When I first begin working with people to help them realize how flexible reality can be by merely changing our perspective, people routinely suggest that changing their consciousness is a difficult thing. But how can that be true when both children and adults do it every night, (without even noticing), when we fall asleep?
Insomnia is wanting to sleep. Wants are desires, and as the Buddha noted, desires are at the route of all suffering. Wanting is pretty consistently unpleasant to whichever degree we want. Yet the act of falling asleep is ultimately so easy that none of us can even remember doing it, or how we did it.
Sleep is not an achievement created by succeeding in fulfilling our wants; it’s more like falling into a hole created by the silence of our psyche –by the ‘ceasing of wanting.’
Thoughts create our reality. If we say to ourselves, “I want to fall asleep,” we are creating a reality in which we are separate from sleep. Our sheer desire is what moves us out of a state of sleep and into a state of wanting.
If we were what we want to be, then the want would not exist. Therefore, if the want exists, then we have used our thoughts to create distance between us and what we want: the state of sleep.
Our desires are literally the barrier to us becoming sleep. This makes ‘wanting to sleep’ into a bizarre irony. Babies do not want to sleep. Children do not want to go to bed, as every parent knows. And yet babies and children alike all, without exception, eventually fall asleep. Can we see why it is called ‘falling?’
Babies surrender the unpleasantness of being awake and uncomfortable for the gentle peace of sleep. Youngsters eventually lose their footing on their desires to stay up and have more experiences and, as their mind loses the momentum created by those desires, they naturally and inevitably slip down into a state of sleep. And indeed, adults can learn to surrender the state of their adult thoughts and do likewise. We cannot be in two states at once.
To find sleep or any other state, we must disengage with the idea that it is something difficult to achieve. We must surrender our idea that we and it are separated when we go there every night.
We will achieve sleep with less difficulty and in less time if we make it familiar, if we return it to what it is –an entirely natural state demanded by our physical selves. All else is resistance.
Rather than chase sleep, embrace it. Rather than want it, we are better to lose our mental grip on everything that is not it, and in doing so we will flow toward it like water coursing toward ever-lower ground.
Sleep is a state our minds enjoy, so rather than see it in the distance like some much-need oasis; as some aching desire, we should instead approach it more as we would a holiday; with joy and appreciation.
If we want to practice the act of using our consciousness wisely, insomnia is like a gift. It will present us with the unpleasantness of our inaction as a motivation. So let us not waste that opportunity. We can use it each evening to search for the state of sleep.
We can surrender idea after idea of what our nighttime thoughts should be. And we should do so until such time as we simply run out of the desire to find sleep. For once we have exhausted all of our wants, sleep will flow toward us by nature. That is ultimately what happens anyway. We may as well make it conscious and enact it sooner, because that control of our consciousness is a skill that will also pay off when we’re awake.
Following a serious childhood brain injury Scott McPherson unwittingly spent his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and the self. This made him as strange to others as they were to him. Seeing the self-harm people created with their own overthinking, Scott dedicated part of his life to helping others live with greater awareness. He is currently a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB, where he finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.