I remember telling my friends and family a while ago, before this pandemic hit us, that I wasn’t afraid to die.
And that I wouldn’t fight so hard to survive if I was certain I was going to be dead the next day. Of course, some of them expressed signs of concerns.
Was I depressed? Suicidal? Not really. I just didn’t worry about “tomorrow” as much as I used to.
Since I started practicing mindfulness meditation, and learned how to go through the core of our groundlessness, I realized that there is only so much one can do. Would I be afraid if I was diagnosed with cancer, a rare disease, or even got COVID-19? Of course, I would. I would also be upset, mostly because my family and friends would be devastated.
However, I don’t spend one minute of my time worrying that I could die from this pandemic (or anything else). I would probably feel more upset if it was someone I loved, as we tend to have a stronger reaction when something happens to the ones we love than when it happens to us.
But here is the thing: It’s human nature to be fearful of the unknown, especially with the kind of energy and bad news we are being bombarded with lately.
Morbid thoughts do cross my mind from time to time, but I let them go. They brush past my shoulder and then return to the black void where they came from. I don’t let them stay any longer. First, because it is a serious waste of time and energy to be living in the future. Second, because even if I knew that something bad was going to happen to me, how could I be certain that I could stop it from happening? I could try, but nothing guarantees I’d get the results I wanted. Our groundlessness shows that sadly we never know what’s coming next.
But hey, there is a small silver lining in all this.
While reliving this whole discussion of fear and death I had with a few friends on multiple occasions, my dear memories reminded me of one of the most brilliant quotes I have read from Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book, Mindfulness for Beginners: Reclaiming the Present Moment—And Your Life:
“As long as you are breathing there is more right with you than wrong with you, no matter what is wrong.”
Read that quote again, maybe two or three times. As long as we are breathing, there is more right than wrong with us. Feel it yet?
How timely that mindful quote can be, especially now, when breathing is certainly a privilege. The simple breath of life is all we have right here, right now. Pure mindfulness. It’s a simple message, but it needs to be said over and over again. I wish I could scream this quote out loud, from the top of my healthy lungs to the world.
There are thousands of people infected with COVID-19 who are now struggling to live—and breathe. Breathing well would mean redemption for those patients. An enormous victory over the vicious enemy of our respiratory system.
The quote also reminds me of the few times when I got sick with a common respiratory illness. I often say it’s pretty rare for me to get sick. But even with a small cold, I tend to cough a lot and my breathing becomes difficult. As a super allergic person, my cough may linger for days, and I’ve even had to take steroids to control it. I’m also allergic to pollen; it has even caused me asthma because of my “super coughs.” But it’s not so serious, right? A lot of people have that problem.
But when I was sick with a bad cold or cough or asthma, I remember thinking, “I’d give anything to simply be able to breathe well now. I can’t even meditate! I’ll never take my breath for granted again.”
And I certainly didn’t take my breath for granted, or I wouldn’t be writing this article to remind you not to, either. Right now, I can breathe well. Right now, I can fill my lungs with the joyous breath of life. Can you, too? If so, how lucky we are when so many people are filling up the hospitals, struggling to breathe, and being put on ventilators.
There are many spiritual and meditation teachers, such as Jon Kabat-Zinn, Eckhart Tolle, and Thich Nhat Hahn, who speak about the importance of mindful breathing. Mindful is the new spiritual, the new cool. But never have I ever thought that “mindfulness of the breath” would be such an important and timely concept like it is right now.
Breathing is pure luck; it’s a gift from the heavens. Every time I think that death could be around the corner, that this pandemic could become more serious, I remember that right now I am breathing. Right now I am safe and lucky to be alive.
For now, I don’t want to worry. I still hope my future will be bright, and that I won’t ever have to “long for yesterday,” like Paul McCartney sings. I want to be always healthy and breathing well, and although I don’t know if I’ll have this privilege forever, right now I have a big reason to be grateful.
If we lived by this quote, if we remembered that right now there is more right than wrong with us, we would soon find our “heaven.”
Of course, that doesn’t mean we can’t stay in touch with our fears and feelings; this is not about bypassing who we are and how we feel. Mindfulness is about acknowledging our feelings, so consider this simple breath technique your “relief” for difficult times.
These words are grounding and true, and they work like magic if you pay attention to them. Every time you feel a bit overwhelmed, upset by life’s events, go take a break outside or stand by your window or balcony. Take a look around you. Hear the birds sing, see the trees becoming supple and green. Now place your hand at your heart and feel your chest rising at each inhalation and dropping at each exhalation.
Are you feeling lucky yet? For if you can breathe right now, you have the world.
(Sending my mindful thoughts and prayers to all those struggling with this awful disease right now. May you soon be able to breathe well and recover. )