February 18, 2013
By law, all buildings are required to have a way out, in case of an emergency. So do smart businesses, because the good-times will one day come to an end. But what about in relationships? In our jobs? Our living arrangements?
In my family we collect citizenships the way others collect Royal Doulton. That is because we have been refugees and do not trust any one country to honor their obligation to us. The regimes we serve might fall. Prosperity can turn on a dime. We know from experience that people who look different and have strange names are favorite scapegoats. So we keep a second passport updated.
It is a family lesson I have carried over into other aspects of my life also. Throughout my working life, I kept my resume updated. In the old days (before internet) I’d scan the job classifieds daily, just to keep my options open.
“But you can’t do the same in a marriage,” my friend protested. She argued it would be disloyal and disrespectful to her vows of in sickness/health, richer/poorer etc. She may be right. Though I do have to question why is it that women stay in abusive relationships. Can it be that they feel backed into a corner? They have no exit strategy? My mother ensured each of her daughters had a career before her marriage. She advised each of them to maintain a separate savings account after marriage, just in case. She was a feminist before it was fashionable.
Over the years I have known several friends who stopped calling once they entered a serious relationship. They got loved up. Suddenly they needed no one other their current partner. They were complete. A couple of years later, the phone calls would resume. They’d start with a hasty apology for not having kept in touch, then quickly proceed to their emotion pain at losing the latest love of their life. “He turned out to be a louse,” one might complain. “She was a control freak,” another lamented. That little love cocoon they had created at the start of their relationship gradually felt like a cage, with no way out.
It may seem cynical to keep an exit strategy in relationships, but it is realistic. This too shall pass, declares the wisdom of the ancients. We this fact comforting when faced with the flu or a seat on the bus beside a sweaty fat man, but we don’t want to heed the full message of that wisdom when we are happy, rich and loved. We delude ourselves that we are the exception to nature’s law of what goes up must come down.
Lately I have been thinking a lot about resilience. I work with two communities at the opposite ends of resilience. I love my geriatrics who have survived world wars, revolutions and untold personal tragedies. They stoically summon the resilience to cope with their latest medical misfortune. At the other end are the homeless guys, many of whom once had dynamic, successful lives. Yet each man has had one fateful failing; for some it was drugs and alcohol, for others it was gambling and a for a few it was a criminal mistake. I wonder why they were unable to withstand that fateful failing, when the geriatrics have withstood many more?
Can the answer be, resilience? If so, what is the secret to cultivating this quality? I believe resilience is about planning for all eventualities. In other words, having an exit strategy.
Of course the ultimate exit is death itself. Seven years ago, when I was handed a virtual death sentence, I was advised not to dwell on it too much. My experience has been that accepting my mortality has brought about a heightened awareness of life. That in planning for death, I have tidied up my life. In working to delay the coming of death, I am eating better, breathing better, sleeping better. I no longer fear the vagaries of life. I do not see myself as its victim. Because I have an exit strategy.
January 28, 2013
Oh to sleep like a teenager again! How I miss the capacity to fall asleep on cue, and more importantly, stay asleep until, well, lunch. If only my bladder would co-operate. It demands (and I mean a collection agent demand) that I empty it at 3.00 a.m. sharp. Then there is the problem of noise. Teenage me once slept in a Manhattan nightclub with my head against the speaker. Now any passing garbage (and garbage truck) is enough to break the ironically named sound sleep.
I wish there were a magic bullet. A simple one-size-fits-all solution. But alas, the reasons for poor quality sleep are as countless as the sheep. What I did discover is a process whereby anyone can help himself.
I begin with the most urgent. When one or more of the body’s physiology is in disharmony, the first symptom is poor sleep. It is the body’s alarm for danger. Consult a reliable physician for any underlying health issues. But, good luck with that. I have found most physicians to be shamelessly dismissive about sleep apnea, pre-diabetes and other ill harbingers. (Perhaps because as interns they worked for months without any sleep). I had to train myself as my own GP (I even purchased a white lab coat). I researched. I quizzed family members (we have enough professionals to open our own hospital). I surfed the net. I read a book or two (okay, two dozen).
