April 19, 2009

Sleeping in Trees

Ya know, I love to sleep. It is one of my few true talents. So long as I can find a horizontal surface and no one is snoring, I can sleep. I can sleep through television, radios, loud conversations, traffic, wind, and thunderstorms, but not snoring. Don’t ask me why. I used to have a miniature poodle, Benjamin. He had a heart murmur which caused his lungs to fill with fluid, so he snored. I would reach over and gently flip him onto his other side two or three times a night. Now, when I travel, I just take earplugs because I never know who I’ll be sharing a train car, dorm, or hostel with. If there aren’t any beds, I’ll just stretch out on a bench or even a solid wood floor, so long as I’m flat. I got the best of both worlds from my parents. I am a light sleeper like my mother, useful when travelling, but I when woken, I can just roll over and go right back to sleep like my father.

I’ve sacked out on cross country trains, in the back seat of cars and busses, on the floor of various airports (I like to find a warm sunny spot, like a cat), on stranger's couches, in shrine rooms, tents, and out in the open on the bright green grass or across a flat, sun-warmed boulder. I’ve even slept laid out on the branch of a tree, twenty feet in the air. I am a big fan of naps. I can sleep ten hours, take a mid-morning nap, eat lunch, take an afternoon nap, eat dinner, and go to bed with the sundown, no problem. The only time I ever come close to falling asleep sitting up is during meditation. That’s getting easier all the time. Or harder (to stay awake), depending on how you look at it.

I solve problems in my sleep. As I’m preparing for rest, I come up with some of my best poetry and I have to get up and write it down, or I solve a story plot problem that had been worrying me. When I’m working on a design problem in studio, I can set my mind to the task as I climb into bed and in the morning I’ll wake up with a solution. Some of my best ideas for buildings and novels have come in the way of dreams. I dream about spaces and trusses and the way light enters the room and how rain moves on the roof and where the land slopes and trees shelter. My best design yet came to me during a three-day meditation retreat. It was out of the blue. The problem had been simmering for a month and Pop! in the middle of the afternoon session, “Oh! That would work!” I earned my first semester A in studio class for that.

These odd similarities between sleep and meditation are interesting to me. Meditation seems to lead me to sleep, but then, so does a really boring lecture (which I suppose isn't all that different from my own mental chatter). Yet, both meditation and sleep aid me in solving problems. However, sleep is most certainly not meditation. It feels as though in meditation you are watching your mind, while in sleep, your mind is watching you.

Often when I nap I have lucid dreams, the dreams I know are dreams and can consciously manipulate. Yet sometimes, when I know I’m dreaming, I also know I need to wake up. I need to go back to work and get things done. I dream that I wake, rise, dress, work, eat, etc., only to realize I’m still dreaming – a dozen times over, until I finally peel my eyelids open with what seems to be a monumental effort. It’s often frustrating, as if my mind has gotten the better of me, but never frightening.

Sometimes I find it odd that I like sleep so much. It is one of my favorite activities, always has been, ever since I was a child. Ironically, I never wanted to go to bed, but I also never wanted to get up. I am not a morning person. Once up, I can be quite productive, especially if I’ve managed to solve something in the night, but it’s the getting out of bed in the first place that is troublesome. Even now, sleep is a priority. I’ll go to bed hungry, dirty, and with work still to be done. I’ll take a B and eight hours sleep over an A any day of the week.

I once found a quote ostensibly by the Dalai Lama that read “Sleep is the best meditation.” I don’t think he was talking to me. For me, sleep is more like hibernation, a retreat from the world, a solution for stress. Is that what meditation is? Meditation has often been as much a cause of stress as a solution, which is why I only manage it in small doses.

Is sleep a form of meditation, is meditation somehow like sleep, or am I just barking up the wrong tree entirely?


Anonymous said...

Zazen (I can't speak about other forms of mediation) is not like sleep at all.

I can relate, by the way - I can usually sleep at will, tired or not.

Anonymous said...

Also, meditation is exactly the opposite of a retreat from the world.