How do you know you’re alive?

February 25, 2020

“Why do I always feel like I’m in a dream?”

Perplexed, my doctor didn’t know how to answer my son and instead questioned, “Well, how do you feel?”

He replied, “I feel like nothing is real.”

In an effort to save the doctor I interjected saying, “Honey, if you ever feel like you’re in a dream, just pinch yourself. Do that now (as he pinches his wrist). Do you feel that?” He nods. “Well that’s how you will know.”

I’m not surprised by this deep level of questioning as I asked my mother similar questions. I used to think every day felt like a dream and I’d soon wake up and be a baby in her crib. Every moment, from my mother going to work, me playing with my siblings or preparing our bedtime routine each night – all felt, so unconscious, effortless, even weird.

I understood I was a spirit, housed in a body that I didn’t know how to control – yet. I was learning the rules of the world around me and finding my place as an Asian female growing up in the bay area. As I started to mature I started learning that students were afraid of bullies, that certain teachers were very caring – others were not, and that my parents, who was the center of my world, also had a world outside of me.

I loved television and through that medium I was taught to desire toys, boys and beauty. I wanted to accumulate symbols of strength, wealth and popularity. At 12, I was already school president, a published writer and an oral language fair award recipient. At 16, I was a cheerleader and won my first beauty pageant. At 22, I was a college graduate, an international traveler and personal trainer.  At 28, I started a nonprofit and was pivoting into a world of wife and motherhood – titles that would truly change my life’s direction for the next decade.

I was led by two things: a desire to possess what the world told me I needed to achieve and an innate drive to feel alive.

I wasn’t pinching myself, but I was feeling, feelings – whether I was infatuated with a new boyfriend, excited after winning another pageant, thrilled because I closed another sales deal or scared because I was traveling to Greece by myself. I felt it today while I was running in the cold. I felt it when I forced myself to focus during meditation or jumped into a cold shower and started breathing more deeply. I feel it when I visit new destinations or when I hug my son so tight, I can almost smell the last baby scent left in his hair.

When I feel…I feel alive. Whether it’s envy, sadness, hate, happiness, joy, love, annoyance, frustration, fear, excitement or anxiousness – when I feel, I know I am here, still on earth, still striving, still living, still existing…

Every day we get into an unconscious and robotic routine of brushing our teeth, taking the same routes to work, scrolling through newsfeeds, talking to people – and I believe we are all looking for those small moments that take us out of this matrix. We could be shocked by a news article, laughing at a Tik Tok video or in flow with whatever artistic piece we are creating – whether it’s food, a work project, a holiday decoration or even a blog post.

You don’t always have to pinch yourself and feel hurt to know that this is life. Perhaps next time I will tell my spiritual little son to hug me and feel my presence…and say, “do you feel how much I love you sweetheart? That’s how you know you are alive.”

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