Saturday, November 11, 2017

How to Fall Asleep on Cue

Having practiced meditation for 45 years, I've learned to navigate several states of consciousness. Yet I've never been able to fall asleep on cue. It's bugged me, so I've been working on it. And I've finally cracked it.

I just returned from Singapore, which involved a ghastly 25 hours in the air (the Sun rose and set twice; I thought that was something only experienced from the International Space Station!). So I've had a chance to test this with worst-case-scenario jet lag...and it works!

It's simple - as stuff like this tends to be:

1. Increase the weight of your head

I don't care how relaxed you think you are; you are holding your head oh-so-slightly above your pillow via neck, shoulder, and trunk muscles. Tension! Let your head get heavy, so it sinks further into the pillow. Maybe even push downward, ever so slightly.

2. Let your thought stream get whimsical

Once your head gets heavy and sinks into the pillow, your thoughts will immediately turn dreamlike. And here's the shocking part: you are already asleep. Mission accomplished! Sleep isn't distant. Sleep is always right around the corner...and you've turned that corner. You just don't know it. So there's truly nothing further to do, except....

3. Answer "Yes".

A thought will very soon surface, through the surreal dream imagery, questioning whether you're truly asleep. Just say "yes". And let your head drop. And let your thoughts unfurl. Don't think about this process (it's so simple, there's nothing to think about!). Don't monitor. Don't manage. Just let it go. You are already asleep. Nothing more to be done.

Here's why it took 40 years to develop this (it involved stupidly repeating one of my stupidest-ever mistakes):

For my first twenty years of meditation, I could easily unhook myself from my mental noise and plunge down to a repose of silence (I'm not talking about sleep here; that's a different thing). But quite often, a great big crass thought would trumpet through: "Crap, did I leave the car windows open?" or "I forgot to call so-and-so!" Everything seemed ruined. I was back at the surface, expelled from the depths, needing to start again. I was a terrible meditator!

After two goddamned decades it finally occurred to me that these loud thoughts were just more thoughts; more noise to unhook from. They weren't special. They might trumpet, but they couldn't disrupt my meditation unless I chose to disrupt it by paying them heed. I'd been an idiot to imagine there was an "up" and "down", or that external phenomena could control me. Silence is right here, right now, and it's entirely a matter of where I choose to place my attention.

The issue was prioritization. Garden-variety thoughts ("I'm tired", "I'm hungry", "Am I meditating correctly?") are easy to let go of. Just let them be! But if the house might burn down, well, that seems worth ceasing my meditation for! So my mind learned to produce thoughts which coaxed me into heeding my mind.

The task was to let go of these seemingly high-priority thoughts. To do so, I needed to deepen my commitment to meditation - to convince myself that nothing else was a higher priority. The car windows may be open, and I may hear rain, but the car can fill with water, I don't care. The gas might be on, but my house can explode, that's fine. I'll lose work if I don't return the call,! Deeper commitment meant no disruption could disrupt. I've enjoyed thoroughly peaceful meditations ever since.

I figured this out - that the loud thoughts are still just thoughts - twenty years ago, and yet I've always allowed the "Am I truly asleep?" thought to snare me back into a thinky awake state. Thoughts can't snare you! Only your responsiveness can. Answer a distant, dreamy "yes" and let the sleep you were already in fully envelope you.

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