On Waking Up — Awake as compared to Asleep

  1. On Waking Up — Awake as compared to Asleep
  2. The Attack of the WhyBut Monster
  3. Owning Your Life — Self-responsibility as compared to Blaming
  4. Into the Flow — Flexible as compared to blocked
  5. Dropping the Ego — Self-actualized as compared to self-absorbed
  6. Having Integrity — Truthful as compared to devious

On Waking Up — Awake as compared to Asleep It’s hard to admit, but our lives are mostly lived on autopilot. While there are plenty of reasons for “sleeping while awake,” (brain efficiency, etc.) the main reason we do it it is that we fear the work being awake entails.

waking up

We had an interesting visit this past weekend, with a lovely 25-year-old. She was talking about being stuck. The pattern was like this:

1. I’m hard on myself.

2. I judge myself for being hard on myself.

3. I try to talk myself out of it, and then get down on myself for not being able to stop.

4. I want to change, but it’s hard.

5. I’m just lazy.

6. Wash, rinse, repeat.

We’d call this living on autopilot.

While there seems to be a fair amount of self-reflection going on here, if you look at the pattern, you see that everything is being run, rapidly, through the same filter.

Another friend:

1. I’ve spent 12 years looking to others for who I am and how I am doing.

2. I need to figure out why I do this.

3. I keep doing it.

4. I’m miserable because I can’t; figure it out, and I can’t get others to stop telling me who I am.

5. I’m so excited because someone told me I’m special! I want to do what they do!

6. But what if I’m no good at it? People will judge me!

7. Wash, rinse, repeat.


in the box

The danger for her and for most, is thinking that all of this effort at exploring “the small, tight box” is actually a mark of being awake. “I can’t understand why it isn’t different this time!” is a weird thought when all that is happening is a re-hashed pattern. The topic being re-hashed changes, but the pattern applied is the same.

It takes incredible alertness to notice this, and incredible courage to make another choice. And then to make that choice endlessly, until you die.

In Eastern thought, being awake is a state in which the person focusses on allowing thoughts to drift along. seeing what arises, without latching on (grasping.) In our approach, Open Palm Solutions, we are interested in observing the interplay between what the mind thinks (the stories we tell ourselves) and what is actually happening. The greater the correlation between the two, the more awake you are.

On the other hand having the mind go one way and “life” another requires endlessly being asleep.

A couple of examples: (somewhat lame, but hey”¦)


A couple of weeks ago, I had a headache, (I’ve got one right now, and here I sit, working…) and I needed to make a bank deposit, including depositing a US cheque. I decided to deposit the Canadian at the bank machine, then go to a teller to convert and deposit the cheque. My head hurt a bit, and I was “non-present.”

I was not “zoned out.” I ran the bank machine flawlessly, right up until I stuck the cheque in the envelope with the cash, and shoved it into the slot. I then stood there for a moment, looking for the cheque. Sigh.

Which matches the pattern for most of us.

Few of us are totally incompetent, zoned out, completely lost in the fog. Most of us are functional. However, and it’s a big however, most of what we are doing is not actually conscious. It’s like driving to work, getting there and not knowing how. Functional, but not mindful.

Example 2, which is from some years ago:

I was driving up to my office in Port Elgin, and decided to stop at Timmie’s. (Canadian reference, for a Tim Horton donut shop — of which there is one, or one like it, on every corner of every intersection in Canada — we do love our donuts.) I was listening to an audio book, pulled into the lot, parked, got out, said hi to the nice lady I passed, and made it the 50 feet to the door of the shop, when I heard, “Hey mister. Your truck’s moving!!!”

I quickly registered that she might be talking to me, as I, indeed, drive a truck. I whipped around, and there was my truck, heading backwards through the parking lot. Standard transmission, and a flash that I must not have left it in gear. OK. There’s the mindless part. Now, the mindful piece.

I took off running across the lot, covering the 60 feet pretty quickly for a then 50-year-old. As I ran, (much like when you are falling — there’s a certain slowness to time, and clarity) I thought about what I was going to do next. I eliminated running behind the truck and trying to stop it — dopes get run over that way. Couldn”t grab the front bumper and stop it — it weighs more than me. That left getting in and applying the brake.

Now, I come from Buffalo, via Chicago, so even after 25 years in Canada, I lock everything. So, as I ran, not missing a step, I extricated my keys from my pocket, picked the right one, and caught the truck. I ran alongside, shoved the key in the lock in one try, turned the lock, pocketed the key and opened the door. I then sped up my running, pivoted and vaulted into the seat, not whacking any portion of my anatomy. I applied the brake. The truck had traveled about 50 feet back.

