“Stop sleepwalking. Life is meant to be experienced, not coasted through.”
— Author Unknown
“Up and at ‘em,” boomed his voice. “Let’s hit the floor!”
This outburst was generally followed by the raking of a metal knife handle across the heat register by the kitchen table. If still no response was received, it was followed by the loud thump of a fist hitting the table and the admonition, “You don’t want me coming up there!”
My father was an early riser and, being so, wanted everyone else up early too. And it didn’t matter the season, nor whether there was a torrential downpour or white-out blizzard happening outside, everyone had to be up by 6 a.m. He’d have been up for an hour and finished his first pot of coffee while Mom prepared breakfast.
“People die in bed,” he’s say, which didn’t sound all that bad to me.
Though I would not suggest this approach for greeting the day, there’s something to be said for getting up and getting going in the morning. And I’m not speaking strictly of the physical here: not just getting up but also getting ready mentally and emotionally is vital.
Too many of us stumble through life half-asleep, mentally dull and emotionally stunted by old programming and dysfunctional patterns of behaviour. It’s so easy: stumble onto the treadmill we call routine and step off exhausted at the end of the day.
It might help to think of old patterns and routines like ruts left in a dirt road following a good three-day rain. Anyone who grew up in the country should easily be able to conjure up this scene. The rain stops, the sun comes out, and before long, we’re left with hard, deep ruts that are hell on suspension components and nearly impossible to traverse. You could almost allow the wheels to drop in the ruts and let the car follow this predictable course. You’d barely need a hand on the steering wheel.
This is often the way it is with life. The ruts we’ve worn into our mental and emotional roadways carry us along with little thought or effort. We can simply drift off to sleep or perhaps more accurately, never truly wake up in the first place. And the only time the road becomes rough and we meet with resistance is when — for whatever reason — we decide to change the routine. Sadly, most of us would rather steer back into familiar territory than rub the sleep from our eyes, firmly grasp the steering wheel with both hands and hold our wheels on the new path.
Awareness — a powerful and often the first component of self-esteem building — is really about waking up. Sitting up, yawning and recognizing old unproductive patterns and the multitude of disempowering beliefs that have kept us stuck for so long. It’s only when you recognize that you are in a rut that you will be able to intentionally and willfully steer out of it
I should point out that in every vibrant life, there must be time for rest and rejuvenation. Endless striving can also lead to exhaustion and depletion. Something in my father’s experience prompted him to be up early even when conditions were such that little work could be done. On those days, he would invariably lie down on the couch for an extended afternoon nap, leaving me to wonder why he had gotten up so early in the first place.
“The scariest thought in the world is that someday, I’ll wake up and realize I’ve been sleepwalking through my life,” wrote American essayist, novelist and children’s author, George Saunders. “Under appreciating the people I love, making the same hurtful mistakes over and over, a slave to neuroses, fear and the habitual.”
How will you greet the morning and your life? With eyes half shuttered and steps that shuffle rather than stride? Or will you yell, “Let’s hit the floor!”?
Murray Fuhrer is a self-esteem columnist