Life is a journey, and I am far from certain what the destination is. But I do know I really want to enjoy the ride.
There is a quote I read in a book called the 4-Hour Work Week that I think illustrates this particular piece rather well. (It’s a good book and I highly recommend anyone read it. If nothing else it will make you think.)
“People say what we are seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think what we’re really seeking is an experience of being alive.” Joeseph Campbell, The Power of Myth.
What a grand statement, and in many ways I agree. But how does one achieve “feeling alive?” What sorts of things bring that feeling on?
Looking back at my life I see two rather broad categories that seem to be important for achieving this feeling, novelty and experience. Often times, the two go together for the best effect.
So many of my memories of times when I felt truly alive are of great experiences. I can still remember quite clearly the music, the beautiful sunset, and the energy of the crowd coursing through me, while watching Mars Volta, Atmosphere, Queens of the Stone Age, Rage against the Machine, and too many others to name, at all the festivals and concerts I have been to.
I have had much the same feeling of “aliveness” when sitting on a rock on top of a mountain looking out over a lovely valley for the first time, or lying naked by a river in the middle of the forest with no one else around, when kayaking in a bay, rafting a river, swimming in a lake, or just sitting on the beach and watching the waves crash. The experience of being out in and connected to nature provides a wonderful feeling of experience for me. It is such a huge part of why I love the outdoors.
One of the most powerful, if brief, times I have felt that wonderful feeling is when I went sky diving. Free falling with the air rushing by and the world spread out before me was a powerful experience. It was so powerful I had a residual smile on my face for days. It was unreal. It was also the epitome of novelty. I had never done anything like that before. It was so new, I had nothing to compare it to. I will be doing it again here soon, and I have no doubt it will still be awesome, but I doubt it will ever be the same as it was the first time.
It is a similar feeling when I learn something new, travel some where for the first time, take a leap of faith and try something I would never have thought I would do. Facing a challenge and winning has much the same effect. Often even starting a new job brings this feeling about. It’s that combination of novelty and experience that gets the nerves firing and really makes me feel alive.
To be happy I need that feeling. This often means embracing change. Trying new things, moving, traveling, making new friends, and putting myself out there, which is rarely easy. Quitting my life and moving to Australia to travel for a year plus was a very difficult thing for me to actually do, but it has been so rewarding. I have had great times, met great people, and had the chance to learn and grow, and feel truly alive. I have tried farming, had a chance to steer a plane I was flying in, snorkel, hike, and camp in some amazing places. I have been happy.
The more I think about it though, the more I realize it doesn’t have to come in the form of huge changes like picking up and moving to another country, though I do recommend doing it at some point. One of my favorite ways to accomplish this sense of novelty is by reading. Getting lost in a good book is probably the most common way I achieve that feeling of newness and experience. There are always more books out there to read, more stories to be told. Within the pages I can travel to a distant land or a distant world, I can go under the sea or into space, into the future or backwards in time. It may be a bit vicarious, but I love it all the same.
I try to remind myself that I need to be learning something new nearly constantly. There is nothing that gets to me more then doing the same thing over and over again without feeling like I am learning and growing. There is nothing wrong with repetition, but at some point it gets old. One has to be a little creative in life.
Traveling is the last thing I will mention. It is one of those things we all talk about but few do even close to as much as we would like. It is scary, and yes it can be expensive, but it is also highly rewarding. There is just so much out there to see! It does mean leaving your friends, family, and comfort zone far behind however. It can be daunting, especially when going some place that speaks a different language or has different customs, but so many amazing things are out there; It’s up to me to go out and find them.
Novelty, change, growth, learning, experience, and perhaps most of all, discovery, these are all things I need in my life to be truly happy. As I get older and things like a family and a career (which may require grad school) come along, it will take even more commitment to not let myself fall into the same old routine. It gets easier to fall back into the “Oh I will do that when the kids are older, or when I retire,” but there is never any guarantee such things will come to pass. The future is never certain; I have to live in the now. I have to get out there, ride a quad, jump from an airplane, talk to people, travel, try new things, and some times even make mistakes.
In short, I have the desire, the need to feel alive, to feel like I am living, to feel like I am taking this one life that I have and making the most of it.