Uncomfortably Alive

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1982. Dave Leonard’s basement on a Friday night.

Bare feet, I ease down the steps into a smokey lair, fresh from a gymnastics meet. Minutes earlier, I’ve swapped androgynous white tights and a blue tank for a beat up flannel shirt, puka beads and jeans tattered with holes that’ve been earned, not bought. I have hair. My God, do I have hair.

I kick back on a well-worn futon in the corner. Bandanas drape lamps on either side, blanketing the pulsing womb with a warm-red stoner glow. I don’t smoke, but the vibe drinks me in. My eyes close for a moment as my head relaxes back. The trippy, evanescent sound of Pink Floyd’s Comfortably Numb fills the air and drops me into another place.

As a kid I think the song is about drugs. Now, later in life, I realize there is something much bigger, more pervasive and even darker being offered:

Hello,
Is there anybody in there?
Just nod if you can hear me.
Is there anyone at home?

Come on now
I hear you’re feeling down
Well, I can ease your pain
And get you on your feet again

Relax
I’ll need some information first
Just the basic facts
Can you show me where it hurts?

There is no pain, you are receding
A distant ship smoke on the horizon
You are only coming through in waves
Your lips move but I can’t hear what you’re saying
When I was a child I had a fever
My hands felt just like two balloons
Now I’ve got that feeling once again
I can’t explain, you would not understand
This is not how I am
I have become comfortably numb

I have become comfortably numb

O.K.
Just a little pin prick
There’ll be no more aaaaaaaah!
But you may feel a little sick

Can you stand up?
I do believe it’s working, good
That’ll keep you going through the show
Come on, it’s time to go.

There is no pain you are receding
A distant ship smoke on the horizon
You are only coming through in waves
Your lips move but I can’t hear what you’re saying
When I was a child
I caught a fleeting glimpse
Out of the corner of my eye
I turned to look but it was gone
I cannot put my finger on it now
The child is grown
The dream is gone
I have become comfortably numb.

The last three lines in that last stanza. As I reach the middle years of my life, it makes me incredibly sad.

The child is grown
The dream is gone
I have become comfortably numb.

Because, for so many, being comfortably numb describes the increasingly futile state of modern-day adulthood. One defined not by engagement, connection and elevation, but by surrender, regret and isolation. Accompanied by the desire to numb the pain of walking away from who you are, why you’re here and what stirs deepest in your soul.

Our drug, our “little pin prick,” though, is not acid, weed or LSD, or meth or molly. It’s something far more socially acceptable, which also makes it vastly more insipid.

We numb ourselves with a PIC line of pharmaceutical-grade busyness and denial.

One that comfortably insulates us from the pain of a life that values propriety, order and the illusion of security over the lightness of possibility, expression and potential.

I love the feel of the song Comfortably Numb. The transcendent vocals, soaring guitar and effervescent chorus that transport me back to that kid in the corner of Dave’s basement. A time when everything, every option lay before me. The world was expansive and inviting, mine to paint and build and play and make.

But, the words. Those words. A powerful reminder of how easy it is to slip into a life of quiet resignation, medicated by pace.

Being an adult is neither an excuse, nor a mandatory sentence. There is always choice.

I’d rather be uncomfortably alive, than comfortably numb.

You?

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30 responses

30 responses to “Uncomfortably Alive”

  1. “We numb ourselves with a PIC line of pharmaceutical-grade busyness and denial.”

    Whoa.. that line kinda sums it up. Slow down… look out the window and enjoy the journey.

  2. Monica says:

    Wow! You nailed it on the head. And yes….I would rather be uncomfortably alive. Thanks for the post.

  3. Kimberly says:

    ABSOLUTELY! Wonderfully visual and kickass compelling writing too! Love your style, direction, & purpose in your tribe!

  4. Finally someone raises this – I feel the same – who knew it would be more an anthem at this third stage of life than it was in the earlier, more life in front of me than behind me stage???

    So beautiful, so sad, and so true, Jonathon, that to chose Alive vs. Numb is uncomfortable, requires risk, and so much more.

  5. Anita says:

    Brilliant. Just… brilliant. “I would rather be uncomfortably alive…” that sums up exactly what I’ve been trying to tell people for years… I don’t want to be “safe”, and “comfortable”!!

  6. I wrote an essay that expresses my opinions along these lines, titled “Taking the Child Out of Our Children”: http://josephratliff.com/children/

    Excellent discussion starter Jonathan, I hope that “Comfortably Numb” stops being the reality, and starts to become the exception.

  7. This was an awesome post!

    Comfortably numb is where contentment and regret live. It is the embodiment of stagnation. Actually it is really where people fall father and father behind. Its where people lose hope and forget about their dreams. Although you have lots of company, it is very lonely in this place.

    The magic happens outside of your comfort zone. You meet new and interesting people. You overcome challenges that seem impossible. You push yourself forward in the direction of your dreams. You find courage that will push through any challenge that comes your way. And overtime if you spend enough time out of your comfort zone you will begin to prefer being comfortable being uncomfortable.

