After a solid month of unrelenting nocturnal wakefulness I realize that I’ve fogotten how to sleep. So I head to the library to re-educate myself.
I pick up a copy of Deepak Chopra’s slim book Restful Sleep. He says my Vata dosha, one of the three major energy centers in the body, is unbalanced. I need to get back in sync with my natural rhythms. To paraphrase: Get up by six every day before the sluggish Kapha energy sets in, and get to bed by ten before the energetic Pitta gains a foothold. Eat warm, soft foods, take hot baths, massage your limbs with warm sesame oil. And best of all: don’t get out of bed if you can’t sleep. Lie there, letting your body relax, and accept it.
All this time I was trying to give it the boot.
I set my alarm for six. I turn off the lights at ten. When Insomnia curls up next to me, whispering in my ear, I snake an arm around it and close my eyes. Then I start to drift off to sleep.
I start to drift off to sleep. I’m going to sleep!
I jerk awake.
Insomnia is sitting at the foot of the bed, watching.
I head back to the library.
I pick up a copy of Say Good Night to Insomnia. I practice changing my thoughts about sleep. The book says that as long as I get five-and-a-half hours, I’ve gotten my core sleep. You can function on core sleep, it reassures. If you can’t sleep, you will, eventually. The brain is programmed to obtain core sleep.
Every morning I fill out the sleep record. At the end of the week I evaluate my sleep patterns. I’m averaging four hours a night. That’s not core sleep. That’s the kind of sleep people get right before they go ballistic. I throw away the sleep records. I decide to stop focusing on insomnia.
I meditate instead.
I clear my mind and focus on my breathing and after several mornings of sitting I hear from somewhere deep inside:
Insomnia is a messenger.
I open my eyes and turn my head. Insomnia blinks at me from a dim corner of the room. I slit my gaze.
“What are you trying to tell me?”
“If you’re a messenger, what message are you trying to tell me?”
I sigh. I get off my meditation bench and sit on the bed and pat the mattress and wait for Insomnia to slink from the corner and perch next to me. “I’m listening,” I say. And I do.
After years and years of resisting this uninvited guest, this unwelcome state of being that arrived with suitcases and a U-Haul, I just…listen. And it says: “Let go.”
“You need to learn to let go.”
“All this time, hanging around, that’s all you’ve got to say?”
“You couldn’t have told me sooner? Like…twenty years ago?”
“You weren’t ready.”
“I wasn’t ready?”
“To let go.”
And that’s when I get it. The dead-end relationship, the core beliefs that don’t serve me well, the activities that distract me from my goals. Let go. Perfectionism, expectations, control. Let go. Staying awake at night when all I need to do is sleep. Let go.
“So that’s it.”
“At a sleep clinic.”
I don’t expect one. I’m alone in my room, imagining a conversation in my head. Insomnia isn’t a real person; I know that. But if it were and I checked under the bed the suitcases would still be there; and if I went outside and checked the driveway, the U-Haul, for now, would be gone.