gatineau morning.

gatineau morning.
photo by douglas mcarthur.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

sleep on it.

"to die, to sleep – to sleep, perchance to dream – ay, there’s the rub, for in this sleep of death what dreams may come…” shakespeare. (hamlet.)

q: you recently referred to our diminished ability to make the experience of our lives pleasant. the question begs asking: how would you suggest one access those so-called innate feelings of pleasantness without booze and other funny stuff?

a: firstly, i didn't say that. i heard that, or maybe i read it. be that as it may, i've been meditating a whole heckuva long time. so i kinda push that 'cause it's worked for me. i'm very well-adjusted and continuously in a state of rapture. ok, well, at least i'm able to truck on without all that crap, a reasonably contented creature moving inexorably toward an unknowable whatever, which just maybe i do know a little about. maybe we all do. i'll come back to that. consider it, if you will, like this:

in its purest sense meditation is not something we do. it's actually something we stop doing. for example, when we crawl into bed at night we know we won't be in a waking state or even always in a dream state. we're pretty sure we'll reach a state of deep sleep, which seems to be kind of a cessation of all states. do we really even exist at that time? surely not as a fully functioning individual. where were we? yet afterward we say the whole sleep experience was refreshing, rejuvenating. it was very pleasant. and that sense lingers on and sustains us until next night.

so, one way to think about meditation is as a conscious training we undertake to access the incredible pleasantness of sleep, only better, and ultimately even deep sleep. in that regard, perhaps we do sort of experience meditation every night. there's the wonderful feeling of getting into bed, the finishing with the day, the letting go. that's the same as when we decide it's time to sit down and take a few minutes to meditate. the slipping into a lovely semi-sleep state each night is not so different from what evolves in meditation after a while. then, there's the dream state. well, in meditation we still think. we still have a steady stream of mental projections not unlike a dream. in fact, that eventually takes on a distinctly dream-like quality. and, of course eventually we slip into a deep sleep, which i'll refer to again.

now, within this process something very special happens. every step of the way, little by little, more and more, it just works. little by little, more and more, something within us gets activated or released, flooding us with a sense of wonder, well-being, relaxation and, for lack of a better word, bliss. i would even go so far as to call it intoxicating: not the shxt-faced kind that leaves one with a headache and a std. it's more the natural, subtle, high-on-life kind. and, btw, it's less and less subtle over time. and of course the process is not just like sleep, although eventually there's no distinction to be made. suffice it to say, meditation has deeply transformative qualities leading to profound insights.

which brings me back to the deep-sleep part: there comes a time in meditation when one may actually dissolve entirely, become fully absorbed, for a moment, or longer, and it's incredible. in sanskrit that's referred to as 'samadhi.' and in sanskrit ancient sages referred to death as 'maha-samadhi,' the ultimate sleep, the ultimate meditation. that's interesting.

(editor's note: for a further in-depth description of mindfulness meditation, including theory and techniques, refer to the blog posting entitled: 'i'm not a teacher, you're not a student.')


  1. A straightforward and useful way to describe the "what" and the "how" of meditation Nathan. The analogy of sleep, with meditation being a kind of aware sleep, is a good one. The deep breathing techniques of yoga (pranayama) were for me a necessary physical basis for developing a meditation practice - and you have referred to them in previous postings.

    1. thx pam. in fact, teachers of meditation often don't like the comparison. there's a sense it might minimize the meditation practice. there may sometimes be a defensiveness. but the question is often asked: what's the difference? i won't get into that here. in regard to pranayam: all good tools, like studying certain texts/scriptures, maybe some chanting. i agree. all 'satsang.'

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