Saturday, April 30, 2011


You can learn useful things about yourself when you're lying awake in the middle of the night not doing anything. Things that might make a difference the next time you find yourself awake when you don't want to be.  For me, it's the most mentally chaotic state to be in--my mind pings from one scenario to another, and yet my body is still.

Or is it?  What I'm learning is that mind and body affect one another equally.  It's tempting to think that insomnia is all in the mind--that the body's at the mercy of the racing mind, and if I could just slow that down...Actually, I've noticed that when muscles tighten in my back or neck, my mind reacts, jumping around faster.

If I try to use the time to think about something, say, what to do with a certain  character in my novel, maybe get rid of him altogether, I can't concentrate worth squat.  When I really get going, I'm in one thought for about 3-5 seconds before popping to the next scenario.

It's interesting to observe yourself.  Don't try to get anywhere.  It's an experiment.  The nice thing is, this approach  lets you off the hook.  You don't have to accomplish anything; you don't have to get back to sleep or solve some thorny problem.
The night isn't really barren
I manage to relax one muscle in my back, and my mind quiets...just a little bit. Or I pay attention to my breath. The breath reveals where I'm tense, and being tense is okay.  Then I try breathing in a way that feels good in my body. But maybe I'm too worked up to pull that off.  Okay, so where does my body feel comfortable?  Oh, my feet are actually feeling happy there under the covers...

It's kind of enjoyable.  And I surprise myself.  I go back to sleep.
Or maybe I don't. Maybe the concentration lasts five minutes, and maybe the five minutes is chopped up between worrying.  That's okay. It's incremental.  Writing a novel is incremental.  Raising children takes a long time.  Learning to quiet down inside is a skill, and it takes practice.

And tomorrow night, maybe you'll sleep like a kitten.


Catherine Stine said...

NIce technique.
I tend to worry if I wake at 4 am (which I do a couple of times a week). I think it's my weakest time emotionally and physically. What helps me is to fire up my little kindle, which has a built-in book light, and read. After about 20 minutes of that, I can fall asleep again.

HelenQP said...

THat's my wakeup time, too! But let's not try texting each other. That early morning time is vulnerable. It's the hardest time to concentrate on anything positive. I have a new meditation technique I'm gonna try.

I don't read books because that would really wake me up. I'm glad it works for you. I guess it makes a difference what you read, though! maybe not the latest Osama bin Laden bio...(since there will be like 27 different ones coming out like next week, that's gonna be an option!).

Krissy Brady, Writer said...

Wonderful post! This is something that I struggle with on a regular basis. When there's a lot on my plate, I sleep terribly, which is ironic because when you have a lot going on is when you need the most rest. :)

I try my best now to listen to my body and mind and how they coordinate, since forcing myself to sleep just makes it worse, and there's a lot going on up there.

HelenQP said...

Krissy, thank you! It's tough how insomnia can kick in at the worst times. Meditation is teaching me to take a more dispassionate view of those times, and it can be quite interesting to watch the interplay between body, mind, and thought.

Nick Holt said...

I like the way meditation is seeping into your writing. Go, Buddha! I'm a practitioner of mindlessness, I mean mindfulness, too.

If I can't sleep, I go downstairs and pour a big orange juice with crushed ice in it. Then I mix in a lot of sweetener. That way, when I sip it, it is like having a huge orange popsicle. Maybe the associations with orange popsicle are what calms me down. Sounds gross, don't knock 'til you've tried! Works for me.

I think this is great and subtle writing. I see the content being almost perfectly reflected in the form, which really floats my boat. Meaning, that in the layout, style, and sequence of the writing, you demonstrate many or most of the things that are being written about!

To wit:
You start to try to solve a little problem. Then drop it. Then try a different problem later.

You have a little bit of free association, repetition, (i.e. incremental, incremental.) There are apparently involuntary interruptions in the writing flow.

You speak of your mind pinging from one scenario to another. Then (how cool!), the writing pings from one scenario to another. Later, the topic of flitting scenarios reappears.

You don't literally accomplish anything, except that you have had a medium good mindfulness "session". Or except maybe that you have created a masterful piece of writing. Of course, mindfulness neither requires nor does not require that anything be accomplished.

My opinion is that you should abruptly get rid of the character in the story, but only after fully developing him. That'll learn 'em all some impertinence, I mean impermanence!

As Chogyam Trungpa said, "Chaos should be regarded as extremely good news!"

HelenQP said...

Thanks, Nick! I think the notion that chaos should be regarded as good news is what's keeping me from sleeping well. I want someone to tell me how to get rid of chaos.

Oh, well.

Nick Holt said...

Trungpa has a book entitled "Orderly Chaos".....

HelenQP said...

I might need to read that one. Do you have it?

Nick Holt said...

Yes. A little rough sledding at first, then you get in its groove. I'll lend it to you for 30 days. Then...if it tickles gizzard, git yore own!

HelenQP said...

thanks, bring it on over--murphy can carry it in his mouth.