Everyone has fears. Some people even have phobias; which are like the superheroes of the world of fears. They can be very strong, and they can sometimes grip otherwise-functional people in seemingly unbreakable chains.
Everyone also has ups and downs. We have days where we feel alive, and days where we feel sad and numb. We have days where we don’t even notice we are numb until we feel again. Sometimes we are nostalgic and long for the days of our past, when we were doing things that were exciting; days that we felt truly alive.
I have done a lot of traveling and had many adventures, and I have had just as many days of feeling numb and bored, sad and nostalgic. Being somewhat of a fanatic for life, I am constantly trying to find the triggers and the secrets to feeling more alive. That is why I began to meditate, that is also why I have tried to outrun my routines by chasing outrageous dreams down every possible highway. Always in other people’s cars, of course, since one of my greatest fears is driving.
I have noticed, in this many-year quest of trying to find the secret to happiness, that one of the things that makes people feel most alive is doing something new. Plain and simple. It can even be something you have done before, like the dishes, but seeing it as something new can help that feeling of “wow-I’m-alive” come to the surface in full swing, washing over your hands with the soapy water.
Sometimes it can be had to figure out something “new” to do. Here, I’m going to discuss five main things you can do to get that feeling back. Five things you can do to make these days the ones that you are going to remember later when you feel nostalgic, but then you are going to also remember how to make things new again.
1. What Are Your Fears?
Now, it may seem obvious. But one way to figure out what you haven’t done in awhile is to think about what you are afraid of. Chances are, you haven’t done that in awhile. It might be driving, it might be talking to strangers in a bar. It might be getting naked, it might be singing in front of people. Do you want to feel alive? Do that thing, as long as it’s not something that most definitely leads to harm.
You probably read that paragraph and figured that yeah, you’ll do your thing someday, but probably not right now. This is understandable; it is one of your fears. However, you should at least consider taking a step towards it. If you are afraid of singing in front of people, pick a friend who you are going to sing in front of. Pick a song. Start to practice. If you are afraid of driving, start thinking about potential people to go driving with. Think of a location that is peaceful and close, something you can do with some hesitation but without utter panic. Take steps. Then pay attention to how alive you feel while you indulge in the fantastic opportunity to do something that you have potentially never done or have not done for years.
2. Acknowledge Your Potential Fear of Doing Nothing
If my few years of Shambhala Buddhist meditation have taught me anything, it’s that I have always had, and still have, a fear of doing nothing. This is true for most people, as far as I can tell. Something about watching the chatter of the mind and acknowledging it for what it is is scary; because we really want to take it seriously. Our problems matter, our worries matter, our minds matter. The truth is, we are fine without them for a few minutes at a time, but we rarely take the time to figure that out.
One of the best ways to feel alive again is to take some time to develop a sitting practice. Pick what you want, because there are a slew of options available. I personally recommend the Shambhala form of sitting meditation, but other people love Vipassana, and some others love Zen. Find one that relates to you.
The reason that a sitting practice can help you feel more alive is because it helps you get back to the moment. The one that is always happening now; the one where feeling alive happens. You cannot sit there and indulge in a memory of your first kiss and really feel the same way you felt then. It was your first, it had that quality of first-ness to it. A sitting practice can help you cultivate that amazing feeling during any moment of the day.
3. Remember to Walk Into the Feeling of Fear or Anxiety
One of the most useful tips I have ever gotten was from my friend Mike, a devoted Shambhala Buddhist. I told him I was feeling anxious a lot of the time, and he told me to be curious about the feeling. To walk into it, in a way. To just welcome it and feel every nuance of it. It sounded crazy. Then I was in a car going to Boston, feeling panicky about how we were going to find our way, whether or not we were going to make it in time, whether or not someone was going to be drunk and run their car into ours.
And then I remembered his advice. I started to feel curious about my feeling of anxiety, I started to welcome it. A magical thing happened. Suddenly, the car seemed big and safe. The highway seemed long and welcoming; the scenery around me was expanding and spacious. The feeling had stopped caging me in, and the same can happen to you. Cultivate curiosity about your fears and let that feeling of life happen again.
4. Apply Curiosity to Everything
Curiosity. It is not only a beautiful word that manages to have a lovely shape and roll off the tongue quite nicely, it is also a magic trick. If you can have curiosity about your own feelings, especially those of fear or anxiety, you are walking with a tool in your tool chest that will never fail you. During your times of depression, anxiety, panic, obsession, or fear, try to feel curious. What does your body feel like? What is your mind doing? When you can really feel curious, suddenly these feelings lose some type of power. They are being looked at, they are no longer swarming your consciousness like a heavy blanket on a sweltering day. They are, in many cases, completely manageable. You just have to wonder about them, and watch them try to defend their existence to you. When they try to defend it, all you have to do is wonder a little bit more. This will probably dissolve a lot of the power that these things had to make you feel numb or trapped.
5. Take That Curiosity and Fearlessness Outside!
Okay. It may seem completely over-said, but you need to go outside. Take those fears, take that numbness and depression, take the anxiety and panic, and carry it outside with your curiosity. Regardless of the season, walk yourself to the woods, or the cemetery, or wherever else you want. Look at the angles of the buildings, the curves of the trees, the color of the sky. Have that curiosity about the world around you. Let it take over the present moment, leaving that feeling of numbness in the past. If you can welcome in some of those fears while you are out there, in the sunshine or moonlight, the crisp cold of winter or the obnoxious heat of summer, then by all means go for it. Bring those fears in the open and allow them to show you exactly what you need to do in order to feel more alive again.
The bottom line is that you have all the tools you need to feel alive again. All you need to do is find some curiosity within yourself and apply it to your least favorite feelings. If possible, start up a sitting practice of whatever religious leaning you choose, and use it to face that fear of doing nothing, which will come back daily and give you even more reason to keep practicing!