How did you wake up?

January 14, 2013
By

awakenessI have previously made reference to the fact that the literal translation of the Luganda morning greeting is not “Good Morning,” but rather “How did you wake up?”

It seems to me a strong metaphor for the moment in time—or a specific event or series of experiences—that triggered our spiritual and mental awareness.

Have you had such a moment?  If I asked you, “How did you wake up?” would you have an answer?

If you asked me, I think I would refer to the process as an ongoing work.  Just as we are physically awake, and then asleep, and then awake again, I think my spiritual awareness has a similar cycle.

Saturday night, I said goodnight to the kids staying with me and made sure they were asleep and happy.  I then climbed into AidChild’s Land Cruiser—with a colleague—and drove to AidChild’s Olubugo.  Like me, generally speaking, Ugandans love late-nights and dislike mornings.  So when I arrived at 10pm, the party was just getting started.  Our entire rooftop was filled with people having a good time.  It wasn’t long before someone pointed out the fact that I was the only “Mzungu” (Caucasian) person there.  This triggered an awakeness for me, and my mind gave me a quick memory-slideshow.

First up was a slide of my early life on the Navajo Nation where I was often the only “Bilagáana” (Caucasian) kid in the room.

Then to my studies in Mexico and Guatemala where my Gringo-ness was often called out.

The next mental-slide was an image of myself in my early 20’s just as I emerged from Amsterdam’s “Centraal” [sic] Train Station.  The masses of people around me all looked like me.  Tall, blond(e), blue eyed, and white-white-white.  I remember feeling very uncomfortable with this because it was the first time in my life that I had such an experience.  I didn’t know what to do with sameness given my life experience rooted in diversity.  (I’ll admit that I do like when KLM flight attendants switch to Dutch when they speak to me onboard.  I do my best to go along.  I know what they mean when they ask “Wat wilt u drinken?” So I reply “Witte wijn,” and then I pray there are no follow-up questions.)

And the last slide depicted a very dark night.  It was of my first trip to Uganda.  I was standing near a campfire, giving a talk to a group of hundreds of youth.  I honestly could not physically see anyone else, but I could otherwise sense them profoundly.

Yesterday, I departed from my little house in Entebbe, hugged kids with a short goodbye, and I travelled to Kampala City.  (I have a meeting today with AidChild’s attorney.)  I spent last night at the home of a friend, a senior American diplomat.  As I type, five household staff members are at work: one cleaning, one cooking, one gardening, and two armed guards patrolling.  When I was physically awake in the night, I heard the Embassy’s external security team at the top of the long drive, knocking at the gate to check-in with the guards—and to check on us.

And I spiritually awoke again.

Indeed these were all moments that describe how I woke up.

I worry that the message here will get swallowed up by modern understandings of “privilege” and “race.”  But I assure you that those terms are far too limited to capture the awakeness which I describe.

I hear many conversations—and read many Facebook postings—that make reference to the politics of race and privilege, but I fear they are not rooted in actual awareness—awakeness.  It is my belief that they emerge from places of guilt or social pressure rather than from places of actual experience or understanding.  In order to experience this awakeness, I believe you must spend much time with Other.  Much, much time.  Thinking, loving, suffering—and finally knowing.

It has always seemed strange to me that the people who preach “diversity” the loudest often make no attempts to incorporate it into their lives.  They surround themselves only with people who agree with them, who have the same political views, same likes and dislikes, and same beliefs.  Same-same-same.  There may be ethnic diversity in their life, but ethnicity is often socially deconstructed to fit into these homogenized mini-worlds.

May I challenge you to ask yourself the following questions?

  • When did I last spend time—quality time—with someone of a different faith, and ask them to challenge me about what I believe, and how I know what I know?  (To read about my epistemology—how I know what I know—click here.)
  • When is the last time I judged someone, and then asked myself if the judgment was truly valid, ethical, and rooted in law, Scripture or common sense?
  • If your epistemology is rooted in Christianity, ask: When is the last time I actually looked for a Scripture to substantiate my beliefs?  Does the Bible really say what I believe it says?
  • Is it possible that I am not truly awake to issues which I claim to hold dear?
  • Am I awake?

I will close with a renewed commitment to not merely walk through this life as if it is meant to be a series of events for my pleasure and wellbeing, but rather as a human opportunity for my Spirit to grow, suffer, celebrate, delight, develop, be enriched—and to wake up.

And how did you wake up?  Please tell me below.

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14 Responses to How did you wake up?

  1. Dad
    January 14, 2013 at 6:17 am

    I have had more than one wake up moment, usually marked by the phrases “I get it. It’s taken me a long time, but I get it.” Like the new day, dawn slowly comes, but come it does.

  2. Sara
    January 16, 2013 at 12:46 am

    This post was amazing. Really has me thinking about our levels of awakening in many aspects of our lives. I think culturally we’re taught that spiritual awakening happens as one big “Aha!” when I think there are far many more awakening milestones in our lives instead of one defining moment.

