I have heard it said that the need for sleep is due to this physical reality requiring a lot of energy of the 'one mind' to create. I have recently had some new insights into the nature and the reason behind sleep which I would like to share:
When I looked at the above explanation (a lack of energy in 'Life' being the cause of the need for sleep), it seemed to imply a limit to the power of this Mind (The Creator) and I was therefore compelled to question and even challenge the idea. It seemed impossible: I had taken this mind (God?) to be limitless, infinite, and without boundary or restriction. But how can this be correct if apparently 'God' needs to have a rest from creating this reality as it is too much for 'Him' to do so indefinitely? Something did not fit right, so I looked closer and soon another possibility was revealed...
(NB. Later I saw this 'new insight' (described below) actually reinforced the initial teaching regarding a lack of energy, but not for the reasons I expected; more at the bottom...)
First, it occurred to me that there are a number of actions or functions the body carries out as a vital part of being 'alive' besides sleep, and these are often entirely choiceless. For example, breathing. If one tries to stop breathing through will-power alone, the body will soon go unconscious, removing this function from the personal conscious decision-making process and the body begins to breath again. Another vital bodily function is the excreting of food waste and the toxins contained therein (ie. going to the toilet). Trying through will-power again to not do this only succeeds for a certain period of time before the pain becomes impossible to bare and the body takes over naturally. Then we have eating and drinking, though to a slightly lesser extent in one sense. It is possible to wilfully refrain from food or water for quite some time, and the body will not go unconscious or 'take over' as such. Nature requires the person to continue to function consciously in order to be able to look for food and water and actually consume it. Instead, the physical discomfort can be great, and after a while the thinking process can be affected and the mental and emotional (and of course, physical) functions are seriously impaired (until, as we know, the body ceases to function at all).
Taking the examples further, there is also the need to keep warm, and the body will shiver and eventually curl up in a ball to retain heat. And, if touching a scolding surface, the hand will naturally withdraw quickly, without thought. Sleep would seem to fall into the same category as all the above, where the body does something of its own accord simply because it needs to. As to the exact reasons why we need to sleep, a quick search online brings up a range of theories and questions, repeatedly accompanied by the admission that no-one is sure.
What we do know is that sleep is another function over which a person has some conscious control. It is possible to miss a whole nights sleep with fairly minor consequences, and as long as one is able to have one or two good nights sleep straight after, it is quickly as if the interruption never occurred. However, irregular or disturbed sleep patterns over an extended period can soon have devastating affects on a person's ability to function and is a well established method of torture. Without even physically touching the person, merely preventing them from going to sleep can lead to massive acute emotional and even psychological problems.
So, what is sleep for? Clearly we have established above that it is required for mental well-being. Physical rest is not enough without actual sleep, so it is not even about the body requiring rest. It is sleep specifically that is required - a detachment from consciousness and/or conscious 'thinking'. (And the requirement for sleep applies to other animals as well as humans.)
I am going to leave the scientists to their debates and experiments about what happens to the body during sleep. To me, all physical (measured) reasons are secondary to the truth behind what is going on here, and it is this that I would like to talk about:
The Reason for Sleep
Those familiar with my teaching will know I liken this existence to a dream (or, perhaps more-so, that I state outright that it is a dream). This is how this reality has been interpreted for me in various insights over the last 20 years, and with each new insight all those received previously are further reinforced and consolidated.
I teach that this dream (physical reality) is created by an emotional attachment to being separate (within the One Being) and the need to express this; and, like all emotions, it comes in waves. Many of us will be familiar with being very upset or angry about something, and how it plays on our mind for a while, causing strong feelings which seem to sap our emotional and mental strength. The feelings can be extreme as we fight to keep a grip on the situation: 'Will it ever stop?!'. And then, suddenly, it has gone, as if a creature has had its fill and moved away, and one is left feeling washed out and empty. It's not long though before the thoughts and feelings return, as if with a new strength, and one goes through it all again. Thankfully the cycle is not endless, and there comes a time when the feelings don't have the same debilitating power and the toll on our inner energy is not so great... And then, quietly, in time, they are gone for good (that is, with regards to this particular painful matter at least. It will not be long before another instance disturbs us and the process is repeated).