Next, I beautified my environment. It may seem like stating the obvious that a clean, tidy bedroom is conducive to good sleep, but in my experience (don’t ask me how I know) for some people the bedroom is the messiest room in the house. The other day I saw a homeless man fast asleep in the island of a highway, in the middle of morning rush hour yet! For about two seconds it made me question whether environment is at all important. I realized he was passed out from intoxication. For the rest of us, proper furniture placement, high end bedding, ambient lighting, pleasant scents and soothing sounds all contribute their little bit. More subtlety, it suggests to the mind that sleep is a luxurious pleasure to be enjoyed. Though I am thrifty in other ways, I do invest in high-thread count sheets and orthopedic pillows.
Thirdly, find yourself a nice temporary bed companion. The least expensive, and definitely the least clingy, is a diary. I used to keep mine on my bedside stand and each morning I recorded the quality and quantity of sleep. I stopped only once it improved significantly. In it I also used to note the main points of previous day. It is a basic but neglected fact that the quality of your sleep is a reflection of your waking hours. Try this simple test: spend the day at a rock concert, indulge in wild orgies, eat a dozen varieties of jalapeno, then observe the quality of your sleep. You get the idea. Sleep is so holistic that it is affected by every other aspect of your waking life, from your stress levels to your nutrition and leisure activities. In disciplining one’s sleep, one ends up disciplining every other aspect of one’s life. People seem to forget that waking and sleep are two sides of the same coin.
The other night I was at dinner party where we were eating till 11.00 p.m. It was a rich, starchy supper, topped off with coffee and a sugary dessert (the host threatened us with espresso). Needless to say sleep was difficult that night. I generally avoid nighttime snacking and also suppers such as pasta, rice and potatoes, which turn liquid a few hours after digestion. Breads on the other hand absorb liquids and are an aide in sleeping through the night. The nocturnal digestion of starch activates insulin, causing blood sugar levels to dip, which then prompts the adrenaline to fire up. Presto, you are wide awake at 4.00 a.m. for no good reason.
It is infuriating. The more annoyed I get, the harder it is to fall back asleep. Now I play a trick on my own mind. I discovered 3.00 a.m. is the perfect solitude for mediation. It beats being angry at the interruption of sleep. This change in attitude has helped me fall back asleep much more quickly. Failing that, it has led to some deep, deep meditative states. Win-win I say.
Not surprising really because sleep and meditation are not dissimilar. Sleep is also an altered state of consciousness. The same skills, the same dedication and the same vigilance cultivated in meditation come in handy in attaining better sleep.
And so I observe my bedtime rituals rather earnestly. It works because the human mind is highly habitual. I avoid violent TV just before bed, specially the news. I find reading before bed a better option, though never fiction. Fiction is designed to put images in your head. I prefer philosophical writings that blow my mind wonderfully out of day’s cares.
If that sounds suspiciously like an endorsement for a life of awareness, that’s because it is. Of course the quest for good sleep (just like the quest for love or happiness) is never-ending. It has to be fine tuned daily according to life’s changing demands.
January 21, 2013
This is a true story. After my friend died I telephoned her credit card company to cancel her card. The Customer Service Rep who was mechanically sticking to his script replied, “I’m sorry sir, but only the cardholder can make changes to that account.” Isn’t this what we find most frustrating about public service personnel: they don’t listen!
There is a reason why I patronize this one barber shop instead of a dozen others in my neighborhood: my barber Pat knows the art of listening. While I am waiting for him to finish with his present client, I enjoy watching his effortless way of prompting the gentleman in his chair to speak. Pat is chameleon-like in his ability to become all things to all people.
