The zen of sleep: new in bookstores

Zzzzzzzzz: Joseph Emet applies Buddhist principles where we need them the most.

Zzzzzzzzz: Joseph Emet applies Buddhist principles where we need them the most. Credit: Eric Pouhier, 2005.

Every day, we’re at war. The mind has plans, the body has different plans. The time when we’re most aware of this war is when we climb in bed at night.

Buddhist practices are applied to just about everything in a flood of new books–and is that a good thing? I’m not always sure. I worry that too many Zen-is-the-answer books will dilute the beautiful appeal of Buddhism.

On the other hand, one book that I do recommend, in spite of its self-helpish-sounding title, is “Buddha’s Book of Sleep: Sleep Better in Seven Weeks with Mindfulness Meditation” by Joseph Emet (Tarcher/Penguin). This is a book we’d all benefit from reading (and it’s short — about 142 pages).

In case you don’t agree, start keeping a tally of TV commercials for Ambien, Tylenol PM, etc. That might change your mind.

Emet’s focus is simple. He offers breathing exercises and meditation techniques; he also provides some insights (but never lectures) about the human condition. Take, for example, the following:

“The mindfulness mantra ‘Be here now’ is as appropriate as a practice theme at night as it is during the daytime. It is our thoughts that keep us awake. When we are in the past or in the future, we are in our thoughts. When we are here now, we are in our senses.”

So, the point is “to be in the now” when you shut your eyes — not review the day’s events or worry about a big presentation tomorrow.

“The mind is constantly taking over from the five senses. That’s how we end up being mentally somewhere else. The mind is like the bully in the playground: evolution gave us this bully. Our large and powerful brain has many advantages, but it also has a downside. The bully body checks the five senses, it takes over, and before we know it, we are in the past regretting something, or reliving some experience that happened five years ago. We might also be in the future imagining things, worrying about what might happen, or daydreaming about a pleasant possibility.”

I’ve never thought of my mind as “the bully” before, have you?

Emet’s book isn’t an intensive exploration of Buddhist practices: If you want something more rigorous, you should go elsewhere. On the other hand, he’s trained with Thich Nhat Hanh in France and is the founder of a mindfulness center in Canada. Very respectable.

That’s why I suggest his book as  — ah, forgive me for this pun — ideal reading for your bedside table.

Namaste, beloved friends.

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3 responses

  1. I’ve been trying to get my husband to try meditation for this very reason! He’s an entrepreneur with a business that’s growing quickly, and he rarely gets more than 5-6 hours of sleep a night, sometimes less. Maybe if I buy him this book and leave it next to the bed (or his computer), he’ll give it a read.

    I think this “bully” is the equivalent of Freud’s “superego,” the one that runs around criticizing everything and everyone.

    Thanks for the review and suggestion!

  2. Pingback: Zenful Reminder at Bedtime | Navigating Vita

  3. I never thought of that either — the bully and the “superego” — that makes total sense. It’s definitely a cool book/gift with some nice perspectives on what keeps us from sleeping well at night. Considering how short the book is, it could easily lend itself to several more blog posts. If your husband is growing a business, he might appreciate this comment about the Buddha that I really like. Emet makes him sound like a CEO:

    “As head of a large community, he had responsibility for 1,250 monks (if you have your hands full with your family of just three or four, just multiply the number of problems you have by a few hundred to get a feel for the responsibilities he had). He was also advising kings, businessmen, and common folk, and walking all over India to spread the practice of the Dharma. He was not a hermit.”

    I really like that. Makes him sound like one us — and makes his enlightenment seem more do-able for any of us. Also makes me feel like I shouldn’t complain too much about how busy I am! thanks Jilanne.

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