    • January 16, 2013 at 12:59 am

      Sara: Thanks for this. I am pleased that it resonated with you. I worry that we don’t work hard enough at nurturing our awakeness. Blessings, –N

  3. January 16, 2013 at 3:51 am

    I remember the huge awake moment I had last summer when I was at a family reunion and my aunt died in the hotel room next to us from a brain aneurysm and my sisters and I suddenly found ourselves caring for my handicapped cousin, an Other I thought I knew because she was family, but was forced to admit then, I didn’t have a clue.

    • January 16, 2013 at 5:28 am

      Wow! That’s a powerful story. Thanks for sharing it. Better understanding the lived experiences of Others really does lead to an awakeness. –N

  4. Vesna
    January 16, 2013 at 9:26 am

    I am glad I stopped by here this morning 🙂 I had to think about this one: Is it possible that I am not truly awake to issues which I claim to hold dear?
    I am taking the rail 3 times a week and you know in Phoenix this is a big deal because we are “one person – car – people” – we have no grid for public transportation nor we like it 🙂 Every time I ride on it I am starting to notice the homeless who hop on it to warm up or get to their next destination. I have been “awaken” lately how little I know about this “culture” which issues I claim to hold dear – I was probably convinced that we don’t have homeless people! Silly I know but the mind does all kinds of false conclusions right? My suburban busy life has been so constructed that I will never see them therefore I have forgotten about the issues I hold dear. I have been awaken on the light rail in Phoenix! Thanks Nathaniel!!!

    • January 16, 2013 at 9:38 am

      Vesna, Bless you. This understanding of other means so much. I am grateful for your comment, friend. –N

  5. January 24, 2013 at 6:40 am

    Hi Nathaniel,

    Thank you for these very thought provoking, insights delivered with such self provocating humour! I have been trying to reach you here in Entebbe, l feel l may have useful skills to contribute to this amazing world that you have established at AidChild.

    Your getting in touch, would be an opportunity for me to put some skills to great use, which would benefit, l feel in a small way.

    Best regards,

    Doreen – +256 776 612 369 / dmet25@yahoo.com

  6. Tom Slack
    January 30, 2013 at 10:18 pm

    I have to admit to a whole lot of thinking about the true meaning of awareness and (awakedness?), Daily I strive to be there for all that cross my path, maybe just a smile, maybe just a reassuring word of encouragement, I see that spiritually I continue to be “washed by the word” believing daily God will allow understanding and discernment. a daily stepping out of darkness and into a new light,a light of wisdom and growth,from ignorance to stepping into knowledge to prove all things, and hold fast to that which is good. Our societies are addicted to ignorance and fear truth, racism, hate, criminal endeavors fascinate some and rightfully earn the disdain of many, we are a lost people trying to make sense of our reality a reality we’ve created, and we would try to put and end to all live, and to pursue this warped sense of ego and self endeavor rather than admit to the reality that there is a higher being /power who has and is purposefully working out His design for humanity, He put each of us here to glorify him.Is it truly so impolite to bring a spiritual solution to every intellectual question? I feared I wouldn’t be able to give a good answer to this. I only hope I scraped the surface of what I believe how I awaken means.

  7. Carla Heinecke, M.Ed.
    February 6, 2013 at 7:30 pm

    I haven’t thought of being “awake” as almos the same as being “aware”!

    Thanks for sharing your journey of getting to know that you are awake, in light of your life experiences with Navajos, Dutch, Ugandas, and in Guatemala! Wow.. you know what you are writing about. Diverse diversity!

    I am not sure what Other meant, a bit vague. LMK. I want to be more awake and less sleepy. I also have been meditating on this as year began. I feel I want to love others more, pray more, meditate more, write more songs that inspire and bless.

    Thanks, Again.. for making/helping me think!

    • February 7, 2013 at 12:41 am

      Tia. The term “Other” refers to just that: other, those other than self. In my work, we often talk in terms of either “Self” or “Other” where the latter implies that we understand that we are at once connected and different from our global colleagues. A respect for Other, and understanding of Other means that our way is not the only way. Is that clear now?

  8. Carla Heinecke, M.Ed.
    February 7, 2013 at 6:33 am

    Thanks for clarifying so I can grasp better what you are writing! I thought it was a reference to the Divine. I will understand when you write something like this again. This helps!

  9. Gail Kavanaugh
    February 12, 2013 at 2:39 pm

    My husband and I were just discussing Lent; how we could further enrich our journey toward Easter. Instead of “giving up” things as we have in past years, we decided to make it a point to visit shut-ins, reach out to the homeless, do more “random acts of kindness”, etc. etc. In other words, become more physically involved. Prayer is always important in our lives, and we do plenty of that. But, we have come to realize that people need our physical presence in so many circumstances. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and for the challenge. God bless you always.

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Nathaniel is CEO of AidChild.org. He holds a Master's Degree in Human Development and Psychology from Harvard University where he was a Reynolds Fellow in Social Entrepreneurship, and winner of the 2010 Harvard HDP Marshal Award. He also holds a PhD in Leadership Studies from the University of San Diego where he was the Dammeyer Fellow in Global Education Leadership, and a Cordes Fellow at Opportunity Collaboration. Nathaniel is author of "We Are Not Mahogany: Three stories about the male African life." Prior to his move to Uganda in 2000, Nathaniel was Deputy Director of the Office of the Governor of Arizona, and Director of Education at Leadership, Inc.

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