It’s a trick that served me well this week. I was visiting with one of my geriatric patients when she revealed to me that she was feeling rather depressed. Earlier that day her oncologist had advised her that her cancer had spread to her lymph nodes and because she was eight-four, there was not much that could be done. I did not know what to say to make her feel better. I remembered Pat and decided to just be a blank page. I gave her loving attention but allowed her to be comfortable with her silences. Slowly, haltingly, she opened up about her fears and anxieties. By the time her niece arrived for a visit, she was back to her smiling, stoic self. As I was leaving she sincerely thanked me for “our little chat”. I had hardly said a word.
I see around me young people voluntarily tuning out the world on the sidewalks of downtown with their ubiquitous Ipod. There are people crossing busy streets while texting on their cellphones. Does anyone listen anymore?
As a writer I appreciate that the truth of good fiction resides in the inferences and the nuances between the words. Perhaps people read less literature nowadays because we have forgotten this benefit of skillful listening. I was reminded of this fact this week at the homeless shelter. A long-haired, bearded man sat in my chair requesting a haircut. He had a slight Indian accent and as he spoke I was impressed by his vocabulary and clarity of thought. He was obviously an intelligent and educated man. Inbetween my small talk I gently cued him to speak about how he had ended up living on the streets. He was cagey. Usually the men I barber are eager to unburden their story. He said he had inadvertently thrown away all of his I.D. and that was the reason he was homeless. I asked no more. I understood he was in Canada illegally. He was playing the system. As much as his words tried to conceal this fact, the silence inbetween had told the truth.
The pay offs are plenty in relationships but the real prize is in solitude. These days everyone is interested in ‘meditation’ without being clear about what that entails. Meditation is nothing but the skill of listening to yourself. The real reason your mind keeps chattering is because you do not listen, hence it keeps repeating the same verbiage over and over again. When we learn to listen to ourselves, our sleep is more restful, with less crazy dreams.
Many years ago I met a master of silence during a retreat in Northern California. Though his height was modest, he seemed to tower higher than the sequoias around us. It was his gaze. Intense, penetrating and personal. I felt naked in his presence. His ability to answer my questions the instant they arose in my mind astounded me. I was sitting in the front row of the tent, waiting, along with a hundred others, for him to begin speaking when I silently wondered to myself if he really could read my mind. He abruptly turned his head in my direction, looked me in the eyes and said, “I am not interested in reading the confusion in your mind.”
His name was Swami Chinamayanda, and he went on to say that people often marvel that he reads minds but really, he just knows how to listen. He gives attention to the pauses, the silences, and we supply him the rest. I understood what he meant because at that time I had the privilege of living with a cat. The only way I could anticipate her moods and her needs was by slowing down, learning to give silent attention. Just watch any mother with a newborn and it is a skill she soon acquires.
Excuse me while I plug in my Ipod before I cross the street and text at the same time. And thanks for listening.
July 16, 2012
It is one of life’s paradoxes: people love being in a clean, tidy home, but dislike the act of cleaning. I too used to feel it a chore. Then I figured out why. My mother had been an angry cleaner, as were my older sisters. Cleaning was a burden to be finished as quickly as possibly. Sometimes they would be resentful, blaming someone (usually me) for the mess. The vacuums would be banged against my feet. The TV would be sprayed with Windex even as I was watching it. The sofa pushed out of the way with me still seated in it. The atmosphere was so tense whenever they cleaned that the best thing you could do was stay out of the way. Of course that gave them another reason to be resentful. Not surprisingly, my sisters have children and husbands who also make themselves scarce when they clean their respective homes. And they complain, without the slightest trace of irony, that no one ever helps them.
Subconsciously I had learned that cleaning equal being in bad mood. I used to feel panicked and uncomfortable while cleaning around my apartment, without understanding where the sense of unease came from. One day it dawned on me that I had been taught to detest the act of cleaning rather consistently. Once I made this small realization, there was a huge shift in my consciousness. I became aware of the resentful feelings and deliberately replaced them with a joyful mood. At first it felt forced, there was effort involved. But over time I now clean without blame or resentment. I clean for myself because I like an uncluttered environment, no matter who is responsible for the mess.
