We here in the United States will say that to someone who is figuratively sleeping. Meaning, if they don't understand something obvious, something they're clueless about but should be clued in to, waking up is what we want them to do.
Taoism also talks about awakening. In a way that is both similar and different. Hans-Georg Moeller explains Taoism's (or Daoism's) small and great awakenings in his book, "Daoism Explained."
It's one of my favorite Taoist books.
Moeller has a fresh way of looking upon Taoism's way of looking upon things. He argues convincingly that many Western interpreters of Taoism overlay Christian or Platonic sorts of concepts upon Chinese notions of what reality is all about.
For example, Moeller says the small and great awakenings can be understood in terms of a familiar Taoist image: that of a spoked wheel and its hub.
The wheel is you (in Chinese), something, a presence. The hub is wu, nothing, an absence.
Yet the nothing of the empty hub is the key to the wheel doing what it does: revolve. So presence and absence are co-equals in Taoism, whereas by and large Western philosophies and religions abhor nothingness.
Also, Western minds like to feel that there could be a spoke on the wheel that is more true than the others. Each of our lives is made up of many time-revolutions. Most of us consider that somewhere in all that spinning is the real me.
Maybe in the past. Maybe right now. Maybe in the future. Whatever, some changings, some perspectives, some spoke being higher or lower must be the "me" that is preferred, the person I really am.
A small awakening consists of the realization that this isn't the case.
Within each phase, within each small dream and small waking, it is important to be fully absorbed within the phase, and each small segment is fully real. Life and death are such small segments of change and each step between the segments is a small awakening -- or a small sleep.
To really awaken means to newly accept another stage in the process, to begin another life or death. The small awakening takes place in the "periphery" of change, and while in the periphery of change, while taking an "active" part in the process, it is best to be fully awake in one's presence. A small awakening is the full acceptance and integration of oneself in the present circumstances.
So the small awakening mostly involves a sense of you, presence in Chinese. I was fully this before. I am fully this now. Unmarried/ married. Religious/ unbeliever. Conservative/ liberal. Child/ adult. Alive/ dead. Dreaming/ awake.
Instead of looking for some transcendent or ultimate something-or-other that isn't whatever I am now, I realize that whichever spoke of the wheel of life I am now, that is the presence I fully embrace.
I can't tell you how many times someone has left a comment on this blog along the lines of, "Brian, you used to believe in God so strongly. How is it possible for you to be such an avid unbeliever now? You must have been deceiving yourself before. Or maybe you are now?"
People who say stuff like that obviously haven't had a Taoist small awakening. They don't understand that everything, including people, changes. Who we are today isn't who we were yesterday. Who we will be tomorrow is somebody else again.
It'd be crazy to ask me, "Brian, you used to be six years old. How is it possible for you to be sixty-four now?" I'd reply with a bemused smirk, "Because change happens, dude. Once I was fully a believer; now I'm fully an unbeliever. Once I was fully six. Now I'm fully sixty-four."
Taoism is right in line with modern neuroscience in this respect: neither finds any enduring self or soul to be part of human nature. We are wise to consider that whoever we are now, is who we really are. When there's another now, there will another really.
But for Taoism, a great awakening is even more awake'y than a small awakening. Here's how Moeller describes it.
The great awakening is the awakening of the Daoist sage -- it is his/her "enlightenment." It is the "ultimate" change from the present Zhuang Zhou to the nonpresent Master Zhuang. This awakening does not lead beyond life and death, but rather right to their center.
A Daoist sage identifies him/herself not with the turning spokes of a wheel but with its unmoving hub. To be the pivot or center of change means to be identified with the whole process of change. This "zero-perspective" on the process of change is the Daoist sage's perspective on life and death, and the great awakening is the awakening to this perspective.
As opposed to the small awakened who totally identifies him/herself with the present segment of change, with life or death, the sage identifies him/herself with neither of the specific segments, but with the whole process as such.
...From the zero-perspective of the hub, the wheel always looks the same, no matter where the spokes are. Since the sage has no present "self" and no present identity or function, his/her own present body is his/her present periphery or environment.
Which sounds like a fancy way of saying pretty much what the Beatles sang in "I Am The Walrus."
I am he as you are he as you are me
And we are all together
Cool. Or I guess I should say, Goo goo goo joob goo goo goo joob.
Update: Just read a letter to the editor in New Scientist. Seems on the same wavelength.
From Wolf Kirchmeir
I think what is wrong with the metaphors Jan Westerhoff gives for the self is that both a string of pearls and a rope are objects, but the self is a process.
A better metaphor would be a fountain. The fountain's shape exists as long as there is water flowing, and ceases when it stops. The self is the shape, not the water. The water represents the operations in the brain.
This idea is not mine, but I cannot recall where I first encountered it.
Blind River, Ontario, Canada