Sunday, 30 November 2014

How to experience the clarity of self-awareness that appears between sleep and waking?

A friend wrote to me recently saying that she had been following various spiritual paths since childhood and that finally last year Sri Ramana had appeared in her life as the ultimate teacher, but that eight years ago she had had an experience while waking from sleep that she later identified with what Sri Ramana said about the clarity of self-awareness that can be experienced immediately after we wake from sleep and before it becomes mixed with awareness of a body and world. She tried her best to describe what she had experienced, but if it was indeed the adjunct-free clarity of self-awareness that Sri Ramana referred to, it would be impossible to describe it in words or even to conceive it by thoughts, because it would have been (and could only ever be) experienced in the complete absence of any thoughts or words, and hence it is beyond their reach.

Therefore from her description of her experience I cannot say for certain that it was that adjunct-free clarity of self-awareness, or if not, exactly what it was, but it may well have been such a clarity. However, whenever we do experience such an intense clarity of self-awareness, we lose it as soon as our mind becomes active, and if we then remember or think about it, whatever we remember or think is something other than what we actually experienced, because what we experienced was ‘I’ without any mental activity such as thinking or remembering. Therefore, though we may think that we can ‘relive’ such an experience by remembering it, we cannot actually relive it except by persistently trying to experience perfect clarity of self-awareness here and now.

Moreover, the natural tendency of our mind is to interpret whatever we experience in terms of ideas, concepts or beliefs that are familiar to us, but when we try to interpret an experience of clear self-awareness in such a way, our interpretation of it separates us still further from what we actually experienced. For example, my friend interpreted her experience as ‘the Divine consciousness’ and as the ‘ULTIMATE SAFETY which is Unspeakable Love’, and (after learning about Sri Ramana’s teachings) as ‘what I AM’. Though such interpretations may be ‘true’ on a conceptual level, they are actually mere concepts, and no concept can adequately grasp or represent the featureless and hence ineffable experience of pure self-awareness.

The following is adapted from the reply that I wrote to her:

Waking up is a process in which the mind rises from sleep, and in order to rise it must project a body and simultaneously experience that body as ‘I’; then through the five senses of that body it instantly projects a world, of which it feels itself to be a small part. Normally this process of projecting a body and experiencing it as ‘I’ happens so fast that we cannot detect any gap between the seeming ‘darkness’ of sleep and the appearance of the body-mixed clarity of waking. However, between sleep and waking there is a brief moment in which a fresh clarity of self-awareness appears before it becomes mixed and confused with a body and other subsequent experiences.

That is, from the seeming lack of clarity in sleep, what first appears is a fresh clarity of self-awareness, but then we use this clarity as the light by which we project a body and world, so almost as soon as this clarity appears, it becomes mixed and confused with a projected awareness of a body, which we then experience as ‘I’.

Sometimes as a result of our practice of self-attentiveness during our waking state, when we wake up from sleep we are able to experience and briefly hold on to the moment of clear body-free self-awareness. It seems that this may have been what you experienced on that day.

Since we cannot make any effort to attend to self in that brief moment of waking up, we cannot do anything at that time to experience that moment of body-free clarity of self-awareness. However, once we are awake we can make effort to attend to ‘I’, and by focusing our attention exclusively on ‘I’, we will be able to experience ‘I’ without any mixture of body-awareness. In other words, by persistently practising self-attentiveness during our waking state, we can learn to experience here and now the same body-free clarity of self-awareness that appears at the moment of waking from sleep but that we usually fail to detect at that time.

That is, clarity of self-awareness is what we actually are, and hence it is what underlies our experience of waking, dream and sleep, but in the view of our waking mind it seems to be obscured by a lack of clarity in sleep and by our experience of other things (our body, the world and all our thoughts about them) in waking and dream. However, our clarity of self-awareness seems to be obscured in these ways only because throughout our waking and dream states we are busily engaged in attending to things other than ‘I’.

Therefore, to experience our natural clarity of pure self-awareness, we must here and now try to focus our entire attention only on ‘I’, thereby withdrawing it from all other things. Therefore what you experienced on that day while waking from sleep was perhaps a brief and imperfect taste of the absolute clarity of self-awareness that we should aim to experience here and now.

