Driving down the freeway the other day I noticed a big store I planned to visit on the weekend, but then was conscious of nothing else for another five miles. A short while later slowing down to make my exit I wondered who was driving the car the last five minutes!
Never has such an experience come up in conversation that another does not relate similar experiences. In something of a self-hypnotized state we humans apparently are able to function normally while mentally being somewhere else. I have come to realize this practice can easily become a wide-spread habit that obscures a lot more than a few minutes. When living today becomes routine and life is imagined to only be in the future, the danger of losing one’s self has begun. Very well this is known to me from experience!
My father says that almost the whole world is asleep. Everybody you know. Everybody you see. Everybody you talk to. He says that only a few people are awake and they live in a state of constant total amazement. From “Joe Versus the Volcano”.
During my 20’s and early 30’s I was in career building mode and the struggles to get ahead kept me keenly aware of what was going on around me. Drifting off and living unconsciously happened to a much less degree then. As success came and the comfort of plenty found me I slipped more and more into unconscious living. Life to me then was all about what I was going to do when I retired early and indulged in what I was dreaming of doing. But, as John Lennon wrote “Life is what happens while you are making other plans”. I became a “Sleepwalker”.
On her blog “Personal Excellence” link Celestine Chua describes Sleepwalkers: These are people who live through their lives in an unconscious state. Being conscious isn’t about being physically awake – Many people around us are physically awake, yet living unconsciously. They are not fully aware of who they are, the larger context of life they are a part of and their real purpose in life.
Sleepwalking as Ms Chua describes it helps to at least partially explain why my 40’s and about half of my 50’s are a blur. The only direction was being headed toward something, but what I did not know. I dreamed instead of planning and could not envision what was ahead was to crash emotionally under the weight of all I tried so hard to out run. I fantasized instead doing the work in the present and in time that caught up with me. All I knew was the life I wanted was not in my possession and felt it was to be found in the future. Of course, that is delusion. Life is always happening NOW. In whatever guise and shape, what is “now” is the ONLY place “life” happens.
One of the symptoms of being a “Sleepwalker” Celestine Chua notes in her article is something I was very guilty of once upon a time: Find no time to do things you want to do. She explains Sleepwalkers are often busy all the time – they frequently complain about having a lack of time, not being able to do things they want, etc. But they do not realize they are the ones who put themselves in that position in the first place. When questioned by other people, they cannot exactly put a finger to where all the time and energy went into. Sleepwalkers are always waiting for a proverbial ‘next time’ for their goals, dreams and desires in life, but they do not realize that the ‘next time’ never comes. By the time they do, a long time has already passed, and now they switch to thinking that it’s now ‘too late’ to work on their goals.
Realizing I was just beginning to slip into some old patterns of thinking, I found the article on the “Personal Excellence” website to be a welcome wake up call. My dysfunctions of depression and compulsion are thankfully not in control these days. However, I was starting to “sleepwalk” again thinking the life I wanted was somewhere in the future. There was also a bit of playing the “too late” game with myself. By simple acknowledgement the renewed delusions are dissolving.
Reminding myself of the discoveries of five years ago is all that is needed. I am very grateful for the teaching the past gave me and for that awareness now preventing me from slipping into those old ways of being.
Knowledge is being aware that fire can burn;
wisdom is remembering the blister.