I live with someone who does not like to clean either. Because I like a tidy environment, I clean for the both of us. I used to resent this. I felt put upon. After I made that switch from angry cleaner to joyful cleaner, I clean up after the person I live with as an act of love. I remind myself of it each time I remove a coffee mug from the living room and put it in the dishwasher. Strangely, I now get help whenever I clean. It seems the people you live with pick on your moods as you clean. There is now a joyful air when I clean and everyone wants to be a part of that joy.
It may seem like a small change but actually it is huge. It has made me re-evaluate some of the other ‘chores’. Does having to take messages have to be a chore? I decided, no. It too can be an act of love. Doing the shopping, holding the door open for a stranger, letting others ahead of you when they look to be in a hurry. The common curtseys that have become uncommon in big cities. If we follow good manners it is usually out of fear of being judged by onlookers. In this ‘me first’ society, manners feel unnatural, an anachronistic imposition. But all of these basic curtseys can be acts of love.
A gigantic change happens in the mind when we adopt this attitude. We start to feel better. We experience happiness, no matter what other problems are going on around us. The mind is uncluttered. We sleep more restfully. If we are meditators, that too becomes deeper and easier.
That attitude does not end there. Even when do small things ourselves, like opening a letter, or making a meal, we start to do it with more care. We start to relish the small personal acts of daily living. I used to think that to be happy I needed pots of money. Perhaps travel to exotic locales, engage in exciting sports like skydiving or parasailing. I no longer feel that sense of lacking about such bombastic activities. I am content with simply being alive.
March 11, 2012
At first glance these two seem unrelated. One is mystical, Eastern and trendy, while the other is cliched, Christian and old school. But hang on, is one possible without the other? Upon inquiry we find that the two are so intrinsically linked as to be two sides of the same coin.
Meditation is something I have practiced for years and so people sometimes query me about it. The other day a young woman, whom I shall call Rosie, was telling me that she had been sincerely trying to mediate but “my mind just won’t co-operate.” I asked Rosie what she understood to mean by mediation. She replied that she thought it required emptying the mind and that when she attempted to do so, memories of past hurts came flooding back to her. Even as she recounted this, her eyes flooded with tears. I was not surprised. I have known Rosie for many years and she has suffered more than her fair share of pain during her young life. She is a deeply compassionate woman who has been taken advantage of time and again by the very persons she has attempted to help. Boyfriends have mistreated her, female friends have left her holding the bag for their collective mischief. Her judgements may have been lacking, but she has never been a mean-spirited woman.
My advice to her was to stop meditation, at least for now. I know intimately where she is on her journey. For years I too struggled with my mind throwing up years of buried emotional pain. It is something akin to trying to fall asleep while your arm is bleeding. No matter how many sheep you count, rest will not be possible until you take care of that hemorrhaging. And emotional pain is a kind of hemorrhaging, it bleeds your psychic energy. First and foremost, take care of that pain. Forgiveness is the balm as well as the bandage.
Then the golden question becomes, how? How does one go about forgiving someone who has done deliberate, lasting harm? Well, firstly, forgiveness can never be a superficial thing. It requires a deep understanding of the situations and motives that led to your hurt. It requires letting go of your certainty about the narrative of events. It requires a willingness to see things from the perpetuator’s point of view and this calls for deep compassion for him or her. It requires revisiting some very dark places. I do not believe confrontation is necessary to forgive. Often it is not even practical. Even if you do have the opportunity, it is unlikely the perpetrator will co-operate with a sincere apology. If he maliciously hurt before, he might just aggravate your pain. The good news is that forgiveness is best done alone, within the silence of the heart. Just like meditation.
During this process of forgiving do not neglect the other person in this blame circle, and that is, oneself. He too needs to be forgiven. There are many people in the world we blame for all kinds of atrocities, but they don’t insist their presence when we sit quietly for mediation. An integral part of emotional pain is that there is self-blame, and it is often so painful that we cannot even bare to think about it. Though it too must be healed.
