Holding onto the feeling
I can’t believe it/I’m moving past the feeling/Again — Arcade Fire
You’ve been there. You get back from a long weekend staring at the stars with friends in the forest, a music festival where you danced till dawn every night, or a summer vacation where you spent the days playing with your children and the nights reading classic novels in your bed. When you get back, you feel light again.
After times like these, I often say:
This time is different. I’ll hold onto this feeling.
Most often, for me at least, the feeling comes after a prolonged period of being responsible for how I spend my time and with whom I spend it. There’s something in having agency over our lives. You become the artist within the infinite playground of planet earth. After those sojourns, I hear a few words in my head:
I’m in flow. I want to keep this.
You know it when you’ve turned off your critical brain — that voice that says, “I’m going to give you sixty-eight reasons for why you can’t do this.” You’ve got a bubble up now. People’s looks don’t bother you. You don’t overanalyze how you’re perceived. You have ninety-three reasons for why that voice can fuck off and you can do whatever it is you want to do.
You’re confident, riding the ebb and flow of life’s beautiful wave.
I can do anything.
You walk differently. Talk differently. You feel like you can change the fucking world–that your light can be the spark to set the entire thing on fire.
Hold onto this feeling. Hold onto this feeling.
This is as far as I’ve ever made it. Truthfully, I don’t know how to keep it. I always forget it.
Days (maybe weeks if I’m lucky) later, I feel the weight of the world on my shoulders: the text I didn’t respond to (and now it’s been five days), the task that I didn’t get to (and that my boss is waiting on), the trip I didn’t make to the grocery store (as I stare at my $14 burrito), and the plan I didn’t see through (as I sit on my couch, mindlessly tapping the buttons on the remote).
Maybe you are thinking that only one with privilege can identify with this struggle. You might be saying:
It must be nice to have that feeling, even for a second.
I get that. And it is that very awareness of privilege that reminds me to not let this feeling go away and to do something with it for good. That here I find myself, alive on this planet (which in itself defies impossible odds), with health and community, and a conviction that I can make a dent in the universe.
Stay positive. Remember this feeling.
When I say, “remember”, though, I’m already living past the feeling–it has already crossed the bar–it’s a memory, in some deep corner of my brain that only casts shaky projections of what was once real.
Right. So, how do we keep it?
Here are five ways that are working for me in this moment (but, you know, ask me in a week if I’m full of shit and it’s gone).
(1) Look up. Stop looking at your feet when you’re walking to work. Look to the sky, to the sun, to the clouds, to the trees, to the people. Get curious about what’s around you. 14 billion years ago this planet was no more than a grain of sand within the silent heartbeat of eternal nothingness. And now we’re here.
(2) Assume good. Someone cuts you off on the way home from work; assume good (he could be rushing to the Emergency Room after getting bitten by a Death Adder. Who knows?). Your boss gives you an assignment at 5 o’clock PM; assume good (maybe she just got an earful from her boss and is misdirecting her stress on you and really just wants to get home to see her three-year-old boy). Your partner asks you why the dishes are still in the sink; assume good (he’s feeling lonely and disconnected and needs your love).
(3) Give to someone once a day. If you don’t want to move past the feeling, do something for someone else. Help the old woman carry her grocery bag up the hill; ask your colleague how he’s doing and really mean it; cook dinner for your roommate even when he’s being a dick. Wordsworth said the “best portion of a man’s life [are] his little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and love.” Get past the fireworks in your own head. Give a little and you’ll feel it (again and again and again).
(4) Remember that you’re going to die. Seriously. When you do, nothing feels that serious. Or maybe it feels really fucking serious, and that’s just as good. You’ll gather ye rosebuds (and seize the day), talk to strangers, and you’ll be bold and brave; you’ll buy the flight to tell the person you love what you’ve always wanted to say; and you’ll risk it all and never speak a word of your loss or your gain.
(5) Feel the feeling. Don’t remember it. Don’t try not to forget it. Feel what it is–how it moves through your entire body, from your toes to your fingers, how it makes the pressure in your head go away, and how it brings you warmth. It’s in you now. Any time you ever need it. Close your eyes. Be still. And feel the feeling.