Wednesday, December 9, 2015

A Deep Sleep

"Waking Up"
- Art the Desert Retreat House -

Last night I slept so soundly that I had a hard time waking up and getting out of bed this morning. As I brushed the sleep from my eyes and tried to rouse myself to begin another day I had this flash of insight about how and why the spiritual life is so often referred to as a process of waking up from the deep sleep of isolation and self-centeredness.

Buddhist practitioner and Christian theologian, Paul Knitter, puts it this way:

Moving beyond our own limited individual sense of self
was both for Jesus and Buddha essential to the process of what
Buddha called ‘waking up’ and what Jesus termed ‘conversion.’

As I reflect on it, it seems to me that lots of people have fallen into a deep spiritual sleep in today’s popular culture, especially nowadays in these times of fear and terror. Many have retreated into the protective and insulated caves of their own isolate egos and settled in for a long winter’s nap in their own little world, protected against and oblivious to anything or anyone outside the cave.

Often times people gather up all their many things with them to go to sleep inside their cave- all their attachments to their stuff, their ideas, their ambitions.

Sometimes people retreat inside so as to hide and protect their stuff, at other times people retreat inside their cave because they are fearful of all the terror and the chaos in the world and so they promote building walls to keep out refugees and rant about closing borders to keep away “foreigners” and “strangers” who may pose danger.

It seems to me that many people are sleeping rather soundly nowadays hidden away in their own tiny guarded protective world, so very oblivious to the joy of what it means to be fully alive – to be fully alive means to be connected beyond our own limited individual sense of self, to be fully alive means to be awake to the truth that we are a web of relationship and that when we sleep inside our caves we miss the joy that life has to offer.

There is an interesting legend in the Buddhist literature about a question that a disciple once posed to the Buddha.

One of his students asked the Buddha, ‘Are you a god?’
‘No,’ answered the Buddha.
‘Then are you a healer?’ ‘No,’ the Buddha replied. 
‘Then are you a teacher?’ The Buddha answered, ‘No, I am not a teacher.’
‘Then what are you?’ asked the exasperated student.  And the Buddha replied:
‘I am awake.’

When I woke up this morning from my sound sleep I remembered one of my favorite favorite morning prayers. It seems to me as if this prayer could be said any time of day by any one of us who want to brush the sleep from our eyes and wake up to live more fully:

O You in whom we live and move and have our being,
we have been asleep too long.
Heal the unseeing part of our lives and lead us to our awakening places.
Open the doors of our hearts, the windows of our souls, the walls of our minds.
Awaken us to hope.
Awaken us to joy.
Awaken us to love.


  1. Thanks Paul. I often find it hard to see when I am caught up in the land of my 'self'. But a question that helps is 'am I taking this personally?' It seems to help me gain a little awareness of when I'm defensive, or puffing myself up. It's a hard one for me so thanks for some illumination. xxx