Imagine that you have no idea what a roller coaster is. It’s your birthday! A friend offers that they have an awesome surprise for you. You take the dare. Your friend blindfolds you, puts you on a roller coaster, straps you in, and then takes your blindfold off. The boarding area is covered and you’re sitting far enough back that you can only really see the cars and the people in them. Take a moment and imagine the expressions on the faces of the people around you, and the things they might be saying or doing. How are you feeling as you take in their excitement? How does your own body feel? Remember, you have no idea what this thing does—you don’t even know that it runs on a track.
Your car begins moving, leaving the loading area. There’s a repetitive clicking sound as you start up your first hill. You see the sky, and the sun is bright in your eyes. At the top, time seems to stand still for a moment, and then you’re in motion. People around you start to scream. What are you feeling in your body at this moment? What are you thinking?
What do you want to do, strapped into this car with these screaming people? Are you screaming? Are you gripping on to the restraints? Are you trying to get out? What emotions do you imagine that you’re experiencing? Personally, I’d be terrified. I imagine that I’d likely think I was about to die, and I’d probably confirm this noticing that everyone was screaming around me. I might even attempt to break free of the restraints holding me safely in the car.
I think we ride rollercoasters because they’re safe places to explore our fears. I experience a bit of the same sensibility when I fly on an airplane. The sensations we experience in these situations can be intense! Engaging with intensity and the fear that often results can actually be fun when we know we are safe. On rollercoasters and airplanes I never feel safe, but I know that I am safe. I’m more likely to die crossing the street. When we engage with fear we knock just a little bit at death’s door, and then we get to experience the joy and gratitude of vitality.
Now imagine all the other intense sensations you might experience in your body on any normal day. Pain and even pleasure can bring up remarkable amounts of fear. Life is a rollercoaster, and none of us are going to make it out alive. If we never get on the roller coaster of our own sensations, and our own fears, we won’t experience the thrill of being alive that goes with them.