How Alive Am I Willing to Be?

“Because this business of becoming conscious, of being a writer, is ultimately about asking yourself, How alive am I willing to be?”
Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

How alive are you willing to be?

Comments

  1. Edwin says

    To be alive is to be free I think. I am not sure because I don’t think I’ve ever been free. I have been chained to a way of life and culture that does not give freedom easily but very recently during a moment of enlightenment I found myself letting go of some of the chains that have held me prisoner. At that very moment I felt more alive than I have felt in the last five years. The feeling was amazing and I want more. I want to be alive with passion, and joy and yes possibly sorrow. I want to let my self feel in every moment my intention to live as fully as possible. Such are my dreams but in one moment I realized that by letting go of things real and unreal and attachments I had foolishly made I could be free. I want to live a life of passion, creativity and love and I want to be as alive as I can possibly be every moment of my life

    • says

      Edwin, so well said and reminded me of one of my favorite passages from “The Profit”, by Gibran ….”lest I fall into that “”seasonless”" world where I shall not laugh all of my laughter nor weep all of my tears. I think passion (as necessary to life as water and air)
      comes with it’s own “baggage” – and may seek to purge us before meshing with us. But in the end one MUST hope to ….laugh all of your laughter and rejoice for the ability to weep all of our tears. Rejoice Edwin.

    • Laura Davis says

      Edwin, I loved this line, “I want to be alive with passion, and joy and yes possibly sorrow,” because it’s true–we don’t just get the “good feelings.”

      Your piece made me curious about what that moment was when the world cracked open for you. What led you to that moment of enlightenment?

      • Lee Xan says

        Yes, me too, that made me curious about what led to that state…and I liked the last lines too of boldly claiming what one wants!

    • jo says

      Hi Edwin – Your opening line, “To be alive is to be free I think.” drew me in and I enjoyed reading your entire piece. Like Lee and Laura, I’m wondering what your moment of enlightenment was?

    • says

      Edwin,
      What a goal: “I want to be as alive as I can possibly be every moment of my life.” You led up to this final statement in a very enticing way.

      Thank you for sharing.

    • "Jane says

      Dear Edwin, you ensnared me from the opening line, “To be alive is to be free I think. I am not sure because I don’t think I’ve ever been free.” I could feel your beauty and joy in this line: “during a moment of enlightenment I found myself letting go of some of the chains that have held me prisoner. At that very moment I felt more alive than I have felt in the last five years.” Thank you for writing this and sharing it with us here. I loved it.

  2. jo says

    I always connect my willingness to be alive with how vulnerable I am willing to be. If I’m willing to be vulnerable, as tough as that is at times, I feel intensely alive, my whole body thrumming with the juicy truth of my emotions. When I’m vulnerable, I may feel nervous but I also feel the lovely bloom of curiosity to see what is going to happen next in my writing. For me, writing is all about speaking my truth, whether I’m writing about my own personal life and the experiences I’ve had, or writing creatively about my vision of heaven in my stories about God and his dog Frank.

    This being alive as a writer is a tough gig at times. I never struggle with what to write or how to write it. Ideas float around me and within me all the time. I’ll be grabbing a cup of tea at my local Tim Horton’s and I’ll see a couple sitting at a table, sipping their coffees and not looking at each other. A story idea will pop into my head about why they can’t look at each other. Maybe she’s plotting his murder or he’s thinking about his secret obsession with dirty sweat socks. There’s a story, an essay, a blog post, or a journal entry everywhere I look. Like I said, there’s never a lack of ideas!

    What I struggle with is sharing my aliveness, my voice with the world. I live in the paradox of being vulnerable and very alive when I’m inside my writing and then hitting a wall when it comes to sharing my aliveness with the world. I read a quote from Erica Jong that bubbles up in my awareness quite frequently that resonates deeply with me. She said, “And the trouble is if you don’t risk anything, you risk even more.” It’s so true! If I don’t risk sharing my aliveness by at least trying to send my work out into the world, then I risk continuing to feel stuck behind the wall of my own silence.

    I know this damn paradox all too well. I’d like to ditch it like a bad date at a high school dance and yet there’s something deep inside me that refuses to allow my aliveness to become loud. My father’s voice is still in my head and it counters Jong’s words. His voice tells me that I’m “getting too big for my britches,” something he told me all the time when I was a child. Until I can silence those words in my head, I remain silent in terms of sharing my truth with the world.

    My aliveness lies just under the surface of my skin though, dancing impatiently, waiting to be freed from the prison I’ve built from my father’s words. My hope is that my own words will eventually replace my father’s words and my aliveness will burst through my skin, allowing my writer’s voice to finally be free.

    • Paula Hill says

      Hi Jo…Your piece resonated with talented ability that gave clarity to a foundational imprint stunting the expression of your unique self and natural gift of writing and creativity. What came to my mind in a blaring fashion was the thought that yes, you were always a growing child under his roof and, of course, continuously growing out your britches….It was simply time to get larger britches to accommodate your spurting growth. Your piece hit a universal truth that catapulted me within into my own contemplations. Thank you….

    • Penelope says

      Your words resonated with me as well, Jo.
      “Until I can silence those words in my head, I remain silent in terms of sharing my truth with the world. My aliveness lies just under the surface of my skin though, dancing impatiently, waiting to be freed from the prison I’ve built from my father’s words.”

      You stated it very clearly here, admitting to the world your desires. As your aliveness “lies just under the surface…” The prison that you yourself have built from your father’s words. Now that he is gone you have taken over with this uncomfortable expression. Now they ARE your “own words,” they have replaced those of your father. As long as you own those words, you have the power to change them. If they are your fathers words, only he can alter them.

      “My hope is that my own words will eventually replace my father’s words and my aliveness will burst through my skin, allowing my writer’s voice to finally be free.

      Thanks for reminding me, we are as free as we allow ourselves to be. Fathers and Mothers are only there for a short time, as our care takers. Then it is up to us to be who we are. If you have children, I am sure you must know how hard it is letting go on that end too.

