This is an excerpt from Will Williams first book, on a subject he struggled with for several years: insomnia. You can order your copy here, and explore the inspiring stories of Will himself, and the people he has taught, learning how Beeja meditation helped them face their personal demons to become healthier and happier people.
I had a vast amount of sympathy for David when he came to me suffering from insomnia. I know from my own experience how awful it can be not to be able to sleep, and how it seems to drag down every other part of your life.
David and I weren’t unusual. Sleep deprivation is a huge issue these days. A hundred years ago we used to get around nine hours a night; now we’re down to seven and a half. That simply isn’t enough. Even more concerning, however, is the major decline in sleep quality, which is actually far more detrimental to our overall wellbeing. I’ll talk about why in a moment, but first let’s hear from David about what his lack of sleep meant for him.
‘Being able to sleep felt like a miracle.’
‘I’m married, with two kids, and my business is in Russia. The past few years have been very stressful. There was a point when I could have lost everything, and I went to a very dark place. I felt a lot of stress, a lot of anxiety, and I panicked. Maybe when I was younger I’d have thrived off all this, but as you get older, your body and mind aren’t geared for it. Physically, the messages were crystal-clear – I had a horrific sleep disorder, and it had been going on for a year and a half.
I could fall asleep, no problem, because I was knackered and living mostly on adrenaline, but then I’d wake up and be bouncing off the walls. I’d be in a semi-sleep, sort of half- awake, half asleep, with my mind just churning meaningless nonsense. On and on it would go, whirring all night long. If I did fall asleep, I’d be met with anxiety dreams, which were about being chased or busting for a leak and not being able to find a loo. Stupid things – like being constantly late; or missing something. Sleep should be when you rest, but I found it so stressful that I actually began to dread going to bed.
I felt powerless, and that was just soul-destroying. Sometimes I’d get up, go downstairs, sit in a chair and read, or I’d wake up and take a sleeping pill. Every so often I’d take one before I went to bed, because I was just too tired to deal with it. But sleeping pills aren’t really a solution, not for the long term. You don’t wake up after you’ve taken them feeling in any way refreshed. And then at 6 o’clock in the morning the kids would come in and I’d have to get up and function again. It was so horrible to have to strain to interact with my children; I felt like my humanity was slipping away and I was becoming a zombie.
Every time I travelled for business, it was worse, because moving across time zones would totally finish me off. Sometimes I’d wake up in the morning in some random hotel and I’d just say: ‘Sod this,’ and stay in bed.
I tried everything, from hypnotherapy to a sleep doctor, who referred me to a clinic, where they tried to force anti- depressants on me. I thought: No, I’m not depressed. This isn’t right.
I wasn’t depressed; I was high-functioning, but short- tempered. I was getting through the days, but without sleep, you don’t repair. And it had a very big knock-on effect on my confidence and on my ability to cope with stress. Suddenly I wasn’t able to speak in public, which I have to do a lot, so I was really at my wits’ end.
After about a year of this, I was on an evening out and met a friend of a friend. I began to tell him about my sleep problem and he said: ‘Let me stop you there. This is what you’ve been through. This is how it started. This is what’s happened. You’ve been here. You’ve tried that. That didn’t work. And now you’re taking sleeping pills every night.’
He was a Beeja meditation teacher, based in Paris, and he told me he dealt with this sort of stuff all the time and that I should definitely go try it. When I went to see Will, he seemed remarkably confident that it would work. After all I’d been through, I really couldn’t believe it would be that easy.
Within forty-eight hours of learning to meditate, my sleep problem had vanished. It was that quick; it was that powerful. I was suddenly feeling relaxed and calm. Meditation seemed like a very natural thing to do, and I loved it.
Being able to sleep felt like a miracle. I felt so grateful. If I had to rate it, I’d say my sleep pattern had been a two out of ten; meditation moved me to an eight. It had been agony before, and now I felt wonderful when I woke up in the morning.
I really feel as if I now have a tool for dealing with insomnia. There have been times since I started meditating when I’ve had the odd night of sleeplessness, but then I’m able to say: ‘You know what? I’ve got the solution to this.’ So I sit up, meditate, and then go straight back to sleep.
I haven’t had to do that now for months. I feel so relieved. I also know that even if I don’t get enough sleep, I can get the rest and repair I need because I c
an meditate there and then, and once more in the morning to get myself refreshed. And that, of course, takes away the anxiety of not being able to sleep in the first place, so you go to bed more relaxed knowing you’ve got all the solutions in your back pocket.
Dealing with the sleep issue was the main positive effect of the meditation, but I use it as a tool for many other things now, especially for coping with stress and anxiety. I’m a guy that’s quite impatient, moving a hundred miles an hour the whole time, and so I struggle to stay in the moment. I’m very aware of my limitations, and I’m always wanting to improve as a father, a husband and as a businessman.
As a father, I can say that I’m much more present. I feel those special moments with my kids a lot more, when you have a surge of overwhelming joy and it just hits you. Those moments of awareness have increased dramatically for me. I work from home, and if I’ve had a hard day, sometimes I’ll hear the kids come back from school and I want to run downstairs and see them. Now I stop myself and think: You know what, you can feel you’re anxious; you can feel you’re stressed – just go and meditate. Then, afterwards, I can go and see them and be really present and full of love for them.
If they come upstairs anyway and interrupt, you can easily get back into it, because it doesn’t require any focus. The kids come in and I’ll say: ‘Dad’s meditating. Just give me a minute,’ and they’ll go. It’s very easy to roll back into.
My wife says I’m a lot calmer, which is really nice to hear, and I’m so glad she’s getting to benefit from it too. One of our kids has just been diagnosed with ADHD, and that’s a whole other ballgame of parental challenges, yet I feel like this is giving me the tools to help me deal with that. I very rarely get to boiling point now, which is a huge relief for everyone.
As for business – well, I’m far more in tune with other people. I can read others a lot better, and that helps with business as well as my relationships with colleagues. I think it’s about stepping back and not constantly looking about. That’s the key: taking it down a notch. It’s about connection; it’s about presence. It’s about being with
someone when you’re with them. And when you feel yourself drifting, you’re able to go: ‘Now hang on a minute . . .’ Meditating gives you a lot in terms of the enhancement of your connection with that person, and your emotional intelligence develops as well.
ys who are nearing their fifties. So many of them could use it. It’s a very competitive world, and we’re all suffering from these lifestyles that we’ve created for ourselves.
It ebbs and flows, of course. It’s not as if every meditation is amazing, but certainly after every meditation I can say: ‘I needed that,’ and be truly grateful I found it.
The Effortless Mind is available on Amazon.