Do you want to Survive or to Live?

A few months back something happened while sitting in meditation. It could have probably happened to me any other time. But in meditation I am most present, most aware of my feelings and physical sensations. So it makes sense to me, that I had this very important experience on my meditation cushion.

What happened was, that I suddenly felt the difference between bare survival and actual living on a deep level of perception. It was as if I had found a switch, that could get me from the fight-or-flight-response to a relaxed and open state in seconds. This felt like magic to me. But it was nothing more than close observation.

It’s all about awareness

I had felt it before. The tension, the stiffness and the anxiety of survival mode. In the past, I had felt this stress accumulate far too late. When things were already spinning because I was out of balance. The last few years I had become more aware of myself and managed to intervene earlier in the game. So to feel the difference between an open state of being and a very closed off anxious one in comparison is not new to me. But never had I managed to change so fast from one to the other. And suddenly I stumble upon this switch? What happened there?

As so often with these kind things, I can’t tell you exactly how it happened and why. I have no clue. That’s partly because we are too complex to always be broken down into the exact pieces of our existence. Or rather: we are more than the sum of our pieces. Partly though, I can’t tell you what happened, because this is something that happened on a level far away from the logical mind. It happened in awareness on an experiential level.

Surviving vs Living – What a difference a word makes

What’s interesting though is, that my mind seemed to latch on to the experience. While feeling these different ways of existing in the world, open or closed, living fully or surviving only, my mind tagged these experiences with a word each. The fight-or-flight closed and tense experience of the world was tagged as “surviving” and the open relaxed state of being was tagged as “living”.

In German (my mother tongue), the difference makes more sense, because it’s clear, that sur-viving has the word “living” in it already, it’s just cluttered with something that’s unnecessary in most cases of our everyday life. An online dictionary tells me: “The word surviving is the adjectival form of the verb survive, which comes from the Latin vivere, “to live,” plus the prefix super-, “over, beyond.” – In survival mode, we are beyond living! That’s exactly it!

Practicing awareness is an ongoing process

Since this experience, I can use the switch to go from survival into living more within seconds just by saying the words. I can feel my whole body go from this huge tension into letting-go. It feels really wonderful. I would say internally: “I want to live, not just survive”, and the switch goes “click”! When I’m really stressed the switch goes back into survival mode quite quickly if I don’t watch it. And sometimes it’s too hard to flip the switch all the time. But it is a good tool, this body awareness and presence, to feel what is going on inside and to intervene. It’s in part my meditation practice, that follows me around – off the cushion.

Practice: If you have a minute to spare throughout the day, just watch how you feel and how your body feels. If you do this enough, you’ll eventually find a way to migrate from one state to the other. Maybe it won’t be a switch, maybe your’s is going to be a slide or a set of stairs. Who knows. We are all mysteriously different in our alikeness.


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