The previous post that gives a Vedantic perspective on artificial life, notes how important the thoughts we leave this world with are, in determining where we go or what we become. This final departure that we call death happens only once in a lifetime. It is a process by which we disconnect with the external body and connect to a new one based on the nature of our mind. Of course, this is something we have only heard or read about, and so not something I have first-hand knowledge of. However, there is another experience that may be considered as a miniature version of death that we are intimately familiar. This is the daily process of going to sleep and waking up, that is comparable to death and rebirth in some respects.
While sleeping, we lose awareness of the body, senses and the mind. The deeper our sleep, the closer this state is to death in this aspect. While all thoughts have an impact on us and transform us into the object of our thoughts, the last thoughts on the mind as it is turned off before sleep, are even more powerful. During the process of falling asleep, we pass through the subconscious layer of our consciousness. The thoughts we sow here have great power in transforming us by constantly working on us in the background, without even we realizing it.
In his book titled “Scientific Healing Affirmations”, Sri Paramahamsa Yogananda notes that the somnolence preceding sleep and the time immediately after waking up are particularly conducive to practicing autosuggestion and will-affirmation.
If the mind is not fully turned off, and we enter a dream state instead of sleep, then again, what we think of as we go to sleep will have an impact on what we dream of. There are many stories of how people thinking intensely on specific problems would get a glimpse of the solution in the dream, which would later lead to great inventions. The invention of the sewing machine and the discovery of the unintuitive structure of the benzene ring are two of the most common examples.
There is a similar phase of passing through the subconscious realm when we wake up as well. However, this is harder to make use of because by the time we decide to think of something, we would already have reached full consciousness. In my culture, there is a concept of what is referred to as kani (കണി), which is the first thing you open your eyes to in the morning and is thought to affect your prospects for the day. I believe the idea behind this is that what you see as first as you pass from the unconscious to conscious state leaves an impression on your subconscious mind, which can affect the state of your mind and thus your circumstances for the entire day.
Thus, similar to how we want to die with our mind focussed on God, we also want to go to sleep with good thoughts in our mind. From childhood, I have been taught to chant specific divine names while lying down to sleep and while getting up (which is to be done by turning to your right and supporting with your left hand). This, I understand to be with creating a habit of focussing the mind on God at both times, so that the subconscious influence will strengthen your devotion.
Since habits cultivated in childhood are likely to stay with us for much longer, I think how children are put to sleep and woken has a great influence on the kind of adults they grow into. As a child, I have gone to sleep most of the days listening to bedtime stories, which will typically be from the Puranas (Hindu epics/scriptures). Such stories, narrated with love and devotion help in sowing seeds of culture and wisdom in young hearts, seeds that will germinate in time when they get the right circumstances.
Subconscious ideas thus implanted exert a formidable influence even on those who at some later point consciously and vehemently reject this wisdom and deny their cultural roots. Without them ever realizing, it could very well be this foundation laid in their childhood that encouraged and gave them strength to think openly and challenge established positions, and it is the same spark that will in most cases lead them back to the same truth now to be accepted consciously.
Instead, if kids go to sleep watching TV or listening to loud, unsettling music that is designed to agitate the mind and senses rather than soothe them, it is this insatiable craving for sense pleasures and excitement that will be rooted firmly in their minds.
Bedtime stories and lullabies are also a way for parents to connect to their children. To shower them with affection and make a lasting impression of love and trust at a time when they are most receptive. Instead, if this opportunity is handed over to a mobile phone or TV, then it is with these that the child will develop a lasting connection.
We don’t know how we will die or what will be on our minds at that time. But if we can at least practice going to sleep every night with wholesome state of mind and wake up to a positive start, I believe it will go a long way in improving the quality of our lives.