“Don’t ask what the world needs.
Ask what makes you come alive,
and go do it.
Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
― Howard Thurman
I love this quote and I know that it’s the truth. But: Why do the things that make me feel most alive also scare me the most and thus seem completely IMPOSSIBLE OUT OF REACH?
One the one hand, there’s my shyness. (I’m talking about myself here, but this could apply to you, as well.)
On the other hand, there’s the thrill and the melting on the inside that arise when I drop my mask and meet someone who does the same. THAT is exciting, but I rarely manage to do it: It’s hard to take off my mask and it’s hard to find others who are willing to risk self-exposure.
Then there are also the social rules that seem to prevail in the world around me, stifling any aliveness. For the aliveness that Howard Thurman talks about isn’t some “mild joy”, but an inner fire that burns wherever it wants to and doesn’t mind social rules of conduct:
I feel alive when I look into someone’s eyes a tiny bit longer than what is considered “normal” – be it in conversation with someone or with strangers in the street – and for a moment, there’s a real, genuine connection between us.
(But one shouldn’t bother people by looking at them for too long! Or by making them feel uncomfortable! In public, we are supposed to kind of ignore other people anyway. And what if that person misinterprets my looking at them as a provocation, unwanted interest or an invitation to (crudely) chat me up?)
I am alive when I hug someone really long. Hardly ever happens, though.
(It has to be the usual half-hearted “hug plus two kisses on the cheeks”. Everything else would be obtrusive, would send the wrong message (I’m into you!) to either sex and lead to awkward misunderstandings.)
I’d also like to sing in the streets.
(It would bother others, and they’d think I’m crazy.)
I want to dance with someone I like.
(I don’t mean: Stumbling along to a waltz with a man who can’t dance. Or taking dance classes where I have to couple up with dirty guy who gropes me and stares at my breasts all evening. (I’ve known it to happen…)
I mean: DANCING: MAKING CONTACT WITH ANOTHER HUMAN BEING.
- “Tango y Fútbol” by Nico Kaiser. Licensed under Creative Commons License Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) Link: http://www.fotopedia.com/items/flickr-8649078301
There is also: the desire to run through the rain half-naked and get all wet. Kissing somebody spontaneously. Taking off my clothes in public and jumping into an ice-cold river. Walking on a bridge handrail (and not fall into the river) in the middle of town.
The dilemma: life vs . rules
I feel alive when I express myself without inhibitions and shame. I feel alive when there is another person who lets me see their soul and there’s a sort of energy flow between as – because we’re not communicating from one pretend-self to another, but from who we really are.
However, the rules we live by mostly serve as ways to avoid other people, to be left alone, to keep each other at a distance (also in case they might pose a threat to us):
You must not be loud or take up too much space.
You must not step out of line.
You must not bother other people (with your eccentricity or otherwise).
You must leave other people alone. You must NOT start uninvited conversations with strangers, smile at strangers, get to close to others physically, or do anything at all that makes other people uncomfortable.
Are people afraid of each other, afraid that others will see them as they really are? Is that why they protect themselves this way?
I personally live by these rules (as I’ve been brought up to do so) and I’m often grateful when others do the same and just leave me alone. However, at the same time these rules are a prison that prevents aliveness and that makes it incredibly hard to even get to know other people better. I feel strongly bound by those rules, so much that it’s like being stuck under a heavy weight that makes me unable to approach others. Sometimes, I also just lack the courage or the energy, to create or allow something new and surprising. In those moments, I just want to be left alone; I let every opportunity to get in touch with others pass, I let every conversation with a stranger fizzle out.
This barrier is not equally strong everywhere and for everyone. Elsewhere, people are prevented from being themselves and coming alive through social control (the constraint being much more tangible and violating social norms being followed by serious consequences). In other places, aliveness and authenticity are smothered by superficial friendliness that never leads anywhere deeper; or pathological shyness (even MORE pathological than my own) that only dissolves under the influence of alcohol (I say this after living in Scandinavia for a year…).
The world is full of rules and limitations that prevent our aliveness. To dare doing what makes me feel alive in spite of all this feels like standing on a cliff, with no other way to get where I want to be than to jump into the abyss.
Until now, I haven’t jumped (far) yet, but it’s so boring to keep standing up here on the cliff…
Sooner or later I MUST jump. I know I’ll almost die from excitement (because I’m really too sensitive to live sometimes…) – but I won’t regret it.
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