We see in our daily life that the greatest friend of the child is the one who helps him to go to sleep. However many toys we may give him, however many dolls and candy, it is when the child is helped to go to sleep, that he is most grateful. When the mother with her blessed hands puts him to sleep, it is of the greatest benefit for the child; it is then that he is happiest.
Those who are sick and in pain, are happy if they can sleep; then all their pain is gone. If only they can sleep, they say they can endure all else. They ask the doctor, "Give us something, anything to make us sleep". If you were offered a king's palace and every enjoyment, every luxury, the best surroundings, the best dishes, on the condition that you should not sleep, you would say: "I do not want it, I prefer my sleep".
What is the difference between the happy and the unhappy one? The unhappy one cannot sleep. His sorrow, care, anxiety, and worry at once take sleep away from him. Why do people take to alcoholic drinks and drugs of all sorts? Only for this: when a man has drunk alcohol, because of the intensity of the stimulant, a light sleep comes over him. His feet and hands are asleep, his tongue is asleep; he cannot speak plainly; he cannot walk straight, and falls down. The joy of this sleep is so great that, when he has drunk once, he wants to drink again. A thousand times he decides that he will not drink any more, but he does it all the same.
There is a poem of our great poet Rumi where he says, "O sleep, every night thou freest the prisoner from his bonds!" The prisoner, when he is asleep, does not know that he is in prison, he is free. The wretched is not wretched, he is contented; the sufferer is no more in pain or misery. This shows us that the soul is not in pain or in misery. If it were, it would also be so when the body is asleep. The soul does not feel the misery of the body and the mind, but when a person awakes then the soul thinks that it is in pain and wretched. All this shows us the great bliss of sleep.
This great bliss is given to us without a price, like all that is best: we do not pay to sleep. We pay thousands of pounds for jewels, for gems that are of no use to our life - bread we can buy for pennies. Man does not know how great the value of sleep is, because the benefit it gives cannot be seen or touched. If he is very busy, if he has some business that brings him money, he will rather be busy in that and take from his sleep, because he sees, "I have gained so many pounds, so many shillings"; he does not see what he gains by sleep.
When we are asleep we generally experience two conditions: dream and deep sleep. The dream is the uncontrolled activity of the mind. When we are awake and our mind works without control, it shows us pictures that come from its store of impressions, and we call this imagination; when we control the activity of the mind, we call it thought. The imaginations that come during sleep we call dreams. We do not call them real, because our waking state shows us something different, but as long as we are not in the waking state the dream is real.
During the deep sleep a person is usually conscious of nothing. When he wakes up, he feels refreshed and renewed. What are we doing while we are fast asleep? The soul then is released from the hold of body and mind. It is free, it goes to its own element, to the highest spheres, and it enjoys being there. It is happy, it experiences all the happiness, all the wisdom of those spheres, it enjoys all bliss, and peace.
Besides the dream and the deep sleep there are visions. These are seen when the soul, during sleep, is active in the higher spheres. What it sees there the mind interprets in allegorical pictures. The soul sees the actual thing plainly, and the mind takes from its store of impressions whatever is like that which the soul sees. Therefore it is seen as a picture, as an allegory, a parable which the wise one can interpret, because he knows the language of those spheres. If he sees himself going downstairs or walking up a mountain, he knows what it means; if he sees himself in rags or very richly dressed, in a ship, or in the desert, he knows what it means. The ignorant one does not know what it means, he thinks it is merely a dream, it is nothing.
In a vision a person sees either what concerns himself, or what concerns others in whom he is interested. If he is interested in his nation or in the whole of humanity, he will see what concerns his nation or the whole of humanity.
In a dream a voice may be heard, or a message given in letters. This is the higher vision. Sages and saints see in the vision exactly what will happen or what the present condition is, because their mind is controlled by their will; even in sleep it does not for one moment think that it can act independently of their will. And so, whatever the soul sees, the mind shows it exactly as it is seen. Sages and saints see visions even while awake, because their consciousness is not bound to this earthly plane; it is awake and acts freely upon the higher planes.
Besides the dream, the vision and the deep sleep, the mystics experience two other conditions: the self-produced dream and the self-produced deep sleep. To accomplish this is the aim of mysticism. It is so easy that I can explain it to you in these few words, and it is so difficult that I should like to bow my head before him who has achieved it. It is accomplished by concentration and meditation.
Can you hold one thought in your mind, keeping all other thoughts away? Can you keep your mind free from all thoughts, from all pictures? We cannot: a thousand thoughts, a thousand pictures come and go. By mastering, this the mystic masters all. He is awake upon this plane and upon the higher plane; then the one becomes sleep and the other the wakeful state.
People may say that mystics, Sufis, are great occultists, very psychic people. That is not their aim; their aim is the true consciousness, the real life, the Consciousness which lies beyond: Allah. When this Consciousness is open to them, then all wisdom is open to the soul and all the books, all the learning in the world become to them mere intellectual knowledge.
You might say, "Then lazy people who are always sleeping are all saints". No, the soul also must have experience on the earth. It must learn what virtue is, it must learn to be virtuous.