Struggling with Thoughts During the Night

Q: I just read Fr. Keating’s Open Mind, Open Heart book. What should I do during the night, while lying in bed, and I find myself with a bunch of general thoughts going on, as well as “engaged” thoughts? I tried using a sacred word when I found myself with an engaged thought, but then the action(s) made me more awake, and I was up for an hour or more trying to fall back to sleep. 

A: Thank you for your question. Yes, the night is a very common time for our busy thoughts to reassert themselves.  They either have been on our mind throughout the day and then get our full attention at night, or, because we are relaxed, they float to the surface of consciousness. One thing is for sure, these thoughts are things that we have on our mind. If you fight them, you lose.

The first thing I would recommend is to have a friendly attitude toward them.  Don‚Äôt fight them; they are just part of our human framework.

Second, be faithful to your Centering Prayer practice during the day but, especially in your case, do not practice Centering Prayer with the intention to get rid of thoughts at night, but practice it to consent to God’s presence and action in what you are experiencing.

Third, you may try an active prayer phrase (see the appendix in the back of Open Mind, Open Heart). I have developed the practice of gently praying, “Lord Jesus Christ be my life breath” in rhythm with my breathing. It is like spiritual white noise as I listen to my breathing. It helps to release thought patterns and create new ones. If thoughts trigger emotional reactions, memories, or body sensations, the Welcoming Prayer practice may be useful during these times.

Fourth, prepare for the night like you do for the day.  Create a pattern of prayers, reflection and space to celebrate the day and prepare for the night, e.g., practice some sort of night prayers or compline.

Remember, it is not an effort of no thoughts, but one of letting go of thoughts.

Looking forward to hearing back from you. – Blessings, Fr Carl.