    Being uncomfortably alive is the only way to keep your live moving forward. To continue growing as a human being and contributing to the world.

    Thanks for sharing!

    It was very thought provoking.

  8. Chris says:

    Jonathon, the whole scene you describe, the feeling of looking into life’s endless possibilities rings so true. Also so clear that we do lose that feeling over time, it can erode bit by bit until the very concept of that youthful place seems a million miles away. Momentum can be a dangerous thing, easy to be carried wherever our collective circumstances take us rather than where we really want/need to go.

    Thank you for this piece. Truly.

  9. Dana says:

    To be ‘uncomfortably alive’ gives life meaning… Thank you for the post!

  10. Patty Gordon says:

    one of my favorite songs of all time and this…so great, JF, thank you.

  11. Marcos says:

    Jonathan,

    thank you.

  12. Kristina says:

    I would not trade this uncomfortable zone for anything! I tried the “secure route” for a while in my life, but holding a secret wish for something else, and now that I am taking that wish seriously and changing my life to go for it, I get more and more protective about it. Like a lioness! Rawwwrr! No more dulling myself and my dreams! Thanks for creating this tribe, Jonathan, and for the awesome podcasts!

  13. Keena says:

    “The world was expansive and inviting, mine to paint and build and play and make.”

    It’s so true when we are young.

    As we get older, effectively drowning in responsibility, we succumb to being comfortably numb. We forget that this idea that buoyed us as youngsters is actually STILL TRUE.

    We’ve just forgotten.

    The trick is to remember the truth before that insidious numbness transmogrifies into bitterness. 😉

    Love <3

  14. Keith Clarke says:

    Jonathon,

    I too love this song, but never made the connection with the feeling of hitting mid-life.

    It is so sad to see so many of us switched off and “numbed-out” against life, when there is so much life left to live with what we have learned and experienced so far under our belts. But that means opening up, taking risks, and building on that youth rather than lamenting it’s loss.

    I for one love being around people my age that love to be alive. It’s so rare it is palpable. Numb isn’t working. Uncomfortably Alive? Count me in!

  15. Marti says:

    Jonathan, I love how you dropped me into the scene and then took me on a meaningful journey into a song and beyond. I’ll say yes to uncomfortably alive.

  16. 1000 times yes! TV seems high up on that list of things we use to numb out, too.

    My experience makes me think that a) facing life-in-the-raw (not numbed out) has ongoing discomforts but b) is simultaneously a lot like jumping into cold water: it takes you’re breath away at first and can cause you to hyperventilate and freak out, but if you stick with it, your body/mind/emotions adjust, and you discover the shock doesn’t stay forever. Maybe what we need are experiences and communities that can help us actually take that plunge (maybe over and over again over time) and support us particularly through that phase of hyperventilating so that we can keep getting to the point of having capacity to use our skills and creativity to deal with life’s real challenges, and to say yes to what “stirs deepest in our souls”, as you say. To basically not be incapacitated by numbness OR the shock of reality.

    Really love this post, Jonathan.

  17. Joyce says:

    LOVE this!! My own version of this came to me when I was letting go of my marriage. “I would rather live in the Truth and be fully alive, than live a lie and be half-dead.” Here’s to uncomfortable aliveness!!

  18. It takes a lot more energy to overcome the apathy we’re being seduced by than ever before. In 1982, the sky was the limit and optimism was busting out all over the place. Today, not so much. It is, however, up to each of us to overcome what appears to be this ‘comfortable numbing’ that’s not comfortable at all. Can we engage life no matter what? Can we be the ones living into the ‘uncomfortable aliveness’ we once cherished? Can we proclaim: “The Best is yet to come” by living into it? Aren’t we the ones to lead the way? Yes, yes, yes, and yes. Thanks so much for this post Jonathan. It’s right on and so must we be. Let there be no more business as usual………..

  19. Rachel says:

    Preaching my heart’s song…thank you for this post!

  20. Wow, Jonathan! You are so plugged in! I was just talking about this with my friend last night! Numbing vs comforting in terms of dealing with the pain and discomfort we experience in life. Passing the time with food, wine, tv, busyness, distractions so you don’t feel. But as Brene Brown says, you can’t selectively numb. You can’t numb the bad without numbing the good. My fave Pink Floyd song “Time addresses the same “quiet desperation”.
    “Ticking away
    the moments that make up a dull day.
    Fritter and waste the hours in an off-hand way… ”
    “every year is getting shorter, never seem to find the time, plans that either come to naught, or half a page of scribbled lines…”
    Thanks Jonathan for a terrific post!

  21. deborah stephenson says:

    Nice.

