Where do ‘I’ go when I go to sleep?

Take the statement I slept great last night.

Now ask the question how do I know this?

Some people, most people even, would say something like well, I feel great this morning. I feel fresh, full of energy, vibrant, alive. And the conclusion is I must have slept really well. The key word is conclusion. It’s not a knowing so much as a deduction based on the apparent evidence. And the underlying assumption, the background knowledge assumed, is that “I,” or whatever it is that I call “I,” was not present to experience that quality of sleep that was so great. The assumption is “I” was gone, out cold, in a state of non-knowing, or unconsciousness, dead to the world, and the good sleep can only be deduced upon waking up.

In this way, the statement I slept great last night is really the mind waking up and taking ownership of the great sleep, saying “I” had it.

The mind is not “I.” The mind is only a bundle of thoughts being thunk. One of those thoughts is what we call the “I” thought. And another one is the thought “I” slept well. But this thing we call mind is not even present during deep sleep. One way we know this is that there are no thoughts being thunk during deep sleep. In this respect, it’s quite rude of the mind to wake up and say “I” slept well.

There must be another way to look at this. One that does not rely on the waking mind, and that allows us to reach the same conclusion, that I slept great. This other way involves Awareness.

Let’s start over, from the perspective of Awareness.

Take the statement I slept great last night.

Now ask the question, how do I know this?

A few people, not very many, but some (the kind who might read a post like this, for example) might say, what do you mean how do I know this? How does anyone know anything? I experienced it.

This is where the rest of us short-circuit. Because the next question is what do you mean you experienced it? No one experiences anything when they are asleep. They are dead to the world. Unconscious.

Well, the majority of us are working from that different underlying assumption, as stated above, whereas these few people are coming at the whole thing from a very different perspective. They’re saying that this thing that we call “I” is in fact present for this “great sleep.” The “I” witnessed it. “I” was aware of it. Because “I” is not the mind or its thoughts. It can’t be, because these things are temporary. They don’t last. They come and go. Thoughts arise, fall away, and are replaced by others. “I” must be something other than mind, than thought. “I” must be prior to these.

Here’s the deal: What “I” am is Awareness.

Let’s take a moment to pause and consider this, because it’s really important. What’s being said here is I am not my mind. I am not my thoughts. I am not even my body. All of these things come and go. They are not permanent. I am that which is aware of these. I am Awareness itself. What I call “I” is really the Awareness that is aware of these, which is prior to them, and which is ever-present.

In this sense, “I” do not go anywhere when I go to sleep. I do not check out, lose consciousness, or become dead to the world. The body and the mind (the body-mind) goes dormant — yes — and this has a significant impact on the content of Awareness. But Awareness remains as the witnessing presence, even in the absence of content. Awareness is the ever-present “I.”

It’s relatively easy to grasp the idea of Awareness as a witnessing presence when considering the waking state. That is it is easy to see Awareness as that which is aware of, say, the sight of these words on this screen, or the sound of traffic outside. We see or hear these things, and though we may not put much thought or attention towards them, when asked if we are aware of them, we would simply say yes, I am.

Without too much more difficulty, we can grasp the idea of Awareness as witnessing presence in the dream state as well. How else would we know we are dreaming? That which is prior to the dream, and ever-present, and enables us to experience the dream itself, is Awareness. Awareness is aware of the dream, just as Awareness is aware of the screen in front of us, displaying these words.

What’s tricky is to grasp the idea of Awareness as being present in deep, dreamless sleep. And the trick is to simply understand that deep, dreamless sleep is nothing more than Awareness being aware of nothing. Of no-thing. No content.

Another way to think of it is this: In the waking state, Awareness is aware of sense-perception plus thought (or the activity of mind). In the dream state, sense perception is dormant, and Awareness is aware only of thought (in the form of dreaming, which is the activity of mind unencumbered by sense perception). In deep sleep, a state in which both sense-perception and mind are dormant, we have a state of no content, in which Awareness remains aware, but with no-thing to be aware of.

In this sense, “I” is present even in deep sleep. It goes nowhere. It’s right there, ever-present, in a state of perfect peace, and quite in touch with how great the sleep is.

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