Getting a good night sleep with a little help from the Supreme Reality of the Universe
all of us without exception are susceptible to dreams. if their pull is particularly intense they wash over our night & if they are particularly influential loiter in our thoughts, their magnetism pulling us into consideration of their meaning & emotional influence for a chunk of the day, until duty eventually erases them from memory or they erase our focus to perform our duties properly.
i don’t mind this susceptibility so much, what bothers me is when i have what i call a busy dream— one of those dreams where a concern is expanded— something that, though relatively trifling when explained— when expanded & lived in the dream leaves you exhausted, with a present & palpable sense that you have not slept a wink.
at least once a month i have a dream such as follows: i am in a large educational institute— either a pupil or an employee & as i go about my day a deadline is flung at me out of nowhere. it is explained that i should have known about it as it is of immense importance. it is usually implied that there would have been no urgency had i bothered to listen or find out about the work due. i protest that i had no knowledge, that i was never informed. this doesn’t take well with the slap-arse-face of the bureaucrat demanding the necessary documents.
i then have a dreadful time hurrying from place to place getting the task finished only to arrive at where it needs to be submitted & it is either closed or they tell me that the window for submission was hours or even days ago— & that even the information i received was incorrect. the sense of failure & stress of knowing i must incur some penalty —that my livelihood is at stake (my character even) moreover, that i am innocent, is overwhelming— the unconscious amplifies the severity of all incidents. at the apex of my collapse, i wake in shock & have to bring myself around that it was just fiction & that no such problem faces me.
i am sure we all have these sorts of dreams, whether they are a rehearsal of the day’s stressful events, or much more terrifying: a nightmare, where the unconscious forces us to cope with scenarios our conscious mind has no mechanism for dealing with— as it has never dealt with a Gorgon headed butcher who wishes to slice you into tiny pieces with your own nail scissors.
Edward Young in his epic meditation on Life, Death & Immortality, his Night Thoughts —through 9 restless nights unbuttons his mind & lets seep out in heroic verse, that which plagued him & struggles throughout the poem to alleviate his turmoils with a gaudy out pouring of Reason. he begins with a Complaint:
From short, (as usual) and disturb’d Repose,
I wake: How happy they who wake no more!
Yet that were vain, if dreams infest the Grave.
I wake, emerging from a sea of Dreams
Tumultuous; where my wreck’d desponding Thought
From wave to wave of fancy’d Misery,
At random drove, her helm of Reason lost;
Why then there loss deplore he tells us later on in Night 1. for Young it was the trickery of the dream, the stress they caused when he clasp’d the Phantoms, and (I) found them Air. but it is this same trickery that is problematic: For Young it was being tantalized with a visions of Angels, Immortality & Heaven, which on waking were discovered to be Dim Miniature of Greatness absolute!
William Blake seemed to suffer from dreams too, though they seemed more beneficial— he often woke in the night & with great urgency, before the still warm impression of information they supplied him with faded, would set to work— often his wife waking with him to help him set up his tools so as not to waste any time.
at least from a literary perspective we can agree with Roethke when he says Dreams drain the spirit if we dream too long. you can attest for yourself how dreams bother & disturb— only then can you gauge the pressure they put on you & decide if their value is worth a weary day.
i don’t deny that for many they are pleasurable, that they inspire joy, that they are a nightly treat— this was always my opinion when i kept a journal & wanted to evaluate my character through them. this sort of work gives you a nightly purpose & interesting results usually ensue. once the world of duty overwhelmed i found my heavy dreaming burdensome. i required a blank night in my head. though Young says No Blank, no Trifle Nature made, or meant. i have to disagree, unless the Blank becomes something so unremembered it takes the form of nothing.
it is in the most unlikely places that we often find solutions to our problems. i discovered my solution in a conversation burrowed in the Prasna Upanishad between three sons of the Garga family, sons of the Bhrigu family & one Kabandhi, whose family name is not revealed. The rishi who dutifully answers their questions is the wise Pippalada.
One called Sauryayani, of the Garga family, asks Pippalada:
Sir, what are they that sleep in man, and what are they that remain awake in him? What deity is it that sees dreams? Whose is happiness [of deep sleep]? In whom, again, are all these gathered together?
