When I say aliveness, what do I mean?
Aliveness is the opposite of numbness. It is the full capacity for responsive sensation, encapsulating the entire range of the human capacity to feel, from grief to joy. Aliveness is sensuality, eroticism, connection with the natural world around us, with people and with community. It is a sense that all is well with the world, and that the moments when things aren’t well are part of the ebb and flow of the way things are, part of a larger picture that we trust and don’t seek to constantly control.
Aliveness is an organising and orienting principle that we have access to and can always return to, no matter what. It is a safe harbour, and safe passage through life’s most harrowing challenges. It’s cell memory, a felt sense. It simply…is. We can relax and breathe into the knowledge that we have a compass to navigate us to where we need to be without so much effort. It helps us to make decisions about the spheres of our lives. This includes where and how we live, who we move into relationships with, and the kind of work we do.
Deadness, on the other hand, is the sense that is accompanied with being in a chronic freeze state – when life seems hopeless and pointless, when there is nothing to look forward to, and more extremely, when danger lurks in every corner. Being in a chronic state of hypervigilance, when you can’t ever turn your mind off and you can’t stop ruminating on problems you can’t solve, is exhausting. It’s not sustainable. Too much time in a freeze state – a state of being that is only supposed to be your nervous system’s last resort if you can’t fight or flee – drastically changes our worldview. It sucks the enjoyment out of life and makes us feel there is no way out.
Aliveness is the optimal state of human flourishing, and we cannot be alive without first being well. Wellness is the most obvious expression, on every level, of living in integrity, of operating from your whole self and from wholeness.
Wellness is simply the state of being well. I’m not talking about health. Health defines the state of the organism at any given time, based on static benchmarks usually measured through reductionist testing. Healthy indicates lack of obvious disease, measurable disease. Wellness is the overarching capacity to maintain health in relationship to the world around us, to come back into a state of nervous system regulation that is appropriate to what we are experiencing.
For me, I experience wellness mostly by what it’s not. It is NOT undo awareness of any particular part of my body. It is the absence of muscles aches and pains, bloating and gas, and other digestive discomfort. It’s not racing thoughts, hyperfixations, a need to resolve conflict IMMEDIATELY, or missed sleep because of a monkey mind situation. It’s not ambiguity about what I’m feeling at any given moment, nor is wondering if someone else’s behaviour is my fault. It’s not nebulousness in my relationships – things unsaid and unspoken. These symptoms define the opposite of wellness, which is illness.
If I make an effort to say what wellness is, I’d reflect on the sensation that I’m perfectly suspended between the sky and the earth and that all my bones are aligned just so to support my being, that my fascia and muscles move freely around and over each other and respond to my bidding, easily and fluidly. I’d notice that my thoughts are pleasant, peaceful, and fulfilling, and that I’m calm and level around them. I’d appreciate that my relationships are nourishing and supportive, open and in the spirit of resolution. I’d notice that any activation results in a rapid return to baseline, and that when I experience a sensation in my body, I can identify it quickly, without judgment, and correlate it to any emotions that are coming up for me. I can notice easily what is mine and what is another’s, and choose what to do with energy that is imposed on me without my consent. I can easily set boundaries in a confident and collected manner.
To be sure, wellness is not the endgame of some lifelong self-improvement project or warlike attitudes of the medical industry. It is incidental, part of an ongoing, fluid process to move between the different states of being without getting stuck in any of them. It’s flexibility, curiosity, openness, and compassion in a lifelong dance. It involves the welcoming of what is without the charge of emotion. It requires acknowledging what is true for us without needing to fix. It is ultimately a deep trust in our entire beings to communicate what we need, and in our capacities to listen and hear.
Imagine moving from “I am to solve all my own problems by myself and I’m a failure if I can’t” to “the answers are there and have been all along”. Imagine being so solid in your right to be you that you only attract people who can be with you without needing to subjugate, possess, control, or demean you. Imagine being so sensitive to the vibrations of others that you know within seconds of meeting them if a relationship with them is worth pursuing.
Your body will no longer have to fight to get your attention because it will have it, unconditionally. It won’t be put in the awkward position of having to signal more loudly, more urgently. You will notice symptoms earlier, and attend to them faster, not as medical issues but as messengers. Ignoring or dismissing them will no longer be an option as you begin to prioritise the sensations of wellness above all else, understanding that this is your most important service to everyone in your life, including you. Your mind will be freed from the heavy lifting of safeguarding your wellness, something it is not designed to do, and you can begin to enjoy it at its best – through pleasurable thinking, imagining, creating, and engaging. No more drasticizing and catastrophizing, no more anxiety or depression, no more hypervigilance and vague nigglings that something is wrong. You will move out of chronic fight or flight into short engagements with your activated nervous system when appropriate. You will begin to notice which situations in your current life do not support your wellness, and the strength to exit them will be immediately available.