Rely on Your Strength

As we move into the next phase of recovery, many of us are suffering from anxiety. I think it’s because we know it’s time to move forward but we don’t know what to expect. We also can’t be sure that we’re not going to cause more harm to ourselves or to others. My morning meditation evoked a memory that boosted my spirit and I thought I’d share the story.

Several years ago, a friend and I went on a trip to Puerto Rico. While sitting on the beach sipping a drink, we stared at a small island in the distance. We were both about to turn 40, so we began tossing around the idea of whether or not we could reach that island by swimming.

Behind us, there was a small kiosk selling an assortment of beach items including snorkeling gear. The sales clerk was quite friendly. We inquired about the distance and she rented us the equipment easily.

We stood on the edge of the water and put on the black goggles and positioned the mouth piece. I was looking forward to scuba diving, like in the movies. I teased my friend, she punched my arm and we started our journey. Within seconds of my face hitting the water, I knew the goggles were tight and overwhelming. The mouth piece felt enormous. It wasn’t a very good feeling at all.

My friend took the lead and slowly, I got the hang of it. I kept my thoughts steady. I was careful not to let water get into the tube. I didn’t like the sound of my breathing, but I carried on. At one point, my friend turned around and gave me a thumbs up. A few silvery fish swam by. They were so small and curious.

About twenty-five minutes into our journey, I accidentally ducked my head too far under water causing trouble with my mouth tube. The gurgling sound alarmed me and I realized I was about to inhale some water. I had to stop swimming and empty the tube out. How was I going to do this while floating simultaneously? The idea worried me. I always struggled juggling two things at one time. I bounced to the top and got on with this strange maneuver. Meanwhile, my friend swam ahead. She had no idea that I had stopped. In the midst of all this, I looked up to take stock of our distance. The island appeared so far away. How was that possible, I wondered, we had been non-stop swimming? It dawned on me that we had veered off with the current.

My heart beat quickened and I felt my body weight. I started to doggie paddle while desperately trying to get my mask back down over my face. Regrettably, the inside of the goggles had steamed up and the mouth piece was still burbling. That’s when I lost it and began to go under. More water poured inside my equipment so when I opened my eyes and tried to breathe, it became agonizing. I was really panicking now. I realized I could drown right there. They’d find my swollen body floating in the great in-between.

The water was relentless. The silver fish, adorable just a minute ago, looked like piranhas. To my left a monstrous coral reef. I had to do something quick. I finally yanked off the mouth piece and goggles and tossed them into the water and now free, I swam my way to the top and gasped for air.

Thankfully my friend was nearby. She had seen me lag behind and had come back to fetch me. Both our heads were bobbing in the water, my eyes red and my breathing heavy.

“You alright?” She called out.

“No,” I stammered. “I can’t make it.”

“Try to relax. You can make it. Where’s your gear?”

“I tossed it. I was getting an anxiety attack. I can’t breathe with it on.”

She turned and looked at the island. “We’re not that far,” she said but looked worried.

“I think I’ll just swim now. I’m good at that.”

“Alright. I’ll stay close. Let me know if you need me.”

Screen Shot 2020-06-22 at 3.00.45 PMSuddenly, I remembered that I was a pretty good swimmer. In fact, I was awesome at the back stroke. I felt a burst of energy and began to move quickly. I flipped over on my back and within seconds, I felt my body glide ahead at a vigorous speed. My arms moved effortlessly through the water like oars. The strength returned to my legs. I didn’t stop and I didn’t think— I just sped through the water straight.

After some time, I turned over and slowed down to look where I was. The island was just a few meters away. I swam until I hit land. When I stepped out of the water, I looked for my friend who was close behind. I couldn’t believe we had made it. We fell hard onto the white, sandy beach and looked up at the sky. Then, we laughed.

“You scared the shit out of me,” my friend said.

“Me too,” I said, shaking my head. “I don’t know what happened. I just freaked out. I couldn’t breathe. That stupid snorkeling equipment just wasn’t working for me.”

“Well, you didn’t need it. You were amazing once you let go and relied on your back stroke.”

 

Coping with Grief and Fear

I lost my husband in November after 25 years of marriage. I’ve joined a bereavement group on line and realize that there are so many people suffering. Grief and fear have always been part of the human experience but now with the virus, we are facing these emotions globally. I’m learning that emotions like grief and fear can transform into compassion with the practice of mindfulness. It is slow and painful but necessary.

Grief and fear go hand in hand. When we lose somebody, we grieve the loss of love and we also face an unknown future. Death forces us to remember our immortality and the temporary nature of all things.

