Asleep or awake?
George Clark , 13 January 2008
You can be either asleep or awake to the illusory nature of the self concept. Most people, including myself, spend most of their time asleep to it. So it is quite normal. But this is regrettable given the good things that come from being awake. In what follows I have tried to map my present understanding of the process of waking up.
There is sleeping sleep and waking sleep. Sleeping sleep can be either with or without dreams and we will not say anything more about it here. Waking sleep is a poetic concept that covers both daydreaming and more focussed patterns of thought.
During daydreaming thoughts and feelings appear, hang around for a while, and then vanish. The source can be internal or external. Internal stuff links to an imagined past and future and external stuff arrives when you expose yourself to gossip, telly, books etc. The day dreams often lead to action so as to get what you want and to avoid what you don’t want. Day dreams tend to have limited creativity. They are populated by stereotypes and habits and, in responding to them, you are like a robot.
Sometimes you are able to focus your thoughts and to concentrate on a particular idea or task for an extended period of time. During such times you tend to be unaware of ‘self’ with its likes and dislikes. This can be very comfortable. You can even have flashes of the numinous and feel that the ‘muse’ is speaking through you. This can be exceedingly comfortable. It is therefore understandable that many people are workaholics addicted to busy-ness so that they lose themselves in their work. But few people really know what is going on. They do not have insight. They are still asleep.
Those who are awake are more in control of what goes on in their mind. They are less robotic and more authentic. They notice what is being noticed and think about thinking. There are the possibilities of being the witness and also of being one-pointed. It is then possible to have insight into our ‘true’ nature.
There is the Hindu image of a bird on a branch eating fruit and of a second bird watching the first. You can be like that. You can be witness to what you are thinking and feeling. And this can be with or without labelling the stuff that appears. The idea is just to notice, label and let go. Remain aloof and unattached to the stuff of dreams.
With practice, witnessing leads to easy one-pointedness and stillness of mind. This can be with or without insight. When the mind has been rushing, the ‘without insight’ version is handy as it brings calm (ie give attention totally to the breathing). Once calm you can move on to the ‘with insight’ version where you allow attention to linger with a particular thought or feeling. There is then an intuitive, concentrated and self-less appreciation of the interpenetrating Oneness and thus of the peace that passes all understanding.
For most people the peace comes while sitting on the meditation cushion. The goal, however, is to take the peace into the everyday world. Mindfulness provides the key. Be awake to the possibility of being asleep. When you notice that you have gone to sleep in the imagined past and future then wake up to the here and now. When washing the dishes just selflessly wash the dishes – reality is no more or less.
“The beginning of freedom is the realisation that you are not the possessing entity – the thinker. Knowing this enables you to be the entity. The moment you start watching the thinker, a higher level of consciousness become activated.”
(Eckhart Tolle (1999) The Power of Now)
Don’t just do something
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