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Thread: Zen Practice and Sleep Deprivation

  1. #1

    Zen Practice and Sleep Deprivation

    ZZZZZZ...

    Just kidding. My exposure to Zen literature is very limited, having only one book that is geared towards beginners, the Everything Zen Book, which was a gift to me from my wife.
    While reading through some of the history of Zen, I came across a section that spoke of the Rinzai tradition and the emphasis on sleep deprivation as a means of opening the mind.

    Most people I know wouldn't participate in this willingly, and some of us don't have a choice. I wake up very early, usually 5:30 or 6 in the morning, in order to get our daughter ready for school and start a day of caring for our son, housecleaning, various projects, exercise whenever possible and zazen. When my wife comes home from work, we speak briefly, then I'm off to work from 3 or 4 in the afteroon until 12 or 1 in the morning, sometimes later.

    My activity at home isn't all that vigorous, but I need to keep up or face the wrath of my better half, and daycare for our son isn't an option due to the cost. Living this way leaves my mind in a pile of mush, and I find it difficult to read for any length of time. It also puts a damper on my time online as well, though that's not necessarily a bad thing :wink:

    I've read that enlightenment in Rinzai is usually through satori, all at once, while in Soto it usually occurs in kenshos, or smaller flashes. The realizations I've been experiencing could be described as flashes, and I'm curious to know if my sleep deprivation may have contributed to these experiences. My lack of sleep has been going for 6 years plus, although I've been working night shift for 14 years.

    Any thoughts? Thanks in advance

    Gassho, Dave

  2. #2

    Re: Zen Practice and Sleep Deprivation

    Hi Dave,

    Well, first, Zen Practice (in our Soto way anyway) is not about sleep deprivation. Get a good night's sleep. A great teacher (and my teacher's first teacher), Kodo Sawaki, wrote ...

    Eat in order to do zazen, sleep in order to do zazen. This means that eating and sleeping are also part of zazen.

    Rinzai folks sometimes push ahead with all-night Zazen marathons seeking a big, blasting Kensho ... but Soto folks usually do not. An exception may be during some intensive retreats, but even then, a good night's sleep is usually encouraged. Master Dogen's teacher, Ru jing, was a real hard nose about sleep (though, again, for monks during periods of intense practice). You can read more here ...

    viewtopic.php?p=14877#p14877

    Sleep deptivation has no particular benefits to our way of practice with a "balanced" life, and can be harmful to health. So, get sleep! This is especially so for day-to-day practice outside retreats. Get Sleep! (I know, I know ... not so easy these daya! :roll: )

    I've read that enlightenment in Rinzai is usually through satori, all at once, while in Soto it usually occurs in kenshos, or smaller flashes. The realizations I've been experiencing could be described as flashes, and I'm curious to know if my sleep deprivation may have contributed to these experiences. My lack of sleep has been going for 6 years plus, although I've been working night shift for 14 years.
    The description is not really true. In our Soto way, "Flashes" are neat ... and they come sometimes, big and small, insightful or just confusing or even ordinary ... but we do not put too much emphasis on that (Soto folks rarely speak about "Kensho"). In both the Rinzai and Soto traditions, our way is about making the entire Practice a basis for your life. That takes time, even if some insights come in a flash.

    Please watch my series for "Beginners", and it may give you a sense of what we seek (or, rather, do not seek). I will try to talk about "Kensho" on the "sit-a-long" netcast this week sometime.

    viewtopic.php?f=1&t=447

    I wish I could explain better, but I am very very tired right now ... and heading to bed. :wink:


    By the way, would you please describe the "flashes" in greater detail? That actual could be many things, some of them related to medical conditions that need to be checked. So, I would like to hear more about what you mean by that.

    Gassho, Jundo

  3. #3

    Re: Zen Practice and Sleep Deprivation

    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo


    By the way, would you please describe the "flashes" in greater detail? That actual could be many things, some of them related to medical conditions that need to be checked. So, I would like to hear more about what you mean by that.

