Volume VIIIa - Sufi Teachings
THE MYSTERY OF SLEEP
WE SEE in our daily life that the child's greatest friend is the one who helps it to go to sleep. However many toys we may give it, however many dolls and sweets, when the child is helped to sleep, it is then that it is most grateful. When the mother with her blessed hand rocks it to sleep, this is of the greatest benefit for the child; it is then that it is happiest.
If those who are sick and in pain can sleep they are happy. Then all their pain is gone. If they can only sleep they feel they can endure all else. They will ask the doctor to give them anything to make them sleep. If a person were offered a king's palace and every enjoyment, every luxury, the best surroundings, the best dishes, on condition that he should not sleep, he would say, 'I do not want it; I prefer my sleep!'
The difference between the happy and the unhappy is that the unhappy cannot sleep. The sorrow, care, anxiety, and worry have taken their sleep away. Why do people take alcoholic drinks and drugs of all sorts? Only for this. When a man has drunk alcohol, because of the intensity of the stimulant a slight sleep comes over him. His feet and hands are asleep, his tongue is asleep; he cannot speak distinctly; he cannot walk straight and falls down. The joy of this sleep is so great that when he has drunk once he wants to drink again. A thousand times he resolves that he will not drink any more, but he does it all the same. Rumi says in one of his poems; 'O sleep, every night thou freest the prisoner from his bonds!'
The prisoner when he is asleep does not know that he is in prison; he is free. The wretched is not wretched; he is contented. The suffering have no more pain and misery. This shows us that the soul is not in pain or in misery. If it were it would also be so when the body is asleep. The soul does not feel the misery of the body and the mind; it is when a person awakes that the soul thinks that it is in pain and wretched. All this shows us the great bliss of sleep. And this great bliss is given to us without cost, like all that is best in life. We do not pay for sleep. We pay thousands of pounds for jewels, for gems that are of no use to us, while we can buy bread for pennies.
Man does not know how great the value of sleep is, because the benefit it gives cannot be seen and touched. If he is very busy, if he has some business that brings him money, he would rather occupy himself with that even at the cost of his sleep, because he sees that he has gained so many pounds, so many shillings; but he does not see what he gains by sleep.
When we are asleep we generally experience two conditions: the dream and the deep sleep. The dream is the uncontrolled activity of the mind. When we are awake, when our mind works without control, it shows us pictures which come from its store of impressions and we call this imagination. When we control the activity of the mind we call it thought. The imaginings that come during sleep we call dreams. We do not call them real, because our waking state shows us something different; but while we are not in the waking state the dream is real.
During a deep sleep a person is usually not conscious of anything, and when he wakes up he feels refreshed and renewed. What are we doing when we are fast asleep? The soul is then released from the hold of the body and the mind. It is free; it goes to its own element, to the highest spheres, and it enjoys being there and is happy. It experiences all the happiness, all the bliss and peace that are there.
Besides the dream and the deep sleep there are visions. These are seen when the soul in sleep is active in the higher spheres. What it sees there the mind interprets in allegorical pictures. The soul sees plainly the actual thing, and whatever the mind receives from its impressions is more or less what the soul sees. Therefore the thing is seen as a picture, an allegory, a parable, which the sage can interpret, because he knows the language of those spheres. If he sees himself going down or walking up a mountain, if he sees himself in rags or very richly dressed, on an aircraft or in the desert, he knows what it all means. The ignorant one does not know; he merely thinks it is a dream and nothing important.
A person sees in a vision either what concerns himself, or what concerns others in whom he is interested; if he is interested in his nation or in the whole of humanity, he will see what he has to do in regard to the nation or the whole of humanity.
In a dream a voice may be heard, or a message given in letters. This is the higher vision. The saints and sages see in the vision exactly what will happen or what the present condition is, because their mind is controlled by their will. Even in sleep their mind does not for one moment think that it can act independently of their will. And so whatever their soul sees is shown exactly as it is seen. They see visions even while awake, because their consciousness is not bound to this earthly plane. It is awake and acts freely upon the higher planes.
Besides the dream, the vision, and the deep sleep, the mystics experience two other conditions, the self-induced dream and the self-induced deep sleep. To accomplish this is the aim of mysticism. It is so easy that I can explain it in these few words, and yet it is so difficult that I bow my head before him who has achieved it. It is accomplished by concentration and meditation.
To hold one thought in our mind, keeping our mind free from all other thoughts, from all pictures, is very difficult. A thousand thoughts, a thousand pictures come and go. By mastering this the mystic masters all; then he is awake upon this plane as well as upon the higher plane, and to him the one becomes sleep and the other waking. People may say that those mystics who can do this are great occultists, very psychic people; but that is not their aim. Their aim is the true consciousness, the real life which lies beyond: God. When this is open to them then all wisdom is open to the soul, and all the books, all the learning in the world, become intelligible to them.