The Other Side Of The Dark

This one’s disjointed. I’m all over the place. One thing leading to another & a couple of tangents / detours along the way… But I’m hitting “Publish” anyway cause even if I’m not done structuring it, I’ve essentially said my bit & am already on the next one in my head. Once posted, I can figure out the next without any lingering residual thoughts about this.

I’m putting forth – a bit of science, few facts, references, several quotes with a song, some frustration & rants – all about a problem without any foreseeable solution & in the end – equating it all to something quite possibly unrelated. (I’ve actually crafted an original quote – stumbled upon it accidentally – Just a grand sounding line that looked good in a “Quote” format & required no edit or change. I immediately knew that I’ll reuse this again several times…)

In short – it’s all there. This is exactly how a standard typical conversation with me (minus a couple of F* bombs thrown in for good measure) would go… Preferably – over coffee or beer…

I casually mentioned to a friend that I haven’t slept for a couple of days. It was a simple stating of a fact. Like – I missed my coffee today. Or skipped the workout. Not a complaint. Not an issue. Not looking for suggestions, solutions or advice. Just a statement…

But (just as I’m guilty of offering unwanted advice several times) obviously with good intentions, he suggested I try everything from changing my lifestyle completely to limiting screen time & practicing mindful meditation to combat insomnia.

Going off topic – sometime, somewhere in an article or a conversation, I came across this notion that when women speak with men, they’re just sharing stuff & want to be heard. They’re not always looking for solutions. And, men being men – almost always offer advice because they’re sort of “fixers” – not good listeners.

I wonder why that was so specific in its attributes for women & men….

Where I’m concerned – I see conformity as well as contradictions.

I’m not a good listener. I’m definitely a better fixer. But of late, I couldn’t care less to be either.

That is – Unless – I am specifically requested to help. Then – I’m quite the enthusiastic “fixer”. I’ve never turned my back on any problem. Amongst other cliches & complexities, It’s built into my definition of what being a man is about. (Separate dedicated post for this dysfunction).

I rarely share because I don’t need to be heard. I’d rather have a beer & listen to music. If & when I must (like now) – I prefer to write & be done with it. Verbal exchange of views & discussion is necessary when I am actually seeking advice. By explicitly stating so.

But I digress… This isn’t universal – Human communication involves conversations & we all love sharing & perhaps flaunting what we know & offering advice. (However, if I had to write a self help “How to Live Life” manual – all I’d summarize for now is, “not like me”.)

Back to Insomnia…

Insomnia ~ habitual sleeplessness; inability to sleep. Insomnia is a sleep disorder in which you have trouble falling and/or staying asleep. The condition can be short-term (acute) or can last a long time (chronic). … Acute insomnia lasts from 1 night to a few weeks. It is considered chronic when it happens at least 3 nights a week for 3 months or more. ~ WebMD

I understand insomnia. It’s been a constant & a long term companion throughout my adult life.

I understand it. I’ve embraced it & made peace with it. I sleep whenever I can & don’t bother much when I can’t. There’s tons to do with time anyway. I rarely get bored when there’s so much to read, learn or consume. There’s always Writing or Painting as well…

“That’s the advantage of insomnia. People who go to be early always complain that the night is too short, but for those of us who stay up all night, it can feel as long as a lifetime. You get a lot done.”

~ Banana Yoshimoto, N.P

Understanding insomnia doesn’t automatically translate into being able to overcome it.

Because I cannot, I don’t follow a 24 hour day cycle (16 / 8) as far as sleep is concerned. My routine or schedule has very little to do with the rising or setting of the sun or even the day of the week. I do whatever I must & once in a while (without any voluntary decision) the body shuts down & I crawl into bed to experience my bastardized version of sleep. The mind never shuts down & I’ve never known deep sleep (except under anesthesia – pre, peri & post surgery).

Insomnia is a problem. I acknowledge that.

I haven’t solved it or fixed it. I’ve rationalized & come to terms with it. I manage & mitigate it. It’s a constant part of my life & more often than not, rarely warrants a second thought (Except now that I’m choosing to write about it).

I haven’t overcome it. (I accept that state of defeat currently).

“The last refuge of the insomniac is a sense of superiority to the sleeping world.”

~ Leonard Cohen

Most chronic problems which have evolved over a lifetime of flawed behaviour or practices, cannot be resolved easily. They tend to have deep rooted underlying causes & sometimes, even understanding those – doesn’t automatically translate into applicable solutions.

There are no quick fixes or easy solutions.

A problem, by definition – is considered resolved (& thus no longer a problem) – when fixed.

What are the options?

Face it and beat it. If you know how… (I don’t).

And if you cannot – then accept defeat & come to terms with your limitations. Then bury it and move on. If that works for you… (It doesn’t – not for me).

If it doesn’t – then keep fighting it your whole life & accept chronic fatigue as an inescapable constant companion. The price to pay for an unending battle. (I’m done… dead tired).

