–Buddha Life is hectic.
A typical day ranges from full to jam-packed with school, work, and general undertakings. It begins bright and early by rolling out of bed and doesn’t end until all obligations and responsibilities have been met. It’s no wonder that we may feel run-ragged by the time we return to our sleep sanctuaries to acquire some much-needed rest before doing it all again. The problem is that our brains do not always cooperate with our exhausted bodies. When we’re ready to shut our systems down for the night, our mind often goes right on buzzing with activity. This can be valuable. There’s not a lot of time for contemplation or reflection throughout the day and night might be when we let our minds wander to interesting places. We’re alone with our thoughts, no longer distracted by the world around us. We’re free to let the complexities of life swirl around in our head.
Let’s explore the spectrum of late-night thoughts–LNTs!
On our best days we may go to bed with a smile on our face and positive recollections beaming in our brains. Events from the day that brought us laughter, joy, happiness, or a sense of accomplishment from an exciting event, receiving good news, or just having a day where things went well can send us off feeling on top of the world. Our thoughts exalted, we may feel pretty good about ourselves and hopeful for the future. Late night can be a time when inspiration hits and the world seems full of potential. Thoughts of our hopes, dreams, plans, exciting ideas, anticipated events. Life awaits! So much to be excited for! Who knows what the future holds!?
These are often the times that we plant the seeds for future life endeavours by visualizing the life we want or the person we aspire to be. The evening can be a time for gratitude and recognition for what is good in our lives. Reflect on your day; with all the personal responsibilities and obligations it can be easy to feel the need to keep going without ever stopping to appreciate what we have produced. You’ve made it to your teenage years, getting an education, doing your thing, and no doubt excelling in many ways. Incorporating some well-deserved kudos into LNTs is a great way to end the day.
On the flip side, a particularly rough day may breed a storm of negative thoughts at night-time. We may feel plagued with regrets or remorse regarding how we were treated or something someone said or didn’t say, causing our thoughts to get stuck on a loop and zooming in on a specific situation. How could I have done that? What did they mean by that? Should I have done something differently? Whatever the source, it may be many a night that we fall asleep feeling down on ourselves and ruminating on what went wrong as opposed to what went right in our day.
Even if our day didn’t go so badly, we may be experiencing stress that results in our LNTs focusing on fears about our future. Hypothetical questions pour relentlessly through our minds. Will I pass that test? Get into college? Am I good enough? Smart enough? Will I be successful? Or we may use the evening to question the parts of ourselves we imagine are lacking or insufficient. Sadness may seep in at night such as our heartbreaks, nagging insecurities, things we wish we had in our lives but do not, or things that have happened that we wish hadn’t. When the night slows things down this may be where our heads and hearts go.
Bottom line, some nasty things can take hold of our LNTs. Then there are the thoughts that go beyond bad to downright dark. Humans are very good at avoiding unpleasant thoughts and feelings. As a means of self-preservation, we develop unhealthy coping skills that enable us to keep moving forward when something has gone awry within us. Unfortunately, when we push these feelings, thoughts, and emotions down they do not go away. Rather, they build upon each other and manifest themselves in various negative forms including anger, resentment, and fear. Late at night these repressed thoughts can try to creep up from below the surface. Depending on the degree of severity, whether a traumatic event, unpleasant realities about ourselves, or fears we have, we may dread these LNTs.
If you find yourself struggling at night with dangerous thoughts it may be beneficial to seek out professional services including counselling to address them. It is also extremely important to acknowledge that if your thoughts ever drift to the realm of self-harm or suicidal ideation it is imperative to notify a safe and trusted source. As deep as your pain maybe it always deserves to be heard, nothing is more important than your safety and knowing that you deserve to be happy and at peace.
And Everything In-Between
The thoughts that come to us late at night may not fit into a specific category and are often the bigger, unanswerable questions. We may get down right philosophical when the rest of the world has grown still but our minds keep working. Deeper reflection of life and ourselves in general may be what lulls us into slumber, contemplating how you’ve changed, grown, and developed. Getting existential and wondering what IT all means and who you are. Maybe questioning nihilism, is there no meaning? What’s the point of everything? There are no limitations to where our minds will go, and that can be a bit scary.
In our quiet moments we’re left alone to decide how to make sense of the world. Private and personal thoughts, opinions, and experiences, are given the spotlight. Because the end of the year is approaching it seems relevant to note the contemplation of milestones and changes. This is a time when students are thinking about high school ending and what will come next. It can bring some substantial thoughts about change and the future, the end of one era and the beginning of a new.
Change can be exciting and frightening all at the same time. It is sad to think about who you’ll be leaving behind. Seniors are moving out of their childhood home and away from their parents and friends. It’s the natural progression but it doesn’t come without a sense of loss or grief. That doesn’t mean that one should try to avoid thoughts that may elicit sadness, rather keep in mind that this means you have things in your life, which matter to you and are important and cherished. In this way grieving can be seen as a welcome indication of meaningful relationships and experiences.
If we are what we think then, ideally, we would aim to make our thoughts positive, beautiful, and inspiring. Unfortunately, it can seem at times that we’re not in complete control of our thoughts. It’s important to recognize that our thoughts are not necessarily truths. The power of observing thoughts rather than making judgements about them or always believing them can be a powerful and helpful practice. In addition, our personal history and ongoing experiences are not always pleasant and can taint what we think about.
These troubling memories may seem to be the default material for LNTs. We can at least make an effort, however, to not entertain upsetting or painful thoughts and to dwell more in positivity and possibility rather than negativity and perceived limitations. And remember, as bad as one night of restless or painful thoughts may be, another is always on its way and with it the opportunity to establish more peace and understanding of ourselves. If our thoughts do not sit well with us it may help to explore where they’re coming from. What is the source? It’s not easy and takes a lot of courage, but when we are able to confront what lies within us, we are better able to heal and therefore think and act in a healthy manner. Late nights can be a cherished time, a solace from the noisy confusion of life, and a chance to visualize the future. All great endeavours were once only a thought, it’s important not to underestimate how powerful our thoughts can be. Viva la LNTs and the potential that lies within them!
Whitney Walker is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with extensive experience working with adults, teens, and children of all ages. She holds an MA in Counseling Psychology… View full profile