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We Can’t Wake Up On Purpose

We can’t will ourselves to wake up. The reason we can’t ‘will ourselves to wake up’ is of course because the one who is doing the willing is also the one who is asleep! Whatever ‘the one who is asleep’ wills is simply a furtherance of their sleep; whenever the dreamer wants or seeks or intends is still the dream. That’s how the dream perpetuates itself – via our willed or purposeful actions…

We could equally well say that no matter what the sleeper deliberately does, it is always just an extension of themselves. If the dreamer is a construct of the dream (which of course he or she is) and if whatever the dreamer wants or intends is the dream, then it must also be true that whatever the dreamer wants or intends is ‘themselves’. Anything I do in the dream is simply ‘an extension of my dreamed self’, in other words. I can’t escape myself – I bring my ‘dreamed self’ along wherever I go – I intend myself (or will myself) into every situation. Every situation I encounter is just me, just as every situation I find myself in is just the dream.

This does away with the idea of willpower or free will – what free will can there be in a dream where everything we do, everything we choose, is just that same dream? Our so-called ‘free will’ is worthless currency. What good is it if we can’t use it to wake ourselves up out of the dream? Waking up is the only real thing we could ever do, after all…

Willpower is useless for waking up because my willpower is only ‘willpower a dream’. Effort is no good for waking up because it is only ‘dream-effort’. Plans are no good because they are only ‘dream-plans’. Our plans are the dream, our goals are the dream, our hopes and fears are the dream, our thoughts are the dream. Any motivation I possess is simply ‘motivation in a dream’.

So if our thoughts of waking up are only just a dream then we are stymied before we even start. We’re sunk, we’re jinxed, we’re banjaxed – all options are closed to us because all options are just options in a dream. We’re starting off in the wrong place, so we’re never going to get anywhere.

This isn’t just some theoretical discussion – what we’re talking here about is our most basic limitation in life. It’s our ‘fundamental limitation’, and we never go beyond it. We could say that our fundamental limitation is that we are asleep and dreaming and that we can’t wake up (because we don’t know that we are asleep) or we could say that our ‘fundamental limitation’ is that we are always operating on the basis of the rational/purposeful mind. It’s the same thing.

To be rational is to be purposeful and to be purposeful as to be rational – the two are inextricable. In order to be ‘purposeful’ I first have to divide the world up into parts, or fragments, or categories. I can designate one category as being ‘the one to aim at’, which automatically makes all the other categories to be ‘the ones to avoid’. This is of course such a very basic thing to us that we never notice ourselves doing it. It’s so normal that we never give it any thought and yet it’s all ‘artificial’ because these partitions, these categories, don’t actually exist in reality!

No concepts exist in reality (obviously enough) and therefore no goals exist either, goals being concepts. We spend almost all our time – if not all of our time – chasing goals. What – then – is this all about? How do we call this ‘living’?

Even when we are not orientated towards formal goals (i.e. towards things that we would consciously see as goals) we are orientated towards our thoughts, towards our logical descriptions, towards our conceptualisations of the world, and this is the very same thing. Either way we orientated towards something artificial, something that doesn’t actually exist. We don’t need to get all fancy and metaphysical about this to see that such a situation just can’t be healthy! There’s clearly no way this can be a good way to go about things…

How can it be ‘healthy’ to give priority (or ‘preferential treatment’) to artificial ideas about reality rather than the reality itself? And the situation we’re talking about here is actually more extreme than this – we actually ignore reality entirely, and pay exclusive attention to our own particular formulations and it. We rely on the map rather than the territory. We couldn’t be more extreme in our ‘artificiality’!

We would disagree with this, of course, if the point were to be put to us. We would disagree very strongly! If asked, we will absolutely insist that we are awake and not asleep. We will insist on this point, we will have unshakeable belief in it. We will have no doubts on this score. This is a point that Gurdjieff makes – ask any dreaming person if they are asleep and they will straightaway deny it! This is what the dream does – by its very nature it ‘denies that it is a dream’…

To be ‘asleep’, then, is to mistake one’s conceptualisation of reality for the reality itself. We have an idea about what the world is, and who we are, and we never look beyond this idea. We don’t know that it’s possible to look beyond this idea. We think we are already in touch with reality and so course we are not going to be looking any further, or any deeper. And, as we started off by saying, even if we did somehow take on board the notion that ‘there is more to life than we see or know’, and we wanted therefore to break through the bubble of stultifying ‘confirmation-type information’ that perpetually surrounds us, then we will try to do this on the basis of our artificial understanding and so no matter how hard we try we’re not going to be able to get beyond that ‘artificial understanding’.

There are lots of way we could put this and they all come down to the same thing. Artificial understanding can’t take it beyond artificial understanding. Thinking can’t free us from thinking. There are no escape-routes from the dream to be found conveniently located within the dream. We can’t intend not to intend. We can’t make a purpose of ‘moving beyond purposefulness’ (no matter how grand or enticing that purpose might seem). Alternatively, we could try to explain the trap that we are in simply by saying that ‘we can’t wake up on purpose’…

Art: Albert Joseph Moore. Dreamers. 1884.

Author: Nick Williams

Nick Williams works and writes in the field of mental health and is particularly interested in non-equilibrium states of consciousness, which are states of mind that cannot be validated by standardized experiments or by reference to any formal theoretical perspective.
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