If we investigate the sense of self, the sense of me, we find stories, images, thoughts and sensations, but no solid, discrete entity. And if we turn toward the awaring presence that is beholding all of this, there is no-thing there. There is simply this present happening Here / Now that has no boundaries or seams, no beginning or end, no inside or outside.
So this sense of “me” boils down to the impersonal (or transpersonal, unencapsulated, unbound) sense of being present, being aware, being Here / Now. And yet, we might notice that every night in deep sleep, even this first SENSE of impersonal presence or awareness disappears along with the entire movie of waking life and the one who watches and cares about that movie. ALL of this is gone. We can imagine that death is exactly like falling asleep—everything perceivable and conceivable disappears and no one is left over to miss it!
But then the thought may arise, “Yes, but…with deep sleep, we wake up again, whereas with death, maybe we don’t ever wake up again.” And that thought sounds scary, as if we would still be there, knowing that we’re not waking up—like being buried alive, unable to turn the TV back on and find out what happens next in The Story of My Life! In our fear that there might be “NOTHING” after death (eeeekkk!), we come up with all sorts of IDEAS about what survives death, typically imagining some kind of individual soul or discrete unit of consciousness that leaves the body and goes to heaven or reincarnates in a new body. But what exactly is it that would reincarnate intact? Can we find this soul, this separate unit of consciousness that we think of as “me”? If there never has been a separate, independent, persisting bodymind in the first place, what is there to reincarnate, and what is there to die?
We all have the deep intuition that something remains both in deep sleep and in death, that there is not “just nothing.” In fact, it is only when we identify as a separate, persisting fragment (a separate, independent bodymind) or even as this SENSE of aware presence, that we worry about any of this coming to a permanent end. When we recognize the emptiness of everything (the boundlessness, the seamlessness, the undivided wholeness, the nondualism), the fear of death no longer makes sense, for we no longer imagine ourselves as a separate fragment or even as this SENSE of being present. That presence is an aspect of what we are, an aspect of the totality, but even that comes and goes.