There are many states that can give you a false impression of meditation or real state. Let's explore these traps!
Many people face these obstacles and waste months and years in these traps, mistaking these states as Meditation or the Goal of Spiritual Journey. When you start on your spiritual journey and learn to be Meditative you need to know these false states so you can save yourself. Here I am also explaining how to come out of these traps, in case you are into it.
SLEEP OR DROWSINESS
The first problem that many people face is that they sleep briefly in the duration of the meditation. When they wake up at first it feels confusing but because of refreshed feeling they mistake it with meditation and feel as if their meditation is broken instead of realizing that they were asleep and now are waking up. Some seekers allow their mind to drift into a passive state of drowsiness and imagine that they are immersed in deep Meditation. Meditation is not drowsiness; on the contrary, Meditation involves an intense activity of the entire mind to keep it steadily poised and concentrated on Chitta. The mind during Meditation is more like a spinning top which, though apparently stationary, is revolving at top speed. Like Fan, blades become invisible when the fan is at top speed. The stillness of Mind during Meditation is the "highest level of activity".
Why sleep happens when you are trying to meditate?
You need to understand that you have Vasanas (Chitta-Vritti or Sanskaras or Past Impressions) in your Chitta. These Vasanas are all the time creating noise and nonsense in your mind, body and emotions. Vasanas do not care whether you are eating, walking, crying, sleeping or meditating, they will be full-on playing push & pull on all your Koshas, Chakras, Systems etc that you have. When you are busy and doing any mental or physical work or are busy riding the waves of your emotions/feelings then "mind" stays involved with those activities or events.
When you are trying to meditate, your body is relatively still, your emotions are kind of OK, so your "mind" is not so much involved in anything external, hence it feels relaxed because finally, mind got some break from physical, mental & emotional activity on the name of meditation, perhaps which it was not getting earlier. In this relaxation, the mind tends to drift into a reverie, but since you know you are meditating you stop letting your mind wander and get lost into thoughts or day-dreaminess and when you struggle with this, you actually involuntarily drift into sleep.
Yes, this sleep is involuntary. This whole effect is actually the play of Tamas Guna.
Few things can be done to prevent this:
Advice for Over Active People:
Slow down in life. Yes, stop being way too much physically, mentally, emotionally busy.
Do not deprive yourself of sleep. Make sure you are getting enough sleep. Only relaxed body, mind and emotions can let you really be meditative. Instead of Meditation, for few months just do Pranayam to balance the energy within, to calm down your body, mind & emotions.
Advice for Less Active People:
If you have a less active, sedentary life style then also you will drift into drowsiness or sleep on the name of meditation. If that's the case then please become Active first, go get a job, do something, be independent, do social work, be involved in some activity, which will trigger the Rajas Guna in you and will burn the Tamas.
Start with gentle Pranayam and then do the Kriya Yoga instead of sitting and meditating.
When you have done all the above then it will be natural to "maintain awareness or consciousness" during meditation and sleep or drowsiness will not happen.
Always remember Meditation is something very natural, very soft, gentle, easy to happen, yet totally unlike sleep or laziness or drowsiness. It's not a war or some kind of mind conquering effort or mind/thoughts escape plan. If it seems like that at any moment, then please don't do it. Stop right there, else you will fall into another, deeper trap. Give yourself a break of a few hours, days, weeks, or months and then try again or try other ways to be meditative.
BLISS OF LAYA or MANOLAYA
This is such a dangerous trap because falling into this one feels so content, joyful, blissful hence coming out of it is difficult. It is known as Laya or Manolaya. Some people also call it Laya Samadhi means Fake Samadhi.
It is really like a Cage or Prison with all possible comforts in it. You feel so content that there seems no point in leaving it or breaking this state or not entering into it again. It is addictive.
Why Laya happens when you are trying to meditate?
When you try to meditate and your body, mind, emotions are substantially relaxed and involuntary sleep is not happening then "thoughts" happen to you. You start "fighting" with these thoughts, either by replacing one thought with another or by ignoring all thoughts. After constant effort with thoughts, your mind starts "sinking" means your consciousness starts leaving the "thought-plane" altogether and "subsidence of mind" means Laya happens. It is also called as "Forceful Suppression of Thoughts". Many people meditate using a Yantra, Mantra or some other Object or Sound. In that case, mind is focused on "one thing" as many people think this is the One-Pointedness of the mind, sorry it is not. So, yes through this so-called one-pointedness when one is successfully able to suppress the thoughts then Laya happens.
Now, whether you suppress the thoughts forcefully or you dissolve the mind/thoughts through meditation in both cases one feels the bliss or joy. And it is a high content situation. You may think this is the purpose, this is why we meditate, this is why we walk the spiritual path, this is the goal. The more you practice Laya, or the more it happens to you, the more you actually go away from the goal of your spiritual journey.
