You and I are alive. I know this to be true, because I'm writing what you're going to be reading, and writing/reading require being alive.
The question is, how alive are we?
Pretty clearly, aliveness comes in degrees. At one extreme, someone in a coma is living, yet just barely alive. Maybe not at all.
Most of us would say that there's a point at which life isn't worth living. This is why so many people have a living will, durable power of attorney, do not resuscitate instructions, and such.
But there's also the question of aliveness in what we could call the normal state of living. I certainly feel more alive at some times than others.
For example, when I'm writing a blog post about something that I feel passionately about. Or, using a chainsaw. Both have a certain dangerous feel to them, one more mental, the other more physical.
So I was attracted by the title of a New York Times piece, "Waking Up to the Gift of 'Aliveness'." It turned out not to be, well, quite as lively as I'd hoped for. But it's still worth reading.
Here's some excerpts.
A few weeks ago, I found a surprising line in my lecture notes. I don’t know how long it had been there or how it got in. I don’t remember having written it or even having seen it before. It said, “The goal of life, for Pascal, is not happiness, peace, or fulfillment, but aliveness.” I believe the line may have been written by my teacher and friend, the philosopher Hubert Dreyfus. Bert died in April at the age of 87.
It is strange, on the face of it at least, to think that Bert may be speaking to me from the grave. It is stranger still, perhaps, that from that less-than-ideal vantage point he could be telling me about a possible goal of life. But if you knew how my lecture notes work, it might not seem so peculiar.
...Think of the way that life really can become lifeless. You know what it’s like: rise, commute, work, lunch, work some more, maybe have a beer or go to the gym, watch TV. For a while the routine is nurturing and stabilizing; it is comfortable in its predictability. But soon the days seem to stretch out in an infinite line behind and before you. And eventually you are withering away inside them. They are not just devoid of meaning but ruthless in their insistence that they are that way. The life you are living announces it is no longer alive.
...When you really feel alive, your past, your present and your future somehow make sense together as the unity they have always promised to be. I sometimes feel truly alive, for instance, when I am teaching my students. When it is going well, when we are connected and engaged and the classroom is buzzing, it is not just that we are sharing a special moment together. For me, that moment has the special character that it does because it fulfills the promise implicit in moments like that from my own childhood and youth.
It is the validation of what came before just as it is the preparation for what comes after. When you see in your students the sense that what is happening now will stay with them, will remain alive as a future memory that can sustain them in some other moment, far away and very different from the one we are now sharing, then the moment vibrates with an energy it wouldn’t otherwise have.