Chapter 08: Catching Your Sleep


Catching your sleep means to sleep with mindfulness. It is a phrase used by people in olden times. How can you have mindfulness in your sleep? This is the practice to use: breathe in and out deeply, noting “rising, falling”. Don’t be tense with too much expectation and attachment, just relax, breathe easily, and you will eventually fall off to sleep; the mind will drift off in the breathing until it loses it and drops down into bhavanga, sub-consciousness, where the mind dives down into itself and does not receive external sense impressions. You will know how many times you have turned over, and how many times you awaken. This is sleeping with mindfulness, which ancients called “catching your sleep” in the Four Foundations of Mindfulness.

I have asked many people, but of 100 people there are only ten who can do it. But if you keep practicing you will get results, you will sleep with mindfulness. You may go to sleep without a clock, but you know you have to wake up at 4 a.m. If you are skilled at sitting meditation, when you go to sleep you will continue to note “rising, falling” and fall asleep with mindfulness. When 4 a.m. comes around you will automatically awaken, bright and alert. You look at your clock and it’s exactly 4 a.m.

The Buddha gave this teaching. In ordinary language, we say to sleep and awaken with mindfulness, to sleep with mindfulness. It is written in the Tipitaka in the Four Foundations of Mindfulness. When I first began to practice meditation I didn’t yet know how you could sleep with mindfulness. Sure you can wake with mindfulness, but when you sleep you just let it go, I couldn’t see any mindfulness there. Then why did the Buddha teach about sleeping with mindfulness and waking with mindfulness. What kind of sleep was he referring to? I kept on practicing. Many teachers teach about sleeping and waking with continuous, unbroken mindfulness, but I couldn’t understand it. They didn’t explain how to sleep with mindfulness. But I kept on practicing, for a long time, noting “rising” and “falling”: if I concentrated too hard I wouldn’t go to sleep. I kept on practicing like this, for many days, constantly observing “rising”, “falling”, breathing deeply. After a while…Hmm, it’s dropping off to sleep. The mind drifts off after sounds, knowing some, not knowing some, and then it forgets for an instant and you can’t pick at which moment it actually goes to sleep. I couldn’t remember. As I tried harder I began walking then sitting, collecting my mindfulness, and then lying down.

That day I knew: Oh, this is what it means to sleep with mindfulness. At first I heard the sound of people talking, I kept on lying there and noting what was happening, noting the rising and falling. When I heard a sound I noted it. I kept on like this and then I began to drift off, being in a semiconscious state. I could hear sounds vaguely. Then I reestablished my mindfulness, but I did not concentrate too hard. If you concentrate too hard you won’t sleep. You don’t have to concentrate too hard, or too clearly, just establish mindfulness, keep on breathing regularly, and noting rising and falling. Then one moment you will drift off, and when your breath falls you will notice it instantly, just like when you drive a car over a bridge and there’s the falling, rushing feeling. Then your sense of hearing will no longer be functioning, but within you are fully aware. This is what it is like to sleep with mindfulness. Then I tried to observe myself sleeping for three hours. It was like sleeping for only one hour, the time went very fast. I knew how many times I turned over, and in what way I turned over. I knew how many times I turned over, and in what way I turned over. I knew whether I was lying on my side or on my back or my front. I knew it all. Then when the time was up I immediately started up into wakefulness, right on time—“Ah, so this is sleeping with mindfulness”.

Sleeping with mindfulness. We can see how in the monks’ discipline they are required to sleep in the shielded place, the door must be properly closed, otherwise the monk incurs an offence. In fact it means that if the monk sleep in a shielded place, the door must be properly closed, otherwise the monk incurs an offence. In fact it means that if the monks sleep in the open they will expose their morality for everybody to see, which is no good. But if you sleep with mindfulness your morality won’t be exposed. You sleep with mindfulness and wake with mindfulness: just train yourselves and you will get results like this. When you sleep tell yourself to sleep with mindfulness, wake with mindfulness. What is it to sleep with mindfulness? You will know how many times you turn over in your sleep. You will know within you. If you are practicing vipassana you must know within. If you just sink into a pleasant feeling, it’s just concentration, not insight. You must know within yourself, not knowing outside of yourself. Like a monk who has entered the concentration attainments—he knows within himself but he does not receive external sense impressions. It all depends on training. You can sleep in an open place, and you will know how many times you turn over in your sleep, or whether anybody calls you. You should wake on the first calling, your mindfulness will be there.

Some monks even sleep on a chair, breathing deeply, putting their attention to their throat. When they want to drop off to sleep they just let the mind go and it drops off to sleep. If you are really sleepy, direct your attention to your forehead and note there. If you don’t sleep you can just do some reading instead. Try it out, you can do it if your concentration is good. If you can discern the right moment of dropping off to sleep, whenever you want to sleep, just breathe deeply, set up your mindfulness at your throat, where you swallow, and you will drop off to sleep. Even on a chair. If when you sit in a car your body in swaying all over the place, you don’t have any mindfulness. If you have mindfulness in your sleep I guarantee that when you sleep, sitting in a chair or in a vehicle, you will sit up straight, you will not sway from side to side. Your mindfulness will be keeping watch. You can wake within five minutes and get a better sleep that if you were sleeping in your house for many hours. There are many people who can do this.

Sometimes when I am sitting in a chair writing and I want to rest where I am working, when I have finished writing what I want I just put down my pens, and, in my chair, breathe deeply, noting the rising and falling, and then determine to myself how long I want to drop off to sleep for: vie minutes. I put my attention on my “Adam’s apple,” where we swallow, set up mindfulness, and in a moment I am off to sleep, the mind drops down. In five minutes I wake up feeling refreshed. But you have to establish your mind properly, before you go off to sleep. You have to practice at it. You have to keep on training so that you can enter and leave this state. If you are really sleep, and you want to keep doing what you are doing without being sleepy, set you mindfulness at your fore head, and breathe deeply. In a moment you will be wide awake, your concentration will be set up here. Then you can keep on reading for another hour before going to sleep.

When your mind is really scattered, it’s not a bad thing. It’s good. Then you have something to observe. You must observe it. You must observe the scattered mind, noting, “scattered, scattered,” you don’t have to note “rising” or “falling”. You can counteract it by breathing deeply and comfortably, and noting in your mind “scattered, scattered,” and in half a moment it will be gone. Some people experience pain in their eyes when they are reading. In that case they should not put their mindfulness on the nose-tip, but direct their mindfulness to the stomach. Everyone of them will experience relief. Sometimes the pain in the eyes is no bad they can’t read at all, their eyes are sore, but it they direct their concentration to the stomach they will feel immediately better the pain will go way.

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