…as the rays of the sun, when it sets, are gathered in that luminous orb, and again go forth when it rises, even so, verily, all these- the objects and the senses- become one in the superior god, the mind. Therefore at that time a man hears not, sees not, smells not, tastes not, touches not, speaks not, grasps not, enjoys not, emits not, and does not move about. He sleeps- that is what people say.
in the Hindu system of the universe everything is Brahman, the superior god, the mind. the multiplicity of gods are actually manifestations of Brahman: Brahman is It (without attributes: Nirguna Brahman) & He (with attributes: Saguna Brahman). Therefore Brahman has both a remote & a personable aspect.
Brahman with attributes is best described as the forms we perceive with our senses, a creative force, the concrete world that we inhabit. Brahman without attributes is the mystical, beyond space & time but at one & the same It— that is, also what space & time & causality rely upon to at every moment become & be measured by us. whichever tat tvam asi: that thou is.
this is often misunderstood to be contradiction— & concludes with some that the sophisticated system of the Vedas is a load of crap. but what people sometimes don’t realize is that Brahman is everything & it is only Maya (illusion) that allows Brahman to create a physical world of form. it shouldn’t be forgotten that Maya cannot exist alone, but only when Brahman creates. Brahman is the bridge between the invisible & the visible— a shanti or peace chant that is usually recited before a Veda goes:
Om. THAT IS full; this is full. This fullness has been projected from that fullness. When this fullness merges in that fullness, all that remains is fullness. Om. Shanti! Shanti! Shanti!
if you see this as a way of expressing the way the material world is created you might say:
I took atoms from that thing, which is full & added them to this thing to make it full. But though I have used atoms from that thing to make this thing full, it was already full, moreover, the thing I took atoms from remains full, so nothing has been lost, this & that remain full. This is how the material world is composed at every moment.
What the shanti mantra stresses through contradiction is the all pervasiveness of Brahman.
ever since reading the above shanti mantra, i’ve interpreted it as a very good analogy for how quantum physics explains matters composition at sub atomic level & how the physical becomes from the un-manifest. i use atoms as i would have to be excessively wordy to eviscerate the atom into its constituent parts. but look at what happens when you smash particles together, there is no loss, no waste, on the contrary there is abundance.
so if we can accept for a moment that a good scientific analogy can be drawn from a Vedic mantra, then there may be some useful tactics for living in this ancient work.
we understand the dual nature of Brahman & accept that— but what has this got to do with getting a good night’s kip?
first of all we should understand that we are a part of the reality of Brahman in the form of Atman (spirit, essence, breath, soul or self). we are therefore both with attributes & without attributes— we have both the opportunity to be present in this body, or when we sleep to be absent from it. but i hear you say as Pippalada does:
There, in dreams, that god, the mind, experiences glory. Whatever has been seen he sees again; whatever has been heard he hears again; whatever has been experienced in different countries and quarters, he experiences again. Whatever has been seen or not seen; heard or not heard; and whatever is real or not real- he sees all, himself being all.
(before continuing a brief aside (i should explain here that Swami Nikhilananda, who is a thorough translator of the Vedas, & an insuperable guide to their meaning, whose translation i have enjoyed for many years & whose ideas i thoroughly admire & accept, explains:
Often the Upanishads compare the Consciousness of Brahman to the consciousness experienced in deep sleep. Both are characterized by an absence of pain and of the subject-object relationship. But the state of dreamless sleep, which is mechanically attained, is impermanent, and the consciousness experienced during it is covered by a thin layer of ignorance.
however, though this essay is meant more as a thought-dreamlessness-experiment & moreover because Nikhilananda’s analysis doesn’t quite chime for me with some passages in the Veda itself, i am satisfied that my experiment is within the borders of a curious idea—if extremely unlikely to have any meaning, value or truth. Read on)…
& we might add that this revisiting of whatever has been experienced causes us stress, upset & fatigue— at times. however, we can also think of ourselves as without the above attributes, we can think & be fixed to quiet & nothing & find our self in Young’s Blank.