Laya happens to those who have really high Rajas Guna. Means they are hell-bent upon Do or Die and their Spiritual Journey is being pursued by Ego not by Buddhi. When Ego is on Spiritual Journey, Ego wants results one after the other because Ego wants proof that something is happening, something is being achieved, because Ego has no faith of what is being done without seeing positive results. The Judge Ego also wants something bad or negative to happen to finally get out of this whole Spiritual Game and the other face, the Seeker Ego fights from within and finally the fight results in "win-win" situation, where Judge Ego feels satisfied because it is in Bliss, Joy, Love and Seeker Ego feels satisfied because it feels as if spiritual journey is still going on and the Judge Ego did not stop it.
Yes, Ego can take up as many faces, roles as necessary in any given situation. Ego starts spiritual journey because you have some agendas for spiritual life/results. You/Ego has some goals to be achieved. This could be the case with many Novice Seekers. A Novice Seeker may not be seeking because he/she understands what Moksha is? He/She may not know why one should pursue Moksha? In the beginning spiritual journey maybe a retreat for them from other battles of life. It may be something good, valid, dignified and meaningful, purposeful.
When spiritual journey is pursued by the Buddhi then getting any intermediate results do not matter, Buddhi has faith that yes I am on the right path whether it seems like that or not. Buddhi doesn't get into the fight with Ego and hence Judge Ego or Seeker Ego are not formed. Buddhi stands tall like a Master and step by step Ego the Slave learns it's place. When Buddhi awakens and spiritual journey is pursued then it is the "most precious" thing to do and the "only" thing to do. Buddhi can also put one into Do or Die situation, but it's different than Ego, because it is full of Wisdom.
Few things can be done about this: Do not blame yourself for feeling content with Bliss & Joy that it gives you. Do not feel guilty about it.
There is nothing wrong about the Bliss and Joy that you are feeling. Instead, question yourself as to - What made you think or believe that Bliss & Joy/Love are the goal? How did you come up with Bliss and Joy as a Goal? The goal is Self-Realization, Enlightenment, Moksha, Nirvana. Not Bliss & Joy. Everywhere it is explained that Bliss & Joy & Love are the "byproducts" of the spiritual journey, they are not the goal. Question yourself because you need to find that attachment, that hook within yourself which you attached to Bliss, Joy, Love instead of attaching it to Moksha or Nirvana.
Question yourself to figure out why were you trying to catch these silly worms (Bliss/Joy/Love) by casting an Ocean-wide net instead of catching the Ultimate Whale Fish? Or is it that you didn't expect or want to achieve Moksha in the first place? Or is it that your definition of Moksha was not correct? You can say that your teachers misguided you, but always remember until "you have that hook within yourself" you can't be attached to anything good or bad, right or wrong. Understand that it's not just the bliss, joy, love (in other words Anandamaya Kosha) that is keeping you trapped in Laya, but it is that hook within, that wrong association of goal within that is keeping you hooked to it. It could be that you/your ego is simply scared to face an uncomfortable, painful situation of Vasana Release, or ego/mind doesn't want to face it's own Death (Self-Realization). Fear of Self-Realization, Fear of death or I-Thought can also trap you in Laya.
Once you find that "incorrect association", that "hook within" then it will be easier to fix the situation. If your eyes are on clouds you will see the clouds, but if despite seeing clouds you know within that you are looking for the "Sun" then clouds will not distract you. They will be there, but will not have much impact on you, because you know your goal is Sun. After you fix all the above please do not blame yourself or anyone for this, please do not feel guilty about it at all. At least your eyes were on the clouds though you missed seeing Sun, there are billions of those who are still looking at their feet and haven't learned to look up. And time is eternal, so no need to be sorry about it, for long. Sounds paradoxical? It is not :-)
Novice Spiritual Seekers can avoid this by "not" forcefully subsiding the thoughts through Sound or Light or anything else. It is not wrong to Meditate using Yantra, Mantra or any other Light, Sound, Object but when the presence of such things causes denial or suppression of "presence of thoughts" then you got it all wrong. Presence of thoughts needs to be accepted as is when it happens along with focusing on Yantra, Mantra, Light, Sound, any other Object. As I said before, Meditation is something very gentle and soft thing to happen. It is not a forceful effort of any kind. If it seems like you are making too much effort then stop right there, don't do it.
You want to become Meditative and it can be achieved in so many ways. By removing Vasanas from Manomaya Kosha, by doing Kriya Yoga, by doing Self-Enquiry to cross-question & analyze every persistent thought & emotion. You don't have to do it by sitting and closing your eyes or focus somewhere and try to do it.