    • Laura Davis says

      Jo, I loved this piece and your honesty about your struggle. Just the fact that you named that voice resonating in your head is a critical step to defusing its power over you. I think you are already well on your way…

    • Lee Xan says

      Love the one quote leading to the Jong quote about risk which is so great…and I especially liked the part about the struggle to share the aliveness….and the voices that don’t help and the inner voice/strength that helps…

    • "Jane says

      Dear Jo, Thank you for writing this beautiful description of what is to be you and to live with this paradox. There were so many parts of this I loved reading, such as this:

      “My aliveness lies just under the surface of my skin though, dancing impatiently, waiting to be freed from the prison I’ve built from my father’s words. My hope is that my own words will eventually replace my father’s words and my aliveness will burst through my skin, allowing my writer’s voice to finally be free.”

      To me, you are already shining and alive, pouring joy and beauty into your writing here. Thank you!

    • says

      Jo, I love that you correlated aliveness with vulnerability. I think that is a really true connection. I really liked your thoughts on writing and giving your permission to create.

  3. says

    Some days I’m more alive than others. How comforting it would be, to live life free. Free of pain, sorrow, challenges, upsets. Yet, I now know, that if it weren’t for those, I would not be as open, honest, caring, compassionate, balanced, loving, understanding, and aware as I am. I have become more alive through dying. Each hurdle has made me stronger to accept the next.

    Sometimes I wondered why I’d keep on keeping on. When will my life just be full of rainbows, happiness, love, total wholeness? I found I was standing in my own shadow, dwelling on what should’ve been, instead of realizing stepping out of my comfort zone and accepting what could be.

    I now realize what life has to offer. I try each day to stay positive, find something to smile about, someone to comfort, listen to , support and encourage. I remember a verse I wrote years ago: “To hug the world, might almost be, as fulfilling as letting the world hug me”! Letting go of baggage, material as well as psychological, wasn’t easy, and yet in order to really be alive, I now realize shedding that was the only way to become truly myself.

    “I’m quite a surprise, behind this disguise, It’s a hard task, peeking out from my mask.” Allowing the true You to show through- that’s how alive I am willing to be.

    • jo says

      Hi Fran – I enjoyed reading the piece, especially this line – “Letting go of baggage, material as well as psychological, wasn’t easy, and yet in order to really be alive, I now realize shedding that was the only way to become truly myself.” How true! Sometimes we need to shed what we truly don’t need in order to be who we really are.

    • Penelope says

      I had to re-read your entry in order to understand what I think you were saying, especially here in your first paragraph.
      “I have become more alive through dying.”
      The first time I read it, I took it literally, and couldn’t grasp the deeper meaning. It wasn’t until after I responded to the prompt and began to focus on the dichotomy of life that it dawned on me that death is the polar opposite of life. On re-reading, I can totally relate to your entire piece. Thank you.

    • "Jane says

      Dear Fran, Thank you for writing this and sharing it with us here. You have written so inspiringly of the bittersweet knowledge and peace gained through trial and tribulation in life. I especially loved this part:

      “‘I’m quite a surprise, behind this disguise, It’s a hard task, peeking out from my mask.’ ”

      Lucky for us that you not only peek out, but come skipping out to play!

    • says

      Fran, I really like that notion of hugging the world and the world hugging you. This is a very thoughtful piece. Thank you.

    • beverly Boyd says

      Hi Fran,
      Insightful, and fun. Seems like the Delf has been busy collecting “Wisdom Bumps” as you call them. I guess that is one of the pluses of getting older…it helps balance some of the other stuff that they say isn’t for sissies.

  4. Autumn Vandiver says

    I’m not I’m not I’m not. Not willing. No. Leave me alone. Writing is stupid. Writing about pain is pointless. I hate everyone and everything and I quit. I quit this ridiculous writing life.

    Sometimes, when I think this (at least once a week), the big sister that lives inside me, the one you call when you are a teenager and you made a mistake and got drunk and need a ride home, well, she puts her arms around me and says, Yes, yes, I know, my sweet sunshine. It is all stupid. You never have to write again.

    Never?

    Nope. Never.

    And when I let her arms soak me up, something shifts and softens inside me.

    Well, I do want to write a little bit. I mean, just sometimes. Not every day like a fool. This is torturing me. I am mining through the wreckage every morning and stumbling about, getting all banged up and scraped up and chewed up by memories of Mom and Dad and death and there are hundred year old tears behind my eyes every day.

    Then, after all that, I have to push back from the table and drink a smoothie and go to work and when I get there, no one can see that I went on a great big dig that morning. No one says, “Wow! You look exhausted. Where did you go? What did you find?” No, no, no. Instead, they say, “Good morning Teacher Autumn. Look what I brought today—Hey! He stepped on my shoe!”

    So I work and leave the dig behind me but it’s in me, just under my skin, pulsing, making my body achy and tired.

    So I am wondering, is this what being a writer does to a person? Is this what being alive as a writer means?

    And then my big sister, the one who always asks for two straws with her chocolate malt shake so I can have some too, she holds my face in her hands and she says, “Yes, sometimes.”

    And she holds me while I cry and cry and say it’s not fair! I have to write! I have to. I don’t want to. I won’t. I can’t. I will. I must. And she rocks me back and forth in her big strong arms and strokes my hair and nods her head. She knows.

    Then, she makes me tea and reads me Oh, The Places You’ll Go by Dr Seuss and I start to feel ever so slightly braver about being a writer. But not today. Tomorrow. So she tucks me in and whispers sweet dreams and kisses the side of my forehead.

    The next morning, I feel like my body is made of iron and there is a gaping hole in my chest that I will never be able to fill. I know because in my old life I tried—with food and sex and wine. It’s a massive hole and writing shines a flashlight on it and I have to sit with it and keep it company and feel the great big emptiness as far as it goes, which is sometimes all the way to the moon and back. Some days the hole is as big as the Universe and some days I barely notice it, like a babbling creek somewhere outside my window that I cannot see, only hear.

    I do the only thing I can do. I write and sit and trust. I write because, as Gloria Steinem said, writing is the only thing that, when I do it, I don’t feel I should be doing something else.

