Meeting Restlessness at Night as Part of Spiritual Practice

A friend asked about her sleep:
I don’t have a ruminating mind. It’s mostly quiet or sticks to the task at hand. But something strange is going on in my sleep. Over the last year or so I have developed a strange relationship with sleep. Almost like I don’t want to do it. I don’t want to go to sleep at night and then when I do it’s like I’m sleeping but watching my mind run. It feels like I’m not getting good rest. I notice my mind RUNNING during sleep. Not dreams per se. Just mind running. Isolated phrases, words popping up. More like random thinking than like stories or dreams. Definitely not dreaming. But the mind is running. It doesn’t run like that during the waking state.

R: As it sounds to me, you experience in these 'running phases' a part of your mind that wants to unburden itself through this heightened level of activity. So that would be releasing energy and it would be helpful altogether. Is this occurring every night, or just once in a while?

F: There is no obvious stress in my life. There isn’t, as they say, “something on my mind”! Like last night it didn’t happen, but then what did happen were these uncomfortable movements in my legs. Stretching, moving, rocking that goes from my feet and legs to my whole body with this alertness and kind of nervous energy that makes me not want to sleep but I’m still tired and want to sleep. It feels like a nervousness in my body but not an anxiety. The sensations sometimes just make me sit up in bed for a while. Sometimes when first going to bed. Sometimes in the middle of the night. I don’t know. Maybe it’s medical or just old age creeping in! Maybe it’s “nervous leg syndrome”  with an added awareness of mind in my sleep thing

Except it’s not just my legs. Sometimes my body just rocks with this impulse to sit up in bed. Maybe it’s nervous body syndrome. I thought what you were experiencing was just an awareness or awakeness in the night. More like a peaceful thing. This is not restful, or comfortable. I had a sleep study done a year or so ago. They found no sleep apnea or sleep problems. But even that night when I was all wired up I never had a sense of deep restorative sleep. Every day I wake up in the morning and then want to go back to sleep!! Can you share an example of what you mean when you say “I do best when practicing directly with what is given in each night”?

R: If you can view it like : GOD, or your own perfect Self, gives you a task: 'Meet ME in that turbulence.' What would be your reply?

F: I think my reply would be that I’ll meet YOU there. Resistance is useless …

When the body movement or sleep disturbing mind runs, causing me to sit up - the movement stops and it is still and peaceful. It’s like the sleeping is disturbed by mind and movement and the sitting is still, quiet and peaceful. Maybe for me the answer is to sit and meditate more at night than to struggle with sleep. Maybe I just THINK I need to sleep when what I really need is to sit.

R: Yes, that seems the correct direction. Let us learn to meet the whole issue with TRUST and not as a mere disturbance. Right, meet HIM/HER in that and you will develop the skill. The challenge may be sometimes tormenting but on the whole we can learn to meditate in it and that feels most meaningful. It is a given, regardless of how we name it and ALL experiences want to lead us HOME, for sure. Trust is never wasted!

F: So simply, whether simple or not, relax the resistance to whatever is arising? Open to it. Allowing. Surrender it to The Divine.

R: Exactly! The beauty of suffering is that we must really find the right 'tune'. Understanding is the map. Then meet it with your heart as long as is needed. Fact is that we can sit and embrace all these forces and this is a very beautiful and intense spur for our practice!


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