Going to sleep to ourselves
Sometimes, in the midst of our busyness and our fixation on having things work out just the way we want them, we forget that we’re alive.
This forgetfulness, it seems to me, is an inevitable part of our human condition. I like very much Martin Heidegger’s phrase for this — that we get ‘scattered into everydayness’. In our everyday coping with all that comes our way, we go to sleep to ourselves and what we’re really up to in our lives.
When our forgetfulness goes on for too long, and if we don’t take steps to remember our aliveness, it starts to colour everything we’re doing. Workplaces in which people have forgotten they’re alive become places that pursue profit or targets with no sense of what they’re for. Families who have forgotten they’re alive lose sight of the preciousness and sacredness of the relationships between their members. There is always the washing-up to do, of course, but it can be a humdrum task to be endured or, when we’re awake to what being in a family is for, an expression of a much bigger commitment to the care of one another and the life that we share.
All of this is why it is vital that we have practices for remembering ourselves — practices that connect us to one another, to our aliveness, and to our relationship with all of life. Many of us have no such practices and those that we do have to deal with our scatteredness serve to numb us rather than bring us more fully to life.
One of the reasons this is difficult for many of us is that as we’ve pursued individualism we’ve abandoned so many of the shared rituals that come from being part of community: singing together; retelling shared stories, especially the founding myths of our families or culture; eating together; turning towards one another in appreciation and recognition. And we’ve been sold the line that entertainment will do all of this for us, but it mostly can’t reach deeply enough into our lives or into the lives of the people around us to wake us up to ourselves.
Writing is, for me, a powerful experience of self-remembering — a way in which I catch on to my aliveness. And that you are reading is part of it — though we may never have met we’re bound, you and I, for a moment. Reading — novels, poetry, philosophy, science. Walking too. Music. Meditation. Art. But nothing is as powerful a force for my own self-remembering as the web of Jewish practice that is woven through my life and which binds me in time, in place, and in a community. It has very little if anything to do with belief, and very much to do with what I’ve been talking about here — practices that remind me again and again of the feeling of being alive and connected to others in a vast universe of which I am, we are, a part.
Please understand that I’m not making an argument here for anyone to take up the forms of self-remembering that I’ve found so life-giving. But I am arguing for taking self-remembering seriously — that discovering and taking up practices that bring us to life again and again is foundational to a life well lived and good work well done.
Otherwise we’re just sleep-walking through.