Missing out on living
Updated: May 6
One of the things that drew me to this work was the sense that I was "missing out" on living. It was a pervasive feeling for many years - from childhood through to my early 30s. No matter how hard I worked or how idyllic my life may have seemed from the outside, I had this lingering anxiousness that something wasn't quite right. I felt somehow both overwhelmed and empty at the same time.
Very often, the overwhelm and exhaustion for me came from the incongruence of trying to please others. I was expending so much energy trying to fit in, chase unrealistic standards of perfectionism and keep important parts of myself hidden away. The sad thing about this is that none of it was driven by my own desires but rather by perceived external pressures that I’d bought into. It felt empty because no matter how well I did or how hard I worked, I was not acknowledging (never mind satisfying) my own desires.
I'd LOVE to say that this feeling is now a distant memory, but the truth is that it returns to visit me every now and then. For example, recently when some health issues caused me to cancel plans, and slow right down.
What I've come to learn about this state over the years though is that it's not something to fear but rather a great indicator that my own needs aren't being fully met.
Yes, I like to think of myself as someone who is very in tune with my body and well-practiced at listening to what it needs. And yet... there are times when I don't listen carefully enough. Maybe on some level, I DO realise that I have an unmet need but avoid facing it by keeping myself busy, which then leads to exhaustion because, as we know you can't pour from an empty cup! The more exhausted I am, the more acutely aware I feel of my unmet needs, and the less capable I feel of meeting them. Urrgh!
So how did I (/do I) get out of this cycle?
Initially, it was through (somewhat accidentally) stepping into the world of conscious sexuality that I started to get some glimpses into a different way to approach this! It is in this setting that I came to learn about the Wheel of Consent.
Before this, I don't think I've ever REALLY given myself the space to think about what I wanted and I think this is a situation many people find themselves in. As is common in many people who feel disconnected from their own desires, I focused instead on being in service to others. It can be a way to avoid paying attention to our own needs and, at times, a way to indirectly get our needs met.
The problem with this strategy is that it's not very reliable. We are often counting on others to read our minds or by chance offer us something that we need, and when they don't it can lead to bitterness and resentment (I've definitely been there!) Thankfully, the Wheel of Consent gives us some great ways to start noticing and acknowledging our needs again. I think it's really important to know that this isn't a new skill that we are trying to learn but rather a practice in REMEMBERING how to do this.
After all, we are born with a VERY clear connection to our wants, needs, and limits. As babies, we responded to how we felt in our bodies and expressed that fully and freely - like when we were hungry or wanted to be held. If you observe a baby, you’ll notice that they experience the world through a lens of pure curiosity. They are natural pleasure seekers and won’t hesitate to squish up their food or turn anything into a percussive instrument! Life is full of wonder at this stage of life and then, as we grow up, we start to learn that things are either right or wrong, that others can withdraw their love and attention, shame and harm us. As a result, many of us learn to quieten our curiosities and desires in an attempt to become “socially acceptable” adults.
The good news is, I don’t think that we do get completely disconnected from our desires, no matter how much it can feel that way at times. We CAN learn to listen again and to find wonder in the world. It can start with getting more specific about what our needs are from moment to moment. What does my body need right now? What do I feel I am missing out on, exactly? What does "living" mean to me right now?
As you do this, you may encounter resistance along the way. I think a lot of the resistance to getting to know our desires comes from our fear of being vulnerable. It’s scary to acknowledge what we want and that we might not have that in our lives right now. It can be terrifying at times to voice a desire to someone else or ask for what we want, but I genuinely believe that this is how we can feel ALIVE.
I've found that the best way to feel alive is to be as ME as I can be, which means following my desires through reconnecting to my body and my curiosity.
My work nowadays is really about helping people to tune into their own desires so that they can be themselves as much as possible. Sure, some of those desires relate to physical pleasure, but I’d say more often than not my clients’ desires are similar to my own. They want to be seen, heard and loved for who they really are. And that for me feels like the essence of what it is to be ALIVE.
I'll leave you with some ponderings about what it might mean to be alive. I wrote this in the spur of the moment as people were arriving for the last Dancing your ALIVENESS event:
What does it mean to live? Or to be alive?
Is it the measurable processes? I’m alive as long as my heart pumps blood around this soft, fleshy suit, regardless of anything else?
Or is aliveness the steadily increasing “thump thump”, “thump thump” of that heartbeat as I prepare to share a little of my soul with you?
Is living a experience created in my mind as a sum of all of the data points I can take in right now with my senses - the cocktail of essential oils I can smell, the clamminess of slightly nervous palms, the soft backdrop of music and bodies settling into the space, the taste of mint in my mouth, the tightness of my waistband against my stomach?
Is really living that giddy spark of excitement I feel when I see a notification pop up on my phone from someone I have a crush on?!
Or the stark contrast between those we’ve lost and those who are still here?
Is aliveness that connection I feel when a friend gives me a really good hug and it’s almost like I can feel how much love there is between us?
Or is it the joy of new discoveries - like how as an adult you can have BOTH jam and marmalade for breakfast?!
Am I most alive in those first seconds of the morning when I open my eyes and realise I have the opportunity to experience another day?
Or does my full aliveness come in those blissed-out expansive moments of pleasure that transport me beyond my body and mind?
Is life merely a collection of stories I can tell about the good, bad, and ugly of life and love I've witnessed, or about making more of these?
Or the beautifully mundane privilege of day-to-day life such as washing dishes and hanging clothes out to dry
Or the potential of what I MIGHT experience and accomplish with whatever remaining time I'm gifted in this body
Do I know I'm alive because of my capacity to feel all shades of emotion - from darkness and despair, to fear, grief, lust, shame, joy, anger, and love
Is life about becoming the most me I can possible be?
Or possibly, it is simply knowing that I am here right now, with you all, taking THIS breath, feeling whatever I'm feeling, and knowing that it's perfectly imperfect.