The Experience of Deep SleepDoes Awareness continue during deep sleep?
It is clear to me that the only tool I have is my experience right here and right now. I have a question, however, that does not seem to immediately relate to the present experience, so I feel I need to frame it a little, to put it in context. I’ll do so by noting that as a starting point, my experience is always interpreted - that is, it consists of many different things [aha!] superimposed one on another. And the point of the investigation is to uncover the unexamined beliefs that [only seem to!] alter it.
In my case, a problem I currently have is with the assumption of continuity during deep sleep. [This is used as a strong argument by K. Menon, and - through the same path - by Greg Goode]. I cannot really say I have the feeling I continue/I exist during deep sleep. I cannot say Awareness continues during deep sleep, for that matter! It may be that this actually is a thought coming from an unexamined belief, and I’d be interested in opinions as to what may be that belief at its root, but nevertheless, for me there’s no experience during deep sleep, not even the feeling that I [still] am. Anything I can say comes after the fact, and therefore it may be just an assumption.
I appreciate any comments you have on this.
You say, “It is clear to me that the only tool I have is my experience right here and right now.”
That is very true – so let us agree from the outset in these discussions to stick only to our direct and immediate experience.
You say, “…as a starting point, my experience is always ‘interpreted’…..”
If we look closely at experience we find that it is not always interpreted. Even the statement that ‘experience is always interpreted’ implicitly makes reference to something called ‘experience’ onto which the mind superimposes its interpretations, but which nevertheless remains independent of and prior to the interpretations, independent, that is, of whatever we may or may not think about it.
The nature of this ‘experience in itself’ is the subject matter of our discussions. What is the true nature of our experience?
There is no knowledge of anything outside experience. There is no evidence, for instance, that there is a world outside our experience of it. And therefore the real nature of experience is the real nature or reality of all things.
Therefore, to know the ultimate reality of the universe, we need only look at the ultimate reality of our experience and as at any moment we only have this experience, it means that all we have to know is the reality of this very experience here and now.
You say, “I cannot really say I have the feeling I continue/I exist during deep sleep. I cannot say Awareness continues during deep sleep, for that matter!”
You imply in this statement that there is ‘something’ called ‘deep sleep’ and as you have already prefaced your question with the statement that all you have is experience, I am presuming that that this reference to deep sleep comes from experience.
Deep sleep could be defined as a state in which thoughts, images, sensations and perceptions are not present. You add to this definition that neither ‘you’ nor Awareness are present ‘there.’
So my first question is, What exactly are you referring to when you speak of deep sleep? If it is not a thought, an image, a sensation, a perception, Awareness or your self, what exactly is it? You refer to it as an experience, so it must be ‘something.’
You say, “…for me there’s no experience during deep sleep, not even the feeling that I [still] am……”
If there is no experience of deep sleep, then there is no need to discuss it. However, do we not look forward to ‘deep sleep’ and do we not remember it fondly? Is it truly a blank nothingness that we look forward to and that we remember?
On the understanding that it is not possible to experience ‘nothing’ (because there must at least be Consciousness present to witness such a ‘nothing’) let us proceed on the basis that when we speak of ‘deep sleep’ we are referring to something that is real and that is therefore experienced, for we have already acknowledged that experience is the test of reality.
So what is deep sleep?
Whatever it is, the mind is by definition not present there and cannot, therefore, know anything about it.
In fact, the mind (and I mean mind in the broadest sense here to include thoughts, images, sensations and perceptions) never knows anything – it is known.
What knows the mind? Consciousness. And by Consciousness I mean that which is knowing or seeing these words and whatever else is being experienced, and to which we usually refer as ‘I.’
We can say from experience that the mind is not present in deep sleep (that is what defines deep sleep) but can we say that Consciousness is not present? In order to make such a claim, the absence of Consciousness would have to be our experience. And in order to legitimately claim the absence of Consciousness as an experience, something would have to be there, both present and knowing, registering the experience. That something would be precisely what is referred to as Consciousness.
In other words it is not possible to experience the absence of Consciousness. Therefore the claim that Consciousness or Awareness (or ‘I’) is not present during deep sleep is a false assumption not an experience.
Consciousness is never not experienced.
