I usually emphasize meditating first thing in the morning to students who are first learning meditation, for the reasons I’ve mentioned in other newsletters: among them that in morning meditation you are setting the tone for the rest of the day, and can do so from the relatively non-reactive and calm place engendered from sleep.
But why meditate before going to bed at night? Many just want to get to bed. Others avoid going to bed by spending too much time with TV computer or other activities, and then collapse into sleep. The variations are endless. Some who like to add an evening session prefer to so an earlier time —say before dinner. That’s great, but today I want to focus on meditating before bedtime in particular.
Meditating before bedtime is a great opportunity to allow awareness to clear residue from the day—tensions, unfinished interactions, worries, ignored emotions— and to make room for listening to the often obscured “still small voice” of inspiration and wisdom. Many of us wouldn’t think of going to bed without brushing our teeth, but what about clearing the mind and heart? To take twenty minutes before sleeping has many advantages: your sleep will tend to be of a higher quality, and deeper—and when you are aware of dreams—you may find them more lucid and powerful.
I have found that I need less sleep and I wake up more rested, and far more clear and inspired.
As always, for most it’s good to use a timer: this will help create a structure allowing you to go as deep as possible without having to mentally manage the ending time. Before you begin, do a few stretches, breaths, and movements that help release tension from the shoulders and neck.
Your meditation period falls roughly into six phases: preparation, beginning, practicing, clearing, absorption, and return.
Preparation involves whatever aids you in beginning: intentional relaxation, even a few yoga stretches, deep breathing, and perhaps a little ritual like lighting a candle can be good. Sit with the spine straight, but make sure the neck is not held in a rigid “military” fashion, but rather “floats” from the shoulders. The shoulders are relaxed, and not hunched or brought forward. If you are sitting in a chair feet are flat on the floor.
Next is practice. This is when you begin the meditation technique you have chosen.
Then comes clearing—this is not so much an active process—but an allowing one that arises directly from the practicing phase. You notice thoughts and feelings, and rather than react to them, you allow them to have their brief life and then dissolve. This is the hardest part of meditation, since resistance comes in at this phase: daydreaming, restlessness, and the urge to end your session can arise at this point. With loving persistence, eventually a clarity and peace takes the place of resistence. Now you can enter the wonderful phase of absorption: this is a state of stillness, clarity, and grace.
Remember, as Fritz Perls, founder of Gestalt psychology, used to say, “Awareness is curative.” Whatever technique you use—breath, insight, mantra, etc—simple non judgmental awareness of what is arising is going to be the purifying, healing and transformative agent.
The return, the final phase of your session–is different from morning, or daytime meditation, in which you need to transition back to a certain external focus and alertness. With before-bedtime meditation you can instead sink directly into sleep in your meditative consciousness.
Finally, If you would like to join me in a 7 day “Meditate twenty minutes before bedtime challenge” please do! And post your thoughts and experiences below. Let’s start Weds night, 2/29/12!
In any case I’ll be meditating with you in mind every night!