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Aliveness

I spend the day sitting with patients. These are people who come to see me because they are aware (sometimes vaguely, sometimes acutely) that something is missing in their lives. These are intelligent people, educated, creative, moral, but missing something. They often blame themselves for feeling this nagging dissatisfaction. Or they mistake what they’re missing for some thing that they try to acquire – a shiny toy, a new geographical location, a new lover…But, these fixes are short lived. In their extreme, they become addictions which give brief moments of excitement or pleasure, followed by a heightened sense of loss and missing. And so, the need for repetition. What are people looking for? And what do many others trade away for the security of sameness? As I see it, it is the experience of aliveness – the feeling of energy and engagement, of this moment being a hallmark of the miracle of our time on this planet. It is the experience of each moment being fresh, of our relationship with the world being engaging, and of the experience of the inherent, compelling value of our being here. We learn to avoid this in order to maintain safety and familiarity. I often hear people tell me that they fear that if they open to this experience, their constructed world will shatter – marriages will dissolve, jobs and careers will explode, they will go crazy or die. The world will descend into chaos. Why do they think this? In part because of historical learning: because of real dangers or prohibitions that they have lived with, because of hurts that they have suffered, because of disapproval that they have had to learn to avoid, because of the absence of support for the emergence of their alive engagement with the world. They have had to make creative adjustments to a world of restrictions, and have become fixed in these ways of navigating. The world has likely changed, but their habitual patterns have not. They either don’t think about this, or feel a sense of danger when they do. But they are sad, anxious, dissatisfied, empty, or deadened. As Thoreau said, “Most men live lives of quiet desperation”. So, the process of therapy is a process of re-engaging one’s aliveness. It may result in dramatic changes in how we structure our lives – we may change jobs, go back to school, disengage from an unsatisfying relationship, re-enliven a deadened relationship, fall in love, discover a new interest, etc. And it may result in ways that we live the life we’ve already set up, but more fully, more deeply, with a greater appreciation for what and who is there, and for who we are in it. In either case, there is an experience of “I am alive, not just living out my life”, of “I am an active creator of my life, of a life which feels touching, compelling, important”. When this can develop, then there is not simply an adjustment to a new, even a better status quo, but a felt capacity to keep creating life anew, in each day, in each moment.