Book 1.10 of The Yoga Sutras states, “That mental modification supported by cognition of nothingness is sleep.”
Book 1.2 states, “The restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff is Yoga.”
I am a big dreamer. By that, I don’t mean ambitious (though I’m told I am that as well). I mean when I go to sleep I have dreams like blockbuster movies complete with plots, casts of characters, intrigue, chase scenes—you name it.
When I waken, I can generally remember most of my dreams (99% of which are nightmares) and as I begin my daily morning recounting of them to my husband he just sits and shakes his head, saying something along the lines of, “What the hell is going on in your head?”
Last night, for example, I dreamed I was fired from my beloved studio, which had transformed without my knowledge into a restaurant. I had been trying to teach a yoga class and serve my students food all at the same time. My boss was mad because I took an hour and a half to bring a hot dog to a table (strange menu selection for a yogi), and forgot the relish the customer had requested.
My students were devastated and took me out to console me. We sat together drinking Bloody Marys in a little triangular park in the middle of a city, people watching. They said they had a surprise for me, and suddenly 12 Italian opera singers surrounded the table and began to sing. It was great until one of them kept trying to pull me under the table, where I knew they all planned to rape me. No one else realized what was going on.
I managed to get up from the table and run down the street, where I saw a new studio, called “Indigo Yoga” had opened. I ran in, thinking I would be safe, and there was my boss again (a woman with whom in reality I have a great relationship), and she was threatening to have me arrested if I didn’t leave.
There is more, but I’ll spare you the rest.
I should note that I have been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and that vivid nightmares are a classic symptom of PTSD. This is a relatively mild example of my nighttime wanderings—if I shared a crazier one you might think I was just…crazy.
Anyway, when I woke up this morning I wondered, when we reach Samadhi or enlightenment, and cease “all the fluctuations of the mind,” do we stop dreaming? Not that I am in any danger of imminent enlightenment, but it seemed like a valid question.
I broke out my dog eared copy of the Sutras and it opened straight away (with mystical synchronicity) to a page which I’ve either never read, or don’t remember reading; Book 1.10 “That mental modification supported by cognition of nothingness is sleep.”
Apparently, Patanjali was not a big dreamer like me.
He says, “Normally, we say we do not have any thought in the mind during sleep. But actually, we have the thought of having no thought. This is what we mean when we say, “I slept very well; I knew nothing.” You knew nothing, but you know that you knew nothing. Don’ t think there is no thought in sleep. If there were no thought and you were completely unconscious, you would not even feel you had slept. All other thoughts are temporarily suspended except this one thought of emptiness in the mind, which leaves it’s impression upon waking.”
No wonder I always feel tired.
What he describes is not Samadhi—just what he considers a normal state of unenlightened sleep…but it sounds like Samadhi to me.
All the work I do trying to still my mind goes out the window when I close my eyes each night. It’s like something just takes over and has a big party in my brain which I am forced to attend, leaving me exhausted and feeling bruised by the time my alarm rings and the sun begins to bat it’s eyelashes at me.
If what Patanjali says is true, that true stillness of the mind means we don’t even have an awareness of the stillness, I am intrigued, but frightened. As much as my dreams torment me, the idea of closing my eyes and there being nothingness seems awfully frightening too. That attachment I feel to my dreaming, of course, is me somehow still clinging to my past, as bad as it was, I guess because it is, at least, familiar.
The challenge of yoga is being willing to relinquish everything you think is you, to find to the true you, which is far more expansive than we can ever understand, and is, in fact, everything that ever was or will be.
Heady ideas indeed.
To my question, after enlightenment, do we still dream, I believe the answer is no. There can be no dreaming because dreaming epitomizes the fluctuations of the mind. It is likely that I don’t need to worry about it one way or the other, because I suspect I have many more lifetimes ahead of me before I even get close to such a place.
For now, I would be satisfied with Patanjali’s “emptiness in the mind” during sleep, even if I do have an awareness of it. A dreamless sleep must surely indicate progress along the path. Perhaps if I can get there, I’ll have my first taste of what Samadhi might be like.
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Ed: Bryonie Wise
Photo: Alex Teuscher “Dare To Dream”