So How Awake Are You Really?


Many years back when someone questioned my wakefulness in the midst of a discussion, I felt offended. I thought, what a silly question. Don’t they see that I’m awake and alive and talking with them? Who in the right mind would question my wakefulness, while I’m in the midst of an active discussion with them.

Well, it took many years of learning, unlearning and observing to finally grasp the validity of the argument.

If you are reading this post, it is obvious that you are awake. There is no doubt about it. But as you read, where is your mind? Is it fully focused on reading this post or you have other thoughts going on in your mind?

Many times when we are engaged in an activity we are only partially focused on that activity.  And in parallel, we have other thoughts going on in the background.

Of course, when I question your wakefulness, I don’t mean it literally. I mean, how much conscious or how aware you are.

When you were brushing your teeth this morning, where were you? Did you feel the toothbrush rub against your teeth? Did you feel the tingling sensation in your gums that all toothpastes cause?

It is likely that while brushing you were thinking of other things, probably planning your day or thinking about your work. When you were brushing, your mind was lost somewhere else. It wasn’t paying attention to the brushing.

More importantly, your mind’s thinking about other things, while you were actually brushing,  happened without your conscious awareness. It happened subconsciously or automatically.

In general, you do have many moments of conscious awareness, where you consciously know exactly what you are doing and what is going on in your mind. You may have had brushing sessions where you were completely aware of the whole session. Such an experience is not out of the realm of possibility.

But, by and large, conscious awareness seems to come sporadically. And you tend not to be consciously aware of the activities like brushing. Especially routine activities like brushing, showering, driving your way to work or back from work.

The experience that I am talking about is something you are all familiar with, although you may not have given much thought. It is called autopilot. We live our lives on autopilot.

Not being consciously aware while doing something is different compared to being consciously aware while doing it. Although, when you are not consciously aware of something it doesn’t mean you are asleep. But it doesn’t either mean you are fully awake in the sense of being fully conscious.

You may wonder, “So what?”. So what, if I am not fully aware while brushing. You may argue that brushing is an activity not worth bothering about. You may think it’s not a big deal, not being consciously aware all the time. Besides, it is not that you are never consciously aware.  You may think you are fully conscious when it comes to tasks that you deem important. And that’s what matters.

It is true that not all activities require full awareness. We can argue that certain activities warrant conscious awareness more than others. When your spouse is giving shopping instructions or when your boss is giving important work related instruction or when your teacher is going through important lesson, you better not space out or get lost in thoughts.

When you are cooking or dealing with fire or driving a vehicle, you better have a full awareness of what’s going on or otherwise you can endanger your life or your property. Where as brushing, showering, making your hair or other routine activities usually don’t endanger you if you are lost in thoughts.

But is your conscious awareness really in your control? In other words, are you the one calling the shots when your conscious awareness switches on and off? Think about it. It rather seems that something else tends to dictate when you are going to be fully aware and when not. You seem not to be in charge of your conscious awareness.

We know that in the dark, an object needs to be illuminated with light in order to be viewed clearly. But, If you don’t have a say on when the torch turns on and off; and moreover, if you can’t even direct where the torch is beamed, this knowledge is not much help.

Now you are at the mercy of whoever that commands the torch. You will see clearly what and where the commander of the torch decides to beam the torch and not necessarily what you need to see.

This goes on to show that you have moments when you are fully aware but when you become fully aware seems to be out of your control. And in that context, how will you ensure that you become fully aware while carrying out the “important” task?


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