Asleep or Awake?

We introduce readers to our Awaken 101 book by asking: Are you Asleep or Awake? If you had to answer this question, one way or the other, right now, how would you respond? Granted, this may seem like a silly question. After all, if you are reading this paragraph, your eyes are open, so you must be awake. And, yet, if you’ve engaged with the book, you will surely know that the extent to which we are caught up in our patterns and routines, we run the risk of sleepwalking through our days, asleep to what’s happening now, and now, and now.

If you aren’t sure if this might be the case for you, just think about what yesterday was like for you. Can you remember that first moment you woke up and opened your eyes? What was that like? How did you feel? You then got up, made your way into the bathroom and looked in the mirror. Were you able to greet yourself with a smile, grateful for the gift of a new day? What happened the rest of that morning, in the afternoon, and into the evening? Who did you meet, speak to, encounter? If you struggle to recall the parts of your days, that’s okay! Consider that it’s not because you have a limited short-term memory; instead, perhaps the main reason that you might struggle to remember is the amount of attentiveness and awareness—or lack there of—you brought to what was unfolding, minute by minute?

To cultivate a greater sense of awareness—i.e. aliveness—requires only that you slow down and bring your attention to the here and now. You can do this by bringing awareness to the feel of the chair that you’re sitting on, or the wind blowing gently upon your face, or grass beneath your bare feet. One of the most fun ways to experiment with greater attentiveness, though, is through awakened eating.

Awakened Eating

Author and mindfulness teacher, Jon Kabat-Zinn, uses a simple exercise to help people bring presence and awareness to the act of eating. It goes like this:         

We give everybody three raisins and we eat them one at a time, paying attention to what we are actually doing and experiencing from moment to moment. First, we bring our attention to seeing one raisin, observing it carefully as if we had never seen one before. We feel its texture between our fingers and notice its colors and surfaces. We are also aware of any thoughts we might be having about raisins or food in general. We note any thoughts and feelings of liking or disliking raisins if they come up while we are looking at [the raisin]. We then smell it for a while and finally, with awareness, we bring it to our lips, being aware of the arm moving the hand to position it correctly and of salivating as the mind and body anticipate eating. The process continues as we take [the raisin] into our mouth and chew it slowly, experiencing the actual taste of one raisin. And when we feel ready to swallow, we watch the impulse to swallow as it comes up, so that even that is experienced consciously. We even imagine, or “sense,” that our bodies are now one raisin heavier.[i]

It’s not enough to just read Kabat-Zinn’s instructions for awakened eating.  If it’s true awakening that you seek, place three raisins on a plate “and eat them one at a time, paying attention to what you are actually doing and experiencing from moment to moment…”

Please know that the intent of the questions and practices provided here is to aid you in exploring how Awake or Asleep you might be to your life. The more aware of deadening routines and patterned sleepwalking you are, the greater the chance that these realizations can act as a WAKE-UP call propelling us all into an ever-expanding experience of what it means to be fully human.

Paying Attention to your
Breathing and Beating Heart

It is the life force concentrated in our bodies, especially in our chest region that gives us the capacity to be alive and present, moment-by-moment to our lives. You can explore this right now by lying on your back, placing your open hand gently on your belly and noting the rising of your belly with each in breath and the falling of your belly with each exhalation. As you settle in, consider accompanying your breath with these words from Thich Nhat Hanh:

"Breathing in, I calm myself.
Breathing out, I smile.
Dwelling in the present moment (in breath)
I know this is the only moment (out breath)"

Then, when the time feels right, lift your hand from your belly and place it on your wrist so that you can feel the pulse of your heart. Your body breathing and beating… animating you… enlivening you. Notice… Relax… Open… Soften.

Finally, still on your back, move your hands down to your sides, and relax further until you begin to become aware of each beat of your heart. Be patient with yourself. With awareness comes awakening.

The Wonder of Awakening—Melissa’s Experience

To awaken, of course, is to open fully to the present moment. In this vein, recall my (Melissa’s) story, on pages 16-17 of Awaken 101, when I was on a winter weekend retreat with a small group of Penn State students and, together, we howled to the moon and danced in the January snow. This extraordinary experience hinged on us really, truly, being there. We weren’t thinking about that big test on Monday, or what our friends back home might think, or how much more fun it would be to be some place warmer. We were right there in that cold, snow-covered marshland, present to the sliver of moon in the darkness, awake to the energy flowing through, in, and around us.

Sometimes, however, this kind of presence can be hard to step into. Too many people or devices or advertisements are vying for our attention, too many responsibilities or tasks or chores need to be met or completed, and the stress pushes us to go, go, go! We just don’t have the space or time to be deeply dialed into the present moment. Or do we? All it takes is a pause, one pause, to tune into one’s breath and beating heart. That second, that one moment of connection to our very aliveness, has the power to catapult us out of the often mad race of doing and into the generative depth of being, wherein lies the possibility for awakening.

Project: Walking on Water*

What we are unwilling to experience limits our lives. I’ll say this again, but in a more direct way: What I/YOU are unwilling to experience limits MY/YOUR life. For example, if one is afraid of failing, they will shy away from taking risks; if one worries about what other people think of them, they will conform to the status-quo.

When fear is given in to, it diminishes aliveness. This need not be. As a way of confronting fear, we challenge you (as we do ourselves) to summon the courage to Walk on Water—i.e.,to do something that seems impossible—to commit a miracle!

To explore what walking on water might look like for you, create a space in your Awaken 101 Journal and proceed to complete the following open sentences:

If only I had the guts, I would ___________

If I didn’t care about how people might judge me, I would ___________

If I weren’t worried about my future I would ___________

Fill in each of these sentences three times, coming up with no less than nine Walking on Water possibilities. Then, use your completed sentences to  guide you toward an action that, for you, would truly feel like walking on water—i.e., something that you regard as terrifically challenging—and then take the plunge and do it!  

Coaching: In the process of ruminating over your various walking on water options, there will likely be one, in particular, that has you thinking: “No, not that; I absolutely cannot do that one!”  This certainty means it is exactly the one that will offer you the most challenges, growth, and chances to awaken!

*Inspired by: Derrick Jensen

"There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. If you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost. The world will not have it. It is not yours to determine how good it is; nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep the channel open."

- Martha Graham

"It turns out that for me, unlocking the doors to my heart is a feat similar to Walking on Water.”  

- Peter Yu, Steppingstone #1 Guide

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