Screen Shot 2020-04-17 at 10.00.00 AM
Albert Gyorgy, ‘El vacío del alma’

When your whole identity breaks apart, you feel like you no longer fit in or even trust your skin. Conversations and events seem inconsequential and we find ourselves half in and half out of the real world we live in. What can we hold on to when everything is unstable and transitory?

We’re wired to believe that life is rational and love everlasting. Our perception of our life with a spouse, however imperfect, just makes sense. There’s a reasonable sequence of events, a social function, a shared commitment. When a person dies, or there’s a traumatic event, our perception of a fixed life shatters and we feel betrayed and empty. How can this be after having invested so much time and energy? We experience the truth of the temporal nature of all things and our immortality. We begin to see that underneath the routine of the material world, there’s a powerful energy that alters our reality, that forces us to evolve. It is infinitely organic, ineffable and seemingly indiscriminate.

My husband used to say, No somos nadie, which means, We are nobody. He was right.

There is no way around death, except to go through it. Each person copes with grief and fear differently but I think everyone should expect to feel sick and crazy. It is normal to lose our moral and physical strength and sensibility. There are feelings and behaviors that people don’t like to confess, but death encourages all sorts of things like excess, escapism, unpredictability, anxiety, saying bizarre things, breaking things including people’s feelings, listlessness and selfishness.

When we embrace these adverse experiences as normal, without judgment or labels, we realize that we are simply human and that somehow out of pain and suffering, out of confronting nothingness, we are part of the universe. When we accept that we are no longer our self, that we are in fact different, we begin to give ourselves time to become reacquainted. To become balanced and compassionate.

Meditation helps. Sitting and doing just that, being with oneself in acceptance. In this case, meditation can take on the role of forgiveness. It communicates to yourself that in spite of your anger, your sickness and your craziness—you deserve to be loved and to sit in dignity and have peace.  In spite of all the ugliness and darkness, there is light and goodness in your heart and in your being. There is unconditional love and you are deserving.

I also do light yoga and running. I think we underestimate the impact our body has on our mindset and emotions. It really helps to get blood flowing, to insert air into our spine and joints, to feed our heart oxygen. Our heart requires a lot of nourishment when it’s broken.

Recently, I’ve been thinking that death leads to reincarnation for the deceased and for us, the living,  the opportunity for rebirth after all the suffering. Part of the suffering is facing heavy memories, digging up old skeletons and getting angry.  Part of letting go is forgiving ourselves and our love ones for all transgressions and recalling the loving, sentimental moments. To say, It’s okay and I’m so sorry.

I’m thinking this is a form of redemption and a transition to new life.

The Excruciating Present

Even those of us who practice meditation and a contemplative way of life are struggling in this crisis. In this moment of social isolation, we confront ourselves and our immortality.

We are slowly realizing that there is no future as we know it, future does not exist.

We are faced with the absolute now of our existence.

What is there to motivate or inspire if you have no future guaranteed? What drives your action each day when you have no idea what to expect tomorrow, nor do you really understand the events that led up to this moment?

In this moment of crisis, we are experiencing the impact of overlapping variables that are so beyond our comprehension and control. We can’t even see or take individual responsibility. Neither you nor I created this virus, did we? And yet, this thing is destroying our sense of security and the global economy. Are we or are we not conspirators in this calamity? This is phase one of letting go, the questioning of responsibility, thinking that what has occurred in past is ours alone.

But is everything that occurs in the past our fault? Do we have the capacity to see the past clearly and in its totality? The answer is no. The past, when you really think about it, is a vague memory with great unknowns. Think about memories and how we each perceive the same past differently.

So what is left? The present moment. There is no one past, there is no one future. Both are ephemeral and unknown. We may catch a glimpse of this or that, but mostly, we can only be fully aware of the present moment.

How painful this is, to let go of the past! To let go of tomorrow!

We are thinkers and planners and visionaries! I like to learn. I like to know! These things ground us, give us a place called home. We are learned and filled with ambition. We fuel each day with the past and keep our eyes on a vision. Isn’t that what modernization is all about? And our addiction to media and entertainment? Our insatiable drive for moving pictures and improvement?

And yet, look at us now, with our future stripped away. We face unexpected deaths and adjust to a strange reality.

What do we do with ourselves, moment to moment, day to day, if we know nothing? What is our new motivation? What do we have when we break apart and destroy every goal, every dream, every possibility and replace it with unknowns?

This is the excruciating pain of having to face the present moment. Of confronting the absolute meaninglessness of every thing, past and future, and sitting still in that one moment of truth.

Wondering, contemplating, deliberating, what to do, what to do? What to do with myself when nothing matters but now?