We Can (and Mostly Do) Sleepwalk Through Life

When we are sleeping, it’s not like we’re completely shut down. The parts of our brain that make the heart to beat and the lungs to breath are still doing their jobs. The parts that regulate heat, fight infection, and cause us to swallow are yet active. And other parts of our mind, the parts that are tasked with interacting with the outside world, are given a simulation to work through — in the form of dreams — should it require stimulation. And thus it is possible that one who is not awake or alert or functioning at anything near his full potential can yet exist.

The human being engages with life as fully as it pays for him to do so. In moments of intense excitement and opportunity and joy, the human being is fully awake, taking in through all his senses whatever stimuli he can. When on vacation, he sleeps less, when on an adventure, he sits idly less, when witnessing the sublime he averts his attention less.

But when someone has little incentive to engage, the human being retreats into himself, disengages, falls into a stupor. A person stuck in a meaningless job finds himself tired at home at night even if he has spent little of his energies during the day. A person in boring company or in a boring meeting finds it hard to stay awake.

Worse, when a person is overwhelmed by a dominating individual, group, or system, he feels little desire to engage with life, learning the lesson that it will never be pleasant. The person who is forced to work with or live with sociopathic or cruel people will be forced to either confront them or submit. Quite often, the sociopaths are good enough at what they do that they can recruit others to their side so that their victim has little options other than submit. Submission to others leads to a decrease of vitality in the one who submits. While not sleeping, neither is he fully alive.

It is much like what Jack London described in his essay, The Somnambulists. The person who is shut down because the external world is lacking in the required freedom and stimulation to allow him to engage, is still capable of functioning, just on a lower level. It can be seen in the blue collar worker who engages in crude and loud behavior, can be seen in the white collar worker by various neuroses and an obsessive need for entertainment and mental diversion that in no way adds value to his life but merely helps him pass his meaningless hours.

It seems as if the human animal who is reduced in his full capacity to interact with the outside world in a healthy and productive manner is exhibiting the same sort of pattern that is found throughout nature. Some animals hibernate when conditions are not conducive to their normal routines. Trees shed their leaves and retreat into themselves when winter comes. All of nature is engaged in an ebb and flow, and all in nature bows to the necessity to constrict in unfavorable conditions, awaiting the time when it might again flourish.

We are a society that has crawled into its lair to sleep because the external situation, our very society, has been one not conducive for humans to fully flourish and engage. We have become sleepers because consciousness, full consciousness, has not been a pleasurable experience. We waste our mental powers not in meaningful activity but in memorizing trivia and watching television shows which require attention but give little or nothing in return.

While this may be the natural cycle, one cannot hope to sleepwalk through life for long. An awakening is inevitable for all of us no matter how tightly we cling to our bedding. It is perhaps up to us whether we can be tempted from our lair or must be rousted from it in the most unpleasant manner possible.

There are many who are waking up, who have shaken off the vaguely pleasant but nonsensical dreams of their slumber. And they have awoken with a desire to fully engage with the world and to confront the conditions that have caused us to fall into our stupors in the first place. To those intent in staying in bed, those who have awakened are regarded as pests and nuisances, and if they had their way they would bonk them on the head as if they were hitting the snooze button on their alarm clock. It is not the job of the woke to rudely awaken the others by stripping the sheets from their beds or banging on pots and pans. Better to start a pot of coffee brewing in the hopes they can be enticed from their somnambulance in order to once again engage in the world in a meaningful and productive and fully woke way. The rude awakening will doubtless come of its own accord should they choose not to wake up and smell the coffee.

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