There are few things worse than not being able to sleep, so much so that it has been used as a method of torture throughout history. Yet it is only recently that lost sleep is being held responsible for a variety of ailments.
According to an article in The New Yorker: “Some forty-seven million adults, according to the National Sleep Foundation, do not get a restorative night’s sleep. In the workplace, sleep deprivation results in injuries and decreased productivity, which is thought to cost the U.S. eighteen billion dollars each year. As many as 1.2 million car crashes – twenty percent of the annual total – can be attributed to tired drivers, so it could be said that lack of sleep causes thousands of deaths and injuries every year.”
Why can sleep be so elusive? Where are we going wrong?
“You simply fall into sleep as if it is a sort of absence. It is not – it has its own presence. Sleep is not only negation of waking. If it was, then there was nothing to meditate. Sleep is not like darkness, absence of light, no. Sleep has its own positivity. It exists, and it exists as much as your waking time. And when you will meditate and the mysteries of sleep will be revealed to you, then you will see that there is no distinction between waking and sleeping. They both exist in their own right. Sleep is not just rest from waking, it is a different kind of activity, hence dreams.
“Dreaming is a tremendous activity, more powerful than your thinking, more meaningful also, because it belongs to the deeper part of your being than your thinking. When you fall into sleep, the mind that was functioning the whole day is tired, exhausted. It is a very tiny mind, one-tenth compared to the unconscious, which is nine times bigger and greater and powerful. And if you compare it with the superconscious, comparison is not possible, because the superconscious is infinite, the superconscious is omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient. The superconscious is what godliness is. Even compared to the unconscious, the conscious is very small. It gets tired, it needs rest to be recharged. The conscious goes off; tremendous activity starts in sleep, which is dreaming.
“Why it has been neglected? – because mind has been trained to be identified with the conscious, so that in sleep you think you are no more. That’s why sleep looks just like a small death. You simply never think about what is going on. Patanjali says, ‘Meditate on it and many things will be uncovered within your being.’
“It will take a little time to move into sleep with awareness because you are not even aware when you are awake. You move, in fact, in your waking also as if you are deep asleep, a somnambulist, a sleepwalker, not very awake really. Just because the eyes are open don’t think that you are awake. Awakening means that whatsoever you are doing or whatsoever is happening moment to moment, you are doing it in full mindfulness. Even if I raise my hand to make a gesture to you, I am making it in full consciousness. It can be made in a robot-like way, mechanical; you are not aware of what is happening in the hand. In fact, you have not moved it at all; it has moved on its own, it is unconscious. That’s why it is so difficult to penetrate your own sleep.
“But if one tries…. The first effort to be made is: while you are awake be more awake, because the effort has to be started from there. Walking on the street, walk mindfully, as if you are doing something very important. It is very significant. Each step should be taken in full awareness. If you can do that, only then you can enter into sleep. Right now you have a very faint awareness. The moment your conscious mind goes off, that faint awareness disappears like a small ripple. It has no energy; it is very, very faint, just a flicker, just a zero-voltage phenomenon.
“You have to bring more energy to it, so much energy that when the conscious mind goes off, awareness continues on its own – and you fall asleep with awareness. This can happen if you do other activities with awareness – walking, eating, sleeping, taking your bath. The whole day, whatsoever you are doing becomes just an excuse for the inner training of mindfulness. So the activity becomes secondary; awareness through that activity becomes primary. By the night, when you drop all activity and you go to sleep, that awareness continues even while you are falling asleep. The awareness becomes a watcher: ‘Yes, the body is falling asleep and by and by, the body is relaxing.’ Not that you verbalize, you simply watch. By and by, thoughts are disappearing. You watch the gaps. By and by the world is very, very distant. You are moving into the basement of your being, the unconscious. If you can fall down asleep with awareness, only then the continuity will be there in the night. That is what Patanjali means: ‘Meditate on the knowledge that sleep brings.’
“And sleep can bring much knowledge because it is your treasure-house, your basement of many, many lives. You have been treasuring many things there. First try to be aware while awake, while you are in the waking state, and then, by itself, the awareness becomes so powerful that it doesn’t matter what activity you are doing really – walking, or walking in a dream makes no difference. And when for the first time you will fall asleep with awareness, you will see how gears change. You will even feel the click that the wakefulness disappears, mind is off, another realm starts – the gears of the being have changed. And between these two gears there is a small gap of neutral gear, because whenever the gear changes, it has to pass from the neutral passage. By and by, you will become aware not only of the change of gear, but of the gap between the two, and in that gap you will have your first glimpse of the superconscious.
“When the conscious mind changes into the unconscious, just for a very minute part of a moment you will be able to see the superconscious. But that is a later chapter in the story; I mention it just by the way. First, you will become conscious of the unconscious, and that will bring tremendous change in your life.”