Modern sleep research focuses on the physical side of sleep, because our modern notion is that sleep is a brain function. That’s one way to look at it, of course. But there’s an ancient tradition that looks upon sleep from a spiritual perspective. Sleep, in fact, can be the most profound state of meditation.
Everyone has experienced, since childhood, that a good night’s sleep feels pleasurable. In the yoga tradition of India, sleep is blissful because we go to a level of pure consciousness. The endless activity of the mind has ceased, and by going into pure consciousness, the mind is renewed and refreshed. There are no everyday worries and demands in deep sleep. Stress is totally absent. Even without noticing this experience, which is open mainly to trained yogis, the average person has a lingering sense of pleasure on waking up.
It takes intensive periods of meditation to experience the bliss of deep sleep, but there are ways to use sleep as a very effective meditation. Here are two of them.
Meditation No. 1: Before sleeping
Lying in bed getting ready to fall asleep, review the events of your day. Let your mind roam easily through any event that comes to mind. View these images in a calm, quiet state, letting them flow through your mind. If feelings and sensations come up, let them rise and fall naturally. This meditation allows the unresolved feelings from your day to disperse on their own. The result is that you fall asleep in a better frame of mind and the next morning wake up refreshed.
Meditation No. 2: Waking up
When you first wake up in the morning, there is a kind of shadow zone before your mind starts thinking. You are awake in a state of quiet mind. Lie on your back, open your eyes, and experience this first waking moment. Don’t focus your eyes on anything; just stare at the ceiling. Just be in the experience of eyes open with no thoughts. In this way, you are discovering that your mind settles naturally into a meditative state. Once you know what this experience is like, you can return to it anytime during your day — it’s a very effective way of centering yourself and letting mental distractions fade away.
Give these two meditations a try. They are easy and effortless, and they put sleep in a new, unexpected light.