I find it so difficult to get up in the dark morning as we head into winter. And of course, although going back to standard time gives me a temporary reprieve, soon it will just be a fact of winter: dark mornings and dark evenings.
Some people experience a depression of spirit in the face of so much darkness. For me, the most difficult part is the accompanying sleepiness. I must have a very strong circadian clock in my system! My instinct is to hibernate; I want to curl up in the blankets and dive back into dreaming.
I have learned a lot about sleepiness from my practice. I can’t tell you how many times I have felt sleepiness overwhelm me in the midst of meditating or learning or praying. At first, I would berate myself, but over time, I have learned that sleepiness requires subtle discernment. Sometimes sleepiness is just a fact. I am tired right now. That is part of the human condition. I can bring a sense of curiosity to it: What IS this sleepiness? I notice the heaviness in my body, the fuzziness in my thinking, the dream states as they arise. My awareness ebbs and flows and I notice that too.
But sometimes the sleepiness is something I can address as a hindrance that can be overcome. The truth is I don’t want to allow sleepiness to take over my practice. I have my bag of tricks to help me. I begin counting, paying careful attention to the beginning and end of each breath. Or in a word-based practice I seek one word in each line that might hold special meaning or intention. These things can wake me up.
Ultimately, waking up is the purpose of all this practice. Sleepiness is not confined to the winter months. As the shofar blasts from last month’s holidays remind us, it is so easy to lead sleepy lives. Cultivating curiosity and the ability to remember to wake up can help us shake off the heavy slumber and prepare us to face the darkness – and the light – more wide awake and more alive.