Sleepiness, a/k/a sloth and torpor (the phrase admirably describes the state)—is the third of the five hindrances or difficult energies that arise in practice. Training the mind to work with them in meditation is a template for arousing energy for quotidian tasks.
There are many causes for the arising of sleepiness: we’re just tired; concentration brings peace and calm but energy and clarity are low; or the sluggish state comes out of a habit of avoidance—an unpleasant or difficult physical or emotional state is arising and we recoil or fall asleep. Sleepiness can be so seductive.
We do not need to so much to declare sleepiness the enemy or to analyze it, as to remember and realize the goal of practice—to awaken. We can apply loving and compassionate awareness to the lack of energy itself. How does it feel in the body, in the mind? What preceded it? Is there hostility? Is there boredom? The very act of arousing interest can be the antidote itself.
Working in meditation, we can meditate with open eyes, stand up or do walking meditation briskly (or backward). To balance and enliven the mind, we can revivify our focus, refresh and expand the mind by staying with this moment.
We can remember that we have the tools for awakening in this moment and gently restore energy and balance to all aspects of our life. And, as the texts remind us, when all else fails, we can gently surrender to rest.