We were hunkering down on a steep side hill as the thunder rolled just above us. Each reverberation lasted for an unbelievable length of time. Periodically there would be a crash, like a mountain being split in two. My companions and I had to yell to be heard.
We thought the storm might move off at any moment, but meanwhile the rain was pelting down, the hillside was getting slick, and we were getting wetter and colder.
Watching the streaks of lightning strike the pass less than a mile away, the pass that we were headed for, kept us in place. And I’d lost track of my loved one, who had stopped farther down the trail.
This was the most memorable moment on the two week Colorado hike that I’ve just returned from.
In many ways it wasn’t the most pleasant moment…but in some ways it was.
Pleasant may not be exactly the right word, but this is the moment that we’re most inclined to rehash with each other, and to share with our friends and family. It was the most exciting moment and the one in which we felt the most alive.
It’s this sensation of Aliveness that I want to explore today.
Feeling alive could perhaps be defined in terms of its opposites–boredom, dullness, apathy, a sense of sameness and disinterest.
Aliveness is one of the most pleasant sensations available to an embodied being…even though it’s not always generated by pleasant sensations.
It’s a feeling that comes in through our senses. It’s born in the place where our internal world meets and interacts with our environment.
Aliveness was easy for us to access in that moment because the sights, the sounds and the sensations were all so intense. They demanded our attention and they played on our emotions. It was a bit scary, facing lightning, cold and flash flooding all at the same moment, as well as feeling the need to look out for the safety of each other, and to make pivotal decisions about what to do next.
Maybe that’s why we get so excited about telling our tales of adversity. There’s a spark there that we want to relive, and to share with others.
Imagine going for an ordinary walk…and then imagine going for that walk and having it start to downpour while you’re still a half mile from home.
Or imagine that you’re out running, and then shift to imagining that you’re being chased (playfully by a friend of yours).
Or that you’re having a water balloon fight.
We can end up spending a lot of time in our heads, making plans, remembering a scene from a movie, rewriting a scene from life.
It can feel really refreshing when the world we’re in snaps us out of that, as though we’d just woken up from a daydream.
But we don’t actually need lightning storms to get us to feel alive and to access the world of sensation. They just work great because they’re intense. The more intense the sensation, the more unignorable it is.
Accessing the immense range of sensations that are available to us–touch, movement, temperature, sound, sight, smell, emotion–is where we find aliveness. And when those feelings are intense they get our attention. When the feelings are more subtle, we have to give our attention to them.
If we remember, we can come alive through the less intense sensations of an ordinary moment. Sensations of some sort are available to us through our body at any time…if we notice them.
If you’re walking across the yard you can shift your attention to the grass prickling the bottoms of your feet, the sun hitting the surface of your skin, or the breeze moving the little hairs on your arm.
We can also pursue sensations of greater intensity, and many people do in the form of extreme, adrenalin producing sports. But even if you’re not into that sort of thing there are plenty of ways to explore your body’s range of sensation.
Can you think of a few?