In the tennis world, one of the most legendary games of the Open Era is the 1980 Wimbledon final between the world number one and probably one of the greatest of all times, Björn Borg, and his strongest rival and rising star of the time, John McEnroe with the famous tie-break at the fourth set.
“The least time I ever wanted to quit my life was during that tie-break”, John has ever since confessed in numerous of his interviews.
For a lot of us, every day feels like quitting life. For us, living is not taken for granted, it is not this gift of abundant joy and excitement. We understand it’s a rare gift of insurmountable gratitude that was freely given to us, but we don’t really understand why or for what. And this hurts, this makes our life painful. We want to quit, to sign off and leave because instinctively we feel that this is not all that there is and we are somehow connected with a deeper truth that makes sense to us. Of course, this could be a self-inflicted illusion, this could be just our fear to live a life full of our potentials and that is a paralyzing poisonous fear to the point we give up.
When do we know that we are truly alive?
Naturally, we are becoming alive from the moment of our conception at the physical level. Nowadays, with the use of modern technology we have digitally documented all the phases of a human fetus, right after the conception. We didn’t make it as close as to get that Polaroid picture of the miracle of life descending to an embryo (!), but we have everything that is to be seen the minute after the miracle just happened. It’s extraordinary to be able to see the beginning of life.
As babies, as children, as adults, we will experience a variety of moments of being alive. But none of them will register into our conscious system unless it is captured in our mindful process of understanding life.
And although as children we will experience many of those moments, it is mostly the adult version of ourselves that it will be able to compose later a series of those moments to leads us to realize how we live our life. We will also become selective and we will start erasing out moments of pain or severe distress.
Looking at my puzzle, I remember feeling alive when my mother brought to me and my sister, in the middle of winter, a cone of soft vanilla ice-cream dipped in chocolate. We were living in a small town and this kind of ice cream in the middle of winter back then was something very rare. Plus, we were not accustomed to such surprises by our parents. The excitement is ever since engraved in my memory bank. I never forgot my mother, what she was wearing, how she made her opening lines to tell us that she brought something special, how she was also smiling, how she hid it behind her back with her two hands, how she presented the cones, how me and my sister opened our eyes as wide as we could, screaming out of unexpected joy, and of course tasting our once in a lifetime ice-cream. I am always that kid when I offer myself this kind of surprises.
When we are alive, we know it, we do not doubt it. Whether we can expressed it or not, we know we are living a life.
We all have these moments, we all feel alive when we are excited for something, when we do things that we feel that suits us to our maximum. I cannot imagine anyone not feeling alive each time they fall in love, each time they become parents, each time they have to bury loved ones, each time they conclude a part of their personal destiny.
I would argue that there are three significant moments in anyone’s life that make a whole lot difference to feeling alive.
You cannot feel alive until you take both of your parents in you.
We don’t necessarily like our parents. We learn to live with them but to love them comes with judgment and secondary thoughts. Our arrogant part of ourselves looks down on them. We think we know better because we are younger and we came later, and we have a modern way of life. For a long period of our lives we will justify all of our behavior based on these assumptions.
Despite the modern way that we can manage, we suffer and we are not fully present because we haven’t taken them in our heart as our parents, as they are. It’s a huge struggle and a great moment in our lives when we get to see them as they are, and start loving them as our parents, the ones that gave us life, even if this life is not what we wanted, what we like or what we are hoping for. We can still continue not liking our lives but once we have taken them in our hearts, even if our mind protests, we just feel love, despite all that they are, their inefficiencies, their mistakes, their lack of knowledge, tact, sensibility. We discover more, even in the presence of insufficiency. We discover that we have parents, we were not just sent into this life without roots, without support, without ancestors.
We can stay still and feel their palms lightly touching each of our shoulders and their shoulders touched by their parents, our grandparents, and our grandparent’s shoulders touched by their parents, our great-great parents and so on. We can feel that we are part of a genealogy, we are connected with the human race, with the human experience of being alive. We are part of this world, as part of a family that started with our simple, ordinary people called our parents. The moment you perceive this with your heart, is one of the most liberating and meaningful moments in your life.
You are alive when you feel connection with another human being to the point of Union.
True Union creates a new form of life, physical or emotional, or even spiritual, something that beyond labelling it, is something that did not existed before and can be created only through the union of two former individuals that give birth to a new unit.
People fall in and out of love, of lust, of emotions every single minute. But that is not necessarily a moment of being alive because after the excitement of the first encounters with exhilarating situations, even that blows away. If being in love with someone is something that runs on pleasure, sexual attraction and passion, once any of those comes to its conclusion, the whole experience is demoted to one of those things, it’s just another one of these experiences in life, and with time you learn to treat it with less agony, less mystery and certainly not so much surprise.
But if you start from those initial feelings and you go deeper, and you pace your quest gracefully in a spiral dance with your counterpart, if you look without avoiding to see what is really going on, at that stage in your life and in connection with the other person next to you, you can encounter the realms of a true Union. A Union is the immaculate conception of a new life. Sometimes it will derive to a real baby, most others it gives birth to new meanings in life, sentimental bonding, spiritual awakenings, and new, unknown inner status of your existence that cannot be achieved outside the union of two poles. You are now realizing that life is not just about you, there is more to what you can achieve, there is a whole universe that lives with you and you are just a part of it. You are now discovering your position in your world. You feel alive in the most grounded way you have ever felt and you are loving it, because now you can start playing high and create your own story in this world, you have found your position in life.
But the strongest you will feel alive is when you will be standing next to death. When you will start losing your beloved ones, especially if they depart in an early age.
We get the strongest feeling of wanting to be alive when we see in other people’s death our death. Once you look at a friend’s eyes, while living their last months, before they really sign off, you know that you don’t really want to quit, it’s just that you don’t know how to actually do it, how to actually stay fully alive and prosperous. You don’t have any doubts then, when illness is taking away the strength of character, of will, of glory of the human you once used to know as your best friend, as the woman who became your second mother, as the most interesting friend you even made, or the honest companion to your most insightful conversations, or the colleague who knew exactly how you are with your work and supported you all the way, even the person with whom you didn’t feel any threat to what you really are and what you really want to show to the world, all of these and many others with whom you were graced with moments of aliveness.
They are dying, you are still around and you know you are wasting life, the life that they are craving, that they wish they had again, so now you cannot longer ignore your guilt ridden spirit, it is coming all over you while you are mourning for your loss. Your loss is exponential, you are lamenting your loved ones, you are lamenting your lost opportunities and time, you want to take everything back, you know you cannot, you know, you don’t need to express it, you are becoming it, you are coming alive, you are alive. This is to be alive. You have experienced the difference, no doubt.
Life wants to continue living. Most of us are strong quitters. Somewhere in between all lies the possibility of finding ourselves with our parents, the world and spirit. For us, all is a quitting time but to the moments of these findings. Nothing else matters. But then again, Björn Borg and John McEnroe never signed off their tennis careers or their lives, they are still playing against each other, they became best friends, and as John narrates, the great Björn Borg said to him in another one of their legendary rival games, when he was completely losing it, “this is alright, this is good, we’ve got to enjoy this”.
In tennis you only have one match point to decide the winner. But you play every point to get there. And you need to stay really fit, active and certainly very very much alive to make it to that match point. And the play will continue living even when you retire. And it’s going to continue growing and attracting new players and stronger fans, all the time.
Play some short of tennis. Rumour has it that it is the least time you will want to quit your life. And that’s all that matters.