Bardo between sleep and awake

Sean Lindsay, modified 10 Years ago.

Bardo between sleep and awake

Posts: 46 Join Date: 11/3/09 Recent Posts
A question: Last week, I had an unusual experience that recurred this past weekend, and I'm curious about it. I'd welcome thoughts, experiences, speculations, etc.

I'd gotten up early in the morning to sit, but found my usual sitting place in the basemenet already occupied by a teenaged son who'd fallen asleep watching TV. So I went back upstairs to our family room and lay down on the sofa, thinking I'd do a relaxed concentration practice instead of my sitting practice. I set my meditation timer for 90 minutes, I began breath concentration and quickly dropped into a quiet state of equanimity -- maybe a soft third jhana, maybe just a quiet equanimity. That state held for ten or fifteen minutes.

Then I became aware that I did not know who I was or where I was. There was unquestionably a viewer-witness-self, but it lacked any of the usual defining characteristics. That situation lasted only a few moments. Then, quite suddenly, I was again Sean lying on the sofa in my family room. I glanced at my meditation timer, and it said I had only one and a half minutes left before my 90 minute period was up.

I can't tell what happened between 15 minutes into the session and the sudden realization that I didn't know who/where I was. I have no memory of that period of time at all. Ordinarily, I'd guess that I'd drifted off to sleep, but I didn't even have any of the usual experiences associated with sleep. It was more like coming out of anesthesia than sleep, if that makes any sense.

As I reflected on it, I wondered if what I'd experienced was some kind of concentration mindstate that I hadn't managed very effectively. Or perhaps it was just a strange kind of sleep. I've experienced the emptiness of stream entry, and the state that arose between sleep-or-whatever-it-was and normal experience was different in that there was a clear sense of self present -- it just didn't have any of the usual trappings of definitions.

Then, this past weekend, coming out of a completely normal sleep cycle and just on the cusp of awakening, I again experienced the "no definitions" self awareness briefly before "normal" reality re-arose.

So now I'm wondering if it's an experience happens in the usual process of moving from sleep to awake and I just wasn't aware enough to notice it previously.

Thoughts or speculations? Ideas about how I could practice with this currently-fleeting mind state?
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Ian And, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Bardo between sleep and awake (Answer)

Posts: 785 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
Sean Lindsay:
A question: Last week, I had an unusual experience that recurred this past weekend, and I'm curious about it. I'd welcome thoughts, experiences, speculations, etc....

Then I became aware that I did not know who I was or where I was. There was unquestionably a viewer-witness-self, but it lacked any of the usual defining characteristics. That situation lasted only a few moments. Then, quite suddenly, I was again Sean lying on the sofa in my family room. I glanced at my meditation timer, and it said I had only one and a half minutes left before my 90 minute period was up....

Then, this past weekend, coming out of a completely normal sleep cycle and just on the cusp of awakening, I again experienced the "no definitions" self awareness briefly before "normal" reality re-arose.

At first I was going to suggest that you may have experienced sanna-vedayita-nirodha or the "cessation of perception and feeling." But the fact that you report there was "awareness" definitively rules that out.

That leaves us with an anomaly type of experience. Something perhaps based upon underlying preconceptions or such. Or the mind working through its previously held conceptions. Awareness (or the lack thereof) of time passage during meditation can sometimes become problematic and add to the confusion of such experiences. So, it is difficult to say just what it was that you experienced. Other than, perhaps, a graphic episode of "not selfness," a moment which might be used to demonstrate to the conscious mind the truth about anatta. Now, that kind of experience, I have had before. Although it would be difficult to describe it here well enough to give it justice.

Sean Lindsay:

I can't tell what happened between 15 minutes into the session and the sudden realization that I didn't know who/where I was. I have no memory of that period of time at all. Ordinarily, I'd guess that I'd drifted off to sleep, but I didn't even have any of the usual experiences associated with sleep. It was more like coming out of anesthesia than sleep, if that makes any sense.

Were you groggy coming out of that? I ask this clarification because you mentioned, "It was more like coming out of anesthesia than sleep." My experience with coming out of anesthesia recently while in the hospital having been sedated was one of maybe not so much grogginess, but of a sense of non-clarity and non-sharpness in my mental abilities, which translated into lack of sati (mindfulness in the sense of mental alertness). That lack of mental alertness took a couple of days to get over as the drug I was given worked its way out of my blood stream, leaving me feeling listless and mildly confused. I was just wondering if you experienced anything like that. (My thought is, probably not. I'm just attempting to relate to the words you are using to describe the experience.)