    I write so the hole can fill itself and so I don’t go insane. Or at least, when I do, I can be surrounded by other insane writers who offer to share their chocolate.

    • Paula Hill says

      Hi Autumn….The “protagonist” is glowing with personality and the older sister is plain ol’ wonderful…..Really enjoyed this piece….your style is deeply comforting amid the deep struggles…a joy to read.

    • Penelope says

      Thank you Autumn… I loved your story and can totally relate to the gaping hole and the comfort you get by filling it with words. Beautiful!

    • Lee Xan says

      So enjoyed this!! The big sister and the milkshake with two straws, the writing and not wanting to and wanting to…the moon and back line and the gaping hole and being with it, the pulsing under the skin and the work life and people that see no evidence of the writer’s inner life, richness, and work…I felt the trust in this piece to go where it needed to!

    • Laura Davis says

      Autumn, this is beautiful crafted and emotionally honest. I loved this paragraph: ” I am mining through the wreckage every morning and stumbling about, getting all banged up and scraped up and chewed up by memories of Mom and Dad and death and there are hundred year old tears behind my eyes every day.

      Then, after all that, I have to push back from the table and drink a smoothie and go to work and when I get there, no one can see that I went on a great big dig that morning. No one says, “Wow! You look exhausted. Where did you go? What did you find?” No, no, no. Instead, they say, “Good morning Teacher Autumn. Look what I brought today—Hey! He stepped on my shoe!””

      Yep, that’s just what it feels like.

      I also love that you introduced us to your writing ally–the big sister who has so much comfort and wisdom to offer you.

    • jo says

      Hi Autumn – I loved the details in your piece – the milkshake with two straws, your compassionate big sister, reading Dr Seuss, they are all wonderful details that make your writing sing!

    • says

      Dear Autumn,

      Thank you for so eloquently describing the daily struggle to pick yourself up and go back for more, because there’s no way you can stop now…

    • says

      Autumn,
      I love that you compare the mining of memories to the “big dig”. That is exactly what it is, we go on this archeological trip through our memories to collect the situations, items, words and phrases that we might use in today’s writing.

      Thank you for sharing this well written piece.

    • "Jane says

      Dear Autumn, I love love love what you have written and shared with us here! You have allowed us to stand quietly by your shoulder seeing and feeling with you, all these stages you describe of this creative process, this ordeal we call writing. Of the many parts I loved in this, here is one of my favorites:

      “The next morning, I feel like my body is made of iron and there is a gaping hole in my chest that I will never be able to fill. I know because in my old life I tried—with food and sex and wine. It’s a massive hole and writing shines a flashlight on it and I have to sit with it and keep it company and feel the great big emptiness as far as it goes, which is sometimes all the way to the moon and back”

      The descriptions of you doing battle with the pen and page, with what fights from within, all with your sister as your Champion by your side, are delightful.

  5. Ritch Brinkley says

    People often relate the necessity of pain to produce great art. I have been confused as to the motivation of youth (usually) to cut themselves, pierce their most sensitive parts with metal studs, and bring pain upon themselves. I am told it is a means to distract the recipient from the emotional pain they feel. I once heard a teen explaining the inducement of pain made him “feel more alive.” I once asked Julie Harris when we were working together if she believed pain was necessary to create great art, to which she quickly opined “No.” And yet few have been as admired for their art as was Julie, who experienced more than her ration of pain. The measure of pain one accepts to be alive is unfortunately a constant in my “road to hoe”, and I cannot claim to remain on the side of the most appreciative of the “Carpe diemists”.

    Therefore I am left to remain with the throngs who live one day at a time. Echoing the profound words of Woody Guthrie “Some are bad, some are good, some have done the best they could.” He meant people, where I refer to one’s days.

    A late friend used to say he acted to “keep from killing someone”- more a proclamation of his zeal than a serious confession. Perhaps I am compelled to write in an attempt to save Id, the one closest to me. Another Kahlil Gibran fan, one of my favorites has always been (possibly paraphrasing) “In order to gather the rose, one must first be pricked by its thorns.” Some days are more prickly than others, yet I subscribe to the motto emblazoned on my ancient Scottish crest “We will endure.” May thee and me ever do so.

    • Penelope says

      I have often wondered why people intentionally inflict pain in the fashion you described here. It is interesting, and I have heard it said as well, that it makes them “feel more alive,” or something to that effect. I guess that would be true, if they have no feelings prior to the action. Sometimes we numb ourselves, but parents can be over protective as well… Very thought provoking.

    • Lee Xan says

      Enjoyed the intriguing beginning of this with the thoughts/wondering on piercing and theories of pain and reasoning…and I felt the rocks skipping from the Gibran to Guthrie to the guy who says why he acts… and I like the phrase/noun “carpe diemists”! And the negation of that and yet the piece seems to come around to that in a way…thanks!

    • Laura Davis says

      Ritch, I love the question you raise–whether pain is necessary for art. And I love Christie’s response. It would be mine as well. An honest willingness to delve into all of life and not have your head in the sand–yes, that is essential to meaningful art.

    • jo says

      Hi Ritch — My favourite sentence from your piece was steeped in hopefulness for me – “Some days are more prickly than others, yet I subscribe to the motto emblazoned on my ancient Scottish crest “We will endure.” May thee and me ever do so.” I also loved the pondering of whether we have to experience pain in order to be creative – thought provoking questions!

    • "Jane says

      Dear Ritch, Thank you for writing this thoughtful reflection on pain and art, and for sharing it with us here. We are told that self-mutilation is a way to distract the mind from one pain, by replacing it with another. We are also told that self-mutilation is a way of releasing unbearable buildup of stress and pain. Very confusing to me: How can pain relieve pain? Maybe self-mutilation is a visible, public way of hurting oneself, more popular with newer generation. Yet, continuing to damage ourselves – as was done by others – is nothing new. We “elders” also have and do hurt ourselves in many ways, although perhaps more secretly, more hidden from the world. I have often wondered about these great questions you bring up. It was a pleasure to read this.

