Dullness and insomnia

Ward Law, modified 7 Years ago at 6/23/16 5:28 PM
Created 7 Years ago at 6/23/16 5:24 PM

Dullness and insomnia

Posts: 123 Join Date: 9/7/15 Recent Posts
I’m a lifetime insomniac living in a perpetual state of mild sleep deprivation. I will describe my situation in terms of Culadasa's samatha terminology and models. See The Mind Illuminated.

My meditative skill is somewhere in stage 2, though I haven’t really mastered stage 1 yet. As you might guess, strong dullness is my main obstacle. On the other hand, dullness is my best friend at bedtime.

My sleep technique, which I already sort-of knew but confirmed via a sleep self-help course, is to focus on the breath sensations while lying in bed. This helps to quiet the anxious monkey mind. Once I can focus the attention (e.g., can count at least 10 breaths), then dullness is likely to set in. The intention is to encourage the sub-minds to relax and quit projecting alarming thoughts/images into consciousness. When the projections become pleasantly hypnagogic, I can drop the intention to maintain concentration and drift into sleep. Sometimes this takes hours, or fails altogether.

I have been concerned as to whether I am giving the sub-minds conflicting intentions by focusing on the breath for both concentration and sleep acquisition. But I read in Culadasa’s book that the sub-minds are smart enough to recognize different contexts. So I’m hoping they will recognize that in meditation we are intending to increase awareness and at bedtime we are intending to let it go and yield to dullness.

I’m pretty sure that my sub-minds understand that bedtime is a special context. The simple act of going to bed causes them to switch into the insomnia program (anxious monkey mind) by default, even if I was drowsy moments earlier. This is what defines me as an insomniac.
tom moylan, modified 7 Years ago at 6/24/16 4:32 AM
Created 7 Years ago at 6/24/16 4:27 AM

RE: Dullness and insomnia

Posts: 896 Join Date: 3/7/11 Recent Posts
howdy wardlaw,
interesting post.  i am not a good sleeper.  i have mostly come to terms with that but still admire some people's ability to go to bed and wake up eight hours later.  this is a very rare occurance for me.

i really like culadasas' mind models and see it as a simplified fractal model where the macro and micro views display similar and consistent structure while allowing for a virtually infinite level of detail.

i think also that it is easy to overthink this stuff and IMO this is what you may be doing. falling asleep is a process of letting go of agitating tendencies of mind.  your technique is supporting that process.  to concern yourself that you may be training the subminds in some non-productive way is IMO not productive.

there have been times when i have used my 'sleep time' for practice.  this definitely affects my waking productivity but during times of high dharma progress was a price i have been willing to pay.  one attitude adjustment that has been helpful to me is to try and accept the fact that i have not slept well the previous evening and just live with that fact.  maybe give myself the gift of a nap in the afternoon.

if you are dead set against polluting your sleep time with practice then i would say that your technique is a good thing.  in my case, deepening concentration and improving / perfecting jhanas has helped me with sleep in a general way but this did not happen over night. ;-)

ps: there is a really good ebook about the tibetan yogas of sleep and dreams which may be of interest should you choose to make these dark hours for practice.


Kim _, modified 7 Years ago at 6/24/16 2:24 PM
Created 7 Years ago at 6/24/16 2:24 PM

RE: Dullness and insomnia

Posts: 708 Join Date: 2/5/13 Recent Posts
Hi Wardlaw,

I have no idea how it is to live as a lifetime insomniac. However, just recently I had a 2-3 year period of chronic fatigue due to so much work and a difficult baby in the house who kept us, both my wife and I, up every night for a year. We had to wake up 5-10 times every night. My sleep hormone secretion was at moments so mixed up that it was difficult to say whether I was actually awake or in sleep. Other than that my body was so exhausted that many times it was difficult to relax the body enough to fall into sleep. And I would wake up from sleep even after our child had learned better sleeping habits. Otherwise I've been a heavy and deep sleeper all my life. You obviously are the expert of your own situation but I felt like adding my two cents, if some of it might be helpful.

