I came across this phrase as I was reading “Braiding Sweetgrass” by Robin Wall Kimmerer, which is a beautiful and thought-provoking book.
The phrase initially caused me to pause, and then a flood of thoughts hit me, which I have found to be a sign I’ve come across something significant, and I need to sit with the ensuing thoughts that arise. This time the most prominent ones being that if living awake is a phrase, then what does that look like? And what does its opposite, living asleep, entail?
I don’t want my life to be considered living asleep.
When I think of living asleep, I think this was what I did for much of my teenage years into my early twenties. I lived an abundantly full life. In high school, I did numerous extracurricular activities, and can’t even picture how I would sit with my parents and sisters for dinner because I’m not sure it happened too often. College was a similar story, and when I entered adulthood I found myself working full-time, a full-time grad student and heavily involved in my church.
And it was wild.
In our society’s terms, I was living the life. But in reality, I was constantly consumed by my to-do list, continually chasing a moment of calm that I thought would come when I accomplished everything. Except that never happened. I always had things to do. So, I never rested unless my body forced me to by making me sick.
Then my first experience with therapy occurred, and I realized why I couldn’t sit still with myself and why these defenses of perfectionism and productivity were so prevalent in my life.
It is still far from perfect, but I feel much closer to living awake these days. I think it’s also important to note that living awake will likely be different from person to person.
Some people may find much “living awakeness” in the hustle and bustle of our world. And others may find that slowing down and living a simpler life leads to awakeness for them. And still, for others, it may not be how full or free their schedule is, but the specific things they do that fill their time.
For me, I’ve come enticingly close to consistently feeling the hum and warm electricity in my chest that comes from joy and contentment by drastically simplifying my life and being present in the moment. And in this slowing down, I’ve found several things that my past self, who was living asleep, never would have known.
- When I notice the genuine tenderness and beauty of God’s hand in creating our Earth, it feels like a quiet, intimate conversation with God. Robin Wall Kimmerer says in her book that God could have created flowers to be ugly, but still accomplish the necessary functions they need to. Instead, God’s artistic hand has painted immense beauty in the nature around us. I’m thankful I now look around and see it.
- I go through a multitude of emotions in a day. I was always too distracted to attune to my emotions, but now I realize just how many I feel. I used to think a good day meant I would feel good all day. But now I realize good days can still hold irritation, overwhelm, anger, sadness and more.
- Time doesn’t necessarily go all that fast. Yes, time moves, and days continue to pass. But when I think back on my days, there is much more I can recall due to being present. Time doesn’t feel so much like a thief now.
- Many things in our lives are on endless cycles (work, cleaning the house, cooking, grocery shopping, etc.). So I can either learn to enjoy the journey and be present where I am or chase this false idea that there will be times when I will have nothing to do and only in those times can I rest.
Again, what my living awake is may look vastly different than what yours does. But this thought has brought much wrestling for me on whether I am in this state of living awake or whether I’m living asleep.
So, I encourage you to sit with this and wrestle with it, too. What changes would you need to go through to live awake?
Kylie Larson, MA, LPC