      Also, I love the quotes you included!
      Thank you

    • MaryL says

      Ritch, I think for some people there seems to be a premium on deliberately walking through the thorns, and yet, isn’t this an illusion of control, which we love so much? Stepping on a tack in the living room isn’t fun, but it wakes us up because it is sharp, sudden, and a surprise. Unless we’re going to wear those L.L. Bean boots, we will have some pain … what do we do with it? MaryL

  6. says

    I am more than willing.

    I am alive.

    I am a writer.

    I already see the symmetry in the ordinary as I study the delicate construction of a birds feather.

    I already hear the words not spoken behind the words being said as I sit with a grieving friend over a cup of coffee .

    I carry with me distinct smells of humanity and chaos in the cities I visit or the smell of serenity and stillness deep in the mountain forests.

    I know the metallic brash taste of fear as well as the sweet, sensual taste of passion.

    I feel Life’s truth is in the miracle in the cries of a newborn baby as well as in the last breaths of a dying man.

    I am more than willing.

    I am alive.

    I am a writer.

    • Lee Xan says

      Love the form of this poem/piece and the repetition…the “more than alive” struck me as well as the senses rooted in specific images which I didn’t realize until I reread it that it had all these senses! The two tastes of passion grabbed me especially and the bird symmetry…and the claiming in the beginning and the end lines that seemed to have a bolstering affect to me–making me want to say, “Hey, I’m more than alive too!”

    • "Jane says

      Dear Mary, What an elegant poem, so full of lovely images. I especially loved, “I already see the symmetry in the ordinary as I study the delicate construction of a birds feather.”

      Brava!

    • beverly Boyd says

      Mary, this is beautifully written!
      I especially liked this surprising and very apt description of “the metallic brash taste of fear…”

  7. Peggy Titt says

    I am alive only to the extent that I am willing to die to convention and expectations. I left a marriage of 30 years to be with the man I chose for myself, and I expected that my daughters and family would accept my choice for happiness. After a lot of heartache and disregard for behaving as I was expected to behave, I am happy, and I am alive in a way that I had suppressed for 50 years. Living into oneself entails allowing everyone else to live into themselves, which I call unconditional love, including loving myself. When I don’t love myself well, I don’t feel alive.

    • Laura Davis says

      Peggy, Welcome to the Roadmap Blog and thanks for sharing the story of your courage in breaking out of what was expected of you–and what you expected for yourself. I hope your family comes around to understand your choice–the one you had to make to truly live.

    • "Jane says

      Dear Peggy, Welcome! And thank you for writing and sharing this with us here. I loved your description of choosing the right path for yourself and hoping your family would be happy for you. I hope that in time they will join you in celebrating who you really are!

    • beverly Boyd says

      What a gift! to be able to express so fully your experience in a few well chosen words. As someone who seems to always find too many words I really admire someone who can put so much in a small space.

  8. says

    As I ponder this question, “How alive are you willing to be?”, I wonder if I am alive at all. Every time I poke my head out of my shell there is another severe pain, or a threat of one staring back at me. At this time it has begun to seem an overwhelming fact of life. I have gone to the bottom of the pain pit, both emotionally and physically before and I wonder why now it chooses to dominate me, again. I feel like I am being smothered with a great quilt that covers my whole being. I fight to get out from under it as it tries to take my breath away.

    One thing after another attempts to stifle my voice but I don’t seem to be able to just lie down and die. It would be so simple to just give it all up, but I fight on. I wonder for what purpose; to what end? And then I look at the calendar and realize that there is another end of my year coming up with another birthday tallied.

    The months of my new year are racked up and waiting there ready for the cue ball to scatter them on the first day of July. This year I think I will capture the eight-ball and ride it to the pocket for a big score.

    Whatever that means you know I will be writing about it.

    • Laura Davis says

      Hazel, those of us who have not lived with severe or chronic pain can’t know what a courageous act it is for you to get out of bed in the morning, to face the day, to find joy in your garden and your art and your writing–but it is an amazing act of courage.

      I am glad you will write about it all and share your journey with us..wherever it leads you.

    • says

      Dear Hazel,

      I thought this sentence, “I feel like I am being smothered with a great quilt that covers my whole being. I fight to get out from under it as it tries to take my breath away,” was vividly descriptive of your experience. Thanks for sharing it to give me a picture into what parts of being alive are like for you.

    • Penelope says

      It seems to me that your voice is loud and clear, Hazel. I am familiar with pain as well, and though I don’t understand it completely, I do know that when I walk through it, I get to the other side, and it isn’t so bad. Mornings are hard, but by the time I am finished warming up to the new day, I don’t want it to end. There just isn’t enough time in a day to do the things I want to do, before my body says to end it. Sometimes I listen and cooperate, but others I will push myself to the limit and suffer more for it. You are not alone!

    • "Jane says

      Dear Hazel, Thank you for showing me what is like for you to face each day. To me, July seems so very far away. It may as well be at the end of time. Again, I must wait to read what you have written, and anticipate the beauty, truth and power of your words.

      As was already said, “You are not alone.”

    • says

      Hazel, thank you for sharing. I always am interested in what you have to say. I feel you captured your experience with such vivid language. You make it real for me. Thank you.

    • beverly Boyd says

      Hi Hazel,
      You describe so well how for you pain has become an “overwhelming fact of life” … to the point of wondering why you just can’t end it all. Then that fighting spirit you show so often in your posts rises up and greets the calendar, another year tallied and seeing hope in another birthday coming up. Very well written.

  9. Penelope says

    What is it to really be “alive” anyway?… I am certainly willing, but do I have a choice in the matter? I mean, did I choose to be a part of it all? At times, I think it is all my own creation. That sounds kind of ominous, but I certainly have a way of getting myself into situations that I wish I had not. It seemed like a good idea at the time, I always say…

    As a child, I remember being afraid for days, weeks, months… after seeing a scary movie. If something bad happened, I would be so afraid of it happening again or happening to me on a deeper, darker level… The worst is yet to come… Doomsday straight ahead… I only wanted to be happy, was that so much to ask for. Life is good, so why all the gloom?

