As I pack for another motorcycle trip I can feel my excitement building. I love the adventure of being on the road and the anticipation of what’s around the corner. When you take a road trip in a car it’s similar to looking out the window at a movie screen, but on a motorcycle you are the movie. You feel and experience every subtle rise and drop in temperature as you pass from sunlit to shaded road. You smell the subtle fragrances of Honeysuckle and Pine of the forests; and even the overwhelming putrid smells of mid-west stock yards let you know you’re alive. Adventure.
Although I keep my machine in top shape, there’s still the potential element of surprise. I often have to be aware of rambunctious deer bounding across the road or the errant dead truck tire on a densely fog covered stretch of highway. But the sense of aliveness I feel on these roads trips is always worth the risk. As Paulo Coelho once said, “If you think adventure is dangerous, try routine, it is lethal.”
I used to get the same feeling of aliveness when I helped my friend Jody facilitate week long father/son canoe trips on the Penobscot and Allagash rivers in Maine. They were always filled with wonder, excitement, and wildlife. Curiosity about what was around the next bend, and the transformative magic the wilderness held for boys. Giving up cell phones (no use in the wild), to spending hours around the fire laughing and whittling spirit animals out of driftwood cedar. Magic.
For me, aliveness needs an element of fear, excitement and unpredictability. Even in times of discomfort I can find that aliveness. When I paddled the Pelly River in the Yukon Territories we were in grizzly country. Each evening when choosing a campsite we checked for bear scat, often having to search for another location when scat was too plentiful. Some nights I felt very uncomfortable crawling into my tent, trying to quell the pit in my stomach, knowing I was bedded down in an area that’s home to twenty-five percent of the world’s grizzly population. Uneasily Alive.
All of my adventures leave me with incredible memories, experiences and stories; but not enough to support the level of aliveness I want to feel in my daily experiences. I can, however, experience the same element of fear, excitement, unpredictability and discomfort when I allow myself to be consciously present and fully engaged with another person. Engagingly Present.
Living my sister’s approaching death with her this past year was one of my greatest learning moments. It forced me to feel alive despite my discomfort and pain. No withholding of feelings, truth, or fears; just pure openness and intimacy, which paved the path for being totally present to her the moment of her passing. Gratitude.
I also feel the aliveness in men’s groups when we’re deep in process and not just story telling. I feel my heart open, and my connection and love for the man sharing. Lovingly Alive.
During this last year I’ve tried to maintain more contact with my mother, who I don’t always see eye to eye with. She once yelled at me, calling me what she thought was an insult, “a damn liberal” during a disagreement. I chuckled a long time over that one. Anyway, I knew my mother was experiencing shame and guilt about my sister’s dying and her not being able to be physically available. And she was not very emotionally available either, but I still had a shit load of empathy towards her.
She’s ninety-nine years old and unable to travel, and because of her own difficult childhood she was never able to be emotionally present to herself or to others. She always reacted from her wounds.
I did want to support her though, and because of the work I’ve done it was easy to be present to her; even when she was avoiding her grief by trying to start an argument. I learned to accept and forgive her long ago and just by being present and fully engaged with her I felt an aliveness in our connection. Even to the point of her expressing her gratitude and appreciation of how I was living my sister’s death with her. Today I sent her pictures of my sister’s memorial service. I wanted to demystify for her what a Buddhist memorial ceremony looked like and hopefully, make her feel somewhat included. Compassion.
What makes you feel alive?
When during your everyday life do you have an opportunity to choose aliveness?
Which relationships in your life could you choose to be more alive in?
“You are not born a winner; you are not born a loser. You are born a chooser.”
Blessings, Paul Gemme email@example.com and the COMEGA OC