Is there awareness in the absence of perceptions? - Francis Answers - 60

Francis Lucille

Francis You say: “Upon close scrutiny you will find out that consciousness exists both during the presence of the mind (as its witness) and in its absence (as the continuous background of all perceptions).” Are you defining mind and perceptions as different experiences or different levels of experience? When you say mind do you mean thought only? It appears to me that there is never ‘not witnessing’ in the waking hours. There is never ‘not-objects’ in the waking hours. The waking hours is equal to the appearance of objects and experiences and their witnessing, or is that not necessarily so? If witnessing and objects can cease completely in the waking hours that would mean that we would be absolutely unconscious of the world at times. Is that the case? The only time when mind or perception appear to be absent is in deep sleep. There seems to be no witnessing in deep sleep. But there is awareness in the absence of experience. Or is the ‘absence of experience’ in deep sleep, in itself an experience that is witnessed? Am I missing something and complicating something simple? Thank you for any input you may offer, Francis. Felipe

Dear Felipe,

All of your questions hinge upon the experience of pure consciousness without objects. I define mind as that which is objectively perceived in human experience: thoughts, dreams, body sensations, feelings, external sense perceptions. In fact mind is a concept, an inference; we don’t experience it directly, we experience only perceptions, “mentations”. You are correct when you say that the waking state implies the appearance of objects and experiences (mentations) and their witnessing. However, this doesn’t preclude the possibility of the experience of consciousness without objects. If there is such an apperception, it must simply be external to the waking state. In fact it must take place out of space and out of time. Since there are no perceptions during this apperception, and since the mind can only memorize perceptions (memories are perceptions), there will be no objective recollection of it. Seen from the vantage point of the mind, such an experience will appear as a “gap” with no duration, just as, upon waking up from anesthesia, it seems that the entire medical procedure has lasted only for a fraction of a second, nay, zero second. There is no duration during such an experience. The sense of duration requires the presence of evolving objects and their memories. We tend to negate the reality of an instantaneous experience of this kind.

Do we experience such instantaneous apperceptions? Let’s consider the following scenario: we think of a pink elephant (thought 1) and then the thought arises: what a strange thought that was, thinking of a pink elephant! (thought 2). Thought 2 is not the continuation of thought 1. Something has happened between thoughts 1 and 2, an event that we could formulate by saying “I suddenly became aware that I was thinking of a pink elephant”. When did that “becoming aware” take place? Obviously not during thought 1, for we were then aware of a pink elephant, not yet of being aware of a pink elephant. Not during thought 2, for the “becoming aware” had to occur prior to the thought that describes it. We have to conclude that neither thought 1 nor thought 2 were present when this recognition occurred. This discontinuity in our perceptive experience is more than a simple gap during which nothing occurs, the thought that was provisionally suspended resuming without significant change at the end of the gap, but a real shift during which some important transformation has occurred in the mind.

What was then present during this absence of the mind? Obviously I, awareness, was present; during this “becoming” aware we became aware of our witnessing of the thought. The discontinuity of the perceived establishes the continuity of the perceiving awareness. This objective emptiness was subjective fullness. We didn’t change identity during this shift. The witnessing of the object dissolved in the witnessing of the witness. You will realize that these shifts are in fact extremely frequent in our ordinary experience. We don’t notice because they don’t leave traces in our memory. Let’s take a few more examples for you to consider: the understanding of a joke or of a complex line of reasoning, the sudden ending of a night dream upon waking up, our being suddenly moved to tears by an act of compassion we are the witness of or by the beauty of a piece of music.

However, as we return to ordinary objective perception, we believe that the shift occurred in the mind, whereas the mind was in fact absent during the apperception, and could not have been a witness of it. The mind is in this case a pretender and a false witness which has a hard time picturing its own absence.This belief of the mind falsely relocates this apperception in time and confines it to a limited mind This is the root of ignorance.

If, relying on our own experience, we follow that line of reasoning and understand it, we will be open to the possibility that awareness has its abode beyond the mind, beyond space and time, and that it is therefore real and eternal. Our attention will be drawn again and again to this glimpse until we abide knowingly in infinite awareness both in the presence and in the absence of mentations.