    After experiencing PTSD a few times, I had a real nervous breakdown. It was so bad, I couldn’t stop crying once I started, and the slightest thing would set me off. I couldn’t deal with it anymore. Not that I wanted to commit suicide or anything gross like that, but I wanted to stop living.

    I started taking antidepressants just to get through the days of doom and gloom. Wouldn’t you know it… It worked. I would go through days without feeling the deep depression. I wasn’t really happy, but at least I wasn’t crying at the drop of a hat. Pretty soon afterward though, I noticed that when something really sad happened, I didn’t feel it. I had no expression at all. That was even more scary to me than the tears. So I stopped taking them.

    I feel much more alive without antidepressants, for sure. Sad things happen, and if I am to be alive, I have to face it. Face the truth, that you can’t have happiness without sadness, good without bad, health without sickness, love without hate… We live in a world of dichotomies, which made two poles, north and south, balance each other. Balance is the key to all of life. Too much of a good thing is not good at all, as witnessed in alcoholism, drug addiction, food addiction, greedy money mongers… The list goes on and on…

    • Lee Xan says

      Thank you for this piece–the question in the beginning and the journey from the first emotional place to a place of feeling better to the place of realizing what didn’t work about that, to the present space of having a certain understanding about balance. Thanks for opening these hard subjects up…

    • Laura Davis says

      Penny, the decision whether to take medication or not–such an immense challenge for so many people who struggle with intense emotions and mind states. You clearly shared your dilemma and where your own struggle has led you. Thanks for sharing this intimate part of your life with us.

    • "Jane says

      Dear Penelope, Thank you for writing this and for sharing it with us here. “To Medicate, Or Not To Medicate: That Is The Question.” Such a very personal journey, such delicate aspects to consider. And so difficult to put 100% faith in any one health care person. Many artists have decided they usually need to stay on their meds, but then take a planned “vacation” from or reduction to their meds, in order to allow their creativity to fully blossom, to feel fully alive and free. Then they go back on their meds for the daily grind of life.

      There definitely is a dance there. Thank you for painting this picture of it.

    • MaryL says

      Penelope, you mute your emotional struggles with this intriguing description, ” Not that I wanted to commit suicide or anything gross like that, but I wanted to stop living.” You have found empowerment by choosing your healing way, and that is very good – not easy, but good. Others do not have that option. What we might want to do is to stop comparing my pain with yours, my losses with hers, my baggage (10 tons) with his (10 pounds.) If healing means walking toward wholeness, then each of us has a unique story …. to share or to keep in our heart. I’m glad you shared a bit of yours. MaryL

      • Penelope says

        That sounds very deep Mary. I will have to read it again when I am more awake. Seems with age, we have less options available… Hmmm… Still even not doing anything at all is a choice under limited constraints, and might be the best option.

    • beverly Boyd says

      Dear Penny,
      Thank you for sharing such an honest story of what you have gone through. It reminds me of my own story which thankfully is now but a memory. It takes work and patience with yourself. It seems like you are well on your way.

      I could really relate to not wanting to live, but I knew I wouldn’t commit suicide as long as I remembered the pain would cause for people I love…especially my children. Living my with my pain was a better choice that causing them pain.

  10. says

    I feel that this is a question that I ask myself a lot, even when I don’t know that I’m asking it. When I read this question, it felt like a familiar friend. And sometimes I feel at odds with the answer. I feel that I choose to be more alive when I write regularly. I choose to be more alive when I am of service to others. I choose to be more alive when I am out in the world and I connect with people. I choose to be more alive when I walk. I choose to be more alive when I try my best to love myself and others. I think I would feel more alive if I sat down at that clunky old keyboard on that back wall and sat down and played. I haven’t made that choice yet, but it is really calling on me to do so.

    Sometimes I feel like a zombie. Sometimes it’s explainable. I just haven’t slept well. There are days when, particularly in the afternoons, I just have to have a nap, and often I can schedule it in, but sometimes it’s hard to get everything done. At that moment, I guess my experience of being really alive is to acknowledge the exhaustion and just let myself sleep. Twenty minutes usually solves the problem. Sometimes it doesn’t. Those are the times when I sit within myself and just wish that I could feel more energized.

    • Laura Davis says

      Wendy, I think the nap–that level of self care–eating when you’re hungry, sleeping when you’re tire–is an essential part of “how alive do I let myself be” I don’t think being fully alive just means being “on.” It also means being neutral or at rest. If we don’t have those times–including times we just “check out,” how can we possibly have the energy to commit to the things that matter most to us?

      • says

        I think that’s part of the culture’s current preoccupation with superheroes. I can’t imagine Superman ever taking a nap. And it would be nice to have a superpower at one’s disposal to be able to fix things. But I think for me, the next steps are 1) to play that funky keyboard; 2) to take the nap; and to let myself read on Sunday mornings. Then I think I would feel more alive.

        • beverly Boyd says

          Wendy,
          Yes to both the piano (it has helped you so much in the past) and the nap. Sounds like a plan!

    • says

      Dear Wendy,

      I appreciate your honesty here. A very wise man I’ve known for 20 years was the first to suggest to me that sometimes leadership is…resting when you need to (rather than pushing yourself to carry on and ignore your needs).

      I applaud your leadership.

    • "Jane says

      Dear Wendy, Ditto what Laura said, and thank you for writing this! I love it. Sometimes I wonder if pushing myself to be more alive, to be more of service, to be more honest – - sometimes I wonder if it’s just not another thing I can use to think I’m not doing enough, not good enough, not worthy. Sort of like, “I should be more alive.” But since I’m not, I have failed once again.

      Maybe that’s overthinking it. Just a thought I had while reading all these replies to this prompt.

        • "Jane says

          Today we have a blue sky, puffy white clouds, warm breeze. Tonight we expect a meteor shower and/or meteor storm. Today is a chiffon-wrapped gift of Springtime, waiting to be unwrapped and enjoyed! Today, I feel “enough” alive.

