On Feeling Alive
Dear quarter lives,
When we speak of feelings, we often refer to the obvious sadness or anger or fear, but there is an important feeling from which all other feelings are born — the feeling of aliveness. And when we speak of the feeling of aliveness, a beautiful distinction is born, one that does not assume our humanity by just being here, but more importantly, by feeling we are here. We are not simply human because we exist, but because we feel we exist. It is the feeling of our here-ness, of our alive-ness, that anchors us to this life and allows us to experience it. I love the idea that our existence is not just mere fact, but rather mere experience. So what does it mean then to exist through our feelings, through our experience, instead of some fact that we are here because we were born. There are many who are born, who are indeed alive because their hearts beat, but who do not feel alive. So what is it then that makes us feel alive if it is not our being alive, and how can we access this feeling of aliveness, that is the foundation of all experience, of all feelings?
As it is with all other feelings, it is unique to us. Yes, we may call ourselves human, group ourselves into communities, into families, into relationships through which we define ourselves, but when it comes to feelings, one can never really know if any feeling they experience is the same as the next person’s experience of that feeling. And even as best as we use language or visual imagery or music, or whatever it is we use to communicate feelings to one another, the experience of a feeling is always our own. And so, it’s no different with aliveness. So what makes you feel alive is different than what makes me feel alive. And despite that difference, we can all agree that we need to feel alive. Feeling alive, I believe, is all that we need as humans to function, to endure hardship, to experience joy and then be able to let it go. It is the experience of aliveness that I believe has been confused with happiness. Often times, people not just of our time, but of many times past, have been obsessed with the road to happiness. And I must humbly say that this might’ve been an error in either translation or judgement, because it is not happiness that we need but aliveness that we hunger for. Anyone who has been numb to their feelings can tell you that they just crave to feel anything at all, even if it is anger or fear or the more uncomfortable anxiety, but they just want to feel. Feeling, being able to feel, is what really makes us feel like we exist, it is what makes us feel human, it is what makes us feel like we are participating in life, like we are truly embodying our bodies, these beautiful structures that come to life and have meaning because we feel them and when we stop feeling through them, we are severed and separated from the experiential aspect of life, and that is in my own very humble opinion, the only aspect that confirms that we are indeed living.
So finding our aliveness is vital. It is just as essential as food and water. It is indeed ironic that our aliveness is often brought into question when we are confronted with illness or the death of a loved one. It is when we come into contact with death that it becomes clear that we have not been living. And people try to find their aliveness in many different ways, some have more sex, others get married, some have kids, some quit their jobs, some get divorced, some decide to sell everything they own and travel the world, and others just stay put in their regular environment trying to find life within themselves. There is no formula to feeling alive, there is no one way to feel alive but there certainly is the desire among us all for life and usually when that desire for life fades, that’s when people begin to question why they are even here, what their life means, if they should continue to be alive. It is when we lose our desire to feel alive that we are truly in danger of death. It is the feeling of aliveness that keeps us alive. Again, it is not about the doing of aliveness or things that you think alive people do, but about getting into the feeling of aliveness, it is about becoming it, embodying it. Are you really feeling life? Are you really taking it in? From the smallest everyday things like your cup of coffee or the frustration you feel in traffic to the breeze caressing your skin to the larger joys of graduating or falling in love or to the heart-wrenching grief you feel when a loved one dies. All of this is feeling. And if we stop ourselves from feeling all that we can feel, this is how we disconnect from feeling alive. We often think aliveness is something we have to travel to, to find in sports or exciting things, but aliveness is much simpler, it is with us and within us, it is in the very core of us, always trying to express itself through us, but unfortunately for us, there is much that we confront in life sometimes that causes us to shut the door on our feelings, on the very thing that allows us to experience life. It is unfortunate but it is understandable. I, myself, have been there. In some ways, I still am trying to find my way back to aliveness. It is no easy task to journey back to that which one has forgotten. How do we remind ourselves of that which we do not remember? And re-membering is not an act that solely brings us back together with our pasts. I believe re–membering is an act that too brings us forward to our futures and reunites not only our present to the future but our past to the future. And so one’s ability to remember is vital to this process of re-unification with self and with time. Remembering is what brings the flow back into our lives. And feelings need us to be in flow for them to flow through us. So how can one harness then their ability to remember in order to harness their ability to feel?
I think one of the most powerful ways to remember that which has passed or that which is still to come in the future is to imagine it. Our memories of our past are largely imagined, and so are our visions of the future. And so if our ability to imagine informs our ability to remember, then it seems that our ability to imagine is deeply connected with our ability to experience our lives. So if our ability to imagine is behind our ability to experience then could our imagination be in fact all we need to experience our lives and thus feel them? Our ability to imagine gives birth to our ability to hope, to believe, to re-ignite our passions and create the life we would like to experience. Our ability to imagine a different life is what allows us to break down and disassemble the life we want to move away from experiencing. Not only does imagining help us move through life, but the freedom to imagine is itself at the cornerstone of feeling alive. And it has nothing at all to do with your perception of yourself as a creative person or not. It simply is your birthright as is feeling alive. We all need to imagine just like we all need to breathe. Our ability to envision, to see what is not yet physically here, allows us to feel like we are participating in life. And what is feeling alive if not feeling like you are participating in the creation of life. I would like to emphasise that imagination is not a mind activity, it is a whole body activity. It is the bringing on of a feeling but through other means like thinking or envisioning narratives or listening to music, and what these narratives do is help us call in our feelings. And it is these feelings that we have called in through the act of imagining that themselves help anchor that which we have imagined into our lives. So if you can imagine something, that is if you can feel something, you begin to recognise not only that it exists but that it is possible, and you can begin to gage your comfort with that feeling and thus how open you are to that feeling. And not all imagination is pleasant; sometimes we have to imagine that which we fear most so that we can begin to overcome that which we find uncomfortable. Some ancient practices that help us process and get comfortable with the idea of dying involve imagining dying. Buddhism, for one, has many meditations that involve you imagining your own death or the death of your loved ones. So imagining isn’t just to make your dreams happen but imagining helps open us up to feeling the more uncomfortable experiences of living. Being able to imagine what we are moving towards, whether it is pleasant or not, helps protect our access to feeling. It keeps us from shutting out feeling and helps anchor us more deeply to feeling. Furthermore, being able to imagine protects us from falling into the trap of the confused perception that feeling hurts us. It is not feeling that hurts us; it is our rejection of feeling that does. Therefore, our imagination helps us ease into those feelings that we might reject. It helps us feel them but in the intensity we can handle. It helps us work up to experiencing the scary things in life in controlled doses so that we can ourselves gage and stretch and work up to that which we can handle without breaking, just like you would with weights at the gym. So I believe that imagination, in whatever form it takes, helps us to feel our feelings more fully, and thus our lives more deeply. It is through imagining and engaging in this creative act of envisioning that I believe we access our feeling of aliveness. It is through our imagination that we come to realise our power, our co-creative role in this life. For what is aliveness but to feel that the being who is inhaling is you. It is you that is expanding your lungs. It is you that is opening yourself up to life. It is you that is receiving it. It is you too who must let it go when the time comes. So feel it and don’t miss out on this wonderous experience. Feel the inhale, so you can too, feel the exhale.
As always with love and for peace,