Book review: Buddha's Book of Sleep, by Joseph Emet

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 07 January, 2013, 4:46pm

Buddha's Book of Sleep
by Joseph Emet Tarcher

Insomnia is a common complaint, and the market is flooded with drugs, food and devices that promise a good sleep.

For those who have tried everything but still lie awake at night, this may be the solution: mindfulness meditation.

The practice is based on ancient Buddhist principles, advocating believers to "live in the moment". The Buddha said that one should establish an awareness of bodily functions, sensations, thoughts and consciousness itself, as a way of coping with all the difficulties of life.

In recent years, this practice has become popular in the West, with Hollywood celebrities praising its benefits. Western-trained psychologists also confirm that such meditation has helped many patients to cope with depression, anxiety and other psychological problems.In his book, subtitled Sleep Better in Seven Weeks with Mindfulness Meditation, Joseph Emet, a Zen teacher who has a doctorate degree in music, explains how the practice can help redress sleep disorders. He was trained by Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh in France and has taught mindfulness meditation to thousands of students in Montreal, Canada.

This small volume is based on his 15 years of teaching experience and the many questions and conversations with followers. It contains well-written prose for use as an exercise to coax the mind into calmness. But, unfortunately, there are no illustrations or photos to brighten the text.

The first of the book's two sections explains why calming the mind with meditation is the key to having a good sleep. The mind is a busy place, Emet says, with many spontaneous thoughts even while we are concentrating on one task. Such automatic thinking is often negative and easily gets magnified at bedtime. To get rid of this bad habit one should focus on contentment and gratitude instead; the good feelings generated subsequently make it easier to let go and relax into sleep. This section goes further into other attitudes and emotions that keep us awake at night.

The second section features exercises to follow whenever sleeping problems occur, with "conscious breathing" as the basic technique. Concentrating on the breath brings the body and the mind together, Emet writes. Follow a single breath from end to end and pay attention to all the sensations that occur. In the process, the mind is calmed and tamed, moving into a meditative state that is as restful as sleep.

To get the benefits of meditation, one needs ultimately to devote adequate time to learn and practise the techniques. Those reading Emet's book should therefore not expect a quick fix to their sleeping problem.