What Wakes Us Up?

In The Greatest Miracle in the World, Og Mandino categorizes a relationship between the main character (who is actually Og Mandino), and a character who identifies as a “Ragpicker.” Wikipedia categorizes a ragpicker as

“A term for someone who makes a living by rummaging through refuse in the streets to collect material for salvage. Scraps of cloth and paper could be turned into cardboard, broken glass could be melted down and reused, and even dead cats and dogs could be skinned to make clothes.”

The ragpicker and Og have a series of conversations about life, meaning, and purpose. The ragpickers, who identifies as a man of God, asks Og if he believes in miracles. Og, who is a practical man, answers with a negative, and when questioned on would have to occur for him to believe in a miracle, responds that a miracle must be when something breaks a law of nature. What follows if one of the best conversations in all of literature (and I will attempt to paraphrase it).

(Throwing an object to Og, who proceeds to catch it), The ragpicker asks, “Do you realize what you have just done, Mister Og?”

“I caught your paperweight.”

“More than that. Your action temporarily suspended the law of gravity. By any definition of the work miracle, you have just performed one.” The ragpicker continues, prompting Og to come up with his greatest example of what a miracle would.

“Probably those cases where the dead have supposedly come back to life,” Og answers.

It is here, where the ragpicker delivers the great line in the book, and maybe of all time. Responding to Og’s agreement that resurrection would be a great miracle, the ragpicker states,

“Most humans, in varying degrees, are already dead. In one way or another they have lost their dreams, their ambitions, their desire for a better life. They have surrendered their fight for self-esteem and they have compromised their great potential. They have settled for a life of mediocrity, days of despair and nights of tears. They are no more than living deaths confined to cemeteries of their choice. Yet they need not remain in that state. They can be resurrected from their sorry condition. They can each perform the greatest miracle in the world. They can each come back from the dead...”

He continues to explain that this is what he does. As a ragpicker, he finds the metaphorical scraps of humanity, the pieces that have fallen off of the side, fixes them, and “sells” them for a higher profit. He finds the living dead, the ones who sleepwalk through life, the ones who wake up every morning with a sense of sorrow in their throats that they are unable to swallow, the ones who struggle to sleep because their conscious seaps with regret, and he brings them back to life.

Understanding the relevancy of this metaphor, we realistically must ask ourselves, what do we do if there isn’t a ragpicker there to save us? What do we do if we are aware of the purpose leeching out of our lives, but no one is there to perform a miracle on us? What do we do as the scraps? If we know, or even if we are blissfully unaware of the emptiness in our hearts, what wakes us up?

The “Daily Stoic” states that we are all born equal, we all have fears and anxieties, we all have temptations and give into addictions, we all live life in this sleep-ish manner, and then some of us find philosophy and wake up. Dr. Wayne Dyer gives a speech where he states that God will tell you it is time for a change, most likely through some seemingly (in the moment) negative event that forces you to realign your life.

This idea that we wake up once we hit obstacles, once our world is shaken, once we find ourselves at what we consider to be our rock bottom is evident all throughout history. Great leaders such as Abraham Lincoln, Steve Jobs, and Nelson Mandela, as well as social figures such as Dwayne Johnson and Tony Robbins (who could be considered a social figure, as well as a great leader) have all gone through this idea of a crucible (“a situation of severe trial, or in which different elements interact, leading to the creation of something new”). This is the pain we have discussed earlier, it serves a multitude of purposes in our lives, one being allowing us to recreate who we are once what we have known is broken.

Whatever we would like to call it: waking up, realizing our true purpose, taking control of our reality, it is not an option for us regardless. We don’t have the choice of deciding not to embark on this journey of discovery, unless we are confident that we will be comfortable with the avoidable void that will occur when we look back on a wasted life, a life that we lived for others. Abraham Maslow, who coined the Hierarchy of Needs and human’s ascend to enlightenment stated that, “If you deliberately plan on being less than you are capable of being, then I warn you that you'll be unhappy for the rest of your life.” The issue is that sometimes this awakening comes too late, after we have spent our whole lives spinning our wheels, chasing empty dreams, and living for realities that we too late realize are unimportant. We often times don’t realize the extent and consequences of our actions until it is too late.

