- dawn in the desert -
Just as I was waking up this morning, in that period where I wasn’t yet fully conscious, I had a sudden flash of memory taking me back to the time when I was about 6 years old. I gave my parents the scare of their life back then by sleepwalking in the middle of the night. Somehow, in my sleep I had managed to walk outdoors. Eventually I made my way to the front door of our house and rang the doorbell to get back inside (of course I don’t have any memory of doing this). My parents went into a panic at the thought of their little boy walking on the neighborhood street in his pajamas during the dark of night; but thankfully, this was my only sleepwalking incident.
This morning as I was waking up and thinking about my childhood sleepwalking moment, it occurred to me that, although I no longer walk in my sleep physically, I still do plenty of spiritual sleepwalking. I think this is true for most of us.
When I examine the wisdom of most of the major world religions, the goal for anyone on any sort of path is always about “waking up from sleep.”
The Jesuit Priest and author, Anthony DeMello, put it this way:
Spirituality means waking up.
Most people, even though they don’t know it, are asleep.
They’re born asleep, they live asleep,
they die in their sleep without ever waking up.
They never understand the loveliness and the beauty
of this thing we call human existence.
Most people tell you that they want to get out of kindergarten,
but don’t believe them!
All they want to do is mend their broken toys.
I find a profound truth in this observation. Many of us make our way through our everyday lives walking around in a sleepy daze, our minds and hearts filled up with our our own well-worn comfortable ideas and preoccupied by our own agenda about what “I” want to happen in life; and all the while, the whole, wide, wonderful, beautiful world beckons us to wake up and enjoy the beauty of what it means to be alive.
As a Christian I have discovered that the Buddha is actually one of my best teachers when it comes to helping me understand what “waking up from sleep” is all about. Buddha sat under a tree and vowed to do nothing but just stay there alert in the moment until he discovered the true meaning of life. He sat there with no thoughts about where he wanted to go, where he had been, or what he was looking for, he just made himself available to the present moment and he woke up to the meaning of life. He woke up and found himself aware and alert in the “now.” He woke up from from the sleepy isolation of his own little ego hidden in his own little world, realizing that he belonged to everything and everyone in a dynamic web of relationship.
It is an absolutely beautiful, clear, crisp late-autumn day out here in the desert where we live and all creation seems to be extending an invitation for me to pay attention to my everyday life as it happens. Today I will do my best to be alert as I take my daily hike along a wilderness trail, I will try to pay attention to all those people who enter into my life, to mute the cell phone when I have lunch with my wife, to sit in awesome silence as the sun goes down over the mountains, to practice the discipline of being present to what “is.”
I am reminded of a wise and insightful observation about waking up that I once found in a Buddhist essay - a wonderful antidote for spiritual sleepwalking:
Whatever we are looking for is already right here.
We are usually elsewhere - that’s the problem.
When we are awake and when we pay attention to our everyday life
we discover something truly wonderful -
our old regular pointless lives are actually incredibly joyful,
amazingly, astoundingly, relentlessly,