  11. says

    Committing to consciousness practices and spending consistent time in nature have been the keys to my writing life. For many years I wanted and intended to write yet it seemed that so many things (parenting, relocations, jobs and commuting) were getting in the way. Valid reasons and yet on some level excuses too. I would change jobs to try to make more time to write and find myself working more and spending more time in my car. In fact I changed jobs three times with the intention of creating more time in my life to write.

    My life pre-wake-up call included about a six-year stretch of college teaching. During this time my goal was to get to the end of each semester and then I would kind of collapse. In 2010 I was teaching in a low-residency graduate program where classes met one full day a month for five consecutive months with oodles of online classwork for students to complete and teachers to grade in between the monthly class meetings. It was like an endurance contest of commuting and teaching and typing and faculty politics and drama and corralling people (called educational leadership) to sort of head in the same direction.

    During this time I had completely forgotten that I’d never actually wanted to classroom teach. Somehow this self-knowledge managed to escape me for over a decade. I realized that I had taken a series of classroom teaching jobs with the intention of creating more time to write, yet found in reality I had less, and less, and less time to do what I kept saying I wanted.

    The wake-up call happened four years ago (in 2010) when I was experiencing particularly severe spring allergies and I ended up in urgent care. Although I was in for allergies I learned from the nurse that my blood pressure was sky-high; this after a lifetime of perfectly normal blood pressure. It was enough to get my attention and make me think about how I was living my life. I finally owned that I wasn’t living in a way that made sense for me, and realized I wouldn’t have been experiencing such a stressful reaction to day-to-day-living if my choices were more in alignment with my needs and desires.

    I learned that if we are making intuitive choices about the direction we’re heading or the decisions we’re making they express themselves positively through our health. When we get off-track we get signals that are either physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, or a combination. I had been essentially ignoring all the signals up to the point when my severe allergic reaction and blood pressure knocked me over the head. I resolved that I was going to align my daily life better with what I actually wanted which included writing. This has subsequently greatly improved my overall health too.

    I’m writing a memoir about our short sale experience with our house and I feel more alive than I have in years. It’s not easy to relive the old feelings as I write the parts of the story that are about anger, fear, and mourning. I wouldn’t be able to do this if I wasn’t willing to be vulnerable and fully alive while also revealing things I was taught you aren’t supposed to talk about in a ‘Miss Manners’ kind of world. I want to write about what I have learned from deeply reflecting on my experience living through this current, ongoing social and economic upheaval that is the 21st century, post-mortgage meltdown world. I’ve had to be willing to become more and more alive in order to become this writer that has always been hidden inside of me. Coming alive and re-claiming my writing have been a one in the same process.

    • says

      Gayle,
      I know what you mean about going back and resurrecting some experiences that were absolutely horrific at the time and that took a long time to get over. It is very difficult. Sometimes in casual conversation I will mention something and people say, “you should write a book about that!” well sometimes I just am unwilling to to root through those feelings again so I just smile and say “ah, nah, I don’t think so.” So it is difficult once you have worked through it.

      I wish you success with your new book.

    • Penelope says

      “… Coming alive and re-claiming my writing have been a one in the same process.”
      Thank you for your candid approach to your writing about something that hurt. Those are the hardest things to be honest about. Honest to ourselves and to our readers. We don’t want to feel the pain again and again, upon writing and reading the words that perfectly describe the horrible experiences, so we sort of gloss them over with pretty words that soak up the nerve endings with numbing formulas. This actually just seems to postpone the inevitable, doesn’t it… Eventually, we will have to get down to the nitty gritty…

    • "Jane says

      Dear Gayle, I enjoyed reading about your blazing and reblazing your trail, as a writer, as a woman. To me, you have described a spiral path of healing, with breaks and tears along the way. We bandage, nurture, nourish and heal those spots, then keep on twisting and spiraling, like the tiny green shoot must twist and turn to seek a path through the soil to the warmth of the sunlight.

      Thank you for writing this, and for sharing it with us here!

    • says

      Gayle, thank you for expressing that human notion of wanting to do something so badly and then putting up roadblocks for whatever reason. I’m glad that you got back to writing. I’m happy to read your work every week.

    • beverly Boyd says

      I love this: ” I’m writing a memoir about our short sale experience with our house and I feel more alive than I have in years.” after years of taking measures i.e. changing jobs
      so you would have more time to write and then not writing. The memoir about your short sale has really grabbed you and is also something that could serve a lot of people who may be in this situation.

  12. Jane says

    If sleep is my drug, then the bed is my dealer and the alarm clock the police.

    Being an unconscious sentient being makes it comfortable for me to watch crapola on tv and to gorge on junk food. Hey, Cheetos have both grains (corn) and dairy (cheese)! Satisfying those shallow hungers cannot satisfy, cannot fill the blackness of the hungry hole inside, yet in that mode, it is perfectly comfortable to gorge, bloat, then sleep again. To be an asshole, and treat people and myself like dirt. It is perfectly comfortable to stay asleep, patiently climbing and stumbling back up onto the treadmill each day, time and again, bludgeoning my round peg into a square hole.

    Waking up to see my own slumber, ignorance, insensitivity, and selfish delusions can be an ethereal door to the joy, gratitude, pain, and the freedom of being awake and alive. I cannot fix myself, anyone, or anything I see. It just is. It is that way. I cannot awaken the other sleepers.. I can only stay awake myself or go back to sleep. While I’m awake, I may as well write a little.

    Staying asleep has its advantages: I don’t have to see any pain or suffering in myself or the world. When I stop doing the things that kept me asleep, and start being and doing those which return me to being fully alive & conscious, a perplexing paradox results. There is both relief to reconnect to another, to myself, to behold voluptuous and glittering life, to feel the sizzle of energy and fresh ideas – - while at the same time, the relief arrives with fear, terrified like Hansel and Gretel, holding hands, inseparable, intimidated and overwhelmed by the tasks and quests which await.

    The myth of the sister whose brothers were turned into swans shows me that the hero/ine, faced with an impossible problem, must choose courage, must become willing to take up the quest, to persevere and even use her bloodied little finger as the key to unlock the door, or walk upon shattered glass to reach the ledge of freedom for herself and her beloved ones.

