Sometimes our worries attack us most in the middle of the night…They can feel more powerful and overwhelming when we are most vulnerable or tired. Or feeling alone in the darkest hour of the night.
Usually when I wake up in the middle of the night, I try a bit to get back to sleep. Thankfully, I have learned to not spend too much time on trying (forcing) myself to fall back asleep these days, and now, after about only two minutes or so of “trying”, I offer myself some mindfulness practice instead.
My two favorite practices for middle of the night wakening are: to do a body scan or to do a 5 x 5 (noting five things in each of my five senses). I love these practices because they always work – well, almost always. I never complete them and within a short time I find myself having fallen back to sleep. I am aware that I have been paying attention to whatever I am present to; and not focusing unsuccessfully on the frustration of trying to sleep, so there’s room for my natural state of sleep to enter on its own.
And, if for some reason I don’t fall asleep but end up doing a longer period of mindfulness, I at least feel deeply rested and restored after my Mindfulness time and it’s meditative quality. It’s as if I have actually slept and replenished during that time.
Last night however, I woke up at 4 AM and could not get back to sleep. Instead I tossed and turned. I became aware of worries running through my head – over and over. I tried my usual mindfulness practices of a body scan, but couldn’t get past the top of my left foot (I had started with the bottom of the same foot) without my brain racing off again and again to the same repetitive worries. It seemed as if mindfulness was not ‘working’.
All of those worries were really things I could do nothing about – especially at that hour (an upcoming party I was hosting that I was nervous about; having to say something difficult to a person that I knew would upset them; wanting to be helpful to my friend and her upcoming super important job interview and my knowing she was really anxious about it; a relative’s emotional struggle with depression, etc.).
My repetitive worries were along the lines of: “What can I do about this terrible thing that will happen? Or that terrible thing?” “What if…?” “What if this goes wrong? Or that goes wrong?” “What if they disapprove of me?” “What’s wrong with me that I can’t be more helpful, figure it out or that I’m so worried?” “Why can’t I practice mindfulness?” “Why can’t I do it right?”…You know – all those unanswerable questions in the middle of the night that are tinged with self deprecation and only lead to more unanswered questions and relentless worries.
I ruminated as best I could (really well, actually); tried to get back to sleep; tried to do Mindfulness – nothing worked. At all.
Then I thought I would try something different – rather than condemning myself for not being able to do anything right at that time, I took each one of my worries and turned them into something positive that I wished for – a positive intention that would indeed be way more helpful than the perseverating worries I was gripped with, and sent those good wishes as loving kindness to the individuals I was worried about.…
- About the event I was hosting – “May I be calm; May I trust that I know how to have a nice party; May I give myself enough time to prep”…
- About saying something difficult: “May I be kind; May he have an open heart when we talk; May I be clear; May I not be hurtful; May I have grace”.…
- About my friend’s interview – “May she be rested; May she breathe before she starts; May she feel confident; May she be wise”…
- About my relative’s depression – “May he not suffer so much; May he experience kindness in his day; May he find a little motivation; May he have peace in his heart,” “May he know his own worthiness”, etc.
I actually did get through all of these blessings and feel great relief. I felt tremendous compassion for my loved ones and was able to feel compassion for myself for holding all these worries. I also felt I had actually done something about my worries and wasn’t just laying there helpless under their attack. I had a sense of agency. I noticed my heart softening as I considered with kindness each worry or person I was worried about and then my body softened as well. That was enough to lull me back to sleep. I was putting positive energy out into the universe – which is very helpful in and of itself, to the world we live in and I had calmed my own state of anxiousness. I used my worries to guide my intentions.
May your own relentless worries be relieved by your attention to the blessings available within them, and may you know peace in your heart as you share those with yourself and with important people in your life.
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