(P.S. I never want to go through such an experience again, if that's the result of being sedated. It totally leaves one mentally defenseless and vulnerable.)

Sean Lindsay:

As I reflected on it, I wondered if what I'd experienced was some kind of concentration mindstate that I hadn't managed very effectively....

Ideas about how I could practice with this currently-fleeting mind state?

Not likely. More likely was it was an anomaly that allowed you some insight into the true nature of reality in terms of preconceived notions about the self. If you use the experience in that way, in order to more closely examine and evaluate held notions of self and their illusory nature, it may benefit you on the path toward awakening.

Sean Lindsay:

Thoughts or speculations? Ideas about how I could practice with this currently-fleeting mind state?

If I were you, I would not necessarily look forward to repeating it anytime soon. This is not the kind of state that one needs in order to achieve self-realization. It's just the opposite, as a matter of fact. A strong sense of mental clarity established in imperturbability should be what you are ideally looking for when pursuing the process of awakening and self-realization. Not confusion or loss of identity. In other words, it is possible to be aware of the truth of anatta without experiencing a loss of identity. As for how you "might practice with this currently-fleeting mind state," re-read the second sentence in my reply directly above regarding how this experience might be used.
Sean Lindsay, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Bardo between sleep and awake

Posts: 46 Join Date: 11/3/09 Recent Posts
Ian And:
At first I was going to suggest that you may have experienced sanna-vedayita-nirodha or the "cessation of perception and feeling." But the fact that you report there was "awareness" definitively rules that out.

That leaves us with an anomaly type of experience. Something perhaps based upon underlying preconceptions or such. Or the mind working through its previously held conceptions. Awareness (or the lack thereof) of time passage during meditation can sometimes become problematic and add to the confusion of such experiences. So, it is difficult to say just what it was that you experienced. Other than, perhaps, a graphic episode of "not selfness," a moment which might be used to demonstrate to the conscious mind the truth about anatta. Now, that kind of experience, I have had before. Although it would be difficult to describe it here well enough to give it justice.


Thanks for this -- although there was a definite "self" to the experience, the re-arising of the trappings of Sean and location, etc., seemed very similar to the re-arising of the trappings of everything following emergence from the (non) exeperience of stream entry.

Ian And:
Sean Lindsay:

I can't tell what happened between 15 minutes into the session and the sudden realization that I didn't know who/where I was. I have no memory of that period of time at all. Ordinarily, I'd guess that I'd drifted off to sleep, but I didn't even have any of the usual experiences associated with sleep. It was more like coming out of anesthesia than sleep, if that makes any sense.

Were you groggy coming out of that? I ask this clarification because you mentioned, "It was more like coming out of anesthesia than sleep." My experience with coming out of anesthesia recently while in the hospital having been sedated was one of maybe not so much grogginess, but of a sense of non-clarity and non-sharpness in my mental abilities, which translated into lack of sati (mindfulness in the sense of mental alertness). That lack of mental alertness took a couple of days to get over as the drug I was given worked its way out of my blood stream, leaving me feeling listless and mildly confused. I was just wondering if you experienced anything like that. (My thought is, probably not. I'm just attempting to relate to the words you are using to describe the experience.)


Thanks for framing this. I was imprecise with my words. There was none of the grogginess associated with coming out of the anesthesia, nor of the lingering effects of anesthesia. I intended to refer only to the after-the-fact sense of time missing between the initiation of anesthesia and the point at which awareness (or at least memory of awareness) re-arises.

Ian And:
(P.S. I never want to go through such an experience again, if that's the result of being sedated. It totally leaves one mentally defenseless and vulnerable.)


Discussion for another thread, but I completely agree with you. I once made it through dental surgery without effective local anesthesia solely with breath practice, and in contemplating a future shoulder surgery that appears may be necessary, I'm wondering if I can persuade the surgeon into using only a local, and letting me manage the mind-tension via breath practice.

Ian And:
A strong sense of mental clarity established in imperturbability should be what you are ideally looking for when pursuing the process of awakening and self-realization. Not confusion or loss of identity. In other words, it is possible to be aware of the truth of anatta without experiencing a loss of identity. As for how you "might practice with this currently-fleeting mind state," re-read the second sentence in my reply directly above regarding how this experience might be used.


Very helpful. Thanks, Ian.