Being Alive and Living It

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Oh my gosh, being a human is a full contact experience. And we are mostly ill-equipped. Each day, lately, I wake up and feel the weight of just how ill-equipped I am. I got out on the trail yesterday, listened to some thoughtful souls speak from the heart (on podcasts and audiobooks) and I realized something valuable.

What did we think it was supposed to feel like? Just like we have been reminding ourselves, this is our first pandemic, so maybe we could cut ourselves some slack, the same is true for life in general. I’ve never been 46 before, during a pandemic and working through my emotions, reactions and thoughts about anti-racism and dismantling white supremacy. You know super light fare. And as I was wrestling with all of this in my mind I started to laugh. How would I know how to do this? I’ve never tried before, not in the way I am now. I am being schooled on the daily, and friends, it is super uncomfortable and painful. And I don’t say that for anything other than transparency. My conflict was heightened over the weekend when it came to the 4th of July. I want to believe we can live into all of our ideals and the dream of what America could be. But we are far from there. In fact, far further from it than I ever fully comprehended, I am embarrassed to say.

I’ve been trying to figure out how to embody the word “and” in all of this and it’s been a struggle. What do I mean by that? I want to keep doing this work AND take care of myself. I want to keep learning and growing AND give myself a break considering I have been living and breathing in this environment since the day I left the womb. The unlearning will take my whole life. I have to keep reminding myself that quarantine-like behavior, anti-racism work and self-improvement are not places we stop before life begins, they are life.

I was listening to a podcast with Brené Brown and she reminded me, yet again what we already knew but science has proven, feelings hurt sometimes, physically. Neuroscience proves that the same neural pathways for physical pain are lit up by emotional pain. Which means that we flinch when we feel any kind of pain. We pull away. But that’s harder when it comes to the meaning of fully being alive. I am not presenting to you that life is pain but it sure can be uncomfortable and we are flinching all the time– especially lately.

And this makes us think that something is terribly wrong. And, of course, there is much that is wrong. But what I mean more specifically is that we believe that having all these feelings, at once, at the same time is wrong. When it may be the realization that embracing all of this is what it means to be fully alive.

I heard Elizabeth Gilbert say that she thinks about ideas like consciousness that require a person to say yes, or no, to them to bring them to fruition. She said, if you say yes, you have a feeling of exhilaration which is quickly followed by terror. And she said that fear will always follow because creativity is not full of certainty. We want it to be, but it’s just not.

But, she said, we can make peace with the idea that unless we reach enlightenment or are a sociopath, fearlessness is likely not to grace our path. So just let it be along with us, let it speak when it needs to so it doesn’t run the whole show.

This makes me think about what it means to be fully, truly and completely alive. When we start to take risks, it’s the same. We will have elation for about 90 seconds followed by terror. And we interpret the terror as being a reason to stop when it’s just the natural order of things. And we flinch. This is part of being alive and human. Nothing is wrong, it’s all right on track.

This brings me to the commencement address given by David Foster Wallace in 2005. I just heard about it a few months ago and it is spectacular. I have read it more than once in recent weeks. It helps me to keep clarity that this is what it means to be human. Nothing is innately wrong even though everything feels broken and ruined. The feeling is normal, the brokenness is likely up for debate but not today.

He begins his speech with this little story: There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?”

He wraps up what I would call a brilliant commentary on the human condition with:

“The capital-T Truth is about life BEFORE death.

It is about the real value of a real education, which has almost nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with simple awareness; awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over:

“This is water.”

“This is water.”

It is unimaginably hard to do this, to stay conscious and alive in the adult world day in and day out. “

I will extrapolate this theme out to say:

This is being alive as a human.

This is being alive as a human.

We can spend our time distancing ourselves from it or we can grab it with both hands and say: This is being alive as a human.

Sunshine & Sarcasm,
Lowi & G

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