Q: Seeing-feeling that ‘I’ am not this body (aggregate of cells) and not this external world (job, house, possessions) is much easier for me than seeing that I am not this mind (thoughts, memories, personal history, feelings). The body seems like a suit of clothes, and the external world like a bunch of random stuff. But the mind seems real. At a deep level, I identify with it, feel I am it.
It’s hard to see mental ‘arisings’, particularly those that have strong emotional resonance, as impersonal objects. It feels like my internal, mental life is the ‘real’ me.
A: If you are the mind, what happens to you in the deep sleep state?
Q: I’ve been on the direct path for a few months, limiting the scope of ‘what I know’ to what I directly experience. Speaking from that point of view, I have no clue what happens to ‘me’ in deep sleep. I don’t even know there is such a state as deep sleep, because I have no memory of having experienced it.
A: Presumably there is elapsed time between waking/dream periods. Since you have no experience or knowledge of it, do you think the Self ceases to exist during that period?
Q: No. But I can’t prove it from first-hand experience. I can’t prove that the Self exists or doesn’t exist from first-hand experience, even from my waking state. Perhaps I might have an experiential ‘realization’ that Self is eternal and all-that-is (= brahman), and I might feel that I know this afterwards. But I haven’t had an experience that has left me utterly sure (knowing, rather than speculating) of this, so I can’t say.
Barring first-hand experience, presumably I have to rely on logical inference and trust/faith in the word of the Vedantic sages?
A: Who is this ‘I’ that you keep talking about?
Q: ‘I’ is what feels like the subject of all that is experienced (sensory perceptions, thoughts, emotions, feelings, etc.) and done (actions).
A: ‘Feels like’ to whom?
Q: Again, more ‘what’ than ‘whom’. Awareness/consciousness does the low-level ‘pure’ feeling and then the mind jumps in and ‘storifies it’ (walking > I’m walking > I’m taking a walk > I love taking walks, etc.).
A: I’m sure you know what I am saying. No matter what is thought, felt, done, said, etc. there is always an ‘ultimate’ subject who does not take part but ‘witnesses’ what is happening (or can do if Fred does not get in on the act and claim responsibility). This ‘witness’ is the nearest you get to the ‘Self’/brahman/Consciousness, which is ‘who’ you really are. It witnesses all of the intellectual ratiocination indulged in by Fred and witnesses the blankness of the deep-sleep state.
Q: Yes, I understand. Witnessing (for me at least) divides the world (subtly) into witness/witnessed. When I relax or surrender, this division disappears and all that remains is ‘things as they are’ (or something like that). So it’s no longer subject/object, witness/witnessed, self/world. It’s just ‘what is’. That’s why my answers to your questions “Who is this I? Feels like to whom?” are not really answers. I’m sure you know what I mean, yes?
A: “When I relax, surrender…” is an event in time. This ‘just is’ has a beginning and an end in time. Happenings in time are all experiences and do not really help you to understand who you are. But you must appreciate that, if you can ‘see’ something (body, thoughts, feelings, world) then ‘you’ who are doing the seeing must be separate from what is seen. You cannot appreciate this ultimate subject by ‘seeing’ it. It is always the ‘seer’ and never the ‘seen’.