I started asking the question 'when do you feel most alive?' to colleagues at Circle Economy over lunch time when I was working there in 2015. It became a conversation starter whenever a new colleague joined the team: "Hey Bas, did you ask Katie your question yet?". After having tons of interesting conversations about what it feels like to climb a mountain, perform a concert or surf a perfect wave it struck me that it wasn't the question or the answer that was so interesting. More often than not the answers include times where someone was confronted with his/her insignificance (standing on top of a mountain you just ascended gives you a momentary euphoric feeling of prestige, but soon transforms into a insane respect for the nature around you: either because you can actually look around 360degrees which enhances your feeling of smallness or because there is yet another peak towering above you somewhere else that makes you realise nature isn't there to be overwon) and/or included answers of times at which a certain type of skill is required to keep yourself alive, earn respect from others or allow you to truly tap into your most creative inner self.
In my case I would say I felt most alive while:
- causing an avalanche during off-piste snowboarding. I was with a guide, no-one got hurt and the guide made the moment incredible when speaking the words: "No-one hurt? No? Ok, now for the fun part then: let's go avalanche surfing". While coming to a stop the avalanche had broken into a thousand big 2x2x2m blocks and while speaking his words the guide took off and started jumping block after block after block on his way down, nonchalantly waiving his come-down-like-I-just-did arm at the bottom of the slope. I think I tumbled over 49 out of 50 blocks on my way down, with a laughing guide as background noice). In general wintersports make me feel above-average-alive as can shamefully be concluded from the following video of a ski-trip with Jordi, my sister and her boyfriend:
- hiking up a mountain in Alaska on a youth exchange at age 17. I wrote my final high-school project on the economical benefits of the Alaskan pipeline for Alaska, conclusion: it was the pipeline that made Alaska the richest state of the US, hell yeah to oil! ... I clearly hadn't seen 'An inconvenient truth' yet.
- jamming with the Brazilian percussion band I was in during my teenage years. As my skills weren't particularly exceptional I played the Surdo which is the bass (see how that makes sense?) drum in Brazilian percussion. Had fantastic fun with the all the guys though. And I mean, damn, hear us rock:
- when arriving in New York to study there for a semester, accidentally ending up in a dagger competition on stage on my first night there.. and I won the thing. It was the complete shock in my eyes, my utter amazement at the turn of events and the obvious foreign appearance (I was the only one not to wear a NY yankees cap, Nike's, too wide cargo pants and a oversized jersey) that the crowd loved. They applauded me to the very last round, at which the lady shaking her bottoms against my crotch was so eager to win (two cocktails it turned out), that she lost her skirt, demanded me to grab her thighs to pull her bottom up in my face. So I stood there -my face turned away from the pudding it was up in- thinking: "hmmmmm... that's an interesting start of a semester abroad. Hadn't quite expected an culture shock going from Amsterdam to New York... but this is massive. Oh well, I might actually get used to this 8)"
Interestingly, I'm now a dozen weeks into preparing for a bicycle trip east (probably to China but perhaps even round the globe to Australia). From the moment I decided to go for it -which was when I start making actual to-do lists to prep for the trip- I've felt a positive bump in aliveness already. Can't imagine how I feel moments before departure.
In my case anyway: the question 'when I felt most alive' cannot be answered by moments of complete ease and comfort. It's is more a state of mind that have to do with, in my case, slightly exceptional circumstances. But like said: it's not about the question or the answer that make a conversation around the topic interesting.
it's about the energy
Try it! Ask yourself the question: when did/do I feel most alive?
Chances are high you need to dig deep to be able to answer the question and think about it for a while. That makes complete sense. The question makes you plow through your memories and experiences and might open up doors to little chambers of emotions that could be both positive or negative. While digging, something happens though, you are actually trying to remember the most important moments of your life, and this will show on the outside. When you decide to verbally reveil your most important moments you combine the strength of your truth with a touch of vulnerability, making what you say extremely powerful. Making you extremely human for the people around you, and your eyes will sparkle. Your posture will improve and you'll notice increased attention to what you're saying. The energy changes because you changed it.
This is exactly why in the awesome open culture at Circle Economy, this question sparked so much interest. Everyone was waiting for the newby to be confronted with the thing: it would reveal the courage of the person to answer the question wholeheartedly, and it would reveal the most important thing in the live of that person.
For me the question definitely guided me towards the dream I've had for such a long time: cycling the globe. All those past moments and what I felt during them combine into this adventure. And sure: I might break a leg in southern Germany and not be able to continue.. exactly that for me is part of the fun.
So just go for it: let it sink in, play around with it and see where it takes you.