More changes from the Waking Up Course.
The other day in A intentional meditation on intention and meditation, I wrote about some of the things I’d gained from the Waking up course.
Here are some more.
First: no Ambien. I’ve depended on Ambien (Zolpidem) to help me sleep for maybe fifteen years. Bobbi called it an addiction. That’s rather harsh. I preferred the less judgmental term “chemical dependence.” Ambien didn’t affect my performance as near as I could tell. I just needed it to get to sleep.
I started using Ambien during and after business trips to Europe and Japan. If you’ve seen Bill Murray’s movie Lost in Translation), you have an idea of what it’s like. If you’ve lived that movie, you know what it’s like. If neither, I’ll tell you: you’re dying to sleep, dying, and you can’t sleep. It sucks.
So Ambien was great for intercontinental travel. I’d take a pill, and I could sleep on the plane. Then just the right amount the night I arrived would put me on something like a regular sleep schedule, then a dose at night to reinforce. Then a couple of doses on the return trip. And then back to normal. Sounds pretty awful now that I write about it. But it wasn’t. It was salvation for the sleepless.
But then there was coast-to-coast domestic travel and Ambien to the rescue. And soon I had a problem: without Ambien, I could no longer get to sleep. Actually, I could. It just took a long time, and it felt like crap. I resented being tired and unable to sleep. And relief was just a pill away. If it had been an expensive drug or if I’d had to watch out for the cops or if it had impaired my performance, I would have fought my way off it. But it seemed all upside—except for addiction dependence.
It became a habit. I’d take Ambien I could to get the job done—about a quarter of a dose, but almost every night. Sometimes I’d need more, but that was rare. I slept well. I could stop if I was willing to brave the sleepless nights. So, not an addiction not such a big deal.
Every so often I’d decide to stop. I’d have to endure a few nights of being Bill Murray, and a few unproductive sleepy days. But I could break the habit. For a while. Because it wasn’t an addiction. Then we’d take a trip, and I’d have trouble sleeping in a strange bed or—I’d spend more than 40 seconds trying to get to sleep—or something. It was easier to take another dose than endure another sleepless night. God! I hate sleepless nights. I’d take the dose and get to sleep, and the next night I’d be faced with the same old crappy choice: either return to “normal” and go back to Ambien or—I don’t even want to think about it.
Anyway, the Waking Up Course has also been the Getting to Sleep Without Ambien Course. I can report that I now get eight or seven or six hours of uninterrupted sleep a night—but only if I lie. I don’t. What I can report, without lying, is that I go to bed and almost always go right to sleep. Most often I wake up a few hours later, and I need to pee. Something about old men and bladders. I don’t feel exhausted when I get up. I go back to bed, and most of the time I go right back to sleep. Other times I’m just not sleepy. So I’ll lie in bed and meditate. Hey, if I fall asleep, that’s good. And if I don’t fall asleep, that’s good too.
I have no proof the Waking Up Course has done this. Correlation, and all. But it’s happened.
Entering the state
Second: entering the meditative state. For about the first 25 Days, Sam’s guided meditation assumes that you need some time to settle in. You need his direction to detach your mind from the day’s concerns and get ready to do some serious meditation. Then he says: “You’ve got the rest of the day to tell yourself the story of your life” and directs you just to put everything aside. And so I have. I can sit down, close my eyes, and I’m present, ready to go. This doesn’t mean that I don’t get distracted. But it does mean that I don’t need to vamp my way into presence.
Third: the space. You do some meditations with eyes open and then close your eyes or the reverse. Sam points out that your visual field is just as large with your eyes closed as it is when it’s open, and it is. In fact, it’s bigger.
With my eyes open, my visual field is the conventional one: what appears in front of my eyes. With my eyes closed, my visual field includes that. But if I “look out the front of my head” I see the same thing as when I “look out the back of my head.” So my visual field suffers from being all black. But in compensation, it goes from 180 degrees to 360 degrees. So that’s cool. And then the illusion that I am in the center of a space goes. There’s just—consciousness.
Fourth: the practice. “The Mind Illuminated” Culadasa offers a ten stage process to Awakening which he defines as “a profound shift in our intuitive understanding of reality.” The first step along his road is simple—and difficult. Develop a consistent and diligent practice. Consistent means every day. Diligent means not fucking around, but doing the best you can. I’ve never before made it to consistent, much less diligent.
Culadasa identifies the obstacles that we are likely to face while trying to develop a consistent practice. For one, we expect too much. If you think that you are going to get ANYTHING out of meditation before you’ve established a consistent practice, forget about it. You might, but don’t be disappointed until you’ve developed your practice. And not then either.
And if you think that developing a consistent practice will be easy, forget about that, too. Developing a consistent practice is an accomplishment. And it’s one to be celebrated.
Thanks to the Waking Up Course, I’ve got a good starting point for a consistent practice. Almost 50 days of ten-minute sessions, sometimes with some extra, because it was interesting. Now for this next stage, Culadasa suggests slightly longer sessions. Maybe twenty minutes to start. Something manageable.
I can do that.
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