Simmering in the Stew of Love
When I am with you, we stay up all night.
When you’re not here, I can’t go to sleep.
Praise God for these two insomnias!
And the difference between them.
Rumi, The Essential Rumi, Rendered by Coleman Barks
When we were children, the privilege to stay up all night was considered a very special treat. There was something mysterious and tantalizing about being allowed to watch the twinkling of the stars, to listen to the adults talk of things unknown, and feel that we were not going to miss out on anything. The wonder associated with staying up till dawn faded away as we matured. As children, perhaps we felt an innate connection with the “time of elixir” – the wee hours of the morning – when the stillness felt like a magic blanket wrapping us in the love of the universe. When did we lose that awe, that wonder, that desire to hold vigil?
Clearly, as adults, how we spend our time and how our routines are scheduled is moulded by the responsibilities of family and work. Getting enough sleep to power through the next day becomes much more important than when we were young and carefree. Still, meditation time is of paramount importance. Many people find it difficult to wake up early in order to meditate, and those who do sometimes find themselves nodding off during meditation as their attention slips down to the throat centre.
While sleep requirements vary slightly from person to person, the medical community states that most healthy adults need between seven-and-a-half to nine hours of sleep per night to function at their best. Maharaj Charan Singh advises us in Die to Live:
The body needs a certain amount of rest. It varies with the individual’s type of work, but everybody needs not less than six hours in any way – sleeping hours, not lying hours.
Many of us find ourselves in the position of juggling our need to sleep with our commitment to our spiritual practice. It seems that the choice is to sacrifice the quality of one for the other, something Maharaj Charan Singh says we must not do:
We should never try to sit in meditation at the cost of sleep. We don’t want to cut down our other activities for sleep, but we try to cut down our sleep and sit in meditation, and naturally the body needs a certain amount of rest.
Die to Live
However, Sardar Bahadur Jagat Singh explains in Science of the Soul, that for a satsangi, the normal amount of sleep may not be as necessary as for others since “wakefulness” is one of the four walls of our spiritual fortress. He says:
The less we sleep, the more spiritual progress we can make. We do not need so much sleep as we usually have. A few hours sleep every night is quite sufficient. It leads to inner progress.
The point, though, is not to just sleep less and stay awake thinking about or doing worldly things, but to spend this time in devotion to the Lord. Have we ever attempted to stay awake throughout the night in meditation? Maharaj Sawan Singh says in Philosophy of the Masters, Vol. I:
We spend hundreds of nights in pursuit of sensual gratification or in acquisition of wealth. Have we ever spent a single night in remembrance of the Lord? To keep awake at night or to sleep less is natural with all saints, because whatever they have gained was realized by them during the night. You too should keep awake in God’s remembrance at night and put yourself in the practice of simran, dhyan and bhajan.
If we ever suffer bouts of insomnia, perhaps we can take it as a special blessing. We can lie in bed doing simran or sit and do meditation. If we can stay focused in simran, we are at least getting the benefit of our wakefulness and of cultivating the habit of concentration at the eye centre while conditioning the mind to simran.
I have a name for this condition – I call it simmering. Just like a rich stew of vegetables and dal, which must simmer on the stove for hours until the flavours have infused every morsel to perfection, we must simmer on the stove of Nam being cleansed, purified, and transformed; being infused with Shabd.
It really does take the fullness of time for us to be fit for spiritual transport. We must develop the receptivity to benefit from the Master’s grace, to be ready for the Master to lift us up to spiritual realms.
We should consider those nights when we cannot sleep as a special time for communion with the Master. Like Rumi says, “When I am with you, we stay up all night.” We can visualize the Master sitting there with us attending to our every thought, our every question, showering us with his love. This is an excellent use of the imagination, and we might be surprised at how soothing and comforting the time becomes. Not a moment spent in remembrance of the Lord is wasted. Every round of simran is to our credit. Maharaj Charan Singh says in Light on Sant Mat:
The Master is always within and ready to help; in fact, he waits every moment for his disciples to turn to him.… Satguru is within you and it is he who will answer all your questions and problems if by concentration and simran you withdraw your consciousness and reach the centre behind the eyes.
So if we are not able to fall to sleep, we should keep our thoughts focused on the Master and engaged in simran – turning insomnia into simmering.
While we may not be able to recapture our youthful desire to hold onto the mysterious night, with Master’s grace, we can turn those restless nights into precious opportunities to focus on simran, to rest the mind while “simmering”, as Master makes us fit to meet him within.
The beloved Lord yields to the love of his devotees.