Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Awaken The Sleeper

Nobody in Particular,

            I was 14 when I bought my first “journal.” It was a small, sky blue hardcover notebook, actually. At first I didn’t write anything in there other than quotes: mostly musings from movies and music that motivated me. And on the opening page I scrawled words that still move me to this day—The Sleeper Must Awaken. It’s from David Lynch’s film adaptation of Frank Herbert’s novel Dune, which certainly left an indelible impression on my 9 year old mind. I can certainly understand its allure now; it’s the archetypal hero’s journey. It’s probably why other favorite films from my youth would include the original Star Wars trilogy, Krull, and Clash of the Titans. The short line is the closing statement delivered by a father to his son (main character), foreshadowing his future and eventually becoming a major motif in the movie. Here’s the full quote:

A person needs new experiences. They jar something deep within, allowing him to grow. Without change, something sleeps inside us and seldom awakens. The sleeper must awaken.

            The “sleeper,” then, to me, is the hidden potential within each and every single one of us. For the last few years since I’ve begun radically transforming my life, I keep wondering if “the sleeper” is finally stirring from its slumber. Perhaps it is awake and the changes that have transpired have been wrought directly because of it. I can’t tell for certain one way or another, but I can be certain that by trying to wake “the sleeper” that lies within each of us we are all capable of greatness. I suppose I should offer a disclaimer by stating the obvious—greatness, like success, is best realized through one’s own definition of it. I’m sure to most people my sense of greatness doesn’t stack up against the standard dream of American culture; greatness in that realm is synonymous with wealth and fame, unfortunately. The kind of greatness or success that I envision is more akin to a human life well lived, one in which a person’s passion for living is immediate and infectious. My students often compliment me on how positive I am and how much I seem to genuinely enjoy life—but what’s not to enjoy? There is boundless beauty at all turns if we’re willing to see it, just as there is untold wealth in loving relationships with family and friends. And the more we realize these ideas, the more they transform themselves into actions that sustain us.

            Action, however, is the key to waking the sleeper. This is where many people fall short for a variety of reasons, but more often than not this is due to misperceptions. As I mentioned in the previous letter, we cannot simply believe in our ideals, we must live them. This week in philosophy class, we are studying one of my favorite philosophers who has deeply influenced my own thinking and living—William James. I’m sure I may have mentioned him in earlier letters and, much like Aristotle, James believed that the point of philosophy was to inform us how to live life well. Moreover, he asserted that people fundamentally fall into two categories: those who choose safety, security, and compliance, and those who choose to take calculated risks through courageous action. To me, the first group are those who have been beaten down psychologically enough to have given up on their hopes, dreams, and aspirations—the sleeper is still dormant; the latter group, though, are those who foster what James called the “strenuous mood,” a constant commitment to action in the pursuit of our passions that allows us to flourish in this life. James realized that struggle and effort are vital elements of what constitutes “the good life.”

At this point, NIP, I’m sure you’re wondering as to why I even bring up James, but in truth he is the impetus to this letter because of a quote from one of his books I came across in our philosophy textbook this week: “The capacity for the strenuous mood probably lies slumbering in every man, but it has more difficulty in some than in others in waking up.” When I read that, the first words that popped into my head were the ones from Dune, the quote that has resonated with me for nearly 30 years. In truth, I think everyone is capable of waking the sleeper. It is at the very core of who we are as individuals, but we are perhaps afraid to let it out. Whether it be social conditioning, our own individual fears of how others will perceive us, or any other of the myriad reasons (read: excuses) we tell ourselves for why we should not be true to ourselves and our dreams, I’m here to tell you that I was that person too. But I’m not anymore and I’ll never be that person again. I’m too busy moving forward, purposefully progressing. And that’s the real key. Progress comes incrementally through the steady application of “the strenuous mood.” We often get hung up with outcomes because our culture is based on results, but that’s a mistake. Personal growth isn’t about outcomes, it’s about improvement. Moving along unwaveringly as we face obstacles—whether they be of our own mental making or challenges in our outer lives—is how we shake up not only ourselves, but “the sleeper” as well. In parting, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes from James, as it sums up what we all need to do in order to maximize our human potential: “Act for the best, hope for the best, and take what comes.”

Awaken the sleeper, NIP…

- Ryan

P.S. – I know I’m about a week late, but I hope that all of you had a wonderful Thanksgiving with your family and friends.
P.P.S. - Special Bonus: Here's the scene from Dune I was talking about:

1 comment:

  1. I love this post!! Please keep writing to us!I find hope in your writing and personal experience with positive change:)I am still trying to "awaken the sleeper" but I think I am getting closer...I wish I could take your philosophy class.