    As a writer, I can take on the quest of sharing my small nugget of perception through words. I can slay the dragon and bring home the unicorn – - all without a single step outside my door. The price is to simply peel the layers of my dry, bleeding skin back, one sheet at a time, to stab the grub creeping through my ankle, to unravel and lay bare the threads of memory, and to weave the gossamer threads of the fabric I will lay upon my sister’s and my brother’s backs.

    Then, to sleep and dream again.

    • Penelope says

      Thank you for this very descriptive text. I loved your reference to the fairy tales and often relate to this form of writing as a reference point. Seems fairy tales have always been a form on consciousness for people, and there will always be a dragon to slay.

    • Laura Davis says

      You elucidate these two poles, these two pulls so clearly. We are all faced with this choice everyday, in fact every moment–whether to be asleep or awake. And yes, at times it is easier to choose sleep. But the doors that open when we move through our lives awake–exquisite in both its pain and its beauty.

    • says

      Jane, this is so eloquent and powerful. I loved your reference to the sister and the swan brothers and the journey that then had to be taken. Thank you.

  13. Penelope says

    Thank you for your responses. I was barely able to touch on the subject without writing a book on it. It seems like the words are just gushing from me lately. I have no problem finding words to write, only staying focused on a single subject, (at a time), and knowing what to do with all this writing. It is good to have an outlet here on your blog, Laura, and to feel accepted among other writers. I think that once I work out a way to remain conscious, manage my arts and still have an income to support myself to do so, I will truly be “alive.”

  14. MaryL says

    How alive are you willing to be? May 21, 2014

    I am comfortable knowing that I am learning to awaken to life around me and within me. Opening my consciousness means awareness, paying attention, and I have a pretty good practice in that. Of course, sometimes there are moments of more or less clarity, but in my heart I am facing brightness and possibility.

    The first night after I had cataract surgery, I slept a little, then woke up around 1 AM. I was amazed at how bright everything around me appeared! My attention was drawn to my sock drawer, which was slightly opened. I looked in, careful not to jostle the patch over my right eye, and it seemed that I had uncovered a treasure trove of ….. blue socks! I thought my socks were mainly blue, gray, plain socks. But here they looked like a batch of blue spaghetti – turquoise, navy, teal, aqua. “Blue socks!” I hadn’t registered the variations when my vision was hampered by the cataracts. Now I was thrilled. I call my friend in Pennsylvania and said “Blue socks! I have blue socks!” She didn’t hesitate: “Oh, so the surgery went well! Congratulations!”

    From my position as an observer of the world, I look into the distance, or peer into the garden nearby, gaze at my computer screen. I love the muted and bright shades of blue, red, pink, etc.

    And in my mind’s eye, I am paying close attention to the patterns and the mismatched stuff in my mind and heart. It’s a new perspective, made possible by simply – HA! – making the intention to be aware, to be more conscious of, well, everything, to let more light in. Even painful times come with something extra – not something pleasant – but something earthy and real.

    As for the “spiritual path,” I have pretty much decided to stop following the winding road for a while and set up a picnic, so I can count the blades of grass, outline the clouds, blow on a dandelion, breathe in the air heavy with moisture. This is exciting!

    • "Jane says

      Dear MaryL, Thank you for this fun piece!

      This made me laugh: “Now I was thrilled. I call my friend in Pennsylvania and said ‘Blue socks! I have blue socks!’”

    • Laura Davis says

      I loved this paragraph so much: “The first night after I had cataract surgery, I slept a little, then woke up around 1 AM. I was amazed at how bright everything around me appeared! My attention was drawn to my sock drawer, which was slightly opened. I looked in, careful not to jostle the patch over my right eye, and it seemed that I had uncovered a treasure trove of ….. blue socks! I thought my socks were mainly blue, gray, plain socks. But here they looked like a batch of blue spaghetti – turquoise, navy, teal, aqua. “Blue socks!” I hadn’t registered the variations when my vision was hampered by the cataracts. Now I was thrilled. I call my friend in Pennsylvania and said “Blue socks! I have blue socks!” She didn’t hesitate: “Oh, so the surgery went well! Congratulations!”

      And I also love how you took that very concrete experience and broadened it into a greater insight about your larger world.

    • says

      MaryL,
      Isn’t the result of cataract surgery just a blast? I am reveling with you in the rediscovery of color and the brightness of the world around me.

      I was convinced that my white hair was very yellow and kept using all the things that are supposed to make it whiter when I shampooed. Invariably I would look in the mirror and say to myself, “it still looks like somebody peed on my head.”

      When I has the first surgery I stood in front of my mirror closing first one eye and then then the other completely dumbfounded at what I was experiencing. My hair was indeed white, as my daughter and husband kept telling me, when looking through the new lens of the “surgeried eye”, but a horrible yellow when viewed through the one awaiting the surgery.

    • says

      MaryL, This made me smile. I’ve never had a cataract or eye surgery. However, as someone who cannot read anymore without glasses, the day I lost the bag with my only pair in it, I suffered. I read all the time! Anyway, I liken that a little bit to your description of the colourful socks you have–your discovery of them. When I had glasses again, I was over the moon! Thanks for sharing this happy experience with us.

      • beverly Boyd says

        Hi Terry
        When cataracts are removed a lens is inserted to replace it. Usually the lens is clear. I chose the option to have prescription lenses: left for reading and right for mid and longer distances. It is amazing how the brain shifts easily to the correct eye and they both serve for depth perception. I don’t even notice it unless the sight in one eye is blocked. Medicare and my gap insurance paid for it. It was life-changing not to have to look for my glasses all the time.

    • beverly Boyd says

      I loved this metaphor that was inspired by the experience of color after cataract surgery. …”in my mind’s eye, I am paying close attention to the patterns and the mismatched stuff in my mind and heart.”

      For me the color thing was wondering for two years why every one in the choir seemed to choose turquoise, brick red or mauve when the instructions were to wear “jewel tones”. The only color that was bright was yellow! It was the yellow filter of the cataract that changed the color…doh!

