A friend visits from Los Angeles two or three times a year. Often when he’s here, the topic of sleeplessness creeps into conversation. Last time, I invited him to tell me about it.
“I have no problem falling asleep,” he said. That’s understandable. He’s one of the hardest working people I know. At day’s end, he’s exhausted. “But after a couple hours, I wake up and can’t go back to sleep. My thoughts are racing with things I have to do or problems or creative ideas. I can’t stop thinking. My mind is spinning like a, like a…”
“Drunken monkey?” I offer.
“Yes, exactly, like a drunken monkey.”
Monkey Time My pal isn’t alone. Half of all Americans report sleep difficulties. The Centers for Disease Control, our reliable CDC, labeled it a “public health epidemic.” Chronic insomnia has reached record proportions. Insomnia presents in many different ways but almost always, that racing mind, uncontrolled thoughts, that “drunken monkey” is at the bottom of things. How does the monkey get that way? Better yet, how can we send him back to the zoo?
I told my friend to give me a call when he’s ready to change it. There are some pretty obvious and simple steps one can take because the undisciplined, untrained mind really does serve as home to that monkey and is at the core of sleeplessness. Many things drunken the monkey.
Prescription Drugs Pharmaceutical drugs are almost always the first thing I look at when I seek to understand a person’s unnatural behavior or experiences. An insane 70 percent of Americans are on prescription drugs. And guess what? All ten of the top ten most-prescribed drugs list insomnia as a side effect. That means my friend, who has told me he takes blood pressure meds, acid reflux meds and cholesterol meds is going to bed with a drug-induced handicap right off the bat. Here’s how the American mindset works: My friend visited last holiday season and we stopped at M’s for lunch. His next stop was the drugstore. “I have to get some acid reflux meds because I’m going to a big dinner tonight and I know I’ll eat a bunch of prime rib and stuff so I want to be prepared.” Uh, why not just forgo the gluttony and thus the drugs? “I love prime rib.” Let’s remember, in almost all cases there is a natural alternative to drugs.
Alcohol and caffeine The second thing I would curtail would be both caffeine and alcohol. That should be a no-brainer but we’ve already established that sleep deprivation can lead to fuzzy thinking. After eliminating the inebriates listed above, training that monkey-mind is the next obvious step.
Get proactive with meditation. I’ve been studying the mind and the creative use of thought energy since reading Our Friend the Atom at age nine. (See HeartlandHealing.com/atom). Then I studied with brujos in high school, did pre-med and C.U.M. Smith’s The Brain in college, A Course in Miracles since 1983, studying Neville Goddard, learning at the feet of Gil Boyne and Joseph Chilton Pearce (Evolution’s End, Crack in the Cosmic Egg) — the list goes on.
It wasn’t until I learned Transcendental Meditation that all that knowledge and understanding became experiential. Thirst is one thing. Leading a horse to water is vain until the horse actually drinks. With TM, I learned the monkey is mine to command.
Meditation works. It’s easy and it’s scientific. I leave the science to those who need it. Understanding through experience and non-analytical knowing is my preferred path. Seeing and expressing in metaphor and analogy is most valuable to me. That becomes how I know something makes sense.
Harmony in waves. We can measure brainwaves, like any kind of waves — radio, ocean, light, sound, etc. Thought waves emit characteristics that can be quantified. Without getting too didactic, those are wavelength, phase, amplitude, harmonic content, shape, frequency and velocity. These are what we can measure. They emerge from the thought generator, the mind. Meditation is a way to modulate those things. As my old pal Stephen Stills once said in the studio, “Turn down the meaning.” He even drew it out. Quieting the mind is a necessary step in life, as necessary as sleep, nourishment, air and water.
Like exercising, eating right and sleeping enough, the benefits of a natural action like meditation pay off, 24/7, during every minute of every day we live. Ha, and probably beyond that! The real benefit of going to the gym isn’t necessarily the hour we spend there lifting weights. It’s that the other 23 hours in the day are more productive, more harmonious, more clear, healthier. Since all things, and I mean all things, begin with mind, learning a method for the mind to be itself and rule its own domain is essential. That method is meditation.
Once my friend gets tired of pushing a shopping cart with wobbly wheels, I expect I’ll hear from him. Meanwhile, sleep, monkey, sleep.
Heartland Healing is a metaphysically based polemic describing alternatives to conventional methods of healing the body, mind and planet. It is provided as information and entertainment, certainly not medical advice. Important to remember and pass on to others: for a weekly dose of Heartland Healing, visit HeartlandHealing.com.