Time to Wake Up

You can’t take it with you and you know that it’s too worthless to be sold.
They tell you, ‘Time is money’ as if your life was worth its weight in gold.

When you gonna wake up, when you gonna wake up,
When you gonna wake up and strengthen the things that remain?
— Bob Dylan, When You Gonna Wake Up?

Why do we so often shuffle through life as if in a trance, rarely straying from the well-worn path we carve into our little world? We seek out comfort in convenient though obvious dogmas, and happily surrender our agency to false idols and their too-good-to-be-true promises. We tally our spoils to trumpet our success, yet by the time we're done counting we begin to dread finding out what the sages have been trying to tell us for millennia: that all of our awards and toys and accolades don't mean jack shit.

So we anesthetize ourselves to blunt the force of the encroaching gloom. We take satisfaction in small victories, winning, transaction by transaction, by whatever means necessary, and give up the larger battle for our souls. Deep down, we know that there's a larger, richer life "out there," but we tell ourselves it's beyond our reach.

I'm here to tell you that it isn't. But you have to wake up first.

You must wake up. Now.

The world is forever presenting us with opportunities to wake up from our slumber of semi-consciousness. Some existential crisis befalls - an illness, a betrayal, the death of a loved one - or some other such cataclysmic, orbit-altering event that obliterates the path in front of you, and yet which beckons you forward, into the unknown.

This can feel like reaching the far end of a trail that terminates at a dark wood. There's no longer any discernible path ahead, and no map to provide direction through the woods. It's scary. You don't want to go in but you know there's no going back.

What was familiar is now revealed to be fraudulent, a trick we play on ourselves to avoid taking risks, being hurt. What provided comfort now only brings sadness at the thought of what wasn't ventured. But we don't yet trust the journey. The past, though already revealed to be a pale representation of our potential, is still preferable to a wide open, unscripted future. Our brain, of course, wants us to go back, to safety, yet our heart knows that we must forge ahead, to where the growth is.

It can help to remember that the world inevitably has some incredible surprises in store for each and every one of us, whether we're ready for them or not. Some of these surprises will be full of grace while others will be terrifying. Make peace with the fact that you can't fight this. You can't run from it. You can try to ignore it at your own peril, but be forewarned that it will never - not ever - stop knocking on your door.

Things will go so much better if you train yourself to stop resisting and to embrace - to love - these moments. These moments put you on a different path, they start a new journey.

These moments are wake-up calls.

The thing about wake-up calls, though, is that they only work if you answer them. You can't press the snooze button indefinitely. You can't roll over and put the pillow over your head. You can't turn around and walk (or run!) the other way, pretending you didn't hear it.

Don't waste a perfectly good wake-up call.

Since I started telling the story of my journey to wellness after a cancer diagnosis in September 2013 I have heard countless wake-up call stories: the friend who narrowly escaped trading his soul (and family) for Wall Street riches before pulling the escape lever and ejecting to a slower, simpler life; a colleague who opted to have breakfast with his young family one fateful morning and watched, in horror, as his co-workers perished at their desks when the north tower of the World Trade Center came down on 9/11; the young housewife and mother, her marriage to an abusive and inconstant man crumbling around her, who built a successful career in a male-dominated business and finally found someone who could love her exactly as she was.

These stories each follow a similar trajectory: a crisis, followed by a realization that what had previously been taken as immutable fact - career, family, even life itself - was in fact a well-constructed conjuring of the mind. Then, finally, an embrace of the way forward, despite the fear and sadness at what was lost.

The wake-up call only provides the spark, however. The spark must be groomed into a flame, which in turn must become a raging fire. This fire must be given a constant supply of oxygen to burn away all vestiges of the limiting belief system. A good fire will also illuminate those things we thought we couldn't survive without and let's us see them for what they really are, enabling us to question the value we've unconsciously ascribed to them. Only then can we see those things objectively and consciously decide how important they are - and how much we're willing to sacrifice for them.

Waking up is really about coming to an intimate understanding of what your soul needs. Knowing what your mind needs. Knowing what your body needs. And, then, steering the course of your life to maximize the amount of time and energy you spend feeding and nourishing your mind, body and spirit.

Waking up is, to the greatest extent possible, making the unconscious conscious so that we're not ruled by things we don't understand or have command of. It's a commitment to staying radically open to what needs to be learned in any given moment. It's trusting that discomfort can be painful, yes, but that the pain is only temporary - and necessary - to get to deeper self-understanding.

Survive one wake-up call - all it takes is one - and you will learn to trust the process. This is my guarantee to you.

Stay open, until what you are meant to learn is revealed to you.

Leave all the doors and windows open. Let the fresh air and sunlight in.

Come out from your hiding spot and wipe the sleep from your eyes.

It's time to wake up and live the life you were meant to live.