“Of course I am, I’m reading this – I can’t read in my sleep!”
No, wait a moment. Not that kind of awake. I mean are you really awake? I’m talking about really awake, aware of everything in this given moment. Although you’re reading this, how much are you really aware of what is going on around you right now? For example – how much notice are you paying to the sounds and smells in the room, the passage of time, how you feel?
After spending most of my life in a state that I can only describe as ‘asleep on the job,’ I cannot believe how much I have missed. Apart from the odd moment with huge emotional impact (both negative and positive), nearly everything I can recall from the past 30 years is just a vague memory.
What happens when you turn on the radio and hear a song from your past? It often triggers associated memories. For me one would be ‘Careless Whisper’ by George Michael, which reminds me of St John’s Ambulance camp in Cornwall, where I fell in love. I was around 10 years old and it was my first real experience of kissing a girl – let’s call her Diane. Out of the week of many adventures I only remember three main moments; being picked on because I got my first zit, cuddling with Diane, and when we came to leave. It’s the last one that is strongest in my memory. Packing up to leave wasn’t all that difficult until I had to say goodbye to Diane. I can remember it was a sunny day, my stomach was turning, everyone’s suitcases were everywhere, and I was too much of a man to be honest and cry, so basically bluffed my whole way through our goodbyes.
On the way home I was sat in the back of the minibus when ‘Careless Whisper’ came on the radio. I sat there in silence and hung off every single word, my ten year old self was so emotionally engrossed it was as if that was the only song that played for the 60 minute trip home. To this day because of that emotional imprint, I still get the same butterflies in my stomach when hearing that song as I did sat in the back of that minibus so many years ago.
Are moments like these the only times we are really awake? The rest of the time we spend going from moment to moment without paying attention to life – if we aren’t thinking about the past we are planning for the future. We spend so much time feeling tired, fed up, disillusioned by what we’ve become or what we’ve failed to achieve and ultimately we have no idea why or how. We think it must be fate, or something else at work.
Until 12 months ago I can safely say virtually all my life was on autopilot. At school I was waiting for the summer holidays, in my teenage years I lived for the weekend when it was drinking and partying. Most of my adult life it was waiting to buy something new, go on holiday, get a pay rise, redecorate a room or just get some sleep. I remember saying to several people that happiness is waiting for something you just ordered off the Internet that you cannot wait to get; not only does time seem to slow down, but you have something to look forward to. How sad is that, when you think about it? All that time spent waiting for the next opportunity to enjoy life!
Imagine just for a moment if we could get back all that time that we spent – what would you do with it? I don’t think I would change much but I would certainly enjoy it more. I would ‘be there’ in each moment, living rather than waiting.
Taking a moment several times a day won’t interrupt anything or disrupt your life, but it just might help you. Breathe in deeply and take full notice of the air as it enters your body, and feel yourself relax as you breathe out and it leaves. Listening to the sounds around you, taking notice of the smells, acknowledging how you feel and what your body is experiencing, and just appreciating what you have at that moment has a profound effect on your outlook in life. It puts things into perspective, the kind of perspective that no mere words of wisdom from me or any of your teachers could give you.
Just two minutes, that’s all. It is only when you learn to live in the moment that you realise what it is to be awake. Don’t tell me you haven’t got time, because you have. It is only a few minutes. Leave early for work and sit in the car before you drive off, or set your alarm early and lie awake before you get up, or go and look out of the window while the kettle boils on your coffee break – even just sit on the toilet a little longer, if that’s really the only place you feel like you can grab a minute or two to yourself!
(The greatest time to practice this full awareness is when somebody else is talking. Be there entirely, listen fully, and focus on what they are saying instead of just waiting for your turn to speak. But that’s a topic we should look at in more detail another time.)
So, let me ask you again…are you awake?