You ever hear this one? “We don’t need drugs to get high. We use hiking boots.” I feel this “high” when I step into the trees and onto the rocks. A mountain peak or a refreshing thunderstorm can trigger it. Any little experience that is enlightening or liberating — we all have our favorite metaphors. A “high” can be an escape from reality, but it can also be a heightened sense of reality, to the point that reality doesn’t even seem real. Either way, this primal rush deep down at the roots of our soul is both enticing and terrifying: to experience life so intensely that what awaits upon my return doesn’t even feel like living. It’s welcoming because it’s true, but it’s scary because it’s truth.

Often I can only explain it by rousing about like an excited puppy, ducking and wagging and jumping over rocks and crawling under fallen tree trunks, all smiles and tongue-lolling. Eventually, though, it’s time to get back into the kennel like a good lil’ pup and look longingly out at the world.

People live in a terrarium, too. I’m not suggesting our society is a schemed-out garden, but perhaps an ivy that has been trained to follow a fence so that it may cling to an entire building with minimal guidance – just some occasional pruning. Of course, the terrarium isn’t real. There isn’t a glass dome over the entire earth. No one opens a little door and changes the water for us every day. No one (I think) is tapping the glass or shaking the cage. It’s just a metaphor. But the metaphor is easy to grasp, because the behavior is so routinized. What we have today is a very predictable, controllable, and homogenous group of people living in a big, clean, dry, well-lit place that is easy to navigate, with a gas station on every corner that sells the same bags of chips and brands of soda so you never have to worry about running out.

A habitat, if you will. The specific dimensions and features of this habitat are not bad things in particular, but there are underlying issues with the existence of a habitat in the first place. It is not their natural environment, filled with chaos and challenge and danger. Animals that live in habitats tend to become unhealthy over time. They feel an urge to escape their captivity, but often accept the enclosure and normalize it. And with that comes death.

Let’s say your alarm clock goes off one day.

“Wake up, get outta bed, drag a comb across your head…” Y’know that song. Your pup is clawing at the door, ready for its morning walk. You’ve had your K-Cup and you put on your North Face, now it’s out the door, into the sporty little hatchback you still owe $6500 on, and off to the park with the two of you.

Take the leash off your dog and watch it fly. Perhaps you’ll yawn from a bench in the grassy common and check your phone while Rowser sticks his nose under a moldy twig and sees a spider up close or follows the scent of some meaty, feathered thing that was here just moments ago…

Eventually you call Rowser back so he can climb into the kennel. Then you climb into the hatchback and drive back to your kennel. Like a good pet you’ll lie in the corner. Perhaps you’ll take a nap until it’s time for a drive tomorrow to the park. A television will help pass time, or a six pack, or a laser light or a fish bowl or a bowl of food, or a NYT best-selling novel, or an old board game, or that pesky phone again.

Somehow, and no one can agree on how or why, people will occasionally have the clearest thoughts. “I don’t have a purpose” is one. “I’m not alive right now” is another. They often “just happen.” Zing. But how do clear thoughts happen? And how can they happen again — and on purpose?

Maybe one day you’ll notice some information you didn’t notice before. Maybe it was stuffed down your throat, or it just fell out of an apple tree. You’ll define things and clarify them. Little spatters of clear thought. Like rain, it can feel unpleasant before you even know what it is. You’ll have to put things in order and remove the contradictions. A rush of energy – truth! – will burst forth from your brain – and smack into the terrarium wall, just above your head. Maybe the glass will crack, but maybe it won’t. This is frustrating and tiresome stuff, but keep thinking these things. Seek facts, remove contradictions, shoot forth little lasers of truth. Repeat.

When it’s time to go to the park, poke your nose under sticks. Smell the air and follow your nose. When no one is looking, look for cracks in the perimeter of your terrarium and scratch at them. Jab your finger into them. It might bleed a little, but the truth hurts at first. Even in a terrarium it’s possible to hide, to go off the trail that is drawn out for you. Do this whenever you can. Hide under rocks until someone pulls the rock up to find you. Lurk under the lid and try to poke your head out when the cage is opened for a water change. If you can, smell that fresh air – nope, no stale food or dead skin or warm fluorescent bulbs set at a constantly perfect temperature out there!

You’ll go back to your kennel and lie in the dark, but you won’t raise your head every time a car drives by and let out a sleepy whimper. You’ll be practicing the terrarium escape plan: take in new information, sort out contradictions, act.

Eventually, the last step – act – becomes necessary. Not acting will become logically inconsistent – incomprehensible, even. In fact, it will become physically and emotionally impossible not to act. It will be unacceptable to allow “I’m not alive right now” to cross your mind any longer. You’ll require LIFE,  real life that isn’t a safe and slow drive down a four-lane boulevard going two directions that both in the same place. A life that others call a “high” – because it is miles above a level of living they can comprehend, in a place called reality. But someday, they will have a clear thought, and their nights will be spent studying the weaknesses in their terrariums, just like you.

On the right day, you’ll take a ride out to the park, take the leash off Rowser, who will jet out of view. You’ll walk out into the trees and onto the rocks and you won’t care if anyone sees you when you put your fist right through the crack in the glass and pull a large chunk away. You will selfishly taste fresh air for the first time and realize that this is the last time you’ll ever notice – because it’s the only air you’ll breathe from now on. You’ll step out of the terrarium and look down at it, just some broken glass on the ground. Because you’re a nice guy, you’ll clean the glass up and stick it in a trash bag, or just bury it. Can’t have any critters crawling into that wicked thing.

The rain touches your skin but you don’t focus on the discomfort; you feel the wet and the cold and the pressure as it strikes. A spider’s gossamer brushes against your face as you cross it, but you don’t feel the fear; you feel the soft silk string and a slight tingle upon your cheek. You separate sensations from emotions and the world around you is navigable, almost too real to accept, but you know you’ll get used to it. You’ll be up here forever now, in this place where life is real and living happens. A place of action.

You’re startled when you hear a bark and you turn to see the all smiles, tongue-lolling Rowser nearby, looking at you with that inquisitive, waiting look dogs do. “You comin?” he seems to ask. He isn’t wearing a collar, and he isn’t waiting for you to lead him. There isn’t even a trail – just wherever you’d like to go.