Meditation Isn’t Enough for Insomnia

The first time I meditated, it was absolute ecstasy. Instead of living the blues, I felt vibrant, alive, even happy. My bedraggled 20-year-old self was hooked.

Each morning after, I repeated my Transcendental Meditation mantra trying to get the feeling back… instead I fell asleep and was late to work. Still, I continued for almost a year, until my discipline (and ecstasy success rate) dissipated.

For the next four decades, I continued trying on and off. My interest in meditation never completely faded, with promises of euphoria as well as calmness, clear mind, etc.

moonrise, tree, and bench

A pretend meditator

I learned a lot and had some moments of peace and insight. But mostly I was a bad meditator — something that made teachers grimace when I said it.

I spent most of my meditation jumping from one technique to another: count breaths, do a body scan (how long do I stay in each spot, should I go up or down), focus on my hands, follow my breath (that one made me dizzy), notice awareness arising, or acknowledge the hindrances. I’d get mad at myself that I couldn’t concentrate and often let my mind do whatever it seemed to want.

Mostly I felt like a pretend meditator, especially with my sangha of meditation friends.

Fortunately, last summer, I had the revelation that meditation would simply be a time of being kind to myself. So when I sat for 10-20 minutes, everything that came up was held with kindness — whether it was a breath I focused on, trying to decide what technique to choose, feeling restless, beating myself up, or thinking.

What a change! Meditation became a gift instead of a struggle.

And yet I realized that meditation wasn’t enough.

Because with this kindness, I realized that my trouble meditating came from chronic trauma, shame, and fear held in my body. Every time I slowed down, discomfort would arise. I pinned it on my lack of concentration or having the wrong technique, but it was inner pain.

Breathing and being kind allowed me to experience it. But that wasn’t enough to let it shift or heal.

I needed an inner resource.

What I also needed was an inner resource to help.

That resource, as I learned in somatic therapy, could be myself as an adult, my favorite teacher, the flow of nature or a tree. On top of that, my Sufi-guided business community encouraged connecting with the Divine for guidance and support.

(I also struggled with the Sufi devotional “remembrance,” time to deepen the relationship to the Divine — lack of focus, self-criticism, frustration from wanting to and not being able to connect. But when I learned to be kind to myself, I was kind in my relationship with Spirit.)

Since I don’t have a tree in my heart, I’m using the imagination part of my mind to create it. That is not the path for contemplative meditation, which intends detachment from the mind, rather than relying on it.

Now I do both.

I couldn’t meditate without healing. Sitting with my inner pain in itself was, well, painful rather than meditative.

Now I do both. I meditate, and also ask the Spirit for help sitting with something I can’t manage alone: for guidance; turning over my fears; filling me with a quality that’s beyond my human skills like love, compassion, and justice. Or sometimes I turn to Spirit, and while there, can simply be with myself in the moment without wanting anything more.

Devotional and contemplative practices overlap. But knowing I can access both has deepened each one for me.

They’ll both help me be more alive in being present, developing and sharing the gifts that I’m stewarding.

If you struggle with meditation or feeling alone:

  • Be kind to yourself.
  • Connect with your body.
  • Return from your conscious mind.
  • And let your deeper self feel, experience, or create a “what if” resource to help you ease past and present pain.

Letting yourself go and drawing in a resource of support can help you move on your way.