Sunday, 19 March 2017

States of Mind

It appears that Consciousness cycles through states, but Consciousness is changeless, its the mind that changes state. We explore various states of mind here. All of them are highly interesting and educating.

Consciousness vs Mind

Before we jump to the topic, lets clear up some confusions around the words consciousness and mind. There is a tendency to confuse the two, probably because in west the word mind is sometimes taken as a synonym of consciousness, or consciousness is taken as a "property" of mind. Even the word mind has many interpretations ranging from "mind is brain" to "mind is existence". The abuse of these words is too common. So we have sentences such as - "I was not conscious" or "my awareness was dim and now its sharp and bright" or "I practice to grow consciousness, to be more conscious" etc.

Such sentences arise from the misunderstanding that consciousness is an entity that resides in the body and goes through states or has "amounts". If you are a regular reader of this blog, or are on a path of knowledge, you will slap your forehead when you see the widespread confusion on this word.

So to be clear, mind is not the same thing as consciousness. Mind is an object that occurs in consciousness. It is seen, it is experienced. Its a collection of processes - thoughts, memories, imagination, emotions, perceptions, intentions, desires and all that mental stuff. Mind is not same as brain also. Brain is also an object that occurs in consciousness. Mind is non-physical, because it is perceived directly, and brain is physical because it is perceived via senses. Consciousness is the Self (with capital S), the silent witness and background of everything, of every experience. It is not a thing, not physical, not non-physical, not a process, nor any "emergent" property of anything. It has no qualities, and it is "empty and pure". All other stuff is just contents in consciousness.

So body, world, brains, minds and everything happen on the screen of consciousness. In other words consciousness itself becomes these things, which are seen as an temporary illusion. It is unchanging, always the same eternally. It has no states. [1]

States of Mind

So why do our experience seemingly has high/low/wide/narrow kinds of experiences? That's because mind has states. It goes through all kinds of processes and statuses. If you are identified with mind, you will take its states as your own. That's just ignorance and its easy to clear.

Just as when there is anger, you say - "I'm angry" instead of "my mind is reacting with anger now" or "there is an experience of anger". This shows identification with mind and mental states. You are not angry, you are a witness of the state of anger your mind is in, you are consciousness. Drop that identification and it will be crystal clear. Once you see that, you will hesitate to say "I was sleeping" or "I was unconscious" because now you know the "I" is unchanging, only the contents are changing. [2]

In this article we focus on the changes in mind. Please note that we are talking about human mind, not about universal Mind. Universal Mind also has states (and must have them, as it is impermanent too), but that is something beyond the scope of this article.

1. Waking

This is the most common state we find the mind in. Note that you are never in a waking state, your mind is in that state, and you are merely witnessing it. We are going to be precise. Consciousness (Self) is always in a "waking state", but as we now know, that's not very precise, it has no state, not even one. Forget about using the word state with consciousness, its not applicable here.

So what's this waking state? Obviously, it is characterized by a more or less functioning brain, active senses, presence of coherent thoughts, purposeful and intelligent behaviour etc. The body is in "control" of the person, and its actions are intentional. There is also some degree of control over thoughts and desires/impulses and they do not result in instant action. We perceive external objects clearly, recognize them clearly and memory operates reasonably well. This enables proper functioning in the physical world.

So in essence, its a state in which the mind configures itself for an experience of world and body, in other words - of Samsara. As you must have guessed, this state is a tiny part of our whole mental existence, it enables the human experience we call life.

Well, above is an idealization of waking state. It is seldom that perfect, if you can call it perfect. There are sub-states of this state, or variations of it. We will list them from worse to best, all waking states reflecting various degrees of afflictions. Your waking state defines your quality of life. That tiny sentence packs a lot of wisdom. Contemplate it.

1.1 Insane mind is a waking state where most of the functions of the mind are in a total chaos. Mind has broken down and cannot function normally, although it is fully awake and senses function normally. However the mind distorts all sense data or ignores it and there is hardly any control over the body or speech or thoughts or emotions.

1.2 Disturbed mind is borderline insanity which occurs in weak and untrained minds because of extreme situations like extreme fear, anger, jealously or trauma to body or mind. The emotions run rampant and often the person talks nonsense (sometimes aloud) and is extremely unbalanced and fickle.

1.3 Criminal mind is almost insanity, but there is presence of coherent thoughts and actions. The person seems to behave "naturally" and talks sense, but his mind is full of destructive thoughts, negative memories, harmful desires, and his attitude is usually violent. In other words, its a fully awake mind, but has lost all wisdom, control and sense because of ill tendencies and afflictions of all kinds.

1.4 Stupid mind is not so uncommon waking state. The faculties of the mind do not work optimally, there is confusion, lack of comprehension, irrational speech, unusually irrational behaviour and lack of learning. Such a person can be dull or very active body wise, but the mind is slow.

1.5 Egoic mind is a waking state fully under the control of Egoic tendencies. The person is very bright and active. Doing, working, thinking, planning, chasing mates - all hallmarks of an awake and fully functioning mind are present. Only that, whatever he does or thinks is merely survival related. Such as state is very fickle, automatic, mechanical and is often called a monkey mind. Its never steady. Emotions dominate the thinking and overcome logical thoughts. Speech shows all colours of an active Ego. Its safe to say that majority of humanity stays in this waking state in their waking hours.

1.6 Shifty mind happens when a person shifts randomly from a rational or peaceful state of mind to any of the above mentioned states. A newbie meditator knows this state best. There is peace and intelligence for a few minutes and then the state shift backs to some messy state.

1.7 Rational mind is a waking state dominated by rational and logical thought. Well finally a good state, but not really. The mind is restless, always seeking stuff and plotting long rational plots to get this or that or to do this or that. There are just too many thoughts, and less action. Such people are seen absorbed in their head all the time. But they are awake and fully functioning. Speech is very well organized and makes total sense. Actions are intelligent and logical. Emotions are mostly under control. The intelligence may serve Ego sometimes, which makes such people excellent businessmen, professionals, politicians etc.

1.8 Concentrated mind is a waking state where the mind is fully engrossed in a higher mental function. It can be mathematics, arts, performances, or actions (e.g. pilots), that need extreme mental skills. Artists, writers, scientists, engineers are found in such state, but not always. A newbie seeker or meditator also remains in such state for perhaps more time than above mentioned people. Its a very sophisticated state, to say the least.

1.9 Equanimous mind is a state dominated by consciousness, not by mental functions or Egoic madness. The person may do things or talk in an ordinary way, but he is fully aware and abides in Self. There is full control over actions, thoughts and speech. They seem moderately active and peaceful. They can be engaged in complex thoughts or tasks that require extreme skill or concentration, but with a difference - they can see that actions happen, but there is no doer, only a witness.

1.10 Absorbed mind is a waking state where the mind surrenders itself totally and is fully introverted towards the Self. There is no action, very few thoughts, and no speech. However the person is extremely awake, alert and in a blissful state.

You can imagine that there can be in-between states or a continuous interchange of above states. I'm using my own names here, but you will find similarities with traditional description of waking state, such as those by Patanjali or Vyasa. If you are wondering why I'm not mentioning EEG or brain activity anywhere, that's because its a childish way to classify mental states. The EEG or fMRI of a scientist and lunatic would show exactly the same activity in waking state. A seeker needs a finer knowledge than that.

2. Daydreaming

Daydreaming is a common name of states of mind involving imagination, simulation and memory recall. The mind is introverted and attends to non-physical contents. The senses are fully functioning and body is either resting or doing an auto-task (such as walking or cleaning or potty rituals). Many people spend hours in such state not knowing how disconnected they are from present. They are dreamy, talk less coherently, and are less active, but exceptions are always there.

It can be a very pleasing experience, especially if the imagination is of a pleasant kind, happy memories etc. But when the imagination takes on negativity, such as worry, terrors, or angry fantasies of harming others or recall of traumatic events again and again, it becomes suffering. The only way to come out of it is to bring the mind back into awareness. Be very conscious even if you are daydreaming or recalling.

In extreme cases this state causes hallucinations, especially when the person has an afflicted waking state. On the other hand, it is possible to get some information out of universal Mind for some talented people, when they are in this state.