I found myself consistently digging deeper holes, projecting pain, anger, and sorrow on those around me. I was spending my days tracking down dreams that weren’t mine, and spending nights drowning out emotions that were, but that I didn’t want. I buried every sense of individuality, until I was nothing more than an empty life waiting to happen. After dropping out of college, it seems I also dropped out of life too.

We go through life truly knowing nothing, but feeling as though we know everything. As I grew up in my home town, I thought I had the world, and all it encompasses, figured out. I knew who I was, I knew how love worked, how pain, anger, deceit, and everything else worked. But, as I began to expand my bubble into newer and larger ponds, I realized that I didn’t know anything at all. This is truly frightening, the realization that you truly are clueless. It is also odd, because the more you learn, the less you know.

            This leads to what I feel is the saddest of tragedies in the world. So many people never leave their pond, never leave their bubbles. This isolation in the world allows the ego to swell to preposterous amounts; their pride planting seeds in all they do. It isn’t until you are truly humbled by your lack of meaning in the world that you can start to become yourself.

            We don’t make much sense as human beings. We as people effortlessly decide to always select the negative, but why? It is as if we choose to consistently be angry, bitter, hateful, sad, or upset at the world, due almost a hundred percent of the time to our choices. Why do we choose this, when instead of choosing happiness? We can, at any given moment, shift the nature of our thoughts to provide the hope, the peace, the welfare that is needed for us to life fully in our daily lives’.

            It is almost as if we enjoy creating a web, a safety net of lies that we tell ourselves to catch us when we fail. As if it won’t hurt as much or be as disappointing if we hold a part of ourselves back. We set up excuses, fall back options, plan B’s, or any other way to allow ourselves the ability not to chase our dreams with all our might. We never wake up, because maybe we fear the power that comes with realizes that your reality is up to you.

It seems the first step to deciding who we want to be, and in what reality we want to live in is questioning where we are now. Alan Watts has a great dialogue about this when he asks students what do they want to do? What makes them itch, what do they find their free time being driven towards? Whatever they answer, he tells them to do that thing. “If you say that getting money is the most important thing, You’ll spend your life completely wasting your time. You’ll be doing things you don’t like doing, in order to go living, that is, to go on doing things you don’t like doing, which is stupid. It is better to have a short life spent doing what you love than to have a long life spent in a miserable way.”

“So what we are doing is we are bringing up children, and we are educating them to live the same sort of life. They may find satisfaction in bringing up their children, and then bringing up their children, to do the same thing, so it's all retching and no vomit. It never gets there.” “And therefore, it is so important to consider this question, ‘What do I desire?’”

Once you can answer this question, and realize that in 9 times out of 10, the answer does not align with your current reality, you must change that reality. Napoleon Hill, the author of Think and Grow Rich, found himself in this same dilemma when he decided he had to change himself, in order to live the life that he wanted to live. “Realizing, as I did, early in life, that I had to overcome the handicap of birth in an environment of ignorance and superstition, I deliberately assigned myself the task of voluntary rebirth…”

Napoleon Hill, as most of us do, realized that who he was and how he was living did not align with what he desired out of life. This is our first step in waking up. There may be no ragpicker who comes to save you, God may not cast a flood to allow you to show your true colors, an obstacle that forces you to realize what matters in life may not occur, so you must do it yourself. No one can hand you the manuscript of who to be (although they will try), you must find it yourself, through deliberate and consistent work, and then through more deliberate and consistent work, you must make it happen.

This is how we wake up, through what Nelson Mandela describes as “serious introspection.” He continues with, “Development in matters of this nature is inconceivable without...knowing yourself, your weaknesses, and mistakes.. (at first) you may found it difficult at first to pinpoint the negative features in your life, but the 10th attempt may yield rich results.”

To close, let's reflect on a statement my boss made during a conversation about her family. Describing how she choose the service field, and her brother choose a financial field, she states, “We all have to find what makes us happy. For him, it was money, for me it was assisting others. If I would have listened to my dad and been a banker, I would hate my life currently, despite making much more money. As a child I knew what I wanted, but almost lost it in college. It seems between the ages of 16 and 60 we lose sight on what is important, and chase what we think will matter, but never does.”