I can always power through any task so long as there is good music in my ears. Lately, I have been on a massive liquid drum and bass kick at work (feel free to explore the genre through all the mixes I have been grooving to for the past three weeks here). It features beautiful melodies soaring at 150-180 beats per minute juxtaposed with the same airy vocals and inspirational lyrics you would get with any summer house or techno mix…just much faster, which keeps my fingers typing and my mind focused on the task at hand.
Sometimes the lyrics remain in the background, sometimes they stand out. Today, an otherwise unremarkable line jumped out at me: “I want to feel alive.”
Variations of this mantra are not uncommon. It can take the form of an exclamation after an exhilarating experience (I feel alive!). It can take the form of a compliment (I feel alive when I am around you). And here, it takes the form of a desire (I want to feel alive). The statement assumes either 1) the subject does not feel alive, but wishes to, or 2) the subject feels alive already, and would like to continue to do so. Either way, we can assume that feeling alive is a choice.
Why, I wonder, if we are all physically alive, do we not always feel that “alive” is a default state?
The idea of feeling alive has come to be construed as something distinct from the mere physical functioning of being alive, and connotes a state of existence perceived to be above and beyond basic survival. As someone who easily slips into states of depression and bouts of severe anxiety on a fairly regular basis, I personally spend countless hours contemplating what it is that makes me feel alive in an effort to maximize time spent engaging in activities, experiences and feelings that nurture a sense of life in its most glorified state. Whether it’s traveling to new places, hiking through the desert, finding my place in a community of caring people, watching a full moon rise, having a perspective altering conversation with a friend, falling in love, losing myself on a dance floor, seeing my favorite band live on stage, or learning that my writing has inspired someone, I am aware of what must transpire for me to declare “I feel alive!”
This idealization of specific mental, emotional or psychological states as a wholly transcendent state of being that we may call “feeling alive” makes perfect sense, and I am not contesting the use of the term, but that desire…the statement “I want to feel alive”…made me think about just how much of our time we spend engaging in experiences that fail to make us feel truly alive. Daily routines such as commuting to work, sitting at our desk, cooking breakfast, paying bills, shopping for detergent, or coordinating dinner plans with a friend – these are a part of our lives, and thus are no less a part of being alive than anything else we may do, in much the same way that when someone returns from vacation and says “back to reality,” they are not returning from a place that exists outside of the real world, but failing to recognize that the vacation was just a different aspect of their reality, as is that to which they may be returning.
Perhaps the trick is to try to inculcate the deep appreciation we have for those ‘alive’ moments into our daily routines. Sitting at our desk at work can remind us how lucky we are to have a job when millions cannot find work. Making lunch is crafting a meal that will nourish us for the rest of the day and keep our bodies functioning properly, and there is little in this world more spectacular than the ability of the human body to thrust us into the infinite possibilities of physical experience.
It is in these moments where we need to build a practice of saying “I feel alive” and remind ourselves of how blessed we are to be alive in that moment to sit at a desk, to make a sandwich, to drive to work, to pay a bill (all critiques of capitalism aside). Whether we feel it in our hearts or not, we are all alive, and that is a gift that will inevitably, one day, be taken away from us forever.
Alan Watts once said, “this is the real secret of life: to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realize it is play.” We are all here to play, we are all here to celebrate the power of life and the beauty in what we have been given.
Let’s not waste any more time wanting to feel alive, and instead, let’s just feel it. Here, and now.