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Episode 4: Weird Silence

Updated: Oct 5, 2020

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Welcome to the art of falling asleep. I'm Derek Lacey an insomnia coach. I created this podcast so Insomniacs could have a space to come and feel guided. I feel like I know you and could share some concepts that I wish people had shared with me, concepts that integrate sleep with every aspect of your life. Physical, emotional, and spiritual. I believe sleep is an art and that you, not me or any other sleep specialists are the artist. The art of falling asleep is your canvas, and I want to help you express yourself using the insights from my sleep coaching practice and my own journey out of insomnia, and by sharing transmissions that help you bridge the way you experience life and better sleep.

Welcome to episode number four, which I am calling 'Weird Silence. Could you feel that weirdness in that silence? Yes. Silence is weird. Silence has become weird. And if you struggle with falling asleep, the soundtrack of silence can feel really unpleasant. For an insomniac, it sounds like the Jaws soundtrack, where, with a non-insomniac, it's like listening to Chariots of Fire. I'm guessing you've probably never thought about sleep as having a soundtrack. And that's because the soundtrack is more like the score that's underneath those little moments in the movie where you don't even notice that there's music because you are so focused on the story and the actors, but you would notice it if it were taken out. When we fall asleep, it's like that, it's quiet, but it's not silent. So this episode is about taking that gap that exists between what really is absolute silence, which we rarely experience, and then that comfortable level of noise that we require to fall asleep, and just taking that gap, that beautiful soundtrack, and getting more comfortable with it.

The dictionary defines silence as the absence of sound. And so I think this is one of those words that we've taken too much liberty. We've been too gratuitous with the meaning of the word. And we label moments as silent that are actually not void of sound. So it's like, we've been programmed to categorize moments with faint sound as silence when they really aren't silent. And then consequently delete the sound and noise that fills the space that we live our lives in. Right? So it's like we can, we can just walk down the street and not feel or hear the natural noise that's being created by life. One of the things that I've learned about sleep and what has led me to this, to examining a concept, I want to introduce to you, which is essentially kind of re-examining how we use silence in the formula of falling asleep. But the thing that led me here is how active sleep is.

It makes sense to me that we don't fall asleep to silence, because sleep is so active that it would jolt us awake. The moment that we went from absolute silence to sleep. You have gravity that's signaling hormones to release. And then, you know, the body's going into repair mode and there's this level of magnetism that's created between the earth in our brains. It's like just sucking the sleep out of your pineal gland. And simultaneously we have the magnetic pull from the moon, and then there's this, this part, I don't know how scientific it is, but there's this like pull from the opposite side of the planet that's waking up and drinking coffee and doing whatever they do, you know, silence, we're really part of the sleep formula. Then all these things that are true to the nature of the planet would actually be disturbing our sleep. And I know that's not the way it was designed to be. I know that's not the way it is. So back to silence, like that definition to really experience true silence, you almost have to manipulate sound or be in a rare space on the earth, or like jump a cave, or be in a body of water that's surrounded by a valley. Even when that happens, true silence would almost require that you become separated from yourself because you are a body of activity, and there's sound in that.

The one time that I experienced extreme silence was in a saltwater floating tank. It's a meditative space where you just lay down and there's like a thousand pounds of salt in the water, and this causes you to float. And then you put earplugs so that the water doesn't go into your ears. And it just creates this, it's daunting, and it's kind of spooky, you know, it's, I know people that have floated before and quit their session because the silence was so scary.

So it turns out that a lot of people just don't know what to do with silence. And I think this is because we've become too loose with the definition. And this has bled into the concept of needing silence to fall asleep, while simultaneously being uncomfortable with silence. So it's like we need this thing to fall asleep that we don't like. And now there's this antagonist-protagonist dynamic that's built into our sleep systems that doesn't really need to be there. And it doesn't need to be there because it turns out that sleep is a rock concert. Sleep is really loud. But the frequencies that surround sleep are not what you would normally think of as loud because they take place below what has become the average volume of life.

So most people don't realize that there's a soundtrack there. And being able to hear that soundtrack and appreciate it is much like learning how to appreciate good jazz. And when you can do that, that is what you call being in the present moment.

This concept can take that antagonist-protagonist dynamic of needing silence, while also trying to avoid silence, and take those characters and kind of put them in tune with each other and create a harmony from that relationship.