  22. Layla says:

    This is one of 3 my “redy to resist” tuning songs. Hundreds of times have been listening and thinking about the same message when the system is trying to suck you in, the pressure of culture pushes you to the corner, the busyness-cult exposes itself as a universal norm, when roles and functions are taking over… So easy to slip to the comfort and numb your call. The other lines from the other song what keep me alive:
    Did they get you to trade
    your heroes for ghosts?
    Hot ashes for trees?
    Hot air for a cool breeze?
    Cold comfort for change?
    Did you exchange
    a walk on part in the war
    for a lead role in a cage?
    When I add “nothing else matters” on top of those two songs, then I get back power, the sword to cut the illusion of comfort in known and certain.
    Thanks for the post!

  23. Josh Langley says:

    I read this while sitting at my desk that faces a wall, with pictures of Greek Islands on it and the drafts of my various books are floating around my head, where i long to work on them, but they are at home on my home computer that looks out over a forest.

    But i have to go to a sales meeting.
    Will i go or will i really go?

  24. Camille H says:

    Thank you for this wonderful post! Heartfelt, eloquent, and Truth without blinders…I needed this.

  25. JR says:

    Thank you for this post. It was eye-opening and inspiring.

  26. Lori says:

    A powerful reminder of how easy it is to slip into a life of quiet resignation, medicated by pace

    Medicated by pace. Wow. Out run fear. Well written friend.

  27. Gail says:

    Oh, I remember those days. I enjoyed being taken “back there” in your post. I never considered an updated meaning to that song, thanks for that invitation. My favorite line is “A powerful reminder of how easy it is to slip into a life of quiet resignation, medicated by pace,” especially those last 3 words. Those are choking words, they are true words. It doesn’t have to be that way. We get to choose.

  28. Shikha says:

    Nothing, anywhere, ever is well and truly numb. I think science has enough evidence to that.

    You make a great point Jonathan – congratulations on highlighting the rot of today’s day and age and turning it around so beautifully.

    I wrote this prose on the phrase ”comfortably numb” as under, hope you like what you read.

    —————-

    The oxymoron – ‘feeling numb’ comes close to saying – I am dead inside yet I feel err…dead. Doesn’t make sense, does it?
    Is ”not-feeling” a feeling at all? Is the emotion of emotionlessness an emotion? Or is it a new abstract noun no one taught you in your Literature class at school…

    I am not sure how to approach this, but it’s definitely an expression our generation has gotten very good at using and finding hard the fix for. Can’t remember a time when I heard my parents or grandparents use it, except when it was used in context of physical numbness resulting from an injury or illness. They never stated they felt numb – as a whole. Why/How? Such ruthlessly emotional people they were, weren’t they? Why the heck did they not not-feel for once? …oh wait, did they hide it with another emotion?

    Does it mean we are slowly bereft of emotions? Again, why?

    What is the cure of this numbness anyway I ask, or does it even need a cure? Oh wait – I started by asking What is it?

    Could numbness be a by-product of ‘feeling too much’ ? Could numbness be an invention to create a market maybe? Or is it a fad? Is it another ‘Gen Z phase’ after iphone-sex-drugs-rockNroll took the world by a storm?

    Whatever it is, one thing I know for sure… Numbness drowns inside the holes of our veins – slowly, surely and eventually… And then there are some who choose to drown in the numbness – at a pace they set for themselves, usually to find themselves splashing about like dying fish.

    The feeling of numbness is just another feeling, we feel it everyday though not every hour or every minute, but we do feel it everyday. Just like I would not like to be hungry forever, sad forever, in pain forever, dizzy forever, scared forever, why would I make this numbness a long-term guest in the temple of my being?

    In fact I am growing to believe that numbness is that gap between two successive emotions or actions… like a chasm – a gaping hole between two plateaus with me taking a leap , feet with no ground underneath, I feel suspended in the air – a part of me looking back, a part of me looking below, a part of me looking ahead …. Evidently, there are at least three concrete emotions I am dealing in this ” suspension in the air” feeling –
    i. The separation,
    ii. The fear and
    iii. The confusion.
    I can continue being suspended, or , finish that leap and land hard on the next destination, hopefully hit the ground crawling on fractured feet, if not running…

  29. Beautiful.
    One of my all time favorite songs, and your words are brilliant.
    Thank you for this post Jonathan. xx

  30. Roger says:

    Well Jonathan, think you put it very well.

    So many in life have either lost the desire because when they stepped out they got their hand slapped, or dreams crushed, ideas or cash stolen.

    They are now tied down with children and trying to provide in a system that can’t support or won’t support outside thinking.

    Their habits and lack of discipline and the lack of support keep them tied to the Joe VS Volcano syndrome.

    They have even stopped dreaming of better days and save what little they can in hopes of enjoying that little vacation they hope they can take if the car tires don’t need to be replaced this year.

    What is needed is a better way for them to hear what you are screaming from the Internet Universe. To go from being like a small star in a galaxy of billions, to a raging sun that has the power to warm the whole planet.

    Likewise find myself being even a smaller shinning star.

    What if we joined and created a super nova, and created a way for those lost in the sea of abandoned hope and dreams to not just gaze upon the brightness but would come out the beach to build castles of dream once lost?