By R. Hodges

©  2009

 

 

Sleep and Awakening

 

 

People are asleep. They thing they are awake but it is a dream of being awake, a pseudo-wakefulness filled with dreams. Hard to accept perhaps—but look at the absurdities and horrors of life these days—politics paralyzed by ideology and greed; art unrelated to human concerns; entertainment filled with violence and titillation; business practices that destroy human lives and pollute the planet; the grinding poverty of many millions of people—surely the moral sense, and other senses also, are asleep in those who are behind such things.

And look at oneself—one seems to be awake, but how often does one do something and later think “I must have been asleep.” It is as if one sometimes wakes up a bit, or is awakened by a shock or by the consequences of some act.

Would it be possible to live more awake? The teachings of all traditions say so. But people who become “followers” of some teaching often seem to have fallen even more asleep, prisoners in some new, superimposed, dream.

The devil of sleep is more clever than our good intentions—how could we awaken without falling back under his enchantment? The truth is we do not understand the nature of sleep. How then could we understand more, understand enough to have a chance of awakening and staying awake? It is not theory we need—theory just becomes another dream. It is a personal study of oneself, of one’s own sleep—its components, its levels, its causes, and of the occasional awakenings that take place.

But a right theory can be a guide for this study. Here is one idea that can help—each of the centers of awareness and psychic energy within the organism has its own sleep, its own dreams. The body for instance, the sensations and the power of movement that make up our physical presence. The body is constantly fidgeting, constantly reacting mechanically; and the sensations (sight, sound, touch, etc.) are constantly received through mental interpretations that often prove to be illusions. These reactive movements and interpretations pretend to relate us to reality, but actually they distance us from it, buffer us away from real contact. Most serious of all they form a shell that keeps us from being aware of an inner silent current of energy which is the real life of the body.

It is not impossible to directly bear witness to these facts—both the reactive surface and the deep current. One only needs to make a certain inner look—this action is within our power. This look is a relative awakening. It does not last long at first, and it may not be strong and clear, but it can be strengthened by practice.

Another center of psychic energy is our mind, our thinking part. Its sleep consists of a constant turning in which one thought leads by association to another, and so on, until the starting point is lost. Such thought quickly loses any relation to the real needs or purposes of the human being. It is possible to catch a glimpse of this dreaming of thought, but it proves very difficult to follow for any length of time, because we usually try to watch thought from thought itself, which gets lost in fascination with its own associations. If we succeed in looking from a deeper place (which is sometimes possible) a certain law comes into play: the act of directing the attention on dreaming has an action that tends to stop the dreaming. The cockroaches of associative thought scurry under cover when they sense the light. This too is an awakening, and it is sometimes possible to glimpse the silence, the empty space, that lies behind thought. But again, our power of attention is not yet strong enough to last for long.

And the heart, the great reservoir of emotion, feeling toward our fellows, moral feeling, religious feeling—it is asleep also. Constantly buffeted by reactions to people and events—attraction, annoyance, envy, fear, etc.—the “higher” feelings have little space and often only appear under a shock strong enough to silence the reactions. Here again a kind of inner look is possible, and can have the effect of temporarily establishing a balance of forces that opens up a space within the heart. But our power is even weaker in this realm, where the fact is that we are deeply attached to our reactions.

We have touched upon three centers, and have noted the power of a certain attention both to see what is taking place in these centers, and to harmonize and quieten them, and to bring them into relation with a deeper reality. From where does this awakening influence come? Not from the ordinary mind, the thoughts; if we think that, which is a common mistake, we quickly lose our way because thought itself has no substance. But there is another center, a kind of higher mind, whose function is (or should be) to emanate this force of looking within. Unfortunately, this center has not received a proper education, so it has very little presence within our life. The whole possibility of awakening depends on its development.

The teaching of Gurdjieff has as a main aim to develop this force, and eventually to make its action permanent. The center from which this force emanates is meant to be the seat of what Gurdjieff calls “real I”, and this seat must be made ready, and the being who could occupy this place, at first only an embryo, must be fed and nurtured. Many direct methods of helping this process are given, by oral transmission (they cannot be received correctly in written words). Other known teachings, such as the monastic ways, also have such methods, but usually hidden under religious symbolism, and practiced under conditions incompatible with an active life in the world.

The Gurdjieff teaching is fundamentally a way of inner practice within an active outer life. It also includes specific practices that are conducted in private; but these are preparatory, to show what is possible, both the inner efforts that we need to learn how to make, and the results that can appear, sometimes quite extraordinary.