Mental Sinking in Meditation
Mental sinking is an obstacle in meditation and the opposite of mental excitement. The mind wants to drift in a certain way so some antidote needs to be applied. Sometimes the mind drifts and like a little butterfly you dreamily fly to a flower, then think, “Oh, there is another nice flower over there. I think I’ll float over there and look at that.” This is done in a languid way, as though you were about to enter a dream state.
Mental sinking could also be the experience of heaviness in the body that is about to enter sleep. Sometimes from the far corner of the monastery we could hear snores coming from a monk and then everyone begins to titter. One of my American students was not feeling so well one day so she lay down behind the last row of students, and in fact she did start to snore.
You not have cold weather here in California, but people who come from cold cold weather know there is real danger in being exposed to extreme cold and begin to feel sleepy. If they cannot arouse themselves and fall asleep they will die out in the cold. It’s almost a feeling of helplessly needing to fall asleep. “But I want to be…” “No, it’s OK. I’m going to fall asleep…”
Mental sinking is almost enjoyable. The heaviness itself is signaling your body that it is time to rest. The body craves rest. But, actually you’re not tired. Meditation practice overcomes the natural effect of energy going inside to more subtle minds that happens in sleep and dream states.
The mind needs to be trained to recognize the difference between sleep and meditation. The natural cascade of mental functions going into sleep must be retrained. However, for a very long time for many people (especially for people beginning mediation in middle age) fall asleep and do a sleep meditation as soon as energy begin to move interior. This sleep time can be beneficial for some time and eventually they are able to discern the difference.
During your meditation session you must try to remain alert and awake in a new way that facilitate careful practice. Mental sinking is an obstacle function of the mind but we are practicing meditation in order to overcome ordinary patterns. So, we apply antidotes and apply them at the correct time.
One good way to prevent mental sinking is to sit up straighter and not close the eyes. Another antidote to mental sinking is a holding a deep and fervent wish to gain enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings and not for one self. However, the challenge is to remember the antidote at the correct time.
Even if you are tired there is a way to keep mental sinking from ending your meditation session. We need an alert part of the mind trained to respond with courage and determination to wake you up. The antidote begins spontaneously and at the correct time.
You use a form of inner adrenaline. How you get adrenaline to wake you up would be the mental stimulation of the particular antidote you practice. If you have been receiving teachings on rejoicing, perhaps your adrenaline would come from remembering rejoicing. You could also think that suffering living beings need you and are waiting for you to finish to begin benefiting others. As you start to feel sleepy this act like a splash of cold water to wake you but needs to be practiced again and again. Once it has been applied and the result has been gained you must stop applying the antidote and return to your meditation.