My fingers bit into the carpet as my body tensed.
“I can’t breathe!”
Panic started racing through me as I felt my body fighting to stay awake. Try as I might, I could not fill my lungs; it was like breathing through water and my chest just wouldn’t fill. As I was wheeled into the ER I heard them shouting as they stuck oxygen in my nose and IV’s in my arm and hand. “Pulse ox is 88%, heart rate 162, BP 210 over 100.”
“We are going to give you a mild sedative to lower your blood pressure and heart rate.” I remember my panic turning into euphoria as they intravenously injected the benzo ativan into my arm. I could feel my body loosening up. Unclenching the sheets on the gurney, my toes, neck and shoulders fall at ease and I lie my head back. “Maybe it’s nothing,” I think.
They sit me up and place the X-ray slide behind me. “We are gonna have to do one side at a time. His back is too big.” I smile, even in this state, pride pops up. I remember taking a picture of my feet as they wheeled me down the hall to get a catscan. “I don’t know if he is going to fit.” I am only half awake at this point, but still I grin. In my head I repeat, “I’m too big.”
This scene led to the discovery that I was suffering from heart failure. It is a scene much repeated in Western culture where we tend to rush about searching for the fastest way to dominance, power, wealth and the rest of the idiocy that goes along with it. We don’t learn from the past, we miss the present, and we always run for a future that will only leave us all in the same place—dead.
Why do we miss the moments in between? Why are we so disconnected with the breaths that sustain us? The moments that make up here and now and eventually lead to where we want to go? When they told me my heart was failing, none of that mattered. I was suddenly awash in everything I had done wrong. All of my goals and desires suddenly rang hollow. I began to wonder, “Will I see my daughters graduate? Will I see the youngest take her first steps? “Will my memory be hated?”
I have talked to many survivors since this time and they all recount a similar experience. The life of hustle and bustle left them in a state of regret—a state of truly unlived moments of life. We had become misplaced in a future that did not exist and had lost years of life by doing so.
Thich Nhat Hanh says, “Because we are alive, everything is possible.” We often fail to see the true meaning of this statement, though. We are not alive in the past and we are not alive in the future; we are alive only, right now. Understanding this, we immerse ourselves in the present. We understand the precious and fragile nature of life and each breath becomes a moment of awakening.
When we become awake to the moments of here and now, when we connect and identify not with a concept of tomorrow but the reality of right now, true creativity becomes alive. We blossom only when we slow down enough.
Sadly, many of us will not see the need until it is too late. We will encounter our own death bed scenario and hopefully come out the other end for the better. It doesn’t have to be this way though. We don’t have to chase after ideas of happiness and fulfilment only to be left disappointed and broken. Happiness is not a destination. It is not a future event. It comes when we realize that it is not only here and now, but a choice to be made.
In the Cetana Sutra the Buddha says, “It is in the nature of things that joy arises in a person free from remorse.” Being free from remorse means being free from the causes of suffering— free from chasing after attachments and momentary pleasures that leave us more empty than full. Being in a state of joy requires being able to stay within the moments of what we are doing and knowing that what we are doing has some benefit to not only ourselves but to those around us.
What does slowing down mean though? Is it walking away from things that need done? Is it an abandonment of where we are? I would say no. It is a careful deliberation between want and need. When we understand what needs to be done, we are free to direct those interactions while giving full attention to the process of doing them. We don’t strive for the outcome but instead fall into the process.
When we are willing to enter into the process fully, we notice a feeling of spaciousness. We no longer feel pushed and pulled between action and desire, but instead feel solid in our willingness to observe and partake without the constant pressure of expectation and projection. We are “doing what is worth doing with our entire heart.”
Second chances are not always given nor are they always accepted when they are given. We have a choice. We have the ability to appreciate each new moment as a second chance. As I lay on the operating room table, fading in and out of twilight anesthesia, I kept recounting the teaching I had neglected, “Tomorrow or the next life, we never know which comes first.”