I sometimes work with people who are having trouble sleeping. They’ve tried everything – herbs, chemicals, potions, lotions, pills, affirmations, counting sheep…
I used to be the king of insomnia. For most of my life I couldn’t sleep, plagued by thoughts, lying in bed for hours, worrying, planning, fearing, trying…
Until some seven or eight years ago, when something deeply shifted. I realised that I’d had it the wrong way round my whole life. The reason I couldn’t sleep is because ‘I’ was trying to! I had forgotten who I really was – the deep rest of consciousness itself, unattached and unidentified, deeply at peace in every moment. I was holding onto a false image of myself as ‘the one who sleeps or doesn’t sleep’ (in other words, ‘the one in control’) when in fact, who I truly am, as this ever-present consciousness, never sleeps or doesn’t sleep. It simply ‘is’. It is deep rest itself.
Sounds crazy I know. But in truth ‘you’ have never ‘done’ sleep in your life. Trying to fall asleep is like trying to make your heart beat backwards, or trying to fall in love, or trying to not ‘be’. Sleep happens in the absence of all trying (including trying to not try!), and there is an effortless sinking into the deep rest of yourself. It’s a kind of cosmic trust, a recognition of yourself as the vast empty space in which thoughts, sensations and feelings are deeply allowed to arise and dissolve, never needing what we humans call ‘sleep’.
Yes, sleep is the end of all imagined ‘control’. It is true surrender, without identification as ‘the one who surrenders or not’.
There is a vast intelligence here. The body knows how to breathe, and it knows how to die, and it knows how to sleep. It doesn’t need ‘you’ at all, with your stress and worry and constant effort, and all your clever knowledge, and your struggle to sleep, however hard to hear that is.
Every night in deep dreamless sleep ‘you’ are not there. This recognition is certainly a blow to the phantom ‘ego’!
I remember when I was younger, how I used to lie in bed for hours at night, trying to sleep, terrified that I would never sleep, even playing fearful thought-movies of myself getting ill or even dying from lack of sleep. And, due to this fear, I would double my efforts to sleep, fuelling the vicious circle, keeping myself awake!
I thought there was something fundamentally wrong with me. There wasn’t. I had just forgotten who I really was.
What a relief, these days, to know that I never again have to try to sleep. Sleep happens effortlessly. What joy, every evening, to sink deeply into this effortless rest, to die every night into the warm embrace of myself, to be a baby again, and allow life’s vast intelligence to do its own mysterious and effortless work, all in ‘my’ absence! For the past seven or eight years now I have, for the most part, slept like a baby, not through any effort of ‘mine’, not through my ‘trying to sleep’, but through the natural grace and intelligence of life itself… even though who I am never really ‘sleeps’. Such a gorgeous paradox … for no-one at all…