What To Do When You Can’t Fall Asleep


Not being able to fall asleep is a really common experience.  It can happen at the beginning of the night, during the middle of the night, or even at nap time.  Here’s my no-nonsense guide on how to expedite the amount of time it takes you to fall asleep.

The first important thing to understand is that if the mind is tired, it will naturally fall asleep once it’s sufficiently relaxed.

So how to get the mind sufficiently relaxed?

At the core, the mind is relaxed when it doesn’t want anything. 

When it doesn’t want to to think more thoughts about work/lovers/friends/kids/future, when it doesn’t want to be more comfortable, or, most importantly, when it doesn’t even want to fall asleep.

Let’s zoom-in on that last one.

Often, people lie down and they really want to fall asleep.  The wanting itself has a tense feel to it.  It’s very serious and goal-oriented.  In turn, if five minutes or an hour passes and they’re still awake, they easily become frustrated or irritable.  These mental states are definitely not mental relaxation, and instead keep people up even longer.

So here’s what I do to get sufficiently relaxed for sleep to happen all-by-itself.   

When I lie down in bed, instead of trying to fall asleep, I practice lying down meditation.

This involves a huge perspective shift.

I actually get excited when I can’t fall asleep, because this means I get to log more minutes of meditation!  If I wake up in the middle of the night and I’m wide awake, my first thought is, “sweet!  Now I get to do some lying down meditation!”

If the thought comes up, “oh man, I have to be up early tomorrow, I better get to sleep soon,” I remind myself that meditating is nearly as restful as sleeping (it’s true!).  And I just keep meditating.

The “life hack” here is that because I’ve stopped wanting to fall asleep, my mind gets pretty relaxed, and I actually fall asleep rather quickly. 

Although, sometimes I don’t, and I get in a good hour or two of lying down meditation—bonus!

How exactly to do lying down meditation?

Personally, I like to start by feeling every ounce of my body sinking & relaxing into the mattress.  I totally release everything—my muscles, my tensions, my thoughts, my emotions, my whole world.

Often times, I maintain a loose awareness of sound and body.  Other times, I just do more of a global “letting go” practice, and open to the flow of whatever is there.

Most importantly, whenever I notice wanting-something, I release more deeply.

Of course, you can do any meditation practice you like, but I generally recommend something gentler and low effort.  Stay away from mantras, visualizations and intense breathing practices—these can often amp the mind up instead of calming it down.

In summary, you don’t actually do falling asleep.  Rather, falling asleep happens when your mind is sufficiently relaxed. 

One good way to arrive there is goal-less lying down meditation, where you are actually enthused to just meditate, for however long you are lying there!

Six Important Things to Know after a Major Insight (Part 6 of 6)



We’ve just had a significant insight, and now life feels “different.”

Whether it’s a psychological or meditative insight isn’t terribly important, because whatever it was, it has left a noticeable residue.

Maybe we’re glowing and beaming.  Maybe it has more of a sobering and cool feel.  Although, whatever the residue, the question on the mind is often,

What now?

Here’s a list of six things I wish I would’ve known a decade ago.  They help navigate the transition space from the old-us to the new-us.

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How to Attain Insight & Wisdom in Three Steps (Part 5 of 6)


The Buddhist tradition uses a three-step model for the development of insight/wisdom.  While it could be applied to nearly anything, we’re mostly interested in how it applies to the three meditative truths: inconstancy, not-self and dukkha.

Although, to bring it down to earth, imagine we really dislike cold weather.  Whenever it drops below zero, we automatically become tense, agitated and grumpy.

In other words, our experience is of “dukkha”—the pain of wanting things to be other than they are.

However, after walking through the three steps detailed below, we learn to be in frigidly cold weather without getting tense or resistant.  And, in turn, we actually feel a deep capacity to stay relaxed and engaged, not just during cold weather, but during just about all unpleasant life situations. Continue reading

The Three Core Insights of Mindfulness Meditation (Part 4 of 6)


In today’s post, we’re going to more directly explore the realm of meditative truth.

Of course, just as you don’t need to read about gravity to experience it, you don’t need to read about these to experience them, or to have insight into them.  However, knowing where to steer your practice can sure save a lot of time.

As a basic formula, meditative insight largely comes through applying our meditation fundamentals: being mindful with a curious and equanimous attitude, moment-after-moment-after-moment.