When you can't hear that jazz, I'm calling it, when you don't realize that what you typically experience as silence actually has sound, then silence is uncomfortable, and you don't know what to do with yourself. To be present we need noise. We need something to hold on to, it's like standing on a subway that's moving, right? Like you need to hold onto some matter so that you don't fall so that you have something to do with yourself. So it turns out that 99% of the time there is noise. When you're falling asleep, there is noise. We are energy machines with beating hearts and trillions of busy cells. And we experience the presence that's necessary to sleep by attaching to the noise. We attach by going inward, we go deeper, we go inside. Cause that's where we know there's volume. When we run out of topical noise, we turn up the volume within us. And then it's like creating a, like a waterfall of presence. It's like a chocolate waterfall of presence.

The reason that this concept is so important for you is that, in the experience of insomnia, there is a correlation between silence and being awake. The more time that you've spent in insomnia, the more that silence is associated with pain. It essentially creates a level of trauma that is unrelated to what may have caused your insomnia in the first place. So the more time and insomnia, the more weary you grow of silence, and then the more you try to avoid it. And so by avoiding it, your baseline silence is constantly getting louder to avoid the silence that in some cases could feel like trauma.

So there's this negative association to silence that has made you numb to the soundtrack that's naturally played on the way to sleep. This is the case everywhere. Silence has just gotten louder for everybody, not just insomniacs. If you went back in time, if you went to your local downtown and then typed in the year, like 1950, with the same amount of people there, with the same density, I'm betting that you would be shocked at how much quieter it was. As things get louder silence gets more awkward. It gets weirder, right?

When I think about weird silence, I think about silence in an elevator or in a conversation where you don't know where to go. I think about being like at a nightclub where the music just all of a sudden stops and all of a sudden the setting is completely different and it feels really awkward. We've become so conditioned to noise that our lives have become like a game of hide-and-seek, where silence is "it". I had a moment the other day that's reoccurring, and it felt like this game of hide-and-seek. I had been driving on the highway for about five hours and, you know, after listening to a couple of podcasts and some of my favorite playlists and a little bit of the radio, I just couldn't handle any more noise. So I turned off the stereo, only to turn it on without even thinking about it. I turned it back on like two minutes later. And right as I turned it on, I realized that I had like violated the contract that I drew-up with myself. And so I found myself bothered by the sound and then bothered by the silence.

There is this moment where it was like, I just can't win here. And it turned into me driving while restless. I was just restless not knowing how to fill the space. And it felt like I was in a trap until I realized, Oh my God, I'm driving a truck at 75 miles per hour. It's a two-lane highway. So I've got cars coming the other way, you know, on top of this there's a ton of deer. And so there's this moment where I realized there was so much going on, yet, I was perceiving that moment as having nothing to do. When I realized that there was so much to be present to, I realized how loud and busy the moment that I was perceiving as too silent, really was. What I think happens in the case of falling asleep, is that before sleep is really part of the story, we go through this cycle of silence that most people don't know what to do with.

And if you're an insomniac, there is this subconscious trauma-like association being made between that silence and the pain of being awake. So the tendency is to use noise as the window, as the window into sleep. The television, music, white noise, guided meditations, maybe even your thoughts, something has to fill that void.

So what if your thoughts filling that void is just your body's resistance to sleep. And it's defense- mechanism against this weird silence. And if your thoughts are just a reason, your body, your mind is using to avoid weird silence, then trying to quiet your mind to fall asleep is just fighting yourself. You're consciously trying to force silence on a subconscious that's absolutely terrified of it.

And of course, you're going to struggle with that. That's really out of concept. So what I really like about this concept of getting to know that soundtrack that we otherwise experienced to silence, is that you can practice this whenever you want. You can practice this while you're awake. This concept takes the focus away from sleep and focuses on silence instead. Learning how to listen to the soundtrack and then form positive associations that over time create a new path. It's a new wiring in the brain that say, "Oh, here's that, that moment of silence that proceeds sleep. Let's take this old song that was there, and we are going to add some more pleasant instruments."

So that's the concept. And before you practice this, before you put this into action, you have to ask yourself, does this resonate? It has to resonate because concepts aren't tricks. Concepts are like subscriptions. You aren't trying this to fall asleep as much as you are subscribing to it as a principle of how sleep works. The test for me, the reason I use this concept is because it feels good to my nervous system. And so when I take a quiet moment, a moment that most people would classify as silence, and I listen for the noise, I listen for the music, it feels good everywhere.