Don’t get me wrong, I do not advocate ‘forgive and forget’. Why should you forget a lesson you paid for so dearly? Forgiveness, however, is a letting go of emotional pain so that you are left with peace of mind. And isn’t that the goal of mediation also? Mediation is nothing but letting go. It requires turning away from the thinker and all his obsessions – all that you think you are, all that you believe you were, all that you wish to become. It is a state of being comfortable with – well, just being. Nothing to gain, nothing to lose. Nothing to protect. Just be.
February 21, 2012
Exercise and I have had an on-off relationship. Back in the Eighties I too was caught up in the workout-for-vanity craze of that era. This time round however, the push came from my cardiologist. My ejection fraction, the amount of blood the heart pumps out with each beat, was so low that he thought of installing a defibrillator into my chest cavity. I didn’t much care for having an electronic device surgically attached to my heart. Reluctantly I began to use the treadmill in my building five times a week. That was three years ago. Now I only ever miss a session if I am sick, or out of town. I keep going back because I have discovered that exercise has a few other benefits rarely talked about.
Sleep:- I used to have very erratic sleep, often waking in the night, unable to return to sleep. Since I began regular exercise my sleep patterns have stabilized. It is not only the quantity of sleep that has improved but the quality. My dreams are less wild, I feel more rested now when I awake. Which has also improved the rhythms of my…
Appetite: I now actually feel hungry. Eating is a pleasure and not just something I have to do for the good of my health. In particular, I am drawn to fresh fruits and vegetables. I enjoy making my own meals because I trust the healthy ingredients I put into them. I believe both the sleep and the eating rhythms are tied to….
Breathing: Cardio improves the respiratory system as well. To maximize this effect, while I run on the treadmill I deliberately breathe deeply. In yoga, breathing and movement are closely synchronized, but people seem to forget about that in other activity. By focussing on the breath, the heart, and the lungs I get the full benefit of the half-hour. I see so many people on the treadmill with their i-Pods or their magazines. I prefer to be aware of what is happening within my body during movement. The spill over of that attention is that I am more mindful when walking down the street. When walking along the street, or doing mundane physical work, my attention returns to deep, rhythmic breathing. Even sitting on the subway, or in a movie I habitually focus on my breathing and that helps with …
Moods: Regular exercise normalizes the hormones of the body, the serotonin and Dopamine and other feel-good body chemicals. I find I can handle stress much better than before. I have more mental stamina to think about deeper things, read more meaningful books. The world feels less scary now that I exercise, as though I have taken back some control. This means there has been an improvement in my…
Relationships: Having that half-hour to myself daily has afforded me the luxury of self-reflection. I find my mind spontaneously reviews the previous day’s activity and my behavior in it. Regret is not always a bad thing. If it is combined with compassion, it can lead to remorse and an improvement in how one relates with others. Plus I have met some great people in the exercise room, which has led to more….
Friendships: There are some great people in my building who lead interesting lives, are caring and compassionate people. Some are fighting off aging issues such as imbalance, painful joints, or cardiac problems. Being around good company brings with it greater peace of mind, which helps with…
Awareness: Meditations are deeper, more insightful and rewarding. They seem to carry over effortlessly into daily activity. All of which feeds into improving the above aspects of life. A kind of virtuous circle is set up. As far as I know regular, moderate exercise is only panacea there is for a balanced, healthy life.
These benefits accrue over time. Moderate but regular exercise is the key here, which of course helps develop patience. Oh, and by the way, my ejection fraction improved significantly. My cardiologists decided I did not need a defibrillator at this time.
February 4, 2012
One of the less appealing aspects of an examined life for me is this whole notion of ‘mind control’. It sounds as though you are being abducted by aliens. Even when it was explained to me that ‘mind control’ was about me taking charge of my own mind, I still didn’t care for it. It meant being on guard against every thought, every impulse, each spontaneous emotion. Live life as though an android, it seemed to me. I did try it for a while. And the predictable happened: there was an initial sense of peace and well being, but that peace was very brittle. It made for a rather disciplined personality which in turn was intolerant of the chaos of others. I saw this same outcome in other practitioners also, those who were attempting against nature to be orderly and ‘in charge’. Sooner or later, this artificial dam did burst in all cases. All the suppressed emotions and desires spewed forth with a volcanic vengeance.
