The Enigma of Deep Sleep – 14
The Fourth Quadrant – (A Taste of) Awareness:
“To grab (take) the bull by the horns” is “to deal with a problem directly and resolutely.” It is a no nonsense approach that goes straight to the nub of an issue. That expression, as you may have guessed by now, perhaps neatly sums up the way we go about here to really really understand what Awareness is. Rather than mystifying It with complex gobbledygook, we seek to demystify what It is. Rather than approaching It with an attitude of obsequious servility, we would like to meet It as equals. Rather than keeping It on a remote high inaccessible pedestal, we shall look right in Its eye and would like to confer as friends. Rather than shower praises with a hidden expectation of getting our agenda fulfilled, we shall cleanse our own muddy vision to dis-cover the self-effulgence of Awareness shining bright.
And towards that end, we shall begin with a simple question: “Are you ‘aware’ right here and now?”
Whether you answer ‘Yes’ or ‘No,’ is not our concern here. What is significant, however, is what happens in your mind when you search for an answer to it. Examine slowly and carefully how your thoughts process the question. In other words see critically how your mind handles the question and what happens when the flash of an answer strikes.
In order to be able to examine the reaction in our mind, it is needless to say that the mind should be calm, clear and unburdened, i.e. it should be free from any doubt gnawing at its vitals. So I propose to first get the couple of pending questions we have out of the way.
Ragoth Sundararajan asked whether the state of mind before going to sleep has a bearing on the quality of sleep and if any studies have been made on the effect of meditation on the quality of sleep we get. At the outset let me say that I am not a sleep expert and I do not know if any academic research studies were carried out to specifically examine the effect of meditation on the quality of sleep. However, the first part of the question is easy to answer as it does not require a sleep specialist to say that we will hardly be able to sleep when the mind is agitated, tensed up, aroused, scared or anxious etc. A peaceful and relaxed mind, as we know from our own experience, is more congenial to get an undisturbed sleep. As a corollary, it follows that any meditation technique that facilitates ‘relaxation’ of the mind will obviously help in having a good night’s sleep. In fact, ‘falling asleep’ is a problem often faced by meditators. The reason, according to one opinion, behind the ancient advice to maintain an erect sitting posture keeping the spine, neck and head in one straight line while meditating is to avoid falling asleep. You may be aware that for over four decades systematic research on relaxation meditation has been going on, pioneered by Dr. Herbert Benson of Harvard.
A lot of scientific studies have been made on the ‘effect of meditation on the brain’ and separately on ‘brain insleep.’ As a result, we have plenty of information on both these aspects. We have discussed some of these issues in a series of articles starting here (http://advaita-academy.org/blogs/ramesam/Does-Meditation-Change-The-Brain—-Part-1.ashx ) a couple of years ago and also here (http://www.advaita-academy.org/Articles/Emotional-Stability-Role-of-Amygdala—Part-2.ashx ). A graph of the activity pattern of the brain in the course of one night’s sleep is known as a ‘Hypnogram.’ A discussion related to this is available here (http://advaita-academy.org/blogs/ramesam/The-Three-Sates-Plus-Turiya-of-Mandukya-vsThe-Direct-Path.ashx) and in a few other related articles.
In general, the theta and delta stages of sleep with < 1 to about 7 cycles per second represent the deep sleep phase. Deep sleep is the one which is most refreshing for us. It is so because the free radicals generated during neuronal activity get cleaned up during the dreamless deep sleep so that the brain cells are fresh and ready to take up the next day’s workload. But for maintaining good bodily health, proper memory function etc., dreams are necessary. You may be surprised to know that the brain remains as active during dreams as in the waking state ( about 40 to 90 cycles per second)! So then what would one call something as ‘good quality sleep?’ Perhaps, it is out of our immediate objective here to go into any more detailed analysis of this topic.
Shri Pramodh (Being Being) wanted to know how space could be said to be illusory and a mere imagination of the mind like time is. Most of us feel that the 3-D space solidly exists out there and it moves along an irreversible arrow of time. Dr. Albert Einstein established clearly that spacetime is actually a 4-D continuum. We consider the time to be different from the other three dimensions because we cannot retrace our steps taken along the axis of time. But for an atomic or subatomic particle, there is no such problem. It can merrily travel from future to the past or present or from the present to the past. And it stands as a mind-boggling paradox to think that all of us are nothing but assemblages of zillions of the atomic and subatomic particles which keep on jumping across the time boundaries all the time!
We have seen earlier that ‘mind’ is just a vibration, a movement. Movement can happen only in space (for displacement) and time (to travel). So the vibratory movement creates for itself space and time simultaneously. If you can see that time is illusory, it should not be too difficult to say that space too comes with the same sort of reality as time. Borrowing the words of a well-known teacher, we can say that ‘just as time is the duration between two events, space is the distance between two objects.’ Thus time and space stand to exemplify the imagined separation between two entities. The one single holistic perception that IS, is divided into various finite objects by the mind so that it can grasp them bit by bit. Another way of putting it is that the undimensional infiniteness and the eternality of Awareness appear as space and time when perceived through the constrained mind. Check for yourself if you can conceive space in the absence of objects.
Though, we seem to feel the length, breadth and width in the landscape of our vision, we do not really perceive a 3-D space out there. It is a merely a strong belief and an accepted convention without inquiry that there are three dimensions in space. What we actually perceive or really aware of is only a map that the neurons create in our head. We do not really experience a world out there lying external to us. For example, you see a 3-D picture on your TV screen. The character in the movie seems to travel away into the distant mountains and enter a cave. But if you go and physically touch the screen, you can see that there is no depth to the cave nor do the mountains exist at any distance from where the character started. They happen to be all at the same place on the flat screen! The so called real world too is no different from the screen. You may verify by examining whether the distant ‘view’ from your window presents itself in three dimensions or appears more like a flat canvas painting.
Coming back to the question, “Are you aware?”:
We find it far easier to answer a question that asks us about our awareness of some ‘thing.’ For example, if I ask you, ‘Are you aware of the room or the wall in front or the tree across from the window?’, you find no difficulty to answer. You shift your gaze in the direction of the object being pointed out to. You physically notice the specified object, nod the head in conviction and say, “Yes.” The question, “Are you aware?” directs you to be aware of Awareness. But Awareness is not an object. It is not any “thing” that has some describable qualities of size, shape, color, weight or even quantum properties of spin or charge etc. In the absence of finite dimensional units, the mind has no way of grasping “Awareness.” There is no direction in which the mind can turn towards and pay its attention in order to find Awareness. It exhausts its resources; it feels helpless; it reaches its precipice. And it falls! It is like the moth turning to the flame. The moment the creature touches the flame, it burns away in it and merges into it. The position of the mind is not very much unlike the critter. In order to discover Awareness, the mind has to end itself. That’s the moment Awareness flashes. That’s the moment you remain as Awareness.
But Awareness does not speak or do anything. The eyes blankly stare at no particular thing for a fraction of the moment when the mind (= movement) raises again and answers, “Yes, I am aware.” You are back again speaking as the mind.
We shall next examine many more commonly experienced moments when mind subsides and we stay as mere Awareness immersing ourselves in Love and Beauty.
(To Continue …… Part 15)