It may be objected that in deep sleep we experience a dark, blank nothingness or a lack of continuity. However even this alleged ‘nothingness’ or ‘lack of continuity’ is still an experience and therefore implies both the presence and the continuity of ‘something’ which is experiencing or knowing.
This ‘something’ which is present to experience the ‘nothingness’ or ‘lack of continuity’ is ever-present Consciousness.
In other words ‘nothing’ can never be an experience. It is always an inference.
The reason for this inference of ‘nothingness’ in deep sleep is that the mind can only conceive of objects. It thinks that only objects are real and that in their absence there is nothing. But the mind is made of objects – when no objects are present, the mind is not present, so the mind by definition has no access to that which is present when it, the mind, is not.
But that does not mean there is ‘nothing’ when the mind is not present. It means that there are no objects. The idea that there is nothing there is just a projection of the waking state mind in its own terms.
So the idea that deep sleep is a blank state is purely a projection of the mind in the waking state. It is not an experience.
In fact, even the apparent fact that deep sleep lasts for a period of time, say for four hours, is a superimposition in the mind’s own terms onto something called ‘deep sleep,’ in which, by definition, time is not present. Therefore, deep sleep does not last in time.
Time is defined by the distance between two events. When the mind is not present, events are not present and when events are not present, time is not present.
In order to see the nature of deep sleep we have to see clearly, not just intellectually but experientially, that time is never an experience. It is always an inference.
In other words the actual experience of deep sleep is a timeless interval between two perceptions, in this case, between two dream images.
The timeless interval between two dream perceptions is made of exactly the same stuff as the timeless interval that is present between two perceptions in the waking state. Therefore to understand deep sleep we can look at the states of dreaming and waking.
However, there is in fact very little difference between the dream state and the waking state. Objectively, they are both made out of the same stuff, that is, out of mind, out of thinking, imagining, sensing and perceiving.
So, now we can really explore the experience of deep sleep because its substance is present right here and now, between every perception (or thought or image etc.) in the waking state.
So what is our experience now? Thoughts, images, sensations and perceptions are appearing and disappearing right now as this is being read. These thoughts, images, sensations and perceptions are all intermittent – there is no continuity in them.
However, we do experience a sense of continuity. Something is ever-present right now. Something endures throughout the appearance and disappearance of all thoughts, images, sensations and perceptions.
Do we have the experience of the disappearance of Consciousness, Awareness or ‘I,’ during the coming and going of perceptions?
No! Consciousness, Awareness or ‘I,’ am ever-present in our actual experience, both during perceptions and during the timeless interval when no perceptions etc. are present.
Therefore, Consciousness, Awareness or ‘I,’ is the content of these timeless intervals and is therefore content of deep sleep. That is our experience.
It is also, in fact, the entire content of the waking and dream states. There is no other experience other than the experience of Consciousness experiencing itself. However, the mind rises up, creates and projects within Consciousness an apparent object or other, which seems to veil Consciousness (but in fact does not).
Once this apparent veiling has taken place, Consciousness seems to become something that is intermittent or absent and as a result of denying reality to Consciousness, it is instead attributed to objects.
This superimposition of objectivity (and therefore of impermanence) onto Consciousness during the waking state is what is responsible for the superimposition of ‘nothingness’ onto Consciousness during deep sleep.
If we give our attention to that which is real during the waking state, that is, to Consciousness, the world in the waking state looses its objectivity, its otherness, its ‘not me-ness’ and is known and experienced to be nothing other than Consciousness itself.
And as a natural corollary to this we cease superimposing ‘nothingness’ onto deep sleep.
In fact, there are not three states of waking, dreaming and deep sleep. There is one ever-present Reality, known as Consciousness, Awareness or ‘I.’
It is this ever-present Reality of Consciousness, Awareness or ‘I’ which itself takes the shape of thinking, sensing and perceiving, thereby creating the illusion of time and space and the world of objects, and yet which never actually becomes anything other than itself.
This is why Ramana Maharshi said, “Only that which is present in deep sleep is real.”
Stay always in deep sleep even in the waking state and the waking state will be revealed as nothing other than Consciousness.
For a further exploration of this subject please see an essay entitled ‘The Highest Prize’ recently added to the ESSAYS section of my website. (www.rupertspira.com)