Recently a story crossed my path. A seemingly harsh narrative about a teacher who held his young Monk's head under water while asking, "so, is focusing on your breath boring now?" There are two lessons here, one about breathing being a gift that we take for granted, and the other about forgiveness of the teacher. In life and our relationships, the journey is often to transcend judgment and embrace the lesson no matter how it comes. Sometimes we lose the lesson in the apparent violence of a person or situation. In this case the Monk risks losing the lesson about breathing in the act of the teacher. In my life I risked losing the gift of learning about breath from the seemingly harsh snowy mountain environment that I was buried in. Here are my memories of being under the snow from "Buried" (2014):
"Light from above filters down through my snowy grotto, forming countless shades of blue and turquoise as it refracts through the varying thicknesses of lumpy snow. There may be a series of connecting air pockets leading to the surface but I cannot be certain. Thin areas in my clothing begin to produce cold, damp places at my lower back and my knees, neck and right wrist, but there is nothing I do can fix the problem. I feel strangely calm and relaxed, as if it all were familiar. But my pulse and breathing suddenly race when my mind registers the words: “I’m BURIED.”
I grapple for self-control. My mind flashes to my clients; all of them are in this snowy catastrophe. I am their guide, helpless to assist them. A wave of grief overcomes me while I cycle mental images of the snow hitting them, their legs flailing as they remain attached to their skis. With these pictures rolling in my mind, my heart thumps. I breathe heavily and feel the air become lifeless. My lungs scream for oxygen. I gasp but can’t satiate them. Panic looms closer. I have to surrender. I place my head on my left arm, feel the deep weariness in my body, embrace it and let myself pass out."
Surrender. For many years I blamed my teacher. The man I was working with. I was angry at the mountain for dealing such a harsh lesson. I hated myself and felt guilty for my choice for being there. I forgot about the beautiful awareness about breath by focusing on the delivery.
There is a helpful notion that as a being floating through the universe, I choose the lessons I will try to learn here on Earth before even being born. Like a contestant on a game show that chooses the level of difficulty. This idea is helpful both for the student monk and myself. We are responsible for all of it. The young monk chooses to be a student and embrace all of the lessons that come their way. I chose to traverse into a life of being in the mountains, and all of the lessons that they present. I can't love what happened to my clients because I played a role in their demise. I can love how the experience has shaped me, to become the person I have always dreamed of being. That is the best I can do.
Today, whenever I focus on my breath I am taken to my snowy grotto, a seemingly horrific situation that holds such gifts in the awareness of my sacred breath.
Some would say, that I should let go, forget about the past. I now know this in the core of my being, it is too beautiful a lesson to let it go.