By Michael W. Taft
From his book The Mindful Geek: Secular Meditation for Smart Skeptics
Published at Deconstructing Yourself
Sometimes I feel like I’m sleepwalking through life. There’s this sense of everything being distant, unfocused, numb. I’m working, eating, talking, sleeping, but I’m just going through the motions. Coffee takes me up, carbs take me down, but the whole experience is dull, boring, repetitive, predictable. Eventually it all feels like a chore and a burden. I just want to go to sleep, and flush this tarnished dream down the hole of some fabled oblivion.
Because of that sleepwalker feeling—which I can’t stand—I’ve done some really stupid things in my life. I wanted to jar myself out of the stupor, by any means necessary, which might mean breaking up, quitting, moving, ingesting something, or any number of other sledgehammer methods. This action would in fact wake me up, but often at great personal cost.
For example, long ago I used to work at the apex of a world-class company. It was in my field of expertise, my income was large, I owned a home, and I loved the work and the people I worked with. But once this feeling of stuckness and dullness seeped into things, I grew dissatisfied and restless. I quit that job overnight on a whim, with all the disruption and later regrets you can imagine.
Luckily, in the many years since then my mindfulness meditation practice has taught me a much more positive way out of this benighted numbness. I just have to wake up. It’s funny, because the urge is to go to sleep, but the cure is actually the opposite: wake up.
Waking up is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever learned to do. It’s beautiful because it removes all the distances from everything. Life feels fresh, clean, precious, new. There is nothing better than that.
You may think that waking up in this way is something esoteric, something that needs a magical formula or a special blessing. Maybe the right drugs, or religion, or book, or enlightened teacher, or ritual purity. But that’s not the way it is. Waking up doesn’t require a meditation technique. It doesn’t require years of sitting still following your breath. It doesn’t require believing in past lives, or karma, or original sin.
Waking up is incredibly simple to do. All you have to do is notice that you’re right here, right now. Try that now. Just notice whatever’s happening right here, right now.
Can you feel it? It feels exactly like waking up, like coming out of a dream. It doesn’t feel trippy, or blissed out, or special in any way. Those feelings are part of the dream. Instead, it feels incredibly normal. With a strong emphasis on the incredible part. The nuances of the color and texture on the wall. The sounds of the refrigerator motor firing up. The sunlight reflecting off your friend’s hair. The way your cat threads its way around the books on the shelf. It all appears as a perfectly brilliant moment which will never exist again.
The “trick” if you want to call it that, is to keep remembering to wake up, over and over again, a thousand times a day. And that’s where mindfulness meditation practice can really help you a lot.
Mindfulness is a kind of remembrance, remembering to show up for every moment of your life. As a practice, mindfulness is composed of three skills: concentration, sensory clarity, and acceptance. Concentration helps you to stay focused on the present moment. Sensory clarity teaches you to connect with and appreciate all the little details of the present moment. Acceptance allows you to sit with the present moment, even if there are parts of it you don’t like.
These days it’s possible to wake up in each moment, over and over again. Typing, I feel my fingers touching the cool plastic keys. Contacting the pleasant sensations of breathing in and out. Drinking in the organic curves of a crumpled paper on the desk. It’s perfect and normal and full in this moment… and this moment… and this moment. And it never ends.
There’s no need to flee your life into a dream, or seek some destructive unconsciousness. It doesn’t work, and in the long run will only make you miserable. Instead, move in the opposite direction, the direction of more and more wakefulness. It won’t always feel good, and it won’t always solve everything. But it will allow you to inhabit your life in an authentic, heartful, and beautiful manner.