As I became more and more sensitive to the temperature of my inner world, I realized that my mind was something I knew very little about. I began a journal to record this onslaught of thoughts that we call the mind. For me, objectively recording on paper this stream of consciousness, without editing or censorship, made for an almost clinic method of measuring the temperature and pressure of the mind. Soon the intricate network of desires, emotions and habits exposed their workings. It was at once uncharted and fascinating.
The mind appears to fluctuate between one of three states. It is either content, dynamic or withdrawn. While all three states in themselves have their uses, the problem occurs when they are out of synch with the optimal state required. At work I need to be dynamic, but if I am feeling agitated or in a lazy stupor, then I am not at my best. Similarly before bedtime I need to detach from the world and sink into myself in order to sleep, but what if I feel excited over a dynamic idea or am worried about something? Where is the rest? Further, the human mind is an expert time-traveller. It can beam itself on a whim to any point on the space-time continuum. Everyone has had this experience of sitting in an important meeting and the mind suddenly teleports to an unrelated daydream. Highly embarrassing! The problem is obvious: this mind is highly illogical! I soon realized how disintegrated my inner life had become. But how to integrate the mind without turning into some kind of compulsive-obsessive android/Vulcan.
The term ‘mind control’ was not just a matter of semantics, a by-product of poor translation by non-English speakers. I read several books on the topic that went so far as to describe the mind as ‘the enemy’. Who wants to live at war with such an intimate aspect of himself? By all means, one should tame the mind, but must I sacrifice the joy and the spontaneity?
I struggled with this issue for a number of years. The only thing that made sense to me is that with complex things, for example machines, knowledge is control. Consider your personal computer. Surely to master it you need to learn how to operate it, not subjugate it. This was the bridging concept for me. To control the mind all I need to do what is understand its functioning, its patterns of behavior, its switches. No need to do battle with it. Master is my observation, attention without condemnation, and that does not feel arduous or living like Mr. Spock. To live with greater sensitivity to the pulse and rhythms of my inner world feels natural and enjoyable, as the insightful life ought to be.
January 19, 2012
Millions of people purchase lottery tickets in the hopes of striking it rich. We dream of all the new possibilities open to us should we beat the odds. We expect our problems with financial insecurity, debt, unhappiness to just melt away should we win. But have we ever thought about the opposite? What in my life will remain unchanged if I were to win $10 million?
Health: The expensive pleasures of life cannot be enjoyed without good health. Travel etc. can be made more comfortable with money but it cannot end physical pain, a bad heart, laboured breathing or a tumor. Money may buy better medical care but it is a poor substitute for good health.
Sleep: A good night’s sleep is not more restful with money in the bank. If one has financial worries, one may have difficulty falling into sleep. We see that people who are content with their behavior during the day are able to drop everything and get a good night’s rest. Both rich and poor who behave badly are haunted by their unskilful behavior and thus cannot sleep. And the state of dreamless sleep, once achieved, is the same for all,the rich and the poor.
Connectivity: We have a deep-rooted need to belong, to connect meaningfully with others. A lottery win will not diminish this need. You may attract more friends if you have more money but are they real friends? Long-term true friendships, unconditional lovers, nurturing families, all require a lifetime’s work to build and maintain. If you do not have the skills to relate to people before your win, you will not have after.
Problem Solving: The ability to deal with life’s challenges appropriately and effectively is a learned skill. Money may help you avoid some challenges (such as having to wait at the check out of the grocery store) but it brings with it a new set of challenges (physical safety, for example). If you had a tendency to over react or under react before, this will not change with money.
Communication Skills: Communication is about how you express yourself as well as what you put out. In the old days of computers the phrase used was “garbage in, garbage out”. Many rich people bungle through life saying the wrong thing to the wrong person at the wrong time.
