Where do we go when we close our eyes with the intention to sleep? What’s actually happening when we dream? What ARE dreams? Good questions and no doubt there are very many answers floating about. But what about sleep? I’m aware that there are many people who for one reason or another do not get enough sleep and/or the right kind of sleep to sustain them. And indeed racking up a sleep deficit over time can be a major source of stress and eventually weakened health. Fortunately I’m one who can generally pass from being wake to sleeping with relative ease.
Early on I was told that meditation continues while we are asleep. To aid this the instruction is to put ones mind into the mind of meditation. In other words to quieten down, remain present in body and mind and bring the wondering/wandering mind back to just being there. Time and time again. Trouble is the day is more often than not filled with events which come flooding back if there was something unsettling that happened. Perhaps something with an emotional charge sending echos back into ones past. In no time the mind can become very much awake and sleep a very long time coming as a consequence.
Here is an extract from a book about sleep and dreaming titled The Twenty Four Hour Mind by Rosalind Cartwright. The author talks about the function of dreams which is of particular interest in terms of meditation – which is as has been said already, a 24 hour business.
I (the author) propose that when some disturbing waking experience is reactivated in sleep and carried forward into REM, where it is matched by similarity in feeling to earlier memories, a network of older associations is stimulated and is displayed as a sequence of compound images that we experience as dreams. This melding of new and old memory fragments modifies the network of emotional self-defining memories, and thus updates the organizational picture we hold of ‘who I am and what is good for me and what is not.’ In this way, dreaming diffuses the emotional charge of the event and so prepares the sleeper to wake ready to see things in a more positive light, to make a fresh start. This does not always happen over a single night; sometimes a big reorganization of the emotional perspective of our self-concept must be made — from wife to widow or married to single, say, and this may take many nights. Taken from a review of the above book titled: The Science of Sleep: Dreaming, Depression, and How REM Sleep Regulates Negative Emotions found on Brain Pickings.
In the spirit of intending to continue meditation through the night I’ve made it a habit to deliberately visualize my day from that moment backwards until waking. Some days are easier to go back through than others and that’s very much conditioned by my relationship to what’s happened. Some times my mind repeatedly drifts off and at other times I can travel back with relative ease. I just see chunks of the day as they come to me rather than try to see everything in detail. Intending to accept and let go of the days events during this pre-sleep review transforms sleep into a spiritual practice. That’s the intent anyway.
And so now to bed, to sleep – to dream.