Without further ado, here they are:

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The Difference Between “Psychological” and “Meditative” Insight (Part 3 of 6)

With any insight, the basic thing we realize is the truth.  However, we can have insights into two different types of truth: psychological truth and meditative truth.

Psychological truths are unique-to-us, story-based, and subject to change—like realizing our life’s purpose is to be a community leader, what our true values are or why we always seem to be late everywhere.  This is also referred to as relative or personal truth, and is often pursued in a therapy room.

Meditative truths are universal-to-everyone, nature-based, and will never change—like realizing that anger is merely a combination of fluctuating sensation, cognition and feeling, or that there’s a subconscious belief that gives rise to it.  Or, deeply seeing that “I am not my thoughts,” and how “I have profound choice on whether to indulge a thought or to let it pass.”  This is also referred to as ultimate or absolute truth, and is often pursued in meditative practice.

To this point in the series I’ve given two examples of insight.  One was about a community elder who realized that people were more important than possessions.  The other was about two people having insight into healthy eating.

Both of those were psychological truths.  While both situations present insights that many people could relate to, they don’t deal with the fundamental building blocks of consciousness. Continue reading

How to Measure the Strength of an Insight (Part 2 of 6)

Insight Scale

When we strip away all the fancy explanations, everyone knows what an insight is.  It also goes by the names epiphany, revelation, realization, paradigm-shift, deep understanding or awakening.  If we look closely, most people actually have “mini-insights” pretty regularly.

It’s a moment where we have a deeper-than-thought realization that shifts our understanding or way of being.

I think of insights as being like a mind-earthquake, occurring on a 0 – 10 magnitude scale (like the Richter Scale).

The higher the magnitude, the deeper the shift in our understanding & way of being.

For example, a friend with poor eating habits once told me he had an insight about healthy eating.  However, a couple weeks after his insight, we chatted again, and he really hadn’t made any tangible changes to his eating habits.

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Introducing Insight and Wisdom in Mindfulness Meditation (Part 1 of 6)

In a previous post, I gave my basic vision of mindfulness meditation as being like an archeological dig.  We start with the fundamentals, stabilizing present moment awareness with the right attitude.

However, an archeological dig is not about digging for the sake of digging.  Neither is mindfulness meditation about being aware for the sake of being aware.  Rather, it’s about using awareness to dive into the depths of mind, and uncover insight and wisdom.

This is why “mindfulness meditation” is used synonymously with “insight meditation.”

I will now begin a six part series that breaks down wisdom, insight and truth in the world of mindfulness meditation!  For starters:


What is Wisdom?

Wisdom means deeply knowing or understanding the truth. 

Consider a wise community elder.  They simply “get things” on a level deeper than the rest of us.

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The Four Reasons People Actually Meditate (Instead of just Thinking about it)

The deepest answer to the question “why meditate?” doesn’t come from an intellectual analysis.  It comes from a heart or gut-level “inner knowing.”

It’s similar to how a toddler learns to walk.  They don’t write out a pro’s and con’s list.  They don’t procrastinate for a few years.  Rather, they have some very deep impulse that pushes them into actually walking, rather than sitting around thinking about it.

Today, I’ll detail the four sources of inner knowing, and how answering “why meditate?”  on this level is the key to having a consistent meditation practice. Continue reading

How to Understand the Most Important Teaching in Buddhism: Dukkha

buddha face image

I relate to Buddhism not so much as a world view, religion or philosophy, but as a set of practices that can help us live very deeply.

The formal teachings are sort of like a road map.  It doesn’t do much good to read or think about a map if we’re never actually going to hop in the car and go anywhere.

However, assuming we are prepared to hop in the “Buddhist vehicle” and engage with its practices, it’s very helpful to know the most important thing the map is actually saying.

To quote the Buddha himself, “I teach one thing and one thing only—dukkha and the end of dukkha.”

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My Basic Approach to Mindfulness Meditation

Note: the video is essentially the same as the text below.  Pick whichever format you like best!

archeological digThe working metaphor I use for mindfulness meditation is of an archeological dig.

In archaeology, a dig starts with shovels and pick axes, with tools and processes.  Eventually, this culminates in the discovery of artifacts, fossils and other treasures.

Mindfulness meditation is very similar.

We start with method and fundamentals, learning to be present-moment-aware with an equanimous and curious attitude.  After this stabilizes, it culminates in “insight” into the nature of our hearts and minds. Continue reading