Imagine depression and anxiety as opposite poles on a spectrum

Life is a challenging place to be. If you are able to meet and overcome life’s challenges, you will be suffused with a feeling of aliveness. If you fail to meet life’s challenges, this quality of aliveness, the sense of being fully alive, will be out of balance. You will be faced with one of the two fundamental dilemmas of aliveness.

If you hang out on the extremes of the spectrum of aliveness, you experience depression and anxiety. If you manage to remain in the middle, aliveness permeates you without overpowering you. Aliveness is in balance.

Aliveness is composed of one part energy, one part emotion, one part meaning, one part engagement, and one part relatedness. For aliveness to be in balance, each of these five components of aliveness must be in balance as well. As a sort of a working definition of aliveness, here’s what that might look like.

  • Energy :: You have available energy you can draw on at will. You can direct it where you want it to go, and it propels you into action when you so choose. The rest of the time, energy resides in you as a kind of calm awakeness, easeful and effortless. You maintain a balance between animated excitement and quiet stillness.
  • Emotion :: You have access to the entire complement of human emotions, in their full range of intensity. No one emotional state dominates you for very long at once. Your feelings shift and change easily. Challenging emotions do not plague you. You maintain a balance between responsiveness and equanimity.
  • Meaning :: Your beliefs and interpretations provide you a rich sense of meaning and purpose. They make everything interesting, while also pointing you toward what’s most important. You can derive reassurance, hope, and perspective from your own thought processes. You don’t get stuck in rigid interpretations for very long, so the meanings you make don’t take over your mind or cause your thoughts to chase each other in circles. You maintain a balance between purposeful ideals and flexible curiosity.
  • Engagement :: You are an active participant in your life. You shape the world to make it your own, improving it through your efforts. You don’t just wait around hoping interesting things will happen to you; you pursue objects of desire. Being guided by goals doesn’t stop you, however, from noticing when something becomes more important, or more interesting, than the goal you started with. Because you can let go of expectations, stress never makes you its employee. You maintain a balance between leadership and spontaneity.
  • Relatedness :: You are deeply connected to other people, to a community, and to humanity. Through your network of close allies and intimates, you have people to play with, support and receive support from, collaborate with, and sit quietly side-by-side with. Even when enjoying time alone, you can sense your connection to others and trust that it’s not going anywhere. You can also sense your separate self, even while in deep communion, and so when you lose yourself in others, or in others’ judgments of you, it’s only temporary. You maintain a balance between intimacy and autonomy.

Being cut off from energy, emotion, meaning, engagement, and relatedness can leave you depleted, numb, apathetic, alienated, and isolated – in a word, depressed.

Being overwhelmed by more energy, emotion, meaning, engagement, and relatedness than you know how to handle can make you restless, unstable, obsessed, stressed out, and self-conscious – in a word, anxious.