Emotional Well-Being: Many of us feel emotionally scarred by life’s unfair treatment. Having pots of money will do nothing to heal this hurt. Deep and honest inquiry is the only cure for emotion pain.
Being Comfortable in Your Skin: I would say the majority of people are made to feel that they were cheated in the genetic lottery. Those with huge disposable incomes sometimes attempt to correct this by paying for expensive cosmetic surgery. But does injecting your body with silicone, Botox and breaking cartilage or sewing up loose skin really make a person comfortable in his skin? We see that such people repeatedly find faults with their bodies and have more and more surgeries. If anything they are more uncomfortable in their skins. If you don’t like being short, dark or old, $10 million will not change that.
Self Worth: Another basic human need is being recognized and feeling appreciated for some quality, some unique talent. A sense of self-worth is never measured by dollars. It is a personal feeling that comes from having added value to the lives of others. Sure, Bill Gates may give in generously in charity but I suspect his sense of self worth comes from being recognized for his contribution to the spread of the internet. Being able to generate wealth itself is a talent that will contribute to self worth, but a lottery windfall will not.
Fear of Death: Will having lots of cash erase your fear of death? Of course it cannot. And the fear of death is the root of many other fears in life. Fear of old age, being alone and neglected are seen in the very rich also. Some super-rich, like Howard Hughes, turn recluse because they fear the world itself. Fear is a great impediment to happiness and money only solves the fear of immediate financial disaster.
All of these things add up to a significant chunk of what constitutes a happy life. They say the odds of winning the lottery are astronomical. However, the odds of being happy because of the win are even worse.
December 13, 2011
About a year ago I discovered that sleep can be a spiritual exercise. Who knew! Most things that are good for me generally require that I make time in my day, and establish a new habit. However all that Dream Yoga requires is that I approach differently the act of sleep and dreaming. By making some adjustments, I try to make my sleep mindful and aware. When I first heard this idea it sounded like an anomaly to me. Sleep by definition is a state of non-awareness. In deep, dreamless sleep, one does not know anything. Upon waking there is a sense of missing time and an after taste of bliss. Dreams feel real while dreaming, have their own time frame and one is unaware of the physical body or the physical world. If I were to remain aware during sleep and dreaming, wouldn’t I be just awake all night?
I discovered the answer to that is no.
Let’s talk about the dream state first. Everyone dreams but most people believe that the dream world they have created is real until they awake. The emotions experienced in dreams are so real that our heartbeats and breathing reflect the emotional experience being lived in the dream. People have been known to weep, to scream and kick during particularly vivid dreams. Psychologists tell us that dreams are the communication of our sub-conscious mind. Buried feelings and unresolved issues ignored in the waking state present themselves as dreams. By learning to be aware while dreaming one experiences lucid dreams. I make a decision to continue with the dream but I know that the dream is of my own creation and that it is a message from the depths of my mind. The next step is to realize that I have the power to effect the outcome of this dream scenario. I used to experience vivid recurring dreams where the outcome was always fearful. In one particular dream I would enter my home and find it to be a watery, damaged mess. I would usually grieve, sometimes weep helplessly. After months of practicing lucid dreaming, I occurred to me that the mess was really within my own psyche, my real home. Once I realized this I would allow the dream to continue but create a different conclusion. I would give myself a mop in my right hand and begin to clean up the water from the floors and furniture until the apartment was tidy again. When I awoke I felt clear, well and with a tidy presence of mind. Although this example is general and simple, we can work of specific and complex issues at a very fundamental level during dreaming. The mental shift can be profound.
To be aware while in deep, dreamless sleep takes far more practice, but the experience is worth the efforts. There is a level of bliss far beyond any pleasure we ever experience in the waking state.
It is said by the Buddhists that the act of falling asleep is a daily rehearsal for death, the Big Sleep. Each night we withdraw from our bodies, we detach from all five sense, and finally we let go of even our thoughts. We leave behind all that we hold dear, our family, our spouse, our homes and careers. And we feel happy for having abandoned them all. In the next blog, I would like to explore this topic further.