What are the possible solutions? Or rather, what are the solutions that I haven’t yet tried & discarded…? Is this rhetorical or am I actually asking for help / advice?

Whenever I am advised to ( & I’ve encountered this hundreds of times in 3 decades)-

  • Practice Good Sleep Habits.
  • Try to keep a regular sleep schedule.
  • Avoid heavy meals, smoking, alcohol, or caffeine near bedtime.
  • Limit Screen Time.
  • Avoid stimulating the mind.
  • Keep the bedroom reserved for sleep and sex only.
  • If you wake up at night and can’t go back to sleep, remain quiet and relaxed.

I have nothing but creatively explicit curses as a response to the above suggestions.

Do people, with all their well meaning intent & goodness of the heart – really believe that after 3 decades of living with insomnia, I have completely overlooked the above points & suffered needlessly on account of spectacular stupidity?

Or are they forthcoming with advice because that possibly makes them feel wise & relevant?

Perhaps, its automatically programmed into human nature to be helpful if presented with a perceived problem.

(No doubt that I’ve been guilty of the same several times – why deny it?)

But – please take a pause. One moment to dwell upon what you’re offering as advice – (despite insomnia been accepted as incurable world wide), are those above stated words of wisdom in that list, all it takes to cure me now…?

My favorite is the almost magical – “Avoid stimulating the mind.”

And my most polite response to that (result of being in an unusually good mood) has been, “Perhaps – I should give you a call.”

On a serious note…

Easier said than done –

Expecting me to implement a “lifestyle change” is like asking me to be someone else. It isn’t a change of clothes. If I am what I think, what I feel & what I do… everything is deeply ingrained & interwoven in the fabric of “being me”. Lifestyle isn’t merely what I do or how I live. It is who I am.

So, isn’t that like – me asking you to be someone else cause that may be better for your well being & health?

Who you gonna be?

I got a little caught up in the meditation bit & gave it some thought…

Since Googling it is easier than thinking…

From Wikipedia: “The English meditation is derived from Old French meditacioun, in turn from Latin meditatio from a verb meditari, meaning “to think, contemplate, devise, ponder”.

“Meditation has proven difficult to define as it covers a wide range of dissimilar practices in different traditions. In popular usage, the word “meditation” and the phrase “meditative practice” are often used imprecisely to designate practices found across many cultures.”

“There remains no definition of necessary and sufficient criteria for meditation that has achieved universal or widespread acceptance within the modern scientific community. In 1971, Claudio Naranjo noted that “The word ‘meditation’ has been used to designate a variety of practices that differ enough from one another so that we may find trouble in defining what meditation is. A 2009 study noted a “persistent lack of consensus in the literature” and a “seeming intractability of defining meditation”

“Dictionaries give both the original Latin meaning of “think[ing] deeply about (something)”; as well as the popular usage of ” focusing one’s mind for a period of time”, “the act of giving your attention to only one thing, either as a religious activity or as a way of becoming calm and relaxed”, and “to engage in mental exercise (such as concentrating on one’s breathing or repetition of a mantra) for the purpose of reaching a heightened level of spiritual awareness.

Tons of details & more information here:

To summarize (slightly unfairly), I conclude – Meditation is a mindful practice leading to peace of mind, which will (hopefully) in turn, via cause & effect… lead to deep, dreamless, relaxing as well as revitalizing & rejuvenating sleep, on a regular basis. (relevant to me.)

At this point in this article, it occurs to me that perhaps, I should educate myself better about meditation in its wider scope – so I don’t come across as too biased & myopic in my views.

But then again, I’m not writing to inform or educate others about meditation.

This is what I currently feel on the basis of my current awareness & experience.

The wikipedia link above can serve its purpose & I can speak my mind…

Since I’m the one writing here, obviously it’s my opinion & it’s defunct to state the obvious – “I believe“.

About a decade ago… In my somewhat brief & limited experimentation & exploration of commonly practiced mindful meditation practices, I inferred that the supposed goal was to empty the mind of all distractions, negative & dangerous thoughts.

Today, the only part of interest to me is ~ “think[ing] deeply about (something)”; as well as the popular usage of ” focusing one’s mind for a period of time“, “the act of giving your attention to only one thing, either as a religious activity or as a way of becoming calm and relaxed”

Conventional practices like “mindful” meditation do not yield a permanent solution to my problem. They’re temporary distractions at the best. Waste of time at the worst.

This may offend those who swear by it, but hey… Is what it is. I feel what I do.

“Been there – done that” – or rather attempted it – and based on the progress or lack of it – discarded it.

If it works for you, Great! By all means… Enjoy & reap the benefits…

I have a slightly different understanding & belief of what meditation is.

It does not require the popular specific mindful practice.

Or to be fair, I do not require concentration on breathing or repetition of a mantra to practice meditation.

(In fact, I achieve & experience it while practicing other specific activities.)

