How to Feel Alive
(5 Easy Steps)
The weekend before Thanksgiving, I was pretty busy. While busy is my norm, that weekend presented a unique set of experiences that helped me break out of my day-to-day pattern of work/run/eat/sleep/repeat. If you’ve also been feeling tied up in a sleepy and/or boring-busy daily routine, I’d like to offer five suggestions for awakening your playful spirit.
1. Laugh. Last Saturday, I had the wonderful opportunity to participate in an outdoorsy lifestyle shoot for New Day Craft, a local company that specializes in craft mead and hard cider. I’ve been in front of a professional photographer’s camera a whopping three other times - senior portraits in high school, engagement photos, and wedding photos. So, this was one of those experiences that excited me with both fun energy and nervous energy, like waiting in line to ride a roller coaster. The great thing about this particular shoot was that it was laid-back, and so were the people involved. It can be awkward to fake-laugh and drink mead in the woods with people you just met an hour ago. But when those people are fun, and the designer and photographer are easy-going and give clear instructions, the fake laughs start turning into real laughs (the mead and cider helped, too). And laughter, whether fake or real, has a sneaky way of nudging the soul toward happiness, if it wasn’t already there. You can’t laugh without smiling, and man, smiling feels good.
2. Skip town. Even if it’s a short trip, there’s just something about hitting the open road that stokes the adventurous fire in the soul. After that fun Saturday afternoon photo shoot, my husband Chris and I drove from Indianapolis to Bloomington for an IU men’s basketball game. I am from Indianapolis and went to college at IU, so I have made that drive countless times. Still, each trip fills me with the excitement of seeing an old friend. The closer I get, the fresher the memories of the paths I walked to class, the trails I ran, the rusty old weight room under the fieldhouse where I found my strength (in every sense of the word). The siren song of Bloomington is loud and clear for me, but I feel nearly as much thrilling joy when I’m on the road to anywhere at all. Be wild, be free, and be away from home even for just a little while.
3. Get festive. On Sunday morning, under cloudy skies and impending rain (and then, actual rain), I celebrated my annual tradition of defying my minor fear of heights to stand on a ladder and hang icicle lights from the gutters. This is the fifth year of these particular outdoor decorations at our house - gutter hooks, icicle lights, extension cords (think Clark Griswold), the whole nine yards. Since I have it down to a science by now, the actual task of hanging the lights is pretty mindless for me. This meant that I could really enjoy the experience of spreading light, in my own little (and literal) way. Even standing on… okay, leaning on… okay, clinging to the ladder up there at gutter-level, I was excited to think about our house helping to light up the block in the coming Christmas evenings.
4. Go for an exhilarating run. The rain started when I was about two-thirds of the way through the Christmas lights endeavor, and it didn’t stop for the rest of the day. So after the lights were hung and the ladder returned to the garage, I added a jacket and cap to my regular running attire and set out on an 18-mile run. Chilly rain is not my favorite running weather, but there is something primal and cleansing about it. Once I accepted the futility of trying to stay dry, I was free to be a part of the scenery. I pictured what I must look like to people in their cars or in their homes - the crazy runner in the rain. The more I thought about it, the more determined I became, the stronger I felt. Yeah, that IS me - the crazy runner in the rain! It doesn’t matter what the activity is, and it certainly doesn’t have to be running. Walk, bike, climb, hike, swim, play… Find the thing that exhilarates you, and do it often (even in the rain).
5. Just breathe. With the exception of post-marathon recovery time (which happens about twice annually) or major injuries, I run every day. So it probably seems weird that I have to remind myself to breathe while running. I mean, obviously I breathe while running. But I’m talking about purposeful and rhythmic breathing - the kind of breathing that makes your body feel like a steam engine or an ocean tide. When my running feels forced and unenjoyable, or when my life feels like a whirlwind, I have to remind myself to find that breath. Our lives are meant to be rhythmic - heartbeats, REM cycles, circadian clocks. When you take time to be still and breathe, or to focus on your breath amid other activities, you’re connecting with the stuff that makes you tick, that makes you alive. So just breathe - and feel alive.