October 20, 2016

How Mindfulness & Breath became a Lifeline through Tragedy.


Those entire few months felt like that sickening split second after a car accident. 

That gut-wrenching moment when you wish like hell that you could rewind, relive and receive a different outcome instead of a wreck.

I survived three back-to-back wreck moments within in a few months by being…mindful.

I didn’t really even know what mindfulness was at the time. Sure, I’d heard the word, but it sounded like a pursuit for someone who wasn’t nearly as busy as I was. Little did I know that it was what I would be clinging to minute by minute and breath by breath as these triple tragedies unfolded.

First, I was kicked out of my own company.

The company I started in my cold, dark basement 10 years earlier on a rickety card table with an old Macintosh computer. The company I invested at least 70 hours a week in, sacrificing friendships and family relationships. The one I chose over everything else in my life—including having kids. The one that was doing multi-million dollars each year in revenue. Yeah, that one.

It was a regular day at the office and I received a surprise Fed Ex package from my business partner. It contained one sheet of paper: a letter on my company’s letterhead. The letter started with a single sentence of what felt like compulsory thanks for my 10 years of service. It then politely, and with icy coldness, informed me that I was fired as the President and removed from the Board of Directors. Effective immediately. Surprise!

I felt like I had fallen, landed flat on my back and the wind had been brutally knocked out of me.

I had to force myself to even breathe. I consciously negotiated those breaths in-and-out of a body that was probably in shock.

Shallow and weary as they were, each single mindful breath ushered me to the next. And the next. And the next.

There were moments of these mindful breaths, between ugly, violent sobbing sessions. There were moments of mindful breaths between hollering every cuss word ever invented by truckers and sailors. There were moments of mindful breaths during $500/hour phone calls with lawyers. Each breath doing its noble job, leading and guiding me through until the next one dutifully arrived to take over.

Just weeks later, the second big blow was delivered—which, ultimately, ended my marriage.

Of course in any breakup there’s the “he said,” and the “she said.”  There is also the sickening feeling of facing truth and accepting what is—versus what you thought it was or would be.

There’s the shock that one moment, just one single second, can completely change the course of something you committed to in complete earnest while in a white dress on a beach in Italy.

In that moment it felt like I had been punched straight in the gut by a champion welterweight boxer.

I called upon the steady, mindful breath to be my faithful friend yet again. Just inhale. Just exhale. Even if that’s all you can do. Inhale. Exhale. The breath seemed to instinctively know that some days all I could do was let it flow in and then let it flow out.

My mindful breath and I became quite close companions. It accompanied me to therapy and consoled me when he didn’t show up for our appointments. It soothed me when I shamefully told my closest family and friends what was going on. It embraced me with acceptance when I came to realize that a part of this was my fault. It showed up no matter how drained, resigned, rejected, confused or broken I was. That mindful breath was my salvation.

My third catastrophe was delivered not too long after.

I was diagnosed with cervical cancer.

It was my regular yearly pap test, just like the other routine ones I had every year for the past 20 years. It was regular and routine until my doctor called and suggested I get another test. Y’know, just to double check, but it was probably nothing. It was something alright. Cancer cells all up in my lady parts.

My mom died of breast cancer when I was 29 and I always worried about that, but never cervical cancer.

I felt like I had been knocked out cold and was seeing stars.

Oh, breath, my steadfast mate. I need you again. This time more than ever. I need your strength. I need your life force. I need your medicine. I need you to stay with me and continue so that I can live.

Once again, the mindfulness of each breath was my survival mechanism. When I couldn’t pick my weary head up off the pillow, I could breathe.

I would tell myself that I just needed to get to the next breath. I would be present, focused and right there in that fraction of a second it would take to inhale or exhale. I would focus on that. Anything else seemed too daunting, too heavy, too much. I just couldn’t. And I didn’t. But I could breathe. And I did.

I mindfully breathed my way through a year-long legal battle over my business.

I mindfully breathed my way through more husband shenanigans and, ultimately, a divorce.

I mindfully breathed my way through traditional and holistic care to a healthy cervix.

Prior to my trifecta of trauma, I didn’t know about mindfulness and awareness. Being in these moment-by-moment experiences forced me to learn the incredible power, beauty and grace of acknowledging and accepting each fleeting moment.

Whether those moments are brimming with elated joy, ho-hum boredom or frenzied crisis, they arrive and disappear in an instant.

They enter and exit on the warm flowing air of breath, something most of us do without even realizing that it’s happening. It just is.

Each breath, whether accompanying a beautiful moment or a difficult one, is a blessing and an honoring of the truth of what is. Being in that moment of mindful breath can be, at the same time, the most powerful and the most easy experience of life.

Surrendering to the truth and reality of what is, versus what we think it should be, is the most useful, healthy reaction to any situation. Fighting truth only causes personal consternation, fear and resistance.

Allowing and welcoming life’s twist and turns through each moment and with mindfulness is a lesson for which I was not a willing student, but I will always be a deeply grateful and deferent disciple.




Author: Sara Christensen

Image: Courtesy of Author; photo by Amy Bjornson

Editor: Travis May

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Sara Christensen