The Difference Between Meditation and Sleep

In order to fall asleep one must disconnect from the body. One must be willing to disconnect from the body. One must feel safe enough, and neutral enough to be prepared to disconnect from the body. Sleep, and consequently dreaming, allows the creative-story-spinning parts of our awareness to move unfettered by laws of causality, and physics; meaning the constraints of the body.

In meditation we bring the body with us. Indeed it is the actual vessel on which we ride deep into meditation. The instructor will tell you, always, to focus on your breath, the in and out of air through your nose and your lips. They are telling you to be in your body. And while meditation may lead you to insight or epiphany, often these are about how to live more fully in this world, rather than creating another world in which to reside.

In meditation I do not wonder if I was a butterfly dreaming I was a man, or vice-versa.

The purpose of dreaming is to play. To set free ourselves from the bonds of responsibility, to paint wildly a mandala that will be blown away by the time we wake. With meditation the effects come after the act. By simply paying attention to the breath, to the sweaty toes, to the crick in your neck, to the constant pain of a shoulder tweaked earlier in the day, to the itch on the outside of your left thigh, and back to the breath we are more able to move more evenly around this world.

The irony is that one may come to the epiphany that this world is an illusionary playground, a ride at an amusement park. And yet, this act of meditation, which allowed us to recognize this subtle truth, allows us to live more fully within the confines of this playground. Dreaming creates its own worlds, but does little to help us live in ours.

And there are times when I fret too much, or worry, or plan, or obsess over the health of the Pope, or the state of tension in Israel and the west bank; where I can’t sleep. I know, no matter what spell I try to spin that the farcical fun imaginative world of my dreams will not be available to me. And so I meditate. I focus on my breath. I place all of my consciousness inside my left toenail. I create a perch atop my left ear where I sit and watch the sloshing ocean of my thinking brain. I come back to the breath.

I spend whole nights very much not sleeping, without dreams. And yet, when the morning comes I am ready for this fantastical world. I am, at least, and at last, refreshed.

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