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Spirituality: the art of staying awake

Posted by Simon Parke, 19 July 2017, 6.03am

In the 1990’s, a team of US researchers posed as beggars, in Santa Cruz, California.

The results were interesting.

When they asked, ‘Can you spare any change?’ most people ignored them.

When they asked for something more specific, like, ‘Can you spare a quarter?’ they did better.

But when they asked for an actual amount, like, ‘Can you spare 42 cents?’ a remarkable 75% of passers-by stopped to give them something.

With a change of question, they had also managed to change a dead dynamic and spark a sense of relationship.

They had managed to ‘wake’ the passer-by.

‘It’s as if the unusual detail shakes the person out of a slumber, to see the moment as the beginning of an interaction, rather than as environmental noise to tune out,’ writes Alex Fradera on the Research Digest blog.

We all have buffers in place tuning out environmental noise, which is a polite way of saying, ‘Everything that does not serve me’.

These buffers kindly protect us from being overwhelmed by life; there’s only so much we can receive.

But they can also stifle us, narrow us, harden us…make us stupid.

‘I know what I like and I like what I know!’

And it can be difficult for anything or anyone to penetrate this bubble or wake us from our particular dream/hallucination.

As Oliver Burkeman says, we can trundle through life giving rather scripted responses.

Someone asks us how we are and we say ‘Fine’ without much thought.

We’re managing our resources, keeping a lid on things, running a tight ship, both inside and out.

To engage with how we truly are is just too exhausting; we may not even wish to know.

So it’s easier to stay with the script, stay with our carefully constructed self-image.

It is as if we are sleep walking for much of the time… though we can wake up.

Or allow crisis to do it for us.

‘Hello, sweet crisis! What message do you bring for me today?’

Spirituality is the art of staying awake…staying awake to life rather than editing it out.

It is starting each day without a script…and staying open to the unlikely grace of this moment.

‘Can you spare 42 cents?’

 
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