  15. says

    MaryL,

    You have reminded me how much color adds to me feeling alive. Thank you for that. I loved when you wrote “I have pretty much decided to stop following the winding road for a while and set up a picnic, so I can count the blades of grass, outline the clouds, blow on a dandelion, breathe in the air heavy with moisture.” That says to me that your journey on your spiritual path is going in the right direction!

  16. Jess says

    How alive am I?

    I don’t know.

    How alive do I want to be?

    As alive as possible.

    I have a desperate need to feel alive. I feel as though I’m drifting. Floating through life in a routine, in this mess of tasks I need to complete. Then every so often there is this moment, that shines through everything like a radiant sun beam, and that is when I know. I know that I am truly alive. That is how I want to feel all the time. I want my whole entire life to be bright with this radiance that is feeling alive.

    But then it goes away, and I am back to drifting.

    • "Jane says

      Dear Jess, Thank you for writing this and sharing it with all of us here. I really enjoyed your description of the drifting, as well as this part:

      “Then every so often there is this moment, that shines through everything like a radiant sun beam, and that is when I know. I know that I am truly alive.”

      You have captured our hunger for the juicy, delicious, sparkling bits of life, and our yearning for life to be all white light, all the time. Thank you!

    • says

      Jess, I love the questions and the answers at the beginning of your piece. I felt there was a really nice pace to the whole thing. It felt important. Thank you.

    • beverly Boyd says

      “Then every so often there is this moment, that shines through everything like a radiant sun beam, and that is when I know. I know that I am truly alive.”

      Jess you describe so well the frustration with the mess of tasks that seem to get in the way of feeling those moments more of the time.

  17. beverly Boyd says

    How alive am I willing to be? About as alive as I am with an occasional trip into hyper-aliveness. To me aliveness doesn’t necessarily mean having a lot of pep, or being very physically active, though pep and activity may be present. To me aliveness is to be in the present time and place, which I have become a whole lot better at doing. Not perfect…better.

    Often aliveness is simply being with the present moment and enjoying the experience, like I shared in last week’s prompt when I took my children and friends we picked on the way to the playground

    Sometimes aliveness takes on a dream like quality and may even have visual or audible effects, like a hallucination. Time may be distorted from my everyday reality, like the time there was a fire in my college dorm that started in my room. (It is hard to imagine all the actions I took in such a short length of time..); or the time I was rear-ended on the freeway. I didn’t avoid the accident but I was given awareness of the action I needed to take to lessen the damage to me and to my car; or acting on the “ah-so” moments that lead to a life change or a healed relationship: or a moment of intense creativity that results in a painting or poem. This kind of aliveness creates a state that would be too uncomfortable, even manic to sustain. I prefer to think that if you put them all together I probably have fifteen minutes of those moments, which sometimes only last a few seconds, with “life” in between.

    I feel a kind of aliveness when I am on a fairly long trip when I am far away enough from inhabited areas where I need to keep track of more things going on than when I am in a rural area with no towns and cities. I feel like I am one with my car and the landscape as I skim across it like a big gold bug.

    This past week I have experienced aliveness. My gold bug is on its deathbed. At 185,000 miles it needs a transmission, serious fixing of a wobbly right wheel, tires and who knows what else. It’s definitely not worth the expense to get it roadworthy enough for a round trip from the west coast to Chicago for a family reunion. I dreaded the process of looking for a new car: the pressure tactics of auto salesmen, yada, dada, even though I know that once I start taking some action, I am led to the right car, house or job.

    About ten days ago I was talking to a neighbor and shared that my dread of the car-buying world. They had recently bought a used car and were very happy with the dealer they bought it from. That seemed like a good place to start so I went and took a look. I picked my daughter so she could check them out from a passenger point of view and I took a couple of cars I was interested in for a test drive.

    As the dealer was writing out what he would offer and his bottom line, I told him what I liked about the Grand Caravans I had driven for sixteen years. I wasn’t sure it was time to change my traveling lifestyle. With captain’s seats in the middle row I can carry three other adult passengers, as I will when I go the reunion in July. When I travel alone, by removing the captain’s seats and moving the rear flat bench seat up to the middle I can make up a comfortable bed and have plenty of room behind the seat for luggage and stuff I always take too much of.

    Guess what! They had a caravan on the lot. Sure enough, there it was, quite visible from the street but not from the other end where the sales office was. Unfortunately, the seats in later models fold down into the floor so I wouldn’t be able to travel the way I like to.

    That evening on my way home from a meeting I decided to go by way of a street where there are several used car dealers. I was able to pull over and drive slowly and check out the cars on the front row. Almost at the end I saw it, a silver minivan that looked strangely familiar. I parked and took a walk around the car. It was a Grand Caravan! Fortunately, It was too dark to see the seats through the tinted glass, because I might have
    eliminated it.

    So, I now have a big silver bug sitting in front of my house! The dealer found captain’s seats to replace the short bench in the middle row and I can move the other bench forward. Yeah! I won’t have to change my life style, yet. In a few years I can downsize, and maybe, like Fran I will buy a silver convertible.

    Throughout those ten days I felt aliveness as I ventured out to find a car, being present to that knowingness that goes with being alive. Believing there are no coincidences, I looked for the message in the events as they happened. I was with my feelings about the dilemma of changing my lifestyle and got some input from my daughter and a friend. I did my due diligence, checking out a few other cars and finding out what “Consumers Report” had to say. It wasn’t good! I checked an Oddessy and Sienna on my brother’s advice. He was concerned that Dodge doesn’t have a very good track record for repairs needed.

    I know the moment when I confirmed that my lifestyle demanded the van. I felt sic peace in the decision I knew was right for me. It was also a validation that I was recovering enough from my close brush with death nine months ago that I had at least two or three years left to fly like a big silver bug across the wide open spaces!

  18. says

    Dear Beverly,

    Thank you for writing this and sharing it with us here. Your trust in the process and the serendipity of finding the new silver car is simply lovely.

    “Sometimes aliveness takes on a dream like quality and may even have visual or audible effects, like a hallucination. Time may be distorted from my everyday reality. . .”

    This is so true for me as well, and you have described it so very well.

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