The first time I remember being asked, “Are you awake?” I was in elementary school. My mom would flip on the overhead ceiling fan light a few minutes before I was required to have feet flat on the floor, preparing myself for school.
I always hated the question because naturally, I wasn’t. Obviously, I was still in bed, hiding under blankets from the harsh light/reality of having to wake up and be productive, or, in the case of my elementary-school times, learn something.
I didn’t realize the importance of the question when I was a young nine-year-old. Back then, it felt so tactical, so pragmatic. As I’ve grown up, I’ve realized this simple question, “Are you awake?” morphs into so many other different questions.
Are you paying attention?
Can you feel that?
Do you want to be in this conversation / at this party / in this job right now?
Being awake - staying awake - living awake isn’t always easy. We fall into our regular habits, our default reactions, our situational circumstances. We accept, we rationalize, we negotiate, we justify our way into places that we may have never wanted to be. We hit snooze; we forget to care, we say the hurtful things, we cut people off in traffic.
But why? For what purpose? To what end?
Daily, I ask myself, “Sheena, are you awake?” because I’ve found myself in relationships and jobs and circumstances that made me feel incredibly numb, sometimes worse than numb, sometimes I was operating in the red, zero, zilch, with nothing but literal and metaphorical debt.
How do you know if you’re awake in this life?
1. Know yourself so you can make decisions for yourself.
Who are you when you’re feeling strong, happy and healthy? What do you do? What does that feel like? You have to know yourself - and I mean honestly know yourself, which may take some searching, and it will often change and transition. Knowing how you’re feeling about a particular person, a specific job, your living conditions, your finances will help you start to answer the question: Am I awake? Even if you aren’t feeling the best about something, you are at least able to address what hurts and stay initiative about it instead of falling numb to it. You can make your own decisions and directives on how to move forward. The risk of not knowing how you’re feeling or what you want is that you may be easily convinced or pulled into any direction leading somewhere you don’t want to be.
2. Educate yourself.
We are told a lot of things; delivered a lot of messages. We are advised on what we should like, how we should dress, what colleges we should attend, how to progress properly through our careers. We are told how to save money for our future and sold products we know very little about. Before blindly accepting the advice, before opening the account or purchasing the products, educate yourself. Understand how your decisions send ripple effects through the world because those ripple effects will inevitably ripple through you too. Living awake means staying dedicated to knowing not only yourself but how your actions are molding this world.
3. Don’t be afraid to choose something different.
If something doesn’t work for you, then don’t be afraid to choose something different, and then, don’t let them try to change your mind. Living awake means designing a life that works for you, and changing that as you need to. Don’t stay in a job you hate. Don’t stay in a relationship that depletes you. Don’t buy the product because of promises you’ve been sold. Choose for you. Choose what will work for you.
4. Understand when you’re experiencing guilt.
Guilt can be a mighty thing. It can make you do things you would have not otherwise chosen. Some people know exactly how to use guilt, and some people are unaware they’re using it, but either way, it doesn’t mean you have to take that on. If you don’t want to go to the party: don’t go. If you can’t afford to be the bridesmaid: don’t go into debt to do so. If you need to rest, rest. Being honest and upfront about your needs instead of letting someone else’s needs or wants direct you will keep you awake. It will open up room for you to make guilt-free decisions.
5. Stay active.
What are your favorite ways to sweat? When we move inside of our bodies, we are more centered and more attuned to what’s happening inside and outside of us. Our body reveals to us so many different things: emotional stress, anxiety, excitement, joy, strength, weaknesses. When our body feels free to move uninhibited, then we feel freer. When our body struggles, we struggle. Staying active will keep you alert and content, standing on solid bones.
Living awake means that you can make your own informed decisions within a healthy mind and body. It means you can navigate your changing seas whenever the need arises. It means you won’t land in situations where you’ve never intended or wanted to be. And when life throws you curve balls, you’re awake enough to manage them, not just react to them.
When I think of the times I found myself numb - practically sleeping - and daily handing over my power to jobs and people that held me back, I realize that I forgot my mom’s important morning question:
Are you awake?
Today, I try to live my life boldly; I’m always asking myself the tough questions, and still being open to vulnerable and courageous conversations. I stand up for myself more, while opening my heart more. I take more risks. I accept jobs that motivate me. I live a life outside of the norms, and that is sometimes scary, but I live a life of discovery and curiosity, and that feels good. And awake.
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Sheena Jeffers is a writer, dancer, yoga teacher, and wellness life coach currently living full-time on her sailboat in Norfolk, Virginia. Sheena founded and co-owns WELLwomen, Inc., a corporation dedicated to the replenishment of women. She promotes wholehearted living through private yoga and life coaching sessions, as well as her writing on her blog www.sheenajeffers.com and www.seaslifeforgood.com. Sheena lives on a 43-foot Catamaran named Seas Life, and hopes to bring wellness to the world around her wherever she travels.