Coming back to the purpose of this page, the above description, as far as I can see, fits well with what happens in the sleep/wake cycle that we endure (or should that be 'enjoy'?) throughout our lives, and explains why sleep is necessary, or more-so, inevitable. 'Deep Dreamless Sleep' is the opposite polarity to being 'awake' in our busy lives, in the same way as feeling washed out and exhausted is the polar opposite of feeling furious or overcome with grief - one must follow the other.
I used to believe (through being told by spiritual authority figures, as well as my own experience and reasoning at the time) that 'Deep Dreamless Sleep is the nearest to the Ultimate Reality that one can get whilst still alive, but that it is not actually 'it', as even in Deep Dreamless Sleep the total absence of 'Being' is not yet complete'. However, I am beginning to see, for the first time, that 'Deep Dreamless Sleep' is only experienced as being so 'deep' because the sense of separation from the whole that is experienced within the individual is so vivid when awake (in the dream here). And this extreme separation results in the living physical world being so 'real', and the person feeling so separate.
And, in the same way as when having endured an extended emotional period, the following period is one of a complete lack of vibrancy, I see Deep Dreamless Sleep as another example of this pendulum action...
Furthermore, when all the need to be separate has been 'lived out' or dissolved (in day-to-day living throughout the 'life'), eventually the shift through and into Death itself will be no shift at all, because the extremes of the pendulum will be minimum, and therefore both polarities very close to each other...
To explain further:
Like all emotions and the results of their affects, the pendulum swings at lesser and lesser extremes before coming to rest in the middle. This begins with struggling in the world here, and this has its opposite state which is 'Deep Dreamless Sleep', and I am suggesting that these two extremes will eventually lessen to two new 'states' or 'closer polarities': Simply being 'Awake' (ie. in the 'Buddhist' sense, of still dreaming this world, but less and less affected by circumstances of life - Enlightenment), Vs 'Dreamless Sleep' (where one still passes through the dream state where there are some images, into an absence of all experience. However, you may notice the lack of the word 'Deep, ie. there is no more 'DEEP Dreamless Sleep', only 'Dreamless Sleep')...
Eventually, when all is finished and there is no more pendulum action at all, there is simply 'Being', where there is no Dream to be lost in nor to wake up from. The living life as a separate 'being' has ended; the two poles have merged into one and here one is totally 'aware'. This is both the beginning and the end.
The Nature of Sleep Continued:
As I consider this further, another thought occurred to me: As I experience the two states currently, being 'Awake' and 'Dreamless Sleep', often there is a middle reality which one passes through, both on the way to Dreamless Sleep and on the way back to being awake. This is the state we usually call dreaming. Since this phase would seem to be the middle between both extremes, it follows that this state could very well be the Ultimate Reality! This is new, but it makes sense...
In the 'Spiritual Life' it is common to put much emphasis on going beyond this dream or illusory/temporary existence (Maya), and the suggestion that the Ultimate Reality could be yet more dreaming would be outrageous to most seekers. But this attitude, now I look at it, appears to be a blatant denial of the fact that this existence is here and, accepting that it is only dreamt, the 'Being' responsible for dreaming/creating it is clearly 'designed' for doing just that. As much as 'I' may (or may not) wish to say that anything non-permanent should not exist, it has to be considered whether this physical 'reality' is precisely what is 'meant' to happen (whilst removing any judgment from the word 'meant')...
As I look at it now, it is seemingly likely/logical that the 'Ultimate Reality', the end or 'neutral' state, is one similar to our familiar dream state (ie. when asleep in bed); with images appearing and feelings rising from what is 'experienced', all flowing effortlessly from one to another. But it seems likely to me this will be a sort of lucid dream, where the dreamer knows none of it is real. There will still be apparent rules (laws), but present in one instant and not there in the next, and one may therefore be able to fly, walk through walls, changing shape or location, etc. and all with no holding on of one moment (or movement) into the next...
So, I don't know if this explanation has ever been said before, but while there will very likely be a background of simply 'Being' (but being 'nothing'), I see the 'dream state' as continuing to be a major part of the 'Neutral state' or ultimate end point (after death) - ie. without the extremes.
