Friday, March 30, 2012

Meditation, Sleep, CBT-I... written by Gene Bammel

Meditation has been described in many ways, and there are distinctively different ways of meditating. There will be Buddhist meditators at the upcoming Consciousness Conference in Tucson, and they will set aside an hour each day, and invite beginners to "sit" with them. "How best to meditate? Simply sit still; calm your body, and then, calm down your mind. Think of nothing in particular, and do not worry about where your consciousness takes you. Within a few minutes, you will find that your body and your mind have attained a level of tranquillity that will remain with you the rest of the day." Religiously disposed meditators  might begin by thinking of Psalm 46: "Be still, and acknowledge that I am God."  " Others might begin with the invitation of Jesus in Mark 6: "Come apart, and rest awhile." Some psychologists have worked with "centering meditation," encouraging the practitioner to focus on a particular problem, the antidote to the problem, and cultivating the emotions needed to cope with the problem.

Some people seldom have a problem with sleep. Most people, however, will experience periods of some sleep disturbances, sometimes for clearly physiological reasons, at other times for emotional stresses. At sleep clinics, insomniacs often state that some nameless anxiety is the partner in their sleep difficulties. If you wake up in the middle of the night and are "anxious" about some event of the day that did not disturb you then, but does now, you are probably having a fairly universal experience. But if it happens continually, and over truly trivial matters, you probably have something specialists would classify as an anxiety disorder. "More than 40 million American adults are affected by anxiety disorders each year. However, it's often hard to judge when normal feelings of worry, fear, and stress cross the line and become a serious condition that impacts both your emotional and physical health." --Harvard Health Letter. And that is where "Cognitive Behavioral Therapy-Insomnia," or "CBT-I" for short, comes in. Sleep clinics often try to wean long-term insomniacs off the strong medications they have been taking, by having them attend a few sessions with a psychologist who practices this form of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. The heart of the therapy is as ancient as the Greek and Roman Stoics, and as modern as the Reinhold Niehbuhr serenity prayer. There are things you can change, and things you can't change, and it takes prudence to know the difference. Or as Marcus Aurelius said: "Be like the rock against which the waves continually break: it stands firm and tames the fury of the water around it." In the ancient world, there were more Stoics than there were Platonists or Aristotelians, and for good reason: Stoicism is a philosophy that works. It accepts that bad things happen to good people, and tells you to take that in stride, and get on with your life. And the ancient world had large scale problems in some ways similar to the kinds of problems we encounter, although our problems may have a more global scale. The ancient world had a way of saying you can disagree without being disagreeable or hostile, but we seem to be losing some of that good sense. 

For the most part, scholars tend to be charitable in their arguments with each other, even political scientists. We have seen recently, in the public sphere, inflammatory remarks by politicians and others, where not only hostility, but enmity or hatred accompany the verbal interplay. Those scenes are disturbing, and could be sources for what might keep people awake at times they would rather be sleeping. I have no prescription to cure whatever political ills afflict us, but I do have an antidote to the "hidden anxiety" that may disturb the sleep of some. Time set aside for meditation might put the body into a more tranquil state; it might move deeply into the physiology of emotions, and put the body at rest, which may keep the mind tranquil. The sleep specialists say that the root source of some of the sleep problems of older people is due to arthritis: the joints of the body send disturbing messages when they are not moved, and may awaken one from even the deepest of sleeps. Surely some of the repressed emotions of the day, some of the raw emotions from challenging encounters, may affect our psyches in a similar manner, and bring us to wakefulness that is not easily subdued. Perhaps the daily practice of meditation, or a meditative form of Tai-Chi, might put our minds at rest, the way a warm bath might ameliorate arthritic problems. And for those who have the good fortune to sleep soundly almost all the time: meditation might either promote even deeper sleep, or, it might make them more aware of the kinds of problems that keep other people awake late into the night! Whichever outcome, setting aside a few minutes each day for the practice of some form of meditation is all but guaranteed to produce beneficial results...


affectionforfitness said...

This is a really super post!!!!

Meditation is probably my biggest undiscovered fitness frontier. I'm very sure that my poor eating habits is about moving too quickly, not having good perspective, and not self-soothing well.<<which is what meditation could help with.

:-) Marion

thevegantummy said...

Hi Marion

I hope you try meditation. I'm still working on fitting it in on a daily basis, but whenever I do meditate, I notice a difference.

It helps... so give it a try... :)