    Gassho, Jundo
    Thank you very much, Jundo, for replying and making sense of things. I am aware that I should not be seeking anything during zazen, and I don't purposely look for kensho or lose sleep for that purpose. My sleep deprivation is due more or less to circumstances, and in spite of the health risks I accept that this schedule is the way things need to be for now. When our son reaches school age, I may consider finding a day shift job.

    I appreciate your insights and the wisdom of past masters who support healthy sleep habits...I just need to practice patience. Change will come when the time is right.

    As for the flashes, they've been happening now and then for a few years but have increased in frequency due to a great deal of deep, honest reflection on my part. They do often occur when I'm very tired, though I should mention that my lack of sleep hasn't interfered with my ability to live a normal life. I guess I've just gotten used to it, because I can function well. And that's WITHOUT coffee :wink:

    They usually happen with no pattern or warning, and there's no physical pain or lack of function involved. I'll be going about my business, maybe reflecting on a certain aspect of life while sweeping floors, and suddenly BAM! There's a burst of incredible yet calm clarity, frequently involving a wonderful insight. These insights are sometimes emotionally painful or difficult to face, because they usually involve the breaking down of my ego or the desires that have plagued me throughout life. Thus far, nothing negative has come from these experiences, only some sort of deeper truth showing me the right path.

    I'm hoping that doesn't sound like a health problem of any kind. In spite of my rough schedule, I'm a healthy guy with good eating habits, a healthy weight and no known health issues.

    Again, thank you so much for responding, and for your concern. I'd like to know what you think about my reply when you get a chance.

    Gassho,
    Dave

  4. #4

    Re: Zen Practice and Sleep Deprivation

    Quote Originally Posted by ZenChat99xyz
    I deal with a lot of insomnia.

    I don't know if this will help, but here are some good articles about sleep disorders from Holistic Online:

    http://www.holisticonline.com/Remedies/ ... p_home.htm

    the consultant for the site is an MD from a sleep disorder center.

    I take melatonin and 5-HTP. It does help reduce the severity of the insomnia for me.

    +++

    As far as spiritual experiences and insomnia? I think all forms of austerity, whether consciously engaged in or imposed by illness and problems, do make us more receptive to spiritual experiences. I have had spiritual experiences during periods of insomnia that do not seem as easily accessible without the sleep deprivation.

    I think it can help destroy some of the blocks that the ego puts up.

    But consciously engaging in a kind of self-torture in order to produce spiritual experiences? I think that kind of thing is fraught with danger.

    When I began meditating in the early 80's, I was 21 and very gung ho. I was attracted to that kind of thing. And I did long fasts and long meditations and etc. I think it was both very helpful...and very dangerous (apparently, my stupidity knows no bounds). I definitely believe my current health problems are partially a result of those practices.

    At the same time, I did achieve some of what I had been looking for.

    gassho,

    Jon

    May All Beings Be Happy!

    Jon, thank you very much for taking the time to respond. Although my issue may sound like insomnia, it's far from it. When my schedule allows, I can fall asleep in no time just about anywhere, and sleep well. It's more a matter of my schedule. I do take naps once in a while, but things get hectic if I take too many snoozes.

    I've tried melatonin just to improve the little sleep I do get, but I'm not comfortable with taking pills all the time. I usually just try to get to sleep as soon as my shift is over, and wake up around the same time every day. My diet is geared to provide a steady stream of energy throughout the day and night, so I'm pretty much doing all I can for now.

    I agree that sleep deprivation can make some spiritual experiences come about, but it's not something I'm after. Once I get the chance to change shifts or jobs, I'm looking forward to some decent shut-eye :wink:

    Thanks and gassho,
    Dave

  5. #5

    Re: Zen Practice and Sleep Deprivation

    Quote Originally Posted by humblepie

    They usually happen with no pattern or warning, and there's no physical pain or lack of function involved. I'll be going about my business, maybe reflecting on a certain aspect of life while sweeping floors, and suddenly BAM! There's a burst of incredible yet calm clarity, frequently involving a wonderful insight. These insights are sometimes emotionally painful or difficult to face, because they usually involve the breaking down of my ego or the desires that have plagued me throughout life. Thus far, nothing negative has come from these experiences, only some sort of deeper truth showing me the right path.
    If you feel them generally positive, they are not accompanied by any signs that they could be health related (for example, epileptic attacks can start with what feels like a "spiritual experience"), don't interfere with your life, and seem to be leaving you with some wonderful insights and perspectives ... TAKE 'EM AS THEY COME!GREAT!

    Savor the experiences, welcome them as a gift ... then move on.

    And don't forget to also savor putting on your socks in the morning, sharpening pencils, and sneezing. Also gifts.

    Gassho, Jundo

  6. #6

    Re: Zen Practice and Sleep Deprivation

    Quote Originally Posted by humblepie
    ZZZZZZ...

    I've read that enlightenment in Rinzai is usually through satori, all at once, while in Soto it usually occurs in kenshos, or smaller flashes.
    Any thoughts? Thanks in advance

    Gassho, Dave
    Just a correction about rinzai practice/experience. enlightenment is not all at once, each satori/kensho experience is a little (or maybe) big peep into that understanding we call "Enlightenment". Rinzai students go through many koans (the traditional number is 1,700) to achieve some understanding and Torei writes of the primary importance of "advanced practice" which is practice after one has completed the formal system of koan study. Whether soto or rinzai or any other system, it is a lifetime of practice.

    gassho,
    Jinho

  7. #7

    Re: Zen Practice and Sleep Deprivation

    I remember reading, a long time ago, about traditional Zen monastery schedules (I suppose they were Rinzai), and being made to feel guilty, that I somehow slept too much, and that somehow it was a sin to sleep too much, as if each minute sleeping was a minute you weren't seeking enlightenment, and that was bad bad bad!!! (Trying to think back on it, I must have read this in more than one place, but one instance I seem to remember was in something by Hakuin--maybe in his autobiography?)

    Well, now I have two kids, so my sleep-debt levels rival those of the post-Bush national debt, but I'm no closer to enlightenment...

    In my experience, sleep-deprivation, and especially extreme sleep-deprivation (of course, what qualifies as "extreme" changes with one's age; I remember in college pulling something like three all-nighters in a row, and not feeling much the worse for wear) can lead to states of extreme emotional sensitivity--which doesn't have to be altogether a bad thing. A couple of years ago, flying for some business to NYC, I could only find a flight that left at 5:00 am or so. Now, I live about an hour and a half from the airport, with the new rules you have to be there two hours ahead of time, etc., which all amounted to my having to wake up at 1:00 am or so. As I tend to be a night owl, that's often earlier than I go to sleep. So I didn't sleep at all, except for maybe 45 minutes on the plane. I got into NYC before 8 am, to my hotel around 9. I had that whole day free (all the meetings were scheduled for the day after), and I decided not to waste it--so instead of going to sleep, I went straight to the new MoMA, which I hadn't seen yet. The experience was extraordinary, like being on drugs, maybe (though the few times I tried that in college never did anything of the kind to me). There were four large abstract panels by Kandinsky, from 1914 or so, side by side on a wall, whose beauty literally brought me to tears; it was overwhelming, almost painful in so much as my ecstasy seemed ready to burst out of my chest... The experience continued into the room of Cubist paintings, and then, when I got to the Pollocks, it was like I was seeing them for real for the first time--it was glorious. Now, maybe this was all just the deluded wanderings of an exhausted mind, purely clinical, pathological--but it felt real, damn it, and the following couple of times I've been to that museum, and failed to have the same experience before the same paintings, I felt a certain sense of loss...

