It was a beautiful morning. I had watched a barn owl glide across the field as dawn limned the horizon with gold and palest pink. The sky was beginning to turn blue and the drive to work on almost-empty roads was accompanied by birdsong. It was one of those mornings where it felt good to be alive…. even though, I realised with a start, I wasn’t sure I really knew what that meant.
How does it feel to be alive? It is not as if most of us have anything to compare it with. It is an either/or situation and anything in between is actually neither, for consciousness seems to be elsewhere. What we think of as ‘feeling alive’ is really feeling emotion and sensation. It is hard to even separate thoughts, emotions and perceptions from who we are and how it feels to be us, here, now.
How did I feel? When I looked at it from this new perspective, I could not answer. Take away the sensation of sitting in a car… the pressure of seat and wheel, the thrum of the engine, the warmth of the morning rays through the glass, the faint tang of petrol and the sound of birds. Take away the emotions that react to movement, to the start of a day’s work, to spring mornings and the first cherry blossom… and what is left?
Were my body unable to feel, see, hear or otherwise engage the senses, I would still be alive. If heart and mind were so numbed that I was dead to emotion, or if consciousness were lost, I would still be alive. It would be no kind of life from our normal perspective, but it would still be life. How would that feel?
It is odd that we use that word, ‘feeling’, for so many different purposes, from emotion, to touch, from opinion to health…as if we cannot dissociate our idea of being alive from feeling in some form or another.
I slowed to watch a hunting hawk, feeling the discomfort caused by the pressure of foot on pedal, wishing, for a moment, that my body still behaved as it had when I was young. Could I remember what it felt like to be young? Not the thoughts, physical sensations or even the uncertain, unconfident emotions of youth, but what it actually felt like to be young? No, I realised, I could not. Nor could I even say, in those same terms, what it felt like to be older. Yesterday and today are too vague. There is only what I feel like now.
I could catalogue sensation, emotion and reaction, but that is all just a processing of sensory and social input. If the body is the interface between the world and the brain and the brain the interface between body and mind, mind must be the interface between the brain and… what? Consciousness? Being? Spirit? Soul? What was the next link in the chain… Where is the ‘I’ in all of that…and is there even an ‘I’ at all?
Caught in the limbo between home and destination, yesterday and tomorrow, there was only the road and the moment and both were part of a journey, a process in a constant state of change, but not without purpose.
For a moment, there was a glimpse beyond normality to Mystery. For a moment, I almost understood. But such things cannot be grasped, only, for want of a better word, felt. All that remained to put into thought was the consciousness of a road that leads to a somewhere that is everywhere. A somewhere that makes no distinction, no separation, between the road, the traveller and the destination. Only the journey is.
There is an odd sort of serenity in that. The vehicle may break down, the traveller may not know the way and the road may fail, but the journey is always itself, carrying us forward with purpose.