The exercise (of going to sleep) has the imaginary goal of moving your attention from ‘up here’ in the conscious, to ‘down there’ to a sacrificial ‘alter’ that is a halfway place between your awareness and your unconscious. And then nudging and stroking that attention to stay there. (The intention is that the unconscious, or the unconscious sleep system, will rise from the depth and take your attention from that ‘alter’ into persistent unconsciousness). Engaging all your intention to moving and keeping attention there is the key activity.

This exercise is not required where you fall asleep before you read these words – your awareness has evaporated and your attention falls unnoticed into the hands of the unconscious and sleep-maker. In this circumstance, you have unintentionally pushed your attention onto the altar.

Conversely, when you ‘fall asleep at the wheel’, it’s like the sleep maker has snuck out of unconsciousness and grabbed your attention and focus from under your nose, and yanked it to unconsciousness.

Back to the exercise: To keep your attention on the moving and nudging, it is critical to avoid strong mental reactions. Thoughts pertaining to unresolved issues, etc (identity) will evoke corresponding reactions from your unconscious, usually also resulting in adrenaline or mental babble. Thoughts not pertaining to these matters are harmless and evoke neutral images and responses. Therefore pay special attention to guiding the first category (reactive thoughts) over your shoulder so you can pay attention to the next step in the exercise. Do not try to stop thoughts, as this gives them life. Instead, divert the or set them aside as you pay attention to the next step in the exercise.

The moving and nudging of attention is through breathing. The action that most monopolises attention is breathing: sound, action and intention.

Attending to the sound is easiest when external noise is diminished and breathing sound amplified. Both are most effective with ear flaps and earplugs. If you can lie comfortably on your side, then the lower arm’s hand can rest on the upper ear flaps to close the ear and block all sound. If you can’t lie thus, or are not lying, then earplugs. The more contact the solid surface of earplugs has with skin, and the more soundproof, the more effective they are. Customised ear plugs cost money. 6 layers of water tolerant paper towelling is best. In-ear phones with good sound seal work. Maybe sound cancelling in-ear phones.

The action is breathing. The desired state is exhaled, with inhalation only when required (i.e. when resisting inhalation takes attention, and awakens you). Do relaxation with the exhaling. Exhale into parts of your body that you can feel, and test that they are relaxed. Have the exhalation push them with gravity into relaxation and into the surface they are resting on. On the next exhalation, do the same to another part of your body. On completion of exhalation, stay exhaled and immobile until needing the inhalation is distracting from staying exhaled. Treat the inhalation as preparation for the next push and exhale, and not as a second different activity – my intention and attention can focus and repeat only one action. Doing a separate second activity damages the first activity. Use up as much attention as you can between breaths actively waiting for the inhalation – silence is less the absence of sound, and more the anticipation of the next inhalation. Such anticipation, and the attention it requires, diminishes other distractions such as thoughts, external noise, alertness.

Also imagine exhalation as a physical board pushing attention down to the alter and beyond. Use the exhalation to push every extremity of your body into the mattress or floor, and let your attention also settle on parts that relaxed in that process, and attend to keeping them relaxed.

To guide that attention, and reduce distraction, there are a few other tricks and props.

We’ve covered earplugs. It is not critical to exclude external noises – it is not attending to them that is critical. Although loud, sudden and irregular ones are likely to be physical distractions.

Eyes need ‘parking’ to prevent them being a distraction in their movement, and prevent them participating in reactioning mental stuff. And also to break habitual use of eyes associated with wakeful activity such as searching and thinking. And finally to move their gaze into a position that is most like physical parking. So moving my eyes to look ‘backwards’ does this, and also channels my attention the most. My action and sensation is to move my eyes as to look behind me, by rolling them as if following the path of my hands as they undertake a two handed throw backwards over my head and ending arms outstretched to my sides. The sensation is eyes looking away from each other like a chameleon. This direction of eye direction literally breaks the way you normally pay attention, where normally your eyes follow your attention. (I’ve never had anyone else look to see where my eyes actually go, and it may just be a disappointing nowhere). Do this with each exhalation, until they stay parked. Reduce the initial exaggerated parking when the action becomes louder than the ambient level of attention you are directing. Remember that your attention diminishes with the depth of sinking.

The metaphor of an ‘alter’ is to convey a ‘halfway house’ place. That you don’t have to do all the pushing into the unconscious. Pushing is an awakening activity. You that you need do only half the job of ensleeping – because the unconscious does the other half. So the ‘alter’ is for your awake cognition that is reading these words. It’ll remind the more moronic ensleeping you of the single instruction of the direction being ‘downwards’.

Unfortunately the image of an ‘alter’ is exposed hard standalone object. And worse still that your targeting might miss it or slide off it. Neither of these are appropriate for the soft enveloped you sinking to the soft silent halfway house. What is appropriate for your soft enveloped ensleeping self is slow nudging wavy descent. Imagine being on your back, in a soft recess in the warm seabed, cushioned and wrapped in the ambient seawater. With each exhalation, you slide legs first further into this bed. Such an image, and sensation from what you are lying on, encourages each breath to take you further ‘down’. This won’t work if you fear water, drowning, sea beds etc, so find another environment enables you to slide like this. 

There are a couple of indicators of approaching or completing a moment of sleep. One is that you notice the return of your attention, after a lapse in time when the unconscious must have taken your attention to sleep and then returned it back to you. You suddenly notice a thought or sensation, when you weren’t there the moment before. Another is noticing the last mental experience did not originate from you as a conscious thought, but as an unsolicited thought from the unconscious. The thought feels foreign compared to those you had earlier while ensleeping. These are positive achievements, so celebrate them – but not too much. Use them as encouragement and reward to apply yourself again to the task at hand.

There are occasions when your physiology will simply not let your attention sink low enough to get to that ‘alter’ or to be ‘taken’. There are also several levels of depth you might sense you are descending through, judging from the level of awareness returned to you from a deeper level in which you were more asleep, before something pushed you back up a level and you noticed a return of attention. I once counted 17 during a solitary night of migraine in tent-shaking storm on a mountain after strong coffee and vomiting a minor overdose of peyote, without pain-killers. The point is that you stick with the activity of ensleeping without resistance and with application, however little the unconscious co-operates. To not permit divergence of intention and application is part of the exercise. You are free to evaluate arising to do something more useful at the price of insufficient sleep. Consider the exercise that results in non-sleep as delivering applied restfulness and meditation, and increased ability to focus attention and intention. The definition of anger, irritation and rebelliousness is not getting your own way, so use this fact to allay the comeback you might feel, and tell yourself that is only yourself you are resisting and fighting, and it is futile. 

To permit sleep, don’t let your conscious attention follow themes of identity. Or self.