Sleepiness during Sitting


The retreat last week for me was truly an impactful one. Even though it was my 7th year going to retreats in Gaksu, I had some new experiences that really revolutionized my practice.


The first two days I was soooo sleepy. I kept “fishing” during sitting and was so embarrassed because I felt that, as an “old” student, I should have sat better. I asked Alma JDPSN and Myong Hae Sunim JDPS about this in an interview on the third day and each teacher gave me a gift that will last a lifetime.

I wanted techniques and tips that would help me stay awake during sitting but Myong Hae Sunim JDPS hit me with this question: “How do you sleep at night?” My thinking stopped in that moment and I immediately understood. She continued, “If you don’t address the root of the problem, no tip or technique will help you.” I was so excited for retreat that I couldn’t sleep the first two nights — that’s why I was “fishing” during sitting. After that interview I tried to sleep more at night. And if I didn’t have good sleep at night, then I forced myself to take a nap during the morning or afternoon rest time.

Alma JDPSN gave me a different gift. She said, when you’re sleepy, breathe in deeply and “let all the oxygen in.” She showed me by taking a deep breath and filling her lungs fully. The sight of her deep breathing reminded me that meditation is rooted in the breath. I had been so worried about staying awake and keeping mantra that I forgot about the quality and awareness of my breathing. After Alma’s inspiring example, I tried to pay more attention to breath. I experimented with syncing my breathing with my mantra and this experiment yielded incredibly positive results.

By syncing my breathing with my mantra, it raised the stakes for every breath. I tried to do one or two breaths per section of the Great Dharani, so I had to keep my mantra very clearly in order to get through a section with just one or two breaths. And the more I slowed down my breathing, the more time I had to get through a GD section. These dual goals reinforced each other and motivated me to stay very alert because each breath now carried a great purpose. And anytime that I felt a little sleepy and closed my eyes, I lifted my eyes with the beginning of each breath, all thanks to the oxygen that was filling my lungs and awakening the cells of my body.

Alma JDPSN and Myong Hae Sunim JDPS had completely revolutionized my sitting. I used to think that sitting was very boring, but this time, for the first time in my many years of practice, I didn’t dread sitting and in fact looked forward to it.


Another reminder for me during this retreat was the importance of "homework." Because I have been going to Gaksu for 7 years now, everything felt familiar and comfortable at this retreat. To keep myself motivated and clear, I set a daily goal of 108 Great Dharani per day. This goal gave purpose to each sitting, bowing and walking session, as well as any free time I had during the work, meal, and rest periods. The only other time that I had been able to complete 108 Great Dharani in one day was during an overnight sitting, and I had 24 hours to do it on that day. This week, thanks to the improved sitting, I was able to hit 108 Great Dharani every day.

Zen Master Dae Kwan reminded me, however, that we are not mantra machines, and it's not a competition about how many mantras one can do in a day. Rather, we use this mantra as a tool to keep clear, and we have to remember the teaching behind this mantra: Great Love and Great Compassion for All Beings. This is what we are practicing.

Once the retreat ended, I told myself that I need to have a daily homework post-retreat as well. This will keep my practice going strong into the new year. What is your homework for the new year? :-)