3. Dreaming

In this state the body is relaxed and inactive. Senses are diminished or bypassed, but still active. The mind is engaged with purely non-physical contents. It creates whole worlds, people, events and experiences out of nothing but imagination, memories and randomness. The perception is less defined, there are mocked up senses of sight and sound, and a very rudimentary body, which appears or disappears on need basis.

The perceived environment is completely volatile and has a very rough story-line to it. The memory is active, as one can recall things in a dream, and some content gets impressed on to it. But as one comes out of this state the memory of it starts fading. This shows that dreams go into a buffer memory, and if not transferred to the main memory, their recall becomes almost impossible.

There are two sub-states of dreaming state - Hypnagogic state and Hypnopompic state. These are transition or borderline states between waking and dreaming. Non-physical explorers use them for launching into non-physical worlds. They have the perfect blend of a waking mind that is more or less disconnected from the usual physical world, and sleep state.

4. Lucid Dreaming

This is a dreaming state with exceptionally better functioning mind. In other words, its a dreaming state, but the mind has all the abilities of a typical waking state. Now that's fun because now mind can bend the dream in whatever manner it likes. The memory functions very well and often full and vivid recall is possible.

Anyhow, the content is still imaginary and recalled stuff. It is vivid and "life-like" and some awesome actions like flying are possible. There is a body and fake sensation when they are needed, and its possible to assume any body.

The important thing to note is that such states are more likely when the waking state is unafflicted, such as those in 1.8,1.9 or 1.10 above. A good thing is it is easy to get into this state with regular practice and use of some simple techniques. Search and you shall find, there is a lot of info out there.

5. Astral Projection 

Or the state with misnomer "out-of-body". In this state of mind, the contents are purely non-physical, and unlike Lucid dreaming, do not depend on imagination or memory. It is possible that this state gets corrupted by some dream elements, but seasoned explorers can tell the difference. The astonishing thing about this state is that it is as good as an unafflicted waking state, except the sensory content is fully originated in non-physical worlds. So, by definition, the sensory content is as physical as that of waking state.

The mind functions fully, there is a body (malleable), senses, worlds that are rule based, and most importantly - other minds can be encountered. In dreaming or lucid dreaming we can encounter other people, but we know they are imaginary, or just our own creation. Especially in lucid dreaming this knowledge is present while it is happening. In astral projection, one can be fairly sure of others as not being their own creation. Similarly, worlds that are stable, more vivid, and independent of one's mind can be experienced (just like our usual physical world).

So where is the fun if its just like normal waking state? Well, there is a difference, there is almost no limit to what one can do or experience in that state. The downside is - one can encounter nasty stuff as well just like in this physical world, so some caution, guidance and experience is needed. Its a vast subject, and much info is available for interested readers. I'd just point out again, that mediators or seekers or people abiding in Self for a major portion of their waking hours are more likely to be in this state. It is obvious why that should happen.

6. Altered states

These are artificially induced states of the mind using substances or mental techniques. One can include some religious experiences or orgasmic experience in this category too, which happen naturally. One can safely categorize hypnotic states under this kind. So its a vast subject in itself.

In case of substances, one or more parts of the mind breaks down and stops functioning, or its functioning is altered, giving rise to whacky experiences of all kinds.

Sometimes the barriers that separate human mind from universal mind break down, and the person gets a glimpse of what lies beyond mind. The actual experience doesn't matter, what matters is that the fossilized beliefs of that person break down completely, and he opens up for more knowledge. Hopefully he takes up a path and becomes a seeker. However that doesn't happen for the majority, and they simply abuse the substances for fun.

Eventually the substances break down most of the mind and brain/body, and the person enters afflicted states of mind in waking hours. That's hardly any progress. Such people spent their lives in delirium, bad health and relations, deluding themselves that they know something "more" just because they had some whacky experiences. Stupidity at its height.

Substances (or "medicine"), however, are accepted as a valid technique in some traditions (including Yoga), so I do not totally discourage that, but be wise, do not get addicted, and best, do not take up that path at all.