SHOONYA OR VOID
After long successful spiritual practice a spiritual seeker is able to extinguish thoughts and there comes a void, a blankness which is commonly termed as Shoonya/Shunya or Void. To the spiritual seeker, it may feel as if nothing is left to do as if it's all done. Once thoughts are gone what else could be there? It may feel as if "Mind & all Vasanas" are gone too. It feels as if you have achieved that Golden State of Nothingness.
This Void or Shoonya is "Empty or Blank" unlike the Nothingness which one goes through before and/or during Self-Realization.
That Nothingness is not empty, blank and doesn't give you a feeling as if everything is done. Instead, that Nothingness is very much pregnant with high subtle actions which are very easily perceived/known and there is a wisdom to tell you "where" you are on your journey and "what" is going on. This Void or Shoonya which feels "empty/blank" is not "The End", while real Nothingness is surely a sign that The Happy Ending is close enough.
When this empty/blank void is being "experienced" by the Spiritual Seeker, means an Experiencer is Alive within. While in the Real Nothingness, the seeker is "Being Nothing" and Nothingness is not being perceived by an Experiencer, means there is no experiencer or bhogi within.
Why is Empty/Blank Void mistaken with Real Nothingness?
Because one "small" thing is common in both of them, the absence of thoughts! But that doesn't mean the "Thinker/Experiencer" of thoughts is gone too. All of us in the human body have spent years and lifetimes in "Experiencing" one thing or the other. We do not know "how to just be". We do not know what it means and how it is when "Experiencer or Thinker or Knower or Bhukta or Bhogi" is not there. The absence of "doings" of the "doer" doesn't guarantee the "absence of doer". There are many politicians in the world who don't do anything at all and are just a silent puppet sort of, but that doesn't mean they do not exist. So mind (Manas, Aham, Chitta) may not be producing thoughts anymore, or you may have distanced yourself from the thoughts, but that doesn't mean "Aham/Ego/I" doesn't exist.
When the "doer or experiencer" is truly gone, it doesn't create a bland boring blankness. The absence of Experiencer or Doer is a fully alive, awakened, highly energetic, joyful, playful, and much more DYNAMIC and ACTIVE state.
When the experiencer or doer is alive then doings are very limited and mostly extends to physical and mental planes only. But when experiencer or doer is dissolved, the limitations are dissolved too, hence Being is Highly Active with entire Cosmos, all elements, everything seen or unseen and so much more. Being is in interaction with Whole Cosmos.
If you are "bored of your void or shoonya" then "an experiencer or doer is alive in you" means there is someone to be bored, and that means you haven't yet achieved the Real Nothingness or Shoonya or Void.
This problem can also happen because many seekers have heard and studied so much about every state or stage through all possible scriptures that now whenever something happens within them they are in a hurry to conclude their journey. They are in a hurry to come up with the declaration that they are done.
Yet, there might be some who genuinely struggle with this stage and do not know how to come out.
Few things can be done about this:
During your meditation "question yourself" as to who is witnessing this Void? Find the answer first and then find that witness. Know that you are the witness, you are the perceiver, you are the experiencer of this Void, this Blankness. Now find yourself, find that perceiver, find that experiencer of the void, find the one who is experiencing the blankness or absence of thoughts.
Remember one thing when one experiences the Real Nothingness or Real Shoonya or Void then it "screams loudly on your face, in your ears, in your whole existence". It is "doubtless". During your Spiritual Journey please do not be in a hurry to derive conclusions, instead, let the whole Divine Cosmos yell on your face, let the Divine Cosmos prove it to you that THAT, Supreme Consciousness has descended in you. Why ask for proof from any other person, or anyone else? Wait, you will have Doubtless knowing. Why? The whole pursuit of the spiritual journey is about being 100% conscious then what kind of Consciousness it would be which is not conscious about itself? So let the Universe tell you. Remember Shakyamuni Buddha placed his bowl into the river and asked: "If I am Enlightened/Self-Realized, if I am done then this bowl will swim up against the river flow and it did".
That doubtless knowing within can descend in you after few days, weeks or a month, but it does happen and yet before it happens if you want proof, it can be given to you by the Universe. I was not in a hurry, I was good with however many years my quest might have taken, still, without even asking, I got many such proofs, before the awareness became aware of the fact of what has happened or in other words when it did not matter as there was no one within to look for proof. So what's the hurry? We do not Realize the Self to prove something to the humans around us. Our Spiritual Journey is never about someone else. It's something very personal between you and the Divine Cosmos.
Don't be in a hurry to be "done". Please have patience. Life & Time both are Eternal. What's waiting for you "after Self Realization" for which you want to be done sooner than later? What is it that you have to get done after Self-Realization?
Nothing! You won't be You at all.
Then who wants to be done sooner than later? Who in you is keeping time?
Regardless of what obstacle you face please do not leave your path, do not leave your spiritual practice unless your Guru advises you so.