Is mastery a realistic aim given the fact that humans are asleep most of the time?
Yes, it can be a real aim which begins with a clear and certain perception of the dominance of sleep in one’s own life. Mastery is not theoretical; it is highly practical and it is gained by many small victories over one’s own sleep, moment by moment. Mastery of life is mastery of self, particularly mastery of the human biological machine, otherwise known as your body and mind.
In sleep, the body is largely insensitive and reacts unconsciously to stimuli while thinking mostly consists of repeating ‘tapes’ directed by association. Fragmentation and identification are easily observable elements of this condition. While asleep, we live in our personal history rather than the present.
At the same time, let’s be clear that many of the good things that happen to us occur in sleep and almost all human accomplishment takes place there as well. Sleep is neither good nor bad and those who sleep through life are simply doing their best, having uncritically accepted the story that the world has told them. Judging sleep harshly is unwise. Sleep is a shared human condition which none of us escapes. A compassionate attitude towards yourself and others serves better than a rejecting one.
Why wake up? Do I want to have a deeper, more complete engagement with myself and others? Do I want a larger, more meaningful life? Self-mastery can provide a way.
How is the battle with sleep actually fought?
First, you must be convinced by direct observation that you are asleep, that you are governed by habit and that you have no will. Your life mostly consists of liking and disliking, resistance and attraction, clinging and averting, which are programmed mechanical reactions entirely lacking in real will. Let us say that your body likes to indulge in sugar. However, one of your mechanical selves is identified with being slim and dislikes being fat. You successfully reduce sugar intake and lose weight. Is this evidence of real will? Not at all. One like has overpowered another. One unconscious motivation has overcome another. This must be seen clearly and impartially. Know thyself.
Second, it is necessary to oppose the tendencies of the machine but it must be done cleverly. You wish to rest so you do not rest. You do not like spinach so you eat it. The gain is not only the accomplishment of your aim but also what is learned about your mechanical reactions. What is the best way to overcome resistance? Find out. Do you take pride in these successes? Then you may be feeding one false self at the expense of another. Mastery of self is not self-development, it’s self-dismantling.
Which “you” has adopted this agenda of mastery? Is it another identity that seeks to satisfy basic egoistic needs such as feeling special, powerful, secure or better than others? Or is this an expression of being, stemming from a basic wish to be free of slavish habits, able to engage in the aesthetic qualities innate to being’s nature? Genuine acts of mastery provide their own evidence as moments of presence. A mechanical impulse that is not indulged is a source of energy and a possibility of making a conscious gesture. If this energy is appropriated by the machine to fund more mechanical behavior, the action judges itself as counterfeit. Impartial observation is the cleaver separating real from false. The real is uncovered by relinquishing its counterfeit.
Observing and interrupting your mechanical programming in this way has serious consequences. The momentum of your life is the momentum of sleep. When you begin to interfere with the programming, you lose momentum and become less able to do what you normally do. Perhaps you will be unable to do your job or hang out with your friends. You may have to find new motivations, perhaps even conscious ones. The risks are great.
We will inquire more into this subject at another time.