7. Light Sleep

Its a state in between deep sleep and dreaming, lucid dreaming or projecting. The mind is partially active, except senses are functioning reasonably well, so for example, even the slightest sound or light change wakes us up. There is a tiny bit of perception of body state, and mental chatter or barrage of desires and intentions that go on. However, the body is inactive and is completely relaxed.

There is a faint memory imprint of this state, and that's how we can say that we were sleeping. It fades very quickly because the contents are next to nothing. Some people may argue that this state is non-existent, perhaps I'm making it up. Maybe, but I'm just recording my own experience, it is possible that some people don't experience light sleep or have no recall of it at all. I can't find any EEG signature for this state, but then I never looked thoroughly for it. We all know some people who are light sleepers and they are always found complaining that they didn't sleep well. We get such situations when we are tense, stressed, or sick. The sleep feels just like drowsiness, not like sleep.

8. Deep Sleep

Its the most boring and most interesting state of the mind. Boring because there is absolutely no content in this state, and interesting because its the most blissful state of mind and people like to debate it a lot. This state is the reason why sleeping is a pleasant activity (if you can call it an act).

We cannot recall or experience our own deep sleep, because the mind, senses and memory shuts down to a large extent. We can externally observe others in deep sleep and can arrive at some conclusions. An interesting conclusion is that the world doesn't disappear for others and the mind and brain of the sleeper is still active, but not in the same way as that of waking or dreaming states. We can note that a deep sleeper does not wake up easily. But it is possible to bring him back into waking, which means the senses still get into the depths of mind and shake it back into wakefulness.

So we can conclude that everything still functions, but is bypassed and the mind takes a break from its incessant dividing and memorizing process. Its absorbed back into the Self. So deep sleep is as good as waking absorptive state (Savikalp Samadhi), except there are no contents (its Nirvikalp Samadhi).

So what happens to the consciousness in deep sleep? Does it disappear? People ask this often, and some do assume that it disappears, because they believe it to be a product of mind/brain. However, its more correct to say that mind disappears. And if you want to be even more precise - the contents disappear. We get back the usual mind in its waking state with consciousness illuminating contents after a few hours of deep sleep. So obviously nothing disappears, only the contents are not processed for a while.

How would one know that consciousness is still there witnessing nothingness during deep sleep? One cannot know that, because knowledge gathering is a function of mind, and its mostly inactive that time, moreover, no memory is formed, as there is nothing to store into memory, so even if your mind gets a few glimpses of still being conscious, they evaporate from the mind and you can't recall anything about deep sleep. However, you cannot know the reverse too, because you or others cannot see the disappearance of consciousness. Others simply blindly believe that since you are inactive in deep sleep and therefore "unconscious". From the point of view of your consciousness, it was always there.

Another interesting thing that happens in deep sleep is that time "stops". The sense of time is derived from change (in mental or physical environment) and when there is nothing that changes, no time is registered. Your time of going into deep sleep is same as the time you come out of it. So how do we still have some sense that we slept for x duration of time? That's because there are dreaming, light sleep and waking states interposed with deep sleep. It forms memory, a bit of it, and you can estimate time very roughly.

9. Anesthesia

General Anesthesia is yet another interesting state that is artificially induced. It resembles deep sleep outwardly, but the internal scene is totally different. Well, we don't really know what the internal scene looks like. But we can infer a few things. The mind stops almost completely, except the most vital functions. The main difference when compared to deep sleep is that, one cannot wake up the person under anesthesia by any means. He wakes up only after the anesthetic substance is filtered out of the body by bodily processes.

So obviously it has advantages, like one cannot feel pain, cannot move, cannot remember anything at all, and so this state is ideal for medical surgeries. It is a curious thing, because even advanced yogis, who experience a continuity of consciousness in deep sleep, report no contents in this state. I'm recalling that from memory, but you can search about it.

Some people get unusual experiences under anesthesia (NDEs). It can be understood as a typical state of astral projection. When the mind doesn't receive its usual sensory inputs, it either dreams up something or connects to some other area in universal mind. So that's nothing unusual from a seeker's point of view. The unusual thing is, sometimes vivid memory is retained of such experiences, which shows that since anesthesia breaks memory, there can be some kind of non-physical memory which still remains intact and fully operational.

