This technique is called Unnatural Positions (#56) or "How To Stay Awake, Alert, And Pay Attention Even If You're Feeling The Urge To Sleep".
So you're sitting in a business meeting and you're bored to tears. Your eyelids are like lead and you seem to be dreaming. You know you have to at least appear to be interested in what's being discussed, but you feel an irresistible urge to sleep. Sound familiar? If it wasn't at work, it was at school, at church, or at your in laws, but somewhere at sometime you've been there and done that. Its cause is that we get way too comfortable and when we're all nice and comfy, we fall asleep. So how did we get so sleepyheaded? It all goes back to our childhood and continues to this day. We have been encouraged to be numb and dumb since we were babies. As kids, we were excited and energetic, but because we were active at inappropriate times, like in a classroom or at a movie or visiting Grandmom, we were trained, much like a dog is house-broken, to "behave" and "calm down". As we got older, we found ways to be very comfortable sitting and doing nothing. So comfortable, in fact, that we can even sleep with our eyes open. And walk and talk and generally live our lives in a dream-like daze. Virtually as brain dead as a marionette. And just like a dummy, we have no life of our own and have other people pull our strings.
There is an alternative. We can wake up. And if we start dozing off, into our too-comfortable zombie state, we can flick an inner switch and energize. To understand the methodology, let's study that spiritual instruction titled "The Princess and the Pea".
Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, there was a beautiful young girl who had become lost while traveling. As the sun set and the moon rose, she happened upon a splendid castle. After knocking on the massive doors and being brought inside, she found out that this was the castle of the king of the country she had been passing through. The king came to see the visitor. After exchanging greetings, the girl claimed to be a princess of a neighboring country and asked for royal treatment. The king sought the advice of his trusted counselors, who suggested putting her to a test. As it was very late at night and the girl was tired, they prepared a bedroom for the girl that would reveal the validity of her claim to royalty. Unbeknownst to the girl, they placed a pea under a mattress and then put 9 more mattresses on top. The young girl was then helped to the top of the mattresses and wished pleasant dreams. When the sun came up, the counselors came to the room and asked her how she slept. The girl said that she hadn't slept at all and that she had felt an annoying irritation that kept her awake all through the night. This was the proof the counselors had been looking for, because only a royal being could be sensitive enough to be aware of a pea under ten mattresses. The king was elated and offered the princess his son's hand in marriage and thus the kingdom. The princess found the prince the most wonderful, handsome, wise man in the world and quickly accepted. They married and lived happily ever after.
This story can probably be told much more eloquently, but now is the time for understanding, not merely for storytelling. There is a great amount of spiritual knowledge that we can learn from this story. In fact, it has the potential to change our lives for the better so that we too will live happily ever after…
The princess represents anyone who is lost and out of touch with their spiritual nature. Her journey is her quest for Enlightenment. The castle and the country are the kingdom of heaven within. It is necessary to stay awake to pass the test that will cause you to gain the Kings approval, marry into the royal family and share in control of the infinite, eternal kingdom. The night represents the time of ignorance of knowing our true royal identity. There are many more analogies to be drawn from the tale but the one to now focus in on is the one that will help us stay awake. It was a minor annoyance that kept the princess awake all through the night, until the sun, representing the truth, came up. For us, it is right now even if the physical sun is out. We are in darkness, unaware of our true nature and must find a way to stay awake. The clue is the pea. It wasn't necessary to use a bed of nails, or any other severe austerity to make the princess stay awake. So all we must do is find a pea to put under our mattress.
Let's go back to our original contention that we are much too comfortable. This is due to our habitually adopting physical postures that are conducive to falling asleep and much too relaxing to keep up a state of alertness. The antidote and key to being awake is simply to recognize your sleep inducing habits and then reverse them.
The Unnatural Positions Meditation
A sure way to relax your body is to have your arms and legs relaxed. If your extremities are tension-free, so will be your mind and emotions, and you will tend to become drowsy and sleepy. So, for example, when we are in a business meeting, we habitually sit in a way that we have become used to, and invariably soon have to fight the urge to fall asleep. Let's do a demonstration. Right now, cross your legs the way you always do. You will have either your right leg over your left or vice versa. Or, you will have your right ankle over your left, or vice versa. Feels good, right? Now, interlace your fingers. Your right thumb will be over your left thumb, your right index finger over your left, and so on, or vice versa. Now just sit there for about 108 seconds and enjoy how relaxing your habitual posture is, and how comfortable it makes you feel.
Now, cross your legs and interlace your fingers the opposite way. So, if you usually have your right foot crossed over your left and have your left thumb over your right, now put your left foot over your right and interlace all your fingers starting with your right thumb over your left. Now sit there for about 108 seconds.
O.K. Fine, now you see. It is only a small change, just as a pea under a mattress is, but it is annoying enough to keep you awake. Now you can pay attention. You will not be able to fall asleep even if you want to. We are so habituated to our comfy conditioning manner of sitting that anything that is different makes a huge impression on us, overly annoying us and thus waking us up. So now you can pay attention to the boss, the teacher, the priest, or your mother-in-law, or whomever. But most importantly you can now pay attention to the present moment, and it is only in the present that your merging with the universe will take place. You must be present to receive this divine, truly royal present. This little change in physical discomfort can lead to your eternal spiritual comfort. Try it, be annoyed, wake up, and live happily ever after.
This technique first appeared in issue #2 of The Inner Traveler. Subscription information is available on our Merchandise page