However, a word of caution: though what you experienced on that day may have been a partial clarity of self-awareness, when you now think of it, remember it or try to describe it, you are not experiencing it as it actually was, because when you experienced it your mind was free of thoughts. Therefore no thought, memory or description in words can actually grasp or depict the clarity that you experienced in the absence of thoughts, so your memory of it is subtly but significantly different to your actual experience of it.

Why this caution is important is that we cannot experience ‘I’ with perfect clarity by remembering some past experience of it, so rather than dwelling on your memory of it, you should try to experience ‘I’ alone as it actually is here and now. Any thought, memory or expectation is something other than ‘I’, so you should try to attend only to the ‘I’ who is now aware of that memory, thereby withdrawing your attention from the memory itself.

When people have experienced what they take to be a taste of pure self-awareness, their memory of that experience can either be an aid or an obstacle in their progress towards the ultimate goal of absolutely clear self-awareness. If they dwell too much on the memory itself, it can be an obstacle, because it would distract their attention away from ‘I’, whereas if that memory motivates them to try persistently to experience a still greater degree of clarity of self-awareness here and now by attending more and more keenly and vigilantly to ‘I’, it will be an aid, encouraging them to attend only to ‘I’.

Therefore, whatever we may or may not have experienced, we should try to direct all our interest and effort only towards experiencing ‘I’ alone, in complete isolation from all memories, thoughts, concepts, beliefs or ideas about anything else whatsoever.

7 comments:

Idaichi said...

Let me summarize the quality of mind :
To look for signs or milestones on the path of self-discovery is a quite typical feature and natural characteristic of the mind because it does not like indescribable and inconceivable things(facts).
The mind - a bundle of thoughts - does not like the concept that there would be something beyond the reach of any words or concepts.
The mind does not like to have a goal that cannot be adequately described in words or conceived by it.
The natural tendency of mind is to interpret whatever we experience in terms of ideas, concepts or beliefs that are familiar to us.
The mind does not want to be destroyed.
I am a beginner, because I am faltering in my determination to try persistently to investigate myself. My attention has been distracted away from myself very often.
Nevertheless in my memory there are a few ecstatic experiences of moments of feeling very great happiness in waking state which were perhaps free of thoughts. That may have been a partial clarity of self-awareness or a fortaste of“honey“.
But your word of caution is justified.
Instead of dwelling on my memory of it I should better try to attend only to the ‚I‘ who is now aware of that memory, thereby withdrawing my attention from the memory itself.
But:
To be exclusively self-attentive…
To give no room to any doubts about whether or not I am following Sri Ramana’s path correctly…
To persevere unswervingly in trying to be exclusively self-attentive…
To cling tenaciously to svarupa-dhyana…
To experience ourself alone…
To progress in the practice of self-attentiveness…
For all that virtuos efforts I need to have genuine love.
And to gain such love I have to be exclusively self-attentive.
It seems to be a vicious circle.

Perseverance is surely the only true sign of svatma-bhakti – the love for experiencing ourself as we really are

R Viswanathan said...

"It seems to be a vicious circle."

This remark immediately reminds me of this conversation (Talk 13, 7th January 1935).

Devotee: What are the obstacles which hinder realisation of the Self?
M.: They are habits of mind (vasanas).
D.: How to overcome the mental habits (vasanas)?
M.: By realising the Self.
D.: That is a vicious circle.
M.: It is the ego which raises such difficulties, creating obstacles and then suffers from the perplexity of apparent paradoxes. Find out who makes the enquiries and the Self will be found.
D.: What are the aids for realisation?
M.: The teachings of the Scriptures and of realised souls
D.: Can such teachings be discussions, lectures and meditations?
M.: Yes, all these are only secondary aids, whereas the essential is the Master’s grace.
D.: How long will it take for one to get that?
M.: Why do you desire to know?
D.: To give me hope.
M.: Even such a desire is an obstacle. The Self is ever there, there is nothing without it. Be the Self and the desires and doubts will disappear. Such Self is the witness in sleep, dream and waking states of existence. These states belong to the ego. The Self
transcends even the ego. Did you not exist in sleep? Did you know
then that you were asleep or unaware of the world? It is only in the waking state that you describe the experience of sleep as being unawareness; therefore the consciousness when asleep is the same as that when awake. If you know what this waking consciousness is, you will know the consciousness which witnesses all the three states. Such consciousness could be found by seeking the consciousness as it was in sleep.
D.: In that case, I fall asleep.
M.: No harm!
D.: It is a blank.
M.: For whom is the blank? Find out. You cannot deny yourself at
any time. The Self is ever there and continues in all states.

