Meditation makes my mind dull and sleepy, what can I do?

A student writes:

I find the formless meditation practice makes me sleepy. This has become more of a problem as I have become better at resting in the spaciousness of my mind and am able to catch thoughts as they enter that space. What happens is that I get fewer thoughts and I’m less absorbed by them, which has the effect of making my mind dull.

Without the energy created by the content of thoughts I find that there is nothing for my mind to latch on to, and the brightness of it kind of shuts down. I was wondering what I could do about this?

Lama Shenpen responds:

The problem here is that the Shamata [calm abiding meditation] is strong but there is very little insight [Vipashyana meditation]. You need to become interested in the nature of the thoughts instead of just letting them go.

If you let them go too quickly it is almost as if you are cutting them off rather than simply letting them be. It is a very fine edge or distinction. It’s a knife edge really. If you let them linger too long you get lost in them, if you cut them off too soon, you kind of dull out.

As you say, the thoughts have a kind of energy associated with them. The way to harness this energy in an insightful way, is to become interested in what is a thought exactly. That is to say, what is any thought?

This is quite different from thinking about the content of any particular thought. It’s just a matter of noticing how strange it is that there is such a thing as thoughts at all.

What are they? Where are they? What exactly do you experience when there is a thought and when there isn’t? Are they in space or is space a thought in awareness?

I don’t mean that you need to find intellectual answers to such questions. I mean that you need to become really interested in your experience as is happens. This keeps you awake.

Lama Shenpen Hookham

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