Open Focus Helps Normalize Sleep
Guest blogger: Joanne, Physician
I discovered the book “The Open Focus Brain” while browsing through the Sounds True Catalog. My husband had just made an offhand comment me. He said “you tend to be very overly focused on whatever you do…”. That was a new thought to me. As I was pondering his comment, I saw the title, "The Open Focus Brain". I don’t believe in coincidences. I knew that this was something new I had to try for my chronic insomnia. We’re talking a 30+ year insomnia problem here!
I have never been a sound sleeper. The problem began intermittently while I was an engineering student It resolved for a while, then recurred in earnest in the late ’80’s. At it’s worst, I was barely able to function at work and it was the first time I had to consider leaving engineering and doing something else for a living. But I didn’t know what. And I didn’t have a clue how to determine the cause. It was a very scary time. I assumed it was the stress of the current job, but the sleep problem had started years before that.
I sought some counseling a few times, after checking for the obvious physiological causes. Some dreams were giving me clues that it was all based in the childhood environment. I always felt that unrelenting stress in the home was playing a major role, a PTSD situation of sorts. But I feel this didn’t have credibility with conventional counselors and it was very frustrating to feel not heard on this.
I started reading “The Open Focus Brain” in June 2010. I was reading it before bed, and expecting a poor, tossy night with many wake ups, as usual.
"I had the best night's sleep I’d had in living memory"
An amazing thing happened with my first reading. Dr. Fehmi suggests early on in the book to experience a more diffuse kind of attention by continuing to read the book, but simultaneously expand your vision to include a view of the surrounding room, then focus on the spaces between the lines and even between the letters. I did this and became so sleepy I had to stop reading and went to bed. I had the best night's sleep I’d had in living memory and knew I was on to something very important. I was so excited!!!!
Shortly after that I read page 60 in "The Open Focus Brain" and felt so overwhelmingly grateful and emotional that there was someone who understood that real damage can be done to the nervous system by chronic emotional stress. Please know, THIS PAGE CHANGED MY LIFE! It validated my experience where the counselors I had dealt with had devalued my experience.
Open Focus Relieved My Stress and Gave Me Back My Life
I had an Open Focus “honeymoon” for more than 3 months. Honestly, I felt like my brain was dying of thirst for the exercises and I couldn’t get enough of them. I felt the responsibility for the world was lifted from my shoulders. I lived in a state of euphoria that whole time. My insomnia completely resolved during that time and I feel I became the person “I really am” when not struggling through every day in a state of exhaustion. I had a whole new life. I could hardly believe it.
Then the euphoria began to fade. I became aware that there was a part of my psyche – believe me I know almost nothing of psychology – that was very invested in maintaining the old status quo and started fighting the exercises. I realized I had to be careful to vary them, but I was never sure how often and which ones I needed that day. I had the full set of exercises by then. Resentment at taking daily time became a huge issue and yet I knew it was my psyche playing some kind of “let’s not allow change” game. It’s probably some kind of primitive protection mechanism to prevent too much change at once that’s too scary, I guess.
But even with this “stuff” going on, I have not reverted to my old (lack of) sleep patterns and stress levels. I was 100% resolved for the first three months. Since then, I would say, on average, I am 60%-80% resolved, depending on how fastidious I am with the exercises, the current stress level, and this accommodation/resistance factor that I don’t really understand.
This is a HUGE improvement from where I was before. I have a life now, love my work, and have active hobby and social lives that I didn’t have before. I will not give up until I’m consistently back at 100% and I know I can do it again.
Choosing the Open Focus Practice Exercise to Listen To
I am getting a better sense of what Open Focus exercises to do on any given day. When I’m doing well, that is sleeping well with good energy throughout the day (a wonderful new mode for me!) I am a very happy person, can weather any stress that comes up, I have a general feeing of “all is well and will always be well no matter what”.
When I remember to open my focus during the day after a narrow focus event, I find that new solutions to problems pop effortlessly into my head. I am aware that this is a result of a balanced focus. I have more and more of these balanced days as time goes on. When I remember to take the time to open my focus it’s almost like I’ve had a nap and have fresh energy. Can you see why I will never give up on this technique?
On the good days, I find the more abstract Open Focus exercises work well and seem to open up new pathways in my brain. New ideas flow easily. Hard tasks almost do themselves. I am able to understand and enjoy music in ways that seemed like they were closed to me in the past. These are HUGE changes.
Exercises like “Thinking in Open Focus” are a tremendous help with raising my awareness of how many of my thoughts are based in old anger patterns. I am actively letting go of these. I have long been aware that stored anger is part of the insomnia etiology. This has been very hard to track down because when I’m awake in the middle of the night I have no sense of being angry, just frustrated that I’m awake. But when Open Focus helps me become aware of the anger origin of many of my daytime thoughts, my sleep improves. This is complicated. I hope I’m making sense to someone! But it is working!
When I’m having a bad spell – sleeping poorly, feeling frustrated with exhaustion all day etc.- the more standard Open Focus exercises help get me back on track. Things like “Long Form”, “Head and Hands”, “Joint Space” etc. I have had a few bad spells that were hard to break that were helped by simply picking up the book and rereading some sections. I think it’s just reassuring to me that someone does understand this problem and there is a solution.
I try and use my mood – crankiness and lack of patience – as feedback for when I’m getting overly focused. It’s hard to stay alert to these things and fix the problem as it’s forming. I know I’ll get better at this with practice. All it takes is feeling the space between my eyes, feeling my breath surrounding my eyes, broadening my vision to take in the periphery. I feel instant relaxation in my brain and abdomen.
I submitted this blog post in hopes that it will help someone else who has struggled with chronic stress and insomnia.
A special thanks for Susan (Shor Fehmi) for sharing her early experiences with Open Focus, on the April "Ask Dr. Fehmi" Teleseminar. She described herself as very driven and goal oriented, and said that at first she couldn't relax or slow down long enough to listen to the Open Focus exercises. I’m so appreciative to Susan for sharing her struggle as it gives me continuing resolve to work at healing in these areas. And Dr. Fehmi’s opening exercise was really great! I’m not sure why it seemed to be different from the others, but I was able to experience a nice diffuse/immerse focus with it, something that is still a challenge for me. —–Joanne
Seeking Guest Bloggers:
We invite you to write a guest post about your experiences with Open Focus, either personally or how you incorporate Open Focus brain exercises/meditations and awareness of Space into your work with patients or clients. If you're interested, please send an email to Louise@DissolvingPain.com