One can safely put the naturally occurring "unconscious" states, such as fainting etc. under this category. As in deep sleep, the consciousness is still there, only the contents are gone.

10. Coma

This is an afflicted state, where the affliction is physiological (mostly). A lot of study exists for this state and I've not gone into depths of it, so I recommend other sites if you wish to know more. I obviously have not experienced this one, so if I write something about it, it will be from other studies.

What one can infer is that the consciousness remains as usual, but the mind cycles from deep sleep to waking states, while body remains totally inactive. The waking state may depend on the severity of affliction and can range from madness to full clarity. When the patient is fully aware, with functioning senses, they are called "locked-in". Its an unfortunate and scary state to be, but should resemble sleep-paralysis in terms of experience.

This state shows that the activity of body (or speech or thoughts) is not a good indicator of the state of mind and consciousness. One should not blindly assume the subjective state from outward appearances. A seeker learns that quickly.

11. Death

Well, its a state of the mind to be blunt.  Some people may not see it in that way, which I can understand [3]. If its not your experience, its not your truth. Have I experienced the state of death? Well, I'm writing stuff here on earth, so I can conclude that fortunately not yet. So all we can do is infer things about this state.

One important thing to note is that it is an irreversible state of mind. Death is defined in many ways, and there is a lot of confusion about when to call someone dead. Its funny and serious at the same time. The criteria ranges from stopping of heart, flatlining of brain, stopping of energetic activity (Pranic activity) etc., to complete decay of the body. People believing in Cryopreservation would go for the last. So I adopted that criteria for now, its safest to say that you are not dead unless there is absolutely no possibility of reanimation even in theory.

So what happens to the mind in this state? Of course I do not know. However, I can speculate that most of it breaks down completely and irreversibly. The physical structures also break down that are seen as brain and nervous system (and whole body). The perception stops as senses break down. World disappears. Anything that relates to the world or body is gone permanently, including some memories.

There is no evidence that the deeper non-physical structures also break down. So there is a possibility that some boundaries still remain intact and the mind does not completely merge with the universal mind of which it is a part. Those who have direct experiences will concur. And those who do not have them should experiment. But no, do not experiment with ways to die, you may end up dead.

We have discussed death in a lot of detail previously, with all the arguments and stuff, so please read those articles. The beliefs about death range from simple errors to ridiculous fantasies. Its a fun read.

If you ask Self about its experience of death, you will get absolute silence, it denies any such experience, it is deathless.


[1] Some masters make distinction between the words consciousness, awareness and Self. There are more words like "absolute" or "oneness" etc. that hints at different "kinds" of consciousness. Needless to say, it is confusing, because if there are not-two and there is only Self, what are those other entities with fancy names? If you dig a bit, you will find that those words that seemingly are synonyms of Self, denote various states of Mind, well very subtle states. So for example "awareness" is Self without contents and "consciousness" is Self with contents, and "absolute" is the unnamable and unknowable beyond Self. (Nisargdatta's terminology. However, I'm not very sure what he means by them. Consult a good teacher please).

[2] But isn't consciousness changing too, since its the only one that exists? We have been digging on this question in various articles here. The short answer is - that which changes is an illusion in an unchanging consciousness.

[3] In some cultures (e.g. in east and especially in India), death as a state of being is taken as obvious and self-evident. People die and are born all the time, nothing unusual happens. But in materialistic cultures, death is a strict no no, no one likes to talk about it, mention of your death is offensive. This is because of ignorance about the consciousness and states of mind. Death is total annihilation for a materialist. Even a thought of that is unsettling. Note that I'm not saying that non-materialists do not feel sadness when their loved ones die or when people are killed in wars etc. The sadness happens because of attachment to the dead person, emotional, financial, survival dependent attachments. So the Ego kicks in and expresses sadness and grief. This behaviour is universal regardless of what philosophy you follow. Because Ego is same in all cases. However, a seeker is a different creature, having mastered the Ego, he feels no sorrow or fear on death of anyone, including his own. The deep knowledge and experience with mental states helps a lot. If you are still moved by death, push your pedal a bit, you need to progress out of it. There is no point in being attached to impermanent stuff like bodies and minds.

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