I drove it back to the parking place, left it in gear and turned it off. The lady was still standing where I’d passed her, on my 100-foot dash. She applauded.

Me too.

Being awake requires one thing, and one thing only: to wake up.

If you stand there, metaphorically focussed on the rolling truck, you end up with a mess. If you see what you are doing, and notice that every time you do it, you get lousy results, AND continue to do it, you deserve your fate.

If you confuse “figuring it out” with actually doing something, you’re going to end up in the same place. If you expect to be able to do what doesn’t work, and get different results… well… you know.

Being awake is all about noticing everything, and realizing that what is happening in your life mirrors what you are choosing (including choosing to, at some level, place the cheque in the envelope…) then you’re on the way to solving your issues. Sure, you may be pre-disposed to being moody, or critical, or as I mentioned last week, melancholy, but so what?

That’s the hand you were dealt. What you choose to do next, is always optional.

Being awake is seeing clearly what’s right in front of you, making a clear choice, and implementing. No excuses, no, “It’s hard!” Of course it is, until it isn’t — just like everything else you’ve ever learned. There’s no escaping the truth that who you are and where you are is endlessly determined by what you do, and what you do, without effort, simply mirrors your worst story.

Have a breath, sit down, learn to focus in through meditation, and then… do something different, just to see what happens.


1. Do not walk behind me, for I may not lead. Do not walk ahead of me, for I may not follow. Do not walk beside me, either. Just leave me the hell alone.

2. The journey of a thousand miles begins with a broken fan belt and a leaky tire.

3. It’s always darkest before dawn, so if you’re going to steal your neighbour’s newspaper, that’s the time to do it.

4. Don’t be irreplaceable. If you can’t be replaced, you can’t be promoted.

5. No one is listening until you fart.

6. Always remember you’re unique. Just like everyone else.

7. Never test the depth of the water with both feet.

8. It may be that your sole purpose in life is simply to serve as a bad example.

9. It is far more impressive when others discover your good qualities without your help.

10. If you think nobody cares if you’re alive, try missing a couple of car payments.

11. Before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes. That way, when you criticize them, you’re a mile way and you have their shoes.

12. If at first you don’t succeed, skydiving is not for you.

13. Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach him how to fish and he will sit in a boat & drink beer all day.

14. If you lend someone $20 and never see that person again, it was probably worth it.

15. Don’t squat with your spurs on.

16. If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.

17. Some days you are the bug, some days you are the windshield.

18. Don’t worry, it only seems kinky the first time.

19. Good judgment comes from bad experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment.

20. The quickest way to double your money is to fold it in half and put it in your pocket.

21. Timing has an awful lot to do with the outcome of a rain dance.

22. A closed mouth gathers no foot.

23. Duct tape is like the Force. It has a light side & a dark side, and it holds the universe together.

24. There are two theories to arguing with women. Neither one works.

25. Generally speaking, you aren’t learning much when your mouth is moving.

26. Experience is something you don’t get until just after you need it.

27. Never miss a good chance to shut up.

28. We are born naked, wet, and hungry. Then things get worse.

Make Contact!

So, how does this week’s article sit with you? What questions do you have? Leave a comment or question!

About the Author: Wayne C. Allen is the web\‘s Simple Zen Guy. Wayne was a Private Practice Counsellor in Ontario until June of 2013. Wayne is the author of five books, the latest being The. Best. Relationship. Ever. See: –The Phoenix Centre Press

5 thoughts on “On Waking Up — Awake as compared to Asleep”

  1. Nicely put;… once again.…(of course)! I’ve had a copy of the “Great Wisdom” section (Called Zen Humour) for number of years; I’ll sometimes pull a particularly salient one out and “post it” to great “liking”. Everyone seems to “get it” when expressed with humour!

    • Hey Ray!
      It’s also why I tell stories when working with folk — they go down better. Reminds me of the punchline to a joke: “That’s telling ’em, preacher! If only they’d have been here!
      Trusting all’s well, the plane’s set to go, etc., and hugs to Libby!

  2. Oh this is exactly what I needed to read today. I’ve never thought of myself on autopilot when I act so this is a new way of thinking to me but it makes perfect sense.I know I’ll spend the next few days rummaging around in my actions to work out which ones are the autopilot ones. Though I think I already know 🙂

    • Hi Jane,
      Yeah, not something we’re taught to look at. I think of it as essential for adult living. I probably need to write about it, but one of my clients endlessly loops around “Why?” questions. I talk with her about this being a diversion from doing something different.
      She replies, “Why do I do that???”
      It’s an interesting game to play with ourselves, and making other choices is certainly an adventure.
      Thanks for the comment, and do let me know what you discover!
      Warmly, Wayne


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