You’ll sometimes hear people of mystical background drawing a distinction between an awakened state and a state of sleep. And claiming that, through a series of exercises and by guidance, the seeker can awaken from their sleep, and relate to reality as it is.

Am I awakened, writing this?

The question is meaningful in particular mystical contexts, rendered a meaning as side effect of these contexts employing a distinction between wakefulness and sleep within their work. Just as the phrase “the public holiday on Monday” has a meaning only in the US context, where the 16th of January happens to be a holiday. But it fails to have any meaning in a country where this is not the case, or for a culture that does not operate according to a 7 day cycle, or take holidays.

And to be initiated into that culture of awakeness/sleep, you must enter into that context in a sincere way, you must embody its framework, not just give lip service.

I do not stand in the context where the question has meaning.

However, I do believe in awakening/revelation and sleep/concealment. Differently: as metaphors only, because for me they are not directly tied to a human. A human is not awake or asleep in my way. These terms refer to apertures, openings, points of connection from one sign to another. Forming the sentences, the textual DNA, of what “you” are. Only in this microscopic sense do they relate to “me”.


4 thoughts on “Awakening

  1. I recognize the genesis of this post πŸ™‚ The yellow brick road brought me here.
    However, I would not say that a sleeper can awaken from their sleep by any given exercises or guidances. This is putting words into the proverbial mouth. Rather, the point is this: that there is one thing common between consciousness of a dream and consciousness of waking reality and that is: consciousness. Whether you’re asleep or awake doesn’t matter. Indeed, what meaning you attach to dreams or wakeful concepts is entirely upto you. What is even more primary is consciousness.

    When you say “I do believe”.. who or what is it that believes? Must be something beyond belief.

    Now juxtapose: when someone observes their dream in sleep.. who or what is it that observes the dream?

  2. I used to be a Constructionist and believe that contexts such as this were ‘socially and culturally located’ (or some other such PoMo gibberish). But, actually, it they mean anything, they must be universal. After all, every human being since Adam’s (or is it Lucy’s?) time has experienced states of ‘sleep’ – when they were, literally, asleep – and ‘wakefulness’. Sleep is not a construction, it is something that even my cat understands, and in exactly the same way as I do: with her body.

    Various philologists – but I think mostly of Owen Barfield, who was a big influence on me – have pointed out that all our abstract concepts began as metaphors drawn from concrete experiences. For instance, when we talk of ‘grasping’ a concept, the word ‘grasp’ is drawn analogically from the physical grasping of an object by the hand. Now, our brains don’t have fingers, so they can’t literally ‘take hold’ of concepts. But the metaphor is sufficiently comprehensible (which is itself another metaphor involving a prehensile analogy) to appear not just in English, but in other languages as well. And perhaps it is more than a metaphor – because nature tends to repeat the same patterns, rather than inventing new ones. For all I know there may even be a neuroscientist about to publish a paper showing that our conceptual ‘grasping’ has developed out of our prehensile capacities…

    Be that as it may, when ‘mystics’ across the world’s history and cultures have tended to use this same metaphor of ‘sleep’ and ‘wakefulness’, it seems highly likely that it points to an experience as fundamental, and universal, as ‘grasping’ a concept. That is, that it isn’t something that one ‘buys into’ as a social and cultural construction (assuming, that is, that there actually are such things as ‘social and cultural consructions’, and that they weren’t just a fantasy of a bunch of socially and culturally situated academics πŸ˜‰

    Even within ordinary wakefulness we can distinguish between a person who is in a daze, or a daydream, and one who is alert. This isn’t something subjective – we can measure it in someone’s response time, in what they observe around them, etc.

    In my experience, the ‘mystics’ are not talking in riddles – they are describing states as distinct, and as independent of ‘interpretation’, as the state of alertness is compared to the daze. So if you ‘do not stand in the context where the question has meaning’, is that because you are treating it as something that depends on meaning – as an intellectual construct – rather than phenomenologically, as an experience, as ‘mystics’ treat it?

    1. Happy new year, James πŸ™‚

      I don’t think I’d disagree with anything you’ve written – as you might have gathered, in the past, I’ve been very much a proponent of a “no real metaphors, only hyper literalist” approach to religious texts. For example, south/Yemen/love really means right hand, because the embodied man really faces east/light in prostration to shams of the One. Not metaphorically, but physically.

      But remember, I’m first and foremost a tailor. And that stuff’s a bit last season for me – I’m shifting gear from Grecian (hyper) mimesis of embodiment to an ironic iconography of a fallen empire, dark ages style totems and pure lip service to depiction.

      This is “late antiquity” Tailorism at play, where sleep and wakefulness are reduced from a body’s reality to clunky symbolic gesture of a particular icon.

      It’s not so much a disagreement with you or with what I’ve written – it’s just a way of negotiating the barbarian hordes.

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