The Rapture of Being Alive


Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve checked to see if, when lying still or sleeping, the focus of my attention—–my cat, father, dog––was breathing. Even today, I wake in the middle of the night and listen for my husband’s breath, watch for the rise and fall of his chest, seek the reassurance that he is still––and miraculously—–alive. My concerns also reach further afield, to encompass rivers, orangutans, forests, fish. How much of the planet is still thriving? How healthy are we? What in the world is still breathing?

All the death and destruction has me on edge. We live on a planet where life appears precarious, from the poisoning of our air and water to the destruction of the vitality within. How many more kids will we lose to suicides, school shootings, drugs and despair? How many more refugees will result from wars and climate change? What happens when days blur into hours spent staring at shimmering screens, a sea of techno-scintillation without soul?

The mythologist and writer Joseph Campbell put it this way: "People say that what we're all seeking is a meaning for life. I don't think that's what we're really seeking. I think that what we're seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances within our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.”

The “rapture of being alive.” How can we take these words in and live them to the full in a world that seem dead set, pun intended, on self-destruction? Why might aliveness be the key to our salvation–– a touchstone or compass, that by following it, we can discover the root not only to our own rapturous aliveness, but to a fully alive planet as well?

A friend of mine, the shaman Claude Poncelet, was diagnosed with lung cancer, which metastasized to the brain, at about the time his book “The Shaman Within” came out. A vigorous man in his early seventies, Claude wanted above all else not to die. During a shamanic journey, his spirit guide turned to him and said, “It’s not enough to not want to die. You have to know why you want to live.”

Almost two years after his diagnosis, Claude told this story over the lunch table to my husband and me, “I knew it wasn’t going to be a simple answer—like so I can spend time with my grandchildren or write a second book. I was being asked to find a much deeper answer to that question. What does it mean to really want to live?”

I don't have the answer. I'm not sure Claude does either... but it seems worthy, even vital work to ask, "What does it mean to really want to live?