Posted on 11/13/2021
Tags: Brain Hacking
I've always had a hard time falling asleep. Closing my eyes invites a whirlwind of thoughts. I can't stop thinking so I can't fall asleep.

Then I found a way to clear my head and fall asleep quickly. It's been working for months now!

Here's what I do:

As I shower and brush my teeth before bed, I spend that ~30 minutes clearing my head. When I notice a thought, I think "ah" and let the thought go, let it dissipate and fade. This isn't the time for thinking and problem solving, it's the time to empty my mind so I can fall asleep.

I repeat this for every thought that creeps in. I've found it also helps to focus on my immediate senses to keep my head emptier: the sound of the toothbrush, the soap/water/friction on my hands. I'm grounded in the present. I'm not thinking about these sounds and feelings; I'm just experiencing them without commentary.

Sometimes this helps me notice a feeling of muscle tightness. Maybe I'm furrowing my brow or frowning. Maybe I have tightness in my shoulders. I release the tension and physically relax.

I continue this meditation as I slide into bed until I fall asleep. And I continue it if I wake up in the middle of the night.

I don't know if this technique is real "meditation" in the Zen Buddhism sense but I was inspired to try it after, months ago, stumbling upon 101 Zen Stories (Wikipedia). (Warning: these are old and may contain antiquated or even racist terms)

I don't understand them even though they are simple. I tried to search for answers about one of the more famous stories: The Sound of One Hand (mirror).

I found a Quora thread with some discussion. No answer was perfectly satisfying but two similar posts stood out:

Khiêm Bảo Thiện:
However, when one asks you about one hand clapping - which is extraordinary, uncommon, unseen, not understandable - your mind starts to set on a quest for answer, which raises a lot of noises, like you throw a big rock into a tranquil lake. ... So, using this koan and similar, for certain situations, helps the learner realize his/her mind's activities.
Chris Peters:
The idea behind this phrase is not literal, but is meant to "blend" your mind Matrix-style and hopefully trick you into observing your mind as it kinda freaks out.
Is the key to enlightenment learning to notice your thoughts and then clear your head? Who knows. I certainly feel lighter when my head is clear, my muscles are relaxed, and I float off to sleep.