The way to feel totally alive is actually quite simple (but not necessarily easy) and it boils down to making just one choice…
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I recently watched a “B” adventure / comedy that provided some unlikely hidden wisdom. While neither the acting nor story were all that great, something did catch my attention. The main character was essentially a loser limo driver with failed dreams of being an actor. A big part of his problem was how he went through his daily life so completely numb. Then, out of reactive frustration, he punches his own face, hard, and discovers to his exquisitely painful delight that he felt more alive than ever before by doing so. Just so you know, that is NOT the secret I reveal below…
Feeling Alive Doesn’t Require Pain or Pleasure
I’m certainly not advocating self-damaging behavior as the vehicle to experience life to its fullest. In fact, I believe that is just another way to avoid what it really takes to feel fully alive all the time.
It’s sort of like sex. The experience is short but intense and it is that brief moment of intensity that we feel a whole new level of aliveness. Once it’s over however and we get our “fix” we are good for a while (i.e. going back to being numb) until the hunger for aliveness rears its demanding head once again. Adrenaline junkies are another group that seem to fit this model. The point is, neither pain nor pleasure are the keys to aliveness; they are merely paving stones along that journey.
My Secret for Feeling Fully Alive Most of the Time
For most of my adult life I did everything I could to keep myself numb –and I did it with such enthusiasm (yet another short-lived intense feeling). No matter what I tried or did nothing seemed to keep me in that state of feeling alive all the time. Now it is so clear why that was but back then it was a total mystery –that is until I simply couldn’t take it anymore.
In September of 2011 I made a fateful choice. I drew the proverbial line in the sand of my life and choose to step over from being very shut down (i.e. numb) and driven to being fully heart open, vulnerable, and most importantly, willing to feel everything. And this meant willing to feel all those things I worked so hard to avoid feeling my entire life.
And that my friend is my secret: simply being willing to feel *everything*, especially those things that don’t feel so good. What I’ve learned is that there is no one-way valve for feelings, no filter that keeps that “bad” stuff out and only let’s in the “good” stuff. There are no “bad” or “good” feelings –just varying levels of intensity and pleasantness / unpleasantness. In the words of Michael Brown, author of the “Presence Process”: Life is not about feeling better, it’s about getting better at feeling.
The willingness to say “Yes!” to all of your feelings is saying “Yes!” to life itself. This includes saying yes to uncertainty, saying yes to experiencing painful as well as pleasurable experiences and saying yes to not allowing numbness as a coping behavior. What we resist, persists.
Life is a Lot Like Surfing…
While I live in California and love the ocean I’m not a surfer. However, I think I have a pretty good idea as to the Zen of it. Every wave is different, has its own personality and energy. Any surfer foolish enough to fight a wave will end up losing every time. And, the wave simply doesn’t care –it just is. Skilled surfers know how to harmonize with the power of the wave thus use it for a great ride.
I have found (at least from my perspective) life is a lot like surfing. We are constantly presented with a series of waves (i.e. experiences, feelings, challenges, etc.) If we choose to ignore these waves (i.e. be numb to them) we wonder what just hit us or why things just don’t seem to work out. If we choose to fight these waves –the wave will always win, we’ll end up wiping out and we can end up feeling victimized.
Some waves are awesome, some are scary as shit and may even inflict a great deal of pain no matter how skilled we are. The key thing to remember here is that these are waves, which means they come and go. If you are feeling awesome one moment, something will come along to change that experience. Likewise if you find yourself with challenges and pain, that too will pass.
The better we get at reading each of these “waves” the more likely we are able to harness their energy to have the ride of our life. But it takes a willingness to acknowledge and experience each one –there is no substitute for that.
The Solution is Simple
You want to feel fully alive all the time? Simple, just insist on feeling everything. This means not giving in to the temptation of numbing yourself through distraction or short term intense activities.
I said it was simple, I didn’t say it was easy. The fact is, it can be very challenging to insist on feeling everything fully all the time. Sometimes things can be so painful that we will do anything to make them go away, but in so doing our aliveness dies a little death in the process. What can help is putting yourself in the position of “Observer” so these feeling are not so personal –they simply are (just like the waves, which are never personal). By doing that you decouple pain from suffering. Pain is unavoidable, suffering is strictly optional and typically happens when we deny or resist what simply is.
It’s a Choice
After going through years of therapy looking for the “reasons” why I was so shut down (with the subtext of looking for someone or thing to blame) I stayed stuck. The *moment* I committed to being vulnerable and willing to really feel, no matter what it was –everything changed, instantly.
Being fully alive is not a destination, it’s a journey, an adventure. And all it takes is you saying an unwavering “Yes!” to it.