(The 'extremes' referred to at the end of the last paragraph relate to being 'alive/awake' and 'deep dreamless sleep'. Here currently, a strong attachment to one specific train of thought or imagined scenario has to play itself out to a conclusion, with each new 'day' picking up pretty much where the last day left off, and the dream continues... As per the words given to me when I had the insight that this was a dream, over 20 years ago now, 'A Dream it may be, but The Dream goes on!'.)
Taking this explanation back to our own day-to-day experience, have you ever tried to stop thinking about something that was disturbing you but found it impossible to do so? Followers or Seekers of the Spiritual Path may know this well (in their meditation), as they fight daily to remain conscious in the face of the incredible pull of the mind to day-dream, or indeed worry about a situation. When one scenario is complete in the worldly sense and the worrying can finally stop, there is relative peace, for a while; but it is often not long before another scenario occurs and sets us off again. Regardless of what is occurring, the day-dreaming process is always with us in some form or other, even if only waiting in the wings for a chance to dash onto the stage and steal the limelight. And that is the nature of the sleep-awake/life-death cycle. Even once the extremes have ended, it is not long before one's attention is once more dragged off into the world of experience or excitment, and the pendulum begins again.
So, at last it seems we unveiled the story behind being 'awake' and 'asleep'; and even of the cycle of life and death, explained and reflected for us so clearly in our own familiar thinking process! Daily life and living is the microcosm of the greater, and indeed Ultimate Truth, hidden in plain sight for anyone who is ready to see!
Why is this new?
I have not heard the above said before. Why would this be? (accepting that the above may be correct and I have not just lost the plot). Why would other Enlightened and/or Liberated individuals not say the same things?
Probably because the thinking mind tends to work in a linear way: eg. 'We start here, go through this and this, and end up here; and then, when we have had enough, we return via the same route'. However, as one embraces the insight that this existence is created by (and for) the emotions and their need to experience and express, accompanied by the knowledge that the emotions are not linear but are pendulous in their behaviour, swinging from one extreme to the other, one's perspective and thus the way the knowledge is interpreted shifts.
NB. Of course, it is not beyond all possibility that another human being has indeed had the same insights I have had, into this and all other matters. The Truth is not exclusive. What varies is a person's ability to interpret the information and express it, and this will depend on their mental makeup as well as the path they have lived. My own path has been one of facing and dissolving emotions (so I have acquired a solid understanding as to how they work, and tend to think along these lines), as well as the insights coming to me in a manner relating this existence to a dream. These two factors gave rise to the above explanation, and indeed are the basis for my own teaching and approach. (As to how much my being dyslexic has affected my thought and reasoning process (my mental makeup), I could not say.)
Purpose of sleep... Another Conclusion!
Having explained all the above, and thinking I had uncovered some hidden mystery and in doing so had contradicted every Spiritual Teacher who went before me (let's say), it has occurred to me, all things considered, that the reason for sleep is therefore that this existence cannot be sustained as the emotional energy must swing back the other way; and it could therefore be said that the energy debt must be repaid. So, we find we have come full-circle, and return to the initial explanation that sleep occurs because the energy required to create this existence is great and cannot be sustained, and this results in the polarity that we call 'Sleep'. It is just that now I have a much clearer understanding as to how and why.
by Nick Roach
ps. It's now several years after writing the above, and I have another, admittedly minor amendment to make:
Having said that it appears the dream state is actually the original state of mind, with images and sensations gently arising and falling away, it's occurred to me that there's no reason at all why all need for these images and sensations could also cease, at least for a while. Thus there would be only 'Being'...
However, this is not to be confused with the state of dreamless sleep, which still contains the need for separation which is currently dormant but will in due course recreate the physical appearance of separation. In this 'new' state there is no such attachment to separation. There is only 'Being'.
pps. Further to the above, I have since read about the Tibetan Yoga of Dream and Sleep, and learned (as I understand it) the perspective is that the sleep/dream state, which they call Bardo, is not only the state one enters in sleep during life but the very same 'place' one enters when one dies, between lives. And the aim is to practice enough whilst alive to remain conscious in sleep so as to be able to remain conscious and 'awake' between lives too.
So there it is. As suspected, it seems this isn’t new at all!