Don’t Go Back to Sleep

I want to share a poem with you this week.  It is by Rumi, the well-known Sufi poet.  I heard this poem from Tim Burnett, a wonderful meditation teacher at Mindfulness Northwest.  If you are not familiar with Tim or Mindfulness Northwest, I recommend looking at their website.  The classes are wonderful and so is the the whole community at the Red Cedar Dharma Hall, where many classes are held.

The Breeze at Dawn

The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
Don’t go back to sleep.
You must ask for what you really want.
Don’t go back to sleep.
People are moving back and forth across the doorsill where the two worlds touch.
The door is round and open.
Don’t go back to sleep.

I love Rumi’s poetry and I am so glad that I studied literature in college.  I really appreciate the way a poet can convey the experience of being truly present, noticing details we can’t take in when we’re busy or moving quickly.  I feel Rumi’s passion for the present, his urging us to pay attention, to stay awake: “Don’t go back to sleep”.  He repeats this command three times in this short poem.

This reminds me so much of my meditation practice because I have to remind myself, again and again, to stay awake.  There are times when I mean this literally!  But typically it is the reminder that I need my mind to come back into my body, into the moment that is actually happening right now.

Although meditation can bring me into a more relaxed state of mind, it doesn’t always do this.  Sometimes I become more aware of how agitated I am, how distracted or disappointed.  The dawn’s secret may be that I am cranky and need to take some time to myself!  This kind of experience is also helpful because it helps me recognize what I am actually feeling, under the layers of my outward-facing self.  It helps me stay awake to my authentic self and respond to my own needs.

Rumi also says that we must ask for what we really want.  Again, we often don’t know what this is because we are not present.  We can be distracted through the roles we play, the busyness of our lives, other peoples’ needs that can take priority over our own.  Meditation can be a way to get in touch with our deeper desires.

What do you really want?  More compassion?  Recognition?  Justice for everyone?

Practice

Try this practice to explore Rumi’s suggestions:

Lie comfortably, on the floor, couch or bed.  Experiment with placing a blanket under your head or behind your knees.  You could also take your legs into Baddha Konāsana (Bound Angle Pose) by bringing the bottoms of your feet together, knees apart.  If you choose this pose, you might also want to support your knees with pillows or blankets.  Close your eyes.  Place your right hand on your belly, your left hand on your heart.

Feel your breath.  Really notice where you could say it is a felt experience – maybe it’s more in your nose today, or do you feel your right hand rising and falling with the breath?  Keep paying attention.  “Don’t go back to sleep.”. When you notice that you’re not noticing your breath anymore, you have awakened.  Nothing is wrong.  You just realized that the mind went into a virtual reality instead of actual reality.  Meditation can often be this noticing or awakening, finding breath again, and repeating this over and over.  Tim Burnette says that meditation is often at least half “coming back”.  I recommend that you learn to do this coming back in a way that is kind and patient.

Stay with your breath.  Maybe this breath is the breeze at dawn, this dawn of your awakening.  Feel what is here.  Notice the subtle details, as if you were a poet who will later want to describe the nuances of breath in your poetry.  Notice how it feels to pay attention to just one thing, just you, your own breath.  Feel when the mind goes somewhere else, to a story, to a song, to someone else.  Listen to and feel yourself again, your breath, listen to the secrets that this next breath has for you.  Don’t go back to sleep.

Now, you might begin to explore Rumi’s idea of “what you really want”.  Try this:  ask yourself silently, “What’s the most important thing?” and silently answer.  Ask again.  Answer again.  Repeat this over and over.  You may find that you get to a potent nugget through the process.  This is a practice you can also do with a friend or partner.

Enjoy your Martin Luther King Jr. Day!  May his life and teachings inspire us all to be our best selves.