Recently I read a wonderful text by my husband's Tai Chi instructor called Tiziano Grandi (inspired by works of Gurdjieff). According to him we are not as it may appear dividing our time between hours when we are awake and asleep but simply dividing our asleep time between periods of mobility (up) and immobility (bed). We are it seems permanently in a state of sleep - which makes me realize just how appropriate the word "awakening" is to indicate a "higher" spiritual state.
It was to my horror that one day (although I am ashamed to say I fully related to what she was saying) my eldest daughter piped up with "the thing I like doing the most is SLEEPING".
Now I have always highly valued sleep. My afternoon naps for me are a font of rejuvenation and pleasure. I sleep on average 6 hours a night but yearn for more. It seems that we often relegate moments of peacefulness and calm to when we are in fact asleep and totally "switched off" (what a shame), hence we hanker after it (sleep) as though it were the holy grail and suffer terribly when we're ready for it but it is elusive: leaving us with insomnia and a constant state of agitation.
Once I heard a Buddhist monk reply to a disciple who was bemoaning the lack of sleep: "SLEEP? you want to SLEEP?! You can sleep when you're DEAD!"
Making me realize how much I'm wasting the time I spend post-lunch dozing off on the sofa.
When Tiziano Grandi talks about being alseep whilst mobile/vertical (for most of us during day-light hours) it means not being conscious of the fact that WE ARE at any one given time. To be fully awake means being totally aware of our existence here and now. Sounds easy huh? Whereas in actual fact we are, as he calls it, trapped in a cage (our body) that works obediently FOR us but not necessarily WITH us ( we are constantly distracted and detached mentally from what task our body has at hand).
There was a wonderful cartoon in the New Yorker recently. Writing it rather than showing it is not easy - but I'll give it a shot.
In the first frame of three we see a man hunched over and working at a computer. In his think bubble he is thinking about a game of golf. Next we see him on the golf course and in his think bubble he is thinking about sex. Next we see him in bed having sex, and in his think bubble he is thinking about himself back working infront of his computer. And round and round we go.
This is I think the biggest problem we have today. WE ARE NOT EXPERIENCING WHAT WE ARE DOING. EXACTLY LIKE WHEN WE ARE ASLEEP.
How can we retrain our brain and mind to tap into this wonderful commodity - being AWARE?
One way is to remember to observe ourselves and here's a little task Tiziano sets out for us Awareness Beginners:
Choose an action that you do often and repeatedly throughout a given period of time during the day (but you have to stipulate a SET amount of time for this task - don't attempt it ALL day as you will dilute the effect. It's like learning to play the violin - you wouldn't immediately start off practicing ALL DAY. Take it in bite sized chunks at first - perhaps two hours to start with.)
Choose an action such as;
getting up from a chair
answering the phone
When you wake up in the morning say to yourself "today whilst in the office I will remember to observe myself every time I ......" and for arguments sake we'll use "open a door" as an example, (but I repeat only for a few hours at first).
SO every time your hand goes to a door handle actively think "I am present, I am aware that I am opening the door ..." Notice allthe sensations of opening the door, how you feel inside and also what that moment is like externally. At the end of your designated time period or even at the end of the day, try to recall how many of door openings you remembered to remain aware. Think "How many times did I say "I am aware of opening the door"? If hardly any, it means you are not only UNaware when opening the door but probably UNaware of doing all the million things required of you during the whole time you are awake ("operative"). So you've just spent the last 24 hours being asleep effectively. Scary isn't it? Anyway....at first you may remember to observe yourself possibly only 30% of the time, then slowly as you get used to it, this percentage will increase.
I maintain that being aware is a right-brained task. Most of us are hugely left-brained dominant but luckliy our brains are extremely plastic and we can re-train our brain to become more right-hemisphere friendly, through tasks like the one mentioned above. It takes time, patience and persistence to learn anything new, for our brain to learn new habits, but i can't think of anything more more worthwhile learning than awareness - and ("right-centerdness" )because being aware means being AWAKE, being truely awake means EXPERIENCING, and experiencing everything to the full means LIVING (to the full).
For your homework this week I invite you to;
Set yourself the "door opening task" as described here above and
On the yoga mat;
During your yoga class, every time your hands come down to the yoga mat, think "I am aware of my hands being on the mat" and EXPERIENCE it.
For more about Tiziano Grandi go to his website here: