the fourth practice


illness frustrates me to no end – the seeming uselessness of lying in bed while the body goes through its healing contortions – the total lack of power, lack of ability to speed up the process, the reminder we are mortal wrought each moment we can not sleep because of the pain emanating deep from the bone. mostly for me it is the inability to *do work*, the feeling i am wasting time that nags at me – even though logically i know being unwell is a perfectly good excuse to do nothing except read novels for a week.

last night satish kumar, someone whose blend of spirituality and politics i really admire, was interviewed on cbc radio. during the interview he spoke about sleep as a spiritual practice and then told the following story (which is also in his book You Are Therefore I Am).

once the emperor of persia asked his sufi teacher, “what can i best do to recover and renew my soul?”

“my lord, sleep as long as you can,” came the reply.

“what do you mean? i can’t neglect my duties! i have justice to deliver, ambassadors to receive, taxes to determine — so much work to do, i have no time to sleep,” said the emperor.

“but my lord, the more you sleep, the less you will oppress!” came the sufi master’s blunt reply.

kumar then goes on to say “much of the time when we are active, we oppress other people and damage the earth, which damages our souls. therefore sleep is an act of tapas [the self-replenishment necessary for achieving spiritual growth]” – which was the point he was driving home in the interview last night – that when we rest we are at a state of non-harm, a state as humans we are rarely at.

it was obvious to me during this past week of healing process my body wanted rest, and yet initially i fought that impulse as though to sleep was to betray my mind, my drive to get work accomplished. turned around, in the framework of kumar, not only does my body need rest to physically replenish, but also for the purposes of spiritual restoration. here is a practice i obviously need to spend some time working on – although the practice of sleep seems to come naturally, the practice of adequate sleep or restful time is really more elusive than ever in modern society.

(the other three practices of tapas are humility, service and study)

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