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How Do You Know You're Alive?

Updated: Aug 7, 2022

In the first chapter you learned to recognize something more is needed in your life: a soul calling. You tested the experiences with your own personal relativity: your life. You investigated what you wanted more of in your life, and what you wanted less of (opening or closing), to allow more growth and self-expression. You made a list of these things, to bring you closer to understanding your direction and testing your truth.

This need for adventure is not easily understood by the logical mind, let alone by your friends or family, but you’re testing its validity. Now you have arrived at this metaphorical lake to cross, and you don’t know how to do it.

Not knowing is a great place to begin. At this place, everything is available to you. As soon as you say, “I got this,” you can exclude other opportunities that have the potential for existing beyond your known reality. It’s important to understand that when you choose what direction to go in, you’re telling existence, “I got this.” However, if you choose, but remain open to possibilities, you’re still allowing yourself access to untapped potential.

If you’re uncertain, simply hold the need to cross the lake. How will you do it? “I don’t know.” Necessity is the mother of invention, they say. Yes, you want to cross the lake: goal.

Allowing yourself not to know sounds like what religions call “faith,” but the kind of faith I am talking about doesn’t require you to have religious beliefs. It just requires you to remain open to the universe of possibilities you aren’t yet aware of. Yet, to someone used to basing their decisions on rational thought, going forth not knowing might feel almost suicidal. And for people with ADD, who have difficulty focusing, even the idea of a goal can seem horrible. For those people, the act of mental attention is, for lack of a better word, offline.

It’s taken me most of my life to understand and accept my diagnosis of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). When I was going to school, no one knew about it. I only knew that, for me, the harder I tried to focus on doing something, the harder it was to do. I procrastinated, so that I could avoid doing anything that needed my attention. When I failed, I compared myself with others, and judged myself. Over the years (and I’m sure some of you can relate), I told myself (and heard from others), “Just focus!” I asked myself, “Why can’t I get it together?” And, “What’s wrong with me?” I saw others who could focus and get things done, and wondered, “Why can’t I?”

These judgments created a deep-seated shame. I thought of myself as defective, and compensated by keeping myself overworked, because stress and chaos makes me feel normal but at a great cost. Workaholism covered up my feelings of inadequacy and allowed me to socially distance myself from people. Even after all that, I still wondered why I couldn’t be more like my peers.

It wasn’t till my sabbatical after exhaustion did these old feelings came back to haunt me. In the absence of work stress, overextending and multi-tasking allowed me to see clearer.

At this point again, I thought maybe I’m really crazy and I have a serious mental issue. I sought out a psychiatrist and was willing to see the truth I was really crazy. At the end of the session, He said, “There’s nothing wrong with you.” “This is common experiences of people with ADD”.

Once I began to accept that this was just how my brain worked, I started to look closer at how this difference affected how I saw and went through life. When I did this, I recognized something I’d taken for granted: I avoided thinking by experiencing.

In my effort to avoid focusing, I’d been able to remain more open. I was always dancing on the edge, between being and doing. This lack of focus let me see and feel more widely than many other people, and allowed more passion, and creativity. I recognized not relying on logic or goal-setting allowed a different kind of intimacy with the tasks I did. There was a gift.

Michael Meade, a modern story teller and author of many books, including The Genius Myth and Fate and Destiny, says that where there is difficulty, right next to it there’s a gift. He says each of us is born with limitations, but that those limitations are also gifts.

So how was having ADD a gift? How did it affect the way I saw the world? What I understood from my psychiatrist was that my mental bypassing (avoidance of focus and goal-setting) had allowed me to develop other forms of intelligence. Apparently, it was common for people with ADD to go forward Not Knowing

Meanwhile, back at my example of the lake: Instead of figuring out logically how to cross it, focus on the other side of the lake, and open your intention and imagination to pure possibility. Open up your heart and being in anticipation of an experience. “I don’t know how, but it will be done.”

Let the unseen forces of life, breath, myth, and mystery collide, and engage the muse, the vortex, the Matrix, existence, Telephone pole or whatever you want to call it.

On my Soul’s Journey to Lopez, miraculous things happened. I couldn’t have logically figured out how to accomplish any of them. The point was just to find the courage to go anyway.

By courage, I don’t mean fearlessness. Courage means feeling the fear, and doing it anyway. Courage is what allows us to grow by giving us the experience of life supporting us, even though we’ve let go of what normally keeps us safe.