One potential problem with doing a concentration practice, like watching the breath, when going to sleep is that the used attentiveness may keep the mind in the awake-mode. This may prevent the mind from falling asleep. This could contribute to the problem of not falling asleep, as in your case and just make it worse. I never recommend anyone without some solid meditation history and without being awakening to use this method because this can simply mess up sleeping rhythms. This can be a killer for laypeople with jobs, kids and whatever to take care of. For monks in monasteries this is not a problem as it's not such a big disaster to chop too big pieces of vegetables or miss a weed. Just a joke.

Tom linked a sleep yoga book. I'd not recommend those practices for the same reasons, though of course anyone is free to try them out. I've heard of lay-students of this Tibetan buddhist lineage who have done these exact sleep yoga practices ending up with sleep deprivation and  stressed out. I think any sleep practice which makes one wake up in two hour intervals throughout the night, is not a very fitting one for a layperson with responsibilities. And if anyone can testify otherwise, please do.

One important thing about meditation. One thing that I find essential about concentration practice is the seriousness of it which has the outcome of cutting through the various layers of the mind. The sharper the momentary concentration is the more thoroughly the blade cuts, so to speak. I'm not a fan of prolonged classical concentration practice, such as watching the breath for several minutes or hours because even if one can follow the breath skillfully for some period of time, still there might be no recognition of bare attention, the open space-like mind. What you learn by watching the breath is just to watch the breath and return your intention to it. It is the open spacious mind that is aware of itself which is or should be the aim of all kinds of practices because that's the principle. But this is not widely taught, even though it should be. So. What is essential is even for a moment to cut through the mental and emotional layers, such as the dullness you experience and get a clear moment of open awareness without any artificial flavours or tones to it. This is important because it has a profound effect on the whole bodymind... which affects sleep as well. This is way more easier to do than to learn how to stay concentrated.

So how to cut through the mind? This is not difficult at all. Just use your body and shout like this. The syllables used in the video are A VAM but basicly any two or more syllables can be used. This practice can be done by anyone. Try it. Do three series's like in the vid, punch it in and you'll see.  I did concentration practices for over 10000 hours back in the day. Of course there was some benefit but had I known of such a method of applying extreme momentary focus for cutting through, I would have left the common concentration practices at once.

Laurel Carrington, modified 7 Years ago at 6/25/16 8:26 AM
Created 7 Years ago at 6/25/16 8:26 AM

RE: Dullness and insomnia

Posts: 440 Join Date: 4/7/14 Recent Posts
You have my deepest sympathy. I have struggled with insomnia as well, and have taken a variety of medications over the years. What tended to happen is I would develop a tolerance for whatever I was on and need more of it, until after awhile it just wouldn't work any more. Then I'd have to find something else. I have finally gotten relatively stable, although I can still have a bad night now and then. I've done sleep studies and have a C-PAP machine. So: I echo Kim's advice. I also know what it's like to get sleepy in the enening, and then the minute my head hits the pillow I'm wide awake. It's as if my mind can sense I am moving towards shutting it down, and so it doubles down on the vigilance. 

Culadasa's approach may not be the best for you. I tried it myself in the past year, and found it to be frustrating. It is better for me to let my mind settle on its own, not to work strenuously at focus. The noting technique worked for me in the early years of my practice, and now I just practice open awareness, anchored by the breath at the nostrils. The harder I "work" at settling, the more destructive the backlash. In the past, the more I worried about losing sleep, the more difficult it would be to get to sleep. So: I have some CBT type insights that help, such as reminding myself that I have been able to function in the past with inadequate sleep, or that life isn't perfect for anyone, and this just happens to be the particular form of dukkha I am stuck with. I'm sure you've also gotten the relevant advice about exercise during the day and whatnot. 

All all the best to you.