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Ponderer983's avatar

What's the difference between sleeping and meditating?

Asked by Ponderer983 (6401 points ) April 6th, 2012

Other than all the technical aspects of being asleep (REM sleep, etc), what is the difference between the 2? During meditation you are supposed to clear your mind and be still. How is this different in concept than sleeping?

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8 Answers

MaryW's avatar

I meditation you are aware of everything. You choose what to have on/in your mind by focus. Your body is centered and calm but not lounging as in sleep.

Jeruba's avatar

They’re opposites. Sleeping is falling into unconsciousness. Meditation is heightened consciousness or awareness.

This is not to say that a person can’t aim for one and slip into the other. I’ve sometimes heard another sitter snoring during Zen practice. That’s not where you go, though, if what you want is a nap.

marinelife's avatar

In sleep you let go of everything, and your unconscious comes out to play in dreams.

In meditation, you are mindful. You choose to focus on your breathing, and you choose to clear your mind. Then you await what comes up and examine it dispassionately.

thorninmud's avatar

Actually, it depends on how narrowly you define “meditation”.

Clearly, if you see meditation as exercising a certain technique, like focusing on the breath, then that’s going to be incompatible with sleeping. But there’s a more inclusive way of understanding meditation: as a surrender to what is, giving one’s self over fully to life as it unfolds. Seated on the meditation cushion, this may mean giving yourself over to the experience of the breath, but at bedtime, it means giving yourself over to sleep. Sleep just happens to be a form of meditation that most of us have little trouble with. It’s the waking forms that give us a hard time. The formal, technical kinds of meditation are really just ways of training the mind for this more inclusive meditation.

There’s an anecdote from the history of Zen that bears on this. The head monk at a temple found a certain monk napping in the middle of the day (this napping monk had already shown a certain prowess in meditation, by the way). The head monk started to scold the napper, but the master of the temple stopped him and said, “Why do you disturb this monk in his deep meditation?”

What most of us need to work on is the tricky business of single-minded absorption in our waking activities, so we’ve developed these techniques to help us with that. But sleep is another expression of single-minded absorption. Meditation has to eventually be seen in this most inclusive sense, as being something that is seamless through the 24 hours.

tom_g's avatar

@Ponderer983: “During meditation you are supposed to clear your mind and be still.”

Is this some kind of internet meme or something? Nearly everyone I come in contact that finds out I meditate says something of this sort.

Anyway, what others said above.

Ponderer983's avatar

@tom_g No. I’ve been looking into meditation (through books, not randomly on the internet) and it’s being in the same position and clearing you mind of all the crap that is usually running through there. I was just wondering if I should start meditating or just going to sleep instead.

tom_g's avatar

@Ponderer983 – Sorry, I didn’t mean it as a jab at you or anything. I was just thinking out loud because of the conversations I have had lately that all seemed to hold the same misconception about meditation. I thought it might be more than coincidence.

I’m curious which books are describing meditation in that way.

Anyway, there are plenty of great resources online that might help. Right now, Vipassana (or insight meditation) is pretty popular in the U.S.
Mindfulness in Plain English is a decent start.
– If you do some commuting and podcasts are your thing, Gil Fronsdal at the Insight Meditation Center in Redwood City posts all of his talks.

Pandora's avatar

I’ve tried meditating. It always leads to a nap.

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