Don’t just take my word for it. If you move in the direction of something you feel passionate about, your journey will take you into the unknown. There, if you stay open, you can experience the consistency of existence conspiring with you. It will let you move beyond the Little Self. Beyond the world of who you thought you were.

In contrast, staying safe in the world of familiar constructs, logic, science, planning, could be killing you inside. Sticking with any old job because of a sense of duty, expectations of others or fear of the unknown, even though that job doesn’t let you use your true talents and gifts, could leave you spiritually crying for more. To compensate for this, you may accumulate material things to fill that hole, and to compensate for the journey not taken.

Once you start on such a journey, it’s easy for others to judge you and think you are irresponsible. They might accuse you of not wanting to work, not wanting to contribute to society. “Just get a job! I did!” They might accuse you of bailing out, being a coward or being reckless.

There are exceptions to what I say, but the point is that this journey, if taken with caution, small step by small step, watching for confirmation and using your body to check in how you feel. Moving ahead in alignment with your goal, is not reckless but heroic.

Besides figuring everything out takes the mystery out of life, cuts off existence, closes us to mythical stories that enrich our lives, guide our souls, and breathe meaning and purpose. Relying on logic can make us passive or fatalistic. Why climb a mountain when you can see it on TV? Because it’s not the destination that matters, it’s the experience of the journey you’ve embarked on. These new experiences of places and people will change your life. You’ll confront yourself in uncomfortable, unfamiliar events that routine, day-to-day life cannot produce. You’ll touch your purpose, metaphorically speaking.

It’s who you’ll have to become to cross that lake, and who you’ll be on the other side, that matters.

The author Victor Franco said, “Between stimulus and response is a space. In the space is our power to choose our response & in our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

Now, let’s do a little groundwork. First, you can be open. This just means being receptive. Say YES to life without adding anything else. Leave anticipation, expectations, and judgements behind. Show up empty! Let the way reveal itself.

I call this space a clearing. Don’t plan on what you’re going to say. Just be present with a person or event, whether it’s a co-worker, spouse, friend, grocery clerk, or foe. Let go of what you know about prior patterns or judgements. Just be open to the possibilities. By doing this, you may notice something never seen in a friend, or may notice a change in a co-worker because you didn’t fill that moment up with what you already know.

An example of this in my life is when I tried returning something to a store without the required receipt. I wasn’t trying to get something. I didn’t know if I would get my money back. I just approached the situation to see what would happen. I showed up open to all the possibilities. The important thing wasn’t what I wanted. The important thing was who I was being.

When I approached the situation with this attitude, the clerk smiled, exclaimed, “I hate receipts too…. Hold on….” She went and got the manager, and my return was approved.

If I’d driven to the store while anticipating what would occur, plotting my strategy, rehearsing what I was going to say to the clerk, I’d have missed the experience of driving, and of being in the present moment. Instead, I let that be a mystery, an adventure. I showed up delighted, then let it unfold.

Again, in my life, this is how things unfold, now that I rely on a ferry system to get me to the mainland. I get up, prepare and do all the things I need to get in line and get to my appointments. There are no reservations. There are quota limits for each sailing, but no way to predict how many cars will be in line. I never know if I’m really going to get on. I show up, then leave it up to the Ferry Gods. What adventure is going to unfold today? A breakdown, a pod of orcas, crew delay, a crisis, or smooth ride, who knows? I’ve done my part! I’m at peace and most importantly, I cannot be disappointed.

Having friends can be a kind of journey. Holding on to what you’ve already experienced with them helps to hold them in that pattern. By being present with others, and leaving them room to change, you allow movement. Leaving space in a romantic relationship can allow something different to show up, something that might breathe new life into it.

I encourage you to be an empty plate. Relax. Breathe. This helps keep you in the present and alert. Let the situations and events in your life be a collaboration of unfolding.

If this kind of behavior is new to you, it won’t be consistent at first. A driver is only as good as their last trip, a chef is only as good as their last dish, but that’s okay! It’s a moment-to-moment experience. To be human is to be imperfect. You’re learning. Be easy on yourself.

I’ve been practicing this openness in my life for a number of years now. It has changed me, but not in the way I expected. Something miraculous has happened. Joseph Campbell might have captured it best when he said, “People aren’t seeking the meaning of life, but the experience of being alive.”

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