In this conversation, Bhagavan answers that by being the self, all doubts will disappear - doubts as to whether whether we are practising Atma Vichara properly or what is the progress in this path.

R Viswanathan said...

As always, I find a useful discussion of almost every aspect discussed here in Robert Adams Satsangs, also: Talk 99.

"Some of you are spending twenty-four hours a day practicing
self-inquiry. I don't mean you're sitting at home by yourself. I mean you are practicing it wherever you go and whatever you do. You start when you wake up in the morning. You begin by looking for that gap between waking and sleeping. There is a gap as you are aware by now. We've discussed it many times before. As soon as you awaken, before you get involved in the world and before you say "I," there is a gap, which is the fourth dimension of life. That gap is your reality. It's what you really are. You begin by trying to expand that gap, before the world gets a hold of you.

That is also the time when the mind has rested in the spiritual heart center all night while you slept, and at the second of awakening, it begins to rush into your brain, so you may become aware of your body and the world. You have to learn to catch yourself before that happens. And the way you catch yourself is to become aware that it's happening.
If every morning, as soon as you begin to awaken, you become aware of that gap, that place in between waking and sleeping, the silence, and you abide in it, you will begin to expand.

But even if you don't grab hold of it in time, become aware that the I existed during sleep, during the dream state, and during the waking state. And you abide in the I-thought by inquiring, "Where did the I come from?" This is the way you should wake up, and you carry it through the day."

It is at this point of time that Robert Adams suggests meditation-breathing I, Am, about which was a mention as a comment by Gavin for another article. But then, please see what further Robert Adams talks:

" What I'm trying to tell you is, do not be like most people in the world, when you wake up and you begin to think of your body, and the world, and so forth, but get up and begin to understand that you are not the body, you are not the thinking mind. Yet you exist. You existed during sleep, you existed during dream, and you exist during waking state. "Who exists?" Ask yourself. "I exist. Therefore who am I?"

Thus in my view, he also suggests Who am I?: self-investigation or self-attentiveness.

Michael James said...

Idaichi, as you said in your comment, it may seem to be a vicious circle, but Bhagavan has shown us a sure way to break out of it: namely to investigate who or what is this ‘I’ who seems to be caught in it.

Since this ‘I’ is not what we really are but just an illusory experience of ourself, if we investigate it by trying to attend to it alone, it will subside and disappear, and what will then remain in its place is what we really are.

This vicious circle seems to exist only because we seem to be this ego, who is caught in it, so if we investigate this ego and thereby discover that it is not what it seems to be, the vicious circle will cease to exist along with it.

This vicious circle is therefore like the triangular prison described by Sadhu Om on pp. 164-7 of the final chapter of the first part of The Path of Sri Ramana. The triangular prison is an illusion created by our bad habit of attending only to second and third persons (things other than ourself) instead of turning back to attend to the first person (ourself). So long as we are facing the corner formed by two walls (the second and third persons) it seems that we are imprisoned, but if we turn around to see the third wall that we suppose is behind us (the first person) we will find that there is actually no such wall at all, and that we were therefore never really imprisoned.

As Bhagavan points out in the passage of Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi (section 13, 7th January 1935) quoted by Viswanathan in his first comment above, the idea that we are caught in a vicious circle is created by the ego, but if we investigate this ego to see what it really is, we will find that it is actually nothing but our infinite and therefore ever-unbound self.

Therefore whatever vicious circles or other obstacles or difficulties may seem to exist, they can all be overcome simply by turning our attention back towards ourself in order to experience what we really are. We may not succeed at first, but if we persevere in trying to experience ourself alone, we will certainly succeed sooner or later.

ravigauthama said...

Excellent Michael encourages and cautions. Thanks
Sundararaman

Idaichi said...

Michael,
thanks for your encouraging reply.
Yes, we have to overcome all the ideas created by the ego like vicious circles or other obstacles and difficulties.
So we should not become tired. Instead of cultivating tiredness let us persevere in trying to experience ourself alone.

Idaichi said...

R Viswanathan,
thanks for your first comment of 1 December 2014 at 02:28.