I don’t subscribe to the belief that meditation = empty mind devoid of all thoughts = eventual peace of mind. Thats as unnatural as it sounds & I’ve no interest in emptying out my mind.

Also, I highly doubt that I shall find any peace with an empty mind.

The purpose of the mind is to process thoughts & I’m quite content to let it do what it does best.

Perhaps, a more reasonable theory is that meditation = control of thoughts (as opposed to the emptying of the mind), again – leading to the ever elusive peace of mind.

I can argue, that my mind is too powerful to be controlled.

If that sounds arrogant, lets say, my will is too weak to exert that control.

Nope – “my mind is too powerful to be controlled.” sounds better.

I prefer slight arrogance 🙂

Truth is – I’m possibly just always too wound up & restless… (irrespective of my caffeine intake).

Either ways, I’m not cut out for mindful meditation practices that may involve doing nothing but focusing on breathing.

Even flow…

Thoughts arrive like butterflies

Oh he don’t know, so he chases them away

Someday yet he’ll begin his life again…

~ Eddie Vedder (Pearl Jam) TEN 1991

My understanding of meditation can be summed up in a single word – Focus.”

The ability to focus.

Focus to such an extent that peripheral vision & thoughts disappear & fade away into oblivion.

“The time that leads to mastery is dependent on the intensity of our focus.”

~ Robert Greene, Mastery

Single Minded Focus.

Not an empty mind. Or a still mind. Not by breathing or achieving inertia or stillness of the body.

But Focus achieved & attained by losing myself in an all consuming passionate activity.

And, ironically – losing myself actually means – I can lose everything around & within me (that defined as well as consumed me) when I focus on executing one single task & yet – find myself in that activity.

I find that intense single minded Focus in Painting.

“Simplicity is ultimately a matter of focus.”

~ Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are

Sometimes it may surprise me in a Workout – especially while working on injuries when I’m beyond my normal threshold.

The facilitating assistant – leading me to Focus is always – music.

Never – breathing.

Side note – I do understand the power and importance of mindful breathing. It has helped me stay calm & survive vicious brutal injuries & also control moments of all consuming explosive rage. Its prevented shock & violence…

So, while breathing has definitely helped me exert control over Pain & Rage, it’s never contributed to “emptying the mind of all thoughts” & led to subsequent peace of mind.

Having suffered from asthma at an early stage in life, breathing isn’t really fun.

It is… what it is. Functional – Does what it does & that’s all I have to say about it.

Back to my definition of meditation…

I can “lose myself” in Painting & (to a lesser extent) in exercising – and that’s meditation for me.

While this helps maintain sanity & balance in most aspects of daily life, by no means does it contribute to falling asleep. It’s no cure for insomnia.

So, as discovered, sanity & balance – do not help fix insomnia.

“Brains are like toddlers. They are wonderful and should be treasured, but that doesn’t mean you should trust them to take care of you in an avalanche or process serotonin effectively.”

~ Jenny Lawson, Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things

If resolving a chronic problem can be equated to fighting a battle, Meditation (my version of it) is perhaps, merely a process to refuel depleted resources between violent encounters.

It is – at the best, a pause to rest and catch my breath before I fight again. A slight relief.

Painting or meditating cannot induce sleep – just as it cannot heal torn flesh, ruptured tendons or broken bones.

Insomnia is an injury. A constant bleeding wound that never heals…

Meditation is not a solution for this injury.

However, it may marginally ease the pain & improve tolerance.

That makes it – just a coping mechanism.

A grave physical injury requires hands on surgical repair, rest to recuperate followed by physiotherapy & rehab.

It stands to reason that if insomnia is an injury of the mind, an equally hands on approach may be required to fix it.

Its difficult, considering that I am strongly against medication (for pain or sleep).

“…someday…, we’ll medicate human experience right out of the human experience.”

~ Dennis Lehane, Shutter Island

Currently about a third of the general population have some insomnia symptoms & it’s estimated that in 2023 there will be 130,482,156 total cases of acute insomnia. (GlobalData epidemiologists made this forecast for seven countries: the US, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the UK, and Japan.) Add to that – the rest of the world & imagine the numbers…

Just occurred to me & it’s probably inappropriate – but so are most of my thoughts & if I concern myself with that – I’d just give up writing completely…

Its an unfair & far fetched comparison in terms of urgency & severity… but I’ll state it anyway –

Why does it seem to me that today’s Covid 19 is similar to Insomnia in terms of how we deal with it…? Both can kill you directly or indirectly. One – sooner than later.

Perhaps, despite hope & efforts, like the common cold, HIV, dengue or even depression (since it’s listed immediately after dengue in Wikipedia’s List of incurable diseases)… we may never be able to completely prevent or cure it. Only manage, mitigate & medicate the symptoms to ease suffering & survive.

In short, make peace with it & learn to live with it. Not completely or even remotely on our terms…

“With great exuberance, passion, hope & caution… We strive to live Life.

Until ‘Life‘ itself – kills us.”

~ The Crimson Stroke

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