The majority of those of us in the self-improvement, metaphysical or spiritual movement idealize a time when we are able to fully incorporate and live from the remembrance of the truths we have come to believe. Although we may disagree on the content of those beliefs, we are universal in our desire to become what Abraham Maslow has termed “self-actualized.” We believe it is possible for us to become all that we can be and remain in a state of awareness without the slumber of unconsciousness or forgetfulness.
Understanding that our ability to hold onto a sense of “awareness” is a futile effort represents the beginning of personal freedom. However, it is a journey we take, rather than a destination we reach. Giving up our ideal of obtaining an enlightened state is not optional for those of us conditioned to years of seeking. Having the intellectual comprehension that such a mission is bound to fail will only get us so far.
It can be clear to us that attempting to hold on to awareness is grasping, and therefore contradictory to the belief we must let go in order to be fully present. We may even know it isn’t possible for us to be fully present all the time. Many of us have the awareness that the very quest for self-actualization keeps us seeking and, as such, we shall never find. We know and understand the theoretical framework that is keeping us stuck.
The problem is partially in our very identification of being stuck. Our ideology that there is someplace else to be, something else to understand, some greater truth to be realized is one that is pervasive and insistent. However, our notion that we can reach Maslow’s highest level of self-actualization and find everlasting peace is not likely to ever leave us.
Having a goal to be fully self-actualized is certainly worthwhile and admirable. There is nothing wrong with wanting to reach a state of awareness where we are always kind, loving, patient, gentle, compassionate and understanding. For many of us, our striving to be better, do better, and be more is hard-wired into our very being.
What seems to be missing is our ability to leave our self-judgment behind and move forward in these pursuits with joy and ease. We often fail to turn the attributes of kindness, patience, gentleness, compassion and understanding towards ourselves. Our self-expectation is one where we are never reactive, never get caught up in drama, and are always aware of what we are focusing on, the stories we are telling, and how we are contributing to the creation of our reality.
Put quite simply, it is not okay for us to "sleep". We view being aware as being “awake,” and our moments of getting caught in the distraction of our environments, stories, addictions, etc. as being “asleep.” All around us we hear calls for the great awakening: the rising of the consciousness of the planet. Anytime we lose our centered, conscious awareness, however, we feel as if we have failed.
Although it varies depending on the stage of our life, according to the national sleep foundation, the recommended range of actual needed sleep for most adults is between 7 and 9 hours. We spend one-third of our lives asleep and sleep is considered a vital indicator of overall health and well-being. Similarly, what if our times of being unaware - our unconscious “slumber” - were actually necessary for our personal growth?
One could theoretically debate such an idea, however, the underlying point is meant to explore potential ways we can learn to reframe those moments where we feel we have lost our way. What if, upon recognizing we had gotten caught up in an illusion or forgotten to pay attention to where we were placing our focus and attention - instead of feeling disappointed and down on ourselves - we simply thought “good sleep?” Training ourselves to use the “good sleep” process would return our focus and attention back to positive thoughts and feelings and reroute our direction, without the self-judgement and condemnation we so often employ.
Ralph Waldo Emerson reminded us: “Life is a journey, not a destination.” The applicability of this expression extends to this arena of changing our relationship with our periods of awareness and forgetfulness. Our ingrained and habitual self-judgment isn’t likely to dissolve with our intellectual understanding of the cycles of life or reframe of having had a good mental or spiritual sleep.
Ultimately, we can best achieve our aims of self-actualization and awareness by incorporating an emotional tenderness towards ourselves with our intellectual understanding of this concept. Even in this pursuit, however, we are cautioned not to “beat ourselves up for beating ourselves up.” As soon as we have an awareness of whatever dynamic is going on in our lives, i.e. we return to an awake and aware state, we can redirect our focus with a mental “good sleep.”
Perhaps we actually need these periods of time where we think we are "failing," just as we need real sleep to renew our body, mind and spirit. Whatever path we are on or whatever belief system we have incorporated, being gentle with ourselves is paramount to a happy life.
Shannon Crane is writer and speaker passionate about sharing how one’s focus, feelings and perspective influence the quality of life. She is a frequent contributor to OMTimes, has previously been published on TinyBuddha, and has two upcoming online exclusives with unity.org. Connect with Shannon at www.yourlifeperspective.com or read her blog at www.awakeninginlove.com.