When I was 3 years old, so I was told, I suddenly developed a severe case of asthma. I grew up with a variety of inhalers and other preventative medication. My asthma looked. to an untrained eye, like I was suffocating (which I was), there was a trumpet like sound when air was drawn in with great effort, I would get itchy all over my body. It was a very unpleasant experience but I grew used to it and knew to take my medication and wait it out. That was until my late teens / early twenties when my asthma disappeared … all it once, as if it never existed. Breathing difficulty would surface now and again, though rarely, with nothing close to the intensity of my early-life symptoms. My breathing remains to this day sensitive to disruptions such as dust and though I have never developed aerobic endurance, my breath developed and supported me excellently in my Yoga practices.
This was all true until a few months ago. We had just acquired our land Bhudeva and were beginning to make trips out to it to prepare to move out. Out of nowhere severe asthma resurfaced – whining trumpets and all. I faced it this time without any medication. I turned my attention inward and by radiating softness and light from my consciousness out to my body I managed to get through it, numerous times. It usually appeared in the evening or night time. Then, one time, it appeared in the morning, just as we were packing the car for another excursion out to Bhudeva. It was in the car, driving with constricted and unpleasant breathing, that a realization came to me about my asthma.
I feel that it needs to be said that I believe that illness (of any kind – physical, emotional and spiritual) is a kind of indicator that some deep awareness is trying to reach surface awareness – that there is a deep intuitive understanding that is not yet present at a conscious level. Though it can be difficult to do I have applied this belief to myself in recent (10+) years. This means that if possible I do not try to make the symptoms go away (I don’t visit doctors) but try to patiently wait them out. My experience has been that the illness itself does not carry much wisdom or insight, but that patience and observation with which I meet it do seem to point me in the right direction. There is rarely an immediate reward, insight may surface in my consciousness long after symptoms of illness have gone (in this case 20 years).
So here I am, pursuing my wishes and life values, preparing to finally settle in a place I will be able to call home and I can’t breathe – this biological machine I call my body will not let me take air in. I ask myself “Why?” and a few minutes later a simple answer appears – “I am scared”. I am, scared shit-less, we just spent a large part of the last of our financial resources (what used to be my pension), I am in a foreign land, our house project has come to a sudden stop (lack of money), I am beginning to realize we are going to be living the next few years (at least) in what was at the time a dump of a house (at the time, when we visited our land, we slept in a tent) and the list goes on. I am completely out of my element … nothing is familiar, everything is new, there are so many questions marks and we are pretty much on our own in this adventure. So yeah, I am scared. So scared that I can’t breathe. So scared that something in my biology has decided to fold … I can’t breathe.
But that was not the end of it … I am still driving, still breathing with difficulty when I suddenly realized what it was that “cured” my asthma almost 20 years ago. The headlines of that period would probably go something like: Disturbed teenager developed suicidal thoughts, discharged from army for psychological issues and bailed from university for complete lack of interest – leaving me in a hopeless state. I was scared shitless of living the life that appeared in my mind to be unfolding before me and I got depressed … really bad … clinically … psychologist, psychiatrist … medication … the whole nine yards.
But, and I can’t help but smile as I write these words, nobody seemed to notice or make a connection between my depression and my asthma … or to be precise my lack of asthma. My depression led me to a fortified and isolate experience of surrender and freedom. When I was depressed I was no longer scared of life, I wasn’t occupied with life at all so there was nothing to fear. I could breathe with ease, my body approved, heck it embraced this so called depression … breathing, it seemed, had become a good idea. It seems that asthma has the makings of a simulated-suicide … it feels like dying but without the undesirable consequence of actual death.
My breathing and I are going through a challenging and sensitive period. There are physical difficulties – hard physical work, dust, dirt, smoke … things that directly effect my breathing. There are emotional challenges – fears come and go, there is tension that sometimes accumulates. There are spiritual challenges – bringing our life to where it is, embracing it and continuing to pursue it (together with the physical and emotional challenges) is a huge leap of faith – it is an intense spiritual practice. My breathing reflects all of these movements faithfully. Sometimes it is outright asthma, sometimes difficult breathing … but now I know to meet it with a soft respect. I don’t fear it, I can contain it, I can be patient with it and I can get through it (heck, I recently even played Shakuhachi – a wind instrument – with it!). Asthma, of all things, seems to have become an enlightening experience.
I can’t help but wonder with awe what it was that happened when I was just 3 years old, what deviation from dharma, caused such a young body to choose not to breathe.