I have been practicing meditation for 5 years. I have noticed over the last month that I’m going out of conscious. I have been completely relaxed and sometimes I see something I can't remember. Sometimes I just come back to consciousness without any notice. I can’t control it. It feels like I’m refreshed and reborn after I’m back to my normal consciousness. What kind of state am I going through?

—Hariprasath, India


Dear Hariprasath,

Losing consciousness while meditating is a very nuanced experience. It can mean that upon returning to ordinary consciousness after meditation we have no recollection of the time spent in meditation. Alternatively, it can simply mean that during a high state of inner awareness, we were not conscious of our body or surroundings.

In the first case, we can’t really call it meditation. In classes I teach on meditation I will say to students “If you don’t know where you went during meditation, you didn’t go ‘there’!” (Meaning you didn’t achieve a true state of meditation.)

Losing consciousness during meditation can be described as a series of semi-conscious states including trance states. My statement to meditation students is simple and helpful to most beginning meditation students but, in fact, senior meditators can experience more nuanced states.

Dhyana, or true meditation, is a state of higher awareness during which we feel more alive and more aware than we can ever be during ordinary, waking consciousness. While in such states we might lose touch with time or the body or our surroundings; we never lose consciousness as such.

When we return to ordinary consciousness from dhyana, there’s not the sense that we don’t know where our consciousness was or that we can’t remember what happened. By contrast, it is possible to fall into a subconscious state or even a trance state of seemingly complete unconscious awareness. Such states may happen and are not necessarily problematic, but they should not be sought out, as true meditation is a higher state of awareness.

During these lower states, we don’t have any true spiritual experiences, though we might feel deeply relaxed and refreshed. For most meditators, the issue is one of becoming subconscious, falling into a dream-like, perhaps pleasant, sleep state or simply falling to sleep altogether.

As you begin meditation and go through your practice, keep your eyes upraised, gazing through the point between the eyebrows. This will help keep you aware. When we drop into conscious or sub-conscious states, the eyes ALWAYS drop from their upward gazing position.

Thus, remaining in contact and awareness of your eyes upraised, will not only be important for meditation but will help you very much with avoiding falling into lower states, pleasant though they may be. (There are some dangers associated with these trance-like states, but my sense is that for now you just need to work on staying focused and self-aware during meditation.)

If you feel sleepiness coming over you, open your eyes and then squeeze them shut and open repeatedly. If necessary, stand and stretch. Be sure that before meditation you have had sufficient “hydration” (water-drinking) and I recommend doing some yoga stretches before sitting. Paramhansa Yogananda taught a series of movements with tension and relaxation (“tension” or Energization Exercises) that are excellent preparations for meditation.

Lastly, sometimes these falling asleep-type experiences are a passing phase in our lives of meditation. But no matter the cause or circumstances, this habit is one you want to avoid and end as soon as possible.

Losing consciousness while meditating is not to be confused with the cessation of thoughts, mental images, or the ebb and flow of emotions. Patanjali, in his now famous Yoga Sutras, defines the desired state of yoga-union in terms of the quieting or cessation of mental activity. But this doesn’t necessitate loss of consciousness. There is confusion among teachers and writers of meditation on this point.

While a trance state is a state where consciousness is suspended or lost, a true meditation state is a state of consciousness transcending dependence on brain activity. Often in the language associated with Buddhism, meditation is in terms of negation but this doesn’t have to imply loss of awareness or consciousness.

The goal of our incarnation in human form is to achieve Oneness with the Spirit both immanent in creation and, simultaneously, transcendent of all creation, motion, and vibration. OK?

Blessings and Light!
Nayaswami Hriman
Seattle WA USA

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