The Importance of Sleep


In discussing dhyana yoga (union with God by exclusive absorption of the mind) in the Bhagavad Gita, Sri Krshna says, “This yoga is neither for him who overeats, nor for him who observes a complete fast; it is neither for him who is given to oversleeping, nor for him who is ceaselessly awake.” (6.16)  The Bhagavad Gita is an almost exclusively abstract text, but Sri Krshna felt the need to mention this concrete aspect of our journeys.  Although yoga is an entirely internal process (of the antahkarana, the mind complex), at our stage we must cultivate a physical context that is conducive to our spiritual journeys.  In particular, sleep is more important than rested people can imagine.

Lately, have been writing more frequently, especially working on a Bhagavad Gita commentary, often sacrificing sleep to do so.  After several months on significantly less sleep than my body needed, any sense of peace I was developing began to dissipate.  The following is a journal entry I made at that time: the turn of thoughts might convey a sense of what lack of sleep can cause in the mind.


The peace I thought I had is falling apart.  Maybe it is a combination of many factors, like stress over so many commitments (I emotionally and physically cannot handle more; an increased tendency to back out of things seems like being a flake, but I only do so because of my real needs).  I thought maybe lack of sleep prevented me from composedly handling challenges, but self-analysis renders more.  I originally thought I was unfoundedly depending on myself to make the commentary perfect, to the extent where I feel repelled by the idea of working on it at this time.  Now, on the other hand, I’m starting to think maybe as I grow up, my participation in my commitments has gone from superficial to realizing how much I have to learn; I always assumed I can have success in everything I care about and depended on that idea, but now that I’m more exposed to each field I’m participating in, that idea is definitively slipping away and my accomplishments seem nominal.  But now, I’m thinking, something bigger in my life could be causing this… despair?  Mild depression?  It could be that all my life I thought I was part of a system beyond philosophy, that I was beyond certain emotional attachments, but now I’m seeing how quickly and easily I’m shaped by the things I learn, that I don’t know everything.  Maybe there were triggers, like seeing Mukundananda’s great children’s book, discovering the historical inaccuracy of the Aryan invasion theory, seeing my own previous work and being unable to emulate it, reading about the origins of capitalism and how it is still very powerfully the mindset that shapes almost everything in the West, which I’m not apart from.  Maybe what happened is that it is dangerous to have utmost faith when you’re too young, because anything contrary you learn can cause the basis of your life to crumble.

(later that day)
Nothing is crumbling.  Or at least, a hurt ego isn’t destroying my life; I’ve always been open to learning and others’ success and that hasn’t changed.  Outside influences aren’t hurting my faith, just confusing me because I’m tired.  This tire is making the stress of so many activities, even those intended to be fun, more stressful than they actually are.  At this point in sleep deprivation you begin to get a bit reckless, just not carefree, and you begin to stress at the smallest things.
(Note: It is physiologically proven that sleep deprivation can high blood pressure and increased sensitivity to pain, among a myriad of adverse effects and immediate dangers such as delayed response time.)

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