Are you awake?

Do you know what your goal is in life? Or do you know what it's like to search for one? I sure as hell haven't found my goal yet, but I've travelled a slight bit around the world (if you can call it that) and my way of traveling usually means that I encounter interesting souls. Uninteresting souls too, of course. One thing I've noticed is that it's always quite easy to recognize people who have 'awakened', so to speak. This 'awakening' is impossible for me to define, but I hope I can at least convey a part of the concept. Awakened people are people who have thought about life and have realized that they have many choices. And they're not entirely sure that the choice they're currently on is the right one. They're aware of their place in life, and their own (in)significance. All this sounds a bit silly, but condense these sentences and a whole lot more similar sentences into a concept in your mind, and you will be able to classify people into two groups: those who are awake, and those who aren't.

Last year, when I was cycling to the southernmost point of Japan, on a day when I almost arrived at my destination it suddenly started to rain. A lot. I waited it out on a nearly abandoned campsite at a beach. Two other travelers and myself took shelter underneath a small roof meant to barbecue under. The three of us waited there for the whole day, with nothing in the vicinity to entertain us but ourselves. My sheltermates were two Japanese guys who didn't know each other before coming there, one traveling by moped, the other by motorcycle. I can't quite remember well, but I remember that one of them was unemployed and had been for a long time, and the other one was a salaryman in the Yokohama area. You'd think that we would have a lot to talk about, since we had nothing else to do. Alas, that was not so. They were not very talkative. My modus operandi is, after the usual greeting, to try and prod my subject a bit with semi-philosophical questions. After all, they too were traveling around Japan on a tiny vehicle. They must have a reason, right? As it turns out, not really. Both of them could not really tell me why they were traveling. They didn't want to find out anything, they didn't want to accomplish anything, and they didn't even particularly like traveling. The unemployed guy just traveled because camping was a cheap way to live and it was hard to find a job. The salaryman just traveled because he had some holidays. I could detect no spark in their soulless eyes. We didn't exchange contact information, and the next morning they were gone before I woke up.

The next day the rain cleared, and I cycled to the southernmost point of Japan on that very day. After finding a nearby campsite I met with two people who were already there. Two independent travelers, one of them traveling by car, the other on foot. They did not need much prodding. When I asked them why they were traveling, one of them answered with a glint in his eye: "I quit my job in Tokyo and wanted to do something different with my life". The other said "I'm not really sure, but I just needed some time to think.". Now those are interesting answers. These people are awake. We hit it off great, went on a crazy midnight car adventure and two of us ended up going hiking on a huge horrible mountain just south of Kyushu. But that's another story.

This certainly doesn't mean that all travelers are awake. Or that all people with regular jobs aren't. During my job in Japan I interacted with a lot of salarymen, and there were some among them that did respond favourably to certain questions about life. That's exactly why the concept of being 'awake' is so hard to describe, because it has no clear correlation to being employed or unemployed, being introvert or extrovert. You just know it when you prod it.

It's always fairly easy for me to distinguish awake people from regular people. All it takes is some light prodding by way of some light questions. "So how did you end up here?", "So what's your plan?". Questions that can be (and usually are)  easily answered with an uninteresting response. But every once in a while, someone replies to those questions with an answer that makes you think, and you know that they thought about it too. To me, awakened people are the most interesting people I've ever met, and I hope I can meet a lot more of them in the future.

Are you awake?

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