What Brings You Alive?
I had been walking for hours with a pack that was heavy as stones. My knees felt like they never wanted to bend again, and my toes had begun to bruise. Backpacking into the heart of the wilderness, at one point I took a wrong turn and ended up having to backtrack for miles. After a day of trekking I got to the summit of my destination and was so weary I could barely lower myself to the ground, but for all the challenges of the hike, I couldn’t help but smile. The sun was going down, birdsong was meeting the crackling fire of the sky and I was alive.
Last week I took a few days off to go camping in the backcountry at one of my holy places— a natural cathedral of white quartz gazing over the folded blue mountains. Though I had hoped for a day of deep rumination as I hiked, hauling that heavy pack, all I could really think about was the next step. But every ounce of hardship was worth it. With each step, not only was I reconnecting to the living world, but refinding that which brings me alive.
Before I knew the term “animism”— the idea that we live in a world of sentient beings, each filled with their own life-force and wisdom— I just called this perspective “the way things are.” This world is alive, and when I touch that energy, I am enlivened. I didn’t have the words, I just knew that I was lit up by waterfalls, resurrected by mountain pinnacles, comforted by the brush tips of fir needles and rescued by dips in cold water. I didn’t have the terminology, but I understood that this way of seeing not only saved me, it had the potential to save the world.
In a world where people recognize the inherent, sentient miracle of life, racism, capitalism, and oppression dissolve. In a worldview where rivers have rights and trees are your elders, there is no framework for things like human hierarchy, narcissism or exploitation, these ills simply compost and return to the soil. Those of us who plant flowers and make tea, who talk to animals or advocate for the climate, ache to see this animist perspective take root in the collective psyche again— because we understand exactly what is at stake. But we sometimes get so tangled up in the challenges of this revolutionary time, that we forget the most basic tenant of animism— If you want to see a world where all of life is honored again, you must first honor what brings you alive.
It’s been a hard year for us humans. In the midst of such monumental times, it can feel like seeking joy, sourcing inner-peace, and connecting to what helps you feel alive is self-centered or unimportant. But if you listen closely to the sunsets and sunrises, the wood thrushes and the singing of the creek, you will hear a different story entirely. This Earth wants us to find and relish what it is that brings us alive, because it is only when we honor this spark within that we can become hearth-tenders for the miracle of life.
In the mystic Jewish tradition of the Kabbalah it’s said that, in the beginning, the Divine fashioned vessels to hold the essence of life. During the creation of the universe, some of these vessels shattered, scattering droplets of the divine everywhere. As a result, each one of us holds within us a drop of the divine— on loan from Source itself. Like the wick of an oil lamp, our job is to take care of this essence while it is lit within us. Our bodies— their limits, their wonder, their joy— are an expression of the Earth’s divinely creative force. We are flowers blooming at dawn and mushrooms rising after rain. We are the Earth, and the ways in which we take care of ourselves, and the animacy within, is integral to learning how to tend to the life-force of the whole world again.
During the seeming urgency of these transformational times it can feel like going slow, touching into pleasure, and prioritizing the needs of your spirit are at odds with all the million things that are being asked of you. The earthen wick of the divine within us, however, will remind us that the exact opposite is true. Not only are you allowed to cultivate the things that make you feel alive, it is necessary for all the healing the Earth is initiating now.
When you claim what brings you alive, you remember your reason for being alive. In tough times we can sometimes lose sight of why we are here, or what we truly have to give. Seeking what enlivens your spirit is how you enter back into your sacred contract with the very life-force that animates this world. Joy is the feeling of a soul recommitting to its mission. When you tend to what makes you feel alive, you not only safeguard your hope for the future— you create a future that we all can look forward to seeing unfurl.
So what is it that brings you alive? What makes your days worth living? What things do you look forward to that keep the spark within you alive? Take a moment today, as we transition from the deep water of Cancer season into the sparkling brightness of Leo’s time, to write these things down. When the days get hard, sometimes all I need to do is look at my post-it note to remember why I am still excited to be here and be alive. Here are a few things from my own list: virtual salsa lessons, writing poetry, river swims, learning more about polyvagal theory, a new fantasy series about Merlin, researching Neanderthals!
Your passions, your interests, those sparks that re-ignite your interest in life serve a sacred purpose. Like a comet circling the atmosphere, they are here to point you in the direction of wonder and hope, the path of healing you were meant to walk in this life.
In the first quiet hours of quarantine this past spring, scientists could hear the variance of whale songs more clearly. Mountains shrouded for decades were revealed. Coyotes wandered down city thoroughfares. The Earth is in a process of coming alive before our eyes. Sitting at the top of that quartz-tipped mountain my first night in the wilderness, I watched the sun go down through drapes of ruby and ocher and could feel the rising of this life. I could hear the heartbeat of the Earth and my own blood moving through my veins. I saw that this world we ache for— this wild, animate, compassionate, just world— was not far away at all, but as close as the colors of sundown. The Earth is preparing for renewal, and every time we seed our own precious patch of Earth with life, we help this rebirth come alive.