When we face the threat of serious illness, whether real or perceived, our minds run wild. At least that’s what happened to me in the past week or so. Bronchitis took hold and I ignored it. I had a slight cough that slowly tightened in my chest. I felt worse and worse…but the progression of the disease was gradual so that by the time I was facing more serious symptoms, my body was weakened and the reaction was fierce.
I’ve reflected on such things in the past and this time, my second kind of health “scare” was a bit different than the last. Most importantly, I tried leaning into the illness. Rather than running away, I breathed into it as I lay in bed, PVCs raging in my chest, fear capturing my mind. I breathed into the fear. One morning, I woke at 4:33AM, could not sleep for the racing in my mind and heart, and tried just watching my breath. I lay there until about 6:00 awake, fearful and focused on the breath. I never chased the fear in my mind; it was just a presence, a kind of constant reminder of death. Was this the prelude of a heart attack?
The next day I went to a urgent care clinic wondering if something more serious was going on, but anxious to understand the malady in all its forms. The one thing that happened over the course of that night was the desire to know, regardless of the consequences. Why was my body reacting the way it did? This moment was the second time in my life that I realized that my body was not under my control; not completely. Our bodies are wondrous things and they can and will betray us.
As I waited in the urgent care waiting room for about an hour to see the one practitioner on duty, I had plenty of time to breathe. And I did. By the time I heard my BP was up and my SAT levels were low, I was ready for the worst. The practitioner came in, listened to my chest, checked me over, and prescribed medication.
Now in day two of recovery, my symptoms are slowly abating and the illness is very gradually leaving my body….or, at least, my body is being given the chance at recovery.
What this moment brought me was a reminder that practice: meditation, awareness, throwing myself fully into my life, is the whole point of it all. As Dzongar Jamyang Khentsye has said repeatedly we have no time to lose. Our time is very brief on this earth and in practice, we have but a few hours before we meet our end. This approach is not despairing in any way; it is a realization that time is short. Let us make these hours count.
Finally, in terms of illness, I found one solace; that breathing into the illness rather than running from it was the key to some peace. The pain I felt, the fear that raged in me were all still present AND the breathing and practice allowed me to cope in the best way I could. I think this lesson has been learned; it’s as if once we face our demons and they do not defeat us or that we do not give into them, we find a place of awareness that, in fact, we are stronger than the malady can ever be.