he / she really is not. It is suggested that one take each body part one by one, usually starting from the head. Tense all the muscles in your head and face for a few seconds, then relax them completely. After that, tense the muscles in your neck, then relax them completely. Work your way down the body, until you are completely relaxed. When you become well-practiced, you will be able to relax your whole body in a matter of seconds. Yet, what does this have to do with vacuuming the mind? Well, by focusing on relaxing your muscles, you are not thinking about all the things that give you stress, anxiety, and / or depression. You are eliminating the malignant thoughts and replacing them with benign ones.
(2) For beginning Zen practitioners, Buddhist monks say, “Focus on your breathing.” This eliminates all random thoughts that go zipping through the practitioner's mind. If you are a beginner and you have trouble vacuuming your mind, try focusing on your breathing. Breathe slowly in and out. Use your diaphragm and not your intercostal muscles (rib muscles).
(3) After the breathing exercise, assuming it has not put you to sleep already, one could try the following mental exercise; it works really well for me. Close your eyes and visualize being in a movie theater, which is pitch black. Imagine that the screen is black. Pretend that you are waiting for the movie to begin. Inevitably, that does the trick for me. If not, there is one more thing you can try.
(4) In a dark room, as dark as possible, trying opening your eyes and focusing about two feet in front of your face. See what you can see! Occasionally, your eyelids will get very heavy. You will not be able to keep them open. Once your eyelids are shut, try step 3 once more. It should work this time.
In conclusion, good quality and sufficient quantity of sleep is important. All medical doctors would agree. And while they do not know exactly why we need sleep, it behooves us to attain it. Using medication is like putting water on your neighbor's house when your own house is on fire. We must treat the cause and not the symptoms. Say, “Goodbye” to drugs. If you are tired and want to sleep; just follow the steps above and you will be amazed at how fast you fall sleep. Also, your quality of sleep will be much better than if you were to take drugs. Pleasant Dreams!