if Brahman is above the material then so are we— seem plausible as they inextricable: one cannot be without the other. i don’t disagree that a disembodied state when we are awake is out of our reach, in fact purely fantastical— fascinating but fantastic— regardless, in our dream state, why can’t we switch off the memories & troubles we have had to act out during the previous days & weeks— why should they burden us more? have we got anything to learn from them? they will repeat themselves in our daily life in some mutated form, to come & have repeated ample times enough for them to be habitual. so if they persist in pestering us, why should we suffer them?
a criticism that we may raise in favour of this glory of the mind, is how exhilarating it is to be all & to visit the farthest shores of exotic places & to encounter the peculiarities of unconsciousness in their most vivid & unrestrained amplification. sure, but that is a gamble & all good & well if you have nothing important to do in the reality of the day after, which entails the drudgery of a 9 to 5 & the solving of problems, which is all the more cumbersome with bags of unused rheum sagging under your eyes. Blake & Young developed a productive attitude from their sleeplessness— there is even a strong argument it was the lodestone to which their imaginative impulse was drawn. however, many of us are not going to write epic poems or crack on with heroic art in the early hours of the morning; you may not even be the sort of person, like me, who can work well at night, but work better at other times of day. if you can, proceed & enlighten yourself with those endeavours, i envy you, i truly envy you & i apologize for wasting you time to find out here this essay has no benefit for you.
but if not we may be interested to hear Pippalada say:
When the jiva (the individual soul) is overcome by the light of (Nirguna- [my additional non-italics]) Brahman he sees no dreams; at that time, in this body, arises this happiness.
here is ample evidence that what i have stated somewhere above is possible: dreams can be switched off & peaceable rest can be quarried into.
so how can we dam the flood of unpredictable dreams? a model or set of instructions seems out of the question as dreaming is, as we have said, unpredictable: you’d have to discover patterns (assiduously) & form a rhythm with these patterns through journals & close scrutiny of their meaning & development. but before all that you have to trust that such efforts actually do anything, which really is a leap of faith—as it is quite an odd task to undertake & it requires focus & little interference from others. rather than all this work— which does, i promise turn up results & teaches you something about your character & may help you form a psychological profile of your more nuanced behavior, nevertheless, a laborious process—we could rather experiment with a simple technique.
when i was a kid, even in my late teens & early twenties, i would use the counting sheep method. i have thought up a Brahmic variation on this.
the sheep act as a distraction from thought— however it is quite a lot of work just to sleep: you have to picture the sheep, the gate they jump over, the field, colour in to the bold line of the mise-en-scène, & then actually count them— this doesn’t stop dreams though.
i propose using the onomatopoeic Om in the place of sheep, which is Brahman— the vibration of the universe. i have been experimenting with this as it is just a sound to focus on— you don’t even need to make the sound, you can make it wobble in your head as an image of sound frequencies. if you are persuaded by the subtleties of its meaning then it may have an even more potent effect. in Sanskrit Om is represented by the letters AUM: A = the waking state U = the dream state & M = the dreamless state. so that you are making the journey to a good night’s sleep every moment you are visualizing or sounding out Om.
i have had no success with this. i am just being honest, but i know why. because i have not given all attributes to Brahman. this is why i have written this creative non-fiction essay: i hope now when i hum that holy note my unconscious will be won over by my dedication to Brahman in the form of this essay & give me the dreamless sleep i wish.
easier methods exist, of course, i know that— you can do other rituals: drink some Horlicks, a glass of cognac, watch paint dry, read a book, count the sheep, take a couple of zolpidem, which’ll make sure you stay asleep. you are probably thinking after reaching the conclusion of this essay that if you read it again, before exiting the first paragraph you’ll be dead to the world— i don’t have that luxury, i must trust in the verity of my essay. however, if you or i have success with the above method, it’ll be interesting to tell our pals that we got a good clear night sleep with a little help from the Supreme Reality of the Universe, the holy Hiranyagarbha, Lord Brahman the essence that threads the visible & invisible into one conclusion: reality & deep, dreamless sleep— without the drugs & boring bedtime activities.
Om…Shanti. Shanti. Shanti.