When I tap into the noise, it's actually there. It's like I'm debunking silence and feeling my nervous system get hugged. But on the other hand, when I experience silence that really has noise as absolute silence. Then I get impatient. It's unnerving because then the only place to go from here is louder, right? The law of averages says, "Oh, well this is absolute silence. So it's only natural to anticipate noise is on its way." And really, if I had to define what insomnia feels like when going to sleep, it feels like expecting the unexpected. It's like, it's too silent to be true. Like it's too good to be true. It's like, this is too silent to be true. So there must be something coming that I'm not expecting. There just has to be.

When I first started sleeping well, one of the tactics I used was sitting on the couch until I felt sleepy enough to then get into bed. This is a classic cognitive-behavioral technique where spending as little time in bed as possible helps your subconscious mind make a positive correlation between being in bed and being asleep. You don't want your body to experience being awake while you're in bed, right? The less you can do that, the better. But I'll be honest, I've never really liked this concept. I've always found it to be a bit forceful and hard to do because it actually puts more pressure on having to fall asleep. Cause it feels like there's a meter running and the more it runs, the more it takes away from your confidence to sleep. So I find that it actually does the opposite of what it's supposed to do and can direct your subconscious mind to accidentally focusing on being awake.

There is logic in it. I just think it could be better. And that's what I ultimately embrace about this concept of getting comfortable with silence versus waiting until you're sleepy enough to go to bed. I embrace the idea that you can take the same behavior, like sitting on the couch or the floor or wherever, just not in bed, and practicing your relationship to silence while taking sleep out of the equation. It's not at this point, it's not a sleep issue. There is no issue. There's nothing to see here other than you practicing this really cool moment that can only help. All that can happen is that you learn how to tune into that chocolaty, jazzy soundtrack, of silence. Insomnia, from this concept, is just like watching a movie without having the appropriate soundtrack in the background.

Imagine how lame the Superman movies would be without the music that's there. Every time Clark Kent turned into Superman. So what if one of the fundamental processes of getting better at falling asleep is just taking a soundtrack that doesn't belong there, that you didn't even realize was there, and then changing the radio station. That makes more sense to me than anything else. And there's no risk to contemplating that, none.

So this is the takeaway from this episode. The question I want to ask you is how comfortable are you with silence? How often do you experience moments of silence that are similar to the silence you experience while going to bed? And then when you have these moments, what do you do with them? Are you like me on the highway constantly needing to replace that silence with noise, or do you embrace it? And are those moments, is that moment right before bed, the first time that you experienced that all day.

So are there several moments perhaps that you could create to actually practice silence? Where you can identify the silence that takes place? What you experienced is the silence taking place before bed and then relate to it as a song that you recognize, you know, maybe that soundtrack is created by the hum of your fan or air conditioner, or, you know, if you go really inward and deep, it's created by the buzzing of the earth that's rotating and the magnetism that's there, and understand what that sounds like, feel it, that way you can identify it in your days awake and then start to build rapport with it.

And then practice embracing that soundtrack of silence with zero expectation of sleep or anything else. Zero expectation outside of just creating a pleasant experience. So this could look like taking five minutes to sit with that silence, and or the sound rather, and just be with it, be with yourself. Measure beforehand your feeling of well-being on a scale of one to 10. Then be alone with that music, doing whatever feels natural, whatever it takes to take it down a notch so that when you're done with that music, listening to that silence, you just feel a little bit better. That's all you have to do.

I'd love for you to feel what it's like to be held captive by what you might normally experience as weird silence. And instead, listen for the beautiful notes that are there. And if you hear nothing, if you don't know what I'm talking about, if you don't hear anything, remember this is where you can go deeper and inward. This is where the music is. This is where you find the soundtrack that replaces the other distracting noises. The television, the audio, that are perhaps just trying to help you avoid the silence, the silence, that's actually your ticket to this beautiful music, to the soundtrack that over time is going to transform your experience.

If you can get more comfortable in that gap, in those moments of beautiful silence, with beautiful music, then you will get really good at practicing balance and presence. How amazing would that be if sleeping better was possible just by nurturing your relationship to sound, and getting to know that music in-between true, absolute silence and the sounds that we create to help us sleep better? I think it would be really amazing. And I also think it's possible.

Have great sleep!

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