    Now, maybe this does not have to do exactly with awakening--certainly "awakening" and "extreme emotion" can be seen as polar opposites--but I just want to add that I personally feel there is a certain connection between an intense experience of beauty and "enlightenment," as if beauty gives us a glimpse of how everything might look in an awakened state, as if it provides us hints of what "clarity" might look like... I think I'll start, at some point, a thread with a more detailed description of what I mean--but, well, that's all I have to say about it for now...

  8. #8

    Re: Zen Practice and Sleep Deprivation

    Quote Originally Posted by Andrei

    Now, maybe this does not have to do exactly with awakening--certainly "awakening" and "extreme emotion" can be seen as polar opposites--but I just want to add that I personally feel there is a certain connection between an intense experience of beauty and "enlightenment," as if beauty gives us a glimpse of how everything might look in an awakened state, as if it provides us hints of what "clarity" might look like... I think I'll start, at some point, a thread with a more detailed description of what I mean--but, well, that's all I have to say about it for now...
    Being a poet and somewhat of an artist, I think I know what you mean. Viewing a painting, reading verse, hearing a composition, these are all things that involve the creative mind. When someone creates something that involves a great deal of concentration and artistry, there can also be a great deal of insight. When we experience particular art forms, that insight is passed to us even though we were not involved in the creation.

    Your sleep deprivation may have caused your analytical, logical mind to be a bit fuzzy, which is what happens to me sometimes, but it also may have given your intuitive and creative mind a chance to see things in an "awakened" state.

    These experiences can't be duplicated, though, no matter how much we wish or try. They come when they come, and when they go we need to accept it. Just savor the moment, as Jundo advised me.

    Gassho,
    Dave

  9. #9

    Re: Zen Practice and Sleep Deprivation

    Thanks, Dave! I'm pretty sure I'm not "holding on" to that experience or anything. Yes, it would be nice if it happened again, but I'm just glad it did happen, and similar experiences have occurred at other times, and are likely to happen again: a perfect day in June, a drawing of Shih-Te by Ike no Taiga at the Met, a performance of a Beethoven cello sonata... And even if they don't, I'm grateful for the glimpse of (for lack of a better term) "the absolute" that they have granted me.

  10. #10

    Re: Zen Practice and Sleep Deprivation

    Quote Originally Posted by Andrei
    Thanks, Dave! I'm pretty sure I'm not "holding on" to that experience or anything. Yes, it would be nice if it happened again, but I'm just glad it did happen, and similar experiences have occurred at other times, and are likely to happen again: a perfect day in June, a drawing of Shih-Te by Ike no Taiga at the Met, a performance of a Beethoven cello sonata... And even if they don't, I'm grateful for the glimpse of (for lack of a better term) "the absolute" that they have granted me.
    Me too. Aren't they wonderful??!!!!

    And I had another miraculous experience today, no less wonderful, the product of all causes and conditions in the universe coming together here and now to make this possible ... a burp during Zazen. Probably the Mexican food we had for dinner. Refried Dharma.

    G, J

  11. #11

    Re: Zen Practice and Sleep Deprivation

    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo
    Quote Originally Posted by Andrei
    Thanks, Dave! I'm pretty sure I'm not "holding on" to that experience or anything. Yes, it would be nice if it happened again, but I'm just glad it did happen, and similar experiences have occurred at other times, and are likely to happen again: a perfect day in June, a drawing of Shih-Te by Ike no Taiga at the Met, a performance of a Beethoven cello sonata... And even if they don't, I'm grateful for the glimpse of (for lack of a better term) "the absolute" that they have granted me.
    Me too. Aren't they wonderful??!!!!

    And I had another miraculous experience today, no less wonderful, the product of all causes and conditions in the universe coming together here and now to make this possible ... a burp during Zazen. Probably the Mexican food we had for dinner. Refried Dharma.

    G, J
    The human body at its best! I haven